E-mails -- September 30
Priest and Doctor
of the Church
(entered heaven in 420)
All those temptations you mention in your note are quite normal, and you should be careful not to exaggerate their importance. Becoming obsessed with your spiritual battles is a tricky kind of egoism. Absence of temptation is not at all a sign of great spiritual progress (our Lord himself faced temptation in the desert, remember?). The presence of temptations (as long as we are not going around looking for them) can even work to our benefit: when we are loyal to our friendship with Christ even in the face of strong contrary enticements, the friendship is strengthened.
As regards the specific types of temptations you mention, so common and natural, especially in the licentious society you live in over there, today´s saint would have some advice for you. In addition to being one of the greatest writers of all time, an accomplished Greek and Latin scholar, a secretary to Popes and a valiant defender of the true faith against all heretical comers (and there were a lot of them back in the fourth and fifth centuries), St Jerome was an expert in the spiritual life, and faced himself the same temptations against chastity that you are facing.
Jerome was born in northern Croatia (near northeastern Italy), and received an excellent education under the direction of his Christian parents. He was sent to Rome for some finishing touches, and there he became a true master of Latin and Greek rhetoric and literature. Only after he had begun to make a name for himself as a scholar did his Christian faith really take hold of his heart. At that point, he decided to travel to the Holy Land, where he joined the desert monks in northeastern Palestine, living in seclusion, prayer, fasting, and penance for four consecutive years. During that period he discovered and struggled perseveringly against the vanity and self-love that he had been cultivating for so long.
Here is how describes some of the temptations that he experienced even in the austere conditions of desert isolation: "In the remotest part of a wild and stony desert, burnt up with the heat of the scorching sun so that it frightens even the monks that inhabit it, I seemed to myself to be in the midst of the delights and crowds of Rome… I many times imagined myself witnessing the dancing of the Roman maidens as if I had been in the midst of them. My face was pallid with fasting, yet my will felt the assaults of desire." And how did he resist these lurid invitations? He occupied himself with constructive and exacting labor: learning Hebrew. And we have all benefited from it. St Jerome was later entrusted by the Pope with compiling what became the definitive translation of the Bible. Because he mastered Hebrew as well as Greek and Latin, he was able to compare the many and varying versions of the manuscripts that were circulating at the time and give us what has become known as "the Vulgate," the official Catholic Bible.
So don´t think you´re alone in the midst of your temptations. And in addition to your vibrant prayer life and frequent, heartfelt living of the sacraments of the Eucharist and Confession, be diligent and conscientious in how you use your time. If you do, you will certainly benefit from it, and so will the whole Church.
Sincerely, Uncle Eddy
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