Can Private Sin Have Social Consequences?

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Last night someone I know started an argument with me. It is not the first time he has done this. In the past, I have actually amended my He did so by asking me a question and then arguing with my answer. In fact, every time he asked a question, it was never to actually find out what I think, or to try to understand my point of view, it was merely find fodder to argue more. The telltale sign of this is that he starts arguing against my answer while I am still giving my answer. He is not listening. He is merely waiting for his turn to talk again, and he cannot even wait for that.

After about five minutes of him telling me that I am wrong and that he is smarter (he never said those words but his tone, his sarcasm, and his demeanor made that clear), I told him that I think it is great that he believes what he believes. But that was not good enough. He wanted me to tell him that I was wrong for believing what I believe and for not believing what he believes. So he would not let my “It’s good that you believe what you believe” (with the implication that I get to believe what I believe) be the end of it. He argued more.

The result is that after twenty minutes of this, I became angry. And the strangest thing happened. When I became angry, and told him that I was becoming angry, he smiled. That is when I realized what this had all been about – someone who does not like how he feels so he strives to make others not like how they feel. So I told him this. I also told him that I understand that he needs to argue and to feel right, but I do not want to play along because I do not like how it makes me feel in the process. Then he accused me of not being able to accept opinions that I disagree with – which really irked me because I had accepted his point of view fifteen minutes before and said that I did over and over again.

The point of this is not the argument, or even the purpose for the argument, but the result of the argument. The argument is merely the backstory for everything else that follows.

When I got in my car, I realized that this was another example of getting to practice what I preach, so I began to say prayers for this person. I did not pray that he change, or that he accept that I am right, or that he be any different than he was. I prayed that God would give him all the peace and happiness in his life that I want in mine (okay, I guess that is a prayer for him to change).

A lot of people who actually “pray for their enemies” often do so in a manner that is not really a prayer for their enemies. It is really a prayer for themselves. They pray that their enemies change to suit them. They pray as if they know what is best for their enemies and that their enemies accept it. Frankly, they use the promise of prayer as a threat.

Then after I prayed for him, I prayed for me. I prayed for God to remove the resentment that had clearly formed because I was already beginning to play this scene over and over again in my head (that is what resentment is – “re” as in “again” “sent” from sentient “to think or feel). So I prayed for God to remove this resentment from me and I prayed to forgive this person. Then I looked to see where I was wrong so that I could apologize for that.

But still, it bothered me. I found myself replaying it as the night went on. And it was still there when I awoke this morning. As I was saying the Divine Office I found my thoughts drifting back to my resentment from the night before.

Now here is the point of all this. So if you are scanning this, then this is where you want to read if you want the moral of the story, but I encourage you to go back and read the backstory.

We in the Church often think in terms of sin, but if you look at the Old Testament, the early Jewish religion thought more in terms of “unclean” – the religion was less about righteous versus sinful as much as it was about clean versus unclean. And that uncleanliness was contagious. We do not tend to think of sin as contagious. We tend to think of sin as person. So I sin and it affects me. You sin and it affects you. But we do not stain each other with our own personal sin. Being unclean, however, is transferable. If I am unclean and I come into contact with you, then I make you unclean as well.

We see this concept in the New Testament as well. The woman who has the issue of bleeding in the crowd who touches Jesus is terrified when He stops and demands to know who touched Him. Why? Because she is unclean; she is making the entire crowd unclean – everyone who touches her, and then everyone who touches those who touch her, and so on and so on – and she just made Jesus unclean. That is why she is terrified. The Parable of the Good Samaritan has a priest and a Levite ignoring the man who was lying in the road. Why? Because if the man were dead, they would be made unclean and would be unable to perform their duties as priests and Levites.

Think for a moment of your sin being and uncleanliness that you transfer to those with whom you come into contact. How does that change the nature of sin if we were to view it as being “unclean and contagious”?

What does have to do with the argument and the resentment? Good question! I’m glad you asked.

My acquaintance infected me with his unhappiness. He created a situation that fostered resentment. I participated in the process of course. But for the sake of argument, let’s just say that his behavior was wrong and it was a sin in the way he conducted himself. His sin did not merely affect him, it affected me. It affected how I processed and felt about the world I encountered from that point on. I could not enjoy or focus on my prayers. And when I got on Facebook this morning, I found myself posting comments that were sarcastic and unnecessary (which I deleted as soon as I realized why I was doing it).

This person made me unclean. Not physically unclean, but emotionally and spiritually uncleans, so that my emotions and even my spiritual activity were marred by the situation and my present and future interactions with others were being affected. I was spreading the emotional and spiritual uncleanliness.

So I am happy to have an insight about something even though I am not crazy about the learning process. Sin affects me in such a way that it affects how I relate and respond to others – even God – and then, if the person is not aware that I am acting out of my own uncleanliness, they get marred and stained by it themselves, and they begin to act in a way that sullies and stains others. And in the end there are a whole lot of people who are interacting with each other from their uncleanliness — because the more we act this way, the more and more unclean we become.

So all this teaches me is that I have to be proactive in how I interact with others. I have to constantly monitor why I am responding the way I am responding. Am I responding out of love, or am I responding out of uncleanliness?

It also teaches me that the best way to get over a resentment is to admit to having a resentment – or if I may use another word “confess” my resentment. It does not have to be to a priest, but just saying it helps to take away its power. Now I can truly forgive and forget and even make an apology for my part of the argument which was simply letting myself get drawn into it, and then letting myself get disturbed by it.

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