Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 7:2-3, 9-10, 11-12
Gospel: John 7:40-53
So much attention is given to mortal sins – those grievous sins that we know are wrong but commit anyway – that we tend to gloss over venial sins. Since venial sins are minor infractions that are not enough to permanently separate us from God (that is, condemn us to hell), we tend to think, "well, I’ll bless myself with holy water or say a Hail Mary, and I’m good." The problem is, venial sins are like traces of dirt, little dings, and minor scratches on the body of a car. Sure they don’t really devalue the car all that much, if at all, but over time, the traces of dirt clump together into more noticeable patches of dirt; the little dings become numerous dimples; and the minor scratches start to rust. When this starts to happen, the paint begins to fade, crack, or even peel – that’s when major work has to be done. In the same way, venial sins add up over time and can lead to more damaging sins if not checked by the occasional soul maintenance.
Keeping with the car theme, I’ll admit that my biggest occasion for committing venial sins has to be when I am driving. The way some people act when they drive almost makes me feel like a paranoid version of Jeremiah: "The other drivers are hatching plots against me! They are trying to cut me off, not from the land of the living, but from the lane that is fast. Why doesn’t God punish these people who are so rude and inconsiderate while I’m just trying to get to work on time?"
The way I know it is a venial sin on my part is that it is for petty reasons that I am getting frustrated or "offended". I feel like a major crime against humanity has been perpetrated when someone’s wheels don’t completely stop rotating at a stop sign. I feel personally slighted when someone manages to drive a little more effectively than I do, and, by the luck of the lane, they pull ahead of me in traffic. I feel like there is no justice in the world when someone chooses to ignore the rules of the road (not to mention the rules of the playground: "Play fair. Don’t cut in line. Wait your turn.") and drives along the shoulder or weaves in and out of traffic, invading the "space cushion" in front of other cars (especially mine), and there is no cop to pull them over and give them a ticket.
The sin is not that they didn’t follow the rules – that is between them and God. The venial sin is that I am allowing trivial things (like them not following the rules) to get me frustrated to the point that I am close to wishing hateful things upon them. This is my own version of being one of the characters in the Gospel arguing with others about whether or not the Messiah can come from Galilee – it misses the more important thing by focusing so much on a relatively meaningless (and personally unknown) detail. None of the other drivers caused me or anyone else to have an accident (yet…), so as long as I get to work and back home in one piece, the petty details of an otherwise mundane daily trek shouldn’t matter. What should matter more is that I am still getting to work and back safely, but I am allowing stupid pet peeves to keep me from being in a prayful state. Saying a few decades of a rosary would be a more constructive use of my time than keeping track of that car that cut me off 3 miles back to see if he does in fact get ahead of me or if "justice is served" and he gets stuck in the slow lane. Besides, for all I know, the person "flaunting the law" may have a very good reason for doing so, and I have no right to "condemn a man before first hearing him and finding out what he is doing" (John 7:51).
Be sure to include venial sins in your examination of conscience this Lent – it will serve as a good way to prevent your soul from getting weakened to the point that it is much less resistant to major sin.