The Village Heretic Revisits the 1960 McGuire Baltimore Catechism, Lesson 6: Actual Sin


This is it!  This is the one illustration that I remember from my catechism class in fourth grade.  I knew as soon as I saw it that I had the right book!  Interesting what sticks in the mind of a person to be remembered 50 years later, like an amazing blotchy milk bottle.

Question 63: Is Original Sin the only kind of sin? Answer: Original sin is not the only kind of sin; there is another kind, called actual sin, which we ourselves commit.

Lesson 6 Actual SinNo, I believe that actual sin is the only kind of sin.  I hinted at this in the last lesson.  What the church calls original sin is, I think, just a propensity toward baseness.  The world we live in is just that way.  It seems very early in the evolution of being, with a lot of  self-perpetuating negativity. 

It doesn’t have to be that way, but it is that way.  It is the reason we need a savior.  But it is not sin.  The map is not the territory.  Nor is original sin our real nature.  The world veils us from our real nature. But we do commit actual sin and it has an actual, real consequence:  death.

Question 64: What is actual sin? Answer: Actual sin is any willful thought, desire, word, action, or omission forbidden by the law of God.

Actual sin, the only kind of sin in my mind, is missing the mark.  It is acting in a way that is contrary to our nature and best interests.  One of our best interests is acting from love and center.  It beats acting from fear and distraction.  The results are generally better.  So anything that keeps us from that path is sinful.  Do a sinful thing long enough or often enough and you will hurt yourself and others and possibly die of it.

I don’t think sin necessarily merits punishment aside from the negative consequences of the act itself.  I don’t have a sense. that our Source is keeping score.  Consequences, though, are part of the rules of engagement for life as we know it.

I also don’t have a sense that it makes much difference whether or not I am willful.  Ignorant negligence appears to be just as damaging as willful errancy.  It might be more acceptable on the part of others, but the effects are similar.

And then there is the “law of God”.  Jesus summed up the law pretty well when he said that the two great commandments were 1.) Love God with your whole being and 2.) Love your neighbor.  Love is the command and acting without love is the sin.  The rest is details…

Question 65: How many kinds of actual sin are there? Answer: There are two kinds of actual sin: mortal sin and venial sin.

Talk about legalism.  The Pharisees were really good at this one.  Tell me how far I can go before I am breaking the law.  It’s just a matter of degree.  It is missing the whole point. All sin leads to death of some sort.  I can’t see any reason to differentiate it.

Question 66: What is mortal sin? Answer: Mortal sin is a grievous offense against the law of God.

All sin is mortal.  What is called venial sin may be more insidious than mortal sin.  At least mortal sin is called out for what it is… deadly.

Question 67: Why is this sin called mortal? Answer: This sin is called mortal, or deadly, because it deprives the sinner of sanctifying grace, the supernatural life of the soul.

Sin is mortal because it kills.  Whether it kills our consciences or our bodies, it kills. It kills our life while we are yet living. 

I don’t agree with the concept of sanctifying grace.  We are never separated from our Source and grace abounds all around us.  We CAN pretend that we are separate from God, though, and sin helps to perpetuate and deepen that charade.  And in that way, it damages our lives. 

At any point in our existence, we can repent of our errors and begin again, aware of our connection to all life and our creator Source.  But the more we indulge in behavior that is contrary to our nature and best interests, the more difficult this is to do.

Question 68: Besides depriving the sinner of sanctifying grace, what else does mortal sin do to the soul? Answer: Besides depriving the sinner of sanctifying grace, mortal sin makes the soul an enemy of God, takes away the merit of all its good actions, deprives it of the right to everlasting happiness in heaven, and makes it deserving of everlasting punishment in hell.

Sinful indulgence deepens the charade that we are separate from our Source, All-That-Is.  Here we make ourselves incapable of relationship with our Source by our own foolish lack of interest.  But WE do that.  God doesn’t do that. 

It has been said that one “Aw, shit!” does away with a thousand “Atta boy”s. In human existence, this seems to be true.  When I was in the Navy my shipmates and I certainly thought so.  But this is human relationship, not divine.  God, our Source, All-that-is immediately ignores the bad stuff and welcomes us back into awareness of our relationship. 

In my mind, the only real hell is the one we create through our own sinfulness on earth.  It lasts as long as our charade of separateness and indulgence.  The consequences may last a bit longer, as it appears that consequence is part of the rules of engagement here in this world.  Fortunately, there is often providence to help with that.  And it appears the closer we live to our centers, the more providence we encounter.

Question 69: What three things are necessary to make a sin mortal? Answer: To make a sin mortal, these three things are necessary:  first, the thought desire, word, action or omission must be seriously wrong or considered seriously wrong; second, the sinner must be mindful of the serious wrong; third, the sinner must fully consent to it.

Some one sinning at this level is creating serious damage to themselves and others.  It is also my sense that it is rare.  The truth is that anyone sinning long enough at any level can do serious damage. 

All sin is mortal.  Do anything damaging for long enough and it has grave consequence.  We can deaden our consciences to sin and get into a deepening negative spiral.  I think this could be more damaging than a single wanton, grievously wrong episode.  And one would probably require years of sinning to be even capable of one majorly grievous act or omission.

We, as humans, grade on motivation.  We excuse on the basis of lack of knowledge, willfulness or intent.  I think that here we have projected that onto our Source, when that isn’t really appropriate or necessary.

Question 70: What is venial sin? Answer: Venial sin is a less serious offense against the law of God, which does not deprive the soul of sanctifying grace, and which can be pardoned even without sacramental confession.

Venial sin is the Pharisee’s friend.  Legalism.  It may be pardonable from a human perspective, but is still mortal in its consequence.  This is a slippery slope.

Question 71: How can a sin be venial? Answer: A sin can be venial in two ways:  first, when the evil done is not seriously wrong; second, when the evil done is seriously wrong, but the sinner sincerely believes it is only slightly wrong, or does not give full consent to it.

More legalism.  Like water dripping on a stone, repeated “venial” sin erodes our life.  I suggest we dispense with the distinctions.

Question 72: How does venial sin harm us? Answer: Venial sin harms us by making us less fervent in the service of God, be weakening our power to resist mortal sin, and by making us deserving of God’s punishments in this life or in purgatory.

The kernel of truth in this answer is the weakening of our power to resist.  Sin is insidious.  It is a slippery slope.  We die a little bit more in every encounter.  In this way, “venial” sin may be more corrosive than “mortal”, and may grease the slippery slope we’re standing on.

As for purgatory, I think we’re in it.  I don’t think that there is a place other than this life where we work out our salvation, and we are constantly at the mercy of the consequences of our past actions.

Question 73: How can we keep from committing sin? Answer: We can keep from committing sin by praying and by receiving the sacraments; by remembering that God is always with us; by recalling that our bodies are temples of the Holy Ghost; by keeping occupied with work or play; by promptly resisting the sources of sin within us; by avoiding the near occasions of sin.

I think that centering prayer goes a long way toward helping us avoid sin.  The more centered we are, the more we act in accordance with our nature and best interests.  By centering prayer, I mostly mean meditation and awareness exercises; physical, emotional and mental.  True confessions time…  I don’t do nearly enough of this!

The only sacraments that are frequently received in the RC church are Reconciliation and Communion.  Both are forms of centering prayer.  Reconciliation by way of a priest, another human, may be good for the soul, but just being aware of what is wrong, just asking forgiveness of those we injure and of ourselves does wonders. 

Communion is what you make of it.  It can be all or nothing.  Mindless communion isn’t.  Mindful communion is awareness.  Personally, I don’t believe that you need the outward signs of these sacraments.  But you do need reconciliation and communion.

If you are centered, you are also aware of what your body needs and how to take care of it.

Keeping occupied as a distraction is dangerous.  It can be sinful in itself.  It can be a defense against awareness.  However, being occupied AND fully aware is bliss.

It makes sense to avoid pitfalls.  But it also makes sense to explore why pitfalls are what they are.  This might be an instance of addiction therapy helping out.  Do this with a coach.

Question 74: What are the chief sources of actual sin? Answer: The chief sources of actual sin are: pride, covetousness, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth, and these are commonly called capital sins.

Notice how the root of every one of these capital sins is FEAR?  Fear of inadequacy, fear of lack, whether it’s pleasure, control, food, wealth, energy?  From love, all things are possible and providence abounds.  No occasion for sin there.

That’s why, I think, Jesus emphasized love as the solution:  Love of God, love of neighbor.  Love is like light and extinguishes the dark, the fear.

Question 75: Why are these called capital sins? Answer: They are called capital sins, not because they, in themselves, are the greatest sins, but because they are the chief reasons why men commit sin.

Fear is the chief reason we sin.  Love is the antidote.

Question 76: What are the near occasions of sin? Answer: The near occasions of sin are all persons, places, or things that may easily lead us into sin.

A few notes here.  Love heals; love banishes fear.  We need to be aware of love, aware of our fears.  We need to work on our fears in an environment of love.  This is the antithesis of the near occasions and will help keep us out of trouble.

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