Spirituality for Today – February 2010 – Volume 14, Issue 7

The Three Letter Four Letter Word

By Rev. Raymond Petrucci

S-I-N - There, I wrote it. The Secular Progressives are running about slack-jawed and stunned at the temerity of someone referring to that word and to that topic. Many Christians regard the subject with either mild annoyance or casual indifference. Against this stance, Billy Sunday proclaimed, "One reason sin flourishes is that it is treated like a cream puff rather than a rattlesnake." Years later, the American psychiatrist Karl A Menninger wrote the book, Whatever Became of Sin in which he stated a similar concern over the transmutation of moral thought to a methodology perhaps best expressed as "every bad act deserves a good excuse." Currently, there are generations nurtured in this philosophy who are now of an age that puts them in charge of much of the world's work. Is it any wonder that we find ourselves overcome by a time in which, in the words of John Adams, "virtue is not in fashion and vice is not infamous?" The next generation deserves better. They must understand what grace is and what sin is. There are words of warning, once spoken by Dr. Menninger, that we dare not leave unheeded, "What is done to children, they will do to society."

A photo of an apple with a bite taken out of it

Lent is the perfect time to unmask the casuistry surrounding the subject of sin and to see it for what it is - a tragic disfigurement of life. If the Devil is called the Father of Lies, other apt appellations are Father of Obfuscation or Father of Delusion. In the antebellum nineteenth century, Ralph Waldo Emerson revealed the moral blindness toward the evil of slavery. "All that Americans cared about was keeping the customer contented, supplied with good sugar, coffee, tobacco; and if toward that end there resulted 'a few unpleasant scenes on the coast of Africa? That was a great way off,' Emerson said sarcastically. If anyone mentioned the 'homicide, madness, adultery, and intolerable torture' that accompanies slavery, Americans 'let the church bells ring louder, the church organ swell its peal, and drown the hideous sound.' The sugar cultivated by the slaves 'was excellent, nobody tasted blood in it.' The coffee too, 'was fragrant; the tobacco was incense; the brandy made nations happy; the cotton clothed the world."

Lest we become complacent in placing human savagery and cruelty in an unenlightened past, look closely at our age: We slaughter tens of millions of our unborn children and call it - a right; we spew forth every manner of vile and hateful obscenities and call the speech - adult; we debase human sexuality to self-centered pleasure seeking and call it -making love. Place and time, notwithstanding, human nature struggles to achieve a life of virtue over one of vice. And yet, there is never a shortage of conmen selling the opposite to an often too willing populace.

In opposition to the sins of humanity stands forever the cross of Christ. To those who sought to break him, Christ stood for the Truth in the face of the intimidations of his arrest, his trail, his scourging, and his crucifixion. How did Christ strike back? "His vengeance," in the words of Pope Benedict XVI, "is the Cross: a 'No' to violence and a 'love to the end.'" The world's intimidations were nullified not by the world's way of violence and sin, but by God's way of love and mercy. The glory of the Resurrection places before us the victory of grace over sin, of life over death. We must choose.

How are we to counter the sins of the world? There are minds so disturbed and malignant that no amount of human love and forgiveness can sway them. How does one reach the most determined foe of all, the one convinced that the evil that they do is, in fact, a good? It would take a miracle. Yes, with a watchful and protective eye, we must safeguard ourselves from both sin and sinner. The task of Lent is to begin by confronting the sin residing in us and to call upon the merciful love of God to help us to become a better person than we were. The beautiful words of the Act of Contrition provide ample resource for our fight against all that would deprive us of the fullness of life that God wants for us. In that prayer we recognize that it is only through a heartfelt sorrow for sin, an awareness that our contrition is based not primarily on fear of punishment, but on the love felt for the One who loves us, and on a firm decision to strive to amend our lives so that the victory of the Cross can save us. The assurance that Jesus has come to forgive and save repentant sinners, no matter how many and how serious their sins, is the undying hope of Lent.

These forty days are our opportunity to remove any blindness to our sins, to grasp the unlimited forgiveness of God, and to open our hearts and souls to what God's grace can make of us. Indeed, sin is a nasty word and its reality even nastier. Defeating sin may take a miracle, but I believe the change that one Christ-like person can effect is miracle enough.