THE DELUSIONS WHICH THE DEVIL SUGGESTS TO SINNERS
Let us imagine a young man who has fallen into grievous sins, which he has already confessed, and who is restored to the friendship of God. The devil again tempts him to relapse; the young man resists for a while, but in consequence of the delusions suggested by the enemy, he begins to vacillate. “Tell me, young man,” I say to him, “what will you do? Will you now, for this miserable pleasure, forfeit the grace of God, which you have just acquired, and which is more valuable than the whole world? Will you yourself write the sentence of eternal death, and condemn yourself to burn forever in hell?” “No,” you answer, “I do not wish to damn myself; I wish to he saved; if I commit this sin, I will afterwards confess it.” Behold the first delusion of the devil! Then you say that you will afterwards confess it; but in the meantime you lose your soul. Tell me, if you had a jewel worth a thousand crowns, would you throw it into a river, saying, “I will make a diligent search for it, and hope to find it?” You hold in your hand the precious jewel of your soul, which Jesus Christ has purchased with his blood, and you voluntarily cast it into hell (for in punishment of every mortal sin, you are condemned to eternal fire) and say, “I hope to recover it by a good confession.” But should you not recover it, what shall be the consequence? To recover the divine grace, true repentance, which is the gift of God, is necessary. Should God not give you the grace of repentance, should death overtake you, and not allow you time to go to confession, what shall become of you?
You say that you will go to confession before the lapse of a week. And who promises you that you shall live for a week? You then say that you will go to confession to-morrow. And who promises you to-morrow? St. Augustine says, “God has not promised to-morrow: perhaps he will give it, and perhaps he will not.” Perhaps he will deny it to you, as he has to so many others who have gone to bed in good health, and have been found dead in the morning. How many have been struck dead in the act of sin, and sent to hell! And should the same happen to you, how shall you be able to repair your eternal ruin? Be assured that by this delusion, I will afterwards go to confession, the devil has brought thousands and thousands of Christians to hell. It is difficult to find a sinner so abandoned to despair as to wish for his own damnation. In committing sin, all sinners hope to repent and go to confession; it is thus that so many miserable souls are lost; and now there is no remedy for their damnation.
But you say, “At present I cannot resist this temptation.” Behold the second delusion of the devil, who makes it appear to you that at present you have not strength to resist your passions. First, it is necessary to know that, as the apostle says, “God is faithful, and never permits us to be tempted above our strength” (1 Corinthians 10:13). Moreover, I ask, if you are now unable to resist your passions, how shall you be able to resist them hereafter? After you have yielded to one temptation, the devil shall tempt you to other sins, and by your consent to sin he shall have gained an increase of strength against you, and you shall have become weaker. If, then, you are unable to extinguish the flame of passion, how can you expect to extinguish it when it shall have grown stronger? You say, God will give you his aid. But this aid he gives you at present. Why, then, do you not correspond with his grace and conquer your passion? Perhaps you expect that God will give you more abundant helps and graces after you have multiplied sins. If at present you wish for greater help and strength, why do you not ask them from God? “Ask and it shall be given you” (Matthew 7:7). God cannot violate his promise. Have recourse to him and he will give you the strength which you require in order to resist every temptation. “God does not command impossibilities,” says the Council of Trent, Sess. 6, cap 11; “but by his command he admonishes us to do what we can with the actual aid which he gives us; and when this aid is not sufficient to enable us to resist temptations, he exhorts us to ask additional help, which he gives whenever we pray for it.”
Affections and Prayers
Then, my God, why hast thou been so bountiful to me, and I so ungrateful to thee? We have been engaged in a mutual contest. I fled away from thee, and thou didst seek after me. Thou didst confer benefits on me, I offered insults to thee. Ah Lord! The goodness alone which thou hast shown me ought to enamor me of thee; for, when I multiplied sins, thou didst multiply thy graces. And, when have I merited the light which thou now givest me? My Lord, I thank thee for it with my whole heart, and I hope to thank thee for it eternally in heaven. I hope in thy blood for eternal salvation, and I hope for it with certainty, since thou hast treated me with so much mercy. I hope that thou wilt give me grace never more to betray thee. I purpose, with thy grace, to die a thousand times rather than ever again offend thee. I have offended thee sufficiently. During the remainder of my life I wish to love thee. And how can I but love a God who, after having died for me, has waited for me with so much patience, in spite of the numberless injuries I have done him? O God of my soul, I repent of all my sins with my whole heart; I would wish to die of sorrow for them. But if I have hitherto turned my back upon thee, I now love thee above all things; I love thee more than myself. Eternal Father, through the merits of Jesus Christ, assist a miserable sinner, who wishes to love thee. Mary, my hope, assist me; obtain for me the grace always to have recourse to thy Son and to thee, as often as the devil shall tempt me to offend God again.
Editor’s Note: This meditation is from St. Alphonsus Liguori’s “Preparation for Death” (1758).
Art: Detail from The Temptation of Saint Anthony, Mathias Grünewald, 1515, PD-US, Wikimedia Commons.