God’s blessings to you on this the fourteenth day of January in the year of our Lord’s incarnation 2017.
I managed to get to the monthly meeting of my local Chesterton society. It’s a chapter of the American Chesterton Society, and if you’re at all interested in G. K. Chesterton’s writings and would enjoy talking about them with other people who do as well, I suggest checking the website to see if there’s a chapter near you.
In other news, I recently was reminded of the concept of “custody of the eyes”. Throwing that phrase into google I get about 8.5 million results, so there’s plenty of reading material on it, virtually all of which I haven’t read. But the basic idea is to look at one chooses to look at, rather than merely letting one’s eyes wander. Properly speaking it’s a form of Christian asceticism, but it must be remembered that the point of Christian asceticism—unlike most other forms—is not to conquer the body but to rightly order it. One of the more pressing problems addressed by custody of the eyes is that the body naturally reacts to the sight of attractive people by getting excited. In itself this is natural and not a problem, but since we are fallen creatures who do not rightly order ourselves with our reason in charge of our passions, allowing this to happen can lead us into trouble because though the initial reaction is natural, what follows (in this case, lust) is not natural. What should have happened is that the intellect notices the excitement and merely takes it in as information and does nothing else with it (where sexual excitement is inappropriate, of course; a husband and wife in their bedroom may properly cooperate with this excitement and encourage it).
There are two big points to note. The first is that the degree to which one should guard against this sort of reaction is of course commensurate with the degree to which one is liable to fall into error. Those who are very excitable must be very careful; those less so need not be as careful. For example, most doctors have no trouble examining the bodies of people of the opposite sex, so there’s no call for them to avert their eyes while doing so, and obvious reasons that they should look at their patients. As a counterpoint, of course, it’s easy to suppose one is less tempted than one is, but the chief point here is realism, not blind adherence to general rule. (Realism in fallen creatures must always include caution, of course.) But it is important to note that since we cannot know to what degree our fellow creatures are tempted by what they see, we are in no position to judge whether they are being careless or properly cautious. And advice which assumes that people will always err in one direction and so the advice itself errs in the other direction must always be taken with a grain of salt. Practical advice should never be confused with theoretical truths.
The other big point to note is that lust is only one vice to which we can be tempted by looking at things which we have no good reason to look at. To dwell upon someone’s fatness or ugliness is a temptation to judgement and pride. Even looking too long at one pretty thing may make us ignore all of the other beauty around us; we can get so enamored of paintings that we forget to enjoy trees.
Now, of course all of this is supposed to be in service of becoming perfect. Of always doing the right thing, at the right time, in the right way, for the right reasons. And if we do that, we shall be immensely happy, because one of the primary purposes for which God made us was to enjoy his goodness. In our disordered state we are far too prone to enjoy some small thing instead of enjoying better things, so we should be on our guard against getting caught in these small traps. But if we do nothing but worry about avoiding traps, we’ve only traded one form of focusing on creation to the exclusion of God for another. The Catholic Church has tended to be legalistic (in practice, rather than in theory) because the people in its care want it to be legalistic; rules are much easier to follow for many people than a wholesale dedication of one’s every thought to God and to his creation in light of Him. Because legalism is basically a series of sign posts warning you that you’re off the trail; when regarded properly legalism is entirely compatible with being a saint; a saint will follow all the laws without thinking of them as laws because he sees the reason for their existence. And many people have trouble seeing that connection, but can see the sign posts and so go right by avoiding the sign posts saying that they’re off the trail they have trouble seeing. As long as one never forgets that the sign posts are an aid to walking the trail, and are not the trail itself, all will be well. Alas, it’s a thing too often forgotten and all too often not even taught to children because it’s harder, and children are exhausting.
And of course as with all attempts to be perfect, it’s important to remember that we do not achieve perfection through our own efforts, but by God’s grace, so however often we fail, God has more than enough grace to make up for our deficiencies. All we have to do is the best that we possibly can; God will make up the difference between that and what’s needed. And when we fail, it is well to remember that actions can fail but a man cannot be a failure so long as he’s alive because he’s not finished yet. It is utterly pointless to attempt to judge a work in progress. If it’s a bad idea to judge a book by its cover, it’s a worse idea to judge a book only by its front cover because there’s no back cover yet.
Glory to God in the highest.