Beware of losing sense of sin
- Fr. Roy Cimagala (The Freeman) - January 12, 2016 - 9:00am

With all this talk and general thrust of the Church today on mercy and compassion, a very commendable campaign, I must say, we just have to make sure that we do not lose our sense of sin as a consequence or unintended side-effect.

We always have to be wary of the possible bad effects that our good plans and initiatives can have. The world is not perfect. Loopholes, hidden traps, mistakes, etc., can always spoil what otherwise is thought of as a very good strategy.

We might get too easy and presumptuous about God's omnipotent and gratuitous mercy that we may not be able anymore to acknowledge sins, ours and those of others, that need to be forgiven.

In other words, we might get too intoxicated with divine mercy that initially would lead us to think it would just be ok to commit sin since it will be forgiven anyway, and later on as in a slippery slope, as we get used to committing sin that can get forgiven anyway, we would find ourselves not anymore considering anything as sin.

Our conscience would be distorted and would become lax. Little by little, we lose our capacity to hear God's voice in our conscience. In its place, we would just hear our own corrupted voice.

This can happen because our capacity to identify what is good and evil depends on our relationship with God. If that relationship is not good, or is not healthy and working, then obviously we would have a bad or wrong notion of sin, or even lose the very sense of sin.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church has this to say about this point: "To try to understand what sin is, one must first recognize the profound relation of man to God, for only in this relationship is the evil of sin unmasked in its true identity as humanity's rejection of God and opposition to him, even as it continues to weigh heavy on human life and history." (386)

So what comes to mind is that together with this strong campaign to reassure everyone of God's mercy should also be an equally strong campaign to heighten people's sense of sin.

This strong campaign to heighten people's sense of sin can be done by encouraging everyone to have a true life of piety, by having first of all a personal and intimate relationship with God, and then by availing of the instruments and practices that would sustain and develop that life of piety.

All this should be done in a most delicate way.

Preferably, it has to be done in a more personal way than on a collective way. The latter should be delivered in a positive, encouraging tone. No thunder-and-lightning condemnations, please.

Without this working piety, we sooner or later would lose our sense of good and evil, and we would rely simply on our own personal hunches or, worse, on some vague social consensus.

While the loss of the sense of sin is usually associated with those who are skeptical or have little or no faith at all, like some self-professed agnostics and atheists, it can also fall on those we generally regard as "good" or "pious" people who always count on the mercy of God without making the corresponding effort to be with God. In other words, they can be spoiled by an easily presumed divine mercy.

At least, with the skeptics, agnostics and atheists, we can easily identify them and be more ready to devise the appropriate means to deal with them. But with the "good and pious" people, it's harder to know if they are really having a working piety. They are a harder case to handle actually.

They can easily mimic piety, and hide their sins and failures by covering them up with their other natural gifts that can act as a decoy insofar as the true state of their spiritual life is concerned. They can appear healthy in many aspects other than their spiritual life and piety.

Everything therefore has to be done to help everyone develop and keep a working piety. This is the most challenging task for those whose office, calling or position, like priests, parents, teachers, counselors, etc., assign them to render this spiritual help to others.

There has to be constant appeal for conversion, a constant call for confession and spiritual direction. People have to be encouraged to make use of some plan of piety that works for them, given their concrete conditions. This is when they can be reassured that God's mercy is always available and, in fact, is given in abundance.

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