Dear Fathers, Friends in Christ,
The last condition of that person is worse than the first. (Luke 11:26)
Imagine that you own an apartment, and its tenants are destructive and negligent. You decide to evict them. All of their belongings are removed, and you have the apartment cleaned so that all traces of the former occupants are gone. But there’s a problem: you don’t change the locks, and no new tenants move in. It’s a situation similar to Jesus’ parable of the demon returning to its original host with extra spirits. Appealing and vacant, the poor soul was fair game for a return by its previous occupant.
Although we may not have to deal with demonic possession, we do deal with repeated sin. So often, we confess the same sins time and again. We know that the Sacrament of Reconciliation gives us the grace to be set free. But once we’re cleansed, we need to be filled with something. We can’t go around vacant!
So what can we do to fortify our “house” against repeat occupation? How do we go beyond cleansing our souls and actually refurnish them?
From the earliest centuries, the Church has understood that sin, or vice, has what are called opposing virtues: virtues that by their very nature counteract and weaken the influence of the sin in our lives. Following this tradition, St. Ignatius of Loyola recommended developing virtues that strike to the heart of our most troublesome sins.
It goes something like this: we examine our consciences carefully. We go to Confession and get “swept clean and put in order.” Then we get to work refurnishing our house. We identify the virtue that will help us displace the sin. Chastity counteracts lust. Temperance uproots gluttony. Generosity counterbalances greed. Diligence displaces sloth. Forgiveness and meekness offset wrath or anger. Kindness replaces envy. And humility supplants pride. With each subsequent confession, the process continues on a deeper and deeper level until we find ourselves set free.
Experiment with the virtues that oppose your sins. It’s true that only God’s grace can help you progress in holiness, but you still have to decide to take those small steps each day to fill the gap left by the uprooted sin. So refurnish your house, and you’ll find the Holy Spirit living there more comfortably—and more powerfully!
“Holy Spirit, fill me with virtue, which is the fruit of your life in me!”
Father Ed Bakker
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne