Think of the title of this article:
“Lingering Shadows” ...
It is an apparent impossibility. How can shadows
remain after the object of which they are the mere shadows is gone?
When you have stood under a late afternoon sun, your shadow long in
the west — have ever you moved and seen your shadow remain where once
you stood and now stand no more?
The only way to make what is impossible otherwise possible is to take
a photograph of the shadow alone as you stand before it. You can then
keep the photograph of what had been and is no more, and return to the
moment that was, and like the shadow, is no more. The analogy is clear.
Attachment to Sin
We have left the
person, place, or thing —the occasion of sin — in which we once stood
and have no intention of returning … but for all our efforts a shadow
remains even as we ourselves have gone. The shadow lingers despite all
the years and the fierce and even faithful resolution that never would
the sun find us there again.
We are there no more, but inexplicably the shadow still falls over our
hearts. It mocks us, either filling us with melancholy desire, or imbuing
us with unremitting guilt. If it has been sinful love, then likely it
will dog you all your days.
The sin is no more. The person is long gone. We soberly recognize that
the occasion can never be recaptured even should the person remain.
So much has changed! We have grown older even as our illusions have
not. The landscape has changed even as it has remained immutable in
And even could it be again, it would not be the same again. We know
this. After all, we have fled it, and those once desperate pangs seize
us no longer. Or do they ...?
This is the predicament of what is called attachment to sin.
The concept of “attachment to sin”, however, is so ... clinical, remote,
even austere. In dealing with the human heart, it appears heartless.
We have — and so often with great difficulty and immeasurable pain —
left the sin, have we not? We have fled Egypt. And even now ... even
now, after these many years, we are gaunt and even crippled by the effort.
There is no calculus sufficient to the cost, but we have fled nonetheless,
urged on by grace. Despite the prompting of our hearts to look back
at the lissome and distant smoke rising from the flesh-pots of Egypt
that we have left for a freedom that we have not yet found, we set our
faces like flint against an unrelenting wind that would turn them back
... that calls us to remembrance. Still we wander in the desert, the
Jordan an open dream before us, the Red Sea a closed memory behind us.
Resolutely we press on. There are yet a host of sins to come that we
must drive out before us, but none prove so strong as the enemy we fled.
No Canaanite or king of Midian has the might of our own personal Pharaoh
— who would call us back to slavery and servitude. We fled him but we
did not defeat him. His chariots pursued us to no avail, and it was
not by our power that they were splintered and still litter the banks
of our dreams. The Midianites had chariots of steel, yes — and we left
them strewn in the desert behind us! But Pharaoh had fire! Alike he
kindled the fleshpots without, and the deep craving within! Grimly we
watched towers burn in Midian before us, but with what longing do we
still look upon the burning fleshpots of Egypt behind us!
This is our plight
in our attachment to sin
is perhaps the most desperate, the most unrelenting, and in the end,
the most deadly warfare of all. The victory is conclusive, but paradoxically
the defeat is indecisive. The enemy has fled, but somehow his shadow
remains. He has been subdued but not vanquished, defeated, but not put
utterly to death. He is, in short, forever and irrevocably a threat:
unleash him and he will contend with us to the death. It is true that
he is no longer present, but it is equally true that by fault or misfortune
he may find his way to us yet. As long as he lives his shadow falls
over us, and nothing short of his death will free us from him.
Sin survives the sword. All your violence against the sin within will
avail you nothing. Your flight from sin will not outrun its shadow.
The root lies deeply within ... and it lives, and if allowed will spring
to life again. The very soil itself must be subject to
the furnace of holy love that leaves no seed of malice or sin dormant
within, nor even its husk a scandal without.
You will never be free of the seed of death — which is sin — that lingers
within you, as long as you cultivate remembrance of sin
... the very soil itself in which alone it takes root, thrives,
and in the end throttles ...
It is not enough that we have left sin — the occasion, the intention,
the act itself ... it is not enough and it will not suffice.
Unless our attachment to sin, our desire for what is sinful, is sundered
to the last sinew, however tightly we bind it, it keeps us, in turn,
captive. It is the proverbial wolf we hold by the ears, afraid to keep
hold of it and afraid to let it go.
Relinquishing sin, especially that deeply personal sin (that deadly
affront to God) that is unique to you in all history, must be a consciously
total act. It is total war and one of you will die: the sin, together
with your attachment to it, or you yourself …who will die to God because
you refused to die to sin. I say “unique in all history” because you
are unique in all history. The time period, the place in time, the time
in the place, and all the people who were affected by your sin and all
the lives that they in turn touched and changed as a result of your
sin — to say nothing of the person with whom you have sinned, or who
brought you to sin, or who became the occasion of your sin, and against
whom also you have sinned. The web of sin is so taut — like a violin
string tuned to the point of breaking, that who touches it at either
end causes it to reverberate through the whole, leaving no fiber within
it unmoved; its discordance affecting all, its dissonance touching every
ear. Aware of our peril we nevertheless play upon it … until it snaps
and recoils upon us with a lash like a springing viper. We are
wounded by our sin and it has wreaked havoc on all around us.
Do not seek consolation
in the thought that many have sinned as you have, and attempt to excuse
yourself by recourse to your human frailty and that inherent susceptibility
to sin that we haplessly inherited from our First Parents in the Garden
— rather, fear that it has the power to ensnare so many — from the most
clever to the least, from the wise to the foolish, from the mighty to
the most impoverished! All alike have fallen … but not all alike have
risen. God will give you the grace to resist sin, but you must accept
it, seize it, hold firmly to it. You must wage the war.
He will give you the armor, but you must strap it upon
yourself; He will give you the weapons but you must wield
them: Faith, Hope and Charity. Chastity, Obedience, Truthfulness,
HUMILITY. HUMILITY! HUMILITY!!!
Understand this: your foes are three and each of them unrelenting: The
World, the Flesh, and the Devil — Satan, that father of lies (“There
is no devil. You are too enlightened, too progressive; too intellectual,
too learned to acknowledge so ancient an enemy. ‘I am a myth’”,
he persuades you — and this, too, is a lie!” But he was
a liar and a murderer from the beginning — and he seeks your immortal
soul to bring that imago Dei, that image of God, that unutterably beautiful
creation by God, to final despair, to endless torment and to utter ruin;
to that frightful reality called the Second Death beyond which there
is no rising to hope; to the reek of that charnel house that is the
fume and fire of Hell … his everlasting abode.
But understand this more: nothing and no one can withstand God and He
Alone is your strength, He Alone your defender.
“If God is with me, who can be against me?”
And as though such help were lacking, there is more: the very Mother
of God, Mary Most Holy, your Angel Guardian, the Holy Angels and the
Company of Martyrs who intercede for you in your weakness and peril.
And understand this equally well: You cannot let go of sin, “a little”.
It is the commitment to the total repudiation of sin. As long as a thread
remains to sustain it, sin will perch upon it.
Remember, that if you have not slain the wolf, you cannot hold him by
It is Lent —the acceptable time. Accept it.
Boston Catholic Journal
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Totally Faithful to the Sacred
Deposit of Faith entrusted to the Holy See in Rome
opera tua ... quia modicum habes virtutem, et servasti verbum
Meum, nec non negasti Nomen Meum”
know your works ... that you have but little power, and
yet you have kept My word, and have not denied My Name.”
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