The ARM of St. Michael
Visits to the sacrament of reconciliation often come with suggestions one can live in order to prevent return to sin. The grace of the sacrament allows the priest to transmit new things to work on, to overcome our weakness, in our persevering campaign to topple the Adversary.
One that probably represents the simplest response to temptation has been called "Pause, Pray, Choose".
When we are greeted with immodesty in the world, or are being plied by the devil internally, the first directive is to stop. Rather than following the Evil One's wish to not put on any brakes, pausing allows us to open up an actual space for decision. In the past, temptations too often lead in a blur to the gulp moment, the too-quick fatal choice for delirium. For lust addicts, temptation seems to stand ever at the edge of excitement’s dangerous pit.
All temptation is best dealt with in the earliest moment. If we witlessly bite into the Beast's morsel, we will bring upon the cascade of inebriation, and dark fog and wonder a week later 'how did I miss the offramp?!' When surprised again by the misery of temptation, we learn to pause before the next act.
We need to allow ourselves to remember, by the powers of cogitation, that we have real, inordinate vulnerability. Here also is our chance to remind the Lord that we (may) also lack desire to not want the insidious inebriant. God come to my assistance, Lord make haste to help me! The St Michael Prayer is a clear sword of intent: St Michael the Archangel defend us in battle against the wickedness and snares of the Devil, may God rebuke him we humble pray and do thou o Prince of the Heavenly Hosts by the power of God cast into Hell Satan and all the evil spirits who wander throughout the world, seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.
We need the pause in order to focus, to make the Request with humility and true need. Praying is followed by the third part which is to choose to walk in the opposite direction of the beckoning finger of the dead past, choosing for ourselves purity and chastity, by doing something else.
It is easy to miss again what becomes the second exit from sin, to give ourselves to a counter action. It is right now very helpful to get up and take initiative! If it’s not clear what might be done, ask! Cry out! Maybe a household chore, a work of mercy like a Tabernacle visit to make a poor box donation or neighborhood litter patrol, or something we have clean affection for like going for a walk or riding a bike; something that will command enough mental and physical immersion to prevent the inner trance.
By doing something else we are showing the Lord our desire to remain pure and chaste. Instead of letting the Semi truck of lust run over us again, we head the other way, through grace in the power of Christ. We are giving ourselves an opportunity to be distracted from sin using skillful means.
Fr. Chad Ripperger’s rich treatment on the sacrament of confession (Introduction to the Science of Mental Health, Sensus Traditionis Press 2013), highlights the differences between positive and negative avoidance.
There are two kinds of avoidance. The first is the blanket exclusionary kind made early on because we know we have perilous susceptibility to the near occasion of lust. This is wise, and works! But if our only stratagem is complete prohibition of the intoxicant, we risk becoming reduced to a dim bunkered existence. Avoidance becomes negative when it seeks to repress or administer 'total lock-down' in one’s reaction to temptation, as if this were the only possible option.
Fr Chad teaches that the following custody of the mind technique can be applied to anything that causes spiritual, moral or psychological harm. “Custody of the mind is twofold and the control a person has over the imagination normally starts with the first and progresses to the second, as the habituation in the imagination grows. The first is that once an image which can cause harm comes into the person’s imagination, he must switch it to something which he enjoys doing, which is morally licit and which will not cause psychological harm, such as fishing or mechanical work or something of this kind. This first step normally occurs because the appetites will hold onto the image and so it is easier to switch to an image that the appetites like that is morally licit than to try and kick out the harmful image altogether.
As the person begins to gain control over the imagination, he can then begin the process of reformulating the image which causes him difficulty to a ratio or perspective that is in congruity with reality. In the case of a man with adultery problems, he can change the image of women he is around who are not his wife in such a way that he looks at them from the point of view of the salvation of their souls or as people worthy of respect and dignity.”
Fr. Chad goes on to explain: “This process avoids two problems. The first is it roots out the problem at the level of the imagination which affects judgment and then one’s actions. The second is that this process redirects the faculties without falling into the problems of avoidance. Avoidance in the negative sense consists in not dealing with the thing as it is, whereas avoidance in the proper sense helps one in the initial stage as a recognition of truth (‘I have this problem’). But it does not end in denying reality, as negative avoidance does, but ultimately ends up in a true understanding of the nature of the object (my emphasis) which in the past caused trouble.”
St. Philip Neri: "When sensual thoughts come to mind, we ought to immediately make use of our minds, and fix them instantaneously upon something else, no matter what." Do we feel the urgency here of "no matter what"? We might ask for this grace if we are consistently slow out of the gate to flee sin. We need too ask also for detachment from 'love of intoxication'.
Ultimately, instead of repressing the image of women, we pray to come to the desire and ability to look upon all our sisters with the eyes of the Maker, seeing His glory in their reality. We learn not to violently shun or fearfully avoid but delicately allow by admitting the truth of simply what is, by the power of Christ’s grace. Yes, the still very vulnerable will have a few seconds to accomplish this, but it will eventually bring peace.
In effect, we are learning to see a female person and to relearn that human physicality does not automatically send messages of seduction or even attraction. This will bless our recovery and the world. Our Savior lived this, and challenging as it may remain, it is surely too willed for us. We can ask for His eyes.
Lastly, we share some of Fr. Ripperger's thoughts on general confessions. There are two kinds of confessions. The first involves declaring particular errors since our last confession. The second is the periodic overview confession of our life’s patterns of sin. "By confessing all of the sins of his past life, the penitent will gain graces to stay out of sins he has committed in the past as well as have some of the effects of those sins taken away. The directee should make a general confession once every five years or more often at the discretion of a prudent priest in order to continue to gain the graces necessary to keep his mental illness at bay and to gain strength to overcome his mental illness." Note that mental illness and semi-voluntary afflictions such as addiction or obsession, are proper to disclose in a good confession.
Thank you God Almighty for the Most Precious Blood of Your Son without which there is no forgiveness. Grant us Lord the desire to work out our salvation, a willingness not just to pray but to exchange vice for a life of virtue, loving action, works. We beg in Jesus name. Amen.