Are “Little Sins” No Big Deal?

Pietro Longhi (1702-1785), “The Confession”
Pietro Longhi (1702-1785), “The Confession” (photo: Public Domain)

Venerable Fulton Sheen once said that hearing the confessions of nuns is “like being stoned with popcorn.” I like Fulton Sheen but this quote annoys me. When I came back to the Church after almost a dozen years away, I had some pretty hefty grievous-sin-filled confessions. But I have to be honest, I feel that my confessions now, although filled (hopefully) with venial sins, are, in a sense, much more serious than when I was more or less unaware of what I was doing to my soul.

Now I am a nun and I have the privilege of daily Mass, daily prayer, Liturgy of the Hours, and regular confession. And I am still seriously lacking in charity and a litany of other virtues. To me, this is much more scandalous than a lost sinner, blindly trying to make his or her way to happiness.

It’s so easy to become complacent with our little sins. As long as we are past the biggies, the sins that are obvious and glaring, many of us begin to rest on our laurels. But this is exactly what the devil wants. Which brings me to a wonderful book written by Elizabeth Scalia that was just released: Little Sins Mean a Lot: Kicking our Bad Habits Before They Kick Us. When I read the title I literally shuddered. “Little sins? I’m not sure I’m ready to read that,” I thought.

Venial sins are ugly. In some ways they are uglier than grave sins when they are committed by people who have fuller knowledge of God’s law. And yet how easily we give ourselves a pass because we are sure we are not committing a mortal sin. “I am good enough,” we say to ourselves, “Look at those people! I certainly am better than them.” We judge sin as if we are judges of the law in a district court. Fornication? That’ll be three years … and you better be ashamed of yourself! Gossip? Oh that’s not so bad. Case dismissed.

Sure, we can say certain sins are more serious than others but we can never know the knowledge and degree of consent of another person. Only God knows these keys ingredients in the case, which is why we can never be another person’s judge. This is why we are exhorted in Scripture not to judge others. Over and over.

We can judge right from wrong, but we can never judge the heart of another person.

So, despite my reservations and feelings of spiritual acedia, I finally got up the courage to read the book Little Sins Mean a Lot and I am glad that I did. After putting it down, I have a strong desire to go to confession and really work on some of the little sins that have crept into my life.

Elizabeth Scalia begins her book with a chapter on procrastination. “Phew,” I thought, that does not apply to me. (I am a type A to the nth degree). Then I laughed loudly when I realized that I had procrastinated when it came to reading this very book because I did not want to work on my “little sins”!

Elizabeth has a way of bringing our “little” sins to our attention with humor and lightheartedness, which I really appreciated because that is how God deals with me. Humor helps us to see serious things because it slips under our logical minds and hits us straight in the heart. When we get a joke, we get the point, without arguing or exchanging ideas. This is why, I think, God likes to use humor in our spiritual lives.

I kept reading each chapter of this book hoping that at least one would not apply to me, (no such luck). But, I ended the book with a smile on my face and determination in my heart. So, if you are feeling complacent in your spiritual life or if you go to confession and can’t think of what to say, or if you don’t even feel the need to go to confession, or if you are simply feeling like your spiritual life needs a boost, this book is for you.