Reacting vs. Responding to Temptations by Dan Burke

In Dan Burke’s book Spiritual Warfare and the Discernment of Spirits, he makes a great distinction (in pages 57-59) between simply reacting like an animal to temptations to desolation and responding like a saint.

A good way to measure your spiritual maturity is by answering this question:

  • How reactive are you to the stimulus of difficult events in life and the temptation to desolation?

Beginning stage: simply react like an animal

For example, in the case of someone who struggles with anger, let’s say the event is someone disagreeing with this person and the reaction is an outburst of anger. The event is disagreement, and the reaction is an outburst of anger. There is no self-control. There is almost no ability to avoid the reaction. The event and the reaction are essentially one unfortunate event.

Early maturation stage: starting to become aware

As you mature spiritually (daily mental prayer, examen, etc), you begin to notice a moment in which you can fight the temptation. Any failures are remedied in Confession. A deep desire to avoid sin emerges. And a greater awareness of the potential threats that can arise in the near future. The space between event & reaction widens. Outbursts are not as severe.

“The connection between event and reaction gets weaker as his faith grows and as his practice of discernment of spirits makes him more aware of the work of the enemy to draw him into sin. His growing self-awareness is also a powerful antidote to falling into sin or even getting into situations that regularly result in sin. This is called avoiding the near occasion of sin” (Dan Burke).

Later maturation stage: responding not reacting

As he matures even more, he begins to experience a complete break between the event and reaction. In fact, he no longer reacts but simply responds. The difference between a reaction and a response is that a response is a measured expression of the will in submission to God’s will regarding how one should comport themselves in the face of any kind of difficult stimulus. Once this process is complete and perfect, at least as perfect as humanly possible, a saint begins to emerge as virtue flourishes and habitual sin is a thing of the past. The saint doesn’t face fewer challenges than the rest of us, the saint is simply more aware and in control of his faculties and better able to manage them according to God’s will and the saint’s higher nature.


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