“If anyone sees his brother sinning, if the sin is not deadly, he should pray to God and he will give me 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 Jn 5: 16,17
This passage teaches us about mortal and venial sins. St. John the Apostle instructs us that praying for those whose sins are mortal has no affect. This is because mortal sin can only be removed by sacramental confession. This begs the question: What is a mortal sin that I may avoid it?
The time-honored Baltimore Catechism definition is helpful. It defines mortal sin as any act that is: serious in nature; committed with sufficient reflection; committed with consent of the will.
Sufficient reflection means that we know the action in question is wrong, and we consent fully to it. Please note that all sin is serious because it “harms” the bond of charity with God and neighbor; however, mortal sin “breaks” that bond of charity with God and neighbor. These three criteria do not always clarify mortal sins in every case — sometimes there can still be questions; nevertheless, it provides a good guide for the believer and confessor. The Ten Commandments provides a good list of the kinds of behaviors that directly destroys the bonds of charity between the actor and God/neighbor.
Venial sin may not destroy the bond of charity, but does harm it; therefore, we must avoid taking venial sins lightly. As one priest put it, “It’s only the second greatest evil in the entire universe!” One of the characteristics that is striking about the lives of the saints is how disturbed they were at even the slightest of sins. The saints abhorred offending God, and would exclaim that they would rather die than commit a sin. This is the kind of love we need to foster in ourselves.
Jesus taught us about the Beatitudes — he revealed what most pleases the Father. He wants us to hunger and thirst for righteousness, so that he can satisfy us, and promises those who are pure in heart shall see God. A pure heart is one which the love of God so infuses that its desires are for God alone.
Next Issue: The Four Temperaments (Part 1).