February 22, 2013 Feast of the Chair of St. Peter
This post is a continuation of the series on sin.
Spiritual warfare is one of the requirements of being a soldier of Jesus Christ and a member of the Church Militant. Failure to go to war will result in the loss of our souls, but we cannot step onto the battlefield and expect to win without understanding what we are dealing with. In my post The World, the Flesh, and the Devil I introduced these three sources of temptation, all of which interconnect to draw us away from God.
The meaning of “The World”
In ascetical theology the world does not refer to grass, trees, mountains, hills, etc. as I thought in my childlike simplicity long ago. The world is the realm of Satan in time, a realm with standards radically opposed to God’s way of seeing. It presents itself as an end in itself, whereas it can only ever be an obstacle to the eternal end God has intended for us.
Money, power, and pleasure constitute the realm of the world. None of these things are evil in themselves, but when sought only for themselves they distract us from battle. The enticements suck us deeper and deeper into obsession until we become so entangled in their pursuit we can’t recognize the needs of our neighbor nor the presence of God in our lives, calling us to Himself.
Money, power, and pleasure are what Satan offered to Jesus in Matt. 4:8-10 when he took Him to a high mountain to tempt Him. Satan was offering Jesus the world.
Money begs us to love it. We can do so many good things with money, and much evil, too. Money buys favors from corrupt people. It buys power and position and the highest political offices in nations. Money buys almost unlimited pleasures – the “wine, women, and song” symbol of hedonism every culture of the world expresses in one phrase or another.
Because money can help us easily accomplish fulfillment of what is enormously destructive to ourselves and our neighbor, St. Paul cautions us in 1 Tim. 6:10 that “the love of money is the root of all evil.” Having a fallen nature we tend to desire things that we think will satisfy us now but which fall into the realm of vanity as spoken to us in Ecclesiastes 1. Money tempts us to seek it for itself, for what we can gratify ourselves with, and along the way of seeking it for this purpose we do much evil.
Like money, power can be used for great good, for making possible the alleviation of much suffering. Often, though, power is perverted by those holding it who have sought it not for the good of others, but to acquire increasing money, fame, pleasure, and yet more power in the future for themselves.
Power lures by promising to those who desire it as an end the authority to control others, to orchestrate persons and events according to one’s own selfish purposes. Some people are satisfied to be able to lord it over others in their communities or churches or volunteer organizations, but others desire much more. These want to control when or if people shall be born, when they die, and how they shall live. They desire adulation from all and the increase of lands and nations to expand their reach.
One of the greatest lures power has for some is the ability to force ideologies contrary to Christian morals on many, or to force others to act against their conscience. Lord Acton said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Therein lies the grave danger of this enticement of the world.
No evil in itself, pleasure offers legitimate enjoyment when it points towards God. Who hasn’t felt uplifted at a beautiful sunset, certain kinds of music, great works of art, or a masterfully executed film or play? Who doesn’t enjoy on occasion a good wine and delicious meal in pleasant company, or a hobby that banishes the tensions of the day? We are human and pleasure in moderation and with the right intention is good.
When pleasure leads to self-indulgence or flaunting status symbols as in “So-and-so is dating the top model, drives a Lamborghini, or vacations on the Riviera,” or “So-and-so got high and was really funny last night,” or “Willie and Sally are hooking up tonight,” pleasure has claimed another soul.
Pleasure plays into the concupiscent nature of all of us. The world provides us many opportunities for pleasure and extremely easy access to it via all kinds of media. Nobody has to be rich to look at pornography or engage in drugs, alcohol, or illicit sex these days. The amount of leisure time and wealth available to vast numbers of people the world over allows pleasure to become a priority leaving God out of the picture.
The spirit of the world
Accompanying these three enticements is a spirit that appeals solely to the flesh (biblical meaning) and draws us into sin. This spirit is one of laughter and derision of sacrifice and penance or making upright choices the world doesn’t approve of. It invokes cowardliness by blaming, distorting truth and making political correctness the norm. It tells us we are not OK if we don’t keep up with the Joneses, think like everybody else who has given in to it, dress like everybody else no matter how immodest, go along to get along, and above all, it condemns us if we are not “nice” according to its definition of “nice.” The spirit of the world is a predatory tyrant that respects no one.
One of the most striking scenes showing someone fully imbued with the spirit of the world occurs in the movie, Murder, Inc., available on Hulu. Peter Falk gave an award winning performance as Abe Reles, a psychopathic killer for the mob as it existed then in the 1930s. As he lectures one of his trapped underlings who suffers from a not yet extinguished conscience, his voice rises to a roar. At 48:15 we hear:
Take! Ya see, what you can get your hands on you take. Don’t ask questions. TAKE! What you want, you take! What I want I take. Nothin’ means nothin’ unless I got it. What d’ya got hands for? TAKE!
He exits, slamming the door behind him.
We live in this world by the plan of God. It is our battlefield. If we are to be friends with Christ, we cannot get cozy with the world (James 4:4). If we love the world, the love of the Father is not in us (1 John 2:15) and we cannot, therefore love our neighbor. Our only choice not to fall into its clutches is to crucify ourselves to it and it to us (Gal. 6:4). This crucifixion demands the virtue of humility. Out of humility we take on a mind of sacrifice, a mind we especially polish up during Lent but must keep alive all during the year. We do well to pray with Cardinal Merry del Val the litany of humility to strengthen ourselves in battle.
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R. Now and forever!
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