Apologize and Don't Be Sorry!

A site dedicated to thinking through the common objections to the Catholic Faith as well as questions of a general religious nature.

Location: Prague, Oklahoma, United States

Just your basic 21st century priest trying to bring the Gospel to everyone who will give it a fair hearing.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Some Questions on Confession

This is part one of a two part article that I wrote for the diocesan newspaper. This article deals more directly with the nature of sin. The next article deals with the sacrament of Penance directly.

It is an interesting phenomenon to witness as a pastor. During Mass, when it is time for Communion, practically the entire assembly comes forward. During the week, I am available to hear confessions for about two hours. Few come forward to celebrate the forgiveness God desires to give. This dissonance is not unique to my parish. As I have traveled around the United States, pastors and parishioners alike describe this same scenario to me. There seems to be a serious confusion concerning the Sacrament of Penance. In addition, remaining faithful to the intention of this column, the sacrament of penance is a “hot button” issue for non-Catholics, right behind questions concerning the Pope, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the Holy Mass. To renew our celebration of the Sacrament (yes, priests have to go to confession), I want to address some fundamental questions surrounding the Sacrament. In this issue, the questions will revolve around the nature and effects of sin. Next issue, the questions will pertain more directly to the Sacrament of Penance.
What is Sin? Sin is a conscious choice that goes against the Law of God (CCC #1849). It can be an act committed, for example when we act against someone, or an act omitted when we had the power to act but chose not to.
Where Does Sin Come From? To find the origin of sin, we have to go back to the Garden of Eden. In the Garden, God created man to live in perfect harmony and justice. When Adam and Eve fell, they lost these special graces and found that their natures were profoundly wounded. Their intellects were darkened. Their wills for doing good were weakened. Death ended into human history.
The ultimate source of our sins is the Fall. The proximate source for our sins is improper attachment. We essentially attempt to love a created thing as though it were God (cf. CCC #1849).
Are All Sins the Same? In their nature, all sins are the same. They represent disobedience and a heart turned from following the will of the Father (CCC #1850). In another sense, they are all idolatry in that we treated a created, limited good as though it were the ultimate Good. However, in their malice and the gravity of the act, not all sins are the same (CCC #1854). St. John in one of his letters introduces this distinction. “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 (I John 5:16-17).” There are two degrees of sin: mortal and venial.
What Makes a Mortal Sin Mortal? The Church, through her teaching office, has determined that there are three conditions for mortal sin: 1.) the content of the act involves grave matter, 2.) the person had full knowledge of gravity of their act, and 3.) the person was acting with freedom (CCC #1857).
What Constitutes Grave Matter? We can find several sources to understand what is grave matter. Our first stop should be the 10 Commandments. Even though Christ has come to fulfill the Old Testament Law, it still retains force and meaning for Christians. Our next stop should take us to the Beatitudes as found in the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke. Pay especially close attention to St. Luke’s version. Running parallel to the declarations of blessings are a series of curses on those who do not follow the way of the Gospel. This sobering reminder directs us to see the import of our actions. Then we can take into account the Seven Capital Sins: Pride, Anger, Gluttony, Lust, Greed, Sloth, and Envy. We can think of these as dispositions at the heart of our sinful behavior. They represent the “why” of the wrongdoing in question. Lastly, we can find direction about grave matter from the Precepts of the Church. These precepts represent the most basic elements of what is required as an absolute minimum from Catholics. The Catechism gives a basic outline of these in paragraphs 2041-2046. Also, traditionally, the precepts assume that Catholics will follow the Church’s teaching and law concerning the sacraments of Confirmation and Marriage and will work to spread the Gospel through various apostolates.
Can Anything Compromise The Other Two Components of Mortal Sin? Paragraph #1860 covers this well. “Unintentional ignorance can diminish or even remove the imputability of a grave offense. But no one is deemed to be ignorant of the principles of the moral law, which are written in the conscience of every man. The promptings of feelings and passions can also diminish the voluntary and free character of the offense, as can external pressures or pathological disorders. Sin committed through malice, by deliberate choice of evil, is the gravest.” We all have a grave obligation therefore to form our consciences and our intellects in accord with God’s eternal law.
What Effects Does Sin Have? Mortal sin kills the life of grace in us (CCC #1855). Because the gravity and the consciousness that it entails, we turn backs on God. Because of this death in the soul, “a new initiative of God’s mercy and conversion of heart” (CCC #1856) is necessary to restore the person to communion with God. Venial sin spoils the life of grace in us without obliterating it. Venial sins weaken our resolve to be faithful to Christ and tempt us to commit mortal sin as well (CCC #1855).
Who Does Sin Harm? Sin harms my neighbor (cf. CCC #1849). It harms my neighbor when he is the target of my wrongdoing. It harms my neighbor through the building up of vices or through depriving others of grace that my virtuous acts could have brought. “In this solidarity with all men, living or dead, which is founded on the communion of saints, the least of our acts done in charity redounds to the profit of all. Every sin harms this communion (CCC #953). Sin harms me. Because sin deforms my choices, it leads to me to view evil as good and vice versa. As I submit to sin, I become more vicious and less virtuous. Sin harms God. Now, we need to be careful in how we understand this. Since God is immutable and unchangeable, He is beyond being hurt, in the sense of a change in His nature. However, when we sin, we obscure His Glory. Think of the many people who deny the existence of God because of the wrong others do. In another way, we can see how sin harms God when we reflect on our Lord’s Passion. As St. Thomas Aquinas reminds us, the Incarnation’s sole purpose is to make the Passion possible. While Jesus Christ is the second person of the Trinity, consubstantial with the Father and the Holy Spirit, through His human nature, He can undergo suffering and death for us (CCC #1850-51). This reveals the true horror of sin. God offered us life. In Adam and Eve we chose death. Jesus accepted our death and offers us new life, the life of Glory in and with the Most Holy Trinity. And we still choose death. When will we finally learn?


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