Chapter Eight

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The Divine Office at night

‘It seems reasonable that during the wintertime, that is from the first of November until Easter all sold arise at the eighth hour of the night. By that time, having rested until a little after midnight, they may rise with their food well digested. Any time which is left after Vigils should be devoted to study of the psalter or lessons by those who are behind hand in these tasks. From Easter until the first of November the times should be arranged so that there is a very short break after Vigils for the needs of nature. Lauds can then follow at the first light of daybreak.’

The advice that is offered within The Rule, from this chapter, takes a sudden turn to the practical. Previously there has been much written by the Holy Father Benedict on the need of humility, of the nature and character of those drawn to monastic life. But now, he focuses his attention on the particularity of the Divine Offices – it is the backbone of the Benedictine life and therefore has 12-13 chapters dedicated to the details of The Office.

Context is important here. Benedict was writing in Italy, for the monastery of Monte Cassino, where the winter sunrise would be around 7:15/7:30am and sunset would be 5:15/5:30pm. By setting this schedule in a very particular way it allows the monk to get around seven hours of sleep – even though he would be waking early.

This night office of vigils is not as frequently kept these days and would be almost unthought of outside of the monastic life. But it says something quite profound into what our needs and desires are – physically – and how willing we are to forgo some of  our comfort in order to pray. The fact that Benedict adjusts the timing of the Office of Vigils depending on the season shows that he does take seriously the need for the body to be well rested. This is also shown in his practical comments surrounding food being well digesting and time being left for the call of nature – the monk should be focused upon God when engaged in the Divine Offices, not concerned with a rumbling stomach or full bladder, or sleep deprivation.

The Vigil office is probably the most difficult to keep. It is the one that is most affected by the body. If sleep has eluded you for many hours before having to rouse yourself for prayer, your attention will be diminished or you may not physically be present at all. There is a discipline in this office, especially, which means that by placing it at the centre of the monastic life it becomes the hook upon which our attitude toward other devotions rests. To draw ourselves away from study or labour (which we may or may not be enjoying) is one thing, to drag oneself away from sleep is quite another.

The demands that are placed on the monks for this type of prayer are high, and it is what whey are being asked to give themselves to, fully and generously. When reflecting upon our own calling to commitment to Christ the priest promises, at ordination, to pray morning and evening prayer and to at least be present for Mass every Sunday (even if they are not celebrant – unless they are ill) – this is a minimal requirement – and while it is enough to satisfy canonical obligation should our devotion to Christ be reduced to a lowest common denominator.

Rising at midnight or 1am might not be possible for many of us in daily life – but what would be our equivalent if we were to consider how best to serve Christ and increase our devotion in prayer.

Chapter Seven (Part Four)

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‘The seventh step of humility is that we should be ready to speak of ourselves as of less importance and less worthy than others, not as a mere phrase on our lips but we should really believe it in our hearts. Thus in a spirit of humility we make the psalmist’s word our own: I am no more than a worm with no claim to be a human person for I am despised by others and cut our by my own people. I was raised up high in honour, but when I was humbled and overwhelmed with confusion. In the end we may learn to say: It was good for me, Lord, that you humbled me so that I might learn your precepts’

This passage from The Rule is a warning against false humility. Something that we are perhaps always prone to, especially the English people. We are very good at supporting the underdog and brushing aside compliments that are given and yet behind those protestations there is a little bubbling pool of pride swelling in the heart. False humility serves little purpose. It does not make us humble, it does not fool those that give the compliment in the first place and it does not draw the soul any closer to God.

The words from the psalmist that Benedict quotes, referring to being no more than a worm seems contrary to the purpose of our creation and ‘human flourishing’.

There is much written and spoken of human flourishing, that the purpose of God for us, as his created beings, is that we should be able to flourish. There is certainly truth in this, however, the view of what human flourishing is has been distorted and conformed to the image of the world. The society in which we live, move and have our being is bound up in productivity, in wealth, in the accumulation of material possessions, of unrealistic standards of beauty. Young people in particular have thrust before their face particular goals – get married, have children, higher education, well paid job, multiple holidays and so on and so forth. Not achieving one or more of these is often looked upon as a sort of failure and those that have managed to secure them are then expected to be content and happy.

Yet we live in a society with increasing mental health problems around anxiety and depression. The rate of suicide (especially amongst young men) has become increasingly high. Society is setting us up for unrealistic goals. Benedict here is lowering the expectation placed upon each of us in our earthly pilgrimage. If we recognise that outside of God and the grace and mercy that He has for us that we are nothing, our only path is to be raised by Him and to Him. If we attempt to fill that God  shaped hole with the other goals that society suggests are enough, we will find they are not and fall from a great height, or struggle to even climb toward them in the first place.

The eighth step of humility teaches us to do nothing which goes beyond what is approved and encouraged by the common rule of the monastery and the example of the seniors.’

Once again, in this fairly short and self explanatory step on the path to humility, Benedict is referring to the practice of monastic obedience. Once you have joined that community you have a duty to more than just yourself and to God. The journey that you have undertaken is no longer a private pilgrimage in the depths of your heart between you and the divine alone, but you are now part of a communal pilgrimage. We all walk together. The brothers and sisters in the order are to be considered with great importance, so that when your spirit is weak and your love of God is small, the love of fellow man and the commitment made to them may carry you through those dark or dry patches. For those of us not in the cloistered community or formal vows of the monastic life, we should view our Baptism and participation in the sacraments as the same vow. To our brothers and sisters in Christ, as well as to God and our commitment to a depending personal relationship with Him.

‘The ninth step of humility leads us to refrain from unnecessary speech and to guard our silence by not speaking until we are addressed. That is what scripture recommends with these sayings: Anyone who is forever chatting will not avoid sin and there is another from a psalm: One who never stops talking loses the right way in life’

The purpose of this aspect of The Rule is two fold. Firstly, when we speak we are commanding someones attention, we are outrightly saying that what we have to say needs to be listened to, that it supersedes the thoughts or words of someone else. We may not actively be thinking that in our mind but if we analyse our conversations, that is what we are doing. We believe that when we speak we are adding something of value, or changing the course of the dialogue to our own agenda, or correcting, or elaborating. We do so because we want our thoughts recognised and approved of. This places us, in our minds at least, above others. How often, if we are honest, have we listened to someone but all the time been thinking what our reply shall be, rather than actually listening to the words they say?

Secondly, the guarding of silence is important. Through scripture we know that it is in the silence that we hear the still small voice of God. If we do not leave space to heard His Word then we will never take it fully into our hearts. To destroy that silence with our own spoken thoughts, for ourselves and for others, we are even suggesting that what we have to say is more important than the opportunity to hear from God directly. If we were to consider that every time we were to speak, our speech would certainly be reduced but increased in quality.

‘The tenth step of humility teaches that we should not be given to empty laughter on every least occasion because: a fool’s voice is for ever raised in laughter.’

This is similar to the previous step in the need to guard the silence of the community. There is, of course, laughter that delights the Lord but there is also laughter that betrays the brokenness of our humanity. How often are we taken up in laughter simply because other people  are laughing, having no understanding of the cause of context? What about the laughter that is at the expense of someone else – if they misspeak, slip, drop something, have an embarrassing moment. Silence is not worth losing in situations such as that.

‘The eleventh step of humility is concerned with the manner of speech appropriate in the monastery. We should speak gently and seriously with words that are weighty and restrained. We should be brief and reasonable in whatever we have to say and not raise our voices to insist on our one opinions. The wise, we should remember, are to be recognised in words that are few.’

This, again, is about not pushing our own agenda to the forefront over and above the ideas, opinions or mindset of others. To be dignified in speech and measured in tone and volume suggests an openness to being challenged, to having our opinion considered but no more than that of others. It is not dependant upon age or status. The wise person is the one that has spoken the least – because they have listened to others but also dwelt in the wisdom of God, spoken in the silence. To absorb all that can be learned we must let it penetrate our understanding, and this cannot be done if we are straining always to be heard.

‘The twelfth step of humility is concerned with the external impression conveyed by those dedicated to monastic life. The humility of their hearts should be apparent by their bodily movements to all who see them. Whether they are at the work of God, at prayer in the oratory, walking about the monastery, in the garden, on  journey or in the fields, wherever they may be, whether sitting, walking or standing they should be free of any hint of arrogance or pride. They should guard their eyes and look down. They should remember their sins and their guilt before the judgement of God, with the words of the publican in the gospel for ever on their lips as he stood with his eyes cast down saying: Lord, I am not worth, sinner that I am, to lift my eyes to the heavens. Or the words of the psalmist might fit just as well: I am bowed down and utterly humbled’

When I was ordained I made a conscious choice to treat the vows that I had taken as  would if I had taken life vows in a monastic community. I gave away all of my others clothes that I had amassed over the years and left my wardrobe an array of black trousers and black clerical shirts. The symbolism of the clergy attire is important to me. The black as a reminder that I have died to my old life in order to serve in a new life for God and the black coming into contact often with dust and wax in church buildings showing up so starkly to remind me of my own sin.

Some people have accused me of always wanting to be seen as a priest when I am in public, even when it is my rest day and I am not actively ‘at work’ so to speak, alluding to the desire to be recognised. However, this could not be further from the truth. If I were to only wear my cassock and collar when I was engaged in church activities, treating it as a uniform and wearing it around those who understand and respect it – it would be very easy to have my sense of self inflated by their reverence and deference. When I wear my cassock in the street, I am aware of the strange looks I get from some people, I hear them comment that I am a man in a dress or that I look strange, I also have to deal, occasionally, with outright hostility and offensive remarks. All of these interactions remind me that I am a servant. I am not in an elevated position but marked out as different. It also gives people the opportunity to speak to me, if they wish to, when they want to – putting their needs above my own. This is an important discipline in my priestly life – it is to remind me that I am not serving myself but Him who called me.

And monk or nun who has climbed all these steps of humility will come quickly to that love of God which in its fulness casts out all fear. Carried forward by that love, such a one will begin to observe without effort as though they were natural all those precepts which in earlier days were kept at least partly through fear. A new motive will have taken over, not fear of hell but the love of Christ. Good habit and delight in virtue will carry us along. This happy state the lord will bring about through the Holy Spirit in his servant whom he has cleansed of vice and sin and taught to be a true and faithful worker in the Kingdom. 

Here Benedict makes sense of those seemingly harsh rules that he has offered in this chapter. Reminding ourselves of hell, bringing to mind the judgement, counting ourselves worthy and nothing more than a worm – it is not so that we may live in fear of God that petrifies us to into not doing anything for fear of retribution. That is a necessary step in order to re-order our lives. Some may progress through that quickly and attain the love that drives out all fear through that purgation, others, who may start further back on the path will take longer and seem to have to live through the harsh purgation for a greater period of time. The end result is the same, to fall deeply into the love of God so that that becomes our motivation. The fear of hell is to be a kickstarter on that process, if you will.

Chapter Seven (Part Three)

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‘The second step of humility is not to love having our own way nor to delight in our own desires. Instead we should take as our model for imitation the Lord Himself when he says: I have come not to indulge my own desires but to do the will of Him who sent me. Again remember that scripture says: self indulgence brings down on us its own penalty, but there is a crown of victory for submitting to the demands of others’

To not delight in our own way is incredibly difficult. No doubt, like me, you have felt that rush of pride and superiority as you manage to convince someone that your idea is the better option, even if it is something monumentally trivial such as the answer in a team quiz. Ultimately that rush is short lived and passes quickly and what is left is a small seed of self-idolatry that can easily be watered by other situations. This begins to creep into all aspects of our lives. We start making choices for other people, believing that we know best and robbing them of their individuality and worth. It also creeps into our spiritual life. We start commanding God and demanding things of Him. ‘God can you just do this’, ‘God, just do that’ our prayers may go. This language may not seem overly problematic but it says ‘God, conform to my will’ rather than ‘God, help me conform to your will’ which, as followers of Christ, should be our path.

The advice that Benedict offers in the ladder in this chapter is designed to help those in his community to nip in the bud these bad habits to prevent them from becoming flowering weeds the choke any growth in the soul. The soul is fertile ground for growth, but we have to be guarded against what we may be planting there.

‘The third step of humility is to submit oneself out of love of God to whatever obedience under a superior may require of us: It is the example of the Lord Himself what we follow this way, as we know from St Paul’s words: He was made obedient even unto death’

‘Take this cup from me’ Our Lord pleaded in the garden of Gethsemane as He contemplated His impending death at the hands of the Romans spurred on by His own people. The passage moves Christ on from pleading to acceptance very rapidly, perhaps for the sake of narrative, but it is not hard to imagine Him wrestling with the weight of what was placed upon Him, in fact, we know of His anguish and the way it is described as ‘tears like great drops of blood’ falling from Him.

When different demands are placed upon us in our spiritual communities we have to believe that the Holy Spirit is working in that place and amongst those people, that what is being asked of us is from God. (although there are clearly times when this has been used as an abuse of power and for manipulation and it should be obvious that this is not from God Himself) If we trust in God, that He is supreme in all things and is at the centre of our lives, there should be little fear in following the commands, knowing that He knows us better than we are able to know ourselves, that as our creator He knows us completely. Our resistance is our fallen human nature rebelling against the divine spark.

‘The fourth step of humility is to go even further than this by readily accepting in patient and silent endurance, without thought of giving up or avoiding the issue, any hard and demanding things that may come our way in the course of that obedience, even if they include harsh impositions which are unjust. We are encouraged to such patience by the words of scripture: whoever perseveres to the very end will be saved. And again there is the saying of the psalms: Be steadfast in your heart and trust in the Lord. Then again there is that verse from another psalm: It is for you we face death all the day long and are counted as sheep for the slaughter’

This is probably one of the most difficult aspects of The Rule to read. To take the harsh impositions that are placed upon us without speaking up against it, without hardening your heart. Again, the model for this is Christ. To be innocent and condemned to death is the most harsh imposition of all and yet He accepted it with grace, once it was clear that it was His to hold. It may seem an impossibility, it may be deeply jarring with our world-view of what justice looks like, to suffer what we perceive to be harsh impositions without complaint.

But I believe that is the key. ‘That we perceive’ – what has been asked of us may not be as unreasonable as our pride tells us that it is. We may be asked to go our of our way to help someone else, we may be asked to undertake a chore that we find especially difficult, we may be asked to repeat a chore time and time again that we find repulsive, we may appear to be being treated different to another member of the community. But we are only getting a small glimpse of a bigger picture. We may never be told why we are being asked to do this or that, why another brother or sister is not given the job, but we must trust that the superior knows what is best for the good of the entire community, not just you as an individual.

This is especially important when it comes to the aspects of our soul that God asks of us. Forgive that person, Love that person more, Apologise, Repent, Confess. Any of these are difficult and our pride attempts to block them because of the discomfort that they may cause and the best way for pride to stand in the way is to make the brain perceive that the demand is unjust – therefore we can execute righteous indignation, not do the task and feel that we have won a small victory. When in fact, we have lost the crown of glory and won an idol of flesh.

Those who follow in that way have a sure hope of reward from God and they are joyful with St Paul’swords on their lips: In all these things we are more than conquerers through Him who loved us. They remember also the psalm: You, O God, have tested us and have tried us as silver is tried; you led us, God, into the snare; you laid a heavy burden on our backs. Then this is added in the psalm: You placed leaders over us to show how we should be under a superior. In this way they fulfil the Lord’s command through patience in spite of adversity and in spite of any wrongs they may suffer; struck on one cheek they offer the other; when robbed of their coat they let their cloak go also; preset to go one mile they willingly go two; with the Apostle Paul they put up with false brethren and shower blessings on those who curse them’

This sort of meekness is counter to the culture that we live in. You only have to see the indignation that is evident on social media, through blogs and articles, to see that the moment someone disagrees with a position that we hold – be it political, religious, social or whatever – it is seen as an affront, an attack upon our very existence and immediately the drawbridge goes up and the walls are fortified ready for a siege.

What Benedict is asking those who follow his rule, and indeed those who follow The Way of Christ, is to demonstrate strength through what is seen to be weakness. Doing as this portion of The Rule suggests will mean that the world looks upon us as weak, unwilling to defend ourselves, dispassionate about what we belief, unable to argue back. But what is demonstrates in the true Kingdom is strength. A sure conviction in the one whom we have chosen to follow and model our lives on. Christ the King was born in poverty and died as a criminal. His earthly reign appears folly and only the foolish rejoice in it. But for those that do, for those that realise that He has turned world order upon its head, it is truth.

‘The fifth step of humility is that we should not cover up but humbly confess to our superior or spiritual guide whatever evil thoughts come into our minds and the evil deeds we gave done in secret. That is what scripture urges on us when it says: make known to the Lord the way you have taken and trust in Him. Then again it says: confess to the Lord, for He is good, for His mercy endures for ever. And again: I have mad known to you my sin and have not covered over my wrongdoing. I have said: against myself I shall proclaim my own faults to the Lord and you have forgiven the wickedness of my heart’

The first time that I made my confession I was terrified. My stomach was turning in knots and I did my best to try and make excuses for not going in. I managed to drag myself in and was greeted by a kindly bishop (this only made me feel even worse) and slowly began to unburden myself to him. As I tentatively began to confess, firstly starting with small, seemingly inconsequential trivial things, and eventually progressing to the big issues, the main things that I had felt the need to confess, he listened. His face did not contort in judgement nor did he recoil in horror. He was kind but also firm. He didn’t make me feel like the worst sinner that has lived, and nor did he make me feel that I had done no wrong. Leaving that confessional room having been absolved and been reminded of the mercy of God and received his forgiveness, I was lighter.

The sins that weigh us down are the ones that cling closely to our hearts and souls and thrive in the darkness. They are the sins that are not obvious to our fellow man, the ones that we can mask. They are known to us and God and because we do not have that direct response from God as we do from a confessor, we slowly and surely make justification for our sins so the we eventually reach a point where we accept them as part of our character. To confess them may be uncomfortable but it helps us to remove them as we continue on our pilgrimage toward the Throne Room.

‘The sixth step of humility for monks or nuns is to accept without complaint really wretched and inadequate conditions so that when faced with a task of any kind they would think of themselves as poor workers not worthy of consideration and repeat to God the verse of the psalm: I am of no account and lack understanding, no better than a beast in your sight. Yet I am always in your presence’

This passage speaks especially to our modern western age. We have become incredibly comfortable in the style of life that we choose to live and therefore have become entitled in our opinion of ourselves. We expect much more than we deserve and unprepared to share it because it would deprive us of something. When we are forced to ‘make do’ it pricks our pride again and the small voice within says ‘You are worth more than that person, why should you not have the best’ – we have constructed within ourselves a palace where we place ourselves, king over our personal kingdom.

As we progress in humility, as we are more able to see the worth and value of others, it does not degrade us but raises them to the high opinion we have of ourselves. But, in doing so, our hearts expand and the king in the palace of the soul becomes not the self but Him. He takes his rightful place, and rather than sit upon the throne ourselves, we become content to be a courtier, at first, and eventually nothing more than the door keeper.

 

 

Chapter Seven (Part Two)

DP9-ZpyVAAATjv5‘The first step of humility is to cherish at all time the sense of awe with which we should turn to God. It should drive forgetfulness away; it should keep our minds alive to all God’s commandments; it should make us reflect in our hearts again and again that those who despise God and reject His love prepare for themselves that irreversible spiritual death which is meant by hell, just as life in eternity is prepared for those who fear God.’

It seems quite apt that I am writing my reflection on this part of The Rule as the first week of Advent 2017 draws to a close. I admit that I really love Advent. As the secular world rushes towards Christmas I am forced to stop for a moment and think about all the preparations that have to be made in church for the coming Christmas season and that,  inevitably, draws me to looking inward, to my own heart, to ensure that when Christ comes there is room for Him there.

There is a real danger that we can become very complacent in our relationship with God.              Whilst we must think on Him through the eyes of the incarnation, that He is not aloof and distant from us, that He is dwelling with us through the Spirit, through the Scripture, through the sacraments, we must guard against treating him like a casual friend or an often met acquaintance. No doubt we all have those friends whom we may not see as often as we like, we don’t always make the effort with, because we have become so comfortable with them and they with us that we don’t need to try as hard. Whilst that leads to a wonderful intimacy in the moments that we do share, if we treat God in the same casual way we lose some of the wonder, we forget that He is not only our friend, but also our master and our judge.

‘Familiarity breeds contempt’ as the old saying goes. We cannot risk becoming so overly familiar with God (or thinking we are!) that we forget to make the effort with Him.

‘One who follows that way finds protection at all times from sin and vice of thought, of tongue, of hand, of foot, of self-will and of disordered sensual desire, so as to lead a life that is completely open before the scrutiny of God and of His angels who watch over us from hour to hour. This is made clear by the psalmist who shows that God is always present to our very thoughts when he says: God searches the hearts and thoughts of men and women, and again: The Lord knows the thoughts of all, and: From afar you know my thoughts, and again: The thoughts of men and women shall give you praise. Thus it may help one concerned about thoughts that are perverse to repeat the psalmist’s heartfelt saying: I shall be blameless in His sight only if I guard myself from my own wickedness.’

The complacency that can slip into our relationship with God usually manifests itself in the way in which we approach sin. If we do not regard the judge in the correct manner, if we lessen our awe and the seriousness of His ability to judge, our view of sin is weakened and it becomes very easy to begin to think about them in a hierarchy. It becomes very easy to think that because we have not acted, our sin is less than those that have. We compare ourselves to others and judge their sin – using our neighbour as a measuring stick and congratulating ourselves when we don’t appear to be as bad as them.

If we confine our sins only to our thoughts – rather than allowing them to manifest in our words or deeds – we can feel as though we are barely sinful at all. Benedict here reminds the brothers and sisters of his order that that is not the case. In his list ‘thought’ comes first. Arguably, the moment that the thought has taken root in the mind, the sin is already committed, regardless of whether the words or actions follow suit.

Christ was firm on this point too. ‘Ye have heard that it was said by them ofold time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever lookethon a woman to lust after her hath committedadultery with her already in his heart.’ (Matthew 5:27-28 KJV) – the sin is committed, and to God they are all the same. There is no rank order for Him. We, as His subjects, as those who will stand accused at judgement day must guard ourselves against them as far as is humanly possible, using Christ as the pattern and knowing that when we fail that there is mercy and grace given to us. But we must not be complacent and not strive for sinless perfection.

‘As to pursuing our own will we are warned against that when scripture says to us: Turn away from your own desires; and in the Lord’s Prayer itself we pray that His will may be brought to fulfilment in us. It will be clear that we have learnt the less against fulfilling our own will if we respond to that warning in scripture: There are ways which seem right to human eyes, but their end plunges down into the depths of hell. Another good sign is to be afraid of what scripture says of those who reject such advice: They are corrupt and have become depraved in their pleasure seeking’ 

That phrase in the Lord’s Prayer that Benedict highlights is one that is so easy to skip through as we pray those words. After reflecting on a retreat on the words that Christ gave us when He taught us to pray, I was struck by how hard those words should be to say. To say ‘Thy will be done’ is to surrender yourself completely to the plans that God has ordained for your life, in this world and the next. Are we truly prepared to say that and mean it? Even if the plan causes us pain in the short term? Even if the plan means changing ourselves fundamentally to follow Him where He is calling? Can we lay down ourself in that way, or have those words simply become that, words and nothing more. Next time you say those familiar words of the Lord’s Prayer, really think about each part you are saying and ask, ‘Am I praying this or am I just saying this?’

It is worth thinking again about the Lord’s Prayer – again our familiarity with it has perhaps caused us to miss how important and how powerful it is and also what a difficult burden it places upon us.

As to sensual desires we should believe that they are not hidden from God, for the psalmist says to the Lord: All my desires are known to you. We must indeed by on our guard against evil desires because spiritual death is not far from the gateway to wrongful pleasure, so that scripture gives us this clear direction: Do not pursue your lusts. And so, if the eyes of the Lord are watching the good and the wicked, and if at all times the Lord looks down from heaven on the sons and daughters of men to see if any show understanding in seeking God, and if the angels assigned to care for us report our deeds to the Lord day and night, we must be on our guard every hour or else, as the psalmist says, the time may come when God will observe us falling into evil and so made worthless. He may spare us for a while during this life, because He is a loving father who waits and longs for us to do better, but in the end His rebuke may come upon us with the words: You were guilty of these crimes and I was silent.’

It is the hidden desires that cling most closely to the soul and prevent it from bathing in the glory of God. When we say or do things that others find offensive or difficult we may well be challenged. When we upset people the results are obvious to us and we often feel compelled to make amends. Those ‘secret’ (for as Benedict says, they are not really secret, they are known to God) sins that do not see the light of day in an obvious way, are the ones that probably cause us the most damage but are challenged the least.

How do we deal with them? There are two methods of attacking them that I have found to be helpful when dealing with those sins of desire or thought.

Confession:  To speak those sins aloud brings them into the light of day. Although you tell a priest and he will not remember them or challenge you about it later (except if you return to the confessional, with the same priest for the same sins) there is something about speaking them to another human being, acknowledging our failure and stumbling,  it somehow makes them feel more real – not just inconsequential thoughts that bounce around in the mind. Secondly, sin thrives in darkness. Once the light is cast upon them and they are admitted aloud – the grip of them, the hold they have on us, diminishes. We cannot expect them to disappear instantly, but they will begin to shrink. Often when people make their confession, especially for the first time, they report to feel that a great weight has been lifted.

The Rosary: I have found The Rosary to be an effective spiritual discipline, especially when I am in periods of my spiritual life where I feel that I am bogged down by sin.

(The image that I often have is of someone walking through a muddy field, up to their ankles in thick, black mud that stinks and sticks to the clothing and makes the effort taken to move increase dramatically)

To take time and to pray the Rosary helps in several ways. Firstly, it draws the attention directly to God through the Creed spoken at he beginning, the repeated Our Father and Glory Be prayer between the decades. Secondly, The Mysteries preach the gospel as they are prayed. It is imaginative and you are encouraged, as you repeat the comfortable words of appealing to the Blessed Virgin for her prayers, to sink into the life of Jesus and thirdly, there is a physical action involved as your fingers move across the beads. The devil makes work for idle hands, so put them to work in the service of God and for the betterment of the soul.

I find that the period when temptation sets in most easily is noontide. It was what the Desert Fathers called ‘The Noonday Demon’ – after lunch, after morning chores, after morning devotions in the gap between the next scheduled tasks or prayers there is a wasteland in which the devil prowls hoping to find a hapless spiritual pilgrim far from the safety of the sanctuary of work or prayer. The Rosary, with its repetition, appeal to Our Lady, the life of Christ, and the most powerful of all prayers given to us, by Christ Himself no less, builds a sanctuary for the soul to safely dwell.

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