Avoiding Occasions of Sin

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin

When, a few months back, I announced that I was ending my use of Twitter, it caused quite a media firestorm. There were tons of stories, both local and national. Even the New York Times and Washington Post carried it. That surprised me because, after all, people join and quit Twitter every day. But one of the reasons my decision caused so much curiosity I think, was because I wrote that using Twitter had become for me an “occasion of sin.”

Some thought that meant that I had gotten into serious trouble by using Twitter. I hadn’t. Some thought I meant that Twitter itself is sinful. It isn’t. I meant only that using the social media platform had become an irritant for me, a distraction, an obstacle to my spiritual life. It had.

The secular world might not be familiar with the concept of “occasion of sin,” but Catholics should be. It’s not a new idea. The venerable Baltimore Catechism defined occasion of sin as “all the persons, places and things that may easily lead us into sin.” And in one version of the Act of Contrition we say, “I firmly resolve, with the help of thy grace, to sin no more, and to avoid the near occasions of sin.”

On a practical level, what does avoiding near occasions of sin mean for us?

Well, for example, if you know that hanging-out with certain people will get you into trouble, stop meeting them. If reading the daily newspaper or the Internet causes you to get really angry and upset, stop reading it. If having alcohol around the house leads you to drink too much, get rid of it. If going to a casino means you’ll probably lose too much money, stop going!

You see, although we’re well-intentioned, we’re also pitifully weak, sinful creatures and we easily give into temptation. Don’t tempt fate; don’t test the limits of your moral strength. If something is going to lead you into sin, use your head; avoid it. It’s really just a matter of common sense, isn’t it?

Something to think about: What are the occasions of sin in your life? Who are the people, what are the habits, places and things that tend to get you into trouble?