“I find a good many people have been bothered by…our Lord’s words, “Be ye perfect.” Some people seem to think this means “Unless you are perfect, I will not help you;” and as we cannot be perfect, then, if He meant that, our position is hopeless. But I do not think He did mean that. I think He meant “The only help I will give is help to become perfect. You may want something less: but I will give you nothing less.”
Let me explain. When I was a child I often had toothache, and I knew that if I went to my mother she would give me something which would deaden the pain for that night and let me get to sleep. But I did not go to my mother—at least, not till the pain became very bad. And the reason I did not go was this. I did not doubt she would give me the aspirin; but I knew she would also do something else. I knew she would take me to the dentist next morning. I could not get what I wanted out of her without getting something more, which I did not want. I wanted immediate relief from pain: but I could not get it without having my teeth set permanently right. And I knew those dentists: I knew they started fiddling about with all sorts of other teeth which had not yet begun to ache. They would not let sleeping dogs lie, if you gave them an inch they took an ell.
Now, if I may put it that way, Our Lord is like the dentists. If you give Him an inch, He will take an ell. Dozens of people go to Him to be cured of some one particular sin which they are ashamed of (like masturbation or physical cowardice) or which is obviously spoiling daily life (like bad temper or drunkenness). Well, He will cure it all right: but He will not stop there. That may be all you asked; but if once you call Him in, He will give you the full treatment.
-C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
As I finally bring this series of posts to a close, a series six months in the making, interrupted by work and kids and classes and sins, I am reminded of this quote from Lewis.
It absolutely describes why I came into my faith. I was ashamed, very ashamed, of many of my sins. In particular, I was ashamed of my wrath, lust, and pride.
I saved these three for last in this series because they are the ones I am most embarrassed by, the ones I most hate to admit, the ones I wish would go away but which never do.
But they are what brought me back to my faith. I remember going to confession for the first time ever of my own volition towards the end of my freshman year of college and telling the man who would soon become my first true spiritual director (and a man who died this Christmas morning and is now surely with his Lord, Father Bruce Swift, O.S.B.), “Forgive me father, for I have sinned. It’s been a year and a half since my last confession. I’ve struggled with sins of lust, lost control of my temper, I’ve had trouble being temperate in several ways, and I’ve used bad language.” And I remember glancing up at Father Bruce, my heart beating fast and my brain hoping I had said enough, and I remember seeing him smile and then hearing his gravelly voice say, “Well, let’s unpack that a bit, shall we?”
It was the last thing I wanted to hear. I was too ashamed to even call my sins by their proper name. But luckily, or providentially, I was with a priest who knew that, as the Catechism says, “Like a physician who probes the wound before treating it, God, by his Word and by his Spirit, casts a living light on sin”, a priest who was willing to be the hands of God and expose my brokenness so God could heal it.
The internet is not the appropriate place to share deepest-darkest, so I won’t, but I will say this: though some of my former ways of acting these sins out may be gone from or less of a part of my life, I know the spiritual cancer is still there.
I know that in my pride I rebel against those closest to me when I feel like they haven’t noticed me the way they should, and I know I still can slip into a world of lustful fantasy in which I am surrounded by people who do notice me and praise me (we can lust and fantasize emotionally, not just sexually), and I can then soak in the resentment that comes from the fact that my reality does not match the universe I create in my head (because it can’t), and I can think of all the nasty barbs and pithy insults and self-pitying whines I could fling at these people around me, especially my wife, and I can exalt in the fact that I don’t say them because I am Such A Good Man.
I know those sins still live in me. I know what I just wrote above is a sad and scary portrayal of a soul still sick with deadly sins. And I know they will kill me if I don’t let them die first, if I don’t stop feeding them, if I don’t let the One Who Conquered Death kill the deadliness inside me.
This, though, is the hope of our faith. The grace of the sacraments is the water and light that wash the filth of sin, the medicine that kills the virus of selfishness that runs through my blood. Prayer is the therapy that strengthens the atrophied muscles and sets the broken bones in my heart, reflection the vitamins that reinforce my spiritual immune system, the conscience.
And this is the path to perfection. This is how God the dentist, God the physician, is remaking me, is taking the pain of my sin and turning each moment of suffering into a flagstone on my path to His Sacred Heart.
This is why the Deadly Sins can kill us, and why they never have to. This is how the One Who Rose can raise us anew whenever we are ready. This life of virtue, this spiritually healthy life where my souls cancer stays in remission, is the life I am ready for, the life I have already tasted, and the one I now must have in full.
Thanks for your patience between posts. I don’t think anyone’s hurting without hearing from me, but I appreciate you humoring me and reading what little I can write when I can write it.