I fear you are allowing the devil to score off you by getting so much upset over these bothersome, but harmless, temptations. You must let our Lord sanctify you in His own way. Were we to pick our own trials and modes of sanctification, we should soon make a mess of things. The net result of your temptations is a deeper humility, a sense of your own weakness and wretchedness, and is not this all gain ? “My brethren, count it all joy, when you shall fall into diverse temptations,” says St. James (1.2). All I ask you to do is to try to crush down the first movements of temptation, which perhaps can best be done by praying that others may be more favoured or esteemed than you. There is a danger you may not suspect in thinking and grieving too much over temptation and faults. First of all there is oftentimes a secret pride hidden in our grief and anger with ourselves for not being as perfect as we thought, or as others thought. Then this worrying over what cannot well be avoided distracts the soul from God. After all, what God wants from you, my child, is love, and nothing should distract you from the grand work of love-giving. Hence when you fail, treat our Blessed Lord like a loving little child, tell Him you are sorry, kiss His feet as a token of your regret, and then forget all about your naughtiness.
COMMENT: In these sentences we see the gentleness of Fr Doyle towards those he advised and directed. He who was so merciless and exacting with himself, because that was what he felt God was asking of him, was gentle and understanding with others.
In reflecting on these points, most of us can probably identify with the “secret pride” which motivates our grief at falling into sin. Too often we can be too concerned with our own self-image, too often we can be disappointed because sin reminds us that we are human and weak. But instead of this selfish reaction, our sorrow and grief should be based on the fact that we have betrayed the Lord to Whom we owe complete loyalty.
Secondly, Fr Doyle’s advice to “crush down the first movements of temptation” is exactly the advice given by the saints andthe great spiritual writers. The challenge is to avoid those occasions of sin which lead us down the road of temptation. Soldiers defending a castle don’t wait for the attackers to breach the wall before they mount their defence. They engage the enemy while he is still outside, for when he enters the castle the defender’s advantage is lost. Thus, castles were typically built with moats to protect them. At all costs the enemy must not climb the walls or break down the gate – he must be kept at a distance, the great the distance the better. As Thomas a Kempis puts it in the Imitation of Christ:
Above all, we must be especially alert against the beginnings of temptation, for the enemy is more easily conquered if he is refused admittance to the mind and is met beyond the threshold when he knocks.
We must flee temptation at its earliest moments and not enter into dialogue with it.