The sacrament of Reconciliation is an amazing gift from our Lord. Sadly, many Catholics and non Catholics are confused as to why we tell our sins to another human. I mean can’t we just go straight to God?
I will break this series up into 3 parts. Here is how I will approach things.
- First I am going to talk about sin. Specifically, I want to discuss the differences between mortal sin and venial sin.
- Secondly, I am going to cover the reason we Catholics go to confession. Scott Hahn once said that when he is asked why Catholic’s go to confession he explains, “Because the instruction manual God left me tells me too!”
- Finally, I am going to discuss the rubrics of the sacrament. What do you need to do before going to confession, during confession, and after confession?
To understand sin we need to head straight to the Bible. Specifically, let’s start with the words of the beloved Disciple himself.
If anyone sees his brother sinning, if the sin is not deadly, he should pray to God and he will give him life. This is only for those whose sin is not deadly. There is such a thing as deadly sin, about which I do not say that you should pray. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is not deadly (1 John 5:16, 17).
St. John is telling us that not all sin is created equal. There is such a thing as “deadly” or what we refer to as “mortal” sin. Patrick Madrid wrote in his book, “Where is that in the Bible” that mortal sins, by their very nature, literally kill the soul by purposefully eradicating sanctifying grace. In other words, mortal sin kills grace. Grace has been taken away.
OK, so let’s talk in a little more detail about the difference between a venial sin and mortal sin.
For a sin to mortal (deadly) three conditions must be met.
- The sin must be “grave matter” meaning serious. God’s top ten (10 commandments) are great for helping discern whether sin is grave.
- The sin must be made with full knowledge. In other words we know something is sinful and do it anyway.
- The sin must be committed with deliberate consent. This means I was not forced to commit this sin against my free will.
Paragraphs 1857-1859 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church offer more insight if you want to read more.
I have actually seen lists of sins… in this column are the venial sins and in this column are the mortal sins. And those lists are all fine and dandy. The thing is, besides God, only you know your heart. So my recommendation is to simply do a thorough examination of your conscious and bring all your sins – venial and mortal to the confessional.
Venial sins do not need to be confessed but I personally confess them anyhow. I heard a very troubling story once explaining how venial sin can lead to deadly sin. It went something like this.
A hunter was trying to catch a wild animal so he took some bloody water and froze it. Embedded in the frozen ice were razor blades. Once the wild animal tasted the bloody water it couldn’t stop licking even though it would soon mean its death. So it licked and licked and eventually fell over to its death. The hunter succeeded.
This is what venial sin can become. First it starts with a young boy looking at his Dad's swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated. Then the young man graduates to another magazine that is even more provocative. Eventually the young man is addicted to Internet pornography which ruins his marriage and if left alone will likely send him to hell.
So confess all sins, venial and mortal, and fight them with all your might. But realize you cannot defeat Satan alone. You need the grace dispensed from confession and all the sacraments in order to defeat the dark one.