Hounded by bad thoughts and images?
Cases like this are unfortunately getting plenty. I am referring to those individuals who have succeeded in converting from their colorful past but are still being assailed, almost constantly, by the bad thoughts and images of the past, with matching feelings.
Especially in their weak moments, when they are alone and tired, about to sleep or have just waken up, they feel the assault sharply, and it seems that their efforts to ward them off are not enough. There are times when they want to give up, and in fact, from time to time, they fall.
I usually advise them not to worry at all, since worrying will just make things worse. Instead, with great confidence, they just have to continue to pray, asking always for God’s grace, and to try not to mind those thoughts and images.
I tell them to repeat many vocal prayers, looking piously at holy images, clutching a crucifix more tightly, kissing ‘stampitas’ more devoutly, sprinkling holy water, etc. I encourage them to just ride out the storm, letting those thoughts, images and feelings to play out in the end spent and exhausted.
In the worst scenario, it may also be more practical to make the radical sacrifice of getting up immediately, taking a shower, doing some exercises or corporal mortifications. But never give those bad thoughts and images any opening by making the mind and heart, body and soul idle and empty in any given moment or, worse, by dialoguing with them.
Deny them even the first base. Instead, ask God for the grace that good thoughts, images and feelings replace them. In this regard, it would be good that we keep a good armory of devotional prayers, sacramentals, and holy images. Also ask for the powerful intercession of the Blessed Mother, the angels and the saints.
It cannot be denied that we all bear the spoiled remnants and dregs of the past. They leave some mark in our body and soul, thus, those thoughts, images and feelings. We should not be surprised by this fact anymore. In fact, we have to expect them to come and give us some trouble from time to time, and we just have to be ready for them.
Life, we are told, is a constant warfare. We can hardly expect any truce, since the enemies of God and, therefore, also of our soul, will always try to frustrate God’s loving designs for us. The devil, the sinful world and our own wounded flesh will always be in conspiracy against us.
We have to remember that, as one saint would put it, while conversion is a matter of a moment, sanctification which will always involve the need to struggle, grow and improve, will always be a matter of a lifetime.
That these bad thoughts, images and feelings come only means that we are in constant need for purification. This should be considered as a given, and we should just devise an appropriate lifetime plan to address this issue in our life. We should never take this concern for granted, ignoring the many ascetical means already made available in the Church.
But neither should we over-react to these things. Let us never forget that God is always in control and is on our side, even if we do not feel that we deserve it. He will never abandon us. Let us take comfort in what St. Paul told us in this regard:
“No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful. He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide an escape, so that you can stand up under it.” (1 Cor 10,13)
Just the same, in the event that we fall, we can and should always rise up immediately, asking again for pardon especially through sacramental confession.*
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