Life is not a continuous movement either in progress or regress. There are the ups and downs of living which, in the spiritual life, can be sorely disheartening. Once having set one’s feet on the way of Christ, determined to be a loyal and observant Christian, one soon discovers that there is no security, nor lasting guarantee of one’s new-found fidelity. There’s always the possibility of reversion to old bad ways and to wicked habits. “The dog returns to its vomit” (2 Peter 2:22); an expelled demon says, “I will return to my house from which I came” (Mt 12:44). Sanctifying grace is given to the soul as a “habit” (to use the traditional theological term), that is, as a permanent possession. Of itself it’s stable and meant to remain in the soul (in-habiting there) with the potential for increase through the exercise of the virtues, prayer, and the reception of the sacraments. Somehow–and it is enough of a common experience–a new situation arises in which evil begins to work its magical, seductive influence and–alas!–a moral fall is immanent. Anyone who has ever made a good confession with the sincere intention of sinning never again and who, nevertheless, falls back into the hated sin knows this unfortunate instability and delicacy of his spiritual state. According to the wishful thinking manifest in some Protestant circles, all one needs do to be saved is to make a once-and-for-all confession of belief in Christ as the Savior and then all will inevitably be well, right up unto entry into heaven. Would that it were so! The obvious fact is, however, that a person who can make such a declaration of faith in Christ by a free act of the will can also, by another act of will, make a counter decision to be disloyal and disobedient to Christ. With this reality of the changeableness, the inconstancy of the will our Lord instituted the sacrament of Confession for sins committed after baptism. The pledge is therein renewed, sins absolved, and one sets out from theconfessional determined to avoid sin and be henceforth invariably pleasing to God.
“Nothing is forever in this life.” I think about this every time I use some manufactured thing with its built-in, planned obsolescence which fails to work right. Too bad this saying applies as well to the inconstancy of decision to be faithful to God’s commandments and decrees. To train the mind and will to be unvarying in goodness is part of the reason why we need to be rather hard on ourselves in Lent. (Certainly, it must not be for morbid pleasure of the hardship. Lent is not to feed a pathological human condition but to remedy one.) Like an athlete who does repetitive movements to perfect his skills, the Christian needs the determined and constant exercise of moral disciplines to achieve regularity, consistency, fidelity. I doubt that anybody can ever ease up on self vigilance, no matter how advanced he may be along the way to spiritual perfection. The chances of slipping back, of regression, are always a possibility, though they should become more remote as one moves forward.
In a morning meditation from the writings of St. Gertrude, I read that Christ told her that every little act done in union with Him was as a pleasure to Him. That thought inspired the whole time of my prayer, thinking that our Lord might be so pleased with so little if only I would have a good intention and a clean soul. Making our beloved Lord pleased is that other motivation that should bestir us to be diligent in our Lenten promises. Not only we, but Christ Himself, would be the beneficiary of them, though for Him that can be so only in an analogous sense since He can’t become any greater, better or happier than infinite perfection already accords Him. Christ can only be ‘increased’ in the sense of a greater extension of His presence and influence in our souls, that is, exteriorly. And so, if this is case, we should wish Him to abound more and more in us. Lenten self-imposed practices attempt to make it so that obstacles to this are put down or at least weakened. How odd to think that I can get in Christ’s way of taking over myself!
A closing reminder that Fridays we have the Lenten fish fry (from fresh, not frozen, fish–I am told). While there, you would do well to hear the talk given on the Last Things–a good way to keep going forward this Lent.
Sunday, March 01, 2015
The virtual inevitability of sin, the blessing of repeatable confession & absolution, and the increase of Christ in us
Fr. Eduard Perrone, "A Pastor's Descant" [temporary link] (Assumption Grotto News, March 1, 2015):