Cultivate Purity of Heart

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 2514-57:

  • With our nature wounded by original sin, we are given to “concupiscence,” an immoderate desire that goes beyond the bounds of reason, and thereby predisposes us to commit sin.
  • If our hearts are dominated by concupiscence, whether toward physical pleasure or material goods, then we cannot open ourselves up to God; this is why we must put a proper check on our worldly desires, so that we are free to allow God to fill us with His desires – the far superior desires of the Spirit.
  • For this reason, God counsels us to keep a strict guard over our desires; the Ninth Commandment, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife,” and the Tenth Commandment, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods,” together identify the roots of sin and prepare us for spiritual growth.
  • Jesus calls us to purity of heart, including chastity, charity toward others, and a love for the truths of the faith; although God gives us grace to help us, we must also cooperate with Him by waging a spiritual battle against our unruly flesh.
  • We must strive for purity of heart by praying consistently for the gift of chastity, disciplining ourselves not to indulge in impure thoughts, and avoiding situations (real or virtual) that tempt us or cause us to fall.
  • Modesty is a prerequisite for purity, for it recognizes and safeguards the dignity of the human person; while this relates primarily to how we dress, modesty also pertains to feelings and emotions; we should avoid all forms of “entertainment” in which people’s lives are exploited or belittled for our amusement.
  • Just as sexual sins originate in the thoughts of the heart, so do sins against the right use of goods; excessive desire for material things gives rise to the sins of greed and avarice, which can lead us to steal, defraud, or otherwise deprive others of their rightful goods.
  • Envy is a sin because it causes us to grieve or regret the good fortune of others; if we want grave harm to befall someone more fortunate, then envy becomes a mortal sin.
  • As an antidote to the allurements of wealth, Jesus calls us to prefer Him to all things, and exercise a radical trust in divine Providence; through this poverty of heart, we learn to rely on God, not on material possessions.
  • When we cultivate purity and poverty of heart, we become more attuned to God and take our joy in Him; thus the Commandments come full circle, for now we are truly loving God above all.

Live Your Faith

Training for sports has much in common with training for the spiritual life. To achieve your goals as an athlete, you have to put in the time, the discipline, the dedication, to master the fundamentals. If you skip practice, slack off, and let things slide, your performance deteriorates.

Similarly, the spiritual life demands that we pay attention to the fundamentals: daily prayer, the sacraments, and striving to live a moral life.

An essential part of our training regimen is a regular examination of conscience. Only by recognizing our weaknesses, and getting to their roots in our flawed desires, can we work with God to improve our performance on the spiritual playing field.

Abide in the Truth

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 2464-2513:

  • Because God Himself is the Truth, become man in Jesus Christ, we as His people are called to abide in truth, in both our words and actions; this is summed up in the Eighth Commandment, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”
  • God created us with a desire for truth, so we have a sacred duty to seek it; once we have found the fullness of Truth in Christ, we are bound to witness to the Gospel with our lives; many have given the ultimate testimony by dying for the faith — they are literally “martyrs,” from the Greek for “witnesses.”
  • God gave us the gift of speech to enable us to communicate the truth; lying is therefore an abuse of this gift, for it intentionally deceives others who have a right to know the truth; a lie is unjust because it fails to give others their due.
  • Lying can rise to the level of mortal sin depending on the factors involved, such as if one knowingly causes serious harm by telling a falsehood; lying under oath (perjury) is particularly grave, as false witness corrupts the process of justice.
  • At the same time, just because something is true, that does not mean that we should always and everywhere divulge it; out of sensitivity and respect for the reputation of others, we must not reveal someone else’s mistakes to people who don’t need to know; if we do so unnecessarily, we commit the sin of detraction.
  • The sin of calumny is the spreading of falsehoods that harm the reputation of others; if we should hear such scandalous gossip, we must be careful not to believe it hastily and thereby sin through rash judgment; whenever we fail in these ways, we should try to repair the damage as best we can.
  • This commandment also covers subtler forms of falsehood, including flattery, especially in the sense of endorsing someone’s sinful behavior; hypocrisy; bragging about ourselves; and ridiculing others in a malicious manner.
  • As consumers of news media, we should be wary of all of these sins against the truth, and judiciously weigh our sources of information; journalists have a serious professional obligation to serve the truth, not dissimulate; governments must promote freedom of information, not orchestrate disinformation campaigns.
  • Although we most often think of truth in terms of speech, truth is also conveyed in other ways; God reveals Himself through the wonder of creation, and human beings proclaim truth through art; the great artists shed light on the human condition and speak to our deepest spiritual longings.
  • Sacred art has a vital role to play in drawing our hearts and minds to God, thus assisting our prayerful devotion; sacred images are visually compelling expressions of what we read in Scripture, and as a result, they provide another avenue to learn about, and grow in love for, the faith.

Live Your Faith

It is extremely easy to fall into sins of speech. Even in what we might consider trivial matters, a careless disregard for truth becomes corrosive.

Once we are acclimated to telling “little” lies, gossiping, or jumping to conclusions, our conscience steadily hardens, and we might not even perceive our sin. Let us examine our consciences, and ask the Lord how we may take greater care to avoid sinful speech.

Lent as our Spring Training

Lent is a privileged season for spiritual renewal – our time for spring cleaning within our souls, or literally, our spring training.

Aside from deepening our prayer life, we are called to embrace fasting and almsgiving.

These forms of self-denial are called ascetical practices, from the Greek askesis, meaning training for athletic contests.

The root word helps us to understand the “why” behind our Lenten observances. We do not give more of our time or resources simply for the sake of doing something extra, nor do we “give up” things just to feel the pinch of missing them.

Rather, we are letting go of ourselves, and our attachments, in an intentional way because we are working toward something, and Someone. We are striving to grow closer to the Lord by concretely repenting for our sins, and by participating in Jesus’ own self-denial.

One of the great figures of the 20th century Liturgical Movement, Pius Parsch, describes the true meaning of Lent:

…the mystery is re-enacted in each person’s heart: in your soul Christ is wrestling with the devil; or better, by the very fact that you are a member of the mystical Christ, you are involved in this fight….

Therefore we must re-live our Savior’s Passion in Lent…as disciples we must die with Christ in order to rise with Him as new men on Easter.

Parsch sees our supernatural life in God as the key to Lent:

I view Lent, indeed the whole Easter cycle, from the approach of a life filled with God. The Christmas cycle was dominated by the idea of the kingdom of God, a kingdom that was expected during Advent and established at Christmas and Epiphany. Dominating the Easter cycle, however, is the theme of supernatural life engendered, renewed, and perfected.

Fasting is a means toward the goal of a “more flourishing inner life” —

We must remember that we are members of Christ’s Body; by sin we defiled this Body, but now we will help to purify it.

Parsch emphasizes that our life in Christ is the whole point of our self-denial, or else it becomes meaningless:

The essential lesson contained in the Gospel discourse is that the fast should be a deep inward matter of the soul devoid of all selfishness or ulterior motivation….

Fasting of itself, therefore, is of no value; only when linked with the sacrifice of Jesus does it become useful and meritorious….

First we follow Him as the penitent par excellence into the desert of self-denial to fast with Him for forty days. Our fast will be spiritually fruitful if we keep it in unity with Him, if it is an extension of His fasting.

–The Church’s Year of Grace, Volume II

Honor the Gift of Sexuality

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 2331-2400:

  • The Sixth Commandment, “You shall not commit adultery,” reflects the profound meaning of human sexuality; far more than a mere satisfaction of appetites, sexuality is ordered to God’s plan for us – our vocation to love and communion.
  • God created human beings as male and female, emblematic of God’s own attributes in our different, but complementary, ways; inscribed in our very nature, this physical, moral, and spiritual complementarity is designed for the lifelong union of man and woman in marriage.
  • Our sexual identity as male or female is not to be denied, but integrated properly within our entire being; this wholesome integration is what we call “chastity,” which enables us to live our sexuality in a morally healthy way, whether as unmarried people living in continence, or as spouses in fidelity to each other.
  • All Christians are therefore called to chastity; both a grace from God and a moral virtue that we diligently strive for, chastity empowers us for self-mastery, helps to regulate our passions, and safeguards our personal integrity.
  • Chastity lays the groundwork for, and makes possible, the true gift of self that takes place in marriage; having given themselves to each other totally, exclusively, and irrevocably until death, husband and wife become one flesh; in this way their sexual union expresses their all-encompassing marital covenant.
  • God Himself designed this intimate communion of spouses as the means of transmitting new life; through the gift of the marital embrace, spouses participate in God’s own creativity by conceiving children; sexual union is also for the good of the spouses, but that can never be separated from openness to new life.
  • Children are thus gifts from God, the natural fulfillment of the spouses’ union, not optional accessories to one’s lifestyle; spouses can responsibly decide to regulate their fertility, but must do so by moral means (e.g., periodic continence in NFP), not by contraception, which denies the gift of self and fails to work with God.
  • Because sexuality has such an amazing purpose in God’s plan, any sexual activity outside of marriage is sinful; adultery is a grave sin since it violates the marital bond, hurts the betrayed spouse, and can lead to the tragedy of divorce, a rejection of the covenant that is detrimental to both the family and society.
  • Fornication is similarly a lie, for it speaks the physical language of union without there actually being a covenant; prostitution and pornography are destructive of human dignity because they treat others as objects; masturbation and lust are sinful because they are disordered pursuits of sexual pleasure for its own sake.
  • Homosexual activity is wrong because it is inherently incompatible with God’s design for our sexual expression and with the transmission of life; our brothers and sisters with homosexual orientation are to be welcomed and supported to live out the baptismal call to chastity and holiness.

Live Your Faith

Our culture constantly propagandizes us about sex, as if it were just a recreational activity that we engage in whenever and however we please, without consequences.

But there is a deluge of evidence to the contrary: broken hearts, devastated families, an epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases.

The truth is that sex is not a game; it is wrapped up in the mystery of the human person as created by God.

The Church teaches the full truth about sex, and however unpopular and countercultural it may be, only by honoring God’s gift in the way He intended can we find lasting happiness. If we have failed, the Lord is always eager to forgive us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Respect the Sanctity of Human Life

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 2258-2330:

  • The Fifth Commandment, “You shall not kill,” teaches us the inviolable sanctity of human life; because each of us is willed by God, Who endows us with an immortal soul, it is always wrong, in every circumstance, to kill an innocent person deliberately.
  • Anyone who intentionally kills an innocent person, cooperates in such a murder, or deliberately causes someone to die by indirect means, violates this commandment; the sin is compounded if the perpetrator kills a parent, sibling, spouse, or child, rupturing the family ties that should bind us in love.
  • For this reason, the Church has always condemned abortion, the direct taking of the life of an unborn child, as evil; each innocent human being, however small, has the intrinsic rights of personhood; hence it is gravely wrong to treat embryos as biological commodities, whether for research or in vitro fertilization.
  • Respect for a person’s bodily integrity likewise forbids the use of torture; kidnapping; hostage-taking; scientific experiments that violate human dignity or the moral law, or that are performed without one’s informed consent; and it also enjoins us to care for the bodies of the dead and give them proper burial.
  • Euthanasia – the deliberate ending of the life of the sick, handicapped, aged, or dying – is similarly a sin because of its intent to cause death; but it can be morally permissible to refuse “overzealous treatment,” and let a natural death come, and to receive palliative care, where the intent is to alleviate pain, not to cause death.
  • Suicide is a sin because we are not the lords and masters of our own lives; we have received life as a pure gift of God, to live it for His glory and our eternal happiness; but those who commit suicide are often suffering from mental illness that diminishes their moral responsibility; we entrust their souls to God’s mercy.
  • To protect the innocent from aggressors, the Church upholds the right of self-defense; it is legitimate to defend ourselves, even if the aggressor is killed in the process, because our intent is to protect innocent life; the Church raises her voice against the death penalty because criminals need not be killed to protect society.
  • Sometimes an aggressor on the international stage can be stopped only by waging war; there are strict conditions for a “just war,” e.g., the exhaustion of all other means, high likelihood of success, not unleashing even greater evils; the moral law still holds in war, so any military tactics targeting civilians are reprehensible.
  • We can violate this commandment in ways other than literally killing someone, such as failure to take appropriate care of our body, abusing alcohol or drugs, driving while intoxicated, or engaging in similarly risky behaviors that endanger the lives of others.
  • We can also inflict spiritual violence, so to speak, by influencing others to sin, either directly or indirectly, or by nursing a sense of anger toward others; anger is an emotion that we all feel at times, but it can become sinful if we want revenge, and it can morph into hatred, the sin of deliberately wishing evil upon another.

Live Your Faith

Do we sometimes overlook this commandment, believing that we’re in the clear if we haven’t killed anyone? But Jesus calls us to probe our hearts for the more subtle ways that we violate it.

We can slay others with cruel words and inflict emotional pain. We harm our own souls by holding grudges and letting ourselves be overcome by anger. We cause spiritual injury whenever we make light of sin or connive at it.

Politicians who promote abortion are effectively cooperating in the killing of innocents, and we have the moral responsibility to oppose them, not to turn a blind eye.