Sunday, September 28, 2014

Will I really go to hell for just one mortal sin?

The Serpent said, "No, you shall not die the death" (cf. Gen 3:4)

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Ezekiel 18:25-28

When someone virtuous turns away from virtue to commit iniquity, and dies, it is because of the iniquity he committed that he must die.

 “Do you really think that God is going to send me to hell just because I skipped Mass one Sunday?! I mean, I was on vacation!”

To this, we must respond, “If you die without true repentance, you will surely go to hell.”

Speaking to the prophet Ezekiel, Our Lord makes clear that one mortal sin causes not only the loss of the state of grace, but also the loss of all previous merit. For, by a single mortal sin, by which a just man turneth himself away from his justice and comitteth iniquity, all the good he has done will be set aside and forgotten, and he will not live but he shall die eternally.

Without sanctifying grace habitually present in the soul, no man can possibly be saved. The question of a man’s eternal destiny comes down to this: If he should die in the state of grace, with the divine life present in his soul, he will live eternally in heaven. If he should die in mortal sin, without the divine life present in his soul through grace, he will die eternally in hell.

Let us consider why all the good deeds of a lifetime are not enough to save a man who dies in the state of mortal sin.

If the just man turn himself away from his justice and do iniquity … all his justices which he hath done shall not be remembered. (Ezekiel 18:24)

Merit – Condign and Congruous

What may be difficult for some to accept is the fact that all previous merit is lost through a single mortal sin. Some are tempted to state, “Even if I commit a mortal sin, won’t God judge based on my whole life? Won’t he remember the many good things I have done in the past?” However, when we have a proper understanding of merit, it is clear that all previous good works and merits are lost entirely by a single mortal sin.

Merit is divinded into condign and congruous merit. Condign merit is the value of a man’s good works when considered as coming from the Holy Spirit. Congruous merit is the value of those same works considered as coming from the man himself who is a friend of God. Both types of merit can only be gained when a man is in the state of grace – for without sanctifying grace, the Holy Spirit is not present in his soul after the manner which gains condign merit; and further, the man is not a friend of God but his enemy and therefore cannot gain congruous merit.

Why a man loses all previous grace through one mortal sin

Once the divine life is cut off within through a fall to mortal sin, all the growth of that divine life is likewise lost. For this reason, the preceding acts of goodness which were in themselves meritorious even of eternal life are entirely forgotten and set aside by a single mortal sin – even as much as no amount of previous nutrition can be of present benefit to a corpse.

If we make this comparison of the life of the soul to the life of the body, it becomes quite clear that mortal sin (which kills the soul) erases all previous grace. Consider the case of a man who has lived a long and happy life, and taken good care of his body through the years. Now, after that man should die, may any look at the corpse and insist that it must be alive because it had after all lived for so many years and had received such good care over those years? Of course not!

In the same manner, consider a soul which has lived in the state of grace for many years and which has been nourished by the sacraments and other graces. Now, after that soul should fall into mortal sin and die spiritually, may any look at that corpse of a soul and insist that she must yet be alive because she had been in the state of grace for so many preceding years? Of course not!

And if the soul should be found dead by the Judge, his just pronouncement upon her must be nothing else but to admit her spiritual death. And, if a soul is spiritually dead when coming before the Judgment Seat, she will die an eternal death in hell – because only the living may be admitted to the life of heaven.  No amount of previous life will be of any benefit to such a soul, for she is now dead.

Must God restore graces to a soul after repentance?

Further, God has no obligation to restore the soul to her previous state if she should repent after a fall. While we do have hope that, in his mercy, he would do this, it must be clear that he is under no such obligation and that the soul can in no way lay any claim to this gift.

All those merits and good works are lost, by virtue of the death of the soul in mortal sin. If she should repent and turn to the Lord so that she may live, it is quite true that God will forgive and set aside all previous sins, but it does not follow that he will thereby recall all previous good works and merits.

Nevertheless, we may hope that God would do this for the soul. We may hope that, even after a fall, the Good God would lift the soul at least some way back to where she had been – and that he would credit to her at least some of her previous merits.

Devotion to Mary and restoration after a fall

We must be clear: No one has any claim to the restoration of previous merits after a fall into mortal sin. However, St. Louis Marie De Montfort does give an indication of where we ought to turn and in whom we should trust if we desire to keep safe our merits and previous good works even in the midst of our own inconsistency and imperfection. We must turn to Mary.

Consider the following words from “The Secret of Mary” which, although not directly stating that Mary will preserve our merits even if we should fall, at least gives us every reason to have great confidence in the most loving of all mothers:

“In adopting this devotion, we put our graces, merits and virtues into safe keeping by making Mary the depositary of them.

“It is as if we said to her, "See, my dear Mother, here is the good that I have done through the grace of your dear Son. I am not capable of keeping it, because of my weakness and inconstancy, and also because so many wicked enemies are assailing me day and night. Alas, every day we see cedars of Lebanon fall into the mire, and eagles which had soared towards the sun become birds of darkness, a thousand of the just falling to the left and ten thousand to the right. But, most powerful Queen, hold me fast lest I fall. Keep a guard on all my possessions lest I be robbed of them. I entrust all I have to you, for I know well who you are, and that is why I confide myself entirely to you. You are faithful to God and man, and you will not suffer anything I entrust to you to perish. You are powerful, and nothing can harm you or rob you of anything you hold."

“"When you follow Mary you will not go astray; when you pray to her, you will not despair; when your mind is on her, you will not wander; when she holds you up, you will not fall; when she protects you, you will have no fear; when she guides you, you will feel no fatigue; when she is on your side, you will arrive safely home" (Saint Bernard).

“And again, "She keeps her Son from striking us; she prevents the devil from harming us; she preserves virtue in us; she prevents our merits from being lost and our graces from receding."

“These words of St Bernard explain in substance all that I have said. Had I but this one motive to impel me to choose this devotion, namely, that of keeping me in the grace of God and increasing that grace in me, my heart would burn with longing for it.”


Anonymous said...

Thank you Father Ryan. I was seeking this consolation.


Anonymous said...

I received Sanctifying grace through baptism. Merit both earned and lost is such an infantile understanding of one's relationship to the Triune God. Surely the God who would humble himself to become human and die on the cross for me isn't keeping a score card with merits and demerits. Can I not trust and depend on a Father in heaven who has at least as much love and compassion for me and my human frailties as I would have for my own children? I guess God could withhold grace from and individual but is not the the nature of love to love? is not the nature of the One who is charity and compassion to be compassionate? And when speaking of Hope, can we not dare to hope that all might be saved through the death and resurrection of Jesus?

Anonymous said...

That we should be judged based on the overall balance of our lifetime may seem just at first glance, but as we can see from the example of St. Dismas (although not perfectly analogous), God's plan to allow us to truly repent and ask for forgiveness and be saved ("remember me when You come into Thy Kingdom"), despite a previous lifetime of sin, is beautiful.


Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Anon 10:50am,
Nobody in Scripture spoke about hell more often and with greater force than did our Savior. Over and over again he states that the angels will send some to hell. Furthermore, he tells us that the rich man who ignored poor Lazarus was condemned to hell.
God does love us, always. It is his love which condemns us to hell for all eternity. Love is real - Love is life or death. And if that love is eternal, then it means either eternal life or eternal death (cf. Fr Lacordaire)

Hope means that, if I die in the state of grace I will go to heaven.
Your "hope" is nothing other than the lie of Satan who told Eve she would not die even though she should sin.

Anonymous said...

If only our dear priests would address this issue during sermons from time to time at Holy Mass. Sadly so many are unaware (deliberately or unconsciously) that they are sinning this way and die unrepentant. Fr Robert Barron also alluded to the hope that there is no one in Hell thereby giving the illusion that it may be empty.....Our Blessed Lord did not impress me as saying that in Scriptures.

Gino R

Anonymous said...

Fr Ryan, surely you are not saying that God's love condemns us to hell. In light of the death and resurrection of Jesus, I would say that it is our free will that allows us to choose for God, and love or reject God and his desire for communion and relationship would be that which either saves us or condemns us. With regard to Adam and Eve it is their choice that ejects them from paradise. My understanding is that God is both equal parts justice and mercy. You did not speak to the nature of Christ's mercy. You did not speak to compassion and forgiveness of a God who offers himself to us in the Eucharist on a daily basis.
This notion of mortal sin must be taken as a total turning away from God and the love and goodness that he has planned for us. Is the sinful action taken with the full knowledge and intent of offending the Lord? Does the action sever the holy and loving relationship the person has with God and or his fellow man? I agree that a person could choose such a path, I find the statement that missing one Sunday liturgy regardless of what the circumstances may be as being equal to mortal sin a misrepresentation of what it means to keep holy the Sabbath.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Anon, 5:10pm,
When you take the time to use a pseudonym (as requested), I will take the time to answer.

Btw, I never said "missing Mass regardless of what the circumstances may be", I wrote "skipped Mass" -- you must read carefully in order to have a discussion.

Also, God is not "equal parts justice and mercy" - that is ridiculous (rather, it would be terrifying) ... he is far more merciful than he is just.

Anonymous said...

From Tony
fr. Ryan I apologize for not previously not providing a name. I would appreciate a further reponse to your previous premise and my questions. Peace, Tony

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...


I really do say that God's love condemns the sinner to hell. Consider the words over the entrance to hell in the Inferno ("I am a creature of the Holiest Power, of Wisdom in the Highest and of Primal LOVE") ... or, for a theological treatment, see the words of Fr Lacordaire, quoted by Fr Garrigou-Lagrange in Life Everlasting:
"Let Lacordaire conclude: "Had justice alone created the abyss, there might be remedy. But it is love, the first love sempiternal, which made hell. This it is which banishes hope. Were I condemned by justice, I might flee to love. But if I am condemned by love, whither can I turn?
"Such is the fate of the damned. Love, that gave His blood for them -- this Love, this same Love, must now curse them.
"Just think! 'Tis God who came down to you, who took on your own nature, who spoke your language, healed your wounds, raised your dead to life. 'Tis God who died for you on a cross. And shall you still be permitted to blaspheme and mock, to enjoy to the full your voluptuousness? No. Deceive not yourselves: love is not a farce. It is God's love which punishes, God's crucified love. It is not justice that is without mercy it is love. Love is life or death. And if that love is God's love, then love is either eternal life or eternal death."

Or, if you prefer, the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
"1033 We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor or against ourselves: "He who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him."612 Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are his brethren.613 To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called "hell.""

As to skipping Mass (which is not missing for a serious reason, but skippin, ie a willful act without a good reason).
Attending Mass on Sundays and Holy Days is a precept of the Church. The precepts must be followed to avoid damnation.
See CCC 2041 -- " The obligatory character of these positive laws decreed by the pastoral authorities is meant to guarantee to the faithful the very necessary minimum in the spirit of prayer and moral effort, in the growth in love of God and neighbor:"

So, yes, if a Catholic willfully skips Mass on a Sunday, and does not repent of this act, I am quite certain that he will go to hell when he dies. If I freely choose to fail in the most basic obligation of a creature (which is to worship God how and when and where he wants to be worshiped), I have freely rejected his love and allowed my love for him to die.

Hope that makes it a bit more clear! +

Anonymous said...

There are Catholics today who have never been taught the ten commandments, let alone the comandments of the church. There areothers who refuse to attend irrevernt Masses and have no alterntives without traveling great distances. Are you claiming that they are all guilty of Mortal sin? Or only those who know the commandments of the church and still refuse to go to Mass, when one is available. Is it not better to stay away, rather than take part in an
irrverent Mass?
I thought one of the conditions for a sin to be mortal is that one must know it is a sin. I'm not so sure that it is not better to stay away than participate in an irreverent Mass.

Marko Ivančičević said...

"Also, God is not "equal parts justice and mercy" - that is ridiculous (rather, it would be terrifying) ... he is far more merciful than he is just."

Since God is absolutely simple there is no more this and less of that in Him. What we see as distinct acts according to, or manifestations of this or that (attribute) is all the same in God since He is not a composite of attributes.

St. Thomas argues the same from a different angle.

Michael said...

Thanks, Father; great post!

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