Today is +5 and raining … is this a weird winter or what? A couple of days ago it was -20 and howling a gale and now it’s almost swimsuit weather … well maybe that’s over the top, but it rather does focus the mind on the fact that we have very little control over all the things that matter and any control we think we have is only one crisis away from being lost.
So the last several posts have been mostly about things that are perceived to be wrong with the world and our culture. What can we do about it? Frankly, very little. This is obvious at an instinctual level but was articulated by Dr. Stephen R. Covey in his analysis of our circle of control vs our circle of concern. In short, he posits that normally we have a much larger circle of concern than circle of control and hence are worried about things in the larger sphere over which we have no control and this lack of control and the anxiety thus created causes all kinds of problems for us.
To find balance and peace we have to discover that place (head space) where our circle of concern matches our circle of control. So we can’t fix the world. So what? We can fix ourselves. Lets start with fixing ourselves.
As mentioned in a previous post, we venture into perilous waters when we fail to master ourselves. Being ruled by our passions results in all kinds of trouble and difficulty. So that path which falls within our circle of control and which should fall within our circle of concern is to conquer oneself and regulate one’s life without determining or directing oneself through any tendency that is disordered or perverted.
We have been created. Notwithstanding all the fairy tales about primordial slime and chance conjunction of amino acids and so one and so forth there has never been one wit of actual evidence to and for that story and it stems entirely within man’s desire to be the supreme being and answerable to no one, to remove that highest authority standing in his way of doing and thinking whatever he wants.
We have been created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save our immortal soul. And all the other things on the face of the earth are created for man and that they may help him in prosecuting the end for which he is created. From this it follows that man is to use them in as much as they help him on to his end, and ought to rid himself of them in so far as they hinder him from achieving it.
For this it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things in all that is allowed to the choice of our free will and is not prohibited to it; so that, on our part, we do not seek health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, long rather than short life, and so in all the rest. We should constrain ourselves in desiring and choosing only what is most conducive for us to the end for which we are created. We strive to become inured to the desires for material goods and pleasures such that they do not obscure or interfere with the path to self control.
So in examining the ways in which one can go wrong, misbehave or actively do evil it is convenient to appreciate the concept of mortal and venial sin (Big sins and Little sins). As in the physical world where there are mortal dangers which can and will kill us, and lesser or venial dangers which can injure us and make us sick, so too in the spiritual and personal world of sin there are mortal sins and venial.
A serious, grave or mortal sin is the knowing and willful violation of God’s law in a serious matter, for example, idolatry, adultery, murder, slander. These are all things gravely contrary to the love we owe God and, because of Him, our neighbor. We know these are wrong and serious and we know they are a violation of both God’s law and of the natural law which stems from God and is know by all beings. it is also obvious that we can sin by thought, word and deed.
To purify oneself I presuppose that there are three kinds of thoughts in me: that is, one my own, which springs from my mere liberty and will; and two others, which come from without, one from the good spirit, and the other from the bad. Now it appears that there are two ways to obtain merit in the bad thought(s) which comes from without, namely:
Firstly, a thought of committing a mortal sin, which thought I resist immediately and it remains conquered. Secondly, when that same bad thought comes to me and I resist it, and it returns to me again and again, and I always resist, until it is conquered.This second way is more meritorious than the first.
A venial sin is committed when the same thought comes of sinning mortally and one gives ear to it, making some little delay, or receiving some sensual pleasure, or when there is some negligence in rejecting such thought.
There are two ways of sinning mortally. Firstly, when one gives consent to the bad thought, to act afterwards as he has consented, or to put it in act if he could, and secondly, when that sin is put into act. This is a greater sin for three reasons: first, because of the greater time;second, because of the greater intensity; third, because of the greater harm to the two persons.
But what about sinning in word? Obviously, there are many, many ways to sin by word. One must not swear, either by Creator or creature (that is to misuse an oath when overwrought or angry), if it be not with truth,necessity and reverence. By necessity I mean, not when any truth whatever is affirmed with oath, but when it is of some importance for the good of the soul, or the body, or for temporal goods. By reverence I mean when, in naming the Creator and Lord, one acts with consideration, so as to render Him the honor and reverence due.
It is to be noted that, though in an idle oath one sins more when he swears by the Creator (as in anything created on earth – that is animals, people, or material phenomena) than by the creature, it is more difficult to swear in the right way with truth, necessity and reverence by the creature than by the Creator, for the following reasons.
Firstly, when we want to swear by some creature, wanting to name the creature does not make us so attentive or circumspect as to telling the truth, or as to affirming it with necessity, as would wanting to name the Lord and Creator of all things. Secondly, in swearing by the creature it is not so easy to show reverence and respect to the Creator, as in swearing and naming the same Creator and Lord, because wanting to name God our Lord brings with it more respect and reverence than wanting to name the created thing.
Therefore swearing by the creature is more allowable to the perfect (the well developed and disciplined mind) than to the imperfect (the passionate and undisciplined mind) , because the perfect, through continued contemplation and enlightenment of intellect, consider,meditate and contemplate more that God our Lord is in every creature, according to His own essence, presence and power, and so in swearing by the creature they are more apt and prepared than the imperfect to show respect and reverence to their Creator and Lord. Thirdly, in continually swearing by the creature, idolatry is to be more feared in the imperfect than in the perfect.
What about habits and patterns of speech? Consider how one must not speak an idle word. By idle word I mean one which does not benefit either me or another, and is not directed to that intention. Hence words spoken for any useful purpose, or meant to profit one’s own or another person’s soul, the body or temporal goods, are never idle, not even if one were to speak of something foreign to one’s state of life, as, for instance, if a religious speaks of wars or articles of trade. But in all that is said there is merit in directing well, and sin in directing badly, or in speaking idly. Nothing must be said to injure another person’s character or to find fault, because if I reveal a mortal sin that is not public, I sin mortally; if a venial sin, venially; and if a defect, I show a defect of my own.
But if the intention is right, in two ways one can speak of the sin or fault of another. Firstly: When the sin is public, as in the case of a public prostitute, and of a sentence given in judgment, or of a public error which is infecting the souls with whom one comes in contact. Secondly: When the hidden sin is revealed to some person that he may help to raise him who is in sin — supposing, however, that he has some probable conjectures or grounds for thinking that he will be able to help him.
So we come to sinning by act or deed. Taking together the Ten Commandments, natural law, the precepts of the Church and the recommendations of superiors, every act done against any of these authorities is, according to its greater or less nature, a greater or a lesser sin. Our acts are an example. One commits no little sin in being the cause of others acting contrary to the authorities.
So what is a method for “looking into the mirror” and making a general examination of our conduct, words and thoughts? It is contained in five points.
- First, to give thanks to God our Lord for the benefits we have received.
- Secondly, to ask for the grace to know our sins and cast them out.
- Thirdly, to ask an account of our soul (to remember our conduct) from the hour that we rose up to the present, examining hour by hour, or period by period: and first as to thoughts, and then as to words, and then as to acts, in the same order mentioned above.
- Fourthly, to ask pardon of God our Lord for the faults.
- Fifthly and finally, to firmly resolve to amend one’s ways with God’s help.
Look into the mirror and consider the five steps as many times a day as seems necessary to facilitate remembering one’s conduct, perhaps at every meal and break at first when getting used to this pattern. Thus do we examine our life.
I’ve always been fascinated by Socrates’ bold statement that “The unexamined life is not worth living.” He doesn’t fool around, no “nuances” for Socrates. He doesn’t say that the unexamined life is “less meaningful than it could be” or “one of many possible responses to human existence.” He simply and clearly says it’s not even worth living. Why does he make such strong, unequivocal statement? Socrates believed that the purpose of human life was personal and spiritual growth. We are unable to grow toward greater understanding of our true nature unless we take the time to examine and reflect upon our life. As another philosopher, Santayana, observed, “He who does not remember the past is condemned to repeat it.”
Disclaimer for nitpickers: We take pride in being incomplete, incorrect, inconsistent, and unfair. We do all of them deliberately