Infectious Sin

We had an Ebola scare in my region of the country.  Before all of the facts were out, there was a lot of confusion and nervous laughter as people joked about the disease all the while masking their fear.

I asked my students to imagine that someone in our class came down with Ebola and the entire school was dismissed so that it could be decontaminated.  I again asked them to imagine returning to my classroom and asking if the room had been cleaned and I had told them, “It has been 98% cleaned!”

What do you think their reaction was?  What would your reaction be?

Most of my students said that they would refuse to enter, even with only a 2% area of possible contamination.  Why?  Because even the smallest part of the disease could infect and kill.

And the same is true with sin.

In the Bible, God would sometimes put entire populations under the “herem” or “the ban.”  In these cases, the Israelites were commanded to kill all that lived there: men, women, children, and livestock…all of it.  

Why did God order the death off all that lived in those areas?  Because they were infected with deep and pernicious sin.  If these people coexisted with the Israelites, that sin would have infected them and destroyed their spirits.  That is not what might have happened.  It is what did happen over and over in the Old Testament.  

These passages often give believers a bit of discomfort when reading them.  St. Augustine back in the 4th century was no different.  But it wasn’t until he met St. Ambrose that he was taught to look deeper into the Scripture to find the spiritual message.

In our own lives, we have sin.  Some sin for us is a source of guilt and struggle.  But some sin we excuse and accept.  We wink at our little pet vices.  “Oh, I’m just a creature of habit.”  “Oh, I have a little bit of a temper.”  “Oh, I only get drunk at weddings.”  

When Christ came He did so to take away the sins of the world.  All sins. 

We come to the Lord and surrender to Him not just the mortal sins, but all the vices that we carry within our hearts.  It is not enough to only give him the “biggies.”  We have to give over all sin.

Because sin is infectious.  

Like Ebola, one microscopic infiltration of sin can infect the entire person.  

“But,” you may object, “Ebola is a disease of the body.  Sin is a sickness of the soul.  You have to choose sin in order to be a sinner.”

This is true, but we cannot forget how much exposure can weaken our resistance.  This is what we talk about in the act of contrition when we say “near occasion of sin.”  Yes, we must choose to sin, but our constant exposure to bad influences can change that.

When I first started working, I would eat lunch with my co-workers.  What I was surprised to discover was that they gossiped constantly about students and each other.  For the most part, I tended to not engage in that activity.  That is, until I spent time with them.  Then I found myself actively chiming in and piling on whoever the target of the day was.  

Now, I don’t say this by way of blame.  I am the captain of my soul and I make the choices I make.  But I never would have made them if I had not exposed myself to that environment.  So after my first year I have eaten my lunch alone.  I do not write this as a reflection on them, but on myself and my susceptibility to the infection of sin.  

And we must get rid of all sin or it will fester.  Compromise with sin never results in a permanent détente but an eventual defeat.  Take a look at how our culture has compromised with chastity.  Look at the popular culture and see how much pornography has come to be accepted as just another part of everyday life.  But has this resulted in higher virtue?  Has giving “an outlet” to our sexual urges given us more control over them or less?  As I wrote in my article last year on Jekyll and Hyde Morality, the more we give in to vice, the more it dominates us.

On the show The Walking Dead, there was a character that tried to live with the zombies, play with the zombies, and feed the zombies.  The other characters worked very hard to get across the truth: if you let even one zombie live near you, it will kill you.  All zombies have to be destroyed.  Even one can destroy your community.  Even one sin can destroy us.

If we nurse the smallest grudge, that could be the poisonous mustard seed that is sown into hate.  If we accept the lust in our hearts, that could be the rancid yeast that leavens distasteful bread.

This doesn’t mean that we have to shut ourselves in and prevent any exposure to the outside world.  This goes directly against the call of our Lord and the challenge of Pope Francis to the modern Church.  But we must be cautious.  We must remember to mind the infection of sin.  

But all of us are sinners.  All of us are infected.  How do we prevent it?

1. Protection. 

If there is a vice that overwhelms you and you know it and you can afford to avoid the situation, then do it.  I miss the fellowship of eating lunch with my co-workers, but I am not morally strong enough to do so.

2. Resistance. 

If you are exposed to sin, then resist.  One of the simplest brave things I saw a friend do was at a gossiping lunch table.  I was having lunch with a bunch of seminarians who were complaining and gossiping about their classmates.  Finally my friend, who was younger than most there, said, “How about we stop gossiping about our seminarian brothers?” 

He resisted the infection.  If you find your eyes desiring to look another with lust, take a moment and say “Lord, my eyes belong to you.”  You will be surprised how much actively resisting can help.

3. Medicine. 

As I said, we are all infected.  We are all sinners.  So we must constantly treat the infection.  Daily we must examine our consciences and determine where we have been infected so that we can apply the cure, which is repentance.  And we must make frequent use of the great medicines of Reconciliation, which wipes out the infection, and the Eucharist, which strengthens us to resist.

There will always be diseases like Ebola, infections that can kill the body.

But the infection of sin can kill the soul.

Copyright 2014, W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

I am a devoutly Catholic theology teacher who loves a popular culture that often, quite frankly, hates me. I grew up absorbing every movie, TV show, comic book, science fiction novel, etc. I could find. As of today I’ve watched over 2100 movies and tv shows. They take up a huge part of my life. I don’t know that this is a good thing, but it has given me a common vocabulary to draw from in order to illustrate whatever theological point I make in class. I’ve used American Pie the song to explain the Book of Revelation (I’ll post on this some time later) and American Pie the movie to help explain Eucharist (don’t ask). The point is that the popular culture is popular for a reason. It is woven into the fabric of our lives and imaginations, for good or ill. In this blog I will attempt to bring together the things of heaven with the things of earth. Of course this goal may be too lofty for someone like me.

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