Friday, November 9, 2012

Bridling Our Passions

Catholicism teaches of the Seven Deadly Sins: wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy and gluttony. These sins are considered the root of all other sin in Catholic doctrine and threaten the soul of an offender with eternal damnation because they destroy the grace and charity within a person. A person who is guilty can repent, however, and through the conversion of their heart and the gift of the sacrament they can regain the grace once lost.

Each of the Seven Deadly Sins is a concession of our will to the impulses and instincts of our physical bodies. The gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us that these impulses are not in themselves sinful. Paul taught that our bodies were sacred, not unlike a temple (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). They are a gift from God for our premortal valiance, a necessary tool in our progression on earth, and a part of our eternal reward as we are resurrected after death.

Indeed, our appetites can greatly benefit our overall wellness as they communicate to our consciousness which foods will satisfy our body's nutritional needs. Emotions add richness and depth to our lives as we mourn a lost friend, find pleasure in a job well done, gain trust others or even celebrate our team's game-winning score. Sex drive brings spouses together and preserves humankind. These and other impulses preserve our lives and and joy to our existence.

Yet, since the time of Adam, 'Satan hath come among the children of men, and tempteth them to worship him; and men have become carnal, sensual, and devilish, and are shut out from the presence of God' (Moses 6:49). If we allow our impulses to control our behavior, rather than training them to align with an overarching life mission to return to live with God and using our mind and will to make rational decisions, we surrender our agency to chance and submit our lives to be tossed to and fro by whatever cravings may come along.

For this reason, King Benjamin taught the people of ancient America that 'the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit' (Mosiah 3:19). Abinadi explained that 'he that persists in his own carnal nature, and goes on in the ways of sin and rebellion against God, remaineth in his fallen state and the devil hath all power over him. Therefore he is as though there was no redemption made, being an enemy to God; and also is the devil an enemy to God' (Mosiah 16:5).

As we look around our troubled world, many of the tragedies and social plagues we observe are the result of surrendering to the carnal demands of our undisciplined flesh. Obesity has become an epidemic that diminishes our ability to serve others by restricting our movement, endurance and lifespans. Large political rifts divide countries and harden hearts as powerful emotions crowd out the rational thoughts that would help us resolve our differences, adopt a common vision and cooperate to find real solutions. Broken homes, broken hearts and shattered dreams lie in the wake of the millions upon millions who have been shredded by infidelity, pornography, fornication, sexual perversions, sex crimes and other abhorrent sexual behavior that is too often complicated by abortions, domestic disputes, and the crushing weight of shame and guilt.

It is a relief to know that God has provided commandments to steer us away from the kinds of actions that would, sooner or later, lead to our own misery. Paul taught:

For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are after the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not after the flesh, but after the Spirit, if it so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you... For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do subdue the deeds of the body, ye shall live (Romans 8:5-9, 13).

Like the boundaries of an athletic field, the laws of God help us keep our focus on the things we must do to be successful and happy in our lives. They do not prevent us from crossing the line; they only warn us that we cannot reach our goals or be successful in life if we do not keep ourselves in the field of play.

We remain 'in the game' as we heed the Lord's warning, given through his prophet, Alma, to 'bridle all [our] passions, that [we] may be filled with love'. A bridle on a horse does not debilitate a horse, but rather channels the horse's strength and power to move horse and rider toward their destination. We bridle our passions as we exercise discipline and focus our body's powerful appetites on doing good.

On the first Sunday of each month, we choose to fast for 24 hours and give of our incomes to the poor and afflicted. This bridle invigorates our spirits and gives us power to control our hunger.

We can combat carnal selfishness as we make conscious decisions to serve others. As with fasting, using the bridle of selfless service is often immediately rewarded with gratitude and joy.

Deciding to do good and exercising the willpower to follow through will provide many opportunities to bridle our passions and build spiritual strength. Consciously choosing virtuous thoughts can protect our souls from the threats of sexual sin. Putting aside a video game for a few days or leaving an inappropriate movie can provide an opportunity to find the same emotional satisfaction through a more meaningful activity. Staying productive will steer our souls through the temptations and carnal cravings that may seem louder when we are idle.

As we consciously choose to do right, our lives will be happy, our countenances will shine bright, and our carnal natures will give way to the divinity with us. The Lord taught Alma:

Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters; And thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.

If we will rise above the carnal natures represented by the Seven Deadly Sins and choose to use our agency to live righteous lives, we will be able to rejoice as Alma when he said: 'My soul hath been redeemed from the gall of bitterness and bonds of iniquity. I was in the darkest abyss; but now I behold the marvelous light of God. My soul was racked with eternal torment; but I am snatched, and my soul is pained no more' (Mosiah 27:25-29).

1 comment:

  1. Given this, it strikes me that one of the biggest implications of the principles addressed however briefly here is that we cannot justify acting in a particular way simply because, "I felt like it." Our body can give us information about what we need, but we are expected to make disciplined decisions with our minds and souls. Even perceived needs could lead down a dark path if not evaluated against our best logic and the promptings of the spirit. Our task is to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and use our agency to align our will with the will of God. It is to act, not to be acted upon. And avoiding the bad just isn't good enough-- we must be actively choosing and pursuing good. Discipline, wisdom and a relationship to the divine are not only assets, but essential to consciously develop and build up. With practice doing good, we'll find somewhere along the line that we become good.