Fine Tuning

This past week has been a bit mundane when compared to other weeks in recent history. The spring semester started up and I can see the finish line coming up this December. This past week has been filled with tons of meetings at work, tons of reading at home, and only one pound of weight loss to report. I’ve plateaued. When it comes to my ketogenic regimen, I have effectively cut out most carbs and am staying consistently below the 20 carb daily limit. The culprit of this plateau has been that I have reduced myself to a mere carnivore. Steaks. Chicken. Bacon. Eggs. Repeat. When I first started this change in a bid to better my health, and to lose weight, I incorporated a bit more intake of vegetables and other low-carb options. As time went on and became more pressed, I had to resort to quicker, simpler options when it came to my meal preparations. And… I’ve plateaued.

What I learned recently is that too much protein can actually knock someone out of ketosis (click here to see where I explain ketosis). By going some days without actually consuming a single carb, I have sabotaged my process another way by not diversifying my meal choices. So currently, as I lose a half-pound here and lose nothing there, I am in the process of fine tuning the regimen to get back on track and move onward towards better health and chiseled abs.

Fine tuning is important. It is how we avoid becoming stagnant in key areas of our life. Our bodies change over time, and there comes a day when we can no longer eat like we did as teenagers, and we must make the appropriate adjustments. I felt old typing that previous sentence, but I’m not even old. Granted, my body has been treated like some kind of amusement park in recent years, but I am not old. I am young. Why don’t I feel young? Anyways…

Fine tuning is also important when it comes to our spiritual lives as well. A few things we need to consider up front is that fine tuning does not equate to “changing it up” when we get bored, and it is not the enemy of consistency, or even a sensible routine when it comes to our faith and the way we live it out. Fine tuning means making the appropriate adjustments when they’re needed. Just like when my current meal regimen, as I was approaching it, ceased to be effective and necessitated an adjustment, so too our spiritual life ought to be adjusted when it no longer produces fruit.

Habits accompany virtue. Habits are good when it comes to our Christian faith. Getting into a habit or routine with our prayers, worship, reflection, and study wards off our tendency to base our entire Christian experience on what we’re feeling in that moment. Developing habits and routines cause us to worship and pray without ceasing simply because God is God who is all good and benevolent, and is always deserving of our praise even when we don’t feel like it. If I could be so blunt, consistency in our spiritual life is what breeds spontaneous and fruitful, Spirit-filled encounters. Praying when we “feel” called or led to do so breeds an appetite for the emotional highs of a relationship with God, but not the relationship itself.

One of the most discouraging events of a person’s journey towards better health is when their hard work bears no fruit. It is in those moments that the temptation to just say “screw it” and eat junk is at its highest. The principle is the same in our walk with God. When we pray, fast, and give alms, and get nowhere, the temptation to question the validity of it all comes to the fore.

In our consistency of worship, prayer, reflection, and study, we ought to avoid symptoms of comfort and complacency. If you are going to pray the Rosary every day or go to the perpetual adoration chapel every Thursday at 3pm, do it because it works, because it is good for you, and because you know God is real and present and hears your prayers. Don’t just do it because that’s what you’ve decided to do. We are Christians because all that has been revealed to us through Sacred Scripture and Tradition is real and it is life changing. No one is ever the same after having truly encountered God, but we can certainly fall into legalism and mindless practices if we become too comfortable.

You see, I don’t really care for too many vegetables. A few I enjoy but most I eat because I need to and they’re good for me. Our faith is the same way. Consistency is good and can work, but it takes some work. To the extent that we lose our sense of investment in these habits and practices, they might cease to be efficacious and worthy of our limited time. It is unlikely for anyone who prays the Rosary, ever, to say “this prayer doesn’t work” if they endeavored to do so with at least the slightest intent to be heard. If, however, someone prays the Rosary day in and day out because “that’s what good Catholics are supposed to do”, well it’s a good chance nothing at all is exactly what might happen.

I once heard a story about a husband who was always bringing his wife flowers. One day she finally asked him why he kept bringing her flowers and he plainly responded “that’s that husbands are supposed to do, right?” You can imagine how the rest of that conversation went. The thing is he wasn’t doing it for love. And I don’t mean love as an emotion, because love entails a great sense of duty and selflessness, but that’s another post for another day. What I mean is that in our faith and in our health, it is good to find what works and to keep doing it. We must never lose our fervor for doing what is good and true. When things in life begin to plateau or become stagnant, then it is time to reevaluate and figure out where and why things have simply stopped working. It isn’t always about changing it all up and changing course. Sometimes it is just about doing some fine tuning.

The Gravity of Sin

Is all sin created equal? Yes and no. You may have heard at one point or another in your life that all sin is equally grave; meaning, it all bears the same weight with regard to your salvation. While sin, in every case, opposes God, much of its effect on whether or not you’re eternally damned depends on well… you.

If I were to tell a lie, instantaneously, in order to avoid someone’s anger in a passing situation you would likely struggle to equate a ‘reactionary sin’ such as what I’ve mentioned with a premeditated murder. There are many in the fundamentalist school of thought who would assert that ‘sin is sin’ and that ‘all sin is the same in God’s eyes’. On the contrary, Sacred Scripture supports the idea that not all sin is of grave concern or ‘deadly.’ (cf. 1 John 5:16-17) The underlying truth we come to realize is that all sin points to a flaw within ourselves. We are all created in the image and likeness of God, but due to the fall we have an innate tendency towards what is pleasurable or sinful; this is called concupiscence.

The effects of our sinfulness are not altogether autonomous, because even though the nature of our sins can be radically different, their differing effects are all commonly involved. Sin is, essentially, an effort on our part that is in opposition to God, albeit direct or indirect. God is the only ‘true good’ that man can come to know and sin looks upon this ‘true good’ and chooses otherwise. Not only that, our sins are in opposition to our own human nature according to our nature’s ordering in the image of God’s divine nature. Just as Adam and eve were robbed of their paradise, so too are we robbed of perfect freedom when we sin. God created us to be free and to discover this true freedom that orients itself towards the good.

Sins can be distinguished according to their objects, as can every human act; or according to the virtues they oppose, by excess or defect; or according to the commandments they violate. They can also be classed according to whether they concern God, neighbor, or oneself; they can be divided into spiritual and carnal sins, or again as sins in thought, word, deed, or omission. The root of sin is in the heart of man, in his free will, according to the teaching of the Lord: “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a man.” But in the heart also resides charity, the source of the good and pure works, which sin wounds. – CCC 1853

As we have already established, our sin can either be a direct or indirect effort. To further clarify, an indirect effort would be an instantaneous or reactionary sin that we failed to give full consent to, but committed it anyways. The Church recognizes these minor offenses as being venial. Venial sins wound the virtue of charity in our lives; however, they are not intentional, malicious acts towards God, who is the ‘true good.’ These types of sins point out a flaw or shortcoming in our spiritual life that must be attended to before it gets out of hand. Venial sins, as they relate to our communion with the Body of Christ are not acts that sever this relationship. We would do well to confess such venial sins, although not required, so that we might receive just penance as a preventative measure for future occasions of sin.

Beyond that, sin, as it relates to the disposition of man, can also be categorized as mortal or what the Scriptures call ‘deadly.’ Whether a sin is mortal or venial determines the vitality of man’s relationship with God. Mortal sin severs the bond between man and the larger body of Christ and, effectively, the bond between man and God. Mortal sin is to be viewed as a literal rejection or ‘turning away’ from God that results from the grave error of our choices. A murder that has been premeditated or, perhaps, the willingness to be unfaithful to one’s spouse are two examples of mortal sin. Sins that have been adequately considered and carried out regardless of the harm that may result are considered to be mortal. When man chooses such selfish behavior, he acts in complete opposition to God and his actions demonstrate a forsaking of his union with the true good.

“Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.” There are no limits to the mercy of God, but anyone who deliberately refuses to accept his mercy by repenting, rejects the forgiveness of his sins and the salvation offered by the Holy Spirit. Such hardness of heart can lead to final impenitence and eternal loss. – CCC 1864

What is sin?

My older daughter, Lucia (2 yrs.), is very… adventurous. Lucia likes to explore every part of our house that she can get to without any major difficulties. I should add that even if it is difficult she will still give it everything she’s got. A few months ago we installed child-proof locks all throughout our house, but unfortunately, we forgot a few cabinets in the kitchen. One afternoon, I was sitting on the couch working on schoolwork when, piece by piece, Lucia brought me our rice cooker. With each passing part, while holding back laughter, I would ask her to “bring this piece back to mom” and soon enough I had an entire rice cooker in my lap as I worked.

Right away, one would affirm that Lucia’s (very cute) disregard for my requests would be an action in need of correction and one would be right. Very firmly, yet in the most loving way, Rachel and I find ourselves correcting Lucia not because she is in trouble but because, as parents, we are forming her into a child who respects and trusts in our authority. Did Lucia sin when she ignored my requests to bring the rice cooker parts back? Absolutely not. She’s too young and not yet culpable for such actions. Much (if not all) responsibility has yet to burden her for her actions, given her age and ability to understand the implications of our parenting. As she grows older, however, Lucia, Audrey, and (Lord willing) any other kids we are blessed with will have to give an account for when they disobey what they have come to understand as rules in our household.

The Bible talks about sin quite often throughout the cannon of Scripture. Church teaching, throughout the millennia, has provided us with much clarity regarding the weight of these Scripture passages in our world today. Within Church Tradition we come to find that there are many absolute moral norms that hold true in any culture and in any time period. This basically means that what was a sin 1,000 years ago is still a sin today. This sin will, of course, look different in light of the vast cultural shifts that have taken place; however, the spirit of the act will have prevailed and would still be considered… a sin.

Sin, from a theological perspective, is to say “that is not the way it is meant to be…” Sin is a deviation from God’s plan and it isn’t until we recognize our ‘deviations’ or ‘shortcomings’ that we are opened up to God’s mercy. In short, sin is when we act in a way contrary to what God has in store for us. It is through God’s grace and mercy that we can recover from our deviations and be reconciled back to our created order. Pope Saint John Paul II affirms that conversion requires convincing of sin. The logic behind this is simple: If you feel as though you are without sin or that you don’t really sin… then you don’t really need a savior.

If we say, “We are without sin,” we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. – 1 John 1:8

If we think for a moment on the origins of sin, we are taken back to the story of Adam and Eve in the book of Genesis. God had given them paradise and asked only one thing of them: just stay away from one tree and… they blew it. If we dissect this incident we will come to find that all the familiar characteristics of sin are found within this ‘forbidden fruit’ story. To begin we can plainly see that the first sin was not only the breaking of God’s commandment but a rejection of God’s authority. If we dig a bit further we sense an obvious frustration with the ‘limits’ that God has put on Adam and Eve’s freedom, according to the serpent. The two, after hearing that the fruit of this tree will make them ‘like Gods’, feel as though something is being kept from them; as if God was being unfair. All of the sudden we witness a level of ingratitude for the entire gift that is paradise; this points out a distrust of God’s plan. When we, like Adam and Eve begin to doubt God’s plan, or worse, think we have a better plan we become prideful in our thoughts and actions. Finally, as in all sin, we tend to develop an unhealthy attachment to some created good; a forbidden fruit.

Sin, according to Sacred Scripture is meritorious of death. Not just a physical death, but an eternal death precisely because sin separates us from God. Our relationship with God grows stronger through virtuous living especially when we walk firmly in the theological virtues of Faith in God, Hope for eternity, and Charity (love) for God and neighbor. Sin wounds charity, the virtue from which all other virtues proceed. (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:13) In the most serious of sins, our actions actually bring about a turning away from God and sever our relationship with God altogether. This, of course, disturbs a ‘once saved, always saved’ notion that tends to circulate in some theological circles. I can assure you that salvation is a process and not a one-time event. Our life is a constant battle against temptation and sinfulness and we cannot win this battle without God’s grace and mercy. We must continue to struggle against self, with great courage, and realize that no matter how difficult this journey becomes… we are not alone.