Sunday, April 13, 2014

Two Popes on Sin and Temptation



The temptation of the devil has three characteristics and we need to learn about them in order not to fall into the trap. What does Satan do to distance us from the path of Jesus? Firstly, his temptation begins gradually but grows and is always growing. Secondly, it grows and infects another person, it spreads to another and seeks to be part of the community. And in the end, in order to calm the soul, it justifies itself. It grows, it spreads and it justifies itself.

So said Pope Francis just the other day.

Think about this and you'll see how accurate it is.

1. The beginning of sin is an interior thing, a secret thing, a thing that we consent to in our hearts.  We conceive it and nurture it in a kind of Maculate Conception.  It "begins gradually, but grows and is always growing".
2. Sin, although it is sterile and eats itself up, does not remain an interior thing.  It spreads like a cancer.  It infects others and harms them, either by including them in the sinful act, or by damaging them with the consequences.  "It spreads to another and seeks to be part of the community."
3. And most perniciously, sin justifies itself.  I've written about this a lot on this blog.  Compared with our endless attempts to justify our sins, the sins themselves appear almost innocent.  
"It grows, it spreads and it justifies itself."

And in the midst of his Theology of the Body lectures, Bl. John Paul II speaks of sin ...

Here again are the words of Galatians: "Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like..." (5:19-21). "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control..." (5:22-23). In the Pauline doctrine, life according to the flesh is opposed to life according to the Spirit. This is not only within man, in his heart, but, as can be seen, it finds an ample and differentiated field to express itself in works. Paul speaks of the works which spring from the flesh—it could be said, from the works in which the man who lives according to the flesh is manifested. He also speaks of the fruit of the Spirit, that is of the actions, of the ways of behaving, of the virtues, in which the man who lives according to the Spirit is manifested. In the first case we are dealing with man abandoned to the threefold lust, which John said is "of the world." In the second case we have before us what we have already called the ethos of redemption.

John Paul adds a footnote to this ...

Exegetes point out that, although for Paul the concept of "fruit" is sometimes applied also to the "works of the flesh" (e.g., Rom 6:21; 7:5), yet "the fruit of the Spirit" is never called "work."
For Paul, "works" are the specific acts of man (or that in which Israel lays hope, without a reason), for which he will be answerable before God. ...
On the other hand, the term "fruit of the Spirit" emphasizes God's action in man. This "fruit" grows in him like the gift of a life whose only Author is God. Man can, at most, promote suitable conditions, in order that the fruit may grow and ripen.

Sin, then, is a kind of parody of the fruit of the Spirit.  As the good we do as Christians is the effect of God operating in us, we can see a threefold stage that evil parodies.

1. The beginning of the fruit of the Spirit is an interior thing.  It is the seed taking root in good soil and eventually bearing forth perhaps a hundredfold. (Mat. 13:8)  It is the mustard seed that grows into a plant that shelters even the birds of the air. (Mat. 13:32)  "Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how." (Mark 4:27).  Its growth is a surprising thing, but its beginnings are quiet and silent, hidden in the receptivity of our hearts.  See, for instance, every icon of the Annunciation.
2. It does not eat itself up, it feeds others (the Miracle of the Loaves); it is fertile, not sterile.  It enriches us privately, but it spreads out to others and builds families and communities.
3. It has no need to justify itself.  It is, itself, justice.   

Compare that last one with what Pope Francis said above.  "And in the end, in order to calm the soul, [temptation] justifies itself. It grows, it spreads and it justifies itself."

Note that phrase: "In order to calm the soul."  

Try as we might to justify things like "gay marriage" or Lying or any of our favorite sins, our consciences stand as witnesses against us.  Not content to bugger our neighbor, we must compel others to applaud this act.  Not content to lie when it's convenient for us, we want to rewrite the Catechism to tell us Lying is a Good Thing.  Not content to indulge our lusts, we insist that our certificate of "mature purity" is a license that makes even lusting a spiritual thing.

So what are we to do?


  • Nurture our soil and feed the life of grace within us.  Allow it to take root and bear fruit - the fruit of the Spirit.
  • Reject temptation ab initio, from the beginning, before sin has chance to take root.  If it takes root, cut it out and kill it.

2 comments:

Sebonde said...

I suggest from now on you use "same-sex marriage" instead of "gay marriage" for this reason: Using the term "gay marriage" gives the impression that your opposition to its recognition is premised upon a moral disapproval of homosexual relations. But the question of whether marriage is a sexually complementary relationship or merely a union of two persons has absolutely NOTHING to do with the question of whether homosexual relations are moral or immoral. NOTHING. The real debate over marriage is the debate over the importance of sexual difference and sexual complementarity. The debate over the morality of homosexual relations has just been one very huge and extremely disastrous distraction.

Kevin O'Brien said...

Sebonde, this is an excellent point. With all the abuse you've suffered in this debate (Sebonde is routinely excoriated as a "bigot" and worse), at least you're learning things that are helpful to us all.