Sin Always Hurts

 

sin always hurts

Stop me if you’ve heard this one:

“Well, I believe that ____ is a sin because I am a Christian, but I just don’t feel I have a right to force my beliefs on others…  

…I mean, as long as they aren’t hurting anyone…

It sounds straightforward enough, right?  And in our culture, one of the the worst things you can be accused of doing is “forcing” your beliefs on someone.  Unfortunately, the underlying premise of this sort of statement is that sin doesn’t always hurt.

But that’s simply not true.

Sin always hurts.  Sin hurts God, first and foremost.  But sin also hurts us, because we are created to live in communion with God, and sin damages our ability to come into relationship with our Creator.  Choosing to sin stems from passions that are out of order which, when not corrected, lead us to choose things that might seem appealing, but in reality are not good for us.

This is true of all sin and for all people–whether they are Christians or not.  Lying is bad for the believer and the unbeliever alike.  Unchastity hurts both the Christian and the agnostic.  Sin is not good for us, no matter who we are.

But wait, there’s more!  Sin doesn’t just hurt God and the one sinning, sin hurts everyonebecause no one sins in a vacuum.  Our choices always have an effect on those around us, for better or for worse.  Lying is an affront to the dignity of whomever you’re lying to, because you’re effectively saying they aren’t worthy of the truth.

Even the sins we call “private,” these still affect our neighbors, because we carry the effects of our sins around with us, to everyone we meet.  When I habitually choose to do things that are damaging to my soul, it absolutely affects me as a person, and so it absolutely affects my ability to engage in the kinds of healthy and constructive relationships that I am supposed to have with other people.  When this happens on a large enough scale, everybody loses, because it facilitates a culture in which virtually no one is capable of true, virtuous friendship.  So sin—even so-called “private sin”— creates a culture of selfishness.  Sound familiar?

But here’s the real crux for those of us who say we are Christians.  If we can pretend that it is possible to commit sin “without hurting anyone,” what we’re really saying is that Jesus or no Jesus–it doesn’t really make a difference.  We’re effectively saying that sin is just some arbitrary, made-up construct, and our Savior has nothing real to offer the world.

Is that what we believe?  Because it is certainly not what Christianity teaches.

If Jesus is real, then sin always hurts.  And if Jesus is real, then sin is what He says it is.  Meaning: We don’t get to decide that just because something Jesus calls sin doesn’t look like it is hurting our neighbors, that it is somehow not a sin in that case.  Even when we are not fully culpable for our sinful actions–due to poor formation or whatever–those sins can still cause damage in our lives.

That’s the truth of the matter.  If we say we are Christians, then we cannot ever hold that sin is harmless. Because Jesus isn’t a liar.

So what does this mean for our day-to-day lives?  I think it means that we start, if we haven’t already, to pray that the Holy Spirit would “inspire us with the horror of sin.”  Because I think that if we are striving to live our lives according to the Spirit of God, we would be horrified by sin–all sin.  And if we’re not horrified by sin, then it means something is off in how we relate to God and to our neighbor, and needs to be made right.

So let’s ask that Jesus would “break our hearts for what breaks His.”  Let’s ask that He show us how we are to really love Him and how we are to really love our neighbor.  Not by pretending that sin is harmless, but by giving us the conviction that our Savior who died for our sin invites us—all of us— to freedom from sin.

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If You’re Looking For A Way Around The Teachings of The Church, That’s On You, Not The Pope

It happened again.  The Pope changed infallible Catholic moral teaching while on a recent flight during an interview with the press.  And as everyone knows, this is exactly how Church teaching changes.  On an airplane.  With reporters.  And an individual pope totally has the power to change infallible, unchanging doctrine of the Church.

Ok, nothing in the above paragraph is true.

Still, people (mostly Catholics in “damage control” mode) are freaking out over the most recent pope-in-the sky interview.  The latest revelation: Contraception is ok, sometimes, according to Pope. (Oh, and Donald Trump isn’t a Christian.  But you probably already knew that).

By saying what he said, he is “relaxing” the teaching on contraception, according to some.  He is opening the door to understanding contraception as not always being an absolute evil.  He is misleading and confusing the faithful, according to others.  He should just stop conducting interviews with the press, if many had their way.

I would just point out that what he actually said was in answer to a question regarding “avoiding pregnancy,” not contraception.  Of course, to the world, the phrase “avoiding pregnancy” is totally synonymous with “contraception-” I mean, is it even possible to not get pregnant without using birth control?!  Yes, in fact a much more surefire way to “avoid pregnancy” is to practice abstinence.  If you’re married, practicing periodic abstinence, or NFP, to avoid pregnancy has always been perfectly acceptable in the eyes of the Church if there are serious reasons for doing so.  Potential disease is obviously a serious enough reason.  Avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil.  That’s what the Pope said.

In the process, he also mentioned a case in which nuns were supposedly allowed to use contraceptives as an act of defense against rape, which, yes, confuses the issue a bit.  I’m not going to dive into it too much here because I don’t pretend to know the Holy Father’s heart.  If the contraception in cases of rape thing is news to you, here is an article that explains what that is all about.

The Real Crux Of The Issue:

My intention in writing this post isn’t really to take part in the damage control efforts.  It is pretty well covered by now, and by people much smarter than I am :)

I wrote this post really just because I wanted to say that if you’re looking for a way to bend God’s teaching to your own whims, my personal feeling is that you’re probably not waiting on the Pope to tell you it’s ok to do so.  Case and point: Every time this happens that the Pope says things in ways different than the faithful would have wanted him to, you have the media reporting major changes in Church teaching, faithful Catholics reiterating what Church teaching actually is, and some angry Catholics finger-wagging at the Pope to be quiet.

The truth is, not a whole lot will be different two days from now.  The people who take seriously the teachings of Catholic faith will still believe in the truth of humanae vitae, those who think they know better than the Church will still practice contraception– regardless of what the Pope said or didn’t say in this interview– and the rest of the world will go back to thinking us Catholics are just as crazy as we ever were.

You either want to follow God and His commandments, or you don’t.  Perhaps the Pope thinks that those who want to love God with all their hearts will read further than a USA Today headline for their moral formation—I’d like to think so, at least.  I understand that it is frustrating to read a CNN headline that says: “Pope suggests contraceptives could be used to slow spread of Zika,” but I find it much more troubling that so many of us would buy into the notion that a one-liner from the Pope on an airplane would reasonably give any halfway serious Christian the impression that the Church is changing Her moral teaching regarding contraception.  If you love God, I have to believe you’ll give it a bit more thought than that.

That’s my two cents on the issue, anyway.  If you’re looking for what the Church teaches, stick to the Catechism, not the latest news headlines.  And instead of rolling our eyes and wagging our fingers, why not just rejoice at the opportunity to share the beauty of the Church’s teaching with others!

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“The Catholic faith is like a lion in a cage. You don’t need to defend it – you simply need to open the cage door.”

– Archbishop Fulton Sheen

 

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The King Who Skipped The Battle To Take A Nap

If you have been following along the daily readings this week, then you know we have been in King David’s story.  And even though most of us are pretty familiar with the story, today’s Old Testament reading still stings each time I read it.

David, the giant-slayer . . . David, The man after God’s own heart . . . The one who refused to put his hand on God’s anointed even when his own life was at risk . . . David, the divinely appointed King.

David messes up, bad.

How bad?  Adultery and murder, bad.

David’s story is important.  As young people we hear a lot of rousing stories of how God can redeem even the most corrupt and crooked sinners among us.  The St. Augustines, who, one day finally repent of a life of sin and give their lives over to Jesus.  And, just like that (it is often assumed): Sainthood.  But the truth is that it’s usually not as clean-cut as that.

David’s story is closer to the reality, I think.  Sure, perhaps most of us will never have someone killed in attempt to cover up another one of our sins, but neither is it likely to be the case that once we fall in love with God our days of royally screwing up (no pun intended) are totally in the past.

David is the story of the good guy who, from the time he was a boy, sought to please God and, truly, had a heart for God.  It wasn’t all rules and motions for David. David knew God.  He loved God.

But even David managed to screw up.  And it is important for us to understand how and why that could happen, even for someone who loved God as much as David did.

How did David begin to fall into sin?  Because he chose to take a nap instead of go into battle.

At the turn of the year, when kings go out on campaign, David sent out Joab along with his officers and the army of Israel, and they ravaged the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah.
David, however, remained in Jerusalem.

One evening David rose from his siesta
and strolled about on the roof of the palace.
From the roof he saw a woman bathing, who was very beautiful.

2 Samuel 11:1-2

Notice: At the time of the year when kings go out on campaign, David, who is a king himself, is home enjoying the comforts of his palace, taking leisurely afternoon naps while expecting other men to fight his battles.

Today, we have the advantage of knowing the ending to David’s story, and it is a happy one.  Still, we can learn a lesson from David.  Yes, the grace of God is available no matter how many times we fall, and no matter how far we fall.

But we also need to remember that the battle for our soul is waging every day.  Are we at home taking a nap?  Or are we out in the fight?

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Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for [someone] to devour.

1 Peter 5:8

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Abortion Advocates: I Am Not Your Enemy

Tomorrow is the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, which legalized abortion in the United States 43 years ago.  There are forecasts of a potential blizzard in Washington D.C., but the 2016 March For Life is still expected to go on as scheduled, as will the other walks and demonstrations planned throughout the country.

On the pro-abortion side of things, you might notice on social media today and tomorrow that women are being encouraged to share– proudly– their stories of abortion.  It is said to be an attempt to “lift the stigma” and “free” these women from the “shameful silence” they have been sentenced to because of people against abortion–people like me.

It might be an empowering narrative, the only problem is: It’s not true.

Please understand, I am not saying the stories are untrue, or that these women are in any way lying.  Nor am I denying the bravery it takes for any woman, regardless of her beliefs, to come forward and speak about something as personal and difficult as an abortion.  I am, however, calling out the “movement” for what it is: It is a lie.

Abortion advocates, I believe I can speak for virtually all of the pro-life movement in saying: 

I am not your enemy.

The one who has made you feel shamed into not being able to bring to the light what was probably the hardest decision of your life?  That was not me.

But I can relate.

See, I have made decisions in my life that have caused me to feel ashamed and cowered into silence.  I have done things I felt might be better hidden or kept in the darkness rather than discussed openly in the light.  In those times it has often seemed easier for me to blame others for my feelings of guilt and shame (“Society” has deemed this behavior “bad.”  It’s just my “Catholic guilt,” etc.)  than to acknowledge that these things were, in fact, mistakes that hurt me.

The truth is that the desire to hide in the darkness of shame comes not usually from other people, but from the real Enemy, the one who comes only to kill and destroy.  Satan wants nothing more than for us to feel ashamed, to hide, and to be kept in silence by those sorts feelings.

So abortion advocates: Do you want to talk about your abortion?  Please, let’s talk about it.  Let’s talk about it with honesty and compassion, without name-calling or condemnation.  

The truth is that this is what the pro-life movement has been after all along.  Bring it to the light.  Let’s be honest with women about what abortion actually looks like, about what the stages of development of life in the womb looks like.  Be honest that abortion stops a heart from beating, and terminates the development of a unique life never to be repeated again.  Perhaps most important of all, let’s be honest about the emotional pain an abortion so often brings with it.  Be honest that abortion so very often ends up hurting tremendously the very women it claims to help.

The truth is that calling something bad good will not make it so, no matter how much we try.  Uploading a video or tweeting 140 characters may bring with it a brief feeling of empowerment and pride, but if we are honest with ourselves, that gnawing emptiness will come again in the silence of the night and we will be faced with the grim reality of the lie we have been sold:

Bad is not good.  False is not true.  Darkness is not light.

The Enemy wants you to stay in the darkness that says that bad can be good; to stay in that darkness that says the antidote to shame is pride.  But the antidote to shame is humility and truth.  The antidote to shame is Jesus.  He is the only one who can truly free us from our shame and cleanse us of our guilt–not through vain tweets or social media campaigns, but through real healing that lasts.

All we have to do is take that grace-filled first step, out of darkness and into the light.

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Jesus, We Trust In You!

http://hopeafterabortion.com/

 

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God’s Law or My Conscience?

conscience

Ever been told (as I was recently) that in the Church today, many Catholics are opting to follow their *conscience* rather than “the bishops” when it comes to certain moral teachings?

What do you make of that?

Well let’s take a look in the Catechism, because it may surprise you to learn that these people–though somewhat misguided–are not totally off base in crying “conscience.”

CCC 1790: A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience. If he were deliberately to act against it, he would condemn himself.

Did you know the Catechism teaches this?  Man is obliged to follow his conscience.  It makes good sense, really.  The Catholic Church, contrary to certain popular belief, does not intend for us to check our reason at the door.  How awful and illogical would it be to insist that God, the source of all reason, would require man to act contrary to the certain judgment of his conscience!

Unfortunately, it seems that many who invoke the Church’s teaching on conscience when it comes to the more difficult moral teachings stopped reading a little short.  In the very same line, the Catechism goes on to make clear:

CCC 1790 [continued]: …Yet it can happen that moral conscience remains in ignorance and makes erroneous judgments about acts to be performed or already committed.

Translated into even simpler terms, this basically says: Man is not perfect, and can sometimes make mistakes in his judgment (even the ones he is “certain” about).

Think about it.  Haven’t you ever been so sure of something, only to find out that you were, in fact, wrong?

If you answered “no,” you’re either lying, not human, or only a few hours old.  The fact is we all make mistakes sometimes.

So, am I saying that God’s law trumps conscience?

It is actually sort of a trick question.  You see, our conscience, properly understood, is nothing other than God’s law working in our hearts.

Citing guadium et spes, the Catechism characterizes conscience beautifully:

CCC 1776: “Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, sounds in his heart at the right moment. . . . For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God. . . . His conscience is man’s most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths.”

This is important to grasp:  Too many people–both in and out of the Church–understand “The Church” as basically just some lifeless institution run by old men set on enforcing ancient rules and customs because some guy who lived 2,000 years ago supposedly wanted it that way.  And if we are all good little boys and girls who play by the rules, we won’t have to go to Hell when we die.  Keep the rules, and don’t ask questions.

You guys: This is not what Catholics believe the Church is!  Jesus established the Church so that we could come to know Him, personally, today.  As Catholics, we believe Jesus is alive, and works through His Church.  In the Biblical canon of Scripture (which the Church compiled), in the sacraments, and in the infallible dogmas and doctrines of the Church–we have the opportunity to learn about and to meet personally Jesus Himself.

So, to a Catholic, it is tremendously important to let the teachings of the Church inform and permeate our conscience when it comes to moral decisions.  I am bound to be wrong sometimes.  But as a Christian, I do not believe that God ever will be.  So when my heart tries to tell me something that runs contrary to the infallible teaching of Jesus as taught by His Holy Church, I can trust with confidence that my heart is the one that needs changing.

Isn’t this how we come to know the heart of Jesus?  We yield our hearts over to Him not simply because “The Church says so,” but because we trust that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.  In our yielding and in our struggle to understand the “why” behind those teachings we might find hard, we come to know Jesus Himself.  And that is the whole point of being a Christian.

To me, the infallible authority of the Church on defined matters of faith and morals is incredibly freeing.  Still, I recognize that, to others, accepting the authority of the Church can be a great struggle, or even seem stifling to personal freedom.  If you fall into that second camp, then I would encourage you to take a closer look at what you immediately think of when you hear the words: “The Church.” Do our minds immediately go to that group of old men making up rules in the Vatican?  Or do we really understand “The Church” as Jesus Himself, calling us into deeper relationship with Him?

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