Over a decade ago I heard Mother Angelica make the following analogy in regards to sin and holiness. This audacious Carmelite likened sin to a mud puddle into which no one completely avoids falling (aside from Jesus and Mary). What sets us apart and is a measure of one’s holiness is their response to their fall.
The Three Responses to Sin
There are three basic responses to sin: that of the sinner, the good person, and the saint.
The Response of the Sinner
The Sinner rejoices in the mud puddle—sometimes even getting to a point where she is not falling into it, but instead jumping in with great enthusiasm. She loves to play in the mud, claiming it is “natural” and there is nothing wrong with wanting to cover herself in it. She may even believe that the mud is rejuvenating. She has mud fights with other sinners, and splashes those people who are trying to walk by and avoid the puddle. She delights in the slush and muck, seeing it as instinctive and commonplace. The sinner makes little, if any attempt to get out of the mud.
The Response of the Good Person
The Good Person mourns each time she falls in the puddle. She knows the mud makes her unclean and could stain. She cries out, and mentally punishes herself over and over again saying, “How could I let this happen? I know better than this! Why didn’t I just avoid the mud puddle? I have no desire to be here! I know that it’s wrong! I just fell!”
Without realizing it, the Good Person pridefully thinks she never should have ended up in the puddle to begin with and because of this, her “fall” is mortifying. She spends so much time wallowing, She remains in the mud for a while with the focus on herself and not on God before finally climbing out.
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The Response of the Saint
The Saint does not make a big deal of the mud puddle. When she falls in she thinks, “Darn… I did it again…” and then immediately gets herself out of it. She knows the mud is bad for her body and soul, but she also knows that because of original sin her intellect is darkened and her will weakened. Thus, she’s bound to fall into the mud sometimes.
When she falls, she simply stands up, steps out of the mud puddle, and cleans herself off. She does not excuse her fall, but she does not dwell on it either. In humility, she knows she is prone to falling, so she is forgiving of herself. Because she does not dwell on the mud or herself, she is able to focus her attention upward and concern herself with things and Persons that are much more enjoyable and life-giving than mud.
What is Your Typical Response?
This analogy has been so helpful for me in my own life. My own tendency is to respond like the Good Person. I am so condemning of myself when I fall that I end up staying down! This is exactly what Satan wants; it is his masterful trap.
It is freeing to know that my frequent trips into the mud puddle are not necessarily a sign of personal weakness, rather a sign of fallen human nature. I still try to avoid the mud puddle, but now I know I do not have to condemn myself when I slip. Condemnation—even self- condemnation—is not a holy attribute. Love is though, even when we are directing it towards ourselves.
Thanks to Jesus, if I do fall, I have a way to get up and be cleansed. The mud puddle can only keep me dirty if I let it.
What’s your typical response to your sinful moments? Do you justify the mud? Do you pridefully mourn it? What would it take for you to respond like the saint?
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