Tag Archives: sinners

The Error of His Ways

Who am I to judge?

James 5:20

Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.

“Judge not, lest you be judged,”[1] we are told directly from the Bible. And yet, we are also told that we should correct people when they are wrong and work with the Holy Spirit to convert sinners. But… how do we know if someone is wrong or a sinner in need of conversion if we aren’t supposed to judge? The conflict here, I believe, arises from a confusion in language – not a confusion in moral guidelines.

First of all, what does it mean to be a sinner?

And, second of all, what does it mean to judge?

Every one of us is a sinner. How do I know? Because we are human – not divine. We have been divinely created with the gift of free will and that means that, sometimes, we choose poorly. To sin is to miss the mark of our full potentials, of the ideal – to choose poorly. Now, sometimes, we can choose poorly by making an innocent mistake and, in this case, our “sin” is less severe and we are less culpable for it (it’s easier to get back on the right path.) But, then, there are other times when we know that we shouldn’t do something (because it isn’t good for us or for someone else) and, yet, we choose to do it anyway. This second scenario is certainly more serious, but in both cases, we are committing sins by heading in the wrong direction – away from truth, away from love, away from goodness… and, so, away from God. If we continue making decisions that take us down inferior paths, straying further and further from who we are created to be, further and further away from God who is truth, love, and goodness itself, then we will have failed our souls, the very essence of we are. And that’s not good.

So… what if we see someone that we love making bad decisions and straying further and further away from love and goodness? Do we throw up our hands saying, “Who am I to judge?” Or do we try to help them? So many times, Christians are accused of being judgmental. The Catholic religion is sometimes seen as a system of harsh judgments imposed on people. But the people who think this way simply don’t understand the true meaning of Christian correction. Of course, there will be people in every religion who are, no doubt, overly critical and condemning, but I want to look at the Christian religion as a whole.

In Christianity, the right kind of “judging” is a prayerful and compassionate discerning of God’s ways – in our actions as well as the actions of others. Who among us would judge the murder of a child as the right thing to do, as what God wants us to do? Is it loving? Is it kind? (You know… as I’m writing this, I’m thinking that I should have written “the murder of a healthy child”, since some claim an act of mercy when putting a disabled child “out of her misery” – and I think that I will probably have to also add “the murder of a healthy child who has already been born”. How sad is it that I’m having a hard time phrasing this bad act so that everyone can agree that it’s bad?!) Is the willful, systematic torturing of a four-year-old a good thing? Can’t we, at least, all come together on this and judge – yes, judge – it as a bad act that should not be committed? Who are we to judge? We are human beings. We are compassionate human beings who want to help those who are suffering. So, we should judge the bad act and remove the victim from the control of the perpetrator, and we should protect other children by making sure that the perpetrator doesn’t hurt anyone else. As good Christians, we should also give the perpetrator the help that he or she needs in order to make better choices and to stop cruelly missing the mark of love. Yes, our “judgments” must be designed to help. We are to love one another. And we cannot love one another if we let each other stray and stumble down dark and dismal paths without breathing one word of warning or correction.

To put in a simple way…

You love your child. Do you let your child run out into traffic to play? Your child is happily and willingly running out into the middle of the street – what do you do? Do you spoil your child’s fun by yelling out “Don’t!”? Or, do you let your child figure things out for herself – after all, who are you to say what should or should not be done? You make mistakes, often, yourself.

Of course, if you truly love your child, then you will instruct your child not to run out into the middle of the street. You will inform your children about the dangers of cars and traffic so that they will know what NOT to do. And, if they forget or ignore your wisdom, you will correct them – even if that means yelling so that you can be heard or pulling them by the arm so that they don’t get hit by an oncoming vehicle. You do these things because you love.

Applying this to the larger world, to society, I can hear the argument that this is good for a child. But, adults need to be allowed to make their own decisions, right or wrong. Well… I have a friend who smokes cigarettes. She also has allergies and asthma that requires an inhaler. She knows that she shouldn’t smoke – but she does it anyway. Should I agree with her when she says that one cigarette a day isn’t that bad? If she is truly my friend, and I lovingly care about her, then I will not agree to that. No, I’m not going to bash her over the head with her poor decision again and again every time I see her – but I am going to gently remind her, every time she is wheezing or coughing, how much better she would feel without smoking and how much healthier she would be. Sometimes, with just a loving and pitying look. She knows.

Everyone needs help. If I see a man in the street talking to his wife as if she’s nothing but dirt and then hitting her, will I just stand by, mute, thinking, “Who am I to judge?” Or will I take action to help both the wife and the abusive man? I am certainly not doing God’s work, I am certainly not being a kind person, if I do absolutely nothing to help. I need to make a judgment. I need to take action. If I don’t… well, then, I am not a good Christian. I am a wuss. And worse, I am an enabler of violence.

So, what is Christianity to do in the world? We, as people in a society, regardless of religion, should be able to identify bad acts that are hurtful to people and do what we can to help. But, we don’t always. We trip over ourselves trying not to offend anyone, trying not to be too “judgmental”. And the bad acts multiply. The Church wants to be clear. There are paths that people can walk upon that are destructive – not only to others, but also to the people walking along them. And the Church wants to do everything possible to help people get off of the paths of destruction and get onto the path of life. Although we can say that full conversion would be conversion to Christianity, the first conversion, very often, must be to humanity. Recognize when people are straying from the fullness of being human – from love, goodness, decency, compassion, kindness – and help them back to the fullness. Help them to see the error of their ways, to reconcile relationships broken and damaged by bad behavior, and to deal with emotions and past experiences in a constructive way that will lead to healing and wholeness. This is what Christ teaches. (This is who Christ is.) And anyone who wants to live the Christian life must take up the mission of Christ and not shrug shoulders in a completely misplaced idea of mercy that is actually only apathy.

While we are helping others, we must make sure that we, ourselves, are keeping to the path of love and goodness – that we are always acting in selfless compassion, strong in the truth, strong in love, ever kind, ever generous, and always gentle when needed. Full conversion comes when we bring Christ to people who are suffering (and who among us isn’t suffering in some way?) bringing Christ by being like Christ. And when those who need help witness and experience the joyful, loving way in which we give help… well, that is the path of the Holy Spirit and, as we follow Christ, we will lead by example. That’s what Christianity is and does.

© 2014 Christina Chase

[1] Matthew 7:1

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For the Faithful Fail

Q: What does it take for evil to prevail?

A: For the good to do nothing.

Q: What, then, happens to the good?…

Psalms 12:1-2

  1. Help, LORD; for the godly man ceaseth; for the faithful fail from among the children of men.

 

They speak vanity every one with his neighbour: with flattering lips and with a double heart do they speak.

How much of what you deal with every day is truth and how much is error and deception? When we hear something over and over, from different sources in different places, we tend to take it as reality, without really thinking about it ourselves. Have the different sources just been repeating what they heard without thinking for themselves, likewise? Take, for example, religion.

Going to church

Perhaps, you have heard that church is for sinners – this from God-believing people who don’t feel the need to attend a church. My great-aunt Gini told me this several times. At first, I tried to rebuke her statement because she was trying to use it to prove that attendance of worship services should not be an integral, or required, part of faith. But, I soon saw my error. She was saying something very true: Church, or church attendance, or religion itself, is for sinners. And every human being is a sinner, because no human being lives up to the fullness of his or her potential every moment of every day.

Accepting the truth

To be a sinner is not to be damned to Hell for eternity. To be a sinner is to be a fallen human – and we are all fallen. To recognize and acknowledge oneself as a sinner is to understand the divide between human and divine, between temporal love and eternal love, between partial beauty and goodness and the fullness of beauty and goodness. This doesn’t mean that the divide is impossible to traverse – we, as humans, do not possess the inherent ability, but God grants us the ability through His Son, Jesus Christ, who is fully human and fully divine. Through his life, passion, death, resurrection, and ascension and through our acceptance and reception of the divine mercy and love that pours forth from this Paschal Mystery through Christ’s Mystical Body, we are saved, we are redeemed.

Listening and understanding

See? You might hear and repeat that “church is for sinners” and think that you don’t need to go to worship service – but you don’t understand what a sinner is or what church is. As goodhearted a person as you may be, you will be dealing in errors and lies. After realizing this, I responded to my aunt’s statement by saying, “Yep. That’s why I go to church. Because I’m a sinner.” I didn’t point fingers at her – I pointed them at me.

“God is for sissies”

Or, perhaps you have heard that religion itself – that the worship of God – is for the frightened and weak-minded, the elderly, the suffering, the disabled, and the poor. This false idea is much harder to rebut in the world, though it must be rebuked if we are to live in the truth. The belief in and worship of God, or religion as I will call it here, is not merely a comforting mythology to keep the less-endowed people from feeling the sorrow of their pathetic lives. How arrogant and deceitful a thought!

Prove it

Yet, how do we convince the self-deceived liars about the truth of religion?

Well, we certainly can’t do it by living in lies and errors ourselves. We can’t demonstrate to the world the profound and universal power of religion for good, for beauty, for justice and for love if we gossip after church about all the things that we think other people are doing wrong in their lives, gossiping in lowered voices lest those other people hear us.

We can’t prove to the world the transcendent and imminent presence of God who loves every human being infinitely and intimately if we pass by panhandlers on the street with shameful looks, wondering what drug addiction those beggars are trying to use our money to fill, or if we respond to other calls for charitable donations with a closed, cautious wallet, stating that we can’t afford to help – and then open our wallets at Starbucks or for a third, fifth, 27th (?) pair of shoes.

We can’t show the deep and abiding need for God and God’s mercy in every human being, even the richest and most successful, if we do not ourselves allow God’s mercy to flower in us so that we may forgive those who have hurt us, or even just irritated us, and be healed by that forgiving.

Good people

I just watched the movie Philomena. Although I would not use it specifically as Catholic apologetics, I would share with you the “little old Irish woman” as she is portrayed in the film as an example of a healthy Catholic response of truth in a world full of deception, anger, shamed secrets, and lies. She is a devoutly believing Catholic and, it would seem, a very simple human being. She is certainly not well-educated or well-versed, and she is not going to be able to rebut her atheist, fallen-away Catholic companion with well-reasoned arguments or clever repartée.

But, she is very straightforward and humble. She is not afraid to be a sinner – because she knows that everyone is – and, so, too, she is not afraid of sinners. She is horribly wronged, wounded, betrayed, and deceived by nuns who profess the faith that she loves. And she is angry. So angry that, even though she seeks the healing of the Sacraments of her Church, she passes by them, so overcome with emotions is she. In the end, however, she is able to do something that the witty, atheistic reporter accompanying her cannot: she can forgive.

Forgiving the nuns is hard for her, one of the hardest things that she’s ever done, but it is how she lives. Forgiveness is how she lives because she has been living deep and true belief in and worship of God all of her life. While some Catholics, like the reporter, have been swayed by their own disappointments, failures, cynicism, and the clever deceptions of the world to deny their faith and deny God, Philomena has remained true. And he, the reporter, is smart enough to see the amazing and powerful value of Philomena’s faith.

Blessed are the poor – not because they can be easily fooled into believing comforting and valuable fairytales, oh no. Blessed are the poor because they are not easily fooled into believing that God, who is the source of all existence and the truth of every loving life, is nothing but trivial nonsense.

© 2014 Christina Chase

To Every Man That Is among You

Get over yourself.

Romans 12:3

For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.

The season of Lent (40 observation days leading up to Easter) is not wholly about ashes and sackcloth, mea culpa, mea culpa, in sorrowful repentance of our sins.  Lent is a time to focus deeply on the examination of conscience, to look deeply at our thoughts, fears, desires, as well as our words and deeds – scrutinizing our attitudes and every decision, big and small, that we make each day.  This is a time that we should devote to the Socratic maxim, “Know thyself.”  And when we take a really good look at ourselves, our conclusions should not be that we are stupid, useless or worthless – just as our conclusions should not be that we are superior to all other human beings, utterly magnificent in everything that we say and do.  We are utterly magnificent in one regard: God created us in Divine image and likeness and loves us enough to take on our humanity and die for us.  For this sacred reason, no human being is worthless.

For this sacred reason – and for this sacred reason alone – every human being is valuable, is precious.  We may think that God loves us because we have professed belief in His Son, Our Lord, Jesus Christ and/or because we do good things that are helpful to others.  But, that’s not why God loves us.  God doesn’t love me because I smile despite being physically disabled and in a wheelchair.  God doesn’t love you because you praise His Holy Name from a pulpit or in a blog.  God doesn’t love them because they are poor and simple or them because they are successful and generous.  God loves each and every human being because God loves each and every human being.  God loves because that’s what God does, because that is exactly who God is.  We have done nothing, and can do nothing, to deserve or merit God’s love – because God has already done it for us.  We are lovable precisely because God independently chooses to bring us into being through His Own Creative Love, to sustain us through His Grace, and to heal, redeem, and sanctify us through His Only Begotten Son.

We should never think of ourselves as any more than this.  And we should never think of ourselves as any less than this.  Being able to grasp the reality of who we are is, well, beyond our grasp – but we come closest when we remember that God loves every human being.  You know that person who really hurt you and doesn’t even seem to realize how badly, even though you tried to explain it to her?  God loves that person intimately and infinitely.  You know that person who is always so arrogant and says such terribly cruel things about other people?  God loves that person intimately and infinitely.  God takes no joy in their sins – God takes no joy in our sins – but He eternally loves sinners.  That means that God eternally loves us, each and every human being no matter what we do, no matter how badly we screw up His Commandments or how well we keep them.  The question that God needs to have answered is the very question that we need to ask ourselves: will we allow God to love us?

Maybe you thought that I was going to write that the question is whether or not we will choose to love God.  I thought about it.  But, then I wordlessly remembered in my heart (or the wordless memory was pushed forward for me) that we love because God first loved us (1 John 4:19).  The only reason at all that I can love anyone or anything is because God loves me.  So, even if I want to love God, I must first let God love me.  What does that mean?  What does that mean…?  It means that I have to know who I am – who I truly, honestly, eternally am.

I am God’s beloved creation – as is every human being that has ever, and will ever, come into being.  Not me alone – all of us.  I do not need to think of myself any more highly than this to be completely and utterly fulfilled in joy and goodness, in the greatness of destiny.  And I do not need to think of myself any lower than this to please the One Who loved me into existence.  Yes, I have, independently according to freewill, chosen to be unloving at times, many times, through my fault, my fault, my most grievous fault – and by so doing I have sinned in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do.  These moments of self-centered decision, these sins, are when I did not allow God to love me – I did not allow God to lead me in my choices (for, all-loving God will always lead us to the best place for us) and I did not allow God to love my fellow human beings, to love all of His Creation, through me.  Somehow, in some way, I said “No” to Divine Will, which is Divine Love, and that is why I am sorrowing here, that is why I am dissatisfied, that is why I am longing for forgiveness and mercy and newness of life.  Forgiveness and Mercy and Newness of Life is precisely what God wants to give to me through His Love.  Will I choose to receive?

I am only human, and, as such, I can only do so much.  But, God can do everything.  Will I let Him?  Because the thing is… God loves me enough never to force me.

Christina Chase