When it comes to those things to living as a disciple of our Lord, there is no need to neither go through the litany of positives and negatives, nor delve into the shades of meaning for each of the sins we could commit. For our purposes, there are two important words to consider: avoid and pursue.
Man in Prayer.
WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - A good friend and ministry partner for many years had a sage saying that he would offer to those who would come to him for encouragement or a blessing. At the end he would offer these words, "and don't goof up!"
This always brought a chuckle but what more could be said. Often, when we look at what we've done, the sins we've committed, and the messes we have made, we simply goofed up. We failed to follow the basic teachings of the Church.
In the first letter to his young vicar, St. Paul tells Timothy to avoid falling into the trap of pride which can lead to many sins. Instead he is to put on virtue.
Beloved: Teach and urge these things. Whoever teaches something different and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the religious teaching is conceited, understanding nothing, and has a morbid disposition for arguments and verbal disputes. From these come envy, rivalry, insults, evil suspicions, and mutual friction among people with corrupted minds, who are deprived of the truth, supposing religion to be a means of gain. Indeed, religion with contentment is a great gain. For, we brought nothing into the world, just as we shall not be able to take anything out of it. If we have food and clothing, we shall be content with that.
Those who want to be rich are falling into temptation and into a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge them into ruin and destruction.
For, the love of money is the root of all evils, and some people in their desire for it have strayed from the faith and have pierced themselves with many pains.
But you, man of God, avoid all this. Instead, pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness. Compete well for the faith. Lay hold of eternal life, to which you were called when you made the noble confession in the presence of many witnesses. (I Tim. 6:2-12)
There is no need to neither go through the litany of positives and negatives, nor delve into the shades of meaning for each of the sins we could commit. For our purposes, there are two important words to consider: avoid and pursue.
Let's talk about avoid - particularly avoiding sin. The word in the Greek means to "run away from," "escape," "flee." The apostle is very adamant that, as disciples of our Lord, the things he has listed are not to be a part of our lives.
It seems fairly simple, like the old joke where the man goes to the doctor and says, "Doc, it hurts when I do this." The doctor answers, "Then just don't do it!" Yet, this is so hard.
When it comes to committing sin, especially what Scripture calls our "besetting sin," we usually have "trigger points" in the early stages of our temptation: certain behaviors, settings or situations that contribute to our downfall. Rather than waiting for the ambush, we need to be on guard that when we realize that we are coming near that point, it is the time we need to begin our act of avoidance. Later on it is usually too late.
One of my interests in addition to my vocation is severe weather spotting. As a "ham radio" operator since I was a teenager, I've always been active in the local SKYWARN program of the national weather service.
Through this program, you begin to get a healthy respect for weather watches and warnings, but especially watches. A watch is issued when conditions indicate that severe weather can occur. Often, the move to a warning can happen quickly and unexpectedly, with severe weather actually occurring. By that time, it is sometimes too late for preparation.
The same is true concerning the avoidance of sin. Your conscience will send out a severe weather watch - and it does! Most of us, however, are either too stubborn or too ready to participate in the storm that's coming to respond. In any and every case, we must be ready to respond appropriately - simply avoid the situation.
Some avoidance is easy. We just change location, change you're thinking, turn off the computer, etc. Other avoidance may be hard, requiring more effort. Here, prayer, the Rosary and other devotional disciplines can become tools of deliverance.
At other times, we may need to call upon a trusted friend who is willing to be our support. For example, I just learned of an interesting new group for issues on the Internet, where pornography is trapping many men (and women!), called Covenant Eyes (www.covenanteyes.com) who send your accountability partner a report of your web activity.
There is also a wonderful apostolate of Dominican Friars, The Angelic Warfare Confraternity, which promotes freedom from slavery to the senses. On their website, they state that this "is a supernatural fellowship of men and women bound to one another in love and dedicated to pursuing and promoting chastity together under the powerful patronage of St. Thomas Aquinas and the Blessed Virgin Mary."
Avoidance can be hard, primarily because we may not really want to avoid sin. In James' epistle we are given a pretty good description of what happens in our transactions with temptation.
He writes, Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. (James 1:12-15)
If we follow that process, thank be to God, we have confession! However, temptation doesn't have to have its way. As St. Paul writes, No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. (I Cor. 10:13)
While avoidance addresses the issue of sin, we still need to pursue holiness. The Greek word here is the exact opposite of the term used above. It means to "run after," "press toward," "seek after."
What Paul is explaining is the entire process of repenting, which involves more than simply turn away from one thing, but involves in a 180 degree swing and the pursuit of that which lies in the opposite direction.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes a virtue as an habitual and firm disposition to do the good. The moral virtues are acquired through human effort aided by God's grace; the theological virtues are gifts of God.
St. Paul tells the Philippians, "Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." (Phil 4:8)
Much of what is required of us comes from a significant change in what we take in. In the early days of the personal computer programming we used to GIGO - garbage in, garbage out. Paul feels strongly that the same perspective holds true regarding our heart.
We do have our part to play in the process of pursuing holiness but our Lord also has grace to offer, so that we don't have to do this with only our own internal resources. When left to ourselves, we can more easily fail; we can goof up.
Not one to mince words, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said, ""We must have a real living determination to reach holiness. I will be a saint means I will despoil myself of all that is not God; I will strip my heart of all created things; I will live in poverty and detachment; I will renounce my will, my inclinations, my whims and fancies, and make myself a willing slave to the will of God."
Father Randy Sly is the Associate Editor of Catholic Online and a priest with the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter (http://usordinariate.org) established by the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, through the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus. He is currently the chaplain of the St. John Fisher Ordinariate Community, a priest in residence at Our Lady of Hope Catholic Church and Director of Pro-Life Activities for the Ordinariate. He is a popular speaker for parishes, apostolates and organizations.
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