“This is the great work of a man: always to take the blame for his own sins before God and to expect temptation to his last breath.” ~ St. Anthony the Great
I am relatively certain that a number of people who see the title for today’s reflection might think twice — or three, four, or five times — asking themselves whether they really want to read it. Because, who wants to accept blame? We condition ourselves our entire lives to place the blame outside of ourselves, either on other people or on other circumstances. We are not prone to accept blame for ourselves. Yet, it is only in doing so that we can grow and develop spiritually.
Anthony lived in Egypt in the mid 200’s. He was a young man of twenty when his parents passed away, leaving everything, including the care of his unmarried sister, to him. Anthony embraced the gospel exhortation and sold all of his property and belongings. He placed his sister in the care of Christian women, leaving them what was needed for her care. The remainder he donated to charity. From there, he went to live in the wilderness.
As he developed spiritually, he knew that it was necessary to fortify oneself against the wiles and practices of the devil. He left us excellent advice when he encouraged us to take the blame for our own sins and to expect temptation to our last breath. I know that sounds like an awful downer; but, there you have it. We are, after all, wounded sinners. We sin against one another and against God on a pretty regular basis. We sin because we buy into the temptations that come our way.
When I saw the quote that I used this morning a few days ago, I was immediately transported to my first year of college seminary. Spiritual formation for the priesthood begins immediately when one goes to the seminary. We take classes in the faith, we study the scriptures, and we are assigned spiritual directors. My spiritual director was Fr. Gregory Chamberlin, OSB. He was a monk at St. Meinrad as well as a member of the faculty.
Fr. Gregory and I explored the dimensions of the spiritual life. As spiritual directors are often one’s confessor as well, we also explored temptation and sin. Early on, Fr. Gregory came to know that I was a perfectionist and that sin disturbed me because it is so imperfect. Why do we keep sinning? Why do we choose to succumb to temptation? When will temptations cease in the life of a true believer? These questions were often posed by me and discussed by us.
I remember one day when Fr. Gregory gave me the definitive answer that a true perfectionist both needed to hear and abhorred hearing: there does come a time when we develop ourselves spiritually and no longer experience temptation. Fr. Gregory stated that moment was about a half hour after we died.
Anthony the Great reminds us to expect temptation to our last breath. It is something that we can never get rid of. The best we can hope to do in our lives is learn to say “NO!” to temptation. The devil will work on us until our last breath. Then, and only then, will he lose his opportunity to take our souls because at that moment, we will see our redeemer and hear His invitation to live with Him for eternity.
We will be prepared to say “No” to the devil and “Yes” to God if we take the blame for our sin and do the best we can to rise above it, with the help of God.
FAITH ACTION: Acknowledge your sin to the Lord today and, if necessary, make plans to go to confession soon.