12 March 2018

The Sweetness of Sinning


The Sweetness of Sinning
selected and assembled from the writings of Mr. Scott Hahn



Part 1: The Hierarchy of Good Things

No one commits evil for its own sake. No one chooses evil just because it’s evil. People sin not for the sake of evil, but for the sake of something good. Human beings can only desire good things. We want what’s sweet to the taste, what’s comfortable, what makes us more free, what removes difficulties from our lives. All the things we desire are good because God has created them that way. All the things in the world share, in some way, in God’s glory.

What is it, then, that takes the desire for something good and transforms it into a sin? Sins are committed when, out of an immoderate liking for things – since they are the least goods – we desert the best and highest goods: God, His truth, and His law. The lower goods have their delights, but none such as God, Who has made all things; for in Him the just man finds delight, and He is the joy of the upright heart.

We sin not because we want what is evil, but because we want what isn’t good enough. We give our hearts, our bodies, and our souls to trifles and passing sensations when we should go, instead, to the summit of all pleasure: the eternal Creator of all joy. In fixating on God’s gifts, we turn our backs to the giver.

The problem, then, is not that we find creatures attractive, but that we find them more attractive then God. This was the problem for Adam and Eve. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was “good for food, a delight to the eyes, and was to be desired to make one wise.” It had all these natural good qualities because God had made it that way. But God had commanded the first couple to sacrifice all those great goods for the sake of a higher good, a supernatural good. What was required of Adam and Eve was a sheer act of will – uniting their own will with God’s Will – thus sacrificing all the lower desires of their bodies, souls, hearts, and minds.

But Adam and Eve reordered their priorities so that their immediate desires – safety, self-preservation, knowledge, sensual delights – might be fulfilled while the higher goods – such as faith, hope, and charity – would be deferred. They chose the lesser goods that seemed more real at the moment, driven by deep-seated animal instincts, for which the body produces intense physical responses.

Their choice had long-term consequences. Their need created new needs. Adam and Eve had given primary place to their lower desires, and now their lower desires were taking over. Our first parents had reversed the divinely intended hierarchy in the human race. Now, instead of our souls governing our bodies, our bodies – and their longings, appetites, pleasure, and fears - were driving our souls. This is called the rebellion of the flesh against the spirit, or concupiscence: our human appetites or desires which remain disordered due to the temporal consequences of original sin. Concupiscence is the cause of our own actual sins because it is an innate inclination to sin and renders us vulnerable to temptation.



Part 2: Breaking Free from Disordered Pleasure

Concupiscence is self-perpetuating and pulls us downward. We find creatures attractive because God made them that way as samples of His glory, in order to lead us to thank Him, praise Him, and love Him more. But instead we tend to make created things the ultimate objects of our desire – whether a spouse, friend, chocolate, alcohol, books, or cars. The more we indulge, the more they take hold of us, and the more they increase our need for them. The more we need them, the less we sense the need of God – even though it is He Who has given us the goods of the world.

We are constantly tempted by this world through our concupiscence. But just because we find ourselves thinking thoughts that are wrong doesn’t mean we’re immediately guilty. It’s when we allow those thoughts to stay in our mind and entertain us that we have committed an actual sin – and, unless we repent quickly, we will soon commit them on the outside.

The three effects of concupiscence are

1)      Our intellects are darkened. Our faculty of reason now takes direction for our glands and our gut. Nobody ever chooses evil as evil. For example, Hitler genuinely thought he was doing good by ridding the world of gypsies, the disabled, Catholics, and Jews. Human reason can become twisted.

2)      Our wills are weakened. The will acts upon the data provided by the intellect which is now working in darkness. Our will is misdirected to creatures as our proximate end and not toward God as our ultimate end.

3)      Our appetites are disordered. Our desire for food, sleep, and physical intimacy become disordered, so our bodies drag us down into gluttony, laziness, lust, and other habitual sins.

We all must learn to discern Christ’s call to repentance in our everyday lives for these are the appointed moments of our deliverance. Our first level of obligation is to resist temptation: to reject the desire and remove ourselves from the situation that is agitating us. If we fail to do so and sin, we now have a greater obligation for our soul is now in greater danger. We must now repent, confess, and do penance.

What if we instead go for another round of the inordinate pleasure? One we fail to fulfill the second level of obligation, then we face God’s punishment, the worst being the attraction the sin exercises upon us. When people choose a forbidden pleasure, the punishment is that now they want more. Before long, we’re hooked, dependent, addicted, and our values are turned upside down. Evil becomes our most urgent “good,” our deepest longing; what is actually good stands as an unwanted “evil” because it threatens to keep us from satisfying our illicit desires.

At that point, repentance becomes harder and harder. Repentance is, by definition, turning away from evil and toward good; but, by now, the sinner redefined both good and evil. God’s punishment fits the crime. When people persist in choosing the lesser good, God eventually gives them up to their concupiscence and removes their restraints. In punishing people, God respects their freedom to conduct themselves as they choose. But when God – Who gave them life – has given them up, can they be any more dead?

When disaster strikes – car wreck, home eviction, job loss – the sinner thinks that God is punishing him and wakes up. But that is not “wrath” in the human sense, it’s Divine Mercy saving the sinner from a worse and everlasting fate. What we see as punishments are really the flashes of sudden, brilliant light that God sends to illumine a soul darkened by sin. The terms “wrath”, “anger”, and “punishment” are terms that help us understand the actions in our lives by which God achieves justice and restores order. They are the chastisements of a loving father, the press of the shepherd’s rod and staff that guide us in right paths. They are remedial, restorative, redemptive, medicinal.

In conclusion, concupiscence can only drag us in one direction: downward, away from God. Its gravity is overwhelming to us body and soul. We can begin to overcome concupiscence through self-mastery and self-denial – indeed we MUST do so – but that is not enough. We need the help that only God can give: the grace He dispenses freely in the sacrament of penance: Confession. That grace works with divine and creative power. It takes the heart that sin has disordered, disfigured, and disgraced, and instead creates it anew. 





20 February 2018

Ember Days: Spring




Who then is so wretched and pitiable, that beholding the heavens; and beholding sea, and land; and beholding the exact adjustment of the seasons, and the unfailing order of day and night, he can think that these things happen of their own accord, instead of adoring Him Who has arranged them all with a corresponding wisdom!”     
         – St. John Chrysostom, Homily IX, 4th century.

[[What is Embertide?    See previous December post]]



THE LENTEN EMBERTIDE OF SPRING
The embertide that honors the advent of Spring and the enduring hopefulness of creation occurs in the first full week after Ash Wednesday.

The key seasonal emphases for this particular embertide are the following two points A] deepening the roots of virtues and blossoming one’s spiritual life B] tempering the lower desires of the flesh and holding vigilantly to youthful purity and innocence.


Maying Party

Blessed Jacopo de Voragine (1230-1298 AD) wrote in his book Legenda Aurea that Pope Callixtus (r. 218-223 AD) had ordained the Spring Embertide in Lent for the following reasons:

      1)      To temper the warm desire for luxury and other worldly delights
2)      To clear out the old vices dead in us and encourage the new growth of virtue

3)      To remember the Israelites’ fasting before Passover

4)      To spend three days to temper the understanding, the will, and the mind

5)      To refrain from the sanguine vices, especially concupiscence.  (see below)
6)      To decrease the warm air of pride

7)      To honor our God-given gifts by being young with purity and innocence.
April Betrothal

Scriptures for Ember Wednesday in Lent:



  • Exodus 19:3-8
  • 3 Kings 24:12-18
  • Matthew 12:38-50 (Greater than Jonah or Solomon)

Scriptures for Ember Friday in Lent
  • Ezechiel 18:20-28
  • John 5:1-15 (the Bethsaida warm springs)

Scriptures for Ember Saturday* in Lent:

  • Deut. 26:12-19
  • Deut. 11:22-25
  • 2 Machabees 1:23-27
  • Ecc. (Sirach) 36:1-10
  • Daniel 3:47-51
  • 1 Thess. 5:14-23
  • Matthew 17:1-9 (The Transfiguration)

*Note: For centuries this Ember Saturday was the only day in the Church's year for the conferring of Holy Orders. Now-a-days the sixth sacrament is administered also on other days, feast days and Sundays. But Mother Church has always favored her Ember days as most appropriate for elevating her levites to the Priesthood of Christ, her Bridegroom.

For more Spiritual Meditation: A short meditation for each of the three Spring Ember days, written in 1948, can be found at https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/liturgicalyear/prayers/view.cfm?id=1376


The Sanguine Humor, with a Dionysius Ram


BEING IN A SANGUINE HUMOR

Bundling people’s tendencies up into four different humors has been done since at least 400 BC. There is a historic association of the season of spring with the airy, warm, humid humor. This humor, more modernly referred to as The Sanguine Temperament (Galen) or The Artisans (Keirsey-Bates), brings its own tendencies of virtues and vices when it is greater than the other three humors within a person.* Honoring the mind-body-soul connection, it is interesting to take note of this association of humor-season-spiritual welfare.



Sanguine VIRTUES: cheerful, hopeful, serene, flexible, generous, sincere, obedient, obliging, enthusiastic, creative, docile, and good-hearted. “Choose wisely, and then love with all your heart” – St. Augustine

Sanguine VICES: vain, petty, jealous, sentimental, sensual, concupiscent, restless, inconstant, superficial, pleasure-seeking, gluttonous, easily tempted, easily distracted, and self-complacent.


Again, two key points of the spring Embertide: A] deepening the roots of virtues and blossoming one’s spiritual life B] tempering the lower desires of the flesh and holding vigilantly to youthful purity and innocence.

Therefore, the two key points of the Spring Embertide will help to temper one’s sanguine humor while maintaining its strengths. It helps grow the shallow otter into the mature fox!
March Seeding
*End note: Over history, the saints on occasion reference the four temperaments, or humors, since the idea is carried through the Catholic spiritual traditions. For those of us who have sanguine/artisan tendencies: spiritual exercises include reading short works like the Psalms, Desert Fathers, or Lives of the Saint (in an absolutely distraction-free environment), holding to resolutions of virtue and penance, and developing a deeper self-knowledge and interior life.  For encouragement and inspiration, saints who tended towards this humor include St. Augustine, St. Peter, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Francis Xavier, and St. Rose of Lima.



01 January 2018

Boys and Dads: Elephant Edition


- By Wade F. Horn, Ph.D., President, National Fatherhood Initiative (2001)



Several years ago, Rangers in the Kruger National Park in Africa were faced with a problem.  The elephant population at the park had grown so large that the herd had to be reduced.   A plan was devised to disburse some of the elephants to other African parks.

Being huge creatures, elephants are not easily transported.  So, the Rangers constructed a specially designed harness which they attached to a helicopter with the idea of airlifting the elephants to other wildlife preserves.

However, while the helicopters were able to lift the juvenile and adult female elephants, the much larger adult bull elephants proved too heavy for the harness.  Consequently, the juvenile and the adult female elephants were relocated without the presence of any adult males.

All seemed to go smoothly until Rangers at Pilanesberg National Park in South Africa, the elephants’ new home, started to notice something strange.  White rhinos were suddenly turning up dead.



 
At first, the Rangers thought this might be the work of poachers seeking the precious horns of the rare white rhinos.  But upon closer examination, none of the rhinos’ horns were missing.  Moreover, their wounds had not been made by rifle shots, but punctures made by long sharp objects.  If this was not the work of poachers, who was killing the white rhinos?

To find out, the Rangers set up hidden cameras throughout the park.  What they found astonished them.  The culprits were bands of young, hyper-aggressive male elephants who, after chasing the rhinos, knocked them down and then gored them to death with their tusks.




Such behavior is unheard of in elephants.  Elephants are generally docile creatures who rarely attack other animals, especially in packs.  Yet these juvenile male elephants had banded together and were terrorizing not just the white rhinos, but other animals as well.  What could be causing such bizarre behavior?

The Rangers came upon a theory.  Under normal circumstances, a dominant adult bull elephant keeps the younger bulls in line.  When, for example, elephants experience “musth”, a time of elephant mating when testosterone levels skyrocket, older bull elephants normally keep the younger ones under control.  Perhaps these young, transported bull elephants were missing the civilizing presence of their elders.




To test this theory, the Rangers brought in a number of older bull elephants.  Sure enough, within a short period of time, the older, bull elephants let the younger ones know, in no uncertain terms, that ruffian behavior was, well, not elephant-like.

Within the week, the acting-out behavior ceased.  Instead of terrorizing other animals in the park, the younger bull elephants now were following the older bull elephants around, imitating their more appropriate – and civilized – elephant behavior.




I thought of this extraordinary story after seeing recent videotapes of groups of young males in Central Park sexually assaulting and robbing women.  What was striking about their behavior was its brazenness.  This group mayhem was not occurring under cover of night, but in broad daylight.  Many of the young men involved were laughing and smiling.  Some even mugging for the cameras.

Many have blamed the police for not intervening quickly or effectively enough in this situation.  To be sure, the police could have acted more quickly to restrain the mob.  But whether or not the police acted quickly enough is not the real question.  The real question is:  Where have all the fathers gone?

Unfortunately, too many fathers are missing.  Missing, certainly, from Central Park where these innocent women could have used our protection.  But even more importantly, too many fathers are missing from the homes of young men like these when they were children, when they were trying to figure out how a man is supposed to behave.



In the wild animal preserves of Africa, when adult bull elephants are missing, other animals have to rely on the park rangers to keep things under control.  When responsible men are missing from our homes and communities, we have to rely on the police.

Trouble is, the police, these days, are outnumbered.  With nearly 4 in 10 children being reared in father-absent homes, there are not enough police to go around.  But it’s easier to believe more police are the answer, than it is to confront the real problem – fatherlessness.

This is not an excuse for lax policing.  The police should do everything they can to protect innocents like the women in Central Park from roving bands of out-of-control males.  But at the same time, we as a society need to do more to ensure that boys grow up understanding that real men protect women, not assault them.  That’s not the job of the police; that’s the job of fathers.




Nearly forty years ago, a young Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote: “From the wild Irish slums of the 19th century Eastern Seaboard to the riot-torn suburbs of Los Angeles, there is one unmistakable lesson in American history: A community that allows a large number of young men to grow up in broken homes, dominated by women, never acquiring any stable relationship to male authority, never acquiring any rational expectations for the future – that community asks for and gets chaos.”

Apparently, the same is true for elephants.  The Rangers solved their chaos in the parks by bringing in the adult bull elephants.  There’s a lesson in there somewhere for us as we search for a solution not only to the chaos in Central Park, but for the growing chaos in communities all across America.

- By Wade F. Horn, Ph.D., President, National Fatherhood Initiative (2001)


15 December 2017

Ember Days: December


Who then is so wretched and pitiable, that beholding the heavens; and beholding sea, and land; and beholding the exact adjustment of the seasons, and the unfailing order of day and night, he can think that these things happen of their own accord, instead of adoring Him Who has arranged them all with a corresponding wisdom!”

– St. John Chrysostom, Homily IX, 4th century.


EMBERTIDE BASICS
(same as last post)

[NOTE: Numerous articles written by good authors can be found on the history and meaning of ember days. The following is only a mere clumsy overview. It is an old tradition among Western rite Catholics and Anglican Protestants.]

Four times a year, while marking the end of one season and the beginning of the next, we are grateful for God’s glorious and marvelous creation! In our stewardship of this creation we should be especially mindful of being temperate and moderate towards our own needs, while being generous towards the needs of others. Therefore, four times a year we pray, fast, abstain from meat, read extra scriptures, and give charitable donations during a time called Embertide, or Four Seasons (Quatuor Tempora). The days of each embertide are a Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday within one week.

These four-times-a-year fasts are rooted in the Old Testament practices of fasting four times a year, which were a unique blend of joy, gladness, moderation, and penance. (Zach. 8:19)

The reason there are three days that make up an Embertide is in order to make penitential amends for our failures over the previous three-month season. It was also to temper three aspects of our spirit: the understanding, the will, and the mind.

December

January

February

It is interesting to note that the Old Testament Israelites did weekly penance (fast, abstain, etc) on Tuesdays and Thursdays every week of the year, and that for centuries the Christian Church did their weekly fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays. Wednesday memorializes when Judas betrayed Jesus, and Friday marks when our Lord was crucified. Therefore, an Embertide week only added a third day to the already existent weekly Christian custom: Saturday, when the Lord lay in the Sepulcher while the apostles were sore of heart.

In addition to the extra liturgical scripture readings assigned to the different Embertides, called Lessons, there are other scriptures customary for private meditation during this time of admiring God’s providential handiwork! Examples:
  • Ecclesiasticus 43 (The firmament on high is his beauty, the beauty of heaven . . )
  • Psalm 103 (Bless the Lord, O my soul: O Lord my God, thou art exceedingly great. . . )
  • Psalm 148 (Praise ye the Lord from the heavens . . . )
  • Daniel 3:52-90 (Blessed art thou, O Lord the God of our fathers . . . )

 FOR MORE INFO: If you wish to read richer and deeper writings about Embertide, check out https://www.fisheaters.com/emberdays.html or https://rorate-caeli.blogspot.com/2008/09/glow-of-ember-days.html  .
 

THE ADVENT EMBERTIDE OF DECEMBER

"Dearly beloved, it is our duty as shepherds of your souls to exhort you to the observance of the December fast. Now that the fruits of the earth have been gathered in, it is most fitting that this sacrifice of abstinence should be offered to God who has so bountifully bestowed them upon us. And what can be more useful to this end than fasting? For by its observance we draw near to God, we resist the devil, and overcome the allurements of vice. Fasting has ever been the support of virtue. From abstinence spring chaste thoughts, reasonable desires and salutary counsels. By voluntary mortifications the lusts of the flesh are extinguished and the soul receives new strength.

"But since fasting alone will not obtain health for our souls, let us add to our fasting works of mercy to the poor. Let us spend in good works what we deny to indulgence. Let the abstinence of him who fasts become the banquet of the poor. Therefore, let us fast on Wednesday and Friday, and on Saturday let us keep vigil with blessed Peter the Apostle, that through his merits we may obtain what we ask, through Our Lord Jesus Christ, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen."

Pope St. Leo the Great (r. 440-461 AD)

 

The embertide that honors the beginning of winter and the simple stillness of creation occurs sometime between the Feast of St. Lucy (13 December) and the Feast of the Nativity of Christ (25 December).

The key seasonal emphases for this particular embertide are the following two points A] While nature seems decrepit and lifeless, we rise up, stir ourselves, glorify God, and industriously apply all the gifts He has given us. B] Following St. John the Baptist, we actively discipline ourselves, perform charitable works for our neighbor, and embrace all inconveniences and discomfort.

 

Further, Blessed Jacopo de Voragine (1230-1298 AD) wrote in his book Legenda Aurea that Pope Callixtus (r. 218-223 AD) had ordained the winter Embertide in December for the following reasons:
  1. To chastise the cool dampness of untruth and malice
  2. To be mindful of being mortified to things of this world, at the time of dying vegetation
  3. To remember the Israelites’ dedicating the temple in December
  4. To spend three days to temper the understanding, the will, and the mind
  5. To refrain from the phlegmatic vices, especially inconstancy and apathy.  (see below)
  6. To rule the light liquidity of our slothful indolence
  7. To honor our God-given gifts by being wise with prudence and honest life.

Scriptures for Ember Wednesday in December:
  • Isaias 2:2-5
  • Isaias 7:10-15
  • Luke 1:26-28
Scriptures for Ember Friday in December:
  • Isaias 11:1-5
  • Luke 1:37-47
Scriptures for Ember Saturday* in December:
  • Isaias 19:20-22
  • Isaias 35:1-7
  • Isaias 40:9-11
  • Isaias 45:1-8
  • Daniel 3:47-56
  • 2 Thess 2:1-8
  • Luke 3:1-6

*Note: For centuries this Advent Ember Saturday was the only day in the Church's year for the conferring of Holy Orders. Now-a-days the sixth sacrament is administered also on other days, feast days and Sundays. But Mother Church has always favored her Ember days as most appropriate for elevating her levites to the Priesthood of Christ, her Bridegroom.
OTHER RESOURCES: A short meditation for each of the three winter ember days, written in 1948, can be found at   http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/liturgicalyear/prayers/view.cfm?id=1424  

 


BEING IN A PHLEGMATIC HUMOR

Bundling people’s tendencies up into four different humors has been done since at least 400 BC. There is a historic association of the season of winter with the watery, cool, damp humor. This humor, more modernly referred to as The Phlegmatic Temperament (Galen) or The Rationalists (Keirsey-Bates), brings its own tendencies of virtues and vices when it is greater than the other three humors within a person. Honoring the mind-body-soul connection, it is interesting to take note of this association of humor-season-spiritual welfare.
Phlegmatic Virtues: careful, thoughtful, peaceful, controlled, patient, calm, obedient, kind, perseverant, wise, prudent

Phlegmatic Vices: slothful, compromising, joyless, stubborn, undisciplined, despondent, lethargic, negligent, unambitious, isolated
Over history, the saints on occasion reference the four temperaments, or humors, since the idea is carried through the Catholic spiritual traditions. For those of us who have phlegmatic/rational tendencies, spiritual exercises  include: performing corporal works of mercy, meditating on the Passion of Christ, adoring the Blessed Sacrament, or reading True Devotion to Mary by St. Louis de Montfort.  For encouragement and inspiration, saints who tended towards this humor include St. Thomas Aquinas
http://www.academia.edu/5271941/The_Four_Temperaments

http://cfnews.org/page88/files/a83c759f66caac2b436faff3a9492ff5-190.html

http://traditioninaction.org/Cultural/B007cpTemperaments_2.htm


A re-cap of the two key points of the winter Embertide: A] While nature seems dead and still, we rise up, stir ourselves, glorify God, and industriously apply all the gifts He has given us. B] Following St. John the Baptist, we actively discipline ourselves, perform charitable works for our neighbor, and embrace all inconveniences and discomfort.

Therefore, the two key points of the winter Embertide were especially designed to temper one’s phlegmatic humor while maintaining its strengths. It helps grow the apathetic turtle into the zealous, wise eagle!