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The Reality of Sin and Trust in God's Mercy

Publish Date: April 14, 2016

We cannot  speak about  life in Christ or the moral life without acknowledging the reality of sin, our own sinfulness, and our need for God’s mercy. When the existence of sin is denied it can result in spiritual  and psychological  damage because it is ultimately  a denial of the truth  about  ourselves. Admitting  the reality of sin helps us to be truthful and opens us to the healing that comes from Christ’s redemptive  act.

Sin is an offense against  reason,  truth,  and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor  caused by a perverse attachment to certain  goods.  It wounds  the nature  of man  and  injures  human  solidar- ity.  It  has  been  defined  as  “an  utterance, a deed,  or  a desire  contrary to  the  eternal law.”  (CCC,  no. 1849,  citing St. Augustine, Contra Faustum,  no. 22)

Thus, by its very definition, sin is understood as an offense against God as well as neighbor  and therefore  wrong. Sins are evaluated  according  to their gravity or seriousness. We commit mortal sin when we consciously and freely choose to do something  grave against the divine law and contrary to our final destiny.

There are three conditions for a sin to be a mortal  sin: grave matter,  full knowledge,  and deliberate  consent (freedom). Mortal sin destroys the loving relationship with God that we need for eternal happiness.  If not repented,  it results in a loss of love and God’s grace and merits eternal punishment in hell, that is, exclusion from the Kingdom of God and thus eternal death.

A venial sin is a departure from the moral order in a less serious matter. “All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is not deadly” (1 Jn 5:17). Though  venial sin does not completely destroy the love we need for eternal happiness,  it weakens that love and impedes our progress in the practice of virtue and the moral good. Thus, over time, it can have serious consequences. “Deliberate and unrepented venial sin disposes us little by little to commit mortal  sin” (CCC, no. 1863).

In considering  sin we must always remember that God is rich in mercy. “Where  sin increased, grace overflowed all the more” (Rom 5:20). God’s mercy is greater  than sin. The very heart of the Gospel is the revelation  of the mercy of God in Jesus Christ. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn  the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (Jn 3:17).

To receive this mercy, we must be willing to admit our sinfulness. Sorrow for sin and confession of sin are signs of conversion  of heart that open us to God’s mercy. Though  we can judge a given offense to be the occasion for mortal  sin, and thus an act of objective wrongdoing, we must always entrust  the judgment  of the person to the mercy and justice of God. This is because one person cannot  know  the extent of another individual’s knowledge  and freedom, which are integral factors determining when an occasion for mortal sin becomes an actual sin for which we are morally responsible.

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This article is an excerpt from the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, copyright © 2006, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved. Used with permission.