16 December 2013

Followup Questions: Too Sinful for Christmas?

[[Dear Sister, I know in your last post you don't say that mortal sin does not exist, but it sounds like you come dangerously close to doing so. If you are not merely being sneaky or dishonest in this, aren't you sugarcoating things for the person you answered? Do you believe in a sin which can be serious enough to deprive us of the friendship of God or not? ]]

Thanks for your questions. In my last post I was very careful to address misperceptions the term "mortal" could lead to and not to deny the reality of "mortal sin" itself. It is true I prefer the term grave sin to mortal sin, but that is not necessarily the same as denying the reality of it is it?  So to answer your question I must first point out not only what the Church generally teaches about the nature and effects of mortal sin, but also speak a little of the nature of friendship with God --- which is, of course, a relationship involving ourselves and God.

It is significant that in the CCC (Catechism of the Catholic Church) the entire section on sin begins with a discussion of the mercy of God. The mercy of God revealed (made known and made real among us in the Christ Event) clearly has priority in the discussion and the Church has actually chosen to cite St Paul at this point, "Where sin abounded (or increased) grace abounded all the more." (Rom 5:20) At this point the Church makes clear our own responsibility to cooperate with or receive grace, both to uncover sin and to move beyond it. She quotes John Paul II's comment on conversion and notes a double gift of grace: 1) to illumine our sinfulness and empower us to make a good conscience judgment in its regard, and 2) "the [objective] certainty of redemption."

I note all this because in the post which raised your questions the person I was addressing had clearly received grace in the first sense: that is, he knew his sin and the seriousness of it; he had repented and repented again and again. What he seemed to me to NOT be aware of was the second element JPII mentioned, the second element in Paul's statement in Romans, namely, the certainty of redemption --- the surety that wherever sin abounds, in Christ grace abounds all the more. This is something which detracted from allowing his acts of repentance being all they might have been and all they might have become or matured into. It is not sugarcoating the matter to emphasize there is another and even more critical element in the equation of divine-human friendship, or in the situation of human sin than the sin itself. The grace of God empowers awareness of sin; it allows us to stand outside sin to some extent in recognizing and claiming it. However it ALSO assures us that the power of God's love has conquered sin. Both dimensions must be present for us if we are to repent and move into the future created by that Love.

In other words, until the person I wrote to or any of us realize that our sense of sin and our remorse for that is also the fruit of God's grace and that God absolutely desires and does not cease trying to bring us even further than this we will be stuck in the rut of trying to change our own hearts, trying to pull ourselves out of the muck we have often fallen into --- all by our own power. We will confess and confess but never move beyond that sin. [I should say here that what may need serious healing is not guilt per se but the shame which can attach and likely has done in cases where we cannot accept forgiveness or "forgive ourselves''.] We must ALSO believe that God's love is freely given and that it and it alone is capable of bringing us further. When we believe in this unconditional gratuitous love we will begin to give that love room to operate and the more we give it room to operate the more we will come to believe in it and live in light of it. The focus of our lives has to change, however. We cannot be wholly mesmerized by our sinfulness; we must instead become entranced by the love of God and who we are in light of that. When that happens we will not only recognize and confess our sin, we will begin to experience more fully Christ's victory over sin gained by the mercy of God.

Let me also note that what we are told is that mortal sin deprives us of friendship with God. (Please note the CCC does NOT explain things in these terms.**) However, there are two ways of hearing that phrase, "deprives us of friendship with God." It can mean that we cease to be active partners in the friendship. It can also mean that God does, that he is so offended that he turns away from us until we grovel to him in abject misery. Finally it can refer to a mutual rejection of friendship. What my post to persons concerned with mortal sin said is that deprivation of friendship with God NEVER means that God rejects us; it never means that he withholds his love from us or that he ever ceases to think of us or call us to truly be his friends. God does not WAIT for us to find our way back. We cannot do that after all. He seeks us out in our sinfulness.

If it is anything Christmas proclaims it is this. That is one reason Luke's parable of the prodigal son is also the parable of the prodigal (extravagantly loving) Father --- the one who runs out against all custom and propriety to meet his younger son and welcome him home; the one who redefines repentance in terms of allowing oneself to be made Son/Daughter and feasted because of God's over-joyousness at our return. On the other hand, to no longer be in a state of grace means to no longer be one who lives from that grace. It means instead that we have taken something else to be the focus and foundation of our lives. We have journeyed to a far place alone and left the Father grieving, waiting, and watching the horizon for the slightest glimpse or hint of our return. It means that through our own actions we may well have lost or critically injured our own friendship WITH God but we have not lost the friendship OF God. This is the truth I believe in and I believe it completely.

** The CCC in par 1855 notes in explaining the gravity of mortal sin: [[Mortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God's law; it turns man away from God, who is his ultimate end and his beatitude, by preferring an inferior good to him.]] N.B., It does not say that God turns away from us, for instance, nor that he ceases to love us or offer us grace (his very life). In fact, in 1861 it notes that "although we can judge that an act is itself a grave offense, we must entrust judgment of persons to the justice and mercy of God." It is good to remember this in our own cases of grave  (or any) sin as well --- and likewise entrust ourselves to what the CCC refers to as the [objective] certainty of redemption.