Success in the interior life often involves overcoming a certain self-perception of ourselves in relation to who or what we should be like. We’re often presented with things in the media that are sensationalized, even though they’re often harmful. In many cases, this perception of how we’re supposed to fit in forms the basis for our self-esteem. Consequently, when we feel bad due to lack of fitting into that false sense of identity, we’re more susceptible to giving into temptation. How often do feelings of being alone or rejected, or the fear of those feelings, overcome the will to put God first in our thoughts and actions?
In many instances of temptation there is an inflammation of our desire for fortune and fame, for the marvelous and for status. We’re often presented with an image of having the things we want, permeated by a sense of permissiveness. Permissiveness is one of the three tactics the devil uses to foster disdain for the cross of Christ, according to the venerable Fulton Sheen in his YouTube video, “The Devil & the Diabolic.” The other two tactics are marvel and status. Together they form an easy-to-remember acronym, PMS.
To overcome this strategy of darkness, we must learn to embrace and love the cross we’ve been given. We may need to desire the feelings that on the surface seem ugly or bad, feelings which the world often shuns entirely. Put another way, we sometimes must desire being unpopular over popular, poor over rich, simple over sophisticated in order to maintain our relationship with God.
Jesus summarizes this attitude within several of the beatitudes, e.g. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Fr. Robert Barron paraphrases this beatitude in his DVD series “Catholicism,” stating “Blessed are those who aren’t addicted to good feelings.”
Indeed, how great we feel when we seem like the center of attention and believe everyone wants to be around us, when we’re frequently invited to popular events and parties and believe we can win over and influence anyone. The desire for these feelings can be so strong that many abuse alcohol and other drugs in order to produce them. Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with feeling good, the problem arises when producing those feelings is more important than anything else, especially our relationship with Him –how easy it is to forget about Jesus and the mission of the Gospel, how easy we become permissive towards sin so that we may feel better.
The Word Made Flesh also stated, albeit in Aramaic, “Blessed are those who suffer persecution for righteousness sake, and, ‘for My Name sake and the Gospel.’ Fr. Barron paraphrased these two beatitudes by stating, “Blessed are those who are not attached to honor.” Mediating on the Crown of Thorns that Jesus received during his passion can give us the courage we need to overcome our attachment to honor.
Another beatitude that can help us overcome our attachment to honor: “Blessed are those who are poor in spirit.” Being held in high esteem by others can easily be misplaced as the source for our self-esteem. Not surprisingly, those who embrace poverty of spirit are not addicted to a high self-esteem or to pride. Rather, they can embrace feeling vulnerable and weak, like a homeless person begging for food or a lamb in the midst of wolves, knowing their shepherd, the Lord Jesus, will protect them. How often does Satan lurk at the door of our heart, lurking like a lion waiting to devour us? How many suicides are the result of someone falling and not being able to get up?
By embracing an attitude of poverty in spirit we may more aptly embrace humility, a disposition which prepares us to be in the presence of our Heavenly Father, the Alpha and Omega who is omniscient and omnipotent. This disposition is similar to one of repentance. Consider the lives of Pope John Paul II and Mother Theresa –they went to confession weekly.
In order to allow a certain amount of detachment from the things of this world and abide in His love, we must embrace the beatitudes. One of the agencies Satan uses to deter us from the cross is the presentation of activities in this world as marvelously fun, so much so that we should abandon our restraint. How many spring break parties reveal drunkenness and immodesty as the key to having fun? How many high school and college age students turn to drugs and selling them for the allure of money and esteem? How many rap songs glorify this type of lifestyle?
This same allure was the focus of the last temptation of Jesus, where the Devil vainly attempted to persuade Jesus to worship him in exchange for the world and all its kingdoms. Jesus wisely responded “Away with you Satan! For it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and Him alone shall you serve.’”
How many who are esteemed by the media have succumbed to the allure of fame and fortune at the expense of their relationship with God? How many of them appear idolized by today’s youth?
St. John of the Cross expanded on the need for our preparation through embracing the beatitudes by his “Graph of the Mount of Perfection.” This graph can assist us in not only embracing bad feelings over good ones when appropriate, but our tendency to overshoot, being more attracted to the bad ones than the good, especially in our desire for spiritual reward. Can we be so bold as to let go of our attraction to those as well?
In essence, let us learn to find comfort in our relationship with God, in our contemplation of His goodness and the blessings He has promised to those who persevere in righteousness and holiness. And yet, not excessively, as though our self-esteem is based on our own works, accomplishments and growth. Rather, let our joy be found in the graces He’s freely given.
Indeed, if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, our faith is in vain, but if we trust that the apostle’s testimony is true, if we remember the good things He has done for us in times past or for others we know, then we can hold fast to His promises and to the hope that we have much more to look forward to than even our best moments of consolation while on earth.
Consider the change of heart and transformation that takes place when a young adult, or a person of any age for that matter, puts the Will of God first in their life, when the seeds of the Gospel take root and grow firm. No longer is the natural man overly concerned with what others think of them, nor is he so easily influenced by peer pressure, a desire for popularity or excellence according to a standard set by the world –no longer is a primary pursuit fame and fortune. Rather, he or she starts looking for the deeper meaning behind the events of life, looking for God’s signature in everything, even when it seems obscure and surrounded by evil. It’s as though they are one of the cave dwellers discussed by Plato in “The Republic,” coming out of the cave for the first time and realizing that the things seen inside are only shadows of true forms, shadows of the true reality.
This true reality can be found in Him who is the Truth, the Life and the Way, the King, President and Supreme Leader who leads all those who follow Him out of the world, out of addiction to pleasure and out of the fruit of Satan’s tricks and snares –the three temptations represented in the story of the Israelite’s as deliverance from Egypt (the world), concupiscence (slavery to sin) and the Devil (Pharaoh) and by St. John as the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life.