Victory over Vice by Fulton J. Sheen

My summary notes from the book:

Sheen, Fulton. Victory over Vice. Garden City Books: Garden City, 
New York, 1939. Print.

 

The First Word: Anger. “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do

  • The one passion in man which has deeper roots in his rational nature than any other is the passion of anger.
  • Not all anger is sinful, for there is a such a thing as just anger (Jesus cleansing the temple).
  • Anger is no sin under 3 conditions: (1) If the cause of anger be just, for example, defence of God’s honour, (2) If it be no greater than the cause demands, that is, if it be kept under control; and (3) If it be quickly subdued: “Let not the sun go down upon your anger.” (12)
  • Sinful anger is excessive, revengeful, enduring.
  • Our Blessed Lord came to make reparation for the sin of anger, first by telling us to forgive and love our enemies, next by actually practicing them! The perfect reparation for anger was made on Calvary: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do”. Jesus was pleading ignorance on their behalf.
  • This Word from the Cross teaches us two lessons:
      • 1. The reason for forgiveness is ignorance – We are very ignorant – ignorant of ourselves (we never examine our own consciences) and ignorant of others (their motives, faith, circumstances, etc). The harder we are on ourselves, the easier we will be on others. Only a Lord Who thought so little of Himself as to become man and die like a criminal could ever forgive the weakness of those who crucified Him (18). “Tell me your enemy and I will tell you what you are. Tell me your hatred and I will tell you your character” (18). Do you hate religion? Then your conscience bothers you… Do you hate sin? Then you love God. Do you hate your selfishness? Then you are a good soul…
      • 2. There are no limits to forgiveness – Our Lord forgave when He was innocent and not because He Himself had been forgiven. Hence we must forgive not only when we have been forgiven, but even when we are innocent (18). Forgiveness is the surrender of all rights and the denial of limits.
  • If during life we forgive others from our hearts, on Judgment Day the All Wise God will permit something very unusual to Himself: He will forget how to add and will know only how to subtract. He Who has a Memory from all eternity will no longer remember our sins. Thus we will be saved once again through Divine “Ignorance” (20).

The Second Word: Envy. “This day thou shalt be with Me in Paradise.”

  • Envy is sadness at another’s good, and joy at another’s evil. What rust is to iron, what moths are to wool, what termites are to wood, that envy is to the soul: the assassination of brotherly love. Sinful envy is a grieving at another’s good, either spiritual or temporal, for the reason that it seems to diminish our own good (22).
  • In our times, envy has taken on an economic form. The avarice of the rich is being matched by the envy of the poor (23). Envy is on the increase today because we in our times we have surrendered the belief of a future life and righteous Divine Justice (24).
  • Our Lord was unceasing in His preaching against envy. To those who were envious of the mercy (angels rejoice more over 1 sinner…), of wealth (lay up treasure in heaven…), of power (put child in their midst…)
  • One would have thought a saint would have been the first soul purchased over the counter of Calvary by the red coins of redemption, but in the Divine plan it is a thief who steals that privilege and marches as the escort of the King of Kings into Paradise (27).
  • Two lessons are taught by this Second Word from the Cross:
      • 1. Envy is the source of our wrong judgments about others – the chances are that if we are envious of others, nine times out of ten we will misjudge their characters. Like the thief on the left… No one in the history of the world ever came closer to Redemption, and yet no one ever missed it so far. His envy made him ask for the wrong thing: he asked to be taken down when he should have asked to be taken up (27)… Every envious word is based on a false judgment of our own moral superiority… Since envy is so rampant in the world today, it is extremely good counsel to disbelieve 99/100 per cent of the wicked statements we hear about others (good thief example).
      • 2. The only way to overcome envy is, like the thief on the right, to show pity. * One day a woman went to the saintly Father John Vianney, the Cure of Ars, in France, and said: “My husband has not been to the sacraments or to Mass for years. He has been unfaithful, wicked, and unjust. He has just fallen from a bridge and was drowned – a double death of body and soul.” The Cure answered: “Madam, there is a short distance between the bridge and the water, and it is that distance which forbids you to judge” (31).

 

The Third Word: Lust “Woman, behold thy son… behold thy mother”

  • Lust is an inordinate love of the pleasures of the flesh (33).
  • The pleasure becomes sinful at that point where, instead of using it as means, we begin to use it as an end.
  • Lust is selfishness or perverted love.
  • As the appeal to the spiritual relaxes, the demands of the flesh increase.
  • Some reparation had to be made for the sin of lust… Our Lord began making reparation for it at the first moment of the Incarnation for He chose to be born of a virgin (35).
  • The final atonement and reparation is made on Calvary where, in reparation for all the impure desires and thoughts of men, Our Lord is crowned with thorns; where, in reparation for all the sins of shame, He is stripped of His garments; where, in reparation for all the lusts of the flesh, He is almost dispossessed of His flesh, for according to Sacred Scripture the very bones of His Body could be numbered (36).
  • Our Lord chose to go even further in reparation for the sins of lust by dispossessing Himself of the two most legitimate claims of the flesh, by giving away His Mother and His best friend (37).
  • Pg. 38 – Two lessons are to be learned from this Third Word from the Cross:
      • 1 – The only real escape from the demands of the flesh is to find something more than the flesh to love (38) – the psychology of this enthusiasm for a higher love of Jesus and Mary as an escape from the unlawful attachments of the flesh is this: by it we avoid undue concentration on lower loves and their explosions (39)… Cultivate a higher love, a purpose of living, a goal of existence, a desire to correspond to all that God wants us to be, and the lower passion will be absorbed by it… The Church applies this psychology to the vow of chastity. The Church asks her priests and nuns to surrender even the lawful pleasures of the flesh, not because she does not want them to love, but because she wants them to love better. She knows that their love for souls will be greater as their love for the flesh is less, just as Our Lord died on the Cross for men because He loved His Own life less… Nor must it be thought that the vow of chastity is a burden. Thompson has called it a “passionless passion, a wild tranquility.” And so it is. A new passion is born with the vow of chastity, the passion for the love of God (39-40)… The only way love can be shown in this world is by sacrifice, namely, the surrender of one thing for another…. The pure have integrated their flesh with the Divine, they have sublimated its cravings with the Cross (41)
      • 2 – Mary is the refuge of sinners… Mary knows what sin is by seeing what it did to her Divine Son (41). Mary also chose the absolved harlot, Magdalen, as her companion at the Cross.

– Find a higher love than the flesh, a love pure, understanding, redeeming, and the struggle will be easy. That higher love is on the Cross and beneath it.

The Fourth Word: Pride. “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me

  • Pride is an inordinate love of one’s own excellence, either of body or mind or the unlawful pleasure we derive from thinking we have no superiors… All other sins are evil deeds, but pride insinuates itself even unto good works to destroy and slay them… Pride it was that made Satan fall from heaven and man fall from grace. By its very nature such undue self-exaltation could be cured only by self-humiliation.
  • Jesus’ whole life was to make reparation for pride… especially in the manner of death He chose… Because proud men forgot God, He permits Himself to feel Godlessness and it broke His heart in the saddest of all cries:  “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me”.
  • Two lessons emerge from this Word:
      • 1. Glory not in ourselves for God resists the proud – Nothing is more difficult to conquer in all the world than intellectual pride… If the soul is filled to the brim with the ego, there is no place left for God (48). God can give His Truth and Life only to those who have emptied themselves. We must create a vacuum in our own souls in order to make room for grace… The paradox of apostolate is, then: the less we think we are, the more good we do. The higher the building the deeper the foundation; the greater the virtue to more the humility (49).
      • 2. Glory in humility for humility is truth and the path to true greatness – Humility is truth. The recognition of gifts as gifts, faults as faults. Humility is dependence on God as pride is independence of Him. The truly great are like St. Philip Neri, who one day, seeing a criminal being led off to prison, said: “There goes Philip Neri, except for the grace of God.” (52).

The Fifth Word: Gluttony. “I thirst.”

  • Gluttony is an inordinate indulgence in food or drink, and may manifest itself either in taking more than is necessary, or in taking it at the wrong time, or in taking it too luxuriously. It is sinful because reason demands that food and drink be taken for the necessities and conveniences of nature but not for pleasure alone (55).
  • “If there is any indication of the present degeneration of society better than another, it is the excess of luxury in the modern world. When men begin to forget their souls, there begin to take great care of their bodies (56).
  • Lord of the world, He possessed nothing.
  • “I thirst”. The shortest of the seven cries from the Cross and the one which expresses the keenest of all human sufferings in reparation for those who have had their fill (58).
  • Jesus had to make reparation for gluttony, drunkenness, and excessive luxury.
  • Jesus did not want an earthly drink, but a drink for His thirsty heart – a drink of love: I thirst for love
  • This word from the Cross reveals that there is a double hunger and a double thirst: one for the body, the other for the soul (59)… It is in light of this double hunger and thirst of body and soul that the distinction between dieting and fasting becomes clear. The Church fasts; the world diets. Materially there is no difference, for a person can lose twenty pounds one way as well as the other. But the difference is in the intention. The Christian fasts not for the sake of the body, but for the sake of the soul; the pagan fasts not for the sake of the soul, but for the sake of the body. The Christian does not fast because he believes the body is wicked, but in order to make it pliable in the hands of the soul, like a tool in the hands of a skilled workman… That brings us down to the basic problem of life. Is the soul the tool of the body, or the body the tool of the soul? Should the soul do what the body wants, or should the body do what the soul wants? Each has its appetites and each is imperious in the satisfaction of its wants. If we please one, we displease the other, and vice versa. Both of them cannot sit down together at the banquet of life (60).
  • The development of character depends upon which hunger and thirst we cultivate… Tell me your hungers and your thirsts and I will tell you what you are (61).
  • Gluttonous about the perishable, they become indifferent to the everlasting (61).
  • The Fifth Word from the Cross is God’s plea to the human heart to satisfy itself at the only satisfying fountains… He thrists to be thirsted for.
  • A twofold recommendation is hidden in this short sermon from the Cross;
      • first, to mortify the bodily hunger and thirst (62) … Mortification of the bodily appetites is only a means, not an end. The end is union with God, the soul’s desire (64).
      • and second, to cultivate a spiritual hunger and thirst (62).
  • God thirsts for us not because He needs us for His happiness, but because we need Him for our happiness (65).

The Sixth Word: Sloth. “It is finished

  • Sloth is a malady of the will which causes us to neglect our duties. Sloth may be either physical or spiritual. It is physical when it manifests itself in laziness, procrastination, idleness, softness, indifference, and nonchalance. It is spiritual when it shows itself in an indifference to character betterment, a distaste for the spiritual, a hurried crowding of devotions, a lukewarmness and failure to cultivate new virtue (69).
  • Jesus’ whole life was a reparation for sloth.
  • His work was done. But ours is not. Those who say they need faith alone are the slothful trying to justify themselves.
  • There is no hope for the spiritually slothful in these injunctions. Our Lord is the die; we must be stamped by it. He is the pattern; we must be remodelled to it. The Cross is the condition; we must be nailed to it.
  • Two lessons emerge from this Sixth Word from the Cross witnessing to His finished work and our own unfinished tasks:
      • 1. We must beware of spiritual sloth for its penalties are tremendous – we lost our souls not only by the evil we do, but also by the good we leave undone… “We finish our vocation as He finished His – on a cross and nowhere else” (77)
      • 2. We must work for a complete life – the important word in the struggle against sloth is “finished.” It is not what is done, but why it is done that matters… it is not the work but the worker that counts. All insignificant tasks fulfilled our of a love for God assume supernatural value… No work is finished until we do it for the honour and glory of God.

 

The Seventh Word: Covetousness, “Father, into Thy Hands, I commend my spirit.”

  • Covetousness is an inordinate love of the things of this world. It becomes inordinate if one is not guided by a reasonable end, such as a suitable provision for one’s family, or the future, or if one is too solicitous in amassing wealth, or too parsimonious in dispensing it… It is the pursuit of wealth as an end instead of a means to the above ends, which makes a man covetous (83).
  • Covetousness ruins a man because it hardens the heart. Man becomes like unto that which he loves, and if he loves gold, he becomes like it – cold, hard and yellow (84).
  • Jesus had given up everything in reparation for covetousness, keeping only one thing for Himself that was not a thing – his Spirit. “Father, into Thy Hands I commend My Spirit”. (88).
  • Two lessons:
    • (1) The more ties we have to earth the harder will it be for us to die – where our treasure is, there is our heart also. If we have lived for God, then death is a liberation. The soul with the vow of poverty is more satisfied than the richest covetous man in the world, for the latter has not yet all he wants, while the religious wants nothing.
    • (2) We were never meant to be perfectly satisfied here below – the death of Our Lord on the Cross reveals that we are meant to be perpetually dissatisfied here below… One might say the essence of life is disappointment…. We are disappointed because when we look forward to a future ideal, we endow it with something of the infinity of the soul. I can imagine a mountain of gold, but I shall never see one… That disproportion between the infinite and the finite is the cause of disappointment. We have eternity in our heart, but time on our hands. The soul demands a heaven, and we get only an earth.
    • Everything is disappointing except the Redemptive Love of Our Lord.

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