Monday, 1 January 2018

The Catholic Church Alone. The One True Church of Christ. Part 247.


Not unfrequently the gratification of man's inordinate desires, so far from satisfying him, only creates other more violent passions, as we learn from the example of Amnon, the wicked son of David, who could neither eat nor rest because of his love for Thamar; but he no sooner obtained possession of her than he hated her even more intensely than he had loved her. (Cf. 2Kg. 13:1-16). Such is the condition of all who are enslaved by this vice. They cease to be masters of themselves; it allows them no rest; they can neither think nor speak of anything else; it fills their dreams at night; and nothing, not even the fear of God, the interests of their souls, the loss of their honor, or life itself, can turn them from their course or break the guilty chains which bind them. Consider also the jealousy and suspicions with which they are tormented, and the dangers of body and soul which they willingly risk for these base pleasures. Was there ever a master who exercised such cruelty towards a slave as this tyrant inflicts upon the heart of his victims? Hence we read that "wine and women make wise men fall off." (Ecclus. 19:2). Most fitly are these two passions classed together, for the vice of impurity renders a man as little master of himself, and unfits him for the duties of life, as completely as if robbed of the use of his senses by wine. The great Latin poet admirably paints the power of this passion in the example of Dido, Queen of Carthage. She no sooner falls in love with Æneas than she abandons the care of public affairs; the walls and fortifications of the city are left unfinished; public works are suspended; the youth are no longer exercised in the noble profession of arms; the harbors are left defenceless, and the city unprotected. Enslaved by this tyrannical passion, Dido is unfitted for the duties of her position; all the powers of her great genius are concentrated upon the object of her love. Oh! Fatal passion! Oh! Pestilential vice, destroying families and overthrowing kingdoms! It is the poison of souls, the death of genius, the folly of old age, the madness of youth, and the bane of mankind. But this is not the only vice which reduces man to slavery. Study one who is a victim to pride or ambition, and see how eagerly he grasps at honors, how he makes them the end of all his actions. His house, his servants, his table, his dress, his gait, his bearing, his principles are all fashioned to excite the applause of the world; his words and actions are but baits to win admiration. If we wonder at the folly of the Emperor Domitian, armed with a bodkin and spending his leisure in the pursuit of flies, how much more astonishing and pitiable it is to see a man devote not only his leisure but a lifetime to the pursuit of worldly vanities which cannot but end in smoke! Behold how he enslaves himself! He cannot do his own will; he cannot dress to please himself; he cannot go where he chooses; nay, many times he dares not enter a church or converse with virtuous souls, lest his master, the world, should ridicule him. To satisfy his ambition he imposes upon himself innumerable privations; he lives above his income; he squanders his means; he robs his children of their inheritance, and leaves them only the burden of his debts and the evil example of his follies. What punishment is more fitting for such madness than that which we are told a certain king inflicted upon an ambitious man, whom he condemned to be executed by having smoke poured into his nostrils till he expired, saying to the unhappy victim that as he had lived for smoke, so it was fit that he should die by smoke? What shall we say of the avaricious man whose money is his master and his god? Is it not in this idol that he finds his comfort and his glory? Is it not the end of all his labors, the object of his hopes? For it does he hesitate to neglect body and soul, to deny himself the necessities of life? Is he restrained even by the fear of God? Can such a man be said to be master of his treasures? On the contrary, is he not their slave as completely as if he were created for his money, and not his money for him? Can there be a more terrible slavery? We call a man a captive who is placed in prison and bound with chains, but his bondage does not equal that of a man whose soul is the slave of an inordinate affection. Such a man vainly thinks himself free, but no power of his soul enjoys true liberty; his free will, weakened by sin, is the only possession which remains to him. It matters little what fetters bind man, if the nobler part of his soul be captive. Nor does the fact that he has voluntarily assumed these chains make his bondage less real or less ignominious. The sweetness of a poison by no means diminishes its fatal effects. A man who is the slave of a passion is unceasingly tormented by desires which he cannot satisfy and will not curb. So strong is the bondage of the unhappy victim that when he endeavors to regain his liberty he meets with such resistance that frequently he despairs of succeeding and returns to his chains. If these miserable captives were held by one chain only, there would be more hope of their deliverance. But how numerous are the fetters which bind them! Man is subject to many necessities, each of which excites some desire; therefore, the greater the number of our inordinate desires, the more numerous our chains. This bondage is stronger in some than in others: there are men of such tenacious disposition that it is only with difficulty they reject what has once taken possession of their imaginations. Others are of a melancholy temperament and cling with gloomy obstinacy to their desires. Many are so narrow-minded that the most insignificant object cannot escape their covetousness. This accords with the saying of Seneca, that to small souls trifles assume vast proportions. Others, again, are naturally vehement in all their desires; this is generally the character of women, who, as a philosopher observes, must either love or hate, for it is difficult for them to observe a just medium. If the misery of serving one arbitrary master be so great, what must be the suffering of the unhappy man who is enslaved by as many masters as there are ungoverned affections in his heart? If the dignity of man depend upon his reason and free will, what can there be more fatal to this dignity than passion, which obscures the reason and enslaves the will? Without these powers he descends to the level of the brute. From this miserable slavery the Son of God has delivered us. By the superabundant grace of God we have been redeemed; by the sacrifice of the cross we have been purchased. Hence the Apostle tells us that "our old man [our sensual appetite] is crucified with Christ." (Rom. 6:6). By the merits of His crucifixion, we have been strengthened to subdue and crucify our enemies, inflicting upon them the suffering which they caused us to endure, and reducing to slavery the tyrants whom we formerly served. Thus do we verify the words of Isaias: "They shall make them captives that had taken them, and shall subdue their oppressors." (Is. 14:2). Before the reign of grace, the flesh ruled the spirit and made it the slave of the most depraved desires. But strengthened by grace, the spirit rules the flesh and makes it the docile instrument of the noblest deeds. We find a forcible illustration of this defeat of the power of darkness and the triumph of truth in the example of King Adonibezec, whom the children of Israel put to death after cutting off his fingers and toes. In the midst of his suffering the unhappy king exclaimed, "Seventy kings having their fingers and their toes cut off, gathered up the leavings of the meat under my table; as I have done, so God hath requitted me." (Jud. 1:7). This cruel tyrant is a figure of the prince of this world, who has disabled the children of God by robbing them of the use of their noblest faculties, .thus rendering them powerless to do any good. They being reduced to so helpless a condition, he throws to them, from the store of his vile pleasures, what are fitly called crumbs, for the gratifications which sin brings are never able to satisfy the appetites of the wicked. See, then, that even of the brutal pleasures for which they bargained with Satan, their cruel master will not give them sufficient. Christ came and by His Passion overcame this enemy and compelled him to endure the same sufferings which he had inflicted on others. He cut off his members-that is, He deprived him of his power and bound him hand and foot. Adonibezec, the Holy Scriptures tell us, suffered death in Jerusalem. In the same city Our Saviour died to destroy the tyrant sin. It was after this great Sacrifice that men learned to conquer the world, the flesh, and the devil. Strengthened by the grace which Christ has purchased for us, neither the pleasures of the world nor the power of Satan can force them to commit a mortal sin. You will ask, perhaps, what is the source of this liberty and the glorious victory which it enables us to gain. After God, its source is grace, which, by means of the virtues it nourishes in us, subdues our passions and compels them to submit to the empire of reason. Certain men are said to charm serpents to such a degree that, without injuring them or lessening their venom, the snakes are rendered perfectly harmless. In like manner, grace so charms our passions-the venomous reptiles of the flesh – that, though they continue to exist in our nature, they can no longer harm us or infect us with their poison. St. Paul expresses this truth with great clearness. After speaking at some length of the tyranny of our sensual appetites, he concludes with the memorable words, "Unhappy man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" And he answers, "The grace of God by Jesus Christ our Lord." (Rom. 7: 24,25). The body of death here mentioned by St. Paul is not the natural death of the body which all must undergo, but "the body of sin" (Rom. 6:6) – our sensual appetites, the fruitful source of all our miseries. These are the tyrants from which the grace of God delivers us. A second source of this liberty is the joy of a good conscience and the spiritual consolations experienced by the just. These so satisfy man's thirst for happiness that he can easily resist the grosser pleasures of the flesh. Having found the fountain of all happiness, he desires no other pleasures. As Our Saviour Himself declared: Whoever will drink of the water that He will give him shall thirst no more. (Cf. Jn. 4:13).