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In this step, St. John writes about the struggle for chastity: "The man who decides to struggle against his flesh and to overcome it by his own efforts is fighting in vain. The truth is that unless the Lord overturns the house of the flesh and builds the house of the soul, the man wishing to overcome it has watched and fasted for nothing. Offer the Lord the weakness of your nature. Admit your incapacity and, without your knowing it, you will win for yourself the gift of chastity."


Sadly, in today's world, these words sound foreign. As a society, we have abandoned the concept of sexual virtue and purity. On our television screens and in the movie theaters, we calmly watch without reaction repeated violations of chastity. As Christians we have come to accept and tolerate attitudes and behaviors in ourselves and others that at another time would have been unthinkable. In so many ways we have lost sight of the fact that Chastity is not only precious in the eyes of God but a necessary virtue for us to obtain in our ascent to heaven. Holy Scripture makes this clear: "Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness . . . and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God" (Gal 5:19,21). For this reason, St. John calls unchastity "a sort of death within us, a sin that is catastrophic." 

What then is Chastity? St. John answers: "The chaste man is not someone with a body undefiled, but rather a person whose members are in complete subjection to the soul." One must remember that for St. John the body is both adversary and friend: adversary in as much as it has been marred by the fall, friend in as much as it remains God's creation and is called to share in the resurrection glory. For the Christian, the body is not a tomb or prison, not a piece of clothing to be worn for a time and then cast aside, but an integral part of the true self. The Christian's aim is "a body made holy." Likewise, the passions, although a consequence of the fall and therefore no true part of human nature, are merely the distortion of the natural impulses implanted by God. While repudiating the passions, we should not reject the natural God-given impulses that underlie them, but should restore to good use that which has become misdirected as a result of the fall. Our watchword should be "transfigure" not "suppress"; "educate" not "eradicate". Therefore, physical eros is not to be considered sinful, but can and should be used as a way of glorifying God. Sin is evil, but not the body and its natural impulses. In fact, physical love can be a paradigm of our longing for God. The struggle for chastity, then, begins with controlling the body's sexual desires, through prayer and spiritual discipline, and ends with their transfiguration. Having overcome the passion, we are free to be our true selves, free to love others, free to love God.
How do we fight against the spirit of unchastity? St. John speaks a great deal about the necessity of doing serious battle against "evil thoughts" - that is, thoughts provoked by demons. This also includes conceptual images such as fantasies. Through ascetical discipline and prayer we must foster watchfulness - a state of spiritual sobriety, alertness, and vigilance in which one constantly guards the heart and intellect. In our discipline we must be as relentless and cunning as the demons who tempt us. With one difference - - We must in humility recognize our weakness and absolute dependence upon God to attain this virtue.
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In this step, St. John writes about the struggle for chastity: "The man who decides to struggle against his flesh and to overcome it by his own efforts is fighting in vain. The truth is that unless the Lord overturns the house of the flesh and builds the house of the soul, the man wishing to overcome it has watched and fasted for nothing. Offer the Lord the weakness of your nature. Admit your incapacity and, without your knowing it, you will win for yourself the gift of chastity."


Sadly, in today's world, these words sound foreign. As a society, we have abandoned the concept of sexual virtue and purity. On our television screens and in the movie theaters, we calmly watch without reaction repeated violations of chastity. As Christians we have come to accept and tolerate attitudes and behaviors in ourselves and others that at another time would have been unthinkable. In so many ways we have lost sight of the fact that Chastity is not only precious in the eyes of God but a necessary virtue for us to obtain in our ascent to heaven. Holy Scripture makes this clear: "Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness . . . and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God" (Gal 5:19,21). For this reason, St. John calls unchastity "a sort of death within us, a sin that is catastrophic."

What then is Chastity? St. John answers: "The chaste man is not someone with a body undefiled, but rather a person whose members are in complete subjection to the soul." One must remember that for St. John the body is both adversary and friend: adversary in as much as it has been marred by the fall, friend in as much as it remains God's creation and is called to share in the resurrection glory. For the Christian, the body is not a tomb or prison, not a piece of clothing to be worn for a time and then cast aside, but an integral part of the true self. The Christian's aim is "a body made holy." Likewise, the passions, although a consequence of the fall and therefore no true part of human nature, are merely the distortion of the natural impulses implanted by God. While repudiating the passions, we should not reject the natural God-given impulses that underlie them, but should restore to good use that which has become misdirected as a result of the fall. Our watchword should be "transfigure" not "suppress"; "educate" not "eradicate". Therefore, physical eros is not to be considered sinful, but can and should be used as a way of glorifying God. Sin is evil, but not the body and its natural impulses. In fact, physical love can be a paradigm of our longing for God. The struggle for chastity, then, begins with controlling the body's sexual desires, through prayer and spiritual discipline, and ends with their transfiguration. Having overcome the passion, we are free to be our true selves, free to love others, free to love God.

How do we fight against the spirit of unchastity? St. John speaks a great deal about the necessity of doing serious battle against "evil thoughts" - that is, thoughts provoked by demons. This also includes conceptual images such as fantasies. Through ascetical discipline and prayer we must foster watchfulness - a state of spiritual sobriety, alertness, and vigilance in which one constantly guards the heart and intellect. In our discipline we must be as relentless and cunning as the demons who tempt us. With one difference - - We must in humility recognize our weakness and absolute dependence upon God to attain this virtue.
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We are all familiar enough with the urges of gluttony. But perhaps we have not stopped to fully consider the spiritual dangers of gluttony. This is something St. John spends a great deal of time discussing. His analysis is very helpful, for he opens up to us the interconnectedness of the spiritual life. St. John expresses the teaching of the Fathers in this way: "the belly is the cause of all human shipwreck."
Why? For two reasons: first, a gluttonous lifestyle feeds the passions which are inherent in man. Unrestrained eating habits spill over into an unrestrained lifestyle. The reason for this is clear: "Gluttony is the prince of the passions." St. John gives several examples. If you struggle with unclean thoughts, remember: "The mind of someone intemperate is filled with unclean longings." If you struggle with talking too much, remember: "The tongue flourishes where food is abundant." If you struggle with a lack of repentance, remember: "A full stomach dries up one's weeping." If you struggle with sexual sin, remember: "The man who looks after his belly and at the same time hopes to control the passion of fornication is like someone trying to put out a fire with oil." Of course, these are just a few examples of many. The point which St. John is making may be summarized as follows. The passions with which you struggle are energized by your gluttonous habits. Gluttony feeds your passions. Fasting takes away their nourishment.
The nature of the spiritual life is that all passion are interconnected. We cannot allow just one passion to be unrestrained. This is especially true of gluttony. If we are gluttonous we will be overwhelmed by other passions as well. And what is true in a negative way is also true in a positive way. If we struggle with gluttony and gain some victory, we also gain victory over our other passions.
But gluttony is not only dangerous because it unleashes our passions. The Fathers also teach that gluttony is dangerous because the demon of gluttony is the front man for other more dangerous demons. "You should remember," counsels St. John, "that frequently a demon can take up residence in your belly and keep a man from being satisfied, even after having devoured the whole of Egypt and after having drunk all of the Nile. After we have eaten, this demon goes off and sends the spirit of fornication against us, saying: `Get him now! Go after him. When his stomach is full, he will not put up much of a fight.' How seldom do we consider this when we are moved to eat. We have been taught to pamper our bodies and submit to their ever demand. Very few of us, however, question what spirit may be behind these desires. 


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FALSEHOOD

Throughout the Ladder John Climacus discusses the logical progression from one vice to another. And so it is with the vice of falsehood. It arises out of undisciplined chatter, talkativeness and foolery. Falsehood, or lying, John states, is the destroyer of charity and perjury is the denial of God himself. Thus, he tells us, we must not be fooled into thinking that lying is a minor offense. In reality, it is a sin "above all others."

The effects of one who lies are not restricted to himself, but have the consequence of leading others into sin. Through their ability to deceive, and provoke laughter in doing so, they often distract others from their spiritual pursuits and dry up their tears of contrition. Therefore, John argues that we should seek to separate ourselves from such people, or, when appropriate and helpful, to offer fraternal correction with charity.

To combat such a vice we must foster a genuine fear of the Lord and the judgement He will bring. A strong and well-formed conscience will serve us well in this task. Likewise, true compunction will aid us in this struggle. Sorrow for one's sins will destroy this vice.

ACEDIA

St. John explains "tedium of the spirit" in this way: "Tedium is a paralysis of the soul, a slackness of the mind, a neglect of religious exercises, a hostility to vows taken. It is an approval of things worldly." The word for despondency in the Greek is "akidia" and it indicates a listlessness or torpor. The best English word that could be used to explain this is the word "BOREDOM" or perhaps we could even use the word "DISTRACTION." Very often, it begins with a loss of a sense of purpose and ends in despair and spiritual death. St. John gives numerous examples which are sure to strike home to us.

In our day and age, this demon is very much at work. How often does he confuse us with the suggestion that our spiritual labors are in vain!? How often does he suggest to us that our efforts are accomplishing no good result? How often does he point out to us many others who seem to be "gaining ground" without laboring as hard as we are? How often does he suggest that we shouldn't take the spiritual life quite seriously? How often does he remind us of our failures and suggest that perhaps we are wasting our time in pursuing the spiritual life? How often does he weigh our hearts down with earthly cares and thoughts even in the midst of our prayers? How often does he encourage us to take a day off, to sleep in and skip our prayers, to take a spiritual vacation? How often does the demon of boredom confuse our thoughts so that we forget what the goal is and how we are to achieve it?

How do we battle such a powerful demon? St. John suggest two things: Perseverance in the course taken and cooperation with others who are struggling. The only way to beat boredom is to labor through it. Once we have been started on a certain path of prayer and struggle, we must keep on keeping on without allowing ourselves to be distracted. Furthermore, we beat boredom by reminding ourselves of what others have done and are doing. Tedium is rebuffed by the common life and by the constant remembrance of the lives of the saints. Knowing that we are not alone, gives us the encouragement and motivation to persevere when we feel like quitting.  

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