The following is a continuation of a series. This is an excerpt from the writing of John of the Cross in Dark Night of the Soul. He is writing about the "seven capital sins" of the spiritual life. First is pride, second is spiritual greed, and now he writes about spiritual luxury. Of the seven sins he discusses, this is the one I probably had most difficulty connecting with. Maybe that will not be true for you.
The third sin is spiritual luxury. It is from this sin that all of the others proceed, and this sin is the most important. Here is what happens: a soul that is deep in prayer may experience profound temptations and find itself powerless to prevent them. Sometimes this even happens during holy communion or when saying confession. This happens from one of three causes.
The first cause is the physical pleasure the body takes in spiritual things. The lower part of our nature, the flesh, is sometimes stirred up during times of devotion. But it cannot possess and lay hold upon the experience, so it begins to stir up what it can possess, namely, the impure and the sensual.
The second cause is the devil. In order to disturb and disquiet the soul, the devil will try to stir up impurity within the soul, hoping that it will give heed to these temptations. The soul will begin to fear these temptations and become lax in prayer, and if they persist, the soul may even give up on prayer altogether.
The third cause is an inordinate fear of impure thoughts. Some souls are so tender and frail that they cannot stand such thoughts and live in great fear of them. This fear in itself can cause their downfall. They become agitated at the least disturbance and thus are too easily distracted.
When the soul enters into the dark night, all these things are put under control. The flesh will be quieted, the devil will be silent, and the fear will subside, all because God takes away all of the sensory pleasure and the soul is purified in the absence of it.
(Cited in Richard Foster’s (ed), Devotional Classics, p. 35)