Monday, February 29, 2016

Resisting Temptation - A Second Look

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Now and forever. Amen.

I'm in the middle of a Bible study at my local parish. The study topic is reconciliation, and we follow the study program called The Gift of Repentance: God's Call for a Change of Heart, authored by Kevin Perrotta. I was catching up on some homework for it last night, and this week's lesson regards Jesus' sermon on the mount teachings regarding the necessity of a change of heart, and a reinterpretation of the Law as pertaining primarily to inner obedience, over and above outer obedience.

I mention this because during my reading of it, I came across St. Augustine's reading of that passage, which I thought was very relevant to my discussion on resisting temptation. That made me happy, because I was super dissatisfied with my last take on the topic, and so in light of this, I'm going to have another go at it. Hopefully, this time will be a more scientific approach to the matter.

Spiritual Sin as Precursor to Bodily Sin

The teachings of Jesus in question, in particular, are those found in Matthew 5:[21]-30:

You have heard that it was said to them of old: Thou shalt not kill. And whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment. But I say to you, that whosoever is angry with his brother, shall be in danger of the judgment. And whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council. And whosoever shall say, Thou Fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. If therefore thou offer thy gift at the altar, and there thou remember that thy brother hath any thing against thee; Leave there thy offering before the altar, and go first to be reconciled to thy brother: and then coming thou shalt offer thy gift. Be at agreement with thy adversary betimes, whilst thou art in the way with him: lest perhaps the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.

Amen I say to thee, thou shalt not go out from thence till thou repay the last farthing. You have heard that it was said to them of old: Thou shalt not commit adultery. But I say to you, that whosoever shall look on a woman to lust after her, hath already committed adultery with her in his heart. And if thy right eye scandalize thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee. For it is expedient for thee that one of thy members should perish, rather than that thy whole body be cast into hell. And if thy right hand scandalize thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is expedient for thee that one of thy members should perish, rather than that thy whole body be cast into hell.

Augustine was investigating what it meant to "look on a woman with lust." He concluded that it couldn't simply be the passive pleasure one experiences by observing a beautiful woman. Rather, he said, "it is the full consent to the pleasure: the forbidden craving is not checked, but given the opportunity, it would gratify its desire." What this means is that, the man has fully consented to pleasing himself by making of the woman an object. The implication is that, given the opportunity, he would use her in this way.

In making this observation, Augustine discerned three basic steps to sin:

  1. A suggestion arises in our minds from something we observe or recall.
  2. It brings pleasure, in some manner, whether the suggestion itself is pleasurable, or it offers pleasure.
  3. We consent to it.

Please note, not all suggestions that arise in our minds are the sinful kind, nor are all pleasures that we enjoy to be thought of as sinful either. These are simply the steps involved in arriving at sin, not that these steps always lead, inevitably, to sin.

From this initial sin, the consent of the heart to some evil desire, we may or may not arrive at further sin, those that are found in action. And in this, there is also a threefold procession:

  1. Consent to the desire within the heart.
  2. Carrying out the sinful act itself.
  3. Forming a sinful habit (repeatedly carrying out the sinful act).

So how should we approach this?

I read an article a few years ago about how there was an interest in recruiting hackers to join research in how to fight disease and microorganisms. Their reasoning was that hackers possess a certain skillset, something that makes them great at hacking, but would make them great at other things as well (like attacking viruses), a skillset that they wanted to take advantage of. They said that hackers think differently than most people in that when they are looking at solving a problem (such as hacking into a secure website), unlike most people who think of one or two strategies, a hacker looks to identify as many points of operation within the system as they can, and attempts to break through the system by attacking each and every one of these points. It's systematic, and considers every identifiable part of a system as a potential weakness. The idea was they could harness this thought pattern to find new ways to combat disease.

So, I'd like to take a similar approach to this question of resisting temptation. Above, I've laid out 6 points of operation in the process of thought and action that leads to sin. Augustine perceives rightly that habit is the most difficult sin to break. Therefore, if we are to avoid sin, we must begin before such habits are formed. However, even if a habit is formed, I feel like the following strategies will help in breaking it. So let us begin with our first point of weakness in the process.

A Suggestion Arises in Our Minds

Notice that Augustine identifies two sources of this suggestion: observation and recall. Since recall occurs after an observation, the first point in the process is observation. If we want to combat temptation, we must first, therefore, stop sin before it even enters our minds.

What kinds of observations are we talking about here? I would suggest anything we can sense, that is, sights, sounds, smells, tastes and textures. A sixth could be an imagined observation (such as something we've read in a novel). If we want to stop such things, we need to think ahead about what kinds of things could lead to sin. For example, let us say that I'm about to go watch a new movie in theater. I look at the movie poster, and it promises to be a fast action, adventure. Do I just walk in and watch it, or do I research to see if there might be inappropriate things in it? Do I check the rating? What do reputable online reviewers say? Will there be nudity and sex? Will there be cussing? Will I see peoples' heads getting cut off? Should I walk into the movie blind, and allow these things to enter my mind because I haven't taken the time to see what's there, or do I find out what is in it first, and then make the decision to protect my mind?

Another example might be the radio station that you listen to on your way to work in the morning. Does this radio station play music that sings about free sex and slapping hoes? How can I protect my mind from such messages? Should I select a different station, or not listen to the radio at all?

If sin is easiest to avoid by stopping it before it has a chance to come onto the radar screen of my mind, am I taking seriously enough the protection of my mind from the influences of a sinful culture? That's a good question.

It Brings Pleasure

This is a toughie. Naturally, many things bring us pleasure, and usually it's not really something we have any control over. However, there is something different about the kind of pleasure we receive at the thought of something sinful or forbidden, than the kind of pleasure we receive from observing natural goods. I don't think Augustine was suggesting, by this second step, that any pleasure we receive from any suggestion will lead to sin. Rather, I think he was speaking instead about illicit pleasures, and illicit suggestions.

For example, if a married man is sitting on a park bench reading the newspaper, and he happens to glance up as a beautiful woman is walking by, and he notices and passively receives the natural pleasure one feels by seeing beauty, smiles, perhaps says hello and good day, then returns to his newspaper, nothing wrong has happened here.

However, if this same man, upon seeing this woman and recalling how pleasurable sex is, has the suggestion in his mind about what sex with such a beautiful woman would be like, then arises in his mind a notion of pleasure that is illicit (namely, to have sex with this woman who is not his wife). It is this illicit pleasure, which, if he consents to desiring it in his heart, perhaps fantasizing about it, leads to sin. And this, I think, we are able to combat.

I think we are able to combat these kinds of thoughts of illicit pleasure by first developing a strong notion of why good and wholesome pleasures and goods are worthy and right, and why wicked and indecent pleasures and evils are worth avoiding, and why they are wrong. Going back to the example of the man on the bench, if, when this suggestion of sex with this woman arises in his mind, he keeps firmly in his mind that doing such a thing would destroy his relationship with his wife, the woman he knows and truly loves, who he has given his word (if it should be worth anything) that he would love her and be true to her always, and that he might even make this other woman pregnant and how damaging that would be for both of them, and all the sorrow and ruin that such an action would bring to his life, then dispelling the thought of pleasure would come much more easily, than if such thoughts were absent from his mind.


We Consent to It.

We must remember that even if such thoughts arise in our minds, and even if such thoughts bring phantoms of pleasure with them, no sin is actually committed yet. The decisive moment is when we give consent of will to such thoughts and immerse ourselves into the pleasure of the notion. That is when we sin. So how to we defend against our own choices? Our own decision to enjoy the thought? How do we simply not give in, in the face of seduction?

It's essentially the question of the Ring of Gyges. If we found a ring, so the old philosophical question goes, that could make us completely invisible, in every way (sight, sound, smell, etc.), such that we could literally do whatever we wanted and there would be no consequences because nobody could observe what we do, would we continue to be moral men? It's an important question, because that's really what we're talking about it. It's the heart of Jesus' teaching. Nobody can see into our minds. Are we moral there too, or just on the outside? Do we give in to wicked lusts in our fantasies?

The answer has to be that we be moral even in our minds and hearts. We've already said why: all sin begins in the mind. If we are not moral inwardly, then we will be immoral outwardly. It would only be a matter of time before our inner ethic exposed itself in our actions. Why? Because we are not embodied spirits, and we're not mere animals. We're a body/spirit unity. Everything we do, we do both bodily and spiritually, as one. Hypocrisy is one of the universal evils that all societies make note of. If you are inwardly immoral, that has to manifest itself outwardly. And if you're outwardly holy, it will only ever be to those who would criticize you if you weren't, but in secret, in the dark, or in those places where you can find like-minded individuals, your real inner ethic comes out and the deep desires of your heart and mind come out.

So, what do we do about it? Well, protecting our minds, and forming our consciences to what is right and good and beautiful, these are the starting points to keep us from having to get to this point of decision. But if these defenses are bypassed, we must make a stand. Rather than giving up and giving in to the seduction of evil, we must stand firm and refuse. Guard your heart. Realize that once you've given into the desiring what is wicked, you've already sinned. You just haven't had the opportunity to carry out your desire yet.

Call out to God for help. Call out to a friend for help. Immediately fight to get the idea out of your head. Go for a walk. Go to the gym. Read a book. Start a conversation with your wife. Whatever it will help you to say no to the suggestion, to the seduction.

We Carry out the Sinful Act.

Once we've given our consent to the evil desire, however, it's really a matter of opportunity before we carry out the act. Does this make it inevitable, though? I answer no. If you've formed yourself properly, both in conscience and in habit, then you have a good likelihood of regretting the desire before you ever act on it. That's a really good thing, and you should do what you can to make amends to those you've offended by the thought. Namely, God. If the wicked desire was against another person, it may do you well to confess the desire, along with your regret over it, and your desire to make amends for it, however you are able. Confessing it in the Sacrament would be a good step, too, as well as praying to God for strength against such temptation in the future.

With this in mind, timing plays a role. If, as I've suggested above, you've been well formed, then the longer you go without having the opportunity to sin after giving in to the desire, the greater the likelihood you will overcome the temptation to act on it. If, however, the opportunity to sin immediately presents itself, there is a greater likelihood you will act on it, than not.

So, if we wanted to prepare ourselves for the possibility that we could give in to such desires (and I think it would be prudent to prepare for this), then there are certainly steps we could take to make acting on the desire more difficult, or inopportune. For one, we can keep a busy schedule. There is a reason for the old saying "idleness is the devil's playground." When we are idle, we have plenty of opportunity to get into trouble. When we're busy, not only do we have less time to entertain illicit ideas, but even if we did, we would be hard pressed to act on such ideas by the simply fact that we don't have the time.

Keeping good company is another strategy. If you keep yourself among people who are good and honest and honorable and virtuous, you're not going to nudge your buddy and say, "hey do you want to go out back and take a hit?" Actively placing yourself in situations that cause pressure to be virtuous and honest is a good thing to do. Let's do it.

The basic idea here is to make your situation non-conducive to actually carrying out sinful acts, so that when the time comes that you do give in to the sinful desire, it's very difficult for you to act on it. Yeah?

Forming a Sinful Habit.

This is absolutely the last bastion of defense. Once we develop a sinful habit, it's really very difficult to put an end to. So, we need to curb the sin now, before it goes further.

So, you've given in to the wicked desire, and you've actually acted on it now. You wanted to punch that guy's lights out, now you have. You wanted to watch pornographic videos, now you have. You wanted to dine and dash, now you have. What next? Do you do it again? Eventually, you're going to remember the pleasure you got out of it the first time, and you're going to want to do it again. What can you do to prevent yourself from forming a sinful habit?

Well, I would say the first thing to do is go back to the start, and reinforce all those good things you put in place to prevent you from sinning in the first place. Yeah, your defenses failed, but that just means you build them back up, make them stronger. The last thing it means is you give up altogether.

I think at this point, though, it's absolutely essential that you admit your wrongdoing. Confess to a priest. If you've made offenses against people, apologize. If you've stolen something, return it (or equivalent value). Making restitution for your wrongdoing is the responsible, honorable thing to do. Real men do this. Moreover, doing this will help you to recognize the consequences of your action, which will help in resisting future temptations. All of this is what we call repentance: turning away from sin and making your wrongdoings right. It is the restoration of justice.

Finally, I think it's also really important to recognize the seriousness of the sin, and that allowing our moral structure to crumble into wanton vice is absolutely unacceptable. We should not allow ourselves to be driven by guilt, or a picture of ourselves as worthless weaklings. Failure doesn't define us. We must strive always to pick ourselves up out of that failure and make things good and right. If we find ourselves to be weak, then we must strengthen ourselves, not wallow in weakness. We must exercise those virtues that will strengthen us against the sins we have a proclivity for.

I think we can do it. And if we can't, we can always fall back on the one who was strongest of all: Jesus Christ, who is willing to give us any strength against sin we ask Him for.

Thanks for reading. God bless!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Code of Chivalry

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Now and forever. Amen.

Good evening, folks! I've got a great topic for tonight, which I plan to expand on in future entries: the Medieval Code of Chivalry. I think this is an important topic for a few of reasons. First, this code and ethic was something that the Crusaders of the Middle Ages lived by. So, if we want a deeper insight into the kind of men these were, taking a look at their rules for living will help big time.

Second, I think men of our era only have loosely defined moral rules, and that can be problematic in many ways. What happens when a difficult situation arises that they haven't thought about very much, or at all? Indecision, a sense of uncertainty and helplessness that often manifests as aggression, perhaps making a bad choice that he later regrets. Having a well defined set of rules for conduct assists us in making decisions, both simple and difficult, and will help us succeed in both our personal and our professional lives.

Third, we often hear how "chivalry is dead" these days, a phrase often used with regard to how men and women interact. It is interesting to note that the code of chivalry was originally developed as a habit and discipline for knights (which is what the word chivalry actually means: knight, or knighthood. See Chivalry at etymonline, the etymology dictionary), and only later expanded to include rules relating to courtship and romance. For the purposes of this blog entry, I will not be looking at these later associations, but rather on the codes of knighthood as they were originally envisioned.

Finally, I tend to find that this kind of old wisdom will help us to understand our world today in a new way. One of the great plagues these days is the way we use other people, as though they are there for our pleasure or satisfaction. As we will see, people were treated as subjects to be appreciated and loved for their own sakes, and not looked at from a selfish standpoint.

The Codes and Virtues

There have been more than one formulation of the code of chivalry. The earliest one we know of comes from an epic poem called the "Song of Roland" which was about the eighth century knights of the Dark Ages, and the military exploits of Emperor Charlemagne. The poem was written between 1098 and 1100, so during the latter years of the first crusade. The code of chivalry described in this poem is referred to by some as Charlemagne's Code of Chivalry. It consists in seventeen directives:

  1. To fear God and maintain His Church.
  2. To serve the liege lord in valour and faith.
  3. To protect the weak and defenceless.
  4. To give succour to widows and orphans.
  5. To refrain from the wanton giving of offence.
  6. To live by honour and for glory.
  7. To despise pecuniary reward.
  8. To fight for the welfare of all.
  9. To obey those placed in authority.
  10. To guard the honour of fellow knights.
  11. To eschew unfairness, meanness and deceit.
  12. To keep faith.
  13. At all times to speak the truth.
  14. To persevere to the end in any enterprise begun.
  15. To respect the honour of women.
  16. Never to refuse a challenge from an equal.
  17. Never to turn the back upon a foe.

In the fourteenth century, so within a century of the final crusades, the Duke of Burgundy described the chivalric virtues relating to this code as the following:

  • Faith 
  • Charity 
  • Justice 
  • Sagacity 
  • Prudence 
  • Temperance 
  • Resolution 
  • Truth 
  • Liberality 
  • Diligence 
  • Hope
  • Valour

In future entries, I will be examining each of the directives individually, associating them with their relevant virtues, as described by the Duke.

Interestingly, in the nineteenth century, an historian by the name of Leon Gautier lamented the loss of the chivalric code in a society that preferred the mythical Arthurian Knights over our own notable history. In an effort to try to revive the code, he formulated the code of chivalry as a set of what are known as the "Ten Commandments of the Medieval Code of Chivalry." It reads as follows:

  1. Thou shalt believe all that the Church teaches, and shalt observe all its directions.
  2. Thou shalt defend the Church.
  3. Thou shalt respect all weaknesses, and shalt constitute thyself the defender of them.
  4. Thou shalt love the country in the which thou wast born.
  5. Thou shalt not recoil before the enemy.
  6. Thou shalt make war against the Infidel without cessation, and without mercy.
  7. Thou shalt perform scrupulously thy feudal duties, if they be not contrary to the laws of God.
  8. Thou shalt never lie, and shalt remain faithful to thy pledged word.
  9. Thou shalt be generous, and give largesse to everyone.
  10. Thou shalt be everywhere and always the champion of the Right and the Good against Injustice and Evil.

I'm not sure I prefer his rendition to that of the Song of Roland. I take particular issue with item number 6 on the list. This kind of language is absent from the Song of Roland. However, this interpretation may be due to the fact that service to one's liege lord during crusader times could have meant the waging of war against "the Infidel." I think, though, that this is an interpretation coloured by the glasses of historical retrospection, rather than the way the Medieval Knights actually thought.

Nevertheless, along with these Commandments, Leon Gautier also supplied us with his own list of chivalric virtues, which is much shorter than that provided by the Duke of Burgundy. They are:

  • Loyalty
  • Forbearance
  • Hardihood
  • Largesse or Liberality
  • The Davidic ethic
  • Honor

So there you have it. These are what we have relating to the Code of Chivalry, both from the times when these mandates were formulated in their historical circumstances, and from the perspective of historians looking back on those times. I think these are really interesting and worth delving into more deeply. I think that by the end of this series, I will propose a new Code of Chivalry for men of our time. This will require some thought, indeed!

I hope you enjoyed! God bless!

Friday, February 26, 2016

Resisting Temptation

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Now and forever. Amen.

Tonight, I'm supposed to be talking about resisting temptation. Unfortunately, I still haven't really figured this one out for myself yet, so this is unlikely to be a lengthy entry. That said, I'll share with you some of my thoughts. I don't think I'm going to have any particular format here, with subheaders and such. Perhaps, this will be more of an exploratory entry.

So, first off, I'm just going to say that both prayer and fasting are excellent places to start when it comes to resisting temptation. I think they're both the starting and ending places, with a whole lot of other stuff in between. I say both starting and ending because I think when you start, they are excellent weapons to help with your inner transformation, and I think when you end, these are things you're going to want to do anyway.

What's really the end goal here? Why do we even care about resisting temptation? The answer, I think, is love for God. That always has to be our starting point, the directive that informs everything else. We have this phrase, "first things first," and it makes a lot of sense. When you do things in the right order, things come out the way they're meant to. If you build a building, you start with the foundation. So it is with all things. When you learn mathematics, you need the foundational understanding of the basic operations before you can move into more complex matters.

Likewise is it with morality, with righteousness. You must place those things that are most important, and everything else will follow from it. Consider authority. A child must first love its parents before it should obey them. Otherwise, it simply will not obey them. If fear is the motivating factor, then they might obey for a while, but eventually will rise up in rebellion. Authority, if it is to be obeyed, must be loved and respected, and this requires the authority figure to serve those whom it expects to obey.

Love is the foundational principle, and love of God is the first of all loves. When you have this, all righteousness should follow. This is why prayer and fasting aid in our inner transformation, because through prayer we grow in our love for God, and through fasting we grow in our desire for Him. Once our love for God is perfected, we will pray and fast freely, because we love.

So, ultimately, this is what, I think, will help us to resist temptation: love for God. After all, is it not the deep, abiding love of a husband for his wife, or a wife for her husband, that motivates each of them to do all they can to please the other, and to do whatever it takes to avoid displeasing them? So let this be our basic principle: love for God. Jesus even points to this during His final temptation in the desert, when He says, "The Lord thy God shalt thou adore, and him only shalt thou serve." (Matthew 4:[10].)

How do we foster love for God? Well, prayer and fasting (communication and the expression of desire), for starters. We should also inform our consciences according to the teachings of the Church, and through the reading of Scripture, through whom and through which God communicates His wisdom. For, in order to fall in love with God, you must first come to know Him. So, educate yourself, immerse yourself in His words. Consider Jesus' own words when He was tempted: "Not in bread alone doth man live, but in every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God." (Matthew 4:[4].)

What else does Jesus say? "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God." (Matthew 4:[7]). So, here we come to another excellent strategy for resisting temptation: don't place yourself in situations you know will tempt you. If you pray the Our Father, ever, you should understand that at the end of the prayer, you're asking God to "lead us not into temptation." So, if you're going to ask God to do His part to keep you holy, you should be willing to do your part, as well. He won't tempt you, you don't tempt Him. Capiche?

I think this leads into an important part of resisting temptation: help. We can usually feel when we're moving in a direction that leads to sin. A lot of times, when I'm feeling that way, I try to be around people who can help me resist such urges. For those more serious sins, the pernicious ones that are very much like an addiction, it also helps to have an accountability partner, someone you can confide in, and who can coach you, without judgment. Spiritual advisors fill this role very well, and we would all do well to seek one out.

I'm not really one for "mental tricks" to helping avoid temptation. For one, I've never really been good at them, and for two, I feel like it's more therapeutic to address a problem head on, than to sidestep it. That said, I don't want to put down any success people have had with such things. The avoidance of sin is a good thing to accomplish, however you do so.

I think that's really all I have to say on the matter. If you have any other ideas, please share them in the comments section below!

God bless!

Thursday, February 25, 2016


Praised be Jesus Christ!

Now and forever. Amen.

Okay here we go. I'll be honest with you, I'm feeling pretty tired tonight. It was a long day at work, and I feel like I'm on the verge of a full blown head cold. So, please forgive me if I don't make any sense at times.

Continuing with the Lenten theme, and having said I would talk about prayer, fasting and resisting temptation, I will be talking a bit about fasting tonight, as indicated in the entry title. In particular, I will be looking at what fasting is, the different kinds of fasts we can engage in, a little bit about what we see about fasting in Scripture, and what the Church teaches about fasting, and what our obligations are under Canon Law.

Fasting and its types.

So what is fasting? On a basic level, to fast is to refrain from food and drink. This, naturally, leads to questions like, "how much do we refrain from?" and "for how long?" etc.. And in answering such questions, we'd be discussing the different types of fasts one can perform. And I'll do that, but first, I'd to speak a bit about why we fast.

A couple months ago, I picked up a great little book called "A Hunger for God: The Sacred Discipline of Fasting in the Orthodox Church," by Fr. Peter A. Chamberas (I tried to make this available through my sidebar bookstore, but apparently AddLibra doesn't carry it. If you're interested, you can purchase it here.) I'm just going to quote a portion of the back, because I think it's really smart:

  • "Through Fasting the body is given the opportunity to participate directly in the process of purification, restoration and perfection of the human person... A bodily act of humility is the way to humility. A respectful and reverent bow of the body is a participation in the art of prayer and communion with God. It is not only the spirit of man that expresses the supplication of prayer, but also the shape and the external ethic of the body. As long as man is not yet in the state of perfection he will need the support of the soul and of the body to communicate with God. And here is where the long and difficult process of a spiritual and a physical struggle comes into play -- as an expression of our profound thirst and hunger for communion with God."

We see here that fasting is a participation in our own purification, restoration and perfection as human persons because it is both a spiritual and physical struggle undertaken in order to express and enter into a deep desire for God. Because it is a struggle and a discipline, it aids in our purification, as gold is purified through fire, by strengthening our wills against temptation to sin. Because it is painful, it may be offered as a penitential act, and as such it helps restore our relationship with God by participating in the redemptive act of Jesus' suffering on the Cross. And because it is an act which denies the natural desires of the flesh, it aids in the perfection of our natures wherein the spiritual principle has right authority over the material principle: an order that is disrupted by sin.

But this perfection isn't brought about simply through denial. Nature abhors a vacuum, as the saying goes. So, when you deny the flesh, you must replace that natural desire with something else. What else should replace it but a properly ordered desire for God? We endure physical hunger and thirst in order that we may express and enter into a deep hunger and thirst for God. It is in this rightly ordered desire that our desire for physical sustenance may be properly understood. Our bodies desire food and water because our souls desire communion with God. The gluttonous person is so because he is trying to fill a gap in his heart left by a lack of communion with God. But a person who is filled with God eats to keep his Temple healthy, for God's glory, not for his own satiation.

So we fast in order to arrive at this perfected state, and to make atonement for our sins, and to stave off temptation.

So how can we fast? There are different kinds of fasts. One kind that we are familiar with, but usually call it "abstinence" is to refrain from eating meat on certain days of the year. That's right, fasting may simply consist in refraining from certain types of food, rather than refraining from food altogether.

You may also refrain from all food for certain portions of the day, whether than means simply not snacking, and eating only at designated times of the day, or to refrain from whole meals, or even to refrain from all meals in a day, until a certain time, or from all meals altogether. Some fasts may consist in a certain set of days (i.e., a seven day fast), wherein you would refrain from certain amounts or kinds of foods for the set of days. In Islam, for example, the month of Ramadan is a period of fasting wherein one refrains from all food and drink until (I believe) 9pm.

So, guess what? If you gave up chocolate (or soda, or candy, etc.) for Lent, you're participating in a certain kind of Lenten fast! I myself have been practicing a Lenten fast this year, whereby I eat only a small breakfast, then refrain from food and drink (except for water) all day until supper time, when I have a regular meal. That, by they way, is the minimum requirement defined by the Church for certain fasting days during the year.

Fasting in Scripture.

I'm going to be honest with you, the occasions of fasting in the Bible are way too numerous for me to list here, that's how common a practice it was with the people of God. So, instead I'm just going to point to a few key passages.

First: Genesis 2:[17]. You may be surprised to hear of an account of fasting so early on in Scripture. It's the second chapter for crying out loud! But it's true. It's actually the second command that God gives to Adam. The first is in Genesis 1:[28], when God commands man to be fruitful and multiply and subdue the earth. It may even be argued that, though it appears second in Scripture, it is actually the very first command, and not the second. This is because in the first creation account (Gen. 1 basically), God creates man, both male and female, and commands them. However, in the second creation account, God gives this command to Adam before He creates Eve.

So what is the command? "But of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat. For in what day soever thou shalt eat of it, thou shalt die the death." It's a command to refrain from eating a certain kind of food. That's a command to fast! Indeed, God's very first (arguably) command to us is to fast! What does that say about fasting? I think it says a lot about its importance.

Second: Mark 1:[13]. This is the account of Jesus' time in the wilderness in preparation for His ministry, when He fasted for forty days and forty nights. Because we spoke earlier about how fasting is an expression of our inner longing for God, I feel comfortable suggesting that when Scripture is using this formula of a forty day fast (like when Moses fasted for forty days and forty nights, twice, on the Mount of the Commandments), it is way of indicating deep communion with God. So, this is both a model for us to follow, and a statement about Jesus' deep union with the Father.

I would like to take this opportunity to correct myself. In my "Into the Desert" entry, I said that all four Gospels recounted Jesus' sojourn into the desert. This is, in fact, not true. Only the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) tell this story. John's Gospel does not mention this episode of Jesus' life. I apologize, please forgive me.

Third: Matthew 9:[15]. This story, likewise, is also only recounted in the Synoptic Gospels, and absent in John's. Jesus is asked why Jesus' disciples do not fast, while the Pharisees fast often. Jesus responds that because the Bridegroom is present they do not fast. He attaches fasting to mourning, in this passage (how can they mourn when the Bridegroom is with them?). I haven't spoken of this, but fasting is an aspect of healthy mourning, but I don't want to focus on this. What I want to focus on is what Jesus says next: "But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then they shall fast."

This is very important. Jesus doesn't question whether or not His disciples will fast. It's a given. This should, once again, point us to the importance of fasting. As a good Catholic, a good Christian, we must fast. Jesus expects it.

So what are our obligations?

Canon law prescribes the following Canons 1249-1253:


Days of Penance
  • Can.  1249 The divine law binds all the Christian faithful to do penance each in his or her own way. In order for all to be united among themselves by some common observance of penance, however, penitential days are prescribed on which the Christian faithful devote themselves in a special way to prayer, perform works of piety and charity, and deny themselves by fulfilling their own obligations more faithfully and especially by observing fast and abstinence, according to the norm of the following canons.
  • Can.  1250 The penitential days and times in the universal Church are every Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent.
  • Can.  1251 Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
  • Can.  1252 The law of abstinence binds those who have completed their fourteenth year. The law of fasting binds those who have attained their majority, until the beginning of their sixtieth year. Pastors of souls and parents are to ensure that even those who by reason of their age are not bound by the law of fasting and abstinence, are taught the true meaning of penance.
  • Can.  1253 The conference of bishops can determine more precisely the observance of fast and abstinence as well as substitute other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety, in whole or in part, for abstinence and fast.

So, penitential days are every Friday throughout the year (except Solemnities), and every day during Lent. During these days, a penitential act must be performed in accordance with the norms set forth by the local Episcopal Conference (conference of bishops). The two fasting days that must be observed by the universal Church, regardless of locality, are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, on which days you must both fast, according to Canon 1252, and abstain from meat.

In Canada, the Episcopal Conference holds only these two days (Ash Wednesday and Good Friday) to be fasting days, but even if you don't fast or abstain on any Fridays, you must still perform some other penitential act. The United States Conference of Bishops have different rules, as do all the other nations throughout the world. If you aren't sure what your obligations are, ask your Parish priest, or if your conference of bishops has a website, you should be able to find the rules they have set forth there.

Happy fasting!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016


Praised be Jesus Christ!

Now and forever. Amen.

Okay! So, I've decided to continue on with the theme I began yesterday. We started talking about Lent, and a little bit about what the season is all about, it's roots in Biblical history and tradition, and what we ought to be doing during this time. I mentioned three things toward the end: pray, fast, and resist temptation. I've decided to write about each of these things in turn. Today, I'll be talking about prayer. In short, I'll be discussing what prayer is, at the heart of it, what forms of prayer exist, the public prayers of the Church, and a little bit of private devotions.

So what is prayer anyway?

At the heart of it, prayer is conversation, or communion with God. That's it, really. Of course, there are nuances to the word itself. For example, prayer can also refer to conversation with angels and saints. There is a distinction, of course, between these two kinds of prayer. On the one hand, prayer with God is an exchange with the eternal, infinite, omni-everything Being. On the other hand, prayer with anyone other than God is an exchange with a creature, like yourself. So, really, big difference.

For the purposes of this blog entry, I'm going to be discussing the former, that is, prayer with God.

The different forms.

I'm going to say there are six different forms of prayer, each corresponding to a purpose or reason about why you're praying to begin with. The purposes of prayer should be fairly manifest as I go through each type. I've seen different lists, but I think these cover the bases. So, in no particular order:


I think most people are going to be familiar with this kind of prayer. It's the kind of prayer that just about anyone will make, even atheists in very trying circumstances. Really, you're asking God for something, hopefully a good thing, some grace to help improve your situation in life. It may be asking for help finding work, or praying for a loved one to get through surgery okay. Usually, these this is the bulk of what fills our prayer intentions when we verbalize them (like at Mass).

Prayers of petition are good. They help us to realize our reliance on God's providence, and help to instill in us the virtue of humility. They're also a good work, as they are intercessory acts of charity that we can perform for our neighbors. We should be careful, though, that when we petition God, that what we are asking for is a true good, and not some vain accessory to our lives. Furthermore, the most efficacious petitions are those we ask of God, according to His will, for God grants these graces most freely


I feel like prayers of thanksgiving, at least in my own experience (and shamefully, in my own life), occur all too infrequently. Do we thank God when we get that job? Or when the surgery is a success? How about all those things we have in our lives that are good that we never even asked for?

Like petitional prayers, prayers of thanksgiving help to keep up humble, and to realize that all good things come from Him, who gives them. Thanksgiving also helps to instill joy into our lives. While we pray petitionally, we may be anxious, or worried about some serious matter. Prayers of thanksgiving, however, are usually prayed because some great good has come into our lives. Taking the time to be thankful to God for these gifts is an act of joy, and a real blessing.


I've seen this called adoration as well. However, since we're talking specifically about prayer to God, I felt that the term worship was more appropriate, since it corresponds more closely with the Theological term latria, which refers to the kind of honor that we give to God alone, than dulia (and hyperdulia for the Virgin Mary), which refers to the kind of honor that we give to good and holy creatures (i.e., angels and saints).

I feel like I should have listed this kind of prayer first. It is the most fundamental form of prayer, and should be the basis of all prayer. God is the creator of all beings, being Being, Himself. All goods are minor likenesses of Him, and all persons image Him. Therefore, if we are to be in awe of anything, and if we are to give honor to anyone, then God necessarily deserves this more than anything or anyone else.

And not just for the majesty of His being, but also for all that He has done for us in history, and in our own lives. Everything we do can be an act of worship, as we learn from many of our great saints. Cooking supper, sweeping the floor, sleeping, watching tv, playing basketball, preparing a cost report at work, all may be acts of worship if done with the love of God, and the intention of doing such things for His glory.


This is an important one. We all have imperfections in our will, in our choices, in our actions. We call these things vices. Sometimes we even doing really wicked things. Each, in its own way, is an offense against God. If, as I mentioned earlier, all things are created either in God's likeness, or in His image, or both, then acting improperly against anything or anyone is an offense also against that likeness or that image. Thus, it is an offense against Him.

Penitential prayers help us to repair the wounded relationship we have with God. God is an infinite being, so any offense against Him is ultimately infinite in magnitude, even if performed by such small, finite creatures as we are. So, it is natural that even the most significant acts of penance fall short of their intended effect. Nevertheless, God takes those acts and adds them to the pure, and perfect, and infinitely salvific act of Jesus to make them worthy acts of reparation.

He doesn't do this for His own sake, but for ours, and for the sake of true justice, which serves us. Allowing us to participate in the reparation of our own sinfulness is a justice and a mercy, and helps to repair our consciences, which leads to inner peace. And penitential prayer doesn't have to be verbal either. It can be, but it can also be a penitential act, made into a prayer with the proper intention of offering the act up as a penance for sin. And not just your sin, but you can offer such prayers on behalf of others, making this kind of prayer another kind of good work.


These last two prayer forms are related, but distinct, and because they're distinct I wanted to treat them separately. However, because they're related, I can be more brief with contemplation.

Catholic meditation is different than Eastern forms of meditation. So don't be fooled. In Eastern spiritualities, meditation is an activity whereby one attempts to clear one's mind of all thoughts, emotions, desires, etc. Catholic meditation is exactly different.

The object of Catholic meditation is to seek to understand God and His mysteries in a better way. In this kind of meditation, you select an idea, a topic, an event in Christ's life, or other Biblical event, or perhaps even an event in your own life. You select your object of meditation, and then you simply explore in within your mind. You chew on it, roll it around, try to think about the different aspects that relate to it.

For example, in a meditation on the Wedding Feast of Cana, you might try to hear what might be going on during such an occasion. What kind of music would be playing? Are there lots of people? What do you smell? The idea in this kind of meditation is to bring the story to life, to make it a real event with real people, rather than simply a story in a book. Alternatively, you might hone in on a particular aspect of the event, and try to understand it in more detail. For example, the jars of water that Jesus turned into wine were said to be jars of purification. What significance does that have? The writer made a point to mention it. Why? What were the laws of purification all about? Why is this mentioned at the outset of Jesus' ministry? Jesus did away with those laws, didn't He? How?

You see? You select an object of meditation, and then you explore it.


Contemplation is similar to meditation, but also very different. Like meditation, this is not a direct conversation with God, but God does speak to us through these practices, but unlike meditation, contemplation does not have a clearly identified object. Rather, when one enters into contemplation, one simply allows God to direct one's mind wherever God wills.

A great place to practice contemplation is before the Blessed Sacrament (exposed or in the Tabernacle). To simply sit in the presence of the Almighty, and let Him guide your thoughts. The great Catholic Mystics all practiced this form of prayer, and it would do us all some very great good to follow suit. Simply sit in the presence of God.

Public prayer and private devotions.

I'm going to finish this entry by speaking briefly about the differences between the Church's public and private prayers.

The Church officially has two public prayers. By public, it is not meant that the prayer occurs before the public, or in the witness of many people. Rather, by public we mean that when these prayers are prayed, they are prayed in communion with the whole Church, both the Church Militant and the Church Triumphant. These two prayers are the Mass and the Divine Office.

All the Christian Faithful, both lay and ecclesiastical alike, are obliged to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days throughout the year. This is not the case, however, with the Divine Office. Unlike the Mass, the lay are not obliged to participate in the Divine Office, though all members of the ecclesiastical orders are (and at that, are only obliged to pray those Hours so mandated each by their particular order). The Church does, however, encourage the lay Faithful very strongly to pray whatever Hours they deem suitable, as this is indeed one of the public works of the Church.

All other prayers outside of these are private. That is, when prayed, they are not prayed in communion with the whole Church. Such prayers include personal ejaculations, rote prayers, the Rosary, the various Chaplets, the Litanies, and so on and so forth. This does not mean, in any way, that such prayers are not encouraged, even promoted by the Church. Indeed, they are. It only means that they are not prayers that are prayed as one with the Universal Church. They are not acts of the One Body, but are acts of each of its members.

Personally, I've been trying to pray the Morning and Evening Offices every day. I've also started praying the Rosary and Chaplet of Divine Mercy during my drives to and from work every day during this Lenten season.

How have you answered the Lenten call to prayer this year?

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Into the Desert

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Now and forever. Amen.

Okay, so here we go, my first (well, technically second) blog post.

I've named this post "Into the Desert," because the desert is a Lenten theme, and we're currently in the middle of our Lenten observance this year. So, what I'm going to do is share  why the image of the desert is traditionally associated with Lent, where that comes from Biblically, and how we can apply it within our own lives, both within and without Lent.

40 Days

The penitential season of Lent is a period of forty days. If you actually count it up on a Calendar (from Ash Wednesday--Feb 10, 2016--to Holy Saturday--March 26), it's actually forty six days. What gives? Well, the Church considers all Sundays, even Sundays in Lent, to be feast days, and Holy Days of Obligation. This means that your penitential observances during Lent are not supposed to be held during the Sundays. There are six Sundays in Lent, so if you remove these from the count, there are forty Lenten penitential days.

So why forty? What's the big idea?

Periods of forty, whether it be years or days, have special significance in the Biblical tradition, and are attached to various concepts and themes. The first period of forty we see in Scripture is during the time of the Great Deluge. God sends His rain down upon the earth for forty days and forty nights (see Genesis 7:4, 12, 17). Being tied to this significant even in Biblical history, the forty days carries with it implications of rebirth (baptism), the exercise of God's wrath, and death.

We see this theme of death tied to forty days again in Genesis 50:3, where we see Jacob is embalmed according to Egyptian custom, a process that took forty days. This embalming process, however, was normally reserved for Egyptian kings, and this was done for Jacob due to Joseph's preeminent status in Egypt. So, it's not just tied to death, but the death of a king.

The next time we see this reference to "forty" is when we are told the Israelites were fed on manna in the desert for forty years before reaching the border of Chanaan (Exodus 16:35, Deuteronomy 2:7, 29:5). This is another highly significant even in Biblical history. Symbolically speaking, the desert, or wasteland, is a place of death. But, in this place of death, we see God sustains His people until that time they are prepared to enter the Promised Land. But it was also a place of God's wrath, just as in Noah's time, and to test and prepare the people (see Numbers 32:13, Deuteronomy 8:2, Joshua 5:6).

So, we have a return to the symbolism of rebirth. The Israelites had been living in Egypt. Two things happened to them there. First, they began to take on the religious customs of the Egyptians, including the worship of idols (among a very great many other moral crimes). Second, they became oppressed (sometimes translated as slaves) to the Egyptian rulers. So, the Israelites passage through the desert represents a two-fold freedom: freedom from wicked practices, and freedom from slavery. This represents a rebirth of the peoples of Israel in a dual-manner, a physical rebirth and a spiritual one.

Remember when Moses went up onto the mountain to receive the Tablets of the Law? Remember when he had to do that twice because he broke the first tablets? How long do you suppose he was up there, each time? If you guessed forty days and forty nights, that's right (check out Exodus 24:18, 34:28, Deuteronomy 9:9-25, 10:10)! So, we now have a new association with this period of forty: prayer; communion with God. But that's not all! Moses fasted during this time as well. So, like the Israelites altogether, who were sustained by the grace of God through forty years (manna), so Moses is sustained by the grace of God for forty days.

For more Old Testament references to periods of forty, see Judges 3:11, 5:32, 8:28, 13:1, 1 Kings (1 Samuel) 4:18, 17:16, 2 Kings (2 Samuel) 5:4, 15:7, 3 Kings (1 Kings) 2:11, 11:42, 19:8, 2 Paralipomenon (2 Chronicles) 9:30, 2 Esdras (Nehemiah) 9:21, Judith 5:15, Psalms 94:10, Ezechiel 4:6, 29:11-13, Amos 5:25, Jonah 3:4, and 2 Machabees 5:2. These all have similar themes and references.

Now, in the NT, all four Gospels recount that Jesus went into the wilderness and fasted and prayed for forty days and forty nights. This is clearly a time of preparation immediately preceding His three year ministry. He is tempted by food, by worldly power, and to tempt God, Himself. Jesus fasts, He prays, and He overcomes temptation, all this to prepare for the work He was about to begin.

In Acts and some of the letters, further reference is made to the forty years in the desert at the time of Moses, but I'm not going to list those here. I think you have the main idea here.

So, why do we have this forty day period of Lent before Easter Sunday? There isn't one answer. It is a time of mourning, as when Jacob was embalmed, and we place clay (ashes) on our heads. It's a time of mourning because we remember the sacrifice of our Lord, who died on Good Friday, all those years ago. And it is appropriate because Jesus is our King of Kings.

It is a time of rebirth, both for those who are already members of the Faith, we renew our Baptismal promises on Easter Sunday, and it is a time of rebirth for those who will be receiving this Sacrament of Baptism on Easter Sunday. It is a time of preparation for those who will be receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation, preparation before receiving those particular graces that will embolden them to go forth and preach the Gospel of God to the world, to complete their mission as followers of Christ. It is a time to join with Christ in His suffering on the Cross, in order that we might die to ourselves, to our attachments to sin, and to be reborn in His image.

So, if we are to imitate Him, what should we be doing during this Lenten season, this forty days "in the desert"? The answer that He gave us: fast, pray, resist temptation.

But don't be afraid to practice these things outside of Lent either. We can always make a desert within, to continually renew our spiritual lives in Him, and prepare for our eternal rest. Lent is simply set aside as a Liturgical Season in order to remind us that these things are important, and to help us to enter back into these practices.

Yes, I think I will leave it at that. Thank you for reading, and may God bless you abundantly!

Monday, February 22, 2016


Praised be Jesus Christ!

Now and forever. Amen.

Hello out there!

My name is Christopher Snaith, and I'd like to introduce myself. I'll share a little bit about myself, and tell you why I'm starting up this blog.

I was born a heathen, but my parents baptized me quickly into the Catholic Church in my infancy. I come from a large, traditionally sinful, Catholic family of 10 (8 kids, 2 parents), of which I happen to be the baby. Now, some of you might be thinking that because I am the baby, I'm the spoiled one. While I'd like to say that's true, and perhaps it was and maybe still is, I can honestly say I never took advantage. That's likely because I was largely oblivious to the fact. God created me with an inwardly attentive disposition, and a love of learning and creativity. What that really meant was that, within a very boisterous family, I endured much teasing. That's okay though, because it kept me humble. And in that humility, I simply strove to succeed in whatever I happened to be doing. That was a good recipe for academic success.

Back in the 90's, my parents made a difficult decision, which was to pull all of us children out of public/"Catholic" school and homeschool us themselves. This had its pros and cons. My parents did not have a background in academics, so passing that on to us was a struggle. What we learned from it, though, was very important. We learned integrity, dedication, hard work, and most importantly, how to live with really difficult people day in and day out. I was fortunate to have the disposition that I did, and found it much easier to learn simply through slogging through the texts than my siblings did.

When I was 15, my parents sent me to a private boarding school (they had also sent two of my brothers there ahead of me, so I was quite keen to go) in North Dakota that was run by Franciscan Friars of Mary Immaculate, an order (and school) that was founded by Fr. David Przedwiecki. Those were really great formative years for me. We attended daily Mass, performed a daily examination of conscience at noon, and attended a holy hour each evening, which included the Rosary, exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, Benediction and Night Prayers. All the boys at the school learned to serve the English, Polish and Latin Novus Ordo Masses, as well as the Tridentine High and Low Masses.

We engaged in daily scripture study, and daily catechesis, over and above our regular subjects. School trips were a big thing, and included an annual March for Life attendance. Each year the Senior class would take a trip to Europe, which always included a visit to Rome and of course St. Peter's. That meant fund raising, which included fish fry's, singing tours at Parishes around several States, and sales of recorded hymns (recorded at a Parish in Detroit).

During my class trip to Italy, we spent 8 days in Rome, we sang for the Pope (St. John Paul II) during the Wednesday audience, played a soccer game with the Swiss Guard, and took a private tour of the Vatican gardens. If you think that's impressive, my oldest brother Anthony's class got to sit down with Pope St. John Paul II for a 45 minute interview, after which, they had a photo taken with him (and my brother is standing shoulder-to-shoulder with him). Cool huh?

After high school, I went to college and university. I now have a degree in Business Administration, and I've been working in Alberta for a few years now. I regularly listen to Catholic Radio (EWTN and affiliates), engaging in discussions at, and I find that, to the glory of God, I have been blessed with both knowledge and understanding of God, and the Church He gave us. I have decided to begin blogging as a way of sharing all that stuff that's rolling around in my head, in the hopes that someone, anyone, might find it helpful. I encourage discussion, and am absolutely open to correction. You're going to have to prove you position, though.

This blog is going to be filled with opinion, as well as knowledge, information, citations and certainly error, despite my best efforts. If you like what I have to say, drop a line and let me know. If you don't like what I have to say, you can let me know that too. At the end of the day, I just hope you enjoy what you're reading, and are willing to share this with people you know.

Thanks for reading, and may God bless you abundantly!