Avoiding the occasions of sin - 2
Impurity is a vice which makes war on all men, says St. Augustine, and which only the few conquer. The fight is constant, the victory rare. Oh, how many miserable souls have exposed themselves in a battle with this vice, and have been defeated! To induce you to expose yourselves to occasions of this sin, the devil will tell you not to be afraid of being overcome by the temptation. "I do not wish," says St. Jerome, "to risk a fight for the joy of the victory lest I should sometimes lose the victory." I will not expose myself to the combat with the hope of conquering, because, by voluntarily engaging in the fight, I may lose my soul and my God. To escape defeat in this struggle a great grace of God is necessary; and to render ourselves worthy of this grace we must, on our part, avoid the occasions of sin. To practise the virtue of chastity it is necessary to recommend ourselves continually to God; we have not strength to preserve it; that strength must be the gift of God. And as I knew, says the Wise Man, that I could not otherwise be continent except God gave it... I went to the Lord, and besought him (Wis. viii. 21). But if we expose ourselves to the occasions of sin, we ourselves shall provide our rebellious flesh with arms to make war against our soul. Neither, says the Apostle, yield ye your members as instruments of sin unto iniquity (Rom. vi. 13). In explaining this passage, St. Cyril of Alexandria says: "You stimulate the flesh; you arm it, and make it powerful against the spirit." St. Philip Neri used to say that in the war against the vice of impurity, the victory is gained by cowards — that is, by those who fly from the occasions of this sin. But the man who exposes himself to it arms the flesh and renders it so powerful that it will be morally impossible for him to resist its attacks.
The Lord said to Isaias the Prophet: Cry: all flesh is grass (Is. xl. 6). Now, says St. John Chrysostom, if all flesh is grass, it is as foolish for a man who exposes himself to the occasion of sin to hope to preserve the virtue of purity as to expect that dry grass, into which a torch has been thrown, will not take fire. "Put a torch into hay and then dare to deny that the hay will burn." No, says St. Cyprian; it is impossible to stand in the midst of flames, and not to burn. Can a man, says the Holy Ghost, hide fire in his bosom and his garments not burn? or can he walk upon hot coals and his feet not be burnt? (Prov. vi. 27). Not to be burnt in such circumstances would be a miracle. St. Bernard teaches that to preserve chastity and at the same time to expose one's self to the proximate occasion of sin, "is a greater miracle than to raise a dead man to life."
In explaining the Fifth Psalm, St. Augustine says that "he who is unwilling to fly from danger wishes to perish in it." Hence, in another place, he exhorts those who wish to conquer, and not to perish, to avoid dangerous occasions. "In the danger of falling into sin; take flight if you desire to gain the victory." Some foolishly trust in their own strength, and do not see that their strength is like that of tow placed in the fire. And your strength shall be as the ashes of tow (Is. i. 31). Others, trusting in the change which has taken place in their life, in their Confessions, and in the promises they have made to God, say: Through the grace of the Lord I have now no bad motive in seeking the company of such a person; her presence is not even an occasion of temptations. There are bears that go in quest of monkeys and feed upon them: as soon as a bear appears the monkeys run up the trees and thus save themselves. But what does the bear do? He stretches himself on the ground as if dead, and waits till they descend from the trees. The moment they have descended the bear springs up and devours them. It is thus the devil acts: he makes the temptation appear to be dead; but when a soul descends and exposes itself to the occasion of sin, he stirs up temptation and devours it.
Oh, how many miserable souls, devoted to spiritual things, to mental prayer, to frequent Communion, and to a life of holiness, have, by exposing themselves to the occasion of sin, become the slaves of the devil! We find in Ecclesiastical History that a holy woman who employed herself in the pious office of burying the Martyrs once found among them one who was not as yet dead. She brought him into her own house and procured a physician till he recovered. But what happened? These two saints — as they might be called (one of them on the point of being a Martyr, the other devoting her time to works of mercy with so much risk of being persecuted by the tyrants) first fell into sin and lost the grace of God, and, becoming weaker by sin, afterwards denied the Faith. St. Macarius relates a similar fact regarding an old man who suffered to be half-burned in defence of the Faith, but being brought back into prison, he, unfortunately for himself, formed an intimacy with a devout woman who served the Martyrs, and fell into sin.
The Holy Ghost tells us that we must fly from sin as from a serpent. Flee from sins as from the face of a serpent (Ecclus. xxi. 2). Hence, as we not only avoid the bite of a serpent, but are careful neither to touch nor approach it, so we must fly not only from sin but also from the occasion of sin — that is, from the house, the conversation, the person that would lead us to sin. St. Isidore says that he who wishes to remain near a serpent will not remain long unhurt. Hence, if any person is likely to prove an occasion of your ruin, the admonition of the Wise Man is: Remove thy way far from her, and come not nigh the doors of her house (Prov. v. 8). He not only tells you not to enter the house which has been to you a road to hell — Her house is the way to hell (Prov. vii. 27) — but he also cautions you not to approach it, and even to keep at a distance from it: Remove thy way far from her.
But, you will say, if I abandon that house my temporal affairs will suffer. It is better that you should suffer a temporal loss than that you should lose your soul and your God. You must be persuaded that, in whatever regards chastity, there cannot be too great caution. If we wish to save our souls from sin and hell we must always fear and tremble. With fear and trembling work out your salvation (Phil. ii. 12). He who is not fearful, but exposes himself to occasions of sin, shall scarcely be saved. Hence in our prayers we ought to say every day, and several times in the day, that petition of the Our Father — "and lead us not into temptation." Lord, do not permit me to be attacked by those temptations which would deprive me of Thy grace. We cannot merit the grace of perseverance; but, according to St. Augustine, God grants it to every one that asks it, because He has promised to hear all who pray to Him. Hence the holy Doctor says that the Lord "by His promises has made Himself a debtor."
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