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The Eagle and the Rattlesnake


We often judge people don’t we? We put up invisible walls against those we don’t trust. Somehow we sense when someone is “up to no good” and means to do us harm. However, do we stop and think about our own intentions? I think we often forget that due to original sin we are in a constant inner struggle. There is a great battle that rages inside every person.

The story of the eagle and the serpent

One side is the Soaring Eagle. Everything the eagle stands for is good and true and beautiful. The eagle soars high above the clouds. Even though it dips down into the valleys, the eagle builds its nest on the mountaintops.

The other side is a slithering serpent, the rattlesnake. That crafty, deceitful snake represents the worst aspects of a person – the darker side. The snake feeds upon one’s downfalls and setbacks, and justifies Itself by its presence in the slithering mass.

Our soaring eagle

We feed our soaring eagle or “good self” by partaking of the sacraments. Participating in the sacrifice of the Mass is one key way of achieving this. Another is frequent confession. Acknowledging our sinfulness cleanses our souls and helps prevent us from feeding the bad habits that lead to greater sin. The eagle is the inner voice that helps us resist sin. It reminds us of the resulting despair of sin before we commit the deed. Though we are certainly never perfect, we have occasions where we descend into our own personal valleys of misdeed, we have the tools available to us to ascend to goodness once more. If we take advantage of it that is.

Our inner rattlesnake

So what exactly is this rattlesnake we keep talking about? It’s that small but mighty voice that tries to persuade us that the bad thing we are about to do is okay. When we give credence to this voice and follow it we are feeding the rattlesnake. These actions don’t necessarily have to be major things. We are talking white lies, gossip and the like. These actions seem simplistic and we may justify them by saying no harm, no foul. Therein lies the problem. The more times we quantify these actions the easier they are to continue and that leads to even greater sin. By not resisting, by justification of these “little sins” we feed the rattlesnake.

Quantifying sin

Don’t make the mistake of believing that there are such a things as “little sins”. Elizabeth Scalia recently wrote a book Little Sins Mean a Lot: Kicking Our Bad Habits Before They Kick Us that takes a deep look at this very topic. In our interview she told me “From Eden onward, humans have displayed a capacity for sinning and moving on, rationalizing behaviors. I do think that in our time, in this dictatorship of relativism, it’s easier to do this than ever. We have all of our gadgetry with which we can peer out into the world and decry everything that everyone else is doing, and that very conveniently keeps us from looking at our own sins, our culpabilities.”

Two voices at play

We have established that each of us have these two voices inside us that are in a constant tug of war. Good vs. Evil, Right vs, Wrong, Love vs. Hate, Mercy vs. Vindictiveness. These contrasting voices of good and evil call us to do certain things and behave in certain ways. Following either voice will expand or shrink our lives. Furthermore they lead us down a path that will either enhance or encumber our lives. To add insult to injury, throw in the fact that we attempt to quantify sin when we commit it. Elizabeth mentioned something else in our interview that drives this compelling point home. “All of our “little sins” the ones we allow ourselves because “it doesn’t make me a bad person” are actually kind of “gateway sins” to the seven deadly sins. Procrastination is a little sin most of us allow – but we don’t think about its connection to sloth, but it is directly connected to sloth and indirectly it can also connect to anger and pride.”

The showdown

So how do we resolve this? Our souls are like a white garment . Over time if we do not wash that garment it will become soiled. The longer we deny seeing the dirt on that garment the more it piles up and becomes dirtier. It will get to the point where we become so used to the “off-white” garment that simply accept it for what it is and move on. Your soul is the same way with sin. If we continue piling on these “little sins” we accept them as routine and than move on to commit greater sin which seems a whole lot less dramatic considering what we have grown to accept.

It takes a certain level of spiritual maturity to pause and think our actions. It also takes some level of understanding to accept responsibility for our actions and attempt to correct our wrongs.  Elizabeth also mentioned in our interview “A friend of mine told me he was annoyed when he got my book, because he was quite fond of his little sins and he really didn’t want to have to look at them when it was so much easier to look at the world and kvetch about injustice, and social decay, and all of those terrible people over there, than to have to deal with his own interior condition.”

There comes a time when we must we must take the high road not the easier. We must soar like the eagle to reach that high road rather than taking he low road that the rattlesnake easily travels. You might find the high ground a more difficult path to take but it will become easy with practice…if you stay there you don’t have to worry about the climb. The question in closing is this? Who wins this great battle in your life? None other than the one that is fed the most, the eagle, or the rattlesnake.

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