How Some Are Tempted at the Beginning of Their Entry into Religion, or into the Church, Others Afterwards

by admin on August 2, 2011

THE blessed St. Gregory observes that some begin to feel this war of temptations at the beginning of their entry into religion, when they first set to work at recol­lection and the pursuit of virtue. He quotes to this effect the example of Christ our Redeemer, Who wished to prefig­ure this condition of things and sketch it in outline in His own person by an admirable dispensation, since He did not allow the devil to tempt Him till after He had been bap­tized and had retired into the desert to fast and pray and do penance; then Holy Writ tells us that the devil came up to tempt Him. Hereby He designed, says St. Gregory, to warn those who were to be His members and His sons to be on the lookout for temptations when they proceed to recollect themselves and give themselves to virtue, because it is quite the way of the devil to operate on those lines. When the children of Israel went out of Egypt, Pharaoh at once got together his army and all his power to go against them. Laban again, when Jacob went away from him, fol­lowed him with a great troop and burning indignation. And when the devil went out of that man mentioned in Holy Scripture (Luke xi. 26), it says that he took with him seven other spirits worse than himself to return into him, as if making a levy against a rebel and going out to subject him once more. So the devil, when anyone rebels against him and seeks to escape from his domination and subjec­tion, is then more kindled to wrath and shows himself more fierce and seeks to make greater war, St. Gregory quotes to this purpose what the Evangelist St. Mark says, when Christ our Redeemer cast out that unclean deaf-and-dumb spirit: With loud cries and much tearing of him he went out of him (Mark ix. 25). The saint says: “Observe that, while the devil possessed the man, he did not tear him; and when by the divine power he was being compelled to go out of him, then he tore him;” that we might under­stand that the devil then tries to trouble and molest us with temptations when we are going away from him.

Apart from this, St. Gregory says that the Lord permits and wishes us to be tempted at the beginning of our reli­gious life that no one may fancy that he is a saint for hav­ing left off his evil life and taken to a good one, thoughts which readily occur to people in that condition; and that the security of the good life that he has taken up may not make him negligent and slack. To that end God permits temptations to come upon him, to put before his eyes the danger he still is in, and rouse and waken him up to be dili­gent and careful. St. John Climacus says the novelty of a new life is wont to be irksome to him who has been accus­tomed to an evil life; and in the embrace of virtue there is manifested and felt the contradiction and war of vice fight­ing against the same, as the bird, trying to escape from the snare, then feels that it is caught. Thus no one should be affrighted or dismayed at feeling difficulties and tempta­tions at the beginning, since it is quite the ordinary thing. St. Gregory adds that sometimes one who has left the world and an evil life and begun to serve God, has tempta­tions such as he never felt before his conversion; this, how­ever, he says is not because there was not in him before the root of those temptations which he had in him, but because it did not appear and show itself then, and now it shows itself. When a man is very much taken up with other thoughts and all sorts of cares, he often does not know himself nor take cognizance of what passes within him; but when he begins to recollect himself and enter into himself, then he comes to see the roots of evil that are germinating in his heart. It is, the saint says, like the thistle that grows on the road and does not come into view while all tread upon it who pass that way; still, though the pricks do not come out, the root remains covered up in the ground, and when passers-by cease to tread on them, they forthwith sprout and come out. So, he says, in worldly people the root of temptations often lies concealed and does not show itself externally, since, like that thistle on the road, it is trodden upon and crushed, as by wayfarers’ feet, by the diversity of thoughts that come and go and by numerous cares and occupations. But when one goes apart from all that and recollects himself to serve God, then, as there is no one to tread on the thistle, there appears that which was hidden away there before, and the pricks of temptation springing from that evil root are felt. Thus a person’s experiencing in religion temptations such as he never had before his entry is not because of his being a worse man now than when he was in the world, but because then the man did not see or know himself, and now he begins to see and know his evil inclinations and disorderly appetites; thus what he has to aim at is not the hiding or covering up of the root, but the rooting of it out.

Others there are, says St. Gregory, who at the beginning of their religious life are not assailed with temptations, but rather feel much peace, sweetnesses, and consolations; and afterwards, as time goes on, the Lord tries them with temptations: so His Divine Majesty has arranged, with divine knowledge and contrivance, that the path of virtue may not seem to them rough and difficult and they lose heart and go back again to what they had left a little before. Thus He acted with His people when He led them out of Egypt; He did not take them by the land of the Philistines, which was hard by, for the reason that Holy Writ gives, lest perchance, seeing wars spring up against them, they might repent of having gone out of Egypt, and return thither again (Exod. xiii. 17). But at the begin­ning God did them many favors, working great marvels and miracles on their behalf; but by the time that they had crossed the Red Sea and were in the desert, and could not go back, He proved them with many hardships and trials before their entry into the Land of Promise. So, says the saint, in dealing with those who leave the world, God rids them sometimes of wars and temptations at the outset, that, being yet tender in virtue, they may not get frightened thereby and return to the world. He takes them through pleasant places at the beginning and gives them consolations and sweetnesses, that, having tasted the delight and pleasantness of the way of God, they may bet­ter afterwards bear the war and molestation of temptations and hardships, all the more the more they have tasted of God and come to know how well He deserves to be served and loved. So with St. Peter, the Lord first showed him the beauty and splendor of His glory in the Transfiguration, and then permitted him to be tempted by the servant-maid’s question, whether he was a disciple of Christ, that, humbled by temptation, weeping and loving, he might learn to strengthen and aid himself by the sight he had formerly seen on Mount Thabor; and as fear had overthrown him, so the delight of the sweetness and goodness of God which he had experienced, might raise him up.

Hence, says St. Gregory, will be understood a mistake commonly made by those who are just entering on the service of God, Finding themselves sometimes in so much peace and quiet—the Lord doing them the favor of open­ing out to them the way of meditation—finding, too, the exercises of virtue and mortification easy, they fancy that they have attained perfection, not understanding that these are the sweetmeats of children and beginners, and that the Lord gives these gratuities to wean them from the things of the world. Sometimes, says the saint, God communi­cates Himself more abundantly to less perfect souls and souls that have not advanced so much in virtue, not because they deserve these consolations, but because they are in greater need of them. It is the way that an earthly father acts, who, while greatly loving all his sons, seems not to make account of those who are in health; but if any of them is ill, he not only provides medicines for his cure, but also things that make for comfort and ease. And as a gardener, while new plantations are tender, waters them frequently and with extra care, but once they are strong and have taken firm root, he leaves off this watering and extra care, so the Divine Goodness observes this method of management with weaklings and babes and beginners.

The saints also say that sometimes God gives more con­solations to those who have sinned more, and seems to do them more particular kind turns and favors than to those who have always led a good life, that the former may not lose confidence and hope, and the latter may not grow proud. This is well set forth in the parable of the prod­igal son (Luke xv. 23), and in the feasting, music, and rejoicing with which his father received him, killing the fatted calf and making a great banquet; whereas to the elder son, who had spent all his life serving him and had never transgressed his command, he had never given so much as a kid to make merry with his friends; because the healthy are in no need of a physician, but the sick, as the same Lord says (Matt. ix. 12).

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