Saints, Sin and Redemption
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ Jesus,
The month of March is dedicated to increased devotion to St. Joseph, the Spouse of the Virgin Mary and Foster Father of our Lord Jesus. Let us go to St. Joseph, open our hearts to his love for us and experience his great kindness! This weekend I share with you a reflection on Conversion from sin. I encourage you to reflect over this message a few times this week:
“Abhorrence of Sin - Our Sins and Redemption. The true evil in the world: God loved us and sent His Son to take away our sins. (Communion Antiphon, 1 John 4:10)
The liturgy these days brings us closer, little by little, to the central mystery of the Redemption. It presents to us personalities of the Old Testament who are types of Our Lord. In the book of Exodus we are told about Joseph. Through the betrayal of his brothers he providentially came to be the savior of his family and of the whole region. (Gen. 37:4, 12:13, 17:28) He is a figure of Christ the Redeemer.
Joseph was the favorite son of Jacob, and at his father’s request went in search of his brothers. He travelled a long way before finding them. He brought them good news of their father and also food. At first his brothers, who hated and envied him for being their father’s favorite, considered killing him. Later, they sold him as a slave, and as such he was taken to Egypt. God made use of these circumstances so that years later he would come to hold a high position there. In a time of famine he would be the savior of his brothers against whom he held no grudge despite their ill-treatment of him. He became a savior too of Egypt, where through Joseph’s good offices the tribes of Israel settled and be-came, as it were, a cradle for the chosen people. All those who approached Pharaoh for help were directed to Joseph: Go to Joseph, he would say to them.
Our Lord, sent by the Father, also came to bring light to the world: He came to His own and His own people received Him not. (John 1:11) Finally he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son’, he said. But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other:‘This is the heir. Come on, let us kill him and take over his inheritance.’ So they seized him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. (Matt. 21:33-34, 45-46) This is exactly what they did to Our Lord - they took Him outside the city and crucified Him.
The sins of men have been the cause of the death of Jesus Christ. Every sin bears an intimate and mysterious relationship to the Passion of Jesus. We will recognize the evil of sin only if we know how to relate it to the mystery of the Redemption. Only then will we really be able to purify the soul and to grow in contrition for our sins and transgressions. The conversion which Our Lord insistently asks for, and in a special way during this period of Lent as we approach Holy Week, ought to start with a firm rejection of all sin and with the determination to avoid every occasion that could put us in danger of offending God. Moral renewal, which this world so much needs, begins with this profound conviction: On earth there is but one evil, which you must fear and avoid with the grace of God - sin. (J. Escriva, The Way, 386) On the other hand, the loss of the sense of sin is thus a form of atheism, but also in the form of secularism. If sin is the breaking off of one’s filial relationship to God in order to situate one’s life outside of obedience to Him, then to sin is not merely to deny God. To sin is also to live as if He did not exist, to eliminate Him from one’s daily life. (St. John Paul
II, Apostolic Exhortation, Reconciliatio et Poenitentia, 18) We do not wish to eliminate Our Lord from our lives, but rather to recognize and be more and more aware of His presence with each passing day.
We can very well say, says the Cure d’Ars, that the Passion which the Jews made Christ suffer was almost nothing compared with what Christians make Him undergo with their insults of mortal sin… what horror there will be when Jesus Christ show us the things for which we have abandoned Him! (St. John Vianney, Sermon on Sin) What trash we will have preferred in exchange for so much good! Through Divine Mercy, with the help of Grace, we will not leave Him, and we will try to bring to Him many who are separated from Him.
Lent, and opportune occasion afforded us by the Church to help us in the fight against sin. The malice of venial sin: The effort of personal conversion which the Lord asks of us is an effort for each day of our lives. But in special periods or situations, as in Lent, we receive special Graces which we ought to make use of. This liturgical season is an extraordinary occasion for us to develop to a maximum the struggle against sin and to increase in ourselves the life of Grace with good works. To understand better the malice of sin we have to contemplate what Jesus Christ suffered for our sins. In the agony of Gethsemane, we see Him suffering the indescribable. For our sake He made Himself to be sin Who knew no sin (2 Cor. 5:21), says St. Paul: He burdened Himself with all the atrocities we have committed, until His body ran with the sweat of blood. Jesus, alone and sad, suffers and soaks the earth with His blood.
Kneeling on the hard ground He perseveres in prayer… He weeps for you… and for me. The weight of the sins of men overwhelms Him. (J. Escriva, Holy Rosary, First Sorrowful Mystery) It is a scene we should often recall, but especially when temptations get more severe.
Our Lord has called us to holiness for us to love with deeds. And on the approach we adopt towards deliberate venial sin will depend the progress we make in our interior life. For when we do not struggle to avoid venial sins or when there is not enough contrition for them, they damage the soul grievously. These venial sins make the soul insensitive to the inspirations and motions of the Holy Spirit. They weaken the life of Grace and make the virtues more difficult to practice, and incline one towards mortal sin.
Many pious souls, says a present-day author, are in an unfaithful state almost continuously as regards ‘little things’; they are impatient, hardly charitable in their thoughts, judgements and words, false in their conversations and attitudes, slow and lax in their piety; they don’t control themselves and are excessively frivolous in their language, or treat the good name of their neighbor lightly. They know their own defects and infidelities, and perhaps even accuse themselves in Confession; but they do not seriously repent of them, nor do they make use of the means to avoid them in the future. They do not realize that each one of these ‘imperfections’ is like a leaden weight that drags them down. They do not realize that they are beginning to think in a purely human way and to work only for human reasons, or that they habitually resist the inspirations of Grace and misuse them. The soul thus los-es the splendor of its true beauty, and God is increasingly distanced from it. Little by little the soul loses contact with God: in Him it does not see a loving and lovable Father to whom it should give itself with filial affection; something has been allowed to place itself between the two. (B. Baur, In Silence with God) This is the beginning of the road to lukewarmness.
In a committed fight to banish all sin from our lives, we will show Our Lord our love and our readiness to correspond with His Grace. How sad you make me feel when you are not sorry for your venial sins! For until you are, you will not begin to live a real interior life. (J. Escriva, The Way, 330)
Let us ask Our Lady to grant us a loathing not only for mortal sin, but also for deliberate venial sin.
The fight against deliberate venial sin. Sincerity. Examination. Contrition: The restoration of ‘a proper sense of sin’ is the first step that must be taken in facing the grave spiritual crisis looming over man today. (St. John Paul II, loc. cit.)
To face up to this fight against venial sin in a determined way one must recognize venial sin for what it is: an offense against God which delays and can prevent union with Him. One must call it by its name, without excuses, without reducing the transcendental importance it has for a soul truly wishing to go to God. Flashes of anger, promptings of envy or sensuality not immediately rejected; a desire to be the center of attention or attraction; not being concerned with anyone but oneself of with anything but our own interest and losing the capacity for being interested in others; acts of pity performed out of routine, with little attention and even less love; inconsiderately rash and less than charitable judgements about others… these are not faults or mere imperfections, but venial sins.
We ought to ask the Holy Spirit to help us sincerely recognize our faults and our sins, to have a sensitive conscience which seeks pardon and does not look for ways to justify our errors. As St. Augustine says: He who has a healthy intuition of soul will feel how sins hurt. (St. Augustine, Commentary on Psalm 37)
The saints have understood with noon-day clarity, in the light of Love and of Faith, that a single sin - especially mortal, but venial too - is a disorder greater than any cataclysm which lays waste the natural world, for the goodness of Grace in one single person is greater than the material good of the entire universe. (St. Thomas, Summa Theologiae, I-II, q.133, a)
May we foster a sincere repentance for our faults and sins; may we fight to eradicate routine when we turn to the Sacrament of Divine Mercy.
However small the sins that you may confess may be, always have sincere sorrow for them, together with a firm resolution to correct them in the future. Many who confess their venial sins out of custom and concern for order, but without thought of amendment, remain burdened with them for their whole lives and thus lose many spiritual benefits and advantages. (St. Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life, II, 19)
The Virgin Mary, Refuge of Sinners, will help us to have a refined conscience, to love Christ and all men, to be sincere with ourselves, and in Confession to recount our weaknesses and to know how to repent promptly for them.” (From In Conversation with God, by Francis Fernandez)
Through the intercession of Mary, Refuge of Sinners, St. Joseph, the Terror of demons, St. Michael, St. Paul, and our Guardian Angels, may our good Lord grant us the grace to deeply repent from all sin, especially deliberate venial sin!
In Christ through Mary,