A few years ago my wife and I attended a Catholic homeschooling conference in Minnesota. The keynote speaker was Jeff Cavins.
Mr. Cavins is a good man with a lot of good things to say. In full disclosure, though, from his time on Relevant Radio as the morning host, there were times I felt he was judgmental against those with opinions other than his own. I remember a particular show where outreach to the Spanish-speaking community in America was discussed. I am perfectly fine with meeting people where they are at and reaching them in their own language, but I also firmly believe that, for the good of these very people, we need to empower them for future success, which includes asking them to learn English. On this particular show, Jeff Cavins and his guest were advocating, paraphrasing here, that the Christian approach is for us all to learn Spanish deal with the fact – and expect – that some people will not learn English.
Someone called in and made the exact point I was thinking, which is basically that this is poppycock, and I don’t think it’s against Christian ideals to expect reciprocation from that community. In other words, yes we will help them, but they need to help themselves as well so they can be the most productive members of the country they have chosen to come to. I remember the caller making this point, in a very respectful and reasonable way.
The response was extremely cold. I was actually offended by the reaction. It was as if the opinion of Cavins and guest were an official doctrinal position of the Church. What could have been a good back and forth on the respective merits of the approaches, and an understanding that we really want similar things but maybe we have a couple different ideas on the best approach, the guy was treated like a child who wasn’t deserving of their time and discussion.
Having said that, nobody is perfect. Cavins does much good and has offered great resources to strengthen people in the faith. The main reason I mention it is because that really, really annoyed me and it stuck with me. And despite all his good, it goes to show how even one momentary failing can do a lot of harm. Not that Jeff Cavins knows me or cares what I think of him one way or the other. But it’s still a good lesson for us all – a momentary lapse of reason can haunt you. Maybe in this case, few heard it and fewer yet looked at it the way I did, and fewer yet remember it either way. But I remember it, and perhaps there are others like me.
Having said that, there is one other memorable thing I can remember of Jeff Cavins, and it was a talk he gave at the aforementioned homeschooling conference. In this case, it impressed me as a piece of great wisdom, and it is this: “Your sin will find you.”
As Christians, we all believe that we will be judged. And we all know that some people seem to get away with all sorts of things – bad things, including things that hurt other people – without temporal repercussions. And while, as Christians, we want everyone to abandon sinful ways and accept Christ and be saved, we also long for appropriate justice. And thus, we simply have to trust that, whether this life or in the next, justice will be done.
So, it may not be universally true that “sin finds you” while still on this physical planet in the temporal sense. But I think it’s true that a lot of it really does. I think there is a reason for this. I think one way that God brings you back to Him is to humble you so that you are forced to deal with your own sinfulness. Perhaps if you fall and then repent, God finds that sufficient. Perhaps if your heart is completely stone cold, there is little to be gained. But if you are ripe for salvation but are a slave to some sin or another, you may need to be completely jolted out of your ways, and that may mean a very uncomfortable, and even public, and embarrassing revealing of who you are.
In my own life, I have seen this happen. I have seen it happen with others around me. And I think what we have seen over the last few months in the political arena is a perfect example of this as well. Between all the things that have been revealed about Bill and Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, what is revealed to the world is a dark side of sin that ultimately comes at a great cost. In the case of Hillary Clinton, it is very likely that everything that was uncovered by the Wikileaks e-mails cost her the Presidency. In a bizarre turn, the sexting scandal of Anthony Weiner ultimately cost him his political life and his marriage, but also ensnared the Clinton campaign and also assisted in damaging her Presidential hopes. And even though Donald Trump won, many ultimately supported him despite a number of problematic things that were uncovered and made public to the world. Yes, he’s President and can make reparation for past sins by governing in a Godly way, but the memory of the things he has said and how he said them will not go away. The damage to him is personal, not just in how we view him, but in how his wife and kids view him. I’m not suggesting that there is any lack of love there, nor should there be. But it is something they will now always know that their dad has said, and it may be a less tangible type of damage than losing the election, but it is real nonetheless.
But not all these things are ultimately a bad thing. Whether Hillary, Bill, and Donald repent and change their ways is completely up to them. But such public embarrassment can do it. If one is able to self-reflect and realize that sins were committed, mistakes were made, and embarrassment occurred, then repentance can be initiated. It can be a deep, sorrowful repentance. Or, it can be action-oriented (“I’ll make sure I never make that mistake again”) out of fear of embarrassment. Sure, I think God always prefers perfect contrition, but he gives us imperfect humans a lot of tools and feelings to help us do the right thing even with imperfect contrition. And that’s still a blessing.
Even more important when discussing more public figures – but this still does apply to all of us – is that when the sins and mistakes of others are revealed it is a learning opportunity for all of us. Do you think anyone in government with security clearance in the near future will be setting up private e-mail and lying about it? Yeah… don’t think so. And that’s a good thing. Should all of us watch our language, our conversation, and our actions at all times not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because in this day and age of constant video monitoring, cell phone usage, and internet tracking we may just be leaving a roadmap of our own sinfulness for all the world to see at some future time? Yeah – not that I’m thrilled about the scary non-private world we live in, but it’s probably a good thing for all of us to ask the question “If I ran for office, would I want others to see and hear what I am doing and saying right now?” It would be great if we just did the right thing because it’s the right thing and because we love God and neighbor. But if we also do it out of a bit of a sense of fear that someone else may find out, that’s not entirely a bad thing, either.
The best antidote for your sin “not finding you” is to stop sinning. Or, at least, go to Confession, be sorry, and work on your deficiencies. We all have our weaknesses. None of us are perfect. Don’t embrace your sin – fight against it. Those feelings of guilt you have? Yeah, the world tell you that’s bad. It isn’t. It’s a gift. Use it, but then after you are forgiven then shake the guilt for what you confessed and move forward. We’re human – there will likely be some residual guilt for sin depending on the nature of it. Don’t let that residual guilt allow you to question the gift of forgiveness. Instead, use it to continue to be resolute that you don’t want to repeat your offense. But if you do, don’t despair. Most Catholics will tell you that they get frustrated because they end up repeating the same sins and confessing them over and over. The goal isn’t to just go with it because you can go to confession. The goal is to stop. But that goal is much harder than it seems – it takes multiple confessions and continued grace to stop your bad behavior. Hopefully, you will sin less often, and less severely. But it will happen. Let that guilt get you to confession – that’s healthy. Despair is not.
Will your sin find you? Yes, it will. But better that it finds you sooner rather than never, and that you work to correct it. Better that it finds you in a way that puts you on your knees and gets you to confession. In the end, you can never be happy that you sinned, but you may thank God for the gift of your sin finding you.