The decision to struggle is part of conversion. It is a conscious decision to push yourself toward a greater good. For rugby players and all athletes, the good is a victory. The struggle is against the opposing team. For Catholics, the good is radical discipleship in Christ. The struggle is against sin, especially when the flesh burns.
Like an athlete, a disciple understands there is a cost associated with victory. Like an athlete, a disciple’s decision to struggle demonstrates his belief that there will be a victory. Eternal life is worth it.
Saint Benedict made the decision to struggle against sin. He wanted a deeper conversion.
As a young man, Saint Benedict “was seized with an usually violent temptation. The evil spirit recalled to his mind a woman he had once seen, and before he realized it his emotions were carrying him away.” (Dialogues, p. 7) Has this ever happened to you?
Temptations against chastity, sobriety and excellence are common. It is consoling to read St. Gregory the Great’s encouraging words, “that temptations of the flesh are violent during youth, whereas after the age of fifty concupiscence dies down.” (Dialogues, p. 9) Good news, it gets better. Bad news, what to do before fifty? Before you realize it, your thoughts and emotions, mind and flesh are racing. Sin is promising you comfort and freedom from the struggle in your own mind and body. It is confusing. It is tempting to not struggle. At the same time we know when we chose not to struggle we become a spiritual couch potato, not a spiritual athlete. Don’t be a potato. We often forget, when you take hold of sin, it will soon take hold of you. Struggle to reject sin.
Saint Benedict was even tempted to quite discipleship. Temptation makes discipleship look like the problem. How often are we tempted to cave to a craving of the flesh? Vacation from sexual purity or sobriety? Or, quite a Bible study? Or, step away from serving those who follow us?
Saint Benedict conquered sin by deciding to struggle. As his flesh was burning with passion, “he noticed a thick patch of nettles and briers next to him. Throwing his garment aside…he rolled and tossed until his whole body was in pain and covered with blood. Yet once he had conquered pleasure through suffering, his torn and bleeding skin served to drain off the poison of temptation from his body.” (Dialogues, p. 8) This sounds extreme until you remember the last rugby match, football game, wrestling tournament or cross country competition you competed in. Athletes and people in every profession constantly decide to struggle. A disciple decides to struggle against sin in order to align his priorities with God’s priorities.
What can strengthen you when you decide to struggle? What can you do when your flesh burns?
When tempted against chastity or sobriety?
-Find people and hang out. Someone once said if you find yourself alone, surfing the internet, with a beer in your hand…go find the people who love you and spend time with them.
-Go for a walk, run or work-out.
-Walk to a public space. Pray in chapel. Study in a lounge.
-Get enough sleep.
-Join a men’s or women’s group and consistently go.
When tempted against excellence?
-Remember Christ was all in. Ask yourself if you are growing in your love of God? Am I all in?
-Is there an aspect of my…job, relationships, finances, free-time…where the Lord does not have first place?
-Evaluate if you are motivated by love of God or the need for another’s approval?
Saint Benedict realized the decision to struggle was worth it. With the help of God’s grace ask yourself if it is your time to decide to struggle in another area of your life. This is conversion.
Saint Benedict Prayer for the Struggle
Help me! I beg you to be my protector.
Dig me out from the mass of sin that buries me,
free me from the ropes of sin that bind me,
loose me from the wickedness that entangles me.
Lift up him who is cast down, strengthen the wavering,
prepare the helpless with spiritual weapons of virtue,
lead and protect him who is fighting in the battle.
Bring me to the victory and lead me to the crown.
-Prayer by Saint Anselm, Benedictine Monk