struggling with sin


Ash Wednesday is here and I’m struggling with sin. My sin.

Thoroughly wash me from my guilt and of my sin cleanse me. For I acknowledge my offence, and my sin is before me always. Psalm 51

What’s the big sin in my life? I don’t think I have one! I know…I obviously suffer from the sin of pride and should immediately trot off to the nearest confessional. But, after a life time of catholic guilt, breast-beating and scrupulous fears of hell, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not a bad person. I’m not perfect, but “sinner” isn’t my main identifier.  I’m a person trying her best to be good. I’ve done nothing evil enough to warrant me parading through the streets in sackcloth and ashes.

It has been the role of the church for centuries to convince us that we are all grave sinners on a fast-track to hell. Instilling fear and remorse into her people ensured full pews and full coffers. Who knows how much irreparable harm has been done on minds, hearts, and souls through the years? How much continues today?

So, I struggle with the call to show outward signs for inner mea culpas that simply aren’t there. My days are filled with what we used to call “venial” sins, but aren’t these simply the stuff of our too human nature? Yes, I try each day to be a bit more patient and swear a little less, but I don’t go to bed worrying that an F-bomb has consigned me to the fires of hell. What does keep me up at night are the sins of this world and those who hold the greatest power over life and death.

Why should I fast, or cover my head with ashes for my misdemeanours, when the headlines each day uncover more injustices towards God’s people? More sexual and physical violence? More refugees forced from their homes and refused sanctuary elsewhere? More rich politicians who deliberately rob the poor to fill their own bulging pockets? More “in your face” white supremacy, hatred, misogyny, homophobia and racism? More threats of nuclear war by inept, egotistical leaders who get in pissing matches with each other?

For what do I fast and pray? Perhaps this is the answer…

For the sins of our world, and all who suffer directly from them.

For peace and justice in all our lands.

For peace in our hearts.

And to constantly seek ways to DO good, not just be good.


8 thoughts on “struggling with sin

  1. Saying that I am a sinner (the word is so loaded that I try to avoid it) is before all else saying that I am striving for unity, congruence, relationship, communion (which is Love, by the way)…. and that I’m not there yet.
    But I take stock continuously in the hope, in the faith that everything in me longs for it… that is the mystery of my living “as a sinner”… the mystery of the human condition.
    I do this at the beginning of every eucharistic celebration (when I “confess my sins”), and the wisdom of the liturgical calender invites me to take stock of my desires and my actions during Lent… so as to bring me to (hopefully a little more) a fuller communion at Easter… the feast of the great communion for which we are created.
    Of course, that then begs the question of what is communion… to the types of relationships… where, when, with whom.
    A good start is your Grammie blog, don’t you think?

  2. I guess I seek to find the blind spots where I hurt myself and/or others. Those faults are perhaps beyond clear definitions of sinfulness but may prevent me from being fully engaged with the larger picture of societal injustice.

    A Thomas Merton title, “Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander” sometimes calls me to reflect on what I am or am not doing in big or little ways to improve the lot of others and myself. This can be growth enhancing not guilt inducing.

    Inaction can be both a virtue or a vice. Reflection can help us determine which, in a given situation.

    That which enhances my life and/or the lives of others is good. That which deminishes my life and/or the lives of others is bad.

  3. Events, like “Ash Wed.” are symbols-in-time”, they are, for me, reminders rather than the substance of what they remind me of. Necessary for we humans but … in their place, in context.
    The confluence of Valentine and Ash is beautifully ironic: love trumps pain; mercy trumps sin.

  4. Good grief, the problem with being a catholic is that guilt trip. And I say, guilt is a useless emotion unless it propels us to do action that brings people together in peace. Funny thing when I used to recite the Hail Mary, I omitted the part “pray for us sinners…’ In the first place, the second part was added by the Church – guilt trip! Anyway, i decided to say the full Hail Mary and whatever. Make that 100 lashes of wet noodles. Please throw in some Alfredo sauce. Happy Ash Wednesday.

  5. Isabella, I love your perspective about sin! It’s a question I, too, have grappled with.

    So now I am thinking about how many of my venial sins have contributed to the misery in the world: buying cheap clothing from sweat shops, drinking water from throwaway bottles, using plastic rather than paper trash bags to collect my trash, burning my trash rather than burying or recycling it. The list goes on and on! Certainly puts my venial sins in a new dimension…

    The other thing that jolts me are the words in some of our most common prayers:

    Hail Holy Queen… “to thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve. To thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears!”

    I’m afraid I am testing fate here when I say this, but my experience of life has been mostly joyful and loving, not groveling and sorrowful. I truly recognize that as a great blessing and gift from God. So it is hard for me to say those words and really mean it. Makes me feel like a hypocrite. And yet…those pesky venial sins likely contribute to the misery in other parts of the world.

    So, as you say, maybe thinking about our global impact is a way to understand our connectedness as our contribution to sinfulness in the world.

  6. Oh how well you put the struggles of the spiritual life into real life words Isabella. I think of myself as a caring person, yet if I have a “big sin”, it is in not caring enough about how I use resources, how I am blind to those in need when it is not convenient to notice them, how I neglect to communicate with the God I say I love. Punishable by wailing and gnashing of teeth in hell, I don’t think so but certainly draws me away from my authentic self and the serene relationship with God that I seek.

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