The Renunciation of Sin                    (E.J.Tyler)

   The principle and foundation of our life is the call each of us has received to be holy - which is to say, to know, love and serve God with all our heart. Responding to this call is the work of a lifetime, and it is the reason why we were created. “Be holy,” the Lord God says in the Old Testament, “for I am holy.” Our whole starting point for any understanding of the purpose of life ought be the intention and plan of God as he has revealed it. “This is the will of God,” St Paul writes, “your sanctification.” In this will lie our truest happiness here on earth despite the inevitable cross, and it will bring us eternal happiness in heaven. Everything else that comes our way in life is to be used or discarded according to this purpose and goal. Everything in our life must be governed by this basic purpose of God in creating us. The one thing necessary is our sanctification: personal holiness. And so we must cultivate an intense desire for God's love, and all else in life that might come our way must be fitted into this plan of God for us which is union with God.

   Now, if we are to attain this end, which ought be the end or goal of every single day, we must identify, appreciate, and deal with the obstacles to the attainment of this goal. Is bad health an obstacle to sanctity? No, and there have been numerous people who, not only despite their bad health, but one could almost say that in and through their bad health, have become saints. Consider Pope John Paul II - a saint, yet many years of his pontificate in very bad health. Is having very little money, or having a very limited and poor social position an obstacle to attaining personal sanctity? No, not by any means. Many saints have been financially very poor, and have had little social standing in the world. Indeed, many have given away their money and given up their social position. Is having only limited gifts of mind and other natural talents an obstacle to being holy? No. There have been saints who have not been humanly very gifted - even though there have been other saints who have had plenty of natural gifts.

  So what are the obstacles facing every person who sets out to love God with all his heart?  The great obstacle to personal sanctity is personal sin, and doing nothing about it. If we do nothing about the sin into which we are born, and the sins we constantly commit, then it will be impossible to attain the goal of sanctity that God has set for each of us. We are all called to holiness, to the ardent love of God, but if this is to be achieved then we have to recognise the sin and the tendency to sin within us, and renounce and overcome it with the grace of God. For it was precisely this that God sent his Son into the world to do. God sent his Son to become man and dwell among us in order to take away the sin of the world. He has done his work of suffering and dying for our sins. If we set about with God’s grace combatting sin in our life and instead of sinning loving and obeying God with purity of heart, then by the grace of God we shall gradually win the victory of life which is personal holiness, a more and more perfect love of God.

  But the great enemy must be identified and appreciated. The enemy is personal sin, and all that tempts us to sin, be it the world, the flesh or the devil. Personal sin is the monster that has to be slain and it is the work of a lifetime, the work of every day requiring constant vigilance right to the very end. Sin is the lifelong enemy. The battle against sin in one form or another will never cease, if we want to be the hidden saint that God plans us to be. Sin is the great obstacle that must be identified, appreciated, overcome, and never underestimated.

  One of the distinguishing characteristics of the modern age is that sin is not considered to be very objective and real at all. Inasmuch as we are children of our age, we are very liable to be affected by this attitude. Sin is commonly regarded as a private, personal matter, a personal way of looking at things, in other words just a matter of opinion. But it is not this for sin is an entirely objective evil. We must learn to look on sin not as the world regards it, but as God regards it. Consider what God has revealed of the seriousness and evil of sin, and of its effects.

  Among the things that have been revealed to us is that sin made its appearance long before the creation of man and the world. Well before the creation of the world, God created the angels, pure spirits as he is a pure spirit, with gifts of mind infinitely below God but far beyond our own.  God created the angels beautiful and splendid and tradition has it that one of the most splendid was named Lucifer, or bearer of light. We must accustom ourselves to thinking of the angelic  world as one of wondrous variety and beauty. The entire human race is one species - it is the species of rational animal. When we consider the animal, marine and insect world, there are countless numbers of species. The magpie is a bird as is the eagle, but each is of a different species. Now, every angel is his own species. All angels are immaterial, spiritual persons, but somehow each angel is a different species from the next angel. No two angels are of the same species. So there is a tremendous and unimaginable variety of beauty and range among the angelic persons. And of course, each is made to love and serve God with all his being, but at the same time being persons with freedom, each can choose just as we can choose. This beautiful world of the angels came from the hand of God. What altered everything was sin. Some angels chose to rebel against God and to disobey his plan. There is a tradition of thought within the Church that Lucifer, the angel whose name means bearer of light, the one filled with light, refused to serve.  I shall not serve. Others followed him.

  What was the issue? What was it that Lucifer and the other rebellious angels did not accept from God? We do not know. There is a line of thought which suggests that it had something to do with the Incarnation. Perhaps it was that the angels were shown the glory that would be given to man because of the Incarnation. Certainly in Mary this glory would far exceed that of the angels. There is a thought that Lucifer and many other angels refused to accept this plan of God and rebelled. But it is impossible to know - it has not been revealed. What we do know is that out of pride many angels rebelled against God, they sinned, and heaven was split asunder. A terrible cataclysm occurred in heaven and the world of the angels that God had created was profoundly spoilt. Evil appeared in heaven and the consequences will be eternal. Those rebellious angels, led by Lucifer or Satan, were judged by God and cast out never to return. This judgment by God on them shows how God regards sin. They are in hell, yet for some reason are allowed a certain freedom of activity till the end, and true to form they influence the world of mankind in the direction of evil. The point is, though, that it was personal sin that brought evil into the world of the angels, and transformed many of them into devils. Lucifer became Satan. His followers among the angels became devils or demons. This was all the effect of sin. Sin destroyed their wonderful relationship with God and ruined everything. This is what sin can do. Sin is the one thing that must be combatted and overcome. Sin prevents sanctity.

  And as we all know - and we know it because God has revealed it - the drama of sin did not stop there. From the hand of God also came our own world, our material world, and from his hand also came the first human couple, our first parents, made in his image and placed at the head of the material creation. The first human couple was made full of natural and supernatural gifts and entirely in God’s friendship. Death as we know it today with its break-up and destruction of the human person was not part of God’s plan for man. All that came from God was beauty, goodness and life, and our first parents were all this. But what happened? God told the first human couple how they could remain in his friendship, and what would happen if they disobeyed him. The way was clearly explained, just as it would have been to the angels long before. It required obedience to his law and plan. But what happened? Satan, full of sin and of hatred for the God on whom he continually depends for his very existence, intervened and tempted man to disobey God, and our first parents freely chose to do just this. So man too sinned, just as some of the angels had. Our first parents, who made up the whole of humanity at the time, and in whom was embodied all of human nature, chose to turn away from God and from his friendship. By their deliberate disobedience they freely broke off their relationship and contact with God, choosing to follow the suggestions of the evil one. They did not have an internal tendency to do so, a fallen condition that inclined them to this. No, they freely chose it, despite all their natural and supernatural gifts of mind and heart that they were enjoying, just as some of the angels had.

   The result of their sin was catastrophic. As the Bible expresses it, God cast them out of the garden. That is to say, their rebellion left them in a profoundly wounded natural condition, cut off from God and inclined by nature now to sin, and deprived of the supernatural gifts of grace God had granted them at their creation. It was only this fallen human condition that they were able to hand on to their children and descendants. And it was because of sin that the evil and suffering of the world made its terrible appearance to be handed on from generation to generation. As St Paul writes, sin came into the world through one man and with sin death, and death has spread through the whole human race. We are profoundly affected, each of us. We are born with a fallen human nature cut off from friendship with God and profoundly inclined to sin, a condition which of ourselves we cannot overcome. Personal sanctity would be utterly out of the question, were we left to ourselves. Of course, thanks be to our Lord Jesus Christ we have not been.

   My point here is that we ought look at the effects of sin for they show how God views sin, his judgment on it, his horror of it, its intrinsic evil and hatefulness, and its terrible effects. Sin is the evil which we must combat if we are to attain the goal God has in mind for us, personal sanctity and heaven forever with him. Sin is the great obstacle ahead of us.

     Consider too the soul who dies in the state of mortal sin, unrepentant and not willing to turn back to God. He dies knowingly and willingly in his mortal sins. What happens? His chance has gone for repentance. His state of heart and mind is fixed forever. Being admitted into the all-holy presence of the God who gave him being and who called him to obedience and love is out of the question. He himself could never endure the presence of God. He must flee forever the presence of God. Hell is his only place, hell forever and forever, and this is all because of sin. Sin is no light matter, as the world regards it. It is not just a matter of personal opinion, a purely subjective fancy. It is a terrible reality that for dear life one has to unmask and destroy. It has to be fought, renounced, overcome and replaced with an ardent love for God. The great obstacle is personal sin. Sin is what must be done away with every day. Our daily objective ought be: Deliberate sin, venial or mortal? - Never!

   There is another way of considering the enormity of sin and how horrible a monster it is. Consider Christ on the cross. The one hanging there, the one suffering there on our behalf, is God, God the Son made man. What an enormity it is, that God could suffer so unimaginably, nailed to a cross. Now, why is he there, what put him there? It was the sins of mankind, the sins of each one of us included. I put him there by my sins. The crucified Jesus and the sufferings he displays manifests the evil of sin and how God views sin. If we want to appreciate the reality and the evil of sin, we should look at the crucified Jesus. The sin of Satan and the devils shows us the evil of sin. So does the sin of our first parents and its effects on all of us. So does the thought of the soul that goes to hell because of unrepented mortal sin. But the greatest manifestation of the evil of sin is the passion and death of our Redeemer. Who put him there? we and our sins. Sin must be renounced and overcome. Deliberate sin, be it venial or mortal - never!

   This is the monster we each of us must contend with - it is like a serpent coiled up deep within our hearts. Of ourselves, it is impossible. The serpent within cannot be dislodged by ourselves. It is stuck there, we cannot remove it of ourselves. We are called to goodness and holiness of heart and of life, but we are born into this world with a monster within. It is a serpent, a dragon, and the dragon has made its home within our hearts. The dragon wishes to devour us, to swallow up our lives by leading us day by day along the path of personal sin, down into hell. Who can save us from this body doomed to death, asked St Paul? Thanks be to God we have a redeemer, Jesus Christ our Lord who died on the cross to show us his boundless love for us and the boundless evil of the sins we deliberately commit. For love of Jesus and out of a proper love for ourselves, we must renounce sin. Deliberate sin, be it venial or mortal? - Never!

  God is a God of love, but there is one thing he hates. It is sin. So we must hate sin too, most particularly the sin that is within our hearts, the sin we ourselves commit. Sin must be exposed and combatted every day. Firstly then, we simply must examine our consciences and identify the ways in which we have deliberately offended God. If we do not do this we cannot repent from them. And we must get into the way of making an examination of conscience every day, to discover the ways we sinned during the day, especially deliberate venial sins because we tend to think that venial sins do not matter. In our regular examination of conscience we also monitor those faults that serve as an inclination to sin. We ought consider too whether there are any mortal sins in our life that have not yet been forgiven, mortal sins of thought, word or deed - and we can sin mortally in each of these ways. Then we must repent of them and start again. We must get to Confession. If we are serious about personal sanctity and getting to heaven, we must acknowledge our sins, both serious sins and venial sins, repent of them, obtain God’s pardon for them, and begin again along the way of renouncing sin. 

   We must go beyond renouncing our sins to renouncing our attachment to those sins. It is one thing to recognise sins of sloth and laziness, and to obtain God’s pardon for them in acts of contrition and in the sacrament of Penance. It is a further thing to work against one’s very attachment to sloth by exercising the opposite virtue by means of hard and persevering work, done out of love for God. Remember this too, that the Church offers us as an incentive to fight against all attachments to venial sin the opportunity of gaining a plenary Indulgence. It is one of the necessary conditions for gaining a plenary indulgence. Sanctity will only come if we renounce not only deliberate sin, but also the attachment to sin.

   I shall look on Christ in my heart and think of all he has done for me to redeem me of my sins and to redeem all of us from our sins. He as God hates sin with all his heart. Yet for love of me he took all of my sins on to his own shoulders and bore them to his death. He made up for my sins. I must unite myself to him, renouncing sin myself and giving myself over to loving and following the Master. So then, what have I done for Christ to this point? What am I doing for him? What shall I do for him? I shall start now by renewing the promise of my baptism and renounce deliberate sin, be it mortal or venial. I shall also work to overcome my attachments to these sins, so as to be free to give myself over to the love of God and the doing of his will.