mardi, mars 16, 2010

Lenten Sermon (III)

We often know a thing by its effects according to the principle of causality. It is particularly true in the case of things that do not fall directly under the senses. For instance, it is the case of our souls and of God. An atheist would say: God does not exist; nobody has ever seen him. Certainly, we can answer that a thing does not have to be seen in order to exist. Furthermore, denying God is denying the principle and the cause of everything we know and see. Saint Paul calls such an atheist, a foolish person, for the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made. (Rm 1,20)
As for our souls, our intellect knows itself not by its essence but by its acts, which put us, men, in the lower rank among the rational creatures. We are not as intelligent as we may think. God knows Himself and everything that He has created by His own essence, Saint Thomas explains. An angel can also understand himself – and only himself and not other created things – by his own essence. But for us, it is more complicated. We are sometimes a mystery to ourselves. But again we can still know our intellect by its acts. If you want to know who you are, consider what you do. With Saint Augustine, we say: I understand that I understand.
Our acts can be divided into two categories: good and evil. The object of our meditation is now about out evil acts, namely sins. In order to understand better the nature of sin, we shall use the principle of causality and consider its effects. Two years ago, when we had a tornado here in North Arkansas, I did not fully realize how bad it was until I saw its effects the next morning when I went out. It is only when I saw all the damages, the trees down, the houses flattened, the land devastated that I understood that it was a serious tornado. Similarly, in order to understand how bad sin is, let us consider its effects.
The first effect is the corruption of nature. In fact we had already the occasion to meditate on this in our first meditation of Lent – remember the triptych. The corruption of nature is signified by the parable of the Good Samaritan as the Fathers explain it. A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho. Saint Augustine: that man is taken for Adam himself, representing the race of man; Jerusalem, the city of peace, that heavenly country, from the bliss of which he fell. Jericho is interpreted to be the moon, and signifies our mortality, because it rises, increases, wanes, and sets.
This man fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. This is how mankind is now: stripped and wounded, half-dead, among the thieves who are the spirits of darkness. Saint Augustine says again: they stripped man of his immortality, and wounding him, by persuading to sin, left him half dead; for wherein he is able to understand and know God, man is alive, but wherein he is corrupted and pressed down by sins, he is dead.
Yes, because of our sins, the good of nature is now diminished and corrupted. Saint Thomas says that the good of human nature is threefold. First, there are the principles of which nature is constituted, and the properties that flow from them, such as the powers of the soul, and so forth. Secondly, since man has from nature an inclination to virtue, this inclination to virtue is a good of nature. Thirdly, the gift of original justice, conferred on the whole of human nature in the person of the first man, may be called a good of nature.
Then Saint Thomas continues: Accordingly, the first-mentioned good of nature is neither destroyed nor diminished by sin. The third good of nature was entirely destroyed through the sin of our first parent. But the second good of nature, viz. the natural inclination to virtue, is diminished by sin because human acts produce an inclination to like acts. Now from the very fact that thing becomes inclined to one of two contraries, its inclination to the other contrary must needs be diminished. Wherefore as sin is opposed to virtue, from the very fact that a man sins, there results a diminution of that good of nature, which is the inclination to virtue.
There is something that we have definitely lost with original sin; it is original justice: the condition of mankind that we have considered in the beginning of Lent. We suffer each day of the loss of it. And we even make things worst each single time we commit a personal sin. We make things worse for ourselves as Saint Thomas just said. Human acts produce an inclination to like acts. In other words, the more I sin, the more I am inclined to sin against and I can easily be driven into a vicious circle if I do nothing against it. Furthermore, as a result of the loss of original justice, all the powers of the soul are left destitute of their proper order.
There are four of the soul's powers that can be subject of virtue: the reason, where prudence resides, the will, where justice is, the irascible, the subject of fortitude, and the concupiscible, the subject of temperance. Therefore in so far as the reason is deprived of its order to the true, there is the wound of ignorance; in so far as the will is deprived of its order of good, there is the wound of malice; in so far as the irascible is deprived of its order to the arduous, there is the wound of weakness; and in so far as the concupiscible is deprived of its order to the delectable, moderated by reason, there is the wound of concupiscence.
This means that a sinner can ignore that he is a sinner, and this ignorance would be a shameful and guilty ignorance. Or he may acknowledge it and like it, which would be merely malicious.
I think we have for now enough matter for our meditation. Let us continue to consider the effects of sin in our own personal lives. How much am I wounded? how much am I inclined to sin? How much am I guilty? How much am I ignorant, weak and malicious?
Next Friday, with the help of God, we will continue our meditation by considering more effects of sin.

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