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Friday, March 23, 2007

Sin, Scrupulosity, Fear and Lov

Lito had posted in his blog about Sean Hannity and Fr. Tom Euteneuer, the latter having publicly contradicted the former's heterodox notions about contraception. Lito had latched on to Fr. Tom's later statement (in another venue) that he was compelled to try and correct Mr. Hannity by his duty as a pastor, that to fail to even try would jeopardize his salvation. Lito and I had been going back and forth about justification by works (and Catholics do not advocate that this is by works alone), so I felt that I had to respond in order to head that off. Then Lito asked about mortal and venial sin:

All sins from my understanding are mortal as I think Jesus taught - for example he says to the Pharisees "to look at a woman to lust after her" is already tantamount to adultery so we sin in our thoughts, in our words and in or actions too. Would you agree to this characterization of sin? For example we do not love God and neighbor constantly so we are sinning mortally everyday.

This was my response. Not that everything that follows is spot on -- I am often guilty of hastily writing a response, particularly when I'm way past my bedtime (and the bread has probably gone past simply cooling down -- it is probably soaking by now -- in the bread pan). But Mark Shea's quip that no thought of his, "no matter how stupid, should ever go unpublished," is forever etched in my mind, so I wish to post my response to Lito for posterity:

I think the Catholic theology on mortal and venial sin is more .. rigidly organized. To constantly ask the question "is this mortally sinful or is it venially sinful only?" is not really the right attitude to sinfulness, but some people do fall into that. I have been known to drive myself crazy with scrupulosity, particularly when I was still in college.

BTW Cardinal O'Connor gives a good homily on that.

For me, scrupulosity loses out with love and trust: God's love and my trust in God's love more than any fear of God's judgment. It took a while for me to get here though, and scrupulosity can still rear its ugly head from time to time...

But as to sinning mortally everyday.. let's just say that we would disappoint God daily if not for His grace which, from time to time, manages to spur us into love. When we are called to regular confession, Catholics are urged to consider two things: God's love and our contrition. Love is superior to fear, but fear is not without its place. The fear of the Lord is of wisdom. Love of the Lord is at the end. Fear brings about imperfect contrition. Love spurs us into perfect contrition, with the right motive being that we would want more than anything to please the Lord because we love him. Now for those who would worry about mortal and venial sins.. I guess at a tender age with an immature level of faith, one would go through that stage when the Law is a set of rules; before one moves into the Law being a life of freedom written in our hearts. For those, I guess it is important to reassure them that, so and so are not serious acts of unrighteousness and so should not elicit an exaggerated dread of having lost Heaven, something which can harm one's faith -- the notion of God picking you apart for every transgression, the minor as much as the major. At the same time, it is important to be able to bluntly (sometimes necessary) point out to those with calloused consciences that so and so are serious sins which cry to Heaven for justice and must be dealt with appropriately. To do otherwise would also be harmful to the faith -- the notion that God does not care for the oppressed, does not expect justice in our actions.

There will always be people for whom the difference between mortal and venial, serious and minor trespasses, are relevant. To fail to distinguish them could be harmful to such people as they are still growing in their faith and righteousness.

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