God is able to look into the hearts of all to see their motivation

CATECHETICAL CORNER

Our Question of the Week:

We/I think the Catholic notion of mortal and venial sin is flawed. All sin is serious, and since it offends God, it is an infinite offense. The Catholic distinction leads to ignoring many sins and only focusing on some. All sin is a grave offense against God.

Answer: It should be first noted the  distinction between mortal and venial sin is found in Scripture. The 1st Letter of John says, “There is such a thing as deadly sin….All  wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is not deadly.” (1 Jn 5:16-17). It also stands to reason that there are some sins that are more serious than others. Premediated murder is certainly more serious than an act of careless gossip. As for every sin being an infinite offense because it offends God, that is a colorful way of speaking that contains a kernel of truth but leaves too many distinctions behind.

That God is dishonored by our sin certainly does elevate the magnitude of what we do. However, not everyone committing a sin seeks to directly offend God. Sometimes sins are committed in weakness, sometimes through forgetfulness, etc. And these sorts of things are not a direct attempt to dishonor God. God is just, so it does not follow that He would treat every offense as am “infinite offense.” Neither is God one who broods over personal injury, while sin does “harm” God’s external toll or dishonor his internal glory, such that he would be robbed of beatitude. Further, God is able to look into the hearts of all to see their motivation, and judge what they could reasonably know. Surely then God awards and punishes in ways commensurate with what is done and does not consign all sin to the category of infinite offense.

As for your concern that distinguishing mortal and venial sins might lead us to make light of too many things, that is a danger. But the abuse of something does not take away proper use. Certain things are more serious than others. But it does not follow that this means we ought not to pay attention to lesser things.

Pastoral Answers: Monsignor Charles Pope (Our Sunday Visitor)

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