Jesuit Novitiate
Novitiate of the Euro-Mediterranean Province of the Society of Jesus

Guard Of The Senses – is this an obsolete stuff?

by Miklós Forián-Szabó

Guard Of The Senses – is this an obsolete stuff?

Our senses are given to us by God, and how useful they are in prayer and contemplation! As Jesus says: “But blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear” (Mt 13:16). But they can also be a cause of sin: “And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into fiery Gehenna” (Mt 18:9). How can I interpret this today?

I would say that we live in a world of sensuality. In fact, all advertisements are based on our senses. From delicious hamburgers to lingerie models and painkillers, they are all based on the fact that seeing an advertisement triggers a sense and arouses our interest. TikTok and YouTube Shorts videos use sensuality to capture first impressions and make us dedicate time and energy to the content. They delude us that we can satisfy a deeper need through content consumption. The key lies in this “arousal” of the interest, because we do not control it ourselves, but unconsciously find ourselves abandoning a previous decision to dedicate ourselves to something else. This becomes a problem when our senses lead us to perform actions that go against our conscience.

We Christians learn from an early age to pursue greater ideals, overcoming our instincts, even sacrificing momentary well-being for the greater good. Ignatius recommends that those who are in probation (i.e. in the Novitiate) “should take special care to guard with great diligence the gates of their senses (especially the eyes, ears, and tongue) from all disorder” (Constitutions [250]). But nowadays, even when I want to be careful with my senses, I often find myself faced with unwanted contents. And in these situations, what is the right attitude towards the enemy of human nature (as defined by St Ignatius)?

One of the rules of discernment is to compare the enemy to an army captain who “behaves as a chief bent on conquering and robbing what he desires” by “pitching his camp, and looking at the forces or defences of a stronghold, attacks it on the weakest side, in like manner the enemy of human nature, roaming about, looks in turn at all our virtues, theological, cardinal and moral; and where he finds us weakest and most in need for our eternal salvation, there he attacks us and aims at taking us” (Spiritual Exercises [327]). In this case, knowing its logic, I have no choice but to oppose the devil’s attempts, because “it is the way of the enemy to weaken and lose heart, his temptations taking flight, when the person who is exercising himself in spiritual things opposes a bold front against the temptations of the enemy, doing diametrically the opposite” (Spiritual Exercises [325]). So, if I look at “guard of the senses” in the light of firmness and acting against temptation, I realise how relevant it is even today. And just when I find myself weak, I do not forget that the power to resist temptation is a grace, which I cannot give myself, but can ask God for (cf. Mt 7:7).

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