The second reflection on the topic of "Sin Mysticism"
A phrase my father drilled into my head as a child was "Never do evil so that good may come of it." The meaning behind this phrase carries great weight with regard to one's actions. As a child it seemed simple enough not to lie to my parents as a means to attain the end of not getting in trouble. As I grew a bit older my Catholic upbringing taught me that a couple should not abort their child so as to live as they wish. However, I have learned as the years go by, that my father's overused phrase can be applied to much more.
Jennifer would have never believed you ten years ago if you had told her she would one day be considering divorce. Jennifer grew up in a devout Christian family. Marriage was forever and meant two becoming one flesh. Jennifer shared the same values as her parents; her friends and family regarded her as the ideal Christian young woman. Before the fighting began, Jennifer's life was easy going, her troubles miniscule, her spiritual life pleasant. Jennifer prayed to God everyday to take her back to the days before the fights, back to carefree summer nights, back to the innocence of childhood. How could something that feels so right be so wrong? Was she destined never to love? Was God punishing her for all the years she spent in lukewarm bliss never having to carry a cross? Never feeling as if her minor sins merited intense remorse or shame on her part. It never even occurred to her that she belonged to the communion of sinners who nailed Christ to the cross. The point being, this experience of suffering was new for Jennifer. Jennifer never hurt so much or loved so much in all her life.
It had only been a month since the seperation when she ran into him. She was walking her cocker spaniel like she did every Monday morning, when he jogged up beside her. It only took that one chance meeting for it to begin. Jennifer amused herself by saying, Jane Austen and Shakespeare could not have imagined an affair as tragic and passionate as theirs. She wanted to give herself entirely to him. But following every stolen kiss was the constant reminder that she had given all of herself once before. Her husband seemed like a stranger to her, now that she knew what real love felt like. Why had God let her beguile herself, throw her love away on a cheap imitation. He, her true love, was a Christian himself. From a Christian perspective he was a good man. A bachelor who had never been in love until he met Jennifer. He had known many relationships but he had saved his heart for someone special. Jennifer knew that she was that special someone. But of course something was in the way, something is always in the way of complete bliss. Jennifer knew her love for Him could never be fulfilled in the way they both wanted it to be. She and her husband had only been separated for a month, the divorce papers had not even been drafted. Would she compromise her affair for her faith or compromise her faith for her affair?
Dietrich von Hildebrand would agree with Jennifer that her affair is tragic. He would even go as far to say that Jennifer and her lover are tragic sinners: two people who love God yet who are succumbing miserably to sin, a sin which bears good intentions yet a sin none the less. Yet, Hildebrand says that the tragic element does by no means beatify the sinner or the sin. “The aspect of tragedy must not deceive us in regard to the intrinsic ugliness of sinning.”(pg.100)
The romantic novelists, who write explicit novels which flaunt enticing titles such as Forbidden Lust (enjoyed by millions of middle aged housewives while their husbands are at work), would encourage the character of Jennifer to surrender herself to her desires. They would even deem her affair as noble because of her good intentions. Hildebrand would argue that although her intentions are noble, the sin is not. Her love may be true, genuine, and selfless, but all these goods things can not justify what goes against her faith. Here again “sin mysticism” comes into play, in this dramatic example of “star-crossed” lovers. An affair masquerades as noble and romantic, when in fact it is a grievous sin. Jennifer must make the ultimate decision, the decision which separates the tragic sinners from the saints. A lover swears to die for their beloved, but what if that death is a spiritual death? The death of one’s will in order to follow God’s will? Hildebrand believed that negative moral values or sins that bear an intrinsically evil character must in all circumstances be renounced and rejected. In regards to an affair of a divorced woman, Hildebrand says that “instead of uniting the lovers, sinning in common tears them asunder”(pg.100). The couple does not need to fail and sin to realize their weaknesses and crawl back on their hands and knees to Christ’s mercy. No, by ending their affair they would be making the greater sacrifice. By embracing her affair, Jennifer would never truly be at peace with herself. She would suffer knowing that she is committing a serious sin. In spite of her new found humility, Hildebrand states, “there is no venerableness to the sufferings of a sinner.”(pg. 100) It is true that falling is an awakening experience of a grave conflict however, they would also have had this experience if they had the strength to avoid sin by making the greater sacrifice. (pg.100) “They would have reached an incomparably greater depth and would have experience an incomparably fuller awakening”(pg.100).
Tragic circumstances such as these have the ability to stain our human experience with despair and even hatred. However, in the face of such tragic matters, the actualization of moral virtues spare the person of this despair and hatred and attain for them joy and eternal happiness.
Through great sacrifices, great joy can be found, for did not the saints possess joy? Even if the couple’s sacrifice does not produce earthly happiness, it surely promises them eternal happiness. Possessing moral virtues and living a moral life is the key to ultimate happiness.
We live in a world which has developed a sentimentality towards sin. In spite of this we must not be fooled by what is morally wrong and by evil masquerading as what is noble and heroic. Tragic sinners should be mourned, not glorified.
Image 1: sourceQuotes: pg. 100. Morality and Situation Ethics, Dietrich von Hildebrand (Chicago, Franciscan Herald Press, 1966)