The Little Big Lie

for February 18th, 2014

Liturgical texts here


THE little big lie. It is the lie that a temptation is the same thing as the sin, and therefore, when one is tempted, he has already begun to sin. It is the lie that, if one does begin to sin, you might as well carry through with it to the end because it doesn’t matter. It is the lie that one is a sinful person because he is so frequently tempted with a certain sin…. Yes, it is always a seemingly little lie that is really a big lie in the end.

Sometimes temptations can be intense and even shocking, so much so, that one feels immediate shame that such a thought has entered the mind. Satan used to tempt St. Pio by having very lustful images appear before him. Today, the media does that for the devil. We live in a world where temptations are constantly, and literally, in our face. But a temptation, no matter how awful, is not the same as sin. St. James says in the first reading:

…each person is tempted when lured and enticed by his desire. Then desire conceives and brings forth sin, and when sin reaches maturity it gives birth to death.

The little-big-lie is first of all a lure, an enticement, usually related to one’s weakness or struggle with inordinate desires. Right then and there, the Christian has to recognize it for what it is—a temptation—and reject it. Even if the temptation is strong, and you feel the lure tugging, it is not a sin if one continues to resist. St. Ignatius of Loyola writes:

(1) The thought comes to me to commit a mortal sin. I resist the thought immediately and it is conquered. (2)If the same evil thought comes to me and I resist it and it returns again and again, but I continue to resist it until it is vanquished. This second way is much more meritorious than the first.The Wisdom of the Saints, An Antthology, Oxford University Press, p. 152

But if one begins to entertain and take pleasure in the temptation, sin is conceived. Now note, James says that when sin reaches maturity, it gives birth to death. This progression is an important distinction. Because even if one loses his foothold briefly, Satan will try to convince you that you have lost everything—that you are now a declared enemy of God. But that is a lie.

Venial sin does not break the covenant with God. With God’s grace it is humanly reparable. Venial sin does not deprive the sinner of sanctifying grace, friendship with God, charity, and consequently eternal happiness. —Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1863

Satan wants to convince you that you are a terrible, horrible sinner, and that it really doesn’t matter now if you go on and indulge in the sin. But there is a huge difference, brothers and sisters, between momentarily losing one’s foothold on the cliffs of temptation—and deliberately letting go and throwing yourself into the depths of darkness. Don’t let Satan deceive you! He wants you to believe that a dent in the wall is no different than a hole; that a scratch is no different than a deep cut; that a bruise is the same as a broken bone.

James makes it clear that, as we let sin progress and take hold in our hearts, it begins to expel light, suffocate joy, rob peace, and choke off grace. So, if you fell for the lure, even momentarily, you should immediately, and simply, begin again.

When I say, “My foot is slipping,” your mercy, O LORD, sustains me. (Today’s Psalm)

But the little-big-lie is, “Now that you’ve sinned, God is going to punish you anyway. You can always go to confession. So keep sinning…” But again, there is a difference between planting only one seed, and a field of seeds. We reap what we sow. And yet, if we are repentant, God does not treat us according to our sins; [1]cf. Ps. 103:10 He is incredibly generous if we lose our foothold, and yet turn back to Him:

If you do not succeed in taking advantage of an opportunity, do not lose your peace, but humble yourself profoundly before Me and, with great trust, immerse yourself completely in My mercy. In this way, you gain more than you have lost, because more favor is granted to a humble soul than the soul itself asks for… —Jesus to St. Faustina, Divine Mercy in My Soul, Diary, n. 1361

Lastly, there is the little-big-lie that you must be a wretched person to struggle so frequently with this or that temptation. I know for years I suffered a terrible scrupulosity, feeling that I was disgusting to God for the thoughts and words that would suddenly come into my mind. But St. Pio says:

I understand that temptations seem to tarnish, rather than to purify the spirit; but let us hear what the saints have to say, and for that purpose it suffices to choose Saint Francis de Sales from among so many: ‘Temptations are like soap, which, when spread over the clothes, seems to stain them, but in reality, purifies them’.  —source unknown

St. Jean Vianney also saw temptation as a good sign.

The greatest of all evils is not to be tempted, because there are then grounds for believing that the devil looks upon us as his property. —The Wisdom of the Saints, An Antthology, Oxford University Press, p. 151

Temptation—and how you respond do it—proves who you belong to.

Blessed is he who perseveres in temptation, for when he has been proven he will receive the crown of life that he promised to those who love him.

Alternately, those who commit a mortal sin also prove who they belong to:

In this way, the children of God and the children of the devil are made plain; no one who fails to act in righteousness belongs to God, nor anyone who does not love his brother. (1 John 3:10)

But God never abandons us, even in the strongest temptations. St. Paul reminds us that “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” [2]cf. 1 Cor 10:13 In the “Our Father,” before we pray “lead us not into temptation,” we ask, “give us this day our daily bread.” Our daily bread is God’s will. And sometimes His will is to permit us to be tempted, even though “he himself tempts no one.” May we never doubt, then, the provision of the Lord—He who can multiply loaves for the starving… and grace for the weak who, in the midst of temptation, put their trust in Him.




 This is a song I wrote that became a frequent prayer of mine in the midst of experiencing many temptations and trials, and the depths of my spiritual poverty: Jesus set me free…



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1. cf. Ps. 103:10
2. cf. 1 Cor 10:13