AVOIDING THE OCCASIONS OF SIN.
We read in the Gospel that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, and also that Lazarus rose. Christ rose to die no more — Christ rising from the dead dieth now no more (Rom. vi. 9). Lazarus, too, rose, but died again. The Abbot Guerric remarks that Christ arose free and unbound, but Lazarus came forth bound feet and hands (Jo. xi. 44). Miserable the man, adds this author, who rises from sin, yet linked to any dangerous occasion: he will die again by losing the Divine grace. He, then, who wishes to save his soul, must not only abandon sin, but also the occasions of sin; that is, he must renounce such an intimacy, such a house; he must renounce those wicked companions, and all similar occasions that incite him to sin.
In consequence of original sin we all have an inclination to do what is forbidden. Hence St. Paul complained that he experienced in himself a law opposed to reason: But I see another law in my members, fighting against the law of my mind, and captivating me in the law of sin (Rom. vii. 23). Now, when a dangerous occasion is present, it violently excites our corrupt desires, so that it is then very difficult to resist them: because God withholds efficacious helps from those who voluntarily expose themselves by going into or remaining in the occasion of sin. He that loveth danger shall perish in it (Ecclus. iii. 27). “When,” says St. Thomas, “we expose ourselves to danger, God abandons us in it.” St. Bernardine of Sienna teaches that the counsel of avoiding the occasions of sin is the best of all counsels, and, as it were, the foundation of religion.
St. Peter says that the devil, as a roaring lion, goeth about seeking whom he may devour (1 Pet. v. 8). He is constantly going about seeking our souls, and endeavouring to enter and take possession of them. Hence he seeks to place before us the occasions of sin, by which he enters the soul, says St. Cyprian. When the soul yields to the suggestions of the devil, and exposes itself to the occasions of sin, he easily enters and devours it. The ruin of our First Parents arose from their not flying from the occasion of sin. We read that in answer to the wicked serpent tempting her Eve said: God hath commanded us that we should not eat, and that we should not touch it (Gen. 3). But she saw, took, and ate the forbidden fruit: she first looked at it, she then took it into her hands, and afterwards ate it. This is what ordinarily happens to all who expose themselves to the occasions of sin. Hence, being once compelled by exorcisms to tell what sermon displeased him the most, the devil confessed that it was the sermon on avoiding the occasions of sin. As long as we expose ourselves to the occasions of sin, the devil laughs at all our good purposes and all our promises made to God. The greatest care of the enemy is to induce us not to abandon evil occasions; for these occasions, like a veil placed before the eyes, prevent us from seeing either the lights received from God, or the Eternal Truths, or the resolutions we have made: in a word, they make us forget all, and as it were force us into sin.
Know it to be a communication with death; for thou art going in the midst of snares (Ecclus. ix. 20). Every one born in this world enters into the midst of snares. Hence the Wise Man advises those who wish to guard themselves securely against the snares of the world to withdraw from them, for he that is aware of the snares shall be secure (Prov. xi. 15). But if, instead of withdrawing from them, a Christian goes near to them; how can he avoid being caught by them? Hence, after having with so much loss learned the danger of exposing himself to the danger of sin, David said that to continue faithful to God he kept at a distance from every occasion which could lead him to relapse. I have restrained my feet from every evil way that I may keep thy words (Ps. cxviii. 101). He does not say from every sin, but from every evil way which conducts to sin.
The devil is careful to find pretexts to make us believe that certain occasions to which we expose ourselves are not voluntary but necessary. When the occasion in which we are placed is really necessary, the Lord always helps us to avoid sin; but we sometimes imagine certain necessities which are not sufficient to excuse us. “A treasure is never safe,” says St. Cyprian, “as long as a robber is harboured within; nor is a lamb secure while it dwells in the same den with a wolf.” The Saint speaks against those who do not wish to remove themselves from the occasions of sin, and say: “I am not afraid I shall fall.” As no one can be secure of his treasure if he keeps a thief in his house, and as a lamb cannot be sure of its life if it remains in the den of a wolf, so likewise no one can be secure of the treasure of Divine grace if he is resolved to continue in the occasion of sin. St. James teaches that every man has within himself a powerful enemy, that is, his own evil inclinations, which tempt him to sin. Every man is tempted by his own concupiscence, drawn away and allured (James i. 14). If, then, we do not fly from the external occasions, how can we resist temptations and avoid sin? Let us, therefore, place before our eyes the general remedy which Jesus has prescribed for conquering temptations and saving our souls. If thy right eye scandalize thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee (Matt. v. 29). if you find that your right eye is to you a cause of damnation, you must pull it out and cast it far from you; which means that when there is danger of losing your soul you must fly from all evil occasions, cost what it may.
St. Francis of Assisi used to say that the devil does not seek, in the beginning, to bind timorous souls with the chain of mortal sin; because they would be alarmed at the thought of committing mortal sin, and would fly from it with horror. He endeavours to bind them by a single thread which does not excite much fear; for by this means he will succeed more easily in strengthening their bonds and by degrees make them his slaves. Hence he who wishes to be free from the danger of being the slave of hell must break all the threads by which the enemy attempts to bind him; that is, he must avoid all occasions of sin, such as certain salutations, letters, little presents, and words of affection. With regard to those who have had a habit of impurity, it will not be sufficient to avoid proximate occasions; if they do not fly from remote occasions they will very easily relapse into their former sins.