St. John Cassian shares the wise advice of Abbot Serapion in Egypt: sometimes you can make use of one of your vices to combat a worse one. If you’re vain, think how much people will admire you for overcoming lust!
But in one matter we find vanity to be a useful thing for beginners—by which I mean those who are still troubled by carnal sins. If (for example) they are troubled by the spirit of fornication, they could form an idea of the dignity of the priesthood, or of reputation with everyone, by which they might be thought saints and immaculate. With these considerations, they could repel the unclean suggestions of lust, thinking them base and at least unworthy of their rank and reputation; and so by means of a smaller evil they overcome a greater one.
For it is better for a man to be troubled by the sin of vanity than for him to fall into the desire for fornication, from which he either cannot recover at all or only with great difficulty after he has fallen.
And this thought is admirably expressed by one of the prophets speaking in the person of God: “For my name’s sake I defer my anger, for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, that I may not cut you off ” (Isaiah 48:9). In other words, when you are chained up by the praises of vanity, you cannot possibly rush on into the depths of hell, or plunge irrevocably into the commission of deadly sins. Nor need we wonder that this passion has the power of checking anyone from rushing into the sin of fornication, since it has been again and again proved by many examples that when once a man has been affected by its poison and plague, it makes him completely tireless, so that he scarcely feels a fast of even two or three days. –St. John Cassian, Conferences, 5.12
Does Abbot Serapion’s advice give me an idea for overcoming my worst vices?
Father, look with mercy on your unworthy servant, and work in me to sanctify my soul and my body.
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