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Psychological Healing
in the Catholic Mystic Tradition

Questions and Answers

Every time I say the Our Father I wonder what it means, “Lead us not into temptation.” Would God be that mean to us to tempt us? I’ve never heard an explanation that isn’t just a fancy cover up of what seems to be the obvious yet shouldn’t be.

Outline of the Answer
• Negative Admonitions
• Our Freedom
• The Lack of Love

 
Mhis petition (Lead us not into temptation) and the following petition (Deliver us from evil) are closely related, and they aren’t meant to suggest that God would lead us into temptation. On the contrary, they are meant to ask God, our heavenly Father, to not do what dysfunctional human fathers do on a regular basis: push us into worldly activities that tempt us to engage in the sins associated with those activities, and, consequently, send us right into the grasp of evil. This petition, however, does not say this directly; instead, it uses an indirect psychological method to make its point.

Although many theologians through the ages have offered their explanations of the Our Father, and these explanations all have some merit, I will offer an explanation of the psychology behind the petition which, in its own way, will lead us to the depth of its theological meaning.

 
Negative Admonitions

Consider what your mind experiences when I tell you, “Don’t think of pink elephants in the next few minutes.” Well, now that you have read my admonition, note the effect of it. If you are as imaginative as most persons, in your mind you immediately visualized pink elephants, despite having been told not to do so.

This, then, points to a curious psychological principle about a negative admonition: when told not to do something, we immediately think of doing it.

In the case of the Our Father, when we say, “Lead us not into temptation,” we can’t avoid thinking of temptation. And that, right there, is the theological issue that Christ was pointing out to us. He wanted us to think about temptation, daily, for a good reason.

To begin to understand this, let’s take a more simple example. Many times Christ told the Apostles, “Do not be afraid.” Notice that He didn’t just say, “Be at peace.” By saying, “Do not be afraid,” He deliberately puts the thought of fear into the Apostle’s minds. Why? Well, the reason is psychological: to remind the Apostles that they are afraid, and to emphasize, therefore, that without Him all they have in their lives is fear. But with Christ—He who is speaking—there is no fear. Thus, by telling them what not to do, Christ reminds the Apostles of their wretched reality while at the same time offering freedom from it all.

This, then, is the same dynamic at work in the Our Father. When we say, “Lead us not into temptation,” we can’t help but think about temptation and realize that we are surrounded by it. It’s everywhere. The world is full of temptation. Temptation is in the air like a foul mist dripping from clouds of deception.

So there’s our reality.

And where is our freedom from it all?

 
Our Freedom

Well, once we realize the horror of being surrounded by temptation, we can then be receptive to what God is calling us to do: renounce the world and its impious darkness and follow Christ into the light. In other words, rather than muttering in our hearts, “But I will die if I have to give up the satisfactions of the world!” we find ourselves in the place of begging God to lead us away from the world. In this place away from the world is love of God, and in this place away from the world is our freedom, because the only weapon that can pierce the armor of temptation is our love for God.

  

Many persons make a psychological mistake of trying to fight a temptation by overpowering it through their own will, telling themselves that they can’t have something or shouldn’t do something. But trying to force yourself away from a temptation only increases its intensity! Therefore, it is important to look beyond the illusion of satisfaction that the temptation projects in front of you; instead of seeing the illusion, pay attention to what you are really seeing. Instead of seeing a body that arouses your lust, learn to see the sad reality of a wretched soul who has been duped by secular society into believing that emotional emptiness can be filled by using the body to incite lust in others. Instead of seeing your own pleasure, feel in your heart the sadness of seeing another soul deceived by cultural lies and lost in sin. Feel the sorrow for a world that has been overwhelmed by the insanity of sin.

Then, being clear about the evil and sin you are really seeing, open your heart to “see” what is really good and pure: God’s love. And resolve that, for the sake of love, you will not fall prey to the temptation.

  

Therefore, when we pray the words our Savior gave us—“Lead us not into temptation”—we find ourselves essentially imploring God the Father for a detachment from the world—a detachment that, left to ourselves, we would never think of wanting. Moreover, with that detachment, we are then protected from the evil that would snatch us if we fell into temptation.

To sum it up then, in this petition of the Our Father we are essentially asking that God be a good father to us who won’t lead us into temptation. Unlike a dysfunctional father who fails to protect us and guide us, and, in that failure leads us right into temptation and evil, God can guide us away from the sins of the world—and away from temptation—and in so doing He will also deliver us from evil.

 
The Lack of Love

But why then are there so many Christians who, despite their praying the Our Father, have swallowed temptation hook, line, and sinker? The answer is simple. When reciting the Our Father, most persons don’t pray with love, looking with deep contemplation into the darkness of their hearts caused by their own failed fathers; instead, they say their prayers as just rote words, missing the point of prayer itself.

And what did Christ say about this sort of empty piety that fails to incite a desire for the holy and misses the point of a real, heart-felt communication with God? “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 5:20).

Think about that. In what He said, Christ left us a straight-forward positive admonition, not a negative admonition. So what does Christ want you to do? Well, maybe now, after reading this page, you know the answer.

 


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The text of this webpage, integrated with other material from my websites, has been conveniently organized into a paperback book of 350 pages, including a comprehensive index.

 

Though Demons Gloat: They Shall Not Prevail
by Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D.

 
Though we are attacked by liberal activists from without and by apostasy from within, the true Church—that is, the body of those who remain faithful to Church tradition—weeps, and she prays, because she knows the fate of those who oppose God.
     Our enemies might fear love, and they can push love away, but they can’t kill it. And so the battle against them cannot be fought with politics; it requires a pro­found personal struggle against the immorality of popular culture. The battle must be fought in the service of God with pure and chaste lifestyles lived from the depths of our hearts in every moment.

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