Today, a holy person told me that people leave the Church, either those from the liberal or conservative side, because they are “unprincipled.”
I was surprised at this comment, because principles did not seem to be a problem with these people who are leaving, especially Trads, who are migrating to the SSPX and the schismatic Orthodox Church.
Being principled means having moral standards and following moral rules. For example, we say a person is principled if they are pro-life and work for pro-life projects, such as praying outside of abortion mills. And so on.
We say a sportsperson is principled if he does not cheat, or a politician is principled if she is honest. We say a bank is principled if it invests properly and does not do dodgy business. And so on.
However, what did my holy friend mean when she said that trads are leaving the Church because of a lack of principle?
Now, some trads may not realise that they have left the Church. Again, those who deny the legality and licitness of the Novus Ordo, are denying the authority of the Church to change liturgy and, therefore, have moved away from obedience to the Church.
Being principled implies putting one’s own soul and mind under the rules of something bigger than one’s self.
Here is one good definition from the International Baccalaureate site: a principled person as (is) someone who “…acts with integrity and honesty, with a strong sense of fairness, justice and respect for the dignity of the individual, groups and communities. They take responsibility for their own actions and the consequences that accompany them.” (ibo.org, 2009)
So, what did my friend mean by the trads who are leaving the Church not being principled?
A few points. In order to be principled, one must be living a virtuous life. Now, believe it or not, one cannot free up the virtues in order to live the virtuous life until something happens which most Catholics do not understand. If one has not allowed God to purify one’s mind, imagination, will and senses, the virtues are not free to be “activated.” This is a serious omission of truth rarely spoken about even from the pulpit. Let me take the four cardinal virtues, for example and use Christ’s time at home for 30 years as a backdrop.
Many good Catholics do not understand the cardinal virtues in daily life. Many can see how these operate in extreme circumstances, such as in martyrdom or the life of holiness. To understand how these virtues operate in the ordinary life of the Catholic, one can look to the Hidden Years of Christ in Nazareth.God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, existed before time in Eternal Union in the Trinity lived in total worldly darkness, that is, in the unknown, for thirty years.
The Scriptures state, in Luke 2:51-52, that Christ, the Messiah, the Lord, the Son of God lived in subjection to Mary and Joseph, advancing in grace and wisdom before God and man.
Now, as God, Christ had all grace and all wisdom from before time, but as man, this was not manifested but slowly, and finally, in the epiphanies of the Baptism and the Transfiguration, culminating in the showing of His Godhead in the Resurrection. Christ knew Who He Is from His Conception. In fact, it is a condemned heresy to state that He did not know He was God until His Baptism. One of the points of the narration of Christ being lost in Jerusalem and found explaining the Scriptures to the elders, was to show to all that He knew Who He Is.
But, we can meditate on the four cardinal virtues as lived out by Christ in those hidden years. In a post a few weeks ago, I reviewed these virtues. These virtues are not available to us without penance and suffering which purifies us. I want to revisit St. Ignatius’ clear definitions on the differences between sacrifice, penance and temperance, as temperance is the first virtue I want to examine in this context. Temperance, Ignatius reminds us, is doing away with the superfluous. As in eating, one would not take seconds, for example. This is not the same as penance, which is denying something which we actually need.
Suffering and sacrifice involve penance, but temperance is a daily virtue. It is not extraordinary. Penance actually causes some pain. Temperance does not. Penance would be feeling and being hungry or sleep deprived in order to pray more, which causes some discomfort.
Temperance is the denial of extras. Our example, of course, is Christ. He gave up all the extras. All the glory due to Him was given up in the Incarnation. Becoming a baby, a child, a man, He experienced the denial of the worship due to Him while He was on earth. He also denied Himself certain power. Temperance in living the daily life of a carpenter and a poor one at that, would have entailed not having seconds, or large portions of food and working long hours, incurring fatigue, in order to meet His duties as the adopted son of a carpenter. Christ did not need to be excessive or bold for thirty years—and He is God!!!!
This is hard for us moderns, who rarely deny ourselves anything, to imagine.
That Christ endured more for us, that merely what was His to restrain or moderate, is obvious in the Passion and Death.
One can hardly imagine the Son of God in the humble home of Nazareth. Christ purposefully lived this silent and hidden life to show the laity how to be virtuous in their daily, ordinary lives. There are too many lay people who no longer want to be ordinary, but throw themselves into the public sphere while harbouring vices and not living the virtuous life. Going daily to a TLM may not make one virtuous, although if one is open to grace, this is very possible.
What has this got to do with being principled? Without temperance in speech and thought, one allows one’ s self to fall into intemperance—and this is not only an intellectual sin but a sensual one. Engaging in argument constantly is a lack of temperance. Not suffering with the Church in times of crisis, but running away, is a lack of temperance. I focus on this virtue as this is one which seems to be lacking in Trad commentary, as I noted a few weeks ago. Without prudence, one oversteps humility and falls into pride. Without justice, one forgets one’s own sins and only looks at those of others. Without fortitude, one leaves the Church. To suffer with Christ in the Church and with the Church is a sign of virtue.
However, let me help with the deeper problem of being principled.
Here is the key to becoming principled—getting rid of one’s predominant fault. This is from the famous Thomist, Garrigou-Lagrange.
The predominant fault is the defect in us that tends to prevail over the others, and thereby over our manner of feeling, judging, sympathizing, willing, and acting. It is a defect that has in each of us an intimate relation to our individual temperament.(1) There are temperaments inclined to effeminacy, indolence, sloth, gluttony, and sensuality. Others are inclined especially to anger and pride. We do not all climb the same slope toward the summit of perfection: those who are effeminate by temperament must by prayer, grace, and virtue become strong; and those who are naturally strong, to the point of easily becoming severe, must, by working at themselves and by grace, become gentle.
Before this progressive transformation of our temperament, the predominant defect in the soul often makes itself felt. It is our domestic enemy, dwelling in our interior; for, if it develops, it may succeed in completely ruining the work of grace or the interior life. At times it is like a crack in a wall that seems to be solid but is not so; like a crevice, imperceptible at times but deep, in the beautiful facade of a building, which a vigorous jolt may shake to the foundations. For example, an antipathy, an instinctive aversion to someone, may, if it is not watched over and corrected by right reason, the spirit of faith, and charity, produce disasters in the soul and lead it to grave injustice. By yielding to such an antipathy, it does itself far more harm than it does its neighbor, for it is much more harmful to commit injustice than to be the object of it predominant fault is so much the more dangerous as it often compromises our principal good point, which is a happy inclination of our nature that ought to develop and to be increased by grace. For example, a man is naturally inclined to gentleness; but if by reason of his predominant fault, which may be effeminacy, his gentleness degenerates into weakness, into excessive indulgence, he may even reach the complete loss of energy. Another, on the contrary, is naturally inclined to fortitude, but if he gives free rein to his irascible temperament, fortitude in him degenerates into unreasonable violence, the cause of every type of disorder.
A person cannot be principled without dealing with his or hers predominant fault. This irascible temperament is one which those who call themselves prophets have—a type of anger, which if righteous can bring truth into a situation, but if not righteousness, if blurred by the predominant fault, becomes an anger of revenge and harping criticism. If one does not deal with one’s predominant fault, a person will remain a slave to sin.
To be principled means abiding by rules greater than one’s self. Transcending one’s personal feelings and ideas.
To be principled means bowing to the rules of Holy Mother Church and enduring suffering for Her sake. Two more quotations from Garrigou-Lagrange may help.
But how can we discern it? For beginners who are sincere, this is quite easy. But later the predominant fault is less apparent, for it tries to hide itself and to put on the appearances of a virtue: pride clothes itself in the outward appearances of magnanimity, and pusillanimity seeks to cover itself with those of humility. Yet we must succeed in discerning the predominant fault, for if we do not know it, we cannot fight it; and if we do not fight it, we have no true interior life.
That we may discern it, we must first of all ask God for light: “Lord, make me know the obstacles I more or less consciously place in the way of the working of Thy grace in me. Then give me the strength to rid myself of them, and, if I am negligent in doing so, do Thou deign to free me from them, though I should suffer greatly.”
After thus asking sincerely for light, we must make a serious examination. How? By asking ourselves: “Toward what do my most ordinary preoccupations tend, in the morning when I awake, or when I am alone? Where do my thoughts and desires go spontaneously?” We should keep in mind that the predominant fault, which easily commands all our passions, takes on the appearance of a virtue and, if it is not opposed, it may lead to impenitence. Judas fell into impenitence through avarice, which he did not will to dominate; it led him to impenitence like a violent wind that hurls a ship on the rocks.
A second step in discerning the predominant fault, is to ask ourselves: “What is generally the cause or source of my sadness and joy? What is the general motive of my actions, the ordinary origin of my sins, especially when it is not a question of an accidental sin, but rather a succession of sins or a state of resistance to grace, notably when this resistance persists for several days and leads me to omit my exercises of piety?” Then we must seek sincerely to know the motive of the soul’s refusal to return to the good.
In addition, we must ask ourselves: “What does my director think of this? In his opinion, what is my predominant fault? He is a better judge than I am.” No one, in fact, is a good judge in his own case; here self-love deceives us. Often our director has discovered this fault before we have; perhaps he has tried more than once to talk to us about it. Have we not sought to excuse ourselves? Excuses come promptly, for the predominant fault easily excites all our passions: it commands them as a master, and they obey instantly. Thus, wounded self-love immediately excites irony, anger, impatience. Moreover, when the predominant fault has taken root in us, it experiences a particular repugnance to being unmasked and fought, because it wishes to reign in us. This condition sometimes reaches such a point that, when our neighbor accuses us of this fault, we reply that we have many bad habits, but truly not the one mentioned”.(4)
The predominant fault may also be recognized by the temptations that our enemy arouses most frequently in us, for he attacks us especially through this weak point in our soul.
Lastly, in moments of true fervor the inspirations of the Holy Ghost ask us for the sacrifice of this particular fault.
Humility is key…remember Christ in Nazareth, a backwater, small town. Christ was only active for three years, the years which led directly to HIs crucifixion. As laity, most people should meditate on those hidden years.
By Jamie Hunter
JMJ, pray for us!
God is good,