Thursday, November 15, 2007


Say you are walking down the street or surfing on your computer and you come across something that is a great temptation to you – porn – drugs – gossip – over indulgence – anger – (insert your own temptation here) – why might you turn away? One reason might be because you were taught, “Don’t.” “Don’t do this or you will go to hell or suffer punishment.” This may be absolutely true, something we need to know it and hear about, but it is hard to sustain a virtuous life simply avoiding things.

Think of it this way: say you were to get married. What if instruction in marriage were all about avoiding things. “You cannot murder her. You cannot cheat on her. You cannot make her do all of the chores around the house. You cannot leave the toilet seat up. Etc. etc. etc.” How tiring would it be to spend the next fifty years constantly focusing on the negative – what you can’t do?

A spiritual director I once had talked about the body not hearing negatives. Golfers will understand this. If your ball is laying with a perfect shot between it and the hole with a tree just off to the left and you say to yourself, “Don’t hit that tree, don’t hit that tree, don’t hit that tree,” you will hit that tree though you wouldn’t be able to hit it with the next fifteen intentional shots. That is because the body only hears, “Hit that tree.” Similarly ethics taught solely via negative can provide many problems. Only teaching a list of “don’ts” can provide a list of possible things to do.

So say you were walking down the street or surfing on your computer and you come across something that is a great temptation to you and you choose not to indulge in it because you love. It is like in marriage, you don’t have to be told, “Don’t murder her or cheat or make her do all the chores,” because you would never dream of doing those things out love for her. In the spiritual life we reach a higher realm of love of our Creator if we avoid sin because of our love for Him. How much easier it is to avoid sin if we do so not because we were told, “don’t”, but out of the true gift of Fear of the Lord. That is: not wanting to do anything that will place something between my Father and me.

Of course, we do have to teach “don’ts”. And we can’t fall into the “God loves you and will bring you to heaven no matter what” mentality of the 70’s and 80’s. The middle way is to engage in a loving relationship with our Father. Strive both to avoid faith as a science of sin or of mindless a love fest, but of a true relationship in truth. This is not an "easy way" to do faith, it is very difficult when done correctly. But it is also the whole point of our faith.


Anonymous said...

Oh, amen amen amen, Fr. V.

Adrienne said...

I'll second that!!

Rob said...

-How much easier it is to avoid sin if we do so not because we were told, “don’t”, but out of the true gift of Fear of the Lord. That is: not wanting to do anything that will place something between my Father and me.-

Agreed, but I also think of what the Lord said about cutting off your hand, ripping out your eye, etc. It seems to me that He is saying that it is worth taking abrupt, even violent (to self) actions in order to preserve your state of purity. By this, I mean that it is better to say "Don't" to oneself (because of fear of Hell, etc) than to count on your love of God's wisdom to protect you from sin.

I'm sure the most saintly among us are primarily moved by love of God when they choose the Good over the Evil. But, that being said, I think "don't" is the best place to start. You can't rationally explain to a small child why they shouldn't play in traffic. "No" has to suffice until they are wise enough to see that getting run over is BAD.

I am thinking of Paul's statement about spiritual milk and solid food. Maybe, those of us still drinking milk can only understand "No" and "Don't". Those who are eating solid food (monks, nuns, priests, the holiest among the laity) are moved by the reasons behind the "No".

Adoro te Devote said...

I think a lot of times when you say "don't" you're bringing an elephant into the room. That's the point.

There has to be a balance; we need the "don't" as in "Don't touch the stove, it's hot!" and then we touch it in defiance or ignorance and boy, was Mom right!

So we learn through the "Don't"...eventually...we hope.

But it's true, as we progress, our choices aren't made out of fear of punishment, but out of what we know to be true, out of logic, out of love, and out of wanting the best for ourselves. The "Don'ts" don't matter anymore because our minds should progress to the point that the outcome is obvious. So it is in the spiritual life. We love God, so we know that if we choose X thing, it's offensive to Him and we don't want to offend him.

All too often, we inflict the "don't" upon ourselves, and then just prolong the agony and eventually eat of the forbidden fruit. Not because it started out being a temptation, but because we make it so.

Anonymous said...

Rob, I had a friend -- a dear, holy convert who blew the likes of me out of the water, but he may've been a bit too don't-oriented. He took a small board to his 2-year old-- whacked his tush with it a couple times. That stole my breath and that of all the other cradle Catholics who heard it.

The Master Himself said, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice." Whose mercy? Ours. Reading St. Francis, St. Ignatius, and many of their adherents, combined with personal experience, is what helped me understand just how tender is God.

Almighty God is the God of love, else we'd not have ever met His Son. I was chronically afraid of God at one time, and who knows--maybe that saved my soul at the time, but it seems such an unfair view of Him, now..after all His tremendous gifts, not least of all of a bit of a presence.. I have gotten to that point where I think if the Lord says "Don't," what I actually "hear" is, "Please, don't -- you (he/she/they) mean so much to Me. Don't let satan screw it up, don't cooperate with that one.."

It is a fine line to walk, for some, or in ways, or at certain times -- between feeling like the dust that we are, and feeling like the magnificence that we are to be, in Him. Does He see "dust" when we come to Him in the Tabernacle of the Blessed Sacrament? He thirsts, Personally, for each person. Still. Always.

Fr. V said...

Rob -

I agree with you. "DON'T" is a very necessary place to start and not a bad thing to have in you hip pocket as preventative measure for one's self. We are constantly enticed to sin and so we need "Don't" I'm just saying (and I think you agree) that it can't simply be left there all the time.

Again - CONGRATULATIONS! And God bless! you, you family and your new boy!!!