Are there varying degrees of sin? We Catholics have your basic Venial Sins and the more severe Mortal Sins. St. Thomas Aquinas indicated that a Venial Sin differs from a Mortal Sin in the same way that something imperfect differs from something perfect. That leaves a lot for interpretation.
Our faith even has this place called Purgatory, which is sort of a halfway house for us sinners. This led me to believe, in my youth, that I could wipe the slate clean with an honest confession of the previous week’s wrongdoings by simply sharing the gory details of my sins with the Priest on the other side of the screen. Absolution was only a few Our Fathers and a handful of Hail Mary’s away.
Subjective? I suppose. Reminds me of the time I got into a debate with a Protestant classmate of mine when I was in the sixth grade. I was trying to convince him that my Priest was smarter than his Minister. My buddy says, “Of course he is. You tell him everything in confession.”
My precious grandbabies, Ava and Ashley, are studying for their First Holy Communion, another ritual in the Roman Catholic faith. I’m not sure they’re quite tuned in to the entire religious thing. I know for a fact they’d rather be on a playground than in religious training. Perhaps some of it will rub off on them.
Ava, the youngest, was explaining to me that the Priest had told her class that “You should be raised in a Christian home. “I really like living where I live now,” she explained.
There are many rites in the Catholic faith, one of which is “guilt.” Catholic guilt is the best known of our rituals. Whether it’s
remembering whether you ate meat on Friday when you weren’t supposed to or if you got married on a golf course (instead of a Church as my wife and I did), guilt comes in all shapes and sizes.
Midnight Mass is another of our Catholic ceremonies. It’s special to me because it was during the Sign of Peace at Midnight Mass in St. Peter’s Catholic Church in 1972 in Columbia, SC when I slipped an engagement ring on Christine’s hand and asked her to marry me.
I thought it was a sexy thing to do, but my in-laws-to-be said it would never last. We’re still hanging in there four decades later.
Another Catholic procedure was the whole thing about not eating meat on Friday. When I was in high school, that rule was still in effect in the church. I’ll always remember how my coaches and teammates laughed at me for eating fish at the Friday night football team meal, calling me “fish-eater” and “mackerel snapper.”
Finally, the Bishop gave me a Special Dispensation that allowed me to join them in eating the team meals. That just increased the jokes about me being a “cat baiter,” a term I had never heard of in my life.
Another famous Catholic tradition is the whole debate about birth control. We Catholics believe in two customs relative to this- rhythm and bingo. If you don’t have one you end up with the other, which explains my ten brothers and sisters and my wife’s seven brothers and sisters. We didn’t sleep alone until we got married! Pope Frances is fast becoming one of my favorite Popes. My wife and I had the honor of a private audience with Pope John Paul II, a high point in our lives. But I like Frances a lot. He’s a straight shooter.
His latest comments about Catholics and birth control are right on the mark. “Some believe, excuse the expression, to be good Catholics one must be like rabbits,” observed Pope Francis.
That was a very Francis-like way of saying that to be a model Catholic one doesn’t necessarily need to have 12 children. About time somebody had the guts to say that.
He went on to say the ideal number of children to have is three. I guess I get a passing grade on the Francis rule, because my bride and I had three terrific sons.