We want action. We want “quick fixes” – instant redemption and salvation. It doesn’t work that way. Change is evolutionary, often so utterly slow you hardly notice the process. In the early days of my own conversion process, I began to set time aside each day for prayer. At first, it was not easy. Moreover, I hardly noticed any difference it made in my life. But slowly, by God’s grace, the time spent in prayer began to yield fruit. I became aware of the habitual nature of a certain sin that I found hard to resist. I caught a distant glimpse of the fact that the essence of sin was saying “no” to God’s perpetual invitation for us to partake fully in the reality of his love and to reach our full potential as human beings. I saw how when I sinned, I settled for mediocrity, denying myself the chance to reach my full potential, which can only be realized by living in unity with God. Gradually the dichotomy between my prayer and my life began to narrow. Years later, I still have a ways to go. A long way to go. But every little bit of growth increases my capacity to respond to God’s call to go further.
For St. Francis of Assisi, the way to go was by way of poverty and humility. He emptied himself in order to encounter a liberating God who freed him from his slavery to himself. Over time the two prayers I prayed each day helped me see the wisdom of St. John of the Cross, who wrote in his book Ascent of Mount Carmel: “The soul must empty itself of all that is not God in order to go to God.”
St. Francis said, “Poverty is the root of all sanctity.” Fr. Ignacio Larranaga,O.F.M.Cap. explains why in his book, Sensing Your Hidden Presence: Toward Intimacy with God: “When our interior is liberated from interests, ownership, and desires, God can become present there without trouble. On the other hand, as long as our interior is occupied by selfishness and egotism, then there is no place for God. It is occupied territory.” All God wants is a surrendered heart.
Temptations show us what we, in our weakness, are capable of becoming. They are invitations to virtue. Specific sins invite us to develop specific virtues to overcome the sinful inclinations. Temptations give us a chance to turn to God.