During the season of Lent, many Catholics make a commitment to attend Mass more regularly than on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation, which is admirable. Parishes everywhere usually see a spike in Mass attendance during this penitential season. As a result, more people are hearing greater portions of Scripture than they would if they only attended once a week. As happens every year, the first reading for Monday of the Fifth Week of Lent is taken from the Book of Daniel (13:1-62) in which the story of Susanna is recounted. Susanna is a very beautiful and God-fearing woman who is married to a very wealthy man named Joakim. Her beauty has captured the hearts of two older men, who served in a position of authority as judges. They decide to exploit their authority to take advantage of her. They have set their hearts on carrying out their wicked plans, which entail trying to coerce her into sleeping with them by threatening to frame her, expose her to public shame, and have her condemned to death.

One of most interesting lines in this reading from Daniel is found in verse 9 where it says about the old men: “They suppressed their consciences; they would not allow their eyes to look to heaven, and did not keep in mind just judgments.” The old men had been stalking Susanna long enough to know her daily routine. They know that she had a habit of going into her husband’s garden daily for a walk and they allowed their hearts to be overcome with the thought of taking her for themselves. They knew the most opportune time to spring their trap.

Verse 9 first tells us that the old men “suppressed their consciences.” Our conscience, when it is properly formed and is functioning, can be described as that “little voice” inside us that determines whether a particular word or action is right or wrong, or whether it is moral or immoral. For a normal person, the thought of using one’s authority to take advantage of a married woman should make our conscience raise a red flag. Since these men were judges who would have been knowledgeable of the law of God, at least intellectually, then they would have known deep down in their consciences that their plans were gravely sinful. If they had listened to their conscience, they would have not proceeded with their wicked designs. Unfortunately, in the case of these old men, they simply choose to ignore that little voice in their conscience. Instead of allowing their conscience to guide their actions, they choose instead to be driven by their baser instincts and passions. The suppression of conscience is a thus a real danger for each one of us if we choose regularly to ignore our conscience. If we make this a regular bad habit, we may find ourselves committing sins that we never thought we would ever do.

If we do not serve the Lord God, we risk becoming the servant of another lesser “god,” one that is cruel, less forgiving, and more self-serving.

Next, the text tells us that the old men “would not allow their eyes to look to heaven.” In other words, the men simply stopped praying altogether. Since all of us are fallen human beings who suffer from the effects of original sin, we can all fall prey to the desires of the flesh, if we are not careful, and act out in gravely sinful ways. While our conscience is necessary to prevent us from sinning, it is insufficient. We must rely upon a power greater than ourselves to supply us with the instruction and the grace needed to persevere in doing what is right and avoiding what is evil. If we desire to avoid sin and remain united with Christ and the Church, then prayer is essential in the life of a Christian. Prayer is what helps us remain connected with the Lord God so that we might keep His will and His law at the forefront of our minds. If we cease praying, we lose that connection with the transcendent God and risk becoming enslaved to our own base desires. If we do not serve the Lord God, we risk becoming the servant of another lesser “god,” one that is cruel, less forgiving, and more self-serving. In the face of temptation, this reading reminds us of the importance of keeping our eyes fixed on the Lord Jesus and always turning to him in prayer.

Lastly, the text says that the old men “did not keep in mind just judgments.” Since they have suppressed their consciences and turned away from the Lord in prayer, their judgments are no longer rooted in the divine law but are based on their whims and perverted desires. They have no regard for themselves, nor do they have respect for the rights of Susanna, who is a married woman, or for Joakim to whom she is married. They try to take something or someone that does not belong to them. They abuse their authority as judges to oppress this woman and force her to satisfy their selfish desires. When ignore our consciences and disconnect from God in prayer, we set ourselves up to do more easily what is evil. We lose sight of God’s law and no longer seek to do what is right and just. Our concern is only with satisfying our carnal urges even if it is at the expense of other people. We no longer care who we offend or hurt by our words and actions, so long as we get whatever we want.

This whole episode from the Book of Daniel is a reminder of a fundamental teaching concerning the moral life, which has been taught by countless saints throughout the centuries: keeping custody of ourselves, that is, maintaining custody of the senses. Having custody of our senses, does not necessarily mean looking away when we see an attractive person or that delicious-looking piece of cake. Custody of the senses means keeping watch over our own hearts and not allowing evil thoughts to take hold of them. A person who has custody of themselves can look at an attractive person and not allow their hearts to be overrun by sinful thoughts or desires. We choose conscientiously not to objectify other people in our minds and reduce them to mere objects for our pleasure or enjoyment. We always recall each person’s inherent dignity and their basic human rights. Having custody of our senses can help us to see an attractive person and recognize them as the person that they are, created in the image and likeness of God. We should strive to always obey God’s law, as difficult as that is at times. We should also maintain our connection with God through prayer and the sacraments and treat other people the way we would like to be treated ourselves according to Christian charity.


– Fr. Matthew Mary, MFVA


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