-by Rev. Michael Schmitz | February 29, 2016, Archdiocese of Minneapolis/St Paul
Q. I teach young people who seem to think that, since God loves them, it doesn’t matter how they live.
A. This is a real issue, and I don’t think that the problem is limited to young people. I have met plenty of adults in my time who seem to exhibit the same disposition. What we are talking about are the “twin sins” of despair and presumption. I call them “twin sins” because both the temptation to deny God’s love and the temptation to presume upon God’s love are two sides of the same coin. They have a common root, and they also have a common remedy.
The problem with these twin sins is not that one takes sin too seriously and the other doesn’t take sin seriously enough. Although that would appear to make sense, it isn’t true.
That might even seem to make sense to you. Imagine that you are counseling a person tempted to despair of any hope because of their sins. Imagine someone who felt so awful for their sins that they just couldn’t dream that God could ever love them and raise them out of their brokenness. In that scenario, you might be tempted to advise them to “lighten up” about sin. You might be tempted to assure them that their sins “aren’t that bad.” (Note: there is such a thing as scrupulosity. But being scrupulous isn’t being sensitive to sin; that’s merely being holy. Scrupulosity is seeing sin where there is no sin.)
On the other hand, imagine one of the young people you mentioned. This kind of person claims to know something about God’s love. They might say, “I don’t have to be concerned with following God; He loves me no matter what.” If you were counseling a person in this state, you might be tempted to point out all of the ways that sin wounds the soul (and even often wounds the body!). You might point out all of the ways that sin destroys relationships and leads to death. It might be a very compelling thing to try to describe how truly ugly sin is. And that wouldn’t be wrong. All of those things are true. It might even be that your words could move this person’s heart and mind to take sin more seriously.
But I think that, in both cases, we are called neither to merely invite people to take sin less seriously nor to take sin more seriously. The lasting solution is to take the cross more seriously.
People tempted to despair do not need to take sin less seriously but to take the cross more seriously. If people take the cross of Jesus seriously, they know that there is no sin that Jesus didn’t die for. They know that they are not “beyond saving.” If a person really and truly takes the cross seriously, they would never question whether or not God loved them. Despair would be impossible.
Further, if people tempted toward presumption take the cross of Jesus seriously, they could not possibly dismiss the gravity of their sins. The cross is the price God paid for their sins. If a person takes the cross of Christ seriously, they have to recognize that it is their sin that moved the God of love to embrace suffering and death in order to forgive them.
Despair is the sin of Judas. It is ultimately rooted in pride. It says, “God’s love poured out on the cross is enough to save other people, but it cannot save me.” The person in despair sees the world with themselves at the center. If they would only be willing to realize they are not the center of reality, and that the saving cross of Jesus stands at the center of reality, they would realize they are both worse than they thought and that they are more loved than they could have imagined.
Presumption is the sin of our modern age. It is also rooted in pride. It says, “I do not need God’s (or anyone’s) help.” Or it says, “God understands all things. He will always forgive, even without my repentance.” If this person would only acknowledge that the consequence of each of their sins was the death of God Incarnate, they might not be so cavalier about the need to turn from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.
Ultimately, the answer to both despair and presumption is to take God seriously, to accept his love, and to accept his call to live a new life relying on his grace.”
Love & joy,
Summa Catechetica, "Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam." – St Anselm, "“Si comprehendus, non est Deus.” -St Augustine, "Let your religion be less of a theory, and more of a love affair." -G.K. Chesterton, "And above all, be on your guard not to want to get anything done by force, because God has given free will to everyone and wants to force no one, but only proposes, invites and counsels." –St. Angela Merici, “Yet such are the pity and compassion of this Lord of ours, so desirous is He that we should seek Him and enjoy His company, that in one way or another He never ceases calling us to Him . . . God here speaks to souls through words uttered by pious people, by sermons or good books, and in many other such ways.” —St. Teresa of Avila, "I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men and women who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, and who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it."- Bl John Henry Newman, Cong. Orat., "We cannot always have access to a spiritual Father for counsel in our actions and in our doubts, but reading will abundantly supply his place by giving us directions to escape the illusions of the devil and of our own self-love, and at the same time to submit to the divine will.” —St. Alphonsus Ligouri, "The harm that comes to souls from the lack of reading holy books makes me shudder . . . What power spiritual reading has to lead to a change of course, and to make even worldly people enter into the way of perfection." –St. Padre Pio, "Screens may grab our attention, but books change our lives!" – Word on Fire, "Reading has made many saints!" -St Josemaría Escrivá, "Do you pray? You speak to the Bridegroom. Do you read? He speaks to you." —St. Jerome, from his Letter 22 to Eustochium, "Encounter, not confrontation; attraction, not promotion; dialogue, not debate." -cf Pope Francis, "God here speaks to souls through…good books“ – St Teresa of Avila, Interior Castle, "You will not see anyone who is really striving after his advancement who is not given to spiritual reading. And as to him who neglects it, the fact will soon be observed by his progress.” -St Athanasius, "To convert someone, go and take them by the hand and guide them." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP. 1 saint ruins ALL the cynicism in Hell & on Earth. “When we pray we talk to God; when we read God talks to us…All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection.” -St Isidore of Seville, “Also in some meditations today I earnestly asked our Lord to watch over my compositions that they might do me no harm through the enmity or imprudence of any man or my own; that He would have them as His own and employ or not employ them as He should see fit. And this I believe is heard.” -GM Hopkins, SJ, "Only God knows the good that can come about by reading one good Catholic book." — St. John Bosco, "Why don't you try explaining it to them?" – cf St Peter Canisius, SJ, Doctor of the Church, Doctor of the Catechism, "Already I was coming to appreciate that often apologetics consists of offering theological eye glasses of varying prescriptions to an inquirer. Only one prescription will give him clear sight; all the others will give him at best indistinct sight. What you want him to see—some particular truth of the Faith—will remain fuzzy to him until you come across theological eye glasses that precisely compensate for his particular defect of vision." -Karl Keating, "The more perfectly we know God, the more perfectly we love Him." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP, ST, I-II,67,6 ad 3, “But always when I was without a book, my soul would at once become disturbed, and my thoughts wandered." —St. Teresa of Avila, "Let those who think I have said too little and those who think I have said too much, forgive me; and let those who think I have said just enough thank God with me." –St. Augustine, "Without good books and spiritual reading, it will be morally impossible to save our souls." —St. Alphonsus Liguori "Never read books you aren't sure about. . . even supposing that these bad books are very well written from a literary point of view. Let me ask you this: Would you drink something you knew was poisoned just because it was offered to you in a golden cup?" -St. John Bosco " To teach in order to lead others to faith is the task of every preacher and of each believer." —St. Thomas Aquinas, OP. "Prayer purifies us, reading instructs us. Both are good when both are possible. Otherwise, prayer is better than reading." –St. Isidore of Seville “The aid of spiritual books is for you a necessity.… You, who are in the midst of battle, must protect yourself with the buckler of holy thoughts drawn from good books.” -St. John Chrysostom