How much do intentions matter?

I think, in one sense, they matter a great deal. I recall a vivid example in CS Lewis's Screwtape Letters how frustrated Satan was with God who was happy with some soul's actions, even though the action was wrong,. The man INTENDED good, and really believed he was doing good, and God based His judgment of the man on that, NOT on the action.

On the other hand, I have heard many times that intentions are not that important, your actions are. I forget the saints and quotes (but I know of at least a half dozen). Things like:
The road to hell is paved with good intentions....

Perhaps a key is to look at how often our good intentions are acted upon. How often do we DO what we intend to do. If most of the time we DO, then that is good. If most of the time we DON'T, then maybe we need to look at our lives a little more closely.

If it is my intention to pray a daily rosary, that IS a good intention. Certainly a better intention than to NOT pray the roasry daily. BUT, if my actions show that I only do it 5% of the time, am I lying to myself? Is it REALLY my intention to pray the rosary daily? If that IS my inetntion, WHAT am I doing to make it a reality? What's getting in the way of my doing it? Why? What can I change?

True, sometimes, for most of us, there are areas in our life we truly WANT to change but struggle with almost continuously. (Think here of the same sins you confess OVER AND OVER AND OVER again.) Our intention is to overcome them. And I DO think, that with the grace of God, we can (eventually) overcome them. But it's also kind of like the grace of God (usually) gives us the strength to do it. Not that it is automatically "fixed" when we pray. We must DO our part. Over and over and over. And keep checking oursleves, refining. (That is one reason why frequent confession is good, I think...) To amend our lives (sometimes I REALLY hate that part of the Act of Contrition) means to change. Good intentions are good, they are not enough.

Just thinking about this..... Not suggesting right or wrong answers....

Choose God,


I think you’re using the word “intention” in two different senses.

When we use the word in one sense, we are talking about acting with a particular goal in mind, the goal being your intention. (That goal might be to use some particular means, and need not only be an end.) If the action is chosen erroneously, meaning you believe it will further the goal when it will not, CS Lewis is saying that you will be judged on your intention; that is, that you will be judged to have acted in good faith in order to reach a virtuous goal, rather than being judged on the outcome you actually got.

Used in another sense, we are talking about having a goal but not acting on it. In this case, you know the goal is worthwhile, but you do nothing to reach it. You haven’t acted in a way that is realistically going to accomplish anything, even from your own standpoint. This is the kind of intentions that pave the way to hell: that is, goals which we recognize to be good but which we do not act to reach.

Now, I suppose there is an overlap, which I would call “magical thinking”, that actually believes that having a goal is substantially the same as acting so as to possibly reach it. Luckily, it is the Lord that sorts these things out when it comes to judgement. As for us, we do the best we know, and when we know better, we ought to do better.


EasterJoy hit the nail on the head here.


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