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What’s your favorite sin?

No, I haven’t lost my mind. Nor am I really expecting an answer. But… we each do have a “favorite sin” whether we realize it or not.

Traditional theology calls it our “predominant passion”. St. Francis de Sales, centuries ago, wrote eloquently about the importance of recognizing our predominant passion. Predominant passion has gone by many names. Today, we might speak of our predominant “fault’” or “tendency”

Once you think about the idea of a predominant tendency, it makes sense. We tend to fall into the same sins. In fact, how many are frustrated that they keep confessing the same things?

Not recognizing our predominant fault is like walking along focusing on the latest text message on our phone. We are surprised when we step off the curb, walk into an obstacle., etc. We didn’t see it, so it didn’t exist… unless and until something makes us recognize it.

We stand a good chance of at least recognizing our predominant tendency if we think of all the things included under the categories of pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth.

Default attitudes

Another way of looking at our predominant tendency is to think of our default attitudes or instinctive responses. “You can always count on her to think of… obstacles or opportunity.” “He is the kind of guy who is never around when it’s time to pay the bill.” Default attitudes are the things people can often predict we will say or do.

And it is not just individuals. We have all heard the jokes that have been told about the Jesuits, Dominicans, and Franciscans facing the same situation. They respond differently but predictably.

Most international religious groups hold major meetings every 3 to 5 years. At these meetings the best and brightest from around the world make a common attempt to see what is going on, judge what is working or not and in light of that agree on some common lines of action. Not surprisingly a number of different tendencies rise to the surface

The Congregation of the Mission… and branches of the Vincentian Family,

In the Congregation of the Mission we are preparing for the international Assembly held every six years. Preparations include being asked to read a number of documents. One that particularly caught my attention was written by a European confrere.

It contained list of “risks” (“tendencies”, “default positions”) we face in the challenge of continual renewal. He challenges us to recognize the tendencies in our midst and the default stances to the changes happening around us.

His two or three sentence descriptions are well worth reading. For purposes of brevity just let me “translate” them into my own American idiom.

The twelve tendencies we were asked to consider

Do we…

  1. Do things without thinking them through?
  2. Assume the old way of doing things is always better?
  3. Assume any new way of doing things has to be better?
  4. Settle for the minimum required?
  5. Avoid facing problems right before our eyes?
  6. Seem unable to imagine things could be different?
  7. Seem unable to distinguish what is of greater and lesser importance?
  8. Live in our heads?
  9. Hide behind slavish observance of rules?
  10. Allow moods and feelings of society to control us?
  11. Engage in compulsive activism?
  12. Assume we can do things by ourselves?

I suspect his list might apply in many branches in the Vincentian Family … and to any individual who aspires to follow Christ the Evangelizer of the Poor.

Click below for an audio version of this VIncentian Mindwalk

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I include his longer version in case any of these default tendencies piques your interest.

1. ideological reductionism which consists in clinging to ideas, conveniences or partial interests in advance, without taking into account the principles that support identity and without allowing oneself to be challenged by circumstances (the signs of the times) and needs (of the poor, of the Church, of the Congregation…)

2. nostalgia for the pastfor its achievements and glories, as if one could simply transport from there the answers to be given to the concrete challenges of today, with the risk of falling into decline; 

3. the desire for noveltywithout worrying about strengthening oneself with the sap that comes from the roots and taking for granted what has not yet been assimilated (even if it has been much discussed), with the danger of losing sight of the fundamentals and of changing just for the sake of changing (which does not necessarily imply an improvement); 

4. the temptation to lower the bar, to level down, renouncing the evangelical-Vincentian ideal, lowering the demands of the charism, contenting oneself with the minimum required, accommodating oneself to what has already been achieved and dispensing with more demanding efforts and bolder initiatives; 

5. hollow optimismwhich hides reality, contemporizes inconsistencies, camouflages omissions, does not encourage conversion, ignores fidelity and does not recognize what has to be changed (assumption to redeem); 

6. destructive pessimismwhich steals hope, obscures joy, closes off possibilities and overlaps the creativity that goes hand in hand with fidelity; 

7. the absence of a fair scale of valueswhich does not distinguish between the essential and the accidental, the central and the peripheral, the primary and the secondary, as if everything has the same importance and the same urgency; 

8. intellectualismwhich does not leave the plane of ideas, diluting itself in abstractions of little or no incidence, without landing on the concrete and without allowing itself to be challenged by situations; 

9. legalismwhich absolutizes the norms, does not open up to processes and does not dispose itself to revisions, showing itself to be prone to paralysis; 

10. subjectivismwhich restricts itself to primary feelings and reactions, becoming entrenched in attachments and not launching itself into new challenges, conditioning the demands of the vocation to individual demands or comforts; 

11. praxismwhich underestimates discernment and reflection, and can thus mask the spiritual void, cover up unremedied deficiencies and degenerate into compulsion or activism devoid of purpose and transcendence; 

12. pelagianismwhich does not take into account the fact that the revitalization of the identity of the CM is not reduced to rationalizations, plans, and strategies, but entails an act of faith, which must be accompanied and energized by the prayerful surrender of our efforts to the One who is the author and perfecter of our missionary vocation.