In the spiritual life there are three primary causes of temptation to sin – the world, the flesh, and the devil. No matter which one it is that draws our attention away from what we ought to be doing, there’s one thing that’s certain: the battle we wage, as St. Paul says, “is not against flesh and blood” but against the spiritual powers of darkness. While not all temptation comes from the devil, the enemy likes to exploit our weaknesses to his advantage and our detriment. Therefore the most effective way we can wage war against the enemy is by unleashing a spiritual artillery strike against what we might call our predominant defect.
You’re probably wondering, “Don’t you mean ‘defects’ as in plural since we all sin in a multitude of ways and fall short of the glory of God?” Not exactly. Just as in heaven there is a hierarchy according to the order of grace among the saints and angels so also in hell there exists a hierarchy of depravity among the demonic. As it relates to sin there’s always one sin that dominates above all the others in your life. To effectively engage in the kind of spiritual warfare necessary to defeat the enemy, we must identify our dominant defect. You’re probably asking, “How do I do this?” Stop for a moment and reflect on what sins you tend give into often, but I forewarn the sin you think is your greatest weakness is likely merely a symptom of a more nefarious underlying disease. For instance, the man who struggles with impurity might think, well, its my inordinate desire for pleasure and disordered perception of women that causes me to fall, when in fact, we fail to acknowledge that every sin carries with it sister-vices that more often than not is where we find the impediment to holiness.
St. Thomas Aquinas says that often those who struggle with impurity have an underlying struggle with the sin of gluttony. So could the dominant defect be gluttony then? Let’s dig deeper. You might ask how can someone’s inordinate desire for food serve as a gateway to impurity you ask? It’s not the desire for food where the two are connected but rather in the inordinate desire and attachment to pleasure. This inordinate attachment to pleasure is at the core of St. Thomas’ definition of effeminacy. The effeminate man is the opposite of the magnanimous man, he is the model of the false masculine. The effeminate man, says St. Thomas, is less inclined to pursue what is arduous because of an attachment to pleasure and therefore he is not to be honored or esteemed by his peers. The effeminate man also has an aversion to prayer because of the difficulty he perceives in the obligation to pray, so he is also an unjust man because he suffers from irreligion, the inability to render to God his due. I could likely go on but any reasonable man can see how sin works similar to compound interest, where one sin leads to a multiplication of other sins, yet there’s always one leading the charge.
If we circle back to our primary example of impurity you can see how it is actually the superficial symptom of a much greater problem. The enemy is quite adept in making us think our defect is the one sin we always fall into, and he uses this tactic to confuse and discourage us from pursuing greatness. It’s the perfect game of smoke and mirrors. However, when the enemy reminds us how disgraceful is our past, following the advice of St. Teresa of Avila, that’s when we remind him of his future.
I encourage each of you to ask Our Lord and Our Lady to reveal, to unmask your predominant defect, your greatest weakness, your greatest sin. Whether you identify it as pride, impurity, gluttony, anger, envy, lack of compassion, injustice, effeminacy or something else, the objective is to wage war against it, and as you advance in uprooting it from your life you’ll soon notice the other sins will follow suit and take flight.