Let’s begin the subject of the sacrament of reconciliation and purification from sin by reviewing the journey to holiness. If we wish to become holy, we must overcome our sinful tendencies and seek union with God the Father through Christ his Son, in the person and power of the Holy Spirit. This union is the essence of the term, “interior life.”
St. Paul makes clear that we are temples of the Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Cor 3:16; 17). The very life and love of God now dwells in our souls due to baptism and we may now walk in “newness of life.” (Rom 6:4.) Yet, we also experience the reality regretted and spoken of by St. Paul in Romans 7. In this chapter, St. Paul bemoans the fact that he experiences the tendency in himself toward evil, even after baptism; what the church refers to as “concupiscence.” Concupiscence is that fallen tendency to sin that Christ allows to remain in us, even though the stain of Adam’s and Eve’s original sin is washed away when we are baptized. This fallen tendency toward doing what is evil is tolerated by God because he can bring a greater good out of it; namely, our own growth in holiness.
Our view of holiness is too often skewed. We assume to be holy is to be less human. Truthfully, Christ has set us free “for freedom’s sake,” so that we can “have life and have it to the full.” (Gal 5:1; Jn 10:10) This “full” life means that we must experience conversion from our sinful inclinations and “put on Christ.” (Gal 3:27.) We can also allow him to reign in our interior faculties — our minds and what we think; our hearts and what we desire; our passions and how we enflame the right desires. We must apply the grace of Christ to our choices and be diligent in our efforts. Our Lord teaches, “He who endures to the end will be saved.” (Mt 10:27.)
Perseverance is an odd virtue. We can only develop it and grow in it if we falter. We do not need to “persevere” in something that comes easy. With regard to our false notion of holiness, holiness does not mean never falling; rather, holiness means getting up again quickly and moving forward after falling, to paraphrase Chiara Lubich, foundress of the Focolare Movement, a European lay effort. If we do this without growing morally lax at one extreme, or beating ourselves up in the other extreme (both because we trust ourselves too much, and God too little) we will root out our sins, thanks to God’s grace.
Next Issue: Conversion and confession.