Saturday, January 9, 2010

Frank Peretti & The Examination of Conscience

Frank Peretti is a Protestant writer I read alot as a teen. He writes allegorical fiction which pertains to Christian living, conversion, spiritual warfare, etc (in which he is Always very generous to Roman Catholicism - at least in his novels that I've read. Some of the Charismatics are very friendly to Rome, relatively speaking, compared to say, the Southern Baptists).

He wrote a book called "The Oath" about sin and how it destroys peoples lives. One of the signs of sin in the book is that characters get a dark discoloration over their heart that begins to ooze slime slowly at the beginning and the more they hide it and ignore it the bigger it becomes, only to find out that it is a mark which sets them aside to be the prey of a deadly beast in the novel - Satan personified.

That to me is a great image of sin. Aquinas and the Catholic Tradition calls sin a stain on the soul after all, and Peretti seems to draw on this.

In the preface to The Oath, Peretti writes:

"Sin is the monster we love to deny. It can stalk us, bite a slice out of our lives, return again and bite again, and even as we bled and hobble, we prefer to believe nothing has happened...a man-eater that blinds and numbs its victims, convincng them that nothing is wrong and there is no need to flee, and then consumes them at its leisure. We've all been assailed by this beast...and it's only in recognizing the beast for what it is that we can have hope to escape at all. In Jesus Christ we are forgiven and empowered to overcome sin, but opening the door and tossing the beast kitchen scraps of our character is no way to drive it off. Toying with an animal that is actually toying with us is a sure way to lose part of ourselves."

I love that description because it fits my own experience very well. He goes on to describe why he wrote the book the way he did saying:

"I chose an obscure, remote setting because sin shies from examination just as vermin flee from the light...Denial is easy, and sin is protected... [it] is a story we've all had a part in, to one degree or another. And years later, it still cries out the same warning God gave Cain: "Sin is crouching at the door, and it wants you, but you must overcome it" (Gen. 4.7)" - Frank Peretti

I was out with a friend yesterday, who is a Catholic chaplain at our university and had mentioned that I haven't been to Mass since Christmas. I told him I knew I had a moral obligation to attend, but I had excuses for each case. Anyway, I said straightaway that I was wrong and I knew it, but that I didn't like going to mass if I couldn't receive the sacrament, because Catholic preaching is usually worse than silence (from liberal and/or protestant priests Lord deliver us). Even though I wasn't using my excuses to justify myself before others, I realized in my own mind, that's exactly what I was doing.

St. Ignatius of Loyola says that an important first step in thinking and spiritual life is to discern the voice of Satan from that of God within oneself. It's extremely important I think, because I have 2 tendencies I notice. 1. To completely despair and bewail my own total depravity and want to give up fighting sin and become a Calvinist, 2. To make excuses for myself and even live planning excuses. Ex. taking a 9-5 shift at work so that I have an excuse for not wanting to go to mass.

St. Robert Bellarmine of the Ignatian brand of Catholicism writes:

""nothing can be imagined more useful than for those who value their salvation, twice every day, morning and night, diligently to examine their conscience; what they have done during the night, or the preceding day; what they have said, desired, or thought of, in which sin may have entered; and if they shall discover anything mortal, let them not defer seeking the remedy of true contrition, with a resolution to approach the sacrament of penance on the very first opportunity. Wherefore, let them ask of God the gift of contrition, let them ponder on the enormity of sin, let them detest their sins from their heart, and seriously ask themselves who is the "offended and the offenders." Man, a worm, offends God the Almighty; a base slave, the Lord of heaven and earth! Spare not then your tears, nor cease to strike your breast: in fine, make a firm resolution never more to offend God, never more to irritate the best of Fathers. If this examination be continued morning and night, or at least once in the day, it can scarcely happen that we shall die in sin, or mad, or delirious. Thus it will be, that every preparation being made for a good death, neither its uncertainty will trouble us, nor the happiness of eternal life fail us." - "The Art of Dying Well" Ch. VI

Over and over I read that the Examination of Conscience is an imperative, it is the one of, if not THE most important extra-ecclesial salvic practice one can partake in. Examination of our souls and our sins is so important, and I always shy away, sometimes not even examining my conscience before confession, knowing just the number of my mortal sins without bothering to go through venial ones.

It is my birthday tomorrow, and we're celebrating today. The present I wish I had most this year, would be for daily confession (only one parish 30 min away has it, and its at 6:30 AM... I rest my case- though that's just another excuse), or at least, the grace and help of God to go through an examination of conscience every day. ... ya right. (despair), (doubt), (frustration), (desire to run away from the beast to a monastery!)

Maybe I should go through Ignatius' spiritual exercises? If anyone has who has read this, let me know what you thought of them.

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