Help me understand mortal sin

First off, I do not believe in eternal security or anything like that. I believe that people can fall away from God through their own free will.

I have struggles with the traditional Catholic teaching on mortal sin. Mind you, I am Catholic and so assent to the church as best I can. I simply have difficulty understanding this teaching. Stick around and help, if you can.

I guess you could say part of my struggle comes from personal experience – when I do things the church says are mortal sin, and I accept that they are indeed immoral, yet I struggle to see how such acts objectively cut me off from God.

So here goes the intellectual aspect of my struggle: if a mortal sin is not deliberately acted on with the intent of rejecting God, or if it has no malice, or if it is not representative of an overall mindset chosen by the individual, then how can that act separate one from God?

In other words, I get that every person forms a mindset for or against God - kind of like a “fundamental option” whereby our lives’ choices more and more align with God, or not. Also, I know that some people commit grave acts fully out of hatred and in spite of God. However, I struggle with how other acts can be objectively mortal sins, simply by the nature of the act. It seems that anything could be a mortal sin with the right mindset. It seems intention is more important. Right?

Say if someone struggles with a sexual sin - like masturbation or even pornographic use. These are immoral acts to be sure. But the church lists them as objectively grave, and so deserving of hell. So say a young guy falls into masturbation under deep desire or addiction. Then he immediately regrets the decision. Can that mindset really be separate from God? It’s as if falling to one’s strong desires easily separated one from God. Is this right? Or is it hard to commit a mortal sin?


I ask this with sincerity and openness. I’m not trying to justify any immoral activity or desent from church teaching.

I have found that my understanding of mortal sin has been harmful to my spiritual life. I’m often discouraged and highly anxious when I fall into the same grave sins, because I am told that these acts are objectively mortal. I go to confession often, and I do not like the feeling of being “in and out” of god’s grace.

I accept the teaching on mortal sin and the sacrament of confession. It just seems our practice of it these days is quite different from early Christianity, when the sacrament was not repeated over and over and mortal sins were limited. Surely at least my understanding is faulty… for surely I can’t be choosing God and then rejecting him over and over again, right? Especially when I don’t feel like I’m against him, or when I continue to pray and regret sin?

Fundamental Option as has been proposed by some in the past - is not accepted by the Church.

If one commits a mortal sin - (grave matter, full knowledge and deliberate consent) then one in effect changes ones “fundamental option” - one has chosen a mortal sin. And such yes separates one from God. Such does not have to be done intentionally “against God” or out of malice (that though would make it a worse mortal sin). If one chooses that which is gravely wrong -for any reason - with the needed knowledge and complete consent - one commits a mortal sin.

Christians who desire to live as such …to follow Christ…can yes still commit a mortal sin. Such can rather be a “mortal sin of weakness” not malice.

Thankfully because of the work of grace in their life - if they fall they quickly turn back to God. For they were not intentionally rejecting God -but fell out of weakness.

The Great Sacrament of Confession quickly restores them to* true life* (and even Perfect Contrition perhaps prior to Confession perhaps) and gives them more grace to avoid the occasions and to choose the right way.

The Father received back his prodigal son. The Good Shepherd takes his sheep on his shoulders…the Holy Spirit again returns to His temple in grace.

Mortal sins were limited? Your confusing a few things here.

Yes at least in some regions and in certain periods *certain particular *mortal sins were absolved only once (i.e. apostasy, murder, adultery)…but this does not mean that confession per se was only permitted once. Or that there were not other mortals sins -that would be a mistaken notion.

An example of the only once is that Origen (born 185) noted in one of his homilies that for the graver crimes (such as those mentioned above) there was only one opportunity for penance…

Which one would think – given the rigor involved in the penance then-- one would not likely fall again into apostasy (or idolatry), or adultery or murder too soon!!

This does not mean other mortal sins were not confessed (or that they were limited to the extremely bad ones mentioned…)…or could not be confessed more than one time…but in certain regions…for certain very serious sins (like idolatry) …there was but once going through that process to be reconciled… (though one could still “do penance and pray etc”) … but one should remember too that the Christian of those days was very aware of the reality of martyrdom that could happen to them …and was thus often very serious about following Christ by the Holy Spirit …and avoiding such as adultery and idolatry …otherwise he did not become a Christian…one really was always conscious of the reality of baptism…the reality of being a Christian…

Let us remember Jesus of Nazareth is The Lamb and the Good Shepherd …

"Jesus is called the Lamb: He is the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. Someone might think: but how can a lamb, which is so weak, a weak little lamb, how can it take away so many sins, so much wickedness? With Love. With his meekness. Jesus never ceased being a lamb: meek, good, full of love, close to the little ones, close to the poor. He was there, among the people, healing everyone, teaching, praying. Jesus, so weak, like a lamb. However, he had the strength to take all our sins upon himself, all of them.

“But, Father, you don’t know my life: I have a sin that…, I can’t even carry it with a truck…”.

Many times, when we examine our conscience, we find some there that are truly bad! But he carries them. He came for this: to forgive, to make peace in the world, but first in the heart. Perhaps each one of us feels troubled in his heart, perhaps he experiences darkness in his heart, perhaps he feels a little sad over a fault… He has come to take away all of this, He gives us peace, he forgives everything. “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away sin”: he takes away sin, it’s root and all! This is salvation Jesus brings about by his love and his meekness. And in listening to what John the Baptist says, who bears witness to Jesus as the Saviour, our confidence in Jesus should grow. Many times we trust a doctor: it is good, because the doctor is there to cure us; we trust in a person: brothers and sisters can help us. It is good to have this human trust among ourselves. But we forget about trust in the Lord: this is the key to success in life. Trust in the Lord, let us trust in the Lord! “Lord, look at my life: I’m in the dark, I have this struggle, I have this sin…”; everything we have: “Look at this: I trust in you!”. And this is a risk we must take: to trust in Him, and He never disappoints."

~Pope Francis

"Jesus is the “Good Shepherd” who goes in search of lost sheep, who knows his sheep and lays down his life for them (cf. Mt 18:12-14; Lk 15:4-7; Jn 10:2-4, 11-18). He is the way, the right path that leads us to life (cf. Jn 14:6), the light that illuminates the dark valley and overcomes all our fears (cf. Jn 1:9; 8:12; 9:5; 12:46).

He is the generous host who welcomes us and rescues us from our enemies, preparing for us the table of his body and his blood (cf. Mt 26:26-29; Mk 14:22-25); Lk 22:19-20) and the definitive table of the messianic banquet in Heaven (cf. Lk 14:15ff; Rev 3:20; 19:9). He is the Royal Shepherd, king in docility and in forgiveness, enthroned on the glorious wood of the cross (cf. Jn 3:13-15; 12:32; 17:4-5)."

~Pope Benedict XVI

"I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord”.[1] The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms.

Now is the time to say to Jesus: “Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace”. How good it feels to come back to him whenever we are lost!

Let me say this once more: God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy.

Christ, who told us to forgive one another “seventy times seven” (Mt 18:22) has given us his example: he has forgiven us seventy times seven. Time and time again he bears us on his shoulders.

No one can strip us of the dignity bestowed upon us by this boundless and unfailing love. With a tenderness which never disappoints, but is always capable of restoring our joy, he makes it possible for us to lift up our heads and to start anew. Let us not flee from the resurrection of Jesus, let us never give up, come what will. May nothing inspire more than his life, which impels us onwards!"

~ Pope Francis

EVANGELII GAUDIUM,_a_joy_which_is_shared

Habitual sin “may” lessen one’s culpability for repeated acts, but the person remains in objective mortal sin. One to discuss with your confessor.

Sr. Josefa Menendez (1890-1923) -Jesus’ Message to the World of His Mercy for All :

“I would like these [those living with sin] to understand that it is not the fact of being in sin that ought to keep them from Me. They must never think that there is no remedy for them, nor that they have forfeited for ever the love that once was theirs… No, poor souls, the God who has shed all His Blood for you has no such feelings for you!”

“It is My intention also, to show souls that I never refuse grace, even to those who are guilty of grave sin; nor do I separate them from the good souls whom I love with predilection. I keep them all in My Heart, that all may receive the help needed for their state of soul.” -Jesus to Sr. Josefa Menendez

When one masturbates one destroys the potential new human from being born, much in the same way that abortion does. What if that sperm (or egg) that was lost by masturbation was the one that created the person who grew up to cure cancer? Or the person who was supposed to bring humanity the warp engine. It also destroys one’s individual dignity.

If one is married, it takes away from marital intimacy and can ultimately lead to the destruction of the marriage. Why bother having normal marital relations when one only needs one’s hand? This closes one off from one’s spouse. It also closes off the openness to new life. And it pertains to both men and women. These are the reasons why such sexual sin is a grave matter. That is what separates one from God when one gives in to this temptation.

Pornography is just evil. Many of the women involved with pornography are sexually trafficked. The ones that are not deserve to be able to keep their dignity intact. Both men and women displaying what should be an intimate and loving act between a married couple for money is disgusting.

This is someone’s daughter, granddaughter, sister, cousin, aunt, niece. The other side of it is, this is someone’s son, grandson, cousin, uncle, nephew, brother. Think about your next door neighbor. Would you watch if it was one of their (hopefully) adult children?

Then pretty much everything that applies to why masturbation is a grave matter, applies to pornography except it is many times over with each viewing.

So sexual sin is a grave matter. And unless I’m mistaken, saying no to it doesn’t lead to DTs. Regardless of what some young men have told some young ladies over the years, nobody has actually died from not pursuing a sexual encounter, whether alone or with someone else.

If one has a serious addiction, which does happen, one should seek professional counseling. There are ways to overcome an addiction to sexual sin. If it is a habit or a more casual occurrence, find something else to do. It might be as simple as remembering your guardian angel is watching. Or one may need to destroy one’s credit card for a few weeks in order not to make the purchase of pornography.

Finally, one should speak to one’s confessor. He may have a great solution.

I don’t mean to be trite, but nobody said it was easy.
Remember a sin is mortal if it is a grave matter (sexual sin is such),
full consent of the will I chose to do this),
and knowing what one is doing is wrong (I know this is wrong but I’m doing it anyway).

How easy is it to speed? Intentional speeding can be a mortal sin. Someone’s life is in jeopardy. How easy is it to keep that little bit of extra change that the cashier gave one? It is just as easy to commit sexual sin.


Depends on what means by fundamental option.
As a fact or description, doesn’t seem to conflict any doctrine. Simply states persons tend toward God or against God.

But you basically just re-stated the teaching which I am trying to understand.

It seems that falling out of weakness would not (should not) be a mortal sin. Maybe a materially grave one (in objective sense). But how can falling out of weakness constitute changing one’s “fundamental option.” Seems a bit off.

Is it hard to commit a mortal sin, hmmm… I once heard a priest say that in his opinion, mortal sin for a faithful Catholic is the hardest thing to do, though not impossible. It takes something that is in itself a grave matter and is chosen with complete, clear, and willful malice of forethought, understanding that the sinner is, with complete knowledge and intent saying that “I want this action/deed and I chose it over eternal life with you Father.” One who loves God, rarely goes through that thought process and chooses willfully. Can it happen, yes, but as one matures in their Catholic faith, less and less likely.

You mentioned a young man when you referred to masturbation. How young?; 15, 27, 34?
And also, what marital status? At what age is the brain and the will competent to fully understand the ramifications of a given action? That does come into play in relation to this action (masturbation)

You mention masturbation, pornography, and other immoral acts. While the Church says that they are grave matter, that doesn’t automatically make them mortal sins. There are two more conditions as stated above. When it comes to masturbation, I suggest you read section 2352 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. And I also suggest you read the epilogue of the First letter of John. Then talk it over with a priest or a number of priests to work your dilemma out. The posters on CAF (with the exception of those priests who contribute) are earnest in their opinions, but not as good a source as those who deal with these subjects on a daily basis.


The subjective sinfulness of the act is addressed by God and not known by anyone else and various factors can play into determining the level of culpability. We are not all equally equipped, in all situations, to avoid certain sins.

A mortal sin separates us from God but it is not necessary that our motive to commit the sin be primarily the rejection of God. Most people don’t sin primarily to reject God. Most sins are committed because we seek the perceived good in the sinful act. I don’t think most people looking at pornography and masturbating are doing so to reject God. They are doing so for the pleasure they find in it. The same is true for adultery, drunkenness, and even gossip.

As to why this is mortal sin it depends of course on your knowledge. If you know the act is grave then it makes good sense to me that the act itself could cut you off from God. It isn’t just your motive that is the issue but your knowledge of the severity of the act itself. And of course it isn’t just your motive or knowledge but those in combination with your free choice (which could be impaired). So it seems to me perfectly reasonable that if you freely choose to do an act which God considers gravely sinful, and you know this, then you are necessarily cutting yourself off from him. This follows logically.

Think of it in terms of just human relationships. If you have a sibling who finds it deeply offensive for you to do something to them would you be surprised that they considered the relationship severed if you freely chose to do that act? For instance what if you told a very embarrassing story about them? You might not be telling it to embarrass them but to get a good laugh from the crowd. But surely you wouldn’t be surprised that your sibling took great offense? Would you be surprised if they didn’t call you for a while or until you apologized?

In a mortal sin of weakness there is grave matter, full knowledge and complete consent.

The fact that something is a sin of weakness does not simply remove the serious culpability. Ones will is weak sure -but it is still free and making the choice. The point is though that one is not intentionally choosing something out of malice or out of hatred of God. But one has fallen due to weakness.

One is still for whatever reason choosing to do something that is gravely sinful - with full knowledge and deliberate consent. It is not off at all.

Many mortal sins of those who honestly seek to live Christian lives - are of this kind.

The fact that a sin is a sin of weakness not malice does not mean per se that a mortal sin was not committed. But it does mean that it was not that sin of malice and the person can more readily respond to grace and return to the Lord.

As note there can be an orthodox use of the term - and an unorthodox use.

Best to set that aside and just look at the Teaching of the Church and orthodox Moral theology.

Can there be aspects that mitigate the culpability - even to where a mortal sin was not committed? Yes such is possible (ones confessor can advise). But that is not simply due to a sin being a sin of weakness.

In a mortal sin of weakness there is still grave matter, full knowledge and complete consent. The reality of mortal sin is what it is.

The fact that something is a sin of weakness does not simply remove the serious culpability. Ones will is weak sure -but it is still free and making the choice. The point is though that one is not intentionally choosing something out of malice or out of hatred of God. But one has fallen due to weakness.

One is still for whatever reason choosing to do something that is gravely sinful - with full knowledge and deliberate consent.

Many mortal sins of those who are seeking to live very faithful Christian lives - but who yet fall - are of this kind.

The fact that a sin is a sin of weakness not malice (which is the gravest) does not mean per se that a mortal sin was not committed. But it does mean that it was not that sin of malice …and also the person can more readily respond to grace and return to the Lord…and thus to the state of grace - so one is then again in true life. Life in Christ.

Compendium issued by Pope Benedict XVI

395. When does one commit a mortal sin?


One commits a mortal sin when there are simultaneously present: grave matter, full knowledge, and deliberate consent. This sin destroys charity in us, deprives us of sanctifying grace, and, if unrepented, leads us to the eternal death of hell. It can be forgiven in the ordinary way by means of the sacraments of Baptism and of Penance or Reconciliation.
396. When does one commit a venial sin?**


One commits a venial sin, which is essentially different from a mortal sin, when the matter involved is less serious or, even if it is grave, when full knowledge or complete consent are absent. Venial sin does not break the covenant with God but it weakens charity and manifests a disordered affection for created goods. It impedes the progress of a soul in the exercise of the virtues and in the practice of moral good. It merits temporal punishment which purifies.

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