Sunday, 23 June 2013

Some Thoughts On Sin

I have been thinking a lot over the past few months about sin. This post is an attempt to give (some of) my views on what sin is and how an increased awareness of my sins has changed my outlook to life.

The Catechism, in points 1849 and 1850, describes sin as being an offence, both against eternal law (CCC 1849) and against God (CCC 1850). These would seem to be linked, given that God established eternal law in the scriptures. I have struggled to find appreciable differences between eternal law and natural law, but that could be a whole other post... 

To describe sin as being an offence against reason, truth and right conscience seems to indicate that everyone has an instinctive sense of right and wrong which is linked to our notion of sin. The key difference in a belief in wrong-doing being sinful is that wrong actions carry a consequence - a loss of grace in our relationship with God. If one does not believe in God, what consequence is there to wrong-doing besides that which society imposes in the form of our judicial system? To some the threat of imprisonment is cause enough to keep them from wrongdoing, but for those who believe in God, the idea of being separated from Him is far more of a deterrent than the possibility of a policeman knocking on our door,

So this leads to the idea of different types of sin - mortal and venial. Until very recently I was barely aware that these two 'classes' of sin existed - indeed I asked a class I was covering recently if they could tell me what was meant by mortal sin and out of the 10 who had made their first communion and been confirmed, not one could tell me anything substantial. This ignorance (including on my part until recently) points to either poor catechesis at first communion and/or confirmation or a lack of reinforcement since; given that I can remember my preparation for both sacraments I suspect the former. 

Venial sins are those which are not grave, or serious, offences, and which, while they damage our relationship with God, can be wiped away by remorse and an act of contrition such as that at the start of mass. Mortal sins are serious, committed knowingly and committed willingly; they destroy our relationship of grace with God, and can only be removed by sacramental absolution during confession.

When I have committed venial sins I feel dispirited, particularly during an examination of my conscience, but there is a sense of relief after making a heartfelt and spiritual act of contrition. Over the past couple of years I have tried to do this everyday, usually at the start of Compline (Night Prayer), and would strongly recommend it.

Mortal sins however are very different. The shame and anguish of being in a state of mortal sin is depressing even to consider; I have a real sense that I am missing a part of my life, knowing that I have offended God in such a serious manner. However, in the same way as the anguish of mortal sin is a thousand times worse than that of venial sin, so to is the satisfaction, elation even, that I feel after making a considered and frank confession.

I am very conscious that I have barely scratched the surface of my thoughts on sin, but I will finish this post with a short story of an experience of a confession which I think illustrates the idea of sin damaging or destroying our relationship with God:

I had gone to Lourdes with a school trip; I hadn't been to confession for a number of years (during my time at university and in my first years of teaching), but I felt inspired to go during my time there. I found out the timings of English confession and was half an hour too late, but made a note of the times and luckily I was able to receive the sacrament the following day. It was a beautiful day in Lourdes - it was all sun cream and sunglasses, but I remember coming out into the warm sunshine and appreciating it in a whole new way. I genuinely felt like God was with me in a way that I had not felt for years - my relationship with him had truly been restored.

As always, comments are welcome.

Best wishes


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