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February 18th, 2024 | Seton Bulletin & News

By February 15, 2024Bulletins, Fr. Casey Letters

But I Don’t I Have Any Sins!

In my years of study of Catholic theology, I learned that Our Lord and His Immaculate Mother are the only persons to have walked the face of the earth without committing sins. Indeed, even Sacred Scripture tells us “…the righteous falls seven times” (Proverbs 24:16). Yet upon ordination I immediately discovered a number of people who either avoid the sacrament of Penance or come to confession with nothing to confess. They insist that they cannot recall having committed any sins.

I suspect what is really needed is a proper understanding of sin and honest examination of conscience. Firstly. Being a Christian is not about being perfect. It is about being able to admit that I am not perfect and therefore, I need the sanctifying grace merited by the blood of Jesus Christ and poured into the life of His Church. Further, the term sin comes from a Hebrew archery term that just means to miss the mark. “But I am a good person!”, many exclaim. Having committed sin does not make me a bad person, it just means I have fallen short of God’s standard: Perfection.

I haven’t done anything that bad.

I hear this objection a lot as an excuse for infrequent confession, and then the person will proceed to list a litany of mortal sins. So, just to be clear, a mortal sin is one which cuts us off completely from God’s grace as the Catechism states: “It results in the loss of charity and the privation of sanctifying grace, that is, of the state of grace. If it is not redeemed by repentance and God’s forgiveness, it causes exclusion from Christ’s kingdom and the eternal death of hell.” (CCC 161) For a sin to be mortal sin there are three conditions: (1) It has to be a grave matter, (2) You must know that it is a sin, and (3) You must freely choose to do it. (CCC 1859-60)

The Church has identified the following as grave matters: intentionally missing Mass on a Sunday or a Holy Day of Obligation (which includes intentionally coming late or leaving early, and also, watching Mass online or on television does not fulfill the obligation), blasphemy, adultery, contraception, fornication (intimate relations apart from a marriage recognized by the Church), defrauding a worker of a just wage, endangerment of human life or safety, abandoning a spouse to divorce, self-gratification, idolatry (fortunetelling, use of psychics, practicing Santería, Voodoo, or any false religion), wishing or causing harm to another, extreme anger, assisted suicide, murder, being an accessory to an abortion, hatred, viewing pornography, lying under oath, and denying a teaching of Christ and His Church.

So, to be clear, if I have committed any of these sins, I must go to confession before going to Holy Communion, or I have committed the additional sin of sacrilege. Also, if I intentionally omit a mortal sin in confession, the entire confession is invalid.

Ok, I don’t do those things…so I am good?

While the Church requires confession annually, she encourages us to make frequent and fervent confessions, even of venial sins to receive the graces of this sacrament which also helps us avoid sin. The Church also requires that Holy Communion be received once a year during Easter time yet encourages frequent Communions. Weekly Communion and annual confession shows a disconnect. Daily Communion and annual confession is absurd. Communion without confession apart from a state of grace is sacrilege. I know of no saint who only went to confession once a year. At Seton, we provide a sheet to help with the confession of sins.

There are some saints who, toward the end of their lives, were confessing things like not being fervent enough in their prayers, not taking every opportunity they possibly could have to pray, and things of this nature. Have I really been as charitable as I possibly could have in every human encounter? Have I taken every possible opportunity to pray, or study about my faith? Have I taken every opportunity to explicitly share my faith with others? These are good questions to ask if I believe I have nothing to confess.

But I never leave the house.

This is a common objection, so I close with some of the thoughts and the Examination of Conscience provided by Kathy Schiffer, herself a senior citizen. Schiffer says:

Too often for the chronically ill, the aged and the infirm, home or hospital seems a lonely prison. But while the younger generations are challenged by the sheer “busyness” of their lives to find time for God, those in their golden years—especially the homebound—have a unique opportunity to grow in prayer and in godliness, and to devote more time to that which is truly important, their relationship with their Creator. The failure to take advantage of this opportunity, focusing instead on one’s plight and personal problems, is, in itself, a sin against God.

We are only human—and that means that we face a constant battle against pride, against greed, against selfishness. If you find yourself forced by health or circumstances to remain indoors; if you are, or if someone you love is confined to a hospital or rehabilitation center or nursing home; even if the confinement is temporary—take time to grow in your faith. Choose your reading material carefully and be sure to include the Scriptures and some inspirational reading or music. Use this valuable time to reconnect with God in prayer—pray for your family, pray for the reparation of sins, pray for the conversion of a loved one, for our leaders, for world peace. Pray for the grace to acknowledge your shortcomings, and for the will to overcome them.

I suggest a different focus for your Examination of Conscience. Set aside those familiar commandments, and instead dust off a list of the capital sins, and the cardinal virtues. Your personal reflection might look something like this:

  • Have I practiced the virtue of Chastity? Have I permitted myself to watch movies or daytime television shows which are not edifying, which depict sexual scenarios or which advocate for cohabitation or homosexual relationships?
  • Have I practiced the virtue of Temperance? Have I indulged my love of sweets or snack foods, to the detriment of my health? Have I continued to smoke heavily, or to consume alcoholic beverages excessively? Have I been immoderate in any activity, such as watching too much TV?
  • Have I practiced the virtue of Patience? Was I unkind (or downright rude) to a telephone caller, impatient with a visitor, crabby when things didn’t go just the way I wanted? Did I complain if someone took me to a restaurant or public place, because we had to wait for service? Did I criticize my doctor, my caretaker, my child, for not serving me better?
  • Have I practiced the virtue of Kindness? Was I jealous of the attention paid to someone else, wanting everyone to notice me instead? Did I feel angry because someone else had more money, or better health, or because my grown children did not have enough time to spend with me? Did I compliment someone who looked good, or did I only have harsh words to say?
  • Have I practiced the virtue of Humility? For example: Did I accept a compliment graciously but then move on, refusing to keep the attention turned toward myself? Was I willing to let someone else be the center of attention? Did I feel grateful for the kindness of my family and others, and appreciative of my caregiver’s efforts? Did I believe that I had no need of confession, because I never even leave the house?

“Lord, help us to recognize the times that we have failed to live a virtuous life—and grant us the grace of true contrition and a resolve to do Your will. Amen.”

-Fr. Casey