Grace: To feel shame and confusion at myself because of my sins.
Text for Prayer: 1 John 1:8-2:6
Reflection: St. Ignatius of Loyola describes the point of spiritual exercises as follows: they are meant “to conquer oneself and to organize one’s life without the influence in one’s decisions by any inordinate attachment.” Just as God’s first act of creation was drawing order out of chaos, Ignatius invites us to take an unsparing look at our own lives, to see that they have an element of chaos and disorder about them, and to set to work straightening things up.
One of the first steps that we must take as we begin to put our spiritual house in order is to recognize the sheer ugliness of sin. In the City of God, St. Augustine famously describes sin as “love of oneself even to contempt of God.” It should shock us to think that we could ever reach a point where we would love and prefer ourselves so much that we hated or disregarded God. How could such a scenario possibly come to be? The way that we usually arrive at such a spiritual morass is through a slide into what theologians call venial sin, rather than through a willing rejection of God in one fell swoop.
Satan, the enemy of our human nature—as St. Ignatius often refers to him—is too clever and cunning to think that he can overcome us with a direct assault on our moral integrity. Therefore, rather than a direct attack, he goes after our weak spots, presenting to us apparent pleasures in the form of false or misunderstood goods. His strategy is to try to accustom us over time to favor our own self-interest rather than to consider what would serve God best and truly be good for us.
Venial sin usually goes together with dispositions of the soul which St. Ignatius calls disordered attachments. A disordered attachment is almost anything that can be the focus of our desire including other people, activities, experiences, emotions, objects, possessions, or ideologies. As we take an honest and unsparing look at our spiritual lives this Lent, we should examine carefully our desires and our relationships with all of these people, activities, experiences, emotions, objects, possessions, and so on. Wherever we find that we prefer something that is not God to God Himself, that is a clear indication of disorder in our spiritual life, an area where we stand in need of God’s grace and healing.
We often think of venial sins as the tiny sins that don’t matter too much. On the contrary, mindful of the way that Satan tries to ensnare us and lead us away from God, we should be on the lookout for venial sin as a sign of disordered attachments in our lives. We should be aware of the way venial sin impedes our progress in the spiritual life and can eventually dispose us to committing even mortal sin. Pondering all this, we should ask God for the grace to feel shame and confusion at ourselves because of our sins and our proclivity to sin. Sin is something irrational and perverse. We should marvel at the fact that we sometimes prefer lesser, created goods and the satisfaction of our own ego to the love of God. When we meditate on this it is good to experience confusion, shame, and even sadness as we try to see the full ugliness of sin and what it does to us.
Questions: How transparent is your life to God? Do you find that most of your pursuits are ordered towards God’s praise and service or do you sometimes find yourself expending time and energy on relationships with people or things that are not leading you closer to God? Is there an area of your life where you want to ask God to heal you of a disordered attachment? What hinders you most from loving God with all your heart?