Our Father Who Art in Heaven, Hallowed Be Thy Name.
Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will Be Done,
On Earth As it Is in Heaven. Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread. Forgive Us Our Trespasses As We Forgive Those
Who Have Trespassed Against Us. Lead Us Not Into…
Before I was Catholic, I’d never heard the term “near occasion of sin.” In fact, the entire concept was a new one to me.
The atheistic worldview to which I subscribed had a complicated relationship with the concept of sin. We rejected the entire concept of sin, since it smacked of old-fashioned, overly rigid religious ideas about right and wrong…although, we did think that some things were objectively wrong, such as murder…but we weren’t like the religious people, because we were open-minded about what might constitute wrongdoing…sometimes…except when we weren’t. Like I said, it was complicated.
There was also little awareness that some people might be prone to a certain type of wrongdoing and should try to overcome those tendencies; usually, the thinking was that if you were really drawn to doing something a lot, it was just an aspect of your personality that you should accept. For example, if someone has a tendency to gossip, in the Christian world there would be a feeling that that is absolutely possible, with God’s help, to overcome this bad behavior; in my old secular worldview, this tendency would be seen as something hardwired into the person’s personality, not possible to change on any kind of permanent basis.
On top of that, there was the idea that personal autonomy is the highest goal in life. In order to have a good life, you must be able to do what makes you feel good at any particular moment. To use the gossip example again: If a person had a tendency to that behavior, but had fun hanging out with a group of friends who tempted her to gossip all the time, she would, of course, simply have to continue hanging out with that group of friends. If that’s what made her feel happy, that’s what she should do. To not do something that was fun for her in order to avoid “bad” behavior would be to have an unfulfilling life.
Combine all that (no clear definition of sin + no hope of overcoming tendencies toward sin + the highest priority for behavior being whatever you feel like doing) and you see why the concept of avoiding near occasions of sin was a new one for me.
I am reminded of all this with the word into. It’s a word with physical connotations: normally if you talk about someone being led into something, you’re referring to a physical movement from one place to another. And yet isn’t that how sin usually works? Before you can sin, you have to get yourself into a situation where it’s possible. If a man has a pornography addiction, he can’t commit that type of sin until he sits down in front of his computer, or goes to a certain type of store. A woman with a gambling addiction can’t lose her family’s savings until she steps into the casino.
During my conversion, I discovered that sin — objective right and wrong — does exist, and I saw just how damaging our sins are to ourselves, to others, and to God. I came to see that love, not personal autonomy, is the highest goal in life. And so, this idea of avoiding near occasions of sin was a great revelation. I found that there is hope for overcoming those bad things we do that keep us from being loving — and it all starts with not getting into situations where we’ll be tempted to do them.