Quo vadis?

What is it that you seek above all other things you desire? That thing is your master, and you are its slave. It organizes and orders all your doings. This happens naturally, and without any effort on your part; your apprehension of the process is not necessary thereto.

Only one such master can provide real goods to you, goods that will perdure in their nourishment of your life: the Good himself. The Good himself, being alone infinite and eternal, is the only possible source of true, inexhaustible and everlasting goodness.

By comparison with the goodness derived from the Good himself, all other goods are but straw. They are indeed good, to be sure (or he would not have created them); but they cannot completely nourish us (they are like a diet of sugars, that has no meat), and they can last no more than a moment before they are utterly consumed in the glorious everlasting fire of becoming.

You are what you eat. If you eat straw, you will become as straw, and you will be consumed as straw.

If you seek anything other than the Good himself, then you are seeking something that is not the very good; and you will get things that are not very good.

You shall reap as you sow. What you seek, then, you shall find. If you seek other than the Good himself, you might discover in the finding that it is not so very good after all. Indeed, once you find a thing you have sought, and have sated yourself upon it, you are likely thereafter to find it disgusting and tiresome, or at least considerably less alluring. In any event, you will find it inadequate to your basic hunger; you will find yourself still seeking something.

As creatures of the Good, we are so made as never to find rest except in realizing our purposes in him – i.e., the purposes for which he created us. We are made to love, serve and enjoy the infinite Good himself, and so our appetite for goodness is not satiable, except in him, and by his infinite goodness. Thus it is that devotion to any merely creaturely things cannot in principle sate us, so that it takes always the form of obsession. The addictive, obsessive personality is just the sinful personality. It is the personality deformed by spiritual hunger, by desperate, uncontrollable craving.

If you do seek the Good, you will find him; and all other subsidiary goods will appear before you as having been provided to you in their proper order and perspective: as sequelae and by-products of the basic search for the Good, and as his servants and instruments, and as reflections and images of his glory.

Are you confused about what you seek? You cannot serve two masters. If there is more than one thing that you seek, then the one that exerts the most influence upon your life, that orders and constrains it the most, will be the one that is most base, the one that is less good, the one that is most ignoble. The search for the base good sabotages the search for the noble, because, being basic, the base is easier to attain. It is easier to take a step on level ground, or a fortiori to descend, than it is to climb. There is nothing wrong with this state of affairs; indeed, it is merely logical, so that things could not be otherwise. You can’t raise your eyes to the stars if starvation glues your eyes to the horizon, and you cannot undertake to climb a mountain if you are vicious from hunger – unless, that is, the only nourishing food is to be found on the tree that stands in the cloister of the garden at the top of the mountain.

You can’t serve two masters, and in fact you don’t. If you feel confused about which master you seek, that is only because such confusion is a by-product of your slavery to some creaturely idol or other. In such a case, you may want to serve the Good, but find yourself obsessed by, and controlled by, something else. You will find yourself then doing the things you ought not to do, and leaving undone the things you ought to do; you will find that there is, then, no health in you, for want of proper nourishment. Our depravation is due to our deprivation.

You can’t fight your slavery to sin. You can’t fight Satan. He is stronger than you, and he will beat you every time. This is a corollary to the principle that the exorcist himself can no wise exorcise a demon, and should not therefore allow himself to be drawn into disputation with his adversary, which he would certainly lose, and in which he would therefore himself be lost. The exorcist is but a president at a liturgical rite in virtue of which the power of the Good is brought to bear upon the world, and particularly upon the demon and his victim. It is not the president that matters, but the rite. The same dynamic is at work in the Mass, which for its basic efficacy depends not at all upon the virtues of the celebrant, but rather upon the operation of grace that it occasions.

The operation of grace is not, of course, confined to the occasions provided by our rites and prayers, for he is present and operant everywhere (this being the reason we are from one moment to the next provided, not only with mere existence, but with a coherent world and coherent lives). But, when we pray for him, he comes; or, rather, when we pray for him, we admit and agree to his presence and operation in us, and this admission and agreement increase the efficacy in us of his grace.

Going up against your sin is a loser’s game, like golf. You win a loser’s game by not erring; but if there is one thing you can count on in a loser’s game, it is that you will err. This means that your score in golf, or in obedience to the Law, is a measure of your error. No error, no score.[1]

So don’t play the game. Don’t try to fight your sin. Don’t accept it either, of course; but don’t try to fight it. You’ll only ensnare yourself further in its coils. Fighting a sin does not reduce its ordaining power in your life. On the contrary: fighting a sin increases its ordaining power, because fighting is costly. It consumes our intellectual, voluntary, vital, and spiritual resources. When you are fighting a temptation, you think about it ceaselessly; it takes over your life, even more than if you had indulged in it without worry. And the resources consumed in controlling temptations to sin are no longer available for service to the Good, or even for service to other creaturely goods.

To conquer sin and get free, you must get out from under its ordaining power. You must get the monkey off your back altogether. So long as it’s on your back, you have no chance of truly coming to grips with it, or therefore of beating it. But because the monkey is on your back, you can’t get out from under it by some fancy move or other. It is riding you, no matter what you do to try to get out from under it.

You are not aware of this fact, but because you have this monkey on your back – perhaps, indeed, several dozen of them, always riding there – you are hunched over. You travail, and are heavy laden. You are not standing upright. In the symbolic language of the Bible, and of the ancient Near East generally, “standing up” stands for “living.”

But standing up is not possible so long as you’ve got these monkeys riding on you. No matter how you push up against them, so as somehow to punch through them to the sunlit regions that beckon above, they keep riding you.

No matter where you run, or how you writhe, or how you push, they ride you. Nothing you can do can get them off you. So, you’ll need a helping hand, from someone who is standing upright and can pull you up. If you can grasp that hand, you will be raised. And then, the monkeys will fall off. Not right away, perhaps, nor tidily. But gradually they’ll slither off, as you go, because they won’t have so much purchase on you anymore.

This means that in order to get out from under the dominion of slavery to sin, you need to decide to seek the Good. There is no other way to be raised, no other way to stand, no other way to live. Every other search will doom you to death.

There are two ways to stop fighting sin, and relax. One is to relax into the sin, and welcome death and damnation. The other is to relax into the Good, and welcome the death of the sin.

Stop attending to the monkeys on your back, then; stop worrying about them, or fighting them; let your life be about something other than the goddamned monkeys. After all, your life isn’t *really* about the monkeys, when push comes to shove, is it? They are just passengers on your body, parasites on its life. In the final analysis, your life is about the Good, or it is no good to you at all.

Don’t focus on eliminating the sin from your life, because you can’t; that power is not in you.

Instead, just focus on adding the Good. Simply attend to the Good, bear him more and more in mind. In St. Paul’s words, “set your affections on heavenly things.”(Colossians 3:2) Incorporate him in your life (“incorporate” means “embody”). Spend time worshiping and adoring him; seek him and ask for his help and his blessings; spend time in his presence; realize that you are always already in his presence.

It takes practice to notice the ubiquitous factors of life. As animals, we are so made as to notice the unusual, rather than the usual. Noticing that we exist, feeling what it is like merely to be, takes real work, and often a fair bit of rehearsal. Likewise, a fortiori, for noticing that the mere existence we so take for granted has at each moment thereof been procured to us out of nothing, and against all odds, by nothing that we might have done (for all our power of doing presupposes that we first exist to have that power – and who can make himself exist?). So it takes practice, and real work, to stop attending to the novelties, worries and allurements life affords us, and attend instead to life itself and its source.

The power thus to shift our attendance is prevenient grace; by it are we given the power to accept the gift of life, or to reject it. If we accept it, then grace is advenient in us, and convenient for us.

Acceptance of the gift of life is just accepting the fact of existence. To believe in God, then, is just to have faith that we do exist, and will exist. It is to trust our reality, and to trust in reality per se. It is to trust that there is such a thing as fact; and that, therefore, there must factually be some Truth that is prior to all facticity.

Trust him, then. Trust that, thanks to his actuality, things will all fall out as they should, and that the sin will take care of itself. Indeed, it must, whether you trust in the Good himself, or not; for sin devours itself, along with its host.

The wages of sin is the death of the sin itself. A man who is in sin, is sin. When we sin, we embody it. E.g., if I murder, then my body is the body of a murderer. So the sinner’s body is the body of sin, which is the body of death. The trick, then, is for the man who has sinned to survive the death of his sin. For this to happen, his life must be invested in, and must therefore express, something that is not sin – must be invested in, and express, the Good. He must more and more embody the Good, if his body is to stand (if, i.e., it is ever to be a resurrection body).

And we are what we eat. Partake, then, of the Bread of Life, the food of the gods, the very Bread of Heaven. Let it be incorporate – embodied, incarnate – in you. Where is it? It’s already incorporate in you, for that is the only way you could exist in the first place. In letting the Good be incorporate in us, therefore, we needn’t somehow ourselves perform the incorporation, which is achieved already from before all worlds. Our emphasis should not be on incorporating, but on letting. Seek, then, the Bread of angels, and let it be in you.

Grant, O LORD, that what I say with my lips, I may believe in my heart; and that what I believe in my heart, I may shew forth in my life.


[1] No score greater than 18, that is. Beating sin on your own is as likely as scoring 18 at golf.

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