At the heart of St. Ignatius’ “Spiritual Exercises” is what he calls the agere contra principle–to “act against” those things that trouble us. Let’s say I have a tendency toward overindulging in food, sex, or alcohol. I must find a way to actively battle against that tendency, to actively fast from food, for example. Let’s say I’m tempted to badmouth people or be too critical. I need to act against that by, for example, praising people throughout Lent. I might alternatively choose to write a thank-you note, or a note of praise, each day during Lent. In Ignatius’ view, sin is like a bent stick that we need to bend back in the other direction–that’s the agere contra principle.
We see this same idea in Dante’s writings, especially in his Purgatorio, which I mentioned yesterday. As the seven deadly sins are being purged, the people on the mountain of Purgatory are forced to oppose the sins they previously indulged in. For instance, the envious are turned outward toward others but their eyelids are sewn shut, forcing them to look inward. The slothful, those who indulge in laziness, are made to run around Purgatory without end. These examples illustrate agere contra. Once we reflect on our attachments, we can begin working in the other direction against them.
|Habit worn by St. Francis of Assisi|
A second powerful strategy against sin is to perform the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Venerable Fulton Sheen noted the expulsive power of the good. When wickedness bubbles up within us, we can brood about it and try to manage it directly, or we can expel it by performing good works, by flooding out the bad with the good. Dorothy Day had it right: “Everything a baptized person does each day should be directly or indirectly related to the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.” Make sure your life is filled up with those works and it will generate an expulsive power that helps defeat your sin.
“Once we reflect on our attachments, we can begin working in the other direction against them.”
– Father Robert Barron