|Devotion to Our Lady||
“It is expedient for you that I go: for if I go not, the Paraclete will not come unto you; but if I go, I will send Him to you; and when He is come, He shall convince the world of sin” — John 16:7-8
Millions Have Died Since Last Lent
Since last Lent began, how many souls that were gathered here have passed into eternity. It is estimated that, in 2016, 56 million people died. And before another Lent begins, how many will stand before the Great White Throne. Who among us shall be the first to go to judgment? There 108 worldwide deaths per minute or 1.8 deaths every second (estimate for the year 2016).
What is the disease that kills so many people each year? It is the disease of sin! As Holy Scripture says: “Wherefore as, by one man, sin entered into this world, and by sin death; and so death passed upon all men, in whom all have sinned” (Romans 5:12). “There is a sin unto death” (1 John 5:17). “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). “The soul that sinneth, the same shall die” (Ezechiel 18:20). “Now the sting of death is sin” (1 Corinthians 15:56).
Let us, therefore, profit from this Lent, as if knowing it to be our last; let us begin this time of conversion to God as if we were sure that another would never be granted to us. “Bring forth, therefore, fruits worthy of penance, for now the axe is laid to the root of the tree; every tree, therefore, that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.” (Matthew 3:8, 10).
We Must Understand and Evaluate Sin
These thoughts have made me choose a subject, sad indeed and severe in all its parts, but vital to every one of us, necessary for our salvation, the root and foundation of all — I mean sin, its nature, its effects, its consequences. Sin is the greatest evil—in fact, the only real evil—in the world. All the other evils that we suffer are merely consequences or the effects of sin.
This subject is chosen because there can be none other so necessary, and because the precept of the Church, binding us all to Confession and Communion at Easter, begins more urgently to warn the conscience of every member of the Catholic Church. I therefore appeal to you all. I appeal to your conscience to fulfill, each one of you for yourselves, this duty of salvation; and not for yourselves alone. Fathers and mothers, warn your families and households; friends and neighbors, warn with humility and charity all whom you know to be neglecting the practice of their duty to God.
The Holy Ghost Convinces of Sin
The words of our Divine Savior reveal to us what is the work and office of the Holy Ghost: “He shall convince the world of sin.” To the end of the world, the work and the office of the Holy Ghost is to convince the world of sin; that is to say, to convince the intellect, and to illuminate the reason of man to know and to understand what sin is; and also to convict the consciences of men, one by one, of their sinfulness, and to make them, each one, conscious that they are guilty before God.
This is the office of the Holy Ghost; and in all time, from the beginning of the world, the Holy Spirit of God has illuminated and convinced the intellect and the conscience of men to know God and themselves, and thereby to understand in some degree the nature of sin. But the fullness of that light and illumination was reserved unto the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Ghost came in person to dwell forever in the Mystical Body of Christ.
A Time When There Was No Sin
In the beginning, when God made man, He made him sinless, and He gave him the light of the Holy Spirit; so that man knew God, His holiness and perfections; and he knew himself, and the nature in which God had created him. He knew the law of God; but he did not know sin, because as yet the law had not been broken. He could not know it, because he had as yet no experience of breaking God’s law, with its bitterness and its fatal consequences.
But when man sinned against God, then all was changed. Then he was conscious of his guilt, and strove to hide himself from the face of his Maker; but he only hid God from his own conscience. He could not escape from the presence nor from the eye of God; but he could hide the light of God’s presence from himself — and this he did. Therefore, from the beginning of time, God in His mercy, by the working and light of His Spirit, taught men to know, in some measure at least, His own perfections and their own sinfulness; but it was only like the twilight preceding the noonday. We are in the noonday; and if in the noonday we are blind to the perfections of God and to our own sinfulness, woe to us in the Day of Judgment.
Therefore, let us begin by the most general outline of what sin is, and to lay down certain broad but simple principles, which shall be applied to future subjects. We must first, therefore, speak of the nature of sin, of what it is, and of certain distinctions of sin, which will be necessary for us hereafter to refer to.
What is Sin?
First, then, what is sin? There are many definitions of it, and one is this: it is the transgression of the law. “Sin is the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4). God is a law to Himself; and God wrote upon the conscience of man the outline of His basic law—we call it the Natural Law. Even pagans have this basic Law written in their hearts. He made man to know right from wrong; He made him to understand the nature of purity, justice, truth and mercy. These are perfections of God, and on the conscience of man the obligations of this law are written. Every man born into the world has this outline of God’s law written upon him, and sin is the transgression of that law.
Holiness and Hideousness
Another definition of sin is: any thought, word, or deed contrary to the will of God. Now, the will of God is the perfection of God Himself — holy, just, pure, merciful, true; and anything contrary to these perfections in thought, word, or deed is sin. The conformity of man to the will of God is the sanctity or the perfection of the human soul; and the more he is conformed to the will of God, the holier and more perfect he is.
Therefore, to be at variance with God is to be deformed; and the most imaginable monstrous deformity of the human body is not more humbling nor more hideous than the monstrous deformity of a sinful soul. When the soul is unlike to God, when it is departed from the perfection of God, when instead of purity there is impurity, instead of justice there is injustice, instead of truth there is falsehood, instead of mercy there is cruelty, instead of the perfections of God there is the direct contrary of those perfections: no deformity or hideousness that can strike the eye is so terrible.
Malice of Sin
The malice, then, of sin consists in a conscious variance with the will of God. God made us to His own image and to His own likeness; He gave us all that He could bestow upon us. He could not bestow upon us His own nature, because that is uncreated, and no creature can partake of the uncreated nature of God; but God could bestow, and He did by His omnipotence with His mercy, bestow upon us His likeness, His image, an intelligence and a will, a heart and a conscience, so that we become intelligent and moral beings.
The malice of sin consists, then, in this: that an intelligent creature, having a power of will, deliberately and consciously opposes the will of its Maker. The malice of sin is essentially internal to the soul. The external action whereby the sinner puts his sin into action, adds to this internal deformity; but the essence, the life of the malice, consists in the act of the soul itself.
An Abuse of Human Nature
We see, then, that sin is the conscious departure of our moral being from the will of God. We abuse our whole nature: we abuse our intellect by acting irrationally, in violation of the will of God, which is written upon the conscience; we abuse our will, because we deliberately abuse the power of the will, whereby we make ourselves the origin of our actions in opposition to the will of God who gave it.
We apply our intellect and will, with our eyes open and with freedom and choice, to the performance of acts, or the utterance of words, or the harboring of thoughts which are known to be contrary to the will of God; and, therefore, in every sin, there is the knowledge of the intellect of what we are doing, the consent of the will in doing it, and the consciousness of the mind fixed upon the action despite these two objects: the law and the Lawgiver — the law of God known to us, and the Giver of that law, who is God Himself; so that we deliberately, with our eyes open and of our own free will, break God’s law in God’s face. Now, that is the plain definition and description of sin; and here I must, for a moment, turn aside from our path.
The World Gets Worse
These last generations have become impious and immoral in a stupendous way, with an audacity never before known in the Christian world. Men and women today are attacking the foundations of human society and of Divine Law. They have talked of late of what they call independent morality. And what do you suppose is independent morality? It means the law of morals separated from the Lawgiver. It is a proud philosophical claim to account for right and wrong without reference to God, who is the Giver of the Law. It is usurping the role of God. Like Adam and Eve, men and women want to be gods unto themselves.
And what is the ultimate goal of this theory? It is to get rid of Christianity, and of God, and of right and wrong altogether, and to resolve all morality by mere human reason. It tells us, the dictates of human reason are variable all over the world, and change from generation to generation—what was bad yesterday can be good today, and what was good yesterday, can be bad today—this philosophy denies and destroys the foundations of morality itself.
As Holy Scripture says: “Woe to you that call evil good, and good evil: that put darkness for light, and light for darkness: that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter” (Isaias 5:20). As St. Peter writes: “Knowing this first, that in the last days there shall come deceitful scoffers, walking after their own lusts” (2 Peter 3:3). To which St. Paul adds: “Know also this, that, in the last days, shall come dangerous times. Men shall be lovers of themselves, covetous, haughty, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, wicked, without affection, without peace, slanderers, incontinent, unmerciful, without kindness, traitors, stubborn, puffed up, and lovers of pleasures more than of God: having an appearance indeed of godliness, but denying the power thereof. Now these avoid” (2 Timothy 3:1-5).
Two Chief Kinds of Sin
There are two chief distinctions in the nature of sin. There are what are called formal sins, and what are called material sins. The importance of this distinction you will see below.
1. Formal Sin
What is formal sin? It means a sin committed with a full knowledge of what we do, and a full consent to do it; so that in proportion as men have light, and know the law and the Lawgiver, in that proportion the sinfulness of their disobedience is increased. The holy angels were created by God in the full knowledge and light of His presence; and those who fell from their perfection by rebellion were formally guilty, in proportion to that angelic knowledge which left them without excuse.
All those who possess a clear light to know what is the law, and yet violate that law, are guilty, as Peter was guilty for denying his Master, and as Judas was guilty for selling Him; both were guilty in the proportion of their light.
Those who, knowing the natural law, break that law, are guilty, because the law is written upon their conscience.
Those who break the Christian law, knowing the Christian Faith, in the proportion of their light, are guiltier; and, above all men, those who have the full light of the Catholic Faith, if they break the laws of Jesus Christ, are the guiltiest on the face of the earth.
You are guilty in the measure in which you have greater light; in the measure in which you have a fuller illumination, in that measure your guilt before God is greater. Sins, then, are formal when committed with full light and consent.
2. Material Sins
Now, what are material sins? The same actions done without sufficient knowledge, or without intention. Two men may commit the very same action, and the one be guilty before God, and the other not guilty. If, in the dark, I think that I am felling a tree, and with my axe I cut down a man, I am not a murderer. I have committed manslaughter in the dark, and without intention; and if the man I have slain be my own father, I am not a parricide; yet the act I have committed is materially an act of murder and of parricide. The quality of sinfulness, therefore, is purified, and taken away from the action, if I do not know what I am about, and if I do not intend it.
Our Divine Lord prayed for those who perpetrated the greatest sin that was ever committed on the face of the earth in these words: “Father, forgive them; they know not what they do.” In His Divine compassion He prayed for His crucifiers; and the Apostle, speaking of Him, says: “Whom none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known him they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory.” That is to say, among the multitude, perhaps the greater number did not know what they did, and that Divine prayer of compassion reveals a law of God’s equity and pity upon the ignorant.
Nevertheless, those who know, or have it in their power to know, are guilty; for we are responsible not only for all that we do know, but for all that we could know, and therefore ought to know.
This is what you hear of as vincible or invincible ignorance. Ignorance takes away the guilt of our actions if that ignorance is invincible, for then we cannot overcome it. If we could not know any better, then God in His infinite mercy, though we have committed a material sin, will not take account with us as if it were a formal sin. But there is another kind of ignorance which is called vincible, because it may be overcome if we use the proper diligence to know; and God has put within our reach the means of knowledge sufficient if we will diligently seek it.
Another Distinction of Sin: Original Sin and Actual Sin
This, then, is the first distinction of sin, into formal and material sin; yet I must draw one more, and that is between Original Sin and actual sin.
What is Original Sin? It is the transgression of the law in the head of the human race, whereby all who are born are sinners before God, and born into a state of privation. The transgression of the law in our head is our sin because when God created man, He created mankind. In that man the whole race of mankind was contained. Mankind springs from one head, and that head was the heir to all the benedictions of the kingdom of God in our behalf: our inheritance was contained in him. If he had stood, from him we should have inherited the kingdom of God; he fell, and by his fall disinherited the race of mankind. We hear men of this day say: “What can be more absurd than to believe that the human race fell because Adam ate an apple?” I put the words with all the bald impertinence of the world.
Let us see now whether the ways of God need justification. God created Adam, and placed him in Paradise in the midst of a garden. He gave him a dominion over every tree of that garden, except one only. Such was the generosity of God. He did not say: “Thou mayest eat of the fruit of that one tree, but of ten thousand other fruit-bearing trees of the garden thou shalt not eat; and in whatsoever day thou eatest of them thou shalt die the death.”
God did not, with the parsimony of a human heart, give Adam permission to eat of one tree, and forbid him ten thousand. No. He gave him free permission to eat of ten thousand, and forbade him to eat of one alone. Was there anything unreasonable in this? Was it not what you would do if you had the will to try the obedience of anyone? Was it not what you would do, and what men do at this day, when out of liberality they lease their lands upon what is called a peppercorn rent? When the world speaks impertinently, I may answer the world in its own tongue. The landlord who leases out his estate, taking only a nominal acknowledgment, is commended by all men as generous, large-hearted, noble-minded. He acts as a friend, without self-interest, when he entrusts to another man the enjoyment and enrichment which arise from his estates upon the mere acknowledgment that, after all, they belong to him. He is only reserving his right.
Who's the Boss Around Here?
Now what did Almighty God in that commandment do? He reserved His right as Sovereign — He reserved His right over the obedience of the man whom He had created. He thereby revealed that He had jurisdiction over that garden, and over the man to whom He had permitted its free enjoyment. He put him upon trial — it was the test of his fidelity. More than this: it was a test so slight, that I may say there was no temptation to break the law.
Not Too Hard A Rule!
If he had been forbidden to eat of all the trees of the garden, save one, he would have been tempted at every turn. Every tree he gazed upon would have been a fresh temptation; he would have been followed and haunted by temptation wherever he went. God did not deal so with him — He forbade him one, and one alone; so that he had perfect liberty to go to and fro, gathering from the whole garden except from that one tree. Where, then, was the temptation?
As on God’s part there was Divine generosity, so on man’s part there was the wantonness of transgression. It may, indeed, be my defect, but I can see nothing in this that is not consonant with Divine wisdom, Divine goodness, Divine sovereignty, and Divine mercy. I see nothing to warrant the impertinence of the world. Well, this law was slight, and without any temptation whatsoever Adam transgressed it. He held the enjoyment of his perfection, and of the promise of eternal life, and of the kingdom of God, upon the payment, as I said before, of that quit rent, of that mere acknowledgment of the sovereignty of his Maker, and even to this he would not admit.
What, then, was the consequence? Man, as God made him, had three perfections. First, he was perfect in body and soul. Secondly, he had the higher perfection of the Holy Spirit dwelling in his heart, whereby his soul was ordered and sanctified, and the passions were held in perfect subjection to the reason and the will. Thirdly, he had a perfection arising from that higher perfection, namely, immortality in the body and perfect integrity in the soul. So that he had these three perfections: a natural perfection in body and soul, a supernatural perfection by the indwelling of the Holy Ghost, and a preternatural perfection of immortality; and all these by one act of disobedience he lost.
When he sinned, the Spirit of God departed from him, his soul died because it was separated from God, his immortality was forfeited, the integrity or harmony of the soul was lost likewise, the passions rebelled, the will was weakened, the intellect became confused, and the nature of man was deprived of its supernatural perfection and of all that follows from it. This is the meaning of the words, “In the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt die the death.” It was spiritual and temporal death, followed, except on repentance, by eternal death hereafter.
Original Sin in Us
We see, then, the meaning of Original Sin in us. It is that we, being born of that forefather, are born disinherited of these three perfections which we lost in him by his disobedience. We are born into this world without the Spirit of God; we receive Him in our Baptism, which is our second birth. By our first birth, “that which is born of the flesh is flesh.” We have the three “wounds,” as they are called, of Adam — ignorance in the intellect, weakness in the will, and turbulence in the passions. This is the state in which we are born into this world, and therefore we are spiritually dead before God. I see in this, as I said before, nothing but Divine wisdom, and wisdom is justified of her children. And here I wish to answer what may perhaps arise in the minds of some of you concerning infants that die before Baptism.
Sometimes people say, “How can I believe that those infants who die before Baptism, through no fault of their own, should go to eternal torment?” God forbid. Infants that die with Original Sin only, never having committed an actual sin — who believes that they descend into a place of torment? Their eternal state is a state of happiness, though it be not in the vision of God: for we know of no way in which any human soul can see the vision of God except by regeneration of the Holy Ghost.
Without receiving the grace of Holy Baptism, the soul is not in the supernatural order; and of those who die in the natural order we are unable to affirm that the grace which belongs to the supernatural order is extended, and that, because for this we have no revelation. It is, however, certain that the privation attached to Original Sin carries with it nothing which the world, sometimes contradicting the Christian Faith for the purpose of maligning it, most unreasonably says against it. But though Original Sin is only punished by privation, every actual sin will be punished by actual pain. There is pain of sense which follows actual sin; every actual sin that men commit will be punished by pain, either temporal or eternal, for pain follows sin as the shadow follows the substance.
Lastly, we come to actual sin. What is it? Actual sin is the conscious variance of a creature to the known will of its Creator; and that conscious variance includes the light of the intellect, and the consent of the will, and the knowledge and intention of what we are doing. The essential malice of sin is in the will: and there is a threefold malice in every actual sin committed by a Christian.
(a) Firstly, there is a malice against God the Father, who made man to His image and likeness, that He might be the object of his love; that he might love Him, know Him, serve Him, worship Him, be conformed to Him, and dwell with Him in eternity. The Christian who sins against God sins against his Creator, and worships the creature more than the Creator; that is to say, worships the world, his pleasures, himself. Self-worship he puts in the place of the worship of God, and in that he does an infinite offense — infinite, though he be finite — because the Person against whom that offense is committed is an infinite God.
(b) Secondly, there is a malice against our Lord Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of the world. The Apostle says every sinner is “an enemy of the Cross of Christ.” He says, “They that do such things, I have told you often, and now again tell you weeping, that they are enemies of the Cross of Christ” (Philippians 3:18). And why? Because Jesus Christ suffered on the Cross for those very sins which such men commit. The sinner nails Him on the Cross once more. The nails and the hammer were but the material instruments of crucifixion; the moral cause of the Crucifixion of the Son of God was the sin which you and I have committed; and if we commit such sins again, we deliberately renew the causes which nailed Him on the Cross.
Again, the Apostle says, if those who despised the law of Moses were condemned, of how much severer punishment shall he be thought worthy who hath trodden underfoot the Son of God, and put Him to open shame, and counted the Blood of the Testament, whereby he was sanctified, unclean; and hath done this in despite to the Spirit of Grace! (cf. Heb. 10:28-29).
The Christian who deliberately commits sin wounds our Divine Savior. He opens those Five Sacred Wounds, making them bleed afresh. With a cold and ungrateful heart he renews the sorrows which caused the agony of Gethsemane, and made Our Lord sweat His Sweat of Blood.
(c) Not only this; but thirdly, there is a malice against the Holy Ghost. Every sin that is committed, is committed against the light and grace of the Holy Spirit in the conscience; and in this there are three degrees. We may grieve the Holy Ghost, we may resist the Holy Ghost, and we may quench the Holy Ghost. Our Divine Lord has said, “Every sin and every blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men, except the blasphemy of the Holy Ghost; and if any man shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him; but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall never be forgiven him in this world, nor in the world to come” (Matt. 12:31-32).
Now what is the meaning of this? A man may speak against Jesus Christ, ay, blaspheme his Lord; and the Holy Spirit, convincing him of sin, may bring him to repentance, may convert him to God, and his soul may be saved; but any man who commits mortal sin and refuses repentance, thereby blasphemes the Holy Ghost, who is the Spirit of Penance, the Spirit of Absolution, the Absolver of the penitent. Such a sinner rejects the whole dispensation of grace; and, therefore, the sin that shall never be forgiven is the sin of impenitence. Every sin that men repent of shall be forgiven; but the sin that is not repented of shall never be forgiven, neither in this world, nor in the world to come.
Applying This to Real Life
In giving these definitions, I am afraid that what I have said is somewhat abstract, perhaps somewhat tedious; but it is impossible for me to make clear what I have to say hereafter, without laying down first principles. I will now, therefore, only make application of what I have said. We have here two practical principles.
1. The first is this: no one is so blind to his own sins as the man who has the most sin upon him.
If a man is plague-stricken, he can see it by the discoloration of the skin. If the scales of leprosy are coming up upon his arm, he can tell that he is a leper. If a cloud is growing over the pupil of the eyes, he can tell that he is losing the light of heaven. All the diseases of the body make themselves known emphatically; but it is the subtlety and danger and deadliness of sin that it conceals itself. No men know the light of God’s presence so little as those who are covered with sin; and the more sin they have upon them the less they can see it. Though all the perfections of God, like the rays of the sun which encircle the head of the blind man, are round about them all the day long, they are unconscious of His presence.
The Blindness of Men
They are like Elymas, the magician, who, for his impiety, had scales upon his eyes; and because they do not see the light of God, therefore they do not see His perfections, and therefore they do not see themselves; for the light of the knowledge of self comes from the light of the knowledge of God. How shall a man know what unholiness is, if he does not know what holiness is? How shall he know what falsehood is, if he does not know what truth is; or impurity, if he does not know purity; or impiety, if he does not know the duty we owe to God, and the majesty of God, to whom worship is due?
Seeing Sin in Others, But Not in Self
Just in the proportion in which the light of the perfections of God is clouded, we lose the light of the knowledge of ourselves; and the end of it is that when men hear such words as I am speaking now, they say, “That is just the character of my neighbor — that is the very picture of my brother”; they do not see themselves in the glass. You may describe their character, and they will not recognize it; you may tell them, “This is yourself,” and they will not believe it. There is something within them which darkens the conscience; and why is it?
Deadly Deadening Anesthetic of Sin
Because sin stupefies the intellect and the heart: it draws a veil and a mist over the brightness of the intelligence, and it darkens the light of the conscience. Sin is like hemlock: it deadens the sense, so that the spiritual eye begins to close, and the spiritual ear becomes heavy, and the heart grows drowsy. And when men have brought themselves to that state by their own free will, then comes the just judgment of God: “I will give them eyes that they may not see, ears that they may not hear, hearts that they may not understand, lest they should be converted, and I should heal them. These things said Isaias, when he saw his glory and spoke of him” (John 12:40-41).
2. There is one other truth — that no men see the nature of sin so clearly as those who are freest from sin; just as no intelligence knows sin with such an intensity of knowledge as God Himself.
Our Divine Lord Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of God, knew sin in all its hatefulness so as no other human heart has ever known it. His Immaculate Mother — because sinless — knew the sinfulness of sin by the light of her intelligence, and by a pure horror of her whole spiritual nature. So in like manner the saints of God, each one of them in the proportion of his sanctity; and so you likewise, in the measure in which you are free from sin, in that measure will you hate it, in that measure you understand and estimate its sinfulness.
And if at any time in your life you have committed sin, in the measure in which you are separated from your past life — in the measure in which that old character of yours has been taken off and you can see “the old man” which you have sloughed off, that old being and nature of yours which cleaves to you no longer, which you look on as a thing hideous and horrible, belonging to you no more, belonging to your childhood, boyhood, or youth, but yours no longer now — in that measure you understand the sinfulness of sin.
You can look back on your past life, and understand your sins as you did not understand them then; and when you come to die, your present character and your present life will be seen by you in a light, brighter and more intense than that under which you see them now. Look up, therefore, into the light of God’s presence, and pray God to make you to know yourselves as He knows you, and to see yourselves as He sees you now; for when you have seen the worst of your sins, what are they, compared with those which God sees in you? Therefore, do not let us ever think that we know all our sins; do not let us imagine that we fully know our own sinfulness. We are only beginning to learn it, and we shall have to learn it all our life.
The Three Depths
There are three great depths which no human line can sound — the depth of our sinfulness, the depth of our unworthiness, and the depth of our nothingness. If you are beginning to learn those three things, happy are you. Be not afraid, the more you see your own sinfulness; and for this reason.
Who is showing it to you? It is the light of the Spirit of God. It is He who alone searches the heart, who alone makes us know ourselves; and the more you see of your own sinfulness, the truer pledge you have of His presence; that He is with you, that He is within you, that He is busied about your salvation. He is giving you a pledge and a promise that every sin you see He will help you to repent of, and every sin you repent of shall be washed away in the Precious Blood of Jesus Christ.
Know Yourself Honestly and Profoundly
Therefore, one last word. My first counsel to you in this Lent is this: Try to know yourselves, try to learn during these days such knowledge of yourselves as you have never had before. Begin as if it were for the first time. Take the Ten Commandments: read them in the letter; understand them in the spirit; and try your life from your childhood, from your earliest memory, by that Divine rule.
Meditate on the Seven Deadly Sins
Take the Seven Deadly Sins, try yourselves by them, in deed, in word, and in thought. The Seven Deadly Sins, or Seven Cardinal Sins, are the hinges on which all other sins hang. They are the deadly chemicals which, when mixed with each other, give birth to so many other sins who are their offspring.
(1) Pride and self-seeking,
(2) Covetousness (Avarice),
(3) Gluttony (food and drink and drugs),
(4) Anger and what leads to it (impatience, irritability, dissatisfaction, etc).
(5) Lust in thoughts, words, looks, desires, or actions
(6) Envy (spiritual and material)
(7) Sloth or Laziness (spiritual, intellectual and physical).
Pray for Light to Dispel Darkness and Blindness
Pray to the Spirit of God, whose work and office it is to convince the world of sin. Pray every day in this Lent, morning and night, that the Spirit of God may illuminate your reason to understand the nature of sin, and convince your conscience, that you may know what sins are upon you. Pray to Him that the light of the presence of God may come down upon you like the light of the noonday, that you may see not only the broad outlines of your sins, but your finer and more delicate and more subtle offenses against God, even as we see the motes which float in the sunbeam at noonday.
The more you have the presence of God with you, the more the light of His perfections is upon you, the more you will see yourselves. The Patriarch Job, who, though he had long lived in prayer, in converse and in communion with God, and had been grievously afflicted (which more than any other discipline brings men to know themselves) — nevertheless, at the end of all his trials, when God spoke to him out of the light of His presence, said: “With the hearing of the ear I have heard thee, but now mine eye seeth thee; wherefore I condemn myself, and do penance in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:5-6).
Some of the most moving Scriptural passages on sin are to be found in the book of the prophet Ezechiel, where God, in very clear and simple language, tells us His thoughts on sin. A look at those in a minute! However, St. Paul puts it in a nutshell when he writes to the Romans, saying: "The wages of sin is death!" (Romans 6:23). It is a cold, stark, blunt and brutal statement and truth! Sin deserves death! Sin begets death! "Wherefore as by one man sin entered into this world, and by sin death; and so death passed upon all men, in whom all have sinned” (Romans 5:12).
Tell My People Their Sins
God puts it this way through Ezechiel, who is meant to pass on the message from God to His people: “I fell upon my face, and I heard the voice of one that spoke. And he said to me: ‘Son of man, stand upon thy feet, and I will speak to thee!’ And the Spirit entered into me after that He spoke to me, and I heard Him speaking to me, and saying: ‘Son of man, I send thee to the children of Israel, to a rebellious people, that hath revolted from Me, they, and their fathers, have transgressed My covenant even unto this day” ... And thou shalt speak My words to them, for they provoke Me to anger (Ezechiel 2:1-3, 2:7).
“But the house of Israel will not hearken to thee: because they will not hearken to Me: for all the house of Israel are of a hard forehead and an obstinate heart. Behold I have made thy face stronger than their faces: and thy forehead harder than their foreheads. I have made thy face like an adamant and like flint: fear them not, neither be thou dismayed at their presence: for they are a provoking house” (Ezechiel 3:7-9).
Just Like Our Lady
What God says next is strikingly similar to what Our Lady has said at her modern-day apparitions at Rue-du-Bac (1830); La Salette (1848); Fatima (1917) and Akita (1973).
Souls Must Be Warned or We Pay the Price
“If, when I say to the wicked, Thou shalt surely die: thou declare it not to him, nor speak to him, that he may be converted from his wicked way, and live: the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but I will require his blood at thy hand. But if thou give warning to the wicked, and he be not converted from his wickedness, and from his evil way: he indeed shall die in his iniquity, but thou hast delivered thy soul. Moreover if the just man shall turn away from his justice, and shall commit iniquity: I will lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die, because thou hast not given him warning: he shall die in his sin, and his justices which he hath done, shall not be remembered: but I will require his blood at thy hand. But if thou warn the just man, that the just may not sin, and he doth not sin: living he shall live, because thou hast warned him, and thou hast delivered thy soul” (Ezechiel 3:18-21)
Enough is Enough!
“Therefore thus saith the Lord God: ‘Because you have surpassed the Gentiles that are round about you, and have not walked in My commandments, and have not kept My judgments: behold, I come against thee, and I myself will execute judgments in the midst of thee in the sight of the Gentiles. I will execute judgments in thee, and I will scatter thy whole remnant into every wind. Therefore as I live,’ saith the Lord God: ‘Because thou hast violated My sanctuary with all thy offences, and with all thy abominations: I will also break thee in pieces, and My Eye shall not spare, and I will not have any pity. A third part of thee shall die with the pestilence, and shall be consumed with famine: and a third part of thee shall fall by the sword: and a third part of thee will I scatter into every wind, and I will draw out a sword after them. And I will accomplish My fury, and will cause My indignation to rest upon them, and I will be comforted when I shall have accomplished My indignation in them. And I will make thee desolate, and a reproach among the nations and thou shalt be a reproach, and a scoff, an example, and an astonishment amongst the nations when I shall have executed judgments in thee in anger, and in indignation, and in wrathful rebukes. I the Lord have spoken it: When I shall send upon them the grievous arrows of famine, which shall bring death, and which I will send to destroy you: and I will gather together famine against you: and I will break among you the staff of bread. And I will send in upon you famine, and evil beasts unto utter destruction: and pestilence, and blood shall pass through thee, and I will bring in the sword upon thee. I the Lord have spoken it” (Ezechiel 5:7-17).
The Anger of God Towards Sin
“And I will throw down your altars, and your idols shall be broken in pieces: and I will cast down your slain before your idols. And I will lay the dead carcasses of the children of Israel before your idols: and I will scatter your bones round about your altars in all your dwelling places. The cities shall be laid waste, and the high places shall be thrown down, and destroyed, and your altars shall be abolished, and shall be broken in pieces: and your idols shall be no more, and your temples shall be destroyed, and your works shall be defaced. And the slain shall fall in the midst of you: and you shall know that I am the Lord. And I will leave in you some that shall escape the sword among the nations, when I shall have scattered you, through the countries. And they that are saved of you shall remember Me amongst the nations to which they are carried captives: because I have broken their heart that was faithless, and revolted from Me: and their eyes that went a fornicating after their idols: and they shall be displeased with themselves because of the evils which they have committed in all their abominations. And they shall know that I the Lord have not spoken in vain that I would do this evil to them” (Ezechiel 6:4-10).
“Now very shortly I will pour out My wrath upon thee, and I will accomplish My anger in thee: and I will judge thee according to thy ways, and I will lay upon thee all thy crimes. And My Eye shall not spare, neither will I shew mercy: but I will lay thy ways upon thee, and thy abominations shall be in the midst of thee: and you shall know that I am the Lord that strike. Behold the day, behold it is come: destruction is gone forth, the rod hath blossomed, pride hath budded” (Ezechiel 7:8-10).
“Therefore say to the house of Israel: ‘Thus saith the Lord God: Be converted, and depart from your idols, and turn away your faces from all your abominations! ... That the house of Israel may go no more astray from me, nor be polluted with all their transgressions: but may be my people, and I may be their God ... Son of man, when a land shall sin against me, so as to transgress grievously, I will stretch forth my hand upon it, and will break the staff of the bread thereof: and I will send famine upon it, and will destroy man and beast out of it’” (Ezechiel 14:6; 14:11-13).
Sin Brings Death; Penance Brings Life
“The soul that sinneth, the same shall die. But if the wicked do penance for all his sins which he hath committed, and keep all My commandments, and do judgment, and justice, living he shall live, and shall not die. I will not remember all his iniquities that he hath done: in his justice which he hath wrought, he shall live. Is it My will that a sinner should die, saith the Lord God, and not that he should be converted from his ways, and live? But if the just man turn himself away from his justice, and do iniquity according to all the abominations which the wicked man useth to work, shall he live? All his justices which he hath done, shall not be remembered: in the prevarication, by which he hath prevaricated, and in his sin, which he hath committed, in them he shall die” (Ezechiel 18:20-24).
Don't Criticize God's Ways!
“And you have said: ‘The way of the Lord is not right.!’ Hear ye, therefore, O house of Israel: Is it My way that is not right, and are not rather your ways perverse? For when the just turneth himself away from his justice, and committeth iniquity, he shall die therein: in the injustice that he hath wrought he shall die. And when the wicked turneth himself away from his wickedness, which he hath wrought, and doeth judgment, and justice: he shall save his soul alive. Because he considereth and turneth away himself from all his iniquities which he hath wrought, he shall surely live, and not die. And the children of Israel say: ‘The way of the Lord is not right!’ Are not My ways right, O house of Israel, and are not rather your ways perverse? Therefore will I judge every man according to his ways, O house of Israel, saith the Lord God. Be converted, and do penance for all your iniquities: and iniquity shall not be your ruin. Cast away from you all your transgressions, by which you have transgressed, and make to yourselves a new heart, and a new spirit: and why will you die, O house of Israel? For I desire not the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God, return ye and live” (Ezechiel 18:25-32).
Attitudes to Sin
Man, in his pride, tends to take one of several attitudes with regard to sin:
(1) The ATHEIST will laugh it off and think it to be a ridiculous concept.
(2) The NATURALIST or HUMANIST will only see 'sins' against people and nature, but ignores such ideas or concepts as "sins against God."
(3) The LIBERAL believer is one who is an authority to himself (like the Adam and Eve syndrome of wanting to be like gods), and he will rationalize his 'sins' away under one pretext or another—in short, he lies to himself, he makes up his own religion with its personal moral code.
(4) The MODERNIST believer, similarly to the Liberal, is a "man of change"—for him things change over time, truth changes over time, therefore notions of 'sin' change over time. So what was a 'sin' before, is no longer a 'sin' today, though, who knows, it may be a 'sin' again tomorrow! Just gotta keep up with the times! Live and let live!
(5) The LUKEWARM believer might well accept the truth and reality of sin; they may also accept the consequences of sin in theory; but, in practice, they sweep everything under the carpet or banish it to the darkest recesses of the mind and memory. The lukewarm soul will deceive itself by inordinately focusing on the aspect of God being love and mercy (which He is of course), but to the neglect of God also being justice and truth. At best, the lukewarm soul comforts itself with its hasty superficial confessions and is satisfied with the mere 'token' and flimsy penances received from the priest as payment for sin, and, at worst, entertains thoughts of paying for sin in Purgatory, but not in this life—however, their idea of Purgatory is a 'soft' one, and not at all conformed to reality.
(6) The DEVOUT but DISCOURAGED believer clearly sees the gravity and magnitude of sin, but is so discouraged at the sight of its sins, that it loses confidence in God's mercy and goes to the opposite pendulum swing of the Lukewarm Soul, focusing only the strict justice of God, while downplaying His love and mercy.
(7) The TRUE BELIEVER, just like the "Discouraged" believer, clearly sees the gravity and magnitude of sin and clearly sees the enormous debt its sins have pile up; but the soul is not discouraged, for it is moved by a spirit of humility on account of its sins, and spirit of charity towards God, Whom it knows to be unbelievably merciful, yet, Who, at the same time, will exact the full price for all the sins that the soul has committed. It sees this love and mercy of God, inseparably united to His strict justice, in the person of Jesus Christ, Who, at the same time showed the mercy and justice of God in His Passion and Death.
There are varying degrees within each degree, which generate a myriad of attitudes reflecting the endless variety and many temperaments of human beings.
"Flee from sins as from the face of a serpent: for if thou comest near them, they will take hold of thee. The teeth thereof are the teeth of a lion, killing the souls of men. All iniquity is like a two-edged sword, there is no remedy for the wound thereof" (Ecclesiasticus 21:2-4).
Ignorance is blindness that leads to the pit
The catechism asks us: "Why did God make us?" The answer, depending on which catechism you consult, is along the lines of "God made me to know Him. to love Him and to serve Him in this world, so that I may be happy with Him in the next."
Notice what comes first: to KNOW! The second element (to love God) cannot exist without the foundation of the first element (to know God). We cannot love what we do not know. We cannot love a person if we do not know that they exist, or if we know nothing about them; we cannot love a book without first reading it; we cannot love a food without first tasting it; we cannot love a sport or a hobby without first experiencing it. As for serving, if do not love someone we find it very difficult to serve them.
Little Knowledge begets Little Love
St. Therese of Liseux complained that Jesus is so little loved because He is so little known. If He is little known and little loved, then He will also receive little service. If we don't spend time getting to know Jesus (thereby leading to a greater love and a better service of Him), then we are spending time getting to know other things. For our whole life is spent in one kind of knowledge or another; we spend our whole day seeking to know things—whether it be noble things, like studying in the spiritual or secular domain, or ignoble things, like seeking to know the latest gossip, or sinful knowledge, or plotting and planning sinful things; or trivial things like seeking to know inconsequential news, sports results, etc.
If we fill our minds with all these secondary things, then there is little room or time in our minds for the primary, essential things, namely, God.
God Wants to be Known
If the catechism tells us that we must know God, then the Bible does also: “Thou shalt know that the Lord thy God” (Deuteronomy 7:9). Not only know Him, but to know how important He should be to us: “Know that the Lord he is God, and there is no other besides Him” (Deuteronomy 4:35). And this permits no exceptions: “That all the people of the earth may know, that the Lord He is God, and there is no other besides Him” (3 Kings 8:60).
Knowledge Requires Love and Service
“If you love Me, keep My commandments.” (John 14:15). Otherwise, we become what St. Paul calls an abomination: “They profess that they know God: but in their works they deny Him: being abominable...” (Titus 1:16). “...for they have proceeded from evil to evil, and Me they have not known, saith the Lord.” (Jeremias 9:3). “...for the spirit of fornication is in the midst of them, and they have not known the Lord.” (Osee 5:4).
Knowing, but not Doing, begets God's Anger
“Thus saith the Lord God: ‘Because you have surpassed the Gentiles that are round about you, and have not walked in My commandments, and have not kept My judgments, Behold I come against thee, and I myself will execute judgments in the midst of thee in the sight of the Gentiles. And I will do in thee that which I have not done: and the like to which I will do no more, because of all thy abominations.” (Ezechiel 5:7-9). “You shall bear the sins of your idols: and you shall know that I am the Lord God” (Ezechiel 23:49). “I will make thee everlasting desolations, and thou shalt know that I am the Lord God” (Ezechiel 35:9).
Sin Brings Bitterness
“Know thou, and see that it is an evil and a bitter thing for thee, to have left the Lord thy God” (Jeremias 2:19). St. Paul speaks of the fate of those who fail to know and serve Our Lord, saying that God will put them: “In a flame of fire, giving vengeance to them who know not God, and who obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, who shall suffer eternal punishment in destruction, from the face of the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 1:8).
“A curse, if you obey not the commandments of the Lord your God, but revolt from the way which now I show you, and walk after strange gods which you know not” (Deuteronomy 11:28).
Most Prefer the Darkness of Ignorance
In that beautiful, yet sad, opening passage of the Gospel of St. John, we see that most people prefer the darkness of ignorance than the light of knowledge, in matters religious.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him: and without Him was made nothing that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. And the Light shineth in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to give testimony of the Light, that all men might believe through him. He was not the Light, but was to give testimony of the Light. That was the true Light, which enlighteneth every man that cometh into this world. He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not. He came unto His own, and His own received Him not. But as many as received Him, He gave them power to be made the sons of God, to them that believe in His name. Who are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, the glory as it were of the Only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1-14)
Ignorance is blindness that leads to the pit
Ignorance is akin to blindness. A limited knowledge is a severe handicap in navigating our way to Heaven. As they say, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing!” This is true in so many different ways. The Venerable Fr. Faber calls lukewarmness a spiritual blindness. Lukewarmness is basically an indifference shown towards God and the spiritual duties and obligations we should have towards Him. God finds it so detestable to be “brushed-off” in this way, that He says those frightening words in the Apocalypse (3:16-17): “I know thy works, that thou art neither cold, nor hot. I would thou wert cold, or hot. But because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold, not hot, I will begin to vomit thee out of my mouth.” This blindness of attitude, that the lukewarm soul has, leads it to terrible fate. Our Lord, speaking of the ‘blind’ Pharisees, who sought to “brush-off” Our Lord: “Let them alone: they are blind, and leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into the pit” (Matthew 15:14).
Jesus Wants to Cure Us
We were made to know, love and serve God, yet, sadly, we are blind, deaf, dumb and lame about the ways and paths of God. Our Lord, as we saw above, is our light, Who came into this world that we might be able to see out of our darkness: “I am the light of the world: he that followeth Me, walketh not in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12). He is the Word of God, to Whom we must open our deaf ears and listen to: “Not in bread alone doth man live, but in every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). He comes to loosen our tongue in spiritual matters, that we might stop talking so much about worldly things and use the tongue to praise and glorify God more: “And immediately his mouth was opened, and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God” (Luke 1:64). He has come to help us with our spiritual limping and hobbling or even paralysis: “Jesus saith to him: ‘Arise, take up thy bed, and walk!’” (John 5:8).
“The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead rise again, the poor have the Gospel preached to them” (Matthew 11:5).
Woe to Those Who Refuse to be Cured!
The Pharisees did not want to be cured. They did not want to change. They wanted Jesus to change to their ways, rather than themselves changing to Jesus’ ways. God’s ways were not their ways, and their ways were not God’s ways. As a result of this obstinacy and pride, Jesus hurls an unprecedented series of invectives at the Pharisees in chapter 23 of St. Matthew. The entire chapter is dedicated to the verbal onslaught and woeful predictions that Jesus makes in their regard. It is worth looking at this angry outburst in its entirety, which is an echo of the above quote from the Book of Apocalypse concerning the lukewarm being vomited out from God’s mouth.
“Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, saying: ‘The scribes and the Pharisees have sat on the chair of Moses ... All their works they do for to be seen of men. For they make their phylacteries broad, and enlarge their fringes. [Phylacteries: that is, parchments, on which they wrote the Ten Commandments, and carried them on their foreheads before their eyes: which the Pharisees loved to wear broader than other men; so to seem more zealous for the Law].
"And they love the first places at feasts, and the first chairs in the synagogues, and salutations in the market place, and to be called by men, Rabbi. He that is the greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be humbled: and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted. But woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; because you shut the Kingdom of Heaven against men, for you yourselves do not enter in; and those that are going in, you suffer not to enter.
Woe, Woe and more than thrice Woe!
"Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites: because you devour the houses of widows, praying long prayers. For this you shall receive the greater judgment.
"Woe to you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; because you go round about the sea and the land to make one proselyte; and when he is made, you make him the child of Hell twofold more than yourselves.
"Woe to you blind guides that say, ‘Whosoever shall swear by the Temple, it is nothing; but he that shall swear by the gold of the Temple, is a debtor.’ Ye foolish and blind; for whether is greater, the gold, or the Temple that sanctifieth the gold?
"Woe to you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; because you tithe mint, and anise, and cumin, and have left the weightier things of the law; judgment, and mercy, and faith. These things you ought to have done, and not to leave those undone. Blind guides, who strain out a gnat, and swallow a camel.
"Woe to you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; because you make clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but within you are full of rapine and uncleanness. Thou blind Pharisee, first make clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, that the outside may become clean.
"Woe to you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; because you are like to whited sepulchers, which outwardly appear to men beautiful, but within are full of dead men’ s bones, and of all filthiness. So you also outwardly indeed appear to men just; but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.
"Woe to you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; that build the sepulchers of the prophets, and adorn the monuments of the just, and say: If we had been in the days of our Fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Wherefore you are witnesses against yourselves, that you are the sons of them that killed the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. You serpents, generation of vipers, how will you flee from the judgment of Hell?
"Therefore behold I send to you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them you will put to death and crucify, and some you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city: that upon you may come all the just blood that hath been shed upon the earth, from the blood of Abel the just, even unto the blood of Zacharias the son of Barachias, whom you killed between the temple and the altar.
He Would Have Cured, They Wanted it Not!
"Amen I say to you, all these things shall come upon this generation. Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered together thy children, as the hen doth gather her chickens under her wings, and thou wouldest not? Behold, your house shall be left to you, desolate." (Matthew, chapter 23).
“Again therefore Jesus said to them: ‘I go, and you shall seek Me, and you shall die in your sin. Whither I go, you cannot come!’ The Jews therefore said: ‘Will He kill Himself, because He said: “Whither I go, you cannot come?”’ And He said to them: You are from beneath, I am from above. You are of this world, I am not of this world. Therefore I said to you, that you shall die in your sins. For if you believe not that I am He, you shall die in your sin” (John 8:21-24).
Their rejection of Jesus turned out to be very expensive! Jerusalem was razed to the ground just over thirty years after they killed Jesus (in 70 AD) and over 1 million Jews were slaughtered by the Romans. Expensive indifference!