13 February 2018

The Hunger Games

Westin St Francis Hotel in SF, 1904
JMJ
The Readings for the 6th Tuesday of Ordinary Time (B2)
Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras

Nemo cum tentatur, dicat quoniam a Deo tentatur : Deus enim intentator malorum est : ipse autem neminem tentat.
Let no man, when he is tempted, say that he is tempted by God. For God is not a tempter of evils, and he tempteth no man. 

The Apostle, St James, points out here the oldest bugaboo: Original Sin or, as the Byzantines call it, Ancestral Sin. It's a weakness - not a "mark" on the soul, but more like that shopping cart that has one wheel that's wonky and always pulls to the right as you make the first left  at the end of the bakery aisle in Ingles. The cart just will not drive the way you want it. God does not tempt us, nor did God make the wheel go wobbly wobbly to the right at the end of the aisle.  

For the Mediaeval philosophers, it was the eyes that led the soul astray: the eyes are the windows of the soul! Temptation comes in (like rocks thrown in from outside) when we see something we might want - be that a physical thing, or a thing to do, or a person, the idea is first cast in through the eyes.  Our temptations are not of God, nor are they a call from God to indulge. Maybe you really do want more stuff in the bakery aisle. Unusquisque vero tentatur a concupiscentia sua abstractus, et illectus. Every man is tempted by his own concupiscence, being drawn away and allured.  You are tempted to get the Red Velvet Cake...

This is the patience we began talking about yesterday. Beatus vir qui suffert tentationem. Blessed is the man that endureth temptation. Temptation is not pretty. It's boring usually. It's the same thing, over and over, working against the will: one thought pestering you until you swear you will go mad if it doesn't stop or you don't give in.

In CS Lewis' Perelandra there is this most frightening of scenes which I've referenced before. In this scene, Dr Ransom, the protagonist, is tempted by Dr Weston, the antagonist (who is possessed by the devil). In the absolute darkness of a night with no artificial light and no stars, the Devil calls out Dr Ransom's name.

Ransom.
What?
Silence.

Ransom.
What?
Silence.

Ransom.
(Obstinate refusal to reply)
Ransom.
Ransom.
Ransom.
What?
Silence.

This repeats all night long. When Dr Ransom gets used to ignoring the voice, the voice changes: and becomes a woman's voice in horror, or a child's voice, or a growl to frighten him.

Ransom.
Ransom.
Ransom.
Ransom.
Ransom.
Ransom.
Ransom.
Ransom.
Ransom.
Ransom.

I swear to you this is the scariest scene I have ever read in a book! Scary, because it is so real. It takes patience and perseverance to get through that. And giving in to your desires is not the answer. This is the patience we were talking about yesterday. To sit there, asking for help, while something inside is calling out your name, over and over. And over. Again. That power to call out your name does not mean it is you.

In fact, the concept of Original Sin means we don't have the ability to self-diagnose in these areas. Quite the contrary: we are most susceptible to this Weston Effect in those places where we feel most secure, where we are mostly blind to the possibility of error. (This is true of things that might be called "evil" as well as things that might be called "good"! Is that call to marriage really what God wants for you? What about that call to ordination? This is why we have father confessors, spiritual directors, and processes of discernment in the Church: to weed out Weston.)

So what are you giving up for Lent? A reminder, by the way: in the West the traditional fast is still to say "Carnivale" today. To give up meat from now to Easter. It's ok if you want to substitute another sort of penance: but meatlessness seems to scare a lot of folks.

In both the East and the West it is traditional to Fast - meaning to give up some part of your food. Until about 60 years ago, the fasting rules were rather more extreme than just "no meat on Friday". 


From the Key of Heaven, a Roman Catholic book of prayers and piety. Published in 1901

Read that! No meat all Lent (except Sundays) and one meal a day plus one side salad. My understanding is that by the mid 20th century the only change was "two side salads". At the Monastery we kept the 1 side salad rule.

In the East, Lent is, essentially, Vegan. No fish is allowed, nor dairy, nor eggs (this even on Sundays). There is no alcohol allowed either, although some folks bend the rule for beer. 

The purpose of any of these fasts was not because food was bad, but because we tend to over indulge all the time. This is increasingly true: we eat most meals as if we were feasting (when compared to the rest of the world). The function of saying no to things we want is to train the will to say no to other things we might want as well. Avoiding hamburgers and milkshakes for 40 days does not save one or make one pious. It makes one stronger willed. And with that will, then, to avoid the Weston Affectus, the simple responding to each call of one's name by the desires within. Giving up something for Lent is not intended to make one holy. But it is intended to give one a tool for becoming holy. 

So what are you giving up tomorrow? If it's something easy, maybe it's time to think about something else. As long as you realize your not doing itYou're the shopping cart and, even with a wobbly wheel, God will get you to the Feast of Pascha. God will give you the strength to compete in this game as long as you rely on him. 

Ransom.

(Obstinate refusal to reply)

Ransom.
Ransom.
Ransom.
Ransom.
Ransom.
Ransom.
Ransom.
Ransom....
































































Ransom.