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Fr. Glenn: Guilty!

on August 27, 2017 - 8:04am
By Rev. Glenn Jones
Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church
Los Alamos

You know … guilt gets quite the bad rap. And “sin”? Hooo-boy! ... don’t even bring THAT one up. That’ll make you persona non grata even in many Christian circles these days. But what IS sin? ... that bugaboo word that even Christians in our day often disdain to utter? It is a short sharp word often ridiculed … yet certainly not by Jesus and the apostles, who spoke of sin often. 

For us Christians, sin can be simply defined primarily as the purposeful departure from the will and teaching of God, and therefore from the absolute Good, which God is. Secondarily, it is also when we purposely hurt someone in some way—physically or emotionally—in preference to our own desire/gain …, which also offends God. Conversely, St. John writes: “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” (1 John 4:16) Therefore the Spirit of God—the Holy Spirit—is a Spirit of love and charity … and thus St. Paul writes: “…the desires of the flesh are against the spirit, and the desires of the spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other…” (Galatians 5:17) …the spirit leading to charity and virtue, the desires of the flesh leading to selfishness and vice, a.k.a, “sin”.

Recently I saw a Facebook post: “No regrets! No sin! No guilt!” Hmmm … that seems awfully akin to “No responsibility for one’s actions!” Do YOU have regrets … sin … guilt? I know I do; after 55 years, are you kidding? Plato spoke of Socrates as the wisest of men because he claimed he knew nothing, while self-proclaimed wise men simply deluded themselves by believing themselves wise. Likewise, the Christian knows that neither is he free of sin, for we read in scripture: “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.” (Ecclesiastes 7:20) and “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us … If we say we have not sinned, we make [God] a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1 John 1:8-10)

As unpopular as the concept may be, “sin” is a most definite reality. Who can look at the world and claim otherwise? Yet often is heard: “The guilt that you Christians put in people by speaking of sin is not healthy!” It is not the guilt that is unhealthy; it is the sin/selfishness which is unhealthy … and spiritually destructive. Guilt and shame are simply the goads of conscience calling us away from doing what is wrong. Guilt should not be rejected, but listened to, heeded and learned from. Depart from wrongdoing—depart from sin —and the feelings and oppression of guilt vanish.

But this, of course, requires self-discipline. Self-control. Self-mastery. And more and more in our world we just don’t like that. Nowadays we hear that “No regrets! No sin! No guilt!” dodge thrown around freely—the “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” mentality. But nothing “stays in Vegas”; wrongdoing is a cancer to the soul.

All the instruction God gives to us is for our benefit; therefore, understanding what God calls us to do—and not to do—is essential. And He gives ample grace for self-mastery, giving us the ultimate example in Jesus, “…who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15).  As St. Paul assures us: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)

What is that “way of escape”? Getting up from the computer when tempted to click on porn. If married, opting out of the lunch “meeting” with that attractive co-worker. Killing sin before it grows. Striking the head of the snake as soon as it appears. Remembering St. James: “God…himself tempts no one; but each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire, when it has conceived, gives birth to sin; and sin when it is full-grown brings forth death.” (James 1:13-15) And perhaps most important of all … remembering humility, and rejecting narcissistic tendencies of self-glorification, selfishness and hedonism. 

There are numerous times Jesus Himself insists on obedience to God and repentance/turning away from wrongdoing and sin, as when He says: “You are my friends IF you do what I command you.” (John 15:14) As God gives grace for self-control, and when temptation rears its ugly head, the Christian should remember—and find strength in—those words of the poem “Invictus”:

I am the master of my fate.

I am the captain of my soul.

…for “I can do all things in him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)