and HOLY CONFESSION
Antidote of Death”
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:
“I 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 “civilization,”
for that has ceased). Let us look at the matter
somatically, or, 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-dealing blow.
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,
of them alone will bring you to death. It
is not the case that, inflicted with a mortal
die —the wound is called “mortal” precisely
because, as a consequence of it, you in fact
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
The reality we wish to avoid — the reality
avoided at all costs at the pulpit
— is that Mortal Sin is deadly. You
as a result of it. 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
in fact be abolished.
“How?” you ask.
It is simplicity itself.
what is criminal. Account nothing a crime and
you abolish the notion of crime itself — even
as you leave the consequences intact.
“But that is absurd!”, you exclaim.
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
Sexual Deviance (homosexuality,
lesbianism, transsexualism, transgenderism)
Cohabitation (Living together unmarried,
and in fornication
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.
And now, Holy
will now 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
since — as Catholics should know — we add the
tremendous sin of
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 anymore? 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
eight years of
Catechism, or Religious Education
— eight to ten 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
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 understand that there are sanctions and penalties
involved with such behavior. It is, we are told,
the means by which we maintain a “civil”, 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 “paid your debt to society.”
By and large we are grateful for the severity
of the law, even as its rigors make us uneasy.
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.
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 “pledge
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 “society” the legislature
and the corpus of law are as numerous as the
individuals legislating them.
Well and good.
But what of
Why, we must ask ourselves, is
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
Do we give tribute to Caesar but withhold it
from God? Is the Fasces mightier than
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
pretended to “deplore it.” 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 on “good analysts.” 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 “good parent” “spares the rod” and does
not descend to “primitive behavior” such as
punishing the child, no? And if we are
such “good” parents — how much “better” God?
Surely, there is no sin, no offense so grievous,
or so trite, as to offend Him ...
we can ever do or say such that we would ever
forfeit our “right,” 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
as the keys to the car ...
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
“Whosoever shall eat this bread
or drink the chalice of the Lord
shall be guilty of the Body and
of the Blood of the Lord.”
(I Cor. 11:27)
... are you prepared to add
to your sins?
Or has the notion of
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”. St. Ignatius of Antioch
Geoffrey K. Mondello
Boston Catholic Journal
Printable PDF Version
To the Editor:
read ‘Mortal Sin and Holy Confession’. Another
great reminder of what it means to be an
orthodox Roman Catholic. I to, hope the
empty pews can only mean that all who are
receiving the Body and Blood of Christ are
knowledgeable enough to know the difference
between being in the state of grace and
not being in the state of grace. I fear,
like you, that our Vat II Catholic Church
has miserably defeated its own purpose by
not helping us to know the difference. I
can only thank the good Lord that I was
privileged to have a true Catholic education
for 16 years and pray that I remember all
that I was taught, Deo Volente, and
I'm sure He is.
Keep up your encouraging work. Those of
us in the trenches out here depend on your
words of instruction and encouragement.”
I agree with you about the lamentable state
into which our Holy Mother the Church has
been brought — and not so recently. It has
been metastasizing like an aggressive cancer
spreading to every tissue in every part
of the Church, the Body of Christ — and
it appears that very, very, few will call
it out for what it has undeniably been,
the state of denial in which it is in, in
and what it is becoming. You may find the
following article interesting in this regard,
Subsequent generations, I am convinced,
will look back upon these grim years with
not just sadness, but revulsion — and sorrow
at the calculated loss of Faith by through
so many who refused to pass it on (L.
tradere), and at what cost to so many
unfortunate souls? I will no man perdition,
but I fear that very many are deserving
of it … who have chosen the “wide and easy
way.” However much they are admonished,
they persist. The word “stupid” derives
from the Latin “Stupidus:” to be
struck, as with the hand, and made senseless.
Regrettably, this is the cause, not the
There is a cure for sin called
Sanctifying Grace. But there is no cure
Boston Catholic Journal
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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