If there were one sinful habit we could break, what would it be? Let’s think about something we consistently do but always regret. We might say, “I want to stop swearing, or taking God’s name in vain,” “I want to stop shouting at my kids,” “I want to stop focusing on my work, spend less time on my phone or social media because I never give enough time to my family,” “I want to stop lying to my family, gossiping, getting into arguments with my parents,” or “I want to stop watching pornography, or going too far with my boyfriend/girlfriend.”
St. Paul expressed the same frustration we feel over our repeated sins when he said, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Rm 7:15).
We’re going to expand on a solution we briefly talked about in November about confessing the same sins over and over again,yet never improving. Part of the solution is going to Confession more frequently (not less often). The other part of the solution is mentioned by St. Paul in today’s second reading when he says, “You… must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rm 6:11).
‘Dead to sin’ means that we no longer find our sins attractive or enticing. You see, part of the reason why we keep on doing the same sins is because we like them. St. Francis de Sales calls this ‘affection for sin.’ There are some people, he says, who give up sins but still like them. It’s like the doctor saying to some man, “Sir, you can’t eat fruit anymore because it’ll kill you.” So he gives up fruit, but reluctantly; he still longs to eat it; he talks about it, wants to smell it at least, and envies those who can eat it (St. Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life, chapter 7). This is somewhat like us. We lie, for example, because we like it: It gets us out of trouble. We gossip because it’s interesting to know what’s going on about other people.
So, how do we become dead to sin? Ralph Martin, commenting on St. Francis de Sales, says we need to realize that “sin never helps, sin only hurts; the temporary pleasure of sin never is worth it… sin is intrinsically evil, sin always damages the human soul, sin always offends God, sin always contributes to our unhappiness… sin always sets us back from what we really long for, the happiness that we really long for (Ralph Martin, Pursuing Holiness, Track 8, 3:06).
For example, I grew up like everyone else, watching TV that portrayed sex as something merely for pleasure and romantic love: When you love someone romantically, sex follows; I had no idea that it had to do with self-giving, marriage or having children. With that mentality, therefore, when I saw women scantily clad or provocatively dressed in magazines, TV, etc., I thought it was fine. But a time came, after years of coming closer to God and growing in my understanding of the beauty of sexuality, that I changed. I started seeing how the distortion of something so good was harmful.
One time, a youth group I was leading had an event on the topic of lust. They put up all these pictures on the wall from magazines showing how we’re bombarded with images about how great it is to be sexy. When I walked into the room, I was saddened by these pictures; I found nothing at all attractive about them, but actually found them gross. One woman said to me, “Wow, Father, your reaction spoke volumes. You were visibly affected by it.” I responded, “I know, I don’t like it anymore. They’re just objectifying women. And then the girls here see this and get hurt by it because they think this is what’s beautiful (of course, it’s not. True beauty is deeper). Then, when men look at those women, they don’t care about them; they’re just lusting after them, and then they lose their masculinity, because they’re not sacrificing themselves for other people.” Knowing these facts, I was dead to this sin.
Now, what about small sins? Let’s take lying. Some think small lies aren’t that bad; no one gets hurt, right?
There’s a Canadian psychologist teaching at the University of Toronto, Jordan Peterson, who became quite famous last year because he doesn’t want to be forced to use gender neutral pronouns. So, if someone wants to be referred to as ‘Zir,’ ‘Ze,’ ‘Zhe,’ ‘Zher,’ instead of ‘he,’ ‘she,’ ‘him,’ or ‘her,’ he won’t comply. He had the courage to say that he won’t be forced to do something that isn’t real: people are either male or female; there are no other genders. So U of T wrote him two letters of warning that this could be discrimination; there have been protests and pressure applied to him, but while many are giving in and being politically correct, he’s standing strong.
Now why won’t he budge? He’s studied for 15 years totalitarian regimes like Nazi Germany and the atheistic Communist Soviet Union and found that regular people in these countries could eventually do horrible things, like being a guard at Auschwitz, when they started with small lies. By muffling themselves and not speaking the truth, they gave into these philosophies.
Knowing this, he doesn’t want to give into the lie of saying that people are gender neutral. There’s no science behind these claims: People are either male or female; it’s a political agenda that claims otherwise.
In the following interview, the interviewer basically asks him, “What can we all do to make sure we never do horrible things?” His response is a bit academic, but it’s powerful, because he knows how harmful lying is. So he says we should never lie, about anything, ever.
(49:12 to 50:30; 54:59 to 57:33)
Every sin damages, and little ones lead to big ones. This weekend we’re celebrating the 150th birthday of our beautiful country, Canada. We are blessed in so many ways and have privileges that billions of people don’t have. But Canada now allows things that were once thought impossible in a Christian country (we used to be a Christian nation). How many abortions are there annually in Canada? 100,000. Last year the Supreme Court decriminalized physician-assisted suicide, meaning doctors can now help kill their patients if they want to die. There were at least 744 people murdered (euthanized) last year.
It all started with word games: People calling babies fetuses. But this doesn’t make sense. When Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, was pregnant, no one said she’s pregnant with the ‘royal fetus.’ When people talk about a woman’s right to choose, what about the baby’s right to live? And does anyone have the right to choose murder? Being pro-choice is deceptive, because it doesn’t specify what one’s choosing. When it comes to euthanasia, now there’s also talk about the right to die.
We need to remind ourselves that lying is always wrong, even small lies. Our children need to know that it’s always better to suffer consequences or punishment rather than lie. We have to train ourselves to avoid lying at all costs.
That’s why St. Paul says in Romans 12:9: “Let love be genuine, hate what is evil.” We should hate evil actions. It’s good to hate slavery, torture, bullying—they’re very bad.
This applies even to small things. My friend, for example, always arrives early for everything. When I asked him why, one time, he arrived ten minutes before our scheduled meeting, he said, “I hate making people wait.” He hated making people wait and so always arrived early.
This leads us to a general principle of living: If we hate certain actions, we’ll avoid them. But if we’re wishy-washy about them, we’ll probably give in.
For instance, when I’ve given talks on chastity and purity to high school students, there are certain sexual sins that some students would never do. They’d say, “I’d never watch porn!” or “I’d never have sex before marriage.” Can you hear the strength of their words? Because of this, even when tempted, they won’t give in. But, over time, their resolve tends to get weakened. By the time they’re in college, they think, “It’s not that bad,” or “Everyone’s doing it.” At this point, they probably won’t have the strength to resist.
For us, when we think about the bad habits we’d like to break, I’d like to suggest that we hate our sins. We could pray, “Jesus, I don’t want to do this anymore… I hate it… Please bless my resolution and give me strength to carry it out.” Our strength comes from Jesus and the Cross, because we can’t do it on our own. St. Paul says in the second reading that, at baptism, our lives were joined to the Cross of Christ—there’s power in the Cross to defeat our sins.
Now all this talk about hating our sins should never lead us to hate ourselves—that’s a trap of the devil. We hate the sin, but love the sinner. Let’s never get down on ourselves if we fail. Never give in to discouragement. God loves us even when we fall, and wants to raise us up. If we sin, we ask for forgiveness and Jesus loves to forgive us! Let’s never be afraid to go to God in our messiness. It’s good to remind ourselves, especially in a homily like this one that mentions many sins, that every sin can be forgiven. If we had sex before marriage, or had or was involved in an abortion, we must remember that Jesus offers us forgiveness. And what’s more, He can wipe the past away and give us a new start.
The strongest motivation for overcoming our bad habits is love. St. Paul says we’re dead to sin, but “alive to God in Christ Jesus.” What makes us come alive is Jesus. If we pause for five seconds… and think about His love for five seconds right now… we realize, “I don’t want to hurt Him.” When we reflect on our love for Him, this strengthens us to not want to hurt Him.
What also makes us come alive is goodness. While we hate evil actions, we love good ones: “We love telling the truth kindly and firmly, we love being polite and calm, we love helping other people.”
Jesus says today, “Whoever loses their life for my sake will find it” (Mt 10:39). This is another way of saying we’re dead to sin, but alive to God.