Thursday, September 9, 2010

What I Love About Catholicism: Defining Mortal and Venial Sin #Catholic

This is an area that has taken me at least two years to comprehend since returning the the Catholic Church.

When I was involved within the non-denominational churches, sin was spoken of but almost in passing, as though I was a sinner, involved in sin, but now that I had accepted that Jesus Christ had forgiven my sins, I was absolved. The forgiveness seemed to be extended into my daily life, and never did I hear from the pulpit that I was to engage in a daily examination of my conscience, my actions, and my choices.

When I would read such verses as Romans 7:14-21, the meaning didn't hit me full force. (emphasis mine)

We know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. So then it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. (RSV)

Within the non-denominational church, there is a different understanding of grace. It struck me that it was more comprehensive, more lofty and generous, almost like a soft blanket wrapped around me. I knew it was through God's grace that I was saved. But it wasn't emphasized that only by God's grace was I still alive, still being given the opportunity to please Him and live in obedience to His Word. I didn't comprehend the severity of it.

Only by returning the the Catholic Church and examining the Sacrament of Confession am I finally starting to understand. Because you see, only by understanding the depth of my sin can I fully appreciate the grace that is given through Confession. It is only by asking God to show me the truth of mortal sin that I can begin to understand the depth of my own sinfulness; and how wily my flesh is in trying to deny it.

I used to think "sin is sin." I didn't understand why the Catholic Church emphasized that there are two different types of sin, mortal and venial. Let's define mortal:

In order for a sin to be mortal, it must meet three conditions:

1. Mortal sin is a sin of grave matter
2. Mortal sin is committed with full knowledge of the sinner
3. Mortal sin is committed with deliberate consent of the sinner

Now this will set you back on your heels once you start to think about it. How often have I deliberately done something that I knew was not pleasing to my heavenly Father, but I did it anyway because I wanted to? And how often did I justify it by thinking, "It's no big deal. I'm not perfect. I'm a project under construction." Many, many times. More times than I want to admit.

What happens when you recognize this? When you suddenly realize that each time you deliberately reject God's love and mercy, you are wounding His heart? When you realize that you are jeopardizing your own soul for a few moments of cheap thrills or the venting of emotions to achieve some sense of power and control?

I am now realizing how many times I have committed mortal sin. This thought is both frightening and sad, with a bit of indignation thrown in that very few churches "get it" when discussing sin -- or rather, dodging any serious discussion of it. I attended many churches where the primary objective was to "feel good" about oneself. We are loved. We are cherished. We have a destiny, a purpose. But the flipside that St. Paul spoke of in Romans is not visited too often. It's far too uncomfortable. Convicting. Frightening.

Venial sin is slight sin. If I deliberately got drunk so that I killed someone, that would be a grave matter, a mortal sin. But if I deliberately got drunk and told my neighbor what I really thought of them in uncharitable terms, that would be venial. (At least from what I understand so far.) Venial sins still damage my relationship with God and need to be forgiven.

The point about mortal sin is this: I must know that it is sin and then still decide to do it anyway. Sin separates us from God and that is what I need to focus upon. I am deliberately making light of the sacrifice He made when He gave His Son to the world for the forgiveness of sin because of my self-centeredness.

My fellow Catholic blogger, "Cathy of Alex" wrote about her own intense conviction of her sin, to the point where she was frantic about being able to find a parish to go to confession and receive the sacrament. I know some would read that and roll their eyes, thinking this is one Catholic who went a little overboard with their devotions. But when you start to get serious about God, and start seeking Him within the Sacraments; you begin to understand why the Catholic Church is so serious about sin. Because it is serious. And when it comes to our souls, no one looks out for you like the Catholic Church.


Charisms on Campus said...

WOW!! This is such an amazing and enlightening post! I too am a returned Catholic and I am now teaching myself all the ins and outs of the Church...why we do what we do, especially in the sacraments, and I have learned so much...such a richness and depth to Christianity I never experienced anywhere else.

I never thought of sin in these terms, but your post really has given me extra food for thought on my journey through the "Confession" topic which has been weighing heavily on my heart lately.

May God bless you always!

Mary Rose said...

Charisms, thanks for visiting! I also added you to my "Catholic Thought" blogroll. Congratulations on your return the the Catholic Church and your own journey. It sounds like you're on the right track. I'm with you as I rediscover the beauty and truth of our faith!

Sin is never easy to examine, but with Truth by our side, Jesus Christ, we can joyfully say that there is hope and freedom. No longer slaves of sin, we have been set free! But to experience the resurrection, we must first experience the Cross. Too often I've wanted to bypass that part.

Hugs to you, a fellow sister in Christ! :-)

Rachel said...

Well said, Mary Rose!

The Sacrament of Confession emphasizes, not just that God forgives me my sins, but that He forgives this *particular* sin, and *that* one, and that repenting of them means resolving not to commit them again. To me it feels like the meaning of sin and the price of forgiveness are all cut open and exposed, made clear and understandable and unavoidable.

When I was Protestant it was fuzzy. I would tell God, "I'm sorry," whenever I felt guilty, but I'd hold off on firmly deciding within myself whether the thing I was repenting was really a sin-- which meant I'd likely do it again as soon as I felt tempted to do so. Anyway, I was taught once-saved-always-saved and that all my sins, past and future, had been forgiven once and for all when I first prayed the sinner's prayer-- so nothing actually *happened* at the moment I said "I'm sorry" to God, except perhaps a change within me.

The effect of all this was that I lacked sufficient motivation to overcome certain serious sins, and I was distanced from God by vague guilt that my religion never forced me to resolve. But I prayed to God for help, and He answered the prayer and transformed my life by making me Catholic.