Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Veer Right Off of Ego Central, then Go Straight on Aridity Ave

 Alone and not a drop to drink. The dry, barren desert road of self-love.
(You're kidding, right? RIGHT? This is the CURE?!)

If  Pride is considered the "mother of all sins", it's time to introduce you to a sibling of hers: Self-love. Pride and self-love, are the prime movers of the deadly sins, along with fear. But the reason we have fear is because of pride and self-love.

I mean, let's face it, the ego serves itself. Sometimes we THINK we are doing things for the Lord only to find out later that it was simply a secret supply line to the ego.

And the hard thing is that all these "secret supply lines" that feed self-love have to be cut off. This includes our attachments to spiritual consolations and even our secret attachment to "doing good" if we have it (and which we may not be aware of) - many of these things secretly feed our ego, our pride, and so must be stripped from us for our own good. It's a very painful process but one that helps us direct our hearts to our true end.

Which is God.

Think of it as a purification of our intentions. Of our secret motives. Motives that we aren't even aware of. A purification that will eventually give us that perfect purity of heart which allows us to see God.

You just can't bear good fruit with the water of your own self-love. No, in order to bear good fruit our own water lines must be shut down completely so that the heavenly water lines may open.

The shutting down of our secret supply lines, the ones hidden below the surface, takes a long time. The greater the self-love, the more intense the process will be. Thus we suffer from a great and terrible aridity during these times. There is no longer attraction to the things of the world, nor is there much to things of the spirit when pride and self-love are being stripped from the soul. This isn't even something we can do ourselves because the root of it is beyond our ability to access.

It's like being caught betwixt and between. Our hearts feel like a barren wasteland. No joy in earthly things and nothing but fizzle instead of sizzle when it comes to heavenly things.

Yes, think "desert". A long dry season but one that has a purpose - to bring you out of Egypt and into the Promised Land.

(Ooops... I almost wrote "dessert". You know, one of those Lenten Freudian slips. It's a "chocolate" thing in my case.)

At the beginning of the spiritual life we can do a great deal to help shut down the supply lines feeding self-love but eventually you get to a point where your own power is insufficient (and really just gets in the way) and you must rely on God to do the work in your soul.

Though it does seem as if God took a vacation without you and forgot to tell you when he'll be back.

Humility is THE virtue to pray for as we undergo this stripping. The more I learn about humility, the more I realize the importance of praying for it daily.

Without it, we can't make progress spiritually.

Without it, we can't bear fruit.

Without it, we cannot bear our time in the desert and tend to return to the slavery of "Egypt" (read - "slavery to the world").

Perish the thought.

The plus side of the desert is that it's where we become aware of just how strong our attachment is to self and where God weans us from this attachment.

There is a direct correlation between our ability to surrender to God and our humility. Because, in order to surrender to God we need to let go of self.

You can't cling to God if your hands are too busy hugging yourself.

Accordingly, two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self. The former, in a word, glories in itself, the latter in the Lord. For the one seeks glory from men; but the greatest glory of the other is God, the witness of conscience. The one lifts up its head in its own glory; the other says to its God, You are my glory, and the lifter up of mine head. In the one, the princes and the nations it subdues are ruled by the love of ruling; in the other, the princes and the subjects serve one another in love, the latter obeying, while the former take thought for all. The one delights in its own strength, represented in the persons of its rulers; the other says to its God, I will love You, O Lord, my strength.       St. Augustine, The City of God        (The bold is mine)

Monday, March 7, 2016

Cutting to the Quick

Hmmm...maybe I should make this Novena perpetual? 

When I first returned to the Lord years ago I made sure I did everything right. I was on a mission to become a saint. On the fast track to success (cough, cough, groan, groan). Mass, the sacraments, many prayers - I took great care to do it all and to do it all well. But it was fear-driven and very performance related. I mean, it bordered on compulsive. I felt like I had to make up for the sins of my past and unfortunately chose quantity over quality, thinking that more was better. After all, we are raised in a culture that focuses on this kind of productivity and I had learned my lesson well. 

Nearly drove the Lord nuts with my verbosity. Drove everyone else nuts too, I'm sure.

Did I ever tell you about my attempts at completing that series of prayers in The Pieta by St.  Bridget? You know, the ones that take a year to complete? Well, God and I wrestled together over these particular prayers for a long time.

 He had determined that I should not complete them. 

I, on the other hand, had determined that I should.

Guess who won? 

Think about it. Page one of the Heavenly Herald almost read:                          

 God Loses Patience and Hurls Lightning Bolt at Woman with Spiritual ADHD. Claims "it was the only way to shut her up!" Woman Survives to Tell the Story. 

Mary N., a woman from Fatted Calf Creek, Wyoming, claims God hurled a lightning bolt at her while she sat in the park reading  aloud from a prayer book called "The Pieta". The woman said she was on her 59th day of a year long novena and thinking about making it a perpetual one when lightning shot down from a cloudless sky and set her book on fire. Mrs. N. was taken to Mt Sinai Hospital for observation but was released after doctors determined that the woman was unharmed except for her bruised pride.  

Thus began the first cutting. I have been under the Divine knife ever since. It was (and is) so constant that I began to feel a bit embarrassed by the depths of my "fallenness".

I mean, it was so bad that I started getting witnesses in the spirit every time I read the line "Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest, I am He Whom thou seekest!" (A line from one of my favorite poems by Francis Thompson.)

I couldn't even read poetry in peace.

And it was the "fondest, blindest, weakest" part that that would shoot that bolt of Divine electricity through me.

Blindest? Weakest? 


It is so hard for us to see ourselves this way. As blind and weak. There I was thinking I had reached the heights of sanctity after six months of prayer and...

"And whatchoo mean you have to perform more surgery, Lord? I haven't even recovered from the last bout!"

Every area of my life was being inspected by the Divine Eye. Or so it seemed.

"Look, Lord! Over there! See that guy eating an entire bag of Cheetos? You better get right on it!"

And much was found lacking.

"Boy, we don't get a lick of privacy down here, do we Lord?"

(Honestly, I don't speak to the Lord this way, folks. Seriously. Thoughts like these just tend to pop into my head unannounced when I get caught with my hand in the ole cookie jar. Which was constantly back then despite my attempts at mastering phariseeism single-handedly. Or perhaps because of it. But, not to worry, the Lord had a quick cure for that. Painful but quick.)

(That would be: quick in God's eyes. Long and painful in my own.) 

It's so important for God to cut that false piety from us.  A piety that keeps us depending (and focusing) on ourselves instead of the Lord. Sometimes we must see the depths of our weakness before we are able to relinquish control of our lives to the Lord. I see now that my fierce determination to finish those Pieta prayers stemmed from a belief that I could save myself.  We must understand that we need salvation and that salvation comes from outside of ourselves. 

Sometimes the only way this can be made clear to us is by showing us the truth about ourselves. 

Because only by seeing this can we stop relying on ourselves. It's a harsh and painful lesson at times.

(Let's make that "brutal", shall we?)

We cannot receive God's strength if we don't give up our own. When we understand that what we cling to is a phantom strength we can let go more quickly.

God isn't interested in a mere pseudo-transformation. It's not enough for the outside to look good. No, the Holy Spirit cuts deep into our spirits in a surgery so profound that the mere mortal mind cannot grasp its depth. This divine surgery is an amazing miracle of grace and love, imperative to our existence and without which life would cease to exist. Of such gravity is the depths of our fallen nature that only God can infuse life where sin has sown the seed of death. One of the most pitiable, yet endearing quality about the human condition is our naivete when it comes to sin. We truly do not understand how evil it is. We may have an inkling but we don't fully understand it, do we?

Think about the mercy of this.

The pure, unadulterated mercy of it:

"Father, forgive them, they know not what they do."

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Your Biggest Cross

Nothing like being caught between a rock and a hard place...of self.

From my archives:

Rumor has it that a newspaper once sent out an inquiry to famous authors, asking the question, What’s wrong with the world today? And Chesterton responded simply:

“Dear Sir,

I am.

Yours, G.K. Chesterton.”

This story about G.K. Chesterton is not substantiated but I sure wish it were true. Why do I wish this?

Because sooner or later every person stumbles upon one of the great truths of life. And "stumbles upon" is the right phrase because this truth sure feels like a huge stumbling block.  God knows this truth, the saints knew it, the souls in Purgatory definitely know it. We may know it as well, but our pride resists it. This truth is:

We are our own heaviest crosses.

There, I said it.

And it's true for all of us.

When I first came upon this realization I thought it was only me. That I, myself, was my own heaviest cross and that this didn't apply straight across the board.

But it does. It applies to all of us. When you read the lives of the saints you see that every single one of them came to this conclusion about themselves. It's a common thread that runs through their writings and one we should take note of.

Those who say, "But my husband (insert person or circumstance of choice here) is my heaviest cross!"

Nope. Not true. You are your heaviest cross. This is a truth about ourselves that we tend to resist in an extraordinary way because pride has taken root in our hearts and we don't want to believe that one of our biggest problems just might be ourselves.

When we believe that others are our "heavy crosses" it may be one of the strongest signs that a virtue we should be praying for in abundance is the virtue of humility and maybe some charity to go with it.

It took me ten years to learn this. And another five to accept it.

It is part and parcel of our fallen human nature.

It's a great lesson though because as soon as we REALLY learn this, as soon as we stop resisting God's efforts to point this oh so hard-to swallow, it's stuck in my throat fact out, we can begin to make quick progress in the spiritual life because our focus is taken off the sins and faults of our neighbor and responsibility is planted squarely on the shoulders to whom it belongs. We stop blaming others for our heavy loads and start seeing that WE are the heavy loads. This is not to say that there are not external circumstances in our lives that do not make our cross heavier. There are. But the reason the *external circumstances* are so "heavy" is because of our *internal circumstances*.

In other words, if you want to lighten your load you have to work on yourself first.

As G.K. Chesterton so bluntly puts it: Not only are we all in the same boat, but we are all seasick.

Funny how some of the most obvious things in life are the most difficult to see. Not only are we seasick, we are "see sick" as well and our biggest blind spot is ourselves.

~ You cannot escape it, wherever you run. For wherever you go you carry yourself with you, and will always find yourself. Turn upwards or turn downwards, turn inwards or turn outwards: everywhere you will find the cross.                      Thomas A Kempis

~ The greatest cross of all is self.       Archbishop Francois Fenelon

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Mortified Musings - The Lenten Special

"A bit of cake with that sprouted grain bread, my lovely?"

Did you ever see a lassie,

Go this way and that way,

Go this way and that way,

Did you ever see a lassie,

Go this way and that?

   Well, you have now.

Lent has the strange knack of bringing out the worst in me. I have these great intentions that slowly but surely DIE as the season goes on. Think fasting, sprouted grain breads, green drinks, brussel sprouts - you know, all those things that taste nasty times two, but are good for you. That's how it starts.

(And, trust me, those foods TRULY mortify the senses. You'll have to grant me this one, folks. No fake mortification going on here. Hair shirts have nothing on certain green drinks. My senses are so mortified after they eat these things that the souls in purgatory are LEAPING into heaven. Yes, leaping.)

( Not that I've ever worn a specific hair shirt, mind you, but when you live in a house with shedding pets they are ALL hair shirts. )

It's tough to be human though. We like give in to ourselves a lot.

 (That "we" is that universal "we" which reads, "I like to give in to myself a lot". But I don't want to    be a post hog on a public blog so I am including you.)

Me, sailing through Lent. Note the brussel sprouts,
sprouted grain, and asparagus tips in the prow. 
I see beautiful mental pictures of myself breezing through Lent, sailing all the way to Easter... only to be caught with my hand in the cookie jar less than a week later.

In other words, instead of being led by love we (oops, sorry, there's that universal "we" again) are driven by our attachments. The mind wants to go one way, the body another:

"It's best not to have that right now."

"But I want it, I want it!"

So, you choose what you want instead of being guided by what's best. I do this all the time, only to regret it a few minutes later.

A common scenario 'round these here parts:

Gluttony moans, "Another piece of chocolate cake, my dear chubs?"

Reason, led by love, whispers, "No, you don't need that second slice. One's enough, two is overkill, my sweet."

Sweet? Who said sweet? My hand edges toward the platter...

"Hee, hee! She's going to blow Lent again!"

I pull back my hand as if it's been burned by Ole Dragonbreath, himself.


Too much information.

I know.

(I don't know WHAT made me bake cinnamon rolls for my daughter as a special treat this morning. I thought Will Power would be staying until Holy Saturday at least. He was certainly invited. But he vacated the premises without a word after that first batch came out of the oven. Hopefully, Grace didn't leave too.)

(Feel free to scroll down to other posts so I don't leave you with a bad taste in your mouth...)

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Penny for your thoughts? Or not.

William Holbrook Beard: For What was I Created?

For after the four books which have been composed on the customs of the monasteries, we now propose, being strengthened by God through your prayers, to approach the struggle against the eight principal faults, i.e. first, Gluttony or the pleasures of the palate; secondly, Fornication; thirdly, Covetousness, which means Avarice, or, as it may more properly be called, the love of money, fourthly, Anger; fifthly, Dejection; sixthly, Accidie, which is heaviness or weariness of heart; seventhly, Vain glory; eighthly, Pride.

                              St. John Cassian, Institutes (Book V)

St. John Cassian was a student of Evagrius Ponticus. Evagrius was a monk in the 4th century who was the first to write about the "eight bad thoughts" and who coined the term "Noonday Demon", which refers to the acedia (now called sloth) which plagued The Desert Fathers toward the middle of the day. These eight tempting thoughts are the precursors to the seven deadly sins. Pope Gregory the Great revised the list of eight bad thoughts by combining acedia with sorrow, calling the combination the sin of sloth, and vainglory with pride. He also added envy to the list. St. Thomas Aquinas questions vainglory and pride being lumped together since St. Gregory called pride the "mother" of the deadly sins and says St. Gregory did not lump these two together. Either way, this is where we received our current list of the seven deadly sins.

In this post, I want to briefly address the deadly sins as those "bad thoughts" because it gets to the bottom of what the deadly sins are and how they operate.

The deadly sins start as temptations and temptations always begin with thoughts.

In the case of vainglory, the temptation to sin comes through our vanity. We want people to like us and sometimes we will do terrible things to avoid their displeasure. "Pilate, wanting to please the crowd, released to them Barabbas."  We get an example here of how dangerous vainglory can be.

When we are subject to vainglorious thoughts (which we are NOT subject to), and if we give into them regularly, we become bound to those we are attempting to please. Yes, we become bound to others instead of God. Can you imagine being bound to what others think of us? Yet, this is what can happen. All the deadly sins create a type of bondage to something or someone who is not God. This creates huge problems for us. Using the example of vainglory, when we constantly do things to please people instead of God our souls become filled with a deep confusion since it opposes our relationship with the Lord as his children. It opposes the first commandment: You shall have no other gods before me. We create idols for ourselves that are not God. We serve that which we give ourselves over to.

How can you follow the Shepherd when you are trailing the pack of wolves? The heart is divided within itself.

And all of this begins with a thought.

What a mess. No wonder the deadly sins are so deadly.

It's scary when we first see how much of a part the deadly sins play in our lives. When I first recognized it, it paralyzed me. I couldn't believe I had let this happen. And I had no idea which deadly sin to tackle first.

The seven deadly sins poison your thought life. When you give in to the "bad thoughts" and sin, more come crowding their way in. Over time, our minds can become a cesspool of vice. Confusion reigns because a person is pulled in so many directions and it becomes hard to sort through the morass. Imagine a series of ropes tied to you and pulling you every which way. Your mind has difficulty focusing on the "one thing necessary" to obtain eternal life because it is not yet detached from its idols and these "gods" are constantly clamoring for the soul's attention.

So, it can become overwhelming. Until we remember that the reason Jesus came is to save us from our sins. None of this is new to Him. Recognizing the seven deadly sins is the first step to overcoming them. And God helps us do so. One of the best ways to begin to battle the deadly sins is to pray for the virtue of humility. Humility allows us to see the truth about ourselves and our great need for a redeemer. Humility protects the soul and is the foundation of the virtues, which further protect the soul. It is impossible to know God without a certain degree of humility and humility opens the door of the soul to receive God's help and mercy. The more humility a person has, the more light comes in.

Every person on this earth struggles with the seven deadly sins.

Think of humility as the beginning of the deadly sins' end.

"They will fight against you, but they will not overcome you, for I am with you to deliver you," declares the LORD.                         Jeremiah 1:19

Monday, February 22, 2016

Stage Fright

John Singer Sargent: Marionettes

All the world's a stage
And all the men and women merely players                                                          
                                       William Shakespeare

When we are born, we cry that we are come to this great stage of fools.
                                                                                                                                                  William Shakespeare, King Lear

Vainglory gets very little press these days despite its large presence in the world around us. Like the deadly sin of sloth it has been relegated to the dusty archives of "what used to be considered sin but is sin no more". While pride still has negative connotations associated with it, pride's deadly "daughter" is usually unobtrusive and overlooked.

Which makes vainglory deadlier than ever. When you can no longer see your enemy it gives your enemy a great advantage over you.

Why IS vainglory so deadly?

As I mentioned in The Seven Deadly Sins in the Moral Decline of America, each of the deadly sins makes an idol of something other than God. For instance, pride makes a god of self while greed makes money its idol. In the case of vainglory, its idol is other people.

Vainglory is very much tied up with the negative trait of people pleasing. While this is not as overbearing as pride, it can be dangerous because it can get to the point where we are more concerned with pleasing people than God. It's important to remember that we are bound to that which we love and in the case of vainglory this can leave us tied to another's opinion of us and who we are. I've written about this many times on my blog because this was such a problem for me for so many years and is still something I battle against. It's one thing to love a person, another thing altogether, their opinions.

The problem with vainglory is that it can make you feel as if you are a puppet while others are the puppeteers. Whenever we are bound to something other than God we are giving the reins of our lives over to something other than God.

And the last thing we want is to be enslaved to other people whose nature is fallen just as our own is. Especially since vainglory uses fear of others as its shackles. We act a certain way because we fear what people think about us. We follow the crowd because we fear that we will end up alone and rejected. We want to look good before man because we fear others will speak ill of us. Fear, fear, fear. We end up driven by fear.

All the deadly sins use fear as their fetters in some way or another and only perfect love casts out fear. We could say that "perfect love" casts out the seven deadly sins and as long as we do not have perfect love we will be troubled by them to some extent. Do you want to know your idols? Look at your greatest fears. When we fear others won't approve of us and we do things to garner this approval instead of doing it for the right reason, we have gained our reward.

Man, sometimes after writing about the seven deadly sins I feel sick to my stomach.


(In my next post I speak about the deadly sins, our thoughts, and the importance of humility in our battle against them.)

Friday, February 19, 2016

Dust Makers

 A post from my archives. Enjoy!

Do I HAVE to take a bath?!

Do I really trust God?  Do I have total faith in Him and in his love for me?

As much as I'd like to answer those questions with a big fat YES, I can't do that. I WANT this total faith and perfect love... but I just don't have it yet. I have faith and love but it's not perfected yet.

"Perfect love casts out fear."

Simply put ... I have fears. And what are fears but little pockets of despair that need casting out?

Fears that I fear "Perfect Love" has not yet rid me of.

Mostly I fear my own obstinacy. I see certain attachments so clearly and still procrastinate in ridding myself of them.  I'm afraid I'll get caught with my hand in the cookie jar. Or  worse. What if my time comes while I'm trying to down a heaping bowl of Dana's Double Delite Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Fudge Swirl Brownie Ice Cream? 

 Because, as St. Augustine so bluntly eloquently puts it, "Having You, I might have naught besides."

Naught. Nothing. A big fat zero of nothingness. And that I'll have to wait for years in this state of nothingness until the Lord sees fit to end the nothing period and fill me so full of Himself that the nothing disperses into everything.I wonder if I'm the only person on the planet with this fear? I hope nobody answers that.

So I cling to my "somethings". I call them my little "dust makers".

Because that is what they'll eventually be, right?

 Dust. I cling to dust. Though I must admit that chocolate flavored dust is especially yummy. If I graciously thank the Lord for it often enough I wonder if He'll excuse my over consumption of this very fine dust product.

A bigger fear?

That I won't detach myself from all these little dust makers in time and I'll go before the Lord and clouds of lingering dust will surround AND trail my soul.

Kind of like Pigpen from Peanuts.

And my biggest fear?

The Lord will cough and choke out, "Let's get you off into Purgatory and give you a nice bath!"

And that the "bath" water will be too hot.

Just sayin'.

Okay! Nice and clean! You can come out now! 

Friday, December 11, 2015

A Mad Queen and Her Unhinged Army

Johann Heinrich Fussli: attribution

The undisputed queen of The Seven Deadly Sins is pride. We often see the words pride and vainglory used interchangeably when the deadly sins are listed but according to St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Gregory the Great, pride is the "mother" of all sins and not in its own right one of the seven deadly sins. St. Thomas substitutes vainglory for pride when enumerating the seven deadly sins. Pride spawns the seven deadly sins since she is the mother of these. All sin ultimately has its beginning in pride.

Whenever we consider sin and its roots, it helps to keep in mind that the purpose of the seven deadly sins is to oppose virtue. By opposing virtue, the "mad queen" and her "unhinged army" lead people into an ever increasing downward spiral of  malice and licentiousness.

Why do I call pride the "mad queen" and the deadly sins her "unhinged army"? Because these sins, when firmly in place, attack sound reason. They attack the virtue of wisdom leaving the person unable to discern the true reality of things.  Have you ever wondered why so many people can't see the spiritual battle taking place in the world today? It's because their intellect has been darkened by the deadly sins and they no longer have the light to see what so clearly surrounds them. They live (to one degree or another) in an illusory world of their own making pursuant to the degree in which the deadly sins have displaced the virtues. You might call it a "spiritual madness" since the things of the spirit have been subjugated to the flesh to such a degree that the person no longer recognizes the true order of things. Without this recognition, chaos results since the divine order is displaced by disorder and charity displaced by malice.

This idea of "spiritual madness" is important to keep in mind as we look at the chaos that surrounds us in the world today. St. Thomas calls this dullness of sense "folly" and  it comes about through man's "plunging his sense into earthly things, whereby his sense is rendered incapable of perceiving Divine things". According to St. Thomas the quickest descent into this spiritual blindness is through the deadly sin of lust, which is probably why satan loves to tempt people in this area. Lust immerses itself in the flesh to the neglect of the spirit.

Pride sees itself as the center around which all things revolve. Wherever there is sin, pride's hand is there. It is a distortion of one's position in the world - a spiritual aberration that results in a skewed perspective of God, self, and others. Whereas charity looks at others though the lens of mercy, pride opposes mercy and deeply aligns itself with presumption, which is a mockery of mercy in that there is no justice in it. In other words, presumption is a mercy without justice, a love of the sin instead of the sinner. Presumption destroys justice and defaces mercy.

We see in our day a strange reluctance to call sin what it is. As a matter of fact, those who call sin what it is are despised, looked down upon and accused of lacking love for others. And, (this shows that something diabolical is at work) people who were once considered moral, upright, and holy are now considered evil. The entire moral compass of society has flipped, the axis of good has been tipped over completely to the point where a man who would have been upheld as a saint and a hero seventy years ago is now often thought of as a villain.

This "upending" of the divine order of things to the point where good is considered evil and evil considered good effects a type of anti-kingdom. And one with its very own upside-down gospel and commandments. For instance, a person who has given himself up to the Seven Deadly Sins, though he cannot see this anymore, will still follow a set of commandments though ones which oppose the true commandments. And they will believe that these are good because of the eclipse of sound reason. Thus, a person in obeisance to this unholy kingdom will usually show various traits or "signs" that manifest this bondage. The seven deadly sins are the doors which open a person, family, or country to this type of bondage. The outward signs we see in society today are simply the visible marks of an inward homage to the one who is behind the anti-gospel of our day.

It's very difficult not to lose hope when we see society disintegrating before our eyes but we must keep in mind that God is always in control, even when it seems that every which way we turn we are confronted with displays of evil that shock us to the core. There is always hope and our prayers are never in vain.

Humility is the virtue that opposes pride. If you want to quickly grow in virtue pray for humility because it puts to death pride and removes the obstacles that prevent us from acquiring the virtues. It opens up a path for them. Our Lady is the perfect model for the structure of virtues built upon the base of humility. Without some degree of humility it is almost impossible to conquer the seven deadly sins and acquire the virtues. Humility opens the heart, enabling God to pour down His graces upon us.

Now the virtues are in truth infused by God. Wherefore the first step in the acquisition of virtue may be understood in two ways. First by way of removing obstacles: and thus humility holds the first place, inasmuch as it expels pride, which "God resisteth," and makes man submissive and ever open to receive the influx of Divine grace. Hence it is written (James 4:6): "God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble." On this sense humility is said to be the foundation of the spiritual edifice. Secondly, a thing is first among virtues directly, because it is the first step towards God.    
                                                                                                                  St Thomas Aquinas

Technically, charity is first among virtues and St Thomas does state this, but charity and humility are intimately entwined and you really can't have one without the other. In this way, humility is the first step in that it lays a solid foundation for spiritual growth. The greater our humility, the greater our growth in charity and all the other virtues as well.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Its Name is Chaos

William Blake: Wikimedia Commons

A few months ago I had an extremely vivid dream that I haven't been able to get out of my mind. Normally, I ignore dreams but, every so often, I'll have a real humdinger - extremely vivid, clear and so spiritual in nature that it just sticks with you and makes you think.

In this particular dream, I entered the front door of a house where a group of people had gathered. People were in small groups of three or four talking quietly, when I happened to gaze out the large picture window at the front of the house and saw a storm, the likes of which I had never seen in my life, heading right toward the house. To call it a hurricane would be an understatement. This storm was like a wall of darkness forcing its way across the land - a wall of black so complete that I knew that we had to move fast to get away from it or it would swallow us up. I screamed to the others in the house, "Run! Get out of here now!"

We ran out the back door and across a field but every time I turned my head to look back the howling wall of blackness was getting closer and closer - there was no way we could outrun it, at least not for long.

The storm had a name and its name was "chaos". It formed out of the disorder in the world and gained strength whenever man gravely sinned. The storm was there because God was not. Meaning, wherever God was not welcome the storm named chaos unleashed its fury. It wanted to consume all in its path and was well on its way to doing so.

Ahead of us in the field was a stone wall.

"Up on the wall!" I cried out.

 "Sing songs of praise!"

At this point the storm was right behind us. We scrambled up onto that stone wall and turned to face the storm. We started singing songs of praise as the storm howled its way toward us. Everyone was frightened but kept singing and praising the Lord.

We stood firm as the wall of darkness headed straight for us.

The storm halted in its tracks two feet away from us, as if it had come up against something that it could not break through. We could see nothing but black, though the storm was very loud, as it raged right in front of us.

As the people kept praising the Lord in song, the storm began to dissipate. Within a few minutes a perfect clarity came upon the land. The evening sky lit up with stars. As I was looking up, awe filled my being: there, outlined by stars, was a huge "map" of the United States. The individual states were not marked, just an outline of the US as a whole. Within this "map" were red dots and white "stars" marking areas of the US. The red dots were dull and scattered in various areas throughout the country, sometimes in clusters. The white stars were very bright and you could see them very clearly in each area of the country as well, though there were no clusters like there were with the red dots. In parts of the west, south and northeast there were many more red dots than stars.

Not far from the "map" of the US there were two beasts in the sky outlined in stars. One was reptilian in shape and I couldn't tell what the other was supposed to be. These two beasts were snarling at each other but not attacking. Yet. You could tell they wanted to battle though. I woke up after that.

I don't know what the red dots and white stars were meant to convey in this dream (though I have a guess), nor the two beasts (I have a guess there as well), but I do know that that there is a battle between good and evil going on in this country and that the storm named "chaos" in this dream formed and strengthened due to our sins.

Our sins as individuals, families, and the nation as a whole. Though I may not fully understand this dream and perhaps it meant nothing at all, there is one thing that is clear to me:

There is a storm named chaos and it is here.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A Healing Balm for the Soul

An Allegory of Man
 From my archives:

What is the cure for the soul that is weary? What is the antidote to a world stricken with vice? The remedy for the soul overwhelmed by despair?

What "sweetens" the crosses we bear?

The answer is one and the same for all of the questions above.

Virtues. Those God given helps for the soul. The beautiful "coat of many colors" the soul needs to be cloaked in. The armor that God yearns to cover its nakedness, its poverty, with so it doesn't walk about the world completely exposed to that which seeks to harm it.

In the painting above, "An Allegory of Man", Man is being attacked by the Seven deadly Sins and Death, but is shielded by the Seven Virtues. We have really given wide berth to studying and practicing the virtues in the past century and this loss is becoming more noticeable each day as the proliferation of every kind of sin and vice sweeps across humanity. Sometimes it's hard to believe that we can be so obdurate in our unwillingness to see what is as plain as the nose on our face:

The world is drowning in the Seven Deadly Sins. We all struggle with them but millions have given themselves over to them completely.

The loss of the practice of virtue in this world has had tragic repercussions. One of the marks of the deadly sins is that they do in fact have a deadening effect on the soul. The soul grows numb and weary. It cannot function properly in the manner that it was created to - as a clean and holy temple of the Holy Spirit. It loses its sense of being closely connected to God. The soul falls asleep, you could say.

We are a people who are snoring their way into oblivion. An oblivion where no one exists except me, myself, and I. The ultimate dreamworld where the only god that exists is the god of self. A world where people have forgotten both God and neighbor. (Oh, wait, so sorry...I forgot that this "dreamworld" actually has a name. Hell, I think it's called. )

The virtues on the other hand "wake up" the soul. They have a vivifying effect on it because their source is God. When the soul is not coated in virtues it feels their absence because the spiritual state of man depends on the virtues. We have lost our understanding of the protection virtues give us, a truth which the people of past centuries understood well.

When our physical bodies are ill they manifest clear symptoms so that we know something is wrong. It's the same for our souls - they too manifest spiritual symptoms so that we may take note and apply the remedies needed to cure its ills.

And God has given us so many remedies.

 One of the greatest is Confession, which purges the soul of the poisons within it. Once the poison is cleared, the virtues have the necessary room to take root, flourish and grow. Not confessing our sins is like trying to plant a seed in rocky soil, the plant has no room to grow because the soil (of the soul) is so poor. Confession removes the rocks and preps the soil.

Prayer is the conduit through which the soil is watered.

Holy Scripture and the Eucharist feed it. (Anyone who likes gardening knows soil needs to be fertilized to produce anything worthwhile.)

The virtues protect it and cause the soil of the soul to produce fruit abundantly.

Let's turn the tide of sin and despair in our world today by praying for and practicing the virtues.

Sanctify yourself and you will sanctify society.
                                    St Francis of Assisi

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A Portrait of Sloth: The Tumble into Despair

Johan Tobias Sergel: Plunging into Despair

 Sloth, often considered one of the lesser deadly sins in our day, needs to be unmasked so that we can recognize the terrible marks it leaves on our souls. Entire nations have been inoculated with this death-producing vice and we cannot fight an enemy that we can't even see. For this reason, we bring it into the light of God.

All the deadly sins are capable of producing despair but there are two especially noted for it. I always thought pride was the vice most likely to lead to despair and pride certainly can be the breeding ground for despair, but the top two vices that spawn despair as its offspring are lust and sloth.

St. Gregory the Great says that sloth gives birth to six daughters: malice, spite, faint-heartedness, despair, sluggishness in regard to the commandments, and wandering of the mind after unlawful things (see Morals on the Book of Job, xxxi 45). All the vices have "daughters" but St. Thomas Aquinas states that sloth gives birth to despair in a special way. It even beats lust as the top producer of despair. That, not one, but two Doctors of the Church considered sloth to be very deadly indeed should cause us to stand up and take notice.

What is it about sloth that leads people to despair? What is it about sloth that makes it so lethal to the soul? Can we elaborate on St. Thomas' words "in a special way"?

I think we can. When we understand how each of the deadly sins works, it opens a path to a greater awareness of how they operate and what we can do to prevent them from embedding their roots into our souls. In the case of sloth, we know that it slowly drains you of your love for the Lord. Imagine a siphon whose sole purpose is to draw out the love of God in your soul and inject it instead with sadness and hopelessness and you'll get a grasp of sloth's  "job description in the unholy annals of Hell", to put things bluntly. As this love is leached out it draws along with it the joy and awe which are the companions of  holy love. Soon the soul, instead of experiencing joy in the Lord and for the things of the Lord, feels sadness (or repulsion). Left unchecked, this sadness leads to the loss of hope, which, when taken to its full measure, results in despair. This is how sloth has gained the top, albeit blighted, honor as the number one architect of despair.

It helps if we keep in mind that the Seven Deadly Sins oppose, either directly or indirectly, the Three Theological Virtues and the Four Cardinal Virtues. They seek to strip the virtues from us and replace the "holiness" of the virtues with the "hellishness" of the vices. The virtues, when firmly in place, protect us from the onslaught of the deadly sins. But we have to do our part.

In the battle against sloth, the key would be to pray for an increase in the virtues of hope and charity while practicing diligence in the things of God. Hope opposes despair, and since spiritual joy belongs to charity, these counteract the sadness in the presence of eternal or spiritual goods and God Himself.

What may be useful, is to understand that sloth directs its opposition against the top three of The Ten Commandments, the commandments that form the basic structure of a loving relationship with God. When these are broken, the entire edifice of a holy life tends to collapse in on itself, enabling other deadly sins entrance into the temple of our souls. So, in the case of this particular vice, your counterattack would be to firmly resolve to honor God by keeping these commandments and loving the Lord  "with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind" (Mt 22:37).

The virtue of hope responds to the aspiration to happiness which God has placed in the heart of every man; it takes up the hopes that inspire men’s activities and purifies them so as to order them to the Kingdom of heaven; it keeps man from discouragement; it sustains him during times of abandonment; it opens up his heart in expectation of eternal beatitude. Buoyed up by hope, he is preserved from selfishness and led to the happiness that flows from charity.   (The Catechism of the Catholic Church)

(Other posts in this series: The Seven Deadly Sins in the Moral Decline of America and A Portrait of Sloth - Pt 1)

Sunday, October 18, 2015

A Portrait of Sloth - Pt 1

Jean-Baptiste Oudry : The Wolf and the Lamb

Here's a theory I'd like to put forth:

What if the reason so few people attend Mass (or services if you are not Catholic) is because they aren't aware that certain of the Seven Deadly Sins produce a spiritual repulsion (or apathy, a sense of boredom, sleepiness, etc...) at the idea of attending Mass?

I'm not simply suggesting this from the top of my head. There is good reason to believe that this just may be the case. The same goes for reading the Bible.

When I research the Seven Deadly Sins I often come across interesting information that sheds light on how these sins work to deter us from seeking a closer relationship with God. Not only do they deter us, they try to repel us, to repulse us to the point where people "feel" better if they don't go to church. They feel relief if they avoid God. Unfortunately, this feeling doesn't last too long once the deadly sin sinks its roots in.

Did you know that sloth, in Catholic tradition, is considered "the sin against the sabbath"?  (St Thomas' Summa Theologica, see Pt II-II - you can find the Summa here.)  The reason for this is that one of sloth's first modes of attack is an attempt to "cull the individual sheep from its flock" because if it manages to do this, it knows its chances are greater for inflicting a deadly wound on both the "sheep" and the "little lambs" that follow it.

Yes, sloth attacks families in this manner. A reader commented on my post The Seven Deadly Sins in the Moral Decline of America and I asked her if I could share it. It gives folks a mini "snapshot" of the effects of sloth's "culling skills":

"I certainly never saw sloth from so many angles. And yet, when I look back on my life, my childhood, I see how sloth has marked the family I came from, and how it slowly had God replaced, and ultimately killed the joy of the Lord. I knew it was the work of the devil; just didn't know the name it went by: sloth. I'm glad you posted on it. It is insidious and it creeps up on you. It's certainly something we must watch out for."

I couldn't help but think of how her words encapsulated sloth's manner of operating.

First sloth "marks" a family. It usually does this by attacking one of the parents first. Sloth will offer a temptation such as: "The kids have soccer practice, then a game - we won't have time to attend Mass." Or, "I have to work on a big project for work - I'll just drop the kids off at Mass and pick them up after."

Its next step (in this example) might be to continue offering reasons why "surely it is okay if we don't go to Mass this week with everything else we have on our plate".  Eventually, this becomes a pattern and sloth has managed to sink its claws into the fabric of this family. The kids also begin to believe that skipping Mass is just fine because they are following the example of their parents.

Unfortunately, sloth doesn't stop there. What began as an offering of a perceived good (soccer practice and a game in this case) that took precedence over going to Mass, begins to turn into something more. Sloth begins to insert itself into the heart of the family itself. Sacraments fall to the wayside, prayer becomes a burden, Scripture is boring, and on and on the list goes.

"Besides, we can worship God outside of church too, can't we? You know, the world is his altar."

Sloth then begins to suggest that maybe, just maybe, God is not so good. A numbness for the things of God begins to replace the love that was there. Then a mild repulsion sets in.

Soon sloth has succeeded in culling an entire family from the flock of Christ. The family begins to lose its joy and awe, which are the byproduct of a close and loving relationship with the Lord.

 Sloth has also left an entry point in which to insert a deeper poison.

And that poison would be "despair".

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Cure for "Double Yoke Syndrome"

Hope in a Prison of Despair

I have 2 posts that I am publishing within the next few days on the deadly sin of sloth and how sloth is the number one producer of despair. Sloth steals your joy, steals your peace. It seems fitting that before I publish these posts I should first post this article from my archives on how important the virtues of faith, hope, and charity are in protecting the soul from despair in general. Where faith, hope, and charity thrive there is no room for despair. These three Theological Virtues, along with the Cardinal Virtues form a "protective armor" around the soul, defending us from the vices. 

When you read Jesus' words, "for my yoke is easy and my burden light" does "oh no, Lord, your yoke weighs a ton" automatically pop into your mind? No matter how hard you try to push the thought out or ignore it? If so, this post is for you:

The food we feed our minds and the things we tell ourselves make a great deal of difference in whether our cross feels light or heavy. Half the problem with feeling doubly yoked is what we believe about ourselves and others mixed with what we may not believe nor trust about God. I joked around in a previous post about people feeling doubly yoked but there's a great deal of truth mixed in with my rather lame attempts at humor. Many people do feel overwhelmed and weighed down, but the truth is that feeling heavily burdened is often the result of a lack of hope.

Despair is the heaviest thing in the whole universe. Even a little bit is hard to carry.

What we believe or disbelieve about ourselves can leave us locked into patterns of living that make it more difficult to respond to God's freely given grace. If we don't believe that we, or others, or even a situation, can change we have the tendency to slam the door on grace. Very often there are hidden areas of hopelessness in our lives that God yearns to touch deeply with his grace but because of the things we believe about ourselves and others we keep the door closed through our own hardness of heart. A strong and stubborn belief can be a hard obstacle to remove. It can be done but we have to ask God to open up these painful wounded areas to hope. As in "Lord, please pour your hope into this area. I have difficulty believing I can/she can/he can change and I hand it over to you. Touch this part of my life with your grace. May the light of  hope cast its rays on the dark corners of my heart and may your love be the balm that heals this brokenness within me. "

Basically, when we don't trust fully in God or his word, we end up with hidden areas of despair in our hearts. We discount grace. We believe in a cheap grace that is not powerful enough to effect change in ourselves or others.

Hope is a "power" virtue and a "living" virtue. Without hope touching every aspect of our lives parts of us crumble and die inside. The easiest way to destroy someone? Strip them of their hope. Anyone who has ever lived in a state of despair can understand the debilitating effects of a lack of hope. Hope grows things... hope nourishes faith and love and brings about their full flowering.

Those of you who are gardeners have probably heard of "companion planting". This is when we group certain plants together to increase their strength and ability to survive and bear fruit. The same is true in the garden of your heart: faith, hope and charity work together to nourish the soul. These are virtues that God has infused in our hearts. Here on earth, they work in tandem. Strip one away and the others begin to fail.  When virtues fail like this we leave space in our hearts for the Seven Deadly Sins to set in. They are the "weeds" in our gardens and if not removed tend to take over the whole thing.

When I began praying for hope to light up all the areas in my life I felt hopeless about I began to see huge changes in my life. It doesn't matter the size of the issues you are despairing over, large or small He wants to open these areas to the light of hope.

"For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare, not for woe, plans to give you a future full of hope."              Jer. 29:11

"And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us."               Rom 5:5

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Cause and Effect

The Ripple Effect: Agustin Ruiz

Something I hear all too often lately is that people feel overwhelmed, an intensifying "spiritual pressure", if you will, that leaves folks feeling helpless and hopeless. They feel ill equipped to tackle the mountainous problems facing families, communities, and nations today. I mean, how do you change a society so permeated with spiritual rot that sin has become the norm rather than the exception?

The truth is that change begins with the individual and then spreads outward from there. With the help of God's grace, everyone can effect change.

The strange thing is that if people were aware of how much their individual actions, words, and prayers affected others, the world, and the spiritual realm, they would drop to their knees in shock. Because most of us don't immediately "see" these effects, we believe there aren't any.

Oh, but they are there. Always. Just as everything we do marks the physical world, everything we do has spiritual ramifications as well.

Don't ever believe the lie that one person cannot make a difference.

Nothing could be further from the truth - this is another of satan's great deceptions. Satan knows very well the difference one person can make and this is why he mounts attacks against every single person created in the likeness and image of God. Too many people have forgotten that they are body, soul and spirit and because of this spiritual aspect of our being, everything we do also affects the spiritual realm to a lesser or greater degree. During our judgment we get to see every single bit of this  tapestry of life in all its intricacy and if there is genuine repentance, we also get to see the mercy written into every strand. Satan loves to take someone out of "commission" because the souls in this person's care  are then placed in danger.

That is how much you matter. Everything you do matters. For good or for evil, it matters.

You have a purpose. One so critical that when you abandon your post you leave a great "hole" for the invading army to lay siege to those in your care.

Some folks confuse their lack of position in the eyes of the world with a lack of "position" in the spiritual realm and so they feel that what they do or don't do is of no importance in the great scheme of things. Thus, they don't try. They think it's a sign of humility to not take a stance because they are "of no importance" when in many cases it is simply apathy and a pride in the disguise of false humility. It is critical that people understand that things are not what they seem. Can you imagine if Our Lady refused to give her "Fiat" because she felt "there was just no way God could have possibly chosen her" as Mother of Our Lord? Or if St. Therese didn't bother with her little way of trust and love "because, after all, how could one nun who never left the convent grounds possibly make a difference?" Never would you have heard such a thing from either of them. Both had total confidence and trust in the Lord. They trusted His power.

And in these days of raging spiritual warfare so must you.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Seven Deadly Sins in the Moral Decline of America


Apathy: lack of interest or concern, especially regarding matters of general importance or appeal; indifference.

Do you ever ask yourself why folks are so apathetic about God these days? And why is it so hard to make a dent in this apathy? What spawned the apathy and indifference we face in America today?

The word apathy comes from the greek apatheia, "freedom from suffering" or "impassibility".

Interesting. Freedom from suffering and impassibility. (Keep this in mind.)

Some of its synonyms are spiritlessness and  (this is a big one) acedia.

Okay, now we are getting somewhere.

 Acedia is the "real" name of one of The Capital Sins. These days we call it sloth.

 People today tend to think of sloth as a kind of "not-so-deadly sin". As if it were on the level of mere laziness or a bit of sluggishness.

Nothing could be further from the truth. "Mere laziness" is more of a "mere accident" of sloth than a definition of it. Sloth in its fullest meaning is very deadly and rightfully holds its honored place in the hierarchy of "worst possible sins ever". It is a root sin out of which many other sins sprout. Sloth is against God, against joy. Sloth pits itself against life itself by not acknowledging the very importance of life. It receives its power from the way it deeply intertwines with several other deadly sins and this is what makes it exceptionally hard to remove. It is also the reason for the words: “I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth."

Sloth is "fundamentally a sadness in the presence of eternal or spiritual goods, and ultimately God Himself."

Yes, you read that right. You know how  "spiritual envy" sorrows over another's relationship with God? Well, sloth sorrows over God Himself. Or as Peter Kreeft, in his book Back to Virtue states:

""Sloth is the most depressing thing in the world. It is hell on earth. It finds our very highest joy - God himself - joyless. If Joy himself is joyless, where can we find joy? If salt has lost its saltiness, how can it be restored? If the very light in us is darkness, how great is that darkness?" 

 But why? Why is sloth just so darn bad?

Because it is so uncaring that it does nothing in the face of evil. (Nor does it do much in the face of good, for that matter.)

If the deadly sin of anger spits at the foot of the Cross, sloth walks by the Cross without ever even acknowledging it is there. Sloth isn't the nails driven into the hands of the Savior, nor the mockery of the soldiers who scourged Jesus. No, it's the apathy of a people who know Christ died for their sins but simply do not care. 

And it is the sin of our generation.

Remember when I said to keep in mind the Greek root apatheia as "freedom from suffering"? This is why:

 Sloth in its most heart-hardening form results in the absolute refusal to acknowledge the crucified Christ on the Cross, along with the utter refusal to pick up one's own cross and carry it. Sloth avoids suffering. It also avoids those who suffer.

When dealing with the current anti-christian stance we see pervading our society today, we should note that  the deadly sin of pride directly opposes Christianity, while sloth, on the other hand, simply undermines it every chance it gets. We often believe we are facing off with pride when we are actually seeing sloth unfold itself behind the scenes in all its unholy majesty as well. Thus, the failure to protect Christians today while glorifying evil of every sort. There is nothing quite so ugly as pride and sloth working in tandem.

Sure, pride may be known as the deadliest of the deadly sins but sloth takes no notice of that. No, no. Sloth hides behind other deadly sins. You'll often find sloth creeping behind gluttony or walking in the shadow of greed as well.

But do you know what the oddest thing is? The sadness that is sloth's intimate partner is one of the heaviest burdens of all. It is a heart so estranged from God that in its full measure the person becomes utterly enclosed in himself. He or she cannot feel joy or awe. This is why we have to be diligent in avoiding the things that can open us to this particular deadly sin.

What many of us are coming up against in this secular society is the deadly sin of sloth. Those blank eyes when you mention God? Sloth. The failure to speak up or to make waves? Sloth. When good men/women stand around and do nothing when faced with evil? Sloth. A people who could care less whether they go to church or not? Sloth. Have you heard the phrase,"spiritual but not religious"?  Sloth loves to prevaricate.

A most unusual thing about sloth is that it can mask itself as virtue. It is not uncommon for a workaholic to suffer from sloth. It often disguises itself as humility as well.

And you know that crazy, exaggerated form of political correctness we face daily in our society? The one that makes people afraid to speak up in fear of offending anyone?

Yes, you can lay this at the feet of sloth. Sloth loves to avoid direct confrontation.

The problem with The Deadly Sins is they all make gods of something other than God. Pride makes a god of self, greed makes a god of money, gluttony of food. Sloth is an odd one though. Sloth makes a god of many things since the true God brings him nothing but sadness. You can find sloth at the root of the panoply of "strange gods" we find ourselves confronted with today. The New Age Movement with its umbrella of strange and unusual gods comes to mind here, along with its avoidance of giving the true God His due. Rather, the Lord is swept to the side to take His place among "lesser" gods. It's a very odd thing and one could say it's one of the trademarks of sloth. Sloth is written all over the face of the New Age Movement. This is also why we see such confusion and disorder in this movement. You will always find this confusion and disorder when confronting sloth.

I tackled sloth first in this series because it is the most misunderstood of The Deadly Sins.

Yet, its effects are everywhere today.

(For more on sloth, its signs and symptoms and how to recognize it: see The Joy Thief)