Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Duty of Protecting One's Self

There is one mistake that Christians often make — too often with the encouragement of their pastors: that is enduring unnecessarily harm to themselves, and in particular to their capacity to receive God and his gifts, in the name of patience, suffering, or a misguided notion of obedience. 

Perhaps the most painful example I have seen of this is wives (or even husbands) who endured abuse from a spouse, including sometimes physical violence or the threat of physical violence against themselves or their children. When this kind of thing occurs, then there is certainly justification for "divorce from bed and board." (As Bp. Wantland taught us in canon law class, "divorce from bed and board" does not dissolve the sacramental bond, but does absolve from the contractual obligations with regards to property, support, etc.) In fact, one may have a moral obligation to divorce in this fashion, if one's life, the life of one's children, or one's well-being and ability to serve God, follow HIm, or keep His commandments is threatened. 

I have cited moral obligation, and there are many reasons, moral, legal, and even philosophical, why the principle of self-protection applies in this case, and in others. There is another reason, which has to do with practices of the Christian life, the disciplines involved, or to use the technical term Christian "asectics" ("askesis" being the Greek word for discipline). There is an important ascetical principle at stake here, indeed one might call it the chief ascetical principle, and that is the principle of sacredness. 

Holiness is proper to God himself. Now the saints, who are not God, nonetheless participate in His holiness by their participation in Him, by Him dwelling in them and working through them. The complement to holiness on their side is sacredness, that is their capacity for God, those things which enable such participation. Thus, when we speak of the church building as a sacred space, that means that it is a space set aside for God, and NOT for some "profane" (meaning “non-sacred”) use. Because it is set aside for God, we can better meet Him there than we can in other places where we will be distracted from Him.

Likewise, Man, created in the image and likeness of God, has something of a sacred character in relation to the rest of creation, a capacity created in him for the encounter with God. The Christian in particular, who has been united to Christ by baptism, has a particularly sacred character among his fellow men. Hence St. Paul speaks of the bodies of Christians as being "temples," sacred spaces, for God the Holy Spirit. 

An essential part of our duty as Christians is to guard sacredness, our sacred spaces, our sacred times, our bodies and souls as dedicated to God. Indeed, from one perspective, the whole goal of Christian ascetics is precisely the creation and preservation of the sacred in ourselves and in our lives, so that we may be more receptive to God's grace. This is done through moral purification, repenting of and seeking God's forgiveness in Christ for our sins. It is also done by a discipline and regular practice (or "rule") — of prayer, of fasting, of good works, and of other things that make way for God, and inculcate the habit of being open to God. 

It is also an essential part of ascetics that we defend our sacred space. This may mean removing ourselves from situations where that space is threatened, or of removing threats to ourselves or others. This requires a "zeal for God's house" (cf. Ps. 69:10), a zeal which is, according to spiritual writers, the proper end of anger when it has been transformed into something godly, that is, no longer a desire for vengeance against those who have done one harm, but a burning desire to protect those things that are sacred, that make room for God.

Nor does God leave us without help in doing this. He first gives us His Holy Spirit to strengthen us for the fight. He also gives us the assistance of His Holy Angels. The angel particularly assigned to this task in Scripture and the subsequent tradition of the Church is St. Michael, and I shall conclude this post with a prayer asking for his aid:

SAINT Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle; be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray. And do thou, O prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God thrust into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl about the world for the ruin of souls. Amen.

Or for you latinists

SANCTE Michael Archangele, defende nos in proelio, contra nequitiam et insidias diaboli esto praesidium. Imperet illi Deus, supplices deprecamur: tuque, Princeps militiae caelestis, Satanam aliosque spiritus malignos, qui ad perditionem animarum pervagantur in mundo, divina virtute, in infernum detrude. Amen. 

No comments :

Post a Comment