The Inner Struggle

Sins Of The Tongue … and Tall Poppies …

Big wind storm a few days ago, hit a collection of communities in our area, sustained winds winds over 60 miles an hour, higher in the gusts. Grain bins toppled, the bank across the street lost it’s whole roof, many large trees ripped up or just snapped off, communications towers broken, and one building in our town collapsed completely. Fortunately the collapsed building was unoccupied and miraculously no one was hurt anywhere that I heard. We had two panels of roof rip off our Gazebo and lost all our communications dishes and antennae, but that is relatively minor in the big picture.

What has all that weather stuff to do with sins of the tongue you might ask? Quite a bit actually. The weather is part of what we euphemistically term the “human condition”. Weather, illness, work, food or the lack thereof, comfort, love, friends, enemies, government, evil, good. Dissatisfaction continually at war with contentment. The thought appears: “Why is it always the tall trees that get blown down?”

Man, (and Woman) knows, with an inborn awareness, that something is wrong in this human existence, something not quite defined, a lurking shadow that effects everything we experience. It is easy to fixate on the weather as an excuse for our discomfort. It sets us “on edge”, ready to complain, ready to gossip, and vent our tale of woe and find someone we all agree on to blame.

Tall Poppies have to be cut down to size … they make the rest of us look bad …

Many of us in these enlightened progressive times like to think that the root cause of this historical disorder is the notion that “a man can do something wrong or evil”. All we need to be perfectly comfortable is to rid ourselves of the “silly claim” that good and evil actually exist. It’s all “relative”, right?

Yet evil and discontent seems perennially connected with our condition. Men did not suddenly realize one day that they sinned. From the beginning of history they did not and do not know what to do about the evils that they are sent and that they send into the world because of their sins. They sense that they have done wrong and all the bluster and pretense doesn’t make it feel OK. “I’m OK, Your OK” just doesn’t cut it when the rubber hits the road, no matter what the guru’s of self realization preach.

What man senses he needs is forgiveness. That forgiveness has to be placed in the hands of someone authorized to forgive. No ordinary person possesses this capacity. We are all in this together and if we are to escape our fate we have to be forgiven by someone outside the pit.

Over the last hundred thousand years or so, very few of the billions of people who have lived on this planet have heard of this forgiveness of sins that Revelation postulates. Among those who have heard of it, not many practice it. To cover this situation, we talk of being sorrowful. and we have been taught that God will forgive even if we know nothing of the Sacrament on the forgiveness of sin. Everyone has something that they know needs to be forgiven, however they rationalize, and justify, and distract themselves, but it can only go on so long. It just wears ya down.

Some expand this view to save everyone, we are all going to heaven, while others suspect that, if everyone is forgiven, no matter what they do, why bother being good? The good and the bad are equally redeemed with or equally without forgiveness, but as mentioned in a previous post “sin clouds our intellect and destroys right judgement”.

We know in our hearts that we need “forgiveness” from some authority above our state, our condition. We need forgiveness from God, from the Divine. And we need genuine forgiveness that does not excuse but requires sorrow, and contrition, and amendment and amends. I have been thinking about my sins and habits of thought and those things which walk into my mind and immediately pull the big EJECT handle and come out of my mouth without much consideration, if any. It’s time to get to Confession, isn’t it?

I have been thinking and talking this way all my adult life. And that in a nutshell is the root of all sin … sins of the tongue …  given flight without consideration simply because we are in “conversation with friends” and it is only natural to talk about others who are not present, perhaps even others who we don’t even know.

Judgement and attribution articulated with imputation of motives even when there is no way in this universe that we could know even the least bit about other’s intentions or motives. We just don’t know, and even if we did know, what makes it our job, our responsibility, to spread it around?

I have been reading (fourth painful time around now) a little book called “Sins of the Tongue” by a Fr. Belet for sale at Amazon.com for 91 cents.

From the Amazon blurb we have:

Originally written in French in 1870, Fr. Belet wages war against one of the worst sins of his (and our) time – backbiting – better known to us as detraction (telling the faults of others without cause). Most of us do not realize how evil this sin is. In fact, many of us don’t think it’s a sin at all. After ruining someone’s reputation, or satisfying our anger (and yes, our hatred) by spewing out every bad thing we can say about someone, we justify ourselves by saying, “Well, it’s true!”

We even think we are acting justly by giving someone what they deserve. Due to our lack of charity and also to our pride, little do we see things from God’s point of view, to whom these are vile sins – a form of hatred of neighbor – a failure to do the two things necessary – to love God and our neighbor (Matt. 22:37-40).

In explaining this sin of backbiting, properly called detraction, Fr. Belet quotes the best men of Western Civilization: Aristotle, Plato, Horace, Seneca, Pliny, the Roman Emperor Constantine, King David, Isaiah, Saints James, Luke, Matthew, Paul, John Chrysostom, Jerome, Cassian, Gregory the Great, Augustine, Bernard, Thomas Aquinas, and many others. A very helpful book for those who wish to know the meaning of backbiting—and how to avoid it.

So without further delay, to give us something to think about, when all we wanted to do was have a pleasant conversation over coffee with our friends, here is a quote from  somewhere in the middle of the text:

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” … A master too short on words with his servant, or a man with his neighbor, obviously proves that he feels little friendship or kindness towards him.

A religious once said, “If we do not cultivate them, two kinds of thoughts will stop bothering us by themselves: thoughts of fornication and thoughts of backbiting. When they call, do not answer them; whatever they say, pay them no heed. If you act otherwise, you may try to resist but you will not escape their clutches.”

And one must not only avoid backbiting when it attacks charity and justice directly, but even when it turns on light defects and weaknesses of little importance. Even the worthiest of men are not always exempt from this sort of backbiting. Perhaps it is a lack of prudence or reflection, but even they take pleasure in relating the defects and faults of others to willing listeners.

Jean de La Fontaine; (8 July 1621 – 13 April 1695) was a French fabulist and one of the most widely read French poets of the 17th century. He is known above all for his Fables, which provided a model for subsequent fabulists across Europe and numerous alternative versions in France, as well as in French regional languages.

It would seem that we have taken this verse from La Fontaine as a motto: “I attempt to turn vice to ridicule, Since I cannot attack it with the arms of Hercules“. And why be surprised? The human race has an instinctive propensity for criticizing other people’s behavior. We all carry the scarlet with which we paint everyone. Everything that seems blameworthy in our sight turns into vice at once, and it is all the greater in the proportion that we want to appear wiser and more religious.
Saint Jerome says, “The passion of this evil has so infested the world that people who have totally renounced other vices still fall into this one. One might say it is the last trap the devil sets for them.” This rashness of judgment is often accompanied by envy, the sworn enemy of the happiness of others.

The envious person tries to calm his bad temper by disparaging another man’s merits in every way imaginable; he suffers less when he sees others damaged by some defect. Envy is often preceded by a secret pride, which spurs us to wish to be preferred above others, or at least to be their equal. For fear that our neighbor may rise too high and eclipse us, we craftily clip his wings.

We see that conversations which reveal good men’s imperfections often result in countless evils. Upon hearing his neighbor’s weaknesses related, more than one listener will be tempted to tell his friends, “Look at what he did, and everyone mistakes him for a little saint! If he committed that fault, he will certainly commit a lot more. I thought he was so virtuous, but I see him now; he has his faults too.”

Many people’s consciences are disturbed by such talk. If the slandered person’s reputation is not totally lost, it is seriously damaged. Bonds of friendship and kindness are broken; the absent person who is spoken about will certainly be held in contempt. And how can the accused defend himself when usually he is not even aware of the blows being struck against him, or at least of who their author is?

That is how a man can be murdered and not even know it. The sin is all the more serious when someone backbites people in honored positions, even in light matters, and even if they are guilty. “Even in your thoughts do not make light of the king, nor in the privacy of your bedroom revile him, because the birds of the air may carry your voice, a winged creature may tell what you say” (Eccl. 10:20). You see, Holy Scripture tells us not only to avoid backbiting, it even commands us to banish it from our thoughts.

You who backbite, do not think it suffices to tell your listeners, “Don’t reveal what I say, I beg of you, I confide this secret to your discretion.” You are no less guilty, and this behavior proves how simple you are. Pray tell, why do you ask him to keep silence? You are the one who should have kept silence first. If you do not want your words to leak out, then keep them to yourself! You have not remained silent and you would shut other people’s mouths? If you are in such a rush to pull the stopper out of the spigot, then what can you expect of others?

Saint Francis of Assisi had an extreme aversion to backbiting and slanderous accusations. His biographer, Saint Bonaventure, relates that one of his brothers said evil about another and leveled several accusations against him. The Saint told his assistant, “Father, go and examine this affair. If the accused is innocent, punish his accuser so severely that it will give others an example, and he will remember it.”

Saint Francis even wanted to remove the religious habit from a brother who had not been afraid to remove the cloak of another’s reputation, so that it would be done to him as he had done to others, and in this way he would be obliged to restore the reputation he had stolen. …

Backbiting drags a whole host of evils in its wake: it depraves anyone who listens to it, causes the backbiter to be considered a slanderer, and incurs the hatred of his neighbor. God has attached an enormous ball to this chain: the obligation of restoring the neighbor’s reputation. Saint Augustine’s words here are as true for backbiting as for money: “Non dimittitur peccatum nisi restituatur ablatum: No restoration, no pardon” (St. Augustine, Epistle 65, Ad Macedoniae).

It is a common principle among theologians (Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Part II, Section II, Question 62, Article 2.) that restoring their neighbor’s reputation is obligatory not only for those who have revealed an imaginary crime of his, but also those who have revealed a true but secret crime. They are held to giving him at least an equivalent compensation: and they owe this compensation to the detriment not only of their own reputation, but also their life.

Along with their neighbor’s reputation, they must repair all the harm he has incurred; and they must do so even if what they revealed is true. Since the thing is true, they are held to tell everyone who heard them not that they were lying, but that they were backbiting. Even if it were only for the inconvenience of being obliged to repair your neighbor’s reputation, backbiting should be avoided like the plague.

How painful to have to retract what you said and undergo the shame of such a restoration! It is easy to return an item of clothing, a sum of money or personal property unjustly acquired; there are a thousand ways of doing it. But restoring a reputation, what a burden! Now, the gravity of this sin lies precisely in the difficulty of repairing it.

When an opinion has been revealed, it soon spreads all over, going through cities and empires, and a hitherto unknown person soon acquires a sad celebrity. But if you try and praise someone you have previously denigrated, you are wasting your time. What you said has taken root too strongly, and too many people know about it. “People believe evil first; But when it comes to the good, Then seeing is believing.” (La Fontaine)

But you will say, “Backbiting flourishes everywhere, and no one ever makes restoration.” Ah that is precisely the evil I deplore! Do you think our worst habits can excuse our vices? Just because “everyone does it,” does that give you the right to do something? The vast number of fools is no praise for folly. Besides, it is false to say that reputations are never repaired. I would prefer to think it occurs only rarely. … ”

Fr. Belet. Sins of the Tongue:: The Backbiting Tongue . KIC. Kindle Edition.

But … but … all I want to do is have a pleasant conversation over coffee with my friends … and why are Canadians such great practitioners of “Tall Poppy Syndrome”? I have heard it is a social term about a phenomenon in Australia and New Zealand, but I’ve never been there and have only experienced the Canadian version, almost a national sport here, after putting down Americans, and Hockey. Why do so many great people become “from Canada”, because they have to leave the country to succeed?  Just why is that?

Scary, isn’t it?

Cheers

Joe

experts

… how much of what we read on Twitter and Facebook is Backbiting? Is this cartoon backbiting?

 

 

 

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The Inner Struggle

Penitence as a way of life …

Mother of Sorrows”, Benedictines of Mary Queen of Apostles, from the album “Lent At Ephesus”, (2014)

I started this yesterday and posted the beginning  at the end of yesterday’s post. Nothing here is “Real Joe”, just a brief quote from “Divine Intimacy” and a rather long, but extremely important and moving excerpt from Father John A. Kane’s “How To Make A Good Confession”.

Gentle Reader’s mileage may vary if you are not in this head-space … I wouldn’t have given this much thought a few years ago, but when one is ready, then it speaks.

“… This is a sign of real fidelity, to persevere even in the darkest moments, when all seems lost, and when a friend, instead of triumphing, is reduced to defeat and profound humiliation.

Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, O.C.D

Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, O.C.D

It is easy to be faithful to God when everything goes smoothly, when His cause triumphs; but to be equally faithful in the hour of darkness, when, for a time, He permits evil to get the upper hand, when everything that is good and holy seems to be swept away and irrevocably lost — this is hard, but it is the most authentic proof of real love. (Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, O.C.D. from the book “Divine Intimacy” meditations on the interior life for every day of the liturgical year.pp 400).

And from Fr. John A. Kane:

“Repentance (from the Greek: Metanoia) is the mind itself changed and transformed. It is the supernatural conquering the natural. It is the assumption of the spirit of Christ according to the words of St. Paul: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus”. (Phil. 2:5)  Thus it is evident that penitence, in its entirety, is perennial.

It has not always the same quality, however. It assumes different phases, and in this respect it is like a lifelong grief. The first outbreak of sorrow will subside. The wilderness of desolation will bloom again with fragrant flowers. In resignation to the divine will, the soul will be flooded with light, peace, and joy. Then it will glory in the consciousness that it is suffering with Christ.

Fr. John A. Kane

Fr. John A. Kane, 1912 – 1962

Its sorrow is now more abiding; it has taken root in the very depths of the soul’s consciousness; it clings to the soul far more tenaciously than the first convulsive paroxysm of grief. Without any external evidence, sorrow has silently transfigured the soul’s life, uniting it more fully, more consciously with its God. A calm and permanent sorrow, which at first terrorized the soul, now lovingly embraces it and gradually sinks into its extreme depths, while externally there may have been no sign of its existence.

Penitence acts likewise. The initial expression of grief will cease; the tears will by degrees diminish; the would inflicted by sin will gradually close. The first instinctive feelings of disappointment with self, loathing, and remorse will quiet down and become more reasonable. But the awful realization of the soul’s spiritual state, the one all-absorbing thought of the horror of sin, will be more vivid, immeasurably truer, and will assume a more disciplined form.

And as the interior spirit of repentance grows and at the same time becomes calmer, gentler, and more enlightened, the sense of the meaning of sin will intensify, and the thought of God’s mercy to sinners will rouse the soul’s hope and dispel the mists and shadows of that first anguish of somewhat unrealistic sorrow and remorse. The soul’s powers, thus renewed, will now live their life in the eternal sunshine of the mercy and love of God.

Peter Paul Rubens - Vision of Ezekiel

Peter Paul Rubens – Vision of Ezekiel

To the superficial observer, repentance may then appear to have ceased. It has, however, only sunk deeper into the soul. It is invisible because it has rooted itself in the soul’s innermost being. Its very hiddenness robs it of all external assertiveness. It has thoroughly intermingled with the soul’s deepest source of life, like food completely assimilated by the body.

It has made the soul far more responsive to grace; it has sensitized the soul’s faculties; it has silently and secretly developed the soul’s realization of God’s most wondrous prerogative: mercy;  it has bound the soul irrevocably to Christ and revived the soul’s adoption by Him who “desires not the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live” (Cf. Ezek. 33:11) thus it has become the impetus of the soul’s advancement in virtue, the inspiration of its power for good, and its daily shield in its struggle for eternal life.

The Apostle Matthew and Angel (Rembrandt, 1661)

The Apostle Matthew and Angel (Rembrandt, 1661)

The soul now serves God more freely and more lovingly because it realizes the contrast between its past sinfulness and its present holiness, and the marvelous way in which the mercy of God has affected the change. This perennial penitential state, because of its hidden and profound depth, is all the more real. It is a creature of intelligence and calm confidence, not of blind instinct and selfish sorrow for sin. It transcends the natural because it is born of faith.  A pious legend states that even to the day of his martyrdom, St. Peter, whenever he heard the crowing of the cock, wept anew.

The mighty flood of sorrow still flowed that broke forth within him when, on the night of his denial, he went out and wept bitterly (Matt. 26:75). In his epistles, penitence is not mentioned. But no other letters are more replete with soul stirring pleas for humility, watchfulness, and fear.

St. Peter

St. Peter

“Be ye subject therefore,” he says, “to every human creature for God’s sake.” (1 Pet. 2:13)  In like manner, ye young men, be subject to the ancients. … Insinuate humility one to another, for God resisteth the proud, but to the humble He giveth grace. Be you humbled, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in the time of visitation, casting all your care upon him, for He hath care of you. Be sober and watch, because your adversary the Devil, as a roaring lion, goeth about seeking whom he may devour.” (1 Pet. 5:5-8) “Be prudent therefore, and watch in prayers.” (1 Pet. 4:7) “Fear God.” (1 Pet 2:17) “Converse in fear during the time of your sojourning here.”

St. Paul’s letters, on the contrary, are striking for their tone of repentance. The great apostle cannot forget the sins of his youth. “I am,” he says, “the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God.” (1 Cor. 15:9)

Saint Paul The Apostle, probably by Valentin de Boulogne

Saint Paul The Apostle, probably by Valentin de Boulogne

“A faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners, of whom I am the chief. But for this cause I have obtained mercy, that in me first Christ Jesus might show forth all patience, for the information of them that shall believe in Him unto life everlasting.” (1 Tim. 1:15-16)

Penitence deserving the name, then, is not a mere passing act but a permanent state — a supernatural sorrow not fitfully but continually welling up within us, a condition of soul lasting until death. At no stage of the spiritual life may we dispense with it. It is necessary for the one who has advanced in virtue, as well as for the hardened sinner.

King David Playing the Harp - Gerard van Honthorst

King David Playing the Harp – Gerard van Honthorst

We are reminded of this in Confession. When slight imperfections form the subject matter of our accusation, the priest may well ask us to recall, in a general way, some former mortal sins, if any, or other venial sins, and to include them in our act of contrition. This is done to enliven our sense of sin and to increase our repentance.

Wonderfully retentive is the sinner’s memory. The reason is that the remembrance of past guilt and of God’s grace, which raised the sinner from spiritual death to spiritual life, can coexist in the soul.

God’s own eternity seems to be stamped upon the sinner’s conscience, that he may not be without fear for forgiven sin, that the abiding knowledge of former sin and the punishment thereof may, all his days, wring from him the wail that will finally remove the last vestige of both sin and punishment. “Wash me yet more from my iniquities and cleanse me from my sin.” (Ps. 50.4  Ps, 51:2)

St John the Apostle

St John the Apostle – Pieter Paul RUBENS – Flemish (Siegen 1577-1640 Antwerp) – ca. 1611 / Prado Madrid

As in the physical order, there is no light without its shadow, so , in the moral order, although the light of grace illumines the soul, the dim reflection of the hated past still remains.

The God who assumed our flesh so that sinners might “have life and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10)  the God of infinite compassion who came “to seek and to save that which was lost,” (Luke 19:10) would have us ever reflect on our past sinfulness — not to weaken our confidence in His unspeakable mercy and to fill us with despair, but to enliven our sorrow and to strengthen our love of Him, so that “where sin abounded, grace might more abound.” (Cf. Rom. 5:20)

The habitual thought of former sin will invigorate present repentance. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8) True self knowledge will beget “the sorrow that is according to God,” which “worketh penance steadfast unto salvation.”

St. Luke The Evangelist - Claude Vignon

St. Luke The Evangelist – Claude Vignon

Thus, the prayer of the publican — “O God, be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13) we can never repeat too often; his humility we can never assimilate too well. The yearning to return to the God whom he had outraged, the conscious recognition of his sin, which convinced him that he was utterly unworthy of pardon, justified him fully in the in the sight of the divine majesty. “I say to you, this man went down into his house justified.” (Luke 18:14)

Realizing that we are sinners, we must have a godly, and thus a deep, humble, sincere, perennial, and efficacious sorrow for our sins, a sorrow that forces us to quit the broad, rough road of sin and, with renewed spiritual strength, to advance in the way of God.

If we evade the stern obligation of repentance, we shall be lost. “Unless you shall do penance, you shall all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:3) Sorrow for past sin is the infallible means of avoiding future sin. Penitence is, then, the rock foundation of a virtuous life. We must clothe ourselves with the penitential garb here, if we would escape the terrors of the judgement hereafter. “If Thou, O Lord, wilt mark iniquities, Lord, who will stand it?” (Ps. 129:3 (RSV = Ps. 130:3)

Cheers

Joe

“If Thou, O Lord, wilt mark iniquities, Lord, who will stand it?” (Ps. 129:3 (RSV = Ps. 130:3)

 

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