Ask a Priest

Occasion of sin

Jan 26, 2017

What should I do if someone is an occasion of sin for me? When I correspond with a certain person, I will sometimes experience sinful feelings. However, this doesn’t happen quite often enough for it to be considered a NEAR occasion of sin, I’d say it seems to be more of a remote occasion of sin, and if I understand correctly we have no obligation to avoid those. My question is this… If, when one risks the remote occasion of sin and ends up falling (In my case, into impure feelings) is it automatically a mortal sin? For instance, I know that impure thoughts or feelings are not a mortal sin unless fully and willfully consented to, but would not avoiding people that inadvertently trigger them equate to full consent? Because I know how to manage these thoughts and impulses, I would never willfully entertain them, I’m just wondering if I carry the weight of obligation to avoid this person. This person is a friend, so I really hope it doesn’t come to that.

Asked at 05:45 pm on January 26th 2017

Hi Cole, years ago when I used to give school retreats, you often got asked, regarding relations with the opposite sex, ‘Father, how far can you go?’ This of course was always the wrong question. Jesus has said only one line about this area of morality: ‘Anyone looking at a woman lustfully commits adultery with her in his heart’ (Mt 5:28). He didn’t have to say much more, since if looking at a woman lustfully is ruled out, a lot more serious sexual wrongdoing is included in that. So the question isn’t how far can I go, but how deeply am I prepared to love that other person?

St John Paul II has a beautiful commentary on that line in Mt. 5:28, where he focuses on the positive meaning contained in what Jesus is teaching. He notes how Jesus uses the word ‘heart’ – that he wants us to love each other from the heart – that is, from our deepest core. Which is how God loves us, for our own sake, for who we are, not for his own sake. It’s the relation between men and women that’s expressed in the marriage ceremony, where each promises to love the other for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health. That is, each says to the other, ‘I love you for you, no matter what changes you may go through.’

I don’t doubt what you say, that you’re able to manage’ certain thoughts and impulses, but maybe a more positive approach would be better. You could ask yourself, do I love this person the way Jesus wants us to, that is, by loving them for themselves and not for me. If the other person doesn’t reciprocate your feelings, then true love for them will be for them to be free, including to be free of you! Without a face to face chat, it’s hard for me to go into more details than these general points. But all the saints advise us to fly from temptations, since as they say – and I’m not saying this is true of you at all – ‘whoever loves the danger will perish in it.’ Very best, Fr Brendan

Replied at 11:33 pm on January 31st 2017