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Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The Ripple Effect of Sin

We all know about confessing the sins we commit. We read examinations of conscience, focusing on all those things we've done. We go to Confession, we go through our laundry list, and sometimes, it becomes rote because we do the same things wrong all the time.

But every so often, God calls our attention not to what we've actively done to offend Him...but to what we HAVEN'T done. And those sins of omission are often far more brutal in nature than those we actively commit.

The Gospel of Self Esteem

We live in a world that embraces the Gospel of Self-Esteem, a world that focuses on the good that is done, and the evil only if it is defined according to the popular political causes of the day. We are encouraged to think well of ourselves, to treat ourselves well, to give ourselves a break, and to realize that, in all probability, we have an awesome impact on people who come into our lives. It is suggested that we focus on this positive impact, because God forbid that we get into the thought process embodied in "It's a Wonderful Life!"

While I do think it's important for us to realize that we have an inherent dignity and value, and that our lives DO matter to others, and we do, indeed, most likely have a positive impact on the people around us, we also have to remember that we are fallen creatures. And thus, somtimes our not-so-holy-actions have a negative impact, one that can ripple even through centuries and millenia.


I know that one day I will stand at my own particular judgment, and I'm pretty darned aware of what I've done in life, the sins I've actively committed, and still commit. And to be honest, I often beat myself up over many of these, especially the big ones, and for a few reasons.

First,because the "big ones" still have an impact in my life, one that will never go away for as long as I walk this earth. For this reason, I have a VERY difficult time in forgiving myself. It might be one of my biggest struggles; forgiving myself. I've been to Confession, and I know that God has forgiven me, and I think I've even had perfect contrition in some of those cases (God can judge that, I can't). Yet, I can't forgive myself, and so at times, I continue to beat myself up over some of these.

Recently I went to Confession, and while I do not suffer from scrupulosity (basically, the belief that EVERYTHING is a sin, and the sufferer cannot seem to accept any consolation of mercy), the priest did note some of my general struggle. He said to me that there is a fine line between beating ourselves up and recognizing and being sorry for our sins...and God does not want us to beat ourselves up. He is merciful, He wants us to experience His mercy, and He wants us to remember His mercy, always.

I am comforted by this counsel, versions of which I've heard over and over again, from different Confessors.

As I mentioned, I do often beat myself up over those things I know are wrong; in part, because if I don't, I find myself rationalizing them. They become unimportant, or "not so bad." I too easily fall into the trap of "Well, that person does it and I think that person is holy, so if they do it, it must be ok." Even contrary to what I know to be objective, I'll give in to rationalization and the next thing you know, I won't bring up that sin in Confession because I no longer "consider" it to be a sin. Thus, it seems far preferable to "beat myself up" and keep that sin in front of my face, even if someone I respect commits it, too. That way, at least I know I did something wrong, I can take personal responsiblity, and I find that when I am tempted by vanity or pride, I can remember somethig that "isn't a big deal" and realize how far I have to go towards Sainthood.

Yet, it is not these "active" sins that scare me the most. I know that I will go before God with these, and I will remember them (even if He does not), but I can accept that because I know my purgatorial state is necessary. It is not these sins that scare me, for I am, I think, paying a lot of my temporal punishment in this life.

Sins of Omission

These are the sins maybe we commmit but don't recognize, for they are a deficit in proper behavior and proper actions. They arise not from what we do...but from what we DON'T do. They are the sins of missed opportunities.

Consideration of these sins are what make me shake in my shoes. Not what I did...but what I didn't do when called to do something.

And second to this...I consider the ripple-effect of those times in life that I had a HORRIBLE effect on someone else. I know of some of these situations, although I'll never be able to see the impact. I remember moments of unkind words, even apologies to the person offended, responded to in humility rather than anger. I think it has been the humility, over the years, that causes me to remember some of these, for they taught me the most.

Amazing to me; even in our most vile moments, we offend God by offending our friends, and He responds in such a way that true kindness towards our evil strikes serve to bring us to real contrition...even years later.

I spent years being evil, both in outward actions as well as in omissions. Part of reconciliation is making amends to offended parties, but most of those are not in my life and were only passing through, chance encounters. I'll never be able to apologize. And I'll never know the ripple effect of my own evil. Yet, God is merciful and He has given me opportunities to make up for some of it, and I only pray that I live long enough to do enough good to counteract the evil I have brought into the world.

We DO have to recognize that while we may have a positive effect on people, we also have a negative effect on others; actively and passively. It's healthy to recognize this, for once we do, we can own it, we can claim it, and we can give it to God in the Sacrament of Confession.

Maybe we'll still suffer for our past action or lack therof; but at least we can come to the point of agreement with God that we have not lived up to His standard.

I wish I could make it up to all the people I've offended, especially in those years during which I so embraced my anger and took it out on everyone around me. Often I knew what was the right thing to do; and still, I chose my own path, not God's.

How great is God's mercy. How great is His compassion; and so my prayer remains that those who were victims of my own sins have experienced God's compassion to a far greater extent than that which I have experienced myself.

I think, to some degree, I understand the Apostle Paul, for he and I are so similiar in so many ways. I pray for his intercession over the next year, and hope that I, too, will be given so many opportunities to bring people to Christ, especially those my actions injured the most.


Anonymous said...

In order to be forgiven, you also must forgive yourself. We say it so often in the Our Father, yet do we fully understand what we are saying? We are asking God to forgive us as we forgive others...including ourself!

Yes, be hard on yourself. Make yourself accountable. But also forgive those sins of which we have already done. Forgive, press on, reflect on God's will, and be forgiven. If we don't forgive ourselves, what is the meaning of what Jesus did for us?

Lillian Marie said...

Anon- wow - that hits hard! I am also very hard on myself mostly because I know better and know I can do better.

Adoro - We can make it up to those we offend, in a way. We can pray, fast, and make reparations for our sins. In that way, God can use our reparations for healing. It reminds me of what St. Therese did for Pranzini, a notorious criminal. The sacrifices she made helped to save his soul. We can do the same thing for those we have offended and for the sins of omission.

Anonymous said...

Anon ~ Actually, in order to be forgiven, we have to forgive OTHERS. If we can't forgive others, God won't have mercy on us. But yes, we do also have to forgive ourselves.

LM ~ That's one of the things I was getting at in this post...God has allowed me to make some things up. For example (and I wrote of this a couple years ago), I used to dissent against Church teaching. Then suddenly I was teaching RCIA and I was teaching and upholding (and still am!) the moral teachings of the Church...things I in the past not only dissented against verbally, but also in the way I lived my life. God gives us MANY chances to make different choices, but we have to recognize what we did in the past and those repurcussions in order to recognize the grace of the present and implications for the future.

Lillian Marie said...

And sometimes God gives us a glimpse of how our sacrifices have helped ... it's totally amazing. These little miracles have been blessings to keep me going.

And sometimes, God gives you His grace and mercy when you least expect it.

Melody K said...

Are you familiar with John Donne's "Hymn to God the Father"?

"Wilt Thou forgive that sin where I begun,
Which was my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin through which I run,
And do run still, though still I do deplore?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done;
For I have more.

Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I have won
Others to sin, and made my sins their door?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I did shun
A year or two, but wallow'd in a score?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done;
For I have more.

I have a sin of fear, that when I've spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;
But swear by Thyself that at my death Thy Son
Shall shine as He shines now and heretofore:
And having done that, Thou hast done;
I fear no more."

Rob said...

My guess is you have made it up to a lot of them. The countless prayers are the very best thing you can do for them. Also remember the 2nd great commandment. Love your neighbor as yourself. You cannot love your neighbor til you love yourself. Just a thought that I have to chew on constantly.

Anonymous said...

Great post. This really hit home. I also beat myself up especially over things I keep doing over and over again. I find it much easier to forgive someone else then to forgive myself. But I still struggle with going to confession. I don't like going (I know most people don't) and haven't gone in quite some time. I wish I could go more often. I'm sure it would help!