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)