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“Treat Yo’self!”: When small indulgences take over


Elizabeth Scalia - published on 03/13/17

Permissiveness in parenting raises untrained, wild children who are constantly trying to gauge the lines; they do not understand the idea of boundaries. A daily habit of treating oneself creates a similar disorientation in adults, as well. Benedictine monks and nuns will tell you, “Allow one fault and you will get another.” By this they don’t mean we should be neurotic and over-scrupulous – as though our salvation depends upon our self-willed perfection (an idea which completely disrespects the workings of grace). Rather they mean we must avoid becoming complacent about what permissions we give to ourselves; maintain vigilance in honestly assessing one’s indulgence before it becomes a bad habit, otherwise the boundaries become blurred and hard to discern.

Diminished perspective broadens our self-permissiveness; excuses and rationalizations become easier and easier until, before we know it, our spiritual lives become sabotaged through our comfortable excuses and rationalizations. After a while, we don’t even see our sins as actual sins; they become things we joke about:

  • Remember keep Holy the Lord’s Day: C’mon, my job is demanding and the weekend is short and full of family obligations, and I’m sure I deserve to luxuriate of a Sunday morning with coffee and the paper, instead of heading off to church. God already knows I love him and he wants me to be happy, right?
  • Thou shalt not steal: So, the clerk rang it up at the sale price, when it wasn’t on sale; it’s alright, it’s probably going to be on sale next week; it all balances out, right?
  • Thou shalt not commit adultery:  It’s a best-seller, so what if it’s a little soft-porny? It’s just a fantasy, and it spices things up, and what’s wrong with that as long as I’m a good person?
  • Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord in vain: Oh, madonn’a mi, talk about being scrupulous, why don’t you kiss the g**damn floor over it, already?

It is astounding how easy it is to rationalize our way out of grace and into sin. I confess to having permitted myself a sinful period of “small” but potent self-indulgence in my own life, by way of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. By exploiting a simple line on how maturity and psychological-bearing contributed to behaviors, I rather masterfully (or madly, in retrospect) excused myself from self-accusation and conversion by recognizing that I was immature and psychologically deficient, which case I proved to myself (and eventually to a surprised priest) by suggesting that only someone immature and psychologically dented would grab a line from the Catechism in order to feel alright about her sinfulness, which was born of her immaturity and psychological woes. The priest was so impressed with my creative rationalization that he gave me a creative penance and also ordered me to pray for an increase in vocations because, “if more people start thinking like you, we’re going to need a lot more priests!”

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