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 Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay, WisconsinFebruary 11, 2005 Issue 

Sulk or snap or sneer or snub or storm

Sin is not a single act, but a state of alienation from God and one another

February 13, 2005 -- First Sunday of Lent

By Bishop Robert Morneau

photo of Bishop Robert Morneau
Robert Morneau

Questions for reflection:

1. What is the difference between sins and sinfulness?

2. In what sense is Lent a lesson of repentance?

3. What temptations are most troublesome for you? What grace do you need?

Sin is not a popular topic. Who, after all, likes to see their dirty laundry out on the line for all to see. Yet we are sinners; we need redemption. Lent is a season both of repentance and mercy. By acknowledging our sinfulness we open our minds and hearts to the extravagant mercy of divine forgiveness.

 • Other Lent articles

C. S. Lewis, one of our great Christian writers, puts it this way: "We begin to notice, besides our particular sinful acts, our sinfulness; begin to be alarmed not only about what we do, but about what we are. This may sound rather difficult, so I will try to make it clear from my own case. When I come to my evening prayers and try to reckon up the sins of the day, nine times out of ten the most obvious one is the sin against charity: I have sulked or snapped or sneered or snubbed or stormed."

What was the sin of Adam and Eve? God gave them life and love, a garden and all things great and small. But they refused to respond in obedient love. They snubbed God and after their transgression, we can feel the approaching snapping and storming, sulking and sneering. When love is absent that is what happens in human relationships. Sins are more than single acts; sins turn into sinfulness, a disposition of alienation from God and one another.

Another reflection on sin, a theme of our Lenten journey: "Sin is our refusal to become who we truly are. In those moments when I kneel before God in penitence, or join with others in confession, sometimes I am aware of specific faults: unloving words, thoughtless conduct, selfish actions. I am aware of not caring enough. But chiefly I am aware of a much more subtle temptation: to settle for less than I might be" (Michael Mayne).

Jesus was tempted. We witness that in today's Gospel and know also how he was tempted, not only in the desert, but also in the garden on the eve of his passion and death. The temptations were about substituting something (someone) as the focus on one's life, be it power, possession, or prestige. Jesus knew who he truly was. He would remain obedient to his calling as the Son of God and as the one who would redeem the world, whatever the cost. We who follow Jesus have to deal with identical temptations. The grace needed here is one of resistance and the wisdom to know that only by being who we truly are, beloved daughters and sons of God, can we achieve authentic happiness.

A third reflection: "Forgiveness is the answer to the child's dream of a miracle by which what is broken is made whole again, what is soiled is again made clean. The dream explains why we need to be forgiven, and why we must forgive. In the presence of God, nothing stands between Him and us - we are forgiven. But we cannot feel His presence if anything is allowed to stand between ourselves and others" (Dag Hammarskjold).

St. Paul knew himself forgiven. He was keenly aware of his disobedience but even more of the obedience of Jesus and the saving event of the cross. Paul did not allow his personal sins to consume his life. Rather, he repented and turned to the mercy of God and knew the peace that comes from divine forgiveness.

Easter is a long way off. In preparing for this saving event we repent of our personal and collective sins and already, at the very start of Lent, are filled with hope. Through the obedience of Jesus, our redemption is assured.

(Bp. Morneau is the auxiliary bishop of the Green Bay Diocese.)

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