“Ask a Priest: Is Lukewarmness a Mortal Sin?”

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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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  1. Good answer again Father, I always reiterate what you say to clarify it for my own self (and maybe others reading) If I am ‘off’ the mark, just say so.

    From what you write, Lukewarmness (which our Lord said he would SPIT OUT) is taking a ‘casual attititude’ towards Spiritual Graces of God. GOOD HEALTH is a grace from God, it isn’t something we naturally acquire, WE DO HAVE TO WORK to sustain it, but . . . that ‘scientific immune system’ (complex) does provide us eyes to see clear, ears to hear, speech, physical strength, etc. LUKEWARM attitude towards GOD GIVEN health, might be those who ‘of free will’ OVER indulge (in strong drink, or worse ILLICIT DRUGS that wreak havoc on the bodily functions, including the God given intellect.) This doesn’t mean one cannot drink wine with dinner, or have an alcoholic drink as whiskey, or a beer with dinner or after dinner. (but if one can’t control how many drinks . . . then intelligent folks ARE NOT LED INTO TEMPTATION. (and there is never a reason to ‘get high’ on illicit DRUGS…NEVER) Pleasure must be MODERATED ‘in love for others’ (the family one was given to support in a daily job, others on the street, etc) NOT MY WILL BUT YOURS BE DONE said Mary, our Spiritual Mother. (if one’s friends urge DO IT . . . HAVE FUN, be assured those ‘friends’ will not be standing up for ‘bad’ that comes when in alcoholic rehab, or drug rehab, or when heart is being monitored because of excess food indulgence. (maybe a short visit to express sympathy)

    And EXERCISE doesn’t have to mean over indulgence in gym memberships and fancy equipment in house.
    Walk the dog 3 x a day at moderate pace, do the lawn mowing, the laundry detail, the food shopping …. for those ‘wittle blessings’ as part of HOLY matrimony, whatever it is that keeps body moving… especially the aerobics at Mass of knee bending and standing up from sitting (during Gospel) WHILE moderating the eating, imbibing in alcohol, and NEVER DRUGGING…

    Even WORKING 24/7 . . . can be more ‘ego’ than ambition. Just work FOR DOLLARS and what moth eats and rust corrupts (and governments tax away?) EVERYTHING needs to be IN MODERATION…

    A holiday, a joyful special celebration: birthday, anniversary, Sacramental celebration in family . . . maybe one does eat too much carbs, or maybe ‘strong drink’ spaced out in an 8 to 10 hour celebration (moderated by food coffee and cake at end of party) AND NOT TO DRIVE if feeling woozy. Vacations with family, maybe one eats out more than normal working times . . . God isn’t against pleasure KEEPING HIS GRACES in mind. (GIFT OF SELF CONTROL and COUNSEL OF THE SPIRIT)

    EXCESSIVE AND ‘DISORDERED’ ATTACHMENT TO PLEASURE and ONLY PLEASURE (for self) without thought to how the OVER INDULGENCE will effect SELF and OTHERS… that’s when it becomes MORTAL
    SIN. Going to a Happy Hour after work once in awhile and having A SODA or beer or one cocktail … isn’t
    excessive. (or having ‘a drink or two’ while viewing sports at home or in stadium is probably not venial or
    mortal sin)

    THE KEY is EXCESSIVE… OUT OF CONTROL… NARCISSISTIC perhaps obsession with WHAT’S GOOD FOR SELF… is to have a LUKEWARMNESS to ALL THE BLESSINGS AND GRACES one has been given, is even aware of it (some are not) and to say … FINE, GREAT … I’m blessed and I can do ANYTHING AND SAY ANYTHING to anyone … BUT GOD’S RULES do not apply to me. (that’s NARCISSISM and lukewarm attitude)

  2. Lukewarmness is an apathy to God and lack of growth in knowledge, understanding, and the counsel of God .
    Such Lukewarm apathy of things of the Spiritual Side of life, is the spiritual vice of SLOTH. SLOTHFULness can also be a laziness to take responsible actions in the natural life…(bare minimum passing grades in school years, leading to bare minimum JOBS for a paycheck and a paycheck that is based on very menial labor when in fact a person CAN do better, but freely chooses not to. Even the menial job is done in haphazard way and the person requires constant supervision to ensure it is done.

    The person just has no desire to learn, to work, and probably quits job after job for some ‘flimsy’ reason.

    Such is, I think, a lukewarm soul…. NO LOVE OF GOD motivating actions. Compare such to one with even
    a mustardseed of FAITH in a GOD who loves them? They want to give every job THEIR BEST … no matter the wage given, FOR LOVE OF GOD (even if the job is what some might describe as menial (maybe very basic
    cleaning duties day in day out) AS MENIAL as the job is . . . they do it WITH EXHUBERANCE to give God honor

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