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A Book Review… Overcoming Sinful Thoughts With Humor And Humility

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Overcoming Sinful Thoughts: How to Realign Your Thinking and Defeat Harmful Ideas, by Fr. T.G. Morrow; Sophia Institute Press, Manchester, N.H.: 2020; paperback, 129 pages. To order, visit or call 800-888-9344.

“It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light. Satan fell by the force of gravity,” G.K. Chesterton famously wrote.
Fr. T.G. Morrow’s Overcoming Sinful Thoughts is loaded with humor, that is, with the antidote to seriousness, or pride, the first of the seven deadly sins.
For example, in the first chapter, title “I Am the Best,” he relates the story of how St. John Vianney, the Curé of Ars, accidentally received a copy of a petition some priests were circulating against him. The petition accused him of “sensationalism, ignorance, and [showy] poverty.” John Vianney studied the petition — and then signed it himself and sent it off to the diocese.
Another time, a priest who was 20 years his junior sent the famous confessor a letter that said, “Monsieur le Curé, when a man knows as little theology as you he ought never to enter a confessional.” The priest continued at length with his insults.
Jean Vianney replied: “How many reasons I have to love you my dear and honored co-worker. You are the only person who really knows me….How much penance I must do, how many tears to shed!”
The priest, after receiving Vianney’s reply, walked to Ars, threw himself at the saint’s feet, and begged for his forgiveness.
If this episode shows us the heights of humility, it is also probably an indication of why so very few are canonized!
It is helpful to know the root meaning of the word “humility”: Wikipedia offers this helpful information:
“The term ‘humility’ comes from the Latin word humilitas, a noun related to the adjective humilis, which may be translated as ‘humble,’ but also as ‘grounded,’ or ‘from the earth,’ since it derives from humus (earth).”
This grounded quality suggests to me a practical approach, and Fr. Morrow’s book is full of practical suggestions on how to overcome sinful thoughts and the sins that these thoughts lead to.
Here are some:
Identify situations where you are likely to fall into sin — for example, gossiping. “You know that at lunchtime you and some colleagues sit and enjoy identifying the faults of your boss or this or that fellow employee. Such fun! But sinful. So, the next time you are sitting with your fellow employees, turn the conversation to something good in the news, or something interesting you discovered. Have in mind before lunch begins what you want to bring up, and jump right in with it before the gossip begins.”
And to combat sins against chastity, Fr. Morrow — a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. — says to follow the counsel of Pope St. John Paul II, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Aristotle and realize you can’t simply command the temptations to go away, but you must “convert the heart” by always repeating to yourself the benefits of chastity.
In a footnote, he offers a list of meditations on the virtue of chastity, such as:
“Persons are to be loved, not merely used as objects of enjoyment,” and “Unchaste activity brings pleasure but not happiness.”
More practically, addressing a form of sexual sin that has become all too common: “For example, if someone falls in using pornography often, he might put a pornography blocker on his computer or phone, or both.”
As another electronic solution: Fr. Morrow admits to having driven too fast at times, and consequently he set his driving app Waze to notify him whenever he goes five miles per hour over the speed limit, and to always display the speed limit on his phone’s GPS screen.
“This has worked wonders to rein in my driving excesses.”
A chapter entitled “Go Ahead! Everyone Is Doing It” answers that popular notion by quoting a number of authorities, including William Penn: “Wrong is wrong even if everyone is doing it; right is right even if no one is doing it.”
If pride is at the root of these and all other sins, it is helpful to know how insidious it — like the Devil — is. For example, Fr. Morrow says that pride can underlie a failure to let go of guilt.
“Guilt is good after sinning and before confessing the sin. It is bad after confessing and receiving forgiveness in the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation….In essence, it is saying, ‘How could someone like me have committed such a terrible sin?’”
Lack of fervor is another insidious trap. To tepid souls who say, “I’m just aiming for Purgatory,” Fr. Morrow points out that the times require much more from us.
“A strong spiritual life is our plexiglass protection against all the temptations we face. In fact, we need a good deal of grace just to see the evil around us. Without strong grace, we will be caught up in condoning sin and living in it, without even recognizing that.”
He adds: “Think, for example, of the politician who wouldn’t dream of missing Sunday Mass but supports legal abortion (for all nine months, in some cases!) and same-sex marriage. And he or she seems quite confident of being a ‘good Catholic’ living in the state of grace.”
Fr. Morrow goes on to point out that excusing such a person on grounds of “invincible ignorance” isn’t plausible, given how vociferously the Church has taught on these matters and the ready availability of information on those teachings.
“One need not be a rocket scientist — or a theologian — to realize that a modest spiritual life, such as a few prayers daily and Sunday Mass, would hardly be loving God with all your heart, soul, and mind for the average twenty-first-century Catholic.”
This book is highly recommended for all.

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