“Therefore, that I might not become too elated, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated” (2 Corinthians 12: 8-10). Saint Paul talks about the temptations he faced and how he begged the Lord to take them away from him. But Paul found that in our weaknesses, when we are tempted, is when God’s power and strength was are perfected in us.
In his newest book, Temptations: Where They Come From, What They Mean, and How to Defeat Them, Father P. J. Michel, S.J. explains that temptations can actually be a cause for growth in virtue and intimacy with God.
Here are some of his best lessons on temptations:
Being tempted does not mean your soul is in danger
Father Michel says that temptations come into minds and hearts without consent of the will. “They are not, therefore, the result of your free will; they are not of your choosing; and they can decide nothing concerning the good state of your soul, or against its union with God and virtue.”
To sin, you must choose to consent to temptation
Like with sin, you must knowingly consent to a temptation and participate in it to be sinning. Simply having the thought is not a sin. “If in this moment of self-consciousness, we condemn the thought or feeling, if we disavow it and strive to reject it, we may safely say that in all that went before we were not to blame…In order to offend God it is necessary that the will should deliberately consent to something sinful that it is free to reject.”
Read more: 10 surprisingly good effects of temptations
The best way to get rid of temptations is not to dwell on them
The more we think about a temptation, the more it can gain a foothold in our lives and the more dangerous it becomes to our souls. “We must, then, allow all such temptations to pass lightly by and reserve our attention for useful objects. If, when these thoughts arise, we simply turn our heart to God in some aspiration of love and piety, they will be unable to do us any harm.”
The sacrament of Penance gives us graces to withstand temptations
The sacrament of Penance not only cleanses us from committed sins but also gives us graces necessary to withstand against sin in the future. Reconciliation gives us the grace to sin no more. This is one of the ways we can prepare ourselves to resist sin and temptation. A life of prayer and recollection will fortify the soul against temptations for, as Fr. Michel says, it is “[w]hen we are leading a happy and distracted life, we do not pay proper attention to what is passing in our heart.”
Temptations can lead to the practice of virtues
“Temptations may be made to lead a Christian heart to the practice of the most solid virtues and to the acquisition of great merits in heaven. It is a great consolation to think that we can derive advantages from the very enemies that assail us and make them contribute to our happiness.”
For all of this wisdom about temptations and combatting them and more, pick up a copy of Father P. J. Michel, S.J.’s book Temptations: Where They Come From, What They Mean, and How to Defeat Them. This short book is full of useful and practical knowledge on advancing in the spiritual life.