Catholic Culture Podcasts
Catholic Culture Podcasts

The Father William Most Collection

Sin and its Effects

[Published electronically for use in classes taught by Fr. Most and for private theological study.]

Why does God give us commandments? Not because He likes to give orders. Not to gain anything for Himself. If we imagine 1000 great Saints "serving" God for a century - -what would He gain from that? Nothing at all.

So He does not give us orders to get anything for Himself. No, instead He wants to give things to us, give us His graces. But if we are not open to take in what He sends, the graces will run off uselessly, like the water on the back of a duck.

So the first reason He gives orders is so He can give good things to us. There is another reason: God is Holiness itself. So He loves all that is right, dislikes what is morally wrong. If then a sinner disturbs the right order of things, puts it out of balance, the Holiness of God wants that restored.

We could compare this picture to a two pan scales. A sinner takes from one pan what he has no right to take - the scales is out of balance. The Holiness of God wants it rebalanced. How can anyone do that? If a man stole property, he begins to rebalance by giving it back. To keep the property is to continue the sin. Suppose Pat stole $100 from Mike, and then came back and asked Mike to forgive him. Suppose Mike said: I do forgive you. But Mike still should ask Pat to give back the $100. For if Pat kept it, the offense would continue. Really, no forgiveness could be had then. To forgive is to let it go - but Pat should not let it go without seeing the money come back. That would be bad for his friend Mike. If Mike kept on holding on to it,he would be continuing the offense. An offense cannot be forgiven or let go while the offense continues. So Mike could say: Yes, I am willing to let it go in the sense that I am willing to be friendly to you again. But I cannot afford to lose that $100. (We said "begin" because the imbalance from even one mortal sin is infinite - too much for any creature to make it up. So if the Father wanted it -He did not have to arrange to make it up, but surely did want it - the only possible way would be to send His son to make it up. That He did).

God of course cannot lose anything. Yet as we said, His Holiness wants the things to be given back.

Suppose someone did not steal property, but stole a pleasure he had no right to have. That pleasure is used up, so we cannot talk about giving it back. But the sinner could do what amounts to the same by giving up some other pleasure he could have rightly had. That begins to rebalance the scale. God does not demand that the rebalance be complete at once - if the sinner intends to do it - in this world or in the next (Purgatory) that will be enough.

But there is another angle. St.Paul told the Corinthians ( 1 Cor 12:26): "If one member [of Christ] suffers, all the members suffer. For we are naturally bound together, we form one body in Christ. An old Rabbis said it well, Simeon ben Eleazar: "Someone has committed a transgression. Woe to him! He has tipped the scale to the side of debt for himself and for the world. For any sin of someone harms all. There is no such a thing as a victimless crime.

So the Holiness of God wants the scales rebalanced because He loves what is right in itself. He also wants it rebalanced because the imbalance is harmful to all the other members of Christ.

But one member can make up for another. So St. Paul said (Col 1:24): "I fill up the things that are lacking to the tribulations of Christ in my flesh for His body, which is the Church." Of course, Christ lacked no suffering. His suffering was beyond telling. But the whole Christ, that is, Christ with His members, can lack something. For we are not saved as individuals. We are saved in as much as we are members of Christ. And of course that means we must be like Him - like Him in the matter of making rebalance for sin. St.Paul knew that many members of Christ were not doing their part - but he, Paul, could make up for them. So he did.

This remarkable interrelation reflects the fact that love of God and love of neighbor are most closely joined together. To love in general is to will good to another for the other's sake. Of course, we must adjust that a bit when we direct love to God, for it is foolish to say we wish Him well! But, as we saw above, it pleases Him when we obey. So in practice, to love God is to obey Him, so He may have the generous pleasure of giving to us, and of seeing the moral order righted. But -- God wills also to give to neighbor. Therefore if I love Him, I will want Him to have the pleasure of giving to neighbor too. In that way I love God - and also, by willing good to neighbor, I am loving neighbor.

We saw that St. Paul tried to make up for the sins of others. That is love for others, of course, for that helps to put them in position to be able to receive God's generosity. But a large question": How can we have reparation enough to not only make up for our own sins, but also to help with those of others? It is true, by our own power we cannot fully make up for our own sins -- recall above we said that make-up for sin only begins to make up? Yet we can offer the same reparation twice, as it were. If I offer suffering in reparation for sins of my neighbor, then it doubles in value, or is counted twice. First, it is reparation for my own sins. But also, in willing to make reparation for neighbor, the love of neighbor involved makes it also a help to neighbor, and additionally pleasing to God's generosity.



To Most Collection home page