With the first reading reminding us of the Ten Commandments,
this seems a good time to review them.
Since many of us wrestle with just when something is a mortal sin,
I’ll give some guidance on that. But I can’t cover everything.
As you leave Mass, you’ll see some booklets that look like this.
We don’t have enough for every single person,
but we want to give these away till they are gone.
If you don’t have one, and you will use it, feel free to take it.
When we talk about mortal and venial sin,
it’s like the difference between something that makes us ill,
and something that kills us;
both are bad, but one is really bad.
Likewise, both are good to bring to confession,
but mortal sins MUST be brought to confession.
I. I am the Lord your God. You shall not have other gods before me.
The commandment is plain enough. What are some ways we disobey it?
Not making time for prayer.
Trusting in ourselves, in money or luck, rather than in God.
When we put our judgment over that of God’s and his Church.
Participating in things like fortune-telling,
tarot cards and other occult practices.
When we deny God exists,
or when we deny a defined teaching of the Church,
these are mortal sins.
When we intentionally take part occult practices, that is a mortal sin.
When we receive holy communion in a state of mortal sin,
or when we enter into marriage contrary to the laws of the Church, these are mortal sins.
Pride—which leads to wrath—is making ourselves our own god.
II. Do not take God’s name in vain.
In addition to the obvious—misusing God’s name
as “just an expression” or a curse-word—
this also applies to blasphemy,
which is deliberately insulting God or his saints;
and that is a mortal sin.
Because saints are consecrated to God,
their names, likewise, deserve reverence.
III. Keep holy the Lord’s Day.
This is the basis for the Church’s teaching
that failing to take part in Holy Mass on Sundays
or holy days of obligation is a mortal sin
if we don’t have a good reason or a dispensation.
If we prevent others from coming to Holy Mass,
that too is a grave sin;
so, for example, not taking our children
when they are old enough to enter into it;
or when we prevent employees from worshipping on the Lord’s Day.
Sanctifying the Lord’s Day also includes
observing the whole day, as best we can,
as a time of rest and spiritual reflection,
and refraining from unnecessary work.
That part is a venial sin.
IV. Honor your father and mother.
This applies not only to disrespect, but also refusal to help our parents.
By extension, it applies to anyone who deserves respect,
and anyone we are responsible for, especially our children.
Honoring our parents means praying for them.
And when our parents become dependent on our help,
it is wrong to neglect their spiritual needs.
And when our parents come to the end of their time on earth,
they deserve a priest to give them Last Rites
and a Mass and Christian burial,
and to be remembered in prayers ever after.
Anytime our neglect causes grave harm,
then that makes it a mortal sin.
V. You shall not kill.
This applies to anytime we take a life, or help someone do so—
including an unborn child, and mis-named “mercy killing”
of the aged or disabled.
The Church teaches that while there’s nothing wrong
with rejecting experimental or burdensome medical care,
it is gravely sinful to deny anyone the basics:
food, water and pain relief.
And this applies to taking our own life.
All these are mortal sins.
So-called “in vitro” fertilization—
is a grave sin against this commandment
because it involves the manipulation,
and often the destruction, of human life at its very beginning.
This commandment also applies to when we injure other people
through violence; and if that injury causes serious harm—
if someone goes to the hospital
or can’t get back to normal life right away—that’s a mortal sin.
This applies when we injure people with words:
revealing other people’s faults or telling things we don’t need to repeat.
Beware of malice, which is one of the most grave and deadly sins.
When we treat our own lives with contempt,
not caring for ourselves properly, or taking foolish risks,
that is sinful. So is mutilating our bodies.
As Jesus taught, when we wish someone dead, or harbor hatred,
we violate this commandment too.
We might think of the ways we can injure other people:
through contempt, ridicule, physical, emotional or verbal abuse,
bigotry, refusing to forgive, or cruelty.
VI. You shall not commit adultery.
Obviously this is about being unfaithful in marriage—
and that is gravely sinful.
But it applies also to any use of sex outside of marriage,
and apart from the marital embrace,
because that’s what it was created for.
God’s design is that we are open to life,
and we give ourselves to another person;
this gift is not about pleasing ourselves in a selfish way.
Because it’s about new life, it’s about man and woman.
Any deliberate use of this gift apart from marriage,
or in a way that is closed to the gift of life, is a mortal sin.
This includes contraception and sterilization, and—as mentioned before—
artificial means of conceiving life.
Pornography, too, is gravely sinful.
All this explains why modesty
and keeping custody of our eyes are important.
Getting comfortable with venial sins leads to mortal sins.
VII. You shall not steal.
It’s always wrong to take what doesn’t belong to us;
if the value is significant, it’s a mortal sin.
This also applies to failing to pay a fair wage,
Not giving a fair day’s work, or cheating on our taxes.
Trickery in business matters;
taking advantage of other people for financial gain;
Destroying someone else’s property;
Failing to help the poor and needy.
All these are a kind of stealing.
VIII. You shall not lie.
Sins of the tongue are among the easiest and most frequent.
In addition to old-fashioned lying,
this applies to flattery and gossip that harms others.
It’s not sinful to repeat other people’s good qualities, however!
When is this a mortal sin? When the harm our words do is grave.
IX. Do not covet another person.
X. Do not covet others’ things.
These are the sins that tend to lead us to the others.
We covet, and we steal; we lust and we act on it.
We envy, and we come to resent and hate another person.
In the Gospel, Jesus really goes to town cleaning the temple.
Some people were shocked.
But the temple is God’s sanctuary,
and it’s where we go to be with God.
Should not our lives—our souls—deserve the same reverence?