A Layperson’s Catechetical Guide to Conversion
BOOK PICK: Overcoming the Evil Within: The Reality of Sin and the Transforming Power of God’s Grace and Mercy
OVERCOMING THE EVIL WITHIN
The Reality of Sin and the Transforming Power of God’s Grace and Mercy
By Father Wade L.J. Menezes, CPM
EWTN Publishing, 2020
160 pages, $14.95
To order: ewtnrc.com or (800) 854-6316
Father of Mercy Wade Menezes’ new book is delightfully positive and encouraging, for it offers the truth about “the Transforming Power of God’s Grace and Mercy,” as the subtitle explains.
It’s also instructive. “The purpose of this book,” writes Father Menezes, “is to shed light on the reality and nature of sin — truths that our culture either has lost sight of, has forgotten, or outright denies. This book is meant to serve as a layperson’s catechetical guide to the reality and nature of sin, to its devastating effects in a person’s life if it goes unchecked, to the workings of vice and virtue … and the importance of forgiveness and conversion.”
There certainly is solid catechesis here! The book clearly defines faults and weaknesses; dependencies and addictions; mortal sins and venial sins; the difference between sins of malice, sins of ignorance and sins of weakness; culpability versus inculpability; voluntary versus involuntary moral actions; the four great consequences of sin; the nine great benefits of confession; and so on.
But in addition to solid knowledge, Father Menezes offers actionable advice. For example, regarding habitual sin and how to overcome it, he writes,
“Genuine repentance and confession of a habitual sin in the Sacrament of Confession does restore grace to the soul, but the removal of an ingrained disposition to sin — that is, a vice — will often require a great deal of effort and self-denial on the penitent’s part until the contrary virtue is finally acquired. In other words, taking our bad habits to the Sacrament of Confession will result in forgiveness and help begin the healing process, but the words of absolution from the priest do not function as a magic wand that roots out the vices that impact our everyday lives. That’s not how Confession works — though it is an essential first step. To root out an ingrained disposition in your personhood will take much effort and practice of the opposite virtue” (emphasis in the original).
And as a practical aid to acquiring these “opposite virtues,” the book includes a handy chart listing the capital sins, their opposite virtues, and — something new that I really appreciated — a list of extremes that can occur if you try to bend the stick too far the other way in acquiring a virtue. Humility, for example, is the virtue opposite the capital sin of pride, but at the other extreme is the vice of self-loathing, which masquerades as humility but in truth is equally sinful.
In the chapter on confession, the author cleverly addresses “the claim that we can and should go ‘straight to God’ with our sins to have them forgiven” rather than confessing our sins to a priest. “Well,” writes Father Menezes, “did we go ‘straight to God’ for our Baptism? Did we go ‘straight to God’ for our Confirmation? Matrimony? The Anointing of the Sick or the other sacraments? The truth — that Catholics usually understand in other contexts — is that the Church and Her ministers and sacraments mediate God’s grace, and this is as God designed it.”
One of the best things about this book is that it offers many quotes from the Catechism, the Scriptures and the saints, especially St. Faustina and her writings on Divine Mercy. I used my highlighter liberally in order to revisit the great spiritual sound bites throughout. There’s also an excellent discussion of the oft-misunderstood concept of “fear of the Lord” and a list of “best practices” for maintaining the momentum of our conversion, including a book list and various habits of prayer.
For a book that so heavily emphasizes the examination of one’s conscience — in both a daily examen at the end of the day and before going to confession — the inclusion of a detailed guide to these practices would have been nice. This is a small point, perhaps, since these resources are readily available elsewhere.
Overall, Overcoming the Evil Within is a welcomed vade mecum for our daily walk in the one true faith — and as we head to the confessional.
Clare Walker writes from Westmont, Illinois.