Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Studying for First Communion

#26 Conversations with Jeffrey (series)
Preparing for the Sacrament of Reconciliation

Understanding Sin

“I just don’t understand exactly what sin is, Grandma. Is it a sin when I forgot that I had an assignment due in school today and I didn’t get it in on time?”

“Well, that was a mistake and you need to try to remember. And it had consequences, but it wasn’t a sin.”

“How about doing something wrong by accident?”

“No, not a sin, not even when you are tempted to do something wrong. But doing or saying something serious and on purpose when you already know God said not to do or say that—that is a sin.”

“How come we can still sin? I thought that when we were baptized our original sin was washed away.”

“Let’s back up a little and talk about how God created people. We need to know what a “person” is. Then we can understand what sin is and how we should deal with it.”

“Isn’t a person someone who had a mind and a body?”

“Not exactly. The Bible says God is a person—but He doesn’t have a body. The Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is three persons. A person is someone who has a mind and a will. God is a divine person. We are human persons who are created in the image of God with a mind and a will but one more thing—God also gave us a body.”
“How about angels, are they persons?”

“Angels are persons. They are also images of God but they are persons created by God without bodies. They are pure spirits with only minds and wills. They are more like God than human persons and wiser and more powerful too. They know more about God than we do here on earth because they are with Him. They are blessed with grace, God’s life. God created angels before He created human people.”

“There are good and bad angels, aren’t there?”

“Most of the angels chose of their free will to love God, so they remain with Him to serve Him and praise Him for His created world.”

“What do the good angels do?”

“God assigns some of them as messengers to people. Others He sends to be our guardian angels to help us in our relationships with Himself and other people. Angels can protect us from evil and they may encourage but not force us to do good things. They bring our prayers to God.”

“Grandma, what does ‘free will’ mean?”

“It means that human beings can make choices and they are responsible for the consequences. I’ll give you an example. The steering wheel on a car is like free will. Your Daddy controls the car. He can stay on the highway in his lane and get where he wants to go by obeying the traffic laws. But he can also steer the car off the road into a ditch or into the wrong lane and have an accident and hurt other people. He has free will to do either one. If he disobeys the traffic laws, he will suffer a penalty.”

 “Since God gave angels free will I guess they could turn in the wrong direction. When they disobeyed God, they sinned. Didn’t they get thrown out of heaven?”

“That’s exactly what happened. Those angels knew what they were doing. With their free will they rebelled against God. Their leader was a beautiful angel named Lucifer who we now call Satan. Those disobedient angels are called devils. They will end up in a place we call hell.”

“I thought God made hell for people.”

“Not originally. Hell was for Satan and his devils who didn’t want to be with God and serve Him. God doesn’t send people to hell. They choose by their free will to go there if they don’t want to love and obey God.”

“Aren’t the bad angels in hell yet? Where are they and what are they doing?”

“Some of them are active here on earth trying to tempt human persons to sin like the devil tempted Adam and Eve. This is where we pick up the story about sin. God created us with free will because He wants us to love and obey Him willingly. God never forces anyone to love Him. The devil tempted Adam and Even and with their free will they disobeyed God.”

“I wish Adam and Eve hadn’t fallen for the devil’s trick.”

“They not only hurt themselves but by their wrong choice they hurt all people who have lived in the world ever since then. The consequences are that every one of us is born with original sin.”

“So how does original sin hurt us now?”

“All human beings are born without grace, without God’s life in us. Our relationship with God is damaged. We can’t love God as we should. We sometimes turn our free will steering wheel toward bad choices. Original sin messed up our abilities to think and choose wisely. Part of the punishment is that we have to work hard for our shelter and food. Our bodies will experience suffering and death, and the door to heaven is closed to us.”

“Does God stop loving us when we sin now?”

“God is pure love. He loves us no matter what. He shows us mercy.”

“What is mercy?”

“God shows mercy when He doesn’t give us the punishment we deserve. He shows us kindness instead.”

“So does God just say ‘That’s okay’ and then He forgets all about our sin?”

“No, that wouldn’t be fair, would it? Someone has to pay for our sin and make things right again. That’s where Jesus comes in! God sent Him to the world to pay for our sins Himself even though He didn’t have any sin of His own.”

 “Did Adam and Eve know that was going to happen?”

“In Genesis chapter three it is written that God promised them—and us—a Savior to take away our sins.  That would open the door into heaven for us again so we could live with Him forever.”

“That’s like the John 3:16 verse I memorized: ‘For God so loved the world that He gave us His only Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but will have eternal life.’”

“Exactly, Jeffrey! While Jesus was on earth, He loved and cared for people in person. He healed the sick, the lame, and the blind. He was merciful and forgave people’s sins. And He does the same now through the Church He established.”

“Now I think I understand what original sin is. But back to my question: When we are baptized, isn’t that supposed to take away original sin?  How come we sometimes still make bad choices and do wrong things and sin?”

“There are two kinds of sin: original and actual. Original sin was what we were born with, that we inherited from the sin of the first man and woman. We can’t help that. Baptism does take that away. But our wills are still damaged. We can will to commit sin—that is actual sin. We are responsible for that. And we can also use our free will to do good things.”

“Is all actual sin the same? The big stuff and the little stuff?”

“No, there are two kinds of actual sin: mortal and venial. Not all sins break our friendship with God and the Church in the same way. Mortal sin is very serious. It takes away our sanctifying grace and causes us to turn against God. It can keep us out of heaven.”

“How do I know if a sin is mortal?”

“The Church teaches that three things make it mortal: (1) your thought, desire, what you said or did or didn’t do must be seriously wrong, (2) you must know that what you did is against God’s rules, and (3) you are doing it on purpose by your own free will without anyone else forcing you. The important question is, did you do it on purpose? When you have done a mortal sin, you need the Sacrament of Confession to have it forgiven.”

“How about venial sin? What makes it not so serious?”

“If any one of the three things above is missing, it can be venial. That kind of sin doesn’t take away the sanctifying grace from your soul, but it does make your spirit weaker and it’s harder for you to resist mortal sin. When you commit venial sin, you can ask for God’s forgiveness without going to the Sacrament of Confession.”

“How do I do that?”

“When you pray the “Our Father” you are asking for God’s forgiveness: ‘Forgive us our trespasses…’ Also when you pray the Confession together with other people at the beginning of Mass. And you can ask God directly in your prayers to forgive your venial sins.”

“How often do I have to go to Confession after that first time?”

“The Church requires us to go to Confession for mortal sins at least once a year. It doesn’t require us to go to Confession for venial sins but still encourages us to go anytime. It’s like getting cleaned up in our souls each time and makes it easier to stay clean.”

“Okay, I think I understand a lot more about sin now. Next I want to learn how to get rid of it in the Sacrament of Confession, Grandma.”

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