It is the appetite incontinence of our adult years I wish to write about and not any toilet related use of the word.
Aristotle in the Nichomachean Ethics explains the difference between the continent and the incontinent thus: Again, the incontinent man acts with appetite, but not with choice; while the continent man on the contrary acts with choice [will or purpose], but not with appetite. Ethics III 2.
Incontinence is a stage beyond sin. Sin has to be a wilful transgression of the Law of God, to quote Tanquerey. It has to be an act of disobedience. If the incontinent man is somehow beyond making a choice over his actions, then he is not sinning. The drug addict, the alcoholic, the compulsive masturbator, the glutton and others have probably all moved beyond sin into an incontinent state where they have no choice of how to act. A state where they are a complete slave to a particular appetite. This is wretched, this is surely a living hell.
How do people arrive at this state? One would like to think that the all powerful efficacy of the Sacrament of Confession would protect the sinner from such a horrid fall. An initial sin is confessed, it is done as sincerely as the penitent knows how.... and yet this fall into a state of complete wretchedness ensues. What went wrong? Was God so petty as to not "like" the sincerity of the confession and to punish the sinner accordingly? No, this can not be the reason. Perhaps it is best not to analyse the reasons why things go wrong, but to understand the charity that is needed in helping these souls reach a point where they can be continent again. We ought to desire their continence; it is only the continent that can grow in virtue, it is only the continent that fully respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, it is only the continent that can truly sing the praise of God. There is no real happiness in incontinence. It is not a state God wants us to be in.
And this is where I feel the Church could be doing a lot more, this is where I feel the Church has in some quarters lost her way....
1Peter 4:15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or a railer or a coveter of other men's things.
And I will quote this in the Latin of the Vulgate too, because there is something about the Vulgate that no translation seems to do justice.
Nemo autem vestrum patiatur ut homicidi, aut fur, aut maledictus, aut alienorum appetitor.
That phrase "alienorum appetitor" is the key to all of this, methinks. "Foreign appetites" is perhaps a better translation, certainly it is about appetites that did not come from God, it is about "foreign tastes", "lusts"; things contrary to God's designs and God's plans for our happiness.
But there is Peter telling us not to suffer for these things. Peter in both his letters makes it clear that all suffering must be conformed to the suffering of Christ. He says that true suffering is suffering or bearing the burden of another's transgressions, like Christ, who was without sin suffered the consequences of all our sin. Therefore we should not suffer for our sin, we must recognise it and manfully stare it in the face, but we must not suffer for it. We must be become like Christ and if some future suffering comes our way, then we can glory in it, because it is the life of Christ Our King... It is not rocket science... it is our Faith.
Yet, how often do we hear from the Church that those with an "alienorum appetitor" must unite their sufferings to the cross. BUT their suffering is NOT like Christ's..... how can you unite to the cross your misery at having a "foreign appetite", or your misery at not being able to consummate your "foreign appetites"? The Church says your appetites are intrinsically disordered and then tells you to "suffer" them... but this seems to contrary to Peter. I worry about the Church.
We all have some "alienorum appetitor", and sooner or later we will give in to it... and maybe it will lead to incontinence and complete wretchedness. I suppose the thing to do is not to nurture it in the first place, not to even think about developing a taste for it.... yet we do, and the Church has ceased in many quarters to insist in the necessity that we have control of our "tongue, genitals and stomach"...
And what to do with our incontinent? I feel even the Devil can't be bothered with them. And maybe that is the key, God still loves them, some light can still fall on them, some extraordinary act of grace can still fall upon them, and if they can respond with even the slightest flicker of recognition, then astounding things can happen. And for the rest of us, we must just pray, with all lightness of heart, with the faith that can move mountains, glorifying the Lord in our hearts and our deeds.... and then the incontinent can be lifted out of the pit they fell into all for the greater glory of God.
It still remains a tragedy that we let so many fall down there in the first place.