God is pure goodness. The devil, having no creative properties of his own, has only one option- to take the goodness and turn it into evil.
That means that all sin spawns from something good. The soul-darkening things we do always start with a small decision between two good things.
Example: “I have some free time today. I can exercise or read. You know what? I am tired today so I think I will read.”
That situation might seem trivial. It might seem like both are valid options and would not lead to sin. However, when reading becomes the consistent choice time after time, you begin to ignore your physical health and then become guilty of the sin of sloth.
Another example: “I have some work to do, but it can wait until tomorrow. I should be with my family and play with my kids. You know what? I can let them watch TV for a bit while I finish my work. Two birds with one stone. (Thanks TV!)”
This one is a bit more obvious. Granted, work is a good thing; it provides economic stability for your family and personal satisfaction for a job well done. But time with your family is a higher priority, especially when work can wait until tomorrow. Hence, the sin of greed and/or pride consumes us.
Two good things. That’s all the devil needs to convince you that the lower option is the most important. More often than not, we are tempted to do that lower thing because, as St. Thomas Aquinas put it, “[we] desire evil . . . insofar as [we] think it good. Hence [our] intention primarily aims at the good and only incidentally touches on the evil” (Thomas’s Commentary on the Nicomachean Ethics. Book I: The Good for Man. Chapter 1, Section 2, under Commentary. # 10).
Thus, “incidentally,” we refuse God’s fresh and natural goodness and settle for the knock-off version through which we fall short of building up the spiritual nourishment we need to thrive.
So, how to de overcome this catch-22?
We pull a “St. Francis de Sales.”
St. Francis de Sales had a giant intellect. Strangely enough, his written work was not nearly as prolific as other saints that had similar mental capacities such as Aquinas or even Fulton J. Sheen. The majority of his writing came from letters that he wrote to the people in his diocese, especially lay men and women. He chose to be a pastor more than a writer.
De Sales had two very good things to choose between in his ministry: to write about God or to pastor his people. He chose the latter and, as a result, he was canonized as the patron of writers and journalists. He sought wisdom over knowledge and, as a result, was given knowledge and the highest credit for his writing that one could ever receive. He “[sought] first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things [were] added to [him]” (Matthew 6:33).
St. Therese of Lisieux had a similar experience. She was a mere teen when she entered Carmel. Prior to her immersion into the cloister, she pondered the vocation of becoming a missionary. In her memoir, The Story of a Soul, she wrote: “I long to bring light to souls, like the prophets and doctors; to go to the ends of the earth to preach Your name, to plant Your glorious Cross, my Beloved, on pagan shores. One mission field alone would never be enough; all the world, even its remotest islands, must be my mission field. Nor would my mission last a few short years, but from the beginning of the world to the End of Time.”
She never made it to the ends of the earth physically, but her spirit was deemed worthy of the honor of Patroness of Missionaries after her canonization. While God withheld the satisfaction of her holy desires on earth, He gave her all missions in abundance after receiving her eternal reward.
We often have to choose between two good things in our lives. The devil will try to convince you to go for the one that will have the least impact on your salvation and of those you were meant to serve.
To truly know what way to go when confronted with two good things, prioritize your choices with God at the forefront of your decision-making process in prayer. Allow Him to be the fulcrum by which you make each and every daily choice. Unite your conscience with steadfast prayer. You’ll find that, at some point during your spiritual journey, you’ll be given the cross of detachment, just like St. Francis de Sales and St. Therese, through which you’ll be given the gift of humility and wisdom.
Guided by the will of God through these gifts, your choice will be obvious.