In Temptation: Fight, Flight, Freeze

Animals and humans have learned how to react adequately in a dangerous situation: Fight, flight or freeze. This can also be applied to any temptation. In temptation, something is near that wants to harm our lives and puts our lives in danger. One way is to escape from the temptation. This is the first reaction of the monk, because he “flees the world” (fuga mundi) in order not to be exposed to temptations. We know what he finds in his deserted place: new temptations. So fleeing is a good method, but there are other instruments that can be used. Fighting temptation is also a suitable tool. The monk does this with words, good words, words that he takes from the Holy Scriptures, and he throws them at the demons, trusting that these words, inspired by the Holy Spirit, will overcome the evil thoughts and feelings.

Finally, there is a third way to respond to strong temptations. I found it impressively depicted in a painting of Domenico Morelli. It shows St. Anthony the Great, the first Christian monk and hermit, suffering a carnal temptation in the desert. It threatens him from all sides. No escape possible, fight hopeless. Instead, he falls into frozen mode. He seeks the closeness to the Lord, his cross, which overcomes all evil and even death, and keeps still. He goes on “autopilot,” so to speak. Knowing how weak he himself is, he surrenders himself entirely to the Lord, clings only to Him, and leaves to Him the struggle against evil. It is as if Anthony wanted to say: I am no longer here, it is only the Lord.

I don’t know what your typical temptations are. If we are awake enough, we discover things that want to harm our health, our relationships, our lives. God has given us means to respond, to say “no.”

Dear God, surround me with your guardian angels. Let me practice always being attentive to your presence. That way, I don’t have to be afraid. Let temptations become an opportunity to draw closer to you, to surrender my life to you, who protect me and who love me dearly.

From Psalm 91:

Say to the Lord, “My refuge and fortress,
    my God in whom I trust.”
He will rescue you from the fowler’s snare,
    from the destroying plague,
He will shelter you with his pinions,
    and under his wings you may take refuge;
    his faithfulness is a protecting shield.
  For he commands his angels with regard to you,
    to guard you wherever you go.

“Because he clings to me I will deliver him;
    because he knows my name I will set him on high.
He will call upon me and I will answer;
    I will be with him in distress;
    I will deliver him and give him honor.
With length of days I will satisfy him,
    and fill him with my saving power.”

5 thoughts on “In Temptation: Fight, Flight, Freeze

  1. Hey Fr. ; there’s no doubt that much of life is way beyond my ability to control. At times even my ability to cooperate with Gods Help & Power seems impossible. While out of collapse , defeat & complete surrender new beginnings are made possible. Clearly this has been my experience looking back. The problem remains is in the total surrender necessary. Often think I’m surrendered but find “ maybe & even probably I’m not “. The spiritual life demands much. My weakness is apparent. Hope your praying for me Fr. ? Think of you & the monks in Schuyler often. Recently went to mass with the Cistercian’s at St Joes Abbey in Spencer , Ma. Met with one of the monks afterwards for a couple hrs. Fascinating conversation. Peace & Prayers ! Steve Mitchel

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  2. Thank you Mauritius for your thoughts on how to best face temptations. It made me think about my own temptations. To be honest I find it quite difficult to identify the true temptations. For sure there are minor ones, obvious ones that call for straight action and decisiveness whilst I found it significantly more difficult of determining the true temptations, those who tent to threaten my life, my own and others well-being sometimes.

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  3. As I read this, I also thought about our responses to fear, which might be similar at times to temptation. The evil we see in the Russian invasion of the Ukraine can easily turn my thoughts to fear of what could happen anywhere in the world, to us, to me. I cannot join the fight, I may not be able to flee if the destruction reaches where I live, but I can freeze my fearful thoughts and “surrender myself entirely to the Lord, cling only to Him, and leave to Him the struggle against evil.”
    I also read this today in a post by Sr. Joyce Rupp:
    [Like Jesus who asked his disciples to watch with him in the Garden of Olives] …The people of Ukraine need others to “watch” with them. We can do this by prayer and by our supportive hospitality when they enter our country as refugees. This is no small thing. The interior movement of our compassion extends far beyond the borders of our heart…[and] can silently reach those defending their homeland or fleeing for safety. Even if we feel helpless in changing their situation, we can keep watch with the people of Ukraine who are suffering. We can choose to not fall asleep.
    Thank you for your words which returned my thoughts to the peace that only God can give.

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  4. Dear Father Mauritius, Your words and the example of St. Anthony in the Desert are a help during this last part of Lent. “It’s always darkest just before dawn.” We live in dark times. We are called to Watchfulness/wakefulness like the Apostels in the Garden. May that carrry us through these most challenging days and through to the dawn of Easter.

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  5. My most common way of facing dangers has been to “fly”, but little by little, life has been teaching me to face dangers as well, and “fight”. But I did not know how I could be paralyzed in a Christian way. Thank you Fr. because it is in Jesus that we can rest and lean on. Learning some psalms has helped me but at the same time, just let God the Father take care of us in peace.

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