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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Catholicism Without Sin?

From time to time I slog through Call-to-Apostasy's "Young Adult Catholics" blog to see what the Sour Patch Kids are up to. A post put up last week was titled "Catholicism Without The Sin?"

"I went to confession in my hometown parish over Thanksgiving. I’d attended church alone, and I hadn’t been to confession in over a year, so when the priest said he was hearing them, I decided to go...

"I actually think confession is one of the best parts of being Catholic. I think it’s incredibly healing to be able to speak about your shortcomings out loud and have a ritual that mimics God’s forgiveness. The stressful part, of course, is lining up your litany of “sins” before going in. Rather than make a list, I simply talked about a couple things that I felt were really interfering with my relationship to God and neighbor. When I was done, the priest asked, “Anything else?”

"And I said, “No,” at the same moment wondering if it was a little arrogant. Because certainly I had committed more transgressions than the two I spoke about; but I also refused to “confess” behaviors and feelings that I no longer recognize as sinful, things like bisexuality, masturbation, exploring other spiritualities, and voting Democrat. So it’s true that, yes, my list of transgressions is shorter now that I’ve rethought what sin really means. And that got me wondering: what is Catholicism without the Sin?"

This young person reminds me of myself, years ago. I had decided what was a sin or not, ignoring Church teaching where it caused discomfort, or where it meant I would have to amend my life. And I didn't want that. After all, I was college educated, so I was smart and could figure things out for myself. Turns out I was dumb and didn't know enough. So, as a result, I went many years without receiving the sacrament. But since my reversion, I make it a point to go at least once a month. The graces received from the sacrament are incredible, and being forgiven from my sins is true freedom. All those years I was in bondage to the sins that were keeping me from truly loving God and my neighbor, while I thought I was free from the limits of the Catholic religion. I'm still falling down from time to time, but at least now I have the sense to get out of the gutter.

Sadly, this young person is still in the gutter. She didn't receive any grace from the sacrament, having willfully withheld known sins (mortal ones, at that!), despite her "feeling" that she was healed. Not only that, describing the sacrament as a"ritual that mimics God's forgiveness" betrays her immaturity. I imagine the reason the priest asked if there were any other sins was because she only confessed two, despite having not gone in over a year. It's a fair question - and from her admission that she had held back on several others, it seems to me that she knew. That deep in her heart, while she wouldn't consciously admit it, she knew that those other behaviors were truly sinful.

We tend to have two reactions to our sinful behavior: we either admit it (sometimes sooner, sometimes later) and seek forgiveness, or we rationalize it in order to prevent guilty feelings and shame. It might make life on Earth a bit easier and most likely more fun, to ignore the objective nature of sin, and just focus on the subjective side of personal behavior. But in the end, perhaps when it's too late, the years of rationalizating only served to keep us separate from God's mercy and love.

So to answer the question: what is Catholicism without sin? Quite simply, it wouldn't be Catholicism. It's denying the authority of the Church. It's Me-ism, where there's room for neither God nor neighbor.