St Castus and St Aemilius

Martyrs (entered heaven in 250)

Dear Emily,

Are you really surprised by your inability to overcome those stubborn bad habits?  May I ask why? Do you think yourself so strong as to be able to free yourself from sin forever?  My dear niece, be very careful. We can respond in two ways when we fall: one of them is dangerous; the other is glorious.  The dangerous way comes from spiritual pride; it consists of anger (“Argh! I can’t believe I did it again!”), frustration (“This stinks!  No matter how hard I try, I can’t make any progress. What’s wrong with me?! Why can’t I get over this?!), or discouragement (“That’s it. Forget it.  It’s just not worth it. I stink. I can’t improve. I give up.”). Of course, the unspoken presupposition to each of these reactions is: “I ought to be able to make myself perfect,” which reveals an overblown sense of personal excellence (i.e. pride).  That’s a very dangerous way, because when we depend solely on our own efforts in the pursuit of spiritual perfection, we are bound to fail.

The glorious way to react to our constant failings and sins springs from humility.  Like a weak but trusting child, every time we fall we turn with unlimited confidence to the God who loves us and gave his only Son for our salvation, we ask him for forgiveness, we promise to keep trying, and we remind him (and ourselves) of how much we need his grace if we are going to follow his steep and narrow path: “Without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).  We can never exhaust God’s love and mercy – but we need to seek it out with humble trust.

Take today’s saints, for instance.  Castus and Aemilius were prominent Christians in northern Africa at the time of the Roman Emperor Decius’s vile persecution of the whole Church.  Under the pain of horrible tortures, they renounced their faith and agreed to worship the pagan gods. They fell; they denied their Savior in order to save their skins.  They chose their own will over fidelity to God and his love. They followed in the footsteps of Judas. They did what all of us do when we sin gravely: give up friendship with God for a taste of the forbidden fruit.  But when the moment came for them to actually offer up the incense, they remembered God’s love and re-ignited their own: they refused to make an offering to a pagan God. It was not too late for them! They had given in, but they didn’t give up; they regrouped their faith and trust and renewed their friendship with Christ, sure that he would take them back with open arms.  And he did. He strengthened them to face death by fire for the glory of his name and welcomed them into his eternal embrace.

So should we all react to our falls?  God knows that we are weak (why else would he have instituted the sacrament of confession?); and if we bring our weakness to him – over and over again – he will gladly, little by little, become our strength.  

Love, Uncle Eddy

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