The Catholic life is filled with resolutions. Confession is not valid without a good resolution to avoid sin . Every morning offering is a new resolution, and every new year is an occasion for resolutions.
Why is the Devil so successful in bringing our resolutions to naught? In this article, we will cover the most common deceptions in the spiritual life that harm devout souls.
The first common deception regarding resolutions is doing too much too fast. The Fathers call this “immoderate zeal.” The Devil takes our good intentions to become a saint and mixes them with pride. We look at the saints and are inspired to take up spiritual disciplines, but in pride, we think we can take on a great amount of prayer and fasting immediately.
He tries to cheat us with counterfeits, for instance by urging that some work of piety should be taken up which as it does not come from the true minds of the fathers, leads under the form of virtue to vice; and, deceiving us either by immoderate or impossible fasts, or by too long vigils, or inordinate prayers, or unsuitable reading, brings us to a bad end. 
It is pride to think the spiritual life must be “great” in terms of external practices, since these are only means to what is truly necessary — faith working charity (Gal. 5:6), which can often be invisible to observers. Rather, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed (Mt. 13:31). One cannot immediately begin praying the whole Divine Office or rosary every day and fasting twice a week as the saints did and more, and it is folly and pride to try.
Instead, begin small and steady. Are you not praying one third of the rosary (five decades) every day? Think about the duties of your state in life, then honestly think of how much time you can spend each day. Maybe it is only a decade a day. Or maybe you can do five decades on your commute every morning.
Take this small thing and do it for two weeks. At the end of that period, think objectively: were you able to do this easily every day? If not, do less. If you did do it easily, then continue for one to two months straight. Do it until you can do it every day without thinking, until the practice is so ingrained that if you miss a day you feel an emptiness in your routine. Then you know you have acquired a virtue, which is a habit. Then and only then do you add more to your discipline.
Using this method allows your spiritual disciplines to grow steadily. If we did this, we would all be making great advances in holiness. Instead, the Devil tricks us to think we need to do everything at once.
The Three Pillars: Predominant Fault
Another deception of the Devil is to focus on anything except the Three Pillars. The spiritual writers say these are the three things in your private spiritual life that must dominate in the beginning. These are: prayer, spiritual reading, and predominant fault. The Devil will trick you into focusing only on an intellectual study of the faith, or emotional experiences, or apparitions — all of these are good in themselves, but should never distract us from the three pillars.
First, the Devil uses your good intention to avoid sin to make you think you need to overcome every sin at once. He then casts discouragement into your mind when you fail in one area and then another. But when the soul tries to focus on all of its faults at once, it quickly loses the battle and starts to surrender the war. Again, this is the trick of the Devil to do too much too fast.
Instead, the spiritual writers say to focus on your predominant fault. Garrigou-Lagrange defines it this way:
The predominant fault is the defect in us that tends to prevail over the others, and thereby over our manner of feeling, judging, sympathizing, willing, and acting. It is a defect that has in each of us an intimate relation to our individual temperament. 
This fault is often tied to your temperament or personality. The predominant fault may also be one of the seven deadly sins that simply dominate your sinful life. In any case, when you start to overcome your predominant fault, the other sins also begin to be overcome, since your soul and faculties are all connected and bound by sin. The predominant fault is the chain, as it were, that binds you as a slave to the effects of Original Sin, the guilt of which was washed away in baptism. Once this chain is broken — you are maintaining your state of grace — then the real healing can begin, and you can start to advance in the spiritual life.
Three Pillars: Spiritual Reading
The Devil tricks us with doing too much reading to the neglect of our state in life, which is the vice of curiosity. He also tricks us into reading Catholic books solely for emotional or intellectual purposes to the neglect of the spiritual books. Spiritual reading, instead, is the type of reading that galvanizes your soul to suffer and fight for Jesus Christ every day. Here is a quote from such a spiritual work:
You must toil and make every effort, especially at the beginning, to embrace tribulation and adversity as your dear sisters — desiring to be despised by all, and to have no one who entertains a favorable opinion of you, or brings you comfort, but your God. 
Such words set devout souls on fire to fight for Christ and save their souls. If there is any one of the classics that you have not read, choose one to read that particularly fits your temperament and commit to reading some part of it every day, even if it is only a paragraph. Introduction to the Devout Life is written for lay people with the gentle, loving, and fatherly tone of a holy bishop to his spiritual daughter. Spiritual Combat is written with a much more militant, masculine tone. Above all, the Imitation of Christ is the universal spiritual work for all Western spirituality, and every devout soul must start here if he has not already read it. All of these works deserve multiple readings and re-readings.
Three Pillars: Prayer
Above everything else, prayer is the most important thing in the spiritual life. This is because prayer is the life of Heaven. We will not be dealing with faults or reading spiritual books in Heaven, but beholding the Divine Essence and worshiping God in prayer indescribable. That is why the other two pillars are subordinate to this one, therefore it is this pillar against which the Devil is particularly opposed.
His chief weapon in prayer life is distractions. First, he makes every effort to convince you that you are too busy to pray. If you are resolved to pray, then he convinces you that you must pray an entire 15-decade rosary or the whole Divine Office and quickly evaporates your zeal by the aforementioned immoderate zeal. Then if you have thwarted his first two attacks to prayer and you are regularly praying, he assaults you with all manner of distractions.
To overcome these machinations, beseech God for grace. Utilize the prayer before the Divine Office, which can be used before any prayer at all:
O Lord open my lips to bless Thy Holy Name. Cleanse my mind from all vain, evil, and wondering thoughts. Enlighten my understanding and kindle my affections that I may fittingly recite this prayer to thee with attention and devotion, so that it may be meet to be heard before the presence of Thy divine majesty. O Lord, in union with that divine intention, wherewith Thou Thyself didst offer Thy prayers to God while upon this earth, I now recite this prayer to Thee.
The Imitation also has a magnificent prayer in this regard:
Enlighten me, good Jesus, with the brightness of internal light, and take away all darkness from the habitation of my heart. Restrain my wandering thoughts and suppress the temptations which attack me so violently. Fight strongly for me, and vanquish these evil beasts — the alluring desires of the flesh — so that peace may come through Thy power and the fullness of Thy praise resound in the holy courts, which is a pure conscience. Command the winds and the tempests; say to the sea: “Be still,” and to the north wind, “Do not blow,” and there will be a great calm.
Send forth Thy light and Thy truth to shine on the earth, for I am as earth, empty and formless until Thou illuminest me. Pour out Thy grace from above. Shower my heart with heavenly dew. Open the springs of devotion to water the earth, that it may produce the best of good fruits. Lift up my heart pressed down by the weight of sins, and direct all my desires to heavenly things, that having tasted the sweetness of supernal happiness, I may find no pleasure in thinking of earthly things.
Snatch me up and deliver me from all the passing comfort of creatures, for no created thing can fully quiet and satisfy my desires. Join me to Thyself in an inseparable bond of love; because Thou alone canst satisfy him who loves Thee, and without Thee all things are worthless. 
The Fathers tell us that Satan even uses the good intentions of pious works to distract us in prayer. This is known as the “heresy of activism” according to Chautard . During the time of prayer, the Devil attempts to make you feel that you must pray less in order to go preach the gospel, or go to confession, or save souls. But during your time of prayer, even these thoughts must be rejected, since the Devil will do anything to prevent your prayer.
Another great piece of wisdom comes from the modern classic, Humility of Heart:
We often lament that we are unable to pray because of the many distractions which hinder our recollection and dry up the source of devotion in our hearts, but in this we err and do not know what we are saying. The best prayer is not that in which we are most recollected and fervent, but that in which we are most humble. 
Thus, another trick of the Devil makes us think that prayer is all about fervor, zeal, emotion, or attention in itself. Rather, the life of the angels sings Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus continually — it is the eternity of humble praise. Thus, even a soul that is filled with distractions, yet fights to worship God and falls on its knees in humble emptiness, is most pleasing to God. Remember the words of the prophet: A sacrifice to God is an afflicted spirit: a contrite and humbled heart, O God, thou wilt not despise (Ps. 50:19). When confronted with distractions, offer up the suffering to God in prayer. Make them an occasion for humility and pray: O God, behold what I can do with my own power. Grant me Thy grace to pray, without which I can do nothing.
In all things, let us be wary of the machinations of the evil one and turn his snares into humble prayers to God for deliverance. And they cried to the Lord in their tribulation: and he delivered them out of their distresses (Ps. 106:6).
 Prummer, Handbook of Moral Theology, no. 660
 St. John Cassian, Conferences I, ch. 17
 Garrigou-Lagrange, Three Ages of the Spiritual Life, Vol. 1, 314ff
 Lorenzo Scupoli, Of Interior Peace or the Path to Paradise contained within The Spiritual Combat (Scriptoria Books: 2012), 165
 Imitation, Book III, Ch. 23
 His book Soul of the Apostolate (1946) is a modern classic in this regard.
 Bergamo, Humility of Heart (1905, TAN reprint 2005), 91
Timothy Flanders is the editor-in-chief of OnePeterFive. He is the author of City of God versus City of Man: The Battles of the Church from Antiquity to the Present and Introduction to the Holy Bible for Traditional Catholics. His writings have appeared at OnePeterFive and Crisis, as well as in Catholic Family News. In 2019 he founded The Meaning of Catholic, a lay apostolate dedicated to uniting Catholics against the enemies of Holy Church. He holds a degree in classical languages from Grand Valley State University and has done graduate work with the Catholic University of Ukraine. He lives in Michigan with his wife and six children.
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