Thursday, March 21, 2013

Redemption in Christ from individual and cosmic sin

There is a danger in seeing Christ's work of redemption as solely focused on one's individual sins. But at the same time the lived experience of Christians is precisely an experience of redemption from individual sins that block union with God and neighbor: "How can I ever be friends with Him, or with him, or with her, or with them, after I did that to Him, or to him, or to her, or to them?" In the context of one's individual repentance, a focus on the sin of the world and the deeply rooted social dimensions of sin, may be a distraction or even an excuse. "It's not my sin, but our sin." And it is not far from our sin to nobody's sin. Adam shifted the blame for his sin onto Eve, and Eve onto the serpent. It would have been no better if they shifted it onto the world.

None of this denies that there are structures of sin that are of cosmic importance, and that the means by which the individual sinner is redeemed is through-and-through ecclesial. But we must also not overestimate the importance of cosmic sin. For there is nothing worse in the world than mortal sins, and it is only individuals who commit those, and thereby separate themselves from God and one another. Moreover, to the true lover, the beloved is a cosmos. And God loves each of us.


Paul Symington said...

True. In a similar way, I am always struck by John Henry Cardinal Newman's sermons in which he dwells on the magnitude of his own sin. It is remarkable how he descries the sin in his own life, as opposed to comparing his relatively good life that he has lived in comparison to the rest of the lives of others. Comparing one's sin to others is another way of minimizing the danger of one's own sins but it is easy to do so with thoughts such as "if the sin of this saint has aroused the wrath of God, so much more everyone else!"

Alexander R Pruss said...

My life was changed after reading Augustine's reflections on the morality of eating in the Confessions. If he was so worried about what seemed so innocent, then given how much worse my sins were, I really needed to change my life.

Dagmara Lizlovs said...


I see my sins very differently today than I did several years ago. It is the suffering of others that has brought me into the Catholic Church and has facilitated my own spiritual growth. I went into the Catholic Church after my father was critically ill with carotid arteries were more than 90% blocked. He was in a Catholic hospital. I was an agnostic/atheist at the time. I had found a great comfort in atheism when one of my closer friends died from cancer and I couldn’t bear the feelings that he was probably in hell. I found a great comfort when I turned away from believing in a life after death and away from believing in God. One of my coworkers who is a devout Protestant was baffled when I told him in response to some survey questions he was doing for his church, that I would rather that there not be a life after death and that I would rather that there not be a God. I became skeptical of all things spiritual and my favorite publication at the time was the Skeptical Inquirer. I was such an atheist that I did not even pray when my father underwent a risky surgery to unblock those arteries, although his surgeon, a devout Muslim, did pray before beginning. Every day my family and I would visit my father in the hospital. And every day we would walk past a large icon of Our Lady in the lobby on the way to the elevators to take us to the floor my dad was on. There were crucifixes in every corridor and every room and every nurse’s station. One day, sitting in my father’s hospital room, I looked at the crucifix and then I had this feeling. It was like someone somewhere telling me to study my father’s religion (my father being Catholic) and not to be surprised if I converted to it (I was baptized a Catholic but raised a Lutheran by my mother and maternal grandmother. That’s a long story). This was the beginning of my conversion to the Catholic faith. Although I went frequently to confession, I was still weighed down by sins in my past. I read about many different people and the sufferings that they endured. Some of them where great saints, some were not such saints. Some were Catholic, others were not. It was when I contemplated certain things about their sufferings that the spiritual chains which bound me to those sins were smashed. I fear that if I fall back into those sins, I would gravely grieve those who (most of whom reside in eternity now) had suffered and have given me the requisite insight to have those chains smashed. I feel that if I were to fall back into those sins, not only would I be putting those chains back on, but I would be wounding the Communion of Saints and striking the Body of Christ itself. Today is Palm Sunday. In today’s homily, the priest said that the scandal of the cross was not that Christ suffered. Other people suffered just as badly, but that we kill Christ with our sins. The priest said this as he held up a huge nail. Suddenly, I had this mental impression of this nail going into something. Something that I thought was the Sacred Heart. I saw my own sins in that light.

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

Now in addressing spiritual matters, there are things I have been thinking about and I need to post them for guidance to others. These are from my experience with other believers and former believers, and why some people who may believe in a God have such a hard time with going back to church. Here are some examples:

Case 1:

Sally is doing her best to be a good Catholic Christian. She sees in Bruce who is also a trying to be a good Catholic Christian a kindred spirit. She feels that a series of events led her to a meeting with Bruce that might be of spiritual origin. Sally finds she has strong feelings for Bruce, although she knows Bruce is married. She goes to confession with Father Robert. Father Robert tells her that her attraction and sinful thoughts regarding Bruce are attacks of the Devil because of the spiritual growth she is having. Sally is still struggling with her thoughts and feelings towards Bruce. She is determined not to sin. So far she has said nothing to Bruce about what is going on. She attends a penance service and confesses what is going on to Father John. Father John tells Sally that Christ has placed a deep love in her heart for Bruce, and that she must find it. This leaves Sally confused. Father Robert says attack of the Devil, Father John says deep love of Christ. Who is right? Here are two possible outcomes. 1) Sally is confused by these two different approaches by two different priests. She doesn’t have enough faith formation to work through this. She finds she can’t resolve it because she is lacking the tools to do so, and leaves the Church. When she has a later life crisis and someone tells her she should go to church, her reply is “They didn’t help me at all and left me confused.” I have personally met a number of these persons. Now for the second outcome. 2) Even though Sally is confused, she has acquired enough coping tools to get through this. She has studied enough about the Christian faith not to give up on it. She finds has a more knowledgeable friend who explains things as follows – Yes, indeed Christ has placed a deep love in her heart for Bruce. Satan however is doing his utmost to pervert that love towards his ends, and that’s why he is attacking her with temptations. Sally now has the basic knowledge to see her problem in the proper perspective and can now more successfully approach it with deeper faith. Alas, this second outcome is far and few between.

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

Case 2:
Katrina has loved horses all her life and is trying to be a good Catholic. She finds time to go to Mass even when she is away at horse shows. Katrina suffers a very dangerous fall from a horse. Being in her late 30’s and no longer having the fearlessness she had as a teenager, the fall causes Katrina to lose her nerve. It is difficult now to get back on a horse. Now she is afraid of something she had once loved so much and that had given her so much joy. She sees her new parish priest to talk to him about her fear in an attempt to overcome it and get back in the saddle. The priest is from the “old country”, and Katrina is glad to have him. However, the priest doesn’t share Katrina’s affinity for animals and has no experience in dealing with or caring for livestock. The priest has never done any farm work whatsoever having been a city person all his life. The priest tells Katrina that this is all for her deeper conversion and that this is to remove some idolatry from her. He tells her that this idolatry he has seen when she has gone on Sundays to take care of the horses in the barn. Katrina tries to explain that the owners of the barn are out of town and that the animals must be fed, blanketed, turned out, and the stalls and bedding cleaned no matter what day it is. Someone must do this and the owners have entrusted her with the task. That this is not idolatry but basic care of animals. This is somehow lost on the priest who has no experience with farm life and farm animals. Katrina leaves the conversation feeling more hurt than helped. How could this be idolatry? How could this lead to a “deeper conversion”? Her fear of horses has now become a crisis of faith. There are again two possible outcomes. 1) Katrina finds that since the Church isn’t helping, she finds help for her problems elsewhere. She also feels that the Church hasn’t been there in other similar times of personal angst and crisis and the help was often found elsewhere, so she decides that she has had enough, especially after being wrongly accused of idolatry by an ignorant priest. Her conclusion, the Church has never been a help to her in time of trouble but always ready to point out that she doesn’t believe enough. It’s high time to leave. Or 2) Katrina tries to talk to other priests and religious to see if there is a different perspective. She recalls the life of Saint Francis and how he preached to the animals. She digs out information in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and does some searching on line for answers. She finds information that deepens her insight into spirituality and God’s Creation which includes animals. Unfortunately outcome number 1 is more common.

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

Case 3:

Carl is suffering from depression. He tries the spiritual approach. He goes to his Protestant church, prays, and attends his Al-Anon group religiously. However, he is not free from his depression. He knows all the slogans – “Let go and let God.”, “One day at a time”, “Easy does it”, and recites the Serenity Prayer over and over to no avail as he labors diligently through the 12 Steps. Everyone keeps telling him his problem is spiritual. His Al-Anon friends say it is the family dysfunction and to keep working the 12 Steps, or worse to “Take the cotton out of your ears and put it in your mouth.” His pastor says it’s the Devil attacking. Carl keeps trying. It is a stalemate with his battle with depression, and the “spiritual approach” is taking a lot of time and energy - Carl also has a job and bills. Finally, Carl sees a secular psychiatrist. The psychiatrist explains that the depression has biological causes and gives Carl a Paxil prescription. Carl finds that the medication has done for him what the spiritual approach has not. Once he has gotten used to the medication, the depression is gone. He feels better and his life is overall much better. Carl also no longer feels a need to be in Al-Anon and quits going. He finds that the Al-Anon members’ dire warnings about ending up worse off than when he began such as ending up in a psychiatric institution have failed to materialize. The pastor still keeps insisting that it’s the Devil, the psychiatrist has explained Carl’s depression in medical terms, and the anti-depressant medication is working and the pastor’s dire warning of diabolical consequences also fails to materialize. Carl now feels that spirituality and religion to be just so much BS. Even though he’s not going to Al-Anon or to church anymore, he basically feels just fine, in fact better than he has felt in years. When asked if he wants to go back to church, Carl gives the polite answer that he’ll think about it. Which really means no. Having been raised in a Protestant home, Carl doesn’t consider trying the Catholic Church. Carl’s protestant upbringing has given him a skewed view of the Catholic faith and his ex-Catholic friends have told him how much the Church has beaten them up with guilt.

Case 4:

Linda is talking to some members of her prayer group. They are all believing Catholic women. She brings up the fact how most of the members are women. She also brings up that whenever a group meets to pray the Rosary, the group consists mainly of women. The same is true for prayer breakfasts. Linda is bringing up a painful fact – somehow the men in their lives are just not involved in the spiritual life. One of the members agrees and points out that when Father George held a retreat, it was mostly women who showed up. Everyone agrees that somehow they just cannot engage their husbands when it comes to prayer groups, prayer breakfasts and retreats. Everyone is at a loss as to how to get their men more involved. It seems as if the guys somehow perceive all this prayer stuff as something too feminine for lack of better words here. One of the women says that it will take someone with a special charism to bring the men in.

I am posting this, because I feel that these cases show that we all have to work towards coming up with solutions here. We must find a way to give people like these better support than what they have been getting.