How to Prevent Temptations in the Religious Life

“When all three enemies are overpowered, no further war remains for the soul.”

St. John of the cross, introduction to the precautions.

All temptations come to us from three sources, which in the Catholic Ascetical teaching are called the “Enemies of the Soul”.

These enemies are:

  • The World (that is, the spirit of worldliness and forgetfulness of God).
  • The Devil.
  • The Flesh.

It is taken for granted that for those who are living in the world, the attacks of the enemy are quite open and obvious. We are talking about common temptations to mortal sin, or to clear sinful habits, even if venial.

But for those in the religious life, who are sheltered from the spiritual dangers of the world, the attacks will be more subtle.

Indeed, the enemy will not tempt, (or rarely) a consecrated soul to mortal sin. He knows very well that he will be rejected. Instead, temptations will come under the guise of “truth” or “a better good” or some other similar notion.

In other words, Religious will be tempted, with the appearance of good.

It is clear then, that the religious will need some special care, better to discern the dangers which threaten one’s soul.

A masterful document of Ascetical Theology that serves this purpose, is the “Precautions of St. John of the Cross”, which we will cover extensively in this section of the Catholic Wire.

St. John wrote this document, as concise spiritual advice while he lived at the Convent of “El Calvario” around the years (1578-79), and he wrote them specifically for the nuns in Beas. By this time, he had been a spiritual director for a long time, having even at one point performed this service to the very Theresa of Jesus, the greatest mystic of Spain and founder of the Discalced Carmelites.

The Document proved to be golden to escape the many attempts of the Devil, the world, and flesh to disrupt the peace of good religious souls, and soon enough more copies were being made, explanations were asked, and the male branch of the order became captivated with its heavenly wisdom.

In order to get an idea of the import of these counsels, let us hear from the Doctor himself:

Instruction and precautions necessary for anyone desiring to be a true religious and reach perfection.

“1. The soul must practice the following instructions if it wishes to attain in a short time holy recollection and spiritual silence, nakedness, and poverty of spirit, where one enjoys the peaceful comfort of the Holy Spirit, reaches union with God, is freed of all the obstacles incurred from the creatures of this world, defended against the wiles and deceits of the devil, and liberated from one’s own self.”

“2. It should be noted, then, that all the harm the soul receives is born of its enemies, mentioned above: the world, the devil, and the flesh. The world is the enemy least difficult to conquer; the devil is the hardest to understand, but the flesh is the most tenacious, and its attacks continue as long as the old self lasts.”

“3. To gain complete mastery over any of these three enemies, one must vanquish all three of them; and in the weakening of one, the other two are weakened also. When all three are overpowered, no further war remains for the soul.”

From the introduction to the Precautions of St. John of the Cross

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