+JMJ+ Welcome to part 19 of our current Catholic Book of the Month, Introduction to the Spiritual Life, by Brant Pitre. I’m on a Quest to become a saint, using the Introduction as my guide. Come along with me and let’s become saints together. Let’s go, time to make some progress!
I’ve enjoyed reading about the vices and their remedies, the virtues, and I’ve gotten an idea about how I need to begin working on myself, how I need to start reflecting, and cooperating with the Holy Spirit as He works on me. But I have to admit, I’m wondering exactly what to do now, how to go about this the best way. And that’s what Dr. Pitre is going to show us tonight, or begin to show us, anyway.
Ah, and we come to a major practice right here at the beginning: the regular examination of the inclinations to vice or virtue in our hearts. (See Intro, page 366 ebook.) I once heard it said, Practice vice, become vicious. Practice virtue, become virtuous.*
Dr. Pitre is going to give us a Bible-based method of examination of conscience so we can root out those sins and apply the remedies and make some progress. Yay! At last! I’m ready to start getting somewhere! I’m not gettin any younger, ya know.
We’re going to use the Biblical image of a tree, well, two trees from Genesis: one good, one evil; one gives supernatural life, one brings supernatural death.
Jesus uses this imagery in Luke’s Sermon on the Plain where He says that each tree is known by its own fruit.
For there is no good tree that bringeth forth evil fruit; nor an evil tree that bringeth forth good fruit. For every tree is known by its fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns; nor from a bramble bush do they gather the grape. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth that which is evil. For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.Luke 6:43-45, Douay-Rheims Bible, public domain.
Dr. Pitre says that Jesus is hearkening back to Genesis here and when He mentions figs and thorns which recall the fig leaves that Adam and Eve used to cover themselves and the thorns that spring up after the Fall (see Genesis 3:7, 18). Jesus is saying that the choice between good and evil takes place in our heart. Each tree is known by its own fruit: we must recognize the movements of our own heart toward vice or virtue. And also the necessity of recognizing virtue and vice in others. He warns against being deceived.
And He says this after He warns us not to judge. Is this a contradiction as so many atheists like to point out? No. In one place Jesus tells us to have self-knowledge, to see what is going on in our hearts, and in the other He tells us not to judge other people’s hearts but to see their actions for what they reveal about them. Are those actions good or evil? The word for “judge” is Greek krinō, a synonym for “condemn” (Greek katakrinō). Don’t condemn other people for doing the same things we do, but do recognize that some people are predators who seem virtuous but are really vicious. Avoid spiritual pride but also spiritual naïveté by learning to see what is in your own heart.
Examination of Conscience
In the morning make a resolution and in the evening examine how you did. Look at what you said, did, or thought, to discover if you have offended God or your neighbor.Thomas à Kempis, Imitation of Christ, 4.7.1.
In order to understand better the faults committed that come under the Seven Capital Sins, let the contrary virtues be considered. So also, the better to avoid these sins, one should resolve to endeavor by devout exercises to acquire and retain the seven virtues contrary to them.St. Ignatius of Loyola, Spiritual Exercises, no. 244-25. Emphasis added.
You see, it’s not enough for us to try to avoid acting on a vice. We have to develop the virtue, practice it, acquire and retain it, St. Ignatius says. So what are these devout exercises?
The Evil Tree and the Good Tree
Dr. Pitre gives us drawings of two trees, one good and one evil. The three main branches of the Evil Tree are those three disordered desires we saw earlier, the triple lust. If we cultivate one of them, we will bear the fruits of others, too. But look at the Good Tree. The three main branches there are of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. When we cultivate one of those , we grow in the others. If we practice the virtues on the main branches, we will grow in the virtues on the other branhces. We will be cultivating the spiritual and interior life.
Now when we practice the examination of conscience we can use this to help us. It’s good to use the Ten Commandments, but as Dr. Pitre says, those deal especially with mortal sin. Seems to me that if we are serious about and committed to walking with the Lord, then we should not be committing mortal sins anyway. That’s one of the first things we should root out of our lives. Get rid of it! Time is short and the day is far spent. Turn away from whatever that sin is and get serious! And begin to root out the predominant fault and to acquire the virtue that opposes it.
St. Francis de Sales suggests that we discover what passions are predominant in our soul, then “adapt a way of life that will be completely opposed to them in thought, word, and action.” (See Introduction to the Devout Life, 4.10.)
Through the practice of one virtue all the virtues grow, and similarly, through an increase of one vice, all the vices and their effects grow.
And just because I can: Dr. Pitre refers to some drawings in Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange’s marvelous 2-volume work, The Three Ages of the Interior Life, similar to the ones he used in this chapter but different enough for me to take a photo of them and include them below.St. John of the Cross, The Ascent of Mount Carmel, Bk 1.12.5, Collected Works, 147.
There’s more in the book than I can possibly cover in these posts. You can get a copy of your own in hardcover or Kindle ebook format using the links at the end of this post. View other parts of the series on the annotated Table of Contents page and scroll down for this series of posts.
Next time, meditation, Catholic style.
(Lectio divina, that is, one of many different ways to meditate as a Catholic.)
Thanks for visiting the blog and reading. I pray that you and I will stay holy and virtuous this Easter season, and may these spiritual helps aid us to become who the Lord intends us to be: SAINTS. God bless you and may His Peace be always with you. +JMJ+
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Notes and Links
- The current Catholic Book of the Month is Introduction to the Spiritual Life: Walking the Path of Prayer with Jesus, by Brant Pitre: Hardcover, Kindle. (Amazon affiliate links, see Full Disclosure below.)
- There are a lot of books on the spiritual life listed in a post I did a few years ago on Dr. Pitre’s audio course on Spiritual Theology. There are links in that post for some of those books in PDF format for free at archive.org.
- *I know it was Tim Staples and it may have been in a talk on the non-negotiables, not sure now, it was years ago when I heard it. I have the talk here on CD but I’d have to hook up the DVD player to listen to it. Long story. Argh. Tim Staples, the Non-Negotiables: Catholic Answers CD, MP3, DVD. Links go to Parousia Media.
- The Three Ages of the Interior Life, by Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange: 2 Volume set, used (out of print). Borrow and read online. Free PDF collection.
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Image: in the banner, same one the cover of the book uses: The Road to Emmaus (or The Way to Emmaus), by Robert Zund, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain. Some screenshots and photos: from the Introduction to the Spiritual Life and the Three Ages of the Interior Life.
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