nurturing an abiding sorrow for sin


(Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!” (John 19:15)

“The common cause of all failures in perfection is the want of abiding sorrow for sin…all holiness has lost its principle of growth if it is separated from abiding sorrow for sin, for the principle of growth is not love only, but forgiven love.” (F.W. Faber)

There is a fascinating scene in Milton’s Paradise Lost where the fallen angels, having been cast down into hell after losing their battle to overthrow God, have a rap session about what went wrong, and come to the conclusion that they just didn’t realize how powerful God is. It was, sad to say, the wrong time to learn that lesson. In a similar vein, the right time to discover God’s vehement dislike for sin – sin being completely contrary to God’s Infinite Sanctity –  is not at the final judgment! We are called to be a repentant people, and the “fruition of [this] repentance” is true sorrow for sin. And yet we so often find ourselves committing the same sin today that we confessed last week, which raises the question whether we have nurtured a true sorrow – indeed, even contempt – for that sin (or whether, in actuality, we still harbor a secret affection for that sin which we need to wage war on?). The “moral imperative” of the Gospel to be holy (as one theology professor taught me)  goes to the very essence of what the Gospel is all about.

Father Faber has a chapter called “Abiding Sorrow for Sin” in his excellent book, Growth In Holiness. I skipped the chapter initially because it didn’t catch my interest, but when I finally read it I was deeply moved by it. Faber states that he spent much time reflecting on what hinders devout persons from moving on to greater perfection in the spiritual life, and he came to the conclusion that it is the failure to enkindle in one’s heart an abiding sorrow for sin – not one’s particular past sins already forgiven, but a sorrow in general for our past sins and all the sin in the world that opposes our great God. It is this abiding sorrow for sin that maintains a true humility in our souls and makes us genuinely thankful – indeed overwhelmingly thankful – for what Jesus did for us. This sorrow also makes us genuinely eager to spread the good news of salvation, thus making us productive workers for Jesus’ interests.This attitude of sorrow and thankfulness makes us fall more deeply in love with Jesus.

How do we nurture this abiding sorrow for sin?  Faber says it is done by meditating frequently on the passion and death of our Lord. The more deeply we enter into our Lord’s passion, the closer we draw to His Sacred Heart. Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is thus highly efficacious for this purpose. Finally, Faber says don’t confuse a loving, heart-felt sorrow with a self-centered sadness. The former is good and the latter harmful. Faber states:

“It is forgiven sin for which we mourn, and not sin which perils self. And this very fact makes it also a fountain of love. We love because much has been forgiven, and we always remember how much it was. We love because the forgiveness has abated fear. We love because we wonder at the compassion that could so visit such unworthiness. We love because the softness of sorrow is akin to the filial confidence of love. Thus abiding sorrow for sin is the only possible parallel in our souls to the mysterious life-long sorrow of Jesus and Mary; and the fact that sorrow clung to them characteristically in spite of their sinlessness seems to show how much of the secret life of Christian holiness is hidden in its gentle supernatural melancholy” (p.265)

If you have the book All for Jesus, take a look at Chapter Three, “Be Sorry for Sin” (“Love Wounded by Sin” in the unabridged TAN version), and you will find a powerful explanation of this concept of nurturing an abiding sorrow for sin (and you will be thankful for it). Faber spent an enormous amount of time studying how the saints grew in holiness, and this nurturing an abiding sorrow for sin is a fruition of his efforts (much to our benefit).

This sorrow for sin corresponds to our love for God. We are sorry for all the sin in the world precisely because sin robs God of the glory he intended for creatures. We therefore begin to see sin from the perspective of God’s Infinite Goodness, and for this reason we begin to sorrow over all the harm sin causes in the world. We therefore begin to dislike sin because it is so contrary to God’s plan for our lives and so harmful to Him who is “deserving of all our love.” Pray for the grace of an abiding sorrow for sin. This abiding sorrow for sin will help to console the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Tom Mulcahy

Image: Ecce homo by Antonio Ciseri (between circa 1860 and circa 1880). Public Domain, U.S.A.

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                     For this is God’s will, your sanctification (1 Thes. 4:3)

There is in Catholic prophecy predictions of an upcoming period of physical darkness (“three days of darkness”) in which consciences will be illuminated (purified), paving the way for a  period of great evangelization for the church. Even the very sober and trustworthy Ralph Martin posts on his website a prophecy he was given in 1975 in the presence of Pope Paul VI in Rome, and the word received by Mr. Martin then warns of “days of darkness.” I cannot comment on the merit of these predictions (see postscript below regarding three saints linked to this prophecy) since I have always felt the prophecy of my own death had an infallible ring to it (and thus was sufficient to awaken my heart to the call of the Gospel). My interest in these three days of darkness is in the explosion of holiness we would witness in friends and neighbors and in ourselves should the prophecy come to fruition. In such a scenario we would witness people we actually know ascend to incredible holiness in an amazingly short period of time. It would truly be an amazing phenomenon to witness! (a type of Pentecost).

Human beings are capable, with the assistance of grace, of incredible holiness; we are also capable, due to sin and human deceit, of immense degradation. There is, as scripture clearly tells us, a war raging in our souls between the “death-directed flesh” and the the “life-giving Spirit”. To set the mind on the flesh is death. To set the mind on the Spirit is life. Dear God, help us to chose life (see Romans 8:6)

God made us to be holy. This is our vocation: sanctification. God fills us with His own supernatural life to make us holy and unite us in love to Him. Do not underestimate your capacity for holiness, lest you underestimate God Himself. But what holds us back?, or rather what might be of aid to us in growing closer to God and becoming less infatuated with sin? I am going to suggest, relying on my good friend Father Faber, seven things that might help to supercharge our spiritual batteries! I’ll bet one or two of them might really grab your attention and be of special help to you. Here’s the list:

Comment: “What prepares the soul to be united with God
                              is the desire for God” (Saint John of the Cross). 
                              The united wealth of the world is as if nothing
                              compared to what God means to you. “He who
                              has God has everything” (Saint Teresa of Avila).

      Comment:   See Faber’s famous essay, ” Abiding Sorrow for Sin,”
                             in Growth in Holiness (TAN Books). Preferred
                             devotion to aid in obtaining this grace: devotion
                             to our Lord’s Passion and Mary’s Seven Sorrows. See
                             also Chapter 3 of “All for Jesus”.

        Comment: This meditation remedies a low view of God.
                            “The more by assiduous contemplation of
                             HIS attributes we come to know the God to
                             whom we belong.” Book recommendation:
                             The Creator and the Creature” by Faber.
                             Meditating on God’s Infinite holiness helps
                             us to understand the “sinfulness of sin,” and
                             the magnitude of God’s mercy merited for
                             us by Jesus.

       Comment:  An incredibly powerful devotion! I especially
                            recommend it to anyone who is presently enduring
                            some particular hardship or suffering. I highly
                            recommend Saint Eymard’s book, “In the Light
                            of the Monstrance,” which is truly a great book.
                            Father Eymard founded The Blessed Sacrament Fathers.

       Comment: Part of our exile here on planet earth is about 
                            penance! Joyful penance! Too much comfort
                            makes us weary of what is so powerfully good
                            for us.

Comment: This is about having a mega-serious attitude about your
                            promised amendment!!!!!!

       Comment: Walks in nature, family prayer, saying the rosary, 
                           nurturing a spirit where we do not covet our neighbor’s
                           goods, etc. Faber says (I paraphrase): Look out to God.
                           Love God’s Amazing glory!! Hate the things that 
                           separate you from God. Live simply.”

We do not have to wait for days of darkness to grow in holiness. Grace is available in super-abundance through the sacraments instituted by the Lord of Life.

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

Postscript: Three Saints who have foretold a period of three days of darkness include Saint Sister Mary of Jesus Crucified (who died in 1878 and was canonized by Pope Francis on May 17, 2015), Saint Caspar del Bufalo (died 1837), and Blessed Anna Maria Taigi (who also died in 1837 and is well known for her extraordinary mystical gifts and experiences). See pages 26-28 of Prophecy For Today by Edward Connnor (TAN). If you search the internet, you will find sites which discuss the possible imminent fulfillment of this prophecy.

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