We are beginning the 4th week of Lent, and it may be helpful to review briefly some matters of repentance. Last week we listed a few basic items: the precepts (positive laws) of the Church, the Virtues cardinal and theological, and the Works of Mercy, corporal and spiritual.
No one likes to be reminded of his sins, least of all me. But that is what Lent is all about. “During the period from Septuagesima to Ash Wednesday , the liturgy speaks … [of] the misery of fallen humanity – the fatal consequences of original sin and actual sin…”. (1962 Daily Missal) During Lent proper, we have the “twofold theme of repentance and baptism … [the faithful] should be advised particularly to approach the sacrament of penance (“confession” – TC) during Lent, in accordance with the law and tradition of the Church, so that they may share in the joys of Easter Sunday with purity of heart.” (Daily Roman Missal, 3rd Edition)
Both the 1962 Missal and the 3rd Ed. Roman Missal present more or less the same material, and all of the material is found in Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) para. 1852-1876. I have, therefore, cribbed from all of these sources. As with last week, this is simply in laundry list format: the point is simply to review, and to get us thinking. Et nunc, amici amicaeque: peccata, crimina et vitia: offenses, faults, crimes, sins.
First, sins vary in their severity. This is common sense.
Venial sin occurs “when, in a less serious manner, one does not observe the standard prescribed by the moral law, or when he disobeys the moral law in a grave matter, but without full knowledge or without complete consent. … it impedes the soul’s progress in the exercise of the virtues … it merits temporal punishment. However, it does not break the covenant with God.” As a first approximation, one who dies in a state of venial sin only in all likelihood winds up in purgatory (CCC 1031-1033). This is not to say that venial sins are trivial, they are not. “Deliberate and unrepented venial sin disposes us little by little to commit mortal sin.” (CCC 1863)
Mortal sin occurs when three conditions are met (CCC 1858-1860).
- Grave matter: the gravity of sins vary, “murder is graver than theft … violence against parents is graver than violence against a stranger”, but all are grave matters.
- Full knowledge and (3) complete consent: “it presupposes knowledge full knowledge of the sinfulness of the act … it implies a consent sufficiently deliberate to be a personal choice. (Noto bene:) Feigned ignorance and hardness of heart do not diminish, but rather increase, the voluntary character of the sin.”
“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… Sin committed through malice, by deliberate choice of evil, is the gravest.”
The bottom line here is this:
“To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him forever by our own free choice… Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, ‘eternal fire.’” (CCC #1033, 1035)
How are sins categorized? Church tradition has various ways. “Capital Sins are listed by the virtues they oppose. They are called “capital” because they engender other sins and vices.” They are often listed with the “virtue opposed” because working to develop the virtue can help crush the sin. I’ll list them as:
Capital Sin/Virtue Opposed (These are also known as the Seven Deadly Sins):
Then there are the Sins against the Holy Spirit. “There are,” the CCC (1864) says, “no limits to the mercy of God, but anyone who deliberately refuses to accept His mercy by repenting, rejects the forgiveness of his sins and the salvation offered by the Holy Spirit. Such hardness of heart can lead to final impenitence and eternal loss … In this sense, the sins against the Holy Spirit cannot be forgiven.”
Traditionally (e.g. the 1962 Missal), the Sins against the Holy Spirit are listed thusly:
Presumption upon God’s mercy
Impugning the known truth
Envy of another’s spiritual good
Obstinacy in sin
Finally, we have the Sins that Cry Out to Heaven for Vengeance:
The sin of Sodom
Oppression of the poor
Defrauding laborers of their wages
None of us, least of all me, is without sin. But it is necessary, in these confused and poisoned times, to point out what should be obvious: that all of us have proclivities, inborn or otherwise, to various types of sins, and that these proclivities can be, sometimes, quite strong. I may have a proclivity to lust. You may have a proclivity to despair. He may have a proclivity to the sin of Sodom. She might want to cheat her employees. These things are, the Church teaches, long term fallout from The Fall. But note very well: proclivities do not in and of themselves make us sinners. Indeed, heroic resistance of these temptation(s) might make us great saints. It is when we act on the desire that it becomes sin. Temptation, in and of itself, is not sin. This should be a simple distinction to understand, but these days it is often (willfully?) ignored or (deliberately?) distorted.
So, go to Confession. And, when you fall back into sin, go back to Confession.