TEMPTATION AND FALLING AWAY FROM THE FAITH

This is an excerpt from my latest book, WE ARE DEFINED BY OUR CHOICES: A Lay Cistercian reflects on Temptation, Truth, Reason, and Free Choice and why people fall away from the Church. (out August 2, 2019) which are my reflections on the phenomenon of falling away from the Church? The image I have is one where, if the Church is tilted on its side, all the seeds without roots on loose soils will slide off into the abyss. Those who are rooted in the soil will withstand the trauma. The questions to be explored are: what makes some on taking root on the shallow ground while others are in fertile soil? How does free will play out? is truth relative? You may think you are on solid ground but really be in shallow soil.

Read this text for yourself. What are your conclusions?

Matthew 13 The Parable of the Sower

13 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears[a] listen!”

The Purpose of the Parables10 Then the disciples came and asked him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” 11 He answered, “To you it has been given to know the secrets[b] of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 13 The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.’ 14 With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says:‘You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive. 15 For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn— and I would heal them.’16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. 17 Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.

The Parable of the Sower Explained 18 “Hear then the parable of the sower. 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet such a person has no root but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away.[c] 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23 But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, another case thirty.”

LAY CISTERCIAN LIFESTYLE AND TEMPTATION

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 a 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 its 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 entire resource is lifted from Wikipedia:https://en.

wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Benedict_Medal

I recommend you wear the St. Benedict medal, not as a 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, about 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 Benedict (“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, about Vade retro Satana: Vade 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]

  • 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. Scripture records the Rule. The Church makes the Rule flesh in each age. Christ is the Vine, and each one of us is a branch. Some bear good fruit, some don’t.

THREE TEMPTATIONS TO SEDUCE YOU TO BE GOD

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 nowhere 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 are normative. The temptation here is to think you are a god if you are a politician (any party, any level of governing). Humility is nowhere 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 a 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 a 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 seem 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 Flesh 16 Live 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 gentlenesses, 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. THE 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 a 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 can 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

3 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?”4 Jesus answered them, “Beware that no one leads you astray.5 For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah!’[a]and they will lead many astray.6 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.7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines[b]and earthquakes in various places:8 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 were 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 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 a god. There is not a 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. Would you want to stand before Truth itself and say, “Personally, I held that abortion was wrong, but I stood by and even supported that principle that what people chose was moral? Do you see the dichotomy here? I am reminded of the words of Professor Albus Dumbledore said to Harry Potter at the end of the movie, “ Soon we must face the difficult choice between what is right and what is easy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=52Wvn4SzYWc. This is clearly not a moral choice but a politically correct decision designed to appease their followers, Democrat or Republican.

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 the freedom to choose because we are human. The choice here is between God as your center or you as a 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 comfortable in the grave, you will have temptations throughout your lifetime.
  • The temptation is not good or bad, they are the presentation of choices that may be good or bad for you.
  • Humans have a reason for a reason and the ability to make choices that are good or evil
  • Good and evil are 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 versus 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 in to 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 are measured. He teaches us the meaning of authentic love, not what the World chooses. He saves 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 the 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 a 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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