Tuesday, April 12, 2011

"Don't try to reason with concupiscence:

scorn it." -St. Josemaria Escriva, The Way, #127

It's a word I can't say I hear much. I never heard it at any time during the nine years I attended Catholic schools. Very few priests in my neck of the woods have ever uttered it from the pulpit, either. Were it not for EWTN, the Internet and my voracious reading habit, I might have never run across this word ever. Yet it's of the utmost importance to a Christian working out his or her salvation.

Concupiscence, which literally means the state of having desire, is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church calls "an inclination to sin" (CCC 1264). It's our desire to gratify our senses, sometimes without first running them through the filters of good reason.  How can we master our desires if we do not understand our desires and how they properly fit into God's plan? (This is why I'm so puzzled that I've not heard the concept of concupiscence discussed more often. There is some really great stuff out there, though; for example, click here for Fr. Robert Barron's compelling sermon on the woman at the well.)

Human beings are quite complex, obviously. We have appetites and sensual desires of all kinds. Our want for food, drink, sex and things of all kinds are rooted in our drive to sustain ourselves as individuals and as a human family. Because our desires are a part of our makeup as human beings created by God, our desires are actually good things. The wherefores should be rather obvious.

It's when our desires go unchecked, when satisfying our passions supersede the good of humanity and our obedience to God that we are in trouble. This is the heart of Catholic teaching on concupiscence: our sensual desires, while in and of themselves are not evil, can be incentive to sin, especially when sensual desire becomes the object of our happiness rather than our desire for God. Mastering these sensual desires are an integral part of working out our salvation.

A line from the Act of Contrition comes to mind: "I firmly resolve with the help of Your grace to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin." I believe this is why St. Josemaria Escriva encourages us to scorn concupiscence--not because it is sinful, but because we are.

From New Advent:
A short but important statement of the Catholic doctrine on this point may be quoted from Peter the Deacon, a Greek, who was sent to Rome to bear witness to the Faith of the East: "Our belief is that Adam came from the hands of his Creator good and free from the assaults of the flesh" (Lib. de Incarn., c. vi). In our first parents, however, this complete dominion of reason over appetite was no natural perfection or acquirement, but a preternatural gift of God, that is, a gift not due to human nature; nor was it, on the other hand, the essence of their original justice, which consisted in sanctifying grace; it was but a complement added to the latter by the Divine bounty. By the sin of Adam freedom from concupiscence was forfeited not only for himself, but also for all his posterity with the exception of the Blessed Virgin by special privilege. Human nature was deprived of both its preternatural and supernatural gifts and graces, the lower appetite began to lust against the spirit, and evil habits, contracted by personal sins, wrought disorder in the body, obscured the mind, and weakened the power of the will, without, however, destroying its freedom. Hence that lamentable condition of which St. Paul complains when he writes:

I find then a law, that when I have a will to do good, evil is present with me. For I am delighted with the law of God, according to the inward man: but I see another law in my members, fighting against the law of my mind, and captivating me in the law of sin, that is in my members. Unhappy man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death? (Romans 7:21-25)
Click here to read more about concupiscence at New Advent's Catholic Encyclopedia.

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