Fr. Kirby: There’s No Gray When It Comes To God

Everyone on Earth (Including You) Is Either in a State of Grace, or a State of Mortal Sin

In recent moral teaching, it has become clear that the gravity of a person living in sin — of being in a state of sin — has been eclipsed by poor theology, wishful thinking and naïve pastoral practice. Whether we’re discussing Holy Communion for the divorced and remarried, or the blessing of same-sex couples, or the tacit approval of cohabitating couples, we need to retrieve and emphasize the terminal nature of states of sin.

As a Church, we need to expose the spiritual severity of states of sin and assist in leading those within them to repentance in Jesus Christ.

The reality of states of sin is far more egregious than the hygienic term “irregular unions.” In the case of a state of sin, the canonical term “irregular union” doesn’t fully summarize the peril of the souls involved, and so we must defer to the moral tradition of the Church and use the term “state of sin.” We must emphasize where a person is in his or her relationship with Jesus Christ and how he or she can reconcile with him.

A state of sin is different from a sinful act, even a mortal sin. It is sometimes asked why the Church will forgive and welcome to Holy Communion someone who has had an abortion but will not forgive someone who is divorced and remarried. The question reflects the current lack of awareness about states of sin. It shows a blurring of important moral distinctions. Ultimately, the question begs for a clarification between a sinful act and a state of sin.

The difference between someone who has had an abortion (or been an accomplice to it) and a person who is divorced and remarried is found in the person’s willingness to sacramentally confess his sins and make a firm resolution of amendment. It is the resolution of amendment, which is essential to the sacrament of confession, that leads a person to further conversion and reconciliation with the Lord Jesus.

For the person who has had an abortion, there was a severely sinful act committed in the past. It’s not a progressive action, meaning it’s not ongoing. It was a singular action and not an enduring way of life. Someone could repent of such a sinful action because it’s over.

By contrast, someone who is divorced and remarried is living in a sinful state of life.

According to the teachings of the Lord Jesus, the presumed marriage of a person who is divorced and remarried is an ongoing state of adultery:

“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (Matthew 5:31-32; also found in Luke 16:18).

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