Imagine someone who becomes seriously ill, and after many attempts for a cure, finally finds a doctor who prescribes an efficacious remedy. After some days of treatment, he finds himself cured. Naturally, gratitude will bring him to transmit to as many as possible the competence of the doctor and efficacious medicine prescribed, emphasizing the gravity of the illness he was saved from. His testimony, besides praising the doctor, will serve for posterior experiences regarding this illness and encourage all of those who suffer from it to hope for a cure. Evidently, no one would think that this propaganda entails an apology of the sad condition of the sick person…
Something similar happens in the spiritual field. All of us are affected by the same infirmity – sin – and we need living examples that encourage us to reach perfection. For even though it seems difficult, we only need to have recourse to the Divine Doctor and benefit from his grace. And all becomes possible. God himself deigned to carefully assign to some men and women the special vocation of serving as a testimony of sanctity for the others. They are those who embrace the Evangelical counsels as a means of achieving the perfection of charity. Their lives should be a continuous manifestation of the power of our loving God, who became man as ourselves to free us from sin. What should we think, then, of a religious who does not reflect this divine power in his way of life, content in boasting that he is a sinner just like everyone else?
Enter in the various parts of our study
II – The Grace that Christ brings to the world with the Redemption leads humans to abandon sin
III – The Religious state is a state of perfection: Religious must combat sin more than the laity
IV – What testimony should Christians receive from Religious?
I – Does sin complete or corrupt man?
God created man in his image and established him in his friendship. A spiritual creature, man can live this friendship only in free submission to God. […] Man is dependent on his Creator, and subject to the laws of creation and to the moral norms that govern the use of freedom. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 396)
Man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heart and, (cf. Gen 3:1-11) abusing his freedom, disobeyed God’s command. This is what man’s first sin consisted of (cf. Rom 5:19). […] In that sin man preferred himself to God and by that very act scorned him. He chose himself over and against God, against the requirements of his creaturely status and therefore against his own good. Created in a state of holiness, man was destined to be fully ‘divinized’ by God in glory. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 397-398)
Although he was made by God in a state of holiness, from the very onset of his history man abused his liberty, at the urging of the Evil One. Man set himself against God and sought to attain his goal apart from God. Although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, but their senseless minds were darkened and they served the creature rather than the Creator. What divine revelation makes known to us agrees with experience. Examining his heart, man finds that he has inclinations toward evil too, and is engulfed by manifold ills which cannot come from his good Creator. Often refusing to acknowledge God as his beginning, man has disrupted also his proper relationship to his own ultimate goal as well as his whole relationship toward himself and others and all created things. Therefore man is split within himself. As a result, all of human life, whether individual or collective, shows itself to be a dramatic struggle between good and evil, between light and darkness. […] For sin has diminished man, blocking his path to fulfillment. (Vatican Council II, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes, no. 13, December 7, 1965)
It is precisely sin that since the ‘beginning’ has, in a certain way, ‘disinherited’ man from his own humanity. Sin ‘takes’ from man, in diverse manners, that which determines his true dignity: the image and likeness of God. Each sin in a certain way ‘reduces’ his dignity! The more the one becomes ‘a slave to sin’ (Jn 8:34), the less he enjoys the liberty of the sons of God. He is no longer his own master, as the structure itself of his personal being, that is to say, that of a rational, free and responsible creature, demands. […] For the rational being it is normal to tend to the truth and exist in the truth. Instead of the truth regarding good, sin introduces non-truth: the true good is eliminated by sin in favor of an ‘apparent’ good, which is not a true good, the true good having been eliminated in favor of the ‘false’. The alienation that takes place with sin touches the cognitive sphere, but through the knowledge it affects the will. […] As can be seen, the real alienation of man — the alienation of a being made in the image and likeness of God, rational and free — is nothing other than ‘the domination of sin’ (Rom 3:9). And this aspect of sin is strongly emphasized by Sacred Scripture. Sin is not only against God, it is at the same time against man. (John Paul II. General Audience, no. 9-10, November 12, 1986)
To man alone, amongst living creatures, was it given, on account of his prerogative of free choice, to be able to sin. But it was given to him not in order that he should accordingly sin, but in order that, if he did not sin when he was able to have sinned, he might appear more glorious. For what could have redounded more to his glory, than if it could have said of him, as the Scripture runneth: ‘Who is he, and we will praise him?’ Why is he thus praiseworthy? ‘For wondrous things he did while he lived. What things? ‘Who was able to transgress’, it saith, ‘yet did he not transgress; go do evil yet did he not do evil;’ This honour, then, he preserved so long as he did not sin; when he sinned he lost it. But he sinned, because he was free to sin; nor was he free otherwise than by virtue of freedom of choice, whence it was indeed that he had in him the possibility of sinning. Yet was it not the fault of Him who gave him free choice, but of himself who abused it, in that plainly he converted to the use of sinning the faculty which he received for the glory of not sinning. For although he sinned by means of the power which he received, he did not sin because he possessed the power to do so, but because he willed to do so. […] Man’s fall, when he sinned, is to be ascribed, therefore, not to the gift of the power to sin, but to the fault of the will. (Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. Treatise on Grace and Free Will, Ch. VII, pp. 38-39)
To acknowledge one’s sin, indeed – penetrating still more deeply into the consideration of one’s own personhood – to recognize oneself as being a sinner, capable of sin and inclined to commit sin, is the essential first step in returning to God. […] For it is not possible to deal with sin and conversion only in abstract terms. In the concrete circumstances of sinful humanity, in which there can be no conversion without the acknowledgment of one’s own sin, the church’s ministry of reconciliation intervenes in each individual case with a precise penitential purpose. That is, the church’s ministry intervenes in order to bring the person to the ‘knowledge of self’-in the words of Saint Catherine of Siena – to the rejection of evil, to the re-establishment of friendship with God, to a new interior ordering, to a fresh ecclesial conversion. (John Paul II. Apostolic exhortation Reconciliatio et paenitentia, no. 13, December 2, 1984)
The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. For Adam, the first man, was a figure of Him Who was to come, namely Christ the Lord. Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear. It is not surprising, then, that in Him all the aforementioned truths find their root and attain their crown. He Who is ‘the image of the invisible God’ (Col 1:15), is Himself the perfect man. To the sons of Adam He restores the divine likeness which had been disfigured from the first sin onward. Since human nature as He assumed it was not annulled, by that very fact it has been raised up to a divine dignity in our respect too. (Vatican Council II, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes, no. 22, December 7, 1965)
Mary, finally, is the perfectly realised image of woman, the perfect synthesis of the feminine genius and the fantasy of the Spirit, who in her finds and chooses His spouse, the virgin mother of God and man, daughter of the Most High and mother of all the living. (Pontifical Work for Ecclesiastical Vocations, Final Document of the Congress on Vocation to the Priesthood and to Consecrated Life in Europe, no. 23, January 6, 1998)
Proclaiming Jesus of Nazareth, true God and perfect Man, the Church opens to all people the prospect of being ‘divinized’ and thus of becoming more human. This is the one path which can lead the world to discover its lofty calling and to achieve it fully in the salvation wrought by God. (John Paul II. Bull Incarnationis mysterium, no. 2, November 30, 1998)
II – The Grace that Christ brings to the world with the Redemption leads humans to abandon sin
So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Mt 5:48)
In this sense too we can say with Saint Paul that ‘great indeed is the mystery of our religion.’ In this sense too piety, as a force for conversion and reconciliation, confronts iniquity and sin. In this case too the essential aspects of the mystery of Christ are the object of piety in the sense that the Christian accepts the mystery, contemplates it and draws from it the spiritual strength necessary for living according to the Gospel. Here too one must say that ‘no one born of God commits sin’; but the expression has an imperative sense: Sustained by the mystery of Christ as by an interior source of spiritual energy, the Christian, being a child of God, is warned not to sin and indeed receives the commandment not to sin but to live in a manner worthy of ‘the house of God, that is, the church of the living God’ (1Tim 3:15). (John Paul II. Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et paenitentia, no. 21, December 2, 1984)
Saint John too undoubtedly referring to this mystery, but in his own characteristic language which differs from Saint Paul’s, was able to write that ‘anyone born of God does not sin, but he who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him’(1Jn 5:18). In this Johannine affirmation there is an indication of hope, based on the divine promises: The Christian has received the guarantee and the necessary strength not to sin. It is not a question therefore of a sinlessness acquired through one’s own virtue or even inherent in man, as the Gnostics thought. It is a result of God’s action. In order not to sin the Christian has knowledge of God, as Saint John reminds us in this same passage. But a little before he had written: ‘No one born of God commits sin; for God’s seed abides in him’(1Jn 3:9). If by ‘God’s seed’ we understand, as some commentators suggest, Jesus the Son of God, then we can say that in order not to sin or in order to gain freedom from sin the Christian has within himself the presence of Christ and the mystery of Christ, which is the mystery of God’s loving kindness. (John Paul II. Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et paenitentia, no. 20, December 2, 1984)
For ‘He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins,’ provided you always displease yourself, and be changing until you be perfected. Accordingly, what follows? ‘My little children, these things I write unto you, that you sin not’ (1Jn 2:1). But perchance sin overtakes us from our mortal life: what shall be done then? What? Shall there be now despair? Hear: ‘And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and He is the propitiator for our sins’ (1Jn 2:1-2). He then is the advocate; do your endeavor not to sin: if from the infirmity of this life sin shall overtake you, see to it straightway, straightway be displeased, straightway condemn it; and when you have condemned, you shall come assured unto the Judge. (Saint Augustine of Hippo. Homilies on the First Epistle of John, Homily 1, no. 7)
Have nothing to fear in attributing the highness of spiritual honor, and grandeur of spiritual riches, and perfect cleanliness from sins, to those that the celestial Father justified by the merits of Jesus Christ our Lord. May no one think that they being as such harms the honor of the Lord. For since all that they have comes from Christ, not only do they not diminish His honor by being so worthy, but they even manifest and enhance it; for it is clear that the more just and beautiful they are, the more are manifested to be of great value the merits of Him who obtained so much good for those who of themselves did not possess nor deserved anything. […] The Lord is not like some, who are upset or little pleased with the honor and virtue of their servants, thinking that it diminishes their own; nor like vain women, who avoid being accompanied by beautiful servants in order not to obscure their own beauty. Certainly, Jesus Christ our Lord has charity, and such that which exceeds our knowledge, as Saint Paul said (Eph 3:19), in order to have our good for his own; and for us to possess many goods, he lost his most worthy life on the cross. (Saint John of Avila. Audi, filia — Listen, O Daughter, Ch. 90)
The confession, like the other similar things that in the divine Scripture exist, of the goods that come to us from Jesus Christ, certainly give more honor to Jesus Christ, than saying that neither the virtue of his blood, nor of his grace, nor the sacraments, nor the infusing of the Holy Spirit in man, nor incorporating him in Himself, are sufficient to take the sin from a man, but only that he not be condemned by Him. What is this other than to think little of God the Father, who, having promised to send with his only Son remedy for sin, and that at its time sin would be ended (Dan 9:24), did not fulfill his promise, for although the Son having come, sin remains in the one who participates in the Son? How can the word: ‘I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all of your uncleanliness’ (Ezek 36:25), be fulfilled, if in truth mine is not cleaned, but rather a clean mantle is merely thrown upon me, telling me that justice and purity of Our Lord Jesus Christ shall be imputed to me? This would be more to cover my filth, than to remove it. And whoever says this, on the same account denies that the Messiah promised in the Law is Jesus Christ Our Lord; and should await another, who delivers not only from the condemnation of sin, but from sin itself. For it is clear that the one who delivers from both things, would be a better savior than he who delivers from only one. (