I was almost ready to leave. The only task left was to polish my shoes. Then I would be ready to set out for the wedding in Seattle, where I would be officiating. I was pretty sure I still had enough black shoe polish in the one bottle I remembered. I was right! So I shook it up, took off the cap and started the application. Immediately, black polish erupted from the bottle. Everything except the shoes turned black: my hands; the floor, a rug and toilet seat cover. It was so long since I had last polished black shoes that the application pad had completely deteriorated and the polish just spewed out. Luckily, I was, at least, wearing a black suit!
I got to Seattle and back. The wedding took place and was a great event. Back home for a week, I still see places where the polish settled after its eruption. It might still take a while to find it all and clean it up. In that endeavor, I’ve been thinking of the old Baltimore Catechism.
Some among us remember how that book presented the notion of sin to children. There were three milk bottles. One had white milk, one had spotted milk and the third had very dark milk (which we presumed was chocolate). The white milk was the soul in the state of grace. Spotted milk represented venial sin and the dark bottle represented mortal sin.
My bathroom is still coated in venial sin. I wanted mortal sin on the shoes! In religion, though, mortal sin is a state of being completely cut off from communion with God and God’s people. It is something so serious and so deliberately done that the sinner is saying: I do this to separate myself from all that is good, from all that is holy. Both the old Baltimore Catechism and the new Catechism of the Catholic Church state that these three conditions are necessary for a sin to be mortal: serious matter; full knowledge of the seriousness; full consent of the will in acting on the seriousness
For example, I am going to murder someone. I know that the Church teaches that murder is serious matter, and I think it is serious matter. I know that committing the murder will completely separate me from communion with God and God’s people. So, with all that knowledge and deliberation, I do the murder anyway, with great joy and conviction. I really want to be separated from God and God’s people. I willingly commit myself to hell—the state of being where there is no charity, no love.
Has anyone ever done that? I don’t know. But I am very certain that many people who believe they have sinned mortally have not. It is very hard to meet all three conditions, and many people stop at the first one: serious or grave matter. I did it; the Church says it is grave matter; I have sinned mortally. Pay attention to the next two conditions, and you might change your mind. Either way, God’s love and forgiveness is always there for you. I think I’ll buy some new shoe polish.