Morality/My Faith/Teen Faith/Virtue and Sin

Tough Love: a Catholic Response to Sin

Have you ever noticed how many different styles of crucifixes there are? Some are made out of bronze or wood. Some are very detailed while others are quite simple. It may sound morbid, but my favorite type is the one that shows Jesus beaten and bloody beyond belief; the type of crucifix that might make some people cringe or feel the need to look away quickly. I think these resonate with me the most because they remind me just how real our Savior was. They remind me just how painful His sacrifice was. Jesus could bleed and suffer just like you and me. The more I see that He suffered, the more clearly I see how much He loves humanity. It is a solemn reminder that love is rarely easy — it can be tough and even ugly.

This is good to remember when approaching our daily lives as Christians: love is rarely easy. Just think about growing up with your parents. There are probably a lot of things they didn’t let you do when you were little because it just wasn’t good for you. It probably upset you and made you wonder why they would treat you so badly, but when you look back on some of those times, you begin to see that your parents weren’t treating you badly. They were actually on your side by not letting you eat cookies for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They had to be a little tough on you at the time to make sure you got all the nutrients you needed to live and grow.
When taken in this context, tough love doesn’t seem like such a bad thing. But people don’t always like it when you suggest they make a change in their life, even if it is for their own benefit. However, life isn’t always as simple as the example given above. After all, some people look back at their lives and don’t see anything wrong with the way they’ve been living.

That being said, it shouldn’t be too difficult to consider a more difficult situation, such as the reality of sin. There is nothing good about sin. It doesn’t help anyone — it only hurts. It separates us from God and damages the community. In the most extreme circumstances, it even has the ability to keep someone out of heaven for all of eternity. It seems that it would be easy to encourage people to stay away from something that is so obviously bad, but this is rarely the case. How often do we tolerate the sins of people we love without saying a word? Do you have a Catholic friend who skips Mass pretty much every week? What about a friend from school who parties too much? A teammate who experiments with drugs? How about a brother or sister who watches pornography? In all likelihood, you have a friend or family member who fits into one of these categories, and chances are you haven’t said a lot about it.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some extremely good reasons why you don’t want to say something about other people’s sins, so let’s address some of the most common:

1. It isn’t any of my business what other people do.

It’s certainly a good thing to respect the privacy of others — and you should absolutely continue to do that — but would you ever let someone drink and drive? It may not be your business, but you can’t just stand by while someone does something extremely dangerous. The devil is clever — he fools us into thinking that sin isn’t that dangerous. After all, if sin looked as dangerous as a car wreck, no one would sin.

2. If I point out someone’s flaws, they won’t like me anymore.

Avoiding conflict with important people in your life is something that we, as humans, occasionally have to do. It isn’t a bad thing to avoid upsetting someone and, sometimes, it really might be best to leave the identification of a dangerous sin to someone better equipped to handle the aftermath. In this case, you should keep praying for them, show them kindness, and set a good example by never encouraging their sin and doing your best to avoid committing it yourself. After all, you know your friends and family the best and probably have a good idea of what will be helpful and what would make things worse. That being said, I think the type of situation where it is best to remain uninvolved is a more rare occurrence than we’d like to admit. It is important to remember that you might be that special person who’s in the right place at the right time and can break through to someone by challenging them to live for something greater than their sin. As valuable as it can sometimes be to avoid conflict, it is often times more valuable to learn how to handle conflict appropriately. After all, no one is perfect and a disagreement will eventually happen, so you would be much better served to learn how to disagree well. If you have even the smallest chance of driving someone in your life further away from sin, it is absolutely worth the risk. You’ll be doing them a favor in the long-run, even if it’s uncomfortable and challenging in the moment.

3. It would be hypocritical of me to say anything because I struggle with those sins too.

I’d argue that this actually puts you in a fantastic spot to talk to someone about their lifestyle because you’ve been there. You understand what they’re going through, know some of the speed bumps that keep you from breaking free, and have experienced the negative side effects that accompany sinful activities. Instead of sinning together in silence, be upfront about your faults. There is nothing hypocritical about being a sinner and wanting other people to stop sinning too. Just make sure that you always acknowledge the part about you being a sinner as well. Then, together, you can resolve to become more Christ-like. As Matthew 7:3-5 reads, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

Do you remember the year of mercy that Pope Francis called for a few years ago? He wanted to bring attention to the fact that people all over the world were being incredibly harsh with one another. We were forgetting how to love. We were ignoring the example of forgiveness and compassion that Jesus set for us when He died on the cross. One way Pope Francis tried to fix this problem was by inviting us to remember the spiritual works of mercy, a set of teachings taken from Jesus’ life that inspires us to encourage one another on our life-long journey of faith. Most people weren’t surprised to learn that the spiritual works of mercy demand that a better job be done teaching people about Jesus or comforting others who are struggling to believe. However, many were caught off guard when they discovered that one of these teachings encouraged a special form of tough love: pointing out the sins of others, while being open about your own and slowly developing a culture where sin simply becomes unacceptable. Although this may sound very difficult, it is a textbook definition of tough love and, if we take our call as Christians seriously, it’s something we should all aspire and work toward.

About the Author

Trenton Mattingly

I'm from Kentucky and am adamant that it is the best state. I'm really into Catholic theology, angry rock music, and libraries but (mostly) not at the same time. I was once called a bad influence for helping teach a Franciscan friar how to skateboard and am pretty bummed that there isn't a St. Trenton, but hope to change that one day.

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