The Easter spin on sin

Easter is the chance to con­front the deadly demons that drive us in our lives, writes JOHN C. O’CON­NOR.

The Press - - Perspective -

Six­teen hun­dred years ago, the French monk and writer John Cas­sian iden­ti­fied seven at­ti­tudes which pre­vent the full liv­ing of hu­man life. Th­ese were quickly ac­cepted as an ac­cu­rate in­sight into the hu­man heart and psy­che. Two hun­dred years later, Pope Gre­gory the Great warned against th­ese seven ‘‘deadly sins’’. High in the Mid­dle Ages, the Ital­ian poet Dante named th­ese same sins when he led read­ers through the eter­nal price of vice in his Divine Com­edy.

Last week, the Catholic Church of­fered a re­flec­tion on the so­cial im­pact of sin, list­ing seven con­tem­po­rary con­cerns. Any re­flec­tive reader of the in­ter­view with Bishop Gian­franco Girotto, in the Vat­i­can news­pa­per, would be in­spired by the sound­ness of his com­ments on the so­cial im­pact of evil.

Within hours of the in­ter­view, the bishop’s in­sights were twisted un­der mis­lead­ing head­lines. At worst, th­ese ban­ners pro­claimed that the Catholic Church had now made it more dif­fi­cult for peo­ple to en­ter heaven.

Per­haps the only thing which threat­ens our con­tem­po­rary lifestyle more than the church ap­pear­ing to be out of touch is a church that speaks with rel­e­vance?

Good psy­chol­ogy ac­cepts the deadly out­come of sin­ful mo­ti­va­tions. The re­flec­tive per­son also ac­knowl­edges that pride, envy, glut­tony, lust, anger, greed and sloth can never de­liver the life they prom­ise. The awak­ened heart knows that sin is a dis­tor­tion of all we yearn for.

The wage of sin is in­deed deathly.

We live in a so­ci­ety that is more likely to save a whale than to pro­tect a vul­ner­a­ble hu­man life. To treat hu­man life as a dis­pos­able com­mod­ity is the great­est evil of our age.

In this re­flec­tion on so­cial sin, the Catholic Church calls for an in­creased aware­ness of the sins of ‘‘morally du­bi­ous’’ ex­per­i­men­ta­tion on hu­man be­ings, bioeth­i­cal vi­o­la­tions, pol­lut­ing the en­vi­ron­ment, con­tri­bu­tion to the widen­ing di­vide be­tween rich and poor, ex­ces­sive wealth, cre­at­ing poverty and the abuse of drugs.

Too of­ten we have to deal with the tragic con­se­quences of th­ese sins in our own fam­i­lies and friend­ships.

Ma­hatma Gandhi ad­vo­cated an un­der­stand­ing of so­cial sin in the 1920s. The evils he spoke of were mir­rored in last week’s church state­ment. We would not dare to crit­i­cise Gandhi to­day. Yet the church is fair game. We set aside rea­son and truth to ridicule a voice our world is most hun­gry to hear.

Pop psy­chol­ogy ab­hors ac­knowl­edge­ment of per­sonal im­per­fec­tion. ‘‘Ac­cen­tu­ate the pos­i­tive’’ is the post-re­li­gious call. Keep­ing a pos­i­tive fo­cus might help us to en­dure a cri­sis, or to sur­vive a strug­gle, but we ig­nore our in­ner­most voices at our peril. Hu­man growth re­quires an hon­est ac­knowl­edge­ment of the sin­ful re­al­ity of our lives, with an ear to hear the divine voice speak­ing hope.

In the light of this hope, the can­dle guid­ing my way be­comes a flood­light of sun il­lu­mi­nat­ing ev­ery speck of sin. I re­alise that while I trusted in my­self and my own mer­its, I was blinded by my own ‘‘I’’. My heart was hard­ened. Now, at last, I can see. My sight is re­stored. Sin was with me all along, but blurred vi­sion had kept me obliv­i­ous to its ma­lig­nant and per­va­sive pres­ence.

The tragic re­al­ity is that we are much greater sin­ners than we dare be aware. Per­sonal knowl­edge of this re­al­ity is deeply dis­turb­ing to the one seek­ing a more au­then­tic life and greater in­ti­macy with God. Yet this is a hope-filled stage of hu­man growth. Know­ing that we are un­wor­thy and help­less, we be­gin to sus­pect that only God can sat­isfy our deep­est crav­ings.

For the Chris­tian, this re­al­ity of suf­fer­ing and death is fer­tile soil for divine ac­tiv­ity. Now, with the fourth-cen­tury sin­ner­saint Augustine we taste the ul­ti­mate truth: ‘‘We are made for you, O God, and our hearts are rest­less un­til they rest in you.’’

We eas­ily for­get that the life of Je­sus was one of be­ing mis­un­der­stood and alone. While with­out sin him­self, he be­came the silent scape­goat for the con­se­quences of all hu­man sin.

The Easter re­al­ity gives us rea­son to not fear suf­fer­ing and death. On this path we con­front the deadly demons that drive us. In the safety of this holy jour­ney we aban­don all that dis­guises our ut­ter de­pen­dence on God. We ac­knowl­edge that we are cre­ated by God and loved by God as sin­ners.

In this hu­mil­ity our ac­knowl­edged sin be­comes our ca­pac­ity for God. Those who walk this path, meet the God who of­fers res­ur­rec­tion. In this en­counter the stone is rolled back from ev­ery hu­man tomb.

John C. O’Con­nor is a parish priest at Our Lady of Vic­to­ries Catholic church in Sock­burn.

Catholic in­spi­ra­tion: the seven mod­ern sins re­flect on the so­cial im­pact of our be­hav­iour.

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