During a recent storm, the electrical power in my daughter Maria’s house went out. Maria and her husband have four young children. Several other homes in their neighborhood also lost power. Apparently, a couple of trees were hit by lightning and one of the trees fell and snapped a power line.
After Maria learned that the power company had put out a statement that the electricity would not be restored until the following morning, she emptied the contents of her refrigerator into boxes. Her husband then took the boxes over to a relative’s house to store the items in the relative’s refrigerator. Maria wasn’t worried about the items in her freezer, because depending on how full a freezer is, the items can stay frozen from 24 to 48 hours.
As promised, the power was restored the following morning, which allowed Maria and her neighbors to breathe a sigh of relief.
I have two questions for you to consider: What if the power in Maria’s neighborhood had been off for a month? What if the power for the entire City of Peoria had been off for a month?
While there was only a minimal amount of suffering that resulted from the power being off for less than 24 hours, there would have been an immense amount of suffering if the power had been off for a month.
The amount of suffering that is associated with a power outage is directly proportional to the time that it takes to make the necessary repairs to restore the power. The longer it takes to make the repairs, the longer and more intense the suffering.
In the spiritual world, sin works the same way. Every sin disrupts the natural order and damages a person’s relationship and standing with God. The more serious the sin, the more serious the damage.
After a sin is committed, there is suffering that occurs until the damage has been repaired. In most cases, the suffering extends beyond the person who committed the sin to the person’s immediate family. In some cases, the suffering spreads to the person’s extended family and community.
There are certain sins that are so egregious that it’s humanly impossible for the person who committed the sin to repair the permanent damage that resulted from the person’s actions. The first (original) sin was in that category.
How destructive was the sin of Adam and Eve? It was so destructive that it introduced pain, suffering, and death into the lives of Adam, Eve, and the lives of every one of their ancestors; and it closed the gates of Heaven to all humanity. There was nothing Adam and Eve could have said or done to repair the damage that was caused by their sin.
There was only one person who had the ability and power to repair the damage. That person was Jesus Christ. To repair the damage, He had to endure extreme mental and physical suffering, and then a brutal death on a cross.
Suffering is necessary for us to repair (to the best of our ability) the damage that has been caused by our sins. The more serious the sin, the more serious the suffering.
In modern times, nothing has caused more suffering to individuals and families than the sexual sins that are, unfortunately, all too common in our society. I decided to write about this topic last week after I heard the gospel reading at one of the daily Masses that I attended:
Jesus said to his disciples, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.” Matthew 5:27-30
In addition to emphasizing the seriousness of the sin of adultery, our Lord also warned that any man who looks at a woman with lust is also guilty of the sin of adultery. The Catholic Church has always taught that adultery is a mortal sin. The Church has also always applied the same strict standard to other sexual sins, such as fornication, contraception, and homosexuality.
As a reminder, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, three conditions must be met for a sin to be mortal: (1) a voluntary or deliberate thought, word, or action (2) that is grievously offensive to God (3) which is carried out with full knowledge. (CCC 1857 & 1859). If a person dies while in the state of mortal sin, he or she is denied Heaven and is destined to suffer eternal punishment with all the other fallen human beings and angels.
We know what happens to the soul of a person who dies in the state of mortal sin, but what happens to the person who commits a mortal sin and then lives another 40 years without confessing the sin and receiving absolution?
The answer to that question is that there is an immense amount of suffering that must take place for that person and the members of that person’s family to repair the damage that was caused — and will continue to be caused — by the person’s sin.
Just as a broken power line that is not repaired for months or years will cause immense long-term suffering, a mortal sin that is not repaired and removed through absolution will cause immense long-term suffering to the person who committed the sin. But the suffering won’t stop there. At a minimum, the suffering will extend to the person’s immediate family.
More on this topic next week.