Collaboration 3: Sin


Make a list of your sinful and graceful actions today. Which side is longer?
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Transcript of Video:

I think one of the challenges that most people face, and I see this especially if someone comes for confession, people tend to be very pre-occupied with their failings, with their sins, mistakes and so forth, and not cognizant, not aware of how they actually do incarnate the love of God in their lives. And if they are aware of it, they take it completely for granted. “Well, of course, I’m supposed to do that.” Well, in a sense that’s right. But I think there’s – it’s helpful to have a deeper awareness, a firmer grasp on our capacity for love.

If we were going to be very practical and concrete about this, get out a piece of paper and a pen and start writing. Make two columns. Think through the day, the week, the month, whatever, and in one column make a list of your sins. And by sins, that doesn’t mean mistakes. That means things that you have done with some intention to break a relationship between you and God, between you and a human being. Not just accidentally stepping on someone’s toes, but intentionally stepping on somebody’s toes.

Make a list of what really is a sin in one column. Then make a list of all the things that you’ve done and said today that embody the love and grace and truth of Christ. The donations you made, the kind words you said to the checkout counter person, the help you gave to the older person next door, the guidance you gave to a child, the work that you did to support the family that you’re responsible for, all these things reflect the love of God and embody the love of God and they’re all very ordinary things. And that list is going to be much longer than the failings on the other side.

– Br. Mark Brown


  1. Leonard on April 9, 2014 at 00:55

    I wonder…if dwelling on sin is a sin.
    and…relying on Grace is grace

  2. Sr. Donna Morgan on April 4, 2014 at 13:37

    The ways and collaborations of and with the world are what is encouraged in us as we are growing up. We are expected to be successful in business, to excel in school, to be better and have more than others, more often than not without regard to how we accomplish this. Luckily, the love of God and the opposing spiritual attributes that we are encouraged to strive for are the two-sided lists that the Brother is referring to. As we develop and deepen our relationship with God, the “good” side of the list increases.

  3. Marilyn Weir on April 4, 2014 at 08:14

    In making a mental list, the good definitely outnumbers the bad things I’ve done in recent weeks. I try to be constantly conscious of my relationship with God and act rightly and kindly with others. However, if I were to include my thoughts, the columns would shift as I am very harsh on myself, constantly self-critical. I need to change the thought patterns I have about myself.

  4. jane on April 3, 2014 at 20:43

    thanks for your words of wisdom especially today….sometimes a new perspective is so very helpful!

  5. LindaR on April 3, 2014 at 16:37

    Thank you for drawing a line between mistakes and the things we choose to do to harm or break relationships. I grew up with every flaw and failure being constantly recounted without forgiveness. A compliment or praise was almost always followed by comments that I should have done even better. I do believe God is love and grace, not a scorekeeper eager to grind people into the dust, but I needed this reminder that God’s grace also applies to me, not just to everybody else.

  6. Lorna Harris on April 3, 2014 at 10:25

    [I am writing this a day late.] We were talking yesterday at Bible Study about how to make the church more relevant in the world. This may seem off-track, but when Br. Mark said to ask myself, “How did I incarnate the love of God today?” I thought that is the grace we should express to the world. And when I think of it that way, I can see that although I did a few thing that were not exactly top drawer (not paying quite as much attention to my elderly mum in our daily phone call as I should have; being annoyed at having to repeat myself with my husband too frequently for my liking), nevertheless, on balance, I did try and largely succeed to incarnate God’s love. I did not argue with someone who thought very differently than I about current Canadian politics, for example. I just let him be. All too often we see too many of our flaws and not enough of our attempts to be kind and compassionate.

  7. Jennifer on April 3, 2014 at 10:17

    Regarding personal sins vs corporate abettment, we can of course more easily address the personal. I’ve been asking the corporate question myself and so far what comes to me is : protest, vote, divest, donate, sign, blog, post, and see where God leads. I may not be called to be a front line leader in these things, but I can support those who are and take every opportunity to speak about it to others.

  8. Beth on April 3, 2014 at 00:28

    Thanks for this. It was a good reflection, on seeing the goodness in ourselves. I tend to be a “pollyanna”, I find it easier to see the goodness in others. Is not this “love” of others, and self what “Godliness” is about?

  9. gwedhen nicholas on April 2, 2014 at 20:50

    Yes! My ‘grace’ list was considerably longer that my ‘sin’ list. I am so thankful to Br Mark for recommending this exercise, and the grace from him, which made me realize that I am graceful without even knowing it.

  10. Elke on April 2, 2014 at 19:41

    To take inventory of the way we have lived on any given day, seems to me to be a courageous act, especially when embarked on the moral life as a Christian.
    And yes, the pitfall is that in doing so, most of us dwell on our failings, often excessively so, and ignore the good we have done.
    I wonder, though, whether this preoccupation with our shortcomings isn’t also expressing our deep desire to do good, because we know from experience that bringing about the good in our day-to-day lives does move us closer to God, and to His kingdom.
    I noticed that in Jn 14 (yesterday’s reading), Jesus speaks into all of our so very conflicted situations with this assurance: “Let not your hearts be troubled…”

    That way, we can start each day with a new awareness on the good we do, a new emphasis on the love of God incarnated in us, as Br. Mark says.

  11. Win on April 2, 2014 at 16:57

    I’m curious… When, why and how did confession become sacramental in the Church. I fail to comprehend how this will bring me closer to God any more than the General Confession and Absolution that we say and hear together during Eucharist. This probably shows the two year old in me, but I’ve always thought it a bit unfair that we must attribute all the badness in ourselves to ourselves and all the goodness to God. In the end I just thank God for-giving me this life and being grateful for the opportunity to be here. I find it mostly a beautiful and lovely place.

  12. Jane Anne Gleason on April 2, 2014 at 16:50

    Thank you for your words and reminders. I will meditate on the 2 lists I can make now knowing that indeed the one of kindnesses will be longer and that I need to forgive myself as much as I forgive others and that am forgiven by God.

  13. Dorothy Brown on April 2, 2014 at 16:37

    I too want to thank the brother for defining sin as something we intentionally do to separate ourselves from God or others. Too often I have looked on my “mistakes” as sin, and thus built up a very negative self image. I can get too wrapped up in the “mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa” thing, and I think I do this to draw God’s attention to me (even negative attention is better than no attention). Thank to the brothers, I am growing to know myself and what I have to offer (and be satisfied with this) is all God wants, as long as I offer ALL.

  14. Pam on April 2, 2014 at 16:15

    I intentionally sinned this week. It was not a mistake. Thank you brother for showing me the difference and making me think of it in terms of breaking relationship. Yes I can be loving and kind, but on Monday and today I was not, I am ashamed to say but I know there is hope in repentence and I also know as you said my list of kind and loving things is longer when I think back over the week and so I shall beat myself up no longer. Blessed assurance x

  15. David Holt on April 2, 2014 at 15:28

    My graceful actions happened to be much longer yesterday,but then I dreamed that night of swearing at my mother telling her to go away , (overlooked by my father though, which was grace)

  16. Lisa on April 2, 2014 at 15:07

    Thank you, Brother Mark, for bringing love, grace, and truth into the discussion of sin, as well as a focus on intention.

    Although love, grace, and truth co-exist in Christ, I find that individually love and grace are much easier to embody than truth. Brother Mark’s examples of many opportunities to practice love and grace at the checkout counter, with an older person, or a child may come at a cost to my patience or my ability to see and step out of my “selves”, but they are easy because I just “run into ” them as a recognizable part of my daily routine. Even in my work there is a predictability of sorts. What is my new intention?

    People whose land is scarred by war, erosion, famine, and disease because I want to drive to work, vacation at a hotel, eat three helpings, and overmedicate are also human beings against whom I have sinned. They are outside my daily routine. But I need to see them as clearly as the father and child who stare at me with scared and hungry eyes in the grocery store. What is my new intention?

    Jesus in the Temple embodies truth by over-turning the money-changer’s tables. Because I have seen him there, because I have heard Jesus in these retellings of the story speaking truth to power I am no longer able to ignore his actions and the reasons behind them. But I shy away from my seeing, my hearing. What is my new intention?

  17. Kathryn on April 2, 2014 at 11:28

    I am glad for those who responded to the corporate ideas that are so prevalent in our society today. Corporate responsibilities have their root in the behavior of individuals. Thanks for the opportunity to think about the lists as a way to be accountable for the way I live. The sin issues usually are realized later – I succumb in such subtle ways that by raising awareness about my choices, moment by moment, is the challenge. It is really hard to choose the right thing sometimes. This is consistent with many other religious traditions.

  18. Jennie M Anderson on April 2, 2014 at 10:45

    I am glad for this invitation, thank you Brother Mark Brown! I am looking forward to doing this exercise this afternoon and evening and just seeing how my perceptions of balance in my life are coming to me. This is an especially good thing to do on the eve of an interview for a new position. It is good to go into those in a state of positive balance. Peace.

  19. Judy Morris on April 2, 2014 at 10:14

    The lists really helped me focus ore on what I was to do this Lent and not on what I am not to do.

  20. John Okerman on April 2, 2014 at 10:02

    The positive list that reflects our love of God is much larger. This lesson relates to loving ourselves. It is easier to be critical of ourselves and as an individual I much more readily see my shortcomings/sins than I do my positive accomplishments, i.e. helping others, living in a positive relationship with God. Today I will try to reflect on those things I have done that reflect my relationship with God.

  21. Bob O. on April 2, 2014 at 09:54

    At this point in Lent, I begin to think of preparing for my Easter confession. My sins always seem to be the same. It is so hard for me to confess, recieve absolution, and move on, even when I fully intend to do so. I will consider Br.’s remarks about the good things I do and try to be satisfied wtih the fact that I have done my best, which is all that my loving God wants from me.

  22. Cush on April 2, 2014 at 09:45

    I used the past couple of days for my lists and indeed the graceful actions list is longer, but what I dwell on is the other list. Since I am alone during the day, except for the occasional phone call, my list of “sins” are thoughts and resentments. I know how to get that kind of stinking thinking out of my head, but my “biggest sin” is the enjoyment of wallowing in it. So, I need to meditate and pray more to get outside that kind of thinking and enjoy the grace so freely given.

  23. TM on April 2, 2014 at 08:12

    I think my sins often stem from selfishness. I think or say unkind things because I want it my way. I eat too much because I like it and I want more. I don’t put others first because I want to be first.
    But when I try to call up my graceful actions, I find it harder. As today’s Brother says, we’re supposed to do those things! But when I thank God for things I see and do, when I do put others first, when I see the face of God in my students, colleagues and friends, those things all bring me closer to God.

  24. Br. Stephen Francis Arnold, OSB on April 2, 2014 at 07:37

    Graceful actions always overcome sin, even intentional sin, which I hope I do not commit.

  25. Christopher Epting on April 2, 2014 at 07:33

    While I appreciate the attempt to move us away from scrupulosity and the “miserable-offenders-with-no-health-in-us” perspective, I wonder if this is really true. When I think of my sins of complicity and even collaboration with the principalities and powers who wage war, oppress people, rape the environment, etc and how I actually benefit, on a daily basis, from such complicity and collaboration, I’m not sure which list would be longer. Fortunately, God does not judge us by making such lists.

    • Deacon Susan in California on April 2, 2014 at 12:15

      Thank you, Bp Epting. I get tied up in ethical knots trying to live without being too much of a “collaborator”. Thank you, too, Brother Mark, for affirming that even a little is enough because Jesus will magnify it.

    • Margo on April 2, 2014 at 19:28

      If He is said not to judge us by the making of such lists are we to simply ignore any imperative for systemic change or confrontation of the powers that unchallenged unquestioningly perpetrate privilege ?
      Sounds a lot like pie in the sky when we die theology.

  26. Kendell Pelrine on April 2, 2014 at 07:27

    Thank you so much for the words of encouragement, naturally I have fallen into this trap of seeing the negative as bigger than the positive. The recognition of love is so uplifting and contagious it is confusing as to how it becomes so difficult to naturally gravitate to the act and realization of such. Thank you for reminding me.

  27. Michael Kolenick on April 2, 2014 at 06:15

    I agree; my list of graceful things is longer that that of my sinful ones. Moreover, each day that I stay within God’s grace, love and protection, my list of graceful actions gets longer and longer.

  28. Margo on April 2, 2014 at 04:15

    What about corporate systemic sin which one knows one is part of and we do nothing to halt? God is simply not interested in our response to this? That thousands of people’s lives are diminished if not lost because we are ‘personally’ not sinful is irrelevant? Wonderfully privileged Patrician God we worship! Margo

  29. Bob on April 2, 2014 at 04:06

    Thank you brother, for reminding us that our good actions often outnumber our actions. What troubles me, is the difference in weight. How much do I have to do to balance the intentional deprioritises family needs that counts to my sin?

    • Eva on April 2, 2014 at 07:04

      This is where the grace of God comes in. We CANNOT do the balancing ourselves. Bless you.

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