Being diagnosed with cancer is always a dreaded event. There are many fears: will it be terminal? How much suffering will be endured? What painful treatments will be needed? The anxiety can become overwhelming because there are a lot of unknowns. There becomes an acute awareness of the brevity of this life. A sense of urgency ensues as does a willingness to sacrifice a great deal to fight the disease. Cancer instills dread because we all know if it is not treated it will fester and spread, eventually leading to death.
But as a physician, I want to let you know there is something infinitely worse than cancer or any other physical ailment one may have. I am referring to sin. Unfortunately, many today either are in denial of this or are unaware of it, but this is reality. Grave sin causes death to the soul and unaddressed, one will endure eternal consequences.
What is sin?
Sin is disobedience to God. It is a lack of faith and trust in God. By choosing to sin, we are turning away from God. And sin is not merely defiance of arbitrary laws. Rather it is a disregard for the reality we are creatures designed for a purpose. Our free choice to sin is the act of re-creating ourselves in our own image which is why sin is also dehumanizing.
As the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 1849-1850) states:
Sin is an offense against reason, truth and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as “an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law.”
Sin is an offense against God: “Against you, you alone, have I sinned and done that which is evil in your sight.” Sin sets itself against God’s love for us and turns our hearts away from it. Like the first sin, it is disobedience, a revolt against God through the will to become “like gods,” knowing and determining good and evil. Sin is thus “love of oneself even to contempt of God.” In this proud self-exaltation, sin is diametrically opposed to the obedience of Jesus, which achieves our salvation.
Sin is also evaluated based on its gravity. Mortal sin, as the name suggests, is deadly in that it “destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God’s law; it turns man away from God, who is his ultimate end and his beatitude, by preferring an inferior good to Him” (CCC 1855). And grave sin leads to something far worse than the loss of our earthly life – it leads to eternal death in hell. Hell is an eternal separation from God, and as such, a state of eternal unhappiness, sorrow, unfulfillment, and the absence of love. It is the most unimaginable misery for all of eternity.
We all recognize that if we have cancer, making this diagnosis is of the utmost urgency. But today sin is treated as a minor ailment with no need for an intervention. Too often people minimize or ignore the sin within themselves, and we are far too hesitant to help others see the reality of sin in their own lives. We become anxious of how we will be perceived or we fall prey to the propaganda that discussing sin is imposing our views on others. In this relativistic world that persecutes those who hold to absolute moral truths, there is a strong temptation to conform or compromise.
But we need to recognize that sin destroys the soul, and as Jesus warned us, this should be feared more than anything else in this world (Matthew 10:28). It is essential to humanity to realize that sin is infinitely deadlier than any cancer. Sadly, all of us in some way are plagued by sin because of our fallen human nature, but, as with cancer, we need to expediently make the diagnosis and start the treatments to prevent it from festering, and worse, metastasizing.
The Remedy for Sin
Just as there is good news that we are discovering cures for many cancers with our medical advancements, the far greater news is that we have been given a remedy for the problem of sin. The cure – the way we avoid eternal death and enter eternal life in heaven, enjoying infinite happiness and peace – is found in Jesus Christ. He is the Great Physician! He is the only one who can begin healing us now and who can continue to heal us throughout this earthly life.
Two thousand years ago, Jesus Christ, the second Divine Person of the Triune God, entered time becoming Incarnate and then freely offered Himself on the cross out of love. By His death, the redemption of humanity was complete. He died for the forgiveness of the sins of humanity and made heaven possible for all of us. But this is not the end because not every person will subsequently go to heaven. There is another step. Jesus offers Himself and His grace to us and now waits for each of us to respond. He wants us recognize sin for what it is and to repent. We are to convert our hearts and become one of His faithful, obedient disciples. When we surrender to Him, Christ will abide within us and heal us. We will be transformed and perfected. And then Christ promises all who are united to Him and persevere until the end will receive the gift of eternal life.
Our Battle Against This Cancer of Sin: Striving for Holiness
As we fight against this cancer of sin, each day we are obligated to be striving for holiness in our lives (Matthew 5:48; Hebrews 12:14). To do this we need to be aware of the dangers of sin and avoid it. More than this, we need to prevent this cancer from even taking root in our souls. We can do this by listening to the Church who gives us guidance on how to win this fight. She tells us we must pray regularly and receive the Sacraments frequently. We must read Scriptures and grow in our relationship with Christ daily.
The Church also emphasizes that we must examine our conscience each day so that we can quickly identify sin in our lives. If we commit mortal sin, which is any grave act of disobedience freely committed, we must go to the Sacrament of Confession as soon as possible. This Sacrament restores us to communion with Christ and His Church, as well as infuses grace (the divine life in our soul) that was lost in the act of mortal sin. This grace we receive in the Sacrament not only enables us to enter heaven but also strengthens us as we continue to battle temptations and the inclination to sin. We must also acknowledge and repent for any venial sins we commit. These are considered “lesser sins” because grace is not lost from our soul, but venial sins are not negligible. They wound our relationship with God and make us more susceptible to committing further sins. The more venial sins we commit without repentance and conversion, the more prone we become to committing mortal sins (CCC 1862-1863).
Our Battle Against This Cancer of Sin: Evangelization
In this battle for our soul, we must unite ourselves to Christ for our own healing, but God calls us to look also beyond ourselves – we are also called to bring this remedy to others. Therefore, the Church always reminds the faithful that through our baptism we have been given two vocations essential to combatting this cancer of sin. Not only must always strive for holiness, we are also given the duty to share the Gospel (“the good news”) with others.
Through evangelization, we are to proclaim the truths of Jesus Christ to everyone. We are to help people recognize that yes, there is bad news – sin is not only real but it has eternal consequences. But then we can joyfully share the good news – Jesus Christ came and has given us a remedy. His death on the cross redeemed the world and now salvation is possible for all of us. We can then call people to repentance, faith and obedience.
We may at first be anxious or hesitant, but consider this: just as we would find it unjust for a physician to not tell a person they had cancer which then metastasized and killed the person, how much more of an injustice is it for us to not warn others about the reality of sin? We may be fearful of this call to share the Gospel but our concern that there are souls who do not know God, who do not have a relationship with Christ and His Church and who are living in sin should outweigh any other trepidations.
Moved by love we need to see the urgency to share the Gospel and act. We may not all be eloquent in our speech but we do not need to be. The Gospel on its own is powerful. We do not need to rely on propaganda or rhetoric because truth itself is piercing. Christ calls us to share His message with the world because only by the discovery of His truths can people be set free from this cancer of sin.
This mission can seem daunting but we must remember: “We can do all things in him (Christ) who strengthens us” (Philippians 2:14). And when we evangelize, we are never on our own – Christ is working within us (Galatians 2:20). Plus, it is the Holy Spirit who is the primary evangelizer converting hearts. Our God-given task is to be His joyful instruments who are planting seeds of truth to others.
As with any cancer of the body, we must first identify the disease to be able to eradicate it. We must avoid the world’s enticing illusions that sin is irrelevant – this is a dangerously slippery slope. Then we must recognize the urgency in fighting and be prepared that this battle with sin will not be easy. Just as the chemotherapy and radiation often needed to treat cancer can be painful to endure, there will be great suffering as we work to overcome the cancer of sin in our lives. Because of our fallen human nature, we can be drawn towards sin.
We can even find sinful acts incredibly pleasurable in the moment. Sin can cause us to have a distorted view of ourselves, even convincing us this life would be miserable without these immoral pleasures. This is also why Scripture often describes the process of purification with the analogy of fire. Painful, yet necessary, we must enter this “therapy of fire” to destroy our sinful ways, enduring suffering and penance in reparation. And once we begin treatments, we cannot despair.
Even when things seem unbearable or hopeless, God urges us on and never abandons us. God loves us and, if our hearts are filled with repentance and we cooperate with the grace He is always offering to us, He will enable us to defeat this cancer of sin. If we remain in Christ, we can have confidence in our victory over sin and death because of Christ our Lord and Savior.