Christ says, Watch and pray, that you do not fall into temptation. What is the relation between prayer and temptation?
What is to enter into temptation but to fail in faith? Temptation advances as faith lets up. And temptation yields as faith advances… He who fights prays, and would not he who is in danger pray?
from St. Augustine Answers 101 Questions on Prayer by Fr. Ermatinger.
Just as entering into faith is to be a participant in the action of faith, entering into temptation is to be a participant in the temptation. It is important at this juncture to delineate between the hearing through which faith comes and the entering into faith by the turning of prayer. Hearing of God, His good things, and His desire to give them does not imply the turning to Him – it is just the preparation that makes the turning possible. So too then the converse: the inclination (concupiscence) to choose lesser goods over God and His good things, as well as hearing the whisperings of vice and the fallen angels do not imply, nor necessitate, the actual choosing of those lesser things.
The key is in the yielding and the turning. As one turns towards God in prayer, one is necessarily strengthened from the yielding; one cannot serve two masters, have two loves, nor have both God and Mamon. If one yields to temptation, one stops praying, stops asking for God, for His good things, and to receive those good things. In grasping and taking of a lesser thing, one abandons the greater good, which, especially if one has previously heard, turned in prayer, and received God and His good things, brings shame and guilt.
In having entered in to temptation, having been so conquered, one may so despair of God and so cast oneself further into temptation. This is the great temptation; to consider that God, His good things, and His will to give them exclude and are beyond the individual who has been conquered. But God, being good, is faithful to His goodness and His promises even when we are not. He is just and merciful. After all, isn’t this where each has started, estranged and far off from God in a state of choosing lesser things and fictions over Him? If He has so spoken so that those lost in sin might hear, and, in hearing, so turn in prayer, through faith and hope, to receive His charity that He wishes to grant to those that so pray? If one has so yielded to temptation, will God not call him still?
If one is in danger of yielding to temptation one must pray. If one has yielded and is in danger of remaining so yielded, one must pray. One must fight always against temptation and the yielding as long as one draws breath. How one fights is by prayer, which is to turn to God so that God might fight Himself against the temptation by giving of His good things.