In reflecting on salvation, I would be remiss if I didn’t speak about mortal sin. For just as we are saved by our faith in the Lord Jesus, we can lose our friendship with Jesus by committing a mortal sin and failing to repent. Any sin demonstrates a lack of trust in Jesus. When we decide that our ways are better than his, we are failing to trust in his love and mercy.
Of course, not all sins are mortal. Mortal sins are those involving a grave matter (“grave matter is specified by the Ten Commandments”) and is “committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent.” In other words, you have to know your action would deeply offend God, and yet you still do it. (CCC, 1846-1876)
Only God who can read hearts can truly know when a particular sin in mortal, but anyone who examines their conscience with a contrite heart should have a reasonably good idea of their degree of knowledge and consent when they committed a particular sin. (1)
All sins, even the very worst, can be forgiven. (2) God’s greatest attribute is mercy. He loves to forgive! Saint Paul tells that “where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more.” (Romans 5:20) Jesus likewise told Saint Faustina, “The greater the sinner, the greater the right he has to My Mercy.” (Diary of Saint Faustina, 723)
The normal, and best, way to be forgiven is through the sacrament of Reconciliation. Knowing how good and merciful God is, there can be a temptation to put off receiving the sacrament thinking “God will forgive me anyway” or “I can always go later.” There’s also a temptation to think, “I can just tell God I’m sorry rather than go to Confession.” While you can repent in your heart at any time, Jesus entrusted his apostles and their successors to administer the sacrament of Reconciliation for the forgiveness of sins. “And when [Jesus] had said this, he breathed on [the apostles] and said to them, ‘Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.’” (John 20:22-23) If this is the means Jesus has chosen to forgive us, then we should do as he asks.
Jesus likewise repeatedly emphasized to Saint Faustina the importance of the sacrament: “Tell souls where they are to look for solace; that is, in the Tribunal of My Mercy [the Sacrament of Reconciliation]. There the greatest miracles take place… It suffices to come with faith to the feet of My representative [the priest] and to reveal to him one’s misery, and the miracle of Divine Mercy will be fully demonstrated. Were a soul like a decaying corpse so that from a human standpoint there would be no [hope of] restoration and everything would already be lost, it is not so with God. The miracle of Divine Mercy restores that soul in full.” (Diary of Saint Faustina, 1448)
The Sacrament of Reconciliation is an opportunity to speak directly to Jesus and receive the grace of his mercy. Jesus told Saint Faustina, “When you approach the confessional, know this, that I Myself am waiting there for you. I am only hidden by the priest, but I Myself act in your soul. Here the misery of the soul meets the God of mercy. Tell souls that from this fount of mercy souls draw graces solely with the vessel of trust. If their trust is great, there is no limit to My generosity. The torrents of grace inundate humble souls. The proud remain always in poverty and misery, because My grace turns away from them to humble souls.” (Diary of Saint Faustina, 1602)
Can we talk to Jesus anytime? Of course! But he specifically conferred the power to forgive sins through his apostles and their successors, and he reminds us through Saint Faustina that, as the Father waited on the doorstep for the prodigal son to return home, so he waits for us to return to the confessional to receive his mercy.
Is there any final appeal to Divine Mercy beyond the normal and best means of the Sacrament of Reconciliation? Yes! The Divine Mercy Chaplet is a new gift of Jesus to a sinful world. Jesus told Saint Faustina: “Anyone who says [the chaplet] will receive great Mercy at the hour of death. Priests will recommend it to sinners as the last hope. Even if there were a sinner most hardened, if he were to recite this chaplet even once, he would receive grace from my Infinite Mercy. I desire that the whole world know my Infinite Mercy. I desire to grant unimaginable graces to souls who trust in My Mercy.” (687)
Jesus added, “When others say it for a dying person, the pardon is the same.” (Diary, 811) I fervently believe that many more souls would be saved if more people prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet. If only 1% of Catholics in the United States who attend mass weekly prayed the Chaplet every day, that would equal about one Chaplet for every person in the world who dies each day. (3) “When others say it for a dying person, the pardon is the same.”
The longest journey starts with a single step. Commit to saying the Divine Mercy Chaplet once a day. Share the message of God’s mercy with others. Jesus told Saint Faustina this was the “age of mercy,” which is also to say it is the age of hope.
(1) The Catechism adds, “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. (CCC, 1861)
(2) The Catechism adds, “’Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.’ (Matthew 12:31) There are no limits to the mercy of God, but anyone who deliberately refuses to accept his mercy by repenting, rejects the forgiveness of his sins and the salvation offered by the Holy Spirit. Such hardness of heart can lead to final impenitence and eternal loss.” (CCC, 1864)
(3) Approximately 24% of the US population is Catholic, which equals about 78,480,000 people. If 20% of them attend mass weekly (which is at the low end of the estimates), that would be 15,696,000. One percent of that total is 150,000, which is roughly the number of people who die in the world each day.
Image: The Return of the Prodigal Son by Pompeo Batoni (downloaded from Wikipedia Commons).