When historians glance back at this twentieth century, they will primarily see two things: great advances in science and great sin. At no other time has man taken such giant strides forward and backward at the same time. The perplexing aspect of this phenomenon is that it is unobserved by so many. For in our backward swing, we have gone beyond years and reached the animal levels. At the same time we have gone forward with a technology that can press a button and direct a missile thousands of miles away — send voices on laser beams and pictures on satellites.
The impact of such a forward-backward living tears apart the identity of the human nature God has given us. We resemble computers intellectually and animals emotionally. We are like children playing games, with only the fun involved as our goal. When the fun is gone, we either change games or hang our heads in a bored pout as we await the next thrill to come along.
Lethargy is another evil of our day. There are many who are not guilty of doing anything wrong, but very guilty of sins of omission, the things they neglect to do — the good things — the kind, thoughtful words, compassionate thoughts and hopeful attitudes they might have had towards their neighbor. This promotes a lack of zeal for the Church and God’s Kingdom. At first sight one might think this is not important, but it is. Without this inner power that makes us care — makes us indefatigable in our efforts to change, strong in our Christian principles, our faith, and our morals — we are open and vulnerable to every kind of worldly temptation, false doctrine, and evil desire. We are like “reeds shaken by the wind” (Matt. 11:7), without purpose, goal, or zeal.
St. Paul draws a graphic picture of what happens when we let ourselves go on in this listless and aimless fashion.
“They knew God and yet refused to honor him as God or to thank him; instead they made nonsense out of logic and their empty minds were darkened. The more they called themselves philosophers, the more stupid they grew” (Rom. 1:21). The consequences of spiritual inertia are tragic and St. Paul saw these results just as we do today. “God left them,” he told the Romans, “to their filthy practices . . . degrading passions, monstrous behavior . . . stupid in all sorts of depravity, greed, envy, malice, men turning from natural intercourse to being consumed with passion for each other, libelers, rebellious to parents and enterprising in sin” (Rom. 1:26-32).
This letter of Paul reads like today’s newspaper. Times have not changed, but they should have. Human beings still insist on living on the degrading level of uncontrolled passions and vice, but God desires to do now as He did then, and that is to inspire Christians to go against the trends of the day and be virtuous.
Today’s man of the world proclaims that sin, and his enterprising in sin, are a part of modern living, but it is not modern. It goes back to Adam and Eve: to desire and the temptation to know, to experience evil. The problem with this old deception is that the knowledge of evil blots out the desire for good. Evil slowly enwraps the soul with the fine silk threads of self-indulgence. As each thread takes hold, it is only a matter of time before the soul is deaf, dumb, and blind to virtue, goodness, and God. It is then that the rest of Paul’s letter becomes a reality, for they are “without brains, honor, love, or pity.”
Man can and does rationalize his sins. He finds reasons for all his weakness, invents excuses that first calm and then deaden his conscience. He blames God, society, education, and environment for his wrongdoing. If his conscience manages to survive this barrage of reasoning, he then allows himself the broad excuse of modern living — new concepts of morality and intellectual superiority over those who lived before him. This latter type of excuse deals the final death-blow to his conscience. The acceptance of sin by the majority leads the soul into limitless realms of self-indulgence, for human respect, imperfect motive though it be, is pushed aside by human acceptance. All the weaknesses that were once controlled by prayer and God’s grace, plow through the soul like a tornado in an empty field, swirling round and round, rooting up the flowers of virtue, the fruit of hard work and the soil of goodness. The soul becomes a maze of wrecked dreams, twisted goals, and crushed ambitions. It is now that the soul finally becomes enslaved by uncontrolled passions, and the dark silence of despair falls upon it.
“When self-indulgence is at work,” Paul wrote to the Galatians, “the results are obvious: fornication, gross indecency and sexual irresponsibility; idolatry and sorcery; feuds and wrangling, jealousy, bad temper and quarrels; disagreements, factions, envy, drunkenness, orgies and similar things” (Gal. 5:19-21). Here we see human nature at its worst, giving in to every inclination for pleasure. We do not often think of disagreements, factions, bad temper, quarrels, and jealousy as a self-indulgent weakness, but when we look more closely we find selfishness as the basis for these sins. We become conceited, self-opinionated, self-willed, domineering. These put emphasis and values on the gratification of our own feelings, reasoning, and will; the three faculties of the soul become completely engrossed within themselves, leaving God and neighbor outside. What is the remedy for such a condition of heart and soul? Is it possible in this world of self-indulgence to take a stand against the general trend? Yes, Jesus came for this very purpose. The Spirit He sent us and the grace He merited for us can give us the courage and strength to withstand the world and all its enticements.
St. Paul, as he spoke to the Colossians about their impurity, greed, and evil desires said, “This is the way in which you used to live when you were surrounded by people doing the same thing, but now, you, of all people, must give up these things: getting angry, being bad tempered, spitefulness, abusive language and dirty talk. . . .You have stripped off your old behavior with your old self, and you have put on a new self which will progress towards knowledge the more it is renewed in the image of its Creator” (Col. 3:7-10).
How great is the mercy of God. He not only hounds us to repent, but gives us a whole new creation within our souls. Such a change does repentance spark, that the soul grows into a clear image of its Creator; from a life of misery, hopelessness, slavery, and guilt, to one of joy, trust, freedom, and self-control. Darkness gives way to light, passion to virtue, sadness to joy.
We are well aware of the effect of evil upon our souls. Perhaps we need to meditate on the necessity of goodness, so we may choose the right course and fulfill the purpose of our creation.
A Clean Memory — Purity of Heart
The faculty of the soul that we call Memory is the one most worked upon by the world, the flesh, and the devil. The Memory is like a computer — it stores everything that passes through the five senses. It takes these impressions and enhances them by the imagination and the results can be tragic if we are not discerning. Jesus told His disciples, “It is from within, from men’s hearts, that evil intentions emerge: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, indecency, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within and make a man unclean” (Mark 7:20-23).
As children of God it is our happy privilege to radiate the goodness of our Father. This necessitates the obligation of seeing that nothing enters the faculty made to His image that in any way mars or distorts that image.
Our Memory must be compassionate towards those who have hurt us so we harbor no resentments, free of any recollection that makes us lose our self-control. Like an empty jar, it can only feed back what we in turn have fed it. Our Christian principles and the following of Jesus will fill this faculty with good things — forgiving thoughts, compassionate understanding, and purity of heart. Hope will replace despair, and joy, sadness. The fresh air of God’s grace will replace the sickening stench of evil as the garbage of bad thoughts disintegrates before the fire of His Love.
A Clean Intellect — Purity of Mind
Whatever we feed our Memory is absorbed by our Intellect. Reason separates, divides, analyzes, forms opinions and makes decisions. It is here we arrive at a set of values and priorities. If we permit ourselves to live on a Memory level only, then our values drop almost to the “instinct” level or we set our goals on values that are passing, unimportant, or imaginary. We see everything on a selfish level, judge everything only by its effect on us, work only for our own good and have little or no regard for our neighbor. Cruelty, disobedience, and rudeness take possession of a faculty that was given to us by God to raise us above every other animal. As a result, man can do things that animals without reason would never do.
Jesus came that we might live on a higher level — the level of Faith. He became man and suffered from the cruelty of other men so we would rise above this world and follow in His footsteps. He wants us to live, not by the things we see, but by the things we do not see. He told us that His Father was our Father; His Spirit lives in our souls. His Love is preparing a place for us in His Father’s House.
We need not fear trials, suffering, poverty, or pain, for He had them all and overcame them. He gave us Beatitudes to live by and these principles rise above our human reason. He told us that the “poor in spirit would possess a kingdom,” while human reason says they possess nothing. He said the “gentle inherit the earth,” but reason says they lose it and only the violent possess the earth. He promised that those who “mourn for their sins would be comforted,” but reason says there is no use crying over the past. Those who thirst for holiness would be satisfied, He told the Apostles, but human reason says it is better to seek worldly gain in the here and now.
The “merciful” were promised mercy and the “pure of heart” the sight of God, but human reason says you can carry forgiveness too far and purity is a virtue of the past.
He held “peacemakers” in high regard, called them “sons of God,” but human reason calls them “busybodies or fools” who get involved in other people’s business.
To the world the most “unreasonable beatitude of all is the one where Jesus expects His followers to “rejoice and be glad when they are persecuted and abused for His sake for their reward would be great in heaven” (Matt 5:1-12). The world cannot accept loss as gain. It is easy to see that if we live by human reason alone we shall be bogged down by a thousand legitimate reasons for living an enslaved miserable life. It is only those glorious Beatitudes that raise us above and beyond our human reason to the freedom of sons of God.
A Clean Soul — Purity of Will
As our Memory presents us with what to choose and our Intellect discerns how and why, it is the Will that accomplishes, performs, and does. This power can say yes or no even to God. It is an awesome power, given by an Awesome God. As the Will goes, the soul goes, and that is why we see Jesus constantly directing us to the accomplishment of the Father’s Will over our own. His own life was lived only to do the Father’s Will. He called that will His “food.” He was anxious to accomplish it and told us over and over that He “only did what He saw the Father do and only said what He heard the Father say” (John 5:19; 8:28).
He promised us that if we did the Father’s holy and perfect Will, we would be like a “mother, brother and sister” to Him (Matt. 12:50). He will not force us to give Him this prized possession; He wants it from us freely and out of love. It is only the world, the flesh, and the Enemy that use force to possess our Will. To accomplish this, the world uses enticements, the flesh uses passions, and the Enemy uses deception. All of these allurements are powers that coerce and force the will of man in the direction of evil. The mind is confused and unable to see the right choice clearly. Only God permits man to choose freely, by presenting him with grace, light, and love, all of which produce the clarity of thought and mind so necessary for a wise choice. There is none of the confusion, anxiety, and frustration so present to the soul as when the will is influenced by evil.
The accomplishment of that Holy Will is not always easy; it was not so, even for Jesus. However difficult it is, we may be sure it is far less difficult than the frustration of choosing any other will. The choice of evil over good is always more painful than the momentary pain of self-control.
We were created out of Love, by Love in order to love. We are out of place and misfits when we try to be anything else than what we were created to be — good, loving, joyful, compassionate, kind, understanding, chaste, and holy, “holy as our heavenly Father is holy.”
We will grow in Hope as our Memory is filled with mercy, and we will grow in Faith as our Intellect is filled with humility. Then it is that our Will, united to His, will grow in Love, for the “virtuous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matt. 13:43).
Editor’s note: This article is from a chapter in Mother Angelica on Prayer and Living for the Kingdom, which is available from Sophia Institute Press.