Advent: A Good Time for an Examination of Conscience

Father John A. Kiley

The season of Advent begins this year with a rather chilling indictment of sinful mankind. The prophet Isaiah roundly condemns his generation for their neglect of personal responsibilities as well as their neglect of the worship of God Himself.
“Behold, you are angry, and we are sinful; all of us have become like unclean people, all our good deeds are like polluted rags; we have all withered like leaves, and our guilt carries us away like the wind. There is none who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to cling to you; for you have hidden your face from us and have delivered us up to our guilt.”
Mankind’s native sinfulness is a rare discussion topic or sermon focus nowadays. So the Scriptures wisely invite humanity to begin the Church’s new liturgical year with a frank look at the perennial errors of the human race. The sin against the Holy Spirit, the seven deadly sins, and the four sins that cry out to God for vengeance are well worth an annual review. A mini-catechesis might indeed give all readers some pause.
The Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark and Luke all indicate that there is only one unforgiveable sin, specifically, the sin against the Holy Spirit. This irredeemable offense is nothing other than hardness of heart, the sin of final unrepentance.
The sorry soul turns himself against God, rejects God’s forgiveness, and dies refusing God’s overtures toward eternal life. God would indeed gladly forgive any sin; but in this case forgiveness is deliberately declined; redemption is rejected; the healing Spirit is refused entry. God never forces entry into the soul; He respects human freedom even when it is perverse.
The traditional seven deadly sins (pride, greed, anger, envy, lust, gluttony, and sloth), while certainly found amply in Scripture, were formulated into a handy list by early theologians, popes and notably St. Thomas Aquinas.
The seven sins actually have three sources rooted in mankind’s fallen nature. Gluttony, lust and greed stem from inordinate physical appetites for food, pleasure and possessions. These sins mostly affect the body. Pride, sloth and envy arise from disproportionate self-esteem — too much or too little or none at all. These sins mostly affect the soul. Anger is occasioned by an inordinate need for order and control, the desire to be in charge. Each of these sins reflects a proper human instinct that has become excessive: eating becomes gluttony; sex becomes lust; decent shelter becomes greed; self-respect becomes pride, etc.
Sin is basically mankind’s native human nature gone out of control. Self-discipline, self-sacrifice, and self-denial, supported by God’s grace, are the remedy for these vices and the key to all virtue.
There are also four classic Biblical sins so serious and so egregious that these heinous acts cry out to God for vengeance. The first is the sin of Cain against Abel — the sin of fratricide, which is generally understood to include all murder.
“God then said: What have you done? Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground! (Genesis 4:10).” Homicide, abortion, and euthanasia certainly fall into this category. Next are the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah. Genesis 19:13 reads, “We are about to destroy this place, for the outcry reaching the LORD against those here is so great that the LORD has sent us to destroy it.”
Such sins of sexual exploitation, heterosexual and homosexual, are cited by Jude 1:7 as crying out to God for regress. The contemporary Church itself must surely rue this sin. Ezekiel 17 also condemns Sodom for neglect of the needy. Such neglect of widows and orphans is elsewhere condemned in Scripture: “You shall not afflict any widow or orphan. If you do afflict them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry (Exodus 21).”
The greatest creator of practical orphans and widows nowadays clearly is divorce. All suffer from this contemporary scourge. Defrauding the laborer of his hire — an unjust wage — is soundly condemned in the both the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 24) and the New Testament. St. James writes, “Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers who harvested your fields are crying aloud, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.”
The contemporary world has a fairly easy-going conscience. Sins that horrified our ancestors in the faith hardly raise an eyebrow now. The worship of God becomes less and less formal. God’s Name is a casual expletive. Sunday observance recedes. Abortion is a constitutionally protected right as is same sex marriage. Divorce is secured simply by requesting it. Single parenthood is an uncontested option. Preoccupation with material goods is common. Violence in the home and in the streets abounds.
Clearly an examination of conscience is sorely needed for this present age. The four weeks of Advent are a good start.


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