A great joy, actually!
Over the years I have come across a number of people who state their opposition to the reality of sin. When I served as an Anglican clergyman various parishioners said that they didn’t believe in sin. When asked to explain this, they said that “sin” was so negative and that talking about sin just made everyone sad. When pushed further they agreed that this meant there was no real need for salvation, and that they believed everyone went to heaven.*
Resigning from the Church of England and entering the full communion of the Catholic Church was motivated not least by the lack of consistency in doctrine in the C of E and so being received into the Catholic Church, I accepted joyfully its Magisterium (teaching authority). Yet I have come to discover a similar problem in the Catholic Church! Many Catholics do not believe sin is 'as bad as all that'. Many do not really think there is mortal sin, or sin that is unto death. One reason why almost everyone who goes to Mass receives the Blessed Sacrament is because many don’t really believe in mortal sin. They just think God is a nice chap and of course He wants us to receive “communion”, no matter what state our soul is in. This diminishing of sin in people’s minds is extremely dangerous and is of course exactly what the Enemy wants us to think.
If we want to know how dangerous sin is we simply need to consider the Incarnation and today’s gospel reading (Matt 1:18-24). The Angel said to Joseph in a dream, “You shall call his name, Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” The very reason for the Incarnation, the reason that God became man, is because of sin. Out of His great merciful love, God desires to save us from our sins, and in order to do so, condescended to become Man. In the Blessed and Immaculate Mary the divine and human nature were united in this child, who was to be called Joshua, or Jesus. His name means ‘God saves’, which is not only His mission but also His identity.
Why on earth would God become man if sin were not serious? Why would God condescend to unite Himself with our human nature, if sin were ‘not that bad’ or ‘did not exist’?
The truth is sin is deadly. Sin causes disintegration. Sin causes disintegration between our relationship with God, between our relationships with fellow human beings, between our relationship with the whole of Creation, and even the relationship between our body and spirit. Sin is a comprehensive disaster! There is nothing else that does such a comprehensive and damaging job as sin!
By saying this I am not being negative! By saying this, the Church’s magisterium is not being negative! By saying this Christ is not being negative! The first words of Christ’s first sermon was “Repent and believe!” This was the proclamation of Christ after His Baptism, at the beginning of His public ministry. And Christ went all the way to Calvary to definitively and completely deal with sin.
Sin is immensely serious and comprehensively disastrous, but we have the Good News that Christ has completely and entirely dealt with our sin, and so His grace is sufficient for us to deal with sin in our lives. Christ has given His Church the authority to absolve sin, especially mortal sin. “Those who sins you forgive, they are forgiven…”, He said to the Apostles on Easter Day.
We need to take sin immensely seriously but taking it seriously does not mean wallowing in it or just being miserable, it means dealing with it. So let us all repent, get ourselves off to confession, and let us all have our sin dealt with by the grace of Christ in the Church. Dealing with sin through the grace of Christ is actually a great joy!
*Not everyone in the C of E thinks like this, there are many good Christians who do believe in salvation from sin, but for me there were too many who thought that this way of thinking was entirely compatible with membership of the Anglican church.