Sunday, September 25, 2005

The Wages of Sin

By Mitchell

Fr. Zuhlsdorf continued the theme we've been looking at in the readings for this week - the theme of service, of Christian living, of what it means to let your faith work in your life. In his homily this morning, Fr. Z drew out the relationship between the Bible, salvation, and our spiritual family.

The Bible is like a family album. It is the story of our salvation, of God's plan that existed from the beginning of time - even before creation. The characters in that story, the prophets and the saints, are our spiritual ancestors - our family. Today's first reading comes from one of 0ur spiritual ancestors, the prophet Ezekiel.

We've heard it said how sin can weaken one's hold on faith. The more we sin, the easier it becomes. The stronger our attachment to the things of this world, the weaker our grasp of the world yet to come. But we must also realize that our sins don't just affect us. Some call prostitution and drug use "victimless crimes," but we should realize there's no such thing as a victimless crime. Likewise, there's no such think as a victimless sin.

Our sins weaken not just us, but the entire Church, which stands united in faith with Christ. When we sin affects everyone in the mystical body. Just as our prayers and sacrifices can aid those other members of the body, our sins can weaken and damage them as well. Many of us, confronted by temptations to which we succumb, are nonetheless aware of the effect that sin has on us, and the need for reconcilation (a sacrament of which we should make frequent use). But how many of us calculate the damage which we do to the rest of the Christian body? If we were able to do that, if we realized that our sins do have that far-reaching impact, perhaps it would cause us to think twice, to stretch our hands further out to accept the grace which God offers us to resist the temptation.

Ultimately the effect of sin is to weaken society. As Fr. Zuhlsdorf pointed out, the more selfish we are and the more we claim that our behavior is our business alone, the more we weaken our society; and the more society weakens, the more the circumstances become collective. When the abornal becomes normal, when the loss of respect for life becomes the way of life, and when we don't do anything to fight it, then the consequences fall on all of us. It is that which causes empires to crumble, nations to fall, civilized life to collapse. For exhibit one, look at New Orleans in the wake of Katrina.

Therefore, just as Donne writes that no man is an island, Jesus reminds through our spiritual family that no Christian lives in private, that no sin exists in isolation. Lest one think that this is something of a downer, remember that it also means no Christian need live in despair, nor feel that he or she is living totally alone. Our spiritual family watches us, praying and interceding on our behalf. The other members of the mystical body pray for us, offering supplications and sacrifices to aid us. In the Confietor we ask our brothers and sisters in Christ to pray for us, and we must trust that they do, just as we pray for them.

Our Lord Himself, as Paul today reminds us, performed the ultimate sacrifice. Being both God and man, He chose to empty Himself of that which separated Him from us. "He humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." He withdrew from the consolations that He could have had while on the Cross, choosing to endure the pain and suffering as a man, so that we could know that He had experienced death in all its horror, and in doing so could identify with our fears. "You don't know what I'm going through," we like to shout out in our despair, but our God does indeed know, for He endured it all - suffering, betrayal, sadness, loneliness, and death - to provide for our salvation.

And having demonstrated that He "felt our pain" far more than any politician's empty promises, and that He would understand our fear of death even though we had no need to fear, He wanted us to know also that if we only die with Him, we will rise with Him also, and enjoy eternal life.

Now, it occurs to me in writing this that almost all of my posts this week have had something to do with the obligations of the Christian life. This is the fourth post on the readings of the past week, readings that indicate to us the importance of living according to the Gospels. But the other posts, ones that have do with role models and corporate responsibility - do they not also involve witnessing to the faith? Living a Christ-like life? And by now do we understand how interlocking this all is, how you can't separate one aspect of your life from another? C.S. Lewis once said that the sinner should be careful in praying for God's help in one aspect of his life; He'll do just that, but He won't stop until He involves Himself in all parts of our life.

Perhaps we realize how infectious the Christian life is. We want to have our cake and eat it too, but we know once Christ enters our life, it becomes harder and harder to keep Him compartmentalized to only one area. And so we fight it, we convince ourselves that we have ultimate control over our lives, that it's an authority we deserve and can be trusted with.

Last night at dinner, the conversation turned to how regular Germans fell under the spell of Hitler, and Hadleyblogger Kristine asked the question how someone could be sure how they'd act it a similar situation. So many apparently good people fell under his spell, she was afraid she would have been one of them. "And that's why you probably wouldn't have," I said. So often it's the people who have absolute confidence that they're in control, that they'll know what to do, who fall short. "Like Peter saying he'll never deny Jesus," she said. "Exactly," I replied. The recognition that we don't know it all, that we need help to live good lives, is the type of humility that Jesus teaches us. That modesty is our best protection against evil, the realization that we need God's help to do the right thing. Paul says that we are strongest when we recognize our weakness, when we realize that our strength is in God.

Faith, humility, witness - it's all part of living the Christian life. It's what we strive for, it's what we pray for. And it's the responsibility we accept when we become followers of Christ.

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