sin

On anger

“Our fourth struggle is against the demon of anger. We must, with God’s help, eradicate his deadly poison from the depths of our souls. So long as he dwells in our hearts and blinds the eyes of the heart with his sombre disorders, we can neither discriminate what is for our good, nor achieve spiritual knowledge, nor fulfill our good intentions, nor participate in true life: and our intellect will remain impervious to the contemplation of the true, divine light; for it is written, ‘For my eye is troubled because of anger’ (Ps. 6:7. LXX).”

St John Cassian
THE DEMON OF ANGER

The evil of anger for St John Cassian is that it blinds our souls and cuts us off from true life. ‘Anger is a desire for revenge.’ [CCC no. 2302] That is, it is to desire destruction or harm upon someone or something in response to a perceived injury received. It therefore blinds our souls because we see the other as evil/as an enemy, when in truth and in God’s eyes they are fundamentally good and beloved. It cuts us off from true life because we set ourselves against God’s beloved, and therefore against God Himself. Experience confirms that anger destroys reason and opposes prayer, without fail. I am sure we have all experienced “seeing red” and doing something we shouldn’t have.

Righteous anger?

“Listen to what St Paul enjoins: ‘Rid yourselves of all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamour, evil speaking and all malice’ (Eph. 4:31). In saying ‘all’ he leaves no excuse for regarding any anger as necessary or reasonable. If you want to correct your brother when he is doing wrong or to punish him, you must try to keep yourself calm; otherwise you yourself may catch the sickness you are seeking to cure and you may find that the words of the Gospel now apply to you: ‘Physician, heal yourself’ (Luke 4:23), or ‘Why do you look at the speck of dust in your brother’s eye, and not notice the rafter in your own eye?’ (Matt. 7:3).”

St John Cassian

St John is unequivocal: the only place for anger is against our own sins. However, the idea of righteous anger goes back at least to St Thomas Aquinas, and so deserves respectful consideration. What does St Thomas say, and can we reconcile the two saints?

“It is unlawful to desire vengeance considered as evil to the man who is to be punished, but it is praiseworthy to desire vengeance as a corrective of vice and for the good of justice”

ST II-II, Q. 158, art.1, reply obj.3

The difference between St Thomas and St John is just that St Thomas is willing to call this anger and St John is not. This desire for justice, for restitution and correction of vice, is utterly different to the desire for vengeance upon an enemy, to the point where we need another word for it. Righteous anger is as different to anger as chaste sexual desires are to lust.

The point I would like to emphasise here is, that we ought to keep calm even when we must correct or confront a brother. We may feel outrage over the transgression, but we must be calm and contain ourselves, and insist upon viewing our brother as a brother, and if we must confront a brother we must do so in charity.

The purpose of anger

“Our incensive power can be used in a way that is according to nature only when turned against our own impassioned or self-indulgent thoughts. This is what the Prophet teaches us when he says: ‘Be angry, and do not sin’ (Ps. 4:4. LXX) – that is, be angry with your own passions and with your malicious thoughts, and do not sin by carrying out their suggestions. What follows clearly confirms this interpretation: ‘As you lie in bed, repent of what you say in your heart’ (Ps. 4:4. LXX) – that is, when malicious thoughts enter your heart, expel them with anger, and then turn to compunction and repentance as if your soul were resting in a bed of stillness.”

St John Cassian

Our incensive power, our internal power of destruction, is of itself good, and is to be placed at God’s service. The issue is that we think our friends (our fellow creatures) are our enemies, and that our enemies (our vices and sins) are our friends. We must study the passions and learn to know and fight our true enemies.

We shouldn’t be kind or gentle on our vices or malicious thoughts. We should expel them with anger. We should dash their heads against the rock, that is, Christ. We must be patient with ourselves, but absolutely merciless with vice.

This brings us back to the question of righteous anger. This anger against our own sins is certainly righteous anger, and I would argue that righteous anger in the larger sense is actually the same thing, only within a community rather than an individual. That is why it belongs especially to those in positions of authority.

It is right for a community to have anger at its own injustices and sins, and so to root them out and purify itself. But it must never be a matter of seeking revenge against others. It must be an act of love for the community as a whole as well as for each of its members, desiring to free us all, and it must be as part of the community. But again, and I must emphasise this, it must be done out of love, and be consistent with love; if it is not, then you are in danger of judgment (Mt 5:22).

How to conquer anger

“The final cure for this sickness is to realize that we must not become angry for any reason whatsoever, whether just or unjust.”

St John Cassian

Anger will always pretend to be justified. Always. No one is ever angry without feeling they have a right to be.

But you do not have a right to be angry, ever. How do I know? Because Jesus Christ Himself, when mocked, slandered, tortured and executed unjustly, did not respond in anger.

If, therefore, you continually recall this with all your heart, the passion of bitterness, anger and wrath will not master you. For when the foundations constructed of the passion of pride are sapped through this recalling of Christ’s humiliation, the whole perverse edifice of anger, wrath and resentment automatically collapses. For can anyone keep perpetually in mind the humiliation that the Divinity of the only-begotten Son accepted for our sake, and all the sufferings that we have mentioned, and yet be so hard and stony-hearted as not to be shattered, humbled and filled with remorse? Will he not willingly become dust and ashes, trampled underfoot by all men?

St Mark the Ascetic

God bless you!

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!

What is happiness?

I had the shocking realisation a while back, that I didn’t know how to define happiness in a satisfactory way. I know that I have been happy, but what does that mean?

Is it having my desires fulfilled? Yes, but no… It has to be about more than my own will, or it is arbitrary, and I cannot be truly satisfied by something arbitrary. Is it feeling like smiling? Yes, but no… Happiness must be something more than its outward expression.

I looked it up in the dictionary, but was sorely disappointed. Finally, I have concluded that happiness is the (subjective) experience of (objective) goodness. I feel silly it took me days to work out.

This raises the question, what is goodness? I think the only decent answer to this is, that all things that are, are good, and “goodness and being are really the same, and differ only in idea” [Summa Theologica I, Q5, Art1]. (Goodness is being considered under the aspect of desire, and resides in things in so far as they are perfect, since we desire things as far as they are perfect.)

We either define goodness in terms of happiness, in which case both will be empty, and we will be miserable, or define happiness in terms of goodness, and find true happiness beyond ourselves.

So happiness is the experience of goodness, or even, the experience of being itself. Put this way, it seems absurd to ever not be happy. Why are we unhappy sometimes? Firstly, because we fail to experience. We hollow out reality, objectifying it, seeing everyone and everything only in terms of our own fears and desires, rather than loving each person/thing in themselves. We live in an illusion, and separate ourselves from reality. This is sin.

Secondly, we experience imperfection, the absence of goodness, and the brokenness of creation. Things are not as they were meant to be; we are not as we are meant to be. All things are good, but all are broken goods.

But by His life and death and resurrection Jesus Christ has overcome all unhappiness. He united Himself to us and to all in perfect love, giving Himself to us upon the Cross, suffering all of our sins, and offering us in His love to the Father. Then by that same love, that same offering, He defeated death, and rose from the grave, resurrecting all creation with Him. He has given us the absolute fulness of life. If we allow Him to love us, to unite Himself to us, we are set free from sin, and suffering itself becomes a way to unite ourselves with Jesus, uniting Himself to all and offering all to God. Evil itself has been turned to good. Jesus has won us perfect happiness.

We have access to true, divine happiness even now through Jesus, and will one day enjoy God’s own absolute, perfect happiness. By His cross and resurrection, He has set us free!

God bless you, and (sorry it’s late) happy Easter!

P.S. This wasn’t intended to be a Christian/Easter post, but it seems I can’t help myself

P.P.S. I find it strange it took me so long to find what happiness is, and wonder if it reflects how much I’ve absorbed a culture of meaninglessness…

The Gospel in the Altar Rail

The altar rail separates the congregation from the Sanctuary, symbolising our sin, separating us from Heaven and from God. The holy place is on that side, and we’re stuck on this side, able to look but not enter.

But the altar rail also stands for Christ Himself, who for our sake became sin. As the altar rail stands in the middle, as both sanctuary and nave, and the meeting point between them, so Christ, in becoming our sin, has made it the meeting point of heaven and earth.

And it’s at this meeting point that we come, right to the threshold of Heaven, to kneel down, receive God Himself into us, and take Him out into the world.

God bless you!

God loves sinners

God loves sinners.

I think this is a lot easier to accept when the sinner in question isn’t myself. When I’m the sinner, I find it impossible to accept that God really loves me, and can’t help hiding from God and trying to earn my way back into His good graces. Which I also know I can’t do.

Basically, God has to batter me down with His tenderness, to accept His merciful love. It’s impossible for me, but not for Him. The most I can do is ask Him to do this.

When we sin, we are in a state of sin, and live by the logic of sin, which is entirely incapable of understanding God’s grace and mercy. We think God is like us, judging and measuring up and seeking to exploit his friends and crush his enemies. Like Adam and Eve, we hide from God, because love doesn’t make sense to us.

Somehow God breaks through. I am put in His presence, and His merciful love breaks me down. In fact, it crucifies me. The heart of stone is shattered, and I’m set free, made alive again.

But it’s not about becoming “righteous”… In fact, I think that when I’m no longer the sinner that’s being crucified by His merciful love, I’m back in the logic of sin, and will soon commit a sin that makes that clear. Christian holiness is God’s own life in an unworthy sinner, and once we’re “worthy”, we’ve kicked Him out.

Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Amen

The prodigal son smells

After taking and squandering his inheritance early, his new homeland was struck with famine, and he ended up working with pigs. And in fact, he was treated worse than the pigs.

So, when he comes to his senses and returns to his father, he is very dirty and very smelly. When his father sees him in the distance, he sees first of all just a man covered in pigs muck. Then he recognises him as his son, and everything else becomes secondary.

He runs out to him, and doesn’t think twice about clasping him tight and tenderly kissing him, despite inevitably getting smelly, unclean pigs muck on himself. He takes on his sons filth, and embraces him in it. And his tears, borne of long sorrow and fresh joy, begin to cleanse the son.

And then he orders the best robe to be brought out and put on him. He is clothed in his father’s righteousness, dignity, and glory. He is his father’s son, and all the father has belongs to the son.

No doubt he will be washed first. To put on the father’s robe, he will first be stripped and washed. His shame will be removed, to make way for his glory, that is the glory of his father.

The transformation is striking, from penniless wanderer, reeking of pig, to honoured, celebrated, dignified son. He is a new creation.
God bless you!

We’re forgiven before we ask

‘Then Jesus said, ‘There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.” So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and travelled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.’” So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” And they began to celebrate.’ [Luke 15:11-24]

prodigalson

Did you notice, that the father actually ignores his son completely? He doesn’t hear a word he’s saying. He doesn’t even let him finish, but starts talking to his slaves.

The father forgives his son, when the son hasn’t even dared to ask forgiveness. And it couldn’t be any other way. We couldn’t ask forgiveness, if we were not already forgiven. We have no right to ask forgiveness, nothing to appeal to. Except that the Father loves us, and rushes out to embrace and forgive us. His grace always comes first.

An excellent prayer of repentance: Say, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” And then feel the Father put his arms around you and kiss you, tears of joy running down His face.

God bless you