As I wrote last week, I am in reflective mood at present and have been thinking about one of my fundamental responsibilities as a Catholic Dad: the responsibility to protect my family.

That is right at the heart of the vocation we share as Catholic Dads. And to do that, we need to know what we are protecting them against. Fortunately, we have the Church’s wisdom to draw on, and she identifies three principal enemies against which we must be on our guard: the world, the flesh, and the Devil.

Last week, I was reflecting on the first of the three great temptations: the world. This week, I’m focusing on the second: the flesh.

This is very unfashionable to talk about. Our permissive and hedonistic culture treats pleasure as a good; in fact as the only good. The sexual revolution has so conquered our understanding, that any thought of sexual restraint (or the restraint of any pleasure) is deemed pathological.

But whilst sexuality is part of what we mean when we talk about the flesh, it is not the whole of it: all material pleasures fall into this category, including innocent ones such as eating and drinking, watching TV and sports, as well as more obviously culpable ones such as using drugs.

As with the temptations of the world, the innocent pleasures of the flesh were created as good; it is in their abuse that the danger lies. The problem we face is that as a result of Original Sin, we are damaged – and particularly in this area. Our appetites can dominate our reason, and those goods which are meant to be helps to us on our journey to sanctification can become distractions and ultimately false Gods.

That is why we are so blessed to have the tradition of the Church to guide us: left to ourselves, it is hard to make impartial judgements about the right use of pleasures. But the Church has clear and constant tradition and teaching.

In the area of sexuality we are called to chastity, in accordance with our vocation. In the use of legitimate pleasures, we are called to moderation, and with regard to illegitimate pleasures, we are called to abstinence.

To support those callings, there are a number of strategies that the witness of the Gospels and the wisdom of the saints can help us to understand; and not just to understand, but also to practice and to pass on to our kids.

Again, these are unfashionable – which is perhaps a reflection of how well the Devil goes about his work. But they are nonetheless powerful.

With regard to sexual temptation, we should practice custody of the eyes: that is, not looking at anything that might stimulate lustful thoughts. For example, when watching TV or a movie, or reading a novel or magazine, imagine Our Lady is sat beside you: if there is anything which you would be embarrassed watching in her presence, you should not be watching it at all.

We should also pray for chastity regularly, go to confession regularly, seek out wholesome company and avoid unwholesome, and so on. We should also attend to the moral formation of our kids, keep an eye on the types of parties to which they go, the things they watch, read and listen to, and the friends with whom they associate.

With regards to the other pleasures of the flesh we should practice moderation in our eating and drinking, and in our pursuit of hobbies and other pleasures. We should also regularly mortify ourselves: forego pleasures and undertake unpleasant tasks, and offer those up to Our Lord in union with His sacrifice for us. And all this with a cheerful countenance…

This discipline is particularly powerful both to regain control of ourselves from our fallen nature, and as a witness to our children. It is unreasonable and unrealistic to expect them to sacrifice pleasures if they have not been brought up to see their parents do the same.

And again, this is countercultural.  Our society cultivates the myth that to show our love for our kids we must indulge them, spoil them.  But a spoilt kid is a spoilt human being.  We love them more if we help them to develop real character.

So that’s this week’s challenge: how do we create the opportunities to educate our kids by word and example to recognise and resist the temptations of the flesh?

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