Monday, April 15, 2013

Re-sensitizing Ourselves to Sin

Dear Theophilus,

I was listening to a talk by Matthew Kelly published by Lighthouse Catholic Media the other day and I was struck by the imagery he used to describe how our souls can become desensitized to sin.

We treat our souls, it seems, much like we treat our cars.

When we wash our cars and clean out the backseat, for the first few days we’ll do whatever it takes to keep it clean. We’ll swerve into oncoming traffic to avoid puddles and forbid any kind of food in both the front and back seats. Each spring, once I’ve vacuumed a winter’s worth of grunge and dog fur out of my Volkswagen, my son is forced to endure a whole new set of stringent car rules with the promise that this year is going to be different and they will be enforced henceforth.

The problem is, Matthew Kelly points out, is that once the freshness of clean has worn off, we tend to let things slide a little. The dog will jump in the back seat, leaving behind fur and muddy paw prints that I promise myself I’ll clean on the weekend, but I never get to it. The empty water bottle used to refresh myself on a long car ride gets tossed into the back seat with the notion to dispose of it at my destination, but is forgotten once I get there. A coffee cup can languish for days in the cup holder. After awhile it’s no longer small bits of garbage, but sheets of paper, books, gym bags with even my hockey bag having spent a night or two in the back.

Each item, no matter how small, stands out like a sore thumb in a newly cleaned car, but becomes hidden, no matter how large, amongst all the other junk cluttering up my car. I’ve become desensitized to the mess that surrounds me.

Our souls are the same. A small venial sin will stand out on its own, but will soon seem inconsequential when it’s hidden among a host of other – seemingly inconsequential sins. What happens, though, is that all of these inconsequential sins will help make larger sins also seem inconsequential. We become desensitized to the mess that fills our soul.

The best way to remain sensitive to the clutter in our car is to keep it clean – heading to the car wash on a regular basis.

We can re-sensitize our souls to our sin in much the same way – keeping them clean by going to confession.

The Catholic Church stipulates that we go to confession at least once a year, but most of us will wash our car more often than that. On average, we go through a car once every 5 to 10 years, but our souls are for eternity – which should we keep better care of?

I’ve found that making a good and regular confession has re-sensitized me to my sin and I’m now much more aware of even the small, venial sins that I never considered to be sins before. If you haven’t been to confession in a while, I urge you to return to this grace-filled sacrament, using this examination of conscience as a guide. If it’s been so long that you feel intimidated by the experience, be not afraid, be up front with the priest and he will gently guide you through the process to help you refresh the cleanliness of your soul.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Burn of God's Love

Dear Theophilus,

The other day, I was asked for my opinion on what heaven and hell are like. As is par for the course in my classes, my answer seemed to leave my interlocutor more confused than when we started our conversation.

Good or bad, I explained, we are all called to spend our eternal lives with God.

With a puzzled look, I was then asked to clarify if evil people go to heaven. I don’t think my answer: “Yes and no,” really helped much, so I tried to clarify my perspective of heaven and hell, gleaned from Fr. Robert Barron’s Catholicism.

I find it always raises an eyebrow when I state that hell (along with purgatory) burns with the fire of God’s love.

The reason is this: those who are in a state of sin or who have turned away from God are not prepared for the light of His loving embrace in eternal life.

I’ll generally use two parallels to demonstrate my vision of purgatory and hell:

Purgatory is like a smelter. To transform a metal, such as gold, from the ore that’s mined from the earth to its pure form that we wear around our necks or on our fingers, the impurities need to be burned away. Our souls are like gold to God, and before He can adorn Himself with the brightness of our love for Him, the impurities of our sins must be burnt away – purged. Although I do my best as a human, I’m still a sinner, and I look forward to the burning fire of God’s love in purgatory so that I can rejoin the Lord that much quicker.

As for the souls in hell, they too burn at the touch of God’s love. I see the darkness of evil as much like the darkness of a movie theatre. Over the course of a film our eyes adjust to the darkness of our surroundings so that we can see not only the screen, but the others sitting around us. When we leave the movie theatre on a bright summer afternoon, we shield our eyes from the sun’s blinding rays – the same way that the light of God’s love in heaven is blinding to those who chose to live in the darkness of evil.

Put in these concrete, earthly terms, I find that most people begin to understand my original thought of how everyone is called to be in the presence of God, it’s just a question of how prepared we are for the light of His love.

Needless to say, I was struck dumb when, the day after this conversation, I read the Gospel reading of the day:

Jesus said to Nicodemus: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.

“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

“And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.

“But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.” (Jn 3:16-21)