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The Mystery of Sin and Saint Paul

By John D. Meehan
2/1/2013 (5 years ago)
Catholic Online (

Part II - The interior struggle

With a divine order and a declaration, Jesus of Nazareth put a human face on and gave a human voice to the merciful love of God. This changed forever both the love-relationship of Creation and the justice-relationship of the Fall. By his redemptive act of self-sacrifice on a Roman Cross at Mount Calvary, the God-man, changed forever the relationship between the Creator and his human creatures.

HOOKSET, NH (Catholic Online) - Saint Paul described the human enigma this way: "My own actions bewilder me; what I do is not what I wish to do, but something which I hate. Why then, if what I do is something I have no wish to do, I thereby admit that the Law [of God] is worthy of all honor; meanwhile, my action does not come from me, but from the sinful principle that dwells in me.

Of this I am certain, that no principle of good dwells in me, that is, in my natural self; praiseworthy intentions are always ready at hand, but I cannot find my way to perform them; it is not the good my will prefers, but the evil my will disapproves that I find myself doing.

And if what I do is something I have not the will to do, it cannot be I that bring it about; it must be the sinful principle that dwells in me. This, then, is what I find about the Law [of God], that evil is close at my side, when my will is to do what is praiseworthy. Inwardly, I applaud God's disposition, but I observe another disposition in my lower self, which raises war against the disposition of my [heart], and so I am handed over as a captive to that disposition towards sin which my lower self contains" (Rm 7:15-23).

The biological life, with its sensory attractions and physical appetites, drew Saint Paul in one direction. The moral life, complicated by selfish desires, disorderly affections, and unstable emotions, had him struggle in a second direction. The loftier movements of his mind and the innate desire to live according to God's truthful love set him off in a third direction.

This turmoil within convinced Saint Paul that there is the universal experience of concupiscence. So, when some forbidden fruit becomes appealing to a person, it is concupiscence at work within him or her.

The Catechism defines concupiscence: "Etymologically, 'concupiscence' can refer to any intense form of human desire. Christian theology has given it a particular meaning: the movement of the sensitive appetite contrary to the operation of the human reason. The Apostle, Saint Paul, identifies it with the rebellion of the 'flesh' against the 'spirit.' Concupiscence stems from the disobedience of [Original] Sin. It unsettles man's moral faculties and, without being in itself an offense, inclines man to commit sin" (Catechism, no. 2515).

Scripturally speaking, concupiscence arouses selfish loves: "For all that is in the world is concupiscence of the flesh, concupiscence of the eyes, and pride of life" (1 Jn 2:16).

Saint Paul gave this graphic description of lived concupiscence: "And so now they are steeped in all sorts of injustice, rottenness, greed, and malice; full of envy, murder, wrangling, treachery, and spite; libelers, slanderers, enemies of God, rude, arrogant and boastful, enterprising in evil, rebellious to parents, without brains, honor, love, or pity. They are well aware of God's ordinance: that those who behave like this deserve to die - yet they not only do it, but even applaud others who do the same"  (Rm 1:29-32).

Nonetheless, sacred scripture speaks of a truth more powerful than sin: "Gracious is the Lord, eternal his merciful love" (Ps 100:5).

Jesus of Nazareth confirmed the truth of this profound gift of God, which is the third and final element of salvation history - redemption:  And afterwards, when he was taking a meal in the house, many publicans and sinners were to be found at table with him and his disciples.

"The Pharisees saw this, and asked his disciples, 'How comes it that your master eats with publicans and sinners?' Jesus heard it, and said, 'It is not those who are in health that have need of the physician, it is those who are sick. Go home and find out what the words mean, 'It is mercy that wins favor with me, not sacrifice.' I have come to call the sinner, not the just" (Mt 9:10-13).

With a divine order and a declaration, Jesus of Nazareth put a human face on and gave a human voice to the merciful love of God. This changed forever both the love-relationship of Creation and the justice-relationship of the Fall. By his redemptive act of self-sacrifice on a Roman Cross at Mount Calvary, the God-man, changed forever the relationship between the Creator and his human creatures.

Now, the "name of the game," so to speak, is merciful love: "The Lord is compassionate and merciful, slow to anger and rich in merciful love; he will not always be angry, nor his resentment remain for all time.

He does not treat us as our sins deserve, nor does he reward us according to our iniquities. As the height of heaven is above the earth, so strong is his merciful love for those who fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our iniquities from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so has the Lord compassion on those that fear him; he knows of what we are made, he remembers that we are dust"  (Ps 103: 8-12). 

John D. Meehan has been involved in the lay apostolate of the Catholic Church since the close of the Second Vatican Council.  He resides in New Hampshire with his lovely wife Elizabeth. 


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