Parish Priest, Fr. Caesar D’Mello answers an interesting question sent by a member of the O Community (St. Marie Goretti).

Q: There’s a rush for Holy Communion, but there are no lines for Confession at weekends. Are the standards lowered in determining what is venial sin? Is determination of sin a subjective matter? Whatever became of sin?
Also, a particular woman does not go to confession since she does not sin. The Cure D”Ars, told her that there are two categories of people who do not sin. 1. Those who have not reached the age of Reason and 2. Those who have lost their faculty for reason. Comment.

A:  The questioner has come up with an issue that is very relevant today. A number of questions are raised. To my mind, they boil down one basic question viz. Have we lost a sense of sin ?

There is no doubt we have. Let us look at some of the reasons why the present generation seems to have lost a sense of sin.

  1. There was a time in the past, in the 1950s, when on a Saturday evening all the Catholics in the school were marched down to the church for confession. Each priest had a long line of penitents. It is not likely that such a scenario will ever return.
  2. Much of the preaching at the time was referred to as the “fire and brimstone” variety. Quite a few preachers would strive to evoke fear in the congregation and warn them of the fires of hell. One enterprising preacher was known to arrange with the sacristan for a roaring fire to be kept burning in the vicinity and would keep pointing to it from time to time in the course of the sermon.
  3. Today, the emphasis has shifted to God’s unconditional love, to God as “abba”, a loving father. The emotion that preachers seek to evoke is no longer fear but love, no threats, but gentle persuasion, no warnings but invitations and challenges.
  4. Psychologists are also partly responsible for this change. They do not speak of gluttony anymore, but of bulimia, alcoholic binges stem from the alcoholic syndrome, sexual excesses and indiscretions as due to higher testosterone levels.
  5. It is interesting to note that the practice of individual, auricular confession began only in the sixth century C.E. in Ireland and then spread to the rest of Europe. For a couple of centuries individual confession co-existed with public community confession. From the Council of Trent it became obligatory for all the lay faithful to fulfill their “Easter Obligation” i.e. Confession and Communion, once a year.

(A famous psychiatrist, Karl Menninger, MD brilliantly treats the topic on the loss of a sense of sin in his book, Whatever Became Of Sin?)

Finally, to the woman who told John Marie Vianney that she had no sins, he said you either have not reached the age of reason or have lost it. I would venture another answer.  Some people examine themselves with the help of the Ten Commandments and say to themselves, “I have not killed anyone, I have not committed adultery, I have not robbed anyone”, I have kept all the commandments.

They need to ask themselves what are the different ways in which God has blessed me: with regard to my faith, my opportunities for education, my talents, and my financial security. How have I responded? Not only what I have done, but also what I have failed to do, not sins of commission, but also of omission, the opportunities I have passed by, the challenges to which I did not respond.  If they do go through this exercise, they are not likely to say, I have nothing to confess.

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