The words of Pope Pius XII helped me to understand the seriousness of sin
A good few years ago someone took advantage of me for money. At the time and for years afterwards I felt mistreated, yet the loss of money and was never the reason for my pain. No, the sickening sorrow that stirred in my gut accrued with interest because the person who did something regrettable to me thought they had done absolutely nothing wrong.
I wasn’t looking for the money back. Yet they strangely claimed they had done something positive and told me they were being “charitable” by “persuading” me into doing a “good work” that benefited them. It didn’t matter that I suffered hideously.
At that point in my very young life I believed in God and understood that the Church taught about sin, repentance and forgiveness but truly it was all a bit of an abstraction still. I was confused and scrupulous and learning that the world at large didn’t concern itself with ‘sin’ as a supernatural affront to God’s order, or even really acknowledge it, except in the context of that which was clearly criminal or proscribed by the coarsest of secular norms. As a Catholic woman growing in my faith however, I did make some effort to discern my own sin.
The only itchy contention I had was that whenever I was sinned against, I felt I had to keep quiet, for it seemed somewhat hysterical by modern standards to say I had been the casualty of sin. You can say ‘wronged’ or ‘mistreated’, but you will get called judgmental and told you are a hypocrite for uttering the s-word, that dark relic of the Victorian or Medieval ages. And how dare you note sin in others, especially when you sin yourself?
In any event, it seemed plain to my younger self that most modern folk don’t even want to be reminded of the concept. So for years I told myself that the person who took advantage was not the problem; I was the problem for ruminating on their obliviousness to the pain they had caused me.
But then I found healing – when I read the text of Pope Pius XII’s bracing and brilliant radio message from 1946 – where the war-time Pope boldly articulated that ‘perhaps the greatest sin’ of our times is ‘the loss of the sense of sin’.
I read this quote for the first time when I was editing John Carmichael’s Drunks & Monks, as he recounted his own startling discovery of it, and the clarifying effect it had on him before making his general confession.
Pope Pius XII gave the radio broadcast to a catechetical congress in America.
Now 70 years later, reading his words finally made plain to me that God is offended when we sin against ourselves and others. As Pope Pius XII explained so compellingly, ‘to know Jesus crucified is to know God’s horror of sin; its guilt could be washed away only in the precious blood of God’s only begotten Son become man.’
When we sin and when we are sinned against both events are repugnant to God. But in our times, those who are wronged have a difficult time knowing healing because the wrong done to them is denied because the guilty party has, in the words of Pope Pius XII lost all sense of sin. St John Paul II took up this point of Pope Pius XII’s in his 1984 encyclical, Reconciliation and Penance and the Polish Pope embellished that Pope Pius XII had really hit the nail squarely on the head.
What I’d like to suggest very simply is that reading Pope Pius XII’s rousing radio broadcast can actually be a healing experience, it lays waste to the confusion of whether or not being sinned against is really all that serious.
To know the lengths God the Father went to in order to save us and others from our sins, you just have to look at His beloved Son nailed to a cross.