How "likely" is a sin of OMISSION mortally sinful?


#1

I am composing this question from the perspective of a modern American (which I am). I realize that the Catholic Church has never taught the likelyhood of ANY mortal sin, so my question asks ONLY for opinions.

I will present some Catholic doctrine, which I have separated by quotation for the benefit of informed Catholics who already know this stuff and can can skip this bit.

The Church teaches that we can sin by acts of commission (things we have done) or by sins of omission (things we ought to have done, but did not do).

Either type of sin may be venially sinful (which does not compromise the salvation imparted by our Christian Baptism), or mortally sinful (which removes us from a state of Grace, which is normally (and hopefully) restored by Sacramental Confession) - otherwise we are damned.

The Church teaches that culpability for mortal sin requires full satisfaction of each of three requirements:
[LIST]*]The sin must be “grave” in nature
*]The sinner must have full knowledge of the sinful nature of the act
*]The sinner must freely consent to the act[/LIST]

As a modern American Catholic, I can absolutely assure everyone that, within the limits of my knowledge, I have committed mortal sins of commission (thank God, literally, for Confession). But I have NEVER been aware of the possibility that I have committed a mortal sin of omission. I have never accused myself of any such sin, nor have I ever confessed it.

I’m having a hard time even imagining a scenario in which a modern American Catholic could even commit a mortal sin of omission. I can imagine very limited and crazy scenarios (ie, a child steps in front of a moving vehicle, and I could safely pull him back, but do not, because I WANT the child to die).

I think that most (or, really all) mortal sins are sins of commission, and not omission.

Can anyone come up with a plausible example otherwise?


#2

Missing Mass.
Not having your infants baptized.
Refusing to have sexual relations with your spouse.
Starving yourself.
Etc.


#3

Matthew 25:41-46 is pretty specific about some omissions:
Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’

Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’
He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’
And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."


#4

OMISSION. Willful neglect or positive refusal to perform some good action that one’s conscience urges one to do. Such omission is morally culpable, and its gravity depends on the importance of what should have been done, on the person’s willfulness, and the circumstances of the situation.


#5

Right, this is what I’m talking about - what protestants would call “good works” - acts of charity. A previous poster cited violation of Church rules, which is a valid answer, but I was thinking of failure to perform “good works” (which most people would associate with acts of charity, not attending Mass).

But, in modern America, it seems that opportunities for charitable works whose omission constitutes mortal sin are rare. We don’t have true poverty when compared to the rest of the world. Our poor enjoy a higher standard of living than the “rich” in many nations. When was the last time you saw an emaciated child in America? Never. How many people freeze to death because of their poverty? Very few.

Beggars ask me for money. I suspect that the funds will go towards destructive habits. I don’t give. Centuries ago I would not have had such concerns, and would have given to beggars. Modern Western society gives me a different outlook on charity. I view petitioners with suspicion.

I support my Church, which is my duty (and failure to do so could be sinful), and my Church does charitable works, but I would give whether or not the parish supported these works, so I can’t claim that my intent is to help the poor.

I also support groups like Catholic Charities (in which my intent IS to help the poor), though I don’t perceive any moral obligation to do so, and I would not consider myself to be guilty of sin if I withdrew my support.

I COULD do a lot more than I do. I COULD work in a soup kitchen, or do prison ministry. But I don’t consider my failure to perform these works as mortally sinful. There certainly is nothing in Catholic teaching that says I have to work in a soup kitchen.

I cannot think of any situation which would be expected to occur in the workaday lives of ordinary Americans in which failure to act could constitute mortal sin. (I can dream up exceptional situations which one would not expect to encounter - that’s not what I’m talking about). I have personally never encountered a situation where I thought I would be sinning if I did not act.

I’m just wondering if someone has an example.


#6

Honestly, when I posted this question, I fully expected that SOMEBODY could come up with such an example.


#7

On the contrary, David, I think that most Protestants consider the entire sacramental system a program of works based salvation.

You must have a very interesting experience of modern America. I doubt that it is at all similar to the majority of the populace.

Clearly your life experience is very separated from the poor, the hungry, and those who are freezing because they are homeless.

I am the same way, but I do not think it is a different outlook on charity. It is just that we have a much greater confidence that our contributions are well used if they go to an organized program.

to do so, and I would not consider myself to be guilty of sin if I withdrew my support.

You have some very odd and unusual perceptions, David.

What I am hearing is a heart that does not go out to the poor and needy. Anytime we fail to implement the gifts and call of God in our lives, we fall short of His plan for us. You don’t sound like a person that knows what his calling is with regard to Christian ministry.

I guess there are some advantages to having a very sheltered life.

If you cannot be persuaded by the examples of Jesus, because you believe they don’t apply to you, then I don’t think there are any examples someone could give on this thread that would help you at all.
[/quote]


#8

One of the posters has indeed come up with examples. Perhaps you haven’t yet read all the posts?

Failing to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days without sufficient reason is the perfect example - such failure is grave matter and so under the usual conditions definitely constitutes mortal sin. Many Catholics are slack in this regard, so it is hardly uncommon.

Failure to pay lawful taxes when due - assuming one is aware of the obligation to pay and able to do so - is a form of theft, in that the withholder is depriving the government of goods that rightfully belong to it. As with all theft, in some circumstances failure to pay tax could constitute mortal sin. How common is such behaviour? Probably very.

What about people who fail to provide proper food, clothing or medical attention for their children? Workers in child welfare can attest to many occasions where parent sin mortally in neglecting their children.

Or those who fail to go to school or work when able and obligated to? Under some circumstances, this failure can surely also rise to the level of grave/mortal sin.

I think there are numerous quite common sins of omission that are often or usually mortal.


#9

It doesn’t get any more plausible than what comes from the mouth of Jesus Christ in Matthew 25:32

*32 and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 34Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, 36naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ 37Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ 40 And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ 41 Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
*
Faith without works is dead, and neglect of works is a mortal sin.

We will be judged on what we failed to do, as well as on the bad things we did. :shrug:

You also wrote:

“But, in modern America, it seems that opportunities for charitable works whose omission constitutes mortal sin are rare. We don’t have true poverty when compared to the rest of the world. Our poor enjoy a higher standard of living than the “rich” in many nations. When was the last time you saw an emaciated child in America? Never. How many people freeze to death because of their poverty? Very few.”

This is not a very good argument. There are thousands of charities that need your support. There are millions of prisoners that need prison ministry volunteers. Join the Knights of Columbus and find out how many works of mercy you can contribute to.


#10

Have you considered that your reputation on CAF has preceded you?


#11

I think what the OP is saying is that his conscience is not urging him to do anything of this nature.

On another thread he posted this:

[quote=David Filmer] What is an example of such an act of charity that I (or any ordinary American) might expect to be presented with, which would constitute sin (venial or mortal) if I failed to respond?

My instinct tells me that such examples must surely exist, even in this day and age. Yet, I cannot think of any. None of the acts of charity that Jesus named really apply to the average Westerner, because we are never confronted with such situations. We cannot commit a sin of omission because we failed to do something that we never had a reasonable opportunity to do. And we are not required, under penalty of sin, to seek out such opportunities.

Have you ever heard of an American who starved to death as a result of his poverty? I haven’t. America’s poor are often obese. How can I encounter a starving person if there are no starving people in America?

How can I, as a modern American, commit a sin of omission of an act of charity?
[/quote]


#12

You are correct. But I’m just an average middle-class guy.

I’ve encountered homeless people, but most homeless people are not homeless because of their poverty, but because of mental illness. Am I expected to just hand out money to homeless people? Is this my obligation (under penalty of sin) as a Catholic?

I am the same way, but I do not think it is a different outlook on charity. It is just that we have a much greater confidence that our contributions are well used if they go to an organized program.

Which is why I give to organized programs. But, if I did not do so, would I be guilty of mortal sin? Can you cite any requirement that I give to Catholic Charities, etc?

What I am hearing is a heart that does not go out to the poor and needy.

My heart does go out - that’s why I support various programs. My question is, if I did not support those programs, would I be guilty of mortal sin? If so, please cite Catholic teaching.

You don’t sound like a person that knows what his calling is with regard to Christian ministry.

EXACTLY! I am having a hard time relating the Church’s social doctrine to the lives of ordinary Americans. That’s why I posted this thread. I’m not trying to pick a fight - I’m trying to understand.

If we lived in a utopia, where there was no hunger or need, how would that teaching apply? Would there be no such thing as a sin of omission (of a work of charity) if there were no need? I’m thinking the answer is “yes - there would be no such thing.” I’m not saying America is a utopia, but I would claim that most of the world thinks America is a utopia, or pretty darned close to one.

I guess there are some advantages to having a very sheltered life.

I HAVE led a sheltered life. I was born a middle-class American, and I have always been a middle-class American. And, on top of that, I’m a white male. I’m college educated and have always enjoyed good job security. That is a sheltered life. Please don’t hold it against me.

If you cannot be persuaded by the examples of Jesus, because you believe they don’t apply to you, then I don’t think there are any examples someone could give on this thread that would help you at all.

That is most unfortunate. I was really hoping you could help me understand.


#13

I’m hoping it has. It saves time.

But I think that some people (yourself included) ascribe sinister notions to my inquiries. I post on this Forum for two purposes: to explain and defend the Catholic Faith to others, and to grow in it myself.

I subscribe to each and every Doctrine of the Catholic Church, to the best of my ability, and would never place my opinion above Catholic Doctrine. But there is a lot that is said on this Forum that I cannot find in Catholic Doctrine (such as the notion that I might be guilty of mortal sin if I don’t contribute to Catholic Charities, etc).

If you EVER find my questions or opinions in error, all you have to do is cite Catholic Doctrine, and I will acknowledge my error, retract my question/opinion and quit the field.


#14

While there are a signifcantly large percentage of mentally ill persons who are homeless, your statement indicates that you know very little about homelessness.

But this is my point, David. If you have a heart for the needy, then you are not concerned about how you might be guilty for not supporting them.

An experiential understanding will help you much more. Fasting from shelter, for example, and hanging around with the homeless or spending a night in a homeless shelter would be much more transformative for you than a citation of doctrine.

It may be for you, but that is not the case for the majority.

Actually I think you are holding it against yourself. Only you can step outside of your comfort zone to grasp what it means to see Christ in the face of the poor, the sick, and the imprisoned.

Yeah, the kind of understanding you need comes through an encounter with the persons in whose faces we are to see Christ. It won’t happen in an internet forum, but in the places where they live and suffer.


#15

I’ve read them, but they were not in the spirit of my question (which I clarified in Post 4)

I’m asking about sins of omission of acts of charity which the average American would be reasonably expected to encounter. I’m not asking about failure to obey rules or laws.

snip a list of rules and laws]

What about people who fail to provide proper food, clothing or medical attention for their children? Workers in child welfare can attest to many occasions where parent sin mortally in neglecting their children.

Yes, that is a valid example (it happens to also be a law in the US, but let’s ignore that for now).

This is an interesting example - it opens up an area of responsibility that has not yet been explored.

Yes, a father (I’m a father) is obliged to provide for his children. Failure to do so (when able) is certainly a sin of omission. But, when this happens, it is almost always because of some addiction (usually drugs or gambling). Few fathers would willfully let his children starve.

So, while every father can willfully choose to starve his children, very few actually do so. It is a sin of omission that every father could face, but few ever commit.

It’s a valid answer - it fits the criteria. But it doesn’t have that satisfying crunch. Even as a father, I don’t really see how it applies to me (or most fathers). It never occurred to me to let my children starve, so I can’t claim any moral victory if I was never tempted.

Or those who fail to go to school or work when able and obligated to? Under some circumstances, this failure can surely also rise to the level of grave/mortal sin.

This is your best example. It is the (deadly) sin of sloth. I think more people are guilty of sloth than letting their children starve, but it is still not a sin that most fathers would be tempted to commit.

I think there are numerous quite common sins of omission that are often or usually mortal.

Maybe so, but I must confess a selfish motive in opening this thread - I am looking for sins of omission (of acts of charity) that I might commit. I am unlikely to commit sins which I am not tempted to commit (starving my children, not going to work, etc).

I understand perfectly the idea of sins of commission. I don’t understand how sins of omissions relate to me (as an average middle-class American white male).

And that bothers me. Because I think they DO relate to me. I just don’t understand how.


#16

You may be right. While I don’t think that I am obliged, as a matter of Doctrine or sin, to seek out need, the fact that I rarely/never encounter it myself, and the fact that this limits my ability to respond to need, you have convinced me that I ought to, at least, have a look.

I found a local homeless ministry with a bit of Googling. Because of what you have said (which was a bit less judgmental, and a bit more pastoral), I promise you that I will, at least, attend one of their orientation sessions. We will see what happens after that.


#17

Here is some Catholic doctrine, from the catechism, that expresses the obligation very forcefully:

2446 St. John Chrysostom vigorously recalls this: "Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life. The goods we possess are not ours, but theirs."239 “The demands of justice must be satisfied first of all; that which is already due in justice is not to be offered as a gift of charity”:240

When we attend to the needs of those in want, we give them what is theirs, not ours. More than performing works of mercy, we are paying a debt of justice.

So yes, not giving to the poor (when we are able to) is the sin of theft. Theft is a sin of venial or grave matter depending on the degree of theft, meaning in this case the degree of our own wealth and the immediate needs of the poor as we encounrer them.

This article discusses the obligation in more detail: newadvent.org/cathen/01328f.htm

It is also worth noting that many examinations of conscience for confession ask with regard to grave matter something to the effect of:

Have you denied help to the poor, needy, or destitute, even though capable?

Hopefully this helps to make it clear enough that the obligation to help the poor is indeed firmly part of Catholic doctrine. Of course, the words of Christ, as quoted by others already in this thread, make the case as black and white as it can be.


#18

It will occur if one knows it is a sin and deliberately omits what is gravely commanded. What could such a grave omission be?

Two of the ten commandments are expressed positively.

[LIST]
*]Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
*]Honor your father and your mother.
[/LIST]
So two examples are neglect of duties in these commandments. However, we also have the two great commandments to love God with our whole heart, mind, soul, and strength and our neighbor as ourselves. So it is possible to neglect our prayer, etc.

Another is scandal given through omission of a grave matter. Catechism of St. Pius X:A: Scandal is a grave sin because, by causing the loss of souls, it tends to destroy the greatest work of God, namely, the redemption; it effects the death of another’s soul by depriving it of the life of grace, which is more precious than the life of the body; and is the source of a multitude of sins. Hence God threatens the severest chastisement to those who give scandal.

Baltimore Catechism:Q. 276. What is our sin called when we neglect things commanded?
A. When we neglect things commanded our sin is called a sin of omission. Such sins as willfully neglecting to hear Mass on Sundays, or neglecting to go to Confession at least once a year, are sins of omission.

This article gives examples, particularly the mortal sin of omission, sloth. catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=7055

St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Question 72. The distinction of sins, Article 6, Do they differ in regard to omission and commission?But if we refer to the formal species of sins of omission and commission, they do not differ specifically, because they are directed to the same end, and proceed from the same motive. For the covetous man, in order to hoard money, both robs, and omits to give what he ought, and in like manner, the glutton, to satiate his appetite, both eats too much and omits the prescribed fasts. The same applies to other sins: for in things, negation is always founded on affirmation, which, in a manner, is its cause. Hence in the physical order it comes under the same head, that fire gives forth heat, and that it does not give forth cold.
Catholic Encyclopedia, background info on sin:“a sin of omission is a failure to do what is commanded. A sin of omission, however, requires a positive act whereby one wills to omit the fulfilling of a precept, or at least wills something incompatible with its fulfillment”
background info on omission:"The degree of guilt incurred by an omission is measured like that attaching to sins of commission, by the dignity of the virtue and the magnitude of the precept to which the omission is opposed as well as the amount of deliberation. In general, according to St. Thomas, the sin of omission consisting as it does in a leaving out of good is less grievous than a sin of commission which involves a positive taking up with evil.

It may be asked at what time one incurs the guilt of a sin of omission in case he fails to do something which he is unable to do, by reason of a cause for which he is entirely responsible. For instance, if a person fails to perform a duty in the morning as a result of becoming inebriated the previous night. The guilt is not incurred at the time the duty should be performed because while intoxicated he is incapable of moral guilt. The answer seems to be that he becomes responsible for the omission when having sufficiently foreseen that his neglect will follow upon his intoxication he does nevertheless surrender himself to his craving for liquor.


“In my judgment, the most significant feature of the New Code of Canon Law is its clear, extensive and strong doctrinal content.” – Fr. John Hardon, S.J.


#19

Mind boggling, truly.

I can only imagine that such a statement emanates from your very sheltered existence. The majority of children raised below the middle class level come our of fatherless homes, or homes where the father is abusive, imprisoned, or perhaps just unemployed and unemployable. I wish very much that what you are saying is true,but unfortunately, it is very many.

It seems that any “claim to moral victory” would be based upon the needs of the ego. That is not to say it isn’t commendable that you have fulfilled your duty as a father without questioning, but what if God is calling you do something beyond what comes naturally to you?

Such acts are those spoken of in Eph. 2:10 - they are those that God has predestined for you, that emanate from grace, by faith. These good works are the reason we have been justified before God, and it is our life work, our worship, to participate in them.

One is obligated to discover one’s gifts, given for the purpose of fulfilling the works ordained. Then one must unwrap those gifts and put them to work.

I suspect that the Spirit of God is stirring within you to will and to do His good pleasure. :wink:


#20

The Spirit cannot very well fill the sails of a ship that is at anchor in the harbor. If you want to be moved into the direction you are meant to go, then you must pull up anchor and unfurl the sails. If you go exploring and it does not click with your soul, then you can keep looking. :thumbsup:

It is His job to guide, and ours to walk.


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