From the readings of this day’s Mass: “Do you not know that if you present yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?”
I think it would interesting if everyone could sit on “the other side of the screen” for the Catholic sacrament of Reconciliation; could sit where the priest sits and hear what he hears. And it is a wish not rooted in any one particular confession, one moment of sin, a moment of redemption, but rooted in what “the big picture” has to say about one part of our human condition.
“Bless me father for I have sinned. It has been (n-many) weeks since my last confession.” An experienced confessor often has the intuition that what follows is perhaps the same litany as the previous confession and the one prior to that. You might say, “Do you mind if I ask you a question?” If the penitent agrees, the confessor might ask, “So… how did this confession compare to your previous one and the one before that? About the same?” Not surprisingly the answer is basically “yes.” That shouldn’t be a surprise. We are indeed creatures of habit for good or for ill.
Often the litany of sins is a compendium of venial sins. But too often it is a list of grave sins often surrounding sins of lust, substance abuse, and sins only whispered in the quiet of the confessional. In either case, St. Paul’s message become a little clearer: being a slave to sin – or as St. Paul expresses it: obedient to sin. Granted that Paul is writing in Greek, but I find it interesting that the Latin equivalent, obidire, can be understood not simply “obey”, but to “listen” or to “listen through to.”
It is life repeating the fate of Ulysses and his crew in Homer’s the Odyssey in which the alluring call of the sirens would lure unaware sailors onto the rocks of destruction. The alluring call of familiar sins, venial and grave, call into and through the imagination, the will, our ears, our eyes – luring us pass the moment of temptation onto the rocks of sin.In this voyage of life there are many islands of the sirens. We are ever at the edge of obidire, deciding whether to listen and obey.
In the case of drugs, alcohol, pornography, and more – the whispers (and shouts) are less alluring sirens of Homer’s epic poem, and a more the demons of our nightmares and Dante’s poetry. Still, to varying degrees to be sure, there is the moment in which we hang suspended in the betwixt-and-between where we choose to be a slave to sin or a servant of righteousness.
We are very good at remembering the moments we gave into sin and suffered its consequences. It is my experience that we are less aware of all the moments when grace abounded, we chose grace, and we let the siren’s call go unheeded. For example, consider a lustful thought that pops into your mind. It has appeared without welcome, unbidden and in the most odd of circumstances. While it might linger, so often, when we come aware of its presence, our response is “What am I doing” and the thought is dismissed, a quick prayer said, and we move on with our day. I am willing to bet there are many, many more of those moments when we chose to obidire God’s grace. But are we as meticulous in counting them as we are the times we fail and slip/crash into sin? I suspect not. I think the “win column” has a lot more entries that the “loss column.”
I would suggest that the more one acknowledges and is mindful of the power of prayer and grace in these moments of temptation, the more one reacts during temptation to find the grace that surrounds us, and chooses to be a servant of righteousness.
As the saying goes: Our thoughts become our words. Our words become our actions. Our actions become our habits. Our habits become our character. Our character forms us into the person we are.
We are indeed creatures of habit for good or for ill. Practice and be mindful of the habits that lead to life as a servant of righteousness.