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Tom Scotus

No Sin Should Be Taken Lightly

The Penance of David

I remember a discussion I had last year during Lent with a parishioner at my church. I asked him if he had gone to confession yet. "No," he said. Then I reminded him that Catholics are obligated to go to confession at least once a year and that Lent was an ideal time. "No, Catholics only need to go to confession if they commit mortal sins," he said. I started to name some common sins that I felt were mortal sins. "No, those are all venial sins," he said. I got the impression that he felt that the only "really serious sins" were strangling babies in their cribs or committing mass murder. Keep in mind, this gentleman attends Mass every Sunday and is a Knight of Columbus.

From my experience, his attitude towards sin seems to be shared by the vast majority of people today, whether or not they attend church. It amazes me how many people seem to think that casually telling others to "f**k off" or that lying to customs officials is no big deal. Many people seem to think that it’s okay to defraud the government, give other car drivers "the finger," spread negative gossip, steal towels from hotels, "goof off" for hours at work, tell dirty jokes, get drunk, visit strip clubs, and commit many more (what they see as) minor sins. Most of these people seem to think that they are "good" because they compare themselves to other people whom they consider to be truly bad, such as kidnappers, rapists and cold-blooded murders.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to say that all sins are equally bad. There is such a thing as venial sins, but even these should not be taken lightly. Catholics are obligated to go to confession at least once and year, whether or not they are conscious of having committed mortal sins. Venial sins may not completely separate us from God, but they do damage our relationship with Him. Also, what we may think is a venial sin, may actually be much more serious. There is a very dangerous human tendency to rationalize the evil that we do and to believe that it is not very serious. One of the biggest dangers of treating "minor" sins lightly is that we then tend to commit bigger sins and then see these as not very serious.

Instead of deceiving ourselves into thinking we are good because we think we are not as bad as some other people, we should compare ourselves to our Lord. Then we will realize how far from good we really are. Even if it seems that the Vatican II Church has lowered the bar, God has not changed. Jesus taught, "Be holy as the Lord your God is holy" (Mt. 5:48).

A priest once told me, "People know they are going to die, but they don’t believe it." When we die, and we soon will, we will stand "naked" before our perfect Judge. Then, if we did not fully repent and do penance on earth, we will see just how awful all our sins are. I can only hope and pray that you and I treat even "minor" sins very seriously and do our very best to present ourselves to Him "without blemish and without spot" (I Peter I:19).