THERE is a simple but beautiful prayer called “The Act of Contrition” prayed by the penitent at the end of Confession:
O my God, I am sorry with all my heart for having sinned against You. I detest all of my sins because of Your just punishment, but most of all because they offend You my God, Who are all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Your grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin.
The “near occasion of sin.” Those four words can save you.
The near occasion of sin is the Fence which divides us between the Land of Life and the Desert of Death. And this is no literary exaggeration. As Paul writes,
For the wages of sin is death… (Romans 6:23)
Before Adam and Eve sinned, they often walked atop this fence without even knowing it. Such was their innocence, unawakened by evil. But the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil grew alongside this fence. Tempted by the Serpent, Adam and Eve ate of the tree, and suddenly lost their balance, falling headlong into the Desert of Death.
From that time forward, the equilibrium within the human heart was wounded. Mankind could no longer walk on top of this fence without losing his balance and falling into sin. The word for this wound is concupiscence: the inclination toward evil. The Desert of Death became the Desert of Distraction, and soon humans would not only fall into it by weakness, but many would choose to jump in.
Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ’s grace, erases original sin and turns a man back towards God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle. —Catechism of the Catholic Church, 405
If a meteor comes too close to the earth, it is pulled into the planet’s gravity and ultimately destroyed as it burns up in the atmosphere. So too, many people have no intention of sinning; but by putting themselves near beguiling situations, they are pulled in as the gravity of temptation is too strong to resist.
We go to Confession, sincerely repent… but then do nothing to rectify the lifestyle or situations which got us into trouble in the first place. Within no time, we leave the sure paths of God’s Will in the Land of the Living, and begin to climb the Fence of Temptation. We say, “I have confessed this sin. I am reading my bible now. I pray the rosary. I can handle this!” But then we become mesmerized by the glamor of sin, lose our step through the wound of weakness, and fall headfirst into the very place we swore we never would go again. We find ourselves broken, guilt-ridden, and dry in spirit on the burning sands of the Desert of Death.
We must uproot those things which bring us into the near occasion of sin. For most often, we still have affections toward our sinful inclinations, whether we admit it or not. Despite our resolutions, we really don’t trust God’s promise that what he has for us is infinitely better. The ancient Serpent knows our condition of weak trust, and will do his best to convince us to leave these things as they are. He usually does this by not tempting us right away, creating the false illusion that we are stronger than we really are.
When God warned Adam and Eve about the forbidden tree in the Garden, not only did he say to not eat of it but according to Eve:
“You shall not… even touch it, lest you die.” (Genesis 3:3)
And so, we must leave the Confessional, go home and smash our idols lest we “even touch” them. For example, if watching TV draws you into sin, leave it off. If you can’t leave it off, call the cable company and cut it off. Same with the computer. If you have serious problems with pornography or online gambling etc., move your computer to a visible place. Or if that is no solution, get rid of it. Yes, get rid of the computer. As Jesus said,
…if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. Better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna. (Mark 9:47)
If you have a group of friends who lead you into sinful activities, then politely get out of that group.
Do not be led astray: “Bad company corrupts good morals.” (1 Cor 15:33)
Avoid shopping for groceries when you are hungry. Shop with a list, rather than compulsively. Walk a different route to work to avoid lustful images. Anticipate inflammatory words from antagonists, and avoid drawing them out. Reduce your credit card limit, or cut up the card altogether. Don’t keep alcohol in your house if you can’t control drinking. Avoid idle, silly, and risqué conversation. Avoid gossip, including that in entertainment magazines and radio and television talk shows. Speak only when necessary—listen more.
If any one makes no mistakes in what he says he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body also. (James 3:2)
Order and discipline your day as much as possible to avoid compulsiveness. Get your rest and proper nutrition.
These are all ways in which we can avoid the near occasion of sin. And we must, if we are to win the “spiritual battle”.
THE NARROW ROAD
But perhaps the most powerful way to avoid sin is this: to follow the Will of God, moment by moment. God’s Will consists of pathways running through the Land of Life, a rugged landscape of raw beauty with hidden streams, shaded groves, and breathtaking vistas which eventually lead to the Summit of Union with God. The Desert of Death and Distraction pales in comparison, much the way the sun outshines a lightbulb.
But these paths are the narrow roads of faith.
Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matt 7:13)
Can you see how radical Christ is calling you to be?
Yes! Come out of the world. Let the illusion be shattered. Let the truth set you free: sin is a lie. Let a divine fire burn within your heart. The fire of love. Imitate Christ. Follow the saints. Be holy as the Lord is holy!
We must see ourselves as “strangers and sojourners”… this world is not our home. But what we are leaving behind is nothing compared to what God has in store for those who take these paths of His Will. God cannot be outdone in generosity! He has joys beyond expression awaiting us which even now we can experience through faith.
What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him (1 Cor 2:9)
Lastly, remember that you cannot win this spiritual battle without God. And so, draw near to Him in prayer. Every day, you must pray from the heart, spending time with God, letting Him infuse your soul with all the graces you need in order to persevere. As our Lord said,
Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)
Indeed, we pray with all our heart the words in The Act of Contrition: “with the help of Your grace“.
The devil is like a rabid dog tied to a chain; beyond the length of the chain he cannot seize anyone. And you: keep at a distance. If you approach too near, you let yourself be caught. Remember that the devil has only one door by which to enter the soul: the will. There are no secret or hidden doors. —St. Pio of Pietrelcina
First published November 28th, 2006.
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