I love it when we hear something we've heard many time as if it was the first time. Last year, I heard something that I had never heard before: “If anyone sees his brother sinning, if the sin is not deadly, he should pray to God and he will give him life. This is only for those whose sin is not deadly. There is such a thing as deadly sin, about which I do not say that you should pray. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is not deadly.” (1 John 5:16-17) For those of us who learned the difference between venial and mortal sins, does this reading ring any bells?
Of course, it's the Year of Mercy and so I've been thinking about mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation, so I thought it would be good to review reconciliation, the Sacrament. What do you remember about the Sacrament of Confession?
Let’s begin with that indelible mark or seal that we receive at Baptism (Read more about this here
.) This seal is permanent and we are cleansed from Original Sin.
But, if we are sealed permanently and cleansed from Original Sin, why then, do we continue sinning?
I think the most basic way to understand sin is as anything that gets in the way between me and God. But I like to think of sin as “falling short”. In fact, one of the Greek words used to mean sin, “hamartia” literally means “to miss the mark,” as in archery: to miss the target. When it comes to sin, this means that I am missing the mark, or falling short of who I am supposed to be. And because of that, I can’t be in full communion with God.
I love this analogy that we used in our Catechetical series for youth, In Your Faith
: Imagine that you just bought a new robot that will clean your house. Imagine that you spent a lot of money on it and you’re really excited about it. You spend the time putting it together and it’s perfect, except it won’t go backwards. Are you disappointed? Are you a bit upset? Does it “fall short” of your expectations for it? Do you want to send it back to the store?
It’s the same thing with sin. Except that with us, God won’t send us back to the store simply because we fall short of his design for us. He wants us to keep trying and keep striving for holiness.
But not all sin is the same; thus the passage from the first letter of St. John that I mentioned above. The Catholic Church calls some sin “venial sin” (that is not deadly, or doesn’t lead to death, to use St. John’s language) and other sin “mortal sin” (that is deadly).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that venial sin offends and wounds charity, whereas mortal sin destroys it (CCC#1855). It goes on to say:
“Mortal sin, by attacking the vital principle within us – that is, charity – necessitates a new initiative of God’s mercy and a conversion of heart which is normally accomplished within the setting of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.” (CCC#1856)
For a sin to be mortal, three conditions have to be met:
The object of the sin has to grave matter
It has to be committed with full knowledge
It has to be committed with deliberate consent. (CCC#1857)
Venial sin, on the other hand, occurs when the matter is not grave, and/or when the above is committed without full knowledge or understanding and not deliberately or without complete consent (CCC#1862).
The Catechism continues:
“Deliberate and un-repented venial sin disposes us little by little to commit mortal sin. However venial sin does not break the covenant with God. With God’s grace it is humanly reparable. “Venial sin does not deprive the sinner of sanctifying grace, friendship with God, charity, and consequently eternal happiness.” (CCC#1863)
I guess that’s why St. John tells his readers that some sin (venial) can be repaired through prayer. But he is clear to state that not all sin can be repaired with just prayer. He means “mortal sin”, sin that is deadly or leads to death.
Another way to see it is this: Think of an "offense" you may have done against a friend. Let's say you missed an appointment. Perhaps all you need to do to "repair" the "damage" is send her a quick text or maybe make a phone call. But, after missing three appointments with the same friend (or maybe a more serious offense), a text message won't be enough to repair the damage. A phone call may not do it either. You may have to reconcile face-to-face.
Venial sin is that which can be repaired with a quick text message. Mortal sin, on the other hand, has to be repaired face-to-face.
Let’s now get back to where we began: If we are cleansed from sin at baptism, why do we continue sinning?
The answer is simple: Because our human nature remains wounded after baptism. Even though Original Sin is removed, the effects of sin are not. This is why we have a tendency to sin. The Church calls this “tendency to sin,” concupiscence.
Let’s use another analogy: Imagine tasting chocolate for the first time and you like it, so you want more. It’s the same with sin: Because we already tasted sin, we want more.
In order to fix these disordered appetites, we need Grace and that’s why we need the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Come back next week
so we can see exactly how the Sacrament of Reconciliation works.
This is Part 1 of a three-part series. Read Part 2 and Part 3.
CNS photo/Kacper Pempel , Reuters
Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching:firstname.lastname@example.org