It’s easy to sound glib when talking about temptation. We all suffer it. St. Paul did. Even Jesus did, and it’s clear that temptation was an ordeal for him.

 So we should not be surprised when it comes to us. But even if we know it’s coming — even if we expect it and feel prepared — it can seem overwhelming.

Why is that? One reason is that it’s personal. Our enemy, the devil, knows our weak spots better than we do, and he knows the techniques for wearing us down. He’s been doing this for a long time.

Another reason we feel overwhelmed, though, is because we’re often fighting alone. More precisely, we’ve often chosen to fight alone.

The problem with temptations is that they come with a large measure of shame. We don’t want anyone to know the stuff we’re struggling with. We think it’s peculiarly our own. We think it would cause people to think less of us. So we clam up. We don’t tell anyone. And the devil wears us down. He even uses our fear of being found out to make us more miserable, weak, and desperate.

Shame keeps us silent. It shuts us up. It isolates us from those who can help us. And, in that silence and loneliness, temptation and sin make us more and more miserable.

This is the common experience of addicts, whether they’re addicted to drugs, alcohol, or pornography.

It is the common experience of sinners as well, and we’re all sinners.

But God knows all this, and he is our Father; and like a good Father he arranged for us to have what we need to fight back against temptation and sin — and fight hard.

The most effective weapons we have are Confession and Holy Communion.

In Confession we have a safe place to break the oppressive silence. We are anonymous. We need not tell the priest behind the screen who we are. We can speak freely, knowing that Father may never repeat a word of what we say. A priest who breaks the seal of the confessional is not merely drummed out of the priesthood; he’s excommunicated. Nobody on earth wants that. Priests in this country have gone to jail rather than divulge what they heard in Confession.

And if we have any hesitation about confessing in our home parish, we can always drive or take a bus to a parish across town. We live in a land of many Catholic churches, and each of them has at least one confessional, with regularly scheduled times posted on the parish website.

The Gospels show us Jesus driving out a “mute spirit”: “and when the demon had gone out, the mute person spoke and the crowds were amazed.” The saints draw out a practical, spiritual meaning from that passage. They tell us that the mute spirit represents the devil who wants to keep us from making a good confession.

The best way to overcome the shame of temptation and sin is to shatter the silence. We should begin each Confession with the sin that’s hardest to say out loud. We should ask Jesus and Mary and our guardian angel for strength, and then just say it. Get it over with.

I guarantee you that the rest of the Confession will be a joy — and experience first of relief, and then of mercy, and finally of strength. With the priest’s absolution we receive the grace to overcome our particular struggle. We’re fighting not just with our minimal muscles, but with God’s own power.

Often, afterwards, our former shame seems silly. Did we really think we were going to shock the priest? Or even surprise him? I assure you that most priests, in the first years after their ordination, have heard everything confessed except successful suicide. What St. Paul said 2,000 years ago is still true today: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.”

Yet our prisons are full of people who couldn’t bring themselves to speak about their temptations and sins. Instead, they kept using porn till they stumbled into possession of illegal images. Instead, they had another drink and got behind the wheel of the car. Instead, they stole or evaded taxes in order to deal with their increasing credit-card debt.

Some prisons have walls and barbed wire. Others lock people in with shame and silence.

The way to freedom, though, begins at the door of the confessional.