Temperance: The Lesson of the Waves
The combers of passions can be tamed only if we catch that first ripple through prayer and condition ourselves in virtuous living. Otherwise, these small swells will turn into whirling whitecaps of tolerance that open the floodgates of troubling and behavorial undercurrents. This results in the inevitable riptide effect: the seven deadly sins rise from the fathoms of hell to create billowing waves of vice that may seem so harmless and attractive until it it is too late, until these deadly breakers crash souls, smashing trust and disintegrating grace; then recede back into the deep to begin anew. Only through the grace of God and the merits of Christ, as proven over the sands of time, are more souls not washed ashore and stranded, unable to breathe the life of Sanctifying Grace or carried out to sea and sunk. Only He can quell the tides of temptation.
"A shocking example from the present: The scandalous homosexual and pedophile scandals of Priests and Bishops have their origin in a lack of vigilance with regard to chastity and a tolerance toward a "new" and more "relaxed" moral code, an abhorrent "adaptation to the modern world" that tolerates homosexuality. This conditions the process of immorality that ends in homosexuality or pedophilia."
I had the good fortune last week to spend an afternoon visiting my friend, the Pacific Ocean. The time passes very quickly when you are with a good friend, and so my afternoon was gone before I realized it.
Not only was my friend interesting, but she was beautiful, incredibly beautiful. One of the qualities of beauty, unity, is present in the immense totality of its color blue, which symbolizes well the unity of God. But just as God has infinite attributes, so also the blue of the ocean results from an almost infinite number of nuanced tones of blue, violet, and green, which harmonize in their gradual changes. There are no two waves that are equal, no two tones of blue and green that are the same. Thus says the French poet: "La mer, la mer toujours recommence…" The sea, the sea that always begins again - so different that no wave is exactly like the other, so harmonic that the grand impression is one of a profound unity. An harmonic diversity in unity.
Watching the waves meet the shore - often with an incredible release of pent-up energy - reminded me of a lesson about temperance that can be applied to the human passions. As each magnificent wave rises and reaches its zenith, it curls to strike the rocks and sand like the shining oriental scimitar. As the wave swirls to its highest point, it seems to the viewer to be at its most dynamic point.
But this is not the case. Contrary to appearances, it is not the final, but the first movement of the wave that conditions all the rest of the process that ends in the explosion of power of the final clash of the rising wave.
Why is this important? Because it also applies to the human process in our advance along the path of virtue or vice. It is the first step taken toward a vice, the first time one steals or lies or commits an act of impurity, that has the greatest resonance. It echoes in each of the following steps, repeating and multiplying itself to the measure that the point of departure can be lost or forgotten. When the billows become enormous, it can seem much more significant than the first initial movement. However, this is not the reality. All the potential of the zenith is already contained in the first movement.
A sobering example from the past: The first time that Judas stole already contained in itself his act of greed that led to the betrayal of Christ. It conditioned the process of greed that ended in the Deicide.
A shocking example from the present: The scandalous homosexual and pedophile scandals of Priests and Bishops have their origin in a lack of vigilance with regard to chastity and a tolerance toward a "new" and more "relaxed" moral code, an abhorrent "adaptation to the modern world" that tolerates homosexuality. This conditions the process of immorality that ends in homosexuality or pedophilia.
Thus, the great wisdom of parents who strive to form good habits in their children and vigilantly watch to prevent them from making the first fall. Thus, the folly of Values Clarification programs and some modern psychology that seek to minimize or justify little lies, little impurities, little "sins." The wise father and mother take even the tendencies toward particular sins that they see in their children quite seriously.
When the mother punishes her son for taking a dollar from her purse, he replies, "But, Mom, it's not like I robbed a bank." She replies, "I am punishing you so that you will never rob a bank." There is profound understanding of the human process in this answer.
The Church as the wisest of mothers always counsels her children to avoid the first fall in the passions because She understands that every small infidelity can begin a process that can end like the billowing wave. In that first infidelity is a repudiation of the love of God that could contain all the others. For this reason, one of the greatest acts of mercy and love of Our Lady is when she sees one of her sons or daughter slipping, and She catches us and chastises us to prevent us from reaching the end of the process.
The day was waning and it was time to bid adieu to my good friend, the ocean. The sun was falling quickly into a soft bed of clouds that waited near the water's surface to catch it. The blueness of the ocean became more intense as the sky colored to a deep red. I recalled Jacinta's comment that the red of sunset spreading over the horizon for her symbolized the blood of Our Lord shed to redeem the universe. A fitting reminder that every passion, even the most violent, are defeated by grace, fruit of the Redemption of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
The sands of time bear this out for the tide of temperance
Marian Therese Horvat, Ph.D.
For past columns by Dr. Horvat in archives, see www.DailyCatholic.org/2002tru.htm
Thursday, June 6, 2002
volume 13, no. 105
TRUE ECHOES OF CATHOLICISM