Saintly advice on kicking sin to the curb

You can’t accuse Satan of being timid. He even went after Jesus. Yes, sir, that fallen angel has a lot of chutzpah.

You know the story in Matthew 4:1-11. Jesus is led by the Spirit into the desert where he spends 40 days and nights fasting. Enter the devil, and the first thing he offers the Son of God is bread. Or, more accurately, he points out to Jesus that as God’s son, he could turn rocks into bread.

Forty days and nights. So hungry. Freshly-baked bread. Can’t you just smell it? No butter or jam necessary. (Or, in keeping with the Middle Eastern theme, no hummus.) Most of us would have waved the white flag right there. Then tucked it in under our chin. Maybe a little rationalizing first. (God gave me this ability, and he expects me to use it. That in all things God may be ...) But that wouldn’t take long.

There wouldn’t even be a need for what’s behind Curtains 2 and 3: Jump off the Temple; angels will catch you. And, check out the view from this mountain! You can have it all if you just sign here.

Assuming most of us aren’t enthralled with jumping from high places. Or with ruling the world. (Imagine the paperwork! And the meetings! If paperwork is purgatory, meetings can be pure ... well, you get the point.) Most of us would have been pleased, at that present moment, to accept even a dinner roll.

Jesus said no to each. Countered with a quote from Scripture. And then told the great tempter to hit the bricks.

“Then the devil left him and, behold, angels came and ministered to him” (Mt 4:11).

There’s no need to mention here that Satan is an equal-opportunity tempter. Plenty to go around for all. For the Second Person of the Holy Trinity and for little old you and me.

And he’s nothing if not persistent. It can seem he just won’t take “no” for an answer until we give in and say “no” to God. (That is, sin.) But it is possible to say “no” to Satan — and to get better at doing just that.

The lives of the saints are filled with examples of heroic virtue (faith, hope and love), but they weren’t born with it. And it was never just handed to them, no matter how they came to Christ.

So what they have to say about sin, and about Satan, is advice we’d be wise to take to heart. And soul.

1. Satan isn’t cute

In his first epistle (or one attributed to him), St. Peter warns: “Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for [someone] to devour. Resist him, steadfast in faith, knowing that your fellow believers throughout the world undergo the same sufferings” (1 Pt 5:8-9).

Your opponent. Prowling like a roaring lion. Looking for someone — you! — to devour.

The solution? Resist him. And remain steadfast in the faith.

You know what’s right. Hang in there.

Padre Pio — St. Pio of Pietrelcina (1887-1968) — used a different description.

“The devil is like a rabid dog tied to a chain; beyond the length of the chain, he cannot seize anyone. And you: keep at a distance. If you approach too near, you let yourself be caught. Remember that the devil has only one door by which to enter the soul: the will.”

2. Your will, your choice

So, the surest way to avoid getting within range of that hound from hell? Aligning your will to God’s will. Now that has a familiar ring to it, doesn’t it?

“This is how you are to pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven” (Mt 6:9-10). (Jesus, the Great Retreat Master.)

Do that and you’ll see what St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622) was talking about when he wrote: “Let the enemy rage at the gate; let him knock, pound, scream, howl; let him do his worst. We know for certain that he cannot enter our soul except by the door of our consent.”

To quote Nancy Reagan’s famous comment on drug abuse: “Just say ‘no.’” No, no, no! Then ask God what he wants you to do and say “yes.”

Yes, yes, yes!

What he wants you to do is what’s best for you. It’s what will bring you joy. Here and in the hereafter.

3. God is merciful

In her “Diary,” St. Faustina Kowalska (1905-1938) writes of Jesus telling her: “Let the sinner not be afraid to approach Me” (No. 50).

But we are sometimes. We kick ourselves and, like St. Paul, mutter, “What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate” (Rom 7:15).

We’ve all been there. “Why do I keep doing that?! I know it’s wrong. Why don’t I do this? I know it’s right, and I really want to do it.”

Like what you’re reading? Subscribe now in print or digital.

Short, simple answer? Sin. We keep sinning even when we want to grow in virtue. This side of heaven, it’s a task and a challenge we never fully complete.

St. Faustina points out the comforting truth that “Although sin is an abyss of wickedness and ingratitude, the price paid for us can never be equaled. Therefore, let every soul trust in the Passion of the Lord, and place its hope in His mercy. God will not deny His mercy to anyone” (No. 72).

4. Less fear, more love

Growing in faith, growing in grace, leads to our wanting to sin less as we come to love God more. In the words of St. Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787): “He who does not acquire the love of God will scarcely persevere in the grace of God, for it is very difficult to renounce sin merely through fear of chastisement.”

5. Smile!

Bill Perry/

St. John Bosco (1815-1888) offers the encouraging suggestion: “Enjoy yourself as much as you like — if only you keep from sin.”

That dovetails nicely with a line attributed to St. Teresa of Ávila (1515-1582): “From silly devotions and sour-faced saints, good Lord, deliver us.”

The bottom line here?

Yes, Satan has your number. So be careful. But, always, always, always, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have your back. So rejoice!

Bill Dodds writes from Washington.

Saints on Sin and Reconciliation
The wages of sin is death, and the retirement plan is no bargain either. That’s why saints advise: