January 21, 2013
“Sin? I don’t want to think ’bout no stinking sin! God loves me and wants me to be happy. Don’t show me no sin. I just want to feel good about myself. I should be able to do anything that makes me happy and feels good.” Such might be the words of the average person for whom the subject of sin is a morbid one best not to be discussed.
Then there might be this reaction: “I already know what the Catechism teaches on sin. Don’t bore me. Show me something new.”
I’d have to ask, “So if you know all about it, do you still sin? Yes? Why?”
I think that a key reason why a lot of people don’t want to hear about sin is that we’re afraid that if we admit to ourselves something is wrong in our behavior, we are going to have to change what we’re doing in different aspects of our lives. We’re going to have to admit that certain things we do are harmful to others and to ourselves. We’re going, in some cases, to go through a lot of pain to correct bad behaviors we’ve engaged in for a long time. We have to admit (gulp) that we are wrong, maybe stupid, not as smart or clever as we like to think we are.
I also believe that a lot of people want to become better persons and are willing to look at sin for what it is: sick behavior originating from disordered desires within – the result of our fallen human nature. We can’t get well if we don’t get a diagnosis first. If we want to come closer to God to let the Divine Physician heal us, we need to understand what sin really is and what it does to us so that we can develop habits that will place us on the path to virtue and an ever more solid life in Christ. It is life in Christ that brings true happiness and joy, and the reason to feel good even in the midst of the perpetual suffering life brings.
Knowing that something is a sin because we’ve memorized a list from the Bible or the Catechism isn’t enough. We need to engage our intellect and look deeper into the subject if we are to fully appreciate what sin is and what we are doing to ourselves and others when we sin. In CCC (Catechism of the Catholic Church) #1849 we read:
Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. [That is, things we, in our disordered wills and intellect deem good.] It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as “an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law.” [St. Augustine, Contra Faustum 22: PL 42, 418; St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa I-II, 71, 6.]
Don’t be intimidated by the references. I just put them there because they’re in the Catechism and the more scholarly inclined might want to look them up.
An offense implies a relationship. After all, we can’t offend somebody if there’s nobody or nothing to offend. Here we see “reason” listed first. Sin is unreasonable, illogical, even though we might convince ourselves at the time that it is perfectly logical. Later on, after we have become sadder and wiser, we can see the unreasonableness of our actions, such as having sex with somebody because we believe we “love” him when we are clueless about the meaning of love and have confused lust with real love.
Sin is an offense against truth (and the Truth) because by sinning we are denying revealed truth given to us by God. Coveting our neighbor’s wife offends the truth that marriage is sacred between a man and a woman, and that we haven’t any business even thinking about disrupting God’s plan for two people to create a stable family that prepares new souls for heaven. Moreover, sin is an offense against the truth that God has made us for Himself but we live the lie that we exist for our own selves and whatever we define “truth” to be, acting accordingly.
Sin is also an offense against right conscience because we have an obligation to know what is morally right and wrong. This natural law is written on our hearts and the Ten Commandments are revealed truth about that law. Right conscience is necessary to guide us and is always rooted in truth and reason. To have a right conscience requires a lot of work to seek the truth, no matter how uncomfortable it may be to hear.
The Pharisees resisted a right conscience which is why they kept getting into trouble with Jesus and why they conspired to kill Him. We do the same thing today that the Pharisees did so long ago. We silence people, sometimes arranging for attempts on their lives, who speak the truth about climate change, for instance, or what marriage is, or what abortion does to persons involved and society as a whole. We demonstrate against politicians, sometimes violently, who support workers rights to not belong to unions and be forced to pay dues.
“Wounds the nature of man” means that by sinning we become less human, less of what God intends us to be, which is free to do that which is good. Our nature is not meant to be enslaved but free, but the more we sin, the less free we are because the sin starts to rule us. We are shackled by our own doing. We spend our time figuring out how to get our next “fix” instead of being concerned with what God wants. That next shot of gratification, whatever it may be, obsesses us. The One who can satisfy us completely is traded in for something that never satisfies permanently. We remain focused not on the things that are above but on things here below (Col. 3: 1-2).
Human solidarity is disrupted because we are not looking in the same direction – towards God – but instead look every which way to satisfy ourselves. Selfishness prevents unity, peace, and the common good, all necessary for a stable and just society.
CCC #1850 says:
Sin is an offense against God: “Against You, You alone have I sinned, and done what is evil in Your sight” (Ps. 51:4). Sin sets itself against God’s love for us and turns our hearts away from it. Like the first sin, it is disobedience, a revolt against God through the will to become “like gods,”(Gen. 3:5) knowing and determining good and evil. Sin is thus “love of oneself even to contempt of God” (St. Augustine, The City of God 14:28: PL 41, 436). In this proud self-exaltation, sin is diametrically opposed to the obedience of Jesus, which achieves our salvation.
The committed sinner, whether he believes in God or not, denies God what He has the right to have from each of us: our love, devotion, and submission to His will which is only ever ordered to our good. The great news is that we don’t have to live this way, this miserable stumbling about in darkness bruising and tearing our hearts, bodies and souls. Our first step toward healing is to admit that we aren’t and never will be smart enough to run our lives without His grace and mercy. On our own, we don’t know what is best for us, but He does and He is waiting for us to wise up, listen to Him and act accordingly.
We remind ourselves of these truths every time we recite the Act of Contrition:
O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee and I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell; but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, Who are all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life. Amen.
And from Jesus Himself we then hear these words: “Go and sin no more” (Jn. 8:11).
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