Tag Archives: Temptation

Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin

I have been working with this coworker for awhile, he was hired around the same time that I did. He was hired as a maintenance worker and quickly became my favorite one, because I felt comfortable asking for help without feeling as though I was being an imposition. In exchange for his help, I gave him some extra samples of the pastry I was planning to sample that day. We would joke that he was the official taste-tester and if he dropped dead I would know that I shouldn’t sample that pastry.

Over the course of our time working together I developed the suspicion that he had a “colored” past, as they say. He went to Las Vegas for his birthday and let’s just say he was not going for the shows. I never asked him for details because it was not my business to know. On Tuesday he was sporting a freshly-shaved head and I commented on how dapper he looked. He smiled and thanked me, he then added that he did it every few months to keep him humble. I asked him what that meant and he admitted it helped him remember what life was like for him when he was in prison. Looking in the mirror everyday and seeing his shaved head was a good reminder of where he came from and to be thankful for the life he had now. It is easy for him to forget how terrible life was in prison. He confessed that he can easily fall back into his old ways and lose control with money; he needs to constantly check himself. He can receive a lot of bonuses at his other job and the temptation to use them to go back to dealing drugs can be hard to overcome at times. He needs to see his shaved head to remind him how awful his life was. He never wants to go back to prison — he has a better life now with a son that he needs to provide for and set a good example.

After telling me his story, I think he recognized how vulnerable he was being and tried to joke it off saying that he knew how weird it sounded. I told him that it didn’t sound weird at all and I admired him for being so aware of his limits. I said it was great that he took active steps to keep himself from giving in to temptation. The fact that he is smart enough to recognize that he still has the impulse to misuse money and shaving his head helped keep him from repeating his mistakes was a great accomplishment. I thanked him for sharing his story; he was an inspiration. He is a blessing in my life because he reminded me what a gift my life was and not to take anything for granted.

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Originally posted at Kitty in the City.
Image: PD-US

Romantic Thoughts for Ash Wednesday

Terminate torment

Of love unsatisfied

The greater torment

Of love satisfied.”

— T.S. Eliot, Ash Wednesday

Can Catholics celebrate Valentine’s Day this year, considering that Ash Wednesday this year falls on the same date? Is the feast of love compatible with the beginning of Lent? When the obligation to do penance conflicts with the convention of romance, which of the two should give way?

Because of our natural aversion to self-inflicted suffering and the contemporary view of love that equates it with pleasure, many of us may have initially reacted that no, Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday do not mix; that the Church’s regulations on fasting and abstinence would spoil this year’s Valentine’s Day; that this year, we must choose one or the other. Some have proposed, as a practical solution, that Valentine’s Day be celebrated the day before – on what is traditionally known as Mardi Gras – or the day after.

But must it be this way?

It is an age-old tactic of the devil to exaggerate the hardship entailed by our obligations towards God. In the Garden of Eden, the serpent twisted God’s command not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and asked Eve if God prohibited them from eating of any tree in the garden. The devil continues using this tactic to today; thus, for example, we rebel against reasonable guidelines against wearing short skirts and low necklines in church because we perceive these guidelines as requiring us to wrap ourselves in sheets.

The same goes true with the mandatory fasting and abstinence from meat on Ash Wednesday, and warnings against celebrating Valentine’s Day in a sinful fashion. With regard to the former, it is difficult, to be sure, as I can attest from my struggle to practice portion control on ordinary days. But we tend to exaggerate the hardship it entails. We forget that 1) nothing prohibits us from making the allowed full meal for the day a special one, and 2) non-meat dishes can be delicious.

As for the latter, why must we equate celebrating Valentine’s Day with sinful activities?  Why must we assume that certain prohibited activities are the only ways we can celebrate our love – especially our romantic love – on Valentine’s Day?

We forget that Valentine’s Day was – and still is – a Catholic feast; that love – including romantic love – is something of God.  It is true that this year, liturgically speaking, Ash Wednesday takes precedence over the feast of St. Valentine. There’s nothing wrong, too, with scheduling a Valentine’s Day celebration the day before or the day after Ash Wednesday this year. But neither is there any reason we cannot, within the limits imposed by the mandatory forms of penance, celebrate our love on Valentine’s Day this year.

In fact, this year is a good opportunity for us Catholics to reclaim Valentine’s Day, to use it as an occasion to remind the world what love really is. As we take our allowed full one meal on that day in special seafood grills or sushi bars with our dates, perhaps after going to the church together to have ashes imposed on our foreheads or after having spent time together in a wholesome yet no less wonderful way (which we are supposed to do anyway on any other time of the year), we are showing to the world what we have always known and which the world has forgotten: love is all about joyful sacrifice. As we enter the Lenten season together with our dates, we remind ourselves and others that suffering is the touchstone of love, that the point of penance is not to perform arduous feats of self-denial but to love God and others better, and that with love, suffering is turned into joy.

Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent, and Lent culminates in the commemoration of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ. History tells us that in the year AD 136, the Roman emperor Hadrian — in efforts to obliterate Christianity — built a temple to Venus, the pagan goddess of love, on the site of the crucifixion of Christ. It took great efforts two centuries later to uncover the True Cross beneath the ruins of the temple to Venus.

This Valentine’s Day, and hopefully on every Valentine’s Day after, we can bear witness to the true meaning of love after its supplanting for centuries by a perverted understanding of it. Let us show by our example of joyful sacrifice that we know how to truly love.

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Image: PD-US

The Security Peg: Virtues vs Sins

No man can enter into the house of a strong man and rob him of his goods, unless he first bind the strong man, and then shall he plunder his house.
– Mark 3:27 (cf. Matthew 12:29)

A few Fridays ago, my friend invited me to exit the house via the garage since she was driving out. This created a problem when I returned home from work, because nobody had unfastened the security peg of the front door. Since my friend was away for the weekend, I had to seek lodging elsewhere.

The security peg was just a tiny bit of metal, but it kept me out of the house. It made me think about ways to keep Satan out of the house of one’s soul. He may steal the key from you in a moment of temptation, but he still won’t be able to enter if you have a strong security peg and window grilles in place.

What pegs would work for you? It depends on your weakness, since a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Fortunately, we have been granted the gifts of the Holy Spirit in order to live holy and virtuous lives.

Aurelius Clemens Prudentius (AD 348 – 410), a Christian Roman governor, composed an epic poem entitled Psychomachia, or Battle/Contest of the Soul. Practicing these virtues is the remedy against the Seven Deadly Sins: humility triumphs over pride, kindness over envy, abstinence/temperance over gluttony, chastity over lust, patience over anger, liberality/charity over greed, and diligence over sloth.

Be sure to securely peg the door of your soul with the virtue it needs most, lest our tireless adversary break in and defile the temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:16).

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Image: PD-US

Temptation and Lenten Penance

During the Lenten season, we seek to turn back from sin and to God. Each of the practices of Lent—prayer, fasting, and almsgiving—helps us to do this. While Lent is not a season of merriment in the Church, it should nevertheless be a season of hope, and one of joy.

The Great White Fleet

Sin is a turning away from God. It is disobedience to His will for us, and it is the preference of something—anything!—else to God. Indeed, because God is not composed of parts [1], these three statements are in fact one and the same statement. In his Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis gives an analogy of a good life and a good society to the sailing of a fleet of ships. To reach the fleet’s destination, the ships must be well-sailed; they must be well-coordinated so as to not interfere with each other; and they must have a clear destination and route to reach that destination. Sin in this analogy takes on three forms—the individual ships may be badly handled; or the ships are collectively poorly coordinated, so that they stray apart (or crash together) regardless of handling; or they have the wrong destination in mind, so that they do not end where they ought [2].

These three conditions for a good fleet correspond to three conditions found in a good life and a good society:

  1. The well-run ship is akin to person’s own self-mastery.
  2. The well-coordinated fleet is like the harmony between members of a society.
  3. The proper destination for the fleet is an analog to both the individual’s and the society’s being “ordered” to the good.

The first condition means that each man has developed the virtues so that his intellect (captain) governs his will (bosun or boatswain [3]) which directs his passions (crew) and can overcome his desires or appetites (fears, obstacles). The second means locally that men will help each other to increase in virtue, that they will work together towards common (and sometimes individual) goals; and on a larger scale that laws will be just, that they will enable each person to do what is right and inhibit his ability to do what is wrong. The third condition is the defining principle or “final cause” of a good society and a good life. It means that both man and society must seek (and be guided by) the highest good, which ultimately means to discern and pursue God’s will for each individual and for society as a whole.

In his Commentary on the Lord’s Prayer, St. Thomas Aquinas describes three sources of temptation. These are the flesh, the world, and the devil. While these three temptations a can strike at any level, they correlate most directly to each of the three conditions of the good life and the good society:

  1. Temptations of the flesh strike at us directly attempting to ensnare us through the will, or indeed through the passions or the appetites. Saint Thomas Aquinas says that the flesh tempts us by seeking “its own pleasures, namely, carnal pleasures, in which often is sin. He who indulges in carnal pleasures neglects spiritual things.” These temptations put us in internal discord. Several of the deadly sins strike us here—in particular, lust and gluttony, and to some extent sloth.
  2. Worldly temptations are temptations towards a good which may not be ours to possess. According to St. Thomas, the word tempts us with “excessive and intemperate desire for the goods of this life,” and also with “the fears engendered by persecutors and tyrants.” These temptations put us at odds with our neighbors, with society as a whole, and even with the Church as a community. The deadly sins of avarice and envy are principally provoked by temptations of the world, and wrath may be our response to our neighbors when so tempted.
  3. The devil is the subtlest tempter, as St. Thomas notes.
    “The devil proceeds most cunningly in tempting us. He operates like a skillful general when about to attack a fortified city. He looks for the weak places in the object of his assault, and in that part where a man is most weak, he tempts him. He tempts man in those sins to which, after subduing his flesh, he is most inclined… he does not at once appear to suggest something that appears to us as evil, but something that has the semblance of good. Thereby he would, at least in the beginning, turn a man from his chief purpose, and then afterwards it would be easier to induce him to sin, once he has been turned away ever so little.”
    These temptations lead most directly to discord with God and his Church as Magister. The principal deadly sins which are associated with these temptations are pride and wrath, and to a lesser extent acedia.

Three more things should be said here regarding these three types of temptations. The first is, all three can tempt us to do evil or to avoid good. Both are forms of sin, which is why our confession asks for forgiveness both for what we have done, and what we have failed to do. The second is that all three temptations can work together [4]. The third is that any of the deadly sins may strike through any of these temptations or combination of temptations, even if some temptations lend themselves more closely to certain deadly sins.

Three Lenten practices

Just as there are three sources of temptation—the flesh, the world, and the devil—so there are three Lenten practices which combat these temptations. These are the aforementioned practices of fasting, almsgiving, and prayer. Each of these practices helps us to better resist temptation in general, but we can also see that each one is especially good at strengthening us against a particular type of temptation:

  1. Fasting helps us to gain mastery over our desires, and fights temptations of the flesh. Note that fasting here need not mean only “eating little” or even “eating less,” though this is the literal translation. It can mean giving up any thing which gives us pleasure, be it eating chocolate or spending time on facebook or reading dime comics and penny dreadfuls, etc. This is the reason behind the tradition of “giving something up for Lent.” This is also why giving up something innocuous is still beneficial to us.
  2. Almsgiving helps to order ourselves as members of a good society and fight temptations of the world. By freely giving away from what we have, we learn detachment from our worldly belongings, and are reminded that all we have—time, talent, treasure—are so many gifts from God. We become less covetous of that which we will give away.
  3. Prayer helps us to discern the will of God for us, and it also helps to fight temptations of the devil. In prayer we turn back to God, we praise Him for his goodness, we thank Him for His blessings, we ask Him for His grace, and we request His guidance in our lives. Indeed, we pray that He will “lead us not into temptation,” which is different from asking that we will not be tempted. We are here asking that God will not withdraw His graces from us, because it is when He does this that we are most apt to actually consent to the temptation rather than resisting it.

I think that there are two things which are left to be said in this brief essay. The first is that we should, when undertaking penances, bear in mind the difference between self-discipline and self-punishment; between mortification and torture. The second is related to this, which is that we should therefore approach the Lenten practices and penances with some sense of Joy. Venerable Fulton J. Sheen writes in his reflection on the Seven Last Words that

The Christian fasts not for the sake of the body, but for the sake of the soul… The Christian does not fast because he believes the body is wicked, but in order to make it pliable in the hands of the soul, like a tool in the hands of a skilled workman….

We are to mortify bodily hunger and thirst, not because the flesh is wicked, but because the soul must ever exercise mastery over it, lest it become a tyrant…. When such surrenders of the superfluous food and drink are made for the soul’s sake, let it all be done in a spirit of joy. ‘And when you fast, be not as the hypocrites, sad. For they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thy head, and wash thy face; that though appear not to men to fast, by to thy Father who is in secret; and thy Father who seeth in secret, will repay thee” [Matthew 6:16-18].

We are, in addition, to cultivate a spiritual hunger and thirst. Mortification of the bodily appetites is only a means, not an end. The end is union with God, the soul’s desire.

Far from being a gloomy rejection of our pleasures, the penances of Lent are a joyful movement towards God. Part of this is becoming masters of ourselves, including of our bodies, and another part is in becoming a good society. We are undergoing a sort of spiritual growth, and with this comes some growth pains. We will expect some struggles in this, and it takes discipline. We will fail, perhaps often: but we will also draw ever nearer to our heavenly home, which is cause for joy.

As for our failures, our sins: they may be many, they may be grievous, but God’s mercy is more abundant. As John Henry Cardinal Newman notes in his Meditations and Devotions,

“Lord, our sins are more in number than the hairs of our head; yet even the hairs of our head are all numbered by you. You count our sins, and, as You count, so can You forgive; for that reckoning…comes to an end; but Your mercies fail not, and Your Son’s merits are infinite.”

 

—-Footnotes—-

[0] Featured image is a photo of Ein Gedi, Israel, by Rob Bye, posted on Unsplash. I have cropped it slightly.

[1] That God is absolutely simple—and thus not composed of parts—is a doctrine of classical philosophy which has been adopted and expanded upon by the Church (see Catechism of the Catholic Church 43). The Fourth Lateran Council’s Confession of Faith begins, “We firmly believe and simply confess that there is only one true God, eternal and immeasurable, almighty, unchangeable, incomprehensible and ineffable, Father, Son and holy Spirit, three persons but one absolutely simple essence, substance or nature.”

[2] To this might be added another situation, that they know where they want to go but do not know where they are. Discernment means learning not only the desired final state or outcome, but the “initial conditions,” and indeed the correct path to get from the latter to the former.

[3] I suppose to extend the analogy further, when the individual goes bad, the will becomes like the quartermaster of a pirate ship, complete with veto power of the captain (intellect) on behalf of the crew (passions etc.)

[4] In his science fiction short story, “The Feeders,” Michael Flynn has this brief dialogue between two characters (Heinrich, the main character, and his former seminarian comrade, Georg) on temptation:

“What are they,” he [Heinrich] whispered.
“What are what?”
He had not realized he had spoken aloud. “The three sources of sin,” he said, casting the first random thought into his mouth.
“Oh.” They walked a few paces further. “The world is one,” Georg said. “It provides opportunity. A pretty girl. An unwatched billfold. A careless enemy. Then, the flesh provides weakness. We call that Original Sin. It makes us prey to the temptations of the world. Then, finally: the Devil.”
“And what does the Devil do?”
“Why, as we stand there weakening before temptation, the little pumper-nickle creeps up behind us and gives us a push.”

If this is a sightly different synthesis of the three sources of temptation from what is offered above (and by St. Thomas in his Commentary on the Lord’s Prayer), it is one which compliments rather than contradicts what has been said above.

Temptation and Triumph

I am entering the Church this Easter with a motley crew of candidates in RCIA.  Hilda, an elderly black woman, hails from the Bronx and used to be Episcopalian.  Stephanie, a nurse who wears seven-inch heels, is so nervous about being a minute late to Mass.  She thinks they won’t let her in until she knows how to pray the Rosary.  Gentle and her daughter Grace wear veils and soak up the instruction eagerly.  Caroline, a sweet Southern Baptist, has been baptized twenty times, each time she renewed her faith and recommitted her life to Christ.  Our fearless leader Matt has six boys, Polycarp and Athanasius among them.

On Sundays, the RCIA class prays and meditates on the Gospel through Lectio Divina.  The First Sunday in Lent especially suits candidates and catechumens (now “the Elect,” having been approved by the Bishop).  Jesus, filled with the Spirit, has just been baptized.  He has undergone forty days of fasting.  Rather than wearying him, this abstinence has strengthened him.  He takes up self-denial as a weapon against the Prince of Darkness.

Satan whispers to God’s children to give in to their desires, to let gluttony, drunkenness, and lust rule them.  The tempter would have us believe that the pleasure is worth the price of growing farther from God.  He assures us, “You will not surely die.”  The devil wants us to believe that God is withholding goods from us.  Satan wants us to think that God does not want the best for us.

Some of the church fathers wrote that Satan did not know Jesus was the Son of God until he withstood the temptations.  They interpreted, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread” as a real test of Jesus’ divinity.  He proves himself to be the Son of God, and Satan revisits him in Gethsemane to tempt him to cowardice and fear.

Christ’s victory gives us the courage to withstand the tempter.  Through this Gospel, God tells us, “My strength is made perfect in weakness.  I have baptized you—I will also strengthen you.  Resist the Prince of the Powers of the Air, and he will flee from you.”  Our hearts respond with a hunger for holiness, a thirst for souls, and a fear of God, the one who is stronger than Satan.

We all stand in the place of Job.  Et ne inducas nos in temptationem sed libera nos a malo.  God does not tempt us, but he allows Satan to.  Just as Jesus uses Scripture to withstand the temptations of Satan, so we avail ourselves of the Word, the Eucharist, the living Bread to strengthen our weak souls.

We must remember that Satan is on a leash.  We ought not fear him.  He has been defeated, and he will finally be thrown into the lake of fire.  The limits of evil are set by God himself.  When Satan quotes Psalm 91, “For He shall give His angels charge over you, / To keep you in all your ways. In their hands they shall bear you up, / Lest you dash your foot against a stone,” he forgets the following verse: “You shall tread upon the lion and the cobra, / The young lion and the serpent you shall trample underfoot.”  Jesus will enact the promise hidden in the curse put on the serpent:  “And I will put enmity / Between you and the woman, / And between your seed and her Seed; / He shall bruise your head, / And you shall bruise His heel.”  Mary is the Seed of Eve, and her Son crushes the Serpent’s head.  He tramples upon the world, the flesh, and the devil.  He divests Satan, sin, and death of their power.

Christ did not have to be baptized, but he consented to receive the sacrament from John in the Jordan for our sake.  He did not have to suffer temptation, but he allowed it for us.  If our mind is transformed to the likeness of Christ, we will combat the evil suggestions of Satan and his demons.  We must be like the burning bush, symbol of Mary, afire for God but not consumed.  The Catechism teaches that “as fire transforms into itself everything it touches, so the Holy Spirit transforms into the divine life whatever is subjected for his power.”  Or in the words of St. Irenaeus: “The glory of God is man fully alive.”

We should knock down every impediment between us and the sacraments.  I once heard a priest pray for the congregation and himself “that we would rather die than commit a venial sin.”  Oh, for the gift of a tender conscience.  Oh, to possess true sorrow for sin.  Oh, for the gift of a humble and contrite heart.  We have only to ask if we wish to receive.

When Jesus into yonder Jordan dove,

He left his coat of glory there to wear,

He called out to the souls that sank and strove,

By their own strength and light themselves to bear.

The gladsome tidings that the infant brings

Exceed the sorrow of his mother dear

The blood spilt on the hill with triumph sings

Above the thwarted foe that crept so near.

As Moses in the basket by the bank

Gave to the unwed girl her motherhood,

So axe heads that would otherwise have sank

Did float when they were rescued by the rood.

So when the water mixes with the blood,

It serves to do mankind their greatest good.

Spiritual Battles in a Spiritual War

In his book The Total Money Makeover, finance adviser Mr Dave Ramsey describes a method for not only getting out of debt, but also then saving up for your children’s college fund and your own retirement fund. In reading his plan, I notice that he doesn’t begin with: take all available money and start paying off your debts. Rather, the first step in his plan is for you to save up $1000 as a short-term emergency fund. The idea behind the plan is that accidents and emergencies happen, and when they do it is best to have some cash on hand so that you do not need to tack out more debt to deal with them. The goal is to eliminate debt, so that also means eliminating possible (that is, emergency) sources of new debt first. This idea of a short-term emergency fund is not unique to Mr Ramsey, but is in fact widespread [1].

Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover: A must-read, and a good analogy

What the system recommended by Mr Ramsey does, in other words, is take into account both the long-term goals and the short-term obstacles, and then it gives solutions for achieving the one and overcoming the others. This seems to me to be sensible advice both for personal/household financial planning and for the larger economic planning on our country’s part, though unfortunately neither the average family nor our country’s government ever seem to take both into consideration [2]. However, since I’m not an economist, this isn’t going to be an economic policy post, nor a financial advice one. For the former I would recommend Thomas Sowell, F.A. Hayek, or Henry Hazlitt, and for the latter Dave Ramsey; but my in-expertise combined with my writer’s block means that drawing all of this out would suck up a little too much time and would yield a poor product in return. On the other hand, there is another topic which I think could use a similar approach and which would involve a bit less time-suckage on my end–even if the end-product is little improved over an economics post.

In thinking over this principle of long-term plans and short-term contingencies, had a bit of an epiphany, at least one for me. It may have been a the kind of epiphany which leads to my realizing something that an ordinary person has long known based on common sense, much like Mr Ramsey’s advice is rather commonsensical. Well, at least there wouldn’t be as much time-suckage in writing such a post, so here goes: this principle which I have said is a financial principle is really a moral principle. We cannot win the spiritual war in our own lives if we lose every battle along the way.

What I mean is this. What is the purpose of life? Well, it’s to know and love God, to serve Him in this life, and ultimately to prepare us to live with God in the next life (see Baltimore Catechism 2, Q6). As a corollary to this, it is also to know and love ourselves and to at least love our neighbors. This, then, is our long-term goal in life: and if it is achieved, the result is that we become saints. But are there short-term obstacles to our becoming saints? Well, of course! We have enemies who will stop at nothing to prevent us from becoming holy men and women; and the greatest enemies we have are the devil and our own concupiscence. None desire more that we fail to become saints than the devil; and nothing holds us back more than our own tendencies toward sin. The former works against our long-term goal of becoming saintly, the latter also creates any number of short-term obstacles: the temptations to sin, which at times are quite overwhelming.

Thus, if we want to work with God’s grace to become saints, if we want to to our part to to overcome our sins, we need to bear in mind that the process is lifelong, but that life is lived in the here and now. We won’t shed our vices overnight, but neither will we ever overcome them if we don’t try to begin resisting them now, today; we cannot inculcate any virtues in a week, but if each week we say to ourselves, “I’ll start next week,” we won’t be able to gain them in a lifetime. We need to work both in the short-term and in the long-term.

In the short term, we are called to resist our sins, but in the long-term we must begin to build up immunity to those sins. In the short term, this may mean avoiding “fatal attractions,” that is, avoiding even things which might tempt us to sin. There is a story about a man who fell into adultery. He did this because he would walk down the street which passed by the adulteress’ house on his way home from work. The first few times, He merely passed by her house, knowing that the woman who lived there was a temptress and a seductress; then one day he stopped by to talk to her because she was outside. She invited him in, and he went forth like a lamb to slaughter, and was soon ensnared in her web. We might say that he was foolish to set foot inside of her house; in reality, he was foolish to even walk down her street to begin with.

There are three parts of our fallen nature which work against us every time. They are curiosity [3], forgetfulness, and a sort of pride that we can withstand temptation. All three are at play in this little story. The man was curious–was there really an adulteress, was she really a seductress, did she really live on that street, were things he’d been told about her true?–and this got the better of him when he thought he’d stroll past her house in the half-hidden hope of meeting her. If he hadn’t originally any desire to cheat on his wife, he certainly did nonetheless take pride (and unwarranted, as it turned out) in his ability to resist any temptation to this sin. And, in the heat of the moment, he forgot his vows to his wife, forgot how much he loved her, forgot his faithfulness to her.

In the short term, we have to contend with these three bits of fallen humanity, that is, against curiosity, forgetfulness, and pride. I sometimes wonder if these three things are also the beginnings of every addiction–from drugs to alcohol abuse to pornography to gambling to the occult–they start with some curiosity, continue with a forgetfulness in which we remember the highs but forget the lows, and are strengthened by a pride which wants to test our willpower’s bounds. This last point may be in testing our ability to “resist” some drug “in small amounts”, for example; or, on the other hand, in engaging in a seemingly innocuous activity which may make us crave the thing we are addicted to by, for example, reminding us of something we experience when on our “high.”

Meanwhile, in the long term we have to recognize each sin as a sin, and recognizing what things tempt us into sinning so that we can avoid–not merely resist, but avoid–these temptations and these sins. It means developing in ourselves habits to counter any tendencies which lead to sins. Do you suffer from pride? Develop humility by working to serve “the least of these,” and do it so that fewer people can see you doing it–only your Father in heaven needs to know. Do you suffer form lust? Pray for the grace of true chastity–not just abstinence, but actual positive chastity–and develop that virtue in yourself. Practice custody of the eyes, which means not only not entering the brothel but also not looking at pornography, and even averting your eyes from the modestly clad woman who might for some reason be tempting against this sin.

From the movie “The Detective,” based on Chesterton’s Father Brown stories.

This also applies towards venial sins. In the short-term, we must not “trick” ourselves into knowingly committing even a venial sin just because it’s a “minor” sin and not a “major” one. It also means not allowing a “minor” sin which we’ve already committed to be repeated. After all, the minor sins can quickly lead to the major ones. In the long-term, it means educating ourselves against even minor sins, inculcating virtues to oppose even these, asking for God’s grace against even these “little” sins; and it most especially means not letting even the venial sins becomes engrained habit. After all, as Chesterton notes in The Innocence of Father Brown, “Men may keep a sort of level of good, but no man has ever been able to keep on one level of evil. That road goes down and down.”

And with all sins, it means in the short term repenting of them, and receiving the graces available from the sacraments, both Confession and Communion. This is especially true of the big sins, the grave and mortal sins; but it can be and often is also true of the venial sins (which are not obligatory to bring up during confession). But it also means not giving up hope, not losing faith that God will help us to free us of our sins, not falling into despair when we fail, even if we fail again and again. “Providence moves slowly; the devil always hurries.” We will not, even with resolute wills, overcome a sin in a single night; it may indeed take an entire lifetime, as God’s grace sometimes works slowly, and since we often even resist it with our presumption, that is we sometimes delude ourselves into believing that we don’t need God’s grace. Yes, we must do our part, do everything we can to cooperate with God’s grace: but sometimes He allows us to fall again–even into a mortal sin–so that we will not fall into the even more deadly sin of pride, of believing that whatever victory we win is ours alone and not God’s.

As with a financial makeover, so with a spiritual makeover: not only should we pay off our debts–that is, break out of sin and vice–but we should also save up for the future–that is, we should inculcate virtues which counter these vices, make some effort to spend our time doing good and not merely avoiding evil. This means first and foremost asking God for our daily bread, for the graces we need now to get out of sins, to resist vice and avoid temptation; but also asking for the strength to be virtuous, holy people, to develop those virtues which counter sin, those habits which counter vice. In means continuing in hope–which also come from God–and not in either despair or presumption.

—-Footnotes—-
[1] For his part, Mr Ramsey says that little if anything in his book is unique to his book. It is all common financial sense (at least amongst financial experts), but it is a formula which works, and it is also a formula that so few people follow that he thinks just getting the message out there is the first and most important thing.

[2] Often both the government and the average family take neither into consideration.

[3] Curiosity means more the allure of the forbidden than honest intellectual curiosity. The former is a sort of perversion of the latter. It’s a bad curiosity which wants only to satisfy idle questions and not questions about the deeper meaning of life, or about how the world works.