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The consolation of helping a world in distress

In the account that St Matthew gives us in his gospel (9:1-8) of the cure of the man sick with the palsy, it is a point of special significance that Our Blessed Lord forgave the sick man his sins before He cured him of his physical ailment. In other words, Our Lord emphasises here, as He did on other occasions, the fact that spiritual sickness is worse than physical and that the health of the soul is of far more importance than the health of the body.

Spiritual sickness is far worse than physical ailments 

This is a truth that the world at large entirely ignores. Even professing Christians are often far more solicitous about obtaining material benefits than spiritual ones. Indeed there are some who will only give themselves to earnest prayer when they are threatened by some temporal calamity.

The death of the soul by mortal sin is an infinitely worse evil than the death of the body: one deprives of temporal life only, the other of eternal.

These are truths that we, as Catholic Christians, learnt in our earliest years. But we can test the strength of our belief in them by whether we pray at least just as fervently to avoid mortal sin, as we do when we are in danger of losing our life by sickness or misadventure. Or again, it may be put in this way: do we give at least as much – of course we ought to give more – attention and care to our souls as we do to our bodies?

There are people who spend time and money on keeping their body fit – clothing, feeding, adorning it (not always successfully); they become anxious when means fail to secure this end: they are much concerned if anything interferes with their temporal well-being: they will go to considerable trouble to rectify anything that is amiss in their worldly affairs: they will go almost to any lengths to secure comfort and ease and to see that their body does not suffer.

The death of the soul by mortal sin is an infinitely worse evil than the death of the body

But the point is that they or we, if we are in the same category, ought to be doing at least as much for the soul if we really believe that the soul is more than the body. Well, are we? Our Blessed Lord said,

“Seek first the kingdom of heaven and all these things will be added unto you.”[Mt 6:33]

But there are a great number of people who are seeking the other things – the material and temporal goods of this world – first, and concern themselves very little, if at all, with the kingdom of heaven. In other words, God does not take the first place in their lives. Indeed He may take no place at all. Practically He may not be taken into account in His own world and yet, inconsistently enough, He will be blamed because things are not to men’s liking.

Do we give at least as much – of course we ought to give more – attention and care to our souls as we do to our bodies?

It is precisely because men ignored God in the first instance and disregarded His will that everything went awry. It is because men have abused the freedom of will that God gave them and chose evil rather than good, that evil exists at all.

Evils of every kind – spiritual, material, physical – are of men’s own making, the consequence of sin, of desertion of God, of neglect of His will.

It is foolish to argue that if God were good He would have prevented all these evils. How could He prevent them and still leave men in the possession of their free-will? If you say that He should not have given men free will, then you take away all moral goodness, the highest possible good, the very splendour of rational created nature; and reduce men to the condition of mere automata or irrational animals.

Do we pray at least just as fervently to avoid mortal sin, as we do when we are in danger of losing our life by sickness or misadventure?

But that God is good and remains good is proved by the fact that when men abused his free-will and so sinned, bringing evil into the world, God in His merciful love at once brought a remedy for the evil and gave man the opportunity and the means of reestablishing himself in God’s favour.

The Incarnation – the life and death of Christ – is that remedy. It is the remedy that has made the first sin of man, in the words of the Church’s liturgy, a “felix culpa”, so that out of evil good has come, and God’s love has been the more clearly revealed in all its merciful understanding of our weakness and its ever constant and unceasing desire to work our ultimate good.

It is precisely because men ignored God in the first instance and disregarded His will that everything in the world went awry

Sin then is the absolute evil: sin is the barrier that stands between ourselves and God: sin the barrier that keeps men from true peace and happiness: but the effect of Christ’s redemptive work is to remove that barrier every time we come in sorrow for our share in its erection. Because sin is the greatest evil in the world, God can do us no greater favour than to forgive us our sins. In doing that He gives Himself back to us in the supernatural life of grace and in so giving Himself He gives us everything best worth having in this world and an earnest of that infinite happiness which He would have us enjoy in heaven.

Evils of every kind – spiritual, material, physical – are of men’s own making, the consequence of sin

All this is disclosed in the cure of the sick man, with which we began this conference. Because sickness of the soul is so much worse than that of the body, Our Lord by His divine power first forgives the sins of the repentant man before He works, as a vindication of His divinity, the lesser miracle of curing him of His palsy.

When man abused his God-given free will and sinned, bringing evil into this world, God in His merciful love sent His only-begotten Son, Our Lord Jesus

The bodily palsy of the man in the gospel may be regarded as a symbol of the material and physical evils of the world to-day, in which we all to a greater or lesser degree have a share. If these miseries are to be removed, the world must first be cured of its pernicious and destructive spiritual palsy, the palsy engendered by sin, by denial of God and His claims, by neglect of His commandments and laws.

It is not only those who are the avowed enemies of God and are bent upon the utter destruction of religion – it is not only they who are suffering from this spiritual palsy. But alas only too many others, who would range themselves on God’s side, and advocate the cause of Jesus Christ, are themselves infected, even though to a lesser extent, with the same malady.

It is futile for such to hope to have God on their side, to restore His law and order on this earth, if in their endeavours they are not seeking first the kingdom of heaven but rather the goods of this world and the success of their own material aspirations.

“The spiritual palsy”

We, as Catholics, have a great part to play in the regeneration of the world and in the destruction of all those atheistical agencies which are chiefly responsible for such widespread unrest and misery. But if our efforts are to be effective, we must begin by being cured of our own spiritual palsy in whatever degree we suffer from it.

We must first be purged from our own sins, be they great or small, and in our thoughts and in our actions God must be paramount: religion and its constant practice must be our first care: the eternal must take precedence at all times over the temporal and transitory. If we come to Him in right dispositions the tenderhearted Saviour of the world will say to us too, as He said to the man in the gospel,

“Be of good heart, your sins are forgiven you” [Mt 9:2b]

And it is then, and only then, when sins are deplored and forgiven, that we may confidently hope that the sufferings and afflictions, which sin has brought about, will be removed, or to some degree at least mitigated, and that the world will be cleared of the chief horrors in which it is now plunged.

We, as Catholics, have a great part to play in the regeneration of the world 

It is when we have demonstrated to pagan and irreligious men, not by our words but by our loving example, that we are sincere in making God’s cause ours, and that it is His claims and not our own worldly ones that we are seeking to vindicate; that we are seeking, not for ourselves only but for all men, the peace and happiness that only the true service of God can secure; it is when, in short, our own lives are in complete accord with our protestations that we can hope to bring conviction to so many darkened souls and to make them sharers with us in a new world, brightened, gladdened and refreshed by the true reign of Christ in our midst.

Our living example

Everyone, whoever he be, can have part, and a large part, in this consoling work of helping a distressed world. Not everyone can take an active part in such external works as “The Sword of the Spirit” and “The Catholic Evidence Guild,” admirable as they are, but there is no Catholic who cannot live a life in close union with God and by the holiness of his, or her, example, perhaps even more efficaciously promote the Cause of Christ.

Promoting the Cause of Christ by the holiness of our daily day example

There are many who live hidden lives in religious cloisters but whose earnest prayers are ever ascending to God in supplication for the sore and painful needs of the world. There are others who are bedridden with some painful and protracted disease, but by the exercise of patience and resignation to God’s holy will are helping, in greater measure than we can guess, to the conversion of the ungodly and sinful.

A world brightened, gladdened and refreshed by the true reign of Christ in our midst

There are many too old to take part in active apostolic work, but they can offer up to God the inevitable ailments and distresses of their declining years, and find a true consolation in doing so, by the thought that they too are contributing to the regeneration and true welfare of this distressed world. [see also Col 1:24]

– From: Lift Up Your Hearts, Christopher J. Wilmot, S.J. [headings and brackets added], The Catholic Book Club, London, 1949






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A great deal of our spirituality is taken up with our faults and backsliding. We are constantly being reminded that ours is a fallen race and that sin is our heritage. No inconsiderable part of ascetical treatises is composed of the survey of sin and its malice, and we are continually being invited to reflect on what miserable sinners we are and what a hash we have hitherto made of our lives. The sole object of a great number of sermons we hear is to point out to us the sins and faults into which we fall and to persuade us at once to set about the correction of them.

A necessary part of our spiritual training

All this is without doubt a most necessary part of our spiritual training, which we can never overlook or neglect. But there may be at times just too much of it. It may be unmeasured and disproportionate. If we keep our minds exclusively fixed upon such topics the natural result must be one of gloom and despondency.

Anyone who is engaged in the reformation of a sinner will prove his unfitness for the task if he is for ever harping upon the sinner’s depravity.

We need to encourage as well as correct

If we would do any permanent good to such a one we need to encourage as well as correct. We need to remind him that if there is evil in him, so is there good. Souls in whom there is nothing but evil are only to be found in hell. As long as a man is living on this earth, however bad he may be, there always remains in him some little spark of goodness which by co-operation with grace can be fanned into a flame of salvation.

A spark of goodness which by cooperation with grace can be fanned into a flame of salvation

That we need to encourage as well as to correct seems obvious enough to anyone with any knowledge of human nature; and yet, obvious as it is, it is a truth that is sometimes strangely overlooked.

The mistake is the greater when the people with whom you have to deal are not bad characters at all but in reality are substantially good, even though subject to many sins, imperfections and faults. Among such people we may most certainly and unquestionably count those Catholics who never neglect to hear Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation and regularly frequent the Sacraments. They may not have attained to any high degree of perfection but by fulfilling their duties they are making sacrifices which prove the genuineness of their faith and their endeavour to please God. A preacher, therefore, whose congregation is made up for the most part of such Catholics will conceive a certain respect for them and will avoid a form of address that may lead some of his hearers to go away with the idea that they are compounded of nothing but sins, with no redeeming virtues as a set-off to their failures.

A skewed picture

To be continually harping upon the faults and shortcomings of a congregation will not only have the effect of depressing or irritating them, but such a habit of speaking will not be conveying the full truth.

It will be as false as the picture entitled The Island in the North that leaves the impression that England is a country where nothing but damp and fogs prevail and where sunshine and beauty are never found. Whistler was fond of painting that kind of picture. It was sometimes described as a nocturne and a certain king of melancholy beauty was claimed for it. But it was really rather depressing, and one felt that on the same wall on which it was exhibited there should be another picture, say, of an English wooded country-side under a June sun, as a set-off to, and a correction of, the other. It is the distinguishing art of the Dutch school of painting that in their quiet scenes of home-life they manage so well the lights and shades; and it is the light of course that reveals the beauty of the picture as a whole.

We live in evil days when God’s laws are openly flouted

There is no doubt that we live in evil days when God’s laws are openly flouted by so many and His very existence denied.

But that is not the whole picture. There are still millions of substantially good Catholics and other Christians who acknowledge God as their Creator and Lord and strive to live by His commandments. Some of them are leading very holy lives in obscurity, unknown to the world at large.

Some live very holy lives in obscurity, unknown to the world at large

They are the really great ones in the eyes of God, who serve to counteract much of the evil surrounding them and by their example inspire us with hope for the regeneration of mankind.

This is a fact we need to dwell on when the outlook on what is undoubtedly a bad world is apt to depress and discourage us.

There have always been dark periods in the history of the Church but even in the worst of these God has always raised up saints who have helped to eradicate the evil and to bring back men to a sense of their duty to Him. What a scandal, for instance, was that of the great Schism of the West, when the faith of many must have been shaken or even wholly destroyed; and yet by the shining example of such saints as St Vincent Ferrer, St Catherine of Siena and others the Church emerged with her divinity unimpaired and entered upon a new life of worthier living.

“Lo, I am with you all days even to the consummation of the world”

So does Christ fulfil His promise: “Lo, I am with you always even to the consummation of the world.” It is faith in Him and in His presence in our midst that is the foundation of our confidence and gives us that encouragement, so necessary to preserve, in our service of God. It is the cheerful outlook that helps to advance in perfection; and sadness and melancholy, as we are constantly reminded, are enemies to be combated.

It is our faith in God that gives us that confidence

Our duty is not only to encourage ourselves but to encourage as well others with whom we may come in contact and to whom our influence extends.

As it is a means of encouraging, it is good sometimes to give people praise, show recognition of their good points and virtues, to let them see that if in some ways they have failed there are many more ways in which they have succeeded.

Encouraging ourselves and others

Charles Brookfield, a well-known actor of his day and a convert to the Catholic Church, once jokingly remarked: “I think there ought to be in every church not only the confessional where we have to tell our sins but another confessional where we can tell our virtues. In that way we recover our self-respect and the priest would have a truer and more complete knowledge of us.”

Every sincere sacramental confession is not only a confession of sin but an unconscious revelation of virtue

There is, of course, no need for this second confessional. We may assume that the priest has the qualities of a good confessor and will know that every sincere confession is not only a confession of sin but an unconscious revelation of virtue. It is testimony to the penitent’s faith, to his hope, to his humility – and often much else. Remembering this, the good confessor’s inclination is not to upbraid but on the contrary to be sympathetic, encouraging and helpful. If he sees his penitent unduly cast down or even suspects that he is likely to be, it is for the priest to remind him that he is not without some virtue, or at any rate has a substantial foundation of good upon which virtue can be raised.

In all accounts of Our Lord’s risen life, we do not find a word of recrimination to his repentant disciples for deserting Him

It is characteristic of Our Blessed Lord in His dealings with men, and especially with sinners, that He was always striking the note of encouragement and cheer.

When sinners repented, it was not His wont to bring up their past against them but He hastened at once to put them on the footing of friends who had never gone wrong.

In the dark hour of His suffering and death, Peter denied Him, and the rest of His apostles who with Peter had declared they would die with Him had on the contrary ingloriously fled and left Him to His fate.

But in all the accounts of His risen life, where do we find a word of recrimination for their defection, a word of blame to those shame-faced repentant disciples who cane out of their hiding-places to have share with Him in the victory of His Resurrection?

If there was in one instance a gentle chiding of them for their want of faith, there was no lack of warmth of welcome, no diminution of His love and friendship now that they had seen their folly and had hastened to His side again.

Though always aware of the evil in men, Our Blessed Lord seemed ever more intent upon seeing what was good in them.

And so in the Gospels we find Him constantly commending and praising those who had shown faith in Him and had done something to win His favour. Even when they had been guilty of much evil but had turned from the evil with sorrow, it is not on their evil He dwells but on the goodness that led to their sorrow.

Her love was more than her sins

“Many sins are forgiven her,” he said of the Magdalen, “because she has loved much,” to show us her love was more than her sins. He did not reproach the good thief with his multiplied crimes; but because one act of perfect contrition outweighs years of iniquity, He has for him only the consoling words:”Even this day shalt thou be with me in Paradise.”

Our Lord’s mercy for repentant sinners

We might multiply the instances in which Our Lord proves that He makes the utmost allowances for human frailty, and seemingly ignoring what is wrong and defective, eagerly seizes and expatiates upon what is good in men, that He might give them hope and encouragement.

In the spirit of Christ

We must learn the spirit of Christ in our dealings with our fellow men and in the ordering of our own interior life.

Many of us have a long record of sins against us for which by the grace and mercy of God we have repented, and whilst we ever retain an abiding sorrow for those sins let us never forget that the merits of our Redeemer on our behalf are infinite, only to be measured, if any measurement were possible, by the infinite love that He bears for each and every one of us.

The merits of Our Redeemer are infinite

He knows the clay of which we are formed. Most of us are far from being saints even now: we still sometimes sin, but if the habitual set of our wills is on good, the Saviour of men is ever there to assist us at once to rise and with courage renewed to continue the struggle.

The Saviour of men is ever there to assist us

Nor can it escape His notice that we are living in times of unusual trial and strain, brought about directly and indirectly by the terrible wars in which the greater part of the world has been involved. Everything, as we know, has been made more difficult – travelling, food, clothes. We often consider ourselves lucky to find even standing-room in our over-packed trains. We no longer get the abundance and variety of food which we once enjoyed. Poverty for many who once were in possession of riches has become such a real thing that they are now content to wear, if they can get them, the second-hand clothes of a pawn-shop.

Under these conditions of living we may be quite sure that if we humbly and patiently resign ourselves to the dispositions of Divine Providence, our credit balance in heaven will rapidly mount up and we need not fear to find ourselves declared bankrupts when the great day of reckoning comes.

– From: Lift Up Your Hearts, Christopher J. Wilmot S.J., The Catholic Book Club, London, 1949


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Posted by on February 2, 2016 in Words of Wisdom


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O God, who for our redemption didst give thine only-begotten Son to the death of the Cross, and by his glorious Resurrection hast delivered us from the power of our enemy; grant us so to die daily unto sin, that we may evermore live with him in the joy of his Resurrection; through the same Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

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Posted by on August 28, 2015 in Prayers for Today


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Question: Sometimes when I pray, I get really bad, even disgusting thoughts… I am not sure whether I should mention this in Confession.

Answer: “You are not alone in this problem: even some of the saints have spoken of it. Such thoughts are a particular kind of involuntary and distressing distraction in prayer. Obviously you don’t intend to have such thoughts and so you are not committing a sin, but if you want to, you can talk about the matter in Confession, though without going into details about what exactly the thoughts are. Your confessor will probably have heard of this phenomenon before and will help to reassure you.

More than normally open to distracting thoughts

When we pray we are more than normally open to distracting thoughts of all kinds. These sometimes arise from, or are consequences of, our experiences. If you have committed sins of unchastity in the past, you can renew your sorrow for those sins but without dwelling on them. We also believe in the Devil: his petty and nasty character may be responsible for the attempt to soil your prayer and to dishearten you. Therefore it is also a good idea to pray to St Michael and your holy Guardian Angel for protection.

More positively, turn away gently and peacefully from your thoughts that have disturbed you, and take the opportunity to dwell with a renewed determination on what is holy. One way to do this is to take some concrete scene, perhaps one of the mysteries of the rosary or one of the Stations of the Cross , and imagine yourself there, speak to our Lord from your heart, and ask Him for the particular graces that you need today.

Focusing on the words of the Mass or on a traditional prayer can also help. Most of all, do not be unduly disturbed and do not be tempted to give up on your prayer. It may well be that when you have found prayer difficult and a struggle; it is precisely then that Our Lord brings good out of evil, rewarding you with a deeper union with Him.”

– This article by Fr Tim Finigan was published in the Catholic Herald newspaper, issue 11 2014. [The inserted links to well-known traditional catholic devotions and prayers referred to in the above text have been added afterwards]. For subscriptions please visit [external link]


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Posted by on August 17, 2015 in Words of Wisdom


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By St John Vianney

Our great enemy

“Sin is the executioner of the good God, and the assassin of our souls. Sin is it, which snatches us from heaven to cast us into hell. And yet we love it! What folly! If we reflected well upon it, we should have such horror of sin that we would not commit it.

O my children, how ungrateful we are! God wishes us to be happy, and we will not! We turn from Him and give ourselves to the demon! We fly from our friend and seek the executioner!

We commit sin; we bury ourselves in the more, and once caught there we cannot rise. If it was a question of our worldly fortune, we should contrive to escape from the difficulty; but as it concerns only our soul, we stay there.

I am going to the same place as you, to be crucified anew

What has God done to us, then, that we afflict Him thus, even crucifying Him again in a sense – Him, Who has redeemed us from hell? If all sinners, when betaking ourselves to their guilty pleasures, met Our Lord on the way as Saint Peter did, and if He said to them: ‘I am going to the same place as you, to be crucial died there anew’ – perhaps that would make them reflect a little.

Oh! how insensate we are! We employ in damning ourselves the time which God has given us to save our souls! We make war on Him with the instruments He has given us for His service!

Is it not utter folly to earn hell, by allying ourselves with the devil, in preference to tasting even in this life the joys of heaven, by uniting ourselves to God in love? It is impossible to fully comprehend such madness, or to bewail it sufficiently.”

– St John Vianney

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Posted by on August 4, 2015 in Words of Wisdom


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No love, no heaven

“Early in childhood we learned that God is all-powerful. He can do anything. Later we came to understand that, although God can do anything, He cannot do a no-thing. For example, He cannot make a square circle. The words ‘square’ and ‘circle’ are contradictory words. They cancel each other out. A square circle is not a something; it is a nothing, and God does not do nothings.

This is a truth to be remembered if and when we may be tempted to commit a grave sin. No one who is in his right mind and who believes in heaven and hell, would want to jeopardise his eternal happiness for the sake of a present and very temporary pleasure or gain. Unfortunately, however, many persons have a mistaken and sentimental understanding of God. They may not put it into words, but in the act of sinning their unconscious reasoning is, ‘God is a good God. He will not let me lose heaven for this thing which I am doing.’

Sin is a denial to God of our love

What such persons fail to understand is that heaven, which is the possession of God in a union of love, and sin, which is a denial to God of our love, are contradictory concepts. They cancel each other out. Without love for God we are as incapable of possessing God in heaven as a man without eyes is incapable of seeing the colour of flowers.

But why cannot God make us love Him?

But why cannot God make us love Him? Why cannot He put love into us if we are lacking in love? Here again we encounter the same difficulty: a contradiction in terms. Love for another person cannot be forced upon us. If love is not freely given, it is not love at all. ‘Forced’ and ‘love’ cancel each other out. A forced love is not a something, it is a nothing.

God gives us a margin of freedom

Fortunately for us, God does His best, with countless graces, to instill and preserve in us a love for Himself. He wants our love. He wants to have us with Himself in heaven. Indeed, without His help, we would be incapable of making an act of love for Him. But, however powerful the graces He may give us, there remains to us a margin of freedom. We must make the choice. We must want to love Him, with a love expressed by our acceptance of His will. ‘What God wants, I want’; this, and not any sentimental imitation, is the real act of love. Our opportunity for making this act of love, this surrender of self to God, ends at death.

When a photographer is developing his films, there comes a point where he plunges the film into a chemical bath called a fixer. The fixer immediately stops the process of development. From that moment on, the film remains permanently unchanged. Whatever the contrasts of light and shadow, they are irrevocably set.

This earthly life is our time of development

For us, this life is the time of development. This is the period during which we generate in ourselves a love for God and, it is to be hoped, grow in that love. Death is the fixer. The moment that death intervenes, the direction of our will is permanently set – toward God or away from God, love or no love. Whichever it is, it will be that way forever.

Sin is the opposite of love

Once we possess God in heaven and are possessed by Him, we no longer can refuse Him our love. He is so infinitely lovable that, seeing Him, it would be impossible not to love Him. But, to achieve this happy destiny we must here and now kindle and nourish the feeble spark of love which, when it bursts into full flame in heaven, will all but tear us apart with ecstasy.

It would be a tragedy of the most horrible kind if a person were to choose self over God (which is sin) in the expectation that God, being good, would somehow set things right. God is infinitely good and all-powerful as well; but He cannot do a no-thing. He cannot equate heaven, which is love, with sin, which is love’s opposite.”

– Fr Leo J. Trese, “One Step Enough”, 1966


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(Week 25 of the year: Wednesday)


Jesus called the Twelve together and gave them power and authority over all devils and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. He said to them, “Take nothing for the journey: neither staff, nor haversack, nor bread, nor money; and let none of you take a spare tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there; and when you leave, let it be from there. As for those who do not welcome you, when you leave their town shake the dust from your feet as a sign to them.” So they set out and went from village to village proclaimed the Good News and healing everywhere.

V. The Gospel of the Lord.
R. Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.

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Posted by on September 26, 2014 in Prayers for Ordinary Time


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