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Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham
under the patronage of Saint John Henry Newman

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Finding himself in the midst of the battlefield man has to struggle to do what is right, and it is a great cost to himself, and aided by God's grace, that he succeeds in achieving his own integrity. (Gaudium et Spes n. 37 § 2; CCC n. 409)

A moral action is any action that proceeds from our deliberate will. We have a responsibility for such actions, all of which are either good or evil. (Evangelium, CTS 2009).

What is a moral action?

One of our unique abilites as human beings is to direct our own lives. We are free to choose our actions; we are not simply determined by instinct. This freedom enables us to be creative and to choose from among many possible good actions.

You may freely eat of every tree of the garden. (Genesis 2:16)

Unfortunately, this freedom also enables us to choose things that are evil, that is, contrary to what is good for us and to what God commands.

But of the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die. (Genesis 2:17)

God greatly desires us to choose only what is good for us, because he has created us out of love to be his adopted children, free, holy, and happy with him forever. God does not, however, force us to do good. As long as we are alive here, we remain free to choose between good and evil. The effects of both kinds of choice are evident in human society.

What is sin?

A sin is a deliberate evil action: a thought, word, deed, or omission contrary to God's will.

All sins are contrary to the will of God. They either pervert some aspect of our human nature that he has created (such as greedy, slothful or lustful acts) or contravene some explicit command that he has given us (such as the prohibition against eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge in Genesis 2:17).

The root of all sin is pride, the attempt to make oneself into one's own 'god' independent of the order of nature and the obedience we owe to God.

Mortal and Venial Sin

Although all sin is evil, not all sin is equally evil. A sin is mortal if all the following conditions are present:

Grave Matter - If what we do, i.e. our chosen course of action, is gravely wrong.

Knowledge - If we know full well, or should know, that this is action is seriously evil.

Full Consent - If we freely consent to this action and could clearly have done otherwise.

Such sin is 'mortal' because it kills the divine life of the soul and deprives the sinner of heaven. The normal remedy for this sin is the sacrament of Confession.

All other sins are venial. They do not kill the divine life of the soul but they do damage and weaken us. Venial sins may be forgiven through Confession, in the Mass, or through personal prayers of repentance.

How can we do what is good?

One of the consequences of Original Sin is that it is not easy for us to do what is good. We tend to desire sinful things, a condition called disordered concupiscence.

A good conscience, formed through study of the moral law and good example, helps us to judge what is right. Establishing good habits in a well-ordered life and avoiding temptations also help us. However, it is only with God's grace, through the sacraments and prayer, that we can achieve final victory over sin.

Adapted from the Evangelium course by Fr Marcus Holden and Fr Andrew Pinsent (CTS 2009).