Post 218

The Fruit on the Branch on the Tree in the Garden:
Reflections on Temptation

One of the most important things to notice about temptation is that the object of your temptation will invariably have something appealing about it. The object of your temptation will draw you in because it appears to offer you something that you do not have, whether it is safety from a threat, enjoyment of something tangible, such as something tasty to eat, or enjoyment of something intangible, such as fame or friendship.

Money is an interesting one, because in the past, I think it was more common to enjoy the physical quality of it. Gold and silver coins can have a pleasing appearance, and I do not question those stories about misers who would spend their time in their treasure rooms, playing with their loot.

Nowadays, money is something far more abstract. Money is represented by figures on a computer screen. By studying some numbers, some people’s feelings become very stirred up. I was initially going to say that some people are very pleased upon studying their financial numbers, but then I remembered that usually the wealthy are not particularly pleased by how much money they have. Usually they are dissatisfied, because they want more. The pot of gold is always just out of reach. They feel that if they just had a little bit more, then they would finally be able to rest — they would finally be able to put their mind at ease.

Those who love money so often live their lives in a state of hidden agitation. They are constantly looking over their shoulder, and comparing what they have to what others have. When they learn about Trump’s wealth, for instance, they feel like paupers. It’s disconcerting for them.

As for me, I wouldn’t want Trump’s wealth. I don’t buy lottery tickets, because I don’t want to run the risk of winning. And as for numbers on a computer screen, I can always make myself as many numbers as I want.

I can write this for instance: $240,306.

How does that feel? Does that sound like a good salary for a year? How would it have felt to collect that much, for the year 2014? According to the audited financial statements of Trinity, that’s how much was paid to the director of Wisdom Home Schooling. I didn’t realize that those figures were available online until a friend sent me the link yesterday. Whoo boy.

If you don’t like those numbers, then I could write this: $243,936.

Does that feel better? It’s the amount paid to the director in 2015. Page 14 of the financial statements has lots of numbers, if you like numbers.

That audited report has an interesting entry. After listing what was paid to the Director of Wisdom, it lists amounts paid to “Relatives of the Director of Wisdom Home Schooling.” That wording is interesting because Wisdom ain’t a family business in the normal fashion. When you picture a ‘family business,’ you picture a situation where Ed’s dad starts making sausages, but being poor, enlists the help of any able-bodied family members, who work for less pay than they could receive elsewhere. Eventually, the money starts to come in, and Ed is able to buy a better sausage machine. Things get better and better and then finally the town decides to honour the family by constructing a gigantic fiberglass sausage.

When you picture a family business, you envision a situation where someone started from almost nothing, and people in the family made personal (often financial) sacrifices to make everything work. Family businesses are often a testament to the power of cooperation among family members in order to create and maintain a business.

If such enterprises decide to enjoy the gains from their hard work between the people and party it up regularly on Whyte Avenue, I begrudge them nothing. I myself have been involved in a family business; the income was initially so embarrassingly low that I wouldn’t answer my colleague, who wanted to know how much I made. I remember that. He asked repeatedly.

Joining a venture begun by a family member was a sacrifice I was willing to make. When my colleagues pursued lucrative opportunities, I declined, for the sake of family. And I stuck with it, through good times and bad. That’s a typical family-business story.

Wisdom is not a family business in this way, however, because it is based on receiving free money from the government. But to be clear, it is based on someone else (=Trinity) receiving a grant from the government to accomplish certain things, and then passing 95% of it along to them (=Wisdom). In such a case, more is not merrier. Having more family members collecting salaries does not reflect positively, and is not an example of cooperating to build, or create or make. It is an example of cooperating to take. They approved each others’ salaries and paid their expenses without questioning.

But look at this report. What a big change here! In 2014, the amount was $196,501 and in 2015, the amount given to “Relatives of the Director of Wisdom Home Schooling” was $389,366. I wonder what happened. It’s almost double the amount! So either the Director got a whole bunch of new relatives, or else the relatives just got a whole bunch of new cash.

Whew. Them’s big numbers, especially when you consider that the families who were and are relying on Wisdom are not usually raking it in themselves. Most of those families are one-income households and some of them struggle to make ends meet.

Some of the mothers in those households try to figure out techniques to scrounge up some extra cash. They rack their brains — what shall it be? Norwex cloths? Epicure? Stampin’ Up? ‘Jewelry’ featuring decorated beer bottlecaps?

Here’s the link, if you’d like to see for yourself: here. Go to page 14 of the report.

Ah yes, money is one of those things. It’s one of those temptations that exist, and it’s interesting to see who has succumbed. It’s not always the ones you’d suspect. Sometimes those who speak so eloquently about faith in the Lord and trusting in God are the first to deceive. Turn your back and they’re counting the cash.

They cause so much sorrow to Christ.

So much sorrow.

Christ is sad because they knew better. He is sad because they use all the talents that God gave them in order to pursue what is base, instead of what is good. He is sad because he gave them enough strength and help to resist the temptation (he always does), but they chose otherwise. They wound him afresh.

But my primary point, when I began this post, was to speak about the real allure of most temptation.

Money is not evil, in and of itself. Having money means you can buy yourself the wool cardigan that will keep you warm in chilly weather. Having money means you can buy grapes and cottage cheese at the store. You can order that bird feeder for your neighbour for Christmas.

And it’s the same way with other temptations. The fruit in the garden of Eden looked good. It looked yummy, as fruit can.

It is better to acknowledge the attributes of the things that tempt us. Why lie to ourselves, and say that we would never want fame, if we would? Fame has its good points too. Fame in and of itself is also not bad. Pope Francis is famous, and that’s okay. Jesus was famous. Chesterton was famous. A lot of good people have been famous, and fame can be put to good use.

The problem comes when people want fame for the wrong reasons, or when, having fame, a person deviates from his or her duties. I do not agree, for instance, with the behaviour of some mothers who leave their families to speak at conferences. They promote themselves as being Entertaining and Enlightening and by reading their website, you see that they’re hoping to be boarding that plane to a City Near You. You can pay by MasterCard or Visa.

So long, husband! So long, kids! Mommy is famous!

And speaking of mothers and speaking of fame, I question the behavior of well-known sisters who go touring to far away places in order to accept this award or that or to speak to heads of states and other audiences. Sisters are meant to remain with their communities. If your order is in Nova Scotia, for instance, then you shouldn’t be living in a one-bedroom apartment at St. Andrew’s Centre in Alberta. It’s not right.

In particular, the ‘Mother’ of an order shouldn’t be flitting about.

The temptation to leave your order is something faced by almost all sisters, at some point or another. You will find this common theme in the writing of almost all canonized sisters. The devil tells of the good that would be done by leaving. The sister is given the lie that she is accomplishing so little where she currently is. The sister is given the lie that God would be so much happier with her if she changed her location, and that her spiritual life would flourish, if she would just GET UP AND LEAVE.

In response, she could rightly acknowledge that there are many good ways to serve God. If she is a cloistered sister, she can easily agree that she won’t be bandaging any wounds, anytime soon. She can acknowledge that care of the sick is a corporal act of mercy.

Indeed — all of this is true. But the question is: was this the call? Did Christ call her to this way of life or to that? Is it true that corporal acts of mercy are more important than spiritual acts of mercy?

As for “a call within a call,” that depends. If call number one is truly from God, then “call” number two won’t contradict call number one. That’s not how God, in his goodness, runs things.

Now this is not to say that those who succumb to temptation cannot become saints. They can become even canonized saints, and be quite well known, in their day. It is just that the path to sanctity will be more difficult than the original plan. Plan B is never as good as Plan A.

And moving to the lay person, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a young woman considering this fellow and that as a possible future husband. Why not? She can look, and if she wants to blink her eyelashes really fast in order to come across as extra-appealing, then I say, go wild. Bat them eyelashes, honey! You go girl.

However, once the same woman is married, it’s time to blink like a normal person, at least out in public. At this point, it is not okay to try to portray yourself, to every man, as Really Quite Charming. It is not okay to display yourself or to suggest to other men that you’ve Still Got It. That’s not okay. You’ve made your choice, and you’ve got a husband now. You’ve made your vows.

It is not an excuse that Prospect B is really quite a bit more holy than your husband. It is no excuse that Prospect B understands you better than your husband does, or is more fun to talk to. It is no excuse that Prospect B is actually more your type.

What do you expect?? Of course the one who tempts you is going to have no shortage of positive traits! Of course the one that distracts you is going to have a myriad of real and imagined good points! That’s how it goes.

That’s how it always goes! So you are not mistaken when you notice that Prospect B has very nice hair, and you are not mistaken when you notice that Prospect B is polite and intelligent.

You are mistaken about the eyes, though. His eyes are pretty much average. Iris, pupil, eyelashes.

Human beings have many qualities, and you won’t find anyone who has nothing in his favour. Everyone has something, and almost everyone has nice eyes.

The thing is, you’re infatuated right now, and so you’re assuming that what you don’t see is just as good as what you do see. But it’s not like that. People are never WYSIWYG. People are mysterious.

Besides, right now Prospect B kind of likes you too, and people generally perform well when they’re on stage. And people generally perform well when they know they’re liked. It’s natural. It’s the way it goes.

So don’t be fooled. Be prepared. Know that it is normal for temptation to look good. That’s the entire point. It wouldn’t be called temptation if it weren’t tempting.

Don’t be surprised that the new girl in town seems to have The Whole Package. Wow! Where have you been all my life? Don’t be surprised that the fellow who works on the sixth floor smiles so nicely when he holds open the door (he does that for all the ladies).

The one who tries to tempt you is scheduled to surface in your life when you least expect it. You let down your guard because you know that she’s Happily Married. You let down your guard because she works at the church. You let down your guard because he’s so fat, or so skinny or so tall or so small. You let down your guard because he’s so young or so old.

Don’t. Be on guard. Temptation comes in all shapes and sizes and what was laughably unthinkable last month becomes not only possible but desirable today. That’s how it goes. Beware, and reduce the opportunities for sin. Avoid the occasion of sin, as we Catholics say. Don’t think you’re so tough or so holy that temptation will bounce off you like oil on a Teflon pan.

You see, temptations are kind of like these rock songs that don’t make the cut. Sometimes I encounter a song that is 99% right. It’s just so tantalizingly close that you want to overlook that extra background melody that is going rather astray. Why is that there? You want to overlook that lusty growl in that woman’s singing. Hmm, it doesn’t suit the song — what is she doing?

You want to look the other way when the lyrics have that aftertaste that isn’t quite right. You want to have more than the one song for 1994, but if you keep the same standards, you won’t.

The thing about temptations is that they are so incredibly deceptive. They are not what they seem. The packaging is there, and everything seems very impressive and picture perfect, but don’t be fooled. That smiley-faced and companionable person is not who she seems. She sighs with you and nods sympathetically, but look closer — notice that micro-second smile that flashed across her face when she heard of your suffering. Hmm. And as for that holy and earnest Christian, he is not who he seems. Deacon schmeacon. Those with collars can be crooks too. That’s why some of them sign up for it in the first place; it’s just a costume, like others they’ve worn. Shame on you, actor! Repent, actress!

Temptations are like that. They aren’t like the Rapper D Dog songs that make you groan; they’re like the other ones, the songs written by Diane Warren like “If I Could Turn Back Time,” (Cher) or “Blame It On the Rain,” (Milli Vanilli) or “Don’t Turn Around” (Ace of Base). They’re like that. They have so much going for them, but they’re just not right.

“The Sign,” also from Ace of Base, is the same. It’s really catchy and I remember liking it a lot at the time, along with everyone else. I remember Janet giving me a tape of the album as a gift. Ah yes, I remember those days! Nevertheless, when you live with the lyrics for a while, you can’t get around the rather icy, disdainful quality buried amidst the happy boppity sounds.

Other songs that fall into the same category (almost but not quite there) are “Wouldn’t it be good” (Nik Kershaw), “Out of Touch” (Hall & Oates), “It’s My Life” (Talk Talk), “One Thing Leads to Another” (The Fixx) and “Found Out About You” (Gin Blossoms).

It’s kind of like looking at a math equation. On the surface, 1 + 1 makes 2, but when you look deeper, you discover that it’s not really 1 and 1. It’s really 0.96 and 0.99. Ah yes. Not quite 2. Things don’t add up, they don’t fit and they’re not right.

The line doesn’t go straight; it isn’t appropriately narrow. Instead of tidy little accounting silos, you find a slush fund. It oozes here and it oozes there and hey can I sell you a side of beef? (My cows have three sides.) Yeah, it veers off the path and just wait a bit — I think we might soon hear a crash.

In sum (speaking of sums), God, in his goodness, will allow you to experience temptation which is precisely suited to your temperament and your strengths and weaknesses. That’s what makes it hard. The temptation is custom-designed to catch you where you’re weak. Satan appeared to Jesus when Jesus was famished, and offered him bread.

If you are a visual person, you will be tempted by the way people and things look. If you like good conversation, you will be drawn to those with interesting things to say. If you like fame, you’ll be tempted to believe the fast-talking agent who says he can give you the moon and make you a star.

However, God does not allow this so that you will fail. Au contraire. He is providing you with the battleground, the place where you will succeed. He equips you with tools and he won’t leave your side. You’ll win. You’ll prevail. Just hang on to what’s right and you’ll make your way through. When it’s done — when you’ve had the fight of your life — you can say, “I’ve run the good race.” You can sigh a sigh of relief and say, “Thank you God; indeed, you are good. You sustain the weak and you defeat the strong.”