Passions, and Sin
If I truly have free will, why does God give me rules? Doesn’t
being free mean I can do anything I want? (CCC 1730-1742)
First, it is essential to understand that man is not
absolutely free. A very clear example of this is our
existence – we did not choose it. We were created without our
consent; our beginning was not determined for us. As well, our
end is also predetermined. This needs to be explained, for it
can be misinterpreted if it is not understood well. How is our
end predetermined? Our end is predetermined because we were
created for beatitude and happiness with God for eternity. He
made us this way, it is part of our nature, and it is something
we cannot change. Therefore, we have chosen neither our
beginning, nor our end.
Last, we do not choose what is good and what is evil; this is
what Adam and Eve tried to do in the Garden. It is the Lord who
chooses what is good and evil. He is sovereign. The car does not
know better than the designer and manufacturer what is good for
it. We often believe that we the creature know more than the
Creator. However, we are fortunate because we have a loving
God; this means that what He considers good is also for
our good and happiness. As well, that which He considers
good is reasonable and can be discovered by our natural reason.
He gives us the capability of knowing and understanding the
good. Truth and justice toward God and neighbor determine moral
law, and we can understand what this consists of through our
reason. Therefore, all men know, through reason alone,
that which is good and evil. It is lie that we are not able to
know what is good and evil. We did not create these constraints,
but we do have the power to discover and know them.
If I am not absolutely free, for what do I have the
God has gifted us with free will because He wants us to move
toward Him and arrive at Him by our own decision. Love is not
love if it not free. However, there are two aspects to this
First, our freedom allows us to move toward the good or away
from the good. This ability to turn away from the good is
actually a defect of freedom, and it is not something the angels
or saints in Heaven have. They see Truth in all its fullness,
and they cannot (and do not want to) turn away from it.
The second aspect of our freedom is in fact true freedom. We
have the ability to choose the path we take to move toward the
good. Within the valid choices dictated by moral law, we have
been given the freedom of choosing which path we take to arrive
in Heaven. An analogy will be helpful. I stand at the bottom of
a mountain, and I am trying to reach the top (Heaven). There are
many paths that I can take to reach the top, and this is where
my freedom comes in. I am given the freedom to take any path I
want to reach the Lord. However, unfortunately, we can also
choose to not even climb, and we can choose to walk further down
into the valley. This is an abuse of our freedom and it goes
against our nature because we were created for the top, and we
will only be happy once we reach it.
What did Jesus mean when He said “the truth will set you free”?
Again, we will use the mountain for an analogy (from the
previous question). If I am at the bottom of the mountain and I
need to reach the top, but I don’t know I need to reach the top,
and I don’t know about the paths to take to get there, I am not
free. I am a slave to the little knowledge I have, and I am
relegated to the bottom of the mountain. But if I am shown the
top, told I am called to get there, and shown the paths I can
take, I am truly free. I have within me all the information I
need in order to get there, and I have the freedom to choose
what path I want to take. Truth opens me up to all my
possibilities that lead to union with God. I know what I need to
do and what I should not do.
What is the meaning of being “a slave to sin.”?
“A person is a slave of whatever overcomes him” (2 Pt 2:19).
When we sin, we act against our own nature (for we are created
for good), violate our freedom (for its purpose is to take us to
God), and turn our back on the good. To help explain this truth,
we must understand that our wills are controlled by our reason.
Our reason informs our will what is good and what is bad and
dictates a course of action. However, our passions, due to our
fallen nature, can interfere in this process. Every sin is a
violation of reason – why would we logically do something that
we know will hurt us? For remember, everything God asks of us is
for our happiness and our good.
When we sin, we have allowed the passions to dominate our
will instead of our reason. Because there is usually some
pleasure attached to sin, sinning repeatedly in the same area
leads to vice. Vice is a sin that has become habit. Addictions
are prime examples of this. The more we sin, the stronger the
vice becomes, and the more difficult it becomes to fight the sin
and our passions that are so enmeshed in it. The passions become
stronger the more they are given victory. (On the contrary, the
more we choose the good, the more free we become because the
good becomes a habit; this is called virtue.)
Reason, however, is precisely what makes us human. Animals
are controlled by their passions, but human beings have the
unique capability of acting according to reason. If the passions
have taken precedence over reason, we are reduced to an
irrational creature controlled by passions. This is not someone
who is free. At this point, the will has lost the ability and
freedom to attain its desired end, which is happiness.
What is the relationship between freedom and responsibility? (CCC
Because we have been given the gift of freedom, we are also
responsible for the acts we choose. Choosing good earns us
praise and merit. Choosing bad earns us blame and reproach. We
will be rewarded (positively or negatively) for our actions, for
we chose them. However, an act is imputable only if it is
directly willed. The responsibility for an act be reduced or
even nullified due to “ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear,
habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social
The fact that we are given responsibility and freedom is a
beautiful gift of the Lord. By imparting this gift to us, He is
allowing us to participation in our own salvation and
glorification. He knows a prize is much more meaningful when we
know we earned it. Being given an ‘A’ for doing nothing has very
little meaning. However, being given an ‘A’ because we worked
hard is something we will feel good about. By allowing us to
freely choose our acts and experience the consequences of them,
our life in Heaven will be exponentially more satisfying.
What makes an act morally good or morally evil? (CCC 1749-1756)
Because we freely choose our acts, they become moral acts,
and can be evaluated as either good or evil. The morality of an
act depends on three elements:
– The object is “what” you are doing. Some example of objects
are praying, fasting, playing, helping someone, etc. In order
for an act to be morally good, the object chosen must be good.
Some objects are intrinsically good or bad, while some are
neutral. For example, praying a good object. Theft and murder
are always bad objects. Drawing a picture is a morally neutral
– This is the goal and motivation behind the act. It answers the
question “why?” and is the reason a person acts. A single
action can have more than one intention. For example, if I help
my neighbor, I may have the intention of helping him, as well
loving God through that person. The intention is very important
in determining the morality of an act. First, a good intention
does not make an intrinsically bad behavior good or just. The
end does not justify the means. For example, you cannot commit
adultery to have a child. Second, a bad intention makes any
action morally evil. For example, if I help my neighbor only to
be seen by others and praised for it, then the good act becomes
a morally bad one.
– While the object and intention directly contribute to the
morality of an act, the circumstances are secondary. The
circumstances (which include the consequences) can reduce or
increase the goodness or evilness of an act (example: stealing a
piece of gum or a million dollars). As well, they can reduce the
responsibility (fear induces you to do something bad). They
cannot change the morality of an act itself, but only increase
or decrease its strength. They cannot make a bad act good.
In order for an act to be morally good, the object, intention
and circumstances must all be good. It is wrong to judge an act
only by intention. The object as well has to be good, as well as
the circumstances surrounding it.
Is it allowable to do evil if you believe a good will come from
it? (CCC 1753,1759-1761)
No. Good intentions or a good end cannot make a bad act good.
Are our passions good or bad? (CCC 1763-1770)
First it is important to define passions. Passions are
feelings, emotions or affections. Of themselves, they are
neither good nor bad. They become good if they help us to do
good, and they become bad if they lead us to sin. Passions
should be controlled by our reason, and not visa versa. When
we allow our passions to dominate our reason, we fall into sin
and vice. Perfected humanity is when the passions and reason
live in harmony, both helping man to do good. However,
concupiscence as a result of the Fall often puts the passions
and reason against one another. As we perform more good acts,
and increase in virtue, our passions and reason become more
harmonious, and our reason and will have more power over our
passions. It is important to note that the Christian life does
not require us to suppress our passions, but to direct them to
the highest good under the guidance of reason. It often requires
a re-ordering of the passions, but not their destruction or
What is our conscience? (CCC 1776-1779)
There are multiple ways of expressing the reality of the
conscience. We will give a few to help understand. It is the
voice of God inside of man. It is an interior law imprinted in
our minds. It is a judgment of reason in which a person
recognizes an act to be morally good or bad; this judgment can
apply to past, present or future acts. The conscience has three
actions: First, it is able to recognize what we have done.
Second, it judges what we must do or must not do. Third, it
judges what we have done as evil or good.
There are some fundamental truths about our conscience. Our
conscience does not decide what is good and evil, but
instead, it already knows good and evil, and it judges
our actions according to this knowledge. All men have this
knowledge of basic moral principles (called synderesis).
This is why John Paul II and Vatican II call it the “voice of
God” inside of us (Dominum et vivificantem 43 and
Guadium et Spes 16). This ability makes us morally
responsible for our actions. It is also what gives us our
profound dignity. We have the ability to choose the good,
thereby forming our own destiny. We participate in
getting ourselves to Heaven and in the reward we will one day
enjoy there; it is not simply determined for us. Again, this
participation and self-determination is what makes us unique and
chosen among creatures.
What are our responsibilities regarding our consciences? (CCC
Our primary duty is to form and educate our conscience. A
well-formed conscience is truthful and righteous; it makes
judgments according to reason and in favor of the true good. We
have true freedom when our conscience is educated and has
knowledge enough to choose rightly. (See What did Jesus mean
when He said “the truth will set you free”?) We form our
consciences through education, prayer, and putting our faith
into practice. When we are presented with difficult situations,
in which a clear path is not obvious to us, we have the
responsibility to diligently seek what is right and good. In our
quest, we will be assisted with the graces of the Holy Spirit;
we can be aided by the example and advice of others; and we will
be guided by the teachings of the Church.
Should we always act according to our conscience? (CCC
Yes. Man should always act in accordance with his conscience.
If he were to act against it, he would condemn himself. However,
this judgment of conscience can be in conformity with reason and
divine law or it can be erroneous and against them. This is why
it is so important to form our consciences well.
If we are supposed to always follow our conscience, what happens
if our conscience is uninformed and we make a bad choice? Are we
morally responsible? (CCC 1790-1794)
There are certainly instances in which our consciences,
through ignorance, have made bad judgments. A person is
responsible and culpable when he "takes little trouble to find
out what is true and good, or when conscience is by degrees
almost blinded through the habit of committing sin" (Gaudium
et Spes 16). In others words, we are responsible for our
errors when we have been lazy or negligent in seeking the truth.
In terms of being blinded by sin, we are all witness to the
seeming lack of conscience of those who have grown accustomed to
a life of sin. Each sinful act suppresses our conscience. As we
continue to sin, we become more accustomed to drowning out its
voice. After time, it loses its strength and seems to disappear.
However, though beaten down, the conscience, by the mercy of
God, will never be extinguished. With His grace, it is possible
that one’s conscience may be illuminated and set aflame once
again. This is why prayer for the conversion of hearts is so
important and so powerful.
Some contributing factors to ignorance of conscience are: an
ignorance of Christ and his Gospel; bad examples given by
others; being enslaved to our passions; believing that we,
and not God, determine what is good and evil; a rejection of the
Church's authority and teaching; and a lack of conversion and
On the other hand, if the ignorance is invincible or not the
person’s fault, then the person is not responsible for the
erroneous judgment made by his conscience. For example, a mental
disorder may remove culpability in this regard.
What are the virtues and why are they important? (CCC 1803-1829)
“A virtue is an habitual and firm disposition to do good” (CCC
1803). Doing good occasionally is not virtue. The key words here
are habitual and firm. A virtuous person is one
who does good consistently. Virtuous people move towards
and pursue the good with all their strength. Virtue is only
acquired by actions. In other words, the more we do something,
the stronger the habit becomes. The more we choose to act good,
the more we become habitually good. The opposite is true
as well. The more we sin, the more the sin becomes a habit; this
is called a vice. A virtuous life makes us like God.
There are two classes of virtues: Moral (or cardinal)
These virtues are natural, in that they help to perfect our
natural faculties (intellect, will, passions, etc.) As well,
they are acquired by human actions. As we practice them, they
increase in strength. We are aided in their practice by
education and divine grace.
Prudence – Prudence is “right reason in action” (St. Thomas).
Prudence helps our reason know the true good in all
circumstances so that we can correctly judge how to act. It is
the backbone of all the other virtues, and it guides their
practice. For example, I may be very just, having a good sense
of right and wrong. Prudence, however, guides me in how to
practice this justice, telling me when, where and how it should
be used. For example, if a mother sees her child acting
inappropriately in public, depending on the offense, she should
prudently judge whether it is appropriate to correct the child
immediately in public or wait until later when they have a
Justice – Justice prompts us to give people and God what is due to
them. Justice toward fellow man means to respect their rights as
a person, to acknowledge their dignity, to promote harmony in
relationships, to look out for the common good, and to be fair
Justice to God is often called the “virtue of religion.”
Since God created us and gave us everything, including His love
and His Son, it is only just for us to give Him our worship,
adoration, love, and our whole selves.
Temperance – Another synonym for temperance is moderation.
Temperance helps is to have a proper balance in the use of
created things; it helps us moderate our attractions and
pleasures, keeping them within what is honorable. “All things in
moderation;” this is an oversimplification, but it helps us get
a good sense of the virtue. Temperance recognizes that created
things and our desires are good, but can become harmful to us if
they are not controlled by our wills. Some examples may help.
Food is a good thing, and so is our enjoyment of it. However, we
cannot eat whatever we want, whenever we want. Similarly, we
must main our health, but putting an overemphasis on what we eat
in order to do so is an excessive concern in this area. As well,
our sexual desires are good. However, we need to understand
their proper use. We need to understand the mind of God in terms
of their origin, their meaning, and His intentions concerning
them. If we do not and we allow these desires to reign
unchecked, then the desires will have dominion over our wills
and they will harm us.
Fortitude – This virtue helps us to pursue good consistently, even in
the midst of great difficultly. It helps us persevere amidst
trials. It helps a person renounce fear and embrace sacrifice,
even sacrifice to the point of death.
These virtues are infused directly by God, and they are first
infused into the soul at baptism. They are the foundation of all
other virtue, giving them life. They allow us to share in God’s
divine life. Without them, it would not be possible to share in
His life. They are not natural to human nature, like the moral
virtues, which is the reason that God must give them to us
Faith – Faith allows us to believe in God, in all that He has
revealed to us, and all that the Church professes for our
belief. In faith, we assent to all that God has revealed, and we
give ourselves fully to God – we submit to Him our intellects
and will. One who has faith must live it, profess it, be a
witness to it, and spread it. It is necessary for our
salvation, and it must be present with hope and love in order to
unite us with Christ and His Body.
Hope – Hope allows us to desire Heaven and trust in Jesus’ strength and the
grace of the Holy Spirit to get us there. It answers the desire
of eternal happiness that lies in each one of us. We all want to
be happy forever and hope allows us to believe that this desire
will one day be fulfilled in Heaven. It keeps us from
discouragement and relying on our own strength, since its
confidence rests in the power of God and not us.
Love (Charity) – Charity allows us to love God for His own sake above all
things, and it allows us to love our neighbor as ourselves for
the love of God. It is the greatest of all the virtues, and
without it, all the virtues lose all strength and effective. “If
I have not love…I am nothing” (1 Cor 13:1-3). It binds all the
virtues together in perfect harmony, and without it, a person
cannot practice any of the other virtues. Love is the source of
all and at the same time the goal which we seek.
What is sin? (CCC 1846-1853)
– Every sin is unreasonable. It hurts us and others, and it does
not make sense to hurt ourselves, to cause ourselves and others
– Every sin goes against truth. When we sin, we believe a lie or
act according to something that is not true.
against right conscience
– Every sin is an act contrary to our conscience. We know we
have done wrong.
word, or deed contrary to God’s law.
against God’s love
– Every time we sin, we choose a lesser good over the Greatest
Good (God). We turn away from His love.
– Just like the first sin of Adam and Eve, every time we sin, we
try to “make ourselves like gods.” We try to decide good and
evil for ourselves, instead of trusting our Creator and Father
to determine what is best for us.
An act of
– This is why Christ came to obey. He wanted to show us that
obeying the Father is what brings us life, peace and happiness.
A love of
oneself over the love of God.
What is the difference between mortal and venial sin? (CCC
It is self evident that some sins are more serious and grave
than others. Lying about the color of your shirt is certainly
not as serious as killing someone. Tradition and experience have
led the Church to classify sins as either venial or
– From its name, we can see that this sin is more serious: it
delivers a mortal or fatal wound to our heart. In mortal sin,
man deliberately turns away from God by choosing to
gravely violate His law. It destroys charity in our hearts and
breaks our relationship with God. In mortal sin, we lose
sanctifying grace, and we are no longer in the state of grace,
which is required for our salvation. The only way to restore
this relationship is through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. If
a mortal sin remains un-confessed, a person will go to hell upon
death. This makes sense, for in committing a mortal sin, a
person has deliberately turned his back on God and walked away.
This may seem harsh, but the key to understanding this is that
our sin is a free choice, and God respects our freedom. He will
do everything He can to lead us back to Him, but if we choose
continually to spurn His love, we will die cut off from His
love. For a sin to be mortal three conditions must be met:
The sin must be of grave matter. Grave matter means that
the sin must be very serious. Murder, theft, adultery, abortion,
masturbation, and sexual acts outside of marriage are all acts
of grave matter. This list is not exhaustive, but it helps to
give a general idea.
The sin must be done with full knowledge. One must
know that he is committing a grave act contrary to God’s
law. If someone is unintentionally aware of the gravity of an
act, their culpability would be reduced. Feigned or intentional
ignorance does not get rid of responsibility, but rather can
increase it. However, unintentional ignorance can
diminish or even remove guilt for a sin. However, no one can be
deemed ignorant of the principles of moral law which are written
on our hearts and consciences.
The sin must be done with complete consent. In other
words, a person must have committed the act in full freedom. A
grave sin committed under threat of death would diminish the
guilt of the act. As well, strong feelings and passions, mental
disorders, and external pressures can diminish the free
character of the choice.
Finally, though we can judge an act to be a mortal sin
(as we have done in the list of mortal sins above), we must
always leave the judgment of the person to God’s justice
and mercy. As well, we must never consider that any sin is too
great for His Mercy and forgiveness. The greatest sins are but a
drop in the ocean of His Mercy. He begs and pleads, unto the
point of death, for sinners to return to His loving arms, in
order that He may forgive them. We simply need to turn around.
– In venial sin, a person acts against moral law in a less
serious way, or he acts against moral law in a grave matter, but
without full knowledge or consent. By sinning venially, a person
does not cut himself off from God’s love; however there are
still many negative consequences:
It weakens love in us.
It shows a disordered affection for created things, rather than
It hinders a person from practicing virtue and doing good.
It merits us temporal punishment (in other words, it increases
the time we will have to suffer on earth or in Purgatory).
When we deliberately commit venial sins again and again without
confessing them, we make ourselves more apt to fall into mortal
In general, the greatest way to prevent sin (mortal or
venial) is through the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession).
In this Sacrament, God not only forgives sins, but He also
grants us graces to help us not to sin again in the future.
What is vice? (CCC 1865-1866)
Vice is habitual sin. The more we sin, the more we are
inclined to sin again, and then the sin becomes a habit. Just as
doing good over and over again will lead to virtue, doing bad
repeatedly leads to vice. Vice distorts our sense of right and
wrong and hinders our conscience from judging correctly.
What are the “seven deadly sins”, and why are they called
The “seven deadly sins” are more appropriately called
capital sins. The seven capital sins are pride, avarice,
envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, and sloth. These 7 sins are
“capital” or “deadly” because they lead to other sins and lie at
the root of all sin.
If I sin, and no one else ever knows about it except me, does it
affect anyone besides myself? Does it necessarily hurt even
me? (CCC 1865-1869)
Yes. All sin hurts us. God gives us laws because He wants us
to know how to achieve perfect happiness and have fullness of
life. Basically, He is saying if you follow my way of love, you
will find perfect and fulfillment or happiness. Whenever we go
against these rules, against love, we hurt ourselves. This is
always true, regardless if we are alone or with people, because
sin is first an offense against God – and God is
always with us.
Second, we are part of the Body of Christ. As we all know
from human experience, if one part of our body is hurt, injured
or suffering, the rest of our body is affected as well. Sin
always hurts us and the rest of the Body, the Church. Even if no
one ever knows about a sin, except the person who committed it,
that sin has negative consequences on the rest of humanity. The
consequences will be great or small depending on the seriousness
of a sin. Just like a great injury or sickness to one part of
the body can do great harm to another part, grave sin can do
great harm to humanity. (Example: Cancer in the liver can lead
to painful and dangerous effects in many other places in the
This only makes sense. We have no trouble believing that a
good act has positive consequences, regardless of whether or not
it is seen; therefore, we should not have difficultly
understanding that the same is true for a bad act. Take prayer
for example. We believe that prayer has positive affects even
though no one but God may know about the prayer. If every good
act has a positive consequence on humanity, then every bad act
must have a negative consequence on humanity. This should give
us great hope instead of despair because we believe that every
good act, great or small, can bring about the salvation of
souls. This should inspire us to do good, practice virtue and
fulfill our duties in even the smallest of things, knowing that
God can take a little “yes,” elevate it, and use it in a great
and powerful way.