instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Monday, January 28, 2013

Finally got around to writing this post...

On Happy Catholic, Julie quotes St. Francis de Sales:
The devil takes advantage of sadness to tempt the good, striving to make them sorrowful in their virtue as he strives to make the wicked rejoice in their sins, and as he can only tempt us to evil by making it appear attractive, so he can only tempt us away from what is good by making it appear unattractive. He delights to see us sad and despondent because he is such himself for all eternity and wishes everyone to be as he is.
This is from St. Francis's Introduction to the Devout Life, which you should go read now if you haven't already, and probably re-read once a year. (Seriously, scat.)

St. Francis is talking about sloth or acedia, which isn't mere laziness but a kind of sorrow over a good. St. Gregory the Great wrote, "From melancholy there arise malice, rancour, cowardice, despair, slothfulness in fulfilling the commands, and a wandering of the mind on unlawful objects." Not a good thing at all.

St. Thomas distinguishes the capital vice of sloth from the generalized sorrow that accompanies each sinful act -- e.g., "the lustful man is sorrowful about the good of continence, and the glutton about the good of abstinence" -- this way:
...the sorrow whereby one is displeased at the spiritual good which is in each act of virtue, belongs, not to any special vice, but to every vice, but sorrow in the Divine good about which charity rejoices, belongs to a special vice, which is called sloth.
In other words, sloth is sadness over what makes the lover of God joyful. If in thinking about loving God your heart sinks instead of rises, then you are slothful.

To be clear, this sort of sadness isn't just an emotion:
...the movement of sloth is sometimes in the sensuality alone, by reason of the opposition of the flesh to the spirit...; whereas sometimes it reaches to the reason, which consents in the dislike, horror and detestation of the Divine good, on account of the flesh utterly prevailing over the spirit.On this case it is evident that sloth is a mortal sin.
If a mortal sin is a sin that destroys charity, which is the love of God in one's soul, then yes, detestation of the Divine good is a mortal sin.

Fortunately, Ezra gave us the antidote: "Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the LORD must be your strength!"

That's not to be glib; obviously rejoicing in something prevents you from sorrowing in that same thing. But if you believe that rejoicing in the LORD must be your strength, then you'll put in the work needed to rejoice in the LORD. That work might be as simple as praying, "Lord, make me rejoice in You," throughout the day. Or maybe there's some studying to be done, to better understand what it is about God that produces joy in the heart of the one who loves Him, or what it is about loving God that is attractive (the world, the flesh, and the devil have pretty much filled us in on the unattractive parts).

Any bad habit -- of sloth, say, or of malice, rancor, cowardice, despair, slothfulness in fulfilling the commands, or a wandering of the mind on unlawful objects -- is best uprooted by planting a good habit in its place, and planting a new habit takes time and discipline. Really, though, isn't the habit of joy worth a little time and discipline?


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The trouble with mankind

The fall of man is generally recognized as a Bad Thing, felix culpa-type chatter notwithstanding.

The index of the Catechism lists the following under "consequences of original sin":
  • difficulty in knowing God, 37
  • harmony destroyed, 400
  • invasion of evil, 401
  • loss of the grace of original holiness, 399
  • in man's history, 402-06, 1250, 1607, 1609, 1707, 2259, 2515
  • whole world held in the power of the evil one, 409
Particularly suggestive is how many times mention is made of the consequences "in man's history." In this man's history, certainly, mention could be made hourly.

The though occurs that one consequence, which makes most of the other consequences worse, is that we humans don't know what we're for any more. Rocks, squirrels, photons -- they may groaneth and travaileth in pain, even till now, but they do it for the end for which they were created. We, on the other hand, have to work it out as we go along.
It make for a hard-to-read Venn diagram, and it makes for a lot of mistakes. If, for example, we had lost the grace of original holiness but still knew we were supposed to be holy, then we'd at least be pointed in the right direction; as it is, though, it's like we're all getting off at a strange train station and trying to find the taxi stand based on where everyone else is heading.

One mistake that seems particularly besetting these days is to think that having to figure out your own end means getting to figure out your own end -- that is, that whatever end you settle on for yourself is good and proper.

And of course, when you get the end wrong -- as you will, if you think you get to figure it out and you are a fallen human being -- you get most of the means wrong, too.


Saturday, January 12, 2013

A Benn Diagram


Tuesday, January 08, 2013

"No. That was a dog."

A tale of a drone strike:
With seven seconds left to go, there was no one to be seen on the ground. Bryant could still have diverted the missile at that point. Then it was down to three seconds. Bryant felt as if he had to count each individual pixel on the monitor. Suddenly a child walked around the corner, he says. Bryant saw a flash on the screen: the explosion. Parts of the building collapsed. The child had disappeared. Bryant had a sick feeling in his stomach. "Did we just kill a kid?" he asked the man sitting next to him.
"Yeah, I guess that was a kid," the pilot replied.
"Was that a kid?" they wrote into a chat window on the monitor.
Then, someone they didn't know answered, someone sitting in a military command center somewhere in the world who had observed their attack. "No. That was a dog," the person wrote.
The use of drones in war dehumanizes people? What on earth are you talking about?

Overhead, overhead,
Have you heard? No, mum's the word overhead -
But the Yanks are bombing,
The Yanks are bombing,
The drones rum-tumming
So prepare, say a prayer,
Send the word, send the word to beware.
We'll be overhead, we're coming overhead,
And we won't come back till it's over

(Link via Mark Shea.)


Sunday, January 06, 2013

Lesson for the catechist

At this morning's RCIA class, a catechist said something along the lines of, "When I pray that God will make someone else change, He usually changes me."

It occurred to me that this is what we should expect to happen when we pray for someone else, regardless of what we specifically ask of God. Praying for someone is an act of love, and every act of love changes you.

I can think of two reasons praying for someone else wouldn't change you:
  1. You already love them perfectly.
  2. Your prayer isn't an act of love.
And, well, the conclusions speak for themselves.