The Right Reaction to Sin

Death Comes to the Dinner Table‘ by Giovanni Martinelli

In the last blog, we established that having a sensitive nature is not a problem. It is how our sensitive nature responds to certain stimuli that may or may not be a problem. Judging whether or not our sensitive nature is reacting in the right way can be helped by assessing whether or not our reaction is aligned with the feelings of Our Lord.  Following on from this, this article examines the contrast between our reaction and Our Lord’s reaction to that most disturbing of horrors – sin.

            Societies of today, particularly in Western countries, are immersed in the most atrocious filth and garbage. We have sodomites as leaders of countries and we have just been through a month which takes ‘pride’ in the most scandalous, despicable and disordered of sinful behaviours, a sin which cries to Heaven for vengeance. We are deliberately surrounded by and exposed to talk and news of the most horrific scandals. Due to our innate sensitive nature, if we are not very careful, we gradually become soaked in this filth ourselves. The natural abhorrence towards certain vices, which God has planted in our souls, becomes diminished.  Surrounded by and immersed in the filth, we develop a numbed sensitivity to the horrors we are exposed to until eventually we either fail to react the way we should to these horrors or, due to our tendency toward evil, we start embracing and loving the filth itself. It is like death has arrived at our dinner table and we are not even shocked by his arrival as we are already half dead ourselves. Fr Ripperger highlights this desensitisation when speaking about fornication – ‘Culturally, in the past, fornication was looked down upon as a great moral and societal evil because of all the evil effects to the individual and society, one of which is the general erosion of morality within a society.  As fornication and sexual licence became more pervasive, the society began finding it difficult to judge fornication as morally evil and today it has virtually no evil connotation at all.  What started out as particular individual difficulties with respect to passions has affected, over the long haul, the universal judgement of society about the evil of fornication in general.’ (1). To combat this ‘erosion of morality’ and this societal acceptance of filth, there needs to be a re-educating about what sin really is coupled with a reawakening of the correct response to it. There is an ordered, healthy and sane reaction to sin.  This blog will highlight what this is and how we can cultivate this reaction in ourselves.

What Sin Is

            Sin is rebellious opposition to God’s will. It is either a turning away from God (venial sin) or the complete severing of friendship with God (mortal sin).  It is a ‘destructive, disruptive thing. It un-does, it uncreates.’ – Fr Steuart (2). It is a voluntary rejection of Him Who wills our eternal happiness. It is a rejection of Him who is Truth Himself. It is a prioritising of our self-love over reality and it can thus it has been described as the embracing of unreality – Fr Leen (3). ‘Every sin is a conscious disordered manifestation of self-centredness.’ – Fr Fahey (4). It a scorning of the Divine Plan for our souls:

‘When we commit sin we inconsiderately prefer a finite good to God, the infinite Good.  If our sin is mortal our minds despise God to that extent that they judge that finite good worthy of being our god, and as such decree it to be the final object of our existence. If our sin is venial our minds scorn the friendship of God to the extent we gratify our self-love…Sin is a revolt, an act of the basest contempt and the vilest ingratitude towards the God of infinite majesty and goodness; an act which renews the cause of the death of Jesus Christ…From a child of God and an heir to the kingdom of heaven it degrades him into a slave of Satan, and condemns him to the punishment of hell.’ – Fr Geiermann (5). 

            Sin is also a rejection of His infinite love. To capture some of the awfulness of sin vivid comparisons to physical sufferings were often used by wise Catholic priests/writers. As Fr Gerard (6) says:

Sin is like a disorder and confusion in the moral law. The human spirit is gifted with freedom. The fair and full use of that freedom, however, depends on the way in which it is adjusted to certain fore-ordained laws. The spirit, even as the body, is ruled by a legal system designed for its own goodness and beauty. It may fall in with its laws and act according to their guidance; or it may go against them and do violence to all their directive influence. The latter course is to bring on the leprosy of sin. To turn away from God the everlasting Good and to turn away from Him for the sake of some passing good is to throw order into chaos, to turn health into disease, and, instead of life without end, to produce death without end.

Or as Fr Leen (3) explains:

If we were to multiply that desolation [of the world wars] a thousand fold, and embrace the whole world, and countless numbers of possible worlds and conceive them swept by the same desolation, the picture of horror would be of appalling magnitude. Yet all that falls short – infinitely short – of the evil involved in one mortal sin. Because all that destruction of human work and human life is the ruin of something finite. But mortal sin is ‘the evil of God’, the ruin not of the Divine, but of something that borders on the Infinite…There is something Infinite in the evil of sin. Though committed by a finite creature, once committed it passes out of his control, it affronts God and has a quasi-infinite malice.’

But it is not just mortal sin but all sin that turns us away from Love:

‘Sin is un-love, and it is therefore dead and death-dealing like a corpse.  The least sin is a more devastating agent of dissolution and corruption to the soul of man than every plague in history has been to his body.  The Church does not use exaggeration when she says that no material disaster can be compared in magnitude of evil to the effect of one deliberate venial sin.’ – Fr Steuart (2).

All these descriptions are designed to give us a true understanding of sin and help us to see the horror that it is and the destruction it causes.

Along with the vivid descriptions above, we have Fr Faber’s (7) outline of Our Lord’s hatred and abhorrence of sin, keenly felt and experienced through His Sacred Humanity:

‘As the soul is to the body, so was the sensitiveness and sympathy of our Lord’s Soul to the delicacy and susceptibility of his Body. Even to us, with our common gift of faith, the word sin is a real terror. It expresses a whole world of darkness. It is the negation of all that is bright, hopeful, desirable, or attractive. The possibility of our sinning is a thought to make us tremble. The likelihood of our sinning is our deepest fear; and our actual sin is by far our most real unhappiness. Yet we can scarcely understand the shrinking heavenly-mindedness which caused saints to fade away at the bare mention of the name of sin. Such a fact is an index to us of sublimities of love and of union with God which are to us little better than terms of mystical theology, respectfully believed in, but out of the range, not only of our experience, but of our comprehension also. How far then are we from being able to fathom our Lord’s horror of sin! The uncreated sanctity of his Divine Person had communicated to his Human Soul an unspeakable spotlessness, together with such a tenderness regarding the honour and purity of God as it is impossible for us to picture to ourselves, except in the most inadequate manner. If we might venture to think of disease as an emblem of a thing so holy, we might say that the wretched and unclean world was to our Lord’s shrinking Soul what the meridian beam of the sun would be to a wounded eye. It was something intolerable. It was a spiritual agony, seemingly unendurable for a moment, yet actually endured his whole life long.’

            Now, when we read the descriptions of sin from these Catholic priests above do we really feel what they are trying to tell us about the horror of sin? When we read Fr Faber’s description of Our Lord’s disgust at sin, do we begin to realise how non-reactive and indifferent we are to the sin that surrounds us? Do we really sense what sin actually is? Honest answers to these questions show us that we have become numb to the reality of sin. Our constant exposure to the filth and disorder of the world and our lack of understanding of the infinite goodness of God who is Love Himself has darkened our minds and dampened our natural abhorrence to certain vices.  Because we don’t understand the toxicity of sin, including venial sin, we start out on the slippery and almost imperceptible downward slope to mortal sin and eternal damnation. ‘It is simply a psychological law that repeated venial sin, committed with all due deliberation, must of necessity lessen in the soul the horror for sin and evil generally. It must deprive it of that delicacy of conscience which is the soul’s greatest safeguard. The removal of these safeguards makes the soul an easy prey to serious moral transgression.’ – Fr Vonier (8). Eventually, if we continue to slide into further sin, our conscience will become seared. A conscience barely reacting to the most heinous of sins severely reduces the chances of recovery from this disease, as Fr Meyer (9) explains,

‘Will they acquire again that delicacy of conscience which they have forfeited? Without a miracle of grace, such a change of heart seems impossible.  And who will dare look for a miracle in favour of those who have made themselves unworthy even of the ordinary aids of grace? It is possible, no doubt, because ‘with God are all things possible.’ But no one, certainly, that is in his sober senses, would stake his own salvation upon it.’

            So, let us be honest and acknowledge that we do not have the right idea or reaction to the horror that sin is. God cannot err nor sin as He is infinite Truth and Goodness. He has created us in His image so that we may know, honour, and love Him and, by doing so, we gain eternal happiness with Him in Heaven. He does not force us to accept His invitation as He has given us free will. We decide on the route we wish to take. By sinning, we scorn this most loving of invitations and, if we die unrepentant, we condemn ourselves to eternal misery. What madness to do so! Yet, this is the madness that many choose. Now, one of the keys for choosing the right path is developing the right understanding and reaction to sin. This involves a healthy dose of education about the reality of sin and the fortification of our minds in this reality, which is especially necessary in these times of moral depravity. We must detox our minds from the mires into which they have sunk. We must avoid frivolous relations with sin or light talk of it. The advice of Fr Leen (3) to missionary nuns applies equally to us today, as it is in our own countries where we are in daily contact with sin:

‘School yourselves never to speak lightly of what is mortal sin, of deeds which imply violation of God’s law. Never speak without horror of disregard for, or violation of, God’s law. That warning is not an idle one. You are going to a foreign country to combat sin; you will be brought up against it daily, and it could easily happen that your feelings could become blunted to the awfulness of sin. That is what happens to us priests if we do not stir up our faith often.

        Even here at home if you read of crimes in the newspapers, murders, sins of pride, perjury, etc., do not think lightly of it. Always remember that these things are mortal sins, and mortal sin is an appalling calamity, no matter by whom it is committed.’

            These efforts to avoid the contamination of sin require mortification of our curiosity, vigilance and perseverance but it is by these efforts that our happiness, even in this life, is increased rather than hindered, as Fr Faber (10) explains:

‘The soul of sadness is self-love. We are sad because we are weary of well-doing and of strict living.  The great secret of our cheerfulness was our anxiety and diligence to avoid venial sins, and our ingenious industry to root them out. We have now become negligent on that very point, and therefore we are sad. If indeed we still try, as much as we did before, to avoid actual venial sins, we have lost the courage to keep ourselves away from many pleasant times and places which we know to be to us occasions of venial sin. We content ourselves with an indistinct self-confidence that we shall not fall; and at once the light of God’s countenance becomes indistinct also, and the fountain of inward joy ceases to flow.’

            Most importantly, we need supernatural grace to give us the strength to combat and understand sin.  A sincere, humble, and well-prepared for confession is where this strength and understanding is to be found. ‘You will find a great alleviation of soul, you will find a great refreshment and above all you will receive that special grace of the Sacrament of Penance – a great strengthening against the evil tendencies in yourself, because you receive some of God’s own horror and aversion for sin and everything leading to it.’ – Fr Leen (3). It is here where Our Lord through His representative, the priest, provides the means for cleansing our souls. But, it is up to us to prepare for this cleansing.  Through the Sacrament of Penance we are offered the graces to die to self and live for God as Fr Leen (11) explains:

‘To live to God we must die to sin, and this death to sin cannot be achieved without its own passion. It was through the Cross that the world was redeemed – it remains that by the Cross and the Cross only, personally borne and endured, each individual enters fully into the redemption and is sanctified.  Self must die in order that God may reign in undisputed sway in us.’

So let us be horrified by the slightest sight and sound of sin. Let us rid our lives of sin and not look back on it with fondness or pleasure but instead remind ourselves how offensive it is to God.  ‘It behoves us to kindle our contrition and repentance as much as we possibly can, so that it may reach even to the very smallest appearance of sin. Thus it was that the Magdalen, when converted, so entirely lost all taste for her past sin and its pleasures, that she never again cast back one thought upon them; and David declared that he hated not only sin itself, but every path and way which led thereto.’ – St Francis de Sales (12). As Fr Geiermann (5) notes, ‘The spirit of compunction (‘the habitual grief of the soul arising from a constant remembrance of our own sinfulness’) prompts us to do violence to ourselves for the kingdom of heaven.’ Our weakness is always something we must keep in mind. And let us remember that, due to the effects of Original Sin, we ‘are more susceptible to occasions of sin than snow is to fire.’ – Fr Scupoli (13). 

This battle against sin is one we all must face and one, where only the strong, wise, humble, and persevering, will be victorious. Let us cultivate the right attitude and reaction to sin. Finally, ‘unless we keep the Christian ideal and the evil of sin vividly before our minds, they will gradually fade away, and, in proportion as they do, will they be replaced by worldly-mindedness and selfishness of heart.’ – Fr Geiermann (5). So let us keep the final goal of sanctity, the Christian ideal, and Heaven in our minds so that we will fly from all occasions of sin. And lest we feel overcome with the extent of our sinfulness and we fear that we are completely lost in the mire let us remember the mercy and goodness of Our Father who lovingly embraces the prodigal son on his return. As we run from sin let us run into the arms of Our Loving Father as:

The essence of Christian perfection consists in union with God by charity…In other words, charity is the force uniting man to God, and sin the force drawing him away.’ – Fr Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen

God bless you in your efforts to cultivate the right attitude and reaction to sin and by the grace of God, may this article be of some help in aiding you to do so.

References:

  1. Fr Ripperger, C. (2013). Introduction to the Science of Mental Health. Lincoln: Sensus Traditionis Press
  2. Fr Steuart, R. H. J. (1934). World Intangible. London: Longmans, Green & Co.
  3. Fr Leen, E. (1958). My Last Retreat. Cork: Mercier Press.
  4. Fr Fahey, D. (1945). The Mystical Body of Christ and the Reorganisation of Society. Palmdale, California: Christian Book Club of America.
  5. Fr Geiermann, P. (1914). The Narrow Way’. New York: Benziger Brothers. Available here: https://archive.org/details/narrowwaybriefcl00geie
  6. Fr Gerard, T. J. (1908). The Cords of Adam. Republished by SSPX Press, Kansas.
  7. Fr Faber, F. W. (republished, 1955). Bethlehem. Baltimore: John Murphy Co.
  8. Fr Vonier, A. (1913). The Human Soul and Its Relation to Other Spirits. London: B. Herder Books. Available here: https://archive.org/details/humansoulitsrela00voni
  9. Fr Meyer, R. J. (1906). Science of the Saints. St. Louis: B. Herder Books. Available here: https://archive.org/details/scienceofsaints01meyeuoft/page/n5/mode/2up
  10. Fr Faber, F. W. (republished, 1960). Growth in Holiness. London: Thomas Richardson & Son. Available here: https://archive.org/details/GrowthInHoliness/page/n7/mode/2up
  11. Fr Leen, E. (1944). In The Likeness of Christ. New York: Sheed & Ward. Available for online borrowing here: https://archive.org/details/inlikenessofchri0000leen/mode/2up
  12. St. Francis de Sales, (original 1600’s). The Devout Life. Copy available here: https://www.catholicspiritualdirection.org/devoutlife.pdf
  13. Fr Gabriel of St. Margaret Mary (1964). Divine Intimacy. New York: Desclee Co.