What’s sin got to do with it?

Three letters. Begins with the letter “s.” Often makes people very uncomfortable to talk about. Can you guess what I’m talking about?

Yes, sin. An older gentleman recently remarked to me that “talking about sin is very much out of vogue these days. You don’t want to scare the young people away by talking about that kind of stuff.” While talking about sin is certainly not the first place that I would begin a conversation, having an understanding of sin is crucial to our understanding of ourselves, our relationship with others and with God. The abundant love and mercy of the Father and forgiveness cannot be spoken of without also understanding sin.

So let’s break down what sin is and what it means for each of us, especially during this penitential season of Lent.

The question posted by a newspaper, “What is wrong with the world?” was answered by Catholic author and writer G.K. Chesterton as follows:

Dear Sirs:

I am.

Sincerely Yours,

G.K. Chesterton.

“I am.” These two words are our starting point for an understanding of sin.

Relationships are damaged because of lies, broken promises and betrayal. When you are in a relationship with someone and you continuously hurt them, your relationship becomes broken. Refusing to admit any wrongdoing and refusing to apologize can break relationships, seemingly beyond repair.

Our relationship with God is broken because of sin. A sin is a choice that goes against God’s love. Sin is how we say “no” to God. Sin damages our relationships with God and other people, leaving a trail of destruction and sorrow in its wake.

Many times through our actions, we have turned from God and refused to admit our failures and wrongdoing. We hurt ourselves, those we love and damage our relationship with God. Sin has a triple effect. It weakens our relationship with God, it affects our relationships with others and it denigrates and damages our true sense of who we really are — as children of God created in his image and likeness.

Archbishop Fulton Sheen found a very creative way to express the reality of sin using the metaphor of a battery.

Batteries have two terminals on each end — the positive side (+) called the cathode and the negative side known as the anode (-). If you want your car to run correctly, the battery must be engaged with the positive and the negative sides properly connected. If you have two positives, your car will not run, nor will it run with two negatives.

We need to hear the good news of salvation but also to hear the effects of sin. If we do not keep those in balance, the Christian life will not be a fully charged one! So how can we make amends? The Catechism of the Catholic Church lists many ways for the Christian (CCC, nos. 1434-1439) to express interior penance, including the following:

  • Fasting, prayer and almsgiving.
  • Efforts at reconciliation with one’s neighbor.
  • The intercession of the saints.
  • The practice of charity.
  • Gestures of reconciliation.
  • Concern for the poor.
  • The exercise and defense of justice and right.
  • Examination of conscience.
  • Spiritual direction.
  • Celebration of the sacraments of penance and reconciliation and Eucharist.

We, too, need to keep the negative and positive in mind when it comes to our faith life. Jesus did not say to us, “Celebrate and believe in the Good News.” He says quite clearly, “Repent and believe in the Good News” (Mk 1:15). The Good News is only possible if we are truly sorry for our sins.

Nobody wants to think about their failings or their weaknesses, but Christ clearly tells us that “for whenever I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:9-10). It is in our weaknesses that Christ strengthens us. We can only celebrate and live out the Good News if we have repented, have asked the Lord for forgiveness and experienced his mercy.

Stanz is director of the diocesan Department of New Evangelization. She is the author of “Developing Disciples of Christ” and co-author of “The Catechist’s Backpack.”