INTO (Our Father, Word by Word)

October 27, 2011 | 3 comments

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.


  1. Trisha Niermeyer Potter @ Prints of Grace

    My husband and I have begun doing the Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary by St. Louis de Montfort, and the subject of the past two days has been temptation and sin. This reflection on the “into” of the “Our Father” is a perfect exploration of what is addressed in the excerpts from The Imitation of Christ that we are reading this week.

    The passages talk about the importance of rooting out sin from the very beginning, not letting it sink into our conscious and become something that’s almost comfortable for us to think about, say, or do. On one hand, it’s reminded me that we are going to be tempted, that no amount of progress in the spiritual life or anything like that will suddenly make us above temptation. At times, I’ve gotten angry with myself that I would even have a temptation I felt ought to be beneath me. Enter pride, stage right and left.

    The wonderful, saving grace is that regardless of the temptation, how long we’ve struggled with it or how new it is, God’s given us what we need to withstand it. At the same time, He’s there waiting for us with love and mercy when we choose to give in rather than use the grace He’s given us to do the right thing.

    I’ve really enjoyed this word-by-word series on the “Our Father.” Thanks for doing it!

  2. Chris D

    Having personal autonomy as the highest goal sounds really depressing, and of the people I’ve known who had that goal, they were an even mix of atheist and theist.

    Thinking on some of your writings over the past year, you often make generalizations about atheists, and I wonder if maybe your experience of being an atheist biases your perception of other atheists? All the atheists I know, if pressed for a “highest goal” of their life, will usually say something like “leaving the world a better place than I found it”. We (including myself even though I’m a Buddhist) recognize that we already have personal autonomy, and what matters is the choices we make with it.

    I think what you’re describing is hedonism, not atheism.

    • Renee

      I must say that as I read your piece, I felt the same way that Chris did. I became a Catholic as an adult. I came from a family where my mom was Protestant and my dad was an atheist. From the time I was a little girl, my dad was instilling values in me that went beyond ourselves to the greater good of all people. If I dropped litter on the ground, he would admonish me and ask what this area would look like if everyone did what I had just done. He showed a great respect for all life. If we had a pet we had to take care of it the right way, if Mormons came to the door he would never shut the door on them, but would invite them in to talk, and he made sure that we understood that abortion is murder. He may have been the atheist in the family but it’s many of his values that were instilled in me as child that carry me through in my Catholic journey today.

Connect With Me On Social Media or Explore My Site



The "THIS IS JEN" podcast is on Facebook & all podcast apps


- Subscribe on iTunes or Google Play (audio)

- Get weekly bonus episodes on Patreon

- Sign up for my email list to be the first
to know about new tour dates