Temptations and Passions
St. Paul laments: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24). How often we feel the same, especially when we experience the weight of our passions and temptation. We feel dirty and we are reminded of our past falls into sin.
But temptations and the passions are not sins, even though they feel like they are. It is our response to temptation and to the passions that are sinful (if we give in) or an act of love (if we say No to them).
We know that Jesus—the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity—was tempted by the devil, but without sin. The devil tempted him with bodily satisfaction, public acclaim, and worldly power (cf. Matthew 4:3-11; Luke 4:3-13). Later, Jesus experienced great sadness in the garden of Gethsemane; the fear of the incredible human suffering he was about to endure overwhelmed him to the point of asking the Father to remove the cup of suffering from him (Matthew 25:36-46). Yet Jesus affirmed his love for the Father by obeying him, saying No to these temptations.
Adam and Eve were also without sin when the serpent tempted them in the Garden of Eden. With the delight of the fruit attracted them, baiting them to doubt God’s love and to disobey his commandment (Genesis 3:1-7). This original sin spoiled their innocence, unleashing their bodily and emotional desires (passions are feelings, emotions, or sensual movements that incline us to some real or imagined good or away from some evil. See CCC 1763).
Once the passions and feelings have been disordered, they draw us to sin. Each of us, as descendants of Adam and Eve—with the exception of the Virgin Mary, who was conceived without sin—is also born with this disordered tendency to sin.
But these temptations are not sins even though they feel sinful. Temptations are really like hurdles for a runner. Hurdles are obstacles for the runner unless he is properly prepared to jump them. If he surmounts them, he runs with facility toward victory. God’s grace helps us overcome these temptations and achieve the victory over sin and death.
We are tempted by the world, the flesh, and the devil. Although God created the world—people, places, and things—as good, a gift to help us fulfill our mission here on earth. But the world becomes a temptation when we turn to it for our ultimate happiness, turning it into a kind of god. We all know people who seek happiness by pursuing money, power, popularity, honor, and fame… even Facebook friends! But things don’t make us happy; people who have them may seem happy, but really they are not—if you don’t believe me, try living with one.
The flesh refers to our legitimate desires for pleasure but which are weakened by original or personal sin. This includes desires for food, drink, sex, drugs, or other sensual pleasure. The pleasure itself is not sinful, but the disordered seeking of pleasure for its own sake is. We all know people who are enslaved to some pleasure-addiction: pornography, alcohol, drugs, or even food. Such slavery prevents them from having the freedom to love with their whole heart, mind, strength, and soul.
Finally the devil and his minions tempt us with arguments and excuses to doubt God’s love and to think that we can do things better, urging us to find exceptions to God’s law.
But temptations can be an opportunity to affirm our love for God. Jesus said No the devil’s temptation and embraced the Father’s will out of love. This love moved him to overcome the fear of suffering and death to affirm that “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
May we take advantage of our passions and temptations to love Christ as he has loved us, saying No to ourselves and Yes to him.
Fr. John R. Waiss
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