For the second time, in less than a week, I was presented by elderly but ‘devout Catholics’ who expressed deep feelings of remorse and guilt for missing Mass on a Sunday. Both individuals admitted that they were taught that missing Mass was considered a sin.
It seems these days that religion has become obsessively focused on the question of sin rather then the healing and affirming power that God instills in each individual. This negative and narrowing focus on sin is also clearly reflected world wide by most institutional religions.
Some religious leaders have reduced God to a vengeful deity who desires nothing more than for us but fight for his dominion by slaying all those who stand in his way. ‘God is great’! Others think that God needs us to fix all wrongs by imposing our specific ideas of what is right! Still others feel that God is on their side when they impose specific rules or regulations by which they think God wants us to live. No matter what, we feel perfectly justified to condemn, vilify, penalize, convict, excommunicate, ostracize, hate and even kill in His name. Small wonder then if our religion teaches that we are sinful creatures from the time we are born. We are what we're taught in our culture. And, to break out of this mold often requires a difficult and painful transformation.
How do we break out from those things that were once held sacred by our family, friends or cultural background? When Jesus said, “you must hate your mother, your brother, sister, etc.” must be understood as a metaphor for our false beliefs (i.e.,the factors that caused us to sin in the first place). So, we must simply recognize our own selfish inclinations, our ego or false self. I really don’t think God asks us to ‘attack’ our dark/shadow side. Or, as Richard Rohr states: Evil is not overcome by attack or even avoidance, but by union at a higher level. It is overcome not by fight or flight, but rather by “fusion”! Thus we merely need to make ourselves aware & gradually obedient to our true self. In that way, we can use our negative behaviour as a springboard to help us come in touch with our true self – the true image in which God created each one of us.
When we see our sin, from a healing perspective, and as a means of discovering the God within we will be able to drop all judgment and condemnation and become the hand, ears, eyes, etc., of God’s love for all those he places in our path.
Two stories, from Fr. Anthony de Mello, my favourite Jesuit author, retreat master on the mystery of sin.
One of the disconcerting – and delightful
teachings of the Master was: “God is
closer to sinners than to saints.”
This is how he explained it: “God in heaven
Holds each person by a string. When you sin,
You cut the string. Then God ties it up again,
Making a knot – and thereby bringing you a
Little closer to him. Again and again your
Sins cut the string – and with each further knot
God keeps drawing you closer and closer.”
The Master had been on his deathbed
In a coma for weeks. One day he suddenly
Opened his eyes to find his favourite
“You never leave my bedside, do
You?” he said softly.
“No, Master, I cannot.”
“Because you are the light of
The Master sighed. “Have I so
Dazzled you, my son, that you
Still refuse to see the light
- Anthony de Mello.
When I see our church entirely focused on the negative behaviour of its people I wonder what God sees instead and wants us to do?