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Fr Ray Hemingray has shared his thought for today, Sunday 22nd August 2021.


After avoiding the subject in 70 Thoughts for the Day, I thought I ought this Sunday to get round to talking about sin!

Sin is a natural human weakness. It is perhaps a topic people don’t like to talk about, as it reminds them of things they regret having done themselves.

Sin is a personal choice. In essence it is selfish. The problem for overcoming it is human weakness.

Sin gives rise to guilt, so if we choose to sin, we choose to suffer.

We may think that guilt will fade with time. But C. S. Lewis, the author of the Narnia Chronicles, said: “We have a strange illusion that mere time cancels sin. But mere time does nothing either to the fact or to the guilt of a sin.”

In the sixth century Pope Gregory the First identified the “Seven deadly sins”. Although each of them is referred to separately in the Bible, there is no list as such in scripture. They are referred to as ‘deadly’ because they are the sins to which we are most susceptible, due to our fallen human nature; and they can each give rise to other sins. Here are the ‘seven seven sins’:

Pride: a sense of one’s self-worth. Pride is normally counted as the first of the deadly sins, because it can and often does lead to the commission of other sins in order to feed one’s pride.

Lust: usually a desire for sexual pleasure that is out of proportion to the good of sexual union or is directed at someone with whom one has no right to sexual union—that is, someone other than one’s spouse or partner.

Envy: sadness or resentment at the good fortune of another, whether in terms of possessions, success, virtues, or talents.

Sloth: being unwilling to make the necessary effort to do what one ought to do.

Anger: a desire to react or take revenge out of proportion to the wrong done.

Avarice: a strong desire for things that belong to another.

Gluttony: the over-indulgence of food and drink.

I expect we have all been guilty of one or more of these ‘sins’ to some degree or another at some time in our lives.

Geoffrey Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales’ (written towards the end of the 14th century), is about a group of people, from all strata of society, travelling on a pilgrimage from London the shrine of St. Thomas à Becket in Canterbury. This is a story about sin, focussing mainly

on the sins of pride, gluttony and greed. The Parson preaches on the seven deadly sins and he makes it clear that each of the travellers is guilty of at least one. And he makes the point that, the higher in status some of the characters are – such as the ‘Wife of Bath’, who has got through several husbands and acquired all their wealth – the more noticeable their imperfections are.

So, how do we cope with sin? The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that the seven deadly sins are contrary to the seven heavenly virtues, which, if we practice them, may help us to avoid sin. They are: prudence, justice, temperance, and courage (or fortitude), faith, hope, and charity.

But if we do sin, then our hope lies in forgiveness. We must remember that we have a forgiving God. The English poet Alexander Pope (whom I mentioned in my reflection last Sunday), in ‘An Essay on Criticism’ in 1711, wrote the famous line, “To err is Human; to Forgive, Divine”. (Not to be confused with the American scientist Paul Ehrlich, who once said “To err is human, but to really foul things up you need a computer”!)

For those of us who sin, divine forgiveness is our hope and our salvation. Thankfully we have a God who, to quote the Book of Common Prayer, “hath promised forgiveness of sins to all them that with hearty repentance and true faith turn unto him”. (Note the condition!)

Although we are assured that God is always ready to forgive, there are Ts & Cs attached: “And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Chapter 18, Peter asks Jesus, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus replies, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” If we expect to be forgiven, we must ourselves always be prepared to forgive.

We each have to find our own way of coping with our own sins and guilt, but a good place to start is by asking God and those we have hurt for forgiveness.

Fr. Ray