Fear & Doctrine
Standing in the truth is not simply a matter of agreeing to correct dogma, but is about also knowing where we stand before God as a sinner. To stand in the truth ultimately means that we are honest with ourselves about who we are, what we have done and what we are striving and moving towards. This is no easy task because of “fear.” St. Thomas Aquinas, and Fr. Robert Barron remind us that underneath all sin ultimately is fear. Fear is born of a lack of trust in God’s genuine love for us. If we had a good reason to trust God, we would never fear him, because we would simply rest on His Goodness. Here I am not speaking of that “holy fear” of God, but rather the inordinate and objectionable fear that results in a “false-image” of who God is.
When we fear in this way, it is usually the result of us being deceived or allowing ourselves to be deceived into believing a God that does not in fact exist. Some of our Militant Atheists these days would accuse God of being all sorts of horrible things. Naturally they would quote scripture (out of context), and ultimately creating straw men-arguments. That is, they might create a God that no one would ever wish to worship, thereby justifying their atheism.
The same technique was used by Satan in the Garden when talking to Adam and Eve. The first thing Satan attempted to do was to convince Eve that God was some sort of a Tyrant. “Did God really tell you, you cannot eat of any tree in the Garden?” We see vividly how Satan exaggerates God’s law, making Him out to be some sort of anti-freedom God, who wants us to suffer by some sort of meaningless, cold moralistic paternalism. “Surely if you eat of this tree you will not die (accusing God of being a liar), but you will be like Him.” In other words Satan is saying that God wants to “hold us back” meanwhile he is trying to sell Eve something she and Adam already have – that they are created in the image and likeness of God.
But let us examine this a little more deeply and ask some questions that aren’t explicitly dealt with here. Why did Eve even care what the devil was saying in the first place? Why did she allow herself to care about this serpent’s opinion? In the spiritual life there is a principle called “holy apatheia” which generally is considered a virtue. It is to increase within our spiritual life an absence of curiosity towards ideas, thoughts, truths, and facts that do not concern us. It is to not listen to gossip or the wide range of opinions about everything under the sun from a bunch of people who have no legitimate authority to teach or preach on such subjects. It is to not be fixated on the wrong thing, but rather to have our priorities in check; to seek out the Divine truth above all.
G.K. Chesterton looks at the notion of “free-thinking” and says this to bring a bit of balance to what he perceived to be a bit of a “liberal” interpretation of what free-thinking should be. “Our mind should be open, just like our mouth, so that it may close down on something solid.” Our mind, nourished by truth, cannot be left open in such a way that it never closes down on anything. That is to say, we must be able to identify what the truth is, and immediately close our minds down upon that truth, so that we may assimilate it into every aspect of our lives.
Part of the problem with the “Church of Oprah” and the “non-dogmatic” branches of Christianity is that they no longer use “mere-Christianity” as a beginning point to discussion, but reduce it from its grandeur (Catholicism) into some abstract notion of God. The problem with an “abstract God” or “energy” is that he can become whatever we desire Him to be. But we know that God is who He is. We do not create God in our own image or preference, but rather God creates us in His Image and Likeness. Sinfulness essentially lies in the desire to “control” or “escape” reality. If we cannot control it, we will simply pretend it does not exist. Audrey Assad, one of the most talented Catholic musicians writes wisely when she says in her Song, “Wherever You Go”
“But I’m coming for you, coming for you, wherever you go…There is a blessing in the wound, and your running, your running from it…But I’m coming for you, coming for you, wherever you go…Across the sea, the space between, everything you think you know, the things you keep and bury deep, underneath the mountain snow, I’ll follow…”
And in another song of hers named, “Won me Over”
“Running from you is running to you, you are everywhere, I couldn’t escape you, never stop, you never do.”
In both these songs Audrey picks up a very basic experience we have all experienced in our road to holiness: we often hide from “reality” or from the “truth” when confronted with our sin. What did Adam and Eve do when they realized they could not change the truth about good and evil (even though they ate of its forbidden fruit?) Once they realized that they tried to change the truth, but only deceived themselves, they clothed themselves and “hid” from God. How utterly ridiculous – but so common in all of our lives.
Do we run to confession when we sin? No, because we would rather not take responsibility for our sin, and out of “fear” we are concerned that we will be harshly judged or rejected. But if we know anything about God, we know that all he wants is us to express our sin, so that he can remove it from us entirely. God is impressed and joyful and pleased with us when we come before him with all the wretchedness of our sinfulness, so much so, that all the angels in heaven dance and rejoice at it. But when we stay in darkness we are prone to justify ourselves.
We justify ourselves in our sinfulness because to some extent, we truly do need to be “justified.” When we sin, we lose our peace, that peace that comes from knowing that we are being obedient to God’s will, and living a righteous life. If we sin, and refuse to repent in the way that God has demonstrated through the Church, than we are apt to develop all sorts of creative ways “out of” this responsibility.
Here are arguments that we often use to wiggle out of our obligation to confess our sins:
I’m a good person, it’s not like I am Hitler
– St. John of the Cross explains that the more mature we are in our faith, the more we become aware of the horror of our own sinfulness. That is to say, the more we say, “I’m a good person” the further we get from being honest with ourselves. The more we apprehend the ugliness of sin that swims around in our veins and flesh, the more we cling in trust to our God of Mercy. Which saint paraded the street saying, “I’m better than Nero?” Which Saint puffed himself up? None, because such people will never become saints.
Why do I need to confess to a priest, can’t I just do it in my head?
– While this is a legitimate question in protestant circles surrounding the nature of a “sacrament,” I’d like to just make another comment here; confessing our sins with our lips and hearing that we have been forgiven just as the Apostles communicated the saving grace being offered in the Name of Jesus, so we can hear and be assured in a very concrete way that we have been forgiven. The reality is, we use this as an “excuse” because we simply would rather not have another person know the darkness that swims around in our hearts. But be at peace: “who is without sin?”
I’ll tell the priest some of my sins, but the big ones – no way!
– God did not die for a bunch of jelly beans. He died because of mortal sin, because we all deserve hell in some way. He died for the “big ones,” and wants to free you from the shame and guilt that continue to control you.
I’ll wait until my death-bed
– God is Merciful until the end of our lives. But how can you be sure you are not simply trying to use God’s mercy to avoid negative consequences for sin, versus actually being sorry for your sin? That distinction does matter.
“It isn’t that big of a deal”
– Then why not confess it? When in doubt, spout.
I’m afraid the priest will judge me!
– I am aware that sometimes a bad priest can be found in the confessional. I too have had a few run-ins with a number of priests. Sometimes going to a priest as such can be a penance in itself. However, the primary purpose of going to confession is not to encounter the priest’s personality (even if he inserts it into the sacrament), but to receive the forgiveness and absolution that has been entrusted to him as carrying out the Apostolic mission of the Church. Keep in mind also that most of us priests are idiots, and if we have any common-sense we will remember that we too are sinners. I apologize if you have been hurt by a priest in the past…tell that priest he needs to go to confession. Most priests I have met in the confessional are awesome though, so be not afraid.
Why all of this on the Sacrament of Confession? Because it is one of the best way’s in which we can be assured that we are not deceiving ourselves. When we allow light to shine on our sin, our “wounds” become transformed into God’s own glory. That is to say, that when we allow ourselves to be healed and loved in the midst of our ugliness, we become beautiful because of God’s unrelenting, pardoning love.
St. Thomas Aquinas on Rationalization
St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine both explain that the “inner-man” is seeking fulfillment in God and God alone. The “ultimate end” or purpose of our lives is discovered in God and God alone. That is because God has created us to only be at peace when we rest in God, and are in communion, in “union” with God’s holy will. True peace is experienced when our wills and God’s become one, in that we surrender to whatever he wishes us to do, trusting that He is good, and has our best intentions in mind. God is not creating the universe for himself, but for us, out of Love. Therefore all His laws are not for his own Good, but rather they are a path to our return to our Heavenly Father. Satan has convinced us however that God is not Father, but Tyrant, and moralizing.
How many in the world today are convinced that the Church is full of a bunch of men who want to control women’s fertility and make a bunch of moral laws to control others? We have been duped into believing a lie. Anyone who has had a chance to reflect on The Theology of the Body knows vividly that the Church’s moral teaching brings genuine freedom and joy into our lives, once understood and practiced in faith.
So we cannot “control” what Christ teaches through the Church, nor can we run away from it, but we can fall in love with God’s law. And that is the only right thing to do, for our good and the entire human races good.
St. Thomas explains that, the human will is fixed “subjectively” on the good. What this means is that whether a man sins or is obedient, he on some level thinks he is chasing after some good. St. Augustine put it this way, “Even the man who knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God.” In other words, the deeply imbedded hunger within our soul is directed towards God, but unbeknown to us because of spiritual blindness we at times seek that fulfillment that comes from God alone in the creatures and created universe. We seek our peace and joy in things that pass away like a breath – and fail to realize that “all is vanity,” that there is “nothing new under the sun.”
Subjectively, we “need the good.” No person is going to say, “I want to treat myself badly today,” unless the word “badly” for them somehow actually means good. Human beings are created to seek after the good, and this is not something we can control, it is fixed. Free-will gives us the ability, however to “change what is dark into what is light and what is light into what is dark.” That is, we have the capacity to “justify” our actions or rationalize our sin. Being good and following God’s law is not always easy, even for Christ; he had a number of painful trials to endure. We also have a number of trials to endure, and sometimes we would rather “run” and “hide” from our own conscience that insists we live in reality, that we continue our pursuit of holiness.
So long as we remain in the dark – rationalization – we will always be enslaved to our passions, fleshy desires, and we will not know the voice of God. This is why being honest with ourselves, the Church and God, ultimately leads to genuine freedom. What our culture expresses to be “liberty” or “freedom” generally is reinforcing the desire to leave our options open so we can continue to sin without feeling guilty or ashamed. But what the Church strives to do is impart a means to find forgiveness to alleviate our legitimate guilt, and a path to avoid sin and therefore to have the capacity to Love in place of sin. Instead of lying to ourselves about what is right and wrong, we can simply accept that we are sinful, that God still loves us, and that we ought to “sin no more.”
Story of the Two Brothers
Typically once we have confessed the root of our sin, Satan no longer has a foothold in us. Here is a story that will end this reflection:
Two brothers were throwing a football in their house, knowing that their mother (who was out shopping) would disapprove. The older brother tossed the football to his younger brother who missed it. As a result it hit the crystal duck that belonged to their mother that was hanging over the window. Smashing to a million pieces the older brother stated, “Oh bro, you are in huge trouble.” Then the older brother went over to the shards of glass and picked them up in his hand, showing them to his younger brother saying, “no one can fix that.” Then the older brother smiled and said, “But I have a solution…” Putting the broken crystal into his pocket he said, “If you do me some favours around the house, I’ll hide it, and Mom doesn’t need to know.”
The younger brother reluctantly agreed to his more intelligent, stronger and intimidating brother. It certainly presented a solution to the immediate fear he had about seeing his mother’s reaction when he confessed to her.
Weeks went by, and the older brother began to add more and more tasks to his brother’s list of chores. The younger brother got fed up and decided to confront his older brother – himself. However this didn’t go very well. The older brother simply pulled out from his pocket the glass shards and shoved them into his younger brother’s face saying, “but look at what you did.”
The younger brother felt horrible, felt enslaved to his older brother. Finally he went to his Mother and said with fear and trembling, “Mom, I broke your crystal duck and I am sorry.” His Mother ran over to him, hugged him and smiled. She then said, “I knew the whole time, I was just waiting for you to tell me.”
The boy went away with a peace his older brother would never know.