The Death of Sloth

I thought about writing about lust second in this series on the Seven Deadly Sins because St. Josemaria Escriva says, “Gluttony is the forerunner of impurity”, and I have found that to be true at times in my experience. But there’s another Deadly Sin more intimately connected to gluttony in my spiritual life.

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Sloth loves chunk indeed.

Some of my college buddies might be reminiscing to the time I did a shirtless “Truffle-Shuffle” in our dorm room. Everyone else is undoubtedly shouting, “Heeeey yoooouuuu guuuuys!” or “Baby Ruth?” at their computer screens. If you’re not, you need to stop reading this and Netflix The Goonies right now.

But sloth (or, as Fr. Robert Barron pronounces it, “Sl- ‘long O’ -th) isn’t just the friendly Fratelli brother, and it’s not these cute little guys either:

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It’s a Deadly Sin.

I can’t tell you how many times my overindulgence of pizza has made me too tired to pray. I can’t tell you how often I’ve chosen to scarf a bowl of vanilla ice cream with both chocolate and strawberry syrup on it rather than do some spiritual reading. My gluttony has often gotten in the way of spiritual activities.

But that’s not even the truest relationship between the two. The Deadly Sins are more like the Seven Sin-Diseases: they are sicknesses of the soul, not so much things-we-do as ways-we-are or types-of-people-we-become. And sloth is that terrifying sickness that makes you not care about your soul at all.

Imagine if there was a virus (maybe there is) that makes you not care about eating. You could eat, you could not eat, doesn’t matter, no big deal. If someone makes you do it, you will, but left to your own devices eating seems like more of a hassle than it’s worth.

You would get very sick. You would wither. You would die.

But you can almost see how someone could ignore the fact that such a disease was a problem for a long time. As a matter of fact, if I caught this appetite killing virus, I would probably look a lot healthier in the short term. I’d drop weight, fit my pants better, look sleek and trim and athletic. Especially because I’ve got people around me who would make me eat on occasion, or there would be some situations where it would be more of a pain not to eat than to eat so I would just for ease’s sake.

But over time, I’d get gaunt and my skin would get grey and sallow and my eyes would sink. And then I’d die.

Apply this to the soul and we see how dangerous sloth is.

I’ve been blessed to not have to struggle much with sloth. I used to think it was the same as laziness, and if that were the case then there was a long period of time where I’d have been guilty of this sin for sure, but I’ve learned that sloth is more of this apathy towards the health of the soul, towards relationship with God, and one of the graces He’s given me is that I’ve always had an interest in my faith (as I’ll talk about later, it’s no lack of humility to admit the graces we’ve received from God).

But I get tastes (pun intended) of sloth when I indulge my gluttony. When I sate my body to the point of excess, I cannot muster the physical or spiritual energy to tend to my soul at all. And so the one sin leads to the other, breaking down as it were the immune system of my spiritual life so that even diseases I’m not naturally prone to are able to take root and get me sicker.

Sloth is not funny. It is perhaps the great modern sin, ravaging our populations as the unintended consequence of the imperialistic exploits of the “dictatorship of relativism”, the smallpox of the soul that might well lead to a spiritual genocide that its perpetrators never wanted, the disease of the “explorers” who thought the “natives” were in desperate need of their empire.

But, as always, there is hope. And (next time) we’ll look to St. Thomas Aquinas to find it.

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The Birth of Fighting Trim

So gluttony can, to summarize Lewis, turn the inner part of yourself bit by bit away from God each time you choose to indulge it. And this can have serious effects on the state of your soul.

The proper response to this moral deficiency is developing the virtue of temperance.

While I don’t deny this, I must admit that I hate the word temperance. When I think of temperance, I get the picture in my head of the nerd at the bar with his buddies saying, “No, no, I really shouldn’t, thanks though guys,” as he cleans his glasses and wipes his nose with his handkerchief. I get that picture because I’ve been that guy. I’ve also (perhaps more often) been the guy shouting at that guy to shut the hell up and pound a car bomb for crying out loud.

Neither one proved satisfying.

I know the problem is not with the word temperance but with the connotation it holds for me. I think temperance is meant to be less about the sheepish loser who doesn’t know a good time when it’s in the glass in front of him and more about preparation.

It’s about getting into fighting trim.

How different if when I had said no to those beers I had been doing it because I was in training, in boot camp for the spiritual battles that lay ahead, the battles to overcome lust and pride and sloth and all the little inconveniences of family life that threaten to distract me from its beauty? And how different if I had seen my brothers in that light when I was telling them to belly up to the bar, if I could see that it wasn’t just a matter of them needing to loosen up but a matter of keeping oneself lean and strong for the front lines waiting in the dark night? Perhaps this millstone around my neck might be a few pounds lighter.

My heart desires this temperance deeply

Nothing inside of me wants to be “well-behaved” or “presentable” or “a moral example”, not really. But I do want to win the battle for my soul.

I know I must fight and scratch and kick at the demons clawing at the edges of my heart, waiting for the slightest of openings, whether it be a mortal sin or an extra bite of cheesecake. It does not matter to them. All they care about is getting in.

And all I care about is keeping them at bay.

But how to do it when I’m so weak, when I’ve failed so often already? Well, to return to the idea of addiction, I must admit I am truly powerless over my sins. The only way to win the battle is to let Christ fight it for me. And if this is the case, at the end of the day the only thing I have to fight for is prayer.

I have to fight my fatigue and my boredom and my busyness, my laziness and my attachment to playoff hockey and everything else that tempts me to skip prayer just this one night. And I have to give up all the little local anesthetics I apply to my emotions during the day and instead acknowledge them as they enter my soul, assess their malignancy and ask my Physician to heal me every time I need it.

This is how we win. This is how we get virtue.

This is how we get into fighting trim. This is how we become a part of the Body of Christ, the Church Militant marching to the beat of the Spirit into the heart of our Father-land.

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The Death of Gluttony

The Catholic school I work at is very…Catholic.

A lady once told me we think we’re more Catholic than the Pope. Not sure what that means, but it doesn’t sound good. Regardless, this place is about as orthodox as it gets.

That’s why it caught me so off guard when we got back from Christmas break this year and our staff readily joked about committing a deadly sin.

When asked, “Describe your Christmas break in one word,” multiple people answered, “Gluttonous,” to the amusement of the group.

I could have answered the same. Only it wasn’t very funny for me. I ate cookies like they were ballpark peanuts; one after the other, no regard for amount, discarding the shells of my self-respect to be crunched underfoot. The meme below sums it up beautifully:

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True dat.

I start with gluttony because it’s the deadly sin most widely ignored by Catholics. Me too, to be honest. But it’s DEADLY. It will kill our souls! Why is it a joke?

When I was taught about gluttony in high school, I was told about knights who would gorge themselves at feasts, go out to the courtyard and make themselves vomit, and then return to gorge some more. That was my picture of gluttony. That seemed completely removed from the realm of possibility for me. After all, I’m not a knight.

But gluttony for me is a very real thing. It’s the third bowl of cereal. It’s the second handful of Teddy Grahams. It’s the one last piece of pizza I sneak before I put it away.

It can be deadly. Not just in the blood-pressure and cholesterol sense, but in the soul sense. And here’s why:

“Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different than it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state of the other.” -C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

I can feel that central part of me turning with each of these bites. And even though one might not be that big of a deal, when they’re all put together, they take a toll on my body and my spiritual life.

The virtue of temperance is one I do not have. At all. I tend to be an all-or-nothing guy. When I wanted to be more well-read, I bought ten books, not one, and most of them were by Russians. When I wanted to get in shape, I signed up for a marathon instead of just going to the gym. When I wanted to spruce up our master bath, I didn’t just paint it; I did the floor and cabinets and trim as well.

It’s the same with eating. When I diet, I’m all in. I’m cooking tilapia and veggies, I’m eating almonds for a snack, I’m drinking nothing but water and coffee, etc.

But when I’m not on a diet, I’m crushing a Red Baron pizza by myself or sneaking handfuls of Cheez-its anytime the wife’s not around, eating second breakfast like a hobbit and three-course midnight meals instead of snacks.

It’s bad.

But the good news is, temperance is attainable. It’s possible. And while it’s better to be a teetotaler than a drunk, the best of all is to be able to enjoy the pleasure without it controlling you. Now, you can reach the point of no return where temperance in a certain area is no longer within reach and abstinence, even lifelong abstinence, is necessary. But we are destined for fulfillment, not emptiness, and even if you must choose to be empty in one area because of addiction, God fills you with something else.

All I need to do is start with the next choice. There are donuts in the back office at work right now. I don’t need them. The virtue can start there. I don’t need a full-on diet to win. At least, I don’t have to start there. I just need to win the next skirmish.

And while the idea of temperance sounds like a fancy word for sucky-life, the idea of skirmish and battle speaks to something inside me…

Til next time…

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The Birth of Bottom

Addicts are lucky.

Would that everyone admitted they were powerless over their sin.

Would that everyone knew they needed God to heal them.

Would that everyone’s sin made their lives “unmanageable”.

Would that we all could hit bottom.

Of course, I’m being a bit misleading here. We all either have personal experience of physical addictions or know someone who has (or for the lucky ones like me, both!), and the destructive force those addictions can wreak on souls and families is devastating at times.

But in another sense, I’m not being misleading at all.

If we’re going to be Catholic, we have to plead insanity. We do what we know will make us unhappy. We do what ruins our lives. We do what screws up our families. And we know that, and yet we stick with our behaviors. We keep sinning in our favorite ways, despite the fact that we know it will make us and those around us unhappy.

That’s addiction.

Fr. Robert Barron suggests that we’re all addicts. He says the Beatitudes are calls to be freed from addictions to wealth, power, pleasure, and honor. They are the fulfillment of the moral code inscribed in our hearts and on the tablets: no longer rules to be followed only for obedience’s sake, but for “beatitude”, blessedness, happiness, a share in the Divine life, a life free from the chains of our sin.

Who wouldn’t choose that? Only an addict. Only someone who is powerless over their drug, be it alcohol or anger, booze or bigotry, cocaine or criticism.

Gossip can keep you from beatitude just as much as meth. Sin is simply what we fill our hearts with instead of God.

But how to admit I need to let go of my addiction to pride? How can I hit bottom with envy? That’s why I said addicts (in the traditional sense) are lucky – their problem is obvious, public, and socially unacceptable. So many ask for help.

We all need to do that.

Until we admit we have a problem with sin (i.e. until we stop pretending), we won’t know we need grace.

The first step is admitting we have a problem.

If you’ve never read the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, you should. They’re just darn good catechesis.

THE TWELVE STEPS OF ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS

1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become
unmanageable.

2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to
sanity.

3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we
understood Him.

4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature
of our wrongs.

6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make
amends to them all.

9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do
so would injure them or others.

10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly
admitted it.

11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with
God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us
and the power to carry that out.

12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to
carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our
affairs.

So, admit your sin is out of control and you need Jesus to heal you (steps 1-3). Go to confession (steps 4-7). Do penance (steps 8-9). Continuously examine your conscience (step 10). Pray every day (step 11). Evangelize (step 12).

That’s a simplified, Catholicked version of the steps, but I think there’s something there.

This is how many people are freed from their addictions to drugs and alcohol and sex and eating. It could be the means to our freedom from our spiritual addictions, like pride and envy and lust and greed.

But we won’t use or work the steps unless we admit our powerlessness. We have to quit thinking the moral life is just a great effort of willpower that some of us are doing quite well and others quite poorly.

The moral life is a question of how to live sanely, i.e. how to do what’s best for yourself (what alcoholics would call “your own enlightened self-interest”). When we don’t do that, it doesn’t mean we are just weaklings in need of pMoral-X to buff us up properly.

We are sick with sin. We need spiritual medicine. We need healing.

This is the second step in our journey towards “life to the full”.

1) Quit pretending you are okay.

2) Identify your sin and work the steps on this.

So now it’s time to look those addictions in the eye and see the hope shining behind them.

 

N.B.: This is not meant to belittle or oversimplify the dangers or seriousness of alcoholism, drug addition, sex addiction, etc., or the deep and difficult task of working the steps. Rather, it’s to point out, as Chesterton says, “We’re all in the same boat, and we’re all seasick”. Grace is our dramamine.

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The Death of Pretending

It’s time to stop pretending everything is okay.

The world is a dark place. Terrible things happen. Unimaginable horrors abound. Death and disease own the day. The shadows of nightmares run wicked through the forests of foreign lands.

But I don’t see them.

My suburban life is pretty easy. My lawn is green. My house is big. My belly is growing.

I need not concern myself with the darkness. It is removed from me by generations of whiteness and prosperity.

But even so, I can’t quite get comfortable. There is something in my heart that whispers of the dark that I’ve read about, the back pages of newspapers written in the corners of my soul. It’s not just out there.

It’s in me.

There is a temptation to pretend. It is easy to think that the bad things happen elsewhere, so it’s someone else’s fault, so it’s someone else’s problem. It’s easy slip into a touch screen in the morning and come out just before bedtime. It’s easy to pass the days until they are passed, until you wake up and the world is different, until you turn on the lights around you and look out the window and find that something inside you has crumbled.

Listen to this song.

Old man in a rocking chair
You wake up, you’ve been living alone
After all these years
Surrounded by these shards of mirrors
And how’d it get so quiet here,
You wonder, where did everyone go?

You wake up one day and things are different. Everyone’s left. 

You tried so hard to make people remember you for something you were not
and if they so remember you then something else will certainly get forgotten.

Did they even know you when they were here?

Life is for the living
I’ve heard tell that it is why we are young
In the morning sun
You take every year as it comes
But when your life is over
All those years fold up like an accordion 
They collapse just like a broken lung

This time will end. It will end. I will die. 

Now I’ve only got one organ left and this old bag of bones it is failing me
I try to tell people that I’m dying only they don’t believe me
They say we’re all dying, that we’re all dying
But if, but if you are dying, why aren’t you scared?
Why aren’t you scared 
Like I’m scared?

And suddenly the throwaway lines people give us to ease our fears don’t hold water and we have to face the fact that we are dying. We are dying. We should be scared.

I read somewhere that when you face eternity 
you face it alone
no matter what you thought
or what you had
or you had not
unless you put yourself in God
but tell me God, oh where did you go?

And where is the God I’m supposed to know?

Every bitter night into an empty room I plead my case
Every night I pray that in the morning when I wake
I’ll be in a familiar place and find that I’m recovered and I’m sane
and I’ll remember everything
I’ll remember what I was like before that bug bit me

Why won’t He answer my prayers? Why don’t things change? Why don’t I change?

And when I have my childhood back 
I’ll tear every page out of my book
And place them in an urn
Strike a match and watch them burn
Then I’ll hold the front cover 
Against the back cover and look
You’ll see
Eternity will smile on me

Eternity will smile on me.

This song, I think, sums out where we need to be. Before we can really talk about virtue, we have to know our lack. We have to acknowledge our sin. We have to admit it is dark. We have to admit part of us is dark.

Only then can we be ready for the light.

We are the religion of hope, but hope demands honesty about the poverty of our present state as well as the glory of our future dreams.

We are dying. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t life to be found.

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The Birth of Life…to the Full!

“I came that they might have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, in large part because life’s been pretty full.

Life with two kids is a lot busier than life with one. Like, twice as busy. My wife and I have been re-learning how to live over these last three months. New schedules. New roles. New priorities. Life is rushing by a little more quickly now, and it’s hard to keep up with things like hygiene, much less blog posts.

But my goodness, the joy. The joy of it all. There was a moment last night where I went to pick my daughter up off the floor (sometimes she likes sleeping on the floor…don’t call Family Services) and put her in her bed when joy welled up inside me out of nowhere. I felt sick with joy, brimming, like there was so much happy inside of me that something was breaking. And then I kissed her forehead and walked into the next room and my son was sleeping with his little baby-snore, and tears sprung up, and I fought them back but just barely.

This is life to the full.

My wife and children bring me grace. They show me God. It’s incredible.

But at the same time, I know there are parts of me that are still dark and murky. I also know that we live in a world hostile to true joy, a world that holds pleasure in higher regard than happiness. I mean, just watch this commercial:

They just advertised four of the seven deadly sins. Literally. Just selling sin here. And I’m sure it’s pretty effective.

But I am reminded of something I stole a while back from Ted Sri: “Virtue is the art of living excellently”. If those sins are “deadly”, meaning actually fatal to our souls, then, to use Fr. Robert Barron’s phrasing, the virtues are “lively”, meaning they bring us to richer life.

Virtue brings us to grace. Virtue brings us to the fullness of life.

The next set of posts is going to be a look at the seven deadly sins in my life and how virtue is leading me from the death of those sins to the freedom and happiness of those virtues. It’s been quite a journey thus far. I have much left to travel.

But the sights and sounds along that road are the ones my soul burns for.

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My Hundredth Post!

Well, this is post #100.

To celebrate, I began writing a post called “100 things I’ve learned since starting TDoC!”

I got to 13 before I started running out of ideas. And I’m pretty sure it would have been terribly boring.

So instead, I will just say this: In the two years I’ve been writing this, I have become a father twice, I have grown (sometimes the hard way) as a husband and educator, and I have learned more about prayer and Jesus than at any other point in my life.

What I’ve come to realize is that there is more joy to be had in this life than I ever dreamed possible, and I am just beginning to taste of it. I’ve also learned that this kind of happiness is only possible through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and His Body, the Church.

Without Him, there is nothing but dark and suffering. Even the good stuff (like sex and food and family) become sources of fear and discord, not to mention that hope is stolen from the trials of life.

But with Him, the darkness is but shadows cast in a land of light, and the suffering is but the burning in the muscles of our love as we run to the home we never meant to leave.

A good friend of mine said to me recently, “Prayer gives us the accent of our native land so that anyone who hears us knows we come from Love.”

Yes. I wish I’d thought of that.

Other than the sacraments, daily personal prayer with Scripture is the most important thing we can do.

More important than eating.

More important than sleeping.

More important than our families.

More important than our friends.

More important than our jobs.

More important than anything.

Now that I’ve finally gotten to the point where I pray every day (after years of on-again-off-again, pray-a-day-then-skip-a-week,  love-ya-Jesus-but-not-that-much), I’ve realized that prayer makes it possible for me to love my family and my friends and my students and my food and my sleep and everything else in a way I never knew, a way that is fuller and more meaningful and more pure than what I am capable of on my own.

And I don’t need to be afraid to talk about my prayer life. I have learned that mental prayer is not a skill; it’s a gift God gives us. The only thing that makes a prayer life “good” or “bad” is whether you show up and whether you’re open to what God wants to tell you. So we can’t be proud of our prayer lives, any more than children can be proud on Christmas morning.

We can only receive and rejoice.

We are pilgrims traveling back to our homeland of Love, and all we have to do to get there is open up our Bibles and our hearts. You can’t be bad at prayer. You can’t miss the destination. Because it’s God who brings you home, as long as you let Him.

That’s what I’ve really learned. I am absolutely soaked in Love. My wife. My kids. My parents. My siblings. My in-laws. My job. Music. Art. Novels. Food. Running. Sunsets.

Everything.

“For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away.” Matthew 25:29.

I think this applies to prayer. All the blessing God has given me are multiplied and given anew every day that I pray and stay close to Him in the Sacraments. And those who want these blessings but demand them on their own terms without a relationship with Jesus often are not given them. He will not give us that which will satisfy until we come to Him first; otherwise, we might never go home at all. And that’s all He really wants. He wants us to love Him. He wants His family to come home.

Thanks for reading this blog. Here’s to another hundred posts!

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