Summary of Moral Conversion and Resisting Temptation by Fr. Spitzer, SJ

Here is my summary and synthesis of Fr. Spitzer’s great essay on resisting temptation. I highly recommend that you read this article (Click here for a free PDF Copy).

Click here for a 1-page summary sheet for resisting temptation.

Resisting temptation = the most difficult and most essential part of conversion.

Here’s a great quote from Fr. Spitzer to start us off:

“Virtually every spiritual master would agree that resisting temptation – in all its forms, whether it originates in us or through a malevolent spiritual power – is the most difficult and most essential part of moral conversion and the subsequent deepening of spiritual conversion” (10).

Although we can grow in holiness with Christ through participation in the sacraments and prayer (“spiritual conversion”), we know deep down inside 2 truths that capture the complementary relationship between spiritual conversion and moral conversion:

  • First, spiritual conversion “demands” deeper moral conversion. Growing in relationship with Christ (“spiritual conversion”) always beckons us to imitate Him more in thought, word, virtue, and action (deeper “moral conversion”). 
  • Second, moral conversion “leads to” deeper spiritual conversion. Growing in resisting temptations, overcoming the 7 deadly sins and living a life of Christian virtue (“moral conversion”), always inspires and frees us to pursue a deeper relationship with Christ through prayer and sacraments (deeper “spiritual conversion”).

St. Paul, in his letter to the Romans (7:15-25), serves as a great example of how resisting temptation is the most difficult part of moral conversion – and this was 23 years after his initial conversion!

Conclusion: If we can grow in the spiritual skill of resisting temptation, we will make great progress in holiness!

The Battle Plan for Resisting Temptation = “Thinking with our higher self”

Fr. Spitzer’s strategy to overcome temptation revolves around one key Pauline concept – moving our thought process from our lower self to our higher self:

22 You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. – Ephesians 4:22-24

3 So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, 3 for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. – Colossians 3:1-3

The “lower self”

  • We all have this “lower self” in us by virtue of the fall.
  • St. Paul also calls it the “fleshly self” or the “old man” – I like to think of it as the “old Adam”, thinking of St. John Vianney: “Vianney’s penance was constant, extreme, universal; it embraced his whole existence. He utterly killed the old Adam in him” (Trochu, Cure d’Ars, 449).
  • The “lower self” is drawn toward the things of this world (7 deadly sins, etc). 
  • Temptations ONLY appeal to the “lower self”.
  • Temptations derive their power from the “lower self”.
  • The more influential the lower self is within our psyche, the more power temptation has over us.
  • Think of the demon on the shoulder. 

The “higher self”

  • We all have this “higher self” in us by virtue of our baptism.
  • St. Paul also calls it the “spiritual self” or the “new man” – I like to think of it as “saintly & virtuous higher self.”
  • The “higher self” is drawn toward the things of heaven (Christian virtue, etc). 
  • Temptations have NO appeal to the “higher self”.
  • Temptations have NO power over the thoughts and desires of the “higher self.” 
  • The more influential the higher self is within our psyche, the more power we have to resist temptation.
  • Think of the angel on the shoulder.

lf.jpg

Now that we understand the distinction between the “lower self” and the “higher self”, we can move into the concrete steps that Fr. Spitzer advises in order to move our thought process from the “lower self” to the “higher self” in the midst of any temptation.

#1: Say “NO” to the temptation by associating it with your “lower self”

Once we are aware of being tempted, we must immediately – ASAP – reject the temptation by associating the temptation with our “lower self”.

Some examples:

Ah. There’s my “lower self”…

I am going to stop thinking with my “lower self”…

I’m not like that…

No. That’s not like me… that’s “old Adam” trying to mess things up…

I’m better than that… that’s my “fleshly self”

Remember, temptations ONLY appeal to your “lower self”. By associating the temptation with your lower self, you disempower the temptation because you “open your spiritual eyes” to realize that the temptation has no appeal to your higher, saintly, noble best-version of yourself.

As St. Ignatius advises in Rule 12, the quicker you can reject the temptation, the better!

Say “no” as quickly as possible – “before a temptation captivates our thought, inflames our desire, and becomes difficult to resist at the moment of decision” (11).

But since negative assertions usually are short-lasting in their impact, we need to supercharge this rejection of the temptation with something long-lasting…

#2: Affirmations

Lou Tice summarizes this technique as follows:

“Affirmation means the exercise of faith and belief in your inherent potential, imagined ideal, desired result, and set goal. You affirm them as if they were presently realized in your life. Affirmation applies to every step: You apply positive, proactive thinking to create vision, shift attitudes, see options, seize opportunities, expand comfort zones, and build teams and organizations” (Smart Talk, 3).

Fr. Spitzer elaborates on Tice’s summary by stating that an affirmation has 3 qualities:

  1. 1st-person present tense.
  2. Positive content only.
  3. Associated with a person you admire/love or with a motivation eliciting a positive emotion.

Some examples:

I am a beloved son of the Father in whom He delights in right now.

I have a meek and humble of heart like Jesus Christ.

I am like St. John Paul II in my love for Eucharistic adoration.

I am temperate and disciplined like St. Paul for the salvation of souls… I rejoice in my sufferings like St. Paul for the sake of Christ’s Body, the Church…

I sanctify my daily work like St. Joseph out of love for my wife and children.

When we write an emotionally motivating first-person, present tense affirmation – as if the desired ideal/model/virtue is already a present reality – we empower our subconscious mind to do everything it can to identify with your “saintly higher self”.

And don’t worry. You’re not simply “faking it to make it” – you’re actually affirming a central truth since you already have a partially actualized “saintly higher self” by virtue of your baptism and state of grace.

When your subconscious mind identifies your present reality with your virtuous saintly higher self, it will supercharge your ability to overcome temptations – either by being disinterested in the temptation or in actively resisting the temptation alongside your conscious mind.

Remember, saying “no” is hard to maintain over the long term. But affirmations are long term oriented.

Some examples combining steps (1) and (2):

Temptation to pride –> “(1) I’m not like that — (2) I’m meek and humble of heart like Christ the Servant who washed the feet of His disciples.”

Temptation to lust –> “(1) I’m better than that… that’s just my “old Adam” trying to mess things up — (2) I am pure of heart like Mary and chaste like Jesus to build the kingdom of God.”

Temptation to gluttony –> “(1) That’s not like me – (2) I am temperate and disciplined like St. Paul for the salvation of souls.”

Remember, we are on a journey of transforming our minds to become like Christ’s mind. As we make progress, we will more easily actualize our “saintly higher self” and can simply say when we are tempted:

“I am going to stop thinking with my lower self – and I am going to start thinking with my higher self – the mature, virtuous, Christ-like self – right now.”

Some tips for implementing affirmations:

1. Find whatever temptations you struggle with the most and write down a list of affirmations that you can easily access (have them on your phone and in your prayer book, for example).

2. Say your affirmations as much as possible! The more you state them throughout the day (when you are not being tempted), the more powerful they will become (when you are being tempted). This is spontaneous prayer at its finest!

3. Use affirmations in your Examen prayers throughout the day (based on what you need to work on), during the Rosary (eg. “I am a servant of the Lord like Mary in the Annuciation”), and be creative in finding ways to add them in to any other devotions.

#3: Visualizations

I have found that Fr. Spitzer’s recommendation of visualization is a great supplement to affirmation. Again, Lou Tice gives us a working definition:

“You will never accomplish all that you dream, but you will seldom accomplish anything that you don’t envision first. So, (1) think in terms of ideals; compare your ideals with your current reality; establish what you want; (2) find models of what you want to become; and (3) visualize yourself achieving your desired end result” (Smart Talk, 20).

Visualization involves 3 key steps:

  1. Find an ideal: What is the virtue that directly fights against your primary temptation?
  2. Find a model for this ideal: Choose Christ, Mary, or any saint that exemplifies the virtue you want to cultivate.
  3. Visualize yourself as having reached this ideal: See yourself living out this ideal with the same thoughts and desires as your chosen model.

Some examples:

Temperance vs. Gluttony: “If I had the mind and heart of St. Paul, how would I discipline my body today?”

Humility vs. Pride: “If I had the humility of Christ the Servant, how would I serve my family today?”

Generosity vs. Greed: “If I had the generosity of Venerable Fulton Sheen, how would I use the gifts that God has given me today?”

Some tips for implementing visualizations:

1. Study the 7 deadly sins and their opposite virtues. Get a good understanding of the ideal that you want to cultivate.

2. Read some good books on Christ and the saints. Fr. Spitzer says: “The more we study, admire, and love a particular saint, the more we begin to imitate them in our subconscious mind” (30). 

3. Make a list of affirmations connecting a virtue with Christ or a saint and start meditating on this throughout the day (especially during Examen times).

Remember, this is essentially what St. Ignatius did in the early part of his conversion (and kept doing it through imaginative prayer throughout his life).

“What if I should do what St. Francis did?” “What if I should act like St. Dominic?” He pondered over these things in his mind, and kept continually proposing to himself serious and difficult things. He seemed to feel a certain readiness for doing them, with no other reason except this thought: “St. Dominic did this; I, too, will do it.” “St. Francis did this; therefore I will do it.”

loyola.jpg

Keep in mind that the saint you are trying to imitate is actually interceding for you right now – pretty cool! Pray for their inspiration to become like them in prayer, discipleship, and above all, virtue.

#4: Spontaneous Prayer

Spontaneous prayers are short, memorable, and easily repeatable prayers. When tempted, recite these two kinds of spontaneous prayer (at least 3 times or until the temptation ceases):

  • First, by asking for protection from temptation: “Lord Jesus / Mary / St. Michael / etc, please protect me [from this temptation]”.
  • Second, by expressing your desire to be like your model: “Lord Jesus / Mother Mary / St. Ignatius, etc, help me to be like you in your chastity/patience/humility, etc.”

Keep in mind that the stronger your “saintly higher self” becomes, the stronger these spontaneous prayers will become. So don’t get discouraged if these prayers do not seem as effective at first as you had hoped. Every effort you make to use these prayers and resist temptation (along with continued visualization, affirmations, and daily Examen) is reinforcing your higher self in your subconscious mind.

Some Final Tips for Resisting Temptation

  1. Integrate visualization, affirmation, and spontaneous prayer into your daily examen: (Click here for Fr. Spitzer’s Examen). 
  2. Make it a habit! Here are two Catholic summaries of great books on habit formation: (1) Atomic Habits by James Clear; (2) The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.

 

Trackbacks

  1. […] 2) PAM: As I gratefully review the day, I am also attentive to whether I have had any prominent affective movements (PAM’s) in my heart: joy, pain, love, anger, anxiety, peace, frustration, etc. If I feel drawn to reflect more deeply on PAM, I spend some time discerning whether I responded with my “saintly higher self” or my “fleshly lower self” (click here for an explanation of these two selves): […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: