I’ve really reached the end of my series dealing with the Sacrament of Reconciliation, but since I like doing things the hard way I’ll prolong it just a bit further. Why? Because I’d like to deal with the effects of sin and what we can do about this.
What do you think are the consequences of sin? Go ahead, grab a pencil, and make a list! (Don’t peek at the Catechism of the Catholic Church, or its index either, while you try!)
Historically, sin has meant sickness and death (arts. 1008 and 1505); harm to the community of believers, especially by increasing disunity (arts. 817, 845 and 953); and spiritual disfigurement of us who were created in God’s own image (art. 705). It deprives us of God’s intimacy and grace (art. 1474). Also, of course, sin begets more sin (art. 1865) by making us more susceptible to temptation.
Lastly, sin creates obligations. Yes! It creates the obligation to seek forgiveness and the duty to make amends, remember? And there is one more, and this is the really hard one for most of us to understand: sin creates the obligation to be punished.
Nobody likes to suffer for what we’ve done wrong, but in theory true justice requires punishment. It is illogical to think that somehow we can sin and not have to pay for it! And this leads to a hard truth about sin: even once it’s forgiven, if we haven’t yet been punished – that is, if we haven’t yet suffered negative consequences for our sin – it has not yet been put completely behind us.
Yuck! (That’s the nicest word I could print here to express how we all feel about this!) Since the very idea of suffering is repulsive, this is not a popular truth. It’s rejected especially by our secular society today which is so preoccupied with seeking comfort and pleasure! And this, in one way, makes the need for punishment worse: if we truly felt more regret, “inner pain,” at the negative consequences of sin that I mentioned above, there would be less of a need in us for additional punishment. If we actually willingly did more penance and sacrifice ourselves, the obligation to experience it otherwise would be less. We can lessen the necessity of punishment by imposing it on ourselves.
More next time…!