The Bite of Sin

You can hear him barking way before you can see him.  Loud, persistent and ferocious, he’s making his presence known.  He’s kept on a long heavy chain by his owner and around his neck is a thick sturdy collar.  As you get closer to the big dog you hope the chain and the collar are both strong enough to hold him back.  When you get within sight of him, his barking gets so loud it hurts your ears.  The hackles on his back stand up as he stares you down.  Your heart pounds.  He leaps up as you keep walking toward him and you wonder:  just how long is that chain?
Wait a minute.  Who would be stupid enough to keep walking towards a big barking dog like that?  Anybody with sense is gonna get as far away from those snapping jaws as possible.  Nothing good can happen from getting closer to that sort of danger.  One step too close and you could end up seriously wounded, or even dead.  Just like a chained dog is dangerous if you get to close to him, so is the killing power of sin in our lives.  Getting too close to sin is what Catholics call “the near occasion of sin.”  It means putting yourself in a situation or around certain people or things that can tempt us to sin.  There’s a beautiful Catholic prayer that we pray after we’ve confessed our sins called the “Act of Contrition.”  In it, we tell God how sorry we are for offending Him with our sins and we ask Him to forgive us and to give us the grace “to sin no more and avoid the near occasion of sin.”  Getting too close to situations that tempt us is just as dangerous as getting too close to that big chained dog.  That’s why it’s so important to examine your life closely to identify your sins and what or who draws you close to sin.
To begin with, sin is willful.  That is, you can’t sin by accident or without meaning to.  You have to know that the action is sinful and you have to consciously choose to do it anyway.  So if sin is a choice, you can also choose NOT to sin. We know that we need the help of God’s grace to avoid sin.  Without grace, we’re weak and easily tempted.  We keep committing the same sins and can’t seem to break the pattern.  Grace is our only hope.  Christ is our only hope.  We received the gift of His grace at our baptism when we were drawn into the very life of God.  Baptismal grace brings us out of darkness and into Light.  Baptism makes us a child of God and opens the door of heaven for us.  God’s grace fills us again in every Eucharist.  In the sacrament of Confirmation, the Holy Spirit once more infuses us with God’s grace and love.  He gives us so many opportunities for the strength we need to avoid sin. 
What’s your near occasion of sin?  Are you as fearful of sin as you are of that dangerous dog?  You should be.  You should be even more afraid of sinning against God than of that big barking dog.  The dog can wound your body but sin wounds your immortal soul.  Sin can kill your soul if you allow yourself.  St. Pio of Pietrelcina, known better as Padre Pio (1887-1968) was a 20th century saint who described how dangerous this can be:  “The devil is like a rabid dog tied to a chain; beyond the length of the chain he cannot seize anyone.  And you — keep at a distance.  If you approach too near, you let yourself be caught.”  So the question is:  just how long is that chain?  Do you keep yourself far enough from the things and people and situations in your life that tempt you to sin?  Are you aware of whom and what you must avoid so that grace can help you to avoid sin?  Pray that God will reveal your sins to you.  This is one of His great gifts to us.  When we know sin for what it is, we can begin to overcome it with His help.  You will see your sins for the horrible and deadly things that they are. As Christians, we seek to do the will of Christ and we pray that His grace will help us to closely follow Him.  Stay close to Christ in prayer.  Open your heart to Him.  Stay close to Christ in His Church and in the sacraments Jesus made for us.  Begin each day by offering it to the Lord and every evening, examine the day and ask God to forgive you for the sins you’ve committed that day.  Soon God will help you to recognize those near occasions of sin in your life.  You’ll hear the barking dog from a long distance away and God’s grace will keep you far from his dangerous bite.
Sin isn’t the worst thing in the world.  The worst thing is the denial of sin.”
                                             —Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen (1895 – 1979)


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