So i took out time to do something i hadn’t done in a long time – i went for Novena with mum. Its been a while since i went for one of these so i couldn’t help but feel nostalgic.
The reverend father gave a sermon that really hit home and what stood out was his take on concupiscence (trust me it was my first time hearing the word too). We believe baptism removes original sin and confers the life of the Trinity. But it is grace, not magic, and because of this, the Church teaches that the effects of original sin remain, much as we can still have a “trick knee” after the knee surgery is finished and healed. Baptism gives us the life of grace to strengthen us. But precisely why we need strength is that we are still left to struggle with the darkened mind, weakened will, and disordered appetites — in a word, concupiscence.
The reason this matters is that concupiscence is not, in itself, sinful. It is merely the “catalyst for sin.” So what? Well, if you believe that sin is the reality of who we are — in short, if you subscribe to some sort of half-baked notion of Total Depravity — and you believe that virtue is the mask, then every temptation will be seen not as a moral battlefield upon which we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, with the help of a loving Father, but as further proof of what scum you are. If you believe that every time you are tempted, God is standing there saying, “And you call yourself a Christian! If you really loved me, you wouldn’t feel tempted! This just shows what you really are!” you are going to react differently than you would to a God who is rooting for you, interceding for you, and supplying you with grace to help you in your hour of trial.
First, neither concupiscence nor sin is a “gift of God.” They are things that the gift of God (grace) is ordered to help us overcome and triumph over. Therefore, while concupiscence is not sin and sin is not unforgivable, we cannot deal with it by pretending it is a “gift” or demanding that everybody affirm us in our “okayness” and pretending that our disordered appetites are peachy. They aren’t. They are disordered. I don’t need somebody to offer me a cigarette in order to make me feel better about my smoking habit. I need them to support me as I try to stop smoking and live healthier. It seems to me that somebody struggling with other disordered appetites needs much the same combination of support and moral firmness.
Certainly, I have had any number of people tell me things like, “Hey pothead! smoking is a sin! Why don’t you stop it, addict? You’re disgusting.” Such people may lie to themselves that they are “rebuking” in caring love, but, of course, they are simply speaking in malice by stabbing a penitent in the rawest spot of his conflicted heart. They mean to be cruel. They are the reason so many people struggling with concupiscence give up and embrace their sin — or suicide. After all, if even penitence is rewarded by people with a vicious kick in the teeth, then why believe in all that mercy stuff people go on about?
It doesn’t matter how often the accuser lies and tells us that our disordered appetites or sins constitute the truth about us. The accuser is a liar and the father of lies. Don’t listen to him. Listen to God, who loves you, delights in you, gives grace and mercy in your weakness, and wills your happiness.