The saints show us how serious sin really is

Blessed Solanus Casey, whose first feast day will be celebrated July 30, and other saints recognized their own sinfulness — even the smallest of venial sins — as an egregious offense against God, and thus point the way toward steady growth in holiness. Michigan Catholic file photo

Earlier this month, several of the daily Mass readings came from the Book of the Prophet Hosea. As with many of the prophets, God asked Hosea to be a prophet in actions as well as in words. To show Israel just how far they had gone in abandoning the Lord, and yet how far their God was willing to go to bring them back, Hosea took as his wife Gomer, a harlot. The implication was clear: by abandoning the worship of the true God for worship of the false gods of the surrounding nations, Israel had played the harlot, the unfaithful bride. And yet, her God was ready to take her back to Himself as the most loving and forgiving of spouses.

We can easily be tempted to think that Hosea’s prophecies applied only to the Israelites long ago. And yet every time we sin, we too are unfaithful to our God. Even the smallest venial sin is a turning away from the One who loves us infinitely.

How often do we make excuses for our own sinfulness? Do we fail to take our sin seriously, presumptuously assuming that, “It’s not that bad,” or “God will forgive me anyway”? Several times I have heard priests in homilies remind their congregation to confess their own sins, not the sins of others as an excuse for their own. No one else is responsible for my own actions — good or bad. The Lord has given each of us free will, and no matter what another does to us, we still make our own choice of how to respond.

How different from our own excuses for our sins are the saints’ responses to their sinfulness! The saints recognized that every sin amounts to choosing “not God,” turning away from Love itself. This is why they thought of themselves as the greatest of sinners, because they recognized fully the power of God’s grace to spare them from sin and their own rejection of that grace. They saw clearly the horror of every single sin.

This month, we celebrate the feasts of two newly beatified, American-born Blesseds: Fr. Stanley Rother on Saturday, July 28, and Fr. Solanus Casey on Monday, July 30. These two men gave of themselves completely to their God and His Church. Blessed Stanley Rother chose to die rather than to abandon the flock entrusted to his care. Blessed Solanus Casey accepted the humiliation of being a simplex priest — unable to preach homilies or hear confessions — embracing obedience to the will of God manifested through his superiors. Both men lived lives of heroic humility, recognizing their own weakness and relying on God’s strength.

Like Blessed Stanley, Blessed Solanus and all the saints, let us respond in humility to our God. Let us acknowledge our own weaknesses and repent of the evil of our sins. Let us recognize that it is God alone who brings us unfaithful ones back to Himself. Let us allow Him to woo us with His love and to draw us back to His own fidelity through His forgiveness. Let us turn from our sinfulness and “return … to the Lord, your God” (Hosea 14:1a).

Sr. Mary Martha Becnel is a member of the Ann Arbor-based Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.