Christ prayed three times in the Garden of Olives. After each prayer was finished, and the words of this three prayers, by the way, were nearly identical, the Master went back to His Apostles, and in each instance He found them asleep.
Between the first and second sessions of prayer, our Lord uttered a powerful warning, for he said to the drowsy disciples: “Watch and pray, that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Mt. 26:41)
“Watch and pray, that you may not enter into temptation” is a powerful warning that no man should disregard. In wartime it is not unusual to find a soldier court-martialed and summarily executed for falling asleep at his post. Life is a constant warfare agains the legions of hell, and we must be ever watchful against sudden attacks from the enemy. But to watch alone is not enough. A sentinel posted on the walls, when he perceives the enemy gathering for an attack, would be foolhardy indeed, to presume to engage the enemy singlehanded. The wise soldier would send word to his commanding officer of the enemy’s approach. Watchfulness lies in observing the imminent approach of the enemy and prayer is the telling of it to God. Watchfulness without prayer is presumption, and prayer without watchfulness is a mockery.
The great Abbot John remarked that a man who is asleep at the foot of a tree and sees a wild animal coming toward him to devour him, will most certainly climb up the tree to save himself. “So we,” says the Abbot, “when we perceive ourselves beset with temptations, ought to climb up to heaven and by the help of prayer, retire safely into the bosom of God.”
The saints have taught that short prayers are most effective in time of temptation. St. Athanasius, for instance, taught that the opening phrase of the sixty-seventh psalm produced miraculous effects for those who use it in time of temptation. Here are the words: “Let God arise, and let His enemies be scattered, and let those that hate Him fly before His face.”
Note well, that our Lord did not tell His disciples to pray to be relieved of temptations altogether, but rather, that they “enter not into temptation.” God tempts no man, but He permits us to be tempted so to prove ourselves. “Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been tried, he will receive the crown of life.” (James 1:12) St. Bernard, explaining these inspired words of St. James, says: “it is necessary that temptations should happen, for who shall be crowned but he that shall lawfully have fought, and how shall a man fight, if there be none to attack him?”
Be undeceived – position, piety, or experience will not spare you temptations. Adam fell when he was in the state of grace and Peter fell soon after his first Holy Communion.
Resolve today to make use of the holy names of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in the very outset of any temptation. Try to commit the first sentence of Psalm 67 to heart, and promise yourself to make use of it as soon as you discern the approach of any temptation.
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*From Reflections on the Passion