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Catholic Life | Tag Archive | Sin
Tag Archives: Sin

Confession: Reconciliation Is Not Beauty In My Life

This is a serious and not at all sarcastic post. It is also an intensely personal post. I believe that whatever is not of faith is sin, and I also believe in the primacy of a well-formed conscience. That means that something could be sin for me, and not for you. References to sin in all posts in this series are only references what is sin in my own life, not assertions that the same actions (or failures to act) are sins in anyone else’s life.

When Michelle asked for responses on why we go to confession I took it as a challenge to answer as honestly as possible. The first answer that came to mind was that I go because I’m Catholic. As a currently practicing Catholic, confession is non-optional.

But that could not be the actual truth since one can be a practicing Catholic in good standing with the Church and only go to confession once a year. Besides, given my place in the world and in history, it would be pretty easy to simply not be a practicing Catholic.

So I must go for some other reason. I reflected on my life this past year, and in considering my actions the best answer I could come up with was that I went to confession because it forces me to really stop, examine my conscience, and clean up my spiritual life. I fail to do this properly (the Church suggests daily) and so I choose confession as a way of getting things back on track. As Michelle said, it is like the difference between a self-test and the midterm in the lives of her students.

The truth is that reconciliation, like Sunday Mass, is one of the very few areas of my life where I act out of obedience. I go to confession because at some point not going becomes a significant rejection of the Holy Spirit in my life.

I believe that I should experience the Sacrament of Reconciliation monthly in most seasons, but last year I only went four times. Once I felt that pure bliss, but otherwise it was the usual.

I hate participating in the Sacrament of Reconciliation because of the tremendous gap between what I think that it should be, and what it actually turns out to be. My stress level still rises thinking about a certain priest who was exceptionally lacking in gifting as a confessor. I am fine with priests who are busy and run things quickly, and I am fine with priests who are wise, but oh how I hate to deal with those who sit in the seat of Christ and throw me into spiritual turmoil because of their own ignorance. One of the most helpful things in this area was stumbling across Teresa’s thoughts. Saintly wisdom explaining reality was a great gift in allowing me to practice my faith without random priests ripping it apart. They could still tug at my faith, but I could ignore them when I knew they were simply sharing personal opinions which lacked careful formation.

Because I know from experience that it does not work to expect parish priests to be spiritual directors, I do my best to make my confession as short and carefully packaged as possible. Occasionally I will encounter someone like the young Augustinian (did you know that they count officially as “young” if they are 50 and under, and they are raising the age?!) who asked me what my state in life was and completely threw me because I didn’t know if he was asking if I was married or working or what. But mostly confession is a struggle to go through the motions of a potentially wounding, and usually meaningless, spiritual exercise.

While I sincerely regret my unhealthy relationship with confession, it does have the one advantage of making me exceptionally reluctant to knowingly choose sin. When I go through a phase of not wanting to go to Sunday Mass I know that if I fail to do so I will not be able to receive communion the next day without first going to confession. My twin dislikes for confession and Mass without communion are always enough to get me out the door.

Why do you go to confession? Do you find it easy to encounter Christ there?

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Pride and Arrogance

Note to those who think that it is not fitting to admit sin on blogs: please do not read, and certainly do not comment on this post.

This is a serious, and not sarcastic post.

Most of my (short) adult life I have been aware of an underlying sin of pride. I cannot describe it as a “struggle” because it is only on very specific occasions that I bother to struggle with it. As with most of the worst evils, it simply does not seem as bad as the lesser sins that attract more attention and demand to be stamped out rightnow.

I have often been confused by those of my acquaintance who are arrogant. And they are many, for while I love humble people, I am constantly attracted to those who are arrogant. I misconstrued their arrogance as the same as my pride, and so often wondered how they could be so careless about appearing stupid in their arrogance.

In the beginning of our relationship I would get upset (and I mean genuinely distressed, not angry) at Josh for being confident when he turned out to be wrong. At first when we disagreed over some factual matter I would be inclined to back down because he was so matter-of-fact about simply being right. Then, when it turned out that I had in fact been correct, I was unable to understand how on earth he could have been so dogmatic without actually being right. Why on earth would he not have at least allowed the possibility that he was mistaken?

It turned out that he was simply rather used to being right and did not find it worth his time to qualify statements that were always true. He was often perfectly willing to modify his view when it was shown that he was, in fact, incorrect. But since he was accustomed to being right it seemed natural to him to always presume that he was right.

The week before Lent Josh asked me about the guidelines for fasting and abstinence. I told him what I thought they were, with the appropriate qualifiers about my memory and went immediately to look the rules up online. When I read the actual rules to Josh he said something indicating that what I was reading was not necessary since it was only confirming what he already knew. I do not remember what I said to express my “what the?” about the fact that two minutes before he had been asking me about something which he now indicated he already knew. Josh clarified that he found the official source unnecessary because I had said that I was pretty sure of the rules and I was “always right” about such things. He already knew because I had just told him.

I was rather amused (though of course I should have been annoyed) that his arrogance had now extended to his view of me! I still think that I should verify anything that I cannot precisely remember from an authoritative source, and Josh now thinks that he does not even need to double-check things on which I am fairly certain!

On reflecting on my pride-arrogance relationship with Josh it is surprising to realize that the most obvious sin was rarely an issue. The same cannot be said for my interactions with arrogant e-friends. Something about the internet makes people stupid. It happens frequently on blogs, but I first realized the extent of the problem on Twitter.

Twitter is a 140 World of Arrogance. It is, of course, partly that like attracts like and I love arrogance, but it is also partly the nature of the sea-beast. Fast and concise tends to boil down to arrogance, or bring it to a boiling point, or some other boiling metaphor which you will already know if you are a part of my Twitter world.

Fairly soon after I started @VitaCatholic I saw pride in my own stream1 and so I began to make a point to undercut it. Whenever I saw a chance to stop the pride-game by admitting my ignorance or fitting in disclaimers I would do so.

And then pride really became a problem. I told Josh my dilemma. In trying to eliminate arrogance I had inadvertently fed my pride. Now others would say very stupid things to me because they assumed that my lack of arrogance reflected ignorance, and then my pride would kick in and I would wonder why anyone would be so stupid.

Josh offered practical tips. Apparently my version of concise non-arrogance was a problem for arrogant literalists. Josh told me to never say that I “knew nothing” about a subject in which I had taken a class or read a few books. To me it is a concise way of saying that I am aware that my view probably needs to be refined significantly and that I may not even be confident enough to do anything other than play devil’s advocate. But Josh thought it an obvious invitation for eager Arrogants to chime in with what I would consider to be less-than-nothing.

Practical tips were helpful, but I was still bewildered by others willingness to set themselves up for stupidity. When others challenge me and I know that I am right, I wonder whether they have access to something I do not. Perhaps they have read secret Vatican archives and I really should reconsider my view. After all, it is not like it would make any sense for them to tell me that I am wrong when I know that I have facts on my side, so there must be something that I am missing. It simply would not make sense for someone to tell me that I am wrong without so much as checking the catechism or canon law, or a few letters by Pater Deserto-Obscurus. If I thought someone was wrong I would first do a bit of fast fact-checking and then phrase my challenge in a way that made it clear that while I doubted their claim I was quite open to having it clarified and supported. After all, I assume that others are equally prideful and do not want to say things that are incorrect.

It was only when I realized the importance of distinguishing pride from arrogance that I began to understand the situation. While others are more arrogant than I, they do not have the deep underlying pride which checks my words and sends me fact-checking. Others will off-handedly say presumptuous things because they are arrogant, but their arrogance is an acceptable personality trait. Being arrogant has its downsides, but it also enables one to share crucial information in a timely manor, to inform and correct others without doing a lot of work.

The problem is pride. Pride eats through what should be my soul and causes me to judge others for their arrogance. Pride prevents me from offering helpful tips about where others might find a fuller view of any given issue because I do not want to take the risks involved. Pride makes me shut up and shut out others.

And the oh so sweet irony is that the frequent remedy seems all too homeopathic. My pride is best defeated by risking arrogance.

1.Wait, there are whales in streams? No wonder they fail so often! Who came up with these symbols?!

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The Day Before Joy

Sometimes I ask myself, “”what if tomorrow everything changed? What if everything I have hoped for comes true? What if my self-pity become painfully stupid as it is made clear that darkness may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning?

And then I think that if there is a reason for hope, then despair is pathetic. After all, how silly will it be if I spent my last days prior to a blessing in self-indulgent mourning? And what if I make myself so accustomed to my mourning that I re-shape myself into a monster who is not even able to partake in joy when it comes?

I imagine God looking at some of us and saying “what the hell?! I gave you all of these things and you ignored every good and perfect gift because you were preoccupied with staring at the list of desires you were determined to check off your life list?!” And then I stand right beside God and condemn us with an agreeing declaration of “what losers!”

I know that the fulfillment of my human desires may not come in this life. But my religion is meaningless if I do not believe that a new day will come eventually. And so I do my best to act with that knowledge in mind. After all, I hate looking stupid, even if God and I are the only ones watching.

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Sin, Damnation, and Disclaimers

As usual, this post is half tongue-in-cheek and half deadly serious. My hope is that with enough of these I may not have to post as many disclaimers and explanations. Of course it is not most efficient (or material, formal, or final for that matter!) to include jokes in a post intended to prevent further confusion, but I just can’t help myself!

Every day I learn something new. Recently I learned that the real reason that God made Josh the head of our home is so that Josh can point out the obvious to me. Like the fact that, even though I am only celebrating my second anniversary of reconciling with Augustine, I was born with a profoundly deprived nature deeply ingrained Augustinian view of the world.

Basically, Josh would say that when I think about sin I am off by myself with three Augustine-lovers somewhere in sight, and the rest of the world in in, well, wherever it is that the rest of the non-Augustinian world is.

I think of the world as God, and degrees of not-God. I think of sin as everything that decreases the God and increases the not-God1.

The presence of sin in the world is so obvious to me that I simply cannot understand those who do not see things this way. It does not matter whether you tend to think of things in terms of original sin or structural sin (I personally embrace believe in both!), that which is not-Good, not-Beautiful, not-God–however you choose to think of it–is so clearly real. No matter how “good” I am, I will always live in a world that is burdened by sin. All will be well, but in my little human life there still remain huge gaps of non-wellness. And so talking about sin is quite natural and almost causal for me.

But then whenever I dare to hint at it (and I do typically feel as though I am only hinting) people misunderstand and are even offended that I could imply that they might possibly be sinning! I am then struck with a double-confusion: first I am typically writing about myself, and so do not know why others imagine that I was implying that they are sinning, and secondly I do not understand why anyone should be surprised to find sin in her life when it so clearly permeates all of our lives.

My view of hell and damnation follows quite naturally from my view of sin. I believe that hell is real. I also believe that God is willing that none should perish, and that God’s willing is infinitely more powerful than any human insufficiency. So I am one of those who believes in a very real, very empty hell. It is incomprehensible to me that any of my readers might possibly be in danger of damnation.

Yet I know that hell is the absolute absence of God. And in my own life I have been given the gift of awareness of how I bring hell upon myself through my lack of love for God. I am aware of swimming in sin and breathing grace daily.

Which brings me to the fact that I do not think of sin and hell as scary or threatening. I am not scared because only threats are scare me; reality simply is, and this is all reality for me. I am continually aware of God as Love. I dread not the wrath of God, but the sadness of God. I do not relate to God as a parent who might be upset by my failings, but as a lover whose day I want to make a little bit brighter. And oh how very crushing it is to have the one whom we love reject us through apathy!

So I rely on my earthly lover to not only provide an example of how I should love, but also to tell me when others are completely misunderstanding me because they somehow manage to live without a constant consciousness of sin.

And maybe I’ll sit here singing “I’m just an Augustinian girl in a Pelagian world!” while writing a list of all the ways in which I am oh-so-very non-Augustinian.

1. See! There is proof that I am not really Augustinian. It would not make any sense to a real Augustinian to say “increase the not-God!” Take that, Josh! Guess I won’t just accept everything you say after all! Which goes to show that I am not only not Augustinain, I am also non-Monicanian!

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Felix Culpa Babies

I live in a world that devalues children. One of the many sad results of this is that followers of Christ devote their energy to emphasizing the great value of children to the point where other truths are obscured.

This is particularly true among “faithful Catholics” who greatly desire to answer John Paul II’s call to promote a culture of life. Often, instead of promoting life with all of the careful nuances of Church teaching, we simply assert that everyone should always “welcome children” and suggest that the bigger the family, the better.

I have seen oh-so-many articles and blog posts in which a parent of a “large” family will write about the rude comments that people make. Invariably someone will reply to the post with the suggestion that the person say “and which one of my children do you think should not be here?!” and the large family mutual admiration society all delights in their superiority.

The thing is, this is a dreadful approach for Catholics. And we suffer from our own medicine.

We say “IVF is wrong” and suddenly someone holds up her baby and says “you think my child should not be here?!”

Children are good. Children are always good. Even if a child is born as the result of rape, that child is good, and it is wonderful that that child is alive.

But the choices of adults which result in the birth of a child are not always good. Sometimes parents are evil, sometimes they are blinded by their desire for children, and sometimes they are simply selfish or lazy.

When a parent selfishly gives in to the desire for sex, despite knowing that it is likely to result in the conception of a child who will take emotional resources away from the older children who are already under-parented, it is a mistake. It is a mistake which may be smaller than IVF, and utterly incomparable to rape, but it is still wrong.

Married couples are called to procreation in the fullest sense. This requires the greatest of self-denial in sacrificing oneself for one’s children. And sometimes justice demands that parents deny themselves the pleasure of sexual intercourse in order to insure that their procreation is not mere reproduction.

And it is wrong for us to perpetuate the idea that selfishness is to be commended when it results in the great good of a child. This is why I will always think “how wonderful!” when I hear about a pregnancy, but I will not join in with those who call self-indulgence “heroic.” Perseverance while suffering the consequences of sin may be heroic. But sin is never heroic, no matter how small the sin, and how great the joy of the felix culpa.

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Saintly Marriage: Why it Matters

The ideal of celibate marriage is not one that should be accepted by most couples in the form of renunciation of conjugal intercourse. Instead it should properly be understood as a challenge to examine one’s love for one’s spouse in comparison to one’s love for God.

Sexual activity isn’t what really matters. Love is. What is the honest answer to the question of whom one loves? It should be God. And then when someone asks about one’s love for one’s spouse or children, the answer should be a declaration that obviously one loves them appropriately since one loves God. Yet in comparison to one’s love for God, one’s love for one’s spouse must look like hatred.

The greatest challenge of marriage for me so far has been to learn to love my husband more than myself, and yet still less than I love God.

This week has been a great reminder of how very far I am from that. On Monday night I set the alarm so that I could get up in time to go to Mass before work. On Tuesday morning I turned the alarm off and stayed in bed for another half hour. It was lovely to be there listening to my husband’s breathing. Prior to getting married I could make myself get out of a cozy bed while it was still dark in order to go to Mass. But now the hard floor is too wonderful to leave when my husband is there beside me.

Thankfully God loves me more than I love God and I got the unexpected opportunity to go to Mass later in the day. But there could not have been a clearer indication that my love for Josh won out over my love for God. Yes, there are times in marriage when one needs to put service of spouse above spiritual practice, but it was not as if my sleeping husband cared whether I was there beside him. It was all about me.

Today I walked into a Mass that had started two minutes early. As I checked to insure that my cell phone was silenced I noticed that I had new voicemail from three missed calls. I did not check to see whose calls I had missed even though it was unusual to have new voicemail from the morning.

Then suddenly during consecration I realized that it could have been that something was wrong with Josh. I hadn’t seen him online in the morning. I had assumed that meant that he had closed Gmail in order to work without interruption, but it also could have been a sign of something wrong. Perhaps he was locked out of the apartment and his only way of contacting me was the cell phone which I ignore while at work.

I realized that I was being silly. I also realized that the priest had finished the prayer while I had been thinking about Josh rather than God. Unlike earlier in the week, I had not consciously chosen Josh over God, but Saint Paul might as well have been standing beside me with an “I told you so” look.

Marriage is a great gift and beautiful path of salvation. But it is also one of the most alluring temptations of damnation. Women in particular are especially vulnerable to spiritual damage in marriage because many of us are naturally inclined–and all of us our taught–to pour ourselves entirely into marriage. And the harder we work on our relationships, the more we give ourselves to our spouses, and the better our marriages are, the less we are drawn to the Triune God. For our energy is directed to our spouses and we are satisfied with something wonderful; something dreadfully less than God alone.

One obvious help for many married women Saints was wretched husbands who drove their wives constantly back to the arms of God for solace. That is not exactly the sort of aid to salvation that I desire!

And yet as I look at my life it is clear that I am constantly in danger of damning myself through “love” of my spouse! I am not worthy to be the disciple of Jesus Christ. Yes, I continually pray “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word…” but so often I am not really aware of how unworthy I am. For I am too busy loving my husband to notice that I hate my God.

This is why I must look to the ideal example of Our Blessed Mother and Saint Joseph and all the Saints who followed after them in the most perfect of marriages. It is not that sexual intercourse is bad, but rather that forgoing it for the glory of God is emblematic of the pure devotion to God which characterizes all the Saints. And the great love for God which makes spousal love seem like hatred by comparison is precisely what I lack.

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Ash Wednesday and Unfaithfulness

At today’s Mass, after hearing the Gospel, we all line up to do not what Jesus commands, but the opposite. Unlike Holy Thursday, when we act out the command of Christ as literally as we can, today we do just what Jesus says not to do. He tells us to wash our faces, and then we all scramble to have someone put dirt on our heads. It is a kind of ritualization of our failure to live the Gospel, a common confession that we have not done what the Lord commands, a plain and public admission of our unfaithfulness.

Please read the rest of Brother Charles’ thoughts on Ash Wednesday here.

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Women in Catholic Leadership

SrBenedictaAnnie asked “why aren’t women more active in the church leadership?” which is a great question. It actually thrilled my little soul because of the way she phrased it. Instead of writing about why women aren’t priests, I get to address the much less discussed topic of why the leadership of the Catholic Church is not only male, but overwhelmingly male.

First, I should note that it is likely that Catholic women are more active in leadership than most people think. Women run Catholic schools and pastoral councils. Women are diocesan judges and advocates. The number of women working behind the scenes in the Vatican has also risen dramatically since John Paul II became pope. Also, when Catholics think of leadership, we do not just think of those who have temporal power. Even more important than priests, or even the pope, are the Saints who are the spiritual leaders of the Church. For Catholics, Mother Teresa was as much of a leader as John Paul II.

That said, there is no doubt that women have a minor role compared to men in Catholic leadership. Why? Because of sin. The Church is full of sinners, and it is oh-so-very difficult for any group to see the need to share its power with another group. Women had a great role in leadership in the early Church, but as the Church government was formed and influenced by the outside, the patriarchal form partially won out over the example set by Christ. Perhaps part of this was necessary to accommodate culture. Perhaps it was entirely the result of weakness. But in any case, the Catholic Church was clearly influenced by the culture in which it took shape.

To quote Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein):

In the early Church, women played an active part in the various congregational charities, and their intense apostolate as confessors and martyrs had a profound effect. Virginal purity was celebrated in liturgy, and for women there was also a consecrated ecclesiastical office–the diaconate with its special ordination–but the Church did not go so far as to admit them to the priesthood as well. And in later historical developments, women were displaced from these posts; also, it seems that under the influence of the Hebraic and Roman judicial concepts, there was a gradual decline in their canonical status.

Catholic authority is further complicated by the role of ordination. Because women are not priests, it is all too easy to refuse them a place in the group of decision-makers. Bishops have the greatest authority in the Church, and since women are not bishops, they are simply excluded from the highest positions of leadership. Thankfully women are now more frequently brought in as consultants. As far as I am aware, progress is slow but steady.

I remain hopeful because, like Pope Paul VI, Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross’ words seem only more true after several decades have passed:

a Catholic feminist movement was thought to be impossible when the interdenominational movement when into action. The concept which assumes that everything in the Church is irrevocably set for all times appears to me to be a false one. It would be naive to disregard that the Church has a history; the Church is a human institution and like all things human, was destined to change and to evolve; likewise, its development takes place often in the form of struggles. Most of the definitions of dogma are conclusive results of preceding intellectual conflicts lasting for decades or even centuries. The same is true of ecclesiastical law, liturgical forms–especially all objective forms reflecting our spiritual life.

The Catholic Church has made astounding improvements since the 1930s, and who knows what positions of leadership women will fill in another 70 years? I have great hope that the necessity of change will foster increased perfection under the direction of the Holy Spirit.

I suspect that this post will both fail to satisfy non-Catholics such as Annie, as well as shock many Catholics who would respond that the Church is the way She is because God wants it that way. I do not expect too much of a response with the busyness of the holidays, but for those Catholics who do read this and disagree, please feel free to chime in with your version of why women are not more active in Church leadership.

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Catholic Scandal

There is a Catholic saying that “the Church lives on forgiveness.” The most important thing that I could possibly express about the topic of scandal in the Catholic Church is sorrow. I am sorry.

No, I am not a bishop, so my expression of sorrow cannot officially represent the Church, but as a member of the sinning body it is only right for me to convey sorrow at the profound failure of my Church.

When someone brings up the topic of Catholic scandal I assume that they mean the sex-abuse scandal. I could attempt to address the sociological history of Catholicism which enabled bishops to simply move criminal priests from one parish to another and cover up the evil reality of abuse while parishioners did nothing. But I am not a sociologist and I do not think that the history of how this could happen is really at the heart of the issue. I could explain what the Church has done to remedy the situation. But efforts to stop failure of epic proportion do not make up for the fact that it happened.

Even if I had a perfect answer for the question of the sex-abuse scandal, there would still remain the general question of scandal in the Church. What about the crusades, Spanish Inquisition, encouraging secular governments to enslave non-Christians etc.? What about the majority of American Catholics who ignore the Church’s instructions to give to the poor, care for the environment, uphold sexual morality, and oppose unjust war? The painful truth is that the Catholic Church fails dramatically to live up to its call to represent Christ on earth.

In order to be Catholic, one must either live in denial of the reality of the Church’s failings, or else accept the difficult idea that God has chosen to work through horribly defective humans. One Catholic theologian suggested that God could have chosen to create a sort of angel-administration to run the Church, but that if God had done so we would have loved the Church in its perfection rather than the source of the Church, God. I am not sure that explanation is any more satisfying than the typical explanations for how a good omnipotent God could allow evil, but it the best attempt I have encountered.

What aspects of Catholic scandal are of most concern to you?

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