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.
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.