Monday 12 May 2014

Distinguishing Between The Sin and The Sinner...Seeing God as Our Healer

From Today's Office of Readings:
"God thirsts for your prayer, not your blood; 
He is appeased by your love, not by your death" (St Peter Chrysologous)

It’s rather difficult to speak about sin and its harmful effects upon the soul without it being taken personally by sensitive souls. Recognising themselves to be sinners, sensitive souls may see the condemnation of sin as a condemnation of themselves. This is particularly true of those who have committed acts that cannot be undone, such as adultery or an abortion. The thing is, their future is yet to be, and their future can be peaceful and graced. We need souls to see themselves as wounded and weak rather than wicked; and God as their Healer as much as their Lord. People must not be disabled by their sin; God does not want them disabled but healed by His Divine Mercy.

While we must never underestimate the seriousness of sin (it is a sickness that leads to spiritual death) we must never underestimate the fact that we are conceived disabled by original sin and made positively prone (concupiscence) to actual sin: "Oh see in guilt I was born; a sinner I was conceived" (Psalm 50).

Having fallen into sins which cannot be undone, such as adultery or abortion, can leave sensitive souls carrying a burden of guilt they ought not to carry: we can absolve them from guilt objectively in Confession, but we cannot always take away the feelings of guilt which can paralyse a soul. In such cases we have to advise them to talk it through outside Confession, or to seek independent counselling (for those who are post-abortive I advertise contact with Rachel’s Vineyard or British Victims of Abortion every week in the Bulletin so as to a healing ministry). I don’t advise counselling before Confession, because if the feelings of guilt or removed the person may never come for absolution of their objective guilt, so Confession with Absolution is always step 1; counselling is always step 2.

But you know, none of us is free from sin; even the priest who sits in the Confessional to correct, advise and absolve is but a wounded healer, much like a physician who is himself ill. And the healing aspect of Absolution is not to be overlooked. Souls must be helped to see God as the merciful Lord who, when sin has been regretted and left behind, comes to them as their Divine Physician: “The healthy have no need of a doctor, the sick do, and indeed, I have not come for the virtuous, but for sinners” (Matt.9v12,13).

If we could learn to see ourselves and others as broken rather than simply ‘bad’; as weak rather than simply ‘wicked’; and if we could see the priest in Confession as a Spiritual Physician who determines a prescription of treatment as well as a spiritual Judge who determines our penance, we might give some souls a better chance of moving on in grace. Yes mortal sin is serious and self-inflicted; yes it leads to the loss of Heaven and the fall into Hell; yes it requires penance and a change in our way of life, but none of this is negated by seeing sin as a wound and the Church as a field hospital.

I don’t think seeing sin as a sickness minimises sin; mortal sin is indeed a deadly, self-inflicted wound; it does indeed require radical surgery (repentance and re-education) with difficult convalescence (penance) in order to be healed. This does not remove our responsibility for our sins or fail to require that we to do penance; but unless we can see ourselves as sick rather than simply wicked and penance as a treatment we will not see God as the Divine Physician by “whose stripes we are healed” (1.Pet.2v24). He will be nothing more than ‘a big policeman in the sky’, and He is far more than that: He is Father, He is Shepherd, and He is Healer: The Suffering Servant.

Seeing sin as a sickness also allows us to be a bit more compassionate with others; it does not ask us to overlook their sin and certainly not to dismiss it; we must be like the earthly physician who does not ignore a cancer.  But seeing sin as a sickness does help us to be less judgemental of the person who suffers from the cancer we call sin, and can cause us to seek to help rather than condemn them. I just think we need to take seriously both the sickness of sin and the healing power of the Suffering Servant “by whose stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53v5).

We can equate sin with sickness because...

Sin kills the soul; 
sickness kills the body.
Sin requires penance; 
sickness requires treatment.
Sin is self-inflicted; 
sickness is self-inflicted (improper diet, smoking, alcohol, lack of exercise  etc.)
Sin wounds the whole church; 
sickness spreads by example and infection.
The physician judges symptoms to save the body; 
the priest judges actions to save the soul.
The physician prescribes a remedy; 
the priest prescribes a penance.
The physician watches for relapse;
the priest watches for concupiscence.
The physician calls for lifestyle changes; 
the priest calls for life-style changes.
If we don’t take sickness seriously the body dies; 
if we don’t take sin seriously, the soul dies.


  1. A lovely explanation. And after Confession we must really really start a new life in Christ and forget the past because He has made our sins as white as snow.

    1. Thank you, Paul.
      Yes, the change of lifestyle is essential. Wounds only break down; sickness only progresses, if changes are not put into place, but what changes grace can work -white as snow indeed!
      God Bless.

  2. As always, thank you Fr Gary.
    The most difficult part of confession (for me) is not facing up to the sin but in vocalising that sin to the priest in confession. For me confession would be so much easier if one could go into the confessional & say "I am sorry for the sins which I have committed". But surely confession is not meant to be easy. A little like having toothache & having to go to the dentist where a certain amount of pain & discomfort is the price to pay for having the pain of toothache removed. The cure is not fatal but uncomfortable, going to confession is the discomfort for being 'cured' of our sins.

    1. Thank you David.
      I think Theresa will have no difficulty understanding the analogy.
      The most open confessions are the ones which bring great healing, as long as we are not self-destructive in our self-assessment (a simple confession of the sin names the truth and shames the devil, who cannot remain where truth lives). It is not easy to admit our sins, and not always easy to bring some of our illness before the Medical Practitioner -but it is the only way to peace of mind in both situations.
      God Bless.


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