The Last Temptation

The Last Temptation August 14, 2014


Looking back from my perspective as a – ahem – mature adult, I can certainly appreciate St. Augustine’s youthful prayer, “Lord grant me chastity and continence . . . but not yet.”

What healthy young person isn’t gripped by the biological necessities of procreation – our God-imparted desires to be fruitful, multiply, and to be in full communion with another? It’s more than a pleasant obsession, it’s our life-force; it’s a dynamic transmission of our physical being; and it’s how we partner with God in His creation – in its proper venue.

Almost all things that tempt us are good, because all things created by God are “good.” Sex, food, even money, among other things, are not only good, they are to a greater or lesser extent necessary. But each can be easily abused, each can become an obsessive force in our lives so powerful that they overtake our senses and our sensibilities. And, all too often, each can take on a life of its own, causing us to act in hurtful, deceitful, and abusive ways towards ourselves and others.

As we age, our priorities and the physical things that most incessantly tempt us tend to shift, sometimes dramatically so, sometimes replaced by things far less tangible. Our youthful lust for the flesh might instead transmute into one for excessive riches for its own sake, or for fame, or for power. Napoleon Hill – of Think and Grow Rich fame – referred to this change as “the mystery of sex transmutation” which he defined as the “switching of the mind from thoughts of physical expression to thoughts of some other kind” – a powerful, creative force that Hill recognized could, if thoughtfully undertaken and channeled, help us to define and ultimately achieve our success. (Of course, in this age of Viagra and Cialis, one wonders whether we are losing that later-stage, productive edge as boomer-age men all too often seek instead to prolong an unnatural state of enhanced longevity, performance, and agelessness – but that’s a subject for another day.) Unchecked, this transmutation can itself foster new, even more powerful obsessions and temptations.

But at some point in our lives we may actually find ourselves with “enough.” Perhaps we have achieved a certain level of financial security and physical success. Maybe we have obtained enough in the way of material comforts and earthly companionship. Or maybe we have simply given up trying and have grown too tired or too old to care. Our once driving physical and intangible lusts may no longer be worthy of our full-time pursuit.

So what remains? Often jealousy, many times anger, and almost always pride or hubris crossing over into unbridled narcissism – with pride seemingly the root cause of the other two. In fact, pride may well be the “last temptation,” the sum of all the others against which we are forever doing battle. And many of us will die still fighting the good fight against it.

I’m neither a psychologist nor a theologian, but I suspect that pride may well cover a multitude of other emotions, failings, and temptations, especially in men. We are often our most arrogant when we are the most insecure. Eve’s temptation, and in turn Adam’s, was rooted in a pride that sought to secure for themselves a place in the world that rivaled God Himself rather than remain, as they feared, dependent little children. And their undoing was but a small scale account of the greater cosmic battle that had earlier sent a prideful Lucifer and his minions crashing into earth. It also foreshadowed the prideful and vengeful rage that would soon swell in a murderous Cain.

Hubris fuels our anger, our jealousy, our self-centeredness, our covetousness, our idolatries, our thefts, our lies, and our sexual abuses. It is, in short, a hidden force behind every one of the human weaknesses that the tablets of Mount Sinai so sharply brought into focus. Of the so-called “seven deadly sins,” pride often tops the list as the deadliest. It forces our gaze forever inwards, never upwards. It is a temptation to which Satan appealed in the desert when he sought to break Christ. To Dante, pride more or less defined the very pit of Hell itself.

Pride is such an effective and oppressive tool of temptation that it may even block our very recognition of God’s grace. It could well be one of the darkest forces residing within the human heart. It exposes the battle between what God has called “good” and what He has not. Much like a concrete barrier, pride stands between us and all that God has to offer. It is the last, the most effective, the most powerful temptation.

But therein lies the good news, for this barrier has already been breached, the veil has been torn, the fall has been reversed, and the world and everything in it has been set to rights. But we have to know where to look:

Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus,
Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God
something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a
slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance he humbled
himself becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:5-8)

Pride is such a formidable barrier between Heaven and mankind that a kind, loving, and compassionate God chose to humble Himself, at a great price, to point the way back home. Loving God above all else, loving our neighbor as ourselves, refusing to store up earthly treasures or placing our hopes in them, exercising disciplined power to submit in meekness but never weakness, reacting in all things with true love and humility, becoming, at last, like little children – these are the deliberate acts and conscious choices of one determined to deprive hubris of the very oxygen on which it thrives.

St. Paul framed it nicely, I think, in Romans 12:3: “For by the grace given to me I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than one ought to think, but to think soberly, each according to the measure of faith that God has apportioned.”

With thoughtful effort, heartfelt prayer, and a constant awareness of God’s presence in our lives, pride’s destructive grip over us may finally be loosened. Christ’s life and death showed us the way. We need but start our walk on the path to which He points.


Image Credit:

"Thank you for reading my post and for commenting! God bless you!"

Black Mixed With Shades Of Gray
"Amen, Mr. Zampino. Thank you for these words. He's not done with us, yet!"

Black Mixed With Shades Of Gray
"Pardon my ignorance, but even though I have my own book "Yo God! Jay's Story' ..."

Elizabeth Scalia’s Latest Book: “Little Sins ..."
"Taken From The Amazon Listing: Publisher: Our Sunday Visitor (May 9, 2016)"

Elizabeth Scalia’s Latest Book: “Little Sins ..."

Browse Our Archives

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Episteme

    Saint Augustine’s prayer has unfortunately colored the perception of the Church dramatically when it comes to what you call “healthy young men.”You ask what man isn’t gripped by the biological necessities of procreation and being in communion with another? The question is whether young men choose to give into those needs or opt for a higher purpose of choosing chastity and continence now (until they’re in a position to marry in proper holy means).

    I was reading over the Instrumentum Laboris for the upcoming Synod of the Family and noticed that the only reference to never-married singles was in discussing those involved in cohabitation and irregular coupling, and how to bring those couples back into parish life — alongside how to integrate divorced and widowed singles. Meanwhile, those who haven’t followed Augustine’s notion — or that or apparently every male Catholic blogger — remain invisible on a back pew or accused of behave that they’ve deliberately not been involved in out of painful moral will and loyalty to the Word of God and the Laws of the Church. I’ve made references elsewhere to the Loyal Brother in the Prodigal Son parable, who we as readers are supposed to berate for following the rules instead of leaving his community behind to enjoy the temptations of youth and then return to a hero’s welcome — we can celebrate the conversion of a sinner without ignoring those who have been working at not sinning (even commenting on the problem, and the need for pastoral aid, is painfully close to a moment of pride in what we’ve done/not done — of that I’m well aware).

    Simply put, don’t assume, like the Church herself has, that just because nearly all the marriages in the Church are ones involving prodigals that there are no Loyal Brothers remaining (I feel weird writing that also, since all my brothers who left the faith also ran off to get married and get nice jobs, leaving me single & underemployed taking care of our ill widower father too). It’s a terrible un-Christian notion, even if it’s one that every married couple can get away with even to our faces without feeling like they’re be unjust to us. As I’ve mentioned in talk of the Synod, the Church needs to realize that supporting us, the Loyal Brothers, and helping us actually find out where single Catholic women are (who are in the same boat, just docked in other parishes, apparently, is the first stage of that mythical proper Marriage Formation Ministry that they always dream of (where they aren’t scraping up cohabitators and the like).

    Or writers and married couples can assume that everyone spent their youth the way they did, if only to make them feel better for the rules that they bent or broke to get where they are today…

  • Berrean

    …get all the gold and silver you can
    Or animate the trivial days and ram them with the sun.
    Yet upon these maxims meditate:
    All women dote on an idle man,
    Though their children need a rich estate.
    No man has ever had enough woman’s love
    Or children’s gratitude.” W.B. Yeats “Vacillations “