Saturday, March 2, 2013
Why Do We Sin?
So Moses went and summoned the elders of the people. When he set before them all that the Lord had ordered him to tell them, the people all answered together, “Everything the Lord has said, we will do.” (Then) the Lord added, “Go to the people and have them sanctify themselves today and tomorrow … for on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai before the eyes of all the people. Set limits for the people all around the mountain, and tell them: Take care not to go up the mountain, or even to touch its base. If anyone touches the mountain he must be put to death.”
On the morning of the third day there were peals of thunder and lightning, and a heavy cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. … When the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the trumpet blast and the mountain smoking, they feared and trembled. … Moses (said) to the people: “Do not be afraid, for God has come to you only to test you and put his fear upon you, lest you should sin.” (Ex 19:1 – 20:21)
And yet, they sinned anyway.
The above events happened only three months after the Israelites had left Egypt. They were witness to a cloud of fire, the Red Sea parting, an entire army wiped out, and now they heard the voice of God so clearly that “they feared and trembled.” God spoke to them, but I hear only whispers. These people had every incentive NOT to sin, because God told them to obey or “be put to death,” and yet shortly after these events, they sinned anyway. So how am I to resist?
My belief in God comes from the words of others, and I feel hints and mists of His presence in my life, and sin seems so easy to me. Does He expect me to be stronger against sin than the Israelites in the desert who saw and heard His mighty works? I wrote previously that sometimes I think on the fact that “He expects me to sin,” and all that implies. It implies He expects me to be weak. It implies I need Him, and His Mercy and Forgiveness. And not said in those words, but which I EXPECT, is that I love Him enough to not want to sin.
I don’t see the proof of God with my eyes or with my ears, as the Israelites did. I don’t see great miracles before me. I haven’t feared Him so much that I’ve trembled. But I have read and pondered my whole life the actions of my namesake, Thomas, and the words the Lord spoke to him: “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed.” And with a belief grows faith and charity. I believe, I trust, I love; they go together. And the feeling: that I am loved.
And although His love came to me first, it was something I was slow to realize.
I follow the blog of a young mother, a woman with many children, few of which are of her own body. She has adopted many children from around the world, but not just any children. She has chosen those unwanted by anyone else. Her children are of every color, of every handicap. She chose them, and gives them so much love. She and her husband adopted them all, and they so much love her. They love her, who they know so very well, did not have to love them. She chose them.
I follow that blog just to read the example there, of unconditional love. She rarely writes of any problems with her children, and certainly not the “woe is me” type of complaints I am sometimes prone to write. She writes what a gift they are.
Her words remind me how blessed I am to be loved by Someone that way also, Someone who chooses to love me, who certainly did not have to. He chose to love me. Knowing that, how I wish to be His adopted son. And yet with all the gifts He so freely gives me, I know He expects me to sin. I am like the Israelites in this one way: I fear to fail Him. Oh, I don’t fear that lightning bolts will strike me, but I fear like the children of the woman whose blog I read: Even though I have been told the love will never stop, I fear losing it.
And as the fear fades, love grows, our love.
Why do we sin? I believe it’s because we still have too much fear, and not enough love.
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It was quiet in the house, and I decided to arrange the pile of videos and DVDs laying in the cabinet, when I came across one I had forgotten about: The 50th Anniversary mass of the priesthood of Fr. John R. Hogan, July 14, 1991.
I can’t say for sure that I’ve ever met a saint, but I think I did when I met this man. Only four years after my conversion experience a work friend, Barb, asked me to attend a holy hour with her one Sunday, about a two hours’ drive across town, and that’s where I first met Fr. Hogan. At that first meeting, he seemed a crusty old man, but I quickly saw and heard the love beneath that exterior. And buses came from all around to attend that holy hour, with him, and with the God he so obviously loved.
I remember that first Sunday, his talk, his prayers, and his praying over me --- and over each person in church, one by one, as we knelt on the altar steps. Holding the host, he blessed me and prayed for me. He invoked the intercession of saints, and for me in particular invoked the protection of St. Rita, the saint of lost causes. I know, because I went to St. Rita high school ---- and I noticed he invoked her name for no one else. I didn’t have to see, later on that day, that my rosary chain had turned to gold; I knew this was a most special man of God. I was told many claimed miracles occurred after his prayers over them.
Back then, God gave me many miracles and consolations; I felt His presence in so many ways, and in so many people around me. It was all so new and felt so wonderful. Called to conversion and called through so many open doors, into so much beauty – and love – I felt like this was the happiness promised by God. But watching the video of Fr. Hogan’s anniversary mass, and even myself greeting him, I realized how wrong I was. This was not the happiness promised by God.
I had felt that my conversion to knowing and loving God, and committing my life to His will, was like entering a new world. It was like touring all the shrines and cathedrals of Europe, and all the holy places of the Middle East --- like being in a holy place. Looking back, I can see that was wrong. I thought I had entered a new world; little did I know that I merely had bought a ticket to get there. A commitment, whether giving your life to Christ or giving it to a new spouse in marriage, is only the start of a journey ---- so many new spouses don’t realize that (I know I didn’t). And so many new converts don’t realize it either. A new life with Christ or a new life with a spouse; we think two things as we proceed: 1) We don’t want this to end, and 2) We fear it will.
The Israelites felt that way about their new covenant with God. They saw all the advantages, even if things were not always pleasant along the way. They pledged commitment to God, for the advantages, yes, but also out of fear. If asked, they may have said they loved God, as do many who undergo conversions or marriages. But with their pledge came an underlying fear, and not nearly enough love to make it last forever. The fear needs to fade, as the love needs to grow. And the love DOES need to grow.
As I watched myself greet Fr. Hogan on the video, I noticed that I smiled, and I chatted. And I saw in my heart my feelings at the time: this was a blessing from God, my seeing and knowing this holy man. And God was blessing me so much then. Looking back, I knew I had some trembling then, about it possibly ending, growing old, or growing cold. I treasured the moments, but I had a little fear, and I now must admit, only a little love. I thought I was in the land of a blessed life, but I had just got my ticket, and hadn’t even got off the plane yet. I wasn’t in the land of any blessings yet, because I had so much love to grow.
I so easily educate my mind, to almost anything I commit to, and so it was hard to perceive that I couldn’t as easily educate my soul. Since those days, I’ve read many words about calls to grow in holiness, to grow in love --- to change my heart. That is one thing it has taken me many years to realize, that you can’t change your heart as easily or as fast as you can change your mind. Jesus calls us to have a heart that burns for Him, that yearns for His presence. We’ll not achieve pure holiness in this life, but our hearts can burn for it. And that burning is shown in our love, our unconditional love. The early Christians heard about this from all those around them: “See how much they love one another.”
On the video, the mass for Father Hogan was very pleasant to watch: Bishop Moses Malone was there, and he sang in his beautiful voice, like no other, and Father Hogan spoke his words of love that touched your heart. But it was the end of the mass which I will always remember.
The bishop led the recession down from the altar and the center aisle, exiting the church. And at the end of the line of dignitaries and important people, there came Fr. Hogan. And he smiled as the recessional hymn began: When Irish Eyes Are Smiling. The line of priests moved quickly down the aisle, but Fr. Hogan was much slower, and so he easily stood out clearly from the rest crowd as the camera followed his movement. But he had only reached the first row of pews, when he paused. Where the others had rushed by to exit, he stopped and bent over with a smile, to bless the young woman in the wheel chair there. And in the camera’s rearview eye, you could see her arms reach up from the chair to hug him, and he bent lower still, to hug her.
And in those actions, I could see what a life of growing in love really looks like.
I have so far to go.
When Irish Eyes Are Smiling
There's a tear in your eye,
And I'm wondering why,
For it never should be there at all.
With such pow'r in your smile,
Sure a stone you'd beguile,
So there's never a teardrop should fall.
When your sweet lilting laughter's
Like some fairy song,
And your eyes twinkle bright as can be;
You should laugh all the while
And all other times smile,
And now, smile a smile for me.
When Irish eyes are smiling,
Sure, 'tis like the morn in Spring.
In the lilt of Irish laughter
You can hear the angels sing.
When Irish hearts are happy,
All the world seems bright and gay.
And when Irish eyes are smiling,
Sure, they steal your heart away.