Our society deplores the so called “corporate sins” such as discrimination, racism, terrorism, unjust wars, social injustices, poverty, exploitation, and so on, but is virtually silent and blind when dealing with the day to day “personal sins” plaguing Americans such as abortion, adultery, fornication, homosexual acts, pornography, euthanasia, etc., fueled by the “Seven Deadly Sins” (pride, anger, greed, gluttony, lust, envy and sloth).
The reality is that you cannot have one set of sins without the other. The collective unrepentant personal sins of our culture generate and aggravate the level of corporate sins which our society abhors. Without this volume of unrepentant personal sins being committed daily by our citizenry, the level of corporate sins would not be such a prevailing problem in our society.
Before Creation, before “God created the heavens and the earth” there was no sin. Sometime after the Creation, sin and death entered into the world. However, today a growing number, especially in the West, believe that since “God is dead,” or “morality is relative”, so too is the idea of the nonexistence of personal sin. This is a serious and dangerous notion since it tends to cross over into the realm of the “unforgivable sin.”
G.K. Chesterson once said, “The doctrine of original sin was the one belief that was empirically validated by 3,500 years of human history. But the doctrine of sin has fallen on hard times lately. Not because we have bettered ourselves, nor even because we have denied it, but because we have given it another name besides ‘sin!’ If you doubt, read your newspaper.” There is a book written by Karl Menninger entitled, Whatever Became of Sin? In it he asks the question, “[Sin] was once a word on everyone’s mind, but now rarely if ever heard. Is no one any longer guilty of anything? Anxiety and depression we all acknowledge, and even vague guilt feelings; but has no one committed any sins? Where, indeed, did sin go? What became of it?”
Webster’s definition of sin is a “transgression of the law of God; disobedience of the divine will; moral failure. Sin is failure to realize in conduct and character the moral ideal, at least as fully as possible under existing circumstances; failure to do as one ought toward one’s fellow man.” The glossary of the New Catholic Catechism (CC) tells us that “Sin is an offense against God as well as a fault against reason, truth, and right conscience. Sin is a deliberate thought, word, deed or omission contrary to the eternal law of God. In judging the gravity of sin, it is customary to distinguish between mortal and venial sins.”
From the beginning men and women have sought to shift the blame for their sinful actions. In the Garden of Eden, Eve blames the serpent for her sin (“The devil made me do it!”), and Adam blurts out that the woman (Eve) led him into sin. Today sinners find genetic predispositions to excuse their transgressions. “My upbringing, my parents are to blame, my medical or environmental problems or my DNA causes me to sin.” From the very beginning up to the 21st century, sinners wish to blame someone or something else for their transgressions.
Genesis 1:26-27, God declares, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over . . . all creatures. God created man in his image, in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them.” This passage tells us that men and women are unique above all other creatures since we are made in the image of God. As a result we have spiritual souls, intellects and wills. We are then free to choose either good or evil. Through our intellects we are able to determine the morality of our actions. These judgments of the intellect form our consciences. Using our free will we can choose to do good or to do evil.
However, God commands us to use our free will to live a good moral life, avoiding evil. In order to help us do this He has given us a road map for our life’s journey. This road map takes the form of the Ten Commandments. Jesus in Matthew 22:37, summarizes the Ten Commandments by saying the greatest and first commandment is to “Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” The second commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus concludes this passage by saying, “The whole law and the prophets, depend on these two commandments.” It is obvious then by truly loving God and neighbor, one would choose to do good and avoid evil.
God has given us a conscience to enable us to make informed decisions in our lives. Conscience is the judgment of our reason about the good or evil of a particular act. We must indeed follow our individual conscience; however, “Personal conscience and reason should not be set in opposition to the moral law or the Magisterium of the Church” (CC paragraph 2039). Therefore, one cannot justify doing something inherently wrong based on one’s own conscience. “One may not do evil so that good may result from it” (CC paragraph 1756). There are intrinsically evil acts such as abortions, murder, rape, adultery, fornication, homosexual acts, euthanasia, etc., that remain as intrinsically evil acts regardless of the circumstances or intentions.
Our society has seemingly dulled individual consciences by using the rationalizations and false justifications foisted primarily by the teachings of dissident theologians and other bad educators who challenge the teaching authority of the Magisterium. In fact it would seem that more than a few in our churches have abandoned the effort to have our American culture conform to the teachings of the Church. Rather, they would support efforts to have the Church conform to the prevailing secular culture. This would not work well for those souls who are in jeopardy, encouraging them to persist in their sinful ways and to “follow their own consciences;” which were somewhat deadened by bad Catholic formation or no orthodox Catholic teaching whatsoever. Is it more compassionate to have sinners remaining immersed in their sinful lives and justifying them in that state or for them to be awakened in order to recognize their need for the Mercy of the Lord? This condition of minimizing or discounting one’s serious sins may lead to a hardness of heart and may result in such individuals succumbing to the “unforgivable sin.”
Let it first be said that there is no limit to God’s Mercy. But the “unforgivable sin,” blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, precludes its own forgiveness. It is not a sin of error but of pure malice. Jesus used the concept of the unforgivable sin in Matthew 12:32 against the religious groups of his day. They were blinded by their sin of pride and persistently shut themselves off from the grace of God. In the book of Acts chapter five, Ananias and his wife Sapphira both lied to the Holy Spirit by obstinately lying to the Church and were suddenly stricken dead after continuing in their lie. So there are consequences to sin.
Anecdotally, I have observed that in pre-Vatican II days the confessional lines were longer and the communion lines were shorter. Now in post Vatican II days it is obvious that the communion lines are a lot longer and the confessional lines are almost non-existent. Does this mean that the moral level of the American Catholic culture has risen to a higher level since Vatican II? The answer should be obvious. No, it means that the awareness of sin has been diminished while individual responsibility for not recognizing the effects of sin had soared. This is not necessarily a criticism of Vatican II, but an observation of what has transpired in the two generations following the Council.
Section 16 of Gaudium et Spes , the central document of Vatican II, tells us that conscience is God’s voice speaking within us, not just our own opinion. This voice summons us to love good and avoid evil, for we all have in our hearts a law written by God. Conscience can never conflict with Church teaching since Church teaching is also God’s voice. If our “conscience” conflicts with Church teaching, then we know it cannot be a well-formed conscience.
To better form our conscience, it may be a good practice at the end of each day to reflect on all the blessings received from the Lord and to ponder on how we may have offended Him or others in our lives. Before retiring, consider making a good Act of Contrition and resolve to do better the next day. This is what has traditionally been called “An Examination of Conscience.”
The goal of diminishing the “corporate sins” in our society is dependent upon the development of a well-formed conscience enabling us to recognize our “personal sins.” Repentance from such sins should help to reduce the number of times we offend the Lord. This in turn should help diminish the weight of corporate sin which plagues our society these days. This can be achieved by having a true sorrow for offending a Holy God and praying for the grace to amend our lives. Thus, obey the Commandments by loving the Lord and loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. Try to see Christ in everyone you meet each day and treat them as you would Christ.