Sin is serious, but it is not really the devil’s goal just to get us to sin. The devil’s best strategy is to get us to voluntarily kill our own consciences. Our conscience is how we know right from wrong, but the devil has been trying to confuse us ever since Adam and Eve’s fall in the Garden of Eden. Our consciences die in stages, starved more and more of grace, and grown weaker by sin. The bishop martyr, St. John Fisher, gave seven steps in this process.
Bishop Fisher tells us that first there is just the temptation towards a mortal sin, where we begin to question the wisdom of the Church or doubt the truthfulness of God. The second step is when we decide in our hearts to succumb to this temptation when the time comes. The third step is when we place ourselves in the near occasion for that sin. The fourth step is when we finally commit the actual sin itself. Stage five is when we begin repeating that sin over and over without fear of God, and forgetful of God’s love. Now again, sinning, no matter how grave, isn’t really the devil’s goal. The devil uses sin to move us towards his ultimate goal, which is to get us to deny sin, and to deny good and evil, and to deny God. This process starts in the temptation (remember the snake in the Garden of Eden), but it is finally accomplished with time.
So the sixth stage is an essential step. If we do not stop sinning and repent by then, this stage is where we fall into the depths. Here we begin to deceive ourselves, or convince ourselves that we are pioneers in some new age of evolution, and that our sins aren’t really sins at all. We become dissenters from the Church’s doctrines. Bishop Fisher argues that we have all but killed our conscience at this point, and that there is practically no hope. We have rejected God’s truth and estranged ourselves from grace. Here we resist mercy and refuse forgiveness, because we already feel justified and won’t repent. Here we are essentially cut off from the Church. At this profoundly sad point, we almost need a miracle to bring us back to grace.
The seventh and final stage is spiritual destruction. At this point, folks have become so depraved that they start to actively bring others down, too. They more or less hate the Church. They become advocates for darkness, calling it light. They write letters to the editor and go on talk shows to establish their new doctrine. They carry signs declaring some new normal. If they had the power and position of Henry VIII, they would behead the current Bishop Fisher. These sad souls can only be saved by great prayer.