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The Wages of Sin is Death

Caravaggio – St. Francis in Prayer

“For the wages of sin is death. But the grace of God, life everlasting, in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 6:23

“Out of one hundred thousand sinners who continue in sin until death, scarcely one will be saved.” -Saint Jerome

When I was a young man, one of my uncles told me about something he had read that had made a very lasting impression. He told me that the Mafia, so the story went, would carry out certain assassinations on their competitors or enemies for various reasons, but that they didn’t treat all “hits” the same way. If it was “just business, nothing personal”, and someone they had compassion for, they would first send him a priest to hear his confession. He would know what was coming, and would have a chance to make his peace with God and enter a state of grace before they sent him off to the next life in a hail of bullets.

If it was someone they despised, if the hit was personal, they would instead send the man a prostitute to seduce him. They would then burst in while he was in the act of adultery, and kill him without warning, thus, so they reasoned, sending him straight to hell.

Such was the terrifying — but common enough that it was known by thugs and gangsters — understanding of the Catholic teaching on sin. “And fear ye not them that kill the body, and are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him that can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Mt. 10:28)

In his various commentaries on Genesis, Dr. Scott Hahn returns often to this theme. In his book on the sacrament of Confession, he explains the divine admonition to Adam and Eve in Genesis 2:17 (“On the day you eat thereof you shall surely die”) as follows:

I should point out an oddity in the Hebrew text of Genesis. The passage translated above as “you shall die” does not accurately represent the original. The Hebrew actually repeats the word die, so that it reads “you shall die die.” Now, in Hebrew, repetition serves to intensify a word (to make it “more” or “surely”); but it seems odd for us to find a repetition of the word die. After all, you can’t get any deader than dead. What could this mean? The greatest of the ancient Jewish commentators, Philo of Alexandria, explained that there are two types of death: the death of the body and the death of the soul. “The death of the man is the separation of the soul from the body,” he wrote. “But the death of the soul is the decay of virtue and the bringing in of wickedness. It is for this reason that God says not only ‘die’ but ‘die the death,’ indicating not the death common to us all, but that special death, which is that of the soul becoming entombed in passions and wickedness of all kinds.

The inescapable fact is that we all deserve death as the punishment for sin, but Jesus endured this punishment on our behalf to free us from such a fate. “By death he conquered death,” we say, but moreso than the overcoming of physical death, Christ’s death and resurrection made it possible for us to escape the eternal death of hell.

It is this understanding that illuminates why no religion has offered so many martyrs on the altar of sacrifice as Christianity has. Christians do not fear the death of the body as long as they know that they have given over their soul to God. The early Christians who were torn apart by lions for the entertainment of pagan Rome were joyful unto their horrifying death, at times even reported as singing hymns as they met their gruesome fate. Their courage, their confidence, even in the face of such a brutal end, made a lasting impression on the Roman citizenry. “The blood of the martyrs,” wrote Tertullian, “is the seed of the Church.” Their willingness to die for their One True God made it clear to a polytheistic world that they had something of inestimable worth. As Christendom grew, missionaries were sent off into foreign and hostile lands, often suffering unspeakable cruelties and horrible ends at the hands of the very people they were trying to reach with the message of God’s love. In most cases, as with the Romans, their witness prevailed, and many of these people, their resistance overcome, were themselves baptized and thus entered into the self-same mystery:

“Have you forgotten that when we were baptized into union with Jesus Christ we were baptized into His death? By baptism we were buried with Him, and lay dead, in order that, as Christ was raised from the dead in the splendor of the Father, so also we might set our feet upon the new path of life” (Rom 6.3-4).

“Baptized into union with Him, you have all put on Christ as a garment” (Gal 3.27).

“For in baptism you were buried with Him, in baptism also you were raised to life with Him” (Col 2.12)

The great tragedy of our time is the loss of the sense of sin, and the life of truth and grace. We have descended back into a dark age of barbarism and depravity, where the idolatry of hedonism again reigns supreme. “For many walk,” as the apostle St. Paul tells us in his first epistle to the Philippians, “of whom I have told you often (and now tell you weeping), that they are enemies of the cross of Christ; Whose end is destruction; whose God is their belly; and whose glory is in their shame; who mind earthly things.” (Phil 3:18-19)

This abandonment of the concepts of good and evil, the disavowal of the existence of sin, and the worship of pleasure, make death all the more terrifying in the eyes of believers who love souls. Compounding the problem is our technological progress, which has extended the human lifespan and made it possible for us to stave off the fatal consequences of injury and disease in many cases. The constant prospect of a sudden, unexpected death that haunted so many of our forebears has been muted, and with it, the salutary reflection, “Memento mori…” — “Remember that you have to die…” Even those who know, deep down, that they need to amend their lives, often put this off, confident that they will have time once they have had a chance to “have their fun”.

“Enjoy yourself as much as you like,” wrote St. John Bosco, “if only you keep from sin.”

So it is incredibly shocking when we find ourselves forced to confront a brutality not common to modern existence — as in the massacre that took place in Florida this past weekend. And it should be the case, if we are in any way open to it, that the wisdom of the ancient world is again driven home in such moments. What happened in that nightclub was murderous and evil, but the tragedy of its occurrence was compounded by the fact that it ended the lives of so many who had come, not to enjoy themselves in a fitting manner, but to find indulgence in a modern-day temple of hedonism, a place where sins that cry out to heaven for vengeance were not lamented, but celebrated.

We do not know if the man who died in the arms of a prostitute as the hitmen unloaded their weapons into him had a split-second moment of grace and repentance; likewise, we do not know how many found God as the shots rang out in an Orlando dance club that catered specifically to those engaged in the homosexual lifestyle. This only deepens the tragedy, and the need for prayer for those poor souls, in the hopes that God has shown them His mercy as their lives were cut short before they had an opportunity to return to Him on their own terms. That we simply cannot presume they were saved is a truth almost too horrible to contemplate, but it is one we cannot afford to ignore if we wish to draw any good from this evil. For the living — for us all, since we are all sinners — this must serve as a cautionary tale that some good may come of it, or it is every bit as senseless as it seems.

Death will come for us all. And since we know not the day nor the hour, the question is: will our souls be ready for judgment? We cannot afford to put off until tomorrow our resolution to live according to God’s law, because for us, for reasons we can’t possibly know at this moment, tomorrow may never come. Repent, and turn to the love of God, before it is too late.

35 thoughts on “The Wages of Sin is Death”

  1. Thank your putting this into words. This was a thought that came to me late last night as I was thinking about the shooting. I pray that God will touch the souls of the survivors and their families and for their conversion back to God.

  2. The active homosexual lifestyle is a truly wicked lifestyle. It thrives on and glorifies narcissism. Those who struggle with homosexual tendencies have deep personal issues and need our love and compassion. It is not loving or compassionate, however, to condone sinful behavior. This horrible event should spur us on to work more fervently for the salvation of souls. Although the victims certainly did not “deserve” to have this happen to them, and the perpetrator’s actions are absolutely unjustifiable, this horrible event should cause us to consider well the words of St. Mark’s gospel, “Watch ye therefore, for you know not when the master of the house cometh.” We should all take care that we are living as we ought to live, that we have settled accounts (in confession) when we have fallen short, and that we pray and sacrifice for the conversion of souls.

    Most Holy Trinity,
    Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
    I adore Thee profoundly.
    I offer Thee the most precious Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity
    of Our Lord Jesus Christ,
    present in all the tabernacles of the world,
    in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges, and indifferences
    by which He is offended,
    and through the infinite merits of His Most Sacred Heart
    and the Immaculate Heart of Mary,
    I beg of Thee the conversion of poor sinners.

  3. Honestly steve, each time you write you maze me. I love the way you write and tell interesting facts that i have never heard in my life. Your purely awesome. I am always in anticipation of your articles. Continue your great work and may your treasures in Heaven be great! God bless.

  4. Talking about Hell, you’re goin’ get hell for this one!!

    They’re not goin’ to like it, one lickin’ bit, at Most Holy Redeemer, San Francisco (the Castro).

  5. Dear Steve,

    Today is my birthday and yesterday was 7 years since my dad passed away. I was able to go to the Divine Liturgy this morning with my mom, spend some time with her and then get to work. The people that died over the weekend and today won’t see another birthday – they are in eternity. This is an excerpt from the Memoirs of Sister Lucia:

    Jacinta remained sitting on her rock, looking very thoughtful, and asked:

    That Lady also said that many souls go to hell! What is hell, then?

    It’s like a big deep pit of wild beasts, with an enormous fire in it – that’s how my mother used to explain it to me – and that’s where people go who commit sins and don’t confess them. They stay there and burn for ever!

    And they never get out of there ago?
    Not even after many, many years?
    No! Hell never ends!
    And heaven never ends either?
    Whoever goes to heaven, never leaves it again!
    And whoever goes to hell, never leaves it either?
    They’re eternal, don’t you see! They never end!

    Source:. dos Santos, Sister Lucia. Fatima in Lucia’s Own Words. First memoir, P. 29. 1976, Ravegate Press.

  6. It is most unfortunate for sinners that Steve’s words below are seldom mentioned in homilies at Mass. That, in itself, is an unspeakable tragedy (irony intended).

    “Death will come for us all. And since we know not the day nor the hour, the question is: will our souls be ready for judgment?
    We cannot afford to put off until tomorrow our resolution to live
    according to God’s law, because for us, for reasons we can’t possibly
    know at this moment, tomorrow may never come. Repent, and turn to the
    love of God, before it is too late.”

  7. This piece you wrote was so sensitive.. God bless you for that and for putting into words the thoughts of many hearts as they heard this sad news. No spin, no judgement, just faith displayed. I am only so sorry that clergy everywhere have lost opportunity after opportunity to speak from the pulpit to those souls who might have been reached by Almighty God’s Holy Spirit inviting them to repent and receive unspeakable grace and joy!

  8. Amen Steve! Now we’re hearing that the shooter was gay himself. What a tragedy he didn’t access the One True Faith for assistance with his sinful inclinations! Catholicism has the Sacrament of Penance for God’s love and forgiveness in struggling with sin and sexuality. Islam only offers death! Political correctness is strangling our faith.

  9. lest we forget – what offends God are the Sins which result in eternal death. Not what offends the world. The Word or the World, choose one because you can’t choose both with any sense of lucidity.

  10. I would contend that this tragedy in Orlando, more than anything, has revealed just how alone we faithful Catholics are within these United States. While what happened to the victims is unspeakable and horrific, the media and even those within our episcopate are telling us outright, or at least suggesting by their silence, that there is nothing wrong with what they were doing. To even suggest that had they not been in objective states of sin they would not have been in such an environment in the first place is now tantamount to heresy.

    I hardly recognize this America any longer. Twenty years ago—10 years ago—we could at least have the conversation among “conservative America” regarding the morality of homosexuality. Now, it seems as though “conservatives” outside the Catholic Church, for the most part, have become full-blown libertarian not only on government policy but also morality, with men such as Glenn Beck preaching a religion of Americanism, in which one has the right to do whatever one wants so long as one does not hurt someone else, and calling for all “conservatives” to unite under “common principles”, even if that means joining forces with those whose morality is fundamentally at odds with the truth taught by the Church.

    We are living, I’ve concluded, in times in which the ultimate failure of the “Reformation” is now on full display. For all intents and purposes, Americans, by and large, have abandoned any sort of appeal to outside authority or Truth when it comes to morality, choosing instead to embrace a “tolerant” attitude toward such matters. The only people who may be judged under this new paradigm, it seems, are those who actually dare to suggest that Truth is immutable and cannot change, namely, faithful Catholics. As I said earlier, as recently as 10 years ago we most likely would have heard some voices within the media who would have been willing to confront the elephant in the room regarding the “lifestyle” choices of the victims. Now, all we hear are crickets.

    • Americanism is really the step-child of Britainism, along with the rest of the English speaking world. It’s why heresy was so severely condemned and punished. Because this is where it ultimately leads.
      The victims and those who escaped with their lives knew in their guts the precariousness of their eternal situation. I can only think that is why they were paralysed by their fear. Not one person in 300 surrounding a lone gunman to take a flying tackle at him.

      –Not to presume that i would have had the courage. But i will presume that surrounded by traditional Catholics the man would have been bum-rushed.

    • The virtue signalling going on right now is astonishing. It’s as though no Christian wants to admit in public that homosexuality is condemned. I don’t expect much from people these days, but I’m floored.

      • No, Steve, it’s all our fault. Just ask Bishop Lynch of St. Petersburg:

        It is long past time to ban the sale of all assault weapons, whose use should be available only to the armed forces. If one is truly pro-life, then embrace this issue also and work for the elimination of sales to those who would turn the weapons on innocents.

        “Assault weapon” is a loaded term that is absolutely meaningless, but hey, let’s not let facts get in the way, dear Bishop.

        [I]t is religion, including our own, that targets, mostly verbally, and often breeds contempt for gays, lesbians and transgender people.

        Sorry, Bishop Lynch, but I don’t remember seeing Catholics throwing homosexuals from rooftops or going around murdering them. Oh, wait. It’s the “religion of peace” that’s doing that, isn’t it? But you don’t have the courage to actually say that, now, do you, dear Bishop?

        This is what our bishops think of us, fellow faithful Catholics. We’re the enemy. And we are so, so screwed.


        • Yep Fr James Martin, a Jesuit priest, shared that on his Facebook page, in support of it. He is frequently posting ambiguous statements left open to interpretation. A lot of pro LGBTQetc people are always on his page singing his praises. I have my suspicions about him. What do you think? Do you know of him?

          • There’s little I can say of Martin without running the risk of calumny. Suffice it to say the man is obviously a supporter of relaxation of the Church’s teaching on sexual matters (he was all atwitter when AL was released back in April). If something he writes could be interpreted in a heterodox matter, then it’s probably what he intended. Don’t trust anything he says.

          • Ye I understand. I don`t want to falsely accuse anyone, but the evidence is mounting up. I`ve already been banned from his FB page. He has a “Two post limit” rule on his FB page, which I find ironic, because he is a Jesuit, who always pride themselves on open “dialogue”. But more telling is his constant ambiguous FB posts. He throws these grenades into the crowd and the walks away. He doesn`t explain or elaborate. He simply implies and lets it fester.
            Away we`ll keep fighting the good fight.

          • Oh I think it’s beyond suspicion. But either way, he is terrible in that he represents the Church in the national media and he does not worry himself with sound doctrine.

      • I suspect Steve that it won’t be too much longer before God fundamentally transforms Obama’s “fundamental transformation”. He may well use fallen humanity as His instrument of chastisement, through the Islamists, an EMP attack or a full blown economic collapse from all this debt and horrible decisions from our so called “masterminds”. Thanks again for bringing some sanity as well as real compassion, not the paper mache kind, to discussing this horrible event.

    • Hi LB236 – Jesus promised us nothing less than the evil times through which this generation is passing. Faith in Him is the answer that strengthens us in all times. His return grows near, lift up your head and sing His Praises!

      • Thank you for the kind words, fniper. It’s been a very depressing few months, and I, to be honest, have been struggling to keep my faith in Christ’s Church when it appears that the men who are supposed to protect her are all too eager to cast her to the wolves. Were it not for online access to the traditional Rite (I fear all the Novus Ordo parishes in my area are beyond redemption), I would have been ready to apostatize out of sheer frustration.

        • Hi LB236 – The Sacramental Church will not fail. The Institutional Church is on the brink. Don’t be discouraged, all these things must occur before all that is evil is thrown into the fiery pit for all eternity. Evil is being exposed, and that is a great Grace. Cling to the Sacraments and the Rosary, they are the sure weapons against the evil one! Be not afraid! I do not relish persecution but I know it comes, just as it did for our Lord during His Passion.

    • Hang in there, LB! Offer your despondency to our Lord for sinners. I agree with you on Glenn as well. It’s very frustrating to hear him talk about some sort of Kumbaya approach to religion. I get we lost him to Mormonism a while back, but I find I’m turning him off when he starts on with this Thomas Jefferson “God appreciates questioning Him with boldness” schtick.

  11. Finally, finally some clarity. Since Sunday, I’ve found no blog, website or fb post that has had the courage to mention what everyone is thinking: the eternal whereabouts of those lost souls and the immortal risk they put themselves in. They were their own hitmen. I pray many in that 3:00am hour found God’s mercy. Thank you Steve Skojac for having the nerve to write about that elephant, in the back room, of the gay bar.

  12. I appreciate this column in a special way since my thoughts recently are mirrored here to an extent.
    Having been involved in music as a trombonist for years [I am 83] I have known many musicians and some of them have reached a certain amount of fame. One in particular kind of “grew up” with me in our early days in music; but went on to reach great heights with his instrument. He is now deceased and I recall him telling me once that all the recognition he received was tempered by his knowledge that there were others “out there” that eclipsed his fame. There is always someone that is somewhat more accomplished. I imagine that is difficult for any fine musician to live with. But to my point:
    There is truth out there that even this article falls short of while it does approach in its way.
    “He would know what was coming, and would have a chance to make his peace with God and enter a state of grace before they sent him off to the next life in a hail of bullets.”
    The same scriptures you use to fortify your thoughts here tell us that if that victim relied upon what he was taught and confessed to a Catholic priest, he would still be lost for eternity. The reason for this is that the scriptures teach that only by believing the gospel of the cross Paul preached (I Cor. 15:1-4) and (that without religious works) trust in that alone saves that man from Hell.

    Also, you further wrote:

    “Have you forgotten that when we were baptized into union with Jesus Christ we were baptized into His death? By baptism we were buried with Him, and lay dead, in order that, as Christ was raised from the dead in the splendor of the Father, so also we might set our feet upon the new path of life” (Rom 6.3-4).
    “Baptized into union with Him, you have all put on Christ as a garment” (Gal 3.27).
    “For in baptism you were buried with Him, in baptism also you were raised to life with Him” (Col 2.12)
    The futility is enhanced by the scriptural truth that Paul was decidedly not referring to water in any of his mentions of “baptism” in these verses, but was referring to the action of the Holy Spirit identifying a believer with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ at the moment the sinner believes Paul’s gospel.
    I join you in sadness over the Orlando tragedy, and pray that my words are taken as they are meant— to show forth the truth of the Word of God.

    • I know that you’re sincere, Gerald, but you’re also wrong. I would love for you to benefit from the evangelical outreach of Catholics, who might, given enough time, be able to persuade you of the truths declared here, infallibly, by the successor of St. Peter to whom was given not only the keys to the kingdom of heaven and the office upon which Christ’s Church is founded, but the power to bind and loose:

      The problem is that every thread you show up in ends up hijacked with a side conversation wherein good Catholics try to convince you of the error of the heretical thoughts you have imbibed, and to entice you to the only true means of salvation on earth – the Mystical Body of Christ, in the form His Bride, the One True Church.

      I am more tired of the non-productive comment box activity these days than I have ever been. Between the angry people who come here pronouncing judgment on the “anti-pope” and the people who are on personal crusades about the SSPX (or this or that other thing) and the people who, like you, hijack threads to talk about what you think is truly important, topical conversation here has become almost impossible, and very nearly always unpleasant.

      So I’m going to ask you, just this once, to stop. And if your conscience won’t allow it, then like the hitmen who sent the priest, I will bid you a fond farewell, and riddle your commenting privileges with lead.

      • At least I got a healthy “chuckle” from your last sentence. I can understand that it hurts to be told you have been deceived, and in a big, big way. I will honor your request to take my preaching elsewhere.

        • It’s not a question of pain, but of tedium. I have absolute moral certitude that the Catholic faith is the only true faith, and that it is the means by which all graces flow into the world – and that apart from it, and its mystical union with Christ the Savior, salvation is impossible.

          I have spent more time in my life than I can possibly recount having these kinds of conversations, and they’re almost always circular. Those who want to see Catholicism as a deception are literally hell-bent on it. I only pray that God has mercy on you, because perhaps your culpability is lessened by the hardness of your heart.

  13. “At that time some people who were present there told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices. He said to them in reply, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did! Or those eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!” -Luke 13:1-5

  14. I swam the Tiber in September of 2012 but only very recently discovered the Brown Scapular and Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary. For those who are not currently wearing the Scapular, or done the St. Louis De Montfort preparation and consecration, I cannot recommend it highly enough.The protection that comes from belonging to the Immaculata is “out of this world.” She is truly the Mediatrix of ALL. GRACE! If you belong to her, she’ll look out for you and keep from hell fires. She will also help you to glow with a love for her Son, which will be a very effective evangelization
    for your non-Catholic, or non practicing Catholic family and friends.

    btw, Steve, Dr. Dilsaver is a member of my parish. I emailed him your article where you referenced his book.


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