Go and sin no more

Readings: Is. 43.16-21; Ps. 126; Phil. 3.8-14; Jn. 8.1-11

"Go and sin no more." What wonderful words, yes? They are wonderful for the woman in today's gospel and they remain wonderful for us in our time and place. Jesus in the gospel and the priest in the confessional never give long lectures about sin. Jesus then and the priests now say simply, "Go and sin no more."

Judging from the long lines when I'm hearing confessions each week, however, it's clear to me that sinning remains in style. And people who come to confession frequently are the ones who really are trying to stop sinning. How difficult it must be for people who have not been to confession in years?

May I offer a few practical suggestions about how to stop sinning?

First, know and accept yourself. God made you; you are naturally good. We all have an inclination, however, to do evil. We activate that inclination from time to time. Reflect, please: what virtues are you best at? and to what vices are you most susceptible? Know your strengths and your weaknesses. You are neither all good nor all bad. Make a daily examination of conscience before you go to bed at night so that you can thank God for the good that you do, and beg God for his mercy and grace to change your behaviors that need to be changed.

Last year, the Vatican published a sociological study done by a 95 year old priest on men's and women's behavior regarding the seven capital sins. You know these sins in alphabetical are anger, envy, gluttony, greed, lust, pride and sloth. The study revealed that the top three sins for men are, in order: lust, gluttony and sloth. When I shared this information with the women in the rectory, they burst out loud laughing, and said the Vatican could have saved time and money just by asking women what are men's most common sins. For women, their most common sins were pride and envy. Interestingly, the least likely sin for women was sloth. Men, women and children, know and accept yourselves.

Second, be good to yourself. I observe that many sins occur when we are stressed. AA uses the pneumonic HALT to alert us that when we are "hungry, angry, lonely, tired," we are more susceptible to temptation. I would add boredom too. So be good to yourself. If you are hungry, grab a bite to eat. If you are angry, count to ten, keep your mouth shut, and pray for patience. If you are lonely, call a friend. If you are tired, take a nap. If you are bored, get busy doing something positive. The saying is: "idle hands are the devil's workshop." If you are fantasizing about some evil, focus your mind on something positive because our minds cannot focus on two things at once.

Entitlement is a common excuse for sinning. People say, "I've worked so hard and long, or I've done so much good for others, or nobody really understands and appreciates me, therefore, I'm entitled to do something good for myself." Too many times, however, that something supposedly good is something bad. Yes, you are entitled to something good, but remember being good to oneself is a virtue. We may fail by either extreme: being good to oneself excessively, or being too hard on oneself.

Third, set boundaries for your behavior. AA warns us about people, places and things. If your friends are doing drugs, change your friends. If your friends are gossipers, either change the topic of conversation or change your friends. If every time you walk past a certain bar, you feel compelled to stop in for a quick one, change your walking route. Set boundaries for your thoughts, words, deeds, TV use, internet use, speed of driving. Watch your drinking; it gets a lot of good people into trouble. When I worked summers as a prison chaplain, I would hear that well over half of the crimes committed had been done while someone was drinking. The best advice about how to avoid addiction is not to start one.

Fourth, pray to God for the grace, strength, wisdom and courage to do good and to avoid evil. By ourselves, we are doomed to fail. The saints are very honest about their sinfulness. St. Peter says to Jesus: "Depart from me, Lord, I am a sinful man." The great St. Paul of Tarsus says, "I do what I don't want to do, and what I don't want to do, I do. St. Augustine begged God for help in his struggle to overcome lust: "Lord, make me chaste, but not yet." And Augustine admits, "too late have I loved you Lord." Many saints practiced the maxim: "die, rather than sin." All of us, let's listen and respond positively to Jesus' powerful exhortation: "go and sin no more."

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