Sorry to be graphic here, but there’s really no other way to explain this without going into detail.
Last night I found myself sexually fantasizing about a woman I’ve been attracted to for some time now. While thinking these impure thoughts, I reached down and touched myself for literally not even 2 seconds. I immediately caught myself in the act and prayed to God to help me clear my mind of such impure thoughts. He answered my prayer and I was able to focus on something else.
I am grateful for the grace He never ceases to impart upon me, and I consider this incident a victory.
Nonetheless, I DID technically masturbate even if it was extremely brief. I would like to partake in the Eucharist and Mass tonight but am afraid I might be committing sacrilege in doing so. Also, I missed the opportunity for Confession earlier today.
Am I in the clear to receive Communion tonight, or should I wait until I can confess this tomorrow?
Anyway, OP, I don’t think that trying to work this out with anonymous internet posters is the way to go. I would talk through this at your next confession.
That said, as far as the masturbation itself, my gut is that it probably is not a mortal sin. Remember that mortal sin requires deliberate consent. So if you started masturbating absentmindedly, realized what you were doing was wrong, and then stopped, you likely lacked deliberate consent. So at least as far as that goes, you probably don’t need to rush to the confessional. But I would just mention it the next time you’re in there, just to get some guidance on how to think about situations like that in the future.
I agree with this stance. I think we, as Catholics, get far too caught up in whether we’re in a state of mortal sin or not. And I think this is rooted in pride. We feel a sense of accomplishment over how long we haven’t committed that terrible sin over there. It filled us with self-righteousness.
The more I’ve moved away from my scrupulous conscience, the more I’ve realized that this obsession with mortal sins tends to come with an attitude of avoiding sin like we’re paying taxes. Venial sins become the stuff we permit for ourselves.It’s like that chapter in Mere Christianity where Lewis talks about whether Christianity is hard or easy. Christ isn’t look to cut off a branch here or there. He wants to uproot the whole plant. It’s both harder and easier.
And the reality is that if you have a scrupulous conscience, the direction you end up going is one that accepts more of Christ’s mercy. You’re no longer worrying and fretting about morality. You learn to accept that you are a sinner and that is it through God’s grace that sin is overcome. You rely less on your own will power. This gives you freedom.
And honestly, the more I’ve taken this approach, the less anxious I am about sin, and the more hopeful I am about the world. Because I truly believe that all those years I thought I was jumping in and out of mortal sin, my greatest sin was pride. I don’t believe anyone who is actively living a sacramental life commits mortal sin. Rather such a person may indeed fall into grave sins, but the very fact that they’re continually seeking God’s grace means that where they’re falling is simply a matter of human weakness.
I mean, I did become an expert at being able to go through those confession guides and say no to every one of those questions. I didn’t masturbate. I didn’t harbor sexual thoughts. I didn’t gossip. I didn’t, I didn’t, I didn’t. But the manner in which I was avoiding these things cut me off from people and involved a lot of self abuse. I was finding my own unique ways to sin and a lot of it was veiled sin.
There’s a difference between recognizing yourself as a sinner and avoiding the sin of pride to avoid these sins, and deciding that you can entirely stop trying because all you have to do is go through the motions of going to confession. There’s not trying at all and there’s trying so hard that you’re not relying or trusting in God’s mercy enough.
Haven’t been here for quite a while folks, but once in a while I wander over to see what’s happening with everyone. But, to respond to this post, I think the problem comes in when people are confused about what is ‘grave matter’ and what is not. A ‘mortal’ sin condemns one to hell for eternity if not repented in confession…a BIG DEAL. Then there’s always the question: Can I go to Communion tomorrow if I’m not sure if ‘what I did’ was a ‘grave matter’ or not? A MORTAL SIN on top of a possible MORTAL SIN?
I once heard a very sound Priest in a talk he gave say that in order for something to be a Mortal Sin, first of all, it has to be grave matter, and second of all, it has to be more or less ‘premeditated’. You have to ‘want’ to do something very gravely sinful and KNOW that you will be cutting off your friendship with God and then carry it out anyway. That has helped me somewhat in trying to make that determination in my own life. Still and all, I struggle with this at times myself and usually if I’m really in a quandary about something, make a point to go to confession first before receiving Communion. There have been times that I’ve gone to Confession after 2 weeks just to confess something I’m not sure about. Is that being a tad scrupulous? I have no idea, but I think we’d all rather be ‘safe than sorry’.
This post is an excellent illustration of the insight that got Luther going.
I mean that as a compliment, not a criticism. I think you do a good job of expressing Luther’s key spiritual insights but without contradicting Catholic teaching as he did.
I find the effort to distinguish between mortal and venial sin very helpful as a “road map” to keep myself accountable. The problem I have with the perspective you enunciate (but i don’t think i’m disagreeing, just expressing the other side of the coin as someone who was a Protestant until very recently) is that without the guidelines the Church gives I found myself often at sea. I received God’s mercy in the sacraments (OK, what I experienced as sacraments–let’s not argue about validity here) but it didn’t actually seem to make any difference.
Knowing that if I choose to do X I have to go in on Saturday afternoon and tell the priest, “I did X” is extremely helpful. I feel as if I’m moving somewhere at last after being stuck in a swamp for years.
Well, I asked my priest about this yesterday, as it happens, and he told me that as long as I have made an act of contrition I should continue receiving communion until I can get to confession.
As I understand the principle of the Church’s teaching here, it’s that the deliberate choice to sin sets up a barrier between us and God’s grace until it is undone by true contrition. But trying to decide if you are contrite “enough” is an endless black hole for those of us inclined to scrupulosity (this is what got the Reformation started, after all). Hence, God has given us sacraments, so we aren’t imprisoned in our own subjectivity. We should avail ourselves of those sacraments as often as possible.
Personally, I just went for nearly two weeks without receiving the Eucharist because I wasn’t able to get to confession the first weekend. It was a very bad idea, and my priest confirmed yesterday that I don’t have to do that.
On the specifics, I think that with regard to a sin to easily to commit and so addictive in its effects, the fact that you stopped means that “deliberate consent” was clearly not present. But that’s my view as a fellow penitent and a Catholic of only four weeks’ standing. You really should talk to a priest.