Sunday, June 13, 2010

Have You Lost Your Sense of Sin?

Today at church our priest provided some deep thoughts to chew on and I’d like to put them here before the poignancy of them fades away. At the same time, I feel that he touched on such big concepts that I can’t possibly do them justice by typing out a blog post while DD is napping on my lap.  Anyways, I just wanted to share this with you. It’s Catholic/Biblical-based which is relevant to me and I understand if that is a miss to some in my audience, but the overall thoughts are still worth pondering.

If you are an activist, you have probably experienced a situation where a critic pegged you as being too picky or perhaps even obsessed. If we post about something too frequently or post about too many issues, critics accuse us of being mentally unstable, as if learning too much about the bad things in life will push us into depression and negativity. Have you ever tried to share startling information about the chemicals in baby products and instead of finding someone interested, you find yourself pushed away and accused of “caring too much" or fussing about the small things in life? Have you ever shared a video about extended rear facing and been told you were overprotective? Have you ever had your passion and shock misinterpreted as a personality defect such as being judgmental or angry?

Something I’ve noticed is that as I continue my journey of learning about my body and my environment, my awareness of human rights violations and dangers in our environment increases. I have, in actuality, become sensitive to a wide variety of dangers that hurt the body, mind and soul.

We might randomly begin this journey by learning about a grave issue such as forced genital reduction on infants or letting infants cry until they vomit. For most of us, our consciences are formed enough to respond instantly and clearly with shock and anger. But does this shock continue? Do we make an effort to look around in our lives and our world to find the subtle infringements, the minor offenses, and the smaller dangers? And do we embrace this examination, or do we fall for the claim that eliminating these smaller problems from our life is simply over doing it?

We might have started out by avoiding processed meat from abused, sickened animals. And then we find ourselves avoiding packaged and canned foods. Soon we are only buying organic produce and making our own meals completely from scratch. We even buy a filter to remove heavy metals and fluoride from our water. Lots of people would claim this is taking it too far and becoming obsessed, as if we are somehow defective for taking these actions.

We might have started out by wanting to avoid the shocking toxins and heavy metals in vaccinations. And then we find ourselves avoiding drugs during labor. Soon we reconsider the benefit of the vitamin K shot and its preservatives. We begin to inspect the baby shampoos, soaps and lotions only to find similar chemicals. We start buying clothing and toys that are free of plastic, lead and other toxins. Are we taking it too far? We begin to doubt ourselves.

Perhaps even worse are those instances where you share information about a very startling issue, not a small one, but are met with justification and dismissal. You might share a video of infant amputation or a mother’s blog chronicling her birth rape only to have people respond that it isn’t very bad, or even inherently wrong. Their consciences are so unformed or mal-formed that they cannot see the horror put in front of them. They have no sense of the depth of these issues. It’s merely a choice, a preference or opinion and nothing more. As the popular activist saying goes: “The more you know, the worse it is!” That statement is referring to the development of our conscience.

Today I was blessed with the chance to hear an enlightening homily given by our pro-intact priest. He centered his points on a passage in the gospel of Luke, which you can read here:
and also a Catholic teaching on justification of sin, which you can read about here:

In this gospel reading, Jesus points out that our level of awareness of sin prompts us to recognize how much forgiveness and change we need in our lives. The woman in the story is so acutely aware of the gravity of her sins that she throws herself upon Jesus and performs penalizing and lowly acts, such as wiping His feet with her hair. Meanwhile, the man who invited Jesus to dine with him feels so righteous and comfortable in his own life that he treats Jesus as an equal and does not even provide a customary kiss or water for His feet.

Pope Pius XII spoke of this moral loss. He said, "The sin of the century is the loss of the sense of sin."

In every age and society, violence and dangers have existed. Yet particularly in our age and our society, we not only redefine these violent acts but also attempt justify them as necessary or righteous. For example, not only is forced genital reduction embraced by our society, but we go to great lengths to claim that it is good, necessary and a parental right. When faced with an image or fact of the procedure, the conscience is so poorly formed that the person feels no sense of horror or desire for change.

Rather, the information is deliberately ignored or further justified. This behavior applies to a LOT of issues that I won’t go into for the sake of brevity, but I encourage you to dwell on the many other issues in our culture where euphemisms cover up or redefine the behavior and justifications seek to encourage and even glorify it.

Today my priest encouraged his parish to take time each day for an examination of conscience. He said, “If we cannot detect sin in ourselves daily, we can never know how far we have to go for sanctity.” We are all called to be saints. If we never accept that we are not yet saints, how can we move forward? If we never look at our environment, and ourselves how can we improve? If we only express a superficial level of shock at the really big, bad “sins” what good have we done for our own lives and the lives of those around us?

He pointed out that through a daily examination of conscience, it became clear to him that he could barely live an hour before sinning. (He immediately clarified that he wasn’t scrupulous. It seems the naysayers got to him, too!) Yet some people will come into his confessional and say, “Father, my last confession was 10 years ago. But I haven’t done anything really bad. I’m a pretty good person.”

And sadly, most people are happy with that. They are happy with “pretty good.” How many times have you heard, “Well, rearfacing might be best but we’d have to buy a different carseat and this one is pretty good.” “Well, I know cosmetics have lead and chemicals in them but I eat well and exercise. It’s not that bad.” “Well, we’re all going to die so might as well not fret over the little things.”

This is missing out on a really important and life-transforming opportunity to become the fullness of who we are in the image and likeness of God. Jesus is divine AND human. His BODY mattered. In fact, by our God becoming man, He elevated the value of the body. Our physical lives should mirror our spiritual lives. And clearly for many people it does, in the worst way. We are all called to be saints. You’ve heard that before. But don’t forget: we are all called to be RISEN saints. Saints with bodies. Glorified, sacred bodies.

So I’m asking those who are also Christian/Catholic to join with me in making a daily effort to become more aware, both in the spiritual world and the physical world. Let’s take time everyday to examine our conscience about sin and toxins. Let’s do this not because we are negative, depressed or obsessed, but because we recognize how valuable and sacred we are and that if we recognize something as bad, we can take the steps to remove it from our life.

Let’s remain ever searching, ever with an open heart and mind. Let’s never forget how much we need mercy. Let’s commit to a daily examination of conscience. And let’s ignore those naysayers who don’t want to be jolted out of their comfort level or reminded of how far we have to go on our journey.

"The idea of cultural relativism is nothing but an excuse to violate human rights." ~Shirin Ebadi


  1. This quote struck me: If you are an activist, you have probably experienced a situation where a critic pegged you as being too picky or perhaps even obsessed.

    My uncle acted confused for a while about why I would post so many links on FB about VBAC and other birth issues... Finally he commented on one of the articles, "Geez Karyn, you are obsessed!!" I told him, "I'm what's known as a birth activist. We all have our passions..." He later deleted his comment.

    And I am so familiar with the "pretty good." It involves a lot of rationalization and justification. I hear a lot of "reasons" for why people will forward face their children who are under 1 year old. The backseat is too small, the car is a 2 door and it's too inconvenient to climb back there and put the child in the seat, etc...

    Thanks for your thoughtful post.

  2. I was raised an austere, Bible-friendly Roman Catholic in the 1950s and 60s. At age 13, I discovered what circumcision was and thus understood that all the boys around me, including my brother were circumcised and I was not. I was already aware that Acts and the Epistles had firmly come down on the side that circumcision was completely unnecessary in Christianity. Hence I was very surprised to see that all boys in my parochial school were circumcised (the boys room had no privacy). The same was true in the Catholic high school PE locker room.

    This Catholic middle class state of affairs was not only deplorable because American conformist and medically unnecessary, but thanks to you I appreciate better that it was contrary to Catholic moral teaching.

    I gather that before WWII, Catholics families were reluctant to come to the American routine circ party. But barracks life in WWII (where Catholic soldiers could see in the showers that most middle class Protestants were circed, and where Army docs obsessed about the foreskin as the mother of all health problems), and workplace health insurance (which assured that no middle class family was out of pocket for routine circ) meant that in the 1940s, right before I was born, Catholic families jumped on the bald penis bandwagon.

    I am convinced that in many cases, mothers were not consulted. Dad must have been intact in many cases. Parents did not know what to say to their boys, so they said nothing. The boys I grew up with were quick with lewd quips on many subjects, but circ and foreskin were never mentioned until we were in college. And thus Americans became for the first time in history, a circumcised Roman Catholic people. Whatever you can do to reverse this situation, I heartily applaud.