July 18, 2012
Love The Sinner --- I Guess That's Me!
I noticed right away the title of this section of the catechism: Mercy and Sin. It reminded me of a section we reviewed earlier: Freedom and Responsibility. In the earlier section we saw something which seemed such a good thing, but then there was that “and,” with freedom there went responsibility. The opposite seems to hold true with this section. There is sin, which seems like such a bad thing, but then there is that “and,” reminding us that with sin there is mercy. The good isn’t unreservedly good, and the bad isn’t unreservedly bad. It reminds me of another thing we read of earlier, the virtue of Temperance, keeping control of ourselves. Too much freedom can be a bad thing; too much sin can be a bad thing. Temperance is called for.
Early on in our readings this week we see the tie between sin and mercy: “To receive his mercy, we must admit our faults. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins.” 1847 We also read of the workings of grace: “To do its work grace must uncover sin (else how could we confess it?) so as to convert our hearts (this is the forming of conscience and creating an attitude of beatitude --- living like Jesus --- in our hearts). This is subtly stating something which will be stressed later: there is a reinforcement mechanism in our conscience: sin and you are likely to sin more, turning your heart/conscience away for God, but see and confess your sin and practice good, and you are likely to sin less, turning your heart/conscience toward the ways God intended for you.
“Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is a failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods.” 1849 This accepts that all God created is good, as said in Genesis, but that man and God himself are above other created things in their goodness. Sin is not recognizing that difference, and setting a priority on loving the other things of creation, slighting God and neighbor. “Perverse” is a good word to describe that type of love of things; it is not how we were created to love.
“Like the first sin, it is disobedience, a revolt against God through the will to become ‘like gods,’ knowing and determining good and evil.” 1850 Regarding that first sin, “Man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his creator die in his heart and, abusing his freedom, disobeyed God’s command.” 397 We learned previously about conscience and inclinations deep in our heart to do good, and the reasons to do good: Trust in God. That is so important a thing that we even had it printed on our money: In God We Trust. Sin is letting your trust in God die in your heart. I don’t imagine it could be said better.
The catechism goes on to cite Matthew 15, noting that there are various ways to classify sins: what they impact, the virtues they oppose, the commandments they violate, and whether they concern God, neighbor, or oneself. The gravity of sin is generally identified as either being Mortal or Venial. “Mortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God’s law; it turns man away from God, who is his ultimate end and his beatitude, by preferring an inferior good to him. Venial sin allows charity to subsist, even though it offends and wounds it.” 1855 “Mortal sin, by attacking the vital principle within us – that is, charity – necessitates a new initiative of God’s mercy and a conversion of heart which is normally accomplished within the setting of the sacrament of confession.” 1856
“Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent.” 1857 “It presupposes knowledge of the sinful character of the act, and of its opposition to God’s law. Feigned ignorance and hardness of heart do not diminish, but rather increase, the voluntary character of a sin.” 1859
“Although we can judge that an act is in itself a grave offense, we must entrust judgment of persons to the justice and mercy of God.” 1861 This is a critical point: we can judge an act as being sinful and speak out against it, but we cannot/should not judge people. We judge the sin, not the sinner. It is something we so often fail in.
I’m reading a book right now which talks about sin in the world and in our culture, and how we should address it. (I’ll review it soon on my other blog: Do Not Be Anxious). The book explains that if we just tell sinners they are bad, we will never convert them. Like Paul preaching to the Greeks who worshipped many gods, the book explains that we must find good in the people and something in their ways so that we can initiate a conversation in agreement. Paul pointed to a statue dedicated to the “unknown god” that the Greeks worshipped, and he said that Jesus was that god. He had a point of conversation with which to engage the “sinners.” The book I’m reading notes that we must begin to evangelize in the same manner. Like Jesus, we have to sit down with the sinners, not condemn them. This was emphasized in those above words from the catechism about not judging sinners, but only the sin.
“Deliberate and unrepented venial sin disposes us little by little to commit mortal sin.” 1863 This reads like the opposite of the words we read a few weeks back on virtues. Repetitive small acts of virtue can build up habits, and habits can change inclinations of the heart --- making us more holy. Repetitive small sins can build up habits, and change inclinations of the heart --- making us less holy. We don’t want to get into the habit of sin by treating it lightly: “It’s only a small sin.” The next section on sin starts out stating it more bluntly: “Sin creates a proclivity to sin; it engenders vice by repetition of the same acts. This results in perverse inclinations which cloud conscience and corrupt the concrete judgment of good and evil.” 1865
The final two paragraphs in this section note the social action of sin. “Sin is a personal act. Moreover, we have a responsibility for the sins committed by others when we cooperate in them (in various ways listed). Thus sin makes men accomplices of one another and causes … injustice to reign among them.” 1868-9 One of the ways listed as cooperating in others’ sin is “by not disclosing or not hindering them when we have an obligation to do so.” I think this may apply to voting for those who actively support abortion.
Glancing at the YOUCAT section on sin, it largely re-enforced the above points in its question and answer format aimed at teens. I liked this line, however, that it quoted from St. Augustine: Sin is ultimately “love of oneself even to contempt of God.” I don’t think any of us would categorize our sins that way --- unless we took the time to think about them.
Next week we’ll read Article 1 and 2 of Chapter Two in the Life in Christ section of the catechism. The topics are The Person and Society, and Participation in Social Life --- maybe we’ll talk about partying? (I don’t know; I haven’t read ahead yet.) See you then.