In recent times the comment frequently arises, What’s happened to sin? Where has sin gone? There is a perceptible discomfort in our culture with the notion of sin as an evil for which we must give an account to God, our Creator, Redeemer, and Judge. This tendency applies not just to everyday evil acts, but even more so to Original Sin, something that seems to have little to do with us. The origin of this attitude may be found in an underdeveloped sense of Revelation: “Without the knowledge Revelation gives of God we cannot recognize sin clearly and are tempted to explain it as merely a developmental flaw, a psychological weakness, a mistake. . . . Only in the knowledge of God’s plan . . . can we grasp that sin is an abuse of the freedom that God gives to created persons” (CCC, no. 387).
Connected with this is the popular notion or attitude of self-help. According to this attitude, all we need to do is fill the mind with lots of inspirational knowledge and reach out for insights. In this viewpoint, we are able to resolve all our shortfalls by ourselves. But sin is not a weakness we can overcome by our own effort. It is a condition from which we need to be saved. Jesus is our Savior.
Central to our journey of faith is the awareness of forces within us that oppose each other and cause us conflict. One drive flows from our being created in the image of God, with all the gifts and abilities that brings. The other force results from the effects of Original Sin, which can cause us to act with selfishness and malice. In his Letter to the Romans, St. Paul describes his own experience of this conflict: “What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate…. For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want” (Rom 7:15, 19). He had actually met the Risen Lord Jesus in an extraordinary vision on the Damascus Road and later saw eternal glory itself (cf. 2 Cor 12:2). But he still experienced the inner war within his soul caused by the aftereffects of Original Sin. In maddening frustration, he cried out, “Miserable one that I am! Who will deliver me from this mortal body?” (Rom 7:24). It was his faith that “where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more” (Rom 5:20).
No matter how sinful we human beings become, the desire for God never dies while we are on earth. No matter how holy we grow, the sting of evil always gnaws at us from the effects of Original Sin. St. Paul shared with us his spiritual struggle on the journey to holiness. He gives us courage. In Jesus Christ, we can overcome the power of sin, for it is the Lord’s desire that all come to salvation.
You can read more from the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, order your own copy, or read questions about it at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website.
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