Catholics and the “Forgiveness of Sin”

At my Latin mass this morning, the priest’s message was on the part of the Apostle’s Creed about “the forgiveness of sin.”

I thought I heard him say that baptism removes temporal punishment for sin, but the catechism says differently, in a sense. 1263 affirms that baptism brings about the remission of “all punishment for sin,” but 1264 goes on to state: “Yet, certain temporal consequences of sin remain in the baptized, such as suffering, illness, death, and such frailties inherent in life as weaknesses of character, and so on, as well as an inclination to sin that Tradition calls concupiscence…” I’m not sure if the catechism would call the temporal consequences “punishment,” but they’re still a result of sin.

Later in the homily, the priest defined temporal punishment as what people receive in purgatory, but I’m not sure if Catholicism teaches that baptism removes this. 1030 says that purgatory is for “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but [are] still imperfectly purified…” Purgatory is for the saved, the baptized.

Much of the priest’s homily was encouraging Catholics to go to confession. He said that, if you think venial sins are no big deal, there’s a greater chance you’ll move on to the more serious mortal sins. Consequently, you should continually be in a state of repentance. The priest also said confession is good because it allows Catholics to become humble before taking communion, lessening any attitude of entitlement they may have.

It’s because of this sort of message that there are “recovering Catholics” in the world: they associate Catholicism with continual guilt, with beating oneself up over faults. And there are people who criticize Christianity in general because they think it tells people to grovel before God.

At the same time, Catholicism also has a reputation for being antinomian. People say that Catholicism teaches one can go to confession, leave, and then sin with impunity. No problem, though, for one can go back to confession and receive forgiveness.

A recovering Catholic once told me that he couldn’t understand Christianity’s preoccupation with sin. “So you covet your neighbor’s wife, big deal! Why not focus on doing good rather than beating yourself up?”

I don’t like beating myself up because I’m imperfect, but I think it’s important for me to remember that I’m on a moral path, and to continually ask God for strength to have a good mindset, avoid evil, and make right decisions. Does that mean every time I commit a venial sin (e.g., lust, if that counts as such), I say, “Oh no, next thing you know, I’ll be getting someone pregnant, or getting an STD, or going after another man’s wife!”? No, but it makes me mindful of my desires and the negative consequences that can result from them, if I’m not careful.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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