Something important has come to my mind in the past few weeks of Lent, a disturbing and powerful thought on how common it is that Satan is tempting, and bringing to perdition the very souls that are striving for holiness.
Satan is the most highly intelligent creature of the angelic hosts. Our minds cannot imagine or understand all his ways, without warnings from God Himself, and God’s saints in heaven.
Those great saints, Doctors of the Church, who have left us writings on how not to lose one’s eternal salvation, have given those zealous for God and His Church hints on how to avoid perishing at the end of a life of striving for holiness.
Satan tempts the holy in different modes than he does the normal sinner, as those who are desiring to be saints, to love God truly, usually give up mortal sins early on in their journey. Then, the goal is to get rid of all venial sins, followed by the need to get rid of imperfections of temperament and character, followed by the smashing of the predominant fault, which is what leads one to mortal and venial sin. Sometimes, the erasing of the predominant fault comes before the removal of the imperfections.
This is the road to holiness. Nothing less suffices if a soul wants to avoid purgatory, which cleanses one of all sins, the proclivity to sin (that predominant fault), and the imperfections.
Usually, this process takes years, many years.
While the person pursuing holiness may not fall into serious sin, although that is always possible, and one should never be so lax as not to be on one’s guard against mortal sin, Satan has special ways of tempting the holy ones on their way to perfection.
I have seen, lately, tragically, those who think they are on the way to holiness floundering because they do not see the wiles of the Evil One. These good people deceive themselves in thinking they cannot fall into serious sins. Yes, they are beyond the sins of the passions, as bodily temptations no longer phase them.
However, there are several ways in which Satan pushes a person desiring and working on holiness back to the brink of the loss of his or her soul.
Let me outline a few of these subtle, yet deadly temptations I am witnessing good people falling into daily, thus leaving the path of holiness and falling into deceit and serious sin.
The most serious sins are those of the intellect. Therefore, I shall start with sins against the intellect. We are to come to God with our rational abilities, not merely our “hearts.”
This is the first temptation—to think that the feelings, the emotions lead us to a state of holiness. The is the great evil of the charismatic renewal, a movement wherein people who want to become saints constantly look at their feelings and consolations for admission to the ranks of the saints. Anti-intellectualism is a temptation from Satan. We cannot come to holiness without the purification of the intellect and, absolutely, with ignoring the intellect. An example of this is a woman who is striving to be saint telling me two months ago that she was “not into theology, but spirituality,” as she does not read the Catechism of the Catholic Church or any Church documents, or any of the writings of the Early Church Fathers or the Doctors of the Church. She follows the mystics only, a dangerous way to ignore the purification of the mind and the needed study of one’s faith. Without study, one falls for false teaching. With an emphasis on “spirituality,” one removes one’s self from reality. With an emphasis on the heart, one forgets that the will must be informed by a pure intellect. Thus, other sins enter into the soul of the persons who emphasis emotions over intellect. This is a common problem of our Protestant brethren. Sadly, many Protestants fall farther and farther into error by concentrating on how they feel about God, His laws, His communities, ignoring the solid orthodoxy of the Catholic teachings, especially those of Christology and Mariology, as well as sacramental theology.
This warning does not mean that every one must be a scholar, but that one must know the real and multiple basics of our Faith.
The second temptation is that of singularity. This is a warning given by St. Benedict to his monks in the Rule. Singularity means several things, but to simplify, it means that one thinks one is better than other people and that one needs special knowledge and is given special knowledge by God. Singularity causes people to think that they are special, and if they join various groups, they will be even more special, getting insights in to God no one else has. This is basically Gnosticism, alive and well in 2019. Satan separates people into cults and specialise groups through this temptation. Knowing some people who no longer have ordinary relationships with their families, or with other members of their parish, because they have joined some type of specialised group, frequently either a Third Order or a following of a seer or mystic, I have seen them fall into this type of singularity. It is a serious sin, and divides the Body of Christ. Traditional Catholics have to be careful and attack this temptation to be seen as special, with special knowledge.
The third temptation is that of emphasising externals rather than internal spiritual growth. The Dark Night of the Soul is hard, hard, and the pursuit of holiness is difficult work. Demons work hardest against those attempting to become saints and the emphasis on the Traditional Mass, or a special prayer group, or certain prayers, all externals, can lead those wanting to be saints away from the path of holiness, as they become more and more concerned with externals, rather than the internal purification of the memory, understanding, and will.
The fourth temptation which Satan brings to those seeking holiness is the most pernicious of all—that of spiritual pride. Two examples suffice: a young man told me that he did not like Easter Week, as he was not allowed to continue his rigorous Lenten fasting. I was astounded that he could not see that attachment to his fasting was spiritual pride. Another person told me that God did not want us to celebrate feast days—a Calvinist approach, but coming out of spiritual pride, as he was comparing himself to the worldlings who eat, drink and be merry. Of course, we are to rejoice in proscribed joyful times, and the sign of the true saint is joy. Even contemplative nuns have chocolates during Holy Week, and the long fasts of the monasteries is balanced by the times of feasting. Spiritual pride dictates that one must be “holier” than others, and fasting, or strictness of clothing or diet, reveal spiritual pride. Spiritual pride leads to rebellion against Church authority.
The fifth temptation Satan tries against the holy is that of spiritualising the day to day living so much that a person is no longer living in the real world. Yes, we are to pray constantly, but we are to do our duties of cleaning, shopping, helping those in need, listening to the lonely or frightened and so on. The Uber-spiritual person, and I know some, do not want to ever talk about daily things, think knowing political news Is evil, and that ordinary life is not a way to holiness. Of course, we know that some of the greatest saints become so in the daily grind of difficult lives, St. Rose of Lima and St. Therese the Little Flower are prime examples, as is St. Teresa of Calcutta. Catholics are Incarnational people, following the Incarnate One, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, Who multiplied wine and sat with sinners. This is part of our way to holiness. I know two men on their way to holiness who will only talk about spiritual things and never daily things. They cannot empathise with other’s concerns or listen to the cries of the poor, because they are too wrapped up in their spiritualised bubble worlds.
Even contemplatives in the convent know they are eating with sinners. And, they do not over-spiritualise cleaning toilets or emptying the trash.
The last temptation is the most evil and leads to destruction and that is presumption. This is the great sin of our Protestant brethren, who believe they are saved once and that is it. The daily grind of becoming pure does not cross most of their minds. For the Catholic who wants to be a saint, presumption is a gross lack of humility. One can never presume one is saved. I pray daily for the grace of final perseverance. One be dying and fall into mortal sin. It is that easy. Without graces, all of us would die in great sin. Presumption forgets this. Like spiritual pride, presumption assumes a level of holiness which a person may not actually possess.
Cults and certain groups following false seers fall into all of these sins, despite the fact that those attending such prayer groups or meetings or even conferences think that their way will make them a saint.
Two things can help us stay on the course of holiness. Here is one—the twelve steps of humility of St. Benedict. And, it is a hard, hard slog. These can be applied to the laity, whether single or in marriage.
The second is by meditating on the Temptations of Christ, all temptations against One Who IS Holy. Read and meditate on how Christ Himself showed us how to defeat temptation. All the Synoptic Gospels give us versions of this key text. Christ uses Scripture to defeat the devil, with the understanding of the meaning of those texts. A good meditation for Lent…
St. Benedict’s Rule, Chapter Seven, The Twelve Steps of Humility.
Step 1. A first step is taken when one consciously obeys all of God’s commandments, never ignoring them but always holding within himself a fear of God in his heart.
Step 2. The second step is achieved when one thinks not about pleasing himself but instead follow the injunction of the Lord.
Step 3. The third step is reached when out of love of God, one obediently submits to a superior in imitation of the Lord.
Step 4. The fourth step is achieved when one, under obedience, patiently and quietly endures all thing that are inflicted on him. It should make no difference whether the trials are painful, unjust or even completely beyond his understanding; he should neither tire nor give up.
Step 5. The fifth step is reached when one humbly discloses to his superior all the evil thoughts in his heart, as well as those faults and evil acts he has actually committed.
Step 6. To achieve the sixth step one must without qualms accept all that is crude and harsh; at all times he considers himself a poor and worthless workman.
Step 7. The seventh step is attained when one not only confesses that he is an inferior and common wretch, but believes it to his very core. He must be willing to humble himself.
Step 8. One reaches the eighth step of humility when he does only that which is demanded by the common rule of his seniors.
Step 9. The ninth step can be achieved when one, practicing silence, only speaks when asked a question.
Step 10. The tenth step is climbed when one restrains himself from undue laughter and frivolity.
Step 11. To reach the eleventh step one must speak gently, without jests, but simply, seriously, tersely, rationally and softly.
Step 12. The final step is attained only when one can at all times show humility not only in his appearance and actions, but also in his heart.
JMJ, pray for us!
God is good,