What is Temptation?

Temptation is the work of Satan to drag you to Hell. And Satan can read you like a book and play you like a piano. Do not exaggerate his power, but do not underestimate it either!

Some of his subtlest work is done in the area of religious observance. There, he can cloak himself quite easily in the lamb's clothing of piety, but, wolf that he really is, distort it, either through excess or defect (too much, or not enough) thereby destroying you with what is good. Beware what some spiritual writers call the "traps of the pious." Consider some examples:

He can discourage you with prayer by saying, "if only you would pray a little longer, God will give you what you seek." But the deception is that if we can pray a little longer, then we can never have prayed enough. Thus though we pray, we only feel guilty and inadequate. And since we can never have prayed "enough," prayer increasingly turns into a burdensome task; God becomes a cruel taskmaster demanding longer and more precise prayers. Or prayer becomes a superstitious endeavor whose outcome we somehow control by the length and type of our prayers. Jesus counsels us that the Father knows what we need and that we should not think that merely multiple words and pious actions are necessary. We may need to persevere in prayer over time, but God is not a cruel tyrant demanding endless incantations.

Satan can take the beautiful prayer of the Rosary, or attending daily Mass, or other devotions and slowly incite in us a feeling of smug superiority, elitism, or pride. Gradually, others are thought to be less devout, even in error, because they do not do, or observe what is optional or encouraged but not required. What is beautiful and holy is thus employed to incite ever-growing pride and cynicism.

Satan can also take what is required and turn it into a kind of religious minimalism, a way of keeping God at a distance. And thus he tempts some souls with the notion that Sunday Mass, a little something in the collection plate, and a few rushed prayers are the end of religion rather than the beginning of it. Such observances become a way of "checking off the God-box" and being done with God for the week, rather than a foundation on which to build a beautiful and ever-deepening  relationship with God. Such minimal practices become a form of "God-control" for those tempted in this way; it is as if to say, "I've done what I am supposed to do, now God and the Church have to leave me alone. God also needs to take care of me now since I've done what I am required to do." And thus the Church's beautiful laws and the requirements describing the basic duties or foundation for a deepening relationship with God, become a kind of "separation agreement," insisting on a very strict visiting hours and specifying who gets what.

Satan can take the beautiful love for the poor and corrupt it into enslaving paternalism that locks them into dependency, or does not address their spiritual needs by speaking to them respectfully of their sins, or does not seek to deepen their spiritual and family lives. And thus the corporal works of mercy are either set at odds with the spiritual works of mercy or are considered adequate in themselves. Satan can send many to serve the poor, armed with half-truths and approaches, that merely bandage deeper wounds without addressing them.

Well you see, in a certain sense, any virtue will do. Satan can make use of any of them and will seek to corrupt all of them, even the religious ones. No one is exempt from his work of temptation; his goal is to drag us into Hell.

What makes his work of corrupting virtue so insidious is the subtlety of his work, for he takes something that is intrinsically good and seeks to corrupt it, either by excess or defect, or to turn it into some sort of caricature (exaggerated picture) of itself.

Virtues, of course, are meant to work in combination with other virtues that balance them. For example, charity should be balanced by truth and truth by charity. Without charity, the truth can be bludgeon; without truth, charity can become harmful, patronizing, and wickedly affirming. Charity and truth are meant to balance each other and to work along side other virtues in a delicate interplay. One of Satan's tactics is to take one virtue and isolate it from others. Beware of these subtle tactics of Satan, who disguises himself well in the robes of virtue. But they are detached virtues, virtues out of balance and proportion.

Beware the traps of the pious.

Source: Courageous Priest.  Msgr. Charles Pope.