and HOLY CONFESSION
Antidote of Death”
First, Mortal Sin ...
excuses are numberless. In fact, they are as
numberless as our sins, none of which are now
deemed by us (and, for sorrow, by many priests)
grievous enough to preclude our receiving the
Body and Blood of Jesus Christ in Holy Communion.
Most often they are reducible simply to this:
have not committed any mortal sin”.
For Catholics who have never been taught the
difference between Mortal and Venial
sin — which is to say, the entire last generation
of Catholics — we must be clear about the notion
of sin — especially the distinction between
two kinds of sin, before we can proceed to even
understand the necessity, as well as the inestimable
value of Holy Confession.
Only one analogy suffices to make this distinction
clear in a way that is particularly accessible
to Western society (I do not say
for that has ceased). Let us look at the matter
somatically, that is to say, through our bodies,
or more likely than not, the bodies of others
upon which we are, in one way or another, sexually
fixated. Perhaps this will provide a visual
cue, some imaginative element, to an otherwise
The distinction between a Mortal Sin and
a Venial Sin is akin to the difference between
a minor wound ... and death. Is that succinct
enough? Are you still unclear about the difference?
In other words, you may accumulate many minor
wounds and still live, although each is an impediment
to your health and, while small, if left unattended,
may yet contribute to something more serious,
something more debilitating. It is a small laceration
... awaiting infection.
Mortal wounds, on the other hand, may be many,
but any one of them
alone will bring you to death. It is not the
case that, inflicted with a mortal wound, you
may die —the wound
precisely because as a consequence of it, you
in fact do die. We
most often understand a mortal wound in a posthumous
context, that is to say, in the past tense:
the person is already dead, and that
is why his injury was called
It is of the nature of wounds that they are
either the one or the other, although the
non-mortal wound may be sufficiently grievous
to cause lasting deformity or mutilation even
if it does not culminate in death.
Physics, Bodies, and Bullets
we wish to avoid both, but failing this we immediately
tend the wound, see a physician, and apply the
recommended remedy. The medicine may be bitter,
or the therapy arduous, but we do not curse
the doctor for that, still less the laws of
physics brought to bear upon human anatomy,
in the way, say, of projectiles and the like.
Bullets do those things. We do not like
it, and we would that bullets behaved otherwise,
but the reality is that, however regrettable
the result, we cannot, for that reason, alter
the path of the bullet nor make it less fatal
to the body. The consequences of this unfortunate
concatenation of events are not within our will
to change. I believe that we will all agree
on this. We may argue that the bullet ought
not have been shot, but having been shot
we understand the inevitability of the result
given laws inherent in physics, bodies and bullets.
That the trajectory of a projectile corresponds
to a given amount of energy expended over a
given distance — and intersected by the human
tegument through which it subsequently passes
causing death, is a terrible occurrence to be
sure, but not one, in and of itself, that we
are likely to imprecate. We do not rage against
the laws of physics. Indeed, we would find such
indignation ... odd, to say nothing of futile.
The laws inherent in physics and the constitution
of the human body, are simply not amenable to
our will, and we recognize this. We do not despair
over it, but become terribly practical given
this recognition: we avoid bullets. However
great our outrage, we will not find a sane individual
standing long in disputation against it ...
The reality we wish to avoid — the
reality avoided at all costs at the pulpit
— is that Mortal Sin is deadly. You
die as a result of it.
Oh, not to yourself, and certainly not to the
world. You will breathe and move and the world
will applaud your posthumous existence. But
you die to God — your life in God ceases. The
fact as little pleases us as it pleases our
preachers — sin has real, most often empirical
and always inevitable consequences.
The ability of sin to harm, and yes, even kill,
is as real and as indifferent to our wishes
as the laws of physics that impinge on our bodies.
In our post-enlightened, post-modern pretension
to sophistication, we frankly find such a notion
abhorrent to our effete sensitivities ...
social sensitivities that we have so delicately
honed upon the touchstone of correctitude.
On the one hand, we morally concede to the correlation
between crime and punishment — and
deem it “just” — but somehow never quite attain
to any legitimate correspondence between sin
and condemnation on the other. We attenuate
our clemency in the courts of men, given the
gravity of the crime, but do not attain to that
same rigor in the tribunal of sin ... given
the gravity of the sin. There are, apparently,
no capital offenses in the City of God, even
as they abound in the City of Man. A mortal
life is held to be forfeit for a crime, but
life immortal is not held forfeit for a sin.
It is an odd state of affairs that few of us
believe that we can abolish crime, while most
of us appear to believe that we have virtually
Crime, of course can
in fact be abolished.
It is simplicity itself. Legitimize
what is criminal. Account nothing a crime and
you abolish the notion of crime itself — even
as you leave the consequences intact.
that is absurd!”,
In very deed ...
A cursory review of civil legislation over the
past 30 years reveals that, not only is it not
absurd, but attains to policy:
Sexual Deviance (homosexuality,
Prostitution (England, Scotland,
Canada, Australia, New Zealand,
Thailand, Philippines, offhand)
Few of us, I assume, would seek recourse to
such a solution and for good reason. Legitimizing
crime does not indemnify us against it — however
much we hold ourselves to have abolished it.
We can say as much of sin.
In fact, we have said as much. Unlike the immediate
consequences of crime, the consequences of sin
— even temporally — are often deferred, less
immediate ... and because we apprehend them
as remote, as distant, as impending only, we
dismiss them, for we fail to immediately see
the terrible consequences they entail, consequences
so terrible, so far-reaching, so much beyond
our ken, that they have become effectively mythical,
brooding like demons on some distant bourne
that we obscurely perceive and never quite forget;
an escarpment lost in light and shadow where
life quite suddenly drops off that abrupt precipice
to death. We know it ... because we know that
we dance on the dead.
now, Holy Confession ...
am about to state something with which you are
likely to disagree, and for good reason:
parish Church is the holiest in all of Christendom;
not just in the Archdiocese of Boston, but
in all Massachusetts; very likely all New
England — perhaps even the entire world.
You will disagree.
In fact, you know your own Catholic
parish to be the holiest, perhaps the most sinless
parish in the world, and we will both appeal
to the same reasons for making this remarkable
statement: during Holy Communion the pews
are literally emptied.
There is not a sinner among us; at least no
sinner guilty of Mortal Sin which prevents
our going to Holy Communion, since
— as all Catholics know — we add the tremendous
sin of sacrilege to
whatever mortal sin we carry if we receive Holy
Communion while not in a state of grace — which
is to say, free of mortal sin.
But as I ponder the empty pews, the stigma of
being the sole sinner in the parish weighs heavily
upon me as many look askance at my kneeling
while all others scramble to make their way
to communion — I at least wonder. Do Catholics,
do all Catholics, do most Catholics,
do at least some Catholics, even
know what a mortal sin is any more? Do
they know the difference between a mortal
sin that sunders the soul from God, and
a venial sin that merely impedes its
union with God?
Since the entire congregation have had at least
8 years of
Catechism, or Religious Education —
8 to 10 years, mind you! — surely
so simple, so basic, so fundamental a concept
as the difference between serious sin and sins
far less grievous in nature, is clearly apprehensible.
A very ready analogy may be to the point: in
the civic world, all of us know (probably because
the penalty is clearly comprehended, immediate
and forthcoming) the difference between grievously
unlawful, or capital offenses
such as murder and grand larceny, and
misdemeanors, like receiving a speeding
ticket or maliciously destroying a neighbor’s
property. It is a no-brainer. We do not think
twice, or rather, we do
think twice in a given situation about the sanctions
and penalties involved. It is, we are told,
the means by which we maintain a
a mutually responsible, society.
We acknowledge the concept of justice and understand
very clearly why it is maintained and what penalties
are incurred if it is violated. We have no problem
with that. After all, the law is not some gratuitous
abstraction, and you are a fool if you think
that you can trifle with it and walk away. If
the breach is serious enough you are clapped
in irons, removed from the community, and deprived
of your liberty until justice has exacted its
tribute, until you have
your debt to society”.
By and large we are grateful for the severity
of the law, even as its rigors make us uneasy.
but for the grace of God, go I ...”
We all recognize that our own behavior has not
always been unimpeachable ... if not clearly
actionable. We do not personally legislate
parallel laws that contravene the laws
of the state and hold, at any point of divergence,
the private interpretation of the
law to abrogate the public law. It
is the opposite which is true. We may find the
laws of the state repugnant to us, unamenable
to our own inclinations, even contrary to our
own convictions — in which case we are confronted
with three clearly distinguishable alternatives:
we can absent ourselves from the polity and
choose to live elsewhere under a constitution
that more closely corresponds with our desiderations
and convictions, if such exists; we can continue
to enjoy the collateral benefits in the present
state that constrains us to abide by the laws
through which it is defined and by which it
is governed — or, we can seek to amend the law
through the venues afforded us by the state.
What we cannot do is to enjoy the prerogatives
of the state while either acting in defiance
of it, or while subverting it. We understand
this, and in fact underwrite it through maintaining
our citizenship within it. We understand this
broadly as a
In any event, we cannot construct a private
and parallel universe of statutes and anticipate
that the public universe of affairs will recognize,
respect, and honor our privately legislated
laws. If we choose to abide only by those laws
of the state that we do not find disagreeable
to us we have not attained to personal freedom,
but to arbitrary license; not to civility, but
to anarchy. We become both legislator and law.
In such a solipsistic
the legislature and the corpus of law are as
numerous as the individuals legislating them.
Well and good.
But what of God' S Law?
Why, we must ask ourselves, is God’s
Law somehow less important, less pertinent
to our behavior? Why does it have less bearing
upon our responsibilities and our choices —
and, most especially — within Church? Is the
Divine Law, are the laws of the Church, no more
than pious and ultimately indolent sentiments
— rather than clearly articulated precepts with
very real corresponding sanctions and responsibilities
— in other words, coherent laws?
Do we give tribute to Caesar but withhold it
from God? Is the Fasces mightier than the Cross?
We are indeed a generation which had been nurtured
on defiance to authority — only seeing now,
in our own children, the fruit of that unbridled
defiance which we nurtured in them even as we
Our children were ... "independent”
... not defiant, and we were proud — until we
began to detoxify them, to rehabilitate their
behavior, to trade notes with our neighbors
And our kids still get the keys to the car,
no matter how grievous their transgression ...
their money for the mall — just as we still
get Holy Communion, no matter how grievous our
offenses against God. We are as blind to our
sins as we have made our children blind to their
own. After all, a
and does not descend to
such as punishing the child, no? And
if we are such
parents — how much
God? Surely, there is no sin, no offense so
grievous, or so trite, as to offend Him ...
nothing we can ever do or say such
that we would ever forfeit our
not to the keys of the car but to the Kingdom
of God, through the Bread of Angels ... Holy
Communion — that you as arrogantly insist is
as much your right as the keys to the
Still pondering the empty pews, it would seem
so. Perhaps it is the case that
all the parishioners are in fact guiltless of
civil crime, however petty (for these, too,
are the stuff of Holy Confession) — as well
The truly defining question appears to be this:
to whom, we must genuinely ask ourselves, do
we owe more — to God or man? To the City of
God or to the City of Man?
On your blithe way to Holy Communion, ponder
this — especially given the ultimate
sanction placed before us by no
less an authority than Saint Paul:
shall eat this bread or drink the chalice of
the Lord unworthily, shall be
guilty of the Body and of the Blood of the Lord.”
... are you prepared to add sacrilege
to your your sins?
Or has the notion of sacrilege itself
gone the way of mortal sin ... also?
Go to Confession. You must go. It is
the only antidote of Mortal Sin, and thus the
antidote of death.
Geoffrey K. Mondello
Boston Catholic Journal
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to the Sacred Deposit
of Faith entrusted to the Holy
See in Rome
opera tua ... quia modicum habes
virtutem, et servasti verbum Meum,
nec non negasti Nomen Meum”
know your works ... that you have
but little power, and yet you have
kept My word, and have not denied
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