Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

06 September 2013

Fast Away the Old Self Passes

Only today did I read that the U.S. Catholic bishops are requesting that people fast, pray, and abstain from the freedom of those who are addicted to pornography.

A few days ago, Pope Francis requested a day of universal prayer and fasting for a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Syria.

Read here the U.S. Catholic Bishops' information on fasting.

If I were to describe the human condition in one word, it would be "addiction," or, if you prefer, "attachment." For some, addiction has the unsavory connotations of the "rock bottom," the point at which a person experiences maximum humiliation and pain--landing on skid row or a rehab center, or a body bag.

But nowadays addiction is a much broader concept with a wider breadth of experiences. Addicts can be rich or poor, notorious or neglected. They have only to be dependent upon a mind- or mood-altering substance or activity. Addictions have spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical ramifications. This makes sense, because we are "composite" beings--physical and spiritual beings. Whatever affects one, necessarily affects the other.

Addicted people have an "old self" that cannot or will not grow. Take today's Gospel reading, in which Jesus speaks about the advantage of pouring new wine into new wineskins. This lesson is followed by a curious observation: "And no one who has been drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good’” (Lk 5:39). Jesus is the "New Wine," the Way of Life that many of His listeners reject in favor of old ways. Addicts' old ways no longer profit them, but the fact doesn't sufficiently prevent them from further demoralization. Addicts' loved ones, meanwhile, are also enervated by their self-serving behavior.

Here are two quotes from prolific Christian writer C. S. Lewis:
(1) “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
(2) “And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history—money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery—the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.” 
God alone will fully satisfy the desires of the human heart, because He made the human heart. Try though we may to attain that satisfaction by other things, our attempts will not work very long or very well.

Prayer, that is, conversation with God, is the mortar of our spiritual edifice. It is the "refresh" button that makes for a new self, always being conformed unto His likeness. He likes people to be at peace with Him, with their neighbor, and within themselves. He likes peace among nations. He likes people to live in freedom from personal and social slavery.

Fasting trains the senses to recognize what is truly good, trains the intellect to comprehend what is truly good, and trains the will to choose what is truly good. As we learn to live beyond our instincts, we develop a deeper instinct--a new tendency toward God and neighbor that is fully human because it is conscious and free.

Fasting of whatever sort attunes us to our own lack. Our relationship with God (and with all creation in God and for God's sake) is always in need of renewal and improvement. When we recognize just how much we "miss" that cup of coffee, TV show, hamburger, bowl of ice cream, lottery ticket, etc., precisely then are we alerted to (1) our own need for complete satisfaction, which no earthly good can provide; and (2) the material and spiritual deficits that other people share, deficits often much deeper than ours.

The people of Syria have been living in a brutal dictatorship; but the decision to combat force with force is widely considered to be ill-advised. By storming the heavens with sacrifice, we are not trying to convince God to make things work out our way. He forces nobody to make or retract decisions. It is unlikely that our President or Congress cares that Catholics and other people of good will are choosing to pray and fast for an end to violence in Syria. But then again, wouldn't it be nice if our leaders witnessed a more united front, especially among our Catholic people? It seems like such a pipe dream now, I must admit.

Pornographic practitioners have enslaved women, men, and children on many levels, reducing the human person to body parts, appearance, and physical prowess. While men and women ideally rely on sexual intercourse for the propagation of the species and the bonding of spouses, pornography limits what used to be known as "the conjugal act" to the sensate aspects of the orgasm, thereby separating the experience of the orgasm from procreation and union. Mutual pleasure becomes the only aim, and eventually it turns out that the pleasure doesn't even have to be mutual.

But this or any other knowledge, by itself, doesn't stop addicts from using. The knowledge of Christ's call for peace--even the joy of a people with no quarrels--doesn't stop the powerful from exerting themselves wrongly at whatever cost.

O Christ, Christ, come quickly! Satisfy the hearts of all Your people!

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