TEMPTATIONS, DAILY STRUGGLE, AND MATURITY.
To what then shall I compare the men of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the market place and calling to one another, “We piped to you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not weep.”Lk 7: 31
Our Lord, with his divine skill at teaching, wants to help us understand the quality of the love he expects from us. He alludes to a popular children’s song or game in order to reproach us for our resistance to grace, our shallow excuses.
Our path on earth requires continual struggle, without making any compromises with the enemy of our soul. To maintain the fight, we need God’s grace and unbending fortitude.
- In the pilgrimage of our present life, St Augustine teaches, we will always have temptations, for it is through them that we make progress. No one knows himself unless he is tempted; no one can be crowned unless he has conquered; no one can conquer unless he has struggled; and no one can struggle unless he is tempted or has an enemy.
- Without struggle, there will be no victory, no peace. For victory and peace cannot be attained if loyalty and resolve to win the combat are lacking (St. Josemaría).
- Supernatural peace is the rich fruit of grace, but our full response is needed, and this presupposes a strong, mature, well-developed personality for its foundation.
- Don’t say, “That’s the way I’m made…, it’s my character.” It’s your lack of character (St. Josemaria).
- No one is born with their character already shaped; character is formed over the course of a lifetime through the repetition of certain acts, the fostering of good dispositions, and the determination to cut out what has to be cut out. Together with these human means, there needs to be trusting abandonment to the will of God, our almighty Father.
- St Bernard says: I shall go forth to the mountain of grace and to the hills of mercy, whose treasures I well know are found in Christ Jesus. I will go to the one who is filled with grace and truth, to receive of his fullness, or rather to be received into his fullness, so that one day I may go out to meet him in the company of all his members, after reaching the full measure of the age of Christ, for no one can ascend to heaven except by way of the one who descended from heaven … While here on earth we have every reason to trust, and none to despair. We can look confidently to heaven to receive precious and perfect gifts from the Father of all lights and mercies.
Our Lord makes use of difficulties and temptations to strengthen our character, as we fight against discouragement and struggle on bravely, relying on God’s strength.
- Temptation, St. Josemaria wrote, is overcome by prayer and mortification: When they were troublesome to me, I wore sackcloth, I afflicted myself with fasting; I prayed with head bowed…Be strong, firm, upright, unyielding before the deceitful attractions of unfaithfulness.
- The determination not to give in but to keeping struggling does not mean we have to be insensitive to sorrow and tiredness. What is needed is a sufficient reason to respond to grace: to love, believe and hope.
The difference between Christians and those who do not know God, St Cyprian says, is that the latter complain in the face of adversity, whereas we are only strengthened by it.
- The basis for this strength is God’s grace, supported by an upright character and a resolute will that refuses to give in. Nothing worthwhile is achieved simply on the basis of initial enthusiasm.What good are plants that blossom and then quickly wither? St John Chrysostom asks. Our Lord requires the steadfast endurance of his followers. We must pursue our goal resolutely, patiently, using the right means to attain it.
- Will-power. -Energy. -Example. -What has to be done, is done… Without wavering… Without giving in to human respect. If we are not decisive, we cannot go far in our interior life, apostolate or work. St. Josemaria often reminded us: “Pray that I may never be satisfied with what is easy.” -I have prayed. Now what’s needed is for you to carry out that fine resolution.
We need to grow in strength of character, in fortitude, for we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. We need to cultivate serene courage, flexible and intelligent daring. As St John Chrysostom teaches,
- God has given us intelligence to overcome ignorance, to make correct judgements, and as a shield and light to stand ever-steadfast amid life’s trials and tribulations. Only in this way will our love for God and souls be effective and not get lost in dreams and fantasies.
We need strength of character to correct ourselves as often as necessary, and to take the risk that every step forward entails. This is the only way to arrive at maturity.
- In order to walk, St. Josemaria explained, we need to have one foot in the air. We can’t get anywhere with both feet planted on the ground. In every human venture there’s always the chance of failure, but if you refuse to lift either foot, you’ll never get anywhere. By responding to grace, we will be increasingly better instruments in God’s hands. We will never allow our laziness or indecision to slow down the apostolate or obstruct God’s Will
- Temper your will, strengthen your will: let it become, with God’s grace, like a spur of steel. Only by being strong-willed can you know how not to be so in order to obey (St. Josemaria).
EXCERPT FROM THE BOOK OF MEDITATIONS (Wednesday, 24th week), private collection.
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