I thought I would share some thoughts that I found valuable after finishing St. Francis de Sales’ great work, Introduction to the Devout Life. Before I dive in, I would like to comment on this saint, and perhaps entice you to study this particular work. One of things I admired greatly about this saint is his ability to be both firm, and very gentle at the same time. He has a way of giving you advice that is enlightening, challenging, and full of charity. I find that some people might get thrown off by some of the works of saints who are very bold and tough within their writings, but St. Francis de Sales is suited for those who prefer a velvet hammer to the head vs. a 2×4 to the head. This does not mean, however, that what he demands is less demanding than other saints!
For the following post, I am drawing inspiration from Part IV – CONTAINING NEEDFUL COUNSELS CONCERNING SOME ORDINARY TEMPTATIONS from the Introduction to the Devout Life. His insight on temptation, delectation and consent to sin was very moving for me. It was encouraging, but at the same time, alarming.
Let us begin first by looking at temptations. Temptations may come from the world, the flesh or the devil, and are generally geared towards leading us to sin either by the use of persuasion or pleasure. Temptations can come in the form of food, entertainment, lust, money, honor, etc. Here is a reassuring point: it is not sinful to experience temptations, so as long as we do not actively seek them or put ourselves into tempting situations. Temptations are a normal part of spiritual growth and they are something we will constantly have to endure with while we journey here on earth. Many saints had very challenging temptations to contend with, and their success lie not in accepting them, but in refusing to consent to them. When we are faced with temptations that comes to us against our will, it is not sinful. If we put ourselves willingly, or imprudently, into situations that could lead to us to be tempted, we have done something sinful. It is one thing for the the glutton to be tempted by food against their will in an unforeseen situation, but an entirely different thing when they go to an all you can eat buffet, knowing full well that they will be tempted and likely fall to sin. Do not willfully, or imprudently, seek situations that will tempt you. This will be the difference between the temptation being a sin or not.
Delectation is another word for pleasure or delight. With regards to temptations, the next step in progression to consent is whether we take delight in the temptation or not. If a temptation arises from an unforeseen situation, and we do not take delight in the temptation, no sin is imputed. It is a different matter when temptation arises and we take delight in the temptation. St. Francis de Sales states that, if we could have avoided any delight arising from the temptation, yet still take delight in it, it is a sin. He does give an example whereby we could take delight in something indirectly attached to the temptation, and yet be imputed no sin. He uses the example of a man courting a woman with a lute. If she does not take delight in his advances, but rather takes delight in the music played, no sin is necessarily imputed for taking delight in the music. He advises us, wisely, to not even take delight in any of these remote delights as it can be a cause to lead us to fall for the temptation. This aspect of our progression to sin was a very good reminder of what Jesus Christ himself warns us about delight in sin:
But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart – Matthew 5:28
Let us, therefore, take very seriously the attraction to temptation, and do our best to remove any sort of these thoughts from our mind and heart quickly. It may be a good time to call out to Jesus for assistance, as St. Peter did when he was beginning to sink while walking on water. Do not linger around the temptation, lest you start delighting in it!
The final step in the process from temptation to sin is consent. Consent is straightforward in this process: we have been tempted, we took delight in the temptation and we consented to the temptation. It is clear that a sin was committed and we must repent.
Here is a quick summary of the above points for reference:
- Temptation is not a sin if we do not actively seek it, or put ourselves willingly into situation whereby we may be tempted.
- Delectation means taking delight in the temptation. It is always sinful, unless we are caught of guard, which may diminish the culpability, or if we take delight in some remote aspect of the temptation. It is advisable never to take any delight in temptations. We must be on our guard constantly in this regard. We may think, so as long as we did not consent to the temptation then we are off the hook, but if we consented to the sin in our hearts or mind, it is sinful.
- Consent is the acting out of the temptation, and it is sinful.
It should be interesting to note that when we resist temptation, we can actually use temptations as a means of sanctification. The devil will quickly stop tempting you once he sees you are becoming holier as a result of countering his temptation with virtue. Be mindful of that. It is not about living a life devoid of temptations, but when they come to us, to deal with them manfully and use them to make ourselves holier.
I hope this was informative. It truly was for me, especially around the delight to temptation. This has really helped me in my daily examination, to see situations where, although I did not consent to a temptation, but took delight in them nevertheless. Do not allow yourself to linger at all around something that tempts you. You may think you possess the strength to resist it, and only wish to take a glance at it, but a small delight may be the cause for a final consent to the sin. Be on your guard, and seek out Jesus Christ in these moments. If you have fallen, quickly get back up and continue the good fight. We will all be tempted, and most of us will likely fall to temptations, so let us not get discouraged, but rather rely more heavily on Jesus Christ, and less on ourselves.
Blessed Mother, pray for us that we may have the strength to resist the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil!