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“Ask a Priest: Why Do Sins of the Flesh Seem to Get More Attention?”
Q: I notice that priests have a different emphasis in their homilies. Some priests show stronger disapproval for the sins of the spirit, such as judging others, hate, etc. Other priests discuss the sins of the flesh like sex, drugs, excessive drinking. Are sins of the flesh less serious than sins of the spirit? I feel worse when I hate, judge, curse, etc. People often cite how Jesus was the harshest toward the close-minded, judgmental, self-righteous legalistic hypocritical religious leaders, yet Jesus showed the most mercy toward the tax collectors and prostitutes. People who disagree cite how in Virgin Mary’s apparition in Fatima she warned that most souls are condemned to hell due to sins of the flesh. Are churches speaking too much about sins like fornication, contraception, etc., while ignoring the deplorable sins of racism, greed, sexism, Islamophobia, homophobia, child abuse, domestic abuse, etc.? How is committing fornication a mortal sin and murder is a mortal sin? They carry far different consequences and do different levels of harm. Most people consent to fornication. No one consents to be murdered. There is no victim in regards to fornication. – I.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: It’s true that some people in the Church give more attention to sins of the flesh than of the spirit.
There are various reasons for that. For one thing, sins of the flesh are more external and can have a quicker and lasting impact on individuals and families and societies. We can think of some of the fallout from sins of the flesh, including divorce, broken families, abortion, and injuries and deaths from drunken driving.
It’s not correct to say that there are “no victims” in fornication. Many people have been left heartbroken because of promiscuity. And many children have been born of fornication and grow up without a stable home life.
Fornication can lead to a greater incidence of divorce later, since spouses didn’t learn the virtue of chastity during their time in the single life. And, of course, there are the countless abortions and subsequent psychological and physical problems that many women suffer because of those abortions.
Moreover, sins of the flesh are popular — which is why they are especially insidious.
This doesn’t mean that other sins aren’t worse. Murder is certainly at a different level than fornication. And, regrettably, many people fail to see the grave nature of sins such as racism, anger, detraction and greed.
If Jesus showed mercy toward tax collectors and prostitutes, it’s partly because they were some of the most repentant people.
(By the way, Ask a Priest can’t recall anyone ever complaining about “the churches” speaking up too much about contraception.)
The point is, a whole range of grave sins can lead to the eternal loss of a soul. The devil will be content with any sin that leads a soul to hell.
In any case, a soul lost because of sins of impurity will find little comfort in knowing that others in hell are suffering worse for their sins.
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