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Sin or Scrupulosity?
Q. A few years ago, it was the feast of the Assumption, and my mother-in-law’s 100th birthday. We planned a celebration at the nursing home where my mother-in-law lives, starting at noon. We intended to go to the 5:15 vigil Mass the evening before.
On the 14th, however, a major blackout occurred, and they were advising everyone to stay off the streets, as traffic lights were out and they needed emergency vehicles to get through. So we didn’t get to a vigil Mass.
The electricity did come back during the night, so we went to church for the regular 8:30 a.m. Mass. But Father was waiting there and told us the only Mass would be at noon. I almost cried.
We went to the nursing home and had a nice celebration for 100 years of life. But when I got home I immediately called some churches to see if they had an evening Mass for the Holy Day. They didn’t.
I thought, “Okay God, I tried, I wanted to go to Mass, but we were blocked, it seemed.” I thought no more about it—didn’t think it was a sin, as we really did try, and I really felt my place was at that time with my family.
However, a little while ago I was relating this story to someone, and he said, “Well, our church had an evening Mass.” I didn’t think to call this church because it is in the next village over, and when I got all those no’s before, I assumed that no church had one.
When I heard this, I began to worry that I really didn’t try hard enough. Did I commit a sin? Or am I being too scrupulous?
N.N., via email
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D.:
Hmmm. My heart says you did enough, but my head tells me you could have tried harder.
I think I was caught in that same blackout in New York City, and I remember trying to negotiate the stairwell of a high rise with nothing but the light of my Palm Pilot. The next morning I celebrated the Mass of the Assumption by candlelight and available natural sunlight.
As for your situation, it seems you made a very good effort to get to Mass, and through no fault of your own, you could not attend. Your attendance at your mother-in-law’s 100th birthday party was an act of charity that could only be performed at that moment. Certain acts of charity can excuse one from fulfilling the Mass obligation.
I don’t think you are scrupulous. It seems that you have a well-formed and sensitive conscience. That’s a good thing. But if you ever have a doubt, the simplest way to resolve it is to go to confession, tell it like it is, and let God do the rest. But by the way you describe it, I’ll bet you will try harder next time. And that’s a good thing.
Did Jesus Have Original Sin?
Q. Please steer me straight. I have always thought that Mary was the only one ever born without original sin (the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception). I thought that Jesus had original sin, to reinforce His humanity, and that’s why He was baptized. Am I right or wrong?
F.F., New York City
A. The Church clearly affirms, in keeping with Scripture, that Jesus was without sin of any kind, original or actual (see Heb 4:15; 1 Pt 2:22). It was only because of His perfect sinlessness that He was able to redeem us from our sins. He had incurred no debt to justice of His own through sin, so He was able to pay, through the sacrifice of His life, the debt to justice that we owed because of our sins.
Consequently, Jesus did not need to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins. He asked to be baptized nevertheless as an act of solidarity with sinful humanity, as an example for us to follow, and as an act of “cleansing the waters” of the world to make them fit for the sacrament of baptism for the rest of us.
Our Lady is indeed the only human being other than her divine Son to have been immaculately conceived, and her immaculate conception came about by grace in view of His merits.
Q. I just am curious: What caused the death of the Evangelists, St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke and St. John ?
R.M., via email
A. St. Matthew was of course one of the twelve apostles. According to ancient tradition, he preached in the East and died as a martyr for the Faith. One tradition says he died in Ethiopia; another says it was in Persia.
St. Mark was according to ancient tradition a companion of St. Peter in Rome and wrote his Gospel from that apostle’s perspective. One tradition also reports that he died a martyr’s death in Alexandria, Egypt, after having preached the Gospel there.
St. Luke was one of St. Paul’s traveling companions and wrote his Gospel under the influence of that Apostle. He is believed to have died at Boeotia, a region of Greece, at the age of eighty-four.
St. John was the only one of the twelve apostles who did not die a martyr’s death. He had the responsibility (given to him by Jesus) of caring for Our Lady after Our Lord’s death. According to ancient tradition, he spent his latter years in Asia Minor in the city of Ephesus (in what is now Turkey) and died there at an advanced age.
Seven Deadly Sins?
Q. Can you tell me what are the “Seven Deadly Sins”?
P.R., via email
A. The “Seven Deadly Sins” are more accurately known as the “Seven Capital Vices.” A vice differs from a sin in that it’s a sinful habit, a repeated act that causes a kind of “rut” in the soul inclining us to fall into that particular sin more and more. These particular vices are called “capital” (from the Latin word for “head”) because they are, so to speak, the “fountainhead” vices from which others flow.
The seven capital vices are pride, covetousness (or avarice or greed), lust, anger (or “wrath”), gluttony, envy and sloth.
Note that not all anger is sinful; there is such a thing as “righteous anger,” such as the kind Jesus sometimes demonstrated (see Lk 19:45-46). Anger only becomes sinful under certain conditions, such as when it is unjustified or out of proportion to the offense.
Covetousness differs from envy in that the former is an inordinate love of possessions, while the latter is a sadness or resentment over another person’s good — his possessions, relationships, fame, popularity, power or whatever.
Sloth is not mere laziness, but rather the unwillingness to “pay the price,” so to speak, of doing what is right and good—the cost of holiness. The motto of the slothful: “It’s just too much trouble to be good.”
Did Jesus Come to Die?
Q. A priest instructing the RCIA group said that Jesus did not come to die. He said, “God wouldn’t be that mean.” He added, “Don’t let anyone ever tell you that He came to die.” This doesn’t make sense to me. Can you clear this up for me?
C.B., Louisville, Ky.
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D.:
Jesus repeatedly declared that He had come not to do His own will, but the will of His Father (see Jn 4:34; 5:30; 6:38; 8:28). Four different times He told His disciples that He would be put to death (see Mt 17:22-23 and parallels in Mk 9:30-32 and Lk 9:43-45; Mt 16:21; 20:12-19; 26:2). Once Jesus referred to His approaching death as His “baptism” (Mk 10:38).
In Luke 12:50 we have these words of Jesus: “I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how I am constrained until it is accomplished!”
On four occasions Jesus spoke of His imminent passion and death as a “cup” that His Father had given him to drink. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed three times, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as You will” (Mt 26:39, 42, 44).
When the crowd came to arrest Jesus, Peter started to resist with his sword. Jesus stopped him, asking rhetorically, “Shall I not drink the cup that the Father gave me?’” (Jn 18:11).
Jesus came to do the will of the Father. He was always perfectly obedient. He spoke of His approaching death as his “baptism,” as His “cup” from the Father. He accepted that death as the will of His Father, as God’s means of redeeming a fallen, sinful world.
Jesus came to redeem. To accomplish His mission, He had to die. Not because of God’s “meanness,” but because of the meanness of sinful men.
Actually, to respond to the claim that Jesus didn’t come to die, you need quote only one brief Gospel text. Speaking of His mission, Jesus said, “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mt 20:28, emphasis added). He came to die.
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