Wednesday, December 17, 2008
The Spirit of Advent
Because of original sin, man naturally grows in vice rather than in virtue. The first age of man is characterized by thoughtlessness; this grows into love of pleasure and, in old age, develops into love for wealth.
So, John the Baptist came and announced the coming of Christ who would have the unrewarding task of instilling in men "a feeling for their own sins." John did this and paid with his head; Christ followed suit and was crucified.
They were both killed by the Jews, a senseless people, who, though guilty of the worst sins, justified themselves -- this was the cause of their destruction. "They are ignorant of God's righteousness and go about establishing their own righteousness, and have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God." This was the cause of their evils.
But aren't we like this, too? Thoroughly devoid of "feeling for our sins" (i.e. ignorant of our sins and their gravity), we judge ourselves by our norms and not by the norms of God? So, John and Jesus did nothing else except to bring man to a sense of their own sins.
To be forgiven, we must be sorry for our sins. But how can we be sorry if we do not know the gravity of our sins? And how can we discover the gravity of our sins if we do not even know our sins?
We must have a "feeling for our sins" that we may condemn them. Those sins that we condemn, God will not condemn; but those sins we fail to condemn, God will condemn.
"What must we do?" Repent, reform our lives, deny ourselves. Learn to scorn the things of the earth and aim for the things in heaven. It is not possible to be repentant and to live in luxury.
True repentance is this: to know your sins and the gravity of your sins. Then to forsake your evil ways and show forth good deeds greater than the sins. . .this is the fruit worthy of repentance. So if you have stolen, return what you have stolen AND ALSO give up some of your own to the poor. If you have committed fornication, you must stop it AND ALSO abstain even from your wife for certain appointed times. Have you insulted someone?. . .then learn how to take insults hurled at you AND ALSO do good to those who insult you.
Sin is like a dart that has wounded you. You don't only remove the dart (i.e. cease from sinning); you must also heal the wound by good works. So it is not enough for the drunkard to be sober; he must also fast from food and water for a time to cure his spiritual wounds. You who look lustfully at a woman, now be modest in looking, and also deny yourselves even looking at the beauty of nature to heal the wounds of your soul. It was precisely to heal their spiritual wounds that the first Christians went to the desert.
The first step toward holiness is repentance; and the first step of repentance is to have a "feeling for one's sins," i.e. to know your sins and the gravity of your sins. He who shows forth fruits worthy of repentance, he it is who has made his crooked way straight for the Lord.
St. Augustine: "On the Gospels"