As I try to enter more deeply into my “inner cloister” where the Holy Spirit abides in all His power as the director of my soul, I continue to read from Conchita: A Mother’s Spiritual Diary. I find these teachings:
+ “To the extent the Holy Spirit will reign, sensuality, which today invades the earth, will disappear.”
And more ominously:
+ “In these latter days sensuality has set up its reign in the world. This sensual life obscures and extinguishes the light of faith in souls. That is why more than ever, it is necessary that the Holy Spirit come to destroy and annihilate Satan who under this form penetrates even the Church” (Diary, Jan. 26, 1915).
We must not associate sensuality only with sexual preoccupation, lust, promiscuity, though these are certainly potent forms of sensuality much loved by Satan. No, unfortunately, what Jesus is telling Conchita and us is that sensuality pervades and penetrates, buries us, invades us even in the bosom of the Church.
I realized that the Holy Spirit was showing me something here. I have long been dissatisfied with the level of mortification in my life. I have long realized the deepest meaning of what Jesus told his disciples when they were unable to rout demons from their hold on unfortunate souls, “This kind can be driven out only by prayer and fasting” (Mark 9:29); I knew that had it been me, I would have been as powerless as the disciples were. Sensuality pervades and penetrates me—and I knew I had to get to the bottom of it. I continued to read over several days from Conchita:
+ “…what makes the soul insensitive, is the life of the sense, this sensuality which seeks only self-satisfaction in laxity and in ease, binding the spirit and cutting off its wings.”
+ “To the extent the Holy Spirit will reign, sensuality, which today invades the earth, will disappear.”
Now I began to see the connection: we are ruled either by the Holy Spirit or by sensuality. To the extent that sensuality rules us, it “seeks only self-satisfaction in laxity and in ease, binding the spirit and cutting off its wings.”
As she teaches us about “Asceticism and Penance,” she explains:
+ “Truly the most formidable foe of perfection is ‘ego,’ with its self-love, its tastes, its seeking for ease and comfort. Once this ‘ego’ is conquered, the place is ours and Jesus is ours too, entirely. He does not come into a house already occupied. Then the Holy Spirit becomes everything for us. He only sets up His shelter in the solitude of a pure soul.”
Sensuality, this self-love with its tastes and seeking for ease and comfort, infects all of us. But although we may have driven all mortal sin from our lives, even most venial sin, sensuality continues—unheeded, taking different forms such as love of food and eating for the pleasure of it, fastidiously seeking comfortable surroundings, bedding & furniture, cool & heat, the inability to make ourselves exercise, “sleeping in,” and a million other little attachments.
I realized some time ago that gluttony is my greatest weakness. I’m from Louisiana; we Cajuns love to eat—and we eat a lot. The food is wonderful; and even when it is not, we tend to overdo the good times. As I prayed about all of this and reviewed the varied ways we can sin through gluttony, I became convinced that I probably sin through gluttony every day.
Several months ago I looked and found online some wonderful articles about gluttony which I would like to share.
+ “Saint Thomas Aquinas, a Doctor of the Catholic Church, argued that there was six primary ways gluttony is committed:
- Praepropere – Eating too soon. [Unfortunately, this teaching tells us that eating between meals, if we are healthy, is an act of gluttony.]
- Laute – Eating too expensively.
- Nimis – Eating too much.
- Ardenter – Eating too eagerly (burningly).
- Studiose – Eating too daintily (keenly).
- Forente – Eating wildly (boringly).
[If you have never sat with a carton of ice cream, eating right out of the carton, count yourself blessed—I know I have, to my shame, and more than once. A story of one of my uncles, Uncle Louis—now deceased—reveals how when he bought ice cream he always bought two cartons: one for the family and one for himself! My cousins and I have commented more than once that addiction to sugar runs in our family. The tragedy is that sugar addiction is so widespread now, wreaking havoc on the lives and health of so many Americans.]
St. Thomas Aquinas further explains:
+ “The inordinate concupiscence may be considered in two ways. First, with regard to the food consumed [what you eat]: and thus, as regards the substance or species of food a man seeks “sumptuous” — i.e. costly food; as regards its quality, he seeks food prepared too nicely — i.e. “daintily”; and as regards quantity, he exceeds by eating “too much.” Secondly, the inordinate concupiscence is considered as to the consumption of food [how you eat] : either because one forestalls the proper time for eating, which is to eat “hastily,” or one fails to observe the due manner of eating, by eating “greedily.”
+ ‘Who is it, Lord, that does not eat a little more than necessary?’
Richard Conlin also cites, in addition to St. Augustine (354-430), St. Frances de Sales (1567-1622), St. Jean-Baptiste de la Salle (1651-1719), the Cure of Ars—St. John Vianney (1786-1859), St. John Climacus (1600s—also known as St. John of the Ladder), St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori (1696-1787), St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), The Lord, to St. Bridget of Sweden (1303-1373), St. Mark the Ascetic (5th century), Pope St. Gregory the Great (590-604), St. Maximos the Confessor (580-662), and finally, St. John Cassian. St. John Cassian, a contemporary of St. Augustine, lived from c. 360 – 435 AD—if he is citing “Church Fathers” then he is surely citing the apostles and their immediate successors; so these teachings reach us from the very beginnings of Christianity. I include the years these saints and Fathers of the Church lived to show how persistent these teachings have been over nearly two thousand years.
It is St. John Cassian’s teaching over which I have been mulling these last few months:
‘I shall speak first about control of the stomach, the opposite to gluttony, and about how to fast and what and how much to eat. I shall say nothing on my own account, but only what I have received from the Holy Fathers. They have not given us only a single rule for fasting or a single standard and measure for eating, because not everyone has the same strength; age, illness or delicacy of body create differences. But they have given us all a single goal: to avoid over-eating and the filling of our bellies. . . A clear rule for self-control handed down by the Fathers is this: stop eating while still hungry and do not continue until you are satisfied.’”
I think this must be the golden standard of control, but I can’t help but marvel over that last sentence—I wonder if I ever eat a meal and adhere to that directive. I know I am not alone in this. How often have you heard, “Make room for dessert!” Even when we have eaten a good meal and are satisfied, we usually find room for that delicacy known as dessert. We live in gluttony every day.
The question is, what to do about our sensuality which, if left untended, will erode our life in the Spirit. Conchita tells us:
+ “…spiritual combat against self and against tendencies…remain in each of us, even after a sincere conversion. It is necessary to fight to the death, “I must strive to uproot this ‘ego’ which tenaciously stands up at every instant, wanting to dominate everything… I would like to kill it and bury it deeper and deeper.” One of Conchita’s children told a researcher that she had a tendency to “a touch of gluttony”—she admitted that she could not pass a confectionary [candy store] without going in. So there’s hope for us!
Last night as I reflected on these ideas, the Holy Spirit showed me something else: fasting is so difficult for me. Why? If we have not taken gluttony in hand in our lives, how in the world can we fast successfully? Fasting takes us beyond temperance, normal control, into deeper submission to the Holy Spirit. How can we do this if gluttony and sensuality erode our life in the Spirit every day?
I am convicted. I read on a site called “Courageous Priest”:
+ …”what we know as man’s desires – often inordinate ones – which are called “concupiscence”, is left in us for our moral betterment and proving.” Remember also St. Paul’s “thorn in the flesh”—three times he begged the Lord to remove it, and was told: “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Cor 12:8).
I must fight harder, that is obvious. But the fight will remain; that is also God’s will—concupiscence, the tendency and temptation to any kind of sensuality “is left in us for our moral betterment and proving.” Like those addicted to alcohol, we have to take one day at a time—sometimes one moment at a time, struggling to cooperate with actual grace. This is the meaning of “actual grace.” The Church teaches that there is a difference between actual grace and sanctifying grace. An easy way to understand actual grace is to remember that it enables us to act. It is the strength that God gives us to act according to his will. What God promised St. Paul was actual grace—“My grace is sufficient for you.” But He did not release him from the daily struggle. Neither are we exempt, as all the saints attest.
Last, I am comforted by Conchita’s teaching from Christ on PENANCE. Repentance, daily if need be, is key:
+ “”Penance is a great virtue and the spirit of repentance is a gratuitous gift which God grants to whom He pleases. Its influence is universal, not only for liberating man from sin, but for helping him practice all the virtues. Penitence appeases God’s justice and transforms it into graces. It purifies souls, extinguishes the fires of purgatory and receives in heaven a most sublime recompense. Penance pays for personal faults and those of others. Penance is the sister of mortification. Both work together hand in hand. Penance helps the soul rise above things of the earth. Penance cooperates with the Redemption of the world. Penance humbles man, it penetrates him with an inner feeling of his baseness and his wretchedness. Penance brings light to the soul. It consumes and causes to disappear all in it that is purely material. It raises him higher and higher above the earth, making him taste of delights hitherto unknown and pure. But this penance should be the daughter of reverence and exist in the soul, hidden from all humans” (Diary, Sept. 24, 1895).
Scripture also gives us courage and encouragement. Jesus tells us in John 16:33:
+ “I have spoken these things to you so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation. But take courage; I have overcome the world.” What is ever needed is trust, humility, prayer, perseverance.