This past week the Church celebrated the feast of Saint Aloysius, that paragon of virtue and high sanctity. He was known to have so trained his will and so disciplined his mind that, after his death, his priest confessor could testify that the saint had probably never committed a mortal sin all his (rather brief) life.
Reading his biography in the breviary each year I feel a holy envy for this most remarkable young man who managed to preserve his innocence -- not in a social vacuum but surrounded by the many enticing evils proposed to him by the noble class into which he was born. With his eyes ever downcast (he never looked into a woman's eyes), with long hours of prayer and many bodily penances, Aloysius always carefully guarded and conserved the treasure of sanctifying grace in his soul. Yet these impressive means, assiduously practiced, could not of themselves account entirely for his unsullied life. There's no possible way for anyone to merit (in the literal sense) the grace of sinlessness. As a grace properly so called, it is a God-given gift which our Lord freely (and rarely, it seems) grants. That said, however, one may surmise that God grants this special preservative grace only to certain souls in view of the fact that they pursue with unrelenting persistence the path of sanctity. I mention this being both a sinner myself and a confessor who knows the great desire to cease committing sin and to be perpetually pleasing to God in every aspect of life. And yet, sin appears to have a kind of inevitability about it. Try as one may, sin happens as sure as metal tarnishes, weeds sprout, and dust settles. Yet this dim view of the inevitability of moral failings -- a form of determinism -- is false. Man always retains internal moral freedom such that no one ever must succumb to sin. This is the point of doctrine. And yet, there is the near universally experienced feeling that sin cannot be entirely avoided, which is true only in the cas of venial sin unless God were to confer that special preventive grace mentioned above.
No one then can "buy" the grace of perseverance. There is no "insurance policy" such that one can pray hard or pledge many good deeds so as to ward off the possibility of succumbing to future sin. All one can do is to pray regularly and undertake appropriate penitential disciplines in the hope that by these means one would have the strength always to resist sin -- with the help of divine grace. If there is a relapse into sin, the sincere Christian understandably become distraught. Recidivism is a cause of anguish for many penitents. How, one asks himself, is it possible to have failed God yet once again? Despondancy, despair, however is never the right response to the feeling of helplessness that can grip the sinner who relapses into sin. As an attempt at offering consolation to the recurring sinner, I offer a few thoughts.
The first is that God has a reason for permitting all things that happen, sin included. That may sound slightly blasphemous since God abhors sin, yet there's a distinction between His willing sin (an impossibility) and His permitting it to happen. In this latter sense God may allow acquiescence to sin as a means of humbling the proud sinner, of making him pray more fervently, of moving him to admit his sins to the priest, of leading him to acquire a deep contrition, of learning compassion for the failings of others, or of demonstrating and proving His mercy and compassion. Another thing to consider is that sin easily becomes accustomed, ingrained behavior, embedded into the emotional system as a kind of reflexive response. Hence sincere attempts to eradicate sin must contend with a powerful, compelling force.
These attempted rationales for the ongoing commission of sin should not be taken as dismissive of its true malice and its consequences, nor should they slight the requirement for the repentant sinner to make a decisive, firm intention to sin no more. Sin truly is evil, and the result of unpardoned mortal sin is eternal hell after death. The reform of one's life must be the unrelenting duty of everyone, and no one may excuse himself from frequenting the confessional. God who permits sin has also provided its remedy in the sacrament of Confession. My purpose in writing you on this subject is to give you encouragement. You are not alone in being a sinner. Sin is one of the (unfortunate) unifying things about the human reace for nearly everybody (Our Lady and John the Baptist for sure, Saints Aloysius and Therese probably). Come then to confess your sins with childlike simplicity and with a straightforward honesty which recognizes that God's compassionating goodness and forgiveness is far greater than the regrettably wretched commission of your sins.
Monday, June 27, 2016
Fr. Eduard Perrone, "A Pastor's Descant" (Assumption Grotto News, June 26, 2016):