Archbishop Sheen's LIFT UP YOUR HEART, 1950
As self-love or egotism is the root of all unhappiness, so the elimination of it is the beginning of joy. Because ego-centrism isolates one from society, the discipline of the ego restores fellowship. To associate with our fellows, we must accept the conditions friendship lays down—and the first of these is that we cease to live solely for our own selfish pleasures. Nothing in the natural order is more certain to increase happiness than the doing away with self-love. Granted the necessity of asceticism, the problem of putting it into operation arises.
Self-discipline can be applied as a remedy to six different possibilities of evil: (1) The occasion of sin, (2) the dominant passion, (3) the external senses, (4) the internal senses, (5) the intellect, (6) the will.
1. Occasions of sin mean those places, and persons, and circumstances which constitute the environment favorable to the development of self-love. For the alcoholic, it might be a bar, a certain home; or a boon companion; for the erotic, a certain person; for the scandal monger, a gossip who always has scandal to trade. As a wise and cautious traveler, looking ahead, avoids obstacles in his path, so does the man who is on the way to Heaven deliberately avoid those things which interfere with the development of his character and union with God. Many a soul who once had faith and lost it, and many men who no longer have well-integrated personalities in the natural order, can trace their loss of peace of soul and peace of mmd to evil companionship or to an environment which robbed them of their heritage. Sacred Scripture warns us that "he that loveth danger shall perish in it."
2. By the dominant passion is meant some violent movement of our sensitive appetite toward a sensate good. Not bad in itself, it is so strong in us that, uncurbed, it may occasion sin. These passions are numerous. Love is a yearning for a person or thing which delights and pleases us; and when we love, we crave either possession or unity. Hatred is only love upside down. All hatred is born of love, because we hate that which in any way endangers our love. For example, we hate disease because we love health, and hatred is, at bottom, an eagerness to rid ourselves of whatever displeases us. Desire is an urge or quest for an absent good, and it is born of love for another good, which may be a thing or a person. Aversion is the passion which makes us shun or repel some proximate or approaching evil, and joy is the passion of satisfaction which arises from the present possession of any good. Sadness is grief over an evil or a disaster which is present. Courage or daring is the passion which makes us strive after some lovable good, whose possession is difficult or arduous. Despair is the passion which arises in the soul when possession or union with the loved object seems impossible. Finally, anger is that passion which violently repels what hurts us and incites in us the desire for revenge.
It need hardly be repeated that all of these passions, when well ordered, are God-given. Our Blessed Lord experienced many of them. Not only did He love us with His Whole Will and His Whole Heart, but He also wept over the city of Jerusalem and shed tears at the death of Lazarus; He aroused Himself to righteous indignation and anger when He drove the buyers and the sellers out of the Temple; He felt fear and anxiety when He went into The Garden of Gethsemane, and yet all of these passions were so disciplined that they were used to purchase our salvation.
The dominant passion differs from individual to individual. Egotism often takes advantage of this fact to flatter itself that it is not vicious, because it does not have the disordered passion of its neighbor. The dominant passion is always the one to which we are most naturally inclined, and also the one whose discipline we resist the most. Because it impels the ego to inordinate affections, it is always the source of much disquietude.
It must be repeated that, as the love of drink is good, but not drunkenness, and as the imagination is good, but not planned murder, so the passions are good, because they are made by God. But the use of a passion is not good when it is directed toward an evil end, or even toward a good end with too much vehemence. When the emotions are regulated by right reason, they beget courage, bravery, and zeal. Nothing worth while is ever accomplished without passion—and the basic passion of all is love. But if our passions have taken command of us, they constantly clamor, to be satisfied and make us very unhappy; for the more they are satisfied, the more they become dissatisfied. When the passions are regulated and tamed, are made subservient to virtue, they become like a horse with a bit in his mouth. Love of ownership can thus be restrained by an occasional practice of frugality and generosity, lest our money possesses instead of our possessing our money; the passion for applause will be tamed by the practice of humility and anonymity, in which we seek to have good deeds known only by God. The passion for the body will be tempered by a consciousness that its highest destiny is to be a Temple of God; not only will it have its occasion for pleasure and feasting but, since it is God's, it will bend its knees in reverence, fold its hands in prayer, and bend its head in adoration.
3. Since the external senses offer another danger to us, the man of God will mortify his eyes from those things which might lead him into temptation. As he turns his eyes from a too brilliant light lest it destroy vision, so he diverts his eyes from evil, too, lest he find it too attractive. As the worldling turns a deaf ear to words that hurt his egotisms, so the saint will refuse to listen to anything that flatters his egotism, or incites strife against his neighbor, or provokes enmity and suspicion. The well-regulated I will deny itself not only what is unlawful, but even some things that are legitimate, in order to remain complete master of itself. The extra cigarette, the second cocktail—sometimes even the first—are denied, in order to preserve the spiritual freedom of the soul. If, at the end of each day, a person could look back on three tiny acts of self-denial, he would already be on the way to a happy inner life. St. Paul said: "You must deaden, then, those passions in you which belong to earth, fornication and impurity, lust and evil desire, and that love of money which is an idolatry." (Col. 3:5)
Since it is through the external senses that ideas enter the mind, it follows that our state of mind is the result of our own choices as to what things we will allow inside. Every impression is a preparation for an expression. The basis of our ideas has entered the mind through the senses, and the basis of our actions has been absorbed in the same manner. Our Divine Saviour recommended that we avoid the future sin by barring its entrance to the mind through the senses. "He who casts his eyes on a woman so as to lust after her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If thy right eye is the occasion of thy falling into sin, pluck it out and cast it away from thee." (Matt. 5:28)
This principle of self-discipline is not the hygienic one, which prevents only the physical effects of evil; Our Lord concentrates on the elimination of the evil at its source, before it ever gets into the mind or will. If a man wishes to concentrate while reading, he must shut out the disturbing sounds about him. So if he is to integrate his personality, there must be such a deliberate closing out of those sensations which cannot contribute to his well-being. St. James, speaking of the harm the tongue has done through detraction, scandalmongering, and lies, writes:
"How small a spark it takes to set fire to a vast forest! And that is what the tongue is, a fire. Among the organs of our nature, the tongue has its place as the proper Hell. Mankind can tame, and has long since learned, to tame, every kind of beast and bird, of creeping thing and all else; but no human being has ever found out how to tame the tongue; a pest that is never allayed, all deadly poison. We use it to bless God Who is our Father; we use it to curse our fellow men, that were made in God's image; blessing and cursing come from the same mouth. My brethren, there is no reason in this. Does the fountain gush out fresh and salt water from the same outlet? What, my brethren, can a fig tree yield olives, or a vine figs? No more easily will brackish water yield fresh."
4. The internal senses, too, can trouble us. The imagination and memory need to be rid of their bad habits; daydreaming, which leads to laziness, the entertaining of images which, if carried into action, would be sinful, the recalling to our memory of the wrongs our neighbor dlid us — eliminating these will prepare for the emergence of character. If left untamed, our thoughts can choke the real self. There are some who think they have "lived" when they have tasted the dregs of life. The contrary is true; the innocent, who have kept their memory of the past free from evil and their imagination free from fears, are those who really live. As Charles Péguy wrote in his
"Innocence and Experience":
It is innocence that is full and experience that is empty.
It is innocence that wins and experience that loses.
It is innocence that is young and experience that is old.
It is innocence that grows and experience that wanes.
It is innocence that is born and experience that dies.
It is innocence that knows and experience that does not know.
It is the child who is full and the man who is empty,
Empty as an empty gourd and as an empty barrel;
Now, then, children, go to school.
And you men, go to the school of life.
Go and learn
How to unlearn.
5. The intellect has to be curbed, as well. The direction our passions take will depend on our ideals. If we lack a goal in life, our passions run us; thus even the higher faculties need discipline. A detached spirit will not waste time on the slack reading of foolish romances or in gathering useless information, but it will aim at truth. As Plato wrote in the Phaedo:
"When the soul is dragged by the body into the region of the changeable and wanders and is confused, the world spins around her and she is like a drunkard. But when she contemplates in herself and by herself, then she passes into the other world, the world of purity and eternity and immortality and unchangeableness which are her kindred; and with them she ever lives, when she is by herself and is not let or hindered; then she ceases from her erring ways and being in communion with the unchanging is unchanging. And this state of soul is called wisdom."
The intellect is disciplined by serious reading and by a profound study of human nature in those around us. This implies a spirit of mind which fosters altruism and love of neighbor: knowledge is always to be put at the service of love. As St. Augustine said: "Let knowledge be used in order to erect the structure of love." Purification of the intellect is rarely practiced today. No one would allow garbage at his table, but many allow it served into their minds. Unless a mind watches closely over what goes into it, it will not be long before his hodgepodge of journalistic information has come to seem an absolute, and he will consider himself a great thinker without having even read the greater thinkers of our race. Soon the false ideas will pass into act, for it makes a tremendous amount of difference what a man thinks about. The movies, the newspapers, advertising, and the radio pour into the intellect confused and contradictory ideas which will produce confused lives unless the intellect, in the light of Faith, keeps many of them out. Anyone who has lived without a newspaper or radio for thirty days has experienced peace from not having to read the news of discord, strife, war, murder, and divorce. A little effort to form sound reading tastes will convince the mmd that it was made to know Truth, as the eye was made to see light, and that the ultimate in Truth is Charity. As St. Bernard wrote: "There are those who wish to know for the purpose of knowing a great deal, and that is curiosity; some that they may know, and that is vanity; some that they may sell their knowledge and this is base gain; some that they may be edified, and this is prudence; some that they may edify and this is charity."
6. The will particularly needs to be disciplined, for it tells the body what acts to perform. The intellect gives the target, but the will shoots the arrows. The disciplined will shows its strength in the way it governs the passions, emotions, and senses. Weak wills are usual among those who have no ideals, no goal in life, those whose decisions are wholly capricious, who are influenced by human respect and the bad example of others, who decide by what everybody else is doing.
The will is the governor of the soul and body. It is the seat of all motivation and, therefore, the root of character. For motive determines the goodness of our acts.. Two men can do exactly the same thing—for example, give alms. But one will do it because he gets his name in the paper, and the other because he sees Christ in the poor; the amount given may be the Same, but the motivation which came from the will was very different. So it is with dieting and fasting. There is no material difference between a woman losing ten pounds by fasting and ten pounds by dieting, but there is a world of difference in the effect on the character. Dieting is done for the sake of the body; fasting is done for the sake of the soul. Dieting is done for the ego; fasting is done for charity, and to tame the body that the soul may be freer in its flight toward God.
It requires great effort to make the will supple and responsive always to the highest ideals. Some people fail because they lack sufficient knowledge of what life is all about; never having disciplined their intellects to the way of truth, they are without markers on the roadway of life. Others start self-discipline too rigidly and with over eagerness, and fail as a result of too much hurry and the ensuing discouragement of finding that full sanctity is not achieved at once. (It is a generally accepted truth in religious societies that those postulants who complain about the want of opportunities for sacrifice are generally those who do not persevere.) Others fail in their attempt to discipline the will because their ego is so strong that they cannot bear the thought of any failure. But any will can be trained; if there is genuine humility after a fall, and a renewed prayer for God's grace, then self-possession begins to be a habit, and the most difficult things become easy, in time. There comes a renewed sense of power and self-mastery and self-control, and the delightful realization that one at last has true freedom. One is no longer other-controlled, hut self-controlled. Freedom is not so much a birthright, as it is an achievement. We are born with freedom of choice, but the way we use our choices makes us slaves or free men. Inner freedom of this kind is the last thing a man attains, and it is what St. Paul calls the "glorious liberty of the children of God."
As physical life is the sum of forces that resist death, so spiritual life is the result of constant purification of those sinful impulses that would drag us down. Unless the I is constantly at the helm, we become idolizers of comfort, obsessed with the fear of ever doing anything unpleasant.
Purification rids us of the dead weight of evil habits and the ballast of the flesh. The soul then becomes more and more free, and derives a greater pleasure than it ever guessed was possible. As St. Thomas says: "Men must have pleasures. If they will not have the joys of the spirit, then they will degenerate into pleasure of the body." Unless there is some other interest to compensate for the loss of a surrendered pleasure, minds become cynical and bitter with an increasing desire to be coddled, respected, honored, and made the center of attention. Egotists find it hard to change, because the egotist refuses to postpone satisfaction. Overfed, over upholstered, double-chinned, he, refuses to accept a few moments of pain through self-control—and thus misses a joy in this life and an eternal life beyond. A life of detachment, looked at from the outside, seems a living death, but once begun it is found to be a dying life; for each new death of selfishness, like the, seed falling to the ground, brings forth a corresponding life. There are no short cuts to spirituality; pain and purification go hand in hand, for sin is not easily discarded. Purification never means crushing our wills in order to become will-less; but the will, detached from the dead weight of sin, more readily flies to union with the Will Divine. When one gets down to rock bottom, one soon. discovers that the principal reason souls do not come to God is not only because they are ignorant, but because they are also bad; it is their behavior which creates the biggest obstacle to belief, however vigorously they deny it. "You will not come to Me to find life." (John 5:40) Associated with this reluctance toward sacrifice is an unwillingness to renounce pride and a refusal to immolate the heart. This absence of humility and sacrificial love stands like a wall between the soul and God when it hears the Divine Command, it pleads to God, Who was similarly rejected by the man who bought a farm, "Have me excused, O Lord."
But this reluctance is not universal. Many weary souls would come to God if the faith were presented to them the hard way instead of the easy way: by an appeal to self-sacrifice, rather than an appeal to understanding. There is a far greater readiness for sacrifice on the part of the modern mind than some members of Christ's Mystical Body perceive. The good qualities of the modern soul have been underestimated, and many would be surprised at its reaction, if shown the pierced Hands and Feet of Christ and asked: "How did They get that way?" There is a greater yearning for sacrifice in the hearts and minds of men than at any time in the last five hundred years. Whence came the heroism of soldiers during the war—at a time when we all were supposed to have been softened by luxury and ease—if it, was not because this potential for sacrifice was always there in the depths of their hearts? The world is now tired of a broad-mindedness which is as cold as a miser's heart and as spineless as a filet of sole; it wants to catch fire, to feel the burning heat of its passions, and, above all, to love even to the point of death. When pagans receive the gift of Faith, they often surpass the so-called devout in self-denial and in love of God.
Because the joys of union with God cannot be experienced without willing pain, and because the soul without Faith has a capacity for sacrifice, Divine Truth should be presented to modern men as the Saviour made His appeal—by a summons to sacrifice. He asked His followers to sell the field to gain the pearl of great price and to leave their nets and boats to become fishers of men. Everyone without Faith is in pain; where there are no broken bodies, there are agonized minds, restless, fearful, and anxious. Our generation may well be the most unhappy that has lived during the history of Christianity. Suffering is universal; and suffering is never far from sacrifice. A toothache in a saint is no different from a toothache in an evil man—what makes the difference between suffering and sacrifice is the love of God. Sacrifice without the love of God is only suffering; suffering with the love of God becomes sacrifice. The Trappist monk who gets out of bed at two o'clock in the morning to pray for the sins of the world is undergoing the same discomfort as the victim of insomnia who gets up to take a stiff drink; but what a difference in the attitude of the soul! It may well be that modern souls are already suffering enough—perhaps too much—but the pain is all wasted. Either they do not turn it into merit by offering it to Cod, or they complain with defiance and rebellious protests: "Why should God do this to me?" A wedge must be driven between their actual pain and their potential sacrifice by bringing to them some understanding of a Love, Who suffered everything, so that we might never say: "He does not know what it is to suffer." Like the young man who obeyed the Commandments but refused to give up his possessions, Our Lord may say of them that they are not far from the Kingdom of God.
To convert a pain into a sacrifice demands the surrender of the intellect and the will to God as a first condition. The intellect must become docile to Divine Truth, less intent on saying: "Now, this is my idea of religion." The will must see all that happens to it as coming from the hands of an all-loving Father Who could only desire the complete happiness of His children in eternity—although not necessarily in time. For, as He said: "In the world ye shall have tribulations." (John 16:33.)
The oblation of the soul becomes the condition of: changing an agony into sacrifice, and this is not easy. It costs something to come to God, as it cost God something to come to us. When God asks for sacrifice, same complain; when a trial comes, they rebel; when a temptation assaults, they surrender. Indeed, belief is a yoke, as the Saviour said, but it is a yoke that is sweet and a burden that is light. At the moment when one must decide between the selfish ego and the Divine "Thou," when the finite within and the Infinite without wrestle as Jacob with the Angel, there is an agony of soul; but when it is over, the soul has passed from agony to joy, from emotionalism to Faith. The true believer can become a hero by even a single decision, for in cooperation with God's grace he can pass from darkness to light.
The burden of bringing Divine Light to the unhappy egotist is a task for the faithful. A few sacrificial leaders who would spend themselves, and be spent, for the cause of Christ would do more good to the world than thousands of discourses on civil rights. Too many today are substituting action for prayer, are trying to change other people instead of changing themselves Some are like Peters who are bidden to pray—and then when the enemy comes into the Garden turn, instead, to action; they draw out a sword to hack off an ear, which the Good Lord later has to replace to make up for their stupidity.
All souls have, in themselves, the purchase price of joy; it is the present agony, misery, boredom, and ennui of their hearts. But like a child before a store window with a copper penny in his hand and the delirious vision of the candy within, they may miss the delirium of the sweets, because they refuse to give up the dirty coin. The coin is self-will, egotism, and selfishness. The candy is peace, and love, and joy.