Mudsock Heights

Mudsock Heights

A replica of the Rosary issues to American Catholic soldiers in World War I. (Credit: Dennis E. Powell)

All the Sins Ever Committed

By Dennis E. Powell | Posted at 9:27 PM

You’re probably not a “big-C” Catholic. Most people aren’t. Some of us increasingly doubt that the pope himself is. We can’t tell, because he spends most of his public time being a fascio-leftist politician.

Easter is a week and a half away, and it seems a good time to bring up something I’ve pondered for decades, on which Roman Catholicism gave me a unique view.

It will take a bit of an introduction, which you may find useful (or you may think I am taking, as a friend called an old priest’s very long homilies, “the scenic route”).

Chances are that you’ve heard of something called “the Rosary.” It is a combination of prayer and meditation. Before we begin, let me give a brief and incomplete explanation. You can find the details here. There is also a sacramental, a physical object, called a Rosary, but it is not in my estimation essential, and while I pray the Rosary daily, in Latin, I rarely employ the object during the prayer.

It comprises some opening prayers (after which I specify my prayer intentions for the day — what I’m praying for, where if I’ve promised to pray for you I pray for you) then five “decades,” with the Lord’s Prayer (the “Our Father”) ten repetitions of the “Hail Mary” prayer, the “Glory Be” doxology, and optionally the “Oh My Jesus” prayer. Then on to the next decade. You can add extra decades with particular intentions if you like. I add an extra one each day for the souls in Purgatory who have no one to pray for them and for the children who died before birth. During Lent I add another decade, in penance for my manifold sins and wickedness. I probably shouldn’t limit it to Lent. The Anglican General Confession refers to all of us as “miserable offenders.” This does not apply to me. Far from miserable, I’m very accomplished at offending against God, through constant practice.

(I should mention that not everyone who prays the Rosary is Roman Catholic. For instance, C.S. Lewis prayed it daily, and he was Anglican, back when the word meant something. Some people find it very helpful. I prayed the Rosary for years before I converted to Catholicism.)

The Rosary varies from day to day. On Sundays and Wednesdays we pray the five Glorious mysteries; on Thursdays the Luminous mysteries (added by St. John Paul; before then there were only the other four); on Fridays and Tuesdays the Sorrowful mysteries; on Mondays and Saturdays the Joyful mysteries.

It seems like a lot of repetition, and sometimes it is, but that’s my fault. The mind does wander. In one of his “Slow Motion” books, the great Msgr. Ronald A. Knox advised to let the Holy Spirit guide you back to where you should be. That is sometimes helpful, sometimes not. I pray the Rosary in Latin, which also helps. During the prayers we are supposed to contemplate and meditate upon the mystery represented by that particular decade of the Rosary. When one’s mind truly does focus on a particular mystery, it can be transcendent.

Even when the mind wanders, there is a cumulative effect. Over time, you contemplate the mysteries, like it or not. They stick in the mind. The most persistent ones are the ones where we need work, where understanding evades us.

For me, the biggest bump in the road was the first Sorrowful mystery, Christ’s Agony in the Garden. The problem is that it is glossed over by pretty much all of us. But after some thought and study I’ve concluded that it is second only to the Resurrection itself in importance. (I see in reading the link above that I am not alone in thinking this.)

But we gloss over it. Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane praying. He is so troubled He sweats actual blood. He asks His Father to take the upcoming burden away from him. We conclude that He is really scared of what’s about to happen to Him, that he doesn’t want to be nailed to the cross. And in so thinking we miss the point entirely.

Have you ever awakened in the middle of the night, having remembered, perhaps in a dream, of something in your past over which you now, suddenly and unexpectedly, feel real regret and feel intensely guilty? If you haven’t, you will.

Now, imagine this multiplied. Imagine feeling the specific guilt for every sin ever committed and every sin that will ever be committed. We toss it off as if Jesus handled the forgiveness of sin by turning to His Father and saying, “Yeah, put it on my tab. No biggie” knowing that God would never collect on the bill. But that’s not it at all.

There are certain rules in the physical universe. For instance, there is conservation of energy and conservation of matter. The power to charge your electric car comes from burning fossil fuels someplace, just not in your personal engine. This can be summed up in the idea that everything costs something. Who established this order of things? That would be, if I read things correctly, God.

Now take a look at Mark 6:5. “Nor could He do any wonderful works there . . . He was astonished at their unbelief.” And Mark 5:25-34, where the bleeding woman without His knowledge touches Jesus’s hem and is healed. The important part is this: “Jesus thereupon, inwardly aware of the power that had proceeded from him, turned back towards the multitude and asked, ‘Who touched my garments?’” Nothing comes for free. In order that we receive something, something must be given. In other contexts we have sayings: “You get what you pay for.” “The Lord helps those who help themselves.” “As ye sow, so shall ye reap.” In the incidents from Mark, the woman pays for her cure through faith and, in Nazareth, those who didn’t pay in faith got no miracles.

Perhaps there is what we might call conservation of guilt: Sin has its inescapable price. The only issue is who pays.

This idea, extended throughout the Bible, provides some illumination.

But it is especially vivid when considering the Passiontide agony of Jesus in the garden. He felt the weight of the endless sins for which there had been no payment. It was almost overwhelming, even for Him. This was no cotton-candy platitude: He felt the actual guilt for every unrepented sin, large or small, from the beginning of time until its end. We could not bear even the weight of our own sins, never mind ours plus anyone else’s. Jesus, Himself sinless, took it all on himself. The guilt we feel on those dark nights of the soul isn’t a taste of it, but maybe a taste of a taste.

Like most everyone, I was stuck in the “Jesus was scared of pain” nonsense for a long time, never satisfied with that explanation but everyone said it so it must be true. But it bothered me. Then, during Lent several years ago, I happened upon something by John Henry Cardinal Newman (now a saint, and also a convert) in his discussion of the agony in the garden. “He became man, that He might suffer as man; and when His hour was come, that hour of Satan and of darkness, the hour when sin was to pour its full malignity upon Him, it followed that He offered Himself wholly, a holocaust, a whole burnt-offering . . .” wrote Newman. To expiate evil, He had to become its victim not just physically but in His very soul.

“And now, my brethren, what was it He had to bear, when He thus opened upon His soul the torrent of this predestinated pain? Alas! He had to bear what is well known to us, what is familiar to us, but what to Him was woe unutterable. He had to bear that which is so easy a thing to us, so natural, so welcome, that we cannot conceive of it as of a great endurance, but which to Him had the scent and the poison of death—-He had, my dear brethren, to bear the weight of sin; He had to bear your sins; He had to bear the sins of the whole world.”

Catholicism holds that time is a convenience afforded us, while to God it means nothing because to God it doesn’t exist. Thus, in communion — joining together; look it up — we share the Last Supper as it happens. Pertinent to our discussion now, there is the practice of “offering it up.” This is the idea of penitential suffering, of joining our pain to that which Jesus is experiencing at this very moment, in the garden and on the cross. It is bearing some of the weight and in so doing removing a minuscule amount of the weight from Him. (For completeness, I should note that in Catholicism we can assign the penetential benefits of anything we do to someone else, usually someone dead in hope of relieving their suffering during Purgatory’s purification. It is like praying for someone, but we put skin in the game, in the form of our own temporal suffering.) So when you have a terrible headache you can offer it up in hope of easing the burden of Jesus or that of someone else. (I take an aspirin, anyway. I said I am a Catholic. I never said I am a good Catholic.)

Some of us make a daily morning offering, which can take many forms. Here’s the one I say: Oh Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary I offer thee my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day, for all the intentions of Thy Sacred Heart, in union with the holy sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world, in reparation for my sins, for the intentions of my relatives and friends, for the immortal souls and eternal Heavenly bliss of those who have died, and for the intentions of the Holy Father. To which I add “to the extent the Holy Spirit guides him,” because in my estimation la Papa dabbles in places where he has no business. (I know what I said. “The pope” should be “el Papa,” while “la Papa” means “the Potato.”) This establishes my intention in case it should arise that during the day something happens that is so painful I’d forget to offer it up. I hope my last words are, “Thy will be done. And I am truly sorry for my offenses.”

I do not know how much use the Catholic-specific aspects of the above are to anyone who isn’t Catholic, but I hope you consider it and find its value to be more than nothing. If you are among those who hold to the idea that sincere utterance of “I believe” is sufficient to get you off the hook forever, I have only this to say: I fervently hope you’re right.

If nothing else, as Easter approaches I hope you will take another look at, and ponder, the agony in the garden. I think it is very important.

Dennis E. Powell is crackpot-at-large at Open for Business. Powell was a reporter in New York and elsewhere before moving to Ohio, where he has (mostly) recovered. You can reach him at

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