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Behold the Man

It’s sometimes said, though perhaps not often enough, that one of the evils of our day is the loss of a sense of sin. Pope Pius XII famously said as much in a radio address to catechists in 1946. Pope Francis has echoed this same thought more than once, comparing the hypocrisy of some Christians to King David, who was blind to his own sin until the prophet Nathan brought it before his eyes: “You are the man!”

We all need, from time to time, to be shaken from our own blindness and complacency. As Pope Francis once put it: “May the Lord grant us the grace of always sending us a prophet – it can be a neighbor, a son or daughter, our mother or father – to slap us a bit when we’ve slid into an atmosphere where everything seems legitimate.”


Perhaps we can extend the point beyond recognition of mere blindness to our own faults and failings and the wisdom to pray for correction. It’s one thing to be blinded to, and blinded by, our own sins like David. It’s another thing entirely to have lost any sense at all that our actions might be judged by some standard – or by someone – beyond ourselves.

Fraternal correction presupposes fraternity. Such correction requires some sense of mutual responsibility and trust between parties (as one would hope to find between brothers). But on a more basic (almost pedantic) level, fraternal correction presupposes a shared sense of the nature and source of brotherhood: brothers are brothers because they share a common father.

So a Christian might be convinced of his need for repentance by being shown the ways in which he has strayed from God’s law or the law of the Church. But this depends on a preexisting recognition on the part of the sinner that such laws exist and a desire, however imperfect, to live in accord with those laws.

What of the person who does not acknowledge such laws or the authority behind them? What of the person who holds what is evil to be actually good? What of the person who does not know the Father or denies the teachings of our Mother, the Church? Such a person is not beyond hope of mercy and repentance, of course. But an appeal to law (God’s law, nature’s law, the Church’s law, or even man’s law), the authority of which he does not already acknowledge, is unlikely to move him to repentance.

In such a case, a loss of the sense of sin is not merely “blindness to my own particular sins,” but a loss of the very possibility of recognizing sin as such. If we have lost sight of God, if we have lost sight of the good from which sin is a departure or negation, then the category of sin itself (to say nothing of fraternity) ceases to be meaningful.

It’s interesting to note how we have arrived at the very precipice of what Nietzsche understood when he observed that if “nothing is true, everything is permitted,” and why he saw his philosophical project – indeed, described himself – as “Dionysus versus the Crucified.”

Read more at The Catholic Thing 

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