I was reading an excerpt from Augustine of Hippo in the Magnificat titled Temptation and Perseverance. While it may not sound particularly gripping, this extract was quite enlightening. It was typical of Augustine. Straight to the point, with no frills attached.
His topic was a familiar one to anyone who has ever had one moment to consider God’s intervention in our lives. He doesn’t so much raise the question, as he makes the statement: God tests us. In fact, God tests us, Augustine says, not because God is “so ignorant of things, so unacquainted with the human heart that he has to find out about a man by testing him,” but in order that the “person may find out about himself.”
I found his statement intriguing. Augustine points out that through this testing God brings out hidden things in us that we must confront. St. John of the Cross, as well, in Dark Night of the Soul says that it is a purification when these obstacles to our union with God are arrested, for retaining them is not good for us.
The truth is, they get in the way by weighing us down. We carry them in the deep recesses of our being, pretending they are not harming us, when in reality, they are. In fact, Augustine notes, we may not even be aware of them ourselves, so it is important that through testing, they are brought out. As we become free, we can move closer to God, unrestricted by these encumbrances. God can help us do this most difficult work.
This testing, Augustine says, is to teach us, whereas the devil tests us to mislead us. God our Creator knows us better than we know ourselves, and these trials and temptations, he says, are necessary in order for us to come to know ourselves.
Now all of this talk about knowing ourselves, and God teaching us by testing, might sound a bit vague, but the fact is, there are a whole host of “hidden” elements to everyone’s life that are often endured alone, in secret, that if acknowledged and released, would free us to love God and others as we ought.
The freedom to love unhindered is exactly what God wants for us.
This freedom cannot be experienced when we dwell on uninvited thoughts that create tension within us, or when our actions cause us great suffering. These temptations must rise to the surface and be loosened from us.
Of course, none of this work being done in us happens outside the mercy of God. After all, God created us. He knows our impulses, our weaknesses, our thoughts and our actions. He knows our sins. God loves us and constantly draws us nearer himself.
A sure relief from these so-called hidden, interior challenges to holiness is the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It is here, in this Sacrament, that those things that cause us the most shame can be brought to light. Our priests are there in the Person of Christ to offer God’s forgiveness. So, too, they can help us sort out what is sinful and what is not, for often that which we think is sinful is not, and that which we easily dismiss should be given greater consideration.
I always figure that if there is one thing you least want to confess, that is probably the very thing you need to confess the most. It is probably causing you the most trouble. We should never let fear prevent us from confessing, lest we want to stunt our spiritual growth! The Sacrament of Reconciliation is a beautiful gift given to us by Jesus out of love and we are so very fortunate to have this amazing recourse in our fight against sin.
In the Magnificat meditation, Augustine quotes Psalm 19:12, which is a prayerful verse that is helpful in loosening the ties that bind us:
“From my hidden sins cleanse me, O Lord.”
Ask God for help to free you from these sins, for it is through his power, and his power alone, that the freedom to go forth in love, unhindered, is possible.
Copyright 2013 Janet Cassidy