Lesson 31 – Sin


(Hurting the One we Love)

Peace be to you. 

The three previous sacraments discussed were:

Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist

All of them refer to a life above the physical, namely the participation of the Divine Life.

By Baptism we are born to it,

By Confirmation we grow into it and accept the full responsibilities of union with our Lord.

By the Eucharist and in the Eucharist our union with Him reaches its peak and its ecstasy.

Penance, or Confession.

Now we come to another sacrament, which represents a fall away from that Divine Life, namely, the Sacrament of Penance, or Confession.

  • It is the sacrament, which refers to the sins that have been committed after baptism.
  • It is the great sacrament of the Mercy of God and, if we may use the word, is an indication of how very realistic God is.

Once we are born to Divine Life, we should live in it, but practically some fall away, lightly, or seriously.

  • God, therefore, in His Mercy has instituted the Sacrament by which the sins committed after baptism may be remitted. No human being could ever have thought of this sacrament, for it is something like the Resurrection. We rise after we are dead.
  • It is a journey back again to God. It enables us to get rid of infections before they become chronic diseases and epidemics. It is not an unpleasant and necessary sacrament.  It is not to be viewed merely as a humiliation.
  • It is the inflowing of God’s Mercy, an opportunity for the increase of the Grace of Calvary.



Medicine of the soul

It is a medicine of the soul, a healing of our wounds, a homecoming, an undoing of the past, an opportunity to get a fresh start in life.  Another bath, a kind of second re-baptism.

  • Sometimes a reconciliation is sweeter than an unbroken friendship, and it certainly is true that if we had not sinned we never could call Christ It is the sacrament also which restores us again to the fellowship of the Church, to God’s community, to His Kahal, to His Mystical Body. But before we can tell you about that sacrament, we must introduce the word “sin”.


  • George Bernard Shaw once said that the modern man is too busy to think about his sins. Perhaps Shaw should have said the modern man keeps nervously busy so he will not think about his sins. Every sinner is an escapist, just as Adam was when he hid from God.

Remembering Original Sin

The sins we are going to talk about now are not Original Sin, but Actual or Personal Sins.

Remember, we have already spoken about Original Sin and we said that it was not personal.

  • We are not personally responsible for Original Sin. It is a sin of human nature. It is ours simply because we are the descendants of Adam.

We are involved in it very much like a citizen is involved in a country whose head has declared war.  Oh, yes, it left us weak and gave us even a tendency toward sin.  But the tendency or the inclination to sin is not sin. As a result of it, it became possible for us to turn sex into lust, thirst into intemperance and alcoholism, hunger into gluttony and prudence into avarice.

  • Through that sin, we became almost like those who were given the inheritance of a great estate. But, with all of its mortgages, too, our nature is spoiled before we received it. That for Original Sin.

Actual Sins: personally responsible

Now we come to the sins for which we are personally responsible.  They are sometimes called Actual Sins.

 Why is sin possible?  Because we are free.  You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make it drink.  You can tell a man he ought to do something, but in his will he can resist.

  • Sin lies in the abuse of freedom. It has something to do with a wrong or an evil choice. In fact, we never sin without the will.

Two attitudes toward freedom

We can take two attitudes toward freedom, both of which are wrong.  We can exaggerate human freedom; we can minimize it.  We can put too much stress on it and also too little.


Exaggerate freedom

  • We can first of all exaggerate freedom.

We do this when we deny that we are the creatures of God and subject to His law.  This was the essence of the temptation of the devil to our first parents.  He said, “You will be likened to gods”. (Genesis 3:5) In other words, you will not be creatures, you will be creators.  We exaggerate freedom when we say, “I love myself, my own will, I am my own law.  I determine what is right and wrong.  I shall treat my neighbor as an inferior, as a plaything for my pleasure, as a means to my profit.  I am the end of my own existence.”  That is the abuse of freedom you find in those who live without God. 


Minimize freedom

  • But on the other hand, sin is possible because we minimize freedom. This comes about when we deny there is any such thing as guilt. We minimize freedom when we say that all guilt is morbidity.  It is sickness, it is a psychological complex, or guilt is just a hangover from religious and family and moral taboos.  Those who minimize freedom, of course, always expect to be praised when they are good, but when they do evil they say, “Oh no, it really is not my fault.  I was under a compulsion.
  • That is a very handy word. It denies responsibility. Nobody is bad, no one is a juvenile delinquent.  They are only sick.  You get too fat.  You can’t help it; you are a compulsive eater.  You drink too much.  You can’t help it, you are a compulsive drinker.  You steal.  You can’t help it, you are a compulsive thief.  You see, behind that word and behind all other escapes, there is the assumption that I am “determined”.  I am “determined” by environment, I am “determined” by my grandparents, I am “determined” by something inside or outside of myself.
  • Now this is serious, I mean, this denial of guilt. Indeed, there are some manifestations of guilt that are morbid but even the morbid manifestations of guilt, such as the psychiatrists deal with, do not necessarily prove that there was no real guilt at the base of it. When Lady Macbeth washed her hands every 15 minutes, we have a morbid manifestation of guilt, but there was real guilt that prompted that morbidity, namely the murder of the king, in which she was involved.
  • In the past, it was customary for a man to blame someone outside of himself: economics, politics, bad environment, poverty, society, grade B milk, insufficient playgrounds.

Minimize freedom -continue

  • In all instances, guilt was transferred from the individual outside of himself. One of the new excuses is to say that, “No, a man is not guilty at all. The fault is not in the stars, but wholly in our unconsciousness.  We cannot help being the way we are.”
  • Some very serious effects follow from this denial of personal guilt. The aim of it, as you see, is to make everybody “nice”. The worse sinners are “nice” people, but by denying sin they make the cure of sin impossible.  Sin is very serious, but it is more serious to deny sin.
  • If the blind deny that there is any such thing as vision, how shall they ever see? If the deaf deny there is any such thing as hearing, what chance is there of being cured of their deafness?

So, too, by the mere fact that we deny sin, we make the forgiveness of sins impossible.

  • That is why that those who very often deny sin become scandalmongers, talebearers, and hypercritics because they have to project their real guilt outside of themselves to others. And this gives them a great illusion of goodness. It will be found generally true that the increase of faultfinding is in direct ratio and proportion to the denial of sin. 

Sin works like a cancer

In some persons sin works like a cancer, undermining and destroying the character for a long time without any visible effects.

  • And when the disease becomes manifest, it has progressed so far that some souls give up hope, which indeed they should not.
  • Then there comes despair. Despair is something that demands the Infinite. Animals never despair simply because they do not know the Infinite.  Seldom will a man openly revolt against the Infinite, and if he has revolted and sinned and still does not accept the fact, he tries to minimize the gravity of the sin by excuses just as Cain did.

That is why I say modern man has lost the understanding of the very name of “Sin”.  He puts the blame on someone else, on his spouse, his work, his friends, on tensions, and sometimes by ignoring the real guilt that is there, he may become either a psychotic or a neurotic.  It is awful when despair takes possession of souls.  Then the sinner does not realize that each present sin is adding to thousands of other sins.

Traveling at 70 miles an hour, an automobile is already at excessive speed, but if 20 more miles an hour are added, the danger mounts.

Un-repented sins beget new sins

Un-repented sins beget new sins and the dizzying total brings despair, and the soul will say, “I am too far gone”.  

The drunkard becomes afraid of a sober day because that sober day will make him see his state as he really is.

  • The greater the depression, the more a sinner needs to escape from it through further sins until he cries out with Macbeth in his despair, “I had lived a blessed time, for from this instant, there‘s nothing serious in mortality. All it is but toys. Renown and grace is dead.”  (Macbeth Act II, Scene iii)
  • And this despair has another effect, too. It often turns into fanaticism against religion and morality. A man who has fallen away from the spiritual order will hate it because religion is a reminder of his guilt.  Husbands who are unfaithful to their wives will beat their wives in order to justify themselves.
  • Some souls reach a point where, like Nietzsche, they want to increase evil until all distinction between right and wrong are blotted out. Then they can sin with impunity and say with Nietzsche, “Evil, be thou my good.” Expediency can now replace morality, cruelty becomes justice, lust becomes love.  Sin multiplies in such a soul until it becomes the permanent state of Satan.  Oh, he’s not happy. As Seneca said, “Every guilty person is his own hangman.”  And, as Shakespeare said, “Conscience doth make cowards of us all”.  (Hamlet Act III, Scene i)


Now, what are we do in the face of this sin

Ø Now, what are we do in the face of this sin, continue to deny it?

Is it not much better to try to define it and understand it?  Thus far, if we are clear, we have indicated that sin is not a manifestation of animal instincts.  It is not an eruption of the subconscious.  It is not something, which happens because we were loved too little by a grandmother or loved too much by a grandfather.

It is an act of freedom by which we throw the whole harmonious nature out of joint.  It is not just self-interest because that is good, but it is rather the affirmation of self at all costs.

Elementary concept of sin

Here we are assuming the very elementary concept of sin, so let us begin with some analogies from the physical and biological order.

Sin in general is disobedience to the law of God.

The laws of God are in the physical universe.  Suppose someone builds a skyscraper out of plumb.  The building will not stand because he refused to respect the law of gravitation.  Because he disregarded it, the law of gravitation, as it were, throws the building down.  In the broad sense of the word, he sinned against the physical law. 

Now we come to a higher level, common sense.  

Common sense is also a reflection of the Divine Law.

Suppose I take my fist and drive it through a windowpane.  I am free to do it, but when I do it, I punish myself.  My hand is cut and bleeding.   I have violated a law and I see the consequences.

Go into the biological order.

Why does anything die?  It dies because there is a domination of the lower order over the higher order.

When do plants die?  When the lower order, the chemical order, begins to dominate the plant life.  Fire kills a plant.  Fire belongs to the lower order.

How can an animal die?  It can die through the domination of the plant life over the animal life, for example, through poisonous plants.

How does the body of man die?  By the gradual, very often the gradual, burning away and oxidation of the animal tissue and also by lower forms of life getting inside of man and destroying his life.  All right, death then, in the natural order, is the domination of a lower order over a higher order. 

When does the soul die?  Whenever there is the domination of the lower order over the higher order.  Whenever there is the domination of the ego over the Community, of flesh over the Spirit, of time over Eternity, of the body over the Soul, then there is death and that death we call Sin.

That is why scripture equates death in the biological order and Sin in the moral order.  “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23)  Sin, therefore, is a deliberate violation of the laws of God

Another Analogy – Coffeepot

If you buy an electric coffeepot, you will find instructions.  Putting it in the form of a commandment, the instructions may read, “Put not the plug into the electric current when thy pot is empty”.  But suppose you say, “Why should anybody tell me what to do?  He’s violating my constitutional rights.”  When you say that, you forget that the manufacturer of that coffeepot gave you instructions in order that you might get a perfect use out of it.

And when God made us, He gave us certain laws, not in order to destroy our freedom, but in order that we might perfect ourselves.  And when we violate those laws, we hurt ourselves.  We break a relationship.  That is why, in the parable of the prodigal son, the father said to the prodigal, “He was dead.  Now he is alive.”(Luke 15:24)




What, then, is Sin for the Christian?  

It is the breaking of a personal relationship.

For those who are in the state of grace, it is a kind of Crucifixion.

It is the wounding and hurting of the One we love.

Why, therefore, are we sorry for our sins? 

Not because we have broken a contract, not just because we’ve broken a law, but

  • because we have hurt someone that we love, and
  • it is only when we discover God and, above all, His Mercy in Christ that we begin to understand Sin fully.
  • In other words, it takes Love in order to make us understand Sin. That seems strange, but it is true, and regardless of how great the sin is, there is always Mercy.

To be a sinner is our distress, but to know that we are a sinner is our hope, and the Hope is the Sacrament of Penance.

God love you.

1. In today’s lesson on –SIN – what stood out the most to you?

2. Why do you think Bishop Sheen gave the subtitle “Hurting the One we Love” to this lesson?

3. How would you explain to someone seeking a deeper understanding of What is SIN?

4. Now that you have learned more about – what Sin is
– what changes do you think this will have in your daily life?

1. “God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man. He calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength. He calls together all men, scattered and divided by SIN, into the unity of his family, the Church. To accomplish this, when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son as Redeemer and Saviour. In his Son and through him, he invites men to become, in the Holy Spirit, his adopted children and thus heirs of his blessed life. ”

30. “‘Let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.'[Ps 105:3 .] Although man can forget God or reject him, He never ceases to call every man to seek him, so as to find life and happiness. But this search for God demands of man every effort of intellect, a sound will, ‘an upright heart’, as well as the witness of others who teach him to seek God.
You are great, O Lord, and greatly to be praised: great is your power and your wisdom is without measure. And man, so small a part of your creation, wants to praise you: this man, though clothed with mortality and bearing the evidence of SIN and the proof that you withstand the proud. Despite everything, man, though but a small a part of your creation, wants to praise you. You yourself encourage him to delight in your praise, for you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.[St. Augustine, Conf. I, I, I: PL 32, 659-661.]”

165. “It is then we must turn to the witnesses of faith: to Abraham, who ‘in hope… believed against hope’;[Rom 4:18 .] to the Virgin Mary, who, in ‘her pilgrimage of faith’, walked into the ‘night of faith'[LG 58; John Paul II, RMat 18.] in sharing the darkness of her son’s suffering and death; and to so many others: ‘Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and SIN which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.'[Heb 12:1-2 . Article 2.]”

215. “‘The sum of your word is truth; and every one of your righteous ordinances endures forever.'[Ps 119:160 .] ‘And now, O LORD God, you are God, and your words are true’;[2 Sam 7:28 .] this is why God’s promises always come true.[Cf. Dt 7:9 .] God is Truth itself, whose words cannot deceive. This is why one can abandon oneself in full trust to the truth and faithfulness of his word in all things. The beginning of SIN and of man’s fall was due to a lie of the tempter who induced doubt of God’s word, kindness and faithfulness.”
386. “SIN is present in human history; any attempt to ignore it or to give this dark reality other names would be futile. To try to understand what SIN is, one must first recognize the profound relation of man to God, for only in this relationship is the evil of SIN unmasked in its true identity as humanity’s rejection of God and opposition to him, even as it continues to weigh heavy on human life and history. ”
387. “Only the light of divine Revelation clarifies the reality of SIN and particularly of the SIN committed at mankind’s origins. Without the knowledge Revelation gives of God we cannot recognize SIN clearly and are tempted to explain it as merely a developmental flaw, a psychological weakness, a mistake, or the necessary consequence of an inadequate social structure, etc. Only in the knowledge of God’s plan for man can we grasp that SIN is an abuse of the freedom that God gives to created persons so that they are capable of loving him and loving one another. ”
388. “With the progress of Revelation, the reality of SIN is also illuminated. Although to some extent the People of God in the Old Testament had tried to understand the pathos of the human condition in the light of the history of the fall narrated in Genesis, they could not grasp this story’s ultimate meaning, which is revealed only in the light of the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.[Cf. Rom 5:12-21 .] We must know Christ as the source of grace in order to know Adam as the source of SIN. The Spirit-Paraclete, sent by the risen Christ, came to ‘convict the world concerning SIN’,[Jn 16:8 .] by revealing him who is its Redeemer.”
389. “The doctrine of original SIN is, so to speak, the ‘reverse side’ of the Good News that Jesus is the Saviour of all men, that all need salvation and that salvation is offered to all through Christ. The Church, which has the mind of Christ,[Cf. 1 Cor 2:16 .] knows very well that we cannot tamper with the revelation of original SIN without undermining the mystery of Christ.”
392. “Scripture speaks of a SIN of these angels.[Cf. 2 Pet 2:4 .] This ‘fall’ consists in the free choice of these created spirits, who radically and irrevocably rejected God and his reign. We find a reflection of that rebellion in the tempter’s words to our first parents: ‘You will be like God.'[Gen 3:5 .] The devil ‘has sinned from the beginning’; he is ‘a liar and the father of lies’.[1Jn 3:8 ; Jn 8:44.]”
393. “It is the irrevocable character of their choice, and not a defect in the infinite divine mercy, that makes the angels’ SIN unforgivable. ‘There is no repentance for the angels after their fall, just as there is no repentance for men after death.'[St. John Damascene, Defide orth. 2, 4: PG 94, 877.]”
397. “Man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heart and, abusing his freedom, disobeyed God’s command. This is what man’s first SIN consisted of.[Cf. Gen 3:1-11 ; Rom 5:19 .] All subsequent SIN would be disobedience toward God and lack of trust in his goodness. ”
398. “In that SIN man preferred himself to God and by that very act scorned him. He chose himself over and against God, against the requirements of his creaturely status and therefore against his own good. Created in a state of holiness, man was destined to be fully ‘divinized’ by God in glory. Seduced by the devil, he wanted to ‘be like God’, but ‘without God, before God, and not in accordance with God’.[St. Maximus the Confessor, Ambigua: PG 91, 1156C; cf. Gen 3:5 .]”
401. “After that first SIN, the world is virtually inundated by SIN There is Cain’s murder of his brother Abel and the universal corruption which follows in the wake of SIN. Likewise, SIN frequently manifests itself in the history of Israel, especially as infidelity to the God of the Covenant and as transgression of the Law of Moses. And even after Christ’s atonement, SIN raises its head in countless ways among Christians.[Cf. Gen 4:3-15 ; Gen 6:5, 12 ; Rom 1:18-32 ; 1 Cor 1-6 ; Rev 2-3.] Scripture and the Church’s Tradition continually recall the presence and universality of SIN in man’s history:
What Revelation makes known to us is confirmed by our own experience. For when man looks into his own heart he finds that he is drawn towards what is wrong and sunk in many evils which cannot come from his good creator. Often refusing to acknowledge God as his source, man has also upset the relationship which should link him to his last end, and at the same time he has broken the right order that should reign within himself as well as between himself and other men and all creatures.[GS 13 # 1.]”
402. “All men are implicated in Adam’s SIN, as St. Paul affirms: ‘By one man’s disobedience many (that is, all men) were made sinners’: ‘SIN came into the world through one man and death through SIN, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned.'[Rom 5:12, 19 .] The Apostle contrasts the universality of SIN and death with the universality of salvation in Christ. ‘Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men.'[Rom 5:18 .]”
403. “Following St. Paul, the Church has always taught that the overwhelming misery which oppresses men and their inclination towards evil and death cannot be understood apart from their connection with Adam’s SIN and the fact that he has transmitted to us a SIN with which we are all born afflicted, a SIN which is the ‘death of the soul’.[Cf. Council of Trent: DS 1512.] Because of this certainty of faith, the Church baptizes for the remission of sins even tiny infants who have not committed personal SIN.[Cf. Council of Trent: DS 1514.]”
404. “How did the SIN of Adam become the SIN of all his descendants? The whole human race is in Adam ‘as one body of one man’.[St. Thomas Aquinas, De malo 4, I.] By this ‘unity of the human race’ all men are implicated in Adam’s SIN, as all are implicated in Christ’s justice. Still, the transmission of original SIN is a mystery that we cannot fully understand. But we do know by Revelation that Adam had received original holiness and justice not for himself alone, but for all human nature. By yielding to the tempter, Adam and Eve committed a personal SIN, but this SIN affected the human nature that they would then transmit in a fallen state.[Cf. Council of Trent: DS 1511-1512.] It is a SIN which will be transmitted by propagation to all mankind, that is, by the transmission of a human nature deprived of original holiness and justice. And that is why original SIN is called ‘SIN’ only in an analogical sense: it is a SIN ‘contracted’ and not ‘committed’ – a state and not an act.”
405. “Although it is proper to each individual,[Cf. Council of Trent: DS 1513.] original SIN does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam’s descendants. It is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to SIN – an inclination to evil that is called concupiscence’. Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ’s grace, erases original SIN and turns a man back towards God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle.”

1263. “By Baptism all sins are forgiven, original SIN and all PERSONAL sins, as well as all punishment for SIN.[Cf. Council of Florence (1439): DS 1316.] In those who have been reborn nothing remains that would impede their entry into the Kingdom of God, neither Adam’s SIN, nor PERSONAL SIN, nor the consequences of SIN, the gravest of which is separation from God. ”

1279. “The fruit of Baptism, or baptismal grace, is a rich reality that includes forgiveness of original SIN and all PERSONAL sins, birth into the new life by which man becomes an adoptive son of the Father, a member of Christ and a temple of the Holy Spirit. By this very fact the person baptized is incorporated into the Church, the Body of Christ, and made a sharer in the priesthood of Christ. ”
1423. “It is called the sacrament of conversion because it makes sacramentally present Jesus’ call to conversion, the first step in returning to the Father[Cf. Mk 1:15 ; Lk 15:18 .] from whom one has strayed by SIN.
It is called the sacrament of Penance, since it consecrates the Christian sinner’s PERSONAL and ecclesial steps of conversion, penance, and satisfaction. ”
1791. “This ignorance can often be imputed to PERSONAL responsibility. This is the case when a man ‘takes little trouble to find out what is true and good, or when conscience is by degrees almost blinded through the habit of committing SIN.'[GS 16.] In such cases, the person is culpable for the evil he commits.”
1859. “Mortal SIN requires full knowledge and complete consent. It presupposes knowledge of the sinful character of the act, of its opposition to God’s law. It also implies a consent sufficiently deliberate to be a PERSONAL choice. Feigned ignorance and hardness of heart[Cf. Mk 3:5-6 ; Lk 16:19-31 .] do not diminish, but rather increase, the voluntary character of a SIN. ”
1868. “SIN is a PERSONAL act. Moreover, we have a responsibility for the sins committed by others when we cooperate in them:
– by participating directly and voluntarily in them;
– by ordering, advising, praising, or approving them;
– by not disclosing or not hindering them when we have an obligation to do so;
– by protecting evil-doers. ”
1869. “Thus SIN makes men accomplices of one another and causes concupiscence, violence, and injustice to reign among them. Sins give rise to social situations and institutions that are contrary to the divine goodness. ‘Structures of SIN’ are the expression and effect of PERSONAL sins. They lead their victims to do evil in their turn. In an analogous sense, they constitute a ‘social SIN.'[John Paul II, RP 16.]”

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