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Virtue of forgiveness
Q. I do not go to confession as often as I ought because every time I confess the same sin, which is my inability to forgive my brother-in-law for the way he treated my sister while she was alive and in her final suffering. Do you have any advice?
A. Here’s a reply from OSV columnist Msgr. M. Francis Mannion:
As a confessor, I can tell you that most people confess the same sins over and over again. Certainly, a good confession requires the penitent to make a resolution not to commit the same sin again. But human nature is very frail on this matter. Because you know that you may sin in the same way again is not a good reason to stay away from the sacrament. So, I would advise you to go to confession often.
There is also the consideration that your anger at your brother-in-law may be justified. If he really did treat your sister badly, then it is understandable that forgiveness may be difficult.
Forgiveness does not mean simply forgetting the injuries inflicted on another and simply putting the past aside. It is not a matter of saying in your heart: Everything is all right. Forgiveness means letting God be the judge, and absolving yourself from that role. Only God can see into the heart and soul of your brother-in-law; only God knows the circumstances and pressures that led your brother-in-law to act as he did.
Pass the role of judgment on to God, and you will feel less burdened.
Q. We have a bishop in our diocese called coadjutor. What does that mean?
A. Here’s a reply from Father Reginald Martin:
The leadership Christ entrusted to His apostles is fundamental to understanding the Church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us Christ is the head, to which we are united, and from whom we receive the “‘fullness of the means of salvation’ … correct and complete confession of faith, full sacramental life, and ordained ministry in apostolic succession” (No. 830). St Ignatius of Antioch (d. A.D. 107), who was probably a disciple of St. Paul, emphasized the role of the bishop as Christ’s anointed representative, the guardian and interpreter of Church teaching.
Bishops’ duties are numerous, and the Church’s Code of Canon Law allows “one or several auxiliary bishops … to be appointed” (Canon 403.1) when diocesan needs are greater than a single bishop can manage. An auxiliary may eventually replace the bishop he assists, but this does not always happen.
If a bishop faces special needs, the Holy See can “appoint a coadjutor bishop … [who] does possess the right of succession” (No. 403.3). This right is the distinguishing characteristic of a coadjutor. Bishops are given greater authority than priests or deacons, a reflection of the larger scope of their ministry. A similar hierarchy among bishops accords a coadjutor greater responsibility, authority and honor than a simple auxiliary.
Q. In the Apostles' Creed, the phrase "On the third day, He rose again and ascended into heaven" is present. The word "again" presupposes that there was a prior rising before He rose into heaven. Could you tell me when and where the prior rising took place?
R.Y., N. Hollywood, Calif.
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D
In that context, the word "again" does seem to imply Our Lord had previously risen. But that is not its meaning. In the Creed, the word "again" refers to passage to a new form of existence. Specifically, it tells us our incarnate Lord has resumed His place in heaven at the Father's right hand.
Another use of the word "again" in this sense occurs in Eucharistic Prayer II. There the celebrant prays, "Remember our brothers and sisters who have gone to their rest in the hope of rising again." Clearly, this designates their rising to new life in Christ, not to a previous resurrection from the dead.
Q. I was listening to a Catholic radio channel in Pittsburgh, and the person speaking said if you have had an abortion, you are excommunicated from the church. Is this true even if the person has gone to confession and confessed the sin to the priest?
A. Here is a reply from Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D.:
If someone has gone to confession, confessed the sin to the priest, and been absolved, he or she can assume either that the priest lifted the excommunication or that such censure did not apply in that case. Otherwise, the priest could not have absolved them.
Those who have been excommunicated for any reason whatsoever can always have that penalty lifted by going to confession, renouncing the crime and changing their heart. The technical language of the Code of Canon Law specifies how this is done, but the principle behind canonical penalties is to help the penitents reform and return to the house of their Father. Excommunication is not intended to last forever; it's meant to encourage the sinner to reform.
In the sad case of abortion, canon law stipulates, "A person who actually procures an abortion incurs a latae sententiae excommunication" (Canon 1398). Latae sententiae is canonical language that means "automatic."
The penalty also applies to accomplices "if, without their assistance, the crime would not have been committed" (Canon 1329). The penalty of excommunication does not apply to those younger than 16 years old (see Canons 1323, 1324).
For the record, the Church still considers an excommunicated person a member of the Church, who is unable -- we would hope for only for a short time -- to receive the sacraments.
Q. What makes a mortal sin mortal?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience” (No. 1849). St. Augustine defined sin as “a word, deed, or desire contrary to the eternal law,” and St. Thomas Aquinas gave a very simple definition, writing “sin is nothing else than a bad human act.”
The Catechism expands these definitions by explaining, “Sins can be distinguished according to their objects … or according to the virtues they oppose, by excess or defect; or according to the commandments they violate” (No. 1853).
The difference between mortal and venial sin is one of degree. Mortal sin is so serious that it destroys the charity that ought to reside always in our hearts (see No. 1855). For a sin to be “mortal,” three conditions must be met: grave matter — for example, a violation of one of the Ten Commandments — committed with deliberate consent and full knowledge (see Nos. 1857-58).
Each condition is essential in judging the seriousness of a sin. “Sin committed through malice, by deliberate choice of evil, is the gravest” (No. 1860). If a person does not realize an act is sinful, or if one is forced to commit a sin, the gravity of the sin is considerably diminished.
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