Called to Conversion
We are all called to conversion. This was a fundamental part of the proclamation of the kingdom of God and the Gospel. The first call to Christ and His Gospel leads us to Baptism in which we receive “the forgiveness of all sins and the gift of new life (CCC 1427).” However, there is a second conversion which is the movement of the grace of God drawing us to do penance and to be renewed in Him.
In his writing on the “Lord and Giver of Life”, St. John Paul II writes:
“Conversion requires convincing of sin; it includes the interior judgment of conscience, and this, being a proof of the action of the Spirit of truth in man’s inmost being, becomes at the same time the start of a new grant of grace and love: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’ Thus in this ‘convincing concerning sin’ we discover a double gift: the gift of the truth of conscience and the gift of the certainty of redemption. the Spirit of truth is the Consoler (DeV 31 #2).”
We will briefly define sin and then discuss its effects. Then, we will end by looking at these wonderful gifts of the truth of conscience and the certainty of redemption.
What is Sin?
The call to repentance and conversion means a turning around or turning away from something. This thing which we are fleeing is sin. From the outset, we must remember that God’s grace is bigger than any sin. As St. Paul says, “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more (Rom. 5:20).” And so, we run to Him who freed us. But what exactly is sin?
Put simply: sin is an offense against God and all reason, truth, and right conscience. It comes from a Greek archery term meaning to “miss the mark.” Sin is a failure to love. Where we perceive a good, we are missing that it is contrary to the law of God.
A sin of grave matter done with full knowledge and full intent of the will breaks our relationship with God. This kind of sin is called “mortal sin.” Venial sin is still sin, and so is still serious, but does not kill our soul within us. After coming to contrition for past sin, we should immediately ask God for forgiveness, and we will receive it. Of course, if it is mortal sin, then we will need to go to the Sacrament of Penance to receive sacramental absolution as soon as possible.
Sin is, ultimately, disobedience. God alone knows right from wrong and so has given us His law to follow. By choosing a lesser good or failing to do good, we are making ourselves like God, knowing good from evil. This leads to our fall from grace. Due to our fallen world, we are all part of this problem of sin:
“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 Jn. 1:8-9).”
The Effects of Sin
When we sin, there are always negative effects. There is no such thing as a private sin. All sins affect at least us and our relationship with God and likely extends to others as well. The negative effect of sin is a greater attachment to sin and the temporal effects of sin. There can also be a psychological sense of shame. One other effect of sin, which is not necessarily negative is guilt. Let us take some time looking at these a bit further.
Attachment to Sin
No one sins thinking that they are doing something that is completely devoid of good. When we choose to sin, we are choosing what we perceive to be good. However, we could be choosing a lesser good when we are obliged to choose a greater good. We may be choosing a good at an inappropriate time. Other times, we might fail to act out of the perceived good of self-preservation.
Whatever the intention is of the sinful action or inaction that we chose, we have formed an attachment to sin. Because of our attachments to sin, we may find ourselves falling into the same sins over and over. Do you ever go to Confession and feel like you are just confessing exactly what you did last time? If so, you are not alone.
Temporal Effects of Sin
As I said before, there is no private sin. Our sins affect our soul, our relationship with God, our relationship with others, and our relationship with the created order. For more serious sins, these effects are sometimes irreversible.
For example, if negligence or passions lead to murder or dismemberment, there is no immediate solution for this injustice. These are rather extreme examples, but we could think of the sins of detraction and calumny. Detraction, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, is “the unjust damaging of another’s good name by the revelation of some fault or crime of which that other is really guilty or at any rate is seriously believed to be guilty by the defamer.” Calumny is the same, but the calumniator knows what they are saying is false.
In both cases (detraction and calumny), the third party has a tarnished view of the person being discussed, whose good name and reputation are called into question. These are sins against charity and justice. The tarnished reputation is one of the temporal effects of this sin, as is the effect on the soul of the person committing the sin as well as the person taking part. Everyone has been wounded.
Just like in civil court, restitution is demanded by sin. When we sin, we need to do everything we can to restore a sense of justice. Moved with sorrow for our actions, we seek restitution. Primarily through the Sacrament of Penance, we are restored to relationship with God and then pray and work to restore our relationship with others. In the Sacrament of Penance, the sin is forgiven, but these temporal effects of sin remain.
For example, if you are playing baseball in the street and hit the ball through your neighbor’s windows, what should you do? Well, first you feel contrition. Then, you go and apologize to your neighbor. Hopefully, your neighbor forgives you (God always forgives us, by the way). But is that it? No! We need to pay to replace the window. We need to make restitution.
Guilt and Shame
Guilt and shame are part of the effects of sin. Guilt can really be a gift that moves us to repentance. Shame, on the other hand, has limited value. It might be helpful to think of guilt as conviction and shame as condemnation.
Condemnation is from Satan. It is unhelpful and contrary to the mercy of God. Condemnation and shame seek to have us wallow in our sinfulness and sit with the pain of having done wrong. However, there is no way out of this. Satan wants us to come further into sin by adding the sin of despair.
On the other hand, the Holy Spirit convicts us to repent and sin no more. So, guilt moves us to feel sorrow for sin so that we can hand it over to our loving God who forgives us and heals our brokenness.
The Gift of Conscience and the Certainty of Redemption
All of this about sin is what we could call the “Bad News.” But Jesus came to share with us the “Good News.” The Bad News is that our first parents fell from grace and the natural order was negatively affected. Then, inclined to sin as we are, we personally choose to sin and disobey God in so many ways. But, Jesus Christ, our God made Flesh, came to heal, preach, teach, and offer His life as a ransom for our sinfulness. He died on the Cross and rose from the dead so that we might live. He broke the bonds of sin and death and gave us true freedom.
In our freedom, He gave us the ability to form our conscience, to know right from wrong based on what He has revealed to us. God wants us to listen to our conscience, but He also expects us to form our conscience in Him and in the mind of the Church.
Following what the Church has taught to be revealed by God, we plant ourselves on the firm foundation of Jesus Christ. In Him is the fullness of redemption. So, no matter how far into sin we stray, He is the solution for our brokenness. He alone can heal us and make us whole. In Him, is the certainty of redemption, if we love Him and keep His commandments.
Do not despair. Do not grow weary. Do not be afraid. So many times, the Sacred Scriptures remind us to put our trust in God and hold fast to Him. If you find yourself moved by your conscience to repent of sins you have committed, then repent! God’s forgiveness and love is always ready for you.