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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Two thoughts on indulging ourselves

"I've earned this." "I need [read: want] a scotch." "Mmmmm. [XYZ] sounds really good right now. I think I'll have some." "I know I can't afford this, but I just have to have it." "Wow. Wouldn't that look great [fill in place where said object would look great]." "If I own this, it will say something about me."

I—probably all of us—have said all of these things to justify indulging my wants, my tastes, my passions, my desires. 

For instance, many pints of Ben & Jerry’s “Chubby Hubby” later, I know the saying, “You are what you eat,” is very, very true. Ten to fifteen more pounds, and I will be exactly 100 lbs. heavier than I was when I graduated from high school. In that time, I have not grown a fraction of an inch/centimeter taller, mind you. Clothes that were once big on me, to squeeze into them now, I must indulge in self-asphyxiation and the constricting of abdominal must muscles (my now-abominable abdominal muscles). And if you are so fortunate as to not have this problem, let me assure you how uncomfortable it is.

Has any of this indulgence—as pleasurable as it certainly was at the time—done me any good? Yes, a good glass of scotch can’t be beat. The creaminess of B&J’s ice cream of any flavor is unsurpassed. Hot sauce—particularly of the Thai variety—on any dish makes a below par dish edible and gives a delicious meal just that much more to write home about. It also makes me want to quote the title character in Oliver Twist, when he asks, “May I have more?”

All of this is true, but what good had it done me? I can’t see it.

I can see, however, is the harm it’s done me. Indeed, I can see and feel it every day.

Any ultimate good it’s done me, though, that is imperceptible. This is especially true in the spiritual realm.

I bring this up because today, I finally popped open my newest Cum Petro newsletter, which is the periodical for the Confraternity of St. Peter, the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter’s “third order,” for lack of a better descriptor.

On page 5 is piece titled, “Lenten Advice From the Saints & Servants of God,” featuring 12 sayings on various aspects of the season.

Two quotes seem to put quite nicely the problem I’m getting at above.

The first is from my honey, my dear, my love St. Rita of Cascia:

The more we indulge ourselves in soft living and pamper our bodies, the more rebellious they will become against the spirit [i.e., as in “the flesh is willing but the spirit weak”].

The other comes from that great saint of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, St. Jean Marie Vianney (“Jean” is pronounced the French way, i.e., not “jean” as in blue jeans, but as a more nasally form of our own “John”):

It is also true that we should practice mortification in many things to make reparation for our sins. There is no doubt that the person who lives without mortifying himself is someone who will never succeed in saving his soul.

Uhm, gulp. I believe what St. Jean Marie was getting at—because this is what I know from my own experience—is that the more we indulge ourselves in the good things in life, the less we practice saying, “No,” to ourselves in situations that are morally neutral, the harder it is to say no to temptation and sin and thus evil and spiritual death when we encounter those.

To wit, in my young adult years, I had several relationships with women, but two in particular bring suffice to make the point. One I’d had a crush on in college. We had met as part of our involvement with WRGC, where she was some sort of representative for Pi Beta Phi and/or her school, UCSB. She had long, dirty blond hair, sometimes died an enticing auburn,” a great body, a gorgeous smile, and lustrous, sparking, and alluring brown eyes. When we reconnected in 1994, I couldn’t believe she had an interest in me, and I was very much ready to give my heart to her (with disillusioning consequences on several levels as it turned out).

The other lady I met at a friend’s house on Halloween 1992. She was not a stunner but very pretty. Her dark brown eyes were not hard to look into for a very long time, her hairstyle, although simple, bespoke a very traditional and comfortable femininity that appealed to me, and she had a beautiful smile. It was just beautiful.

The thing I found most attractive about her, however, was her personality. Vivacious, exuberant, girlish, and she was very funny. We laughed together a lot. She was so not right for me, though. I was not right for her. That said, I miss her still. Not as a girlfriend, mind you. I have a fantastic wife, and I wouldn’t trade her for the world. But I miss this other lady’s friendship and voice and the ease with which it was possible for us to talk together.

The common thread between both relationships is that going into them, I was going to be good, by golly. I sincerely desired chastity. I valued that virtue. I understood the need to be pure, the need to love God by not loving my passions. I wanted to not offend God and to have the gift of myself be truly that to my wife on our wedding day, not some used hand-me-down.

Furthermore, my faith that the Church taught rightly in this area of morals was solidified by the philosophical reasons she had proposed in support of this teaching.

Sadly, neither lady shared these sentiments, these convictions, these beliefs. And since I indulged myself in all other ways, when they attempted to seduce me with their come-ons … let’s just say I didn’t flee at the near occasion of sin.

After a while, it became easy to overlook how much I was sinning (that whole graying of conscience St. Thomas Aquinas talks about). Also, the sex was great, making it even easier to willfully blind myself to the spiritual reality of my actions. Only when I face my particular judgment will I know just what damage it did to my soul.

In my defense, I was not a very well formed Catholic at the time, and I didn’t know the relationship between indulging one’s right passions and the ease that gives towards indulging one’s wrong passions, etc. That came about ten years later. Still, I knew what I was doing was wrong.

Again, the point is what did indulging myself give me? Yes, the sex between Halloween Lady and me was memorable. However, given that I’m now making love to the mother of my children, should I even have memories like that, especially when she and USCB woman have not part in my life today? I’m still in touch with Halloween Lady only through Facebook, and we almost never communicate. As for UCSB woman, the last I heard she had some high profile job in San Jose (for the Chamber of Commerce?), and that information came from our last conversation in 1999 or thereabouts.

In the intervening years, I have faced similar temptations, even if it was only to look at something I know I shouldn’t. If I was indulging my taste for hot sauce, fending off the desire to see “hot babes!” was made more difficult and less likely. If I was mortifying my right passions in this and other ways, walking away from the temptation didn’t take much effort.

The purpose in bringing all of this to the fore is that we’re at the fourth Sunday in Lent. Next Sunday is Palm Sunday. After that, we enter into Holy Week. That means we still have time in Lent to do some great things for the Lord, to draw closer to Him, and to lead ourselves further away from sin. We can show He is our Beloved by suffering however slightly for that love. (Lest love involves suffering to some degree—e.g., sacrifice, etc.—do not insult it by giving whatever is there that sacred name.)

In other words, even if this has been a bad Lent, if you haven’t done with it what you wanted when it started, there is still time to make it a good one. All it takes is a decision and an effort.

The choice is yours. Do you pick the way that is narrow and rough, or the road that is wide and easy and “leads to perdition”?

“I have set before you death and life. Choose life.”

God bless you. Please pray for me as I will for you.

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