Tag Archives: sin

You are the easiest person to fool.

I’m a big fan of Richard Feynman’s quote: “The first thing is not to fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.”

Russ Roberts

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.

Richard Feynman

“I’m a sinner. I’m the worst sinner I know because I’m the sinner I know best.”

RHE & The Power Of Being Wronged

Sin and Sinners


Is It OK to Judge Someone?

We live in times in which there is a widespread notion that to correct sinners is to “judge” them. Never mind that it is sin that we judge, not the sinner. Never mind that in accusing us of judging, the worldly-minded are themselves doing the very judging they condemn. Never mind any of that; the point of the charge is to try to shame us into silence. Despite the fact that Scripture consistently directs us to correct the sinner, many Catholics have bought into the notion that correcting the sinner is “judging” him. In this, the devil, who orchestrates the “correcting is judging” campaign, rejoices; for if he can keep us from correcting one another, sin can and does flourish.

Today’s Gospel is an important reminder and explanation of our obligation, as well instruction on how we should correct the sinner and be open to correction ourselves. Let’s look at it in four steps.

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Notice the brief but clear advice that when we see someone in sin, we ought to talk with him or her about it. Many, probably due to sloth, prefer to say that it’s none of their business what others do. Jesus clearly teaches otherwise.

In this teaching, Jesus is obviously speaking to the general situation; some distinctions are helpful and admissible in specific instances. For example, one generally has a greater obligation to correct people in grave matters than in less serious ones. One is more compelled to correct those who are younger than those who are older. One is more obligated to correct subordinates, less so, superiors. Parents are strongly duty-bound to correct their children, but children are seldom obligated to correct their parents. The general rule, however, remains: all other things being equal, there is an obligation to engage in Christian correction. Jesus says, “If your brother sins, go and tell him.”

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Sadly, today it is evident that our unity and the power of our prayer as a Church is greatly diminished by the disunity among us and the way in which many continue for too long without being corrected by the Church. We are not a force for change because we are divided on the very truth that is supposed to unite us. Much of our division is further rooted in our failure to teach with clarity and correct the sinner.

The Obligation of Clear, Compassionate Correction of the Sinner

The Catechism [of the Catholic Church] similarly teaches us that sin – and the sorrow arising, ultimately, from it – is not “a developmental flaw, a psychological weakness, a mistake, or the necessary consequence of an inadequate social structure.” (#387) It is, rather, part of the morally compromised human condition, in which all of us share.

The Bad News about the Good News

Deliverance Ministry

What is deliverance? Deliverance is prayer and ongoing ministry that uses numerous approaches to bring healing and wholeness to those who, after baptism, have come to struggle significantly with bondage to sin and sinful drives, the influence of demons, or the effects of psychological and/or spiritual trauma.

Deliverance involves taking hold of the full freedom that God is given us, of helping the faithful who struggle to lay hold of the glorious freedom of children of God (cf Rom 8:21). St. Paul says that the Father has rescued us from the power of darkness and has brought us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of our sins (Colossians 1:13 – 14).

There is also a magnificent passage in the Acts of the Apostles in which St. Paul is told of his mission to the Gentiles by the Lord: I am sending you to [the Gentiles] to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God (Acts 26:17–18).

Fundamentally, this is a description of the ongoing work of deliverance, which the whole Church must accomplish for God’s chosen people. Deliverance seeks to take people out from under Satan’s power and place them under the authority and Lordship of Jesus Christ, to bring people to, or restore them to, their true identity as sons and daughters of God.

Even after baptism, it is possible that we open doors to Satan enabling him some degree of access to our heart and mind. When this is the case, a Christian, working with clergy and fellow believers alike, must take a stand against the schemes of the devil by repenting of sin and renouncing any form of agreement with the deceptions of the enemy.

Deliverance involves coming to an understanding of the tactics of the evil one and recognizing the flawed thinking that often infects our minds. It involves coming to know and name these tactics and the deep drives of sin within us. It involves repenting of them and steadily renouncing their influence so that we come to greater serenity, peace, and healing—to deliverance.

This deliverance is effected in many ways: by the Word of God proclaimed and devoutly read; through the frequent reception of sacraments of Holy Communion and confession; through spiritual direction; through the experience of the Sacred Liturgy, praise, and worship; through authentic, close fellowship with other believers; through personal prayer; through psychotherapy (where necessary); and through what might be called “deliverance ministry,” which often involves both clergy and lay praying with those who struggle and offering support and encouragement.

This is the description of a wider ministry of deliverance that looks past exorcism (which only applies in rather rare circumstances of possession). Deliverance ministry seeks to broaden healing to the large number of people (to some extent all of us at certain times) who need healing and deliverance.

Who needs deliverance? While everyone can benefit from such a ministry in a general sort of a way, there are those among us who go through intense crises and need special, focused ministry. This ministry may occasionally involve formal exorcism, but it usually addresses a more general need for deliverance. This deliverance should be a multidisciplinary approach, as described just above.

Getting Unbound: A Reflection on Deliverance Ministry, by Msgr. Charles Pope

Annoying People

Learn to say this prayer: “Dear Lord, bless [annoying person’s name] and have mercy on me!

In between staring out the window, reading books and catching some extra shut-eye during my daily treks to work and classes, I noticed people who looked like they could use a prayer, so I would silently ask God to bless them. It wasn’t always the ones who looked homeless, or seemed to be “on” something or looked like they were about to explode; oftentimes my fellow travelers didn’t appear outwardly needy at all, but there was a weariness in their eyes or a way they would strike me, and I’d ask God to bless them.

It became a habit to do this, a way I could intercede for others in the midst of my everyday life.

O Lord, Bless the Annoying Ones

The Wickedness of Judas

We should never think ourselves beyond the wickedness of Judas. Proximity to Jesus does not always mean intimacy with Him.

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Greed is grasping. It’s really not so much about possessions but control – about having such means at our disposal that we do not need to rely on others, or even God. It is “practical” in the worst sense of that word.

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Judas fails to repent. No doubt, he feels remorse over what he has done. And this is no small thing. In the tangle of his heart he still bore at least some love for Jesus. But notice: he returns not to Jesus but to the chief priests – to his coconspirators. To them, he acknowledges his sin. Judas possesses not repentance but regret. By repentance we look to the good God, to the Redeemer, to the one Who is Mercy. In His light, we reject sin. By regret we look to ourselves, turn further inward, and close ourselves off from the reconciliation and healing that come from God alone.

One of the Twelve

Final Judgment

Each of us must come to the evening of life. Each of us must enter on eternity. Each of us must come to that quiet, awful time, when we will appear before the Lord of the vineyard, and answer for the deeds done in the body, whether they be good or bad. That, my dear brethren, you will have to undergo…. It will be the dread moment of expectation when your fate for eternity is in the balance, and when you are about to be sent forth as the companion of either saints or devils, without possibility of change. There can be no change; there can be no reversal. As that judgment decides it, so it will be for ever and ever. Such is the particular judgment.

[W]hen we find ourselves by ourselves, one by one, in his presence, and have brought before us most vividly all the thoughts, words, and deeds of this past life. Who will be able to bear the sight of himself? And yet we shall be obliged steadily to confront ourselves and to see ourselves. In this life we shrink from knowing our real selves. We do not like to know how sinful we are. We love those who prophecy smooth things to us, and we are angry with those who tell us of our faults. But on that day, not one fault only, but all the secret, as well as evident, defects of our character will be clearly brought out. We shall see what we feared to see here, and much more. And then, when the full sight of ourselves comes to us, who will not wish that he had known more of himself here, rather than leaving it for the inevitable day to reveal it all to him!

Blessed John Henry Newman

Mercy, Judgment, and Repentance

Mercy without judgment bypasses free will. It makes the whole human drama unintelligible.

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It is true that if we are repentant and drop dead before we have a chance to confess our sins, we are no doubt forgiven. And it is also possible, sometimes honestly, not to recognize that a particular act is a sin. In such a case, if it exists, there would be no need of redemption or repentance.

Christ came to teach the world of its sins, but also why and how to repent of them. Mixed up in all sin is free will, which, if not present, no sin takes place. But lack of free will would make our acts insignificant and of no consequence to us as persons. If we take Paul’s list of sins and deny that they are sins but either acts of virtue or deeds done necessarily, we have made ourselves over into automata whose transcendent significance is exactly zero. The Kingdom of God is not composed of moral zeros.

On “Those Who Do Such Things”

Hoarding, Scrupulosity, and Detachment

To hoarders, belongings are physical anchors in a stormy world. Hoarders might otherwise lead functional lives, but according to experts who spoke at the conference, many derive security from having their keepsakes always in view.

“People who hoard tend to live their lives visually and spatially, instead of categorically like the rest of us do,” said Randy Frost, a psychologist and co-author of Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things, in an interview with Fresh Air. They sort things by location, rather than importance. When he asked one hoarder where her electric bill was, she responded “on the left side of the pile, about a foot down.”

Far from being dirty or disgusting, hoarders might actually be too careful. A common manifestation of OCD is scrupulosity, or an extreme fear of wrongdoing. For example, a highly religious person with OCD might have a fleeting, blasphemous thought one day—”What if God is actually terrible?”—and obsess for days about what thinking it means.

Hoarding in the Time of Marie Kondo

[M]y moderately smug disdain is directed at the writers and “experts” who breathlessly report and analyze these trends—especially when, as is the case in the New York magazine piece, consumerism is highlighted as a contributing vice. “Ours is a spendy culture,” one subheading announces with vague judgmentalism while surrounded by ads for Tiffany and Burberry. “It’s expected that as you earn more, your lifestyle should swell accordingly . . . . If you can’t Instagram or Facebook or Snapchat your material progress, it might as well not exist.”

My question is: Why on earth would we expect anything different? Our culture gives us no compelling reason to resist the allure of conspicuous consumption. We have gutted society of any institutional recognition of, let alone support for, traditional virtues, and yet we vainly expect people to live virtuously. It may be impossible to improve on C.S. Lewis’s concision: “We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”

Now, the virtue I’m thinking of here is not the old-timey Puritan concept of thrift. Thrift can certainly be virtuous, but it can also emerge just as much from a preoccupation with wealth as conspicuous consumption does—a preoccupation with economic status in the future rather than the present. It’s an idea that is easily co-opted by a secular culture where class is considered a reasonable proxy for moral worthiness.

I’m thinking instead of the relatively unknown and little understood virtue of detachment. We shouldn’t be too surprised that detachment has been largely forgotten; more than almost any other virtue, it relies for its coherence on the public recognition of the divine that secularism has systematically purged from our society. Detachment from worldly goods and concerns only makes sense if there’s another world to which we owe our loyalty.

Perhaps the most well-known description of detachment comes from Jesus himself in the sixth chapter of Matthew’s gospel: “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” Secularism solves this dilemma elegantly by erasing God. Only mammon remains.

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We’ve gutted all the social and spiritual foundations of a healthy relationship with worldly goods, and there’s nothing our hordes of life coaches and inspiration mongers and financial therapists can do to replace them. It’s foolish and even a little cruel to expect a society of slaves to mammon to resist their master.

Why the Rich Can’t Save Money

Sin – A Crisis of Faith, not of Worship

The real underlying problem is simple: it’s a massive loss of faith. There are many reasons for that loss of faith. But Catholics are dropping out in droves because they have lost their faith, or never really had faith, in the Church or in the true nature of her sacraments. It’s not because homilies are poor. Homilies were very often poor in the old days, too, when the churches were full. It’s not because the music is not up to snuff. In the 1940s and 1950s, we had no music except at the solemn high Mass on Sundays and holy days. Yet the churches were full. The problem is simply a tremendous loss of faith.

About thirty years ago, a reliable survey revealed that only around 30 percent of Catholics believed in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist any longer. Why didn’t the bishops call an emergency meeting to reflect on this loss of faith, as they did in 2002 to deal with sexual abuse. If people don’t believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist or in the Eucharist as a true sacrifice being offered to God on behalf of sinners, better music is not going to attract them to Mass on Sunday mornings.

The loss of faith reflects a loss of the sense of sin and sin’s gravity. Both are surely related to the rejection of the Church’s moral teachings, for faith is indeed a seamless garment. So the Sunday obligation means nothing and is not going to keep people coming to church who do not believe in the gravity of the sin of missing Mass. Indeed, even if you believe there is such a thing as grave sin, how could that sin be seen as grave if you believe that the Mass is essentially music and readings and a bit of memorial. Not something real, a real sacrifice, a real presence of Christ.

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Many things have gone into this crisis and need attention; long-standing poor catechesis, poor example, scandal, and yes bad liturgy, to be sure. But also: the lack of proclamation of the Gospel in the public square. Since people aren’t in the churches, the Gospel has to be preached to them where they are. If the church is just another “denomination” in the public square, and the Gospel is not being openly proclaimed as the solution to societal problems, then we are indeed in for a long ecclesial winter.

A Crisis of Faith, not of Worship

Come Holy Spirit!

Pius XII and John Paul II both lamented our “loss of the sense of sin.” It’s an intriguing concept in the abstract; at a personal level, it’s haunting. But do we really understand the phenomenon? And are we free ourselves from the patterns that lead us to that loss? For my part, I’ve become increasingly aware of the continuing need for invoking the Holy Spirit, not only to provide guidance, but to reveal who we really are.

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But perhaps a useful reminder of our tendency to overlook the obvious in ourselves: longstanding patterns of ingratitude, haughtiness, selfishness, self-righteousness – all the vices easily hidden from self-awareness. There are monsters in the world, and in ourselves. Sometimes we even are the monsters.

It’s worth pausing, often, to invoke the Holy Spirit and make an inventory of who we are and how we have become what we are. “Who can understand sins? From my secret ones cleanse me, O Lord.” (Psalm 19:12)

The Spirit Reveals Who We Are

Repentance and Sin

At every funeral I celebrate, I spend a good portion of the sermon urging everyone, including myself, to be more intent on preparing for death and judgement. I remind the assembled of Jesus’ numerous parables on this theme. I remind them that no one loves them more than does Jesus, and yet no one issued more warnings of judgment and Hell than He did. I do this at funerals because the overwhelming majority of people I see there do not attend church at any other time. I feel that I have to take advantage of the opportunity to wrest them from the sin of presumption that is so prevalent today.

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Get to work while there is still time. Tell everyone you love to set his or her house in order before the day of reckoning. Do not delay your conversion to the Lord!

On the Need to Be More Urgent in Preparing for Final Judgment

What is the sin of presumption?

You say Alpha, I say Omega….

Faith, hope, love, patience, perseverance, charity, forgiveness….

The alternative is to stop trying to be Alpha and start trying to be a mature man.

The real fulfillment of a man’s soul comes from maturing physically, spiritually, and emotionally. And, unlike Alpha-ness, mature masculinity is a little easier to define.

One reason it’s easier to define is that we’ve all had some first hand experience with it.
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Be independent.
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Take responsibility for yourself and others.
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Focus.
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Do these things, aim at simply being a mature, active, responsible man, and the Alpha thing will take care of itself.

Stop Trying to Be an Alpha Male. Start Trying to Be a Grown Up.

The manner of expressing God’s eternity by means of the first and last letters of the alphabet seems to have passed from from the synagogue into the Church. In place of the Aleph and Thaw, the Alpha and Omega were substituted. But the substitution of the Greek letters for those of the Hebrew tongue inevitably caused a portion of the meaning and beauty in thus designating God to be lost. The Greek letters Alpha and Omega have no relation to the word Truth. Omega is not the last letter of the word aletheia (truth), as Thaw is of the word Emeth. The sacred and mystical word Truth, expressing in Hebrew, through its letters Aleph and Thaw, God’s absolute and eternal being, had to be sacrificed. “Alpha-Omega” (and its Hebrew equivalent) signify an absolute plenitude, or perfection. It is a Jewish saying that the blessing on Israel in Lev., xxvi, 3-13, is complete because it begins with Aleph and ends with Thaw.

Alpha and Omega

Introspection is necessary in order that we shall isolate the habit and see it clearly as a sin.
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Avoiding the occasions of sin is the easiest way of avoiding sin itself.
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An act of the will is vital to any accomplishment.
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A right philosophy of life is needed to complete the work, for evil habits cannot be overcome by the will alone: love is required as well.

How to Overcome Bad Habits

[F]iring coaches is how professional sports franchises deal with conflict. And athletes know that this is how professional sports franchises deal with conflict: so when a team hits a bad patch, and the players are underperforming, and the coach is getting angry with them, and relationships are fraying… why bother stitching them up? Why bother salving the wounds? If everyone knows where the situation is headed — sacking the manager — then isn’t there rather a strong incentive to make things worse, in order to hasten the inevitable, put an end to the frustrations, start afresh, get a do-over? Of course there is.

And precisely the same tendencies are at work in many of the key institutions of American social life. This is one of the chief reasons why so many marriages end quickly; this is why so many Christians church-hop, to the point that pastors will tell you that church discipline is simply impossible: if you challenge or rebuke a church member for bad behavior, he or she will simply be at another church the next week, or at no church at all.

It seems that we — and I’m using “we” advisedly here, as you’ll see in a moment — are becoming habituated to making the nuclear option the first option, or very close to the first option, when we can. Trying to come to terms with a difficult person, or a difficult situation, is an endeavor fraught with uncertainty: it might work, but it might not, and even if it does work, I could end up paying a big emotional price. Why not just bail out and start over?
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We live in a trade-in society.

This belief breeds impatience with everything, and that impatience in turn breeds immense frustration with any situation that doesn’t lend itself to the discard-and-replace approach.

The Trade-In Society