CHAPTER 4: DISTRACTIONS AND BAD THOUGHTS DURING CONTEMPLATION

Posted on May 20, 2019 by https://thecenterforcontemplativepractice.org

This might seem like an odd topic for Lectio Divina, but, I assure you, it is very real, embarrassingly real. It is real because none of us practice prayer and hopefully contemplation without distractions and trying to avoid bad thoughts. That it is not just the tomfoolery of a broken-down old Lay Cistercian, St. Benedict in Chapter 4 of the Rule of St. Benedict states:

46 Yearn for everlasting life with holy desire.
47 Day by day remind yourself that you are going to die.
48 Hour by hour keep careful watch over all you do,
49 aware that God’s gaze is upon you, wherever you may be.
50 As soon as wrongful thoughts come into your heart, dash them against Christ and disclose them to your spiritual father. 51 Guard your lips from harmful or deceptive speech.

The Holy Spirit presented me with these thoughts in the hopes that I might be smart enough to assimilate them into my Lay Cistercian spirituality and The Cistercian Way. I share them with you because I was asked to do so. All of these thoughts are my own interpretation (as I listened to Christ while on a park bench in the dead of Winter) and do not reflect any Lay Cistercian or Cistercian points of view.

When I think of these tools for good works that St. Benedict suggested for his monks to move from self to God, they all demand action. If I am to expand the capacity for God “capacitas dei” in my inner self, I must struggle with what the World sets forth as part of my human nature verses what Christ bids us do to become fully human (Adam and Eve before the Fall and not after it). Unfortunately, all us us, including Christ and especially his body, the Church (that includes me), live in what St. Paul calls The World (after the Fall). Living in the World has consequences, such as pain, suffering, being ruled by our emotions, temptations to do evil and not good, thinking we are god. I bring this up because it is at the root of why, when any of us pray (that includes Pope all the way to me, who sits in the Tax Collectors’ seat in Church and will not raise his eyes to the heavens but keeps repeating, Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me), we experience distractions and sometimes downright obscene thoughts. I must struggle to have in me the mind of Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5) Christ had temptations. Temptations are just choices between good and evil, between what the World says is god and what God say is God. If you don’t know the difference, then you may have already been seduced by the Dark Side and not even realize it.

GEORGE

My good friend George Unglaub, 83, who just died during Holy Week this year, asked me why we always have the most disturbing and pornographic thoughts while we attend Eucharist or sit before the Blessed Sacrament in contemplation of Christ. George, bless his soul, was a convert to the Church Universal. He was a proud Marine (Semper Fi, George!) and a crusty, old man who would never tire of telling people of how he saw Jesus in the Chapel at Good Shepherd Church, Tallahassee, Florida. A daily communicant and frequent participant in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. When I asked him why he went to the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Congers, Georgia with his wife Vanessa, also received into the fullness of the Faith of the Universal Church a year ago, why he want to daily Eucharist at Good Shepherd, and why he wore out our priests going to Reconciliation, he simply said, “That is where I see Jesus.” Those who knew the no-nonsense George knew he actually did see Jesus. What a great inspiration of Faith for all us us who wax and wane with trying to master our emotions. George told me he would never master the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, in the sense that once you have them you can forget them. What he said was, he needs Jesus EVERY DAY to keep his focus. What he could do is use these gifts of the Holy Spirit to help him each day to see Christ. He was passionate about this. I mean passionate. I bring up George as one of the answers to having bad or evil thoughts during extremely spiritual times.

AND LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION.

You know the Lord’s Prayer. But do you know how archetypal it is? Original Sin, which seeks to explain the human condition of decay and corruption, is the very reason we have these thoughts. God gave Adam and Eve two gifts after they were thrown out of the Garden of Eden (Heaven) to help us live in this world without becoming animals. Animals don’t go to Heaven (unless you take them there). We can’t go to Heaven (unless Christ we accept that we are adopted sons and daughters of the Father.) Nothing personal! What does it profit you to be a physician, a nurse, a teacher, an entrepreneur, a retiree, or anything else, for that matter, if you miss all the helps God gives you to claim your heritage and you can’t see Jesus. Salvation was won a a great price, Christ’s own life, given for the redemption of all of us so that we can claim adoption. Those who recognize Jesus is Lord recognize their birthright. Those who do not I recommend to the mercy of Christ and say, as he did, “Father, Forgive them for they know not what they do.” That is God’s decision as he sits on the Throne in Heaven “from whence he will judge the living and the dead.” Christ helps those who believe in him, even in the face of thinking bad, evil, or obscene thought while we pray, because that is the way life is. We have a choice, to choose our false self or new self, according to Cistercian spirituality that I read in the late Dom Andre Louf’s book,The Cistercian Way. (Dom is the title for the Abbot of a Monastery. It comes from Dominus, or Lord, and means the Abbot takes the place of Christ for those in his pastoral and spiritual care.) The whole idea of a Monastery, and also for Lay Cistercians, is to “see Jesus each day” as George was so fond of saying. He loved the monastery, although by his own admission, he did not understand all this talk about God. I don’t either.

FIRST GIFT: Reason

When you look out at all of the species of living on earth (many of them extinct), which of them knows that they know? Animals and plants share life with us, but with a difference. Humans alone know that they know. Why do we, of all species, so far in all of physical reality, know that we know, have awareness that raises us up from being animal to being spiritual apes? Why is that? Is this a random selection of humans over other species? Something does not come from nothing, as St. Thomas Aquinas points out. (See my three books entitled, Spiritual Apes for more ideas about this theme. http://www.amazon.com/books/dr. michael. f. conrad)

This is where the book of Genesis comes into play. These ancient oral traditions are finally written down to pass on their heritage and to answer fundamental questions, such as: Why is there pain? Why do we have only seventy or eighty years, then we die? Is that all there is? What is the purpose of life? What is the purpose of my life? What is love and how can I lose it? Why does everything corrupt (everything)? There is someone to come who will redeem us from our collective fault, the human condition that in all cases leads to death. Christ, came to give us life, life forever. Reason is the gift from God that allows us to choose. Choose what?

GIFT TWO: Freedom to Choose

If reason is a gift from God for us to eventually claim our inheritance that Adam and Eve lost through poor choices, they the second gift is that very freedom to choose, one that got us into trouble in the first place. The Old Testament is a record of how God loved the Israelites and even established a convent, but it is also an account of how that people moved away from God (e.g. worshiping the Golden Calf, worshiping gods of stone and iron). Nothing has changed in the New Testament. Christ came to take away the sin of the World (Original Sin) to we could once more have adoption as sons and daughters of the Father. Read Romans 5:12-21. St. Paul writes that the Old Testament is fulfilled by Christ, the Second Adam. But, there is a catch to the price of redemption–the effects of Original Sin are still there, even if the sin is removed through Baptism. What Baptism did was to give those of us who want to “have in you the mind of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5) This is probably the long way of answering Georges’s question about why he has all those terrible thoughts during the most sacred times. This second gift is one that God give us, not to take away temptation, but to give us the choice of grace (what God wants) and sin (what I want). Cistercians call that transformation from self to God. I find that there is an interesting caveat to this process. Death is conquered by Christ but we still must die. Sin is forgiven through Reconciliation, Eucharist, Personal Petition, but we are prone to sin over and over, each and every day. We are not sin-centered, if we choose God but love-centered. We do not want to live our lives by putting at its purpose the exception to love, sin. Sin means we missed the boat, that God tells us how to love authentically, we don’t get that by following The World. Sin, with temptations to do what the World thinks is good, is a choice we make, one won with the blood of Christ shed on the Cross. How great is that love of Christ for us! I am not so naive to think that I can change the world, however, I can change my world by trying to have in me the mind of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 2:5). Some days are better than others. 

As part of my daily Lay Cistercian promises, I try to approach God through Christ each day, asking the Holy Spirit to guard me from the temptations of the World and give me the grace to choose life, and fulfill my adoption heritage. Here are some temptations that George and I discussed about how Satan tempts us to move off the center (sin) and eat of the tree of good and evil (Genesis 2-3). You might have experienced some of these of none of these. They all are a result of Original Sin. We must choose life and not death. We must renounce ourselves and follow Christ (RB Chapter 4:10) and discipline our body, St. Benedict bids his monks. This man knew human nature more then most psychologist and psychiatrists in our age can even approach. He used what was real in the physical universe, the mental universe, which opens up the spiritual universe, not to take away our choice, but to give us the framework where we can move from our false self (Seven Deadly Sins) to move toward God (Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit). Everyone has temptations and not all temptations are evil (choosing Cheerios for breakfast or Wheaties). The archetypal temptations I refer to are at the core of what it means to be human and are those that make us human and not whales or Aardvarks. We have the freedom to choose good or evil, just as Adam and Eve did. As long as we live, there will be temptations we have to seduce us to do good and what is best for us verses what God knows is best for us, even if it seems comfortable. Temptations are choices we make and all choices, remember, have consequences. If we come to a fork in the road, Yogi Berra is said to have said, take it. That the fruit of the tree in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2-3) is good and evil bespeaks the intensity and authenticity of this first great Mystery of Faith, how God made us, we are good, yet we are prone to sin. After the Fall from Grace there was no other option to love, but Christ (Romans 5)  came to give us options once more. Once more, we have choices. We are not just big cups full of grace waiting to go to Heaven automatically. Like Adam and Eve, we must make choices that affect our here and now but also our there and then. Human reason can help us know what is good or bad, but pride and vanity may cloud our vision because we listen to our own ego rather than to Christ, the sign of contradiction to the World. The problem for most of us is, who tells us what is good and evil. Here are some of the issues we have over choice and who gives us that North on our compass with which we measure ourselves. 

TYPES OF TEMPTATION

Physical temptation— In the physical universe, our based for survival, we share the laws of nature with animals, plants, chemicals, physical matter, energy, and time. We must be authentic in this universe and not disobey its laws. As part of it, humans also have urges and survival needs, just like other animals. Animals go through periods when they are fertile and the sexual hormones want species to copulate. When humans act like animals, we call that sin–you are not acting your nature.

Human temptations to sex are the most understandable for humans because we came from animal nature by God’s mercy, and it is important to note that we still have those urges. These can be triggered by looking a someone from either sex and feeling urges to copulate. Having thoughts of an extremely erotic nature during the holiest of times is not sinful. This is a temptation. Sin is when you do not, as St. Benedict says, dash them against Christ and disclose them to your spiritual father (your confessor later one). Sin is allowing Satan to tempt you, just like Adam and Eve to eat of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. Physical temptations are those that we hold in common with all other living things. It is primarily, but not exclusively sexual because that is the dominant drive in all animals, and humans are part of that.

Mental temptations —Mental temptations are far more serious than those stemming from our animal nature. That does not mean they are not evil. Less bad is still bad for us. The difference is the gulf that exists been all living things and humans. God made all that lives, Adam He made from the “adama,” the Hebrew word for the earth. No wonder humans are dirty, but they are not evil.  Adam means earthy. Say what you want about evolution, Adam and Eve were given two gifts all other living things don’t have: reason and the ability to choose (the image and likeness of God). Humans can choose to propagate outside of seasons or periods, although the period of fertility females have is a remnant of our belonging to the physical universe. The mental universe is one that uses reason and the ability to choose good of evil to discover meaning. What is the reason we have reason? I think it has to do with our purpose in life which is to discover the meaning of love? Deuteronomy 6:5 and Matthew 22:37. And why is it important to discover love? If we are to rise above the other life forms on earth, if we are to be authentically human, we must know the meaning of love. As Erich Fromm states in his book,The Art of Loving, humans are not born with knowing how to love, they must learn it. Depending on what they use as meaning, love can be destructive or allow us to go to the next level of our destiny, the spiritual universe. Human temptations come from our human emotions and needs. Anger, Jealousy, Murder, Stealing, Adultery and Fornication, Coveting other women or men, and Coveting the riches of other people are all examples of human temptations. These sins are against other persons, the Church Universal, and

Spiritual temptations— As you might have already guessed, humans can have temptations based on the spiritual universe. These temptations present a choice of what God thinks is authentic (Spirit) and what we think is authentic (the World). Sin means we choose us rather than God. Read Galatians Chapter 5. Spiritual temptations are: 

  • not offering incense to other gods,
  • not respecting the name of the Lord, and
  • not keeping holy the Sabbath.
  • They include falling away from the Church because you chose the World over God, losing your Faith,
  • disrespecting your spiritual heritage,
  • falling away from the Faith because of anger with the Church,
  • hatred for a priest or nun that taught you in school, 
  • and blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (the only sin that is unforgivable).
  • Spiritual sins are the most grievous.
  • These sins are against God, Christ, the Holy Spirit.

Temptations are not sins. They are choices. You have reason for a reason, remember? The problem is not that you are free to choose or not, but what you choose. We not only choose good or evil but we also choose the center against which we find meaning and truth. For me, that center is Philippians 2:5, “have in you the mind of Christ Jesus.” The choice, then, becomes are you the author of what is good or evil, or is God. What you choose can either be from God or not. All of this is compounded by the fragmenting of religion into thinking that each person is their own god, their own church, their own pope. Truth is one and sincerity is not substitute for the way, the truth and the life. Not all religions are religious and teach what comes from Christ. From the very beginnings of the early Church, there has been confusion over who Christ is and is he God or not. This is a struggle that still exists today. Look up Wikipedia on the subject of heretics (with the usual caveat that Wikipedia is not completely accurate historically).https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_movements_declared_heretical_by_the_Catholic_Church

THE THREE FILTERS FOR TRUTH

The big temptation is our age is to discount Christ, the Church (after all, a corrupt Church can’t produce truth, can it?), the Apostolic heritage, and the teachings of men (not male but rather humans). This is a way the Devil uses to separate us from Christ and our heritage as adopted sons and daughters of the Father. Some are seduced by this temptation into equating a few corrupt priests with the message of Christ to love each other as He has loved us. The Church will last until the end time and the Last Coming. Satan knows human weakness is sexuality and the inability to control animal urges to propagate. These urges are good and we would not propagate without them but we have reason to be able to know what is good or evil. Baboons don’t have that gift. Baboons are not evil or corrupt (although they die), they act their nature. Human nature, as found in Genesis, is destined to live with God forever (the Garden of Eden) but Adam and Eve, representing us all, made the choice to choose evil rather than good. This archetypal choice is an explanation of the human condition human find themselves in today. St. Paul says, “the things I don’t what to do, I do, while the things I do, I don’t want to do.”

Romans 7:15-20 (NIV)

15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[a]For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

This is classic St. Paul and it should be classic us. Adam and Eve did not sin until the ate of the fruit. In terms of falling away from the path of righteousness, one meaning may be that the urge to follow our animal instincts is not evil but actually shows we are human. Something is sinful when we make a conscious act of the will to do what we have been tempted to do. In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray for the Devil not to lead us into temptation, but, and this is important, we also pray to deliver us from evil, i.e., not to choose what is presented to us as good, when it is fact evil. It must be wrong (remember, God determines what is right or wrong).  

Three filters to know the truth

Here are the three questions I ask when I want to know the truth, because there can be only one truth.

1. Ask the right question. When someone says I don’t believe in the Catholic Church Universal because they are corrupt and rotten, I tell them they are not asking the right question. The right question is: How does this Body of Christ help me to love God with all my mind, all my heart and all my strength, and my neighbor as myself. (Deuteronomy 6.5 and Matthew 22:34-40). If you have Jehovah Witnesses come to the door to ask you if you believe in Jesus, tell them you will answer their question but you first must determine if they are authentic witnesses of truth: Who wears the Shoes of the Fisherman in your Church, as they stand here, right now? If they don’t know, shake the dust from your shoes and pray for God’s mercy on both you and them.

2. Do you look forward or backward?  Everyone has reason and the ability to choose right from wrong. There are consequences for choosing good (grace) and for choosing bad (sin, missing the mark, not knowing the difference between the choice of what is right is what is easy (Read Harry Potter, No. 3 and No 7, sayings I find refreshing in an age of confirmity and reletavism.  https://www.syfy.com/syfywire/remembering-wise-wizard-albus-dumbledores-12-greatest-quotes 

If you find yourself looking backward in time to what the Scriptures say, jumping from now to then, then you do so without knowing and experiencing the struggle the Church had to keep Christ as its center. The first three centuries, fifty Popes were martyred for their Faith, sometimes by fellow Christians. The other option is to look forward, not from now until you die, but from when Christ founded the Church on the Peter, the rock until now, and told his Church that the gates of Hell would not prevail against it. This is an early Church full of sinful men and women trying to discover Christ, many time losing the way, but always coming back to the true path. It mirrors Old Testament where the prophets kept crying and crying out for Israel to turn back to God. 

Only two persons are without sin, the rest of us must take up our crosses daily and seek God’s mercy and daily bread in the Eucharist. It is a struggle to be a believer, just like it was in the Early Church of Martyrs and continues to this day. https://thecenterforcontemplativepractice.org/2018/04/13/seven-cistercian-martyrs-of-atlas/ If you look back to the time of Christ and seek to find meaning in the Scriptures, you will find it, but you may or may not have the true interpretation of what Christ passed on to the Apostles. Truth is passed forward not backward. The reason is, you are your own church. No one can tell you what to believe or how to believe it. You have no heritage of trial by blood and fire. What Scripture means is up to you (which is true to a point). Scripture was forged in the fiery crucible of the blood of martyrs, with Christ the first born of the dead, as our sacrificial lamb, The Lamb of God. The struggles we have today pales to the controversies of the first three centuries of Christology Wars. The Church was born as communities of Faith, with individuals seeking to do what Christ did so they could go to Heaven inside of them, not out. We must not only look at Scripture but how those in the Early Church were affected by it and love others as Christ loves us. You don’t get that by looking backwards. 

3. Christ Himself authorized St. Peter and the Twelve, to go out into the World and preach the good news. Remember, the only books there were were from the Old Testament, as early Church tried to move from the Twelve Tribes of Israel to the Twelve Apostles. St. Paul was instrumental in help the Church keep from being tied to rituals and the Law (for the sake of the Law). Ironically, as Christianity move into other places, they did so without circumcision as a condition of membership to that of Baptism and the reception of the Holy Spirit. We don’t have to prove anything to anyone. For those without Faith, no answer is possible; for those with Faith, no answer is necessary, says St. Thomas Aquinas. 

All of this means that there is but one truth, one way, one life. My Faith does not depend upon belief alone, but from everything coming from the heart of Christ. As a Lay Cistercian, I observe practices and conversion of heart daily to learn from Christ, not the Christ of my imagination, not the Christ of trying to prove I am right and you are wrong, but the Christ whose only request was: love others as I have loved you. That is Church Universal, the living Body of Christ that was, that is, and that will be. Christ is the head and we are the body.

The uncomfortable notion of consequences

Our problem, again, is the Church, having weathered the storms of heresy, martyrdom, the Monarchical Church trying to seduce the Penitent Church, is perceived as ineffectual because of the current crisis of Faith we experience in our time, betrayal of the promises of  some Priests, Nuns, and Laity to keep the promises they made to follow Christ through celibacy (Priests, Religious) and chastity (Laity). These people will have to answer to the Supreme Judge, not to lawyers. The rest of the Church has the obligation to heal itself and any victims of these crimes (as well as incest, white slavery, abortion, murder, theft, adultery, and fornication). What is at work here is the consequences of our choices. No sin is without consequences. We know from Scripture that the wages of sin is death. Death to the Spirit. God will not abandon His Body, the living Church, as he would not abandon Israel in the Old Testament covenant. What God gives us as a gift to sustain our Faith is the ability to make all things new through Christ’s redemptive forgiveness. If the Mystery of Faith, the Body of Christ is like joining the Moose or Elks Clubs, you will be looking around for another place to plant your body. As you do that, remember, there is not human institution that is not sinful, most especially the Church, We have the ability to confess our collective sinfulness and ask for God’s mercy. We have the ability to turn from evil and do good. Jesus knows that we are tempted. To show us how to combat evil, He Himself was led out into the desert by Satan and tempted.

THE THREE TEMPTATIONS OF CHRIST

No discussion about temptation can be complete without bringing up the three choices Christ was given in the desert. Christ was like us in all things but sin. If it is true that we learn how to love with our whole heart by learning from Christ, it is also true that the three temptations of Christ were inserted in Scriptures to teach us how to combat temptation and its source.  Here are some of my ideas.

The New Testament fulfills the Old Testament and moves it to a deeper level. It does not dump the tradition but transforms it to help us grow deeper with the help of the Holy Spirit.

The three temptations of Christ have been written to show that God is tempted to eat of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, the same tree of which Adam and Eve ate. Jesus, the second Adam, shows us the temptations that lead to pride and our fall from grace, if we eat. These three temptations are not designed to test his human nature, but rather to see how the young Christ (young in human nature) responds as God. The first part is the choice, the second part is how God answers the Devil, just as he did in the Garden of Evil. These three temptations are not those you or I would have, which leads me to think that they were meant to give the readers insights into how God wants his followers to treat being tempted. In the first temptation, that of hunger of the body, Satan uses human need for food, one of the basic needs, as Abraham Maslow sets forth in his heirarchy of needs, and offers Jesus the choice to  (remember, there are consequences to our choices). Remember, Christ had just finished forty days and forty nights (something I find astonishing). The Devil wanted to test the young Christ (young in human nature) to see if his humanity would betray his divinity. Jesus answers the Devil as both God and Man by refocusing hunger to the hunger the heart has for God and that only that bread of life will bring fulfilment as human being. Of course, we learn from this temptation that the Real Presence in the Eucharist is the food that is the Bread of Life. Again, the human nature is tempted but the divine nature responds to this temptation by moving it from the realm of the World to the realm of the Spirit, or the spiritual universe. Jesus hits an out of the park home run.

The second temptation is one that tests human vanity. His humanity is tempted to use his divnity to keep his body safe (also one of Abraham Maslow’s needs) (https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-maslows-hierarchy-of-needs-4136760) so that he can save people. Again, the human nature is tempted but the divine nature responds to this temptation by, once more, moving it from the realm of the World to the realm of the Spirit, or the spiritual universe. To overcome temptation from the World, we learn we must choose to live in the Spirit. Lay Cistercians call that moving from the false self to the new self. It is done with an act of choice, and, this choice has consequences. Home run two.

Matthew 4 (NRSVCE) The Temptation of Jesus

4 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished.The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”But he answered, “It is written,‘One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple,saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor;and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”10 Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,‘Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.’”11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

CELIBACY AND COMMITMENT AND TEMPTATION

We come to the last temptation, or the Devil’s last chance to pitch. Two strikeouts so far. God 2 and Devil 0. Here is the pitch. It is a fastball. Worship me at god, says Satan, and you can have it all. It is identical to the temptation in Genesis 2-3. Wham! A triple home run. Jesus, fully human, fully God hit it out of the park.  

When those temptations come to pull you away from God, Christ tells us to do what he did and say” “Away with you Satan! Workshop the Lord your God, and serve only Him.”  This is what I told George that I try dash my bad thoughts against Christ and tell my spiritual director of my struggle. It is what I do when those bad thoughts and emotions well up within me. To battle Satan, only the sword of justice and truth can banish him from your thoughts (I ask the Warrior Angel Michael to be my protector using his flaming sword). None of this will prevent you from having wandering thoughts, but it will help if you call upon the name of the Lord to protect you from evil. That is one of the reasons I wear the St. Benedict medal I received when I made final promises as a professed Lay Cistercian. Some days are better than others.

Once, I was talking to a group of Roman Catholic priests about sexuality and mental health. The topics were many and quite explicit, such as “I have sexual feelings a lot and have the urge to procreate with females, any females,  to fulfill these needs. Am I not entitled to fulfill my needs? I have these thoughts even during the holiest parts of the Eucharist or while praying Lectio Divina.” Having been a celibate priest for sixteen years, in my pride, I thought I could address it. I did so by saying that the urges all males have and the material instincts women have come from God and are good. We share those urges to procreate with all living things. What God made is good. Celibacy is a commitment or choice of ways to love Christ and serve the Church. It does not make sense to the World and its secular thinking of self-fulfillment. Celibacy, like a marriage commitment is a way to live our your life with Christ as your center. Having urges to propagate is natural and normal. Celibacy is a free act of the will, although people at the time don’t know what the consequences of that promise will be in ten to twenty years. “Do you think that, just because you are celibate or a consecrated religious, you are not going to be subject to what all living things have as their primary needs, i.e. security, procreation, eating? I don’t think so,” I told them, “So then, how can you be fully human and still be celibate?” I said. The purpose of life is not celibacy nor even marriage. Married couples have temptations to procreate (men) and fulfill the need to be love by another.. It is love, but authentic love is not without struggle and automatic. That is why Faith, even as a gift from God, may be lost or weakened without daily taking up our cross and following Christ. We must learn love. We learn it by doing what The Master taught us as handed down through the centuries. Celibacy and marriage are acts of love that can make us fully human. Both Celibacy and Marriage doesn’t make sense without the example Christ gave us to love one another as Christ loves us. We will always have urges to dominate others, steal, murder, hate, fornicate, commit adultery, homosexual acts, acts with animals. Remember, we come from animal instincts. What Christ gave us was salvation from our false self (Seven Deadly Sins) to be transformed by our true self (Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit). We don’t deny our authentic urges for safety, propagation, self awareness, belonging, and to be adopted sons and daughters of the Father. Temptation means we are presented with authentic love (through, with and in Christ) and unauthentic love (The World tells us what is important). We have the ability to choose to choose the way, the truth and the life.

Being a Lay Cistercian is all about affirming the choices that I think God has given us through Christ. God gives us choices in the Ten Commandments and the Church gives us choices in marriage and holy orders. We are defined by these choices. It is not just that we are free to choose, which all humans are, we are defined by what we choose. Because the World only gives us choices that cater to our false self, we are challenged to choose what is bad for us over what is good for us. Temptations simply point out the fact that we are human and have reason, but also that, like Genesis, we have a choice of the knowledge of good and evil. What we do next is sinful or not. Here are some ideas I offered to the clergy.

  • Realize that your mind can entertain any sort of thought or temptation of a sexual nature, of drinking alcohol, or living a life of clericalism (being celibate but not following Christ). Matthew 22.
  • Realize that your commitment is one of struggle, one impossible to achieve with the values of this World. Only Christ gives us the meaning of true love.
  • Realize that temptations to do evil in thoughts or with others means you are struggling with the deepest of human conditions. Being a Lay Cistercian, a monk, or a nun, will not shield you from temptation or sin, but it will help you to dash your unhealthy choices against Christ and have someone you can help you move from self to God. 
  • Realize that you are not defined by other priests or nuns who made horrific choices. Don’t confuse the aberration with the commitment, despite the greed, detraction and calumny of lawyers.
  • Realize that you are in a titanic struggle for good and evil within you.
  • Realize that, once you put on the helmet of salvation and the breastplate of Faith, you are at war with the World and it temptations for self gratification.
  • Realize that others will sustain you in time of intense temptation, if you reach out. Christ is always there.
  • Realize that, if you wear a St. Benedict medal and pray with humility and openness to the will of God, this will remind you of the prayer on the medal (see the inscriptions below). This resource is lifted from Wikipedia:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Benedict_Medal I recommend you wear the St. Benedict medal, not as magical talisman to prevent the Devil from seducing you, although it is that. Rather, I like to think of it as a rubber band wrapped around my wrist to make me conscious that, when we are lead into temptation, Christ is there to protest us from the Devil, who goes about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. 

The medal’s symbolism

Saint Benedict Medal, front.

On the front of the medal is Saint Benedict holding a cross in his right hand, the object of his devotion, and in the left his rule for monasteries.[3] In the back is a poisoned cup, in reference to the legend of Benedict, which explains that hostile monks attempted to poison him: the cup containing poisoned wine shattered when the saint made the sign of the cross over it (and a raven carried away a poisoned loaf of bread). Above the cup are the words Crux sancti patris Benedicti (“The Cross of [our] Holy Father Benedict”). Surrounding the figure of Saint Benedict are the words Eius in obitu nostro praesentia muniamur! (“May we be strengthened by his presence in the hour of our death”), since he was always regarded by the Benedictines as the patron of a happy death.[3][10]

On the back is a cross, containing the letters C S S M L – N D S M D, initials of the words Crux sacra sit mihi lux! Non [Nunquam?] draco sit mihi dux! (“May the holy cross be my light! May the dragon never be my overlord!”).[3] The large C S P B stand for Crux Sancti Patris Benedicti (“The Cross of [our] Holy Father Benedict”). Surrounding the back of the medal are the letters V R S N S M V – S M Q L I V B, in reference to Vade retro satanaVade retro Satana! Nunquam suade mihi vana! Sunt mala quae libas. Ipse venena bibas!(“Begone Satan! Never tempt me with your vanities! What you offer me is evil. Drink the poison yourself!”) and finally, located at the top is the word PAX which means “peace”.[3][10]

Saint Benedict Medal, back.

Latin AbbreviationLatin TextEnglish TextLocation
PAXPAXPeaceTop
C S P BCrux Sancti Patris BenedictiThe Cross of [our] Holy Father BenedictFour quadrants made by centre cross
C S S M LCrux Sacra Sit Mihi Lux!May the holy cross be my light!Center cross, vertical bar
N D S M DNon [Nunquam?] Draco Sit Mihi Dux!“May the dragon never be my overlord!”
“Let the devil not be my leader.”
Center cross, horizontal bar
V R SVade Retro Satana!“Begone satan!”
“Get behind me satan”
Clockwise around disk
N S M VNunquam Suade Mihi Vana!“Never tempt me with your vanities!”
“Don’t persuade me of wicked things.”
Clockwise around disk
S M Q LSunt Mala Quae Libas.“What you offer me is evil.”
“What you are showing me is bad.”
Clockwise around disk
I V BIpse venena bibas!“Drink the poison yourself!”
“Drink your poisons yourself.”
Clockwise around disk
  • We are adopted sons and daughters of the Father, but we are not orphans.
  • Wearing the blessed medal of St. Benedict is not magic or illusion, but it does remind me to call on the name of the Lord to help me in time of trouble.
  • Christ came to save us from having no choices except our own selves.
  • Christ came to save us from having our only option as being what the World thinks is true.
  • Christ came to save us from being our own god, our own church.
  • I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, says Christ our Master, follow me, love one another as I have loved you. That “as I have loved you” is the kicker.
  • We have reason to know the truth and the truth will make us free. That is not always easy to do and we fail the test of covenant many times in our lives. When we fall down, we have Christ reaching out his hand to help us back up. How many times? Seventy times seven time. 
  • I think it is important not to be defined by sin or by the exception to the Rule. Christ alone is the Rule.

I. THE MODERN TEMPTATION TO BE GOD

The news media is full of politicians falling all over themselves to proclaim what is moral, what is just, what is the way. Christ is no where to be found. Our temptation is to take the easy way out rather than doing what is right. The easy, political way is to stand for everything which is to stand for nothing. The political way is to say, “personally I am against it, but politically, I support abortion to get elected.” Hatred and detraction of others is normative. The temptation here is to think you are god, if you are politician (any party, any level of governing). Humility is no where to be found. If you take the time to measure any political message against Chapter 4 of the Rule of St. Benedict, make your own decision as to what is right or not. You have reason for a reason. No wonder that authentic religion is degenerate and mocked by those whose god is their own ego. No principles against which we must be accountable to God. Politicians are only accountable to the electorate. The temptation here is to think that there is no God, only the party platform, much of which is atheistic in assumption. The temptation for all of us is to think that all this garbage thinking will make us more human, more loving, more compassionate, and more merciful. You have reason for a reason. You also have choices for a reason, and, remember, we are defined by our choices. I choose not to be seduced by the false prophets of politics of any party. I choose not to give up my faith by burning incense before the altar of Democratic Party, Republican Party, or any groups that denigrates the teachings of Christ. The price for my redemption was too high for me to sell my birthright for a pitiful handful of silver. This might seem radical thinking, but all politics seems to me to be meaningless and bankrupt of values, based on relativistic and individualistic ideas. Power and hatred seems to be the platform of some parties. How would you evaluate what comes to you as political news based on Galatians 5: The Works of the Flesh1Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh.17 For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want.18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law.19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness,20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions,21 envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.The Fruit of the Spirit22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness,23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.26 Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.  

II. TEMPTATION TO BE YOUR OWN CHURCH

There is a confusion of tongues, like the tower of Babel, in our age. Religions contradict each other and hold assumptions that cannot possibly be true, if there is but one truth. The temptation here is to follow false prophets and false gods, the modern equivalent of offering incense to the bust of Caesar as god in Apostolic times. There have always been individuals who, with itching ears, have falsely proclaimed the teachings of the Master. Sincerity is no excuse for heresy. You have a choice. As the knight in the Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade movie says, “choose wisely.” After all, you have the ability to reason and the freedom to choose what is either good or evil for you. There are consequences to your choice. Just because you have the freedom to choose whatever you want does not mean that what you choose is the truth. 

Here are some Scripture passages for your reflection and contemplation.

Matthew 26:40-42 New International Version (NIV)

40 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. 41“Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

42 He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.

1 Corinthians 10:13[Full Chapter]
No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.

Matthew 24 NRSVCE – The Destruction of the Temple Foretold – Signs of the End of the Age

When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”Jesus answered them, “Beware that no one leads you astray.For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah!’[a]and they will lead many astray.And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet.For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines[b]and earthquakes in various places:all this is but the beginning of the birth pangs.

III. THE TEMPTATION TO THINK YOU KNOW WHAT IS GOOD OR EVIL

In Genesis 2-3, we read about Adam and Eve given a command not to eat of the tree of good and evil. Even today, when someone tells me not to do something there is a real urge to at last try to do it. It must be built into the human consciousness. At issues here is, who is God? You or God? It is the very crux of what modern thinking, secular thinking, is all about. Whenever you hear the Church being vilified as being too old, too out of touch, too male dominated, and against letting you do what you want to make you fulfilled, you can be sure that Adam and Eve are there once more. God is removed as the principle from which all moral decisions are made. You can measure your fulfillment either by accepting God as your center or, the other alternative, you as your center. In the previous temptation, we talked about you being your own church. The unintended consequences of placing yourself at the center of all knowledge of good and evil is that each individual is god. There is not collective hub against which you can measure your behavior. Each person, according to this thinking, has the right to think whatever they want. It is true that we have the freedom to choose anything we want as our center, but it is also true that if we choose a false center, the consequences are we become our own god. Lay Cistercian spirituality, based on following the Rule of St. Benedict confronts that thinking directly in Chapter 4. “You way of acting should be different than the World’s way; the love of Christ must come before all else.” The two are mutually opposed and you can be a politician who says, personally I think abortion is wrong but politically, I hold it to be true. That is spiritual schizophrenia. There are consequences to those actions. You will stand before the ultimate judge of your behavior one day and try to get away with it once more time. Good luck. We must try to move from our false self to our new self each day. The challenge is sometimes hidden in what seems to be an enigma; if you are pro-choice, that means you do have anyone tell you what to do with your body. All of us have freedom to choose because we are human. The choice here is between God as your center or you as god. There will be consequences for your actions, not now, but when you stand before the Throne of the Lamb and you must give an account of your stewardship. Read Matthew 25.

SUMMARY POINTS

  • Unless you are comfortably in the grave, you will have temptations throughout your lifetime.
  • Temptation are not good or bad, they are the presentation of choices that may be good or bad for you.
  • Humans have reason for a reason and the ability to make choices that are good or evil
  • Good and evil is either defined by God (Commandments, Beatitudes, Scriptures. Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit) or by you (The World, Seven Deadly Sins)
  • Celibacy doesn’t mean you won’t have sexual thoughts or temptations to break your vows; marriage doesn’t mean you won’t have sexual thoughts or temptations to break your vows; being single doesn’t mean you have a free pass to commit fornication or adultery or living together outside of marriage.
  • Quit complaining about how difficult celibacy is or how marriage limits your sexual appetites. When God accepted you as an adopted son or daughter, he said it would be difficult to follow Him verses the World. He has given us Himself to help us, not to take away our temptations or our failures, but to assure us of God’s mercy and forgiveness, with the condition that we forgive others as well.
  • Temptations of bad or evil thoughts demand action. You can dash them against Christ and give into what they promise you.
  • You must choose God or choose the World. The World promotes self fulfillment and self-gratification; Christ promotes self-denial and transformation from your false self to your true self.
  • Christ is the Principle against which all is measured. He teaches us the meaning of authentic love, not what the World chooses. He save us from death and promises life…Forever. 
  • The gauntlet of life is fraught with many trials and “thorns of the flesh” that would seduce us from following the way, the truth, and the life. We don’t always make right choices. We have the Sacrament of Reconciliation to ask for God’s grace in helping us with temptations and to confess our love for Christ once more, to commit to making all things new once more.
  • All choices have consequences. The problem with consequence is you may not feel their effects in this lifetime, but you will be accountable for what you do. Chapter 4 of the Rule of St. Benedict counsels us to have a fear of Hell (See Chapter 4 at the beginning of this blog).

You are not me; I am not you; God is not you; and you, most certainly, are not God. –Michael F. Conrad

Praise to the God the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. The God who is, who was, and who is to come at the end of the ages.  Amen and Amen.  –Cistercian doxology

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