Monday, April 14, 2014

Lenten Reflections on Our Duty to Separate from Occasions & Dangers of Sinning

First Prelude

Composition of Place – Imagine you see yourself in this world as in the midst of a great field with traps laid everywhere in it, like the vision seen by St. Anthony; or, as St. Bernard says, with robbers lying in ambush who wish to rob us of our rich treasures of grace and virtue.

Second Prelude

Prayer of Petition – My Lord Jesus Christ, give me the wings of a dove so that I may fly and quickly escape the dangers of sin and take refuge in Thy Most Holy Wounds.

First Point

My soul, you must consider how important it is to shun the occasions of sin and to know this for the following reasons: One maxim agreed among philosophers is this: Remove the cause and you remove its effect. Thus, with fire put out, the heat is gone. If the spring dries up, the stream stops flowing. If the cause is not removed, in vain are efforts to stop the effect. When a wise and experienced physician wants to cure a sickness, he tries to find the cause that produced it and remove the cause; otherwise he would be wasting his time. So too, a man who is trying to correct himself would spend his time in vain, if he does not remove the occasions and dangers of sin. Moreover, in the spiritual warfare against vice, and in particular against impurity, he who is the most careful to flee, conquers more gloriously. God Himself declares that “…He that loveth danger shall perish in it…” (Ecclus. 3:27); “He that toucheth pitch, shall be defiled with it,” (Ecclus. 13:1); and he who touches fire will feel its burning. Thus one who voluntarily puts himself in a proximate occasion, sins already, and he remains defiled and stained; for he loves the danger, and by that fact perishes in it. The occasion makes the thief, according to the proverb, and it is so true, as experience has shown concerning many people who, not having any intention of sinning, the occasion in which they found themselves hurled them down, as they did not know how to flee, like chaste Joseph (Gen. 39:12), nor cry out, like chaste Susanna (Dan. 13:24)* [Joseph, “leaving the garment in her hand, fled” from his master’s wife. Susanna, approached by the wicked elders, “cried out with a loud voice.”]

Affective Acts

(1) Repentance – O my God, now I know that if I have sinned, it has been because I did not flee, as Joseph did, nor cry out, as did chaste Susanna. Alas! I have been not only neglectful, but I have been rash, like Sampson, David, and Solomon, who fell because they put themselves in the occasion of sin.

(2) Resolution – O Lord, I resolve to sin no more, and to achieve this I will separate myself from the dangers and occasions of falling into sin. I will be mindful of that maxim of St. Philip Neri, which says, “In the warfare of sensuality, the cowards who flee are the winners.”

Second Point

Consider, my soul, that our chief enemy, Satan, never stops laying traps, as he seeks every chance that presents itself to carry out his aim. He makes people incautious when they frequently go about with persons of the other sex. At the outset he sees to it that their association is upright. Then he proceeds to mix in some silly behavior, then he keeps going further until finally they fall miserably into sin. The same happens to them as happens to the moth which hovers about the flame, singes its wings, and falls to its doom. Ah, how many souls were once chaste, but because they proceeded like the moth to the flame of that danger, the flame of that occasion, they were singed, were burned, and perished forever! Oh, how many of both sexes have miserably fallen because repeatedly they frequented dances, theaters, and engaged in love affairs and the like! The same thing happens to many as happens to a pitcher of cold water which, when placed next to a fire, proceed imperceptibly to receive heat until finally it comes to a boil and boils over. Many begin friendships and courtships, go out to certain entertainments without the least precaution, and little by little, almost without knowing how, they find themselves caught by passion, in which they simmer and boil over. Just as there is no more effective remedy for stopping the pitcher from overflowing and cooling it down, than to move it away from the fire, likewise the most effective remedy is keeping away from dangers and occasions of sin.

Affective Acts

(1) Fear – Alas! I am alarmed about myself. I am astonished that I have not sinned more, considering the danger in which I have been. I find myself like one who has been asleep, and upon awaking discovers he is on the edge of a cliff, or notices that he has at his side a poisonous snake. Oh, what fear seizes him! How promptly he moves away!

(2) Resolution – I will move away from sin and the occasions of sin as from the sight of a serpent. “Flee from sins as from the face of a serpent,” says Ecclus. (21:2-4), “for if thou comest near them, they will take hold of thee. The teeth thereof are the teeth of a lion, killing the souls of men. All iniquity is like a two-edged sword…”

I do not wish to do as Eve did, who, being idle and engaging in conversation with the serpent, fell miserably into sin. I will strive to be always worthily occupied and stay away from all occasions of offending my Lord and God.

Third Point

Consider the means you must resort to in order to not put yourself in danger of sinning. The first will be to reflect that you have at your side your guardian angel who, like a protector and guide, counsels you with the words of the psalm: “Turn away from evil and do good: seek after peace and pursue it.” (Psalm 33:15).

The second will be that if anything in the course of time becomes an occasion of sin, leave it, or uproot it and cast it far from you, as your Master and Redeemer teaches you and commands you. Even if it be something as necessary as the eyes of your face, uproot it; though it be a person as useful to you as your hands and feet, cut it away and put it far from you (Mt. 5:29-30).

The third means will be the holy fear of God. God truly sees you. God hears you. God perceives all your thoughts and inclinations. This God Who watches you, Who hears you and Who knows all things, has power not only to take the life from your body, but He also has power to cast body and soul into hell. Thus He is One you must fear, as He teaches you in the holy Gospel (Mt. 10:28)

Get away from dangers and occasions of sin not only because of the holy fear of God, but also understand that you are being wise; as the Holy Ghost declares that the fool is over-daring and over-confident and therefore falls; while the wise man walks with fear and thus escapes evil. (A wise man feareth and declineth from evil: the fool leapeth over and is confident.” Prov. 14:16). Indeed, one who puts himself in danger shows his foolishness. He lets you see that he does not know himself; for if he knew himself and that he is so fragile, and more so than glassware, that he is more flammable than gunpowder, he would not proceed as he does to put himself in danger of offending God. Gunpowder is not ignited by itself. All the harm comes from without; so that if glass or gunpowder is well protected, even if quite fragile or flammable, it lasts for ages. But a man, in addition to facing external hazards, has internal ones which he cannot so easily avoid, but which makes him all the more obliged to avoid external danger. Ah, Christian soul! Is it true that you do not know that you live in a body which breeds a destructive element and that in that body is the root of your ruin! Oh, if you were wise, how surely you would save your soul! Oh, if you knew yourself, how surely you would move away from danger! Fear God, and you will be wise; fear God, and you will be saved.

Affective Acts

(1) Prayer of Petition – Lord, grant that I may know what I am and what Thou art…Ah, if I knew myself I surely would not be so overconfident in myself, nor would I put myself in occasions of sin. The soldier who knows that gunpowder easily ignites, does not proceed to turn over hot coals with a cartridge; for he knows and understands well that the powder would explode and injure him. If I knew well how easily I am excited with the fire of passion, I would not be so foolish or rash about putting myself in the occasion of sin. Oh, if I knew Thee better, and I would fear Thee with a filial fear, and thus I would never sin again.

(2) Resolution – I am resolved to separate always and promptly from the persons, places and things which I know can be an occasion of sin. If any occasions present themselves to me which would catch me by surprise and would make me fall, I will say to Thee, my God, the prayer of the Prophet, “O God, come to my assistance; O Lord, make haste to help me” (Ps. 69:2). And I will address Thee, my Jesus, as the Apostles did, “…Save us! We perish!” (Mt. 8:25). And Thee, O Most Holy Virgin, I beg and will beg, that You pray to God for me now and always and at the hour of my death. And you, O ye angels and saints, I remind you of the charges that you have from my Heavenly Father, to guard me in all my ways so that I may not fall into sin and may happily arrive at my fatherland in Heaven.

Now pray the Our Father and the Hail Mary.

(Source: The Golden Key to Heaven, An Explanation of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius by St. Anthony Mary Claret)

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