Solidarity

It’s time to talk about racism.

Racism sucks. It’s absolutely unequivocally evil, and thinking about it makes me extremely angry. It also makes me painfully sad.

The tragic fact of the matter is that people are regularly killed for the colour of their skin. George Floyd is the latest name, but he is anything but alone in suffering this injustice. There is deep rooted cultural and systematic racism at work, and it needs to be tackled head on.

I wish that George Floyd’s death was shocking because it was unprecedented. I wish that this was an American problem and not a global problem. I wish that racism wasn’t real.

I am mixed race and have experienced racism, but, thank God, not to the level others I know have. A stranger at a train station shouted in my ear as he walked past “I think they should let all the jihadis in!” It’s fine that he thought I’m Muslim, but that he would call me a terrorist, that he would hate and fear me, fills me with rage years later. Don’t believe anyone who says Islamophobia isn’t racism. There have been other minor incidents too, but I’ll leave them.

When the police kill an innocent man, there must be a great cry of righteous indignation from all of society. If there is not, then your nation is already dead. When injustice doesn’t make you angry, you are no longer alive. Only Jesus can save you, resurrecting your anger. There is an anger which is holy, and this is it.

So we choose to join those crying out for justice. We choose to weep with those that weep. It’s our issue, because they’re our people, because all people are our people. ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ We are one society, and your problems are mine, and my problems are yours.

So get angry and go, do what you can. Join a protest, raise your voice, educate yourself, see if there’s any hint of racism in yourself and root it out, donate to a charity that’s fighting the fight, call out prejudice, pray to God. Do what you can. Right now, this is what love looks like.

God bless you πŸ™πŸ½

On Lust

“The inordinate craving for, or indulgence of, the carnal pleasure which is experienced in the human organs of generation.” – the Catholic Encyclopedia

What is so terrible about lust? Lust reduces something which was made for connection and creating new life, into a sterile, lifeless pleasure, devoid of all meaning. We are left with an empty shell of sexuality. It is a pleasure separated from the real good it corresponds to, and so it is a mere illusion, and produces only the illusion of happiness, an experience only skin deep. Seeking after pleasure for its own sake hollows out a person, as they live for images and not for reality.

It also generally involves reducing another person to an object of our own pleasure, and not regarding them in their full humanity. It thus hollows out the lustful person, and their image of the other also, so that the humanity and reality of both is denied. I should note however, that there are degrees of lust, and they dehumanize to different levels.

Lust is extremely powerful, because it feeds off of our most powerful natural desire – to love and to be loved, and to have children conceived out of that love – and because it is so much cheaper to satisfy lust than the real desire. Chaste love is heroic, putting oneself on the line, taking risks and making sacrifices; lust is lazy, cowardly, and stingy, refusing risk, vulnerability, and gift, in order to ultimately remain alone.

How do we fight lust? Fighting gluttony is an important part, as mentioned in my previous post On Gluttony, and fasting in particular is recommended. St John Cassian adds:

‘Bodily fasting alone is not enough to bring about perfect self-restraint and true purity; it must be accompanied by contrition of heart, intense prayer to God, frequent meditation on the Scriptures, toil and manual labour. These are able to check the restless impulses of the soul and to recall it from its shameful fantasies. Humility of soul helps more than everything else, however, and without it no one can overcome unchastity or any other sin. In the first place, then, we must take the utmost care to guard the heart from base thoughts, for, according to the Lord, ‘out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, unchastity’ and so on (Matt. 15:19).’

St John Cassian, ‘On the Eight Vices’ (emphasis mine)

I would add, avoid the near occasion of sin, e.g. don’t go to a nude beach if you struggle with lust. I don’t think this was such an issue for the monks St John was writing for though.

‘If we are really eager, as the Apostle puts it, to ‘struggle lawfully’ and to ‘be crowned’ (2 Tim. 2:5) for overcoming the impure spirit of unchastity, we should not trust in our own strength and ascetic practice, but in the help of our Master, God. No one ceases to be attacked by this demon until he truly believes that he will be healed and reach the heights of purity not through his own effort and labour, but through the aid and protection of God. For such a victory is beyond man’s natural powers. Indeed, he who has trampled down the pleasures and provocations of the flesh is in a certain sense outside the body. Thus, no one can soar to this high and heavenly prize of holiness on his own wings and learn to imitate the angels, unless the grace of God leads him upwards from this earthly mire.’

Only God can deliver us from this demon. Only grace can grant to our nature its wholeness, and restore us to reality. Only the supernatural desire can overcome our most powerful natural desire, and order it to our good rather than our destruction.

God bless you.

P.S. Writing about vices is easier than writing about virtues, because virtues are living and vices are dead. Slavery can be summarised neatly, but to know freedom it must be lived. Chastity is so much more than a lack of lust, but it cannot adequately be spoken of. The best I can do for now is provide the above image.

After sin

I’ve decided that, following on from my post, On Gluttony, I’ll try to write something for each of the seven deadly sins. But before I go on talking about sin, I thought it best to first say something about mercy.

In the event of committing a sin, I think the majority of us a) hide ourselves from God in shame, and then b) attempt to justify ourselves with excuses. Both of these are a denial of God’s mercy and a refusal to repent, and must be avoided like the plague. You can see both approaches in the account of Adam and Eve after the fall:

And when they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in paradise at the afternoon air, Adam and his wife hid themselves from the face of the Lord God, amidst the trees of paradise. And the Lord God called Adam, and said to him: Where art thou? And he said: I heard thy voice in paradise; and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself. And he said to him: And who hath told thee that thou wast naked, but that thou hast eaten of the tree whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldst not eat? And Adam said: The woman, whom thou gavest me to be my companion, gave me of the tree, and I did eat.

Genesis 3:8-12 (DR)

Note that Adam was not hiding his sin, but his nakedness. We become afraid for God to see us as we are and so we hide ourselves from Him, avoiding His presence in our conscience, in silence, and in prayer. We hide ‘amidst the trees of paradise’, distracting ourselves with the various pleasures of creation. Then when He finally finds us, we hide again, this time behind excuses and the sins of others. We are afraid to let God see us naked, because we think He won’t like what He sees.

How can this fear which keeps us separated from God be overcome? I will tell you: He Himself overcomes our shame by getting naked first. At Jesus’s birth and upon the cross, in His incarnation and His death, He gives Himself to the world completely naked, withholding nothing, revealing the deepest depths of Himself. We can reveal ourselves to God, we can trust Him with ourselves, because He has given Himself entirely to us in perfect love, He has placed Himself into our hands. He has said, ‘I am yours’, or rather, ‘This is my body, which is given for you.

So if and when we next sin we must not hide, but without hesitation turn directly to God, ask for His mercy (I recommend saying an Act of Contrition), and trust Him to provide it. There is no use in hiding from God, attempting to justify or save or punish yourself. You will never escape God’s judgment except by surrendering yourself to His mercy. As St Therese of Lisieux wrote:

‘For those who love Him, and after each fault come to ask pardon by throwing themselves into His arms, Jesus trembles with joy.’

God bless you!

The beauty of Mary

She was beautiful, even most beautiful, as Richard of St. Victor asserts, and also St. George of Nicomedia, and St. Dionysius the Areopagite, who, as many believe, once had the happiness of enjoying the sight of her beauty, and said that if faith had not taught him that she was a creature, he should have adored her as God. And the Lord himself revealed to St. Bridget, that the beauty of his mother surpassed the beauty of all men and angels, allowing the saint to hear him say to Mary: β€œThy beauty exceeds that of all the angels, and of all creatures.” She was most beautiful, I repeat, but without injury to those who looked upon her, for her beauty put to flight impure emotions, and suggested even pure thoughts, as St. Ambrose attests: So great grace had she, that she not only preserved her own virginity, but also conferred a remarkable gift of purity on those who beheld her.

-St Alphonsus de Liguori, The Glories of Mary

On gluttony

What is gluttony? According to its Catholic Encyclopedia entry, gluttony is ‘the excessive indulgence in food and drink. The moral deformity discernible in this vice lies in its defiance of the order postulated by reason, which prescribes necessity as the measure of indulgence in eating and drinking.’ It is also one of the seven deadly sins/cardinal vices, and yet it seems to be widely forgotten today.

‘Food is to be taken in so far as it supports our life, but not to the extent of enslaving us to the impulses of desire.’ (St John Cassian) Food was made to nourish us as its primary purpose, and to deny it this is to twist it out of its own nature, and into something that is both harmful and wasteful.

What’s more, gluttony subverts the created order in which the mind rules over the body, managing its needs and desires, and lets the body and its desires instead rule the mind. It attaches us to bodily/earthly realities, and so prevents us from rising to spiritual/celestial realities.

Gluttony also feeds the next cardinal vice, lust. This vice we hear about all the time. St John Cassian said, ‘No one whose stomach is full can fight mentally against the demon of unchastity.’ Indulgence spills out to indulgence. First the flesh demands its basic good and pleasure of food, and then it goes on to its higher good and pleasure of sex.

According to St Thomas, there are five ways to be gluttonous: too soon, too expensively, too much, too eagerly, too daintily. While growing obesity levels are visible and concerning, gluttony is much more than getting fat, and likely affects most people in the western world. Being excessively fussy is itself a form of gluttony.

So how should we oppose this vice? St John Cassian: ‘A clear rule for self-control handed down by the Fathers is this: stop eating while still hungry and do not continue until you are satisfied.‘ I’m not sure how hungry/unsatisfied this requires, but at least try to leave some room (and not just for dessert!).

Speaking of dessert, I won’t say anything against that, nor against enjoying life generally. But we do need to learn moderation, and eat with the end of nourishment in mind. Food should absolutely be enjoyed as a gift from God, but we have to watch not to abuse it.

God bless πŸ™

Am I wasting my life?

(tl;dr: Yes, definitely)

The other day I had to delete a couple of games from my phone because I realised they were a) addictive b) taking too much of my time and c) not even very fun. So yes, I definitely tend towards wasting my time and therefore my life.

Then there’s the time I spend watching TV. Multiple hours each day in front of the box. That can’t be good. And then there’s all of the things I do and then regret.

I like to imagine that when we die, God shows us all of the stats for our earthly lives, like you can see on a video game. Things like jokes told, total time spent on mobile (excluding phone calls), friends made, friends lost, total time spent in prayer, total money donated to charity, biggest expense, total time helping others, total time laughing, total steps taken, total carbon footprint, time dominated by gluttony/lust/envy/greed/wrath/pride/sloth, total apples eaten, etc. etc., and with breakdowns for all the data over time. But I don’t think my stats would look very good.

I also like to imagine we get to see a highlights reel showing all of our best and worst moments. I’m not sure I’ll like watching my highlights reel either actually… Too much bad and not enough good.

I’m glad to say that we’re not judged on the basis of these stats or highlights, and don’t have to reach certain thresholds to enter heaven (although they maybe give a rough idea of purgatory time). But I don’t want to die and realise I wasted my life. Or even just a portion of my life.

Why did God make you? A. God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next. [From the Baltimore Catechism]

So what am I going to do about it?

  1. Delete any apps that waste my time
  2. Use the daily examen prayer to make sure I use my time/energy/life right each day
  3. Commit more time to prayer
  4. Watch less TV

God bless

‘The Lord will fight for you, and you must be silent’

Those who still fear the war against the passions and dread the assaults of invisible enemies must keep silent in their struggle for virtue they must not enter into disputes with their enemies but through prayer must entrust all anxiety about themselves to God. To them apply the words of Exodus: ‘The Lord will fight for you, and you must be silent’ (Exod. 14:14). Those, secondly, who have been released from the enemy’s attacks and who genuinely seek instruction in the ways of acquiring the virtues, need only to keep the ear of their mind open. To them Scripture says, ‘Hear Israel’ (Deut. 6:4). Thirdly, those who as a result of their purification ardently long for divine knowledge may commune with God freely. To them it will be said, ‘What is it that you are calling to Me?’ (Exod. 14:15. LXX). Thus, he who is commanded to keep silent because of his fear should seek refuge in God; he who is commanded to listen should be ready to obey the commandments; and he who pursues spiritual knowledge should call ceaselessly to God, beseeching Him for deliverance from evil and thanking Him for communion in His blessings.’

[St Maximus the Confessor, ‘Two Hundred Texts on Theology and the Incarnate Dispensation of the Son of God’, no. 30]

I will look at just the first point, because I know I’m not one of those who have been released from the enemy’s attacks, so this is probably the most important for myself.

Many spiritual writers have written about how, in the battle against sin, we must not trust in ourselves at all but trust entirely in God, and never argue with the devils that are tempting us. In fact, some say that we fall precisely because we begin to trust in ourselves, and so God allows us to fall so that we will learn to distrust ourselves and trust in Him.

Through prayer we must entrust all anxiety about ourselves to God. The truth is that we are not strong enough in ourselves, but He is more than strong enough. It is absurdity for us to try to be self sufficient, self supporting, self made, when God desires to be our all. We should entrust all to Him, and let Him take care of us, especially in the spiritual battle.

We have to learn to let go. We have to learn how to fight by not fighting. We have to learn silence. We have to learn to trust in God alone, and not in our learning or our trusting or our virtue or our strength or our systems. Trust in God alone.

Saints are not people who have mastered themselves or their own lives, they are people who entrust all anxiety about themselves to God.

God bless you