The ARM of St. Michael
Addiction encompasses compulsive and obsessive behaviors. While the words of Jesus remind us ‘you shall not commit the sin of adultery’, they went beyond to include even thinking lust.
Sobriety marks the end of “acting out”, the ‘external’ deed of sin. Recovery continues our transformation, inwardly - in the renewal of our minds, to take captive our eyes, thoughts, and heart.
Gaining custody of the body and the mind are arduous tasks, which cannot alone be accomplished by human power. Healing unto self-mastery requires time and grace. The more subtle and difficult is the battle for the mind. An addict’s job is to keep illicit thoughts out of the imagination, so that they will not become sinful choices and behaviors. God help us!
The mind is the domain of discernment between the new surprise of temptation and the old resort of sin. We are taught as Christians that thoughts by themselves are not sins. A sin is a conscious decision and act, to allow proposed evil to have its way, with the knowledge that to do so is unwise, wrong: my will not God’s. Yet, many know the perils of sin and yet still sin! St. Paul uttered “I do the evil I hate”; the frailty of involuntary vice loudly begs for a Healer.
The choice apparatus has multiple parts – appetite, will, intellect, imagination, memory - each of which can be compromised by illness, force of bad habit or hapless momentary stupidity. Sin and the habit of sin cause blindness in the cogitative faculties. Many who sin literally do not know what they are doing. Involuntary vice is sin that can’t help it and cries out for the healing of soul and cogitative powers. We pray: Father of New Life Your grace is enough!
When having no way to ply sexual faculty in an act of giving, have you ever assumed that if there is any trace of arousal/intoxication inside, then I must always be categorically in sin? Some lust temptations by themselves produce intoxication intense enough to feel like sin. But we are told: we will ‘walk through fire and not be burned’. God in Heaven Your grace is enough!
There are moments of this kind that do not reach the state of sin. Sometimes phantasms arise spontaneously, without any thought whatsoever of reckless invitation. The proof of sin is always in what follows. If there is escalation, we are convicted by the choice to intoxicate.
The doubting ‘disease’ of scrupulosity, includes the difficulty of not being able to discern between involuntary thoughts and sinful thoughts. Part of this inability can be a side effect of child abuse. The victim of long ago suffered a trespassing of personal boundaries. This violation confuses the person’s sense of what is rightfully theirs and what is not, in the moment of harm and repeatedly throughout life. [This condition is exhaustively examined in the book Boundaries by Drs. Townsend & Cloud. We note here, from modern data reportage, that one out of every three girls and one out of five boys suffers child molestation.]
As an adult, what appears in the mind can become the center of debate: “are these my thoughts?” Fellowship with another can help us establish context about what is happening. We can know whether we are consciously, willfully, carelessly, or helplessly aiming at sin and degradation, drunkenness and compulsion. Dreams are thus not sins. Phantasms in the imagination, however graphic, if they are unconnected to our present intentions or actions, are not sins.
Scrupulosity tries to argue “I cannot be sinless unless all of my thoughts are clean”. But this over-assigns what would be total responsibility for all human mental phenomena, as well as just being in the “world of darkness” on earth. Scrupulosity is a form of intolerance and self-reliance, an “absolute” purity law applied with overly heroic sensitivity. Scrupulosity seizes by cloaked pride an absurd and false right to self-prosecute. It tries to take all of the air out of the room, the Devil’s and God’s. Absurd!
Galatians 2: 11-21 give us an apostolic moment when Peter defaults into self-protection by re-observing the old law. St. Paul calls him out:
Peter’s Inconsistency at Antioch. 11 And when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he clearly was wrong. 12For, until some people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to draw back and separated himself, because he was afraid of the circumcised. 13And the rest of the Jews [also] acted hypocritically along with him, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. 14But when I saw that they were not on the right road in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of all, “If you, though a Jew, are living like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
Faith and Works. 15We, who are Jews by nature and not sinners from among the Gentiles, 16 [yet] who know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. 17But if, in seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves are found to be sinners, is Christ then a minister of sin? Of course not! 18But if I am building up again those things that I tore down, then I show myself to be a transgressor. 19For through the law I died to the law that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ; 20yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me. 21I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.
This is happening to Peter the first Pope of Mother Church, the first shepherd of Christ’s flock! If Peter can make the mistake of hiding in formulaic safety nets, missing trust in the power of Christ, then how are we immune, who are sick?
Paul knows his weakness, the suffering of satanic torment, the grace of awakening like the Magdalene, the prodigal sinner saved by the Voice, who truly knows the primacy of our Savior in all things. But Peter gives the last word in our meditation, for we must still: Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour - 1 Peter 5: 8 This is the fact that precedes our need in every hour for salvation.
This invaluable alertness, being awake, is staying focused on what is going on right now, keeping our eyes, not fearfully on what might be done or used to be done, that is, on the deception of futile self-reliance, but on Christ. This being awake is being able to tell what is from the Devil and what is actually mine. We stay alert. We pray: “In the name of Jesus, whatever you say Satan, whatever you see Satan, is your problem not mine.” We seek Christ alone.
Christianity is not about following a rule or a law nor certainly any critique of mental and behavioral process, however "superb". Impatience, fear and weariness can tempt us to self-reliance. Holiness is dependence on God. No other mediation works. In Magnificat’s Praying with St Paul, pondering Galatians 2:21, Father Nagle offers the simple prayer:
Father, what a temptation it is for me to “live to the plan”. Let desire for your Son fill me, so that his presence will be my only plan. Amen.