A short spiritual reflection rooted in our specific calling as Knights will be a regular feature of each Knightline. The first few of these will be reflections on the five pillars of a Knight and will draw on the Sunday Mass readings. This reflection is on the pillar of “maintaining humble confidence” and touches upon themes from the K of C-produced “Into the Breach” video series. The series is available for free at kofc.org/intothebreach.
Before we feast, we fast.
Even as we anticipate the great feast of Easter this Sunday, we are invited to fast and seriously consider the price of our redemption.
It has often been observed that those who rejoice most deeply are those who have been tried in some way, who have experienced genuine sorrow. Someone who has gotten well after a serious illness, who has survived a brush with death, can truly appreciate health and life. They begin to enjoy even the simplest things, and their gratitude is profound. Such a joy far surpasses that of someone who has never been seriously ill. So it is for us, who in this week before Easter attempt to contemplate the sickness called sin, the malady that required Our Lord’s sacrifice for us to be healed. If we wish to truly enter the joy of Easter, it is both right and helpful to take this week to consider deeply the weight of sin, our sin, and the price Christ had to pay to free us from it.
St. Paul uses the word “sin” as both a verb and a noun. We easily understand the meaning of sin as a verb. To sin means to act against God’s law, whether individually or sometimes communally. It means doing something wrong, committing a bad deed. But when St. Paul uses sin as a noun, he means something much more. In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul describes sin as a power, a dominion: “Jews and Greeks alike … are all under the domination of sin” (Rom 3:9) Sin, in this sense, is something that rules over us — it oppresses us — or as St. Paul says later in his letter, it enslaves us (Rom 6). When we sin, we do more than just break a law; we give ourselves over to another power; we actually make ourselves slaves of the master of sin, Satan. To be “under sin” is to be trapped in a helpless bondage to a tyranny that is more evil, more total and more permanent than any form of human slavery ever devised by our fallen race. That is why St. John can describe the whole world — the world where God’s grace is not the ruling principle — as “under the power of the evil one” (1 Jn 5:19).
Consider what it says about the great power of this dominion of sin, about the grim nature of this slavery, that to free the human race, Our Lord had to become one of us and then be put to death. And it was not just any death. To gain our freedom from sin Christ needed to undergo the most humiliating and excruciating form of death that could be found. If sin were a small matter, surely there would have been an easier way to deal with it. But Christ did not simply wave his hand and proclaim that everything was now set right. No, the breach of sin, so deep, so eternal in its offense against the eternal God, required something far more than a royal pronouncement. It required, in the plans of God, nothing less than the torture and death of God himself, made human, as a sacrificial offering. The situation was so grievous, the power of the slavery so oppressive, that only God could fix it and only by a very drastic deed. Our bondage was not something from which we could free ourselves. It could only be accomplished by the loving action of God. And what an act! What a price that needed to be paid!
Our gratitude for God’s love and for the freedom he wrought for us can only deepen when we consider that this degrading slavery was something we ourselves had chosen. It is our own deliberate sin that has enslaved us. Ours is a self-chosen bondage. St. Paul reminds us that “All have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Every sin, every breach of God’s law, no matter how small it may seem to us, is an act of rebellion against Our Lord, and a willful submission to the tyranny of His enemy. And our own personal sins led to Our Lord’s bloody, cruel, lonely and unjust death. We need to honestly see and courageously admit this.
Think how different is this understanding of sin — as an oppressive slavery — from the way the modern world treats sin. We rarely even hear the word. Our world seems to imagine that everyone is basically good and that whatever is wrong in us stems from something outside of us — bad leaders or laws, disorganization, ignorance or unjust structures. If we fix them, we’ll all be fine. But if this were true, Our Lord would not have had to die in order to make things better. He could just have established some good law-making and arranged for more effective leadership. He could have come among us as nothing more than a wise teacher or a successful revolutionary. But such paltry measures would not have been enough to break the power of sin’s dominion.
Here’s the truth: We are not all basically good. Our deepest problems do not arise from something outside of us. They come from within us.
Once we see and admit this, how much richer and deeper our joy can be. We can experience a joy rooted in humble confidence. Our humility comes from the recognition that we were willing slaves and deserved to be left in bondage, but we have been freed by the love and sacrifice of Our Lord. Our confidence arises from our knowledge that the One to whom we have pledged our loyalty as Knights rose again on the third day, conquering death and setting the captives free — forever. In the coming trials of this time, may we Knights make good on our oath to serve the One who sets us and all people free. May we live, serve and love, resting in the joy that comes from knowing the true price of our freedom.
Originally published in a special bi-weekly edition of Knightline, a resource for K of C leaders and members. Access Knightline’s monthly archives.
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