Sign Up for our Free Daily Email Updates / Catholic Spiritual Direction

On the Number of Sins

March 10, 2015 by  
Filed under Dan Burke, Lent, Meditations, Preparation for Death, Sin


“Because sentence is not speedily pronounced against the evil,
the children of men commit evil without fear.”

cf Ecclesiastes 8:11

If God instantly chastised the man who insults him, we certainly should not see him so much outraged as we do at present. But because the Lord does not instantly punish sinners, but waits for them, they are encouraged to offend him the more. It is necessary to understand that, though God waits and bears, he does not wait and bear forever. It is the opinion of many holy fathers–of St. Basil, St. Jerome, St. Ambrose, St. Cyril of Alexandria, St. John Chrysostom, St. Augustine, and others–that as God (according to the words of Scripture, Wisdom 11:21: “Thou hast ordered all things in measure, and number, and weight.”) has fixed for each the number of his days, the degrees of health and talent which he will give to him, so he has also determined the number of sins which he will pardon; and when this number is completed, he will pardon no more. “Illud sentire nos convenit,” says St. Augustine, “tamdiu unumquemque a Dei patientia sustineri, quo consummato, nulam illi veniam reservari” (De Vita Christi, chapter 9). Eusebius of Caesarea says the same–“Deus expectat usque ad certumn numerum, et postea deserit” (Lib 8, Chapter 2). The same doctrine is taught by the above-mentioned fathers.

And these fathers have not spoken at random, but resting on the sacred Scriptures. In one place the Lord says that he restrained his vengeance against the Amorites, because the numbers of their sins was not as yet filled up. “For as yet the iniquities of the Amorites are not at the full” (Genesis 15:16). In another place he says, “I will not add anymore to have mercy on the house of Israel” (cf Hosea 1:6). Again he says “All the men who have tempted BLWStainedGlassPanelAugustSickleHarvestme ten times…shall not see the land” (Numbers 14:22, 23). “Thou hast,” says Job, “sealed up my offenses as it were in a bag” (Job 14:17). Sinners keep no account of their sins; but God keeps an account of them, that when the harvest is ripe–that is, when the number of sins is completed–he may take vengeance on them. “Put ye in the sickles; for the harvest is ripe” (Joel 3:13 [4:13 NAB]). In another place he says, “Be not without fear about sin forgiven, and add not sin to sin” (Sirach 5:5). As if he said, O sinner! You must tremble even on account of the sins which I have forgiven you; for if you add another, it may happen that this new sin, along with those which have been pardoned, may complete the number, and then there shall be no more mercy for you. “The Lord waiteth patiently, that, when the day of judgment shall come, he may punish them in the fullness of their sins” (2 Maccabees 6:14). God waits till the measure of iniquities is filled up, and then he chastises the sinner.

Of such chastisements there are many examples in the Scriptures. Saul disobeyed God a second time, and was abandoned. When he entreated Samuel to intercede for him saying, “Bear, I beseech thee, my sin and return with me that I may adore the Lord” (cf 1 Samuel 15:25), Samuel answered, “I will not return with thee, because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord hath rejected thee” (cf 1 Samuel 15:26). We have also the example of Belshazzar, who after having profaned the vessels of the temple at table, saw a hand writing on the wall, “Mene, Tekel, Peres.” Daniel came, and in explaining these words, among other things, said, “Thou art weighed in the balance, and art found wanting” (Daniel 5:27). By these words he gave the king to understand that in the balance of divine justice the weight of his sins had made the scale descend. “The same night, Belshazzar, the Chaldean king, was killed.” O how many miserable sinners meet with a similar fate! They live many years multiplying sins; but, when the number is filled up, they are struck dead, and cast into hell. “They spend their days in wealth, and in a moment they go down to hell” (Job 21:13). There are some who spend their time in investigating the number of years which each shall live. But who can discover the number of sins which God will pardon each individual? We should, therefore, tremble. My brother, it may be that God will pardon you no more after the first criminal pleasure which you indulge, after the first thought to which you consent, or after the first sin which you commit.

Affections and Prayers

Ah! My God, I thank thee. How many, for fewer sins than I have committed, are now in hell! For them there is no pardon–no hope. And I am still living; I am not in hell; but, if I wish, I can hope for pardon and for paradise. I am sorry above all things for all my sins, because by them I have offended thee, who art infinite goodness. Eternal Father, look on the face of thy Christ; behold thy Son dead on the cross for my sake; and through his merits have mercy on me. I wish to die rather than offend thee any more. When I consider the sins I have committed, and the graces thou hast bestowed on me, I have just reason to fear that, if I commit another sin, the measure shall be completed, and that I shall be damned. Ah! Assist me by thy grace; from thee I hope for light and strength to be faithful to thee. And if thou seest that I should again offend thee, take me out of my life, now that I hope to be in a state of grace. My God, I love thee above all things, and I feel a greater fear of incurring thy enmity than of death. For thy mercy's sake do not permit me ever more to become thy enemy. Mary, my mother, have pity on me; assist me; obtain for me holy perseverance.

Editor’s Note: This meditation is from St. Alphonsus Liguori’s “Preparation for Death” (1758).

Art: Labours of the Months (August-Harvest) Stained Glass Panel, 1450-1475, Photographed February 2010 by David Jackson, CC-SA, Wikimedia Commons.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

About Dan Burke

Dan is the President of the Avila Foundation, the parent organization of, the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, Divine Intimacy Radio and Divine Intimacy Radio - Resources Edition, Into the Deep Parish Programs, the Apostoli Viae (Apostles of the Way) Community, and the FireLight Student Leadership Formation Program, author of the award-winning book, Navigating the Interior Life - Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God, Finding God Through Meditation-St. Peter of Alcantara, 30 Days with Teresa of Avila, Into the Deep, Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Thérèse of Lisieux, and his newest book The Contemplative Rosary with St. John Paul II and St. Teresa of Avila. Beyond his "contagious" love for Jesus and His Church, he is a grateful husband and father of four, the Executive Director of and writer for EWTN's National Catholic Register, a regular co-host on Register Radio, a writer and speaker who provides online spiritual formation and travels to share his conversion story and the great riches that the Church provides us through authentic Catholic spirituality. Dan has been featured on EWTN's Journey Home program and numerous radio programs.

please consider supporting our mission with a donation!

  • Patricia

    “I would like to try to make you understand by means of a very simple comparison how much Jesus loves even imperfect souls who confide in Him: I picture a father who has two children, mischievous and disobedient, and when he comes to punish them, he sees one of them who trembles and gets away from him in terror, having, however, in the bottom of his heart the feeling that he deserves to be punished; and his brother, on the contrary, throws himself into his father’s arms, saying that he is sorry for having caused him any trouble, that he loves him, and to prove it he will be good from now on, and if this child asked his father to punish him with a kiss, I do not believe that the heart of the happy father could resist the filial confidence of his child, whose sincerity and love he knows. He realizes, however, that more than once his son will fall into the same faults, but he is prepared to pardon him always, if his son always takes him by the heart.” St. Therese of Lisieux

    • Renee C

      Thank you for your comment Patricia.

      • Charles Fisk

        This is how I see Jesus who i love but do not tremble with fear thinking that when I die he will cast me away. I. Do not want to live in fear all the days of my life I do want to live in love instead. All the ominous words sound so dark to me. And peppered with Latin sentences in between darken the message. I just want to love the lord pray and talk to him and believe that after each confession he truly forgave me. All this dark message coming from the preparation for our death takes away hope and makes it hard to understand the love and forgiveness that he always stands for. That is what the gift of confession does for us otherwise no one would have hope for heaven and the things of heaven.
        I am sorry for being so controversial.

        • Charles – your comments are not a problem. Something to reflect on – To live in fear would be to live a captive of the enemy. The question you have to find an answer to is how is that these things are true (and they are as Jesus taught them) and yet I am to live in peace and love? Jesus said that his truth will set us free. This is his truth. What is in you that causes this truth to bind your soul rather than set it free?

          • Charles Fisk

            That is way I choose to enjoy the creation that God gifted us on earth and love all that he created. That is why I fear my sins and love God not the reverse. I have walked the way of St James twice and every day I marveled at his creation and how much he must love us to give all these things on earth which surely must be a tiny tiny vision of what heaven will be. I follow your readings everyday first thing and get great inspiration from them except for this series on the preparation for death. It may turn many away thinking that there is no salvation and that disturbs me. I do not read “do not be afraid”
            Instead I read “be afraid”.

    • bob gorski

      My problem is that I am the son who tells his Father over and over how sorry he is, then coming to fall into the same sinful ways.

      • LizEst

        Bob — The secret of the saints is to get up and try again. Every time you confess these same sins, as boring, shameful and repetitious as they may be, when you are truly sorry for them, God gives you the grace to combat them. Jesus is the Divine Physician. As he told us, those who are healthy do not need a doctor, but the sick, do. God’s grace has to penetrate to the root of these sins, in order to dissolve the root and allow virtue to grow there instead. Eventually–and it may take years–if you are sincere in fighting these sinful ways, avoiding the occasion (the circumstances) of these sins, and are repentant of them, you will find, some day, that you will no longer be susceptible to them.

        • Clanci45

          Your post,Liz, at the least, gives hope. The Eastern Orthodox speak of the time of Lent as a time of “joyful sorrow”! That repentance is the fruit of humility. This does not mean they do not take Lent extremely seriously. But if I am to be extremely honest, most of these excerpts from this book, strike fear into the very heart of my being. For those of us still struggling with “still trying to understand the love of God and His Mercy” I have found most of these writings from “Preparing for Death” to bring nothing but fear to me. That does not imply that I do not take sin seriously but if you are only are starting on this journey and think “your next sin” may be your last it strikes more than fear but absolute terror into my heart. That is my truth. I ‘m really not sure I shall return to this site which I have loved I don’t find this helpful but I feel pushed toward despair!

          • Dear friend, the first question we should ask about these posts is, “are they true?” If the answer is yes, Christ has promised that the truth will set us free. If when we are confronted by truth we react in a negative way, this is a gift of God to reveal something that is disordered in our heart and soul. This gives us the opportunity to listen to the pain and follow it to the healing balm of Christ. The healing can be to undo the knots of false belief that lead us to misunderstand and misapply the truth. Regardless, the angst you feel is likely due to the need of some kind of spiritual surgery and healing from God. The answer is not to run away from grace, but to lean in and ask for understanding. He is faithful and will answer.

          • Clanci45

            Thank you for your reply which I received via Disqus. I’m no sure what you are referring to as truth. The article or my feelings. If it is the article, I am unsure. If it is my reaction or application which strikes fear those are very true feelings. Apparently, there is something very wrong here but I do not understand how a person can live day by day in total fear that their next sin could be the last they are allowed. Not to excuse sin but living in fear. I will keep seeking but I simply can not live under this kind of fear…I can not! Maybe I will one day but for now this does not draw me to God… I appreciate all those mature enough who can live somehow in fear but I just can’t right now.

          • LizEst

            Be not afraid, Clanci45! God knows you heart. He knows what you are going through. Go to confession, confess your sins, do the penance prescribed and stay away from the place(s) or people or situations that make you susceptible to sin. If you’ve done these things, then you should be feeling at peace. If not, make an appointment with a priest and go talk to him about why you cannot get a sense of peace from the sacrament of confession. I can only think of a few things that might cause this kind of fear you report: One, there is, or are, some serious sins that you haven’t confessed. Two, there is something in your childhood, perhaps, that keeps you grounded in fear. Or, three, you may possibly suffer from scruples. A spiritual director can greatly help you figure out what is going on. If it is a psychological issue, he or she can recommend a good Catholic therapist to help you with this. In any case, you need to get to the bottom of this because, an article like this should help one look at the kind of life one is leading and spur them to conversion rather than paralyze them with fear.

          • Camila


            There are different kinds of fears. St. Thomas in the Second Part of the Second Part of the Summa talks about filial, initial, servile and worldly fear.

            You can read more here:

            Think of it this way. If you found yourself wounded and your dad was the best doctor in town for that wound, wouldn’t you go running to show him confident he would heal it? The evil one would have you run away from the Good God in fear, don’t do this. Despair, discouragement is never from God.

            Remember St. John? Love casts out fear, and fear is also a gift of the Holy Spirit; then how can fear be both cast out and a gift? You see, there are different meanings to the fear. The fear caused by evil spirits will have you run away from God; the fear of God will be a fear that desire not to offend such good and loving God; and who runs straight into His purifying light and wonderful love.

            Take courage. Go to confession and ask our Lady for the fear that is the gift of the Holy Spirit. I know she will help you.

            Take courage, friend.

          • Clanci45

            Thank You

          • Camila

            Dear Clanci45,

            Take courage. Here’s an idea. Try praying the acts of faith, hope, and love.

            You can find them here:

        • bob gorski

          You are right there, LizEst. As the great St Vince Lombardi said (Well they think he is a saint in GreenBay ;o), “the measure of a person is not how many times he gets knocked down, It’s how many times he gets up!.

          • LizEst

            …and, as we commemorate in the Stations of the Cross, even Christ fell on the road to Calvary. He is our example.

            On another subject…yes, how fitting it is, then, that the Lombardi trophy is the prize given to the top team in football each year.????

            Let’s hope that, despite all our failings, through the mercy of God, we’re all saints in heaven some day, as our liturgy says: saints among the Saints! God bless you bob gorski! Hope you have a blessed Holy Week and Easter!

      • Patricia

        “I’m not relying on my own merits, as I have none, but I put my hope in Him who is goodness and holiness Himself.” – St. Therese of Lisieux. Ask Jesus for His help immediately, not just now, but each and every occasion or moment of temptation. Be willing to let Him do His good work in you!
        Additionally, you might wish to find your tendency to root sin and practice the opposing virtue. There is a great site to provide specific help:
        Strengthen your relationship with God by following the advice of St. Teresa of Avila. “Accustom yourself continually to make many acts of love, for they enkindle and melt the soul.”
        Hope these thoughts will encourage and strengthen you :-).

  • Charles Fisk

    I find it hard to believe that God is keeping a tally of our countless sins. As a father myself i hurt when my children mock me or reject me I’m my old age, but never once have I even thought of casting them from my side. If I can love them so how can God love his creation less?

    • Camila


      Think of it this way. You will die one day, and when that happen you will not be able to sin anymore. Think less in terms of putting a cap on God but think more on your mortality.

      In other words, as long as you live, you have access to mercy. The problem is twofold. First that final conversion too is a grace that we must not presume to have at the end of our lives. So, what is the best remedy? Turn your heart to God right now. Commit to a holy life of conversion, not tomorrow, not next week, now! Turn to God with your whole heart, soul, strength and mind, now, while you still have time. Then continue to grow in this conversion…

      Second, you don’t know the hour nor day of your death. It will come like a robber, remember? So the time to be ready is also, now. Today is the time of mercy.

      Does this help?

      • Charles Fisk

        My heart is with God. And i do go to confession frequently. However i have a problem when i read words like “fear the Lord” or that he keeps a count of our sins. Fear means be afraid of God. I am afraid of a criminal, of tripping in the dark. Fear should cause you to stay away not come close. I do not see the sentence “live in fear of God” specifically in the ten commandments or in the bible. I see hell and then it makes sense to fear going to hell for not loving him as he said he loved us. St John Paul said be not afraid. Why are these spiritual directions centered so much on fear it seems to me that they turn people away and do not inspire.

        • Dear Charles. These reflections from St. Alphonsus, a Doctor of the Church, are appropriate for Lent when the Church often draws our hearts to the last four things. Scripture and the catechism are repeat with references to the need and gift of the fear of the Lord. There is a balance and a spectrum of teaching on the topic. However, in our time, there is a problematic lack of teaching on this topic because of the fear of offense etc. The fact is, St. Alphosus’ teachings are in perfect harmony with scripture and tradition. If you dig into these teachings rather than recoiling based on feelings, you will find that they can and will elevate your soul to God.

  • jerseyerg

    This post smacks of Jansenism.

    • Dear Friend – thank you for your note. I would be grateful if you would provide a definition of what you understand as Jansenism. Blessings to you.

    • Camila

      No way! This post smacks, let me get to confession!

  • Funny – glad you caught that. This was my next note to you. Of course St. Alphonsus Ligouri is a doctor of the Church and, as you note, a great foe of Jansenism. I think you are on the right track…

  • LizEst

    Interesting point…still, only God knows the heart.

  • Pingback: SUNDAY EDITION -

  • LizEst

    God is kind and patient. He waits for us to turn to him. His patience is directed towards our salvation. At some point, though, we must give an accounting for the life He has given us. Yes, He does love us unconditionally. But, if we don’t love Him, He will not force himself on us. Where there is God, there is love, beauty, mercy, etc. Where there is not God, there is the absence of all that is good and beautiful and true. To emphasize the point, He will not force himself on us. He loves us too much to violate our free will, one of the ways in which we most image Him.

    • Is He iso kind that he will clobber us in the end ?? I believe everything the Cat, teaches and I have read it completely 2.5
      times, more pages than the Bible I believe. One thing I know is we will not find God in fear and confusion so we need not promote it. Not online or at the pulpit. If we believe in Gods love truly we would not feel the need to scare people …

      • So then Jesus was in error to preach and teach about hell?

        • You’ve said so??

          • You said, “One thing I know is we will not find God in fear and confusion so we need not promote it. Not online or at the pulpit. If we believe in Gods love truly we would not feel the need to scare people…” If what you say here is true, then Jesus was in error (with the exception of the confusion part) because he did preach about hell and did draw his people to properly fear what they should fear.

          • Here are a few passages in the Catechism that mention fear as an appropriate disposition toward God: 712,761, 781, 1041, 1303, 1432, 1453, 1754, 1769, 1831 The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. , 1949, 1964, 2084, 2090, 2144, 2149, 2150, 2217, 2606

          • What I said is true we will not find God in fear, Love knows not fear, And perfect Love cast out all fear!!

          • So was it wrong for Jesus to preach about things that caused fear, like hell? Is fear of God not a gift of the Holy Spirit?

          • For folks following this thread, I was in initially suspicious of Joe’s failure to answer direct, simple and charitable questions. As the FAQ and the moderation software states, we moderate almost all feedback. A few folks are “whitelisted” and can post any time because they have proven themselves to be faithful to the Church and charitable in their discourse. Last night, when no one was at the moderation wheel, Joe was trying to post and because he couldn’t, his true colors came to the surface. As well, because Joe was repeatedly posting the same things over and over, our spam filter automatically quarantined a number of his posts. Here’s a taste of what he sent my way – these were all sent individually along with other attempts to advance his point (which ran contrary to clear Church teaching):

            1) “Is someone deleting my post?? Why”

            2) “Dan why is my post deleted??”

            3) “Dan why are you trying to cover up abuse???”

            4) “Dan are you afraid of the truth?? If this is you who is deleting my message . it is sad. Poor excuse for Apologetic s shame on you!!”

            5) “Dan is playing God”

            6) “Dan why are you Deleting my message ,I rebuke you in the name of Jesus!!”

            7) “Dan now I can call you a liar!”

            8) “Dan you are a fraud!”

            9) “Dan is a fraud and a phony.”

            10) “dan is playing God, I have to warn him he is heading for destruction???”

            11) “Dan is deleting messages to make his discussion look different. Liar, Fraud”

            12) “Dan now I can call you a fraud!”

            Why reveal this? It is a great lesson in discussion and engaging with folks who are just looking to argue. When people in our lives or in social media won’t answer simple questions but continue to press a point, there is likely a problem. In the end, it is not a problem to wrestle with the truth. These passages are difficult. However, to dismiss a Doctor of the Church and clear passages from the Catechism and to avoid honest and charitable questions and discussion reveals that the person is not worth engaging with. Please pray for Joe.

          • Joe molligi

            Dan I still have yet to receive honest response to my questions??

          • Dear Joe – Commenting on this site is a privilege, not a right. You were blacklisted because you violated our combox policies. As well, you were belligerent to me personally. If you would like to review the FAQ and apologize and commit to a charitable dialogue rather than a debate, accusation etc., I would be happy to reinstate your privileges.

  • Dan why are you Deleting my message ,I rebuke you in the name of Jesus!! Take me off your list.

    • Joe – I am on the road at an event and no one is working moderation. Thanks for the accusation.

  • LizEst

    I can see where you are getting that. I think St. Alphonsus, Doctor of the Church, is making use of this language to make a point. He is saying that when we reach the end of our days, that will be it. And, if we have sinned mortally, without receiving absolution, without making a perfect act of contrition, there will be no more opportunity for repentance. That’s a fact. His point is simply: Don’t commit the mortal sin because you may die before you can confess it. Don’t commit the mortal sin thinking you have plenty of time to go to confession. Don’t do it! Just say no! Get thee to confession!

  • Michelle Marvian

    I think it’s important here that we have a proper understanding of what constitutes sin the first place. Also, it does evoke fear, but more in a “Getcha motor runnin…” type of way. A call to pray and make sacrifices for those who have not heard the message of mercy with their hearts.” Up until reading some of these, I have never had such a compassion for lost souls. Thanks Dan.

    Jesus’ also requests prayer for the dying, “By your prayers, obtain for them trust in My mercy, because they have most need of trust, and have it least. Be assured that the grace of eternal salvation for certain souls in their final moment depends on your prayer” (Diary 1777).

Skip to toolbar