Friday 11 February 2011


Father Ignatius had been asked to take Sister Josephine’s Catechism class again as she was away on business. This time he attended to the top class at school – the 16 and 17 years old.

They were discussing sin and the nature of sin; and especially how often God was willing to forgive our sins.

They had mentioned Christ’s famous saying about forgiving 70 times 7 and understood that this did not mean literally that number of times. But, in discussion, they seemed confused about the various degrees of gravity between one sin and another.

“Does God forgive greediness like having an extra piece of cake, or chocolate, as much as He forgives cheating on one’s husband or wife?” asked a student sitting up front.

Father Ignatius cleaned his glasses of imaginary smudges just to gain some thinking time.

“It’s true to suggest that there are various degrees of seriousness between one sin and another,” he said quietly, “and the Church has tried, over the years, to help with this distinction by denoting venial and mortal sins.

“Traditionally, this has meant that breaking one of the Commandments is a mortal sin.But there’s more to it than that … in my opinion!

“You’re all astute enough to know the difference between having extra cake, or in my case extra ginger marmalade, and cheating on one’s spouse, or stealing, or murder.

“There is an obvious difference in seriousness between these sins and God, of course, views them differently as such. But He is wise too, and He considers the circumstances behind the sin; not just their degree of seriousness.”

He stopped for a second or two to gain their attention.

“We know that the Church, for instance, considers not going to Mass on Sunday as a mortal sin. It is after all one of the Commandments” the priest continued.

“Now, in my view, I believe that God looks behind the real intent of that sin before deciding on its degree of gravity.

“Was missing Sunday Mass the result of an act of laziness brought about by tiredness, by having a good Saturday night with plenty to eat and drink?”

They all laughed.

“Or was it a deliberate attempt to defy and disobey God?” he continued as the laughter died down.

“If it’s the former, then God will consider it a sin of weakness. Not too different from the sin of weakness of Christ’s disciples when they could not stay awake as Jesus prayed in the garden before His arrest.

“God knows all about our weak nature. He did create us after all! He knows full well I have a weakness for ginger marmalade, and some of you have a weakness for chocolate or whatever.

“And He forgives that sin for what it is. Provided of course we repent and try our best not to repeat it. Albeit our weakness may cause us to sin yet again.

“He is of course disappointed at our behavior. Very much as a loving parent would be disappointed at the behavior of his children. Yet He forgives it again and again.

“So missing Mass on Sunday because of the occasional laziness, I believe, would be viewed with disappointment for what it is … a sin of weakness.”

“So is it not a mortal sin then?” asked one pupil.

“Yeh … what if someone dies with venial sins, but has missed Mass due to laziness. Does he go to hell?” asked another.

Father Ignatius waited a second or two before going on.

“As I said … the Church does designate missing Sunday Mass as a mortal sin. I believe God looks at the intent, the very reason, behind the sin before deciding on its seriousness.

“So in the example you mention, I believe that God would not exclude a person from Heaven purely because he missed Mass as a result of a drinking hangover.

“If on the other hand someone misses Mass because He doesn’t believe in God, or in direct defiance of God, then that is more serious.

“Let me explain what I mean to be in defiance of God. This means being in full knowledge of God yet having the impertinence, the impudence, the audacity to stand up against Him.

“This means making oneself as big and as important as the Lord God Himself.

“We read in the Bible about the original sin committed by Adam and Eve when they ate the forbidden fruit. What do we learn from this?”

“Don’t eat in the nude!” replied one of the school’s comedians as the class broke into total laughter.

Father Ignatius tapped the ruler gently on the desk to regain control of the class. As they settled down he continued.

“Adam and Eve wanted to be like God. That’s what the devil told them would happen if they ate the fruit.

“Theirs was a sin of defiance, not weakness. They didn’t want to know what the fruit tasted like. They wanted to be like Him.

“Over the years since then, many have tried to defy God. To stand up to Him instead of loving and obeying Him.

“The Pharisees did not believe that Jesus was God. Now that in itself is bad enough. They made the choice, given freely by God, to believe in Him or not.

“But they went further. They attributed Christ’s powers to the devil, knowing full well this is not so. And they encouraged others to stand up against Him.

“Some theologians call this the un-forgivable sin against the Holy Spirit. And many have debated it over the years and wondered whether it can be committed today, considering that Jesus is not visible amongst us as He was then.

“Personally, I don’t think this is important.

“What is important however is our relationship, individually, with God.

“Do we believe in Him? And if we do, do we honor, love and obey Him or do we stand against Him.

“Remember, even the devil believes in God. So believing alone is not enough. What is the action, the intent, behind our belief? That’s what God looks for and judges.

“These days, sadly, there are many amongst us in our society who do not believe in God. That is of course their prerogative, and whether we call it a mortal sin or not, we know that only God will judge those individuals when the time comes.

“But what is worse, is when those individuals encourage others to follow in their ways by what they say, and what they write or do, which serves as an example to others. They are no different to those people at the time of Christ who tried to lead others astray.

“Not to believe in God is one thing … but to lead others to do the same is far far worse in the eyes of God.”

The priest stopped again to ensure the message hit home.

“As I said many times before …” he continued, “no one goes to hell by mistake.

“No one goes to hell by mistake.

“God judges each and every sin according to its seriousness and its intent. He sees deep into our hearts and knows whether it is a sin of human weakness or a sin of defiance against His Divinity and omnipotence.

“And of course, He forgives. He forgives as many times as is necessary if our repentance is genuine. Our remorse is genuine. And our determination not to sin again is genuine.”


  1. Very brave of Fr. I., but very necessary to explain this to 16 and 17 year olds as well as the rest of us! As you so well described here, Victor, God knows our hearts and it is from that vantage point we will be judged by Him.
    Thank you for this insightful segment from the wisdom of Fr. Ignatius.
    God bless!

  2. Thanks for tackling the subject of sin, Victor. This is an excellent story! I never quite understood why missing Mass was considered a mortal sin so I was glad you brought this one up. For a sin to be mortal it must be done with malice and I don't think many people miss Mass just to spite God :)
    I liked your commentary on Adam and Eve, too. It's funny, I was thinking a lot about our first parents this week because of the Mass readings so I found Fr Ignatius' thoughts on them very interesting. To be truthful, I wonder what they really did. The priest at my church says these stories from Genesis are allegories and not meant to be taken literally. This makes sense as the 2 creation stories are quite different.
    Great insights on the difference between sins of defiance and sins of weakness. I think this story will be helpful to a lot of people! God bless you, Victor!

  3. Whenever I think about sin I realize how weak my flesh is; I want to live all out for God, but fall prey to my own desires. I'm so all out grateful that Christ died on the cross for all my sins. So grateful for His constant forgiveness and the power of the Holy Spirit living in my heart to give me what it takes to change, one bad habit or character defect at at time, one day at a time. Sure glad He doesn't give up on me!

  4. Hi Karrinan, Mary and Tracy,

    Thank you for taking the time to comment.

    I believe the Creation stories were allegories. Parables written for the people of the time to make them understand about God's omnipotence and the Creator of everything.

    Given this, and therefore the fact that Adam and Eve did not exist as two individuals per se; it follows that their sin of eating the apple is meant to portray not just disobedience, but the more serious sin of defiance.

    I believe it was the early Catholic Church which pronounced not going to Mass on Sunday as a mortal sin. This was to ensure good attendance and to keep some control of the populace. In early England it was compulsory to attend Church on Sunday or else you'd be punished - I believe it was a fine.

    In the reign of Elizabeth I (approx 1570) it was compulsory to go to church and the "sermon" included party political broadcasts, notices and government propaganda. One could say the church was the newsroom of the time.

    I hope this helps a little.

    God bless.

  5. Great post Victor....I agree with what you said about sin and that is why sin is so very personal. What is a sin for me may not be one for you because of the motivation and intent. Missing Mass hurts me, it's my loss, especially with the gift of Jesus in the Eucharist.

  6. Yes, this makes sense, Victor. I often thought it odd that God would punish people over an apple. Many churches do believe this though. They believe the entire Bible is to be taken literally. With the exception of John chapter 6. I'm not quite sure why they take the entire Bible literally and exclude this one chapter.

    Imagine fining people for not attending church! Bet it worked though ;) Probably wasn't an empty seat in there!

    Thanks for commenting on this, Victor.

  7. Thank you Colleen, Andie and Mary for your visits and for taking the trouble to write in.

    I like Andie's "Sin is personal". I'll have to remember that.

    God bless you Colleen, Andie and Mary, and your families too.

  8. I've just had a quick look at John Chapter 6 Mary.

    I don't understand why some people don't take this literally.

  9. Strange, isn't it? Especially when we consider just how emphatic Jesus was about taking this literally. This is the passage which drew my husband to convert to Catholicism. He couldn't ignore it anymore and nobody from his faith (Baptist at the time) could give him an answer as to why he shouldn't take Jesus literally in this matter. It used to bother him tremendously! He said he didn't want to be like the disciples in the Bible who walked away rather than accepting the truth of Jesus' words and he converted to Catholicism.

  10. Thanks for your comment on my blog, Victor. I'm very pleased to see you're 'up and blogging' again.

  11. Hi Mary,

    What a lovely story. Your husband is right I believe in accepting the words of Jesus as said. This is exactly what Peter did at the time. I have posted about this today.

    Great to see you visiting here again Miss Ellen. I hope you're keeping well.

    God bless you Mary and Miss Ellen.

  12. I'm so glad God understands our weakness. "He knows how we are formed. He remembers that we are dust." (Psalm 103)Otherwise, none of us could come before Him.



God bless you.