My week in Duluth, Minnesota was, as usual, a kind of retreat. This year I spent the time being shown more clearly than I care to describe my own sins and the consequences of those sins in my life and in the lives of others.
So, despite the cool crisp weather and the sunshine sparkling on Lake Superior, it was really rather awful.
|Duluth - the perfect place to reflect upon sin.|
But it made yesterday's Mass readings comes to life for me, particularly Heb. 12:1
Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us ...
In other words, we can indeed "rid ourselves" of this burden. We can choose to renounce our sins. We can throw aside that muck that "clings to us".
At one point last week I saw quite clearly that the misery of my "Dark Night", which has lasted for about a year now, is something that can only be caused by sin. Yes, life can feed us plenty of pain and sorrow that we just have to roll with, but there is no suffering like the suffering caused by your own sin, especially the suffering caused by trying to rationalize your own sin and "fix" things so you can accommodate it and feel good about it. St. Peter tells us
If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. (1 Pet. 4:15-16) ... For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. (1 Pet. 3:17)
But, all the same, it's good to suffer for doing evil. It may be better to suffer for doing good (and we've all experienced that), but there ain't nothing like suffering for doing bad - the consequential is a great blessing in our lives. Such a suffering is purgative. For Judgment keeps life real.
And, dear reader, if you're anything like I am, when you begin to suffer for your sins, you can take consolation in this: we are not merely being purged of certain bad habits or shameful urges, but we are being killed. We are being put to death so that we might be born again. (That's why it hurts so much).
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. (Gal. 2:20)
In other words, it's not just a program of self-improvement, of tweaking this or that, of minor adjustments or honing. Life in Christ is death to sin. Life in the Spirit is death to the sinful self.
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? ... Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. (Rom. 6:3-4)
There are times when the only thing real about ourselves or our neighbors seems to be our sin, when the only thing we seem serious about is following our own desires, wherever they lead, heedless of the cost they exact from us and from our society. There are days when every Christian appears to be nothing but a hypocrite, when every good deed is done for a secretly selfish reason, when the sunshine sparkling on the lake only masks the feeding frenzy of the fish underneath; when the clean summer air covers the rot of the decay within our hearts.
Such a mood tends toward death and despair.
The despair is wrong, but the death is good.
For only by nailing that rot within our hearts to the Cross upon which Our Savior hangs, only by dying to all that is evil within us, can we be remade by Him.