RELIGION: We cannot undo the effects of sin without suffering


I think very few would question the statement that you can’t help loving what you love, you can’t help falling in love with whom you fall in love. More questionable is the belief that the love you feel is moral justification for anything you then do, but that seems to be a fairly widespread if unconsidered belief these days. 

A confusion has crept into some people’s minds between what we feel or want and what is morally right. They think that just because it feels good or they want it, then it must be right. That seems to pit our nature against our reason and if at one time reason ruled our nature, increasingly it seems that our nature is now ruling our reason. If you think that our nature is perfect then the only issue is how to re-educate what we think, and there is plenty of that going on at present. If you follow the Christian and intellectual tradition of the west, then our natural instincts are to be ruled by our reason because our natural instincts are affected by sin. 

How we react to today’s Gospel depends, I think on the stance we take with regard to that confusion. The Words of Jesus, ‘Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.’ can be questioned if we adopt the approach that says our natural feelings show us the highest value, if we say what we want is the only judge of what is right. His words may well rankle with us because our natural love draws us to our family. But our faith teaches us that the friction exists only because of sin which has introduced a break into our relationships so that the love we feel for our family or someone else, or something else might be at odds with what is the morally right thing to uphold. In such a situation we cannot escape the pain that comes with the fissure sin has introduced to our world. What our reason tells us is right can be painfully at odds with our instinct of what love is, or what we want. Here the brokenness of sin is plainly visible for us to see; here is where we experience it ourselves. 

I don’t think it greatly helps our pain to realise that these words of Christ have to be understood within the context of the cross. It may however help us understand that sin is at the root of the confusion, and the paradox of the cross is God’s answer to the brokenness that sin has brought into the world. There can be no renewal without facing the consequences of sin and the cross is the price that must be paid. It is a price Christ pays, but he also tells us we too must take up the cross. We too cannot undo the effects of sin without suffering; if we want to understand our world then we must understand how badly sin has twisted things for us. 

Christ’s words remind us the cross must be ever present to confront sin and what is broken in us; Friction will never be far away from love and what is the right thing to do. It is the cross that stands in the wasteland of sin as a beacon for where we will find the truth again, a truth lost to us because of sin. It is through the cross that what we feel and what we want and what is right will again become reunited.

Canon Conroy is parish priest of St Patrick’s and St Peter’s in Dumbarton

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