From Sin As Addiction (Gerald McCormick)

Sin as spiral (“a sense of the dragon”): Here, sin is experienced as “habit, as some sort of a disorder of the will, as a power or a demon with a will and plan of its own”. In this perspective sin is like a virus, attacking where it wills and getting worse in the process. “We live in a world in which sin is a deadly and contagious virus which threatens, saps and debilitates our moral and spiritual health and lives”. All the way back in the ‘70s, a very successful comedian named Flip Wilson turned “the Devil made me do it” into a meme of the day. He would do something outrageous in plain sight, then grin into the camera and say, “Th e Devil made me do it.” Th e audience would howl because everyone was in on the joke. Treat yourself to a laugh with this clip: https://youtu.be/zGKAaPM72UY

A. The Relationship Between Psychological and Spiritual Realities.

Everyone knew that Flip was exploiting a bit of theology to avoid taking responsibility for bad behavior. When Flip Wilson did it, it was absurdist comedy, yet for some it has become a standard explanation for poor behavior and bad choices. Th e facile use of this way of thinking has the inherent danger of a loss of personal integrity that comes with the abdication of personal responsibility. It becomes very convenient when we can blame the Devil, or someone, or something else for that matter. Our worst behavior and the expectation to take responsibility for it is easily dismissed. No matter what the transgression or error, the implication is the same: an external agent of evil/mitigating circumstance has taken control of us.

This kind of devil-based theology includes an important but unstated message: When I’m good it is attributable directly to me, but if I do something reprehensible, just blame it on the Devil or an “other.” The incongruence becomes evident when praise is mine and blame belongs to someone or something else.

Accepting personal responsibility as a lesson in humility is a healthy remedy. It is an exercise of maturity, virtue and integrity to simply say: “I did it. I’m not proud of it, but I did it.” The motivation probably comes from a deep perhaps barely explored part of our own psyche, but it is us, “me.”. The fruit of a good examination of conscience can help tease out personal responsibility, tacit or explicit cooperation with evil, or an awareness that it was out of our control.

While identifying that something is out of our control may be giving the devil his due, it is in taking personal responsibility for our faults and failures that we participate in that amazing grace that liberates. There is a remarkable contemporary pushback to admitting the possibility, if not the reality, of some kind of spiritual warfare going on in our lives and in the world. Typically at this point many of us will feel uncomfortable and become reluctant to consider giving the devil his due in a discussion of spiritual warfare. Yet dealing with the forces of evil is undeniably a part of Jesus’ narrative and ministry. Casting out demons is among the first miracles reported by Jesus’ disciples upon their return from mission. As a Christian tradition we celebrate the theological reality that grace builds on nature, but seem surprisingly reluctant to admit that spiritual evil does indeed comprise our nature.

Sometimes things really are both/and; not necessarily either/or. Among the many scripture passages that give us pause on this score, these two can act as a challenge to reconsider our reluctance.: Ephesians 6:12: “For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens”, and 1 Peter 5: 8: “Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for [someone] to devour. Resist him, steadfast in faith, knowing that your fellow believers throughout the world undergo the same sufferings.”

Suffice to say that a strategy is needed here as we tease out where any battle is being fought in our lives. While acknowledging the realities of a present circumstance, be open to discerning the influence of the Accuser, our ancient foe. Celebrate the thought that through Christ’s saving work we are not the enemy despite our faults and failings and as long as we avoid falling into agreements/cooperation with any aspect of evil. Simply strive to stand your ground by claiming that you are among the redeemed sinners that in Christ are clinging to that Truth of being redeemed and freed by the Blood of the Lamb. Living in goodness and truth is always a challenge, yet strive to avoid being intimidated by your weaknesses and imperfections. Celebrate who you know Christ is calling you to be, despite any apparent lack of progress, confident that God is indeed with you, and that you have been entrusted with a very important mission. Ultimately, you may feel dragged through the mud, battered and tried, but so it is for every resistance fighter.

B. Mental, Emotional, and Physical Signs of Temptation.

Acknowledging the realities of temptation in our lives can be hard to accomplish. Acknowledging these realities requires a level of introspection that might be hard to maintain. Who hasn’t heard someone say that a dessert, drink, or show is their ‘weakness’? This is a lighthearted acknowledgement that these people are easily tempted by one of these items. It is in our human nature to become comfortable with our habits and routines. An enemy worth their salt knows that the easiest way to tempt someone is to do it through what they are most comfortable with. In order to resist temptation we must be aware of ways in which we can be tempted.

In the world of addiction recovery, there are numerous adages about the struggles with earthly temptations. As people struggled with addiction they learned to notice when their temptations were at their worst. During the process of recovery, addicts would notice that they were most vulnerable to their temptations when they were Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired. These four areas of life touch our humanity in the most vulnerable areas and can lead to temptations being much more difficult to overcome.

Hunger can be related to physical and emotional needs. To be physically hungry is fairly straightforward. We all know when we need to eat. However, it is also important to know how we respond emotionally when we are hungry. Does anger creep in? Can we be short with others? Do we recognize our emotional changes that come with being hungry? We can be hungry for other things as well. Do you notice when you are hungry for affection, accomplishment, or understanding? When physical hunger is not met, our body converts stores of fat into energy for our body to run. When our emotional hunger is not met, our minds can make up for it with knowledge of who we are. However, this leads to a phenomenon called ego depletion. Ego depletion is the idea that our mental resources of willpower and self-control depend upon a limited supply of mental resources that need constant replenishing.

As an emotion, Anger often gets a bad rap, however, anger is a normal and healthy emotion to experience. A key to staying on the healthy side of the spectrum of anger is to pause and understand the cause of the anger. We can be angry at people, situations, or ourselves. Anger can be due to one episode, or it can be an ongoing event in our lives. Anger is often a secondary emotion, it arises as a tool to keep us safe from what we are really trying to hide. Ask yourself, what is under the anger. Is it fear? Sadness? Shame? If the root of anger is not sought out and examined it can easily turn into resentment or other less healthy emotions. Let us not forget the words of the Jedi Master, Yoda: “Fear is the path to the dark side… fear leads to anger… anger leads to hate… hate leads to suffering.”

We can experience loneliness when we are by ourselves or when we are surrounded by people. Loneliness occurs when we isolate ourselves (mentally, physically, or emotionally) from others. This may happen because we are afraid, think others may not understand us, or have doubts about who we are. Isolating ourselves leads to the things we are trying to avoid growing in intensity. When we willingly remove ourselves from support systems, we allow the negative beliefs to foment. The Devil can tempt us to be afraid and discouraged in these times of isolation causing us to question if we are really loved. This can tempt us to hold onto transgressions against us and fail to forgive or understand where others are coming from.

Over the last two years, tiredness may be the gateway to temptation that we experience more than anything else. Being tired takes a toll on our minds, hearts, and bodies. Our days have been packed with errands, meetings, and navigating the emotional waters of a pandemic and the associated fallout. When we are tired we compromise our ability to compromise. This allows the temptation for division with others to take hold and begin to fester. Tiredness occurs in much the same way as hunger in that we can be mentally, physically, and emotionally tired. When we experience tiredness we do not have the ability to raise our defenses easily and our capacity to cope with various stressors becomes much more difficult.

Taking the time to HALT each day can be an antidote to temptation. Taking the time to ask ourselves, “Am I hungry, angry, lonely, or tired?” is a good way to check in with our ability to handle life’s stresses.

C. Antidotes to Temptations

Many times after experiencing temptations, near occasions of sin, or even having committed a sin, we repent; make an effort to not fall back into sin; and try to put the event behind us. However, this method is like trying to heal a wound without proper medical attention. Sure, it could heal, but it is going to take longer and in some cases leaves us festering in our struggle.

What if, instead, we approached temptations and sin with the understanding that our soul is trying to tell us something about what it needs in order to function and heal properly. This requires some attention and reflection on what led up to a particular temptation or sin, allowing us to highlight whether Hunger, Anger, Loneliness, or being Tired contributed to our experiences. We are psychological and spiritual beings, therefore, any approach to heal the soul should include both an antidote to the psyche and the anima. These antidotes are not miracle cures or fixes; just as a band-aid and anti-bacterial ointment do not immediately heal a wound; rather, they are tools which help a person manage HALT on a psychological and spiritual level. From the psychological perspective we will look to process what control we have over these different states in order to develop a better sense of self-regulation. The spiritual perspective; however, will look at what we seek to control that really belongs to God’s mercy. As you read this, we invite you to consider the full Serenity Prayer, as a framework for understanding the struggles of the soul; namely,what is mine to do and what do I need to leave to God’s loving providence.

 

Hunger: Hunger illicites the psychological defense to seek comfort over balanced eating, sleeping, exercising, and learning. This is done in order to avoid being confronted with one’s insufficiencies. While the spiritual temptation is the belief that I have the power to make God stop loving me; this feeds one’s shame which leads to the avoidance of participating in prayer and the sacraments.

  • Psychological: The psychological antidote to hunger is temperance. This virtue is about finding a balance which seeks to maintain the right order of body and mind. It is crucial to make sure that we are getting the right nutrition, sleep, and exercise to help the body function properly. Balanced meals, 8 hours of sleep, and 30 minutes of exercise have shown to significantly improve a person’s resilience. The window of tolerance for patience can be shortened due to poor diet, sleep, and exercise, and in many cases can be remedied with a good meal, full night’s rest, and a 30 min walk. However, an antidote to hunger is not solely about feeding the body, but also the mind. It is important to be engaged in intellectual development, as a way to expand and grow one’s perceptions, as well as, develop a deeper and richer view of the world.

  • Spiritual: The spiritual antidote to hunger is humility. We are sinners who are beloved by our Heavenly Father. We are made for love and our souls crave it. The struggle here is that we cannot control whether others love us; or even how others choose to manifest that love to us. Therefore, it is important to monitor and gauge how much our soul is aware of the love of God, and His love through others. That is why prayer, sacraments, and sacramentals are essential to feeding the soul; they are the avenue by which we encounter the mercy and love of God. So too, conversation and encounters with friends are ways to remind ourselves of the love of God and love that others have for us. It revives the soul and allows it to feel at rest. Even in the business of our lives, 10 minutes of prayer or a conversation can be a powerful way of grounding oneself in the truth that you are loved by God.

Anger: The psychological defense is to seek to control or be responsible for other peoples’ actions, beliefs, or feelings. This is done in order to prevent future or further hurt that the other person may have caused. This seeks to avoid grasping the reality of our powerlessness in the face of others. The spiritual temptation is to believe that God does not care enough to seek your good. This results in one dictating how the mercy and justice of God should operate; which leads one to avoid offering to God how others have hurt him This in turn inhibits trust with God.

  • Psychological: (temptation: to control others and situations): The psychological antidote to anger is justice, that is, learning to live in the right relationship with others. The first steps towards living in justice requires a person to acknowledge and take ownership of what is his responsibility in a situation and what is not. We are responsible for our feelings, beliefs, and actions. However, no one can control or own the feelings, beliefs, and actions of another. When one person wrongs another, the offended person can acknowledge how he felt wronged, by the other’s actions, and how that action influenced his belief about the other. The other has the ability to respond in his own manner, to either recognize or reject the proposed injustice.

  • Spiritual: Temptations (dictate how God justice and mercy should work): The spiritual antidote to anger is faith. That is, faith that God in His love and justice will prevail, even if the situation does not play out how we would like. This takes a tremendous amount of trust, to surrender to God that which is out of your control. This is why one of the most effective applications of this spiritual antidote is in prayer, because it is only in prayer that we can offer our struggle up and let go of control. The most difficult thing to surrender to God, sometimes, is the freedom.

Loneliness: Loneliness invokes the psychological defense of seeking to protect an individual from the possibility of rejection through either controlled isolation or superficial relationships. Both of these methods are typically surrounded by excessive compulsive behaviors as an effort to escape the sense of disconnection. The spiritual temptation is the belief that my being is so corrupted that no one, not even God, could ever empathize or advocate for me in my struggle. This results in isolation from God and from others, resulting in the most dangerous of all the temptations.

  • Psychological: The antidote is fortitude, the application of this virtue lies in the courage to be authentic and vulnerable in front of friends. This is not limited to only having emotional vulnerability, but also allowing oneself to simply be. It is important for psychological health to make sure that one has time to play and converse with others. Practically speaking, this could be having a card night with buddies, going out to the bar/coffee shop with friends, or reaching out to spend a night out with other lay faithful or priests. In these times, it does not have to be solely focused on sharing difficulties or hardships; however communicating these can help one confront their fear of rejection, rather than avoid it through the distraction of a vice.

    Spiritual: The antidote is mercy. In order to practice this virtue, strength is required to share authentically with God and another the spiritual struggles that one is facing. One of the greatest fears we face as humans, is the fear of rejection, of being unacceptable to others, ourselves, and God. This can lead individuals to avoid sharing and opening up at all costs, in order to avoid this possible reality. This practice of opening up to God and other trusted individuals, can have a healing effect of mercy. The sacrament of reconciliation becomes a fundamental tool for helping us make this reality. The love of God calls us forward, not into shame, but rather into recalling who we are and what we are meant for, which is to be loved and to love.

Tired: The psychological defense is seeking an escape from disapproval. This can manifest in two ways, the individual who is caught is avarice (avoids the task in order to avoid disapproval) or the individual who presents as a workaholic (avoids rest in order to avoid disapproval). In both scenarios, the individual is wrestling with perfectionism. The temptation is the belief that limitations and weaknesses, that keep me from perfection, are unacceptable to the Lord. This leads, as mentioned above, to either avarice or overexertion.

  • Psychological: The antidote is prudence, the ability to know when and how much to rest. This antidote requires an individual to assess and acknowledge his physical, mental, and spiritual limitations. Leisure and rest are crucial for recovering and restoring spent energy. Here it is important to be mindful of activities that do not merely alleviate/bring escape from our struggles, but rejuvenate us and restore us anew. Social media, tv, and youtube, are poor mediums in which to practice rest, because they serve to distract versus restore. Finding and practicing a hobby or being outdoors is a great way to develop and restore oneself, because one is able to rest from the day in order to give one’s mind and body a break from the tasks of the day. The second part of rest is accepting what can be accomplished through a striving effort, not a perfect effort. It is important to understand that what is accomplished is enough, even if it is not to your liking. On the other hand, if you struggle with overworking it is important to realize that what is accomplished is also enough, there is no need for it to be perfect. As Mother Theresa once said, I am not called to be successful, only to remain faithful [to my task at hand]”.

    Spiritual Temptations: The antidote is hope, the ability to trust that God will bring to completion of the work yet finished. Fr. Mike Schimtz has an amazing talk on the importance of sleep and how getting to bed can be an act of trust in God. That is I entrust that you, oh Lord, will bring to completion that which has remained unfinished in the work I have done. Sometimes, the greatest form of rest is prayer, in particular prayer in which we allow ourselves to rest in the Father’s arms. Reminding ourselves that it is not our responsibility to make the parish counseling meeting go smoothly, or to get a huge attendance for parish events. It is not our role to convince others of the truth. Rather, it is one’s responsibility to love in the midst of the situation one is given, not the situation they wish they had been given. This requires that one humbly assess and acknowledge his limitations, not to serve as an excuse, but to remind one that he is merely mortal and it is God who accomplishes all things through the limitations of his servants. All he asked is that we submit ourselves to the plow, and on that day do our best to accomplish what he can, trusting that He will bring the work to completion through the messiness. Sometimes, the simplest way to live this out can be modeled from the prayer of John XXIII, “It’s your Church {Parish, Ministry, etc] God. I’m going to bed!”

 


Please join us for a video conference on Wednesday, April 13, 2022, from 12:30 pm – 1:30 pm, where a member of Holy Family Counseling Center Good Shepherd’s Wellness Council will facilitate discussion on this month’s content. These sessions will be nonintrusive and will simply be an opportunity for brother priests to discuss and ask questions. To sign up and receive a link for next week’s call, please email goodshepherds@holyfamilycounselingcenter.com. Our facilitator will email you a link to the call the morning of the meeting. 


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Provided by the therapists of Holy Family Counseling Center. This newsletter and follow up video conference are meant as a resource to assist our beloved clergy to maintain their emotional health and holiness as servant leaders of the Church. Our sincere and prayerful desire is to assist our priests to stay happy, healthy, and holy.

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