1. Sin: like I always say, many formators have failed to realize the reality of the evil of sin as the cause of pain and unhappiness in people. Sin is in the first place a moral evil; it is the willful deviation from the prescription of the Eternal or natural moral law. Sin is also a disorder for it involves the choosing of lower things over higher ones (e.g. the preference of an earthly and temporal end over an eternal one). This disorder proceeds from the will of man; from his soul. Consequently, it scatters the heart of man, fills it with desires that can never be attained to, and thereby causing great disorder in him. Whenever man commits sin, this is what happens: he is cut off from God and community, his life ceases to have any direction, and therefore he cannot have happiness. Happiness here means Joy not pleasure. Surely everyone can have pleasure, but not all people can have joy. Pleasure is of the flesh and is temporal while joy is of the soul and is enduring. An appeal to our own experiences shows this basic difference: it shows that things that pertain to the flesh cannot bestow lasting joy, they are temporal and so is the enjoyment there from, they may even begin to cause disgust. Example, you love a particular food, it gives your heart great pleasure, but do you not notice that whenever you overfeed, you begin to hate that food you once loved; you begin to feel disgust for it; it ceases to be desirable. So it is with anything temporal: sex, drinking, relaxation etc. But things that pertain to the soul never breeds disgust; it is always desirable and joy-giving. Example, the joy of a good conscience, the discovery of a truth etc. In sinning, the sinner willfully abandons true joy in order to satisfy his flesh which in turn punishes him for such disorders. Since the primordial fall, man has lost happiness, but with the death of Christ it has been restored unto him. The Devil tempted our first parents with a false type of happiness which sought to please self and displease God; a type of happiness that bases itself on the flesh; on self. Man, upon realizing that no happiness can proceed from himself, feels sharp pains for the harm he has done unto himself. Happiness is not something we acquire; it is not something that we give to ourselves (else we would have all been happy since no one would ever want to deny himself this life-changing gift); it can never be a fruit of sin or evil; it is rather a gift. So the person who abandons the will of God to pursuance of his own desires must know that he has run away from happiness. For happiness is not something we are capable of putting in ourselves, it just comes. It is not something that other people consciously put into our lives, it just comes. It comes from someone higher than we; from someone higher than our friends and family; from someone who is Truth, Life and Love; someone we love to call God. I conclude with the words of John Berger: “Publicity speaks in the future tense and yet the achievement of this future is endlessly deferred. How then does publicity remain credible- or credible enough to exert the influence it does? It remains credible because truthfulness of publicity is judged, not by the real fulfillment of its promises, but by the relevance of its fantasies to those of the spectator buyer. Its essential application is not to reality but to daydreams. No two dreams are the same. Some are instantaneous, others prolonged. The dream is always personal to the dreamer. All that it does is to propose to each one of us that we are not yet enviable- yet could be.”
2 Lack of a sincere hope: many people love to wish themselves things they can never attain to; things that are either impossible or in contradiction to the plan of God. Even in the Church, many people are so afraid of pain that they begin to pray for or “claim” good things that never come. I have seen a woman who, in running away from the fear of death, built a “refuge” for herself, by always saying that God will never allow her to die, even when it is most easily perceived that death is imminent; that it hangs over the head of all of us, as St Augustine puts it “the possibility of life, introduces the possibility of death”, we will all die, because we are alive, for the moment we begin to live, we begin also to die. But some people are too afraid to listen to such truth. Is this a way out? No! It is unreal and has no foundation in God. There is a way out of death, a real way. It is by a sincere hope in God’s mercy, justice and power. In His mercy we hope to receive pardon and justification, in His justice we hope to receive a reward for all our loses for Him, and in his power we hope to be kept safe through the “valleys and shadows of death”. Our hope in God is a lively one; we hope in the God whose hand is able to reach us even beyond this present life; a God who, not only walks with us in this life, but will continue with us even in death. This is the solution to our fear of death, and it is secure for it is built upon God. It is called hope and any other type of hope will simply be presumptuous and therefore offensive before God. Sincere hope is the foundation of a healthy Christian life. Without this hope there would be no reason to live like Christ; no reason for holiness (which is often demanding); no reason to give our lives. There is only one way to discover if this hope is in you: if you still build upon this life so much that you disregard the next one in your concrete decisions, but merely accept it (the Gospel) in principle, then this hope is not yet in you. Like other theological virtues, hope is a gift, we are totally incapable of generating it ourselves; it comes to us from God himself. When we reduce or even stop taking pleasure in “claiming” this and that, we would be much better. For in prayer, we are not really supposed to speak like people with authority (while addressing God Himself, who gives us this authority) but like people in need; like beggars that we are. Let us hear from the Church:
“Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God. But when we pray, do we speak from the height of our pride and will, or ‘out of the depths’ of a humble and contrite heart? (Ps 130:1). He who humbles himself will be exalted; humility is the foundation of prayer. Only when we humble acknowledge that ‘we do not know how to pray as we ought’ are we ready to receive freely the gift of prayer. ‘Man is a beggar before God’” CCC 2559.
When there is this awareness then every other thing begins to fall in place. Do you say you cannot bear it? Well, what is supposed to happen in your heart when you are promised a high place in your dream country? When you are told that the President of America awaits you the next year? I suppose that your “remaining time” in Nigeria will be spent in joyful preparation for your departure. You will always dream of that time, and will be seriously disturbed by the fact that it is still distant (for no matter how near it be, you will never be happy until it finally comes); you would desire the “next year” becomes “tomorrow”. Such is a worldly hope though, but paints a faint picture of how much our hearts should rejoice at the mere thought of heaven which God, in his benevolence has promised us. What then is wealth? What is self gratification? What then is sin? What are all these if they lead us away from our destination? You would definitely deem it very foolish to visit a soothsayer for your material needs as you would deem it foolish to consult with a robber for business when you have been promised great wealth in America.
There are no material attachments to the worship of God. The primary aim is not just heaven as a place or state, nor holiness itself or self development. The aim is God himself. The possession of God is the primary goal of religion. Whenever we have any other attachments (especially ones that prevent us from attaining this ultimate goal) we render our ascent to Him difficult or impossible; we reduce God to a mere material; a material used to achieve other ends; a material we use to achieve health, wealth, wisdom, long life etc. This is heights of ignorance and disorder. We could infer from the analogy drawn above that the fear of death is born of lack of hope. Hope is sustained by love and is completed by faith. A true believer sees death as a transition; as the “time” he has always awaited to unite with the one he loves. Notwithstanding the pains that often come with this separation, his faith is unflinching in the mercy of the God who is Love; a God who is All knowing, All loving and All powerful; he knows that this God knows how to save him, that he wishes to save him and that he has the power to save him. Such is the disposition of a true Christian. This is difficult to swallow though, but with continued prayer and study it becomes a bit easier. Do not reject it just because it is not very fanciful or say that it doesn’t matter, for as a matter of fact it does. Anything that affects the theological virtues affects the whole orientation of the Christian’s life. If the Church were to begin teaching the erroneous doctrine of Martin Luther, the doctrine known as “Sola Fides” translated “faith alone”. Which teaches that it does not matter how Christian lives, even if it is sinful that the most important thing is to have faith. That with faith alone a Christian is justified (without works). Then see how much the Christian life will be affected, this teaching will reorient everyone’s lives. So be very sure of the importance of this since it affects these three major virtues without which no one may see God. Fulton Sheen tells the story of a young man who have been reading of Cigarette being a conditioning cause for cancer, he was so disturbed because he was a smoker but instead of giving up smoking he gave up reading! So will it be if you, dear reader, give up reading rather than drop your bad habits. Our teachings can be confirmed from that of the Church if you like, but be mindful that any truth learned imposes the obligation of living according to it. He is happy to whom Christ chooses to reveal the narrow way, for in it is contained the true knowledge of God, man and the world. He quenches his thirst at the fountain of sound doctrine ever flowing from the breasts of the Mother Church; he feeds his soul with the very Word of the Father in the Eucharist, he is happy to whom God has revealed the beauty of truth and the nobility of its pursuit.
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