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Day 30: The Affection for Sin

One of St. Francis De Sales' most helpful insights is his teaching on the affection for sin. He points out that oftentimes we might turn away from serious sins in our life and try hard not to commit them, but still nurture affection for such sin, which greatly slows down our spiritual progress and disposes us to future falls. He points out that although the Israelites left Egypt in effect, many did not leave it in affection; and the same is true for many of us. We leave sin in effect, but reluctantly, and look back at it fondly, as did Lot's wife when she looked back on the doomed city of Sodom.

Francis gave an amusing but telling example of how a doctor, for the purpose of health, might forbid a patient to eat melons lest he die. The patient therefore abstains from eating them, but "they begrudge giving them up, talk about them, would eat them if they could, want to smell them at least, and envy those who can eat them. In such a way weak, lazy penitents abstain regretfully for a while from sin. They would like very much to commit sins if they could do so without being damned. They speak about sin with a certain petulance and with liking for it and think those who commit sins are at peace with themselves."

Francis says this is like the person who would like to take revenge on someone "if only he could" or a woman who doesn't intend to commit adultery but still wishes to flirt. Such souls are in danger. Besides the real danger of falling into serious sin again, having such a "divided heart" makes the spiritual life wearisome and the "devout" life of prompt, diligent, and frequent response to God's will and inspirations virtually impossible.

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Day 29: The Dunghill - St. Bernard of Clairvaux

St. Bernard of Clairvaux speaks of how miserable it is to turn back to the slavery of our disordered passions once having tasted the grace of God. Such a person is doomed to continual frustration, as the things of the world simply can't satisfy our hunger and "ravenous curiosity" since the forms of this world are passing away. He bemoans the fate of the soul "who once fed so delicately now lies groveling on the dunghill (Lam. 4:5)." The vigorous effort that the saints urge us to make in the struggle against sin is firmly grounded in the Scriptures.

"Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you men of double mind... Humble yourselves before the Lord and He will exalt you." (Jas. 4:7-10)

We need to determine, with the help of God's grace , never to freely choose to offend Him. St. Francis De Sales makes clear that such purification to the affection for sin must extend to venial sins also. Francis knows that as long as we're alive in this body the wounds of original sin and our past actual sins will cause affection for sin to spring up again and again. But it's our response to this bent of our nature towards sin that is determinative of the progress we make on the spiritual journey. We need to grow in our hatred for sin so we can resist it when it makes its appeals. More about that tomorrow.

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Day 28: Called to Holiness - John Paul ll

Jesus summed up His teaching in a startling and unambiguous call to His follower: "You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Mt. 5:48). Perfect in purity of heart, perfect in compassion and love, perfect in obedience, perfect in conformity to the will of the Father, perfect in holiness - when we hear these words we can be understandable tempted to discouragement, thinking that perfection for us is impossible. And indeed, left to our own resources, it certainly is - just as impossible as it is for rich people to enter heaven, or for a man and woman to remain faithful their whole lives in marriage. But with God, all things are possible, even our transformation. John Paul II in his prophetic interpretation of the events of the second half of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first, Nove Millennio Ineunte, points out that the Holy Spirit is again bringing to the forefront of the Church's consciousness the conviction that these words of Jesus are indeed meant for every single one of us. He emphasizes that this call to the fullness of holiness is an essential part of being a Christian.

To ask catechumens: "Do you wish to receive Baptism?" means at the same time to ask them: "Do you wish to become holy?" It means to set before them the radical nature of the Sermon on the Mount: "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Mt. 5:48)... The time has come to repropose wholeheartedly to everyone this high standard of ordinary Christian living: the whole life of the Christian community and of Christian families must lead in this direction. (NMI 30, 31) - John Paul II

John Paul II goes on further to call the parishes of the third millennium to become schools of prayer and places where "training in holiness" is given.

Our Christian communities must become genuine "schools" of prayer, where the meeting with Christ is expressed not just in imploring help but also in thanksgiving, praise, adoration, contemplation, listening and ardent devotion, until heart truly "falls in love." ... It would be wrong to think that ordinary Christians can be content with a shallow prayer that is unable to fill their whole life. (NMI 33) - John Paul II

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