Last Sunday's gospel gives us a startling and challenging image:
If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire.
And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life crippled than with two feet to be thrown into Gehenna.Mark 9: 43-45
What is there, in our lives, that so strongly holds us that it will cause us to sin – either by omission or commission? If you want to know, try rephrasing the saying, substituting some other parts of ourselves that might cause us to sin and the nature of that sin.
If your dedication to your job causes you to work 24/7 ignoring your family and your own health, cut it off.
If your desire for power and prestige causes you to fail to tell your boss the truth when the public safety is on the line cut it off. (I suspect that there a large number of Enron employees and Presidential aides who wish that they had heeded this verse.)
If your need for possessions causes you to encumber your own life and home, cut it off.
If your need for esteem and affection causes you sacrifice your legitimate needs in order to gain someone else’s approval, cut it off.
If your need for safety and security causes you to avoid taking up a new profession or changing your lifestyle, cut it off.
The immediate objection is that dedication to job, power and prestige, and “worldly goods” can all be positive goods that help us to care for ourselves, and others, in this world. It is through our jobs that we provide service, care for our families and find ways to be creative.
In order to see past this objection one must discern whether dedication to job, etc. are “causing one to sin.” The best way of discerning this comes from the first principle first principle of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.
The human person is created to praise, reverence, and serve God Our Lord, and by doing so, to save his or her soul.
All other things on the face of the earth are created for human beings in order to help them pursue the end for which they are created.
It follows from this that one must use other created things, in so far as they help towards one's end, and free oneself from them, in so far as they are obstacles to one's end.
To do this, we need to make ourselves indifferent to all created things, provided the matter is subject to our free choice and there is no other prohibition.
Thus, as far as we are concerned, we should not want health more than illness, wealth more than poverty, fame more than disgrace, a long life more than a short one, and similarly for all the rest, but we should desire and choose only what helps us more towards the end for which we are created.
If we are indifferent to goods, power and prestige, or health and security, we are surely ready to “cut it off.”
The challenge of the gospel is for us to learn what it is that causes us to sin by omission or commission. Given the power of the human soul to fool itself, we need to understand that it is only with time, prayer and perhaps the help of a spiritual director, coach or trusted friend.
Cutting it off is a daunting prospect. Gerald May’s Addiction and Grace: Love and Spirituality in the Healing of Addictions is an excellent source of advice, both for distinguishing legitimate needs from disordered attachments and for meeting the demands of Mark 9:43-44 in "cutting it off."