The Spiritual Combat

Chapter 19:

Battling against the vice of the flesh

You have to fight the vice of the flesh in a particular manner, different from the others. For this reason, you need to observe three different periods in order to fight in an orderly fashion:
Before temptation, your battle is against those causes that usually cause the temptation.

Before all else, you need to fight without coming face-to-face with this vice, but flying as fast as possible from any person or circumstance from whom even the smallest danger may greet you. And needing to do this sometimes, do it quickly, with a modest and serious face; your words need to have a sour flavor rather than a loving and affable sweetness.

Don't trust the fact that you neither feel excited, nor have felt excited for many years. This execrable vice accomplishes in one hour that which it has not attempted for many years, and frequently hatches its plots secretly. While it pretends to be innocuous and gives you no reason to suspect it, it does even more damage and leaves incurable wounds.

And many times, as experience has shown before and shows even now, there is even more reason to fear where habit is extended under the pretext of licit behavior, as from blood ties or the debt of service or even from some virtue in the beloved. In fact, with excessive and imprudent acquaintance, the poisonous love of sense mixes itself. Oozing unnoticed little by little and penetrating as far as the soul's essence, it darkens reason in such a way that reason fails to see the danger in loving glances, sweet words from one to another, and the delights of conversation. So, going from one side to the other, one brings oneself to fall into ruin, or at least into some painful temptation difficult to overcome.

I tell you anew: fly from this vice, because you are straw. Do not trust in the fact that you have been bathed and are soaked in the water of a good and strong will, resolute and ready rather to die than to give offense to God. With frequent acquaintance, fire with its heat will dry, little by little, the water of good will. When you are not even thinking of it, it will attack you in such away that it will respect neither your family nor your friends; it will not fear God, nor respect honor, nor life, nor all the pains of Hell. For this reason I say, fly, if you truly wish not to be captured suddenly, taken and killed.

Second. Fly from idleness, and stay vigilant and ready with thoughts and activities proper to your state in life.

Third. Never resist your superiors, but obey them promptly, performing your duties readily. Do willingly those activities that humiliate you and go more strongly against your will and natural inclination.

Fourth. Never make a rash judgment on your neighbor, especially as regards this vice. If he has indeed fallen, have compassion, and do not disdain him; do not sneer, but draw from this fall the fruit of humility and understanding of yourself, knowing that your are dust and nothing more. Bring yourself before God with prayer and fly more than ever those occasions where even the shadow of danger may lie. If you should be quick to judge and disdain others, your God will unwillingly correct you, allowing you to fall into the same defect, so as to make you aware of your pride and humbled, to put a remedy to both these vices. Neither falling nor changing your thought, know all the same that it does you well to doubt your state of grace.

Fifth, and last. Notice well that, finding yourself with some gift, and some taste for spiritual delights, you do not take some vain pleasure in yourself, persuading yourself to be something, and that your enemies will no longer make war on you. You ought to watch them with nausea, horror and hatred. If you are careless in this, you will fall easily.

During the hour of temptation, consider if this temptation proceeds from an internal or an external cause. By an external cause, I mean the eyes' curiosity, the ears, excessively fine dress, familiarity and conversations that incite this vice. In these cases the remedy is honesty, modesty, desiring neither to see nor to hear things that incite us to this vice, and flight, as I wrote above. An intrinsic cause proceeds either from the energy of the body, or from thoughts of the mind that come to us from our bad habits or from the demon's suggestion. We need to mortify the sensuality of the body with fasts, discipline, hair shirts, vigils and other similar hardships, as discretion and obedience teach us. As to our thoughts, whatever their origin, the remedies are these: to remain occupied in various exercises convenient to our state, in prayer and in meditation.

The prayer should be of this sort: when you begin to notice, even a little, not just these thoughts but their first tendencies, retire quickly with your mind into the cross, saying: My Jesus, my sweet Jesus, come quickly to my aid, so that this enemy will not take me. Embracing repeatedly the cross from which your Lord hangs, kiss the wounds of his sacred feet many times, saying with affection: Beautiful wounds, chaste wounds, holy wounds, wound now this miserable and impure heart, liberating me from the danger of offending you.

At the hour in which the temptations to carnal pleasure abandon you, I would not want you to base your meditation on the points proposed by many books to remedy this temptation. For example, they suggest that you consider the vileness of this vice, its insatiability, its molestations, the hardships that follow it, the dangers and the loss of goods, of life, of honor and of such things. This is not always a sure means of conquering temptation; indeed it can bring one to damnation: if in fact the intellect drives these thoughts away along one path, along the other it offers occasion and danger of taking pleasure and giving consent to the pleasure. For this reason, the true remedy is to fly completely, not only from these, but also from everything that represents them, even if it be their opposite. For this reason your meditation, oriented to this end, should focus on the the suffering of Christ Crucified. If, during meditation, these same thoughts should appear against your will, and molest you more than usual, as will happen frequently, you must not for this reason become dismayed, nor abandon meditation nor turn yourself to resist these thoughts. Instead, follow your meditation as intensely as possible, not paying attention to such thoughts, as if they were not even yours. There is no better manner to oppose them than this, even if they continue to make war on you.

You will then conclude your meditation with this, or a similar, request: Liberate me, my Creator and Redeemer, from my enemies, in honor of your passion and your ineffable good will. Do not turn your mind to this vice, since the mere memory of it is not without danger. And do not waste time on the similar temptation of deciding whether you consented or not. Under the appearance of good, this is a deception of the devil to disquiet you and render you doubtful and pusillanimous, or even so that, by keeping you occupied in such thoughts, he hopes to make you fall into some pleasure. For this reason, when it is not clear that you consent to this temptation, it is good enough to confess it all with brevity to your spiritual father, resting then tranquil with his judgment, without thinking anything else of it. Do this in order to reveal faithfully to him your every thought; never hold back any respect or shame. If, with all our enemies, we need the virtue of humility to conquer them, we ought to humiliate ourselves more before this temptation than in the others, since this temptation is almost always the punishment for pride.

When the time of temptation has passed, what you ought to do is keep your mind far from those little things that brought you to temptation, even though you seem to be free and completely secure. Although you may feel the desire to do otherwise, whether for the goal of virtue or some other good, this is in fact the deception of our impure nature and a trap of our clever adversary, who transforms into an angel of light so that he can lead us into the shadows.

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excited: The actual Italian phrase is rather more vivid: Do not trust in the fact that you do not feel, nor have felt during the experience of many, many years, carnal stimulation... (Non ti fidare del fatto che tu non senta né abbia in tanti e tanti anni di esperienza sentito stimoli carnali...)

vigils: By vigils (veglie) Scupoli means the monastic practice of remaining awake in prayer during the night and avoiding sleep.