Did You Run Out of Sins?


ReconciliationBlessed John Henry Cardinal Newman once said: “Faith is illuminative, not operative; it does not force obedience, though it increases responsibility; it heightens guilt, but it does not prevent sin. The will is the source of action.” If the will is the source of action and faith is illuminative because it comes from God, then our free will should drive us to illumine our faith as much as possible.

One of the illuminations of faith Blessed Newman refers to is a “heightened sense of guilt” or in other words an awareness of sin in your life. St. Gregory of Nyssa echoes this point further;

“Empowered by God’s blessing man held a lofty position.  He was appointed to rule over the earth and everything on it.  His form was beautiful, for he was created as an image of the archetypal beauty.  In nature he was free from passion, for he was a copy of him who is without passion.  He was wholly free and open, reveling in the direct vision of God.  But all this was fuel to the flames of the adversary’s passionate envy.  He could not fulfill his purpose by violence or brute force, for the power of God’s blessing was stronger than such force.  So he contrived to detach man from the power which strengthened him and thus to render him an easy prey to his intrigue.”  -Documents in Early Christian Thought, pg. s 106-107

Confession Anyone?

No one, I believe, ever wants to be asked: “when was the last time you’ve been to confession?”  And yet, when I’ve respectfully posed this question to people it cuts to the heart of the matter. I immediately tell the person(s) that my desire is not to know whether they have or haven’t. The intent of the question is to stir the heart toward a continual call to conversion (CCC 1423). This question becomes more pivotal when a parent desires their child to make their first reconciliation but yet they in turn haven’t step foot in a confessional for years. It begs to ask the question; “when was the last time . . .?”

In a recent interview The Archbishop of Canterbury said that “confession is good for the soul.” Who would have guessed that the Anglican primate would encourage the sacrament of confession. The Most Rev. Justin Welby goes on to say; “through it God releases forgiveness and absolution and a sense of cleansing.”

One of the results of the fall some of us tend to overlook is that we still carry the propensity to sin even- though Baptism removes the initial calamity of sin.

“By Baptism all sins are forgiven, original sin and all personal sins, as well as all punishment for sin. . .Yet certain temporal consequences of sin remain in the baptized, such as suffering, illness, death, and such frailties inherent in life as weaknesses of character, and so on, as well as an inclination to sin that Tradition calls concupiscence, or metaphorically, “the tinder for sin” (fomes peccati); since concupiscence “is left for us to wrestle with, it cannot harm those who do not consent but manfully resist it by the grace of Jesus Christ.” (CCC 1263-1254)

A significant fallacy related to sin is the denial of it that exists. We easily forget that we live in a temporal world with limitations and consequences that affect us on a daily basis. This is a direct result of the fall of man. To this day our human condition is still trying to find the best way to reclassify sin.

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. –1 Jn 1:8

Teaching Sin

A student once asked me: “what’s the best way to teach someone about sin?” A simple method is as follows:

  1. Present a false story about someone. In other words describe the development of a lie.
  2. Deny that you lied about the person by developing another lie to covert the first one.
  3. Convince everyone around you that your lie is justified because it’s how you see it.

Sin by definition is an offense against, truth, reason, and right conscience. This leads to an offense against God (Ps 51:4) because our actions contradict His love for us (CCC 1849-1850).  The sin of lying reflects a love of self over the love of another. It is what St. Augustine calls: “a love of oneself even to contempt of God.”

One of the most important things you can tell anyone who questions the doctrine of Sin is that he can be healed. A consistent theme attributed towards a misunderstanding of sin is that the person cannot be healed or there is no need of healing to begin with. Both reasons are one in the same because the person has convinced himself that he is fine. The reality is this, we live in a temporal world, and because of this reality certain limitation do exist that require our attention, correction, and healing.      

Avoiding the Great Deception

St. Paul reminds us that we have a great penchant for fooling ourselves:

“Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, ‘He catches the wise in their craftiness,’” (1 Cor 3:18-19).

When someone says they have no sins to worry about the reality is they’re convinced they have no need for God’s mercy, and here lies the Great Deception. In other words, “my soul is just fine thank you very much.” The actual reality of the temporal world is that we are constantly challenged to perform good acts or evil ones. A genuine desire for mercy opens our understanding of sin and the desire to avoid it. Mercy reflects an intimate desire to be united with Christ and His Church.

Blaise Pascal sums it up best:

Being unable to cure death, wretchedness and ignorance, men have decided, in order to be happy, not to think such things.” –Pensées, 133


About Author

Department Director of Catechesis for the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth and author of Screwtape Teaches the Faith (2011) Saint Benedict Press.