Monday, May 6, 2019

We may be self-sabotaging our efforts for holiness without knowing it.

I came across a story recently, which tickled my funny bone but had the amazing ability to satirize the way I see many well-meaning people struggling to live a holy life.  I’m quite sure it wasn’t true, but won’t be one bit surprised if it was.  The story follows:

My sister had been ill, so I called to see how she was doing.  My ten-year-old niece answered the phone.  

“Hello,” she whispered.

“Hi, Honey.  How’s your mom doing?”  I asked.

“She’s sleeping,” my niece answered, again in a very whispered tone.

“Did she go to the doctor?” I asked.

“Yes.  She did, and got some medicine,” the little girl said softly.

“Well, don’t wake her.  Just tell her I called.  By the way, what are you doing?”

In a very soft whisper, she said, “I’m practicing my trumpet.”

Picturing just how sincere the little girl was in making sure she was not waking her sleeping mother by her conversation with her aunt, the girl had no idea at all how her trumpet playing is louder than her whisperings by many decibels.  

After my chuckling subsided, it struck me that this serves very well as a caricature of how I notice many penitents may be having good and even excellent intentions of leading holy, pure and virtuous lives, but can at the same time be sabotaging their good intentions by doing things that bring their efforts the opposite effects.  

If you keep confessing that you are not chaste in your relationship with your boyfriend or girlfriend, one of the most important things to not do is to bring yourselves to situations and places that invite you to take risks with improper behviour and activity. This necessarily means that you need to have that important but perhaps awkward conversation that deals with the issue of only meeting each other in very public and open places.  

If you find yourselves always tempted to look at inappropriate websites that you find arousing on the internet, one of the things that is a sine qua non is to use your computer in the privacy of your own room, and ensure that you only have access to the web when in the living room or dining room, where members of the house are in full view of what you are doing.

If you say you have no time to pray in the night when you come home from a busy day at work or in school, then nighttime is certainly not the correct time for you to pray.  You’d do well to set your alarm clock twenty to thirty minutes earlier, get up before everyone else in the house, and devote that quite thirty minutes to God as a morning offering, consecrating the coming 16 to 18 hours to God, telling God that you want to make sure that from this moment till the end of your day, you want to glorify him with everything you do, say and think.  That way, it doesn’t become such an issue if you do not manage to pray before you go to bed, because you had begun the day with that good intention, though of course, it would be good to hinge your day with prayer in the morning and in the night.

If you keep confessing that you don’t put God at the centre of your life, but make very little actual effort throughout the day to make an examination of conscience, and only do so while you are in the confessional line perhaps once a month, it shouldn’t surprise you that your good intentions didn’t bear much fruit.  This putting of God in the centre of our lives cannot be a reflection that we do every month or two, but rather, every hour or two. While I certainly don’t wish for anyone to become obsessed with scrupulosity (which is unhealthy and not something that leads to true holiness), we must not be so lax in our self-examination that it is only something that we do minutes before we enter the confessional and land our knees on the kneeler inside.

A habitual gambler will be putting temptation to the test if he keeps going to the casino even though he admits that he needs to stop gambling.  That crucial but painful decision to register himself on the exclusion list at the casinos needs to be something he has to consider and to finally actually do if his words of repentance are to mean anything.  

Is there a magic pill that makes one automatically holy and make the right decisions all the time?  Would that there were.  One thing that the existence of such a pill excludes is the very important aspect of freedom of the individual.  What is at the heart of every sin is the inordinate and inappropriate love of self, and the lack of love of God.  Sure, we may say that the devil made us sin, but for sin to happen, there has to be cooperation and consent on our part.  The more we apply ourselves to loving God, the less we will have the resources (or the desire) to want to apply ourselves to loving things that injure or lessen our love for God.  

That choice to want to do good and to be holy in all that we do is an expression of how deep and true our love for God is.  Every holy man and woman who is a saint in heaven shares this as a common thread in their lives, and have either lived lives that showed great love for God, or have been purified their love for God in purgatory’s flames of purification.  

The girl in the story may have been effortful in speaking in hushed toned on the phone, but didn't apply this effort to everything outside of a phone conversation.  We too may be careful in only certain parts of our moral lives, but have not been effortful in applying this to the other parts of our lives.  We need to apply ourselves with great awareness if we are not to end up like that little girl, blasting the trumpet despite being so careful in speaking in hushed whispers when on the phone with her aunt.

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