It’s the birthday of St. John the Baptist today. He was to be the last of the Old Covenant prophets, pointing towards the coming of the Lamb of God who brings about the New Covenant.
According to a small t tradition I have heard recently, John was thought to never have sinned. He wasn’t immaculately conceived; he was conceived with the missing grace of Original Sin, but he never chose to do wrong. I think this tradition comes from some of the Fathers.
John called people to repentance and then he offered them a form of baptism that allowed them to make a sign of how sorry they were and the intention of starting again and trying to live a better life. This was not the Sacramental baptism Jesus commanded His apostles to perform, but it was a well recognised symbol in Jewish tradition.
John spoke out for marriage and against the adulterous and unlawful marriage of Herod and Herodias. He was arrested, imprisoned and beheaded.
The question seems to come up quite a bit about how many people are really in a state of mortal sin, when they commit mortal sins. Was Herod truly guilty?
Well, it depends. Committing adultery and/or entering into an unlawful marriage is grave matter – that is, it’s very serious. There are many things that are grave matter, that can remove the grace God has put in our souls.
Herod would have needed to know his action was sinful. Now, Herod may not have known, but then John told him, so then he knew. If he knew and committed the act anyway – then that’s a state of mortal sin.
So, in a nutshell; it has to be grave matter – that is, something seriously bad.
The person has to know it is grave matter
And they do it anyway.
“Aha!” says Clever Clogs, “I see the ‘Get out of hell free’ card. If we don’t know it’s bad, we can do it! WHoo-hoo!”
You see while there is such a thing as invincible ignorance – it’s not as easy to be invincibly ignorant as Clever Clogs might like.
First of all there’s the natural law which is written on our hearts. This means that deep down we know that killing the old lady next door, or an unborn baby is a very bad thing. We can ignore the feeling but it’ll be very difficult to explain to Himself that you didn’t know, and couldn’t know at all.
On top of that, most people have access to information that can form their consciences and therefore have an obligation to form their consciences in line with God’s will.
Some people genuinely couldn’t know that something is bad and they do it in genuine ignorance. We can’t say who or when, but God knows. All we can know, for ourselves, is that avoiding the truth isn’t invincible ignorance, it’s willful ignorance and that isn’t a good idea. Doing whatever you like and avoiding anything uncomfortable is a very dangerous way to be a Christian.
So, my advice about hell – don’t go there.