Friday, 9 September 2016

The Paths of Goodness part 7.

Some Helpful Thoughts on Spiritual Progress BY REV. EDWARD F. GARESCHE, SJ.
Abraham Bloemaert (Dutch, 1566-1651). 'Parable of the Wheat and the Tares,' 1624. oil on canvas. Walters Art Museum (37.2505): Gift of the Dr. Francis D. Murnaghan Fund, 1973.
THE names of the seven deadly sins are most familiar to all of us who have learned our catechism, and at one time or another we have seriously considered how far the faults that lead up to them or accompany them are to be found in our own character. Pride, covetousness, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth. Here are the roots and sources of those transgressions that from the beginning have dishonoured and ruined our human nature and spoiled the image of God in us. And we know full well, if we know ourselves at all, that the evil inclinations, the sudden temptations and perverse longings of our hearts will betray us into one or into all of those deadly sins unless we watch over and check the lower part of our nature.
"I am a man, and nothing that is human is altogether foreign to me," sings the old Latin poet, and the groaning multitudes of men re-echo his words throughout the ages, struggling under the burden of their common temptations. The roots of sin, the tinder of temptation, are in every human heart, and it has been well said that the difference between a rogue and an honest man is not that the one has temptations, the other none, but that the one has temptations and yields, the other has temptations and resists them. In one form or another temptation and the inclination to sin is present in every human experience. There is no one who may not from time to time profitably go over the list of the seven deadly sins and consider how far the ugly tendencies of which they are the last evil flower and the final and horrible fruit are present in his soul, so as to take precautions and scotch the wicked shoots before they grow rank and bear their fruit of woe.
It is a maxim in the spiritual life that no one becomes very wicked all of a sudden. By slow degrees, sometimes almost imperceptibly, bad inclinations grow and ripen in the soul, and the sudden occasion, the temptation that breaks down the last barrier to sin and shows the wickedness that has been slowly ripening, is no more the whole cause of the sin, than is the last hot day that heats the festering swamp and brings the poisonous flower to bloom, the whole cause of its poison, which has been slowly ripening for many days.
Therefore, if we are careful to discipline ourselves in little things and repress and gain control of the bad inclinations of our nature and our character, we shall be safe, in God's merciful providence, from the gross and horrible deeds which we associate with the names of the seven deadly sins. On the other hand, if we are careless about watching over the wicked tendencies in our human nature which show themselves in their grossest form in these deadly sins, we shall inevitably fall into many venial offenses, which soil the soul and weaken its power of resisting temptation. So that it is a practice approved by the old masters of the spiritual life, and recommended in the great book of the Spiritual Exercises, sometimes to examine ourselves on the seven deadly sins—not so much to discover whether we have committed any gross offenses, but to see how far the vices from which they spring are gaining root in our soul.
But there is a queer difference in the attitude which even good persons have toward the several deadly sins. De la Rochfoucauld says somewhere among his brilliant epigrams against human nature: "One finds a great many people who bewail their bad memory, but very few who complain about their poor intellect." So also one finds many good people who admit quite freely, to themselves at least, that they are somewhat inclined to pride, for example, for that seems rather a lofty vice—though it is the head of them all and overthrew Lucifer—^but who would not for the world suspect, even in their own most private consideration, that they are somewhat victims of gluttony, envy or sloth. In the old-fashioned spiritual works these vices came in for a round share of warning and blame, and the saints have been deeply troubled about the—to us—very slight and insignificant traces of these bad things which they found in their white and blameless hearts.
But modern Christians, even the devout, are inclined to take it for granted that these, and especially sloth, need give them no great trouble. For sloth is, in their half-conscious if not in their deliberate judgment, rather an old-fashioned vice and one that does not need much self-searching to root out in these stirring times. In fact, nowadays, surprisingly little is said about the vice of sloth. Some time since, in glancing over some printed outlines of discourses issued for modern preachers, we were suddenly aware that the suggested subjects for sermons proceeded quite orderly down the list of the deadly sins until they came to gluttony and sloth. Then these subjects of consideration were entirely omitted, as though for modern hearers their discussion might just as well be left out altogether.
One might think that there is less danger of sloth nowadays than at other times in the world's history because there are so many calls to action and because activity is so much the spirit of the age. Yet if one considers the nature of the vice of sloth this comfortable assurance of its rarity in our age receives a rather wicked jolt. A huge activity along some lines is unhappily quite compatible with sinful sloth in other spheres of effort. A man may be wearing himself out with effort in the things of this life and of the present, and yet be rusting away with sloth in the things of eternity.
The dictionary informs us that sloth is disinclination to exertion, laziness, habitual indolence. The word was derived, so students tell us, from "slow," and slowth or sloth is a slowness and disinclination to bestir oneself when there is question of some duty to be done or some task to be accomplished. This slowness, indulged and humored when there is question of a duty binding under serious obligation, becomes a deadly sin; yielded to in the case of lesser duties it has a lesser guilt and punishment. Only a very little knowledge of the world and of human nature is required to see that one may be exceedingly active and energetic in some sphere of exertion which appeals to his nature and inclination, and at the same time may yield to deplorable and sinful sloth so far as regards his religious duties and the work that is incumbent on him, but to which he does not feel naturally inclined.
It is of course in the spiritual life and in regard to our religious duties that sloth is most dangerous, and just here too it is most insidious in its approaches. Nature itself provides us with a set of impulses, appetites, desires, that ensure our reasonable exertions when there is question of the welfare of our body. The need to make a living, to secure food, clothing, shelter, is the most universal and powerful natural stimulus to industry in life, and it is supplemented by the other cravings of human nature, by ambition, the wish for pleasure, the desire of possessions, which overcome the natural laziness of men and set them working for the good things that they cannot otherwise come at. But, unhappily, in the spiritual life, though the incentives to exertion are incomparably greater—for we are working not for our livelihood in time but for our happiness in eternity—still the motives for exertion do not appeal so strongly to human nature, and so there is far greater danger of sloth and of neglect in spiritual matters.
And, in their various degrees, a very great number of Catholics suffer from this vice of sloth in spiritual things. Though it has gone out of fashion to speak of the deadly sin of sloth, the thing itself is much among us. Look into your own life and you will doubtless see some traces of that spiritual laziness, that disinclination to exert your mind and your body in the service of God, which is the consequence of some yielding to the vice of sloth. For the whole age, as we find it, is sunk in a vast indifference toward the concerns of eternity, and we who live in the age are likely to be tainted with its sickness. Indifferentism, the neglect of all religious practice, have grown upon our people with the growth of material prosperity and of pleasure. It needs a vivid and realizing faith, a living charity and the special help of God, which comes with prayer, to go against this current of religious lethargy and to keep up one's energetic longing and striving for the kingdom of heaven.