Dealing with small temptations

July 23, 2021 • 5 min

From Introduction to the Devout Life, page 234
By St. Francis de Sales

We must resist small temptations.

Although we must fight against great temptations with an invincible courage, and the victory we gain over them may be extremely advantageous, it may happen, nevertheless, that we gain more in fighting manfully against small ones; for, as great temptations exceed in quality, so the small ones exceed in quantity, for which reason the victory over them may be comparable to that over the greatest.

Wolves and bears are without doubt more dangerous than flies, yet the former neither give us so much trouble, nor exercise our patience so much as the latter.

It is an easy thing to abstain from murder, but it is extremely difficult to curb all our little bursts of passion, the occasions of which are every moment presenting themselves. It is very easy for a man or a woman to refrain from adultery, but difficult to refrain from glances of the eyes, from giving or receiving favours of love, or from speaking or hearkening to flattering words. It is easy not to admit, visibly or exteriorly, a rival to one’s husband or wife, but easy to do so in the heart; it is easy not to steal another man’s goods, but difficult not to covet them; it is easy not to bear false witness in judgment, but difficult never to tell a lie; it is easy not to get drunk, but difficult to keep one’s self perfectly sober; easy to keep from wishing another man’s death, difficult not to desire what may be inconvenient to him; easy to forbear from defaming him, difficult not to despise him.

In a word, these lesser temptations of anger, suspicion, jealousy, envy, vain love, levity, vanity, insincerity, affectation, craftiness, and impure thoughts, are continually assailing even those who are the most devout and resolute. We must, therefore, diligently prepare ourselves, my dear Philothea, for this warfare, and rest assured that, for as many victories as we shall gain over these lesser enemies, so many precious stones shall be put into the crown of glory, which God is preparing for us in heaven.

Therefore, I say that, in addition to be ever ready to fight courageously against great temptations, we must also constantly and diligently defend ourselves against those that seem weak and trivial.

What remedies we are to apply against small temptations.

Now as to those lesser temptations of vanity, suspicion, impatience, jealousy, envy, vain love, and such like, which, like flies and gnats, continually hover about us, and sometimes sting us upon the legs, the hands, the cheek, or the nose, as it is impossible to be altogether exempt from being teased by them, the best defence we can make is not to give ourselves much trouble about them; for, although they may tease us, yet they can never hurt us, as long as we continue strongly resolved to dedicate ourselves in earnest to the service of God.

Despise then these petty assaults, without so much as thinking on what they would suggest, Let them buzz and hover here and there, and ever so much about you; pay no more attention to them than you would to flies when they threaten to sting you; but when you perceive that they, in the least, touch your heart, content yourself with quietly removing them, without waiting to contend or dispute with them, and perform some actions of a nature contrary to the temptation, especially acts of the love of God.

But you must not continue long, Philothea, in opposing the act of the contrary virtue to the temptation which you feel, for that would be to dispute with it; but after having performed a simple act of the contrary virtue, provided you have had leisure to observe the quality of the temptation, turn your heart gently towards Jesus Christ crucified, and by an act of love, kiss his sacred feet.

This is the best means to overcome the enemy, as well in small as in great temptations; for, as the love of God contains within itself the perfection of all the virtues, and is even more excellent than the virtues themselves, so it is also the most sovereign antidote against all kinds of vices; and by accustoming your mind, on these occasions, to have recourse to this remedy, you need not even examine by what kind of temptation it is troubled.

Moreover this grand remedy is so terrible to the enemy of our souls, that when once he perceives that his temptations incite us to make acts of divine love, he ceases to tempt us.

This is what we have to do against these small and frequent temptations, instead of examining and fighting against them in detail; otherwise we should only give ourselves much trouble and effect very little.

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