Sunday, September 30, 2012

A Hard Lesson to Learn

Suppose there is a guy -- or let's suppose that it is you -- who engages in a certain activity, a certain practice. And this practice provides him with a measure of comfort and a degree of happiness. Life appears to be much better for him, much easier for him, because of this practice. Conversely, were he to stop this practice, and thereby lose out on those resulting benefits, he believes that life would be much harder. Thus, for fear of losing those benefits of comfort and happiness, he continues the practice.

Now let us suppose that the activity or practice that he engages in is morally wrong. Perhaps this wrongful activity or practice is economic or sexual or perhaps it involves perpetuating a lie about this or that. In any event, despite gaining certain advantages and benefits from engaging in it, it is wrong, it is sinful. Or maybe the practice is not sinful at all, but it is not the right path for him in life, it is not the life that God intends for him and the practice is keeping him from that right path.

What to do? What to do? With respect to the former case, he knows that what he is doing is wrong, but he fears losing the things that he gains from it. The benefits he gets are not themselves wrong -- some comfort in life, some economic or emotional security, and the peace of mind that goes with having these things -- but the means to those good ends are bad. He is otherwise a good and decent fellow, and he sincerely does want to be good and do good, but he also believes that he needs these goods things and were they to be taken away, so he believes, he would despair, he would be lost. Augustine was at a similar point in his life -- knowing what was right, wanting to do right, but enjoying the benefits of the wrong he was doing -- when he famously exclaimed, "God grant me chastity . . . but not yet."

Likewise, with respect to the latter case, where the practice is not sinful, just wrong in the sense that it is not what God intends for him, he continues the practice because of the benefits that he enjoys. He really has not put much thought into whether it is the right path in life, into what he might be called to, what his particular vocation is at that point, he only knows that the activity provides him with some comfort, happiness, and security, all of which he would not want to lose.

The Gospel reading for today has Jesus counseling,
"If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut if off. It is better for you to enter into life crippled than with two feet to be thrown into Gehenna. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. Better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna, where 'their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched." (Mk 9:43-48)
It is a hard lesson to learn, and harder to implement. But we need to let go of that wrongful practice, we need to detach ourselves from those sinful deeds, and those non-sinful deeds that are keeping us from our proper path, no matter how much we might enjoy them or even depend upon them.

And if we do not let go of that practice or activity voluntarily ourselves, perhaps God in His providence and mercy might intervene and take it away Himself. Although we might be alarmed at the loss, to have what we think is a necessity snatched away from us, we should be thankful to God for doing us the favor. He did what we knew should be done but did not have the will to do ourselves.

It may not be easy at first, it may cause our anxiety level to skyrocket. But rather than bemoan the loss of the bad, whether we let go voluntarily, or He takes it away involuntarily, we should seek the grace of understanding the lesson of the pruning of the branches, the lesson of the lilies of the field, the beatitude of being poor in spirit, of putting our lives in His hands and trusting that He will replace those ill-gotten gains with something better. We need to trust that after closing the bad door, He will open a good door for us; new opportunities will present themselves, opportunities for obtaining good by doing good, rather than by doing wrong. What we thought was our misfortune may instead be our salvation.

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