All sin is serious, because sin puts distance between us and God. God is not the one to push us away, but he gives us the freedom to push him away.
And everyone on earth uses this freedom in a less-than-ideal way. The Scriptures make the matter clear: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).
Self-deception is the worst sort of lie, because it adds an element of falsity to everything we say and do. It blurs our understanding of the world and people around us. It makes reality unreal.
When we sin, we distance ourselves from God and divine light.
Unless we see our world — and the people we love — in the light of God, we cannot see anything accurately. Sin hampers us. It disrupts our friendships, family life, and even our work.
All sin is serious, but some sins are more serious than others (1 John 5:16-17). Certain actions are immediately deadly to the soul, just as certain actions are immediately deadly to the body. We call these deadly transgressions “mortal sins.” The denial of the Catholic faith is a mortal sin. Murder and adultery are other obvious examples. A mortal sin is an evil action that involves grave matter and the full consent of the will.
Other sins do not immediately kill the soul, but weaken it and wound it. Catholic tradition calls these “venial sins.” We should recognize, however, that even these relatively small offenses have real consequences. If we make a habit of these, they can destroy us over time. We can come to think of offending God as something normal. Habitual, deliberate offenses — even if they’re relatively small — will eventually destroy a relationship.
The good news is that God does not want us to live in sin and misery, and so he has provided us a “way of escape” (1 Corinthians 10:13). Sin may be a universal condition, but it is not inevitable.
St. John tells us: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). St. Paul specifies that “confession” is something we do out loud, “with your mouth,” not just with our hearts and minds (Romans 10:10).
By giving his clergy the power to forgive sins (John 20:23), Jesus established an ordinary way we can seek forgiveness. He made it very easy for us to find access to a “way of escape.” He gave us the sacrament of confession — reconciliation — penance.
Unfortunately, in a time of pandemic, nothing is normal, or ordinary, or as easy as usual. But forgiveness remains a simple matter. The Catechism of the Catholic Church counsels us, in such circumstances, to seek “perfect contrition” (see Catechism, no. 1452).
Pope Francis explained it well: “Do what the Catechism says. It is very clear: if you do not find a priest to hear your confession, speak to God, he is your Father, and tell him the truth. Enumerate your sins, ask the Lord for forgiveness with all your heart, and make an act of contrition. Promise him: ‘Later I will confess, but forgive me now.’ And immediately you will return to the grace of God.”
The method is a gift. But the promise is important: we must have a firm intention to go to sacramental confession as soon as possible, once circumstances allow.
This season does us the great favor of confronting us with the hard truth: we are sinners; we are sick. But it also presents us with a sure cure. More than we want to sin, we need to be well. Now is the time to accept the healing the Lord offers us.