Temptation (Lat. tentare, to try or test) is here taken to be an incitement to sin whether by persuasion or by the offer of some good or pleasure. It may be merely external, as was the case of Christ’s encounter in the desert after the forty days’ fast; or it may be internal as well, inasmuch as there is a real assault upon a person’s will power. It arises sometimes from the propensity to evil inherent in us as a result of original sin. Sometimes it is directly chargeable to the intervention of the Devil, who can furnish the imagination with its sinful subject-matter and stir up the lower powers of the soul. Not infrequently both causes are at work. Temptation is not in itself sin. No matter how vivid the unholy image may be, no matter how strong the inclination to transgress the law, no matter how vehement the sensation of unlawful satisfaction, as long as there is no consent of the will, there is no sin. The very essence of sin in any grade is that it should be a deliberate act of the human will. Attack is not synonymous with surrender. This, while obvious enough, is important especially for those who are trying to serve God sedulously and yet find themselves beset on all sides by temptations. They are apt to take the fierceness and repetition of the onset as proof that they have fallen. A wise spiritual guide will point out the error of this conclusion and thus administer comfort and courage to these harassed souls.
Temptations are to be combated by the avoidance, where possible, of the occasions that give rise to them, by recourse to prayer, and by fostering within oneself a spirit of humble distrust of one’s own powers and of unbounded confidence in God. The resistance which a Christian is bound to offer need not always be direct. Sometimes, particularly when there is question of reiterated evil interior suggestions, it may be useful to employ an indirect method, that is, to simply ignore them and quietly divert the attention into another channel. Temptations as such can never be intended by God. They are permitted by Him to give us an opportunity of practicing virtue and self-mastery and acquiring merit. The fact of temptation, no matter how large it looms in a person’s life, is not an indication that such an one is under the ban. Indeed those whom God calls to special heights of sanctity are just those who may expect to have to wrestle bravely with temptations more numerous and fearsome than fall to the lot of the average mortal.
—JOSEPH F. DELANY.