Tuesday, March 24, 2009

23. Flee carnal things at their first appearance.

From Khouria Frederica in Baltimore:

If "carnal" means "inappropriately sexual," then this maxim may well have more significance for men than it does for women. Although sexual temptation can be strong for women, if it's truly tempting is is likely to be mixed with *emotional* elements too, such as flattery, romance, and excitement. I remember a New Yorker cartoon that showed a man on a street corner leaning in a car window to talk to the woman driving. He was saying, "Sure, I'll listen to you, baby. I'll listen to you all night long." The caption was "Male Prostitute." So for most women (not St. Mary of Egypt, apparently) a temptation that is empty of anything except the physical / carnal is generally less attractive to women, and might seem unappealing, crude, maybe even repellent.

One thing we can derive from this Maxim is compassion for men, for whom these temptations can seem utterly overwhelming. I remember reading an interview with Dustin Hoffman in which he said that reaching middle age was a relief because the sexual temptations were not so overwhelming as they used to be; he said it used to be like "waking up chained to a maniac." I don't know if women (on average) have *any* temptation that could be described in such terms. People joke about women craving chocolate or new shoes, but it's not like being chained to a maniac. So that would be the first thing to gain from this Maxim -- a respectful sympathy for the guys, and gratitude to God that our temptations lie in other directions.

The element of "flee at first appearance" is beneficial for anyone, with any temptation, though. It is very discouraging to keep falling again and again to the same sin, whatever its nature might be. Resisting it successfully becomes a matter of resisting it *right away*, at the first moment it appears, because a familiar sin gains power instantly, like a tornado. Overall, this Maxim reminds us to be humble and skeptical about our own ability to resist temptation. It is better to reject sin while the temptation is still small than to allow it to blow up like a tornado and sweep us away. As St. Paul said, "Let him who thinks he stands beware lest he fall."


Emily said...

I love that Dustin Hoffman quote; one of my favorite comedians also has a bit about what he calls the "maniac advisor." Yikes! You're right; we have a lot to be thankful for.

For me, the worst temptation along the lines of "carnal" is simply escapism. It's so easy to lose myself and my problems in a book, movie, or website -- because the reality presented in media is not true reality, and therefore is a lot more appealing. It's difficult sometimes to force myself to live in the "real" world, and at times the desire to reject it and reach for an escape borders on the maniacal. How many times have you come home after a hard day and said, "Oh, I just need a glass of wine and a good book?" Relaxation is one thing; refusing to deal with problems is quite another.

Michele Mulder said...

Emily, that is so funny. I think we are polar opposites. The closest I get to desiring wine and a good book are soaking in the bathtub! I lose myself in work even when I am exhausted which is just another way of escapism. I escape by doing so I don't have to deal with the issues of my heart. I can always find something in my house to do, fix, clean or cook. I have been told many times by many people to stop and smell the roses. Lord have mercy.

Aelwyn said...

The last paragraph was very relevant to me. Fleeing at the first sight or resisting as soon as you sense yourself being tempted is not as easy as it might sound. I think sometimes we are so familiar with a temptation, we think, "oh I can handle this." If I could whip the temptation to worry when it first rears its ugly head, it would keep it not just from becoming a tornado for me, but for those around me to handle.

The Forty Maxims

  • 1. Be always with Christ and trust God in everything.
  • 2. Pray, fast and do acts of mercy.
  • 3. Read the Scriptures regularly.
  • 4. Read good books, a little at a time.
  • 5. Practice silence, inner and outer.
  • 6. Cultivate communion with the saints.
  • 7. Be an ordinary person, one of the human race.
  • 8. Live a day, even a part of a day, at a time.
  • 9. Be honest, first of all with yourself.
  • 10. Be faithful in little things.
  • 11. Do your work, then forget it.
  • 12. Do the most difficult and painful things first.
  • 13. Face reality.
  • 14. Be grateful.
  • 15. Be cheerful.
  • 16. Be simple, hidden, quiet and small.
  • 17. Never bring unnecessary attention to yourself.
  • 18. Listen when people talk to you.
  • 19. Be awake and attentive, fully present where you are.
  • 20. Think and talk about things no more than necessary.
  • 21. Speak simply, clearly, firmly, directly.
  • 22. Flee imagination, fantasy, analysis.
  • 23. Flee carnal things at their first appearance.
  • 24. Don’t complain, grumble, murmur or whine.
  • 25. Don’t seek or expect pity or praise.
  • 26. Don’t compare yourself with anyone.
  • 27. Don’t judge anyone for anything.
  • 28. Don’t try to convince anyone of anything.
  • 29. Don’t defend or justify yourself.
  • 30. Be defined and bound by God, not people.
  • 31. Accept criticism gracefully and test it carefully.
  • 32. Give advice only when asked or when it is your duty.
  • 33. Be strict with yourself.
  • 34. Be merciful with yourself and others.
  • 35. Do nothing for people that they can do for themselves.
  • 36. Have a healthy, wholesome hobby.
  • 37. Have no expectations except to be fiercely tempted to your last breath.
  • 38. Endure the trial of yourself and your faults serenely, under God’s mercy.
  • 39. When you fall, get up immediately and start over.
  • 40. Get help when you need it, without fear or shame.