During these final two Sundays before Lent, I will give some instructions regarding our celebration of Sunday Mass – especially in relation to the reception of Our Lord in the Eucharist.  As a starting point, I take the words of today’s Gospel, “Child, your sins are forgiven.”  Please note that, in today’s Gospel, the first thing Jesus did for the paralyzed man was to forgive his sins.  When you think about who Jesus is and who we are, that requirement becomes immediately apparent.  During Sunday Mass, we express the need for forgiveness in a variety of ways: At the beginning of Mass is a short moment of silence, an invitation to call to mind one's sins.  It is not an in-depth examination of conscience, but recalling one’s most notable failures during the past week or the past twenty-four hours, for example: I made a stupid, cutting remark.  I drank to excess.  I choose my own comfort instead of reaching out to someone.  The Scripture readings and the homily often provide a closer examination of one’s life.  In the Creed we state that we believe “in the forgiveness of sins.”  God’s pardon is not something we necessarily feel emotionally; rather we accept it because of our faith in Jesus.  At the most solemn moment of the Mass, the priest speaks Jesus’ words: that he shed his blood “so that sins may be forgiven.”  In the Lord’s Prayer, we ask the Father to forgive us our trespasses in the measure we forgive those who trespass against us.  That line should make us a little nervous.  I know it does me.  Before receiving Communion we confess our utter unworthiness to receive God.  “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you….”  To receive Communion, we rely on his Word, not on any merit of our own.

 

I hope you can see that when we come to Mass, we do not do so in order to tell God what great people we are.  Rather, we acknowledge our sinfulness: only he can make us worthy.  If you have followed me so far, I want to point out something else.  In the inside cover of the missalette you will notice the Guidelines for Reception of Communion.  Our bishops – that is, those ordained to teach in the name of Jesus – tell us very clearly: “A person who is conscious of grave sin is not to receive the Body and Blood of the Lord without prior sacramental confession.”  On reading this one will naturally ask: What is a grave sin?  Some even ask why we make a distinction between mortal (grave) and venial sin since every sin is an offense against an infinitely loving God.  The question is valid, but I would respond: A mountain is a mountain, but there is a big difference between Mount Rainier and Mount Baldy.  Sulking and carrying on an affair are both sinful activities, but there is a huge difference between the two.  Suppose someone says, “I am devastated because I found out my husband is having affair.”  Would the other person reply, “Well, I have a problem too; my husband sulks a lot”?  I don’t think so.  No sensible person would put the two behaviors on the same level.  There is a qualitative difference.  That common sense perception, evident in early Christian writers, is at the base of our distinction between venial and mortal sin.  One diminishes a relationship; the other breaks it.

 

 The Bible itself makes a distinction between “sin unto death” (1 Jn 5:16) and everyday sins.  As the book of Proverbs states, “The just man falls seven times.” (24:16) The fact is most of us fall more than seven times a day, that is, we commit venial or lesser sins: acts of impatience, gossip, snap judgments, laziness, impure thoughts, wasteful spending, greed, envy, overeating, fudging the truth, sullenness and so on.  I do not wish to make light of these “lesser” sins.  In his Divine Comedy, Dante shows how, if practiced consistently and without repentance, they can land a person in Hell.  And all of them must be purified in Purgatory before one can enter Paradise.  In the grand scale of things, they may be small, but they add up.  With God’s grace we want to overcome venial sins.  In themselves, however, they are not barriers to Communion.  They do not rise to the level of a grave or mortal sin.

 

Before giving examples of grave or mortal sins, let me first state the definition of sin.  A sin, any sin, has three elements: knowledge, consent of the will and something objectively wrong.  Sin is a knowing and deliberate violation of God’s law.  If I do not do it willfully, it is not a sin.  To take an extreme example: it is obviously wrong to kill someone, but suppose someone has killed another person in an automobile accident. What a terrible burden it would be, but it would not be a sin as such, because the driver clearly did not have the intention to kill the other person.  The speeding or the inattentive driving may have been a sin, but we would not say the driver committed the sin of murder.  That was not his intent.  Likewise, you can do something intentionally, but not know it is wrong.  That may be the case with some couples who are cohabiting.  Fornication, like murder, is a grave sin, but the couple may not realize it. It still does harm – as numerous studies show – but often couples seem unaware that they are “living in sin.”

 

So what then is a grave sin? Although it is risky because circumstances always vary, I will give some examples.  Almost everyone knows that adultery is seriously wrong.  One of the Ten Commandments says, “You shall not commit adultery.”  Let’s face it: No one commits adultery by accident.  It doesn't just happen; something led up to it.  If someone has committed adultery, they need sacramental confession before receiving Communion.  A little bit different case is abortion.  The act is obviously gravely wrong, but the persons involved – the mom, the boyfriend, and the medical personnel – often do not have a full realization until afterwards.  When they become aware of the seriousness of what they have done, they should seek sacramental confession before receiving Communion.  Finally, I want to give a more common example: Missing Sunday Mass.  All of us have a serious obligation to worship our Maker and Redeemer.  “Keep holy the Lord’s Day,” states the Third Commandment.  To miss Sunday Mass is a grave sin.  This surprises some Catholics.  Well, now you know.  If you have missed Sunday Mass, without a valid reason such as illness, you should receive confession before returning to Communion.  I could mention other grave sins, but you get the idea.  If you are in doubt, you can discuss it with a confessor.

 

I will say more next Sunday about how one receives Communion with reverence. This Sunday I have emphasized the importance of seeking forgiveness - not to burden you, but because I want you to have the joy of the man Jesus healed.  “Rise, pick up your mat and walk.”  And the people responded by giving glory to God.

 

Durante estos últimos dos domingos antes de la Cuaresma, daré unas instrucciones sobre la celebración de la misa dominical – especialmente en relación a la recepción de Nuestro Señor en la Eucaristía. Daré una explicación mas detallada en la homilía sobre las palabras del Evangelio, “Hijo, tus pecados te quedan perdonados.”

 

En la última pagina del misalito, pueden leer las Normas Para la Recepción de la Eucaristía. Nuestros obispos – es decir, ellos ordenados para enseñar en el nombre de Jesús – nos dicen claramente: “Quien haya cometido pecado grave desde la ultima confesión no debe recibir el Cuerpo y Sangre del Señor sin antes haberse confesado con un sacerdote…” Al leer esto, naturalmente se pregunta: ¿Qué es un pecado grave? La Biblia hace una distinción entre “pecado de muerte” (1 Jn 5:16) y pecados diarios. El libro de Proverbios dice que “el justo cae siete veces” (24:16). Todos cometimos pecados menores o veniales: actos de impaciencia, juicios rápidos, chismes, flojera, pensamientos impuros, envidia, avaricia, gula etcétera. En relación al cosmos, son pequeños, pero suman. Con la ayuda de Dios, quisiéramos superarlos. Sin embargo, en si mismos no son obstáculo a la Comunión. No llegan al nivel de un pecado grave o mortal.

 

Antes de dar ejemplos de pecados graves o mortales, déjenme primero dar la definición del pecado. Un pecado, cualquier pecado, tiene tres elementos: consciencia, voluntad y algo objetivamente malo. El pecado es una violación consciente y voluntaria de la ley de Dios. Si no lo hago a propósito, no es un pecado. Para dar un ejemplo extremo: obviamente es mal matar a alguien, pero supone que la persona fue matada en un accidente de automóvil. Seria un cargo terrible para el chofer responsable, pero no sería un pecado, porque matar a la otra persona no era la intención. Manejar con velocidad o sin atención puede haber sido un pecado, pero no diríamos que el chofer cometió el pecado de matanza. No era su intención, su voluntad. Al mismo tiempo, se puede hacer un acto con intención, voluntariamente, pero no saber que era mal. Esto puede ser la situación de algunas parejas que están cohabitando. Fornicación, como matar, es un pecado objetivamente grave, pero la pareja tal vez no se da cuenta. Siempre causa daño – como varios estudios muestran – pero muchas veces las parejas no se dan cuenta que están “viviendo en pecado.”

 

Entonces, ¿que es un pecado grave? A pesar de ser un poco riesgoso a causa de circunstancias variables, trataré de dar unos ejemplos. Uno de los Diez Mandamientos dice, “No cometerás adulterio.” Pues, nadie comete adulterio por accidente. Siempre hay decisiones anteriores. Si alguien ha cometido adulterio, tiene que acudir a la confesión sacramental antes de comulgar. Un caso un poco diferente es el aborto. El acto es gravemente mal, pero las personas involucradas – la mamá, su novio, el personal medico – muchas veces no tienen una conciencia plena hasta que después del acto. Cuando se dan cuenta de la seriedad de lo que han hecho, deben buscar confesión sacramental antes de recibir la Comunión. Finalmente, quisiera dar un ejemplo más común: Faltar misa dominical. Todos tenemos una obligación seria de adorar nuestro Hacedor y Redentor. “Guardar el Día del Señor,” dice el Tercer Mandamiento. Faltar misa dominical es un pecado grave. Esto sorprende a unos católicos. Si Vd. ha faltado la misa dominical, sin un motivo valido como enfermedad, hay que confesarse antes de volver a la Comunión. Pudiera mencionar otros pecados graves, pero Vds. captan la idea. Si tiene una duda, se puede consultar a un confesor.  Diré más el próximo domingo sobre la forma de recibir la Comunión con reverencia. Este domingo he dado énfasis a la importancia de buscar el perdón – no para imponer un cargo sino porque quiero que Vds. tengan la alegría del hombre que Jesús sanó. “Levántate, recoge tu camilla y vete a tu casa.” Y la gente respondió dando gloria a Dios.