The motto of the Boy Scouts of America is “Be Prepared.” Having been a Boy Scout in my youth, I am grateful to this venerable organization for teaching me how to be prepared so that I could provide first aid to my younger brother many, many years ago when he put his fist through a pane of glass. Noticing the profuse bleeding, I used my handkerchief as a tourniquet and put the small end of a spoon through the knot I tied and then twisted it clockwise until I could see that my dear sibling’s arm was no longer spouting blood. That was first aid. I then handed my brother over to the medical specialists so they could provide second aid.
First aid can save lives. Its importance is certainly not to be underestimated. Yet, in the realm of morality, it is so often ignored when the first sign of immorality appears.
In the secular world, where indulgence reigns, there is a tendency to wait until the next mishap occurs before the tourniquet is applied — which is really second aid in the moral realm. First aid in the same realm, as provided by the Church’s teachings and, ultimately, the grace of God, is actually a kind of preventative moral medicine — a tourniquet applied to the soul tempted by sin.
For example, the world says, “Don’t drive when you are drunk.” The Church says, “Don’t get drunk.” The world says, “Don’t be promiscuous unless you use a condom.” The Church says, “Don’t be promiscuous.” The world says, “Don’t use harmful drugs without a clean needle.” The Church says, “Don’t use harmful drugs.” The world says, “Don’t feel guilty about sexual indiscretions.” The Church says, “Don’t get involved in sexual indiscretions.”
We might say that whereas medical first aid can save lives, moral first aid can save souls. But we must know when and where to place the tourniquet that will allow us to steer clear of the sins that would leave our souls bleeding to death.
In the modern secular world, given its permissiveness, the moral tourniquet arrives belatedly and often offers little by way of aid. Damage has already taken place. The initial problem is ignored and then becomes compounded by a succeeding problem. At that point the moral bleeding is much more difficult — if not impossible — to stanch. D.H. Lawrence expressed the matter most eloquently when he wrote: “We are bleeding at the roots because we are cut off from the earth and sun and stars. Love has become a grinning mockery because, poor blossom, we plucked it from its stem on the Tree of Life and expected it to keep blooming in our civilized vase on the table.”
There is much in D.H. Lawrence’s works that Catholics would find objectionable, especially regarding his overwrought depictions of sexual encounters. His collected works, however, represent an extended reflection upon the dehumanizing effects of modernity and industrialization. In this regard, he has something of importance to say, and he often says it quite dramatically.
We are cut off from God, who is the Author of the “earth and sun and stars.” We have created for ourselves a godless and artificial world of presumed self-sufficiency. When bleeding first occurs (metaphorically speaking), it is not taken seriously. First aid is not applied. Therefore, second aid will be less effective. Soon, the problem gets out of hand. Our moral health is no longer “blooming” in the artificial climate in which we have placed it. We continue to bleed and wonder why the various bromides the secular world provides, including self-help books and philosophy, have failed us.
The Church, being eminently practical, instructs us in how to deal with temptation. “I can resist anything but temptation,” Oscar Wilde once quipped. But temptation is not a laughing matter for the Church. She wants to prevent the bleeding from ever getting started. She should not be derided for this. Her practicality should be taken to heart and even praised. She does not suffer from the shortsightedness that plagues the secular world.
Temptation is the devil’s point of entrance. That is precisely where our spiritual tourniquet should be applied. We want to keep the devil out so that he does not block God’s passageway into our souls. We do not want to bleed at the roots. Our roots should be used as conduits for God’s grace.
Some anonymous pundit once said, “A woman flees from temptation, but a man just crawls away from it in the cheerful hope it may overtake him.” This remark, humorous as it is, is not entirely devoid of truth. At the same time, another pundit remarked: “Opportunity knocks only once, but temptation leans on the doorbell.” Nonetheless temptation neither divides the sexes nor is it unremitting in its persistence. We are all tempted in various ways, which is to say, tempted to do the wrong thing.
It is a human weakness, but one that does not lack a cure. The temptation of Christ is detailed in Matthew (4:1-11), Mark (1:12,13) and Luke (4:1-13). After Jesus was baptized, he fasted for 40 days and 40 nights in the Judean desert, during which time Satan tried to tempt him three times. The temptations were associated with the sins of avarice, gluttony and pride. After being refused each temptation, Satan departed, and Christ began his ministry. These Gospel passages indicate the elementary importance of resisting temptation. They also indicate where the tourniquet must be placed. Christ is our model for resisting temptation and refusing to allow the devil to gain entrance into our life. He also delineates the starting point for spiritual progress.
The 40 days of Lent, mirroring the 40 days that Christ spent in the desert, direct us to ward off temptation so that we can become more complete Christians, so that we can become whole — and no longer find ourselves bleeding at the roots.
Donald DeMarco’s latest book is
Notes From the Underground: Dialogue With a
World in Disarray,
posted on Amazon.com.