The devil made me do it

No he didn’t.

Comedian Flip Wilson did a famous piece – The Devil Made Me Buy This Dress!. It was hilarious. Some people think the devil makes them do things too.

The devil is real. He prowls through the world like a roaring lion looking to devour, seeking the ruination of souls. He is very powerful and smart, but he is NOT in any way equal to God’s might.

The devil can only tempt us. To sin, we must accept his proposal and be a willing participant. We have the power to say no (unless we are actually possessed, which is rare and itself required our cooperation). Sin is disordered, cooperating with evil (thus separation from God) and VOLUNTARY. We can not be forced to sin (although we could conceivably be forced to do sinful things against our will). Similarly, we can not sin accidentially.

A related, but flawed, theory many people have is that all temptation is from the devil. He certainly creates his share — particularly the most clever temptations custom tailored for our particular personal weaknesses. He is not however, responsible for all temptation.

There are two other sources of temptation: the world and the flesh. The world seems to be a hotbed these days, with immodesty and pornography everywhere, secular “values” and relativistic thinking. It is easy for the careless to follow the heard through the wide gate.

The flesh means us. No blaming the devil or the world on this one. It is our disordered attraction to sin (concupiscence) passed on to us through original sin.

You were dead in your transgressions and sins in which you once lived following the age of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the desires of our flesh, following the wishes of the flesh and the impulses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest.

To summarize, there are three things which tempt us (tria autem sunt quae nos tentant). These enemies of the soul are:

  1. the world (mundus)
  2. the flesh (caro)
  3. the devil (et diabolus)

Finally, no discussion of temptation would be complete without mentioning the Our Father. “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” I am aware of no better explanation for this important intention than that found in the Catechism:

2846 This petition goes to the root of the preceding one, for our sins result from our consenting to temptation; we therefore ask our Father not to “lead” us into temptation. It is difficult to translate the Greek verb used by a single English word: the Greek means both “do not allow us to enter into temptation” and “do not let us yield to temptation.” “God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one”; on the contrary, he wants to set us free from evil. We ask him not to allow us to take the way that leads to sin. We are engaged in the battle “between flesh and spirit”; this petition implores the Spirit of discernment and strength.

2847 The Holy Spirit makes us discern between trials, which are necessary for the growth of the inner man, and temptation, which leads to sin and death. We must also discern between being tempted and consenting to temptation. Finally, discernment unmasks the lie of temptation, whose object appears to be good, a “delight to the eyes” and desirable, when in reality its fruit is death.

God does not want to impose the good, but wants free beings….   There is a certain usefulness to temptation. No one but God knows what our soul has received from him, not even we ourselves. But temptation reveals it in order to teach us to know ourselves, and in this way we discover our evil inclinations and are obliged to give thanks for the goods that temptation has revealed to us.

2848 “Lead us not into temptation” implies a decision of the heart: “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also….   No one can serve two masters.” “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” In this assent to the Holy Spirit the Father gives us strength. “No testing has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, so that you may be able to endure it.”

2849 Such a battle and such a victory become possible only through prayer. It is by his prayer that Jesus vanquishes the tempter, both at the outset of his public mission and in the ultimate struggle of his agony. In this petition to our heavenly Father, Christ unites us to his battle and his agony. He urges us to vigilance of the heart in communion with his own. Vigilance is “custody of the heart,” and Jesus prayed for us to the Father: “Keep them in your name.” The Holy Spirit constantly seeks to awaken us to keep watch. Finally, this petition takes on all its dramatic meaning in relation to the last temptation of our earthly battle; it asks for final perseverance. “Lo, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is he who is awake.”

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