Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Horror Story of Sin

In view of the recent theater killings, and some of the commentaries I have read, and after having read the Wikipedia article about a serial killer, the anniversary of whose arrest is today, I am reminded of a theme I have often dealt with in my short fiction.

Sin has a cumulative and addictive effect on us. We are often warned about sin, repent because death can come at any moment and an awesome judgment awaits.

But that's only part of the concern. Small sins are not really so small, and they can lead to greater sins. Unrepentance can lead to an deeply worsening habit of sin that can totally destroy a person and have far-reaching effects on others.

We must be vigilant, unremittingly vigilant about our sins, our activities, our interests. We must examine ourselves daily, and expose our hearts as honestly as we can to a trustworthy guide.

What I have noticed about the kinds of killers who end up in the news, is that they spent a good deal of time alone, hidden, even ignored, left to their own devices, fantasizing, developing obsessions. They go unchecked in their activities.

This is partly their fault, but it is also the fault of parents who leave their children unchecked, unsupervised, unmonitored. If we, as parents, teachers, people in authority, take note of odd or strange or obsessive or sinful behaviors, we ought to do something about it. We have to have the wisdom to see the path that certain interests and behaviors can take one down, and prudently, gently, yet firmly intervene before the habits are too deeply ingrained.

My point is that sin and occasions of sin and sinful interests, if unchecked, draw one into deeper involvement in sin. Sin attracts and ruins a soul, usually very gradually. If, when we are young, our parents guide us and form us and redirect us, keep track of us, we can learn good habits that will serve us well when we are on our own. Parents must help to form the consciences of their children. Parents cannot leave children too much to their own devices. We cannot stand by and think that a child will form good habits, avoid evil and develop a conscience if we do nothing to guide and influence them in a positive way.

And we must look to ourselves, and strive to sincerely, thoroughly know ourselves, so that we can note the beginnings of an attraction that might be dangerous. We need to develop self-discipline. We need to continually work on forming a good conscience. We need to nip bad habits in the bud as soon as we see them beginning to develop.

The warnings about death and judgment are certainly valid, but I think there is a more immediate concern. Death and judgment do not always come soon. Often a person has far too much time to wallow more and more deeply in sin, and the only thing that might be as bad, or even worse than hell, is the degradation of sin, the destruction of the God-given dignity of the human person. To become a beast, to live like an animal, to wallow in degrading behaviors that make us even less than beasts is the great horror of sin.

The thing is, if we allow ourselves to be deceived about sin, we can convince ourselves that there is such a thing as a little sin, an unimportant sin, and so we can ignore it. Yet, every deliberate sin is an offense against God, is destructive to human dignity, is erosive of goodness. This is why Jesus told us to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. He knows that we can never achieve the absolute perfection that is intrinsic to the Father's nature. But we can achieve a human, grace-enhanced perfection by self-examination, in the light of Love, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, according to the model of Jesus, with the help of the sacraments, especially of confession and the Eucharist.

Every sincere confession cuts at a habit of sin. Worthy reception of the Eucharist feeds the good roots of virtue and acts as a poison to the bad roots of the weeds of sin. When we carefully examine our consciences, seeking the origins of sin, the reasons for the attractions and the lies we tell ourselves, and confess all to God in the sacrament, we dig at the nascent horror within that would, if unchecked, lead to self-destruction. In confession and the Eucharist, we achieve the perfection to which we are called by Jesus, even if it only lasts for a moment or a day or a week after confession. Hopefully, with each successive examination of conscience and confession and worthy communion, the gift of holiness will take deeper root and last longer, and will more and more thoroughly eradicate the seeds of sin and the beginnings of the horrible destruction of our unique and invaluable dignity.

There are many ways in which the unchecked habit of sin can lead us to self-destruction. Not all habitual sinners end up mass murderers, but the insidious tendrils of sin will always eventually choke and kill and bring darkness and despair one way or another, always affecting others in subtle ways that sometimes only God knows.

We can't wait for the bad habits to develop. And we can't wait for the warning about death and judgment. We have to be aware and stay aware of our inherent, precious dignity and strive with all our strength, with prayer, seeking grace, to preserve that dignity against the erosion of any sin.

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