Grace: Ask for a healthy sense of shame before God as I consider the effects of sin in my life.
Text for Prayer: Romans 5:1-11
Reflection: There are two aspects we need to examine as we ask for a deep-felt knowledge of the consequences of sin in our lives. First, this meditation is an opportunity to be honest with ourselves about what sin does in our lives. We cannot accept the relief of what Jesus did for us in taking our sins on himself without first having to experience the agonizing truth about our sins. Secondly, we need to realize that there is no need to dwell on guilt and shame. The meditation on the consequences of sin in our lives is a meditation on the mercy of God the Father. Sin is a turning away from God and as we meditate on what it does in our lives, we are called to turn to God and fix our eyes on his liberating mercy. We ask for a healthy sense of shame, a heartfelt knowledge of the effects of pride, envy, lust and greed in our lives.
In “The Premature Burial,” Edgar Allan Poe tells the story of the young wife of a prominent member of congress, who is erroneously pronounced dead and buried alive. She revived shortly after her burial and struggled within the coffin in a futile attempt to escape her ghastly prison. Poe features cataleptics – people who fall into death-like trances – who are buried alive in some of his other stories: “Berenice,” “The Cask of Amontillado” and “The Fall of the House of Usher.” Being a narcoleptic – a condition he deemed similar to being a cataleptic – Poe feared being buried alive. As he expressed in the voice of the narrator of “The Premature Burial,” “The true wretchedness is to be buried while alive.”
These premature burials are an ideal illustration of the consequences of sin in our lives. We live locked in coffins, deaf and blind of the true beauty of the world. Another case in point is Théoden King, from The Lord of the Rings, who reigned in Rohan, and over time was misled, poisoned and controlled by his chief advisor Grima Wormtongue. With his mind and will poisoned, Théoden sat powerless in his throne unable to care for his people. Sin poisons our minds, hearts and wills. It leads us away from our true purpose in life: to praise, reverence and serve God.
It is wretched to go through life without truly living. St. Ireneaus, the early Church father, reminds us that the glory of God is the human being fully alive. Jesus came that we might have life and have it more in abundance (Jn 10:10). Sin makes us cataleptic dead; shadows of our former, real selves. For the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23). That spiritual and physical death does not take place in a vacuum; it occurs in our lives, in our communities, and in the world.
Sin wounds our human nature and injures our human solidarity (CCC 1849). It makes us feel isolated, impotent, tepid and worthless. It engenders vice through repetition of the same acts. We abuse the freedom God has given us and make choices that hurt others, ourselves and our relationship with God.
As we contemplate sin, we are invited to contemplate the beauty and power of God’s mercy. We are called to rejoice in God’s passionate love for us. We turn away from sin and turn to God. As Pope Benedict XVI said in a homily before the conclave that elected him, “Encountering Christ means encountering the mercy of God.” When we encounter God’s mercy, we are filled with gratitude. As we contemplate our own brokenness and sinfulness, St. Ignatius invites us to turn with awe and gratitude to the Lord to consider how we have been sustained by his wonderful love:
Notwithstanding our own sinfulness we have always been faithfully helped and served by all of creation, the material universe, and so many other persons. We are still alive and have always been recipients of so many gifts and favors, God is still nurturing us. Hence we pass in review all creatures; how is it that they have permitted us to live, and have sustained us in life? Why have the angels and saints prayed for us; and why have heavens, sun, moon, stars and the elements continued to be available for us at our constant service ! Why are we even alive! (Spiritual Exercises, n. 60).
Let us turn to Christ upon the cross and speak to him, as one friend speaks to another, about the consequences of sin in our lives, and the gratitude that fills our hearts for knowing ourselves loved and forgiven sinners. Let us allow this great grace to touch our hearts.