Friday, November 30, 2007

One of My Favorite Quotes by a Pope

I am barely into Spe Salvi yet, but I just have to share this.

"Jesus was not Spartacus" (Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi, 4).

Spe Salvi

Don't forget to read the pope's new encyclical, Spe Salvi

Saturday, November 24, 2007

A Week's Meditation on Hope

Sunday - John 11:17-27

Monday - Matthew 10:24-33

Tuesday - John 6:35-59

Wednesday - John 14:1-6

Thursday - Luke 24:45-53

Friday - Luke 21:5-19

Saturday - Luke 21:20-36

We rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God...and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:2, 5)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Bible Verses on Chastity and Purity AND Advice on Overcoming Struggles with Impurity

Prayerfully reading and meditating upon passages from Scripture transforms our hearts and minds, "for the word of God is living and active, sharper than a two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (Heb 4:12). When unclean or base desires habitually reside in our hearts, the word of God exposes them, and helps, through our own active response to the grace of God, to pry them out, replacing the vices of the flesh with the virtues of the Spirit. Moreover, God's word purifies: "You are already made clean by the word which I have spoken to you" (John 15:3). Continual reflection upon passages which illustrate certain virtues helps us to assimilate those particular virtues into our lives, proving ourselves to be among "those who, hearing the word, hold fast to it in an honest and good heart, and bring forth fruit with patience" (Lk 8:15). This is the principle behind all the weekly meditations on certain virtues and truths of the faith which I have posted lately - that, in identifying the virtues which we need to particularly emulate, or the truths of the faith which we are called to understand better, we may focus on them in a special way in Scripture (though it may definitely take longer than a week to master them).

At one point in my life few years back I was personally making a concerted effort to grow in the virtue of chastity. At that point, I made an effort to look for passages and verses on the virtue in Scripture. As I have become much more familiar with Bible throughout the past few years, I have now developed a list of verses and passages on chastity and purity I wish I had then. A reader recently asked me for such a list, and I have developed one which I think is worth posting. Here it is. You may click on listed citations to see what the verses say.

Following the verses below is some advice on overcoming struggles of impurity.

Here is some advice on overcoming struggles with impurity.

First of all, I highly recommend the Confraternity of Angelic Warfare, a centuries-old spiritual brother- and sisterhood established for those seeking to grow in chastity and sexual purity.  The members use the confraternity's prayers and devotional practices to help themselves and one another grow in purity.  The confraternity emphasizes Christ's role as Victor and the potential of our sharing in his victory, especially over impurity.  Here is their website:

Anyone can practice the prayers and other devotional practices of the confraternity.  A baptized Catholic can enroll as an official member.

Here is some other advice:

The Problem with the "Problem"

Be careful in telling yourself you have a "struggle" or "problem" which to an extent is involuntary, psychological, or unconscious. This is not to say such problems don't exist. Unfortunately, those who have suffered from sexual abuse come to unconsciously believe ideas about themselves related to shame about what has happened to them, resulting in deep-seated misconceptions or woundedness with regard to their sexual identity and/or inordinate ways in how they relate to others. Professional psychological counseling, preferably from a Christian viewpoint, is what is needed for such problems. I say, from a Christian viewpoint, because some psychology today would recommend that some embrace sexual identity which is a result of shame and misconstrued self-perception. That is not too helpful, is it?

Usually, however, when we engage in impure behavior, in thought or deed, it's because we want to, on one or two levels. On one level, we may be wanting to fulfill the impure desire itself, "getting off", as it were. However, on another level, we may be wanting to because have come to believe the idea that we have a "problem" and we want to perpetuate this idea for ourselves, as it is easier for us to tell ourselves we have a "problem" or "struggle", and that is why we habitually commit such acts, instead of working at overcoming the habit, which means giving up the occasional fulfillment of an impure sexual desire. It is also easier to tell ourselves we have some sort of involuntary problem then to overcome the beliefs we have come to accept about ourselves as such problems have persisted: such beliefs that we may never overcome the problem or that it is an insurmountable part of ourselves. Although it would be nice to overcome such false self-perception, it is hard to do so, and it is unfortunately easier to stay in the rut of believing we have no control over our actions and will likely never overcome them, and act accordingly.

Furthermore, accepting that we commit such acts because we want to can be difficult when impure behavior concerns disordered sexual attraction, as we are embarrassed with ourselves that we would consciously entertain such attraction.

But admitting we commit acts of impurity because we want to is a crucial step in overcoming the real problem: the habit of willfully committing acts of impurity. Upon admitting to ourselves that we want to commit such acts, either to fulfill lust or perpetuate false beliefs about ourselves, we can then relievingly believe we do have control over them, and then, with the grace of God, through whom all things are possible, obediently submit ourselves to his holy will in faith and trust.

Deeper Analysis

I will break down these same ideas further:

On the one hand, it is easier to tell ourselves that we have some sort of"problem" or are undergoing a "struggle". This reduces our culpability: it's the "struggle's" fault, not mine. We can also be embarrassed with ourselves that we would commit such acts willfully. In such a case, telling ourselves we are undergoing a "struggle" helps us believe that we really don't want to commit such acts.

But on the other hand, telling ourselves we have a problem perpetuates the problem itself on multiple levels. First, when we believe that there is an element of the problem which makes our actions involuntary, we are conceding to that extent that we have no control over our behavior. From the belief that we have no control over the behavior can issue forth despair and fear over the belief we will indeed never overcome our problem, which despair sets in more deeply as the conscience is anathemetized in the process of further accepting that we have no control of our behavior and thus are not responsible for it.

The belief that we have no control over our behavior also comes into play when temptations later arise. Then, when we may indeed not want to engage in the act of impurity, dreading the idea we will never overcome the habit, we commit it because we have come to believe we have no control over our actions, and are going to do it anyway; believing we have no control then makes it so. This is when one may undergo the sense that one is undergoing a sort of out-of-body experience: watching oneself as one commits an act while not really feeling the desire to do so.

Fear that one has no control over one's actions in such case then builds on the fear of the occasion of temptation itself. Fear of temptation then inordinately rises to the level of an obsession. And, why shouldn't one constantly fear temptation if one does not have control over one's behavior? Obsession over the temptation itself then may create a cycle of creating more temptations for oneself, increasing the likelihood of temptation as one's mind is constantly on the subject.

The fear, despair, false self-perception, and obsession described are textbook examples of what some would call "strongholds" of the Enemy. The devil takes advantage of such strongholds and even subtly helps build them up. We need to remember that he is "a liar and father of lies" and has been a "murderer from the beginning" (Jn. 8:44). Indeed, if he would have his way, he would murder our souls along with the eternal happiness God wills for us.

On a Brighter Side

Pray for light and self-knowledge from Christ, who is the Light of the World. When one fesses up to oneself and to God that they are continuing a sinful habit because of willingness to do so, the illusion that one has no control over one's behavior gets its legs knocked out from under it. The self-deception is no longer needed because one was using it to conceal the realization that one wanted to and was responsible for his actions. If one is trying no longer to conceal the willingness to commit such actions - but expose them - then the self-deception loses its usefulness. Humble recognition before God of the rebellion of one's will is the first step toward healing the weakness of one's will which resulted from false perceptions that one had no control over one's actions.

Realization that one commits certain acts out of willingness to do so also bears hope. One then knows what one needs to do: work on growing in chastity. The hope in realizing what one needs to do then diminishes the despair which resulted from believing that one had a "problem" or "struggle" over which one had no control, and probably over which one would have no control as life progressed. The steps to purify oneself can be taken through prayer, the word of God ("You are already made clean by the word which I have spoken to you" [Jn. 15:3]), and closer communion with God in Jesus Christ.

If one is Catholic, I would also recommend taking advantage of the manifold grace waiting for us in the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Confession. Through the Eucharist we receive Christ in all his infinite grace, and our sharing in this grace increases with our greater openness to it. Besides granting the forgiveness of sins, Confession also provides grace to avoid sin in the future. Also indispensable to growing in purity would be devotion to our Blessed Mother, especially with the rosary, by which through meditation we fill our minds with the thoughts about the key events of the lives of Jesus and Mary as revealed in the Gospels.

It almost goes without saying that one needs to avoid what is called the occasion of sin. Don't put yourself in the situation in which you usually commit sin. One friend of mine, in understanding and agreement with his wife, had to cancel internet service. It is what many would consider a drastic step now (though, only a decade and a half ago, few had very usable internet service to the home), but guess what. It worked.

As we resolve to grow in purity, we consider Jesus' words to the man at the pool of Bethzatha who had been ill for 38 years: "Do you want to be healed?" (Jn.5:6) We need to will that our will be healed. And, we if sense in ourselves an unwillingness to be healed, an unhealthy comfort within the rut, we need pray for the healing of our will, and that we may want to grow. The will is also trained by fasting and making small acts of self-denial throughout the day: turning off the radio in the car, not spending as much time online, spending more time in prayer or the reading of sacred Scripture, etc.

Know that God would not call you to grow in virtue without giving the grace to do it. (And, why wouldn't God be calling us all to grow in virtue?) So, we need to trust that God will be with us on our journey toward closer union with him. Trust in God entails letting our vices go and putting matters into his hands. It is noteworthy here that chastity is a form of temperance, or self-control. With regard to being temperate in taking a new step forward toward growing in virtue, and in trusting in God to help us, it should be mentioned that some problems are better overcome by not overexerting ourselves but letting God handle them (see, for example, the parable of the wheat and weeds, Mt. 13:24-30, 34-36). Letting go of such vices, so as to put the matter into God's hands more fully, is best accomplished in such cases by not even thinking about them. Pray about it, but once you've prayed, trust that God has heard your prayer. Give the mind a rest and think about the things God wants you to have in your mind (cf. Phil. 4:8). If you need to put such things into your mind, read and prayerfully reflect upon his word, filling your mind with it; "let the word of Christ dwell in you richly" (Col. 3:16), and "be transformed by the renewal of your mind" (Rom. 12:2).

Pray for strength and grace to walk with Christ, but keep your eyes focused on him as he leads you as your Good Shepherd, and not too much on yourself, making yourself a distraction to yourself. Not even thinking about your problems is also part of trusting in God's ability to do anything he wills for you, even to heal you and put you back into the state of life he wills for you. God works in you through such faith and trust: "Your faith has made you well" (Mk. 5:34, Mk. 10:52, Lk. 17:19). He wants such trust in him and thus wants you to let go of what keeps you from coming closer to him (cf. Mk. 10:17-27). The first step in doing this is praying for the ability to do so.

Though we are sinners, God still loves us and seeks us out (see the parable of the lost sheep, Mt. 18:10-14 and Lk. 15: 3-7).  The dignity we have as a children of God depends initially on the fact that God still loves us even in our state of sin.  Part of us, content in our sin and despair, wants to swat this love of God away and sulkily tell it to leave us alone.   However, accepting the self-knowledge of ourselves as ones still loved by God helps us to see the flame of God's love in our lives.  This flame is to be set ablaze as we repent, accept his mercy, and, in the power of the Holy Spirit, grow further into our identity of God's children and more fully into the likeness of the Son of God, Jesus Christ himself (cf. Romans 8:14-17).  The idea that we are helpless creatures who have no control over our sin and who are good for nothing but the darkest pits of hell is again another lie from the father of lies.  Such a lie darkens our perception of God's love directed toward us and thus the self-perception as one loved by God.  By the light of the Holy Spirit this darkness is banished and we come to see ourselves as ones truly loved by God.  Seeing ourselves in this new light and accepting the self-dignity as God's beloved children gives God's grace a stronger foothold to bring us to run to a loving Father whose ocean of mercy washes our sins away.