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.

Coronavirus: The Reality We Need to Face

There is a lot of panic about the coronavirus as it spreads its way across the world.  Some of this fear is understandable and rational.  One’s bodily health and one’s life are goods that one is naturally attached to.  There is a natural desire to preserve one’s life and health.  Adopting some precautions is reasonable.  

Now, the coronavirus has made people more aware of the prospect of death. But has it made people aware of the reality of death?  We all know that if we do not die of the coronavirus, eventually we will die of something else.  We understand that death is inevitable. Yet, it appears that this crisis is leading few to a better understanding what death actually is, and what it means for us.

It is not death itself that is so feared. If it were, as it is meant to be for us, but a mere modification of the conditions of our actual existence, it would carry no terrors with it.  But if a man knows perfectly well that his mode of living here and now, his thoughts, his ideals, aspirations, affections, pursuits, tastes, have nothing in common with what must be the tastes, ideals, aspirations – in a word – with the mental outlook characteristic of the blissful world beyond the tomb, then he is naturally filled with fear.’  – Fr Edward Leen, ‘Why the Cross?’

One’s existence does not end with death.  We have an immortal soul which lives on into eternity. This is not just a Catholic belief.  One can come to this realisation by purely using reason as philosophers such as Aristotle and Plato did.  Most people have some vague sense of this reality. As Fr Leen points out, it is this fear of what happens after death that really terrifies us. The greatest result of the coronavirus would be to wake people up to the reality of eternal life so that they would really examine their current way of living. 

‘Death Comes to the Banquet Table’ by Giovanni Martellini (circa 1630)

In these modern times, we try our hardest to distract ourselves from the thought of death. We try to find numerous ways to fend it off.  Yet, it is still there, and it won’t go away.  We may leave a legacy and people may have memories of us but sooner or later, we must leave this life and enter the next.  At some stage, in our lives, perhaps during some festivities it will make itself known to us. We are obliged to acknowledge it no matter how much it may shock or irritate us, and we should do what is reasonable to hang on to respond to its presence. But, as we were but pilgrims in this short existence, is it not more reasonable to prepare for the most important occasion in our lives, i.e. the time our soul leaves our body?  This is the approach that any reasonable person should take.  It is in direct contrast to the spirit of the world that tells us to focus on the here and now and forget about death.  As Bishop Fulton Sheen points out, ‘The pagan tries to ignore death, but each tick of the clock brings him nearer to it through fear and anxiety.  The Christian begins his life by contemplating his death; knowing that he will die, he plans his life accordingly, in order to enjoy eternal life…The Christian principle for conquering death is twofold: (1) Think about death. (2) Rehearse for it by mortification now.’ Many people in Ireland today act like the pagan throughout most of their lives.  Death is ignored or brushed aside.  Then, something like the coronavirus comes along and suddenly the potential of death springs into their awareness.  Yet, this awareness is so superficial, and, for the majority, it does not lead to a contemplation of the reality of death or a preparation for eternal life.  In our clamour to avoid death, we ignore what death actually is. 

What Would The Saints Do?

St Francis of Assisi

Death and ill-health and accident and grief cannot be banished by any human formula, and the weaknesses attendant on human nature, sloth and self-indulgence, envy and hatred, can be eradicated only be each man taking up his cross and conquering himself.’ – Fr M C D’Arcy, ‘Mirage and Truth’

St Catherine of Siena

I have written in other places how the saints are great examples to us of how to live our lives. Now, many famous saints are depicted with skulls in their portraits.  This includes St Jerome, St Aloysius, St Catherine of Siena and St Francis of Assisi.  They kept these skulls as a vivid reminder of death. It was part of the Catholic practice of ‘memento mori’, a Latin term, meaning ‘remembrance of death’. The thought of death was ever before them so they could plan their earthly lives accordingly.  It reminded them of the need to take up their cross and conquer themselves. The coronavirus is a stark reminder of death. It challenges us, especially Catholics, to respond. 

But how should we respond? By following the example of the pagans around us and trying to avoid death while ignoring what it means? Or do we do what we reasonably can to mind our health while making sure most of our effort is focused on contemplating death and preparing for its inevitable arrival (whenever that might be)?  How often do we think about our own death and all that will mean? How often do we pray for the grace of a holy death?  How often do we think about the judgement that awaits us?  If any good can come out of the coronavirus it will involve the sparking of these questions in people’s minds.  The lockdowns that are happening all over the world give time for people to stop and think as they are not caught up in work or not able to get to the pub or social events.  Hopefully, there is only so much 24/7 coronavirus news that people can stand before they switch it off and really think about the significance of all that is happening around them.  Perhaps then, there may be a little light that gets in and instead of thinking about the various ways they will make sure they stay alive, they will start thinking about how prepared they are to meet their Creator.

‘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.  In that lies the whole explanation of suffering in life. It is only over the hilltop of Calvary that we make our way into the brightness and splendour and glowing life of the Garden of the Resurrection.’ – Fr Edward Leen, ‘In the Likeness of Christ’ 

The Real Virus:

The real virus is the one that zaps the truth about life and death from our mind. It is the virus that makes us forget about the universal realities and our last end. It is one that encourages us on the path to self-destruction and blinds us.  It is a virus that causes untold misery and unhappiness. It has its toxic allurements, its hedonistic distractions and its tempting false gods.  This virus hates the truth and those that speak and live it.  It has become so prevalent that the vast majority of people are infected by it. It has caused amnesia and the forgetting of the purpose of life.  It is a virus of error, falsehoods and lies.  It is more corruptive and destructive than the coronavirus or any other virus as it is a virus that affects our soul, not just our body.  If we are cleansed of this virus before our death, we will truly live. If we are not cleansed, we would be better off if we had never existed.

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 ever 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 R. H. J. Steurt, ‘The World Intangible’

While the coronavirus is getting 24/7 coverage across the world, this virus, sin, which is far more deadly and more contagious than any plague, is barely heard about as it goes about infecting more and more people.  There are no warnings about it from those who should be speaking about it, e.g. the pope, and the government is not closing businesses that promote it to protect us from it, e.g. many abortion facilities have stayed open.  Neither are they implementing new laws to protect people from it or sending out guidelines telling us how to operate around those who have it.  Yet, it is the most dangerous and contagious disease known to man.  Over the last number of years the Irish government have given this virus free rein and promoted it so it will infect as many people as possible.  God, have mercy on those that have encouraged so many on the road to perdition! It is this virus that will truly define our lives and it is this one that we should be constantly trying our hardest to avoid. 

 ‘As I live, saith the Lord God, I desire not the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way, and live.’ (Ezechiel 33:11)

Now, there is a cure to this virus. It is one that is freely and lovingly given to those who desire it. Part of it involves becoming familiar, like the saints, with the true understanding of death.  It involves reflecting on this regularly. So, let us do this and try to put things in their proper order. As Fr Boylan, in his excellent book, ‘This Tremendous Lover’, says, ‘Once the supernatural is admitted to be the one thing necessary, the natural must cede to it.  Natural standards, ideals or purposes must be laid aside, and things must be judged and arranged from the supernatural point of view.’ Let us make sure that we do not die contaminated with the virus of sin.  Remember that the health of your soul is far more important than the health of your body. So, in all of this madness, do what you reasonably can to take care of your health but make sure you do all you can to prepare yourself for death. 

God bless