Thursday, October 1, 2009

Personal Post: My Sin, and Why Jared/Owen Might Be Right

I'm tired of dancing around the issue, and I don't have a reputation to lose (which works out in this case). This will be a personal blog, so if you're not comfortable getting to know me, then please stop reading this. I'm even giving you a bunch of time to look away.
for the last 5 years I've been in a pattern of habitual sin which to use it's Victorian name would probably be: 'impurity'. Computer + Young Male + Depression - Friends = bad results. I've tried everything, even went to a Christian counselor (is that how you spell it?) for months. In the end I was told it's just a will issue.

My Protestant pastor told me that every action I did was a sin and so I shouldn't feel bad about it because I have Christ's righteousness and my works meant nothing to God. This was unsatisfying to say the least. I've subsequently learned from some Reformed guys that this is not Classic Protestantism. In Catholicism where I now dwell, both 'components' of this sin are mortal, I.E. if you do them you go to Hell. But if you ask most modern priests they'll say that after Vatican II it some how got less sinful. (don't ask me how)

So it'd been 10 days since my last confession and being in a constant state of guilt isn't the most fun place to be. So today I woke up at 5:50AM and went to the Latin Mass place to go to confession. I went through the list said the words got absolved and received advice I'd heard a thousand times from Christian speakers and websites.

I did my penance and it felt so empty, I couldn't even stay for Mass, I didn't feel like I had anything to contribute to the sacrifice and didn't feel comfortable infront of the presence. So I went home.

Within less than 12 hours I had already put myself in a state of Mortal Sin again. Now just because it's not comforting doesn't mean it's not true. As one Catholic said to me, 'just because you aren't holy now, doesn't mean holiness is impossible', and the saints are proof of that. But personally/pastorally/spiritually this sacrament with all of it's grace left me feeling nothing. Maybe this is a stupid pop-psychological/Neo-Evangelical critique of Penance but it just reminded me of Luther.

So here I sat in my room thinking "why couldn't I have died on my way home from Church...". The Catholic reading this is probably furious because it sounds like a typical Protestant critique of the Sacrament. Indeed Catholic teaching is that habit and immaturity both lessen the culpability of an act and can even remove it altogether in rare cases. So the educated Catholic would say: "no you are probably not in a state of Mortal sin". So I'm not saying Penance doesn't work, I'm just saying today, for me, it didn't seem to help.

But then I went downstairs and saw I had a package delivered to my house. My friend from Bible School mailed me a trilogy of Evelyn Waugh books and a card in latin (luckily she translated it for me) with encouragement.

Even in my sinful life I still attach theological meaning to everything, and it was such a significant existential moment I basically started to cry.

I don't understand God's grace, he gives it when he shouldn't, and even when I curse him, he still blesses me.

So I've repented and I'll confess later and the priest will probably tell me again that I just need to try harder and it's probably true, but I think gracefullness would be a much more effective tool on me at least, than moral exhortation.

Now this is where I start getting comments about sola fide and Luther and the Reformation from Protestants telling me to repent of my false religion and that this is a sign, and I get emails from Catholics telling me I've abandonned the faith by being honest and not just saying what is expected.

But I'm a person, not an ideology, and it seems that God no matter how much I ask him will not tell me which "side" is right (Protestant or Catholic). So I follow logic, Tradition, and Scripture and make my choice, and just when I think God will fit in my new theological system because he didn't fit in the old, he appears where he shouldn't. It would've made sense for me to have had an experience of grace at Confession this morning, not after I'd wilfully sinned against him. In the midst of so much theology and religion it's almost frightening when God shows up, you get so used to absence that you almost forget what His presence is like and then out of left field there he comes.

Anyway, that's why I think John Owen/Jared might be right, and I don't know how my life fits with my theology but I know that the sacraments work ex operare opero according to tradition and God's promise, but I experience God's grace sporadically and inexplicably, so I remain confused...


  1. Hi Andrew,

    Sinful habits can be deeply entrenched and take a long time to overcome. While it is true that God does not allow you to be tempted beyond what you can bear but always provides a way out, we don't always take it, and that goes for both Catholics and Protestants.

    God certainly gives you grace and mercy through Confession and the other Sacraments, but it does not mean that you are always completely healed of entrenched bad habits in one or even ten or one hundred times. Our Lord knows how best we learn, and working, fighting, falling, and taking his hand to help us up again and again and again is the way we learn to be men of the Kingdom, men of honor for Christ.

    God has helped Protestant men I know overcome this sin in their lives and has helped me and other Catholic men, but it usually takes years. Some men do not have as much an inclination toward impurity and also some had better upbringingings that protected them from the habit becoming deeply entrenched: We all have different crosses to bear, but through them we follow Jesus to crucifixion and salvation.

    Friends do help, but making friends doesn't come easily to everyone (crosses again). I had priests give me many different pieces of advice and penances and ideas--none were some magic bullet, often they seemed to help little or none--that is the way it is. You could have gone to Padre Pio and he might have told you the exact thing you needed to hear yet it still took a while to overcome it by God's grace. We know what to do but it is hard to do it sometimes.

    Andrew, I know that you know much of this, but I want to give you encouragement, from one who also didn't think there was light at the end of this tunnel. There is. It is attainable, as you will discover, since you will not give up, and God will reward your perseverance. Christ bless you!

  2. Thanks Devin, that was very encouraging and kind of you to write.

  3. Perhaps that is the best time to come to the Eucharist. This is not meant to be a theological note on a personal post, but what I love about the Eucharist is coming with nothing to contribute. Merely to receive. When there is doubt and sin, that is one of the best times to come to Christ in the Eucharist for healing, for a picture of the forgiveness offered in Christ. His blood for yours. His righteousness for your filthy rags.

    I'll pray for you. I'll pray Christ intercedes for you.

  4. A bit of poetry from John Donne to encourage you:

    Wilt Thou forgive that sin where I begun,
    Which was my sin, though it were done before?
    Wilt Thou forgive that sin, through which I run,
    And do run still, though still I do deplore?
    When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,
    For I have more.

    Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I have won
    Others to sin, and made my sin their door?
    Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I did shun
    A year or two, but wallow'd in, a score?
    When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,
    For I have more.

    I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun
    My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;
    But swear by Thyself, that at my death thy Son
    Shall shine as He shines now, and heretofore;
    And, having done that, Thou hast done;
    I fear no more.

  5. Hi Andrew - there is a place between utter will and utter grace - it's the desire for God, which is like a tiny seed and has within it a great power.

    You may also find the following article helpful...

  6. Thanks Fred, I just read the article, it had some interesting reminders in it.

    Thanks for the Donne, and the prayer Jared, I appreciate it.