Reconciliatio et Paenitentia 18: The Loss of the Sense of Sin, Part 6: A Denial of God

Here and tomorrow, we’ll finish up John Paul II’s analysis of The Loss of the Sense of Sin. Here, we ponder a deeper question: what does it mean?

The loss of the sense of sin is thus a form or consequence of the denial of God: not only in the form of atheism but also in the form of secularism. If sin is the breaking, off of one’s filial relationship to God in order to situate one’s life outside of obedience to him, then to sin is not merely to deny God. To sin is also to live as if he did not exist, to eliminate him from one’s daily life.

This is not always explicit in human behavior. It can be hard to focus on God 24/7. Human beings have moments where they are engaged in the business of the world, doing the outward things needed to eat, sleep, socialize, etc.. If some business practices are immoral, but part of “doing business,” is that an outright denial of God’s place in our life, or just a blind spot?

Here, the Holy Father blames mass media, but I think it’s better for the Christian to look at herself or himself. Are believers committed to continuing formation and an ever-deepening relationship with God? Do we look to where the next step will take us? Or are we satisfied with membership as a badge of our identification with Jesus? On one hand, there’s no question non-Christian elements in the world promote non-Christian things: making money, buying things, feeling good. On the other, believers don’t always take responsibility for their own state of affairs with God. I feel skeptical about putting too much blame outside the person for her or his own faults, flaws, and sins.

A model of society which is mutilated or distorted in one sense or another, as is often encouraged by the mass media, greatly favors the gradual loss of the sense of sin. In such a situation the obscuring or weakening of the sense of sin comes from several sources:

  • from a rejection of any reference to the transcendent in the name of the individual’s aspiration to personal independence;
  • from acceptance of ethical models imposed by general consensus and behavior, even when condemned by the individual conscience;
  • from the tragic social and economic conditions that oppress a great part of humanity, causing a tendency to see errors and faults only in the context of society;
  • finally and especially, from the obscuring of the notion of God’s fatherhood and dominion over (a person’s) life.

These sources should be well-considered. The second continues to be a challenge. There are some positive ethical models that really could be integrated more deeply into a Christian view of sin. But they haven’t originated with the Bible, the saints, or the magisterium. The third above needs to be carefully nuanced. John Paul II himself has conceded that some sins are so deeply embedded in society that individuals at fault can be very hard to locate. The fourth can be a problem when religious leaders, especially the ones who have given bad example, equate God’s dominion with their own.

Tomorrow, we’ll finish the larger topic of the Mystery of Sin with a look at influences within the Church on a loss (or lack) of a sense of sin.

This document is Copyright © 1984 – Libreria Editrice Vatican. The link on the Vatican site is here.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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