I wasn’t sold on this whole “true, good, beautiful” thing until recently. Much of the ugly versus beautiful seemed like ivory tower talk. However, I’ve found an author that really helps me in this department. Kevin Vost.
Since I want to get to the meat of this quickly, I’m going to report it backwards to you. I read Memorize the Faith, The One-Minute Aquinas, then Seven Deadly Sins. But the first two took on so much more meaning after I read the third! I went back to the One Minute Aquinas and did it AGAIN, with outlines!
Seven Deadly Sins. It’s a “Thomistic” guide, but includes a synthesis of many saints’ thoughts on the capital sins and their remedies. He goes through each sin, with a gauge of how far you are into it, and how to fight it: sacraments, particular prayers, and actions.
It turns out that many of the capital sins are counteracted by truth, goodness, and beauty! What? It’s weird at first, but surrounding yourself with the wonders of nature and great stories of nobility and gorgeous music and art actually innoculates you against sin! It’s harder to be puffed up with pride when you are surrounded by the greatest human works of all time. It’s harder to be overly focused on lower bodily pleasures (gluttony, lust) when you’re so full of the highest pleasures. And when you are regularly “indulging” in the highest pleasures (I love that “lifted” feeling, don’t you? It’s so nice), you have a harder time being indifferent to higher goods (sloth.) It doesn’t mean you can’t fall into serious sin, but at least the cards are stacked in your favor.
Of course I think of my kids. How can I raise them in a way that will help them in the future?
The book is FULL of good stuff, but I was particularly struck with how regular confession and regular indulgence in the “high goods” was so often repeated. That with the curriculum emphasis on “conversation” as the main formative method, gives me a simple, efficient, battle plan.
If true, good, and beautiful stuff helps remedy vices, won’t preemptive experiences help protect them from attachment to serious sin in the first place? Will filling our kids full of true, good, and beautiful stuff make a big dent in future crappy decisions? Yes and no; it’s like a vaccine against an attraction to the lowest things in life. BUT, it’s one of those vaccines that you have to keep taking. Building the habit in is much more important than just exposing them to it.
One place to build it in is as a remedy for anger. Teens’ main coping mechanism is music. Most radio music will NOT help them cope. It will validate how hacked off they are, but it does nothing to fix it. Study after study shows that focusing on classical music not only breaks your concentration on your misery (any alternative focus will do this), but that it actually orders your brain waves and makes you FEEL BETTER, which helps you make better decisions. (Teaching Tips has a bunch of examples of studies supporting classical music if you need to persuade someone.)
I actually said the following to my teen the other day, “Talking it to death will not undo your brother’s butt-headedness. Play Minuet on your guitar five times for me, and then we’ll talk.” A frustration number rating is especially helpful. “You were at a 9 a minute ago. Where are you now? 5? Do you feel ready to talk or do you want to come down some more first?” I don’t even have to say it anymore. He knows that great music will make the bad feelings drastically reduce. And in our house, low drama means more parent cooperation. High drama means NO cooperation. He chooses it on his own now. Little brother being hateful? I hear the door slam and the baroque start up.
Back to the Other Books
Now, that I saw the practicality of knowing all the sins, their daughters, the virtues and their parts, all of the Catholic “lists” I learned with his book Memorize the Faith became important. It wasn’t just a party trick that I memorized all the commandments, virtues (and their parts), vices (and their daughters), gifts, fruits, mysteries, stations, sacraments, apostles, days of creation, four ends, and five proofs, and a saint for each of 21 centuries. They were immediately useful to have memorized.
I also went back to re-read his book The One-Minute Aquinas, twice. Now that I saw the practicality of knowing which passion was being provoked and what area of my intellect was under attack, it was a whole new book! And learning the vocabulary in this particular “Great Conversation” opened many saints’ writing to better understanding since they had learned the same worldview and vocabulary in their education. (Teresa of Avila, for example, makes way more sense.)
But, what if you’re not into reading pre-19th century saints? Well, all of the MoDG articles make more sense too. Does your brain float off when she starts talking all that “impression in the wax” and “ordering the passions”? It was just a blurr of nonsense words to me. But they aren’t nonsense words. They are specific and practical. And it only took me seven years to figure it out…