Calvin Coolidge, our 30th President, had the reputation for being a man of few words. His nickname was “Silent Cal.” He was also known to have a dry sense of humor. There is a story that he went to church one Sunday while his wife, who wasn’t feeling well, stayed home.
When Coolidge returned, his wife asked him, “How was the preacher’s sermon?” He answered, “Good.”
“What was it about?”,she asked. “Sin,” he answered.
“Well, what did the preacher say about it?”, his wife asked in frustration. Silent Cal thought a moment and then replied, “He was against it.”
I don’t know if this story is authentic or apocryphal, but in any case it makes some good points. First, Coolidge went to church and listened to the sermon. Second, the sermon was about sin – an all-but-forgotten topic these days (of course, this would have probably taken place around the 1920s). Third, the preacher spoke against it – not excusing it.
WHAT HAPPENED TO SIN?
I am reminded of a book by Karl Menninger, a psychiatrist, entitled Whatever Became of Sin? It was published in 1973 and even back then the author said that the word “sin” seems to have disappeared. He asked, “Why? Doesn’t anyone sin anymore? Doesn’t anyone believe in sin?”
Decades before, in 1946, the Venerable Pope Pius XII had stated in a public radio address: “Perhaps the greatest sin in the world today is that men have begun to lose the sense of sin.”
Sin, unfortunately, is as old as creation itself, making its appearance in the first pages of the Bible, with Adam and Eve and the serpent in the Garden of Eden. The original sin, depicted as eating the forbidden fruit, was followed by other sins, including marriage discord with Adam blaming Eve. There was also fratricide, with Cain killing Abel. By chapter 6 of Genesis, it is related that “the wickedness of man was great” and “no desire that his heart conceived was ever anything but evil.” That is when the Lord decided to send the Flood.
All of this seems to beg the question, “Why did the concept of sin seem to disappear around the middle of the 20th century and into the first quarter of the 21st?” Surely God did not change His mind about it. Even when heaven and earth pass away, God’s word will never pass away (cf. Matt. 24:35). What does God’s word say about sin?
SCRIPTURE IS NOT SILENT ON SIN
There are lists of various sins scattered throughout the entire Bible. We see examples especially in the gospels and epistles. I would like to present a sample list here, based upon the Ten Commandments.
Idolatry; worship of false gods/goddesses; any occult activity or involvement
Irreverence in speech toward or about the Lord
Failure to worship the Lord on Sunday
Failure to honor and respect parents and legitimate authority
Taking of innocent human life, including life of the pre-born
Misuse of sex; adultery, fornication, homosexual activity
Stealing; cheating; fraud
Lying; slander; harming the reputation of others
Coveting the spouse of another
Coveting the goods of another
Of course, this list is by no means exhaustive but would serve as a general outline. There are also the Seven Capital Sins, which used to be a staple of catechism lessons in years gone by: pride, greed, lust, anger, gluttony, envy and sloth (laziness). These are called “Capital” because they are sources or roots of many other sins.
Fr. Michael Scanlan, TOR, of happy memory, gave a prophetic word in January 1980 at a meeting of leaders in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. I was present when this was given and remember it well. It continues to leave a lasting impression even to this day. I would like to quote an excerpt from that that prophecy here:
“What I have not accomplished by blessings and gifts, I will accomplish by judgment and purification. My people, my Church is desperately in need of this judgment. They have continued in an adulterous relationship with the spirit of this world. They are not only infected with sin, but they teach sin, pamper sin, embrace sin, dismiss sin.”
Think about that… “infected with sin…teach sin…pamper sin…embrace sin…dismiss sin.” What a description, not only of secular society but, in many respects, of what has been going on with some leaders in the Church itself. These words are probably more relevant now, after 40 years, than back in 1980. Do we wonder, then, that the world and the Church are both experiencing judgment and purification!
I remember once telling my confessor, “I wish that I had never sinned.” It was, and still is, a sincere wish. I had that same thought when contemplating a full-size model of how Jesus would have looked when placed in the tomb, based on the record of the Passion found in the Shroud of Turin. It’s impossible to remain unmoved at the sight of what sin – my sin – had caused!
How many of us have said, “I wish that Adam and Eve had not sinned”? But Scripture and the Church have a different understanding, based on Redemption in Christ. St. Paul says that Jesus, who knew no sin, became sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (cf. 2 Cor. 5:21). Paul also says that “where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Rom. 5:20). The Easter Proclamation, the Exultet, sings:
“O truly necessary sin of Adam, destroyed completely by the Death of Christ! O happy fault that earned for us so great, so glorious a Redeemer!”
GO NOW, AND SIN NO MORE
I think it is helpful to always keep Original Sin before us, along with “grace that much more abounds” in Christ Jesus our Lord. But for that very reason, let us resolve to avoid all sin like the plague (or pandemic!). The words of Hebrews 10:29 make a fitting conclusion: “How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by the man who has spurned the Son of God, and profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and outraged the spirit of grace.”
May our prayer be: “Lord, I trust you to do whatever you have to do that I may never spurn the Son of God, never profane the blood of the covenant, never outrage the spirit of grace. Amen.” Like the preacher in the opening story, when it comes to sin let us always be “against it.”