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January 12, 2007

Attending to Our Faults

from Hammer and Fire
Fr. Raphael Simon, OSCO

The predominant fault crystallizes certain aspects of an ego accustomed to act for and of itself. . . . If this egocentricity is not exposed and overcome, it remains like an underground [military group], ready to join hands with the invader in the time of trial, and to betray us into the hands of our enemies, the world, the flesh and the devil. Just as an underground deserves attention in peacetime, because upon its uprooting depends the future security of the country, so the basic evil tendency of the soul, the head of the organism of sin, requires our attention (discovery and opposition) even though it is in hiding.

You know those things you go to confession week after week after week after week until you're so tired of confessing them you're tempted not to? Well, perhaps many of you have never experienced that; however, let me tell you, it sometimes seems like I should just do an Excel spreadsheet and tick off the usual suspects and turn it in.

It isn't that I don't want to do away with these sins (though on some level, I obviously don't or I would find that they would become less frequent), but they just seem to creep up on me. These sins, then, are the fruit of what Father Simon calls the predominant fault. It isn't as though I don't commit others, but I certainly do not commit some sins with the clockwork regularity of others. It is these recurrent sins that give me the clues to the particular virtues I need to cultivate to combat them.

One way to cultivate them is through the use of a gift that Father Simon described and I blogged a few days ago--self-denial--which in reality is nothing of the sort. A correspondent pointed out that we are incapable of doing anything ourselves, particularly anything good, so that self-denial, while engaged and activated by the will is a gift of God, a sort of grace, that gives us the ability to not do what we are accustomed to doing it. A grave mistake would be to consider this work, at least in the early stages, and perhaps throughout, as some sort of righteousness or good work that we effect. It is not. As I pointed out, self-denial is, in one sense the apotheosis of enlightened self-interest, because it is only in the use of this gift that we begin to see vestiges of the true self that God Himself sees.

Self-denial then, is one step, one positive thing that we can assent to, that leads us away from the predominant fault. We can recognize the pattern, recognize the root, make use of the sacraments and pray for the strength to stay away from that fault. Moreover, we would do well in addition to praying against to pray in the presence of what we seek. Looking at Jesus is probably more efficacious in the fight against sin than putting up arms against a sea of troubles. Because no matter what we think, it is not our own opposition that ends them.

Think of it in the manner you might think of correct a very young child. There are many ways to go about it, but one of the most effective is often to remove the child from the arena of the distraction that is causing harm. That is, as pray-ers, we remove ourselves from immediate concern about the temptation besetting us by focusing on Jesus--Jesus in the Garden, Jesus on the Cross, Jesus among the children--whatever image of Jesus speaks to us in the moment and removes us from the path of destruction. God will give the grace, Jesus will supply the strength and the moment. However, none of this will be efficacious if we do not first seek guidance and understanding about what is tempting us and then (with the strength of the sacraments and Grace) resolutely decide not to give in just this one time. When we do this one-time by one-time, God gradually gives us victory over the sin--often allowing us to go our own way to show just how weak we are on our own. But nevertheless, it is the repeated pattern that will give us the focus and the spirit of clinging to God that will gradually lead us away from our sins.

We can do nothing of ourselves, all is Grace, all is gift. But we can do everything through Him who strengthens each one of us.

Posted by Steven Riddle at January 12, 2007 8:26 AM

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