Today on a TV news channel I heard a doctor talking about the ways that virus can spread. He used a term “fomites” (pronounced “foe-mights”). I immediately knew what it was about, but I looked it up: “any inanimate object that, when contaminated with or exposed to infectious agents (such as pathogenic bacteria, viruses or fungi), can transfer disease to a new host.”
If contagious I, while shedding virus, cough on a surface, and you, unaware, later put your hand on it, you could pick up the virus I shed by coughing. The surface was, for you, a fomite.
This is from Latin, fomes, fomitis, m., “kindling-wood, touch-wood, tinder”.
In theology we have a term, fomes peccati, the “kindling of sin”. This is the inclination to sinful, usually having to do with lower appetites, concupiscence, that is in us because of the wounds caused by Original Sin. Think of how kindling wood is dry, susceptible to catch a spark and begin to burn. That’s great when you want to start a fire, but it’s really bad when the fire is unwanted, such as in your house or a wildfire.
If fomites which spark illness in you are bad, fomites (plural of fomes) which spark sins in you are even worse.
The image was first in the Latin poet Prudentius’ work Apotheosis. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church we find this term.
1264 Yet certain temporal consequences of sin remain in the baptized, such as suffering, illness, death, and such frailties inherent in life as weaknesses of character, and so on, as well as an inclination to sin that Tradition calls concupiscence, or metaphorically, “the tinder for sin” (fomes peccati); since concupiscence “is left for us to wrestle with, it cannot harm those who do not consent but manfully resist it by the grace of Jesus Christ.” Indeed, “an athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.”
Here is something important to understand for when you are making an examination of conscience, both daily and especially before making a confession.
An inclination or a temptation (when you haven’t put yourself purposely in an occasion of sin) in themselves are not sins. These first movements toward sin, temptations, are just that. As a matter of fact, it can be meritorious to struggle against the first motions toward sinning and overcome them.
So, just as, today, we want to reduce viral fomites, we also want to reduce near occasions of sin and, by our discipline and self-examination, plan well how to resist those internal motions and initial impulses towards all manner of sin. Knowing your own weaknesses inside and out, through regular examination of conscience will help. Then make a plan about what to do when the fomites peccati kick in.
Meanwhile, guard your eyes. If you should avoid touching surfaces and then touching your face (a really good way to pick up contagion), you can spark your fomites peccati by looking at things, especially things you shouldn’t be looking at. Custody of the eyes is important.
Be careful, especially in your time of isolation. Be especially prudent, because, right now, it is hard to make a good confession.
“GO TO CONFESSION!”, I’m always harping. But now it is hard to do so.
Don’t get yourself into a real jam with sins when the availability of confession is so much less.