Sin Awareness Week
Fourth Sunday of Advent

Doug McManaman
Reproduced with Permission

On one level there’s a lot of good will in this world; there are so many causes that young people can commit to. If you are a teacher, you see this throughout the year. Every December on the anniversary of the Montreal massacre, our attention is directed to issues of domestic violence, and it seems every year there is a walk against “male violence”, or violence, or drugs, or hunger, etc. There is World Aids day—also in December, there is environmental awareness, drug awareness week, racism awareness day, and now I’ve been made aware of something called “shadism”, soon to be followed, most probably, by an awareness campaign of one kind or another. It’s not easy to keep track of it all.

There’s an awful lot of time, money and energy devoted to raising awareness of the many destructive things in this world. As a society, we believe that the root of these and other social “evils” is a lack of knowledge, a lack of awareness, which is why we offer awareness education programs as the solution.

Plato taught that knowledge is virtue and that no man does evil on purpose, but rather because he mistakes evil for good. If a person knows the good, he will do the good, and if he does not do the good, it is because he does not know the good.

Interestingly enough, when I teach this to the students, they disagree; they always object and argue: “No, a person can know the good, the right thing to do, and choose not to do it”. But they are unaware of the subtle Platonism that is prevalent in this culture, in the awareness campaigns that suggest education as the solution to the problems that plague us.

Recently I asked my students: “Do you really believe the root cause of all these social evils is ignorance? Do you think people are just too dumb to see for themselves that beating your wife is evil, or contaminating lakes with toxic waste is wrong? Or that racism, shadism, and snorting cocaine are bad things? The world thinks the problem is one of knowledge, and that the solution is education. What really is the root of the problem? They all stem from one source, one principle. What is that principle?”

My students were stuck for an answer. The only student who knew and was willing to step out and say it was a Muslim girl. She said, “Sin”. And ironically, that’s the one thing we are not permitted to mention in this culture. You’ll never hear anyone in the public realm calling attention to that single root cause. What would happen, I asked a different group of students, if an anchor man or a journalist were to suggest such a thing? This time a Hindu student spoke up: “He’d be fired immediately.”

As a culture, we’re not permitted to name the root of the problem. But the problem is not one of knowledge; it is a problem of the will; sin is in the will. And yet all we’re permitted to treat are the symptoms, not the root cause of the disease.

But sin is the root: the free decision to be one’s own god. Sin is not remedied through education. Sin is remedied by being acknowledged, confessed, and forgiven, because sin is a deliberate choice to do what we know to be contrary to God’s will, and the effect of sin is a severing of one’s relationship with God and the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ.

God the Son entered into the darkness of this world in order to reconcile man with God. He came to bring hope, the hope of salvation. What a horrible thing it is to lack hope. How dark our world would be without hope. That’s why the kingdom of Satan is called the kingdom of darkness, for in that kingdom there’s no hope: “All hope abandon ye who enter here” (Dante). The greatest pain of hell is this total despair.

The good news of Christmas is that the Light has entered into darkness. What would this world have been like had Christ never come, had he never died for sin and rose from the dead in order to conquer unending death? I see what life is like for those who do not hope in Christ. I see the weight of regrets that people carry around with them day in and day out. The good news is that we need not carry all that. Christ forgave sins, and he gave his power to forgive sins to his Apostles after he rose from the dead. We know that we can be forgiven of our sins if we are willing to unload them. But we have to make an act of the will. We have to seek that forgiveness.

The greatest gift that this society has within its own borders, the only thing that can heal this social body of its many ills, is the priesthood. The priesthood is the greatest gift to the civil community. It is society’s immune system.

There is nothing more positive than to grow in a sense of sin. Sin is rotten, and it is rotten because God is so inexhaustibly and incomprehensibly good. The more we come to know that boundless innocence of God, the more we come to know from within that infinite love of God that we simply cannot comprehend, that always exceeds our ability to grasp, the more we will understand how rotten sin is. Our life will be characterized by an increasing joy, because we will have begun to grow in a real intimacy with God. But our life will also be characterized by an increasing sorrow, the sorrow of having to witness sin in the world, which offends the God we have begun to love. But that sorrow will not lessen that supernatural joy, it won’t cut into it. Our life will be a mysterious blend of joy and sorrow.

That is why it is so important for us not to be afraid of facing our own sinfulness, our pride, our arrogance, our disobedience to God, our greed, our lack of trust in divine providence, perhaps our envy, jealousy, anger, or our own unforgiveness of others, our laziness, or our lust, sexual sins, or the very general disposition to preoccupy ourselves with feeling comfortable, our indifference to the sufferings of others, our sins of the flesh, etc.

The good news is that the light has entered the darkness. If we invite that light into our lives, yes, it will expose our most rotten vices, but Christ gives us the grace that permits us the courage to confess those sins to a priest who has the power to absolve, who absolves in the name of Christ, in the person of Christ. We can walk out of that confessional without having to face those sins ever again. We might commit them anew, but the past is behind us. We can make our souls a clean dwelling place for the Lord, and eternal life of union with Him can begin here in this life. The joy of heaven can begin to possess us now, from this day forward.