Deepen Our Conviction of Christ Tempted by the Devil, by Duccio
By Fr. VICTOR WHITE, 0X.
WE shall not be able to make much sense of Lent without a lively sense of sin. We shall not have made much use of Lent if, by the end of il, our eense of sin is not a good deal livelier. If we are among
the privileged who are able to attend
and follow—the daily Mass during Lent, we shall find that almost every word, every symbol and action. presupposes kind inculcates the " conviction of sin." And Lenten discipline? —the giving up of this or that " nice " thing and the tasking on of this or that " nasty " thing, the intensification of prayer and alms deeds?
Pelhaps Many of us are thinking there. is little extra to he done shout that this year (a 'matter on which advice should be taken. since it is one in which we are so apt to deceive outselves) — there is to much " mortification 's in life us we hate to live it anyway, Slut neither the assumption of additional penitential works nor the acceptance of the hard daily round will pi out us—will be a truly Lenten undertaking—if it does not spring from and nourish the sense of sin.
A thoroughly depressing idea? There is a great deal in our fallen nature, arid a great deal more in our modern environment, to make us think so. It is not easy—in fact it is impossible— to accept current ideas outside church, and then, with minds and hearts, to say " I have sinned exceedingly. . through my roost grievous fault " inside it. 'The air we breathe outside is full of ill digested. popularised " psycho-analysis " which inculcates that the " guilt-sense " and the " inferiority complex " are to be avoided like the devil as pathological diseases,
Our centemporai ies (and very often our own real thoughts if we dared to express them) have no use whatever for all this concern with sin. In the hard struggle for existence out goal is Success, or at any rate, Survival ; Success, if not Survival, demands Efficiency, and Efficiency demands Personality. Pep, Self-Confidence and Self-Assurance.
Them would seem to be little chance in such a society for the man who is deeply consciuus of being a sinner. In peace-time he is unlikely to " get on " —he is more likely to " go under." In war-time . . a wide and deep sense of sin waled (it might be supposed) spell defeat. Of course. we will pay our tribute to our inheritance of Christian convention by acknowledging we are not all we migiat be (it is our proudest boast that we do not host)—provided we do not have to scrutinise and particularise our mis deeds too exactly. But what chance (we ask) would the war-effort have if we did not believe that on the whole we were a pretty good crowd doing a jolly good job with jolly good tools? Don't we, in fact, at once label the fellow who says too much about our individual and national faults and crimes as a defeatist? (01 course we add, he can talk to his heart's content " after the War.") An Uneasy Feeling Yet few of us who claim to be Christians can be without an uneasy feeling about it all. Isn't the fact of our sin the beginning of the Bible (Gen, 3)? Isn't the acknowledgment of our sin the beginning of the Gospel with the preaching of Ss. John the Baptist)?—the beginning of our Christian lives (at Baptism)'!—the beginning of the Mass (the Cori/item)? Dues Christianity make sense at all except on the supposition that we are all sinners, and that sin has entered into the very marrow of our being? Does the Old Testament'? Do the Gospels? The Epistles? Does the Cross? Our Bap tism? Our Confessions? Our liturgical prayer? Our participation at Mass?
And if these things do not in fact make much sense to us. if they have grown stale and unreal, if they are anything less than of supreme and deepest importance in our lives—may it not be precisely because we. have lost the sense of sin, and so of the significance of these tokens and vehicles of God's mercy and salvation?
It is easy to lose it if we think of sin just as " unethical conduct," as passing misbehaviour. Easy. too, if we judge ourselves by false standards—comparing ourselves with those around us or with sonic written book of lutes only. By such standards we can often let ourselves off pretty lightly. But that is to
miss the real point. The Christian's sense of sin is not just the outcome of his human judgment on his human frailty and wilfulness.
For sin is nor ultimately just an unethical thing, but an irreligious thing; something whose nature and saitigyhiii.teanee ix fully revealed only to Faith, Human opinion of human misconduct, and of its disastrous results on the individual and society, confirms but does not base the Christian's acknowledgment of his sin. Its basis is not man's judgment on man, but God's judgment on man. St. John gets to the root of the matter when he writes: " If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar. and His word is not in us " (I in. i, lo). For it is God Who has " concluded all under sin " (Gal. iii, 22), and it is His Word that has pronounced us to be deserving of His wrath (Rom. fi, 5, etc.).
To deny or disregard God's judgment on man is to imply that God lies or that His view of man is unimportant or valueless. It is also to " deceive ourselves" (I in. i. 8), for it is to disregard the fundamental truth about ourselves whose acceptance is essential if we are to be open to God's saving work within ourselves and to permit the working out of His purpose in us.
It is true that an introspectise pieoccupation with our sin to the exclusion of all else will make us morbid and ineffectual — the very reverse of efficient doers of God's will and healthy members of Christ's Body. But it certainly was not as something depressing an morbid that the first Christians saw the revelation of human sin. Our
Lord Himself had said that to " convince the world of sin " (in, see IR) was to be the task GI the Ceroforrer The Church's triumphant song about the " happy fault " on Holy Satuldriy is anticipated by the whole argument or Si, Paul's epistles to the Romans and Galatians. " God . has concluded all under sin shut He May have mercy all ." In the acknowledgment of God's judgment upon to. as sinners is the indispensable preliminary to the acceptance of Hiss remedy. " Where sin abounded, grace did more abound" (Ron. v. 20,) Where sin is not frankly acknowledged, the gate is shut against grace and the means of grace.
" What shell we say, then? Shall we tattilinuc in sin (het grace may abound? God forbid "! (an vi. I, 2.) By acceptance of God's judgment on us, we begin at last to know the real truth about ourselves as God sees us, and the way is open te us to be itformed according to the pattein of Christ.. The acknowledgment at our sin is the indispensable beginning if we are to be detected from sin. Taking to heart the message or Lent. we are enabled to he fashioned by Him as living and effectual members of Hit risen Body. The glory of Easlet cannot he ours without the self-recognition impelled by living Lent.