September 14, 2007

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Time to examine an easy conscience

Cynthia DewesWith the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and other disasters fresh in our minds, it may be time to remember the Scripture passage that says, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour” (Mt 25-13). It’s the idea that death, disaster, disruption of everything we think is permanent, may happen at any time so we should remember that it’s God who’s in charge and not us.

We who are older may expect to become seriously ill or die since we’ve been around long enough to realize that that’s the nature of being human. But when we’re young, most of us secretly think we’re invincible. We know intellectually that we will die one day, but we don’t really believe it in our hearts.

This may be one of the reasons why we’re so shocked when young people pass away. Somehow, it’s more upsetting when folks die out of the usual order of time, whether it’s due to illness or accident or maybe just bad decisions.

Besides the inevitability of death, this Scripture passage reminds us to be ready to face judgment at any time. Along with believing in youthful invincibility, we like to forget that spiritual accountability will follow death. We tend to resist changing behaviors we know are wrong or destructive in some way.

For some reason, we feel that “small” sins can be overlooked temporarily. We call them “venial” sins, meaning less significant. The big sins, such as murder, rape, torture, etc., are called “mortal” because they cause immediate spiritual death. Fortunately, they’re not sins that most of us commit so there’s usually no need to worry about them.

We may even congratulate ourselves that we are not major sinners. But this Scripture reading is a welcome smack upside the head to help us realize the danger of complacency. We need to remember that any sin, no matter how small, is an affront to our good God.

Personally, I tend to think that legalistic small sins, such as forgetting a church rule occasionally, are less serious than sins against people. I hope I’m not wrong here; maybe that’s just the human in me talking. But there are insidious faults and behaviors concerning others that can add up to what we used to call an easy conscience, and those are the ones I worry about.

How about ignoring our kids when we’d rather read the paper or talk on the phone? For all we know, Sis may be considering having sex with her boyfriend because she’s being pressured or Junior may be ­experiencing bullying at school and doesn’t know what to do about it.

Or what if we’re using the company’s time and technology to e-mail friends while at work? Or what if we don’t finish an assignment because we’re too lazy to do the necessary research? Are we pleasant with co-workers or do we punish them with surly remarks and pouts because we’re having a bad day?

Do we demonstrate God’s love to everyone we meet? Do we share with our spouses and pay attention to their various needs? Do we set a good example for our kids in what we say, how we worship or what we read, watch on TV or access on the computer? Are we good neighbors?

I don’t know about anyone else, but I certainly fall short of desirable behavior on many occasions. Maybe I’d better keep reading that Scripture passage.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.) †

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