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“Ask a Priest: Is Lukewarmness a Mortal Sin?”
Q: I’ve got two questions. 1) Is lukewarmness a mortal sin? If so, how could this be? You cannot just go out and commit lukewarmness. If it is mortal sin, is it necessary to confess it? And just to be sure we are talking about the same thing what exactly is lukewarmness. 2) Is God opposed to pleasures? Is there something sinful in a compelling book, a comfy bed or an entertaining movie? If not, why were so many saints and even Scripture against “the world”? When something is worldly, earthly, of the world it’s never something good. So, what exactly is “the world”? – V.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: Thanks for your questions. Let me try to answer them briefly.
Lukewarmness in the spiritual sense is defined in Catechism No. 2094 as “hesitation or negligence in responding to divine love; it can imply refusal to give oneself over to the prompting of charity.”
Lukewarmness could show itself when we refuse to do things for God or others. In an extreme case it can be a mortal sin.
God gives us talents, and we have an obligation to use those talents for his glory and the well-being of others. “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more” (Luke 12:48).
The parable in Matthew 25:14-30 ends with a display of severity by the master toward the servant who hid his lone talent. “And throw this useless servant into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”
There are different degrees of laziness. If a person squanders an afternoon playing video games instead of studying, that could be a venial sin. If someone spends three or four years playing video games and fails to get a college degree for which his family sacrificed heavily to make possible, that could be a grave sin of omission.
The basic idea is that our gifts — time, talent, intelligence, health, etc. – are entrusted to us to use well. And while we might not think about “going out and committing lukewarmness,” it could be considered a sin of omission.
As for pleasures: God isn’t opposed to them. In fact, he created them. Certain pleasures can help us to survive. If eating weren’t pleasurable, for instance, we might be tempted to skip meals. We would wither quickly.
But we shouldn’t get so attached to pleasures that they control our lives. A disordered attachment to pleasure can lead to gluttony, sloth, impurity, greed and other ills.
As a consequence of original sin and our personal sins, we struggle against the temptation to pursue and use pleasure in an excessive and disordered way. This is why not everything pleasurable is morally good, since it can destroy us or others at some level. This tendency is called concupiscence.
Some pleasures appeal to our higher faculties. A good book or a beautiful symphony or an inspiring movie or painting can appeal to our intellect and our aesthetic sense. These help us grasp something of those transcendentals of truth, beauty and goodness. And those, in turn, can help us understand a little more about God, who is ultimate Truth, Beauty and Goodness.
When Scripture (such as the Gospel according to John) is critical of “the world,” it’s not against the created universe, per se. The universe as created by the Almighty is marvelous. “God looked at everything he had made, and found it very good” (Genesis 1:31).
“The world,” when referred to negatively, is a shorthand way of describing the realm of human activity and communities and institutions that oppose or ignore or downplay the things of God. The devil is often at work behind the scene.
In our day “the world” can include exploitative businesses and oppressive governments.
It can include institutions that purvey impure and violent media, and criminal groups that promote narcotics and human trafficking.
It can also include customs and cultures and societies that embrace or encourage greed and lust and injustice.
This “world” is the fruit of sin, and it’s against this “world” that the prophets and Our Lord railed.
If we aren’t careful, we can end up thinking like “the world.” Which is why a life of prayer and the sacraments and acts of charity are so important.
For related reading, see Donald DeMarco’s article, “Be in the World but Not of the World.”
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