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Summertime! -- the time for vacationing, for leisure, for enjoyment, for swimming; take it easy! -- "beat the heat!"
These are the maxims of the world during the Summer months -- maxims which sum up the dangers to which the Christian soul is exposed and against which he must fortify himself. God has not placed a curse upon this particular season, but there are definite hazards to the soul involved in the circumstances of Summer which a true Christian must not overlook.
The heat of Summer makes it more difficult to pursue the various duties of one's state of life; therefore, Summer has always been the season for vacation and leisure -- both from school and, to some extent, from one's job. This may not be true for each individual, but it is generally so. The result is a general laxity in every walk of life; including, unfortunately, the life of the soul -- the spiritual life. There is nothing intrinsically evil about vacations or needed leisure, but excessive leisure leads to idleness, and, in a word, to trouble.
Many people find great difficulty in prayer because of the heat (and, often, because of their own idleness), which only serves to multiply the dangers to their souls. For when a soul is not fortified with fervent prayer and duties which are performed in a spirit of sacrifice for the love of God, that soul is naturally open to a grave increase in temptations.
That idleness causes the mind to be the "devil's playground" is not an old wives' tale -- it is a fact of the spiritual life. "Keep thyself always occupied," is the fervent exhortation of the author of the Imitation of Christ, and he does not give it without good reason. "Sloth is a poison," says Dom Scupoli, "which spreads itself through all the faculties of the soul, infecting not only the will, by making labor odious to it, but also the understanding, blinding it in such a manner, that the resolutions of the slothful are generally without effect." So that without effective resolutions, the idle man is not long able to resist temptations. Furthermore, he says, "the dread of labor increases, as does the love of ease, the more it is indulged"; and this is quite obviously the pattern of most people during the Summer months.
Thus, one may see in the worldling a continual spirit of pleasure-seeking, and more particularly in the Summer months. As this pleasure-seeking has only self in view, God is soon forgotten, and the pleasures sought inevitably lead to sin. If balls and dancing were considered dangerous amusements in the days of St. Francis de Sales -- "...they preponderate very much on the side of evil, and are consequently extremely dangerous..." -- how much more so the amusements of our pagan times. Most of the amusements offered by the world today are not only dangerous, but are sinful in themselves. Take, for instance, mixed swimming -- the most common Summer pastime of today's pagan world. Would a true Christian walk down the main street of town wearing only underwear? You may reply, "Of course not." But is that not practically the same thing as that which someone does when indulging in mixed swimming? When parading a nearly unclothed body before persons of both sexes? How foolish are those who claim that there is no danger of impurity when one is at the beach! Does going to the beach remove the effects of original sin? On the contrary, how many impure thoughts and desires are aroused on today's beaches! Mixed swimming was never allowed in times past for this very reason, especially in those countries which were predominantly Catholic. It was inaugurated in this country, which is predominantly non-Catholic, with the turn of the century, and spread as the morals of other nations declined. Swimming which is done modestly, with the men and women separate is harmless recreation; swimming which is done with both sexes together is sinful and is forbidden by those Catholic bishops and priests who have a true pastoral concern for souls.
The heat of the Summer not only inclines men to seek continual amusement, but also it affects their bodies physically to the detriment of their souls. The body is called the "seat of vices", and when affected by heat its passions are inflamed, unless tempered by mortification. "Spring fever", as it is called, becomes a raging inferno in the Summer in a soul that is unmortified. Sloth, anger, and particularly lust wage terrible war on the soul when the body is overheated. St. Alphonsus Maria says of lust: "This foe is so terrible that, when he fights with us, he, as it were, takes away all light; he makes us forget all our meditations, all our good resolutions; he makes us also disregard the truths of Faith, and even lose the fear of the Divine punishments. For he conspires with our natural inclinations, which drive us with greatest violence to the indulgence of sensual pleasures. He who in such a moment does not have recourse to God is lost."
The very sources of temptation are increased in the Summer. This is most evident in the area of immodesty. Long ago Our Blessed Mother told Jacinta: "Certain fashions are introduced which gravely offend my Divine Son." In more recent times, Pope Pius XII echoed her words: "How many young girls there are today who do not see any wrong-doing in following certain shameless fashion styles like so many sheep! They would certainly blush if they could guess the impression they make and the feelings they evoke in those who see them! What sins are committed or provoked by this public display of deliberate and calculated immodesty! How lax consciences have become, how pagan morals!" In a certain sense, the words of the late Holy Father do not apply, for today's young girls do know the impression they are making, and it does not make them blush! It is precisely what they want! It was just asked if a true Christian would walk down a city street in his underwear. But this is a reality with the worldlings of today in the Summer. Both men and women are wearing practically nothing on hot days anywhere one goes. The occasions of sin from immodesty during the Summer have become devastating. Men have the added temptation of seeking to parade their physique in the hot weather, much like the pagans of ancient Rome -- before they fell to the more sensible "barbarians".
What, then, does a true follower of Christ despair when Summer arrives? On the contrary, he makes use of those means of grace by which he knows he will overcome temptation.
The true Christian who is making mortification part of his daily life will certainly not give it up during the Summer. If he mortifies his flesh, he will be able to check those passions which are aroused by the heat. He will be especially careful to mortify his eyes -- to guard them from the rampant immodesty in the Summer, and he will avoid those places where immodesty is particularly prevalent, such as public beaches. The words of Jesus Christ will not be void in him: "I say to you that anyone who so much as looks with lust at a woman has already committed adultery with her in his heart..." "If thy right eye is an occasion of sin to thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee; for it is better for thee that one of thy members should perish than that thy whole body should be thrown into Hell." Furthermore, his or her own modesty will not be compromised for anything. If he or she must suffer from the heat in order to dress modestly, the sacrifice will be willingly accepted, and thus the heat will be a help rather than a hindrance to the soul. The laxity of Summer will not effect his speech or behavior either, for these are also included in the virtue of modesty.
The prayer-life of a true Christian will not be decreased because it is more difficult to pray, for he realizes that this is when prayer is most meritorious and most necessary. It is not superfluous to repeat here what St. Alphonsus Maria said: "He who in such a moment (temptation to impurity) does not have recourse to God is lost." Further, he says: "Chastity is a virtue which we have not strength to practice, unless God gives it us; and God does not give this strength except to him who asks for it. But whoever prays for it will certainly obtain it."
Although he may lawfully engage in Summer recreation and vacationing, the true Christian will maintain his spirit of self-denial, and will never do these things so excessively that they become detrimental to his soul (e.g., missing Holy Mass or the Sacraments or neglecting prayer).
Lastly, he will take as his model and protectress, the Blessed Virgin Mary and have recourse to those Saints who were exemplary for their purity. Young people should imitate in a special way during the Summer, Saints such as St. Aloysius Gonzaga, who never so much as gazed fully on a woman, although he was of a royal family and lived at court in his youth; St. Maria Goretti, who was stabbed to death for refusing to commit a sin of impurity while she cried, "No, no! It is a sin! It is a sin!", St. Dominic Savio, whose motto was "Death rather than sin"; or St. Gabriel of the Sorrowful Mother, who, though a popular and successful student, chose to renounce the world and follow Jesus Crucified in an austere Religious Order.
Let every true Christian strengthen himself against the world, the flesh, and the devil lest the long, hot Summer lead to a long, hot eternity.
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