Monday, February 12, 2018
Fr. Eduardo Barrios, SJ
The liturgical season of Lent will begin in a couple of days, February 14. The Gospel for Ash Wednesday (Mt 6:1-6; 16-18) encourages us to increase our prayer, almsgiving and fasting.When parishioners prepare to live this penitential season, they wonder what they will abstain from. Some decide to avoid alcoholic beverages; others consider refraining from chocolate or sweets in general; and there are many who promise to fast from so much television, movies and shows.
All this is fine, but the fasting that pleases God the most is that we refrain from sin as much as possible. The truth is that we cannot always avoid sin. Ecclesiastes states that “there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins” (7,20). An old proverb also says that “for though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again” (Prov 24,16). The New Testament also reveals that sinfulness defines us: “If we say, ‘We are without sin,’ we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 Jn 1,8).
Even if we do not achieve it completely, we must fight temptation, that is, not fall into sin. The first step is to recognize our sinful condition: “If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing” (1 Jn 1, 9). We should overcome the arrogance of believing ourselves blameless, because “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4,6).We could think of sin from the perspective of idolatry. You can summarize the idols under at least four verbs:
I. The idol of HAVING. We have the tendency for the disordered possession of creatures that satisfy our material needs. We seek to cement our security in money or things we value. Ecclesiastes warns us: “The covetous are never satisfied with money” (5,9). St. Paul says the same with even stronger words: “The love of money is the root of all evils” (1 Tim 6,10).
Against that idol, Jesus preached evangelical poverty, a virtue that both laity and those consecrated by vows must live, although in different ways. Let us be detached and supportive. Against greed, generosity.
II. The idol of PLEASURE. Let it be clear that pleasures belong to the order of divine creation. They are not bad in themselves, but they can lead us to hedonism or the worship of pleasure. Pleasures outside time, place and moderation can become addictive. There are at least three pleasures that lend themselves to disorder:
- Rest is a pleasure that God gives us, but it can degenerate into laziness. We can fall into the extreme of living with our arms crossed, or as the Italians say, in “il dolce far niente” (the sweet do nothing). Sins of omission fit here; out of laziness, we do not do to others the good that we are obliged to do to them. So, against laziness, diligence.
- There is nothing more necessary and pleasing than eating and drinking. However, the excess in quantity or in refinement is known as gluttony. We must control the appetite when we sit at the table. Saint Paul rebukes those who turn the stomach into a god (cf. Phil 3,18). Against gluttony, temperance.
- Venereal pleasure also comes from the will of the Creator: “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body” (Gen 2:24). But if that pleasure is sought outside the context of marriage, it falls into lust. The god Eros is much worshipped nowadays.
Against lust, chastity, a virtue for all. Chastity has its marital expression in the faithful monogamous relationship. Continence is asked from the single person. There are also Christians perpetually consecrated to continence through religious vow or promise of celibacy. Regarding the latter, many people wonder if perpetual abstinence is difficult. The answer is that it is easy if one lives permanently out of spousal love for God and his people; consecrated chastity perfectly lived is paradise on earth. But chastity is difficult if lived intermittently, with ups and downs; imperfect chastity leads to the loss of a healthy self-esteem, weakens apostolic dynamism, and can open the door to shameful scandals.
III. The idol of POWER. There are those who like to impose themselves on others. They want to have the last word. They also want honors and homage paid to them. Jesus frequently lambasted the Pharisees for their haughtiness. Of course, in every organized society there must be people invested with authority. Someone has to be in charge, but must do so in the spirit of service. The Lord said that he had not come “to be served, but to serve” (Mk 10:45).
IV. The idol of KNOWLEDGE. The mind seeks to know. As Kempis says: “Every man naturally desires knowledge; but what good is knowledge without fear of God? Indeed a humble rustic who serves God is better than a proud intellectual who neglects his soul to study the course of the stars” (Book I, Chapter 2).
In times of an overabundance of information and knowledge, we must exercise selectivity to decide what we should know and what to ignore. Each one, according to his profession or employment, must cultivate certain knowledge and leave aside what is useless. Vain science exists, and knowing for the sake of simple curiosity or vanity. Qoheleth warns us: “Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!” (Eccl 1,2).
We must guard against these and many other idols, but especially during this holy season of Lent. Let us be encouraged by the categorical answer of Jesus to the tempter: “Get away, Satan! It is written: ‘The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.’” (Mt 4,10).