The Slavery of Sin
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ Jesus, The month of January is dedicated to the Most Holy Name of Jesus: let us reverently pray His Holy Name and make reparation to our good Lord for the many times that His name is spoken in vain and with irreverence! This Sunday we celebrate the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time. I share with you a reflection on Jesus and freedom from sin. I encourage you to reflect over this message a few times this week: “The Slavery of Sin: Christ came to free us from the devil and from sin: The Gospel for this Sunday’s Holy Mass (Mark 1:21-28) tells us about the cure of a man possessed by the devil. The name Belial or Beelzebub which we find in Scripture means unclean spirit. (cf. John Paul II, General Audience, 13 August 1986) This victory over the unclean spirit is yet another proof of the coming of the Messiah, who arrives at length to free men from their most dreaded slavery: their slavery to the devil and to sin. This tormented man from Capharnaum cried out, What have You to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know Who You are, the Holy One of God. And Jesus strictly commanded him, Be silent and come out of him! … And they were all amazed. St. John Paul II teaches that it is possible, in certain cases, that the evil spirit manages to exercise his influence not only on material things, but also on a man’s body, which is why we can speak of possession by the devil. (cf. Mark 5:2-9) It is not always easy to discern how much of the preternatural there is in these cases. The Church does not favor or submit easily to a tendency to attribute many happenings to the direct intervention of the devil. But in principle we cannot deny that in his determination to cause harm and to lead us to evil, Satan can resort to these extremes in order to assert his superiority. (cf. John Paul II, loc. cit.) Diabolical possession generally appears in the Gospels accompanied by pathological signs like epilepsy, dumbness, deafness… The possessed frequently lose their dominion over themselves, their movements and their words. On some occasions they are possessed, behaving as instruments of the devil. Thus the miracles that Our Lord performed are a sign of the coming of God’s Kingdom and the casting out of the devil from every end of that Kingdom. Now shall the ruler of this world be cast out. (John 12:31) When the seventy-two disciples return, filled with joy at the results of their apostolic mission, they say to Jesus, Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your Name! And the Master answers them, I saw Satan fall like lightning from Heaven. (Luke 10:17-18) From the time Christ comes, the devil has to fight a rearguard action even though he has great power and his presence becomes stronger in proportion as man and society separate themselves from God. (John Paul II, loc. cit.) Through mortal sin many men become subject to the slavery of the devil. (cf. Council of Trent, Session XIV, chapter I) They separate themselves from the Kingdom of God only to enter the kingdom of darkness, of evil. In one degree or another they become instruments of evil in the world and are subjected to the worst of tyrannies. Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. (John 8:34) The devil’s dominion can take on other forms of more nearly normal and less striking appearance. We have to remain on the watch, so as to discern and reject the wiles of the tempter, who does not relax in his determination to harm us. He knows that as a result of original sin we have remained prone to evil, vulnerable to our passions and open to the assaults of concupiscence and of the devil: we were sold like slave to sin. (cf. Rom. 8:14) The whole life of men, both individual and social, shows itself to be a struggle, and a dramatic one, between good and evil, between light and darkness. Man finds that he is unable of himself to overcome the assaults of evil successfully, so that everyone feels as though he were bound in chains. (Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes, 13) We must then give its full meaning to the last of the petitions that Christ taught us in the Our Father: deliver us from evil. We must keep concupiscence at a distance and, with God’s help, fight against the baneful influence of the devil (who always lies in wait) - an influence which inclines us to sin. In this specific historic event that the Gospel tells us of, we should all, with the light of Faith, see in that possessed man every sinner who wants to be converted to God, every sinner who wants to free himself from Satan and from sin. Jesus has not come to free us from dominating nations, but from the devil; not from the captivity of the body, but from the malice of the soul. (St. Augustine, Sermon 48) Deliver us, Lord, from evil, from the evil one; lead us not into temptation. Grant in Your infinite mercy that we should not give in to the infidelity to which the one who has been unfaithful from the beginning endeavors to seduce us. (John Paul II, loc. cit.) The malice of sin: The experience of offense against God is a reality. It is easy for the Christian to discover that deep vestigial imprint of evil in his nature and to see a world enslaved by sin. (cf. Second Vatican Council, loc. cit., 2) The Church teaches that there are sins which are mortal by nature, sins that cause spiritual death, the loss of supernatural life, whilst others are venial. Although the latter do not radically oppose God, they are an obstacle to the practice of the supernatural virtues and dispose the soul to fall into grave sin.
St. Paul reminds us that we were ransomed at a great price. (cf. 1 Cor. 7:23) He firmly exhorts us not to fall back into slavery; we have to be sincere with ourselves, so as to avoid relapsing into sin and at the same time kindle in our souls an eagerness for holiness. If we are to banish this evil… we must first try to ensure that our dispositions, both habitual and actual, are those of a definite aversion from sin. Sincerely, in a manly way, we must develop, both in our heart and in our mind, a lively horror of mortal sin. We must also cultivate a deep-seated hatred of deliberate venial sin, those negligences which, while they do not deprive us of God’s grace, do serve to obstruct the channels through which His grace comes to us. (J. Escriva, Friends of God, 243)
Mortal sin is the greatest misfortune that can befall a Christian. When he is moved by love, everything can be used for the glory of God and the service of his brother men, and earthly realities themselves are sanctified - homes, work, sport politics… By contrast, when a Christian allows himself to be led astray by the devil, his sin brings into the world a principle of radical disorder which separates him from his Creator and is, at bottom, the cause of all the horrors that afflict mankind. Let us ask God for that purity of conscience which will lead us to abominate any offense against His sovereign goodness and never to make such an offense appear acceptable. We have to make our own that lament of the prophet Jeremiah, which has in it such a strong sense of atonement: Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, says the Lord, for My people have committed two evils - they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns, that can hold no water. (Jer. 2:12-13) It is here that the evil of sin resides: in that men although they knew God… did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but… became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened… and they worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator. (Rom. 1:21-25) Sin, even a single sin, exercises, sometimes in a hidden way and sometimes in a visible and palpable way, a mysterious and pernicious influence on families, friends, the Church and on the whole of mankind. If a branch withers, the whole living plant is weakened; if a branch becomes sterile, the vine does not produce the fruit expected of it; and what is more, other branches can then wither and die. Today, let us renew our firm resolution to keep away from everything (shows, unsuitable books, environments that are out of harmony with the presence of a man or woman who wants to follow Christ) which may be an occasion of offending God. Let us truly love the Sacrament of Penance and teach others to love it by instructing them about this Sacrament. Let us meditate frequently on Our Lord’s Passion so that we can understand better the malice of sin. Let us ask Our Lord to make that well-known saying I’d rather die than commit a sin, into an abiding resolve for the rest of our lives. The liberating character of Confession. We should struggle to avoid venial sins: We can never go deep enough into the reality of sin, the mysterium iniquitatis. But if we catch as much as a glimpse of the malice of any offense against God, we will never conduct our struggle against evil at the boundary between grave and slight sin, for the greatest sin consists in underestimating the importance of fighting skirmishes. The refusal to fight the little battles can, little by little, leave one soft, vulnerable and indifferent, insensitive to the accents of God’s voice. (J. Escriva, Christ is Passing By, 77) Venial sins are able to have this lamentable effect on souls that do not stoutly fight to avoid them, and they constitute an excellent ally of the devil, who is determined to exploit weakness and cause harm. Although they do not kill the life of grace, they debilitate it. They make it difficult to practice virtue and to hear the suggestions of the Holy Spirit. If we do not react energetically, they inevitably dispose us towards grave faults and sins. 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. (idem., The Way, 330) Let us ask God to purify us with His light, His love and His fire, so that the greatness of our vocation should never be lost sight of; so that we should never become trapped in that spiritual mediocrity which a half-hearted struggle against venial sins surely leads to. If he wants to fight against venial sins, the Christian has to assign to them their true importance. They are the cause of spiritual mediocrity and lukewarmness. They make the way of interior life really difficult. The saints have always recommended Confession which is frequent, sincere and contrite, as an effective means against those faults and sins, and a sure way of making progress. St. Francis de Sales advised, Have always a true sorrow for the sins you confess, however small they may be, with a firm purpose of amendment for the future. Many who confess their venial sins by custom, and as it were by way of routine, without thinking of ridding themselves of them, remain burdened with them all their lives. (St. Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life, II 19) O that today you would listen to His voice! Harden not your hearts as at Meribah (Responsorial Psalm, Ps. 94:1-2; 6-7; 8-9), we are exhorted in the Responsorial Psalm of the Holy Mass. Let us ask the Holy Spirit to help us to have a heart which is ever cleaner and stronger, capable of throwing off any oppressive bonds and of opening itself to God in the way that He expects of every Christian. (From: In Conversation with God, by Francis Fernandez) Through the intercession of Mary, Virgin most Powerful, St. Joseph, and St. Columbkill, may we grow in the practice of complete rejection of sin and whole-hearted love for God!
In Christ through Mary, Fr. Kasel