Showing posts with label sinner. Show all posts
Showing posts with label sinner. Show all posts

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Losing the Sense of Sin: A Reflection

Perhaps the greatest sin in the world today is that men have begun to lose the sense of sin. Smother that, deaden it — it can hardly be wholly cut out from the heart of man — let it not be awakened by any glimpse of the God-man dying on Golgotha’s cross to pay the penalty of sin, and what is there to hold back the hordes of God’s enemy from over-running the selfishness, the pride, the sensuality and unlawful ambitions of sinful man? (Pope Pius XII)

The words of Pope Pius XII about the greatest sin being the loss of the sense of sin is a good warning for our times, but I wonder if we actually consider the fullness of what it implies. For years I interpreted it as an indictment of modern psychology and sociology denying morality in general. No doubt that is one aspect of it. But I’ve begun to wonder if there’s more to it than that. It seems to me that there’s another aspect to it, and that aspect is, “others sin, but I don’t—at least not in important ways.” That kind of mindset allows us to be religious, but focussing on the sins of others and never asking whether God is just as offended with us as he is with others. That’s dangerous because, if we think this way, we don’t examine our consciences seriously and don’t repent of what we do—except superficially.

This temptation can be found in all different factions—and the danger is to only see it only in them, not us. It’s easy to do. We might ask, “Why does the Church speak out on X (whatever we think is minor, or perhaps justified) but not on Y (what others do, but we don’t)?” The conservative Catholic might think of X as social justice, and Y as sexual morality. The liberal Catholic might think of X as sexual morality and Y as social justice. The Church speaks on evils involving both, but we tend to resent it when the Church teaching jogs our conscience and tells us we have to change.

He then addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else. 10 “Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity—greedy, dishonest, adulterous—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’ 13 But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’ 14 I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9–14).

I think the hostility of the Pharisees to Jesus serves as a good example for our own hostility. The Pharisees sought to live what they thought was a pure life pleasing to God. I don’t think we can doubt their sincerity. The problem was, they lost sight of the fact that they needed to repent as well. So, when Jesus spoke to them in parables showing that they were falling short, they responded with anger. After all, they were trying to live rightly! The tax collectors weren’t even trying! Why didn’t Jesus speak against them! But instead, Jesus told them, “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you. (Matthew 21:31b)” He didn’t say that because He was morally lax and wanted to change teaching. He said that because the one who knows he is a sinner and wants to repent will enter Heaven before the self-righteous who thinks he doesn’t need to change.

Pharisee and Tax collector

Yes, we do need to speak out on sin to the world that has been deceived to think that guilt over sin is merely a psychological disorder. But we also have to look to ourselves and consider how we have acted against what God calls us to be, constantly repenting and rejecting what is against His will. We must do this regardless of what the world does. We certainly cannot say that we’re fine because we’re not as bad as them (whoever we consider “them” to be).

As long as we cannot do this, we will be like the Pharisee who lost the sense of his personal sin.

Friday, June 12, 2015

"You Have Cast Off the Weight; Beware, Lest the Sand Overwhelm You"

Let’s consider a Bible passage from Matthew 9:9-13...

As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. 10 While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples. 11 The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 He heard this and said, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. 13 Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

From what we know about what Jesus taught, there is one thing we can never forget:

  • Major Premise: Jesus came to call the sinners, not the righteous.
  • Minor Premise: Jesus came to call us.
  • Conclusion: Therefore, We are sinners. 

If we forget this fact, then we run the risk of becoming like the Pharisees, looking upon others as sinners, but giving no thought to our own sins. If we give no thought to our own sins, how can we repent of the evil done? The fact is, there are two types of sinners out there—those who acknowledge what they do is wrong, and those who do not acknowledge what they do is wrong. Jesus was calling the Pharisees to conversion as well. But the Pharisees did not acknowledge their own sinfulness. Instead, they assumed that because they kept the law strictly and did not commit the sins of the tax collectors, they were righteous before God. But actually, they merely committed different sins and still need the attitude of metanoia—the change of heart—which means they regret the wrong they did and turn back to seek God. If they did this, they would receive God’s grace.

Likewise, if we think our own religious practices and the fact that we do not commit notorious sins to make us righteous before God, we are behaving in the same way as the Pharisees did. Let us consider the words of St. Augustine in his Commentary on Psalm 40...

Who is there can calculate the number of the hairs of his head? Much less can he tell the number of his sins, which exceed the number of the hairs of his head. They seem to be minute; but they are many in number. You have guarded against great ones; you do not now commit adultery, or murder; you do not plunder the property of others; you do not blaspheme; and do not bear false witness; those are the weightier kind of sins. You have guarded against great sins, what are you doing about your smaller ones? You have cast off the weight; beware lest the sand overwhelm you.


[Augustine of Hippo, Psalm 40, #21, in Saint Augustin: Expositions on the Book of Psalms, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 8, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1888), 126.]

St. Augustine raises an excellent point here. Let us not think that just because we may not have notorious sins on our conscience that we are free of sin. We can be damned by a multitude of sins that we dismiss as unimportant compared to the sins of others. This is why we must not rest on the assumption that our actions are good enough, compared to the sins of others. The saints sought the grace of God and struggled against their sins out of love for Him. We must go and do likewise.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

On People and Actions: You Are Not Your (Expletive) Khakis.

You are not your job, you're not how much money you have in the bank. You are not the car you drive. You're not the contents of your wallet. You are not your @#$%ing khakis.

—Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

One of the major problems that comes up when people hear the old adage of loving the sinner and hating the sin is that nowadays, people assume that what they do is what they are. Therefore, when the Church condemns an action, people assume this means the Church hates them personally. This is why people assume Christianity is “homophobic” or “anti-woman” when they condemn behavior like homosexual acts, contraception, abortion and divorce/remarriage. Then we get to hear a lot of people quoting Matthew 7:1 out of context.

As St. Thomas Aquinas put it, "Parvus error in initio magnus erit in fine.” (“Small error in the beginning; large [error] will be in the end”). From the beginning error of believing a person is what they do, the concluding error is condemnation of a sin = condemning a person. A person may have a job as an accountant, but that does not make the person an accountant and a person may have a same sex attraction, but that does not make the person a homosexual. The Church believes that a person is more than their actions or ethnicity—and to reduce them to their behavior is to treat them as less than human. 

In terms of Catholic teaching, the person is primarily a child of God. The individual may be ignorant of that fact. The person may reject that fact. The person may accept that fact. But regardless of what the individual does with that information, the fact remains that he or she is a child of God and however they are treated must reflect this fact. Because of this, the Catholic Church never allows us to turn our backs on the sinners, the poor or anyone else—we’re not allowed to write off anyone as irredeemable.

But the fact that we, as Christians, cannot write off anyone as irredeemable has one very important fact that follows from it—every person is in need of redemption. That indicates that we are at odds with God in how we live to some extent. When we act in a way which is contrary to how God calls us to live, that needs to change. Living contrary to God’s call blocks us from Our Lord's redemption, and such behavior must be abandoned if we would be saved. People who know what the truth is can offer correction, just as the person who teaches can offer a student correction when the student gets a wrong answer. That’s not being judgmental. Consider this excerpt from a Socratic dialogue by Peter Kreeft (one that does not deserve to be in obscurity):

Libby: You sound so damned sure of yourself, so dogmatic, so judgmental! Your namesake[*] said, “Judge not.” But you don’t dig that soft stuff, do you?

‘Isa: What do you think Jesus meant when he said “judge not”? Do you think he meant “don’t judge deeds, don’t believe the Commandments, don’t morally discriminate a just war from an unjust war or a hero from a bully”? He couldn’t have meant that. He meant “don’t claim to judge motives and hearts, which only God can see.” I can judge your deeds, because I can see them. I can’t judge what your motives are, because I can’t see that.

Libby: Then stop being so judgmental about that, at least.

‘Isa: But I can judge what your motives ought to be—just as you’re doing, when you judge “judgmentalism”.

—Peter Kreeft, A Refutation of Moral Relativism: Interviews with an Absolutist
(San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1999), 108.

So the Christian teaching is not “homophobic” or “anti-woman” (two popular epithets today). Rather the teaching is concerned with letting people know how their lives estrange them from God and what they must do to be saved. It’s not a hatred. It’s a case of viewing a person as being worth the effort to save—worthy of receiving our love because God loves them.

Sure, you’ll find Christians who are judgmental and hateful. You’ll also find atheists and Buddhists who are judgmental and hateful. But the Christian who actually hates another person because of their sins is not acting as God commands them to act. They are not acting as the Church commands them to act. I think people forget that. Yes, in the Middle Ages, punishments that we now see as barbaric were seen as normal. But even then, the person was not reduced to the evil they did. Even when the evil done resulted in Capital Punishment, the Church was still concerned for the salvation of the person—to bring them back to right relationship to God before they died.

But what happens when a person refuses to be brought back into right relationship with God? We certainly cannot say “Oh well, might as well go ahead and do it then.” We cannot allow people to redefine their action as “good.” But we can try to show love in pointing out that this action is harmful to a person based on what God wants them to be—because trying to encourage a person to abandon a harmful action is an act of love, not an act of hatred.


[*] The Arabic form of “Jesus” is ‘Isa. Hence the reference to “Your namesake” in the quote from Peter Kreeft.

Friday, December 5, 2014

TFTD: So Now They Change their Demands and Target the Church Directly


So, first they told us that while the Church had to tolerate what she thought was wrong in institutions affiliated with her and in businesses run by individual Catholics, but she at least had the right to determine who had the right to work or the Church directly.  But the article, "Investigation expected after gay choir director fired from Catholic church files complaint | WGN-TV,” shows us that now the Church can be targeted for legal retribution when she takes action against a member of a Church liturgical ministry acts in public rejection of Church moral teaching.

In this case, the music minister announced publicly that he was going to be taking part in a so-called “same sex marriage.” This is to make a public rejection of the Church teaching on marriage, and if the Church gives the impression she is indifferent to such behavior, it causes scandal because people might wrongly think the Church believes it is morally acceptable.

So, in response to this decision, the parish terminated his employment. Now he has filed a “discrimination” complaint against the Church.

The Church makes a distinction between reaching out to the sinner (which she must do) and accepting sin as good (which she must not do). When a person sins in his or her private life, the response is usually to reach out quietly to the sinner with the aim of bringing them to salvation. I’m sure there are people who work directly for the Church who are guilty of even mortal sin. It is spiritually harmful for them to be in that state, and people who seek to work for the Church need to recognize that they are called to live a life of Christian witness and the living in sin mars that witness. But the Church tends to work with such people with the sacraments and spiritual direction, reminding them of the need to live the way God calls them to live.

But once the person openly and publicly flaunts their rejection of the Church teaching, that becomes a serious matter. The Church is forced into a situation that either requires them to take action or cause scandal by giving the appearance that it accepts evil acts as good. Because Mr. Collette publicly announced he would be taking part in a so-called “same sex marriage,” the Holy Family Parish and the Archdiocese of Chicago chose to act, rather than give the impression that the action was morally acceptable.

What this case boils down to is a case of the State determining what religious and moral beliefs can be valued. Whatever religious beliefs the state does not approve of it can use coercion to change. In this case, the coercion is the use of the EEOC laws and regulations, treating the Church as a secular business—believing that holding members of the Church who work directly for the Church cannot be terminated for openly violating the teachings of the Church.

But the whole concept of religious freedom is that the state can neither coerce support of a state religion, nor force a religious institution to do what it believes to be morally wrong. So, if the EEOC is allowed to take action forbidding the Church from insisting her employees comply with Church teaching, or at least not publicly flaunt defiance of it, the result will be that the state is allowed to decide which religious beliefs can be enforced.

We’re in for darker times here.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Tablet Thoughts: Evil Catholic History?


One of the common attacks against Christianity and Catholicism in particular is to point to the savagery of history. The question asked is, "If Catholicism is God's Church, Why did they do [X]?"

[X] being supporting slavery or torture or some other kind of behavior which leaves us appalled in the 21st century.

The problem with these accusations is they tend to presume that Catholicism itself was the cause of the barbarism and to move towards an enlightened society is to move against Catholicism.

But the fact that these were societal practices that Catholics of a region happened to follow, it does not mean that Catholicism taught it as a doctrine to be practiced. Nor does it mean it was exclusive to Catholicism.

When Catholics object to attacks on past history, it is not because we deny they happened or want to whitewash them. Rather we object to the attempts to tie them exclusively to Catholicism and to distort the facts inventing motives we deny and increasing what happened by orders of magnitude.

The Whig Theory of History

Part of the problem is there is a certain view of history that holds that history is a story of progress. Things are constantly improving over time. People become more free over time. They become more civilized over time. Movements may arise to move people backwards, and they must be opposed.

Under such a view, Protestantism is an improvement over Catholicism. The Enlightenment is an improvement over Protestantism and so on.  Moreover, the Renaissance was superior to the Middle Ages and the Modern Era superior to the Renaissance (and vastly superior to the Middle Ages).

It's a flawed view of history which assumes that if social conditions a hundred years ago were worse than today, a thousand years ago, they must have been even worse still.

The view also presumes that because a society advances in technology, it must be advanced socially and morally. But just because government is becoming more centralized and law enforcement is getting better technology, crime is easier contain, that doesn't mean the society is better or safer.

A Catholic View of History

A more Catholic approach to history would recognize that every society is made up of human beings -- each one of them a child of God and each one of them a sinner. Each such society is flawed and practices certain vicious customs that go against the will of God -- even if the society has Christian roots.

What follows from this observation is that with two societies, a hundred years apart, it does not follow that the newer society must be superior to the older.

Instead each society has its own vices and injustices. Medieval society might have been wrong to view heresy as a capital crime, but remember, it was 20th century society that featured governments willing and able to commit mass genocide. It recognizes that at times barbarism replaces civilized society and that barbarism can have effects that far outlast the government that implements them (such as trials by ordeal existing in Europe long after pagan Germanic tribes fell out of power).

Also, this view can recognize that societies can embrace new evils which the older societies rejected. Ultimately this view rejects the notion of Progress as always moving forward... it recognizes societies can slip backwards and become worse, even as technology improves.

An Example of the Difference

For example, let's consider the 13th and 19th centuries. Under the Whig view of history, we would assume the 19th century was superior to the 13th, having overcome certain behaviour we find offensive today.

But, there was a major difference between the West of the 19th century and the West of the 13th century -- in the 13th century, slavery was almost unknown,  while it was a major factor in the 19th century (it was largely accepted in 1800 as normal). If slavery is an evil, it follows that a society that embraces it is worse than one which does not.

Surprised? But it's true. Slavery faded out of existence as Europe moved from a pagan society to a Christian one. When it existed, it was as penal labor as punishment for a crime.

Indeed, when slavery began to appear again when the Portuguese began taking captives in the Canary Islands for slaves. In 1435, Pope Eugene IV, in the document Sicum Dudut, condemned slavery and the slave trade, ordering the excommunication of those who did not free the slaves they took.

Church Teaching and Society's Practice is not Always the Same

The reader might object at this point, "But slavery didn't end!" Yes, you are right, sadly. People did ignore Church teaching on the subject...

...just as they ignore the Church today on subjects like abortion. It would be just as ridiculous to say that Christianity was the cause of the practice of abortion because of the number of Christians who practice it as  as it would be to say Christianity was the cause of slavery in the West because of thr numbers of Christians who practiced it.

That is: we can find Papal documents condemning slavery and abortion,  but we can't find the documents permitting them. So it isn't reasonable to accuse the Church of being pro-slavery, is it?

Sinful Catholics vs. Catholic Teaching

What's important to remember is that while the Church can insist people follow Church Teaching, they can't actually make them live by it. Some may be overt in their disobedience. Others may live hypocritically. Some may struggle to do right and fall short. Others may contemptuously ignore what they disagree with.

These sinners can be the average member of the laity or may be someone in authority. What's more, they are everyone in the Church except Jesus Christ (who is God) and His mother (preserved by a special grace).

So when it comes to condemning the Church herself, it is only reasonable if evil is done because the Church commanded it on matters of faith as a whole.  NOT because a member of the Church (even a Pope) behaved wrongly.

Now I know (I've encountered it personally) some object that this a No True Scotsman fallacy, claiming we deny that any inconvenient facts of history are "truly Catholic." But the point is, there is a difference between the teachings of faith and morals taught by the Church and the law enforcement of the Middle Ages. The former is protected from error. The latter is not. So a short sighted Pope, a corrupt Pope or a Pope who was not a good administrator could then govern the Papal States in a way that causes us to cringe today. Or even a good Pope of a different time could make an error of judgment in governing the Papal States that did not involve the teaching authority of the Church.

And if  this can happen with a Pope, how much less can we indict the whole Church on account of a bishop or priest (they lack universal authority) who does wrong.

Torture and Burning and High Body Counts

An anti-Catholic once made a rhetorical appeal to me, asking if I could think of anything worse than being burnt at the stake. My reply was, "Yes, being hung, drawn and quartered. " An English punishment often applied to Catholic priests and not actually abolished until 1870 (though they lessened some of the barbarism beginning in the 18th century).

Anti-Catholics like to bring up torture and burning at the stake. For them, it's the ultimate example of how evil we are. Basically, if we somehow got back in power, we'd be bringing back forced conversions (even though the Church does condemn those). Many assume we introduced these things to Europe.

Now I don't plan on doing a tu quoque argument or try to argue that it was acceptable in the past. While it is true that past society did practice these things and were accustomed to think of them as normal, that belief didn't make them right.

But we do need to realize that these things were not caused by Christianity. They came from Germanic tribes when they conquered areas of the decaying Roman empire. They stayed around far longer than the societies that introduced them did.

I'm not trying to pass the blame on to the pagans either. Rather I am pointing out again that every society acquires vicious customs which the locals come to think of as normal but is in fact wrong.  Abortion today is widely accepted, but still evil and barbaric.

That's why the internet wars on body counts are useless. The arguments assume one society or ideology has a monopoly on barbarism and cause the cruelty. But actually, what we're seeing is they have the common denominator of being human societies which embraced evil and expedience. Not because they were Catholic or Protestant societies.

Did men of religion accept them as normal when they should not have? Yes, even men with authority did. But that was a corruption of their religious obligations and not an example of religion corrupting men.


The important thing to remember in all of this is to distinguish between what Christ commands and what sinful people do. We need to distinguish between what the Church teaches us to do and how some individuals failed to follow.

At every Mass, the Church (and every individual at Mass) prays:

I confess to almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do,

through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault

As Catholics, we recognize that we are all sinners in need of salvation. But let's be sure we distinguish between the Church as the bride of Christ carrying out the Great Commission and the sinners within the Church causing scandal.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

What is it to Thee? Follow thou Me

Jesus saith to him: So I will have him to remain till I come, what is it to thee? follow thou me. (John 21:22 Douay Rheims)

The recent outrage by Pelosi reminds me of an incident a few weeks ago, where a person in one of the faith groups I lead with expressed a concern over how certain Catholic politicians tend to go along taking positions grossly incompatible to the faith and how certain bishops who have the authority and obligation to carry out the discipline of their diocese seem to do nothing over the whole affair.  Now I can understand such a view, having encountered it often in the past.  I can certainly understand how demoralizing it can be to see the individual politician who scandalizes with his or her position and seems to suffer no consequences for it.

It can be uncomfortable to be asked (and not have an answer to) the question: "Why doesn't the Church do anything about it if it is so important?"  I have seen those who disagree with Church teaching seek to use this as evidence of justifying dissent and I have seen those who support Church teaching express fears that a lack of action indicates sympathy or support for the dissenting view.

Such a concept is one which needs to be carefully assessed.  It assumes several things which need to be demonstrated as true and not merely accepted as true.  Some of these are:

  1. We have to avoid an either-or assumption of "Either the Church would act OR she doesn't care."  We have to acknowledge the possibility that the Church does care and does attempt to act but is acting in a manner which is not visible.
  2. We have to consider the possibility of the wayward politician being instructed and refusing to heed correction.
  3. We have to consider the possibility that what tactics we prefer may not be what the Bishop in question sees as the best way.  We need to remember that the Bishop is tasked to save the lost sheep.
  4. We must remember that the bishop may not sympathize with the dissenter but may behave in a way which is ineffective, because all of us are in need of God's grace.

We must remember "God is not mocked" (Galatians 6:7) and all will be judged on what they should have done.  There will be no excuse for living in open defiance to Church teachings.  As it says in Luke 12:

47 That servant who knew his master’s will but did not make preparations nor act in accord with his will shall be beaten severely;

48 and the servant who was ignorant of his master’s will but acted in a way deserving of a severe beating shall be beaten only lightly. Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.

We who have knowledge of the Catholic teachings cannot say we are ignorant of our Master's will after all.

Now what I say next may be misunderstood so I want to make this clear.  I am not saying we should just ignore the actions of our fellow believers who go astray.  To admonish the sinner is one of the spiritual works of mercy.  When Jesus says Stop judging, that you may not be judged," (Matt 7:1) it does not mean tolerating evil silently or letting everyone do as they please.  "Stop judging" means not assuming to know whether one will be saved or not.

So what I am saying is that we cannot point at a lack of perceived action as a sanction of dissent.  We know what the Church teaches.  Thus we know what we are called to do.  Because of this, Christ's words, so beautifully expressed in the Douay Rheims becomes an admonishment to us:  What is it to thee? Follow thou me.  (The NAB puts it: "What concern is it of yours? You follow me.")  Since we know what we are called to do, the bad behavior of others is not an excuse for us to do as we will.  Nor is the lack of visible reprimand from the Church an indication of permission or approval.

If we are troubled by the scandal of the fellow believer, we should remember what Christ has so sternly warned in Matthew 18:

6 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.

7 Woe to the world because of things that cause sin! Such things must come, but woe to the one through whom they come!

This is a grave indictment here.  Since we know that all of us are called to bring God's message of salvation to others, we are called to bring this message to the sinners of the world who are within the Church as well.

Since we should not desire the death of the sinner (God does not — see Ezekiel 18:23), we should feel obligated to pray for the repentance of the public sinner within the Church and pray for the bishop for who has the task of handling the case to do what is just.

Then we continue to follow Him, praying for the grace that we might not stumble on our own road.  We do not know what graces God provides to others and we do not know whether the scandalous ones will continue to reject these graces or whether they will repent.  We know our own task and we must be faithful in carrying it out, knowing the actions of others do not justify our own slack.