THE OUR FATHER #6 - February 23, l964
Let us consider the 6th Petition of the Lord's Prayer: "LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION".
Only the believer acknowledges that there is such a thing we call temptation. Only the believer who professes the existence of God to Whom one is accountable will admit temptation. Only the believer, who expresses ardently his belief in a life after death in which there are two alternatives: an everlasting and joyful life with God; or, an everlasting and painful life with the devil. The atheist, the nihilist, the sensualist, will not admit the doctrine of temptation. The doctrine of temptation means simply that something can allure, entice, can lead one into an evil life away from God Who is our One and Supreme Good. The atheist says: "Since there is no God, there is no temptation because there is nothing to be allured away from." The nihilist says: "The grave is the end of it all, hence there is no temptation because there is nothing to be lost or gained beyond the grave." The sensualist holds that temptations must not be considered since the whole purpose in life is to experience the maximum of pleasure that comes through physical and sensual joys. I need not point out that modern man is not happy in his denial of temptation and the suicide rate is abnormally high.
We who are believers, who are followers of Christ, have been taught by Him to pray: LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION. The more you think about it the more you are convinced that , in a certain sense, this 6th Petition of the Lord's Prayer is the most necessary. And it is most necessary for the simple reason that our lot for all eternity depends on how we measure up to and overcome our temptations.
There is not one of us who has not experienced temptation. To the man of faith, to the man who desires to lead the good life, which means the desire to please God - surely every true believer desires to please God - temptations are terrifying. Temptations are terrifying because they threaten our friendship with God, viz. Threaten to destroy His grace in our souls; and threaten to take away from us our peace of mind that comes from a good conscience.
It is important to realize that as long as we live, we shall be tempted. Each age, each state in life, has its temptations. It doesn't matter how old you become: you recall in the Book of Daniel the Prophet that Susanna's false accusers were old men who lusteth after her because of her great beauty. Nor is it going to help you very much to sigh: "Oh, if I could only get out of this state in life into another state." Even if you lived in a vast solitude, even if you live the life of an utter hermit, you would still have temptations as witness the confession of St. Jerome who complained of his terrible temptations while living alone in the desert not far from Bethlehem. For the moment it is your vocation to be soldiers - there are many temptations - but it is comforting for you to know that many soldiers became saints: St. Longinus, St. Cornelius, St.Martin of Tours, St. Sebastian - just to mention a few.
You can see why I have said that of all the petitions of the Lord's Prayer, this 6th petition, in a certain sense, is the most necessary - for until our last breath we are on the brink of an abyss, always in danger of falling into it, always in danger of losing God's grace. Between sin and myself there is, to borrow David's expression, only the faintest line of separation; we are but a hair's breath apart.
LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION: What do we pray for here? It cannot be that we ask God not to tempt us Himself, and put us into the occasion of offending Him. God triest our virtue, but He does not tempt us. As St. James says: "God is not a tempter of evils, and He tempteth no man. But every man is tempted by his own concupiscence, being drawn away and allured."
Perhaps you may ask: "Why does God allow us to be tempted?" There are several excellent answers to this question. Temptations ought to make us humble-minded, for they show us both by our occasional falls, and by our struggles not to fall, how very weak we really are. Temptations teach us the need we have of God's help and of humble persistent and confident prayer for that help. Temptations remind us that the life of man upon earth "is a warfare," as we read in the Book of Job. The crown of everlasting life is to be won by honest struggle against the evil hosts of hell. Temptation, finally is a trial, a proving of our faith - a trial which makes us patient under the over-ruling Providence of God. Temptations ought not, therefore, to dismay us; but they ought to warn us that we should be prepared properly to overcome them, and thus win for ourselves what the Apostle called, "THE CROWN OF LIFE.'
HOW SHALL WE PREPARE OURSELVES RIGHTLY TO OVERCOME TEMPTATIONS? Here, too, we find several important answers: We ought to consider ourselves as soldiers of the Cross, who ought to be earnest and entirely willing to fight the good fight of our divine Faith. Every soldier understands that he must train himself in time of peace for the work he has to do in time of war. St. Paul offered himself as an example to his consorts in Corinth, in which city the people had been accustomed to an easy, slothful and self-indulgent way of living. He wrote to them: "I so fight, not as one beating the air: but I chastise my body and bring it into subjection; lest perhaps, when I have preached to others, I myself should become a castaway". If this marvelous Saint felt the need of preparing himself against temptation, what shall we think of our own careless way of living? We must practice a well-planned sort of self control in order to dominate our bodies, to reign as a king over our powers of body and soul, to keep our imaginations from running wild, to keep our eyes from dangerous objects and from bad reading, to keep our minds free of dangerous thoughts, to keep our tongues and ears from dangerous conversations. We must avoid dangerous company and dangerous occasions. People run madly after pleasure and entertainment, although experience must have warned them that pleasures last only a very short time, even as we measure time on earth.
FINALLY, being exacting in the performance of all spiritual exercises is a great help in steeling us against temptations, especially cultivating the splendid exercise known as the "PRESENCE OF GOD." We are always in God's sight. His eye can read our inmost thoughts as well as perceive our outward actions. No single word of profanity, of uncharitableness, of nastiness, can escape his ear. He is nearer to us than the air we breathe than the heart that beats in our bosom. Yes, let us every be conscious of the PRESENCE OF GOD and say to Him,: LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION!!