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Instrument of Mercy

The cross of Christ is death to sin

By Jason Godin

(This is the second of six FFG columns in a Lenten series on sacramental reconciliation. The first may be read here).

The season of Lent is now in full swing. Ashes crossed our foreheads as we fasted. Last Friday we met our first “meatless” obligation. And, like a lot of people, we’ve probably already fallen into temptation, not following through fully on what we had planned to give up or do to make ourselves better.

A popular pledge for these 40 days, for example, is to eat absolutely no chocolate. Yet the First Sunday of Lent also happened to be Valentine’s Day. Talk about setting yourself up for giving in, right out of the gate! But then some say Sundays are not officially a part of Lent.

Seriously, though, conquering sin requires more than just standing strong against your sweet tooth. It takes admitting that all too often we fall short of sainthood in many areas of our life, and asking every day for forgiveness and the fortitude to try again. As Father John A. Kane made clear in the book How to Make a Good Confession, it involves cultivating attitudes of mind and habits of soul. It is a lifelong process that includes initial contrition, and next reaches for repentance founded on the mercy of Christ crucified.

Real repentance starts with sober self-assessment, acknowledging sin exists and analyzing its array of sources and resources. The word self is critical to that search for greater understanding. In his book, Father Kane traced sin back to “disobedience inspired by pride” (p. 23), putting it in correct context and us in our proper place. For, in a way, we all stand with Adam and Even in the Garden of Eden. We’re tempted to take a bite of the false fruits of sin in part because of their form – they’re sweet to our senses, may even make us feel really good, but leave us empty on the inside in the end.

Like it has and always will, sin attacks the architecture within us that we need to give to God willingly so he can fulfill his divine plan for us. Father Kane made clear how that plan is constructed upon the wood of the crucifix. Sin is “the great enemy” of the Cross of Christ, he said, an evil “opposing the designs of His eternal pity, robbing the soul of the fruit of His sufferings, and trampling underfoot His Precious Blood” (p. 30). Sin emerges in this light a lot like an aggressive fungus, polluting souls to the point where they’re too sick spirituality to see basic facts of faith.

Thankfully God forgives us, repeatedly, reconciling us to the truth of the matter. We find that life-giving forgiveness in the form of fatherly mercy in the Sacrament of Confession. It is such humble dependence on Divine Mercy in our humiliation that leads to deep devotion (p. 31). Compassion for others also flows from contemplating such self-sacrificing love of the Savior (p. 33).

“The malice of sin is best studied in the school of the Cross,” wrote Father Kane (p. 28). It is a lesson that we can and need to learn during the discipline of Lent. For seeking safe haven in the shelter of the crucifix’s shadow isn’t the sign of a coward. It is actually a repentant search for the Divine Doctor wielding an instrument of mercy, and a step in the right direction to restoring our eternal health and happiness.

Jason Godin is managing editor of Fathers for Good.