Training of the Christian Soldier: Custody of the Senses
Training of the Christian Soldier:
Custody of the Senses
Considerations from a guide for young people are helpful for us all
We shall never be able to control ourselves until we learn to control our outward senses, because everything we learn comes through our senses.
If the eyes are allowed to look at everything they wish to see, they will often draw one to impurity, covetousness, envy, pride, gluttony, and other sins. The Christian soldier gains strength to control his eyes when they want to look at forbidden things by forming the habit of refusing to look even at things which are permissible, especially out of mere curiosity.
Have you ever tried passing an attractive show window without looking? Are you able to close a book when your mother calls, even though you are right at the exciting part? How often do you yield to a curious: Who is it? when someone comes into the library, the study hall, or your home? How many catalogs and webpages have engaged you with tantalizing headlines? Make a list of practical opportunities to exercise this custody of the eyes. It is one of the secrets of sanctity and of interior happiness.
The ears should not be allowed to listen to everything. The Christian who is in earnest about his quest for happiness will sometimes refuse to listen, especially when mere curiosity is the motive. Such acts of self-denial build up strength to refuse to listen to uncharitable talk or improper language. Gossip and calumnies are spread to eager ears: How often do you encourage others to these sins by giving audience? What about music and radio news that sensationalize inappropriate behaviors? How many opportunities can you list for checking curiosity of the ears?
Not only the eyes and the ears, but the sense of smell also is to be restrained. If perfume is used, it should be used with Christian moderation. Certainly its excessive use is a sign of un-Christian softness and sensuousness.
There are abundant opportunities to exercise discipline over our tongues both as to speech and as to the sense of taste. See how many instances you can enumerate where control of speech is in order. As for food, too much, too rich, or too highly seasoned foods weaken control of our senses. Do you practice any little acts of self-discipline or mortification at table? Do you sometimes eat at least a little of something you do not like? Do you sometimes take a little less of something you like very much? Are you able to give up the second piece of cake or pie? Do you sometimes refuse yourself candy? Did you ever try the experiment of walking past an enticing candy display without buying any, even though you desired it and had money in your pocket which you were free to spend? Did you ever give the money as an alms to the missions or to the poor for the love of Christ?
Our sense of touch is to be curbed also. Indulging the sense of touch by insisting on ease and comfort in everything, giving way to bodily laziness, or permitting fondling or caressing is dangerous. The passions are easily aroused through this sense, and holy purity is thus endangered.
The virtue of purity is so beautiful and precious that we should take every precaution and make use of every safeguard in order to protect it. The Holy Ghost in the Book of Wisdom says: “How beautiful is the chaste generation with glory: for the memory thereof is immortal: because it is known both with God and with men. “ (Wis. 4:1). Our Lord praises the pure of heart: “Blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God. “ (Matt. 5:8). Therefore, unless we are pure of heart we shall not receive the infinite reward of the Beatific Vision. Disciplining our sense of touch is one way of preserving our treasure of purity.
Do you always assume the most comfortable position? Do you observe correct postures in walking, standing, or sitting? Do you complain immediately of cold or heat? Do you insist on the best, though another member of the family may have to make a sacrifice in consequence? Do you insist on the smartest outfits, refusing to wear anything which is the least bit out of style? Do you usually choose the most comfortable chair for yourself?
This practice of self-discipline – this guarding of the senses – is the ABC of living a Christian life. Are there those of us who have grown into adulthood and have not yet begun to learn the alphabet of the spiritual life?
We have the example of the saints to encourage us in the practice of self-denial or self-discipline, for they all exercised vigilant control over their senses. Many of them are outstanding for having chastised their bodies with severe penances.
Our best penances will usually be the faithful performance of our duties towards God, our neighbor, and ourselves. In fact, the little things are far more difficult and much more important. Take, for example, the willing acceptance of the little trials and crosses which Providence allows us to suffer and the little acts of self-denial which are necessary to control our body and senses in order to win our eternal salvation.
Fasting and Abstinence
Our Blessed Lord fasted forty days and forty nights before He began His mission. The Church, true to His teaching, has established the Lenten fast, that of the Vigils and of the Ember Days, as well as the abstinence of Fridays, in order to give her children the opportunity to curb their appetites and thus atone for their sins.
Prayer is a powerful supernatural means of obtaining control over our senses. Our petitions to our Heavenly Father for light, strength, and courage to practice self-denial for love of Him, will always be answered. He knows our frailties and our entire dependence on Him and will always give us the necessary strength to combat our weaknesses. We must, of course, cooperate. Therefore, in difficulties and temptations we should immediately turn to Him by humble, confident, and persevering prayer. For He has said: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it shall be opened. “ (Matt. 7:7-8).
Chief Antidotes for the Poison of Concupiscence
The great means of counteracting the disorders of concupiscence are the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist and devotion to the Blessed Virgin.
Frequent reception of the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist is the most powerful means of checking our wayward passions and temptations. In Holy Communion we receive the Body of Jesus Christ, in whom all the passions were indeed present, but subject to His will and under perfect control. We receive His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity – the whole Christ who is the source of all our graces.
Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary
In Mary, the Immaculate Virgin, the passions were also under the perfect control of the will. She knows, however, how strong they are within us and so She, whom we love to call our Immaculate Mother and Queen, is eager to assist Her children in their struggle to win happiness. She, who was without stain of sin, is powerful to obtain graces for those who must combat the enemy in themselves.
In our endeavors to be vigilant against our own weaknesses, we can pray with the Daily Office, “Let the folly of impurity find in us no place. May moderation of food and drink wear down the body’s pride, so that when day is done and night, as God planned, has returned, we may be found free from sin through our self-restraint, and thus sing praise to Him: to God the Father, be glory, and to His only Son, with the Spirit, the Paraclete, now and forever. Amen. “
- from Our Quest for Happiness, by Rev. Clarence E. Elwell, Ph.D., et al., slightly adapted and amplified by Susan Vennari
- from the September 2014 issue of Catholic Family News
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