Mannono’s comment to my post ‘Niente crisi per i veggenti’ – “irascimini et nolite peccare” – gave me much food for thought.
There is a kind of minimalist approach to the Faith to which many Catholics are prone, not because they are Catholic, but because they are men. There is something irksome about religion, and we have a tendency either to shirk off or minimalize all that is irksome to us. And religion is irksome because it asks of us the most difficult of all things: that we reform our lives. Genuine reform.
For beginners, and even for veterans of many failed campaigns, in which number I include myself, the first objective must be to make friends with one’s conscience. It may sound odd to speak of such a necessity, but our conscience is often regarded by us as a hostile force rather than a valued ally. We are wont to indulge in activities in which conscience cannot participate; so it stands and looks on, and its aloofness and expression of regret can be irritating in the extreme. We rather wish it would go elsewhere for the time being and return when we summon it, not hang about with its long face casting a gloom upon our pleasures.
So how does one befriend his conscience? The problem was addressed admirably by a monk of the late fourth century named Isaiah the Solitary. Isaiah quotes Our Lord’s advice that we come to agreement with our adversary before he turns us over to the judge, and the judge turns us over to the officer, who will cast us into prison. The adversary, Isaiah explains, is our conscience, whose claims we must satisfy if we are to escape judgment and condemnation. Chief among the means of satisfying conscience is the proper use of what he calls “the incensive power” – an anger of the intellect that is in accord with nature, which he identifies as the nature which God gave us, not our fallen condition as a result of original sin, which he regards as unnatural. He writes: “Without anger a man cannot attain purity; he has to feel angry with all that is sown in him by the enemy”. This “holy anger” can help us in our efforts to establish a habit of attentiveness. We must develop a detestation of sin, realizing its ugliness and malice, and then set about rooting out its causes. We must stop aiding and abetting the enemy and stand on the side of the angels, and then conscience will be transformed from being our accuser to being our defender.