When we commit ourselves to journey in the spiritual life, we do so expecting the usual temptations which are often quite obvious when they arise: anger, lust, and greed, etc. Each vice and sin hinder us to a degree that is dependent on our flaws and temperament. In time and persistent prayer, however, they can be defeated by a great deal of virtue and love.
Unfortunately, not everything can be as easily defeated. In fact, the worst enemy is not the world or the devil. The hardest enemy to conquer is oneself. The devil and the world only tempt us in our concupiscence, and convince us by means of our imagination and memory that what they are tempting us with, is actually good, reasonable, something we deserve, something we have a right to, and at last, something we cannot live without. With these present to our intellect, we commit our will either whole heartedly or hesitantly to do that which satisfy us only for a moment.
It would seem that the devil and the world in these cases are the most influential to our sins, but in fact, they are only secondary, like an assistant at work. We are our own will and mind, these faculties of our soul cannot be penetrated by the demons, but we can invite or allow ourselves to be influenced by their assistants, and slowly, we can yield to their demands on our will, but even then, there is always some part of us that cannot be possessed (Questions 26 – 27 from Exorcism and the Church Militant by Rev. Thomas J. Euteneuer – Out of Print).
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “the power of Satan is, nonetheless, not infinite” (CCC395). Moreover, that within themselves, individuals are divided between the good choice and the evil choice, so now we arrive at our worst enemy: ourselves, that part of us that is inclined to evil as the Catechism says, “He still desires the good, but his nature bears the wound of original sin. He is now inclined to evil and subject to error” (CCC, 1707).
The part of us that is inclined to evil is our worst enemy; it is not a secondary assistant that can come and go, whose presence we can sometimes sense; instead, it is part of us and it doesn’t ever leave us alone. How can we sense our worst enemy then; in what form does our divided selves manifest their presence?
I think that love of self is its core principle which is manifested in all the 7 deadly sins of pride, lust, greed, envy, gluttony, wrath (unquenched anger), and sloth. Each sin is our yielding to this principle; each sin is our yes to ourselves whether we keep money or possession for our sake or we have sex with someone only for our own pleasure regardless of their pleasure or the effects of our promiscuity, and even in marriage, a husband can lust over his wife and vice versa due to love of self. Each sin has its circumstances but love of self is its principle reason. Therefore, each of our sins is ours and we are guilty of them since every sin begins in our saying yes to ourselves first.
Discouraging as this might sound, the solution is simple and free; simple because it can be done by all with the help of the Holy Spirit, – holiness. It is free because Christ Jesus has already paid the complete sacrifice which gives value to each of our own sacrifice. This sacrifice means choosing another person as the recipient of our goods, money, time, energy, patience, work, prayers, and love. When we direct all our skills and love towards others, we no longer yield to love of self, but we say yes to love of neighbor. At the same time, when we direct our goods, money, time, energy, patience, work, prayers and LOVE which is summed up in “with your whole heart, soul and mind” then we yield to the only eternally fulfilling choice: Love of God.
The solution then is Jesus’ commandment: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22: 37-38).
Loving God and loving your neighbor is the principle of the other part of us which chooses the good, which fights the other part of us which inclines to the love of self. The part that has Jesus’ commandments as its principle directive is the part of us that we must choose to love and allow to win. In order to learn the true love of self and to learn who we truly are, we must learn first to love God and love our neighbor. All these are manifested in humility, in chastity, in generosity, in patience, in service and sacrifice, in understanding, in prudence, in cheerfulness and joy, and in compassion. All these manifest the commandments of love.