The epistle from Monday’s daily Mass (30th Week of the Year) contains an admonition against unchastity. This grave warning is essential in times like these, when many call good or “no big deal” what God calls sinful. This is especially true in the realm of sexuality; entire sectors of society not only tolerate but even celebrate sexual practices that Scripture calls gravely sinful and that will lead to Hell if not repented of. Homosexual acts, fornication, and adultery cannot be considered allowable by any Catholic or any person who sincerely accepts Scripture as the Word of God. Even those who do not share our faith should be able to observe the damage these acts cause: they spread disease, harm marriages and families, subject children to less-than-ideal households (e.g., single mother/absent father), and lead to abortion.
In today’s post I will focus on the sin of fornication and present the clear biblical teaching against it. Sadly, many Catholics report that little to nothing is heard from the pulpit or in the classroom about this issue. The hope in this post today is to present a resounding, biblical trumpet call to purity that leaves no doubt as to the sinfulness of sex before marriage. Scripture is clear: fornicators will not inherit the Kingdom of God. That is to say, fornication is a mortal sin and those who do not repent of it will go to Hell.
The usual conditions for mortal sin apply (grave matter, sufficient reflection, and full consent of the will). In most situations, these conditions are met. Over the years I have met with many sexually active couples preparing for marriage and have never found them to be surprised that I rebuke them for this. They know it is wrong; the voice of God echoes in their consciences. As for consent of the will, although some fall occasionally in a weak moment, consistent fornicating with no measures taken to prevent it (e.g., not cohabitating) is not weakness; it is sinful neglect of prudence and common sense.
We are in a sinfully confused cultural setting in which many either celebrate or make little effort to avoid what God calls serious sin. The Church must not lack clarity, yet pulpits and classrooms have often been silent. This has led to parents themselves to be silent—and silence is often taken as tacit approval.
Fornication cannot be approved of. It is sinful and excludes unrepentant sinners from Heaven. Our charity for souls compels our clarity about the grave sinfulness of premarital sex.
The following passages from the New Testament clearly condemn fornication and other unclean or impure acts. The gravity and clarity of such condemnations are helpful in the sense that they help us to take such matters seriously and steer clear of them. However, the condemnations should not be seen in isolation from God’s mercy, as He never fails to forgive those who come to Him with a humble and contrite heart. God hates sin, but He loves sinners and is full of mercy and compassion for them. This mercy must be accessed through repentance, however.
There is a general requirement for sexual purity.
Among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or crude joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No fornicator, no impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with worthless arguments. These are sins that bring God’s wrath down upon the disobedient; therefore, have nothing to do with them (Ephesians 5:3-7).
Unrepentant fornicators are excluded from the kingdom.
The one who sat on the throne said to me, “See I make all things new!” Then he said, “Write these matters down for the words are trustworthy and true!” He went on to say: “These words are already fulfilled! I am the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end. To anyone who thirsts I will give to drink without cost from the spring of life-giving water. He who wins the victory shall inherit these gifts and he shall be my son. As for the cowards and traitors to the faith, the depraved and murderers, the fornicators and sorcerers, the idol-worshipers and deceivers of every sort—their lot is the fiery pool of burning sulphur, the second death!” (Revelation 21:5-8)
Happy are they who wash their robes so as to have free access to the tree of life and enter the city through its gates! Outside are the dogs and sorcerers, the fornicators and murderers, the idol-worshipers and all who love falsehood. It is I Jesus who have sent my angel to give you this testimony about the Churches (Rev. 22:14-16).
No fornicator, no impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God (Eph 5:5).
I warn you, as I have warned you before: those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God! (Gal 5:21)
Sins of the flesh crush the spirit within us.
My point is that you should live in accord with the Spirit and you will not yield to the cravings of the flesh. The Flesh lusts against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh; the two are directly opposed. This is why you do not do what your will intends. If you are guided by the spirit you are not under the law. The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery, idolatry, sorcery, hostilities, bickering jealousy, outbursts of rage, selfish rivalries, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, orgies and the like. I warn you, as I have warned you before: those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God! (Galatians 5:16-21)
Even our thought life is summoned to purity.
You have heard the commandment “You shall not commit adultery.” What I say you to is, Anyone who looks lustfully at a woman has already committed adultery with her in his thoughts. If your right eye is your trouble, gouge it out and throw it away! Better to lose part of your body than to have it all cast into Gehenna. Again, if your right hand is your trouble, cut it off and throw it away! Better to lose part of your body than to have it all cast into Gehenna (Matthew 5:27-30).
From the mind stem evil designs—murder, adulterous conduct, fornication, stealing, false witness, blasphemy. These are the things that make a man impure (Matt. 15:19-20).
Wicked designs come from the deep recesses of the heart: acts of fornication, theft, murder, adulterous conduct, greed, maliciousness, deceit, sensuality, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, an obtuse spirit. All these evils come from within and render a man impure (Mark 7:21).
Sexual impurity is a form of worldliness and idolatry.
Put to death whatever in your nature is rooted in earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desires and that lust which is idolatry. These are sins which provoke God’s wrath (Colossians 3:5-6).
My body is not my own to do with merely as I please.
Can you not realize that the unholy will not fall heir to the Kingdom of God? Do not deceive yourselves: no fornicators, idolaters, or adulterers, no sodomites, thieves, misers, or drunkards, no slanderers or robbers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you; but you have been washed, consecrated, justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. Do you not see that your bodies are members of Christ? Would you have me take Christ’s members and make them members of a prostitute? God forbid! Can you not see that the man who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? Scripture says, “The two shall become one flesh.” But whoever is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Shun lewd conduct. Every other sin a man commits is outside of his body, but the fornicator sins against his own body. You must know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is within – the Spirit you have received from God. You are not your own. You have been purchased at a price. So, glorify God in your body (I Cor. 6:9-11, 15-20).
The call to Christian purity is not merely a human opinion; it is God’s declared truth. Further, sexual sin is a form of injustice.
Now my brothers, we beg and exhort you in the Lord Jesus that, even as you learned from us how to conduct yourselves in a way pleasing to God—which you are indeed doing—so you must learn to make still greater progress. You know the instructions we gave you in the Lord Jesus. It is God’s will that you grow in holiness: that you abstain from sexual immorality, each of you guarding his member in sanctity and honor, not in passionate desire as do the Gentiles who know not God; and that each must refrain from overreaching or cheating his brother in the matter at hand; for the Lord is the avenger of all such things, as we once indicated to you by our testimony. God has not called us to sexual immorality but to holiness; hence whoever rejects these instructions rejects, not man, but God who sends the Holy Spirit upon you (I Thess. 4:1-8).
Fornication and other sexual sins are numbered among the more serious sins.
We know that the Law is good, provided one uses it in the way law is supposed to be used—that is, with the understanding that it is aimed, not at good men but at the lawless and unruly, the irreligious and the sinful, the wicked and the godless, men who kill their fathers or mothers, murderers, fornicators, sexual perverts, kidnappers, liars, perjurers, and those who in other ways flout the sound teaching that pertains to the glorious gospel of God—blessed be he—with which I have been entrusted (1 Timothy 1:8-11).
Fornication and adultery dishonor marriage.
Let marriage be honored in every way and the marriage bed be kept undefiled, for God will judge fornicators and adulterers (Heb 13:4).
Therefore, do not be deceived. Fornication is a serious sin, a mortal sin. It is a sin that excludes one who does not repent of it from Heaven. It offends God, harms marriage and the family, spreads disease, encourages abortion, is an injustice to children and society, and dishonors marriage. It merits strong punishment, as God’s Word declares.
Do not despair of God’s mercy but do repent. Mercy is accessed only through repentance. It is wrong—seriously wrong—to fornicate. Repent without delay.
15 Replies to “A Reminder that Fornication is a Serious Sin that Can Exclude Us From Heaven”
I hope the visual don’t override the message but it does seem to have the marketplace. We see, we want, we take or very least, we ponder,.. every low hanging fruit swinging in the air for the Sons and Daughters to avoid when labeled forbidden but beauty and the beast meet again and again, let
the beast turn into a prince and beauty will indeed be loved.
A Rabbi says to the Master, I like how a woman’s head looks covered, very pretty as he shows him some pictures, when he gets to his last picture he says, not bad either, of course, with the purist heart I carry this picture with to show the young men what they must avoid, how do you like my collection Master? The Master looks at him and says get another job.
We women need to stick together, when we don’t like something, we need to speak out and say it like it is, we are no objects or examples but we are to be respected in all circumstances, no matter the context, we don’t want pictures of us displayed trying to make a point, I don’t see the man being displayed with less dignity, just saying men, be respectful otherwise you’re not helping with our dignity at all times.
Thank you for this article. It’s what I needed to read today.
Debbie, I don’t understand your comments. Are you objecting to the photo at the head of the article? I don’t see what’s wrong with it.
I just had a conversation at a party about this exact sin. Fornication! I even recited the same scripture. People are so incredibly in darkness about this. I was attacked by the person I was talking too. People only want to see Gods endless mercy. They forget they must repent to be forgiven first and to try to amend their lives. Thanks for this article. Everyone around me in cohabitation and fornicating and think nothing of it. Because everyone is doing it, and everyone condones it.
I know exactly what you mean….. Venerable Bishop Fulton J. Sheen once said: “What do they say, everybody’s doing it? Oh no… right is right when nobody’s right, and wrong is wrong if everybody is wrong and, in this error infested world, what we need is a Church and an authority that’s right not when the world is right, but one that is right when the world is wrong!” God bless you for recognizing that and God bless Sheen and Msgr. Pope for preaching it! We will change this world one heart at a time….
I have read numerous places that in more modern/contemporary translations of Scripture available, the clear words of “fornication” and “sodomy” have been altered to be more “inclusive”, which means vague. Thus, everything and nothing is “sexual immortality”. The result is the inability to argue for true morality.
Msgr. Pope –
I have a question. You use “sufficient reflection” rather than “full knowledge” in the second “element” for mortal sin. I have seen both phrases used, but I don’t think the two phrases necessarily mean the same thing. Which one is it, really? I have seen “sufficient reflection” in some older books on moral theology, but I see “full knowledge” in more recent ones.
The Catechism uses “plena conscientia” (at least, the English translation) uses “full knowledge”: “1857 For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met: ‘Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent.'”
This paragraph of the Catechism cites to the Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Penetentia (December 2, 1984) 7, par 12:
“Here we have the core of the church’s traditional teaching, which was reiterated frequently and vigorously during the recent synod. The synod in fact not only reaffirmed the teaching of the Council of Trent concerning the existence and nature of mortal and venial sins, but it also recalled that mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent. It must be added-as was likewise done at the synod-that some sins are intrinsically grave and mortal by reason of their matter. That is, there exist acts which, per se and in themselves, independently of circumstances, are always seriously wrong by reason of their object. These acts, if carried out with sufficient awareness and freedom, are always gravely sinful.”
The popular “Keep the Light On” program (used by many dioceses) puts it this way in its “FAQ” section:
10. What is a mortal sin?
A mortal sin involves an action whose object is a grave matter that is committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent. Grave matter is generally understood to be something that violates the Ten Commandments.
•Full knowledge means that one is aware that God or the Church he founded considers the act sinful (even if one doesn’t totally understand why it is sinful).
•Deliberate consent means a consent sufficiently intentional to be a personal choice (CCC 1857-1859).
One of the things about trying to determine what is a “mortal” sin and what is not, is that it is a nice academic discussion for theologians to ponder over, but in the practice of our own lives, there is a big danger in trying to make those distinctions.
Why? Because our judgment is faulty, especially when our mind, heart and conscience are clouded by the very sin that we are trying to make distinctions about.
As the Baltimore Catechism notes —
Q. 291. Can we always distinguish venial from mortal sin?
A. We cannot always distinguish venial from mortal sin, and in such cases we must leave the decision to our confessor.
The better practice is not to worry ourselves over whether something is “mortal” sin or whether it is “merely” venial. ALL SIN IS BAD. ALL SIN IS SERIOUS. The better practice is to confess with contrition all sins. If we judge that a sin is “not all that bad and not a mortal sin,” such that it “need not” be confessed, our judgment will NOT be determinative. Jesus is the Judge, not us. If we think a sin is not mortal, but He says it is — who do you think is going to win that argument?
ALL SIN IS BAD. No one engaging in various sexual sins should fool himself into believing that because the knowledge or reflection was not that great that therefore it is not a serious break from the love and truth that we owe to the other person, to God and to ourselves. Regardless of the level of reflection or knowledge, it causes serious damage to our relationship to Him who is Life and to ourselves.
I totally agree with you, Bender. Frequent confession even venial sins is the best approach and has been repeatedly recommended by the Church. Trying to parse the “elements” of mortal versus venial sin seems a fools game. However, for better or for worse I am in a graduate theology program so the issue, while perhaps “academic,” is relevant to me and I would be interested in Msgr. Pope’s take on it.
I have a quick question. I know someone who does weekly confession. I do monthly confession. Is doing weekly confession a sign of being scrupulous?
Thank-you and God Bless.
I hope not! It might mean the person has a poor memory and feels she does not femember all her sins if she waits a month. It might mean she has a particular issue she is working on. Or a past filled with skn which makes a life of virtue harder to achieve.
Only the priest confessor can really make a judgment about scrupulosity. One cannot diagnose it from how frequently a person confesses.
And why would weekly confession be wrong? You can confess venial sins, plus ask for the graces of the sacrament. I have done it many times in the past. I now do every other week. If I feel so compelled, then I will do weekly.
Going weekly is one way of preparing to receive communion. We should always do our best to partake of confession frequently.
Even a righteous person enters Heaven with great difficulty. How can we the sinners, especially deliberate sinners escape punishment. God is merciful only to those who repent. Real conversion and hatred towards sin is necessary to atleast get a vacancy in purgatory.
The sacrament of reconciliation is a place to be transformed in the Spirit and Body alike. While venial sins can lead to other more serious sin, like alcohol/marijuana can lead to more serious drugs, we must begin a process of “healing” in order to learn to master our mind and bodies. I usually recommend a spiritual director. You don’t have to be clergy to have a spiritual director. A spiritual directer can help us work out issues of venial as apposed to mortal sin and teach us methods to avoid them through spiritual exercises and recommend spiritual retreats specific to reconciliation. While not meant to be a psychologist, a professional spiritual director is trained to assist you in becoming spiritually and mentally healthy. Ask a friend, deacon, priest or religious if they can recommend a good one in your area.
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