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V. THE FORGIVENESS OF SIN
1. There is no man upon earth without sin; consequently there is none who does not need the forgiveness of sin.
“If we say we have no sin, the truth is not in us” (1 John i. 8). The just man falls seven times (Prov. xxiv. 16). God permits us to fall into venial sin again and again, to keep us humble. As we sin daily, we must daily ask for the forgiveness of sin in the Our Father. Only by reason of an exceptional privilege, such as was bestowed by God upon His blessed Mother, can mortal man pass the period of his sojourn upon earth without committing venial sin (Council of Trent, 6, 23); nay more, without the succor of special grace it is impossible to avoid venial sin for any length of time. The highest perfection of which human frailty is capable is this: Not to commit any sin, even venial sin, with deliberate intention.
2. We can obtain forgiveness of sin, because Christ merited it for us by the death of the cross; and because He gave power to forgive sins to His apostles and their successors.
There is nothing more consoling for mankind upon earth than the forgiveness of sins, for nothing causes us more misery than sin. Even in pagan times Socrates looked forward hopefully to the advent of a mediator who would teach mankind in what manner remission of sins was to be obtained. Christ earned the grace of forgiveness for us by His sacred Passion and death upon the cross (Council of Trent, 6, 7). Christ is the Lamb of God, Who taketh away the sins of the world (John i. 29). In Him we have redemption through His blood, the remission of sins (Col. i. 14). Christ is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world (1 John ii.2). Christ conferred the power to forgive sins only upon the apostles and their successors. He Himself exercised this power in the case of Mary Magdalen, Zacheus, the good thief; when He healed the paralytic He said expressly: “That you may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, I say unto thee, Arise, take up thy bed, and go” (Matt. ix. 6). This same power which He possessed Our Lord gave to the holy apostles, when, after His resurrection He said to them: “Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whose sins you shall forgive they are forgiven them, and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained” (John xx. 23). He therefore who would have his sins forgiven must address himself to the bishop or to the priests whom Christ has appointed. In the Catholic Church alone is remission of sins, for she alone has received the Holy Ghost as a pledge of this grace (St. Augustine).
3. Mortal sin is remitted by Baptism and penance, venial sin, and the temporal penalties due to it, by good works done in a state of grace. These good works are: Prayer, fasting, almsgiving, hearing holy Mass, receiving holy communion, use of the sacramentals, gaming indulgences, forgiving offences.
Baptism is the ship in which we embark on our voyage to heaven; if we commit mortal sin we are like men who are shipwrecked. The only hope for them of being saved is in laying hold of a plank, and clinging firmly to it; so for the Christian, the only means of reaching the port of eternal salvation is through the Sacrament of Penance. Not prayer, fasting, nor almsgiving in itself can procure for man the forgiveness of mortal sin; these can only lead to penance, by which sin is washed away. Angels and archangels have no power to alter this; nay, “The Redeemer Himself does not forgive sin without penance” (St. Augustine). Good works, do, however, avail for the expiation of venial sin. Thus St. Augustine declares: “A single Pater Noster said from the heart, will obliterate the venial gins of a whole day.” Venial sins can also be remitted by the use of holy water, indulgences, prayers, communion, the blessing of a bishop, etc.
4. There is no sin too great for God to forgive here below, if it be sincerely repented of and humbly confessed.
God makes this promise to the contrite sinner: “ If your sins be as scarlet, they shall be made white as snow; and if they be red as crimson, they shall be white as wool” (Is. i. 18). God makes no distinction between sinners; He permits the priest to forgive every sin without exception. Therefore no man is so godless and wicked but he may yet hope to obtain forgiveness, provided he is sincerely sorry for his transgressions. In fact God receives the sinner more graciously the greater his sin has been, just as a fisherman pursues his work more gladly, the bigger the fish he catches. The sin against the Holy Ghost is the only one which admits of no forgiveness, because the man who sins against the Holy Ghost is the man who will not amend. The fault does not rest with God, but with the man; for even if he acknowledges his sin he will not abandon it, and consequently does not bewail it. Without contrition and change of heart there is no forgiveness.
5. A sin once forgiven is effaced forever, even if the sinner falls again into mortal sin.
This is not the case with good works. They are reckoned again to a man’s account, if he makes his peace with God. See how merciful is God almighty!
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