“To depart from evil is understanding” (Job 28:28).
Sin is something altogether mysterious and awful: a turning away from God and a turning to the changeable good. As broken human persons, we create for ourselves a myriad of excuses for the sins we commit. It seems that our changeable and too easily distracted mind can hardly conceive of the idea of the Supreme Good (God) and still less hold It as the object of its preference over and above all else. In every sin, therefore, there is some element of error, a mistaken judgment.
The very possibility of sin even remains a mystery. We can point to our free will in the face of good and evil, but if God is the Supreme Good, why are we so little attracted? And for those of us who have been graced with even a little bit of the knowledge of the goodness of God, should not that little bit be enough to captivate our hearts and convince us of the absurdity of sin? We outrage the Supreme Good, we offend God, we sin against God – these are terrifying and awful thoughts; but why and how such actions are really possible is beyond our power of explanation.
This painful problem deepens into a darker mystery when viewed in light of the Incarnation and Redemption. How is it that the Word-of-God-made-man should have died upon the cross to destroy sin, and yet that sin should be so little destroyed – that sin should be still so much alive within us: “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do” (Rom. 7:19)? This is a profound mystery. Yet as incomprehensible as it is, the fact remains that sin is really an outrage against God and we must strive to convince our minds of the awful reality of that outrage.
For those, however, who cannot see their moral failings within the context of God – those who only see shortcomings within their own little bubble of reality – the concept of an offense before God makes no sense whatsoever. Recognition of sin presupposes a recognition of God. The sad case of those who pursue the nothingness of sin, as if it were their highest good in our broken world, walk their own via crucis. None here on earth can escape suffering and sin – our own or the effects of others – but the pursuit of nothingness brings its own bitterness for the soul, exasperating the problem of sin all the more. As Sigrid Undset states in her biography of Catherine of Siena: “Those who follow the devil have to bear his cross, and there are many who become martyrs for the devil too” (pg. 267).
This is all too common in the world today. In everything from intense greed, to rampant and addictive pornography and masturbation, the devil has his followers. And even if we are striving to follow God but fall out of weakness, when we sin we are taking steps on the road to being one of the devil’s martyrs, because the very definition of sin is to turn from God: “If I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells in me” (Rom. 7:20).
These reflections lead us to the inevitable conclusion that we must hold fast to the simple truth that contrition – true sorrow for sin – is supernatural. Through the revelation of God, we attain to the idea of the Supreme Good. Faith teaches us that it profits us nothing to gain the whole world if we lose the Supreme Good. What can heal this sickness is recourse to the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, as the source and motivation of contrition. We cannot have contrition if we separate from the Passion the idea of sin which is its cause, and if, in the Person of the suffering Christ, we do not see the God whom sin offends and the Supreme Good from which sin turns us away.
Contrition, therefore, involves a proper knowledge of the goodness of God. The good news is that Goodness itself is always calling us. The very first line of the Catechism assures us of this: “God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man.” Even when we fall and it seems like the devil is taking us down his dark road, the God of the universe beckons us to him. True contrition acknowledges the mistaken judgment made in sin, and with a firmness of will, we can turn back to God who is always drawing us. In the end it matters not so much that we sin; that is a rather typical outcome of our fallen human nature. What matters more is what we do with this new understanding of our sin: Will we depart from evil?
To conclude here are a few helpful tips:
- In times outside of temptation, pray for a deeper knowledge of your own sinfulness, always in light of the mercy of God, and pray for a strengthening of your will to choose what is truly good. Remember, sin is in the will and even when we know what is right we often sin due to weakness. Ask God to give you a resolute and stalwart will in the face of temptation!
- Frequent the sacrament of confession with a searching zeal. We are all called to be saints, and if you go to confession frequently and find little room for improvement in your life or you are simply confessing the same sins time and time again, consider that sanctity is a call to perfection! The fruits of contrition and sanctifying grace in the sacrament of confession will follow if we keep our mind’s eye on the main purpose of our vocations: sainthood!
- There is power in the Name of Jesus to break every chain that shackles us. Go before our Lord and offer every one of your chains to His Holy Name. A beautiful way to do this is to bring these hurts to Jesus in Eucharistic Adoration. Spend a short while with the Eucharistic Lord repeating the name of Jesus, asking for His healing.
Image: Lawrence Lew, Tympanum Detail (Notre Dame, Paris)