Article: If it causes you to sin, cut it off!

My article appears in the Sept 24, 2009, print edition of the Catholic Standard, the weekly newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington– though not on its web site. It is one of a series in which different priests reflect on the Scripture readings for the upcoming Sunday. (link to readings) In this version, I use my original headline and text, without the edits found in the printed version.

Do you find yourself confessing the same sins again and again?

If you have been baptized into Christ, then you have undertaken serious combat against sin in your own life. And it doesn’t take long to discover that it will be a protracted struggle against a strong, entrenched enemy.

For two millennia, Christian spiritual writers have mapped out our lifelong journey of spiritual growth in three broad stages. The first is called the Purgative Way because it is characterized by purging or removing from our life what entangles us: all our mortal or serious sins; all our venial or less serious sins; and whatever weighs us down personally.

St. Teresa of Avila, in the first of seven mansions of her Interior Castle, compares this process to cleansing a polluted stream, or seeking to escape from poisonous snakes and beasts.

It is no easy task. And it can be discouraging to discover that you are weaker than you thought—unable to resist that same tug of pleasure, that same shove of fear, that keeps knocking you off the strait and narrow. It seems you aren’t made of very tough stuff! Should you just give up?

But when the going gets tough, the tough get going! No one is tougher in the fight against sin than our Lord Jesus. And he has strong counsel for us on how to make progress. He lays it out in this weekend’s Gospel reading: “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off… And if your foot causes you to sin, cut if off… And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.”

Jesus is not telling us to literally amputate our bodily organs. Our hand, foot, or eye cannot actually cause us to sin. But, as the Church Fathers taught, our relationships with certain people can.

Indeed, certain situations, habits, and possessions set us up to give in to sin—the same sin, over and over.

These are the famous “near occasions of sin” that we promise to avoid in the traditional Act of Contrition. We should reflect carefully on what circumstances and people are involved when we fall; what weakens us; what drives us to try to fulfill some need through sin.

To root out a relationship, habit, or possession that is deeply imbedded in our lives can be just as painful as cutting off a bodily organ. But Jesus says: “cut it off”; “pluck it out.”

It will cost us. Purgation hurts—at least at first. But it is the way to victory. St. Teresa urges: “Let the soul be manly … determined to fight with all the devils and realize that there are no better weapons than those of the cross.”

In the words of the Letter to the Hebrews: “Let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith.”

Reflection Questions:

  • What sins do I fall into again and again?
  • What circumstances, habits, relationships, or possessions set me up to fall?
  • What concrete steps can I take to cut out of my life these near occasions of sin?

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Published in: on September 24, 2009 at 7:33 pm  Leave a Comment  
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