Hola, I am a middle-aged man who also is a recent convert to the Catholic Church, Thanks be to God!
I have struggled since about the age of 12 with being "impure" with myself and never even thought about it being a sin, but a natural thing to do. During my months of prepping for coming into the Church, this issue was never discussed, so I never even thought about it.
I have since found out that it can be a mortal sin, but I have a 30+ year habit and some psychological factors (indecisiveness, compulsion, anxiety) that have plagued me since I was a child. I had a wonderful priest tell me to pray an act of contrition when this happens and move on, but at times I worry it may be a mortal sin. I was shown this from the Catechism:
1735Imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors.
They said this is why it is not a mortal sin, but I still worry. I was told not having trust in God's understanding of my disorder is worse than the act itself.
What do you think?
Does the longevity of my habit and my illness excuse my struggles with the sins of the flesh? }
Hi, Ryan —
Thanks for the question and welcome to the Church; your presence strengthens the Church!
Before I comment, I want to make sure you saw our FAQ section on this. Your question is one of
the most frequently asked questions. Check out similar questions here in this section::
Masturbation is a grave sin, and when committed deliberately — with full consent of the will — it is a mortal sin that causes us to lose the grace of salvation. That said, let's talk about what mortal sin is. This is from a different portion of the Catechism:
1858 Grave matter is specified by the Ten Commandments, corresponding to the answer of Jesus to the rich young man: Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and your mother.(Mark 10:19) The gravity of sins is more or less great: murder is graver than theft. One must also take into account who is wronged: violence against parents is in itself graver than violence against a stranger.
1859 Mortal sin requires full knowledge and complete consent. It presupposes knowledge of the sinful character of the act, of its opposition to God's law. It also implies a consent sufficiently deliberate to be a personal choice. Feigned ignorance and hardness of heart (cf. Mark 3:5-6; Luke 16:19-31) do not diminish, but rather increase, the voluntary character of a sin.
1860 Unintentional ignorance can diminish or even remove the imputability of a grave offense. But no one is deemed to be ignorant of the principles of the moral law, which are written in the conscience of every man. The promptings of feelings and passions can also diminish the voluntary and free character of the offense, as can external pressures or pathological disorders. Sin committed through malice, by deliberate choice of evil, is the gravest.
1861 Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, as is love itself. It results in the loss of charity and the privation of sanctifying grace, that is, of the state of grace. If it is not redeemed by repentance and God's forgiveness, it causes exclusion from Christ's kingdom and the eternal death of Hell, for our freedom has the power to make choices for ever, with no turning back. However, although we can judge that an act is in itself a grave offense, we must entrust judgment of persons to the justice and mercy of God.
That said, even the Catechism tells us it is a constant struggle and battle, and will be, until we are six feet under the ground: : )
407 The doctrine of original sin,
closely connected with that of
redemption by Christ, provides
lucid discernment of man's situation
and activity in the world. By
our first parents' sin, the devil
has acquired a certain domination
over man, even though man remains
free. Original sin entails "captivity
under the power of him who thenceforth
had the power of death, that is,
the devil". (Council of Trent (1546): DS 1511; cf. Hebrews 2:14) Ignorance of
the fact that man has a wounded
nature inclined to evil gives
rise to serious errors in the
areas of education, politics,
social action (cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter His Holiness Pope St. John Paul II Centesimus Annus 25) and morals.
408 The consequences of original
sin and of all men's personal
sins put the world as a whole
in the sinful condition aptly
described in St. John's expression, "the
sin of the world". (John 1:29) This expression
can also refer to the negative
influence exerted on people by
communal situations and social
structures that are the fruit
of men's sins. (cf. John Paul II, Reconciliatio et Paenitentia 16)
409 This dramatic situation of "the
whole world [which] is in the
power of the evil one" (1 John 5:19; cf. 1 Peter 5:8) makes
man's life a battle:
The whole of man's history has
been the story of dour combat
with the powers of evil, stretching,
so our Lord tells us, from the
very dawn of history until the
last day. Finding himself in the
midst of the battlefield man has
to struggle to do what is right,
and it is at great cost to himself,
and aided by God's grace, that
he succeeds in achieving his own
2520 Baptism confers on its recipient the grace of purification from all sins. But the baptized must continue to struggle against concupiscence of the flesh and disordered desires. With God's grace he will prevail
— by the virtue and gift of chastity, for chastity lets us love with upright and undivided heart;
— by purity of intention which consists in seeking the true end of man: with simplicity of vision, the baptized person seeks to find and to fulfill God's will in everything;
(cf. Romans 12:2; Colossians 1:10)
— by purity of vision, external and internal; by discipline of feelings and imagination; by refusing all complicity in impure thoughts that incline us to turn aside from the path of God's commandments: "Appearance arouses yearning in fools"; (Wisdom 15:5)
— by prayer:
I thought that continence arose from one's own powers, which I did not recognize in myself. I was foolish enough not to know . . . that no one can be continent unless you grant it. For you would surely have granted it if my inner groaning had reached your ears and I with firm faith had cast my cares on you.
You said: I was told not having trust in God's understanding of my disorder is worse than the act itself.
Yes, your disorder will lessen your culpability, but I would say you are trusting in the Lord by frequenting the sacraments.
If there is a question of whether one has committed a mortal sin or not, in my opinion, we should always error on the
safe side and go to Confession.
Because sin, from a Catholic view, is social in nature; it effects the entire Body of Christ.
Now, there maybe times where we can't discern whether we had deliberate consent or not,
but don't sweat it!
The Lord knows you have a well-intended heart otherwise you wouldn't have asked this question; the same is true for any other reader who has pondered on the question you have asked.
If you struggle with this sin sometime during the week, just go to Confession on Saturday afternoon, so you can receive the Blessed Sacrament in a state of grace on Sunday.
If you are fortunate to be able to attend daily Mass, just make sure you go to Confession first, before you receive the Blessed Sacrament during the week; you can still go to daily Mass
(or Sunday Mass), without receiving.
If someone asks you why you didn't go to Communion, just tell them you were not properly disposed. Beyond that, it's none of their business.
I don't think you'll run into this problem, but if a priest tells you that you don't need to go to Confession on a weekly basis, tell him that Pope St. John Paul II did, so why can't you. If you do go weekly, just don't be scrupulous : )
For the past 30 years, I've also worn a Brown Scapular; Our Blessed Mother said the following
to St. Simon Stock:
"Take this Scapular, it shall be a sign of salvation, a protection in danger and a pledge of peace. Whosoever dies wearing this Scapular shall not suffer eternal fire.”
This is Mary's promise made July 16, 1251 to Saint Simon Stock.
Paint an image according to the pattern you see, with the signature: Jesus, I trust in You.
I promise that the soul that will venerate this image will not perish. I also promise victory over [its] enemies already here on earth, especially at the hour of death. I Myself will defend it as My own glory (Diary, 47, 48). I am offering people a vessel with which they are to keep coming for graces to the fountain of mercy. That vessel is this image with the signature: Jesus, I trust in You (327). I desire that this image be venerated, first in your chapel, and [then] throughout the world (47).
Keep in mind that both:
Mary's revelation to St. Simon, and
Jesus' revelation to Sister Faustina
are private revelation and therefore are not binding on Catholics to believe. I believe them because they manifest the love of a loving mother and the Mercy of a Loving Lord.
Finally, remember Jesus was a man, like us in all things, but sin; so he understands your trials more than you realize.
Make sure you read our FAQ page. Eric's postings have some good advice!
Hope this helps!
Hi, Ryan —
I wouldn't go so far as to say not having trust in God's understanding of my disorder is worse than the act itself, although I hesitate to contradict your Confessor, since he knows you better than
I do and what he said, may make more sense in context.
It is important to maintain a balance between self-flagellation and making excuses. God is merciful; Yes, He does understand your condition, but he also wants you to continue to strive for purity.
Yes, you should put your trust in God foremost, but I'd hesitate to say that not trusting in God is a sin, much less a worse one than masturbation. — If you want to be paralyzed with neurosis, convince yourself that it is a sin to fail to do something you can never fully accomplish in this life.
Given your habit, it will likely take a long time to gain mastery over this sin, and ultimately mastery is what you want. Don't settle for less, but don't be discouraged by failures.
Perhaps what your confessor is trying to say is don't be fearful of God's judgment, but appreciate His Mercy. I think if you continue to strive for purity and don't, in a premeditated fashion:
under no constraints
knowingly with ample deliberation
choose to commit the act, realizing fully what you're doing,
it probably doesn't meet the qualification for mortal sin, so don't get worked up about it.
— address any occasions of sin or anything that might contribute to it in the future
— and move on.
It's important to realize that it's pretty hard, for someone steadfastly committed to obeying God, to commit a mortal sin, especially if they don't want to!
It is usually a good practice to go to Confession each time. Confession always gives you the grace to break out of downward spirals and patterns of sin, since sin weakens us and it's often easier to recommit it, once we've committed it. But special pastoral care may be required for scrupulous types. (Someone who is especially fearful about committing sin and obsesses over matters that don't deserve it — your confessor can help you discern this, I suggest you discuss this with him.)
If you are of a scrupulous type, you should find a confessor who is proven to be orthodox and faithful to the Church, stick with him alone, and obey him. Here is a good article on that:
Scrupulosity And How To Overcome It by Rev. Thomas M. Santa, CSSR