As I continued to reflect on the 'examination of conscience' post from yesterday, a quote from Merton's New Seeds of Contemplation came to mind. This happens often; the book had an early and deep influence on my Christianity.
"Everything you love for its own sake, outside of God alone, blinds your intellect and destroys your judgment of moral values. It vitiates your choices so that you cannot clearly distinguish good from evil and you do not truly know God's will." (203)
The problem with being a sinner isn't just that sin offends God, or that by our sins we not only insist on our own misery but also inflict that misery on each other. Each and every sinful act we commit also deforms our mind and imagination. Every evil or detracting word forms and reinforces both interior and exterior speech in uncharity. Every unchaste movement to which we consent deforms our ability to see other creatures as God made them. Every self-indulgent act reinforces our taste for whatever it is.
The sinner must recognize and admit that because of sin, he or she can't think straight. Though we are made free and clean from original sin in baptism, the wounds of sin still fester in our bodies, minds, and personalities. To know oneself as a sinner is also to admit that all of our reflections and thoughts are also so tainted.
This is the beginning of humility: to recognize that, because of my sins, even my judgments, reflections, and discernments are not entirely trustworthy. I don't see things for what they really are because I have refused to do so by attachment to my sins. I don't know everything, I don't have the sense to say something about a lot of things, and I'm certainly not fit to direct myself in the spiritual life.
Whenever we notice that we are giving ourselves every benefit of the doubt and excuse for our failures and sins, but doing no such thing for others, we can remember that it's time to get back to this beginning of humility.