I have a suspicion that many people do not quite fully appreciate what I would refer to as the psychology of mortal sin. For many people, the connection between our interior life and our external behavior is barely noticed or considered. Of course, some will have an appreciation for maximizing positive thinking or cultivating self-compassion, and such aspects of sound psychology are indeed an integral aspect of human flourishing. However, sin affects us in ways that go beyond our intentional effort.
Mortal sin distorts our thinking, feeling, and desiring and confuses our ability to recognize the authentic working of the Holy Spirit. Although at any given moment, mortal sin might not completely destroy our ability to have a certain level of natural happiness; it does destroy our ability to receive the supernatural happiness which only comes from communion with God. In mortal sin, we turn in on ourselves and our self-centeredness prevents us from reaching our true potential in Christ.
We are called to so much more than the comforts and joys that the things of this world provide us, and to discover our true vocation in Christ, we must be set free from the prison of mortal sin. In his Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola masterfully shows the distinction between the psychology of mortal sin and that of being in state of grace. In the former, the Holy Spirit stands in the way of our sinning by biting at our conscience. In addition, there is a kind of dullness to spiritual realities. In contrast, in a state of grace the Holy Spirit is known through the fruits of the Holy Spirit; the gentleness, mildness, peace, and interior stillness which are the hallmark of being in communion with God.
In this way, the first step in discovering God’s will is to make sure that we do not end up in a state of mortal sin. Some will fall in those dramatic ways that most of us have come to recognize, and for them conversion is often more easy to accept because the sins are so obvious. However, for those who fall due to lack of motivation, conversion can be difficult to accept. In this way, even though we may not be committing any “big sins,” we still have to be careful that we do not fall due to a lack of attentiveness and zeal.
Some of us, unfortunately, may possess a great supply of natural virtue and relative goodness, but yet fail to attain that salvation which transcends the created order. Salvation is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, one which must be at the center of our lives and our actions. We are not just called to multiply good works as if God needed us to solve the world’s problems. Our work is about us responding to the person of Jesus Christ so as to discover the Father’s will.
I present these considerations not to judge anyone, but rather to make an invitation. Through conversion, a new horizon is opened up, one filled with possibility and potential. The invitation to conversion is a call to turn away from our limited selves and to embrace a whole new identity in Christ. Today, let us dare to set out on the path of conversion.