“Ask a Priest: What If I’m Afraid to Speak Up About Sinful Behavior?”

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Q: I was a kind of practicing Catholic but not really. Two years ago, I felt the urge to repent, go to confession and start living a godly life. Since then, my faith has been growing, but I keep it somewhat private because my family and friends are not into it. I can take a stand on some issues but not on others. For example, if I explicitly state that I am against sex outside marriage, I would be ridiculed. I have friends who are living with their partners and I know that the correct thing would be to call them out, but I am afraid. So I avoid the topic. My question is, am I giving scandal? Does my lack of courage constitute a mortal sin so I can’t receive the Eucharist until I am able to face people around me? I would appreciate any advice you could give me. I love God but feel unable to be brave enough. – M.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It’s good that you returned to the sacrament of confession and have tried to live an upright life.

As to your questions, it is hard to give simple answers. Harder still is trying to decide what constitutes a mortal sin in this case. Sins of omission can be serious, but your timidity is likely a mitigating factor here.

In any case, the way you witness the faith and when you do it tend to be prudential decisions.

You shouldn’t think that you have to lecture everyone about everything they are doing wrong. We aren’t called to police the world.

On the other hand, if loved ones and friends are living in objectively gravely sinful conditions or openly embracing seriously sinful ideas, it would be an act of charity to try to help them see the light. Besides, if you don’t say something, who will?

Also, you have to ask whether your silence in certain cases can be construed as complicity in sin.

If you are routinely dining at the home of your cohabiting friends, for instance, your very presence could be interpreted as consent to their living arrangement.

But let’s back up a moment.

The grace of conversion you received a few years ago is meant to produce much fruit, not only in your life but in the lives of others.

If you truly love your family and your friends, you want to help them get to heaven. Just as you would nudge a loved one with cancer to seek out proper medical care, you should want to nudge someone with a gravely sinful lifestyle to seek out the mercy of God.

Given your timidity, a few steps might help.

First, pray for the grace to be a bold apostle for Christ. And pray and sacrifice for the conversion of these family members and friends.

Then, look for ways to avoid giving the impression of supporting their faulty views or lifestyles.

You might decline an invitation to visit the residence of cohabiting couples, for instance. If they ask why, tell them that you aren’t comfortable with their living arrangement.

Also, you might want to cultivate a network of friends who are robust about their Catholic beliefs. Being around such folks can help build your confidence in talking openly about the faith.

You could start to build such a network by getting involved in the pro-life movement, a theology-of-the-body study group or a door-to-door mission. You might also look to attend lectures when solid Catholic speakers come to town.

In the meantime, be sure to keep up a solid prayer life and sacramental life. And see if there are ways to cultivate a healthy assertiveness (this Aleteia article has suggestions).

Above all, live the Gospel as fully as you can. As Pope St. Paul VI wrote in Evangelii Nuntiandi (No. 41), “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers.”

 

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