Vol. VII, May 2001


The 3rd Instruction, VI: Sin Harms the Sinner
(cf. Tob 12:10)

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

Angels are such an unknown "world" to us, that we are interested in just about any word they pronounce. It certainly will also reveal something about themselves to us. It might help us understand them better in themselves as in their relationship and in their sublime mission towards us. In this light let us consider St. Raphael's next statement to Tobit and Tobias, even though its content seems to belong to basic human or, at least, to general religious wisdom. He declares: "Those who commit sin and do evil bring harm on themselves" (Tob 12,10).

1. The affirmation of the angel Raphael is not strange. We find it repeatedly in Scripture and it is further evident by the harmonious order in creation which sin contradicts.

a) In Scripture we read: "… Have you not brought this on yourself, by abandoning Yahweh your God ... Your wickedness will bring its own punishment, your infidelities will bring you to book, so give thought and see how evil and bitter it is to abandon Yahweh your God" (Jer 2:17-19; cf. 7:19); and in the prophet Isaiah we read: "Jerusalem has collapsed and Judah has fallen, because their words and deeds affront Yahweh and insult his glorious gaze. Their complacency bears witness against them, ...they have hatched their own downfall" (Is 3:8-9; cf. 48:22; Gen 4:12b-14; Ps 141(140):10 etc.). These references recall what St. Raphael had said immediately before about virtue, to which the present text serves as a complement, pointing as it does to the negative consequences of sin, as opposed to virtue. He said: "Do good, and no evil can befall you. Prayer with fasting and alms with uprightness are better than riches with iniquity... Almsgiving saves from death and purges every kind of sin. Those who give alms have their fill of days; those who commit sin and do evil bring harm on themselves" (Tob 12:7-10). Sometimes we recognize the importance of a truth only by way of contract with its opposed shadow or contrary, as here, the destruction of man is the fruit of vice.

b) To understand this affirmation of St. Raphael, it suffices to recall the perfection of God’s work. The order which God established in creation is not arbitrary nor is it contrary to human nature. "The order and harmony of the created world ... call forth the admiration of scholars. The beauty of creation reflects the infinite beauty of the Creator and ought to inspire the respect and submission of man’s intellect and will" (CCC 341). Within this world of God, man will not and cannot find his full realization except in a life according to the will of God and in union with it. "The natural desire for happiness ... is of divine origin: God has placed it in the human heart in order to draw man to the One who alone can fulfill it. ... ‘God alone satisfies!’ (St. Thomas Aquinas)" (CCC 1718; cf. 1716-1724). Obedience towards the will of God is the golden road to perfection. Man receives all support and help necessary from God; in the union with him, man’s faculties will be elevated to the divine level. The will of God and his law are light and not darkness, they lead to freedom and not into a captivity. They are protection against our vulnerability and against sin and evil.

c) What is sin such that it hurts us so much? Sin is certainly first of all "an offense against God, ... disobedience, a revolt against God through the will to become ‘like gods,’ knowing and determining good and evil. Sin is thus ‘love of oneself even to contempt of God’ (St. Augustine...)" (CCC 1850). This "proud self-exaltation", however, is also "an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience..., it wounds the nature of man and injuries human solidarity. It has been defined as ‘an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law’ (St. Augustine, ...; St. Thomas Aquinas, ...)" (CCC 1849). According to this description, a sinner is like the one who cuts the branch on which he himself is sitting. Thinking to achieve more than he has he loses the peace of heart within himself and the harmony with others as the different forms of enmity and war show. Was it not so at the beginning: The serpent promised "You will be like gods", and the woman saw and took and gave to her husband ... the eyes were opened and they realized that they were naked, that is: they wanted all and lost what they had (cf. Gen 3:5-7). The consequent blindness for the discernment of good and evil made man lose his spiritual equilibrium and led to the reversal of values. "We confess that we have ridiculed the absolute truth of Your Word and called it pluralism. We have worshipped other gods and have called it multiculturalism. We have endorsed perversion and called it alternative lifestyle ... We have killed our unborn and called it choice... We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building self-esteem. We have abused power and called it politics ..." (Joe Wright).

2. That the holy angel mentioned to Tobit and Tobias this deep truth, "Those who commit sin and do evil bring harm on themselves", has different reasons.

a) For sure, the holy angels are interested in the salvation of man: "are they not all ministering spirits, sent to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation" (Hebr 1:14). They know, how much "God, our Savior, ... wants everyone to be saved", so much namely, that "Christ Jesus ... offered himself as a ransom for all" (1 Tim 2:4-5). Furthermore, they know all the ordinary means for our salvation, and beyond that, God shows them what he expects from man at every moment. And certainly, no holy angels needs the admonition, "Do never make yourself an accomplice in anybody else’s sin" (1 Tim 5:22).

b) It must be remembered, too, that the Angels have already past their test and made their definitive decision, "their choice", which has an "irrevocable character" (CCC 392). They know about their brothers pitiable end, that is, how sin brought their angelic-brothers down into hell, to their ruin. Therefore, we can never expect the holy angels to give any other counsel than this one, "Do good and avoid evil!", or in the words of St. Raphael: Watch out and "do good," for "those who commit sin and do evil bring harm on themselves!" Any idea which comes to mind, or any counsel we receive, that would lead us to sin, certainly does not come from a good angel! For the holy angels look only at God, they are absorbed by his Beauty, consumed by his Goodness, captivated by his Presence, they are transported outside of themselves by his Love. Man, too, should discover that he needs to fulfill all his desires and needs for his identity and realization are to be found in the union with God alone, the Almighty and Omnipotent!

c) We can see, that doing evil is not simply an exercised free choice or a justified use of a faculty which God gave man. Doing evil has further ramifications for the individual. The angels, thanks to their more lucid knowledge, relate everything to God, and so see that there can be no exercise of freedom that is separable from the duty to make an accounting before God. If we listen carefully to the parable of the prodigal son, we observe that the Lord is teaching this: Only when the son "came to his senses" and reflected about his home with the father, he began to enter into himself and to recognize his fundamental mistake, namely, was to have separated himself from his father (cf. Lk 15:17). That is the point which the Holy Father wants to make in his apostolic letter Reconciliation and Penance: Before it comes to sin as the exclusion of God, there stands the problem with the loss of conscience of sins, and this has its root in the loss of the conscience of God (cf. John Paul II, Reconciliatio et paenitentia, 14; 18): "When the conscience is weakened the sense of God is also obscured, and as a result, with the loss of this decisive inner point of reference, the sense of sin is lost." And, "the loss of the sense of sin is thus a form or consequence of the denial of God" (ibid, 18).

3. Certainly, not every sin is already a mortal sin, by which the divine life in the soul is extinguished. We do not deal always with "grave matter" and, furthermore, man often does not act with "full knowledge and complete consent" (cf. CCC 1857).

From the Holy Father's analysis can also be seen just how much the holy angels are able to help man avoid sin: The holy angels can enlighten man’s mind. They can show him the objective value of the matter involved, or how far God will be praised or rejected by the planned act. They can wake up and perfect the human conscience and exhort and persuade man to act properly (indirect influence on the will). They also bring to the light how a man often acts with ulterior intentions. As servants of the Holy Spirit, they show what is wrong in the world (cf Jn 16:8), but they also induce to what is right and good, in particular to Jesus Christ (cf. Jn 15:26; 16:14-15).

Only Jesus could say: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me" (Jn 14:6). He is the salvation for all of us who have made mistakes and have fallen into sin. Here is the possibility be restored from the damages caused by the sins, namely through repentance, accusation and amendment before Jesus in the Church.

4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

In days like ours, this warning of St. Raphael needs to be emphasized. Great confusion surrounds the truth and what is good and what is evil. The Holy Father appealed to us priests this past Holy Thursday to renew our commitment to serve more in the confessional, absolving souls from their sins in the name of Jesus and enlighten their mind through simple, but clear teaching.

We should indicate to the people the help given by God for the clarity of conscience and for the strength in the spiritual battle: It is the holy Guardian Angel, to whom we pray in our Consecration prayer: "I beg you: protect me against my own weakness and against the attacks of the wicked spirits; enlighten my mind and my heart so that I may always know and accomplish the will of God; and lead me to union with God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit."

May we find the way with Jesus and the help of our holy Guardian Angel so that we avoid sin and all the harm we do ourselves through them, and serve God and glorify Him throughout our lives!

Titus Kieninger , ORC