Hello! My writing on the blog will be sporadic as I prepare for my Christology final exam. Anyone who has taken a graduate level Christology course will understand just how intense of a class it is and how much information one is required to absorb. It is an incredible and humbling class, but will require hours upon hours of studying to prepare for the final. I hope all of you have a very blessed Holy Week and beginning of the Easter season. Pax Christi.
This past Sunday, the Fifth Sunday of Lent, we once again heard the Gospel passage about the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11). She was thrown in the dirt, cursed and condemned; a reminder of the division and destruction of sin. The Mosaic Law called for her stoning and many people stood over her willing to end her life. Jesus very calmly and deliberately approaches the situation. He knows full well the force of anger and hatred which lies in hearts grown cold. He asks who among the crowd is without sin, for they may cast the first stone at the woman’s body. It’s a reversal and calls all of us up short in periods of anger and condemnation in our own lives. This is not some notion of tolerance, rather, it is a reminder that judgment for sin rests with God alone. This section of Scripture is also a glimpse into the New Law which is found in Christ. The New Law in which mercy, charity, and true justice reign supreme.
There are times when you and I are the people holding stones ready to strike. We get caught up in the emotion, tumult, and passion of a situation and desire our own form of justice. We believe, whether consciously or not, that we are better than this woman and so we have a right to be her judge. Instead, what we have done is fallen into grave sin ourselves. We have hardened our hearts and forgotten the serious sins or even the daily venial sins in our own lives, which are the cause of Our Lord’s death on the Cross. Jesus is reminding us of His mercy and that He requires our mercy. Proper justice cannot be exercised without charity and mercy in mind.
At other times, we are the woman caught in adultery. I don’t necessarily mean we are adulterers, but we might have committed a sexual sin, pride, envy, avarice, idolatry, theft, anger, etc. which can be just as destructive or even more so, as adultery. It is no secret that our culture is obsessed with sexual sin, but in reality, while these sins are grave matter within the proper situation, anger and pride can be even more deadly. In those moments of sin, we often feel internally like this woman. Our sins may not be as “public”, but they still reverberate throughout the Mystical Body and the world.
We are now past Laetare Sunday and well on our way towards Holy Week.As we work and pray through these last few weeks of Lent and Holy Week, we will once again stand at the foot of the Cross. It was on the Cross of our salvation that Our Lord uttered the words: “I thirst.” These very same words changed the course of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta’s life as she received her “call within a call” on September 10, 1946 as she sat on a crowded train in the mountains of India. As we walk these last few weeks of Lent, let us reflect on Jesus’ thirst for each one of us and all human beings created in his “image and likeness.”
Perhaps you have read about Blessed Teresa’s experiences and her focus on the thirst of Christ, perhaps you have not. Meditating on these words from Our Lord is to walk deep into the mystery of God’s love and desire for each person. It is a love that is difficult to comprehend and even accept in our sinful and often wretched state. There are many days where the love expressed from the Cross is too much to bear and we tell Christ, as Saint Peter did, to leave us because we are too sinful. Thankfully our all loving and merciful Triune God does not heed our request.
Blessed Teresa of Calcutta did not reveal her call fully until she wrote a letter to her Missionaries of Charity in 1993. She felt urged to share the message of “I Thirst” with her sisters after Saint John Paul II delivered a Lenten message on the exact same theme. These two great saints understood the depth and love expressed in these two words.
After reading Holy Father’s letter on “I Thirst,” I was struck so much—I cannot tell you what I felt. His letter made me realize more than ever how beautiful is our vocation….[We] are reminding [the] world of His thirst, something that is being forgotten….Holy Father’s letter is a sign…to go more into what is this great thirst of Jesus for each one. It is also a sign for Mother, that the time has come for me to speak openly of [the] gift God gave Sept. 10th—to explain [as] fully as I can what means for me the thirst of Jesus…
Letter to the Missionaries of Charity, March 25, 1993
My husband and I are in a time of waiting, which is appropriate for this Lenten season. The doctors have still not found the cause for why my dad is so sick and so we wait, try not to worry (super hard), and leave it to God’s loving care. We are also in the middle of negotiating the purchase of the small farm we have always wanted. If we buy the house, which is right in our price range, but much larger than we need (I trust God will help us to use it well) then we will be uprooting our lives from the community we have known for six years. I am used to moving every 3 years or so and this is the longest I have lived anywhere since I was 18, but it is still a major change if it goes through.
We live in an area of the Appalachians that is filled with small communities and farms as well as a small city nearby. This house is an hour from our current home and we would have to switch to a mission parish (we live in Baptist country so Catholic Churches are spread out) and to a small town way of life. The farm is three miles from a small artisan town near the Blue Ridge Parkway. Living near the Parkway is a huge bonus! Lots of hiking!
The house has everything we could possibly need and more. At 3700 square feet it is palatial for our tiny family, but we are still discerning adoption. We need room for a homeschool classroom and an office for me to work more diligently on my writing career after I complete my Master’s next year. My husband is a skilled wood-turner and he will have space to grow in his craft.
The “old” farmhouse (built in 1910), this still makes me laugh after living in Europe for a spell, sits on 10 beautiful acres complete with pond. The land is rolling and perfect for animals and our garden. I have never lived in the country. I am from the largest “city” in Montana: Billings, population 100,000. My dad was an attorney for most of my young life, so we weren’t farmers. I did learn to love gardening and flowers from my mother who has an amazing green thumb.
Right now we wait for the owners to accept or counter our offer. It’s more waiting added onto the waiting on my dad’s condition. This Lent has been a difficult one for me as I try to learn patience in the face of the unknown. It’s also a time for us to decide on which dream to pursue long-term. We have always discussed starting a small farm, even when Phil and I were dating, but it is hard to leave our parish community and the connections we have made here. It would also mean a probable end to my homeschool co-op membership here. I may try the hour long drive for a while, but it may get to be too much and we will have to be more creative in very rural Virginia.
I always covet prayers, so please offer some up for us. The Solemnity of St. Joseph is next week and he has been an ever growing friend these past few weeks in dealing with my father’s confusing illness and the possible uprooting of our family. May God continue to bless you.
During this Lenten season we are called to examine our lives more closely in light of our relationship with Christ and His Church. Fasting, prayer, and almsgiving bring us deeper into the mysteries of Christ and our own journey to holiness. Lent is also a time to draw closer to the Sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist and the Sacrament of Penance, also known as Reconciliation or Confession. The Eucharist unites us to Christ’s body, blood, soul, and divinity while Penance drives us to seek healing and forgiveness for the ways we sin and fail in our daily lives. Penance is not only a Sacrament for mortal sin, it is meant for all sin which weighs us down over time.
In the Encyclical Letter, Redemptor Hominis, Saint John Paul II discusses the connection between these two great Sacraments of the Church. Both the Holy Eucharist and Penance are linked to the mystery of Jesus Christ. Saint Paul said, “Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” The link between theses Sacraments is apparent. In approaching the Lord’s Supper at each Mass, we must be aware of our failings and whether or not we are in a worthy state for reception of Holy Communion. The Holy Eucharist is not a right. It is a gift reserved for those in a state of grace who are members of the Church. The Sacrament of Penance provides the necessary cleansing and healing for those times we fall into serious sin, but also as we struggle with sin in our daily lives.
One of the essential aspects and teachings of Jesus Christ is, “Repent, and believe in the gospel (Mark 1:15).” It is true that on the surface this is a call to become a follower of Christ and to receive Baptism in order to join the Mystical Body; however, it is also a call for each one of us to “repent” in our daily lives. Conversion is a life-long process. We each have sins deeply entrenched in us whether through habit or other factors. We cannot follow Christ unless we are constantly dying to self and listening to His call for repentance in our own lives. Even if we are not falling into grave sin, we are still failing somewhere and need Christ to give us the grace to overcome those sins. Saint John Paul II highlights the great importance of repentance, the Holy Eucharist, and Penance:
Indeed, if the first word of Christ’s teaching, the first phrase of the Gospel Good News, was “Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Metanoeite), the sacrament of the passion, cross and resurrection seems to strengthen and consolidate in an altogether way this call in our souls. The Eucharist and Penance thus become in a sense two closely connected dimensions of authentic life in accordance with the spirit of the Gospel, of truly Christian life. The Christ who calls to the Eucharistic banquet is always the same Christ who exhorts us to penance and repeats His “Repent.”
Our Lord knows our struggles and our failings on the path to holiness, which is precisely why He calls us to Himself for forgiveness and contrition in the Sacrament of Penance, so that we may more fully participate in the Holy Eucharist.
Without this constant ever renewed endeavor for conversion, partaking of the Eucharist would lack its full redeeming effectiveness and there would be a loss or at least a weakening of the special readiness to offer God the spiritual sacrifice in which our sharing in the priesthood of Christ is expressed in an essential and universal manner.
It is important to remember that all the faithful are members of the common priesthood by virtue of Baptism. We offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass through the ministerial priesthood. Our lives are meant to be of sacrifice, which is the very nature of priesthood. In order to fulfill this Baptismal role, we must be ever mindful of our daily need for conversion. It is Christ who is our example in sacrifice.
In Christ, priesthood is linked with His sacrifice, His self-giving to the Father; and, precisely because it is without limit, that self-giving gives rise in us human beings subject to numerous limitations to the need to turn to God in an ever more mature way and with a constant, ever more profound, conversion.
Today I am waiting for my dad to undergo some medical tests to see why he is so sick and whether or not it is life-threatening. Ever since I got word last week that my dad’s chronic illness was not the cause of his weakness and he is bleeding internally, I have been thinking and contemplating the Agony in the Garden.
Agony is a part of the human experience and it comes at unexpected times. My dad is only 59 and while he has had rheumatoid arthritis since he had rheumatic fever as a child, I am struggling to be ready for whatever comes next. Today we will find out why he is bleeding internally, whether it is cancer or something else. Please pray for him and for all of us who love him dearly.
So it is that we are faced with the terrible and beautiful paradox of the gift of suffering. The Agony of the Garden goes into the depths of human experience in all of its pain, horror, suffering, and death, but it isn’t the last word as we know living through this Lenten season awaiting the joy of Easter. Pax Christi.
The moral life has been hampered greatly by the prevalence of both nominalism (a system based on opposition) and a system of morality based on obligation over charity. For the first 1500 years of the Church, the moral life was seen as the movement of grace within the individual who then strives to live the virtues both supernatural and human. The supernatural virtues of faith, hope, and charity drive the individual to conform their lives to the good who is God. The human virtues, or cardinal virtues, are those lived daily through habitual action and choices. Thus morality is seen as a movement towards love and the New Law of Christ rather than a system of external obligation. The Decalogue and other moral teachings are inherent parts of the Christian life, but they are lived more fruitfully through charity and a life of virtue, rather than as an external force dictating each of our actions. The first cardinal virtue we will examine is prudence.
The foundation and highest of the cardinal virtues is prudence. Joseph Pieper begins his chapter on prudence in his book The Four Cardinal Virtues by pointing out the strangeness most people experience in learning that prudence must come before the other virtues.
No dictum in traditional Christian doctrine strikes such a note of strangeness to the ears of contemporaries, even contemporary Christians, as this one: that the virtue of prudence is the mold and “mother” of all the other cardinal virtues of justice, fortitude, and temperance. In other words, none but the prudent man can be just, brave, and temperate, and the good man is good in so far as he is prudent.
Most people assume the cardinal virtues are separate and belong to no set order, which is why the idea of prudence being primary is so foreign to most people, including many moral theologians.
Prudence in its contemporary usage has become confused from its original meaning and understanding. In the contemporary psyche it is confused with a form of utilitarianism rather than as a grounding force to the other virtues. Pieper points out that most people think of prudence as that which “always carries the connotation of timorous, self-minded preservation, of a rather selfish concern about oneself.” This idea of prudence forgets the human drive for goodness, truth, and nobility. One who is selfish is not concerned with virtue, rather they have turned inward away from truth. The prudent person desires to live according to truth.
Prudence is inextricably linked with choices. It is to choose the good in each moment of the day. One cannot be just, courageous, or temperate if their choices are not ordered to the good. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines prudence as: “…the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it; “the prudent man looks where he is going”…Prudence is “right reason in action”, writes Saint Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle (CCC 1806).” This means “prudence is the “measure” of justice, of fortitude, of temperance.” It is through prudence where emotions and passions are tempered by reason in order for good decisions to be made. A person who is not ruled by reason easily falls into error and sin. Prudence’s primary concern is truth and how best to achieve and conform to that truth. This conformity to the truth propels the man or woman into action.
All of the virtues have at their heart an action in response to truth. The intellect processes the information presented to examine whether or not it conforms to the ontological need for goodness and the will chooses an action in conformity to this truth. The truth can be blocked by the individual’s will, but in the formation of prudence the individual comes to choose the good more and more frequently. The Catechism explains, “The prudent man determines and directs his conduct in accordance with this judgment. With the help of this virtue we apply moral principles to particular cases without error and overcome doubts about the good to achieve and the evil to avoid (CCC 1806).” In a proper examination of prudence, it is clear why the other cardinal virtues rest on this virtue. A man cannot be just if he is not conformed to the truth, nor can a person be willing to die a martyr’s death through fortitude without the aspiration to live truth, or temper bodily desires if the need for balance is not rightly understood.
 Joseph Pieper, The Four Cardinal Virtues: Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, Temperance, Kindle Edition (San Diego, CA: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1965), 88.
 Ibid, 88.
 Ibid, 108.
 Thomas Aquinas, On Human Nature, ed. Thomas S. Hibbs, (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1999), 133-34.
It has been a very stressful week for my family and me with multiple health scares and the ever present agony of waiting for news. I did want to start a brief series on the cardinal virtues based on a term paper I wrote for grad school. This first part is from that paper. We will consider this the introduction and next week I will begin on prudence. I hope you are having a very blessed Lent.
The cardinal virtues are essential to the moral life. Each human being is made for happiness and truth, which can only be found in God. In order to discover and live this happiness each individual must foster proper habits through the cardinal virtues. In the Christian life the assumption is that the supernatural virtues of faith, hope, and charity, as well as the movement of grace, are all at work within the individual as he or she works towards the ultimate truth of God. While the focus here is on the cardinal virtues, the supernatural virtues are always at work in each Christian’s life. Prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance are virtues which order behavior to the pursuit and habitual response to goodness and truth. An individual cannot hope to live a moral life fixed on objective truth without the constant pursuit of these virtues in daily living. It is within the seemingly mundane tasks of daily living where the bigger moral questions are grounded. If an individual lives their private life virtuously, then those habits will spill over into public life and the moral orders of family, community, and country.
In examining virtue and calling others to its pursuit there is often a stumbling block tied to freedom. Individuals may see the virtues as a limitation of freedom and an imposition from external forces against the desires of that particular person; therefore, freedom must be rightly understood first in order to prevent this impediment. Since human beings are spiritual and bodily creatures, there is a natural order within each person at the ontological level. At the very level of being human beings are made for goodness and truth. This goodness cannot be completely blotted out by sin and concupiscence. Far from limiting personal freedom, the virtues order and give direction to life. Servais Pinckaers states, “Far from lessening our freedom, such dispositions are its foundation. We are free, not in spite of them, but because of them.” This means human beings are free when they conform their lives to their natural inclinations for goodness and truth. Freedom is grounded in the human desire for good, “The natural root of freedom develops in us principally through a sense of the true and the good, of uprightness and love, and through a desire for knowledge and happiness.” Freedom itself must not be seen as the ability to do whatever one wants, but as the perfection and pursuit of goodness so that each person may be fully alive.
Since freedom is grounded in goodness, there must be an examination of how best to achieve this goodness. As stated before, the supernatural virtues play their essential role, but the cardinal virtues are the habits needed in daily living. The process of acquiring virtue is life-long and a slow process requiring discipline. It is to make small choices in conformity to truth each day, so that truth is the ever present reality for the individual. Pinckaers uses the virtue of courage to explain this process, “The development of courage is progressive. It is acquired far more through small victories of self-conquest, repeated day after day, than through dreams of great actions. It grows with the dogged effort to study, to finish a task, render a service, or overcome laziness or some other fault.” This development of habit applies to all of the cardinal virtues, but there is a hierarchical nature to the cardinal virtues. They develop, deepen, and are grounded in one another.
 Servais Pinckaers, The Sources of Christian Ethics, Third Edition, (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1995), 358.
 Ibid, 358.
 Ibid, 357.
 Ibid, 356.
In my most recent article for Catholic Exchange I discuss the beginning of my own Lenten journey and life-long journey to confront sinful anger, which I have battled since childhood.
For this Lenten season, I finally decided to confront one of the deadly sins that has beguiled me since childhood: sinful anger. Over the years my anger has waxed and waned, but it has been an ever present struggle and a constant sin for me to Confess. The reasons for why this anger developed doesn’t matter so much as how I learn to deal with it now. Lent is a time to reach deeper into holiness and that means confronting our deepest vices, so that we can live in conformity with the virtues. For me to go deeper into Christ I must learn to abandon sinful anger.
Anger can come about for many reasons: the state of the world, past hurts, childhood, chronic pain or illness (this may very well be mitigated depending), hormone issues, habit, and a variety of other reasons. The common denominator is that we are the only ones with the power to banish sinful anger from our lives. It is very difficult to parse righteous anger from sinful anger within ourselves because the passions have such an integral part to play in our responses. I have often claimed righteous anger when it was clearly sinful anger that occurred within me. In order to help me on my Lenten journey and the journey I will walk for the rest of my days on this earth, I picked up a copy of Fr. T.G. Morrow’s wonderful book, Overcoming Sinful Anger. He cuts right to the chase with the title and he doesn’t mince words in the book either. He provides the fraternal correction far too many of us need, even though it is difficult to confront this ugliness within ourselves. The pain, humiliation, and struggle are necessary, but will be rewarded.
What is Sinful Anger?
Chapter One of Morrow’s book begins with a couple of clear definitions of sinful anger. Anger in itself is a feeling of “displeasure” typically. Feelings are neutral, it is how we respond to them that matters. Anger in the beginning is an emotional response and not sinful in itself. Quoting Henry Fairlie in his book The Seven Deadly Sins Today, the first definition of sinful anger is:
Anger as a deadly sin is ‘a disorderly outburst of emotion connected with the inordinate desire for revenge’…It is likely to be accompanied by surliness of heart, by malice aforethought, and above all by the determination to take vengeance.
Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.
I have a confession to make: I really struggle with sinful anger. I don’t just mean that I get angry in the sense of the passion. I mean that I struggle with rage and the desire for vengeance at certain times. It is one of the reasons that you will find me in the confessional every week or every two weeks at most. My anger has been a decades old problem. Yes, I am 33 and yes some of that anger is from my childhood; however, you are not going to see me justify my anger as my family’s fault. Yes, some of my anger is learned and habitual, but regardless of what post-modern psychology says, I am responsible for how I respond when the passion of anger rears its ugly head and progresses to sin. This is something that has been brought to the forefront of my psyche because I have been angry and struggling after an injustice that I experienced recently, as well as a clear sense of my own failings. God is telling me that in order for me to progress on the path to holiness, I must start to seriously overcome my sinful anger under His guidance. So how do I do that?
I happened to “accidentally” stumble on a book that deals with sinful anger by Fr. T.G. Morrow called Overcoming Sinful Anger. When I saw the book staring at me on my computer screen my immediate thought was: “Okay, Lord! I get it.” I then proceeded to order the book. I have only begun reading the book, but one thing that stood out to me immediately is that I must identify those things that cause me anger. What inside of me leads me to serious anger in specific moments?
One of the things that I have known for a while is that my anger is usually caused by a very serious struggle with self-hatred. When I fail or mess up, I begin a cycle of destructive behaviors (stress eating, depression, self-loathing) that lead me further into sin. I give up and then that giving up (because it is not in my true nature) turns inward into a deep hatred towards myself. This came out in Confession a while back. The priest asked me why I was there and I said, “I am tired of hating myself.” His response was, “Yes! Exactly!” Yes, some of this anger is learned, but I have identified it, so it is time to move past blaming and focus on overcoming it. That means the first task in overcoming sinful anger is to identify what causes anger.
What causes me to go into self-hatred mode and project it on others? As I said above, my own failings are one of the causes. Next is selfishness. When things are not as I want them to be, I can immediately fall into a selfish angry mess. This occurs most often with my husband or daughter. This is hard to admit, but my desire (by the grace of God) is to be a saint. So I must descend into those dark places within myself (Dante’s Inferno anyone?) in order to come out into the light.
The other main reason for my anger is pain and injustice. I have a healthy and unhealthy understanding of justice and righteous anger. I have witnessed horrors in my life, (I was a 9-11 relief worker) and I have experienced pain. That means that I empathize with the suffering of others easily. It also means that when I get hurt, I tend to internalize, especially when I am unable to respond to an injustice, and eventually it turns to anger or rage. There have been hard periods in my life when I have had to silently take the injustices of others. We all have those times, but for me I internalize it and that is a dangerous thing for me to do.
So I have before me my primary motivators for my sinful anger: failure, selfishness, and injustice. This is the beginning of my journey. Now I must learn to identify these triggers in a moment when anger arises. This will be the next difficult step. I have to be willing to overcome that driving passion and take a moment to be introspective about what is going on inside of me. For someone who analyzes complex theology and philosophy, this is difficult for me. Part of that is because we have little control of the passions until we learn to tame them. That is a major part of the spiritual journey. I must train myself to take a step back when the heat of anger rears its ugly head within me.
The most important component is Jesus Christ. I cannot possibly overcome my inclination towards sinful anger on my own. Nope. Not going to happen. I’ve tried. To my utter shame, I still try. I have to let God do it. I have to be willing to fall to the foot of the Cross and say: “Lord, please help me to overcome this anger.” One of the ways that I need to do this is to meditate on certain aspects of Christ’s life that coincide with my own pain and anger.
As I was going to sleep last night, I meditated on the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. There in the heat of the day and alone she went to the well. She was an outcast. I have spent a good deal of time feeling like an outcast for a variety of reasons. While my sins are not the same as hers, they still coincide with the sense of not belonging and being unloved. So there came Jesus in the heat of the day. The blinding sun (both physically and metaphorically) who asked this outcast for a drink. He met her in her brokenness and then proceeded to draw her into the reality of the Holy Trinity. He filled her parched emptiness with the living water that can only flow from Him. How can I possibly remain angry when He desires to fill me up? See the necessity of meditating upon Scripture and finding those stories that will heal?
This is just the beginning. I have identified the reasons, now I must go deep into that hurt, guided by Christ so that He can fill me up. So this is the first step: Identify what leads you to sinful anger. Sinful anger desires vengeance and can become rage. Not all anger is sinful. Contemplate what drives you to sinful anger. Perhaps order the book above. Let’s spend this Lent identifying those triggers and then work to overcome them. I will continue to post about my journey and insights that God gives me in prayer. I pray for you too, who like me, struggles with pain and anger. Please, pray for me. What are some things that have helped you overcome anger? Have you identified your triggers?
Overcoming Sinful Anger by Fr. T. G. Morrow