III. SELF-CASTIGATION OR PENANCE.
Self-castigation is the purification of man from the effects of sin by the practice of penance. As we offend God, defile our souls, and incur the penalty of sin by rebelling against God, so we honor God, purify our consciences, and make satisfaction for sin by voluntary penance. Let us now consider the causes we have for self-castigation and the ways of practicing it.
1. First Cause for Penance — Mortal Sin
Mortal sin is a deliberate, voluntary transgression of God's law in a serious matter. Its malice consists in rebelling against God with base contempt and vile ingratitude, and thereby making an idol unto ourselves of some sinful gratification. Its effects are: (1) it insults the majesty and goodness of God; (2) it deprives man of sanctifying grace, and past merit, and renders him incapable to merit heaven; (3) it defiles the soul; (4) it burdens the conscience with guilt; (5) it condemns the sinner to the punishment of an outraged conscience, the loss of God's friendship, and brings upon him the punishment of hell.
The means by which man can undo the effects of mortal sin and avoid a relapse are sacramental confession, contrition, amendment, resistance to temptation, flight from the occasion of sin, distrust of self and confidence in the mercy of God.
2. Second Cause for Penance — Venial Sin.
A venial sin is (1) a deliberate, voluntary transgression of God's law in a light matter, or (2) a transgression in a serious matter where the mind was prevented from realizing the extent of its malice through ignorance, misconception or inadvertence, or where mind or will were momentarily hampered, but not paralyzed by sudden passion, nervousness, or fear. Where physical violence, however, or nervousness, fear, or antecedent passion deprives man entirely of the dominion of an action, it is no sin in the sight of God. The effects of venial sin are: (1) it slights God; (2) it lessens the fear of the Lord and the love of God in our hearts; (3) it renders us unworthy of special graces; (4) it diminishes our fervor and devotion; (5) it disposes us for the commission of mortal sin; (6) it makes us deserving of temporal punishment.
The means of blotting out venial sin and of avoiding it in the future are contrition, reparation, vigilance, serious effort, mistrust of self and confidence in God.
3. Third Cause for Penance — Tepidity.
Tepidity is habitual negligence in doing good and in avoiding evil. It is disgust in the sense of God, a spiritual dyspepsia, a stagnation in the spiritual life, that enervates the mind, smothers charity, extinguishes devotion, weakens virtue, and darkens the understanding. Tepidity is defined by St. Alphonsus as the habit of fully deliberate venial sin. Tepidity is a rebellion against the fundamental laws of labor, suffering, and prayer, and therefore an abomination in the sight of God. "Because thou art lukewarm, and neither hot, nor cold, I will begin to vomit thee out of my mouth" (Apoc. iii. 16).
A complete reconstruction of the spiritual edifice is necessary to cure a tepid soul: prayer, meditation, concentration, recollection, strenuous labor, patient endurance, detachment, a spirit of faith, fervor, frequent examination of conscience, seclusion, and the exercises of a retreat alone can effect a cure.
4. Fourth Cause for Penance — Participation in the Sins of Others
We may participate in the sins of others (1) by neglecting a reproof suggested by charity; (2) by not preventing the sins of others when our duty demands it; (3) by scandalizing others or offering them the occasion of sin; (4) by aiding them in the commission of sin; (5) by committing sin with them; (6) and by tempting them or coercing them to sin.
We incur the guilt of the sins of others, as well as the obligation of leading them to repentance in so far as we have participated in their sins. "It is impossible that scandals should not come: but woe to him through whom they come" (Luke xvii. 1).
To guard against participating in the sins of others, we should bear in mind (1) that such conduct offends God most grievously; (2) that He will demand a strict account of our stewardship; (3) and that those whom we have helped on the way to perdition will be our accusers on the day of the general reckoning.
5. Fifth Cause for Penance — The Sins of the World
There are many sins committed that are not of our volition and which we cannot prevent.
They offend God, wound the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and ruin countless souls. Zeal for the honor and glory of God should prompt us to regret them, to grieve over them, and thereby to make atonement to the outraged majesty and goodness of God. Our love for Jesus Christ should prompt us to offer Him sympathy and consolation, and to make reparation to His adorable Heart for the coldness, indifference, and malice of mankind. Finally, zeal for the salvation of souls and the brotherhood of mankind should prompt us to desire the welfare of every human being, and to do all in our power to promote it by making satisfaction for the sins of the world.
6. Sixth Cause for Penance — Imperfections
Imperfections are involuntary defects in the service of God, or material transgressions of His holy law committed without advertence of the mind or consent of the will. As imperfections are committed without malice or guilt, they are not matter for confession. As defects in God's service they are matter for self-examination and correction, for spiritual direction, and for voluntary penance and mortification. The teaching of St. John of the Cross, that every imperfection is a tendency to one of the capital sins, should prompt us to redouble our vigilance in discovering, and our efforts in overcoming them. To further our spiritual progress, let us verify this statement of the saint.
a. Imperfections Inclining to Pride. Pride is inordinate self-esteem. The imperfections that tend to foster pride are: (1) to attribute a feeling of devotion to our efforts; (2) to desire to be considered more perfect than those who experience no sensible devotion; (3) to perform acts of devotion to attract the attention of others; (4) to incline to censure others; (5) to attempt to direct the superiors and the confessor in discharging their duties.
Inclinations to pride may be overcome by vigilance, and by voluntary acts of humiliation and mortification.
b. Imperfections Inclining to Avarice. Avarice is an inordinate solicitude for created things. It may be carnal or spiritual. The imperfections tending to carnal avarice are: (1) an inordinate desire of material things; (2) seeking them for their own sake; (3) hating to part with them; (4) centering our affections on them.
The imperfections tending to spiritual avarice are: (1) a desire for an abundance of grace and extraordinary favors with which we will not or cannot co-operate; (2) overestimating articles of devotion and pious practices to the detriment of true piety and devotion; (3) to profess great sanctity while neglecting interior mortification.
Being unworthy of God's favors we should (1) use material things to supply our wants and to help our neighbor; (2) guard against all inordinate attachment to them; (3) humbly and gracefully accept the spiritual favors God gives us; (4) seek conversion of the heart and solid virtue; (5) perform our private and public devotions according to the general practice; (6) cultivate a spirit of detachment in all things.
c. Imperfections Inclining to Lust. Impure feelings may be aroused without any fault on our part, (1) by our corrupt nature; (2) by the devil; (3) by necessary associations with others, especially with persons of the opposite sex; (4) by innocent familiarity with virtuous persons; (5) by a sympathy between devotion of the heart and sensual inclinations in our pious exercises; (6) by too great or too vivid a fear of impurity itself.
To spiritualize our inferior nature we should (1) guard against doing anything in the discharge of our duty that might unnecessarily arouse improper feelings; (2) despise those that arise spontaneously, and not omit our duty to God, to our neighbor, or to ourselves on their account; (3) to abstain from all sentimentality, inordinate familiarity, and carnal friendship; (4) to redouble our prayers; (5) to seek to please God in all things and implicitly to trust in His help; (6) in our mistrust of self not to picture particular temptations to our minds; (7) to ground ourselves in humility; (8) to perform little acts of exterior mortification.
d. Imperfections Tending to Anger. We manifest a tendency to anger, (1) when through false zeal we grow impatient at the mistakes of others, or take delight in denouncing them; (2) when we grow impatient with ourselves on ac- count of our repeated faults and slow progress in virtue; (3) when we grow sad, discouraged, or impatient because God has seen fit to leave our souls dry, dark, and languid, without sensible consolation. By such conduct we disgrace the spiritual life, scandalize others, and give ignorant persons reason to infer that sanctity is a mixture of haughtiness, temper, and effeminacy.
To counteract these tendencies we should (1) concentrate our attention on our duty, and be patient but firm and persevering in our efforts to make progress; (2) pay no attention to the defects of others, and treat them with indulgence when brought to our notice; (3) place our trust in God and mate ourselves worthy of His favors by humility, prayer, mortification, and honest effort; (4) be alert to suppress the first impulse to anger when we are especially prone to it; (5) seek the grace to do God's will and not heavenly consolations in our prayers.
e. Imperfections Tending to Gluttony. The imperfections that tend to gluttony may be carnal or spiritual. Those of a carnal tendency manifest themselves (1) in the pleasure we might take in thinking of food and drink; (2) in speaking unnecessarily of it; (3) in wishing for it out of due season.
Those which tend to spiritual gluttony are: (1) to desire spiritual consolations and favors rather than solid piety; (2) to follow one's own inclination in doing good rather than the will of God; (3) to forget one's own sinfulness and become too familiar with God; (4) to indulge in extraordinary works of penance for the delusive consolation they may afford.
To counteract these tendencies to gluttony we should (1) seek to please God, and not to gratify ourselves; (2) be indifferent to all but the holy will of God, and accept material and spiritual favors with humble gratitude; (3) above all mortify our will by cultivating obedience, purity of heart, and conformity to the divine will; (4) cultivate a special devotion to Christ crucified.
f. Imperfections Tending to Envy. Envy is sadness at another's welfare in so far as this diminishes one's own excellence. Its tendencies are: (1) to feel hurt when others are praised or honored; (2) to minimize the reputation of others by disparaging remarks ; (3) to be pleased when the defects of others are made known; (4) to rejoice when such defects are criticized by others.
To cure imperfections tending to envy we should (1) practice charity; (2) rejoice at the success of others; (3) wish them well; (4) extol their virtues; (5) praise them publicly when circumstances permit.
g. Imperfections Tending to Sloth. Sloth is indifference in action. When sloth becomes habitual it is called tepidity or lukewarmness. A person may be physically infirm, or perform a slothful deed, and even commit a serious fault, without being in the dangerous state of tepidity. The tendencies to sloth are: (1) a facility in omitting or curtailing our spiritual exercises; (2) irreverence or voluntary distractions in them; (3) a want of recollection; (4) a want of practical faith in our daily actions.
To remedy the imperfections tending to sloth we should (1) cultivate a spirit of recollection; (2) frequently strengthen our good resolution; (3) frequently purify our motives; (4) frequently renew our good intention; (5) cultivate a spirit of prayer.
7. Castigation of Actual Sin — Sacramental Confession.
Sacramental confession is the means instituted by a merciful Savior to reconcile repentant Christian sinners to God. When made with the proper dispositions a good sacramental confession cancels the effects of sin, and bestows the peace which the world cannot give, (1) by removing the sinner's anxiety about the past; (2) by reconciling him to the heavenly Father in the present; (3) by giving him grace, hope, and opportunity to work for heaven in the future.
To impart this consolation the confession must be made with faith, hope, and integrity. Faith teaches (1) that this is the sacrament of God's mercy and reconciliation; (2) that the priest has the same power of forgiving sin which Jesus exercised while on earth; (3) that the words of absolution in a good confession impart forgiveness of sin and divine assurance of reconciliation. A good confession is made with hope (1) in the mercy of God, and (2) in the infinite merits of Jesus Christ.
The integrity requisite for a good confession prescribes only (1) that mortal sins be confessed, and that by their proper name — this makes the confession clear; (2) that as nearly as possible the number of times each mortal sin was committed, and the circumstances which change their nature, be stated — this makes the confession brief; (3) that the confession be made with advertence to the sinner's guilt, thereby making it humble; (4) finally, that the confession be honestly made with the intention of communicating this knowledge to the confessor, thereby making the confession sincere.
Though there is no obligation of confessing venial sins, it is advisable to do so (1) when a person has no mortal sin to confess; (2) when he is in doubt whether a sin is mortal or venial ; (3) whenever he is sorry for having committed the venial sin.
When Satan beholds the saints in heaven who have escaped his slavery by making a good confession he is filled with rage. As he cannot harm the souls that are already saved, he employs every means his cunning can devise to keep souls on earth from deriving those benefits from the sacrament of Penance which Jesus in His mercy has destined for them. He is the hidden fiend who scoffs through ignorant men at the tribunal of penance. He is the insidious tempter who seeks to drive the repentant sinner to despair, fills him with false shame, and harasses him with groundless fears as soon as he resolves with the Prodigal to return, to his Father. And he does this in spite of the fact that sacramental confession is more natural to the Christian soul than candor to a repentant child, in spite of the fact that mercy is more natural to a compassionate God than the kiss of forgiveness is to a loving mother.
8. Castigation of the Guilty Mind — Detestation of Sin
When we commit sin we inconsiderately prefer a finite good to God, the infinite Good. If our sin is mortal our minds despise God to that extent that they judge that finite good worthy of being our god, and as such decree it to be the final object of our existence. If our sin is venial our minds scorn the friendship of God to the extent we gratify our self-love'.
The human mind is naturally just, however. So when we reflect on our action and judge it dispassionately, we not only realize that we have acted unjustly, but we proceed and condemn ourselves for having despised God, defiled our souls, and merited punishment. The more we ponder the effects of sin, the more do we begin to realize that it is the greatest evil in the world. And in proportion as we realize the great evil of sin in general, the more do we condemn our own sins in particular and detest them as an abomination in the sight of God, as firebrands from hell that alone can cause our temporal and eternal misery.
9. Castigation of the Guilty Will — Sorrow for Sin
The human will necessarily seeks what is good. Hence, as soon as it learns from the mind that it has chosen the greatest possible evil by committing sin, it is filled with grief. When considered in relation to the loss occasioned by sin, this grief is called remorse; when viewed as a pain we endure, it is called compunction; when viewed in its bearing on our sinful transgression, it is called penitence or repentance; and when viewed in its bearing on the future, it is called purpose of amendment. The motives which prompt us to regret our sin, fill us with aversion for it, and spur us on to penance and perseverance are: the fear of the torments of hell, the desire of heaven, and the love of God. These three motive powers of the spiritual life are kept alive within us by frequent reflection on the eternal truths. Hence the Holy Ghost exhorts us: "In all thy works remember thy last end and thou shalt never sin'' (Ecclus. vii. 40).
10. Castigation of the Guilty Faculties — Purpose of Amendment
The grief of the soul for having offended God, when considered in its bearing on the future, that is as a purpose of amendment, embraces a fivefold determination: (1) the general resolution to avoid evil and to do good; (2) to avoid at least every mortal sin, and every venial sin that we have just confessed; (3) to uproot any bad habit we may have contracted, and to guard against contracting it again; (4) to avoid the proximate, voluntary occasion of every mortal sin, as well as of those venial sins we have just confessed ; (5) to use the means of grace necessary to ensure fidelity to our determination.
We can ensure the stability of our purpose of amendment: (1) by mistrusting ourselves and placing our confidence in God; (2) by renewing it as often as we kneel in prayer; (3) by keeping the Christian ideal ever before our minds.
11. Castigation of Sinful Man — Satisfaction
Even after the acts of repentance, conversion and purpose of amendment have been formed, certain external effects of sin may re- main. They consist in the wrong that was done by sin to God and to our neighbor. These may be removed by works of satisfaction. Works of satisfaction are of three kinds: reparatory, vindictive or penitential, and medicinal or precautionary.
(1) Reparation is made to God by repairing His honor, and by making up for remissness in His service. Reparation is made to our neighbor by repairing the wrong done him through injustice, lies, detraction, and slander, and by treating him with kindness for any want of attention.
(2) The vindictive or penitential works that satisfy for our sins are prayer, as atonement to God; fasting, as a castigation of ourselves; and alms-deeds as reparation to our neighbor. Prayer, fasting, and almsdeeds are here used in their widest application to the practice of religion, self-denial, and the works of mercy.
(3) The medicinal or precautionary works of satisfaction are intended to protect ns against a lapse, or a relapse into sin. They are acts of self-denial that are usually called “Mortification." Their importance arises from the evident truth that prevention is better than a cure.
12. Castigation of the Repentant Sinner — Actual Amendment
Amendment is the fruit of true repentance — ''By their fruits you shall know them." To bring forth fruit worthy of repentance we must reduce our purpose of repentance to practice. If like Peter we presumed on our own strength, like Peter we have learned by bitter experience to mistrust ourselves. To reduce our purpose of amendment to practice we must (1) continually mistrust ourselves; (2) cultivate a boundless confidence in God; (3) use the opportunity of the present to do violence to ourselves in avoiding sin and its occasions, in resisting temptation and conquering bad habits, and in doing good to repair the past, to secure ourselves in the present, and to make certain of our perseverance.
13. Medicinal Castigation — Mortification.
Mortification is the performance or endurance of anything repugnant to our natural inclinations for the purpose of submitting ourselves to the influence of grace and doing God's holy will. When it places an external restraint upon us, mortification is called external or corporal; when it does violence to the faculties of the soul it is called interior or spiritual. When mortification takes place at our own discretion it is called active; and when it consists in cheerfully enduring the trials sent or permitted by divine Providence it is called passive mortification.
Corresponding to the three stages of the spiritual life are three stages or degrees of Christian mortification or self-denial. In the first stage the earthly pilgrim must deny himself to the extent of avoiding the voluntary, proximate occasion, and of resisting temptation to mortal sin, but wastes much time, neglects much grace, and commits many venial sins. In the second stage he does as much violence to himself as is necessary to avoid deliberate venial sin. Finally, in the third stage the Christian dies perfectly to self and offers God a complete sacrifice (1) by conquering even his imperfections; (2) by using every moment of time; (3) by cooperating with every grace; (4) and by suffering every trial in conformity with the divine will.
The ignorant and the sensualist do not realize the importance of mortification. But in proportion as any one becomes Christlike will he also see that mortification (1) subjects man to the influence of grace; (2) makes him triumph over the flesh, the world, and the devil; (3) aids him in the practice of virtue; (4) ensures his perseverance; (5) gives him spiritual peace and joy; (6) and unites him to God in all things.
In the practice of mortification discretion is necessary to avoid the harm resulting from extremes. In exterior mortification the extremes are reached (1) in a species of sensuality on the one hand, which denounces all voluntary external mortification, (2) and by an excessive rigorism on the other, which injures the body and paralyzes the energies of the soul. The neglect of voluntary interior mortification fosters inordinate self-love, and suffocates the love of God in our hearts. As long as interior mortification is well regulated there is no danger in going to extremes in its practice. As a safeguard against imprudence and excessive rigorism however, austerities or extraordinary corporal mortifications should not be practiced without the previous sanction of the spiritual director.
Prudence or discretion in the practice of voluntary mortification prescribes (1) that no mortification should interfere with the performance of our duty or the practice of virtue; (2) that mortification be always free from singularity; (3) that in interior mortification we begin by discovering, subjugating, and sanctifying our predominant passion; (4) that we anticipate the rebellion of our passions; (5) that we never lose sight of our pride and anger; (6) that we be not content with a little progress in interior mortification, but continue resolutely until we have gained a complete victory.
14. Rigorous Castigation — Austerities
Extraordinary corporal penances are called austerities. Austerities have always been practised in the Catholic Church, and are prescribed to some extent in most of the Religious Orders, particularly in those whose special vocation is to atone with Christ for the sins of the world.
Austerities consist: (1) in being content with the essentials in food, clothing, and accommodations; (2) in the observance of continuous silence, abstinence, and fasting; (3) in keeping long vigils, in using hairshirts, cilicium and disciplines; (4) in performing the most menial work, and in spending long hours in prayer.
Ordinarily it would be both presumptuous and rash to inflict penances so severe on ourselves. In fact, as Catholics we should attempt it only when (1) we have a special vocation to such a life; (2) after that vocation has been carefully investigated and positively sanctioned by our spiritual director.
15. Our Spiritual Guide — The Priest
The priest is specially called by God. He prepares himself by years of study, prayer, and self-discipline for his work of love and sacrifice. The priest becomes our spiritual father at the baptismal font, is devoted to us throughout our life, and smooths our passage to a happy eternity.
His personality may change, but the priest is ever (1) the ambassador of Christ, bringing a message of hope and love; (2) our mediator at the altar, offering God an acceptable sacrifice; (3) the agent of God's mercy in the confessional, purifying our souls in the blood of the Lamb; (4) a heavenly almoner at all times, enriching ns with Christ's merits in the sacraments, and blessings of the Church; (5) a good shepherd, who has consecrated his life to our welfare; (6) our guardian angel in the flesh, ever ready to sympathize with us, to console us, to direct us, to guard and guide us to temporal and eternal union with God.