by Fr. Matthew Habiger, OSB
Scripture often affirms the fact that we are all sinners. The good news is that there is more joy over one converted sinner than over the 99 who need no conversion.
This is why God came to among us as our Savior. What does Jesus save us from? Our sins. If you don’t believe in sin, then you don’t need a Savior. That is one problem that all atheists share. They don’t know what they need.
So, we are all sinners. Why are we so prone to sin? And why is sin so offensive and repugnant to God? In these questions we meet the great mystery of our humanity. We are all sinners. Only one of us escaped this tragedy: Mary, the mother of God, and our Blessed Mother.
The Church describes sin as willfully choosing to reject God’s commandments, a refusal to accept his design for our human nature. Sin is to abuse our freedom, by choosing the wrong things, by choosing some creaturely pleasure over the goodness of our Creator. To sin is to place ourselves in the center of the universe, instead of holding God there.
We are all prone to sin because of our weakened human nature after the Fall of our first parents, Adam and Eve. Before the Fall, Adam and Eve could see things clearly, they knew the truth. After the Fall, our reason is clouded; we are easily confused. Before the Fall, Adam and Eve could focus their will upon doing the good, and that would happen. After the Fall, we find it difficult to follow through with our goals and resolutions. St. Paul laments: “For the good that I will, I do not; but the evil that I will not, that I do” (Rom 7:19).
In our weakened, fallen, state we don’t always see the difference between good and evil. We think that the good is whatever pleases us. But what if the good is something difficult, demanding, and not yielding immediate gratification?
We often think that the bad is whatever we find unpleasant, repelling. But very often our duties appear to us that way. I don’t enjoy getting up on time in the morning. Does that make it evil? Chastity always has the dimension of saying NO to myself and my bodily desires. Does that make chastity bad and dehumanizing?
In the Parable of the Lost Son in Luke’s Gospel, the younger son thought that his father’s house was depressing, and that faraway places was where to find glamour and joy. The older son was not beguiled by utopian fantasies, but he couldn’t bear to see his younger brother so well received after squandering his inheritance.
In our fallen state, we don’t easily see the difference between good and evil, what is truly good and what is truly evil.
When God created the universe and placed us on this beautiful planet for our 70-80 years here, He wanted us to be on a testing ground, a proving ground. He wanted us to discover for ourselves the difference between good and evil. He wanted us to learn how to consistently choose the good and to reject the evil. He wanted us to build real character.
This involves living in a fallen world. We will be exposed to temptation. We will be deceived by very slick and beguiling persuasions and fallacies. We will harm others, and we will suffer harm from others.
There will be difficulties to cope with in this life: injustices, wars, crimes, acts of terror, in addition to natural calamities like earthquakes, plagues, tsunamis.
As we work through all these challenges, as we use the Gospels as our guide through this life, we will have some successes and some failures.
Our God is present to us in all of this. Like any good parent, He wants what is best for us, and He gives us all the guidance and help we need to succeed. But He can’t do our work for us. We have to face the real world and cope with it. We must develop our ability to recognize, and then cope with, the false allurements of evil, and the ambivalence of the good.
In concrete terms, if we are the older brother, we need to see just how good we have it. We don’t need to repeat all the mistakes of others. We can learn from their mistakes. And perhaps we really don’t need a fatted calf and a party to complete our happiness.
And if we are the younger brother, we thank God for helping us burst the bubble of our utopian fantasies. We thank Him for being there to help us pick up the pieces when that happens. We are ecstatic because there is more joy over one converted sinner than over the 99 in safety. In daily life we need to see things clearly. Ask yourself:
- Do I really need to view this porn site?
- Do I really need these extra drinks at a party?
- Do I really need to tell that backbiting joke about one of my competitors?
And you can add to the list.
Brothers and sisters, we are all on a journey. Many surprises and new challenges will happen. We will probably make some mistakes, but they should be new mistakes, and not just banal repeats of past mistakes.
In all this, we take great consolation in that there is greater joy in heaven over one converted sinner, than over 99 who need no conversion.
We Christians are a people filled with hope. But hope is not the same as optimism. The optimist is wearing glasses with a rosy tint. He sees the future as bringing inevitable progress; things will always get better. But he does not remember his past, and all the real failures of the human race. We are a hopeful people. We have an unshakeable faith in the victory of Christ over all evil and death. He is our Savior. We are neither pessimists nor optimists. We are true realists. We see and judge everything in the light of Christ, following St. Paul’s advice “to test all things and hold to what is good” (1 Thes 5:21).
Christian hope does not blind us to dangers; on the contrary, it rather presupposes that we see reality as it is. But the one who hopes knows that God is above this world. Trusting in Him, in His infinite love, we are protected from depressive resignation. Hope breaks through being tied down to this world, to immanentism; it is essentially transcendent.
With these assurances, we join hands and link arms with our brothers and sisters as we continue on the road that leads to our perfect happiness, when we shall participate in the very love and life of our God.