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Archive for the ‘sin’ Category

The Way of the Cross is a devotion in which the faithful follow the journey of Christ’s last day on earth. Through this devotion the Church has walked from the Mount of Olives to the hill on Calvary with Christ for many years. The Holy Land was a place of particular devotion to the Medieval Christians. Pilgrims would go to Jerusalem, walk the same path of sorrow, with stops along the way to meditate on the events of his passion, and consider the suffering of Christ.

The cross was a burden that Christ took upon himself. That burden is corrupt human nature, sin and suffering that all men are subject to in this life. However the “meaning of the way of the cross is to carry this burden out of the world.” (Hidden Life, p. 91 The Collected Works of Edith Stein, ICS Publications)

Jesus falls on the way to Calvary three times, and the “triple collapse under the burden of the cross corresponds to the triple fall of humanity: the first sin, the rejection of the savior by his chosen people, the falling away of those who bear the name of Christian.” (Hidden Life, p. 92)

The sin of our first parents brought sin and death, but Jesus freed mankind from sin and weakness by traveling this way of the cross. He embraced his passion and crucifixion so that through baptism, with the promises made to renounce sin and Satan, and through our sufferings we may rise with him in the newness of life free of self centeredness and full of joy and service to others.

Isaiah’s prophesies of the Lord’s passion were clear to all who had eyes to see. It was “our sufferings that he endured” and “he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins”. He was also “ harshly treated” and “a grave was assigned him among the wicked” although “he had done no wrong nor spoken any falsehood.” (Isaiah 53) Yet many of the chosen people rejected him as the Messiah. Even today many still reject Christ as savior. Thus the reason for the second fall.

It is the third fall that is of particular concern for our time. There seems to be so much falling away from the faith. Who doesn’t know of someone who once believed and now no longer practices the faith or even believes in God anymore? This is the cause of much heartache, especially when the person who has fallen away is held so dear and loved so much.

Therefore it is for this third fall that we are called to assist the Lord by helping him bear the cross. Jesus was not alone while he made this way to Calvary carrying the cross. There was Simon of Cyrene, Veronica and his mother to accompany him, as well as all the people who love him, and it was “the strength of these cross bearers” that helped “him after each of his falls.” (Hidden Life, p. 92)

Since by Christ’s example we know that suffering is the proof of God’s love for all mankind, we can love the cross and bear with our own sufferings and trials for the love of God and help him carry this burden out of the world. By bearing this burden we become united to God, to glorify him and prove our love for him and for others.

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Fasting is one of the principle means of making satisfaction for sins. By abstaining from eating all that is available to eat, one can do penance for sins, making reparation for them. Also one can gain strength against future sins by this self-imposed penance. Fasting is a way to chastise the body for the sins the body has committed. Additionally denying oneself the pleasure of eating helps to bring the body into control and subject to the soul.

St. John of the Cross tells us to keep in mind the value of our good works, fasts, alms and penances. Firstly the value of these is “not based on quantity and quality so much as on the love of God practiced in them”. (Ascent Book 3 Chap. 27) So our good works, fasts, almsgiving and penances should be done for the love of God, and we “should not set (our) heart on the pleasure, comfort, savor and other elements of self-interest (like trying to lose weight) these good works and practices usually entail, but recollect (our) joy in God and desire to serve him through these means.”

As always regarding fasting we have Christ for our example. He is perfect, so we do not see any extremes to the virtue he models for us. He did practice fasting and abstinence, though he did not need to do this. He had perfect control over his desires and the appetites. In gaining control over the sense appetites prudent discretion is in order. We are not to “kill (ourselves) with penances” and “weaken (ourselves) by fasts”. (Dark Night, Book 1, Chap 6) The idea is virtue, which is the mean between extremes. We should be doing our fasting with the proper motivation which is to repair the damage done by our sinfulness and to gain strength for future temptations to sin.

Fasting is also good because the mind is dulled when the body overeats. When one indulges in  too much, the mind becomes sleepy and unable to meditate or pray with attentiveness.

The Church has us fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. These are the days Catholics usually associate with fasting. Fasting during these penitential days of Lent is defined as one normal meal and two smaller meals that together do not equal a full meal. Snacking in between meals would also be excluded as part of the fast. The Church additionally ask us to fast before receiving Holy Communion. We are to fast from food and drink, with the exception of water, for one hour before receiving the Eucharist. It is good to be reminded as to why we are obliged to do this. We do the Eucharistic fast out of respect for the sacrament. We are about to received Jesus, and therefore it is fitting that we should not eat or drink other substances prior to receiving the Lord’s Body and Blood.

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We all have this tendency to enjoy (or seek satisfaction) in ourselves, in our pride or in other people and things. St. John of the Cross teaches that these tendencies are the root of our attachments. Attachments are those “inordinate appetites”. Basically, they are those desires we have for things that are not rightly ordered in our lives and lead us into sin, mortal and venial, and imperfections. It is important to get to the root of these inordinate desires if one desires union with God. To get to the root of these, which are the inclinations of our nature, we must oppose them and make ourselves do what is repugnant to our nature.

Gnarled Tree Roots --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Gnarled Tree Roots — Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

This would mean ‘going against the current’ and requires strength of will. St. John of the Cross, in the Ascent to Mount Carmel, gives us “rules” for detachment. He tells us the soul must always be inclined:

not to the easiest thing ~ but to the hardest
not to the tastiest ~ but to the most insipid
not to things that give greatest pleasure ~ but to those that give the least
not to the restful things ~ but to painful ones
not to consolation ~ but to desolation
not to more ~ but to less
not to the highest and dearest ~ but to the lowest and most despised
not to the desire for something ~ but to having no desires.

So all that is difficult, disagreeable or wearisome to us needs to have our attention. These are the things to work on! These reveal to us our desires.

Our saint says we are to oppose these inclinations with order and discretion. In other words, we need to train ourselves to not shrink back from something we find disagreeable or that requires effort or that we find difficult or challenging. In order to strengthen the will, we can put into practice the above rules starting with little things in order to gain strength of will and then be strong enough to tackle the bigger attachments. For instance, being inclined to “restful things” like not getting out of bed when the alarm clock first goes off. The tendency is to hit the snooze and rest ten more minutes! It is a bit painful to jump right out of bed at the first call; it will require strength of will. “I will!” “I will get up right away when the alarm sounds off.” Or how about the inclination to the highest and dearest . . . a promotion, recognition, a word of praise? Can we train the will to not desire these and rather hope to be despised, past over and unnoticed? All this may sound harsh, but there is a purpose to this and it is to bring us to union with God. As we practice detachment from our desires this end is always to be kept in mind. Our desires should always be for God.

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If our desires are centered on God then we will be moving our heart to purity. The deepest, most spiritual meaning of purity is to “be detached from all creatures, free of a fixation on oneself and on others.” (Edith Stein Collected Works: Woman, p. 203)

This purity is so necessary to attaining union with God. Purity is a matter of the heart. The heart must not be allowed to be captivated by creatures, no matter how fascinating they may be. The soul longing for union with God will live among creatures and be occupied with them with all charity, but will not allow the heart to become attached to them or seek gratification in them.

The most challenging part of this virtue is the detachment from ‘self’ which we carry around with us all the time and are never wholly free. This detachment requires us to renounce our preoccupation with ourselves: our way, our wants, our comfort, our rights -to name a few.

When we become attached to something it prohibits our ascent to God. It is the virtue of purity that will help us to take flight and reach God.

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When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” (Jn 21:15)

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Breakfast on the beach – I have always been fond of this Gospel passage. There is something familiar and ordinary about it. It is morning, a new day has begun and the apostles are eating breakfast with Jesus. It is a new day and a new beginning for St. Peter.

This scene tells us of something so foundational about our faith in Jesus. It tells us that Jesus has a merciful heart. His mercy is antithetical to the scornful attitude of the Pharisees. The mercy of Jesus is like that of the Good Shepherd who seeks out the lost. He goes out in search of the sinful in order to find them, rescue them and bring them back into the sheepfold.

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This Divine Mercy extents to great sinners who have repented of serious sin and have turned to Him. His mercy also reaches to those who humbly turn from venial sin only to rise again after each failure committed due to weakness or lack of reflection. Here is where I have sympathy for St. Peter. He was weak, like me. He did not reflect, but acted wrongly even though he loved the Lord. How much I am like St. Peter. I make many resolutions and want to overcome some fault, like impatience! And still, I fail – again and again. But Jesus is merciful each time I repent and turn back to Him.

St. Therese says that He, “thrills with joy when, humbly acknowledging our faults, we come to fling ourselves into His arms, imploring forgiveness; then He loves us even more tenderly than before we fell.”

Since we are poor sinners let us remember St. Peter and trust in God’s infinite mercy.

 

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God dwells in a soul not in grace giving it being and holding it in existence. This soul is not able to receive light from the Lord, however. St. Teresa of Jesus says these souls are “in a dark prison” and that they cannot do anything good nor can they merit anything for themselves. She exhorts us to have pity on these unfortunate souls and to think about our own past sins and the time when we were in this sad condition. Since the Lord had mercy on us, we should also desire that He have mercy on them.

St. Teresa wants us to give alms by praying for those souls in mortal sin:

“Let us take special care, Sisters, to beg this mercy of Him and not be careless, for it is a most generous alms to pray for those who are in mortal sin.” (Interior Castle VII, 1, 4)

A soul in mortal sin is “bound hands and feet” “dying of hunger” because he cannot take hold of the food that is set before him and eat. In truth this soul has a great disgust for the food. But we should not just stand by and let this soul die for the death is an eternal one.

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St. Teresa continues in The Interior Castle to say that our prayers can loosen the bonds of souls that are in this sad state:

“For the love of God I ask you always to remember in your prayers souls in mortal sin.” (Interior Castle, VII, 1,4)

This is how Carmelites are to save souls – by praying for them, for to pray is to give. We should beg God’s mercy on them so that the darkness that covers their souls will be lifted and they will receive light.

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Our own sensuality and the world can give us peace. The riches we have can be a source of great peace, and our downfall. These riches are not our own but are given to us by God. As His good stewards they are to be shared among the poor. Instead we often store up our treasures or gather stuff into our barns “while delaying and putting off the poor who are suffering”. What St. Teresa stresses to her “daughters” in this matter is that they “be content with little”. She tells them that if they don’t “you will find yourselves frustrated because God is not going to give you more, and you will be unhappy.” (Meditations on the Song of Songs, 2,10)

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Another false peace that St. Teresa says the world gives is through honors. She begins by mentioning that “the poor are never honored very much.” Praise can do great harm because “once it starts it never ends – if you are not careful” and humble yourself afterward. So she cautions that we are never to seek peace for ourselves through words of praise because “little by little they could do you harm and make you believe that the truth was spoken”. Her counsel is then to never let words of praise pass without waging war interiorly.

“Remember your sins, and if in some matters people speak the truth in praising you, note that the virtue is not yours and that you are obliged to serve more. Awaken fear in your soul so that you do not rest in the kiss of this false peace given by the world; think that it is a kiss from Judas. Although some do not praise you with such an intention, the devil is watching to see how he can take away the spoils if you do not defend yourself against him. Believe that you have to stand here with sword in the hand of your thoughts. Although you think the praise does you no harm, do not trust it. Remember how many were at the top and are now at the bottom. There is no security while we are alive. For love of God, Sisters, always wage an interior war against these praises, for thus you will come away from them with the gain of humility, and the devil and the world who are on the lookout for you will be abashed.” (Meditations on the Song of Songs, 2, 13)

Another false peace comes from seeking one’s peace in comforts. This, too, is very dangerous. St. Teresa brings to mind Our Lord and His life which was far from a life of comfort. He suffered many trials. “Who has told us that comfortable living is good?”, she asks. “The body grows fat and the soul weakens.” Herein lies the danger, that the peace in comforts keeps us from thinking of the care of our soul. She gives examples of the harm that comes, without being aware of it that the craving of comforts give. Our bodies are fickle. One day “it will hurt you to take the discipline and eight days later perhaps not. Another day or number of days you will be unable to bear the coarse tunics, but this won’t be permanent. Some days eating fish may hurt you, but once your stomach gets used to it, it will not harm you.” What she is trying to tell us is to not grow lax and to keep in mind that the flesh is “deceptive and that we need to understand it”.

To sum up her thoughts on “false peace” we must remember that peace does not come without war. So let’s take up the battle, armed with God’s grace, and manfully attack the enemies or our souls: the world, the devil and the flesh.

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In St. Teresa’s Meditations on the Song of Songs she outlines the kinds of false peace that comes from the world, devil and flesh.  False peace is the kind of peace that worldly people have, and this is the kind of peace that brings perpetual war. These people are quiet, yet go about living in serious sin. They have made peace with their vices. Their consciences are undisturbed and they do not feel any remorse about anything. Such is the state of souls in mortal sin. Having made friends with the devil, he leaves them alone. However, the devil could offer the friends of God peace in small things. St. Teresa tells us that we should greatly fear this kind of peace.

St. Teresa explains that we can begin to grow lax in small matters and persist in them without any prick in our conscience, which will result in peace – a bad kind of peace.

St. Teresa give some examples of the small matters that the devil can draw a soul into: “an infraction of something in the constitutions, which in itself would not be a sin, or being careless, even though without malice, about what the bishop commands (in fact he stands in God’s place, and it is good always- for this reason we have come here – to consider what he desires), and many other little things that come along which in themselves do not appear to be sins. In sum, there are faults and always will be, for we are miserable creatures.” (Meditations on the Song of Songs, 2, 2)

Basically, she is telling us that when we commit some fault we should feel it and understand that it was a fault.

If we don’t feel that a fault has been committed then we can be sure that the devil is rejoicing. “He will go further”, she says, and we should “for love of God be very careful. There must be war in this life.” We cannot just sit idle; we must be about the battle.

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Our saint does not wish to instill a sense of scrupulosity in souls. Her main point is summed up in this counsel: “ Always fear when some fault you commit does not grieve you. For in regard to sin, even venial, you already know that the soul must feel deep sorrow.” We don’t want venial sins, those faults that are committed habitually without any attention to them, to become so much a part of our lives that we never feel them.

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