Man had lost, through his disobedience, the grace of the Holy Spirit. Thus, the Lord states, “My Spirit shall not remain with them.” However, the grace of the Lord was available to them. He granted them a period of 120 years to repent. Lacking this grace, however, man can easily fall victim to the temptations of the enemy, for our sheer willpower alone can never overcome the devil’s temptations. Further, his will was weakened by his very disobedience.
This is so often a mistake that we repeat over and over again. We feel as though we can become holy and perfect through our own resolve, rather than relying on the grace of God to help us. We foolishly believe that we can accomplish whatever we “set our minds to” through our own strength. I’ve often jokingly stated that if willpower were enough, the gyms would be just as busy on March 20th as they are on January 1st. Even worse, we often feel as though our willpower alone will be enough while actively, consciously living in a state of disobedience to the teachers of the Lord. I think of this whenever the Church prescribes a fast and people take it upon themselves to violate, or worse, argue against the fast that the Church prescribes. When we train our minds and wills to give into whatever impulse it desires, we are training ourselves to maintain the same sense of pride that initially caused the fall. The Scripture teaches us to “Repent and turn back to the Lord,” and rather than living in obedience to this plain command, we argue what it means to repent. Jesus commands us to feed the poor, and rather than feeding the poor, we argue about the word feed, we argue about who is poor. The Lord tells us to love our neighbor and we question who is our neighbor. Again, I hearken back to fasting, the Church says to fast and we argue about the “traditions of men,” completely ignoring the multiple times in Scripture where we are told of the value of fasting. The Scripture says that if we forgive one who wrongs us, so will our Father in heaven forgive us, but that if we don’t forgive then neither will He forgive us, and we argue that to apply that to our theology is “works based salvation.”
In the surest sign of our fallen state, we embrace our disobedience and idolize our own willpower, our pride in our ability to do whatever we set our minds to; we worship at the altar of self and trust in our own wisdom. Jesus warns that “as it was in the days of Noah” and we say that we believe that statement, but we don’t seem to hearken to the warning. Our lives, instead, are characterized by St Paul’s warning to Timothy. We live our entire lives as lovers of self; as sons of disobedience. Of all of the commands that Jesus gave us, the only one that we even claim to obey is to “believe in Him,” and our very lives show that to be lacking.
Jesus tells us that He is with us always, but do our lives reflect that we believe that? Is there anything in our lives that we do, things that we would never consider doing in the presence of our parents; our children; our spouse; a police officer? If the answer to any of this is yes, then we must pay heed to St Paul’s warning that we test ourselves to see that we are in the faith. I so often hear concerning confession that we don’t need to confess to another person, that our sins are between us and God; but I ask, if you believe that God is always with you, then how were you able to perform anything that you would be embarrassed to tell to your priest? See, this isn’t a question of whether we will sin, we will. It’s a matter of seeking His guidance to cease from willfully sinning, and the most important part of doing that is to turn away from that willful disobedience and seek His grace in helping us to stop from sinning. There are steps in obedience that we must take to find in His grace the strength to turn to Him, and away from the Lord. I think of the alcoholic. Alcoholism is a disease, and no one can ever fully recover from it on their own. However, they can make the willful decision to not go to a bar. They can make the willful decision to maintain the thrice daily prayer rule of the Church. And, in doing so, they draw closer to the Lord, willing to make the sacrifices necessary; walking in obedience with the Lord, they are able to overcome these temptations through His grace.
The Lord will allow us to walk in sin so long as we, in our free will, choose to do so. However, the moment we show Him that we are willing to make the sacrifices necessary to walk in holiness instead, then He will grant us the grace to turn away from that willingness to sinful disobedience. And then, when we do stumble and fall, which we will, we repent and confess our sins, knock the dirt off, say Lord have mercy, and trust in His grace to help us resume.
Christ is in our midst.