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.
I was a sinner, they were sinners, but (we thought) in the way a man going 70 in the 65 mph zone is speeding. We were in fact like the man going 70 in the 15 mph school zone, but I only began to see this more clearly after I got older and saw how small sins are really big sins, as St. Paul observed (I Timothy 1:15), and how so many sins seem permanent, as he also said (see Romans 7:15).
Feeling the need for mercy myself, it strikes me now in a way it didn’t before that our first reaction to the suffering and sinful must be to point to the mercy God offers them, to speak as people who’ve experienced mercy and want everyone else to experience it too.