30 August 2008
I began, recently, to despair of overcoming one of my (many) bad habits (you may be pleased to know that I am not going to tell you what it is). I decided to try sacrifice. I don't seem to be have had any very clear idea about this whole business of sacrifice. Perhaps it is my Protestant background. I have, perhaps, an unexpressed idea of something like this: 1) Man sinned; 2) God 'decided' to punish man for his sin; 3) Jesus offered to 'pay' the punishment for man's sin, so that... 4) ...man gets 'forgiven' (let off his punishment) and can 'go' to Heaven. I think there are serious problems with such a view. I have, of course, often enough had Catholics talk to me about 'offering up' suffering, pain, even minor inconveniences. I confess I doesn't communicate very well with me. I think there is a lot of cultural stuff I have had to get used to. But with this particular bad habit, I decided really to pray at those times that I was trying to resist it, and to offer it as a sacrifice for a particular intention ('intention' - more of that strange Catholic language :-)) - that is, asking God for a particular favour - and resisting this bad habit as a kind of prayer for that favour. I wish I could tell you the favour had been granted, but it was a fairly long-term one and I won't know for a long time - perhaps not in this life. But I may say that the 'offering' made a tremendous difference in my experience. I was able better (not perfectly :-)) to resist the temptations. And I felt a very real sense of union with our Lord in the matter. I suppose I might modify my little 'salvation history.' As described above, it all sounds pretty impersonal - rather as though God and man inhabited a common context; as though God might have, if He had wished, 'let man off' with a warning, I suppose. I am very leery, though, of drawing up another little table. Too pat. But it seems to me that one could at least say this: that man is God's creature. Man's whole being has no independent existence. What is sin but the turning from God, thinking that one can, to some degree, "do it on one's own," so to speak. And what could a being whose life depends on Another do, if separated from that Other, but die? For we have wills. I do not wish to get into controversies about the freedom of the will. We have wills. That is certain. I can choose to obey God - or not. If that is not true, then ... well, then there is no point in talking about anything, I suppose. I think that turning back from sin must, in the nature of things, involve some pain, some negativity. For in sinning, I have made turned my habit precisely in the direction away from God, away from life, away from truth. But I cannot turn back from sin. The branch cannot reattach itself to the Vine. It needs help. It must be the Vine that brings it back. Yet the very nature of 'coming back' is willing against what I willed when I turned away. God in His grace offers me the 'turning back' - and for it to be a real turning back, a real choosing of Him - I need to say 'yes.' And that is sacrifice. I think that what I have written is so muddled! Yet I want to say that I feel I have found something precious. I have found that the meaning of Love is indeed choosing the Other. And I am a sinner. I have those 'bad habits.' Choosing the Other is the only gift I can give to Him - and somehow it reunites me to Him. That is love. And it is love, as the song says, that makes the world go 'round!