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Psychological Healing
in the Catholic Mystic Tradition

Questions and Answers

Does not all sin come from woundedness? It seems that each time I self-examine for sin, what I find is tied to my own woundedness. So, is it really to be guilty over or simply to be healed?

Outline of the Answer
• Introduction
• Original Sin
• Concupiscence: Sin Feels Good
• Missing the Point
• Personal Sin
• Catholic Psychology
• The Deception of “Knowing”
• It’s Your Choice

 
Well, to be clever I could say, “No—and Yes. Because there is sin and there is sin, and there is woundedness and there is woundedness.” Anyway, we should forget about being clever—the point is to recognize that the whole issue can be very confusing.

A good place to begin is with the Catechism of the Catholic Church, especially with §§386–412.

 
Original Sin

Notice that everything begins with the concept of Original Sin. To keep it simple, Original Sin refers to the fact that we live essentially blind to the presence of God—the Bible tells the story of Adam and Eve and the Fall to explain it. But you can just feel it with your heart: we are separated from the direct vision and knowledge of God. Any knowledge we have of God comes from revelation, when God reveals Himself to us—as in Scripture, through the prophets, and, ultimately, through Christ.

  

Did Adam and Eve really exist? Did all humans descend just from two individuals? What about the scientific theory of evolution? What about questions like these? What’s the truth? Well, the Church teaches us what is worthy of belief, but if you still doubt, the truth is, we don’t really need to know. Asking these questions does not assist our salvation. Asking whether the events described in the Bible about Adam and Eve actually occurred in the past is a meaningless intellectual distraction because the events do happen in every moment of the present. Every soul is created by God from dust. Every soul is tempted to doubt God and thereby to fall into the fraud of self-sufficiency. Every soul hides from God when it commits sin.

  

Original Sin, therefore, is the state of human nature into which we all are born, a kind of spiritual blindness. This state of separation from God affects all of us, no matter how “nice” we might think we are.

But notice also that none of us is personally responsible for this state. As §405 of the Catechism says, “it is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it; subject to ignorance, suffering, and the dominion of death . . .”

I’ll break off from the text here to point out that at this point we could say that our woundedness is the result of Original Sin and that it is nothing “to be guilty over” as if we were personally responsible for it.

 
Concupiscence: Sin Feels Good

But the text continues, “. . . and inclined to sin—an inclination to evil that is called concupiscence. Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ’s grace, erases original sin and turns a person back toward God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle.”

This concept of concupiscence explains something that tends to baffle most Christians. How is it that we can continue to commit sin even when we know that it is wrong? Well, the truth is, sin feels good.

Yes, sin feels good.

Some sins, such as lust, give us raw physical pleasure, and some sins, such as hatred and revenge, give us psychological satisfaction. Either way, because sin feels good, we are constantly tempted to do things with our lives that are personally corrupt—and this IS a cause for true sorrow.

 
Missing the Point

Sin is not bad because someone in authority, for some  arrogant and mysterious reason, says so. Nor is sin bad because it feels good. Sin is bad because it misses the point.

The Hebrew word for sin, hata’a, means to “miss the mark.” Similarly, in psychological language, we can say that sin is a perversion.

Perversion is a word that has become politically incorrect in today’s world. The verb to pervert, however, literally means “to lead astray” or “to misdirect,” and so perversion has the psychological sense of something that leads a person away from a goal.

  

As an example, consider the nature of alcohol abuse. Psychologically speaking, alcoholics drink in order to avoid the pain of facing up to and making amends for all the times they have failed to take responsibility for their lives. Hence the abuse of alcohol can be called a perversion because it leads a person away from the true aim of dealing with the guilt and into a drunken state of illusory well-being.

  

Thus the point of a perversion is to always miss the point.

In psychological language, then, we can say that a perversion leads you away from the true depths of your emotional pain—and from any healing—by distracting you with something merely pleasurable.

Furthermore, in theological language we can say that sin, in being a perversion, leads you away from the goal of holiness and into the empty, self-centered pleasures of merely feeling good.

 
Personal Sin

The fact that you commit sin—that is, do bad things—does not make you a bad person.

Catholic theology teaches that human nature is essentially good, and that the proclivity to sin can be overcome by divine grace when we repent our bad behavior—that is, when we see it as a true offense against God’s love, feel sorrow for it, and turn to God for mercy.

Read an excerpt from a letter about repentance
by Saint Clement, pope

This personal sin, therefore, is the result of woundedness. So do you get it? That’s what I meant earlier about the “No and Yes”: Original Sin causes our woundedness, and this woundedness leads to personal sin. So woundedness is caught in the middle.

And there’s the connection to psychology.

 
Psychology in the Catholic Mystic Tradition

Catholic psychology can show us the ways in which we cope with our woundedness—our essential brokenness, fragmentation, and vulnerability that lead us to dwell in self-pity, to seek our own empty pleasures, and to neglect the good of others.

Then we have a choice.

Either we accept our woundedness by recognizing our blindness, embracing our weakness, and listening to its pain—and then turning away from sin out of deep, heartfelt sorrow for the evil our woundedness causes—or we hide from it, seducing the despair with impiety, creating more and more woundedness, and more and more guilt.

 
The Deception of “Knowing”

Sadly, in spite of all that psychology has to offer within the Church, many persons today prefer to believe that because “God created me the way I am” they don’t have to scrutinize and change their personal behavior. Instead, they concern themselves with what they “know.” Some take up the Protestant idea that salvation comes from knowing that Christ is your “personal savior.” Some take up non-Christian religious practices in which spirituality depends, for example, on knowing how to meditate in a particular manner.

But none of this “knowing,” in itself, is sufficient to motivate them to accept the suffering, sacrifice, and prayer which the Bible, the Church fathers, and the Catholic mystics have consistently said are absolutely necessary to purge them of the imperfections of sin and the tempting desire to seek the pleasures of sin. None of this “knowing” can show them the real horror of sin. 

When I beheld that vision in which I saw the magnitude of the stain of even one least sin against God, I know not why I did not die. I said, “I no longer marvel that Hell is so horrible . . . . since I have beheld the terrible stain caused by but one venial sin. And what, in comparison to that, would be a mortal sin? And then so many mortal sins?”

—Saint Catherine of Genoa
The Life and Doctrine of St. Catherine of Genoa
First Part, Chapter XXII

 

Read more from the writings of Saint Catherine of Genoa
about God’s love and patience

 
It’s Your choice

So it’s very simple: Nothing that you know can stop you from committing sin. Only real love for God can motivate you to reject sin. You can’t commit sin and love God at the same time. Therefore, it will be important to make a deep and heartfelt decision to choose one or the other—sin or love—because, in essence, sin is anything and everything that misses the point about holiness and leads you away from love.

  

“I just want to have fun,” they say. “I’m not a bad person.” Oh, how we deceive ourselves! As if it were possible to commit sin “just for fun” and say it really doesn’t matter. Can you lie “just for fun” and not be a liar? Can you steal “just for fun”and not be a thief? Can you commit adultery “just for fun” and not be an adulterer? Can you commit murder “just for fun” and not be a murderer?

So beware. Despite the tourist propaganda, what happens in the City of Sin does not stay in the City of Sin—it follows you, accuses you, and haunts you everywhere you go and in everything you do.

  

Therefore, it’s very sad that some persons, despite all they “know”—even knowing that God is love—will spend their entire lives avoiding that fundamental choice: sin or love.

  

Whoever says, “I know Him,” but does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, the love of God is truly perfected in him.

  

—1 John 2:4-5

It’s not a matter of what you know, but of what you desire, deep in the depths of your unconscious. As long as you stay within the box of sin, the things you desire are a result of your woundedness, but, in the end, you will go where you desire, and where you go, well, that is your personal responsibility.

 

The Joy of Sin

 

 

What the Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

1855  Mortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God’s law; it turns man away from God, who is his ultimate end and his beatitude, by preferring an inferior good to him.
 
1861  Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, as is love itself. It results in the loss of charity and the privation of sanctifying grace, that is, of the state of grace. If it is not redeemed by repentance and God’s forgiveness, it causes exclusion from Christ’s kingdom and the eternal death of hell, for our freedom has the power to make choices for ever, with no turning back. However, although we can judge that an act is in itself a grave offense, we must entrust judgment of persons to the justice and mercy of God.
 

 

Who wrote this web page?

 

Healing
Psychological Healing in the Catholic Mystic Tradition


by Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D.


A treasure of a resource for psychological and spiritual healing. Information gathered from my websites is now available at your fingertips in book form with a comprehensive index.
 
Psychological defenses help to protect us from emotional injury, but if you cling to the defense mechanisms that were created in your childhood and carry them on into adulthood—as most everyone does unconsciously—your quest for spiritual healing will be thwarted by overwhelming resentments and conflicts.
 
Still, God has been trying to show you that there is more to life than resentment and conflict, something so beautiful and desirable that only one thing can resist its pull: hate.
 
So now, and in every moment until you die, you will have a profound choice between your enslavement to old defenses and the beauty of God. That decision has to come from you. You will go where you desire.

More information

 

 


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