Venial sins! Something we don’t hear enough of, if at all. This post will be dedicated to shedding light on venial sins and the dangers they pose to one’s interior life. For United Body to be successful, we need individuals who are actively involved in purifying their lives of sin and actively drawing closer to God, for one saintly soul has more power than 10,000 lukewarm souls.
Let’s start this discussion by pulling the definition of venial sins from the Catechism:
1863 Venial sin weakens charity; it manifests a disordered affection for created goods; it impedes the soul’s progress in the exercise of the virtues and the practice of the moral good; it merits temporal punishment. Deliberate and unrepented venial sin disposes us little by little to commit mortal sin. However venial sin does not set us in direct opposition to the will and friendship of God; it does not break the covenant with God. With God’s grace it is humanly reparable. “Venial sin does not deprive the sinner of sanctifying grace, friendship with God, charity, and consequently eternal happiness.”134
While he is in the flesh, man cannot help but have at least some light sins. But do not despise these sins which we call “light”: if you take them for light when you weigh them, tremble when you count them. A number of light objects makes a great mass; a number of drops fills a river; a number of grains makes a heap. What then is our hope? Above all, confession. 135 – Catechism of the Catholic Church
Funny how I read through the catechism a few years back but only to started appreciating how troublesome venial sins actually are and why we need to fight constantly against them. Goes to show how as we mature in faith some of the more subtle things we did not give much regard to begin to take on a whole different meaning. Only by grace of course. This is a really important point: we can only move as fast as grace enables us. St. Francis de Sales would say that to be truly able to love your enemy is perhaps one of the last items you may understand as you journey towards God and grow in union with Him. It would do you very little good to focus on that if you are in a state of mortal sin for example. Take the next SMALL increment towards God and proceed at the pace God has prepared for you.
The issue with venial sins and why perhaps they do not garner so much attention is that there is this misconception that so as long as you don’t commit mortal sins, everything is okay. You have one venial sin? No need to confess it, it’s not mortal! As described in the Catechism, venial sins on their own do not deprive us of sanctifying grace. We can still receive communion. However, as we read above a large number of light objects will make a great mass. When we are crawling with venial sins and numb to the disease that they impart on the spiritual life, if they are left unchecked and un-confessed, we run the risk of committing a fatal mortal sin.
One may wonder how this can be? Since venial sins do not rob us of sanctifying grace, how could they eventually lead us to a mortal sin? Again, the answer is directly in the Catechism:
Venial sin weakens charity; it manifests a disordered affection for created goods; it impedes the soul’s progress in the exercise of the virtues and the practice of the moral good; it merits temporal punishment. Deliberate and unrepented venial sin disposes us little by little to commit mortal sin.
For me, this was a bit of a eureka moment. What venial sins do to the spirit is essentially weaken our fervor and love for God steadily overtime. I like to imagine that we are carrying an empty backpack when we leave the confessional. Our movement towards God at this point is unheeded. Picture a mortal sin as the weight of car put in your backpack. You are stuck, wounded and you need the sacrament of confession for the weight to be removed. It is similar with venial sins but instead of a car picture a bottle of water. One bottle of water will scarcely impede your movement. 10 bottles? Peace of cake. 30 bottles? That’s pushing it. 1000 bottles? You are as good as done. This is exactly what happens on the spiritual level. After awhile you begin to resume your old, but not mortal habits, give up your good habits such as spiritual reading and prayer, and before you know it you run the risk of falling right back into mortal sin. This is the danger of venial sins! If it can happen to King Solomon, it can happen to you.
The whole reason why we need to remove all sins is so that we can approach God with our full hearts and desire Him above all created things. All sins put a strain in our relationship with God. Mortal sins permanently, deliberate venial sins steadily. St. John of the Cross would say that in order to even advance to some of the early stages of contemplation one must already be under control of most, if not all, of their deliberate venial sins.
The challenge of venial sins is that for most of us it is a numbed disease that we are not even aware of. Perhaps this reduces culpability but I for one would like to be rid of any bad habits sooner than later. It is fairly hard to find some good material on the topic, though I have found some and perhaps will put this all together into a book one day. One example that I would like to share in my own personal life that I have been fighting with is the use of the imagination with myself at the center. Doesn’t sound harmful does it? Yet I find that when my imagination is engaged when I listen to music, I always find myself daydreaming about myself. Whether its achieving some grand goal or doing something heroic, it is always me at the center, not God. This is a deliberate venial sin that I am always on the guard for because I find that the instant I allow this into the my life, my fervor begins to steadily decrease. What’s worse is that when you find out that you are caught in this cycle, very rarely is there enough human strength to overcome it because the weight of that venial sin becomes quite unbearable. It really does make the spiritual journey difficult!
I have one piece of advice in all this. Pray daily that the Lord may reveal your hidden bad habits. That he may reveal the diseases you are numb to and that you do not fight daily. Don’t think that once you conquer mortal sin that battle is won, there is still work to do till you leave this life. Pray for this and the Lord will reveal it to you in time. It may take months or even years but you can be 100% assured He will help you.
In the meantime, if you find your fervor waning and you have fallen into old bad habits, there is only one cure: Confession. Get there as soon as you can!
St. Callistus, pray for us!