"But if the wicked, turning from the wickedness he has committed,
does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life;
since he has turned away from all the sins that he committed,
he shall surely live, he shall not die."
I often wonder about the discouragement that hits a person who seems mired in sin. It seems that try as hard as he/she does, nothing seems to work to get a person back on track. An important question needs to be asked: "Why am I doing what I do?" To me this question is so important . So often we get caught up in naming the sin or offense along with the number of times it happened. But lacking is the important question of "why do I continue to do this?".
We would smile at someone who sat in a doctor’s office and complained that they "don’t feel too well. I need some medicine." The doctor would immediately ask, "Why are you saying this? Where do you hurt? How long have you felt this way? I can’t prescribe a medicine or treatment to something. Tell me what is causing it. May we can figure out how to turn things around."
So too in the matter of sin against God, neighbor or self. There can be no "turning from sin" if we are not aware of why we are doing or avoiding what we need to do to correct our actions. Take the matter of anger. I often point out that I could stand in front of a group of ten men or women, asking them "Do you ever get angry?" As you might guess, I would receive some incredulous looks that shout, "Of course." But in asking each one, "But why do you get angry?", I could get ten different answers. One person may simply not tolerate mistakes. They could live a very sheltered life, hiding the times they practice being perfect but not letting anyone see them in the process of making many mistakes to get there. Another might find themselves angry at their College son or daughter who is partying 24/7! "Whoopee…free at last from the domination of Mom and Dad…free at last!" Yes, free to grow by learning to take responsibility for one’s actions. A painful experience for trusting parents. Another might hesitatingly admit being angry at God. With trembling voice comes the angry question, "Why has my wife come down with cancer? She has been a wonderful, loving wife and mother. Why???" Love knows both a tremendous joy when all is well and a tremendous sorrow when a loved one is hurting. No one wants to give up the joys! But sorrow is also a reality because death is inevitable. Another might answer in a cold, angry voice, "34 years of loyal service to a company only to be let go because a younger worker won’t get the higher salary that I earned." No salary can truthfully acknowledge the worth of a person. We bring our worth to work. True growth takes place when you and I deal with the truth. It’s tough at times. The scripture quote from Ezechiel points this out. A simple "I won’t do that again" doesn’t quite work. Knowing "why" I do what I do will lead us to seek the right help.
Fr. Peter Berendt, C.P. is on the staff of Holy Name Passionist Retreat Center, Houston, Texas.