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Saint Alphonsus on Maintaining Virtue Amidst Sin September 19, 2017

Posted by Tantumblogo in awesomeness, Basics, catachesis, General Catholic, Glory, Grace, Interior Life, religious, Saints, sanctity, Spiritual Warfare, the struggle for the Church, Tradition, true leadership, Virtue.
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Given the moral sewer in which we are condemned to swim in this culture, sin is something we are constantly confronted with.  It’s very easy to fall into a sharply condemnatory attitude towards those visibly lost in sin, especially when they attempt to subvert the very Truth of Jesus Christ in the furtherance of their sin.  When they do so, this hurts us, and we see the destruction the success they have in their attempt causes.  Of course, all sin must be repudiated and opposed. Of course error must be plainly pointed out and decried. But how to deal with the sinner himself has always been a more complex issue.  Another even greater danger than just writing off the sinner is exalting ourselves above those we see lost in sins that are maybe more visible or “worse” than our own.  This, according to Saint Alphonsus, is a most pernicious form of pride and one we should be wary of.  But all have sinned, and none can merit salvation outside the saving Grace of Jesus Christ.

There is much in the excerpt below some will find challenging.  Of course, this writing must be understood in context.  I am certainly not presenting this as a condemnation of anyone here.  In fact, I post it as an accusation against myself, as I am very guilty of preferring myself to others, and in holding myself in high esteem in not being the publican in the corner pounding my breast, when I should be.  Take it for what it is: some worthy catechesis from an eminent source for your consideration.

From The True Spouse of Jesus Christ pp. 314-6:

Should you ever see another commit some grievous sin, take dare not to indulge in pride, nor to be surprised at their fall; but pity their misfortune, and trembling for yourself, say with holy David: “Unless the Lord had been my helper, my soul had almost dwelt in hell” (Ps xciii:17).  If the Almighty had not been my protector, I should at this moment be buried in hell.  Beware of even taking vain complacency in the exemption from faults that you perceive in your companions [or those in the world around us?]; otherwise, in chastisement of your pride the Lord will permit you to fall into the sins which they have committed.  Cassian relates that a certain young monk, being for a long time molested by a violent temptation to impurity, sought advice and consolation from an aged father.  Instead of receiving encouragement and comfort he was loaded with reproaches.  “What!” said the old man, “is it possible that a monk should be subject to so abominable thoughts?!?” In punishment of his pride the Almighty permitted the Father to be assailed by the spirit of impurity to such a degree that he ran like a madman through the monastery.  Hearing of this miserable condition, the Abbot Appollo told him that God had permitted this temptation to punish his conduct towards the young monk, and also to teach him compassion for others in similar circumstances.  The Apostle tells us that in correcting sinners we should not treat them with contempt, lest God should permit us to be assailed by the temptation to which they yielded, and perhaps to all into the very sin which we were surprised to see them commit.  We should, before we reprove others, consider that we are as miserable and as liable to sin as our fallen brethren. [That is, fallen brethren.  This book was written specifically for religious.  Obviously in such an environment everyone should be considered of the best faith and motives.  In the world, it’s a bit different.  That does not mean we should exalt ourselves above those we believe sin.  But it does mean that the degree of confrontation and the meekness with which it is carried out can be different from the cloistered environment.] Brethren, if any man be overtaken in a fault….instruct such a one in the spirit of meekness, considering thyself lest thou also be tempted (Gal vi:1).  The same Cassian relates that a certain abbot called Machete confessed that he himself had miserably fallen into three faults, of which he had rashly judged his brethren.

Consider yourself the greatest sinner on earth.  They who are truly humble, because they are most perfectly enlightened by God, possess the most perfect knowledge not only of the Divine perfections, but also of their own miseries and sins.  Hence, notwithstanding their extraordinary sanctity, the Saints, not in the language of exaggeration, but in the sincerity of their souls, called themselves the greatest sinners in the world.  St. Francis of Assisi called himself the worst of sinners; St. Thomas of Villanova was kept in a state of continual fear and trembling by the thought of the account he was one day to render to God of his life; which, though full of virtue, appeared to him very wicked.  St. Gertrude considered it a miracle that the earth did not open under her feet and swallow her up alive, in punishment of her sins.  St. Paul, the first hermit, was in the habit of exclaiming: “Woe to me, a sinner, who am unworthy to bear the name of a  monk!” In the writings of Fr. M Avila we read of a person of great sanctity who besought the Lord to make known to her the state of her soul.  Her prayer was heard, and so deformed and abominable was the appearance of her soul, though stained only with the guilt of venial sins, that struck with horror, she cried out: “For mercy’s sake, O Lord, take away from before my eyes the representation of this monster!”

Beware, then, of every preferring yourself to any one.  To esteem yourself better than others, is abundantly sufficient to make you worse than all.  “Others,” says Tritemius, “you have despised: you have therefore become worse than others.” Again to entertain a high opinion of your own desserts, is enough to deprive you of all merit.  Humility consists principally in a sincere conviction that we deserve only reproach and chastisement.  If, by preferring yourself to others, you have abused the gifts and graces which God has conferred upon you, they will only serve for your greater condemnation at the hour of judgment.  But it is not enough to abstain from preferring yourself to any one: it is, moreover, necessary that you consider yourself the last and worst of all……First, because in yourself you see with certainty so many sins; but the sins of others you know not, and their secret virtues, which are hidden from  your eyes, may render them very dear in the sight of God.  You ought to consider also, that by the aid of the lights and graces which you have received from God you should at this moment be a Saint.  If they had been given to an infidel, he would perhaps have become a seraph, and you are still so miserable and full of defects………as St. Thomas teaches, the malice of sin increases in proportion to the ingratitude of the sinner.

———–End Excerpt———–

It is true that many Saints considered themselves the worst of sinners.  They did this not only for the reasons given above, but also because of the extraordinary sensitivity of their consciences.  We who are more dead to ourselves are also more dead to the reality of the sins we commit.  Not exactly a pleasant thought to consider, but a necessary one, and one I pray I may dwell on more and more – and that this may lead to a growth in my own sanctity, which is the point of it all, anyway!

This does not mean we should not point out sin and error when we see it, especially when sin and error are presented as virtue and truth, and even more so, when evil is presented as good within the Church herself.  But we must be careful not to exalt ourselves as above these things, nor to condemn those we see as lost in sin as somehow beneath us.  That’s a very easy trap to fall into, and one satan has probably fooled me with more than a few times.  Meekness and humility are key to the practice of virtue, correspondence with Grace, growth in the interior life, and thus, our salvation. It is precisely absence of these cornerstone virtues that paved the way – in my estimation – for the crisis that has afflicted the Church these past several decades.  It was pride and self-exaltation that caused lowly men to judge that God, and their saintly predecessors, had it all wrong for centuries, or that the Truth that made Saints of innumerable sinners over generations, somehow no longer applied to “modern man.”

What the Church needs a great heaping dose of right now, is, humility and meekness, with regard to the saving Truth of Jesus Christ.  That starts with me (but I’ll probably blow it tomorrow – God have mercy!).

Comments

1. Tim - September 20, 2017

2. Margaret Costello - September 20, 2017

Awesome post. Exactly what I needed to hear and what I consistently need to hear. Between recognizing the hurt, anger and pain that people cause by their sin to me which triggers an inner temptation to lash out, to remembering my own litany of horrible sins I have committed, to recognizing that others may have much more secret virtue than I, to admitting that others would be clear Saints by now if given the graces I have been given etc. Wonderful post:+) Thank you for this:+) God bless~

3. Baseballmom - September 20, 2017

“We who are more dead to ourselves are also more dead to the reality of the sins commit”

Amen!!!!! Lord have Mercy on me, a sinner.


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