My favorite Father of the Church is St. John Chrysostom. He lived in the fourth century and was well-known for his outstanding homilies. In fact, the name Chrysostom means “golden mouth.”
Reflecting on Christ’s temptations in the desert, Chrysostom says that Christ, after his baptism, endures being tempted so that we will not be troubled if we are greatly tempted after baptism. Instead, we will fight courageously. “For therefore you took up arms, not to be idle, but to fight.”
Then, he tells us about the reasons why God allows us to be tempted. “First to teach you that you have become much stronger; next, that you may continue to be humble and not be exalted even by the greatness of your gifts, the temptations having power to humble you; moreover, in order that that wicked demon, who is for a while doubtful about your desertion of him, by the touchstone of temptations may be well assured that you have utterly forsaken and fallen from him; fourthly, that you may in this way be made stronger, and better tempered than any steel; fifthly, that you may obtain a clear demonstration of the treasures entrusted to you. For the devil would not have assailed you, unless he had seen you brought to greater honor.”
We have, then, five reasons. Let’s look at them in particular and mention some examples.
First, God allows temptation to let us know that the power of his grace is very strong in us, and He doesn’t allow us to be tempted above our strength. St. Paul says, “God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial, he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it” (1 Cor 10:13).
Second, to keep us humble. We find an example of this in St. Paul. He tells us that he had a big temptation and asked the Lord to take it away, and he heard the Lord tell him, “my grace is enough for you.” And he tells us why he was tempted, “that I might not become too elated.” In other words, the Lord allowed the temptation to keep St. Paul humble. He had to get some humble pie.
Third, to humiliate the devil so that he knows he has lost the battle in us. An example of this was St. John Vianney. During the exorcism of a possessed woman, the devil howled, “If there were three like you on earth, my kingdom would be destroyed. You have taken more than 80,000 souls from me.”
Fourth, to increase in virtue. The only way of getting stronger in virtue is by practicing it, by repetition of acts of virtue. Think of someone who wants to get bigger muscles. What does he do? He frequently goes to the gym. What else? He lifts weights that are challenging. The same happens in our spiritual life; frequent and challenging temptations help us grow more virtuous.
Fifth, to give us a sign of the treasures of heaven. The devil would not be so worried unless he knew the great rewards that await us in the life to come. The proximity of this reward often makes the temptations at the hour of death very strong.
Similarly, St. Ignatius of Loyola used to say that when difficulties multiply in some apostolate, the hope of a great profit is imminent. St. John Vianney often experienced that the day after being violently attacked by the devil, some notorious sinner would come to his confessional.
Let’s fight the good fight of faith this Lenten season, trusting in the Lord’s grace, staying humble, growing in virtue, and expecting the reward of heaven.