Monday, November 11, 2019
What’s true for an automobile is, in this sense, also true of the human soul.
Theologians have long attempted to explain humanity’s tendency to veer off course: one big sin (that of our first parents in the garden) and it’s almost impossible to go straight without constant correction. Keeping in mind that the New Testament word for sin is hamartia, a Greek word that literally means to miss the mark or to veer off course, we might say that after original sin it’s nearly impossible to stay on the “straight and narrow. “Theologians call this tendency to sin “concupiscence.” The word concupiscence is defined as a strong desire, a tendency or attraction, usually arising from lust or sensual desires. It is, morally speaking, the tendency to go off course. Concupiscence is understood as an effect of original sin that remains after baptism.
1264 Yet certain temporal consequences of sin remain in the baptized, such as suffering, illness, death, and such frailties inherent in life as weaknesses of character, and so on, as well as an inclination to sin that Tradition calls concupiscence, or metaphorically, "the tinder for sin" (fomes peccati); since concupiscence "is left for us to wrestle with, it cannot harm those who do not consent but manfully resist it by the grace of Jesus Christ." Indeed, "an athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules."
To use another analogy, medical research cautions that a severe sunburn early in life will render a person more susceptible to dangerous skin cancer throughout life. That early sunburn may heal fairly quickly, but its effects last through life, increasing vulnerability to cancer. Precautions must be taken to shield the skin from the damaging effects of the sun’s radiation, since there is a greater susceptibility to skin damage after that major sunburn.
In heaven, the harmony between body and soul will be restored, as will the harmony with God and the world around us. Sin will be no more. The Sacrament of Baptism washes away original sin, yet there remain the effects of original sin. One of them is an innate tendency to be vulnerable to temptation, to be inclined to sin, to be predisposed to desires that do no honor to the grace of God. The Council of Trent (1545-1563) taught that concupiscence “comes from sin and induces to sin.” Yet, concupiscence is not itself sin. Concupiscence makes us vulnerable to sin, but susceptibility to temptation is not sin. How we act in response to the temptation determines the rightness or wrongness — the sin. With constant attention, or more accurately with the acceptance of God’s constant outpouring of grace, the human person can be unaffected by this tendency to drift off course. A driver who is attentive to the path ahead can constantly adjust for a misalignment in the car’s front end, keeping the car moving toward the goal of the driver. Indeed, the Council of Trent noted that concupiscence “cannot harm those who do not consent but manfully resist it by the grace of Jesus Christ” (Catechism, No. 1264). It is prevenient grace that precedes our thoughts and actions, waiting for us when we are tempted by concupiscence to go off course. By availing ourselves of that grace, we are enabled by God to resist the tendency to sin and instead to stay on the morally proper course.
St. Thomas Aquinas taught clearly that concupiscence is a consequence of original sin. Once human beings made the decision to be unbound from the will of God, the harmony within human nature also became unbound. Desires and appetites were no longer in harmony with the intellect or reason, and the two — desire and reason — fought against one another. St. Paul understood this, and described it in his Letter to the Romans: “I see in my members another principle at war with the law of my mind, taking me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members” (7:23). As a result, St. Paul could write, “I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want” (Rom 7:19). Even Jesus observed concupiscence in action when He said, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mt 26:41; see also Mk 14:38). The prophets of the Old Testament understood this interior tension. Jeremiah asked the piercing question, “More tortuous than anything is the human heart, beyond remedy; who can understand it?” (Jer 17:9). Jeremiah understood human nature and spoke often of the stubbornness of their evil hearts (see 3:17 and many other passages), “evil thoughts” (4:14, RSV), and humanity’s “stubborn and rebellious heart” (5:23, RSV). The psalms of David offer lament for sins committed as well as penetrating insight into the lived dichotomy between weakness and grace, the lusts of the flesh and the longing for holiness. “Sin directs the heart of the wicked man; his eyes are closed to the fear of God” (Ps 36:2). In a plaintive cry for God’s mercy, the psalmist acknowledges the dueling desires within him, and acknowledges, “I have been mortally afflicted since youth” (Ps 88:16).
- Recite the Iste Confessor in honor of St. Martin.
- Cook a special dinner of roast goose or duck in honor of St. Martin. Bake some horseshoe cookies.
- In Europe this day is traditionally known as Martinmas. Many foods and traditions are connected with this day. See also Women for Faith and Family for more Catholic traditions.
- St. Martin is patron saint of wine growers, wine makers and vintners. In France, the tasting of the new wine is done today. Have a Martinmas gathering, serving this year's Noveau Beaujolais wine from France.
- Read Painting Angels, Saints and Their Symbols for a discussion about St. Martin's symbols in art.
- For more biographies and other information on St. Martin, read Patron Saints Index.
- See the Life of St Martin as depicted in the stained glass of Chartres Cathedral (c.1220) here.
- The children will enjoy this dessert St. Martin's Horseshoes and you can learn more about customs for this feast.