One night not long ago, I was by myself contemplating sin. How does sin affect us in the long run? Will my sins prevent me from entering heaven? I wouldn’t be the first person to gaze off into the mental realm of these thoughts. It is certain that many great minds of history have written on these topics; not to say I’m a great mind. The idea that came to me is likely something that has been said before by others or perhaps a combination of different pieces of wisdom that I have strung together like a twisted cable pair or a rope. The analogy that occurred to me is that our lives tend to be like paintings. Even though no analogy is perfect or sufficient to explain the wisdom of God, I will at least attempt to grasp at this little corner of wisdom and explain what I mean by this.
When we start out in the womb of our mother we have a very limited understanding of our world and surroundings. At this stage of our development we are entirely free from sin, that is to say that we have not made any deliberate choices to partake in sin but are still bound by the original sin of Adam and Eve. We are like the painter’s canvas, perfectly tone prepared and evenly textured; the base on which to paint is there. There is one unfortunate problem with the base canvas, and that is someone has spilled black ink on the canvas. This stain on the canvas is like original sin. This blob inherited from our ancestry sticks out and immediately draws the onlooker in to this mess. Some or many in our modernist/socialist society would simply throw away the canvas because it has become an inconvenient circumstance which would get in the way of their lifestyle. However; those who are true, courageous and lovers of life will still use the canvas and work around the obvious stain on our humanity. There is also another group of unfortunate souls who refuse to look at the stain, and through some form of self-deception have become ignorant to the point that they couldn’t or do not want to see that the possibility of redemption is right in front of them. At some point; normally in our early life, we learn of the grace called Baptism. If done at an early enough age, the stain that I have mentioned does not get a chance to set into the heart of the newly created human. Christ redeemed us from the stain on our canvas, that is to say he wiped out the original stain, but also any that came after it. Those baptized at an older age, will still be able to partake in the grace of Baptism, and it will indeed wipe out any undesirable stains on our canvas. There is one caveat however to adult Baptism, and that is to wipe out the ink blots, the other colours and sins on top, must also be cleared off. Many so fervently hang on to those stains that they may never enjoy in the graces that abound from Heaven. Those should not be afraid to lose the other colours because God will restore the virtuous colours in due time.
As childhood progresses, we start to see the formations of a painting take place; the wise illustrator will pencil in important pieces of the image before committing paint to them to ensure this is what it should really be. Although the canvas does not contain a painting yet we can clearly see the outline and character of what is to come. The unwise painter will simply start slapping on paint in any fashion having a complete disregard for planning and may not ever know what the outcome could be. If children are allowed to roam and run like wild boars crashing through trees and not respecting authority then the painting will surely be full of many reds and blacks. Even though the child will be bruised they aren’t necessary culpable for their actions, because they aren’t able to reason the difference between good and evil. These bruises can certainly stay well into adulthood. This is a crucial step in the formation of a human, for the paintbrush must be tamed and instructed by the parents first and foremost. If the parents have any sense of reasoning whatsoever they will be smart enough to know if you don’t take this step now, it will be much harder to correct children latter; much in the same way it will be much harder to fix the painting after it is complete. Children must be shown how to respect not only their painting but the greater illustrations of the world.
At some point children begin to understand good and evil, and its consequences, this is called the “age of reason”. This can happen when a child is young, or even much older depending on their development. The painting begins to see colour as the character begins to develop on the canvas. There might be some reds indicating the bumps and bruises from child-hood, there might be some blue’s as children assert themselves, some yellow’s from the joys in life, etc. Depending on the upbringing of the child, they may receive first communion and go to their first confession. Communion is like the light and vibrancy of the painting; once we receive our Lord he fills us with those durable, stain-resistant speciality colours that you wouldn’t normally find at a paint store. Children deprived of this grace will still have colour, but it will be much duller, much more prone to fading, and not withstand wear and tear. This dullness and fading does continue to adulthood. Confession takes this one step further by cleaning up any new stains or mistakes that may befall the canvas. If the wise can admit there fault, or error, then the painting becomes much easier to fix and much more close to the original vision of the painting. Those who do not admit their fault, will simply live with the mistake of the wrong colour, slip of the hand and will simply continue on not aware they are losing the original concept. Some may think they are clever and say “Because the child is still not an adult, there is plenty of time to rework the painting!” We will indeed see.
As adolescence and adulthood form we begin to see a painting that has defined borders, some basic colours are filled in, shadows and an image is apparent! This is the time for confirmation. The vision is set to the canvas, and the turning point has now arrived. Some choices need to be made in regards to the painting. Which colours do we go with for the important features? What should I focus or highlight upon in the painting? Should I put something in the background? How should the light and shadows appear in the painting? What over-tone could I add to make it more realistic? Confirmation takes that vision of the painting and solidifies it. However there are many that go through their confirmation without the slightest interest in it, and instead of finishing what was supposed to be a masterpiece, simply abandon it to the attic to instead chase after the whims of the world. “My faith is something nice that I do at Christmas.”, “I don’t need to believe in God, we are more rational that this, it’s all fairy-tails! “, “As long as I am happy and I am not like this, that or some other ‘badman'”, ” I am a good person! Isn’t that all I need to go to Heaven?”, “I can be spiritual in my own way, we all believe in same thing don’t we?” I have heard these any many other self-deceptions as to why someone doesn’t want to paint. All of these ideas or colours go against the vision God has set for us and in reality are pitiful excuses to not challenge ourselves or to follow where the facts of Christianity take us. The above attributes do not compliment the human person, but instead twist truths to the extent that they are ugly to look at. Have you ever seen a website with bright neon colours, bouncing images, and text that doesn’t contrast against the background? These websites scream look at me, but don’t really portray what exactly they are trying to accomplish. When we don’t trust in God, our souls certainly become like the aforementioned website. The beautiful painting that was once envisioned has now simply become a mess with no apparent purpose other than to bask in its own vain-glory. It would not be becoming of me if I simply left you in a desperate state of “what do we do now?” or leave you wanting of “what’s the solution?” You should fear not because the painting is not complete, you will indeed see!
There are many circumstances through-out our life that can certainly have an impact on our painting. First I will speak of the sins of the flesh which are prevalent in our society today. Such sins may include but not exclusively are divorce, adultery, masturbation, premarital sex, co-habitation, contraception, sodomy and its various perversions, idolatry, witchcraft and its pagan descendants, contempt, wrath, gluttony, immodesty, murder, drunkenness, dissensions, etc. All of these sins certainly modify the outcome of the grand work. Those who commit to a life of the flesh will stroke the canvas quickly; mix the primary colours erratically, and without much thought on how the paint meets the canvas. At first it may seem like a random mosaic of colours, but as time goes on and the more one commits to this life-style they will find that the primary pigments will blend together, overlap, and mix, until you have nothing left but a dull black or gray on the canvas devoid of life. Sin has over-taken them, being enslaved to their passions, and the painting has become ruined. Sins of the flesh left unchecked compound and multiply until the soul has become utterly black and absent of light. It has been said that “Sin darkens the intellect”, which I suspect is a summary of Ephesians 4, 17 through 20 and 1 Corinthians 2:14
“This then I say and testify in the Lord: That henceforward you walk not as also the Gentiles walk in the vanity of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their hearts. Who despairing, have given themselves up to lasciviousness, unto the working of all uncleanness, unto the working of all uncleanness, unto covetousness”
It seems many Saints, Popes and Religious have made reference to the deadening or darkening of the intellect in various ways, and St. Thomas Aquinas has mentioned it in his book “On Evil.” The further you get into sin and away from the Truth, the harder it is to see the Truth; however nothing is impossible with God. When applied to my analogy of the painting, we can see that once the many dark layers of paint are stuck to the canvas, the harder it is to fix the painting. Christ said in John 15 “If any one abide not in me, he shall be cast forth as a branch, and shall wither, and they shall gather him up, and cast him into the fire, and he burneth.” We should all know already what this phrase is talking about, and in the same manor, there will come a point when the painting simply needs to be thrown away because it has become so horribly darkened. It is a scary thought to think one could be thrown into the lake of fire, but if one keeps there eye on the Lord and his Church, his graces will overcome our weaknesses.
The second set of circumstances I will speak of the sins of the spirit. Sins of arrogance, pride, hypocrisy, ambition, deceit, and so forth are a much more serious problem. How often do we lose our emotional composure which is usually followed by the brazing curse? Each of these instances which we allow our speech to callously blast away, adds multi-coloured speckles to our artwork. Interestingly enough our mouths can unintentionally speckle phlegm during this sin of the tongue! It becomes even more problematic when we are directing contempt towards others. There are instances in which I and others have let our mouths run in the affairs of other people’s business. When we allow ourselves to gossip we will soon see that our paint becomes watered down and runs the length of the canvas in such a way to distort our painting. If this goes unabated the sin can turn into an utter hatred or contempt for the person we are referring to, which would be akin to walking up to another’s canvas and spitting multi-coloured rhetoric all over it! This act leaves a lasting stain that is hard to remove. Those who have trouble forgiving may keep those speckles as a reminder of the sin committed against them. Be mindful on the consistency of your mouth to ensure that it is being just, correct, and slow to anger. Those who are the masters of their tempers will also have a firm hand on the palette board to avoid such circumstances. Another sin of the spirit is that of hypocrisy. If I were to say that the flesh tone is “good” for the paintings of all, while at the same time painting my flesh green, would you believe the colour of skin is not green? If I am not able to hold myself up to my own standard, then why should others? “Why should not my face also be green?” some may say. These sins of pride, heresy/un-orthodoxy, arrogance, and ambition, will often conclude with the phrase “I already know how to paint! Don’t judge me! I don’t need help from anybody I want to do it my own way!” How are you to create a beautiful portrait without knowing first how to paint? This arrogance or self-pride (which Satan is the master of), is really an utter contempt for God, our creator, who already has the perfect knowledge of the universe in which we live. Heresy or un-orthodoxy are also closely related to contempt because it will falsely and sometimes knowingly instruct others to blob the paint carelessly in a completely different manor from the original plan. They might even go so far as to convince others not to paint at all! The other extreme or flip side to this coin is to believe that we can never admonish the sinner, or make judgement calls on bad behaviour. Our society cries and champions rights for individual but totally neglects the injustices which are directed at God. What good is being a champion of humanity when the creator ultimately decides your fate? I suspect many have seen the state of their own soul in the mirror, and are doing everything they can to not look inwardly. As humans we have many excuses to not look at ourselves and instead busy ourselves with human rights causes in the hopes that this will save us. The Church correctly teaches that salvation is achievable through faith in our Lord and the works of our Lord (which flow from our faith.) Having one, or the other, or none is the fastest road one can take to perdition. In these circumstances our heart has become hard to orthodoxy and blind to grace. In allowing these injustices against the Lord it in turn makes the paint become hard and nearly impossible to apply to the canvas. In the Gospel when Christ said “because you are neither hot nor cold I will spit you out.” he was referring to those who were neither sinning, nor proclaiming his words; essentially indifferent, neutral, or politically correct to the point of not doing anything. These are hard words, but like all hard words they are used to get us out of our complacency. Is it any wonder that there seems to be a large void in what constitutes great artwork in the modern 21st century? So much of this art is based on what seems to be randomness, sinful behaviours, and simplistic or lazy attitudes. Even many of our so called “modern” Catholic Churches lack inspiration, are overly simple, and even ugly in some situations. This lack of beauty is a direct result in the proliferation of sin our society. If we are to believe that Heaven is the sum of all beauty and perfection, shouldn’t our Churches reflect this? Even though I have digressed a little, I believe it is important to state this so you have a greater appreciation of what Heaven and our Churches are ought to be.
I have spoken much on the topic of sin, but not so much on the graces as I wanted to bring the threads together in one thought. When this happens there is only one way out of messy paintings, and that is God come in the flesh. Christ has left us many graces, and most importantly he has left us the Magisterium. All knowledge and wisdom originate from God, which naturally flows through Christ, and into the Church. From the Church it flows into the Bishops, the Saints, Sacraments, sacramentals and our prayer life with God. I have previously written on a couple of the sacraments and wish to sum them up like this. Baptism frees the painting from the original blot (original sin). Confession seeks to help prevent mistakes but also cleans up paintings that have become ruined (current sin). Communion or the Holy Eucharist seeks to strengthen our resolve and adds inspiration to our painting (virtue). Confirmation solidifies our resolve to paint something beautiful. Anointing of the sick (Extreme Unction) helps cure those too weary to paint. Holy Orders can be thought of as someone who has taken up the call to teach others how to paint. And finally Matrimony takes two portraits and unifies them into a single painting. All of these sacraments are graces that Christ has left behind to help us be the beautiful painting. In old age and in death you will be able to look back on your life, and see the kind of painting you are. Will your painting be something someone will want to look at? Will your painting be fit for the art gallery in Heaven? If Heaven is the art gallery, and you are the painting, will God see you fit for his kingdom? Perhaps Heaven isn’t something you want for yourself or something you don’t believe exists. You may even say to yourself that it doesn’t matter, and the painting doesn’t matter either because there is no purpose to “life”. But if it does matter and you find yourself under the final judgement before God how will you answer him when you have nothing worthwhile to give him in return for giving you your life?