SINS OF OMISSION by Cardinal Henry Manning, 1874
Jesus saith to him: If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come follow me. And when the young man had heard this word, he went away sad: for he had great possessions. Then Jesus said to his disciples: Amen, I say to you, that a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven.–St. Matth 19: 21 – 23
Who can understand sins? From my secret sins
cleanse me, O God.– Psalm viii. 13.
If, as we have seen, the knowledge of the intellect and the consent of the will be necessary to constitute a sin, how can there be secret sins–how can there be sins which we do not know? First, because we may have committed what we have afterwards forgotten, which thus becomes secret to us, but is yet recorded in the book of God’s remembrance.
Next, we may only half understand the sinfulness of that which we do, and one-half of our guilt is secret from us. Again, through a culpable ignorance of ourselves, we do not know how often we offend God. We read in Holy Scripture these words, which at first sight are most alarming: ‘There are wise men, and there are just men, and their work is in the hand of God; yet no man knoweth whether he be worthy of love or hatred (Eccles. ix. 1).’ That is, even the just man, even the wise man, even the man that does many works which are remembered before God, even he cannot know with a perfect consciousness whether in the sight of God he be an object of love or an object of hatred; and that because in the light of the presence of God sins which are perfectly invisible to us–sins of thought, word, and deed which, in the twilight of our conscience, in the confusion of our soul–are secret to us, are visible to God. They who know this best can only have the confidence of hope that their sins before God are forgiven. They have no revelation of it, and therefore they cannot know it with a Divine certainty; and that which we do not know with a Divine certainty, we can only know by a trust of confidence and hope springing from the promises of God, and the consciousness of our own soul. This must be manifest to every one who at all knows himself. He knows that the leaves which fall from the trees in autumn are not more in multitude than the words we scatter every day; that the lights of the sun, glancing to and fro all the day long, are not more multitudinous than the thoughts perpetually rising in our hearts; that the motion of the sea, or the restlessness of the air, is not more continuous than the working of our imagination, our heart, our affections, our passions; and in this mystery, this confusion of our being, who is there that will venture to say that the good predominates over the evil, the light over the darkness, and that in the sight of God he is an object of love rather than of hatred? Now I have felt that our subjects hitherto have been of a severe kind, and the subject that we have now will not be less so; but hereafter I hope we shall be able to pass on to the grace and the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the consolations for which all that I have said is but the preparation. We are approaching to our Easter joys; that is, to the Precious Blood of Jesus Christ and to the perfect absolution of sin, which He has laid up for all those who are penitent. Let me, then, take up and complete this last part of what I have said.
We have already seen the nature of sins of commission. They are either the mortal sins, which separate the soul from God in this life, and, if not repented of, in the life to come; or they are the venial sins, which are the disease though they are not the death of the soul; and these are the greatest evils, next after mortal sin, that the heart of man can conceive. They are the preludes of mortal sin in many, and are punished by detention from the vision of God, both in this world and in the world to come.
This, then, was the first part of our subject; the last part will be sins of omission. The first was, the sin of doing evil; the last, the sin of leaving good undone. Now let me suppose that which is intellectually conceivable, though it has never existed; let me suppose a soul created in the likeness of God, and committing no sin, but bearing no fruit. This is precisely the state described in the parable of the barren fig-tree. The tree was alive, the root strong and in the ground, the branches were covered with leaves; but when, year after year, the fruit was sought, none was to be found. This is a parable and description of a soul, alive indeed, but not fulfilling the end of its creation. And for what end was the soul created? To know, to love, to serve, to worship, and to be made like to God; and a soul that does not fulfil the end of its creation, that does not know and love and serve and worship God, and is not likened and assimilated to God its Maker and its Original–that soul not fulfilling the end of its creation would therefore be in a state of condemnation, and the words of the parable would be true and just: ‘Cut it down. Why cumbereth it the ground (S. Luke xiii. 7.)?’
We are bound by three obligations to glorify God by fulfilling the end of our creation. First, by the law of our creation itself. We were created to glorify Him by a life of obedience as much as the earth was created to bear fruit, and the firmament to give light. If the firmament were turned into darkness, and the earth into desolation, it would not fulfil the end for which it was made; and so, too, with the soul that does not glorify God. Again, we are bound to glorify God by a direct commandment, and that direct commandment is written in the Decalogue and in the two precepts of charity: ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, with thy whole soul, with thy whole mind, with thy whole strength, and thy neighbour as thyself (S. Matt. xxii. 37,39).’ And we are bound to fulfilthese two precepts of charity under pain of eternal death. There is also a third obligation–not indeed binding under pain of eternal death, a law of which I shall speak hereafter–and that is the law of liberty — the law of love, of gratitude, and of generous freedom, which is written by the Holy Ghost on the heart of all those who, being born again in Baptism, are united to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by the bond of charity. Sins of omission are against either the law of our creation, or the law of the two precepts of charity, or against the law of liberty. If we leave undone the good or the duties to which we are bound by those obligations, we commit sins of omission. I have already shown how sins that are venial lead to sins that are mortal, so I will now show how sins of omission lead on to sins of commission. They are the beaten pathway which leads to actual sins. Now sins of omission, or the leaving duty undone, may indeed arise from any one of the seven capital sins: and then it is also a sin of commission. A son may omit his duty to his father through anger. The sin of anger adds a sin of commission. So I might take examples from the others; but I will select one only, and that because it has the greatest affinity to sins of omission; I mean the sin of sloth.
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