When a well-known Catholic—or even a loved one—disappoints me by falling into public sin or grave error, what do I do with that person? Should I not only separate myself from their influence, but also give up on them, refuse even to pray for them? Is there a sin so bad that it cannot be forgiven by man or God? So bad that, if I know that others have fallen into it, I shouldn’t pray for them?
In today’s First Reading, Saint John says, “There is such a thing as deadly sin, about which I do not say that you should pray. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is not deadly” (1 John 5:16-17).
These verses are sometimes said to indicate the difference between mortal and venial sin. Viewed in this light, Saint John seems to say that mortal sin is unforgivable, and shunning a reasonable human response.
But that interpretation can’t be right.
We know, of course, that even great mortal sin is forgivable with penitence and sacramental Confession. In fact, just a few verses earlier we read, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
So what does Saint John mean? I prefer the interpretation of Saint Augustine who thinks the sin to which John refers is “to forsake even unto death the faith which works by love” (A Treatise on Rebuke and Grace, ch 35). That is, to reject God even at the very end of our lives and to die without faith and unrepentant. For this a soul (tragically) ends up in hell, beyond the reach of our prayers.
But, of course, we don’t sit in on God’s particular judgments of others, so we don’t know who went where. For everyone still alive and for every soul who might be in purgatory, we can and should pray, even for those in mortal sin, even for those who do us harm (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2635).
We pray for repentance and reconciliation for all.We can and should pray. // @kendra_tierney Click To Tweet