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Seek, and you will find
So, here it is March, and just now getting to the first podcast of the new year.
This week’s topic: Everyday Carry and Prayer (and cigars and stuff)
Click to go to podcast
And looking forward to 2018
In this podcast we discuss cigars, Christmas family traditions, and the Incarnation.
Error in Prayer
In a previous post regarding prayer, I commented on the proper disposition to prayer.
However, what triggered that post was a woman’s concern over obtaining verification that her prayers were heard. So now I would like to address this proof we want that our prayers will be answered.
The woman had mentioned a book she read. She felt the book implied that if she was “praying right” she would receive proof her prayers had been heard. If in fact the book implied that, it is wrong.
If we think the success of our prayer is dependent upon our efforts, that is not faith.
At its root, prayer is surrender to God’s supreme dominion.
But, What If I Really Am Doing What I Don’t Want To Do?
(CARROLLTON, TX – Cradle of Civilization) I need to make clear that the two previous columns specifically did not address addiction.
With regard to addiction, I am very specifically qualifying my statement that we sin because we want to as follows:
- Sin requires a deliberate act of will by a knowing subject; addiction compromises brain function and thus culpability for actions. I am narrowing this comment to the topic of sin, not the topics of crime and punishment.
- Because of the significant interference addiction causes to normal brain chemistry, there is a qualitative difference between addiction, habit, and virtue.
Yet, the will is still involved, even in addiction.
From the Catholic News Agency, I found the following quote in this article on addiction:
“He said basically we have this desire, and our desires are insatiable. So God made us with this desire for more more more, and with that desire we can do one of three things…we can become a stoic, an addict or a mystic.” – Dr. Bottaro quoting from a talk by Christopher West
A stoic, an addict, or a mystic. Intriguing. I see these as three dispositions toward reality.
I will add this simple observation, and then explore a bit what it may mean. People do recover from addiction. People quit smoking, they quit heroin, they quit drinking. They even quit meth. I think these are among the most addictive substances on the planet. And people do quit.
Plato likened the intellect to the charioteer guiding a team of horses. These horses are dark and light, and represent the mortal and immortal realities of man. (NB – not, as one might think, the good and bad realities of man. The mortal and immortal realities of man are both goods.) It is the job of the intellect to unite these two realities into an harmonious whole.
If the intellect fails in this task, then one response to reality is addiction.
In my case, preventive education helped to keep me away from illegal drugs. I was, simply, too afraid to try illegal drugs. And that seems to have been a rational fear, and has saved me from a lot of grief. And so a common prescript for avoiding sin applies to addictive substances – avoid the near occasion of addiction.
Avoiding the near occasion of addiction is incredibly critical as one exposure can trigger a brain chemistry response that overwhelms the intellect, leaving the will to choose, again and again, the apparent good of the next high.
So, how do people quit?
I read this article in Psychology Today. The article had a sub-heading: “The antidote to addiction is learning to tolerate reality.”
I was surprised and encouraged by this statement in the article:
For, as AA has long rightly recognized thanks to psychiatrist Carl Jung’s influence on its founder, alcoholism and other addictions are at least as much sicknesses of the soul, psyche or spirit as of the physical body and brain.
The author was, in part, speaking against the current positioning of addiction as a disease, as opposed to a disorder (both of which are sicknesses.) The problem of styling addiction as a disease is that a disease is something that happens to us, something for which it is difficult to blame ourselves. Whose fault is it when we get the mumps? Calling addiction a disease implies that it is not our fault. It puts the cause, and therefore the cure, outside of us. And therefore the culpability is outside us.
Yet, even when we are sick with a physical ailment, something that happened to us, we still have the ability to make a choice, and that choice is to say “yes” to treatment. And so, if styling addiction as a disease allows someone to seek treatment who otherwise would not, there is some value to that paradigm.
But the author of the article feels that the efforts to effect a “cure” are hampered by the fact the underlying issues responsible for the behavior that lead to addiction may not be addressed. While it is true the physical addiction must be addressed, if the underlying mental issues are not addressed, the cycle will begin again.
The author’s summary paragraph states that:
“The antidote to addiction is learning to tolerate reality. Little by little. That is what sobriety really is. This is what the recovering addict needs the most assistance with: soberly dealing with inner and outer reality. And part of existential reality involves personal responsibility.”
Later in this paragraph is this interesting statement, “What the addict needs to discover is that reality is bigger than we are.”
However, tolerating reality would seem to be the Stoic response. I would suggest a slight modification to the subtitle of the article: “The antidote to addiction is falling in love with reality.” How does one do that? By falling in love with Truth.
I suggest the proper response to reality is to become a mystic. And that is an act of will. The proper response to our desire for our good.
What Do You Want?
BY: Frater Bovious
(CARROLLTON, TX, Cradle of Civilization) This is a follow up to the previous post, The Truth About Willpower. In that post I argue that our wills function as designed, and that when we sin, it is not because we have weak wills, it is because, on the contrary, we have wills that function as designed, and that we sin because we will to do so – because we want to do so.
I thought of a couple of objections to this idea that should be addressed. One objection is potentially valid, and the other is just wishful thinking. I will deal with wishful thinking first.
This objection is dependent on a fundamental dishonesty in ourselves. This dishonesty is simply stated: “I don’t sin because I want to, I sin because ‘the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.'” This objection would seem to have Biblical support, both from Jesus himself and from Paul. It seems to say, “I don’t want to sin, I just can’t help myself. It’s not my fault.”
But there is a problem. Mortal sin is defined in the Catechism:
1859 Mortal sin requires full knowledge and complete consent. It presupposes knowledge of the sinful character of the act, of its opposition to God’s law. It also implies a consent sufficiently deliberate to be a personal choice. (Emphasis mine)
Here is the kicker:
Feigned ignorance and hardness of heart do not diminish, but rather increase, the voluntary character of a sin.
That’s probably worth reading again.
Feigned ignorance and hardness of heart do not diminish, but rather increase, the voluntary character of a sin.
If it was really an issue of ‘willpower’ then there would be no mortal sin. Personal choice is an act of will. Pretending it is not increases culpability. So, what to make of this idea that “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak”?
It’s sort of just right there – a breakdown in what is supposed to be a unity of spirit and flesh. The soul knows what it wants. Not being material, it does not want for material things. It wants for God. But we are embodied spirits.
Our bodies, being material, have legitimate material needs. Our will, a power of the soul, is supposed to seek out those things which are desirable – but this is a properly focused and ordered desire. The sensible things, the things we can see, taste, touch, there is nothing inherently wrong with these things.
It is a question of integration of body and soul such that the will is focused on it’s true end. We are body and soul – what is good for one should be good for both. Thus we eat when we are hungry – it is good for body and soul.
“But,” one can object, “We were damaged by The Fall. Our wills have become disordered.” For me this was a potentially relevant objection. However, scripture does not support this objection:
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate. – Gen 3:6
This was before The Fall. Was Eve suffering from a lack of willpower? No. Note that the tree was “good for food”, a “delight to the eyes”, and “was to be desired to make one wise.”
Was to be desired…
The big lie about willpower is that it is some sort of power over the will. It is not. Willpower is simply the power to choose. Choosing is a proper exercise of the will. It is a power of the will. And we all retain this power in apparently full force. Eve had the power to choose before The Fall. We retain the power to choose after The Fall.
In order to blame our peccadilloes on our weak willpower, we have to pretend that we don’t have the power to choose. This is a lie, from the father of lies. We have to accept the fact that we choose to sin. Which requires that we have a sense of sin, something the Accuser has been pretty successful suppressing in our culture. But, from the Catechism:
1848 As St. Paul affirms, “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.”118 But to do its work grace must uncover sin so as to convert our hearts and bestow on us “righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Like a physician who probes the wound before treating it, God, by his Word and by his Spirit, casts a living light on sin:
Conversion requires convincing of sin; it includes the interior judgment of conscience, and this, being a proof of the action of the Spirit of truth in man’s inmost being, becomes at the same time the start of a new grant of grace and love: “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Thus in this “convincing concerning sin” we discover a double gift: the gift of the truth of conscience and the gift of the certainty of redemption. The Spirit of truth is the Consoler.
Our wills focus on what is in front of our faces. What we need is a properly formed conscience. We don’t suffer from weak wills. We suffer from nearly inert consciences.
- In order to benefit from the grace which abounds, we need to stop feigning ignorance, and hiding behind a lack of willpower. Every time you think or hear “willpower” think and hear instead, “power to choose.” And recognize you are making those choices. And ask for Grace and a properly formed conscience.
- Addendum – there remains one more area for discussion. Addiction. How does will fit into addiction? How does a heroin addict overdosing square with this idea that the will pursues the good? To be discussed in Willpower, Part 3.
The Pursuit of Happiness
BY: Frater Bovious
(CARROLLTON, TX, Cradle of Civilization) Writing in the Declaration of Independence Thomas Jefferson pens these famous words:
We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
And so, what is happiness, and how do we pursue it? According to the TV in my room, happiness is a new car, a hot babe, white teeth, and Amazon Echo. The ancients would have laughed at our puny conception of happiness.
St. Iraneus famously said, “Gloria Dei est vivens homo.” This is translated as, “The glory of God is the living man.” You may have heard it as, “The glory of God is a man fully alive.” I understand why the edit – fully alive seems to augment the sense.
The original Latin seems to suggest something about living, about what it means to be alive, that is critical to this post on willpower. To be fully alive suggests that we can be alive in different ways; more or less alive. But, the idea of the living man being the glory of God, well that should give one pause. For, if the wages of sin are death, then being alive implies not sinning.
But, sin is now held up as a virtue – how many times have you heard something described as “sinfully delicious”? If something is that delicious, it must be good. You see the problem. What is happening here is that marketing takes advantage of a fact about our nature. We desire the good. We desire happiness. We are ordered toward the pursuit of happiness. Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Thomas Jefferson, all understood this reality. Madison Avenue exploits it.
The will, according to St. Thomas, is the intellectual appetite. And our intellectual appetite is ordered such that it pursues the good. It is ordered, therefore, toward our ultimate end, which is the beatific vision. This ordering survives the Fall. We remain inclined toward the good. However, our understanding of the good has suffered.
It is necessary to elaborate on the concepts “free will” and “willpower”. Free will is simply the power to choose. Because we are inclined to the good, and because there can be several goods from which to choose, we have the power to choose between goods. And we can choose between things which are neutral. So, when presented with chocolate ice cream and apple pie, we may choose between them. Or if we are presented with vanilla ice cream and warm apple pie, we may choose to combine them into one glorious good.
Willpower is another matter entirely. Willpower, as used in our society today, is the frustration of the will. Willpower is set up as the mechanism by which we choose what we ought over what we want. “If only I were more disciplined, if only I had a stronger will,” we say on January 2nd when our New Year’s resolutions are all in tatters. “How can I develop more willpower?”
The short answer is that the effort is futile. The truth about willpower as used and understood in our society is that it is a lie. The truth is that we do what we want to do, virtually every time. We do what we will.
The concept of willpower is a distraction – it holds up the idea that we can be stronger, we can be better people through an act of will. But this so-called act of will is opposed to the very nature of will. We are saying that our willpower’s role is to deny us what we want to do in favor of what we ought to do. But that’s a lie. It is not the role of the will to decide what we ought to do. The role of the will is to pursue God. But until we truly believe and understand that God is our end, our ultimate good, we will choose apple pie over God. Because absent an actual understanding of God, we will choose the good we see, touch and taste.
Here is the hard part. We may say we know we should go to Church on Sunday. But if we don’t want to go, we won’t. Willpower then becomes a crutch – “If only I had the willpower to make myself do something that I don’t want to do.” But we don’t have that willpower because that kind of willpower is a lie.
As noted, the concept of willpower in our society is flawed. It is in fact in opposition to the concept of free-will. Free-will says we have the ability to choose. Willpower implies that we don’t, that we somehow have to be coerced. And, falling back on willpower means never having to admit that you simply didn’t want to choose this, you really wanted to do that. Lack of willpower takes away culpability. How handy.
We do what we want to do. We sin because we want to. Because it feels good. We sin because we have a disordered understanding of the good, not because our wills are weak. Left to our own devices, we can live pretty wretched lives. But even in societies with no knowledge of Christ, we find people doing good. Why? Because our wills are necessarily ordered to the good.
By focusing on this idea of willpower, we are focusing on the wrong thing. Willpower implies that our wills are weak and need to be forced along. But, our will is not weak. Our understanding is weak. It is our intellect that apprehends Truth. And the highest truth is also our greatest good. But our will responds to what is before us. If we are not lovers of Truth, then we will be lovers of apple pie and pornography, money and power, i.e., ephemeral pleasures.
Once we admit that we sin because we want to, and not because we are weak willed, then we can begin to look at what we ought to do with fresh eyes. Our wills seek the good. We have to recognize what is really good. We have the advantage of Revelation and a couple of thousand years of deep thought on what we ought to do. We ought to do things that make us happy. When we actually know what those things are, and keep those things before our eyes, our wills will do what they do. Seek God.
I have thought of a couple of objections to the above which I will address in a follow up post. Also, we will need to explore Grace.