The Annotated Catechism for Autistic Thinking
Our discussion on sin continues this week in step with the Baltimore Catechism, Lesson Six. As we study various examples of sin, we can equally call this a study of our human faculties and how we respond to the opportunities which come our way.
God desires a firm and freely chosen place in the heart and mind of each soul He creates. Our hearts and minds are distracted, however, by the knowledge of evil which we now inherit as part of the human condition. The degree to which we dwell upon these distractions is one indicator of how fully we trust and accept God in relationship to ourselves.
The Catechism explains that sin is a willful – that is, freely chosen – departure from God. This can be done by thought, by word or by deed. As we consider this in terms of relationship, we can call to mind similar dynamics in any of our existing relationships, be these friends or family, neighbors or coworkers. Imagine those elements which cause friction and erosion in our relationships. Thoughts by themselves are not harmful, nor necessarily sinful, until we nurture and entertain thoughts which breed unrest. Feelings are valid. Thoughts come and go. Many times, people act in irritating ways. We can think and feel a hundred different ways toward the same person throughout any given day, but these thoughts will not erode our relationship with this person unless they take a practiced, divisive turn. Likewise, if we are tempted by ideas that would lead to harm or use the other person as an object for our own thrill, we can choose to dismiss these thoughts or retain them. If we retain them, we can well imagine how the other person would feel if these ideas were suddenly made transparent. Thoughts which erode relationships and cultivate resentment tend to be sinful. And, since thoughts lay the foundation for attitudes and behavior, then words and deeds logically follow suit. Any thought, word or action which knowingly erodes and divides reflects a departure from God’s intended design for humanity.
The question of “Yes, but is it sinful?” boils down to three factors, as the Catechism goes on to explain: seriousness of the matter at hand, degree of prior reflection, and our consent to the departure from God. These are truths which can only fully be acknowledged deep within ourselves, and even then it can be difficult to reach absolute certainty. The Catholic Church is very clear: sin exists, and all sin destroys our ability to trust and experience God. A departure which meets all criteria – a serious matter which we have pondered and consent to carrying out – is considered a mortal sin, in that it is a full break from God that requires our repentance and renunciation to repair if we truly do not want to forfeit our relationship with God completely. “Mortal,” in this sense, literally refers to the life of our soul. Not every sin is this dire. The majority of departures from God are venial, which comes from roots meaning “pardonable,” and refers to sin that stems more from weakness in the face of temptation than from calculated disavowal of God. This is not to diminish the erosive power of venial sin. Anyone can attest that a relationship can be just as easily destroyed by small erosion over time as by a single catastrophic break.
Readers will likely note that our study has not included any specific list of dos or don’ts. God’s law is not a list of rules, so it would not be practical to list what is sinful and what is not. God does not dole out permission or watch over humanity with a running count of our infractions. God exists, and God loves. We either trust His love or we skirt around it, sometimes outright deny it. There are as many ways to depart from God as there are individuals who depart from Him. Sin is about our soul’s relationship with God, bottom line.
The good news is that God’s relationship with us is constant and alive. If we depart from Him, He waits for our return without abandoning or condemning us. And, He has given us a clear and definitive way back for each and every instance of departure. No soul is ever without the opportunity to be restored to the relationship God intended with us from the beginning.
Next week, we continue looking at what we proclaim when we say the Nicene Creed. Our next Catechism post in two weeks will look at the most common temptations toward departure – that is, toward sin.
May the power of Divine Love shine in and through my weakness, so that He might be glorified in and through me, and that in my weakness, His power may reach perfection. Through Christ Our Lord, AMEN.
Fr. Mark P. Nolette - Spiritual Director for the Mission of Saint Thorlak