Category Archives: Morality

Sin, Temptation & Grace

RediscoveringGrace1

Introduction

“One of the most painful ordeals that God-fearing and virtuous souls are made to undergo is that of being tried by temptations. Temptations meet them at every turn and assail them from within and from without.

There is scarcely a day on which they do not experience the full truth of the words penned by St. Paul: “I do not the good that I will [i. e., that I desire to do]; but the evil which I hate, that I do. . . . To will [to do good] is present with me; but to accomplish that which is good I find not. For the good which I will, I do not; but the evil which I will not, that I do. . . . I am delighted with the law of God according to the inward man; but I see another law in my members fighting against the law of my mind, and captivating me in the law of sin that is in my members.” [Rom 7:15, 18-19, 22-23]

From this passage we can see that temptations assail the saint as well as the sinner. No man is exempt from their molestation. They follow us all through life like our very shadow, and they will not cease to trouble us until we have closed our eyes to this world in the hour of death.

Now, the mere fact of being tempted is in itself a heavy cross to those who are resolved to love God to the utmost capacity of their soul and are determined to keep themselves free from the stain of sin.  Sometimes they are assailed only at intervals for a short time; then again for long periods and almost continuously; sometimes only with moderate violence; at other times so vehemently and insistently that they seem to be driven to the verge of defeat and surrender. And this cross, heavy as it is in itself, is made still more so by the fact that often, when the conflict is over, they find it impossible to decide whether they have come out of it victorious and are still in the state of grace, or have gone down in defeat, rendered themselves guilty of sin and thus lost the love and friendship of God.

Not only this: two other factors often contribute to increase their disquietude and unhappiness. First, it may happen that because of a lack of proper instruction, they consider it actually sinful to be tempted; [Ed:  it’s NOT!] and second, they may consider the feelings and sensations that certain temptations, especially those of an impure nature, produce in the body as evidence and proof of willful and deliberate consent to these temptations.

From this it can easily be seen that temptations may become the source of an agonizing martyrdom to those who are poorly instructed in the subject.

And what is often the final outcome of this mistaken idea of the nature of temptations? Nothing less than this: it may lead to failure in the spiritual life. Mistaking their temptations for actual sins, and finding that in spite of their strongest resolutions they cannot keep from being tempted, many lose courage and say, “What is the use of trying any longer? I cannot keep from committing sin, do what I will; I might as well give up.” Thus, lack of proper knowledge induces a fatal discouragement and makes them relax their efforts to avoid sin. In the end, they yield easily to temptations and possibly contract the habit of sin, which may prove fatal to their eternal salvation.

Ignorance of the true nature of temptation paralyzes many a soul and exposes it to the imminent danger of eternal punishment, even though it had been destined to do great things for God and reach a high degree of eternal glory in Heaven. These considerations have prompted the writing of this treatise. It is intended to serve as a guide especially for souls who are tried by the fiery ordeal of temptations, and to point out how these can be turned into the means of greater love of God, increase of grace and merit here and endless glory hereafter.”

-Remler, CM, Rev. Francis J. (1874-1962), (2013-12-10). How to Resist Temptation (Kindle Locations 22-50). Sophia Institute Press. Kindle Edition.

I believe in grace.

Love,
Matthew

“…it has to cost me something, so that it can change me…”

When I was a Dominican novice, ever so briefly, my weekly ministry was to work in the food pantry at St John’s Social Service Center in Cincinnatti, OH.  (I “thought” the prison would be much “cooler”, but this was a blessed lesson in obedience to my novice master, Fr. Ambrose Eckinger, OP, a barber in secular life and a talented musician.)  I learned many real lessons about real poverty and dismissed many misconceptions and biases I possessed.

Within the same block was a beautiful salon and haven for the homeless.  They could take a shower, something I think we all take too much for granted.  What joy.  What pleasure.  What heaven.  Table stakes for social interaction.  Have their hair cut.  Have their clothes washed.  Receive mail.  Make and receive phone calls.  Find that job, the quick unthinking, unfeeling, dismissive retort of many.  “There, but for the grace of God…”  Ps 103:2.

On the glass front door was an etching of just a foot (Jesus) and the head of a woman bathing the foot with her tears and drying them with her long tresses.(Luke 7:36-50)  This Lent, let’s all bathe His feet and dry them with our hair.  To borrow, I know they won’t mind, a Jesuit prayer practice, let’s all, especially me, REALLY PRAY THAT, imagine actually doing that, being the penitent woman, man, husband, wife, brother, sister, mother, father, etc. this Lent.

Vatican Homeless Showers

Vatican Homeless Showers

Vatican Homeless Showers

Vatican Homeless Showers

Homeless person sleeps outside Vatican press office near St. Peter's Square

A view of the public restrooms just off St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, Friday, Feb. 6, 2015. Rome’s homeless are about to get some TLC. The Vatican is finishing renovations on public restrooms just off St. Peter’s Square that will include three showers and a barber shop for the homeless. Each “homeless pilgrim” as Vatican Radio called the clients Friday, will receive a kit including a towel, change of underwear, soap, deodorant, toothpaste, razor and shaving cream. The showers will be open every day but Wednesday, when the piazza is full for the pope’s general audience. Haircuts are available Mondays.

UPDATE:

“Vatican prepares to open showers, barber shop for homeless

-by Nicole Winfield, AP News
Feb 6, 2015

VATICAN CITY (AP) – Rome’s homeless are about to get some TLC.

The Vatican said Friday it had finished renovations on public restrooms just off St. Peter’s Square that will include three showers and a free barber shop for the city’s neediest.

Each “homeless pilgrim,” as the Vatican called the clients, will receive a kit including a towel, change of underwear, soap, deodorant, toothpaste, razor and shaving cream. The showers will be open every day but Wednesday, when the piazza is full for the pope’s general audience. Haircuts will be available Mondays.

Barbers volunteering on their days off – Rome’s barber shops are closed Mondays – as well as students from a local beauty school will be donating their time, as well as some sisters from religious orders and other volunteers.

The bathrooms were made with high-tech, easy-to-clean materials to ensure proper hygiene, the Vatican said in a statement. The walls are grey, with white washbasins and a high-tech looking barber chair.

Francis’ chief alms-giver, Monsignor Konrad Krajewski, has said the project is needed since homeless people are often shunned for their appearance and smell. The initiative is being funded by donations and sales of papal parchments sold by Krajewski’s office.

Francis has stepped up the role of the Vatican “elmosiniere” as part of his insistence that the church look out for the poorest. In addition to small acts of charity, Krajewski’s office handed out 400 sleeping bags to the homeless over Christmas, distributed 1,600 phone cards to new migrants on the island of Lampedusa, and this past week gave away some 300 umbrellas that had been left behind at the Vatican Museums to help the homeless cope with days of heavy rain in the capital.”

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http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2013/11/28/pope-francis-charity-office/3776499/

“I told him, ‘Eminence, this isn’t being an almoner. You might be able to sleep at night, but being an almoner has to cost you. Two euros is nothing for you. Take this poor person, bring him to your big apartment1 that has three bathrooms, let him take a shower – and your bathroom will stink for three days – and while he’s showering make him a coffee and serve it to him, and maybe give him your sweater…”

(1I always urge caution & prudence when dealing with those whose needs exceed our abilities, which is frequent.  The heart of charity is a beautiful thing; however, I strongly believe making professional services aware of the person’s plight and location is a far more loving and prudent thing than acting naively out of love.  I lost a dear friend, Lynn, in a tragic crime, where all she tried to do was help.  These are issues/circumstances beyond the layperson’s ability/competence and often result in the gravest of dangers.  Mt 10:16)

(Giving an Apostolic Blessing, from the papal almoner, for very special occasions, a wedding, an anniversary, etc. was always par for the course for McCormicks.  It was completely usual to go into a McCormick home and see the Apostolic Blessing hanging on the wall, framed, in a  place of honor, as it would be in any Catholic home, along with a framed picture of the Kennedy brothers, Jack & Bobby, (more highly regarded than actual saints) and the Holy Father.  Par for the course.  Par.)

Blessed Advent.

Love,
Matthew

Grace

grace, open hand, free gift, blocks, God, Christian

I believe in grace.  I can cite you examples in my own life, confidentially, where I have experienced the efficacious power of grace, and for which there is no other explanation I am aware of; certainly, the least of which would be my own efforts.  I believe in grace.  I rely on it desperately.  I seek it constantly.  I pray for it fervently.  I have no other hope; nor, wish any.

Br_Thomas_Davenport_OP
-by Br Thomas Davenport, OP

“It happens whenever a group of people spend a lot of time studying the same thing. Physicists tell quantum-mechanics jokes, musicians tell voice-part jokes, and Dominicans tell virtue-ethics jokes. Often enough, a word means one thing in common parlance and something very different in a specialized context, whether that context be physics, music, or moral theology. In this particular case, we were talking about our struggles in community life, and a brother was self-deprecatingly going through a litany of ways in which he lacks self-control. Summing them up, he profoundly declared, “I am the incontinent man.” Everyone burst out laughing.

Of course, we all knew what he meant. Aristotle defines an incontinent man as someone who thinks things through and knows, in general, what he ought to do; but, when a particular action is required, he succumbs, against his better judgment, to his malformed passions.

In a certain sense, it’s strange that this should happen—strange that someone who knows what he should do, doesn’t do it. On the other hand, it’s a very common experience—one that most of us know only too well—and it’s perfectly described by St. Paul: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I hate” (Rom 7:15).

Clearly, no one wants to live in a state of incontinence. In fact, a defining trait of the incontinent man is that, although he does the wrong thing, he is unhappy about it. (This is in contrast to the truly vicious man, who does the wrong thing and wouldn’t have it any other way.) It’s encouraging, then, that Aristotle suggests that a man can, by effort and training, rise above incontinence and achieve continence, or self-control.

Continence, however, is only half the battle, according to Aristotle. In a certain sense, nothing has changed about the way a continent man approaches an ethical choice. He still reasons to the same correct ethical conclusion, and he still feels the same base passions against it; it’s just that, now, he is able to subdue his passions and do the right thing. Obviously, doing the right thing is better than failing to do so, but is this the best we can hope for? Does the ideal of the moral life amount to gritting our teeth and fighting against our lower appetites, constantly tiptoeing our way through a minefield of passions?

Unfortunately, many really do see the moral life this way. In fact, following Immanuel Kant, some claim that the only way we can know we have done a good act for a good reason, and not from some selfish motive, is by fighting against our natural inclinations. On this view—which many well-intentioned Christians implicitly accept—the moral life is a constant battle against ourselves. The good life is reduced to a mere external fidelity to the Commandments, a joyless battle against disordered passion.

Unlike Kant, Aristotle doesn’t regard continence as the height of human virtue. For him, the truly virtuous man is the man who not only does the right thing because he knows it’s the right thing, but also does it with ease—that is, with the help, not the hindrance, of his passions. In fact, a truly virtuous man’s natural appetites are so attuned to the good that he hardly even needs to deliberate about moral actions. There is nothing pulling him in some other direction. For such a man, Aristotle says, virtue has become “a second nature.”

As inspiring as this picture of the virtuous man is, Aristotle seems to imply that if we aren’t raised this way from birth, we’re simply out of luck. Once we let any of our baser appetites go astray, there’s not a whole lot we can do except constantly struggle not to give in to them. Needless to say, this is not a very happy prospect.

Thankfully, this is where St. Thomas takes up the baton and gives us more hope.

He agrees with Aristotle about the dim prospect of becoming virtuous by natural means. No purely human agency, according to St. Thomas, can heal our moral brokenness. Fortunately, though, the grace of God is intimately at work in our lives, transforming and perfecting our nature, and the power of this grace can lift us out of whatever rut we may be stuck in.

This supernatural perspective teaches us two things. First, while we must continue to strive against the things that lead us into sin, we need not struggle alone. Second, if we try to go it alone, relying only on natural supports, we are ultimately bound to fail.

The grace of God doesn’t just help us attain true virtue; it makes such virtue possible. Even better, it makes the moral life something more than just a constant grind, a mere assent of the will against the angry protest of our passions. It makes it the right ordering of our entire humanity—intellect, will, and emotions—into the person God created us to be. This way, what we know we should do is not only what God calls us to do, but also what we truly desire.

This idyllic portrait of the virtuous man can be hard to accept for those of us still slogging it out in the realm of continence and incontinence. Yet we have the witness of the saints to give us hope. Though well aware of their sinfulness, and even beset by temptations, the saints are not grim figures who stoically suppress all of their passions. Rather, they are caught up in the love of God. They joyfully and wholeheartedly follow wherever He leads, depending on His grace every step of the way.”

Love,
Matthew

St Joseph, Terror of Demons, pray for us!

Cuzco School St Joseph

-Cuzco School, Peru, “Saint Joseph and the Christ Child”, late 17th-18th century. Oil on canvas, 43 x 32 1/8in. (109.2 x 81.6cm), Brooklyn Museum

In the Litany of St Joseph, one the titles of honor given to him is Terror of Demons.  Due to his unshakeable faith, his assiduous perseverance, his admirable purity and his exceptional humility, and given the nobility and grandeur of his vocation – the protection, sustenance and care of the Blessed Mother and Our Lord Jesus Christ, as head of the Holy Family – we can expect that God also endowed him with an equally proportional grace to carry out such a lofty mission in life. And certainly we can picture him as a sublime icon of manliness and a pillar of strength that would sow terrible fear among the powers of darkness given his noble task.  Would God allow/accept anything less for the earthly foster-father of His Son?

In Catholic iconography, St Joseph is pictured holding a staff from which a white lily grows.  This is due to Catholic hagiography which states from reliable, albeit non-scriptural, sources near to the period, when the holy priest Simeon gathered all the young men of Jerusalem from the house of David at the temple to choose who would be the rightful spouse of Our Lady, he was inspired by God to give each man a dry rod. After a period of prayer asking for the manifestation of the Divine Will, pure white lilies – the symbol of purity – blossomed from St. Joseph’s staff and a white dove, most pure and brilliant, hovered over his head giving Simeon the sign that he was the chosen one.

Hence, St. Joseph is the epitome of a pure man: pure in thought, pure in heart; pure in body and soul – destined to be the most chaste spouse of Mary Most Holy conceived without sin. In face of such sublime purity and holiness, it would not be farfetched to believe that the ugly, filthy infernal spirits would cower in petrified fear in his presence.

I have a special intention I am entrusting to St Joseph, in addition to so much I have already entrusted to him.  Pray for me!  St Joseph, Terror of Demons, pray for us!

Love,
Matthew

“…and they murmured against God.”

“The next day the whole Israelite community murmured against Moses and Aaron. “You have killed the Lord’s people,” they said.”  -Numbers 16:41


-by Br. Tomas Rosado, OP

Although they rarely get the respect they deserve, our tongues really should be numbered among our most prized bodily members. With them we sing of love, we broker peace, we passionately preach, and we attempt to express our very selves. They are nothing less than the tools that build up humanity and the kingdom of God. The psalmist sees the tongue as the instrument of God’s praise: “my tongue shall tell of thy righteousness and of thy praise all day long” (Ps 35:28). Our tongues, as a part of our human bodies, are destined for eternal glory, for union with God. At the Resurrection of the body, the whole of the human person will be united with God, and our tongues will perform their part in the eternal worship of God.

However, while we are still journeying toward our final rest and joy, our instrument of praise can be turned away from its purpose. Our current culture does not make many allowances for the virtues of the tongue; According to many, the tongue is for the advancement of man, by any means necessary. Lies are permitted, even practically encouraged, among certain professions and having the wit to spin the truth is even considered a virtue.

In addition to the temptation to violate the truth, directly or indirectly, we also face the temptation to use the truth as a weapon at the wrong time. St. Thomas sums up these sins of the tongue: “the railer intends to injure the honor of the person he rails, the backbiter to depreciate a good name, and the tale-bearer to destroy friendship, so too the derider intends to shame the person he derides” (ST II-II q. 75, art. 1).

The first, reviling, uses the truth as a direct and open attack upon another. One of your coworkers is receiving praise for her great performance at her job and you openly decry her drinking problem. When we revile another, we cast down the excellences of a person’s life by revealing embarrassing and unnecessary information in his or her presence.

Backbiting also kills a person’s reputation, but it does so in secret, undermining his or her position in the eyes of others. This is the person who pretends to be friends while secretly detesting us or hoping to make himself greater by climbing over our fallen name.

Tale-bearing is telling something bad about someone in order to disrupt relationships. This includes telling old stories about someone so that a couple will break up or telling the boss some unflattering details of a coworker’s past mistakes so that they will get passed over for a promotion. It can express itself as a refusal to allow the “old you” die or to prevent the flourishing of good relationships.

The last, what St. Thomas calls deriding, can be good or bad. In its good aspect, derision can be directed at the evil actions of another. Mocking the evil someone has done in order to show them it is shameful could be helpful in some situations, but usually it isn’t. On the other hand, derision is always evil when it is employed in the mockery of what is good. This occurs when people are made to feel ashamed for doing good, such as when they defend the faith or refuse to participate in immoral activities. Derision can also be aimed at people themselves, so that they feel they should be ashamed for existing and that they aren’t worthy of our care or love. This is always evil.

One can find examples of these sins or privations of the tongue by scanning almost any Internet article or comment box. But more illuminating than any example is the penance given by St. Philip Neri to a gossip. For her penance, St. Philip Neri told the woman to pluck a chicken outside of the church and bring him the plucked chicken. Puzzled, she obeyed. He then sent her back out to collect the feathers, but the wind had scattered most of them, so she only returned with a handful. “Sins of the tongue are like the feathers,” he said, “once uttered they cannot be recaptured.”

What can help us to be aware and stop these sins of the tongue? Silence. If we do not spend time in silence, how can we know the value of words? In silence, we come to greater awareness of the presence of God. We spend our mental words on the Lord and He shows us His peace. When we are with someone we love very much, words are unnecessary. They know what we think with a glance. In coming to deeper knowledge of God through this prayer of silence, we come to greater love of Him who will tame our tongues through His grace.

In the words of St. Augustine: “Your God, your Redeemer, your Tamer, your Chastiser, your Father, instructs you [and your ungovernable tongue.] For what purpose? In order that you may receive an inheritance where you will not have to bear your father to the grave, but where you shall have your Father Himself for your inheritance. In view of this hope, you are being instructed. Do you therefore murmur?”

Love,
Matthew