Occasions of Sin are external circumstances–whether of things or persons–which either because of their special nature or because of the frailty common to humanity or peculiar to some individual, incite or entice one to sin.
They tend to boil down to the situations we avoid. If your predominant sin is lust, avoid the whorehouse and the internet. If your predominant sin is wrath, avoid agnostics. If your predominant sin is pride, avoid acting, and playing in the Rolling Stones. If your predominant sin is sloth, avoid beanbag chairs and hot tubs. Whether or not we are good at avoiding near occasions of sin – I know I am not – we at least know what we are supposed to do.
But I want to touch on something that you may not have thought of. I believe that there are states of mind, or states of being, that are near occasions of sin. For myself, this can typified as an agitated boredom. If I begin pacing around my house, as I am apt to do, thinking wildly about things I’d like to achieve, then I am more likely to sin. That “doing-nothing-but-wishing-I-could-do-something” almost inevitably leads me to do something I regret. I can see why, though my vision is clouded in this matter: That state of mind is poisonous, I contradict myself by refusing to be what I want to be, which ends in a vague sort of self-hate. Wow, I’m opening up to you guys, this is awkward.
But it’s not limited to boredom. For some, stress and overwork can lead to sin. For myself, being overworked keeps me away. For some, sadness will lead to sin. For others it will lead to prayer. My point is that these experiences, whether they be emotions or states of mind, may be as much a near occasion of sinning as passing a whorehouse. (An event which, by the way, I’ve had the pleasure of doing in the city of Paris. While driving to the Basilica of Sacre Couer. With my parents and siblings. Highly embarrassing.) But here’s the good news. We can change our states of mind almost as easily as we can our situation.
I am making the commitment today to, whenever I am filled with that agitated boredom, do something violently constructive. Right now my list of go-to’s includes, but is not limited to: creating hip-hop, building a shrine, reading Chesterton, and finding the company of friends. Find your near occasion of sin, then find your solutions, and maybe you’ll be a better Catholic.