Have you found that the mere mention of the word “sin” can be taken as a sign from others that you are somehow intolerant?
Our culture relegates the concept of sin to a religious term that only extreme ideologues would ever use to evaluate how life should be lived. And, sin, if even acknowledged by those who still claim their faith, is a private matter that no one else is supposed to “judge”.
To even hint that someone may be on a sinful path or that you may have moral reservations based on the teachings of our Faith becomes the real “sin” as you are clearly imposing your opinion of right and wrong on others. This “hint” can be as little as following the Church’s teachings in your own life and/or proclaiming that you believe what Jesus has taught us.
The idea that there are evil spirits (the devil) working to tempt us and draw our souls to eternal death is just some old-fashioned concept that used to work for some people, but now, surely we all know that life is about doing what you want to do for your own happiness. Besides, we just try to be a “good person” and each of us will be our own judge of that. Certainly not God.
Of course, as Catholics trying to shine a light in this dark world, we know too well that sin pervades. We also know that God is forgiving of all our sins and that we have responsibilities to assist with God’s mercy by admonishing sinners and counseling the ignorant.
If you’re like me, you’re struggling with this concept right now. You want to help those who have left the faith or are seemingly separated from God by the choices they’ve made or the causes they support. What do you say or do? How do you live mercifully and yet maintain a semblance of a relationship with those dear to you who are sinning in ways that break your heart?
First, we need to invoke our own humility and realize that we are sinners like everyone else. To truly work on helping others, we need to help ourselves first by acknowledging our sinfulness to God, requesting his forgiveness in Confession and getting our own souls close to God. For many of us, that may be the best we can possibly do…just live a life that makes God happy with you and let all the other chips fall where they may.
Frankly, that’s where I’m trying to be in my own life right now. I try very hard to resist the urge to point out situations that are sinful, but I fail often.
Part of the struggle is actually waking up to the truth about what is and isn’t sin. Most of my life, I’ve used my own judgment and neglected to really understand the teaching of our Faith. You and I need to know the Catechism and the reasons why systemic sins like abortion, euthanasia, cohabitation, adultery, pornography, contraception, gender issues, same-sex temptations, etc. are, in fact, wrong. Not to mention missing Mass or not going to Confession, which have become optional activities for most Catholics.
Even if you try to just quietly live out your own life and avoid sin, you will be faced with sinful situations you just can’t dodge. This is where courage comes in. You must resist the urge to “just get along” because condoning sin is truly the worst thing you can do for another’s soul. Mother Angelica of EWTN fame, used to say that ignoring or condoning sin comes from loving yourself, while addressing it in word or action shows love to the other person.
Your prayers to our Lord should be for the courage to step up for the truth.
Once you take a stand or try to gently address a sinful situation, you must be prepared to accept the consequences, which may involve rejection and anger directed at you. Some will call you a hypocrite and, of course, they are right. Remember, you’ve got huge logs in your own eyes as you try to address the splinters in another’s eyes.
Another idea that has helped me is to give the other person the benefit of the doubt. While what they are doing may be clearly sinful, you have no idea how or why they got where they are in their own spiritual journey, nor what God has planned for them. Who knows what in their past or emotional makeup has caused them to move down this path. In fact, if they are a close relative, you may have contributed to the pain that has caused them to be where they are. Just think of them as a sinner who is struggling to find God, just like you. Pray for their healing that will allow them to be open to God’s will.
You may decide you need to back off, but don’t give in. Don’t just throw up your hands and say you need to get along. You can love and tell the other that they can never do anything to lose your love, but you may need to limit contact or set some boundaries around their activities. If children are involved in the situation, you must find a way to let them know what is right. Jesus told us the condemnation which will come our way if we lead little children to evil.
Know also that it is very hard to change another’s heart. If they have been conditioned to believe that a situation is OK by the culture and how they choose to get their information, most of what you say may have no impact. As humans, we get in our comfort zones and it is very difficult to move us to a place where we need to address our sinfulness. We all have blind spots and filters which allow us to believe that the way we’re living in just fine, when in our hearts we know it’s wrong.
Again, remember to work on your own soul. Don’t dwell on another’s sinfulness. That’s actually a sin. Pray for them. Pray that something or someone in their life will give a spark of faith or allow them to question their comfortable life. By your own humility and acknowledgment of sin, show them that they can do the same. Your example, good or bad, can be the thing that turns them around. And, it may not happen while you are in their lives. Some changes may come after your own death.
As I write this, in the last few days we’ve had the Gospel reading about the “narrow gate”. Jesus has told us that many will perish and follow the easy, wide road to eternal death. The stakes could not be higher for each of us and we must try to help others to the narrow gate to eternal life, even if they reject God and the Faith. That’s the ultimate job of evangelizing disciples for Christ.
- Work on your own salvation and sinful life.
- Know your Faith and what sin really is.
- Confess your sins.
- Never condone another’s sins.
- Work for and support the truth.
- Love all those around you, no matter their Faith, choices or lifestyle.
- Give the other person the benefit of the doubt.
- Live a life of good example.
- Gently nudge to the truth.
- Pray for others.
- Continue to work on yourself. That job is never done and is the most important. Stay close to Jesus and you will draw others to Him.
©John S. Cohoat, 2017