The Sinner's Guide
Ven. Louis of Granada
With Imprimi Potest and Imprimatur



Ch 37. Other Sins to be Avoided  

On Taking the Name of God in Vain

Besides the seven capital sins of which we have been treating, there are others which a good Christian should avoid with equal diligence.

The first is taking God's name in vain. This sin directly attacks the majesty of God and is more grievous than any of which we could be guilty against our neighbor. And this is true not only when we swear by God's holy name, but when we swear by the cross, by the saints, or by our own salvation. Any of these oaths, if taken falsely, is a mortal sin. Holy Scripture frequently speaks of the heinousness of such offenses against God. It is true that if one swears inadvertently to what is false the offense is not a mortal sin, which requires the full knowledge of the intellect and the full assent of the will. But this restriction does not apply to those who have a habit of confirming their statements by careless oaths without making any effort to correct themselves. Those who swear in this way, without weighing the import of their words, are culpable for this very negligence. Nor will it avail them to urge that the intention of swearing to what is false was furthest from their thoughts. They persevere in a bad habit without any attempt to overcome it, and therefore they must bear its consequences.

A Christian, if he would not constantly expose himself to the guilt of mortal sin, should earnestly endeavor to conquer a habit so pernicious. To this end let him follow the counsel given us by Our Saviour, and which St. James repeats in these words: "Above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, nor by the earth, nor by any other oath. But let your speech be, yea, yea; no, no; that you fall not under judgment." (James 5:12). By these words we are taught the danger of contracting a habit of careless swearing which may eventually lead us to swear falsely, and so to fall under the sentence of eternal death. Swearing in "truth, judgment, and justice" (Jer. 4:2), as the prophet declares, is the only swearing that is justifiable. That is, we should swear only to what is true in a just cause, and with deliberation.

But we should not be satisfied with merely shunning the vice of taking God's name in vain; we should excite a horror of it in our children and servants, and reprove it whenever we encounter it. If at times we inadvertently fall into it, we should impose upon ourselves some penance of a prayer, or an alms, not only to punish ourselves, but to impress on our minds the determination of avoiding it in the future.
All that has been said applies especially to blasphemy and perjury. Beware also of that vice known as cursing. The Name at whose mention "every knee in heaven, on earth, and in hell should bow down" in reverence (Phil. 2:10) should be used only with devotion and affection. Strive, therefore, to speak with piety of the holy Name of God, and do what you can by your prayers, your exhortations, and your example to banish the terrible evil of which we have been speaking.  

On Detraction and Raillery

The abominable sin of detraction is so prevalent at the present day that there is scarcely a society, a family, an individual not guilty of it. There are some persons so perversely inclined that they cannot bear to hear any good of another, but are always alive to their neighbor's faults, always ready to tear his character to pieces.

To excite in your heart a salutary hatred of this detestable and dangerous vice, consider the three great evils which it involves. First, it always borders upon mortal sin, even when it is not actually such. From criticisms and censures, with which people generally begin, we easily fall into detraction or calumny. Detraction is committed when we tell another's real faults; calumny, when the fault we mention is not real, but the invention of our malicious lies. Thus, though we may not be guilty of calumny, how often does it happen that a person, from criticizing the failings of others which are generally known, is gradually led to mention some hidden and grave sin which robs him of his reputation and his honor! That the fault revealed is true in no manner saves the detractor from the guilt of mortal sin.

The descent to such a crime is easy; for when the tongue of the detractor is started, and a desire to embellish his story seizes him, it is as difficult to restrain him as to extinguish a fire fanned by a high wind, or to stop a horse when he has taken the bit in his teeth and is dashing madly on. It is the fear of this evil which led the author of Ecclesiasticus to cry out: "Who will set a guard before my mouth and a sure seal upon my lips, that I fall not by them, and that my tongue destroy me not?" (Ecclus. 22:33). He keenly realized the difficulties in the way, knowing, as Solomon says, that "it is the part of man to prepare the soul, and of the Lord to govern the tongue." (Prov. 16:1).

The second evil of this vice consists in the threefold injury which it inflicts----- namely, on the one who speaks, on him who listens with approval, and on the victim who is assailed in his absence.

In addition to this, the person who complacently listens to detraction is frequently a talebearer. To ingratiate himself with the victims of the detraction he carries to them all that has been said against them, and thus excites enmities which are seldom extinguished, and which sometimes end even in bloodshed. "The whisperer and the double-tongued is accursed," we are told in the Sacred Scriptures, "for he hath troubled many that were at peace." (Ecclus. 28:15).

To teach us the baneful effects of this insidious vice, the Holy Ghost compares it at one time to the swift blow of a "sharp razor" (Ps. 51:4); at another time to the bite of the poisonous asp, (Cf. Ps. 13:3), which disappears, but leaves its venom in the wound. With reason, then, did the author of Ecclesiasticus say: "The stroke of a whip maketh a blue mark, but the stroke of the tongue will break the bones." (Ecclus. 28:21).

The third evil of this vice is the horror it inspires and the infamy which it brings upon us. Men fly from a detractor as naturally as they would from a venomous serpent. "A man full of tongue," says Holy Scripture, "is terrible in his city, and he that is rash in his word shall be hateful." (Ecclus. 9:25). Are not these evils sufficient to make you abhor a vice so injurious and so unprofitable? Why will you make yourself odious in the sight of God and men for a sin from which you can reap no advantage? Remember, moreover, that in no other vice do we so quickly form a habit, for every time we speak with others we expose ourselves to the danger of relapsing.

Henceforward consider your neighbor's character as a forbidden tree which you cannot touch. Be no less slow in praising yourself than in censuring others, for the first indicates vanity and the second a want of charity. Speak of the virtues of your neighbor, but be silent as to his faults. Let nothing that you say lead others to think that he is naught but a man of virtue and honor. You will thus avoid innumerable sins and much remorse of conscience; you will be pleasing to God and men; and you will be respected by all as you respect others. Put a bridle upon your tongue and learn to withhold an angry word when your heart is moved. Believe me, there is no control more difficult and at the same time more noble and advantageous than that which a wise man exercises over his tongue. Do not think yourself guiltless because you artfully mingle your malicious insinuations with words of praise. In this respect the detractor is like the surgeon, who soothingly passes his hand over the vein before piercing it with the lancet: "His words are smoother than oil, and the same are darts." (Ps. 54:22).
To refrain from speaking ill of others is always a virtue, but it is a still greater virtue to refrain from reviling those who have injured us; for the greater the injured feeling which prompts us to speak, the greater is our generosity in resisting it.

Nor is it sufficient not to indulge in detraction; you must also endeavor to avoid hearing it. Be faithful to the counsel of the Holy Spirit, who tells you to "hedge in thy ears with thorns, and hear not a wicked tongue." (Ecclus. 28:28). Observe that you are not told to hedge in your ears with cotton, but with thorns, that you may not only repel the words of the detractor, but that you may pierce him, and, by showing him a grave countenance, teach him how displeasing to you is his conduct.

"The north wind driveth away rain," says Solomon, "as doth a sad countenance a backbiting tongue." (Prov. 25:23). Impose silence, therefore, upon the detractor, if he be your inferior or one whom you can reprove without offense. If you cannot do this, prudently endeavor to turn the conversation, or show by the severity of your countenance that his conversation is not pleasing to you. Beware of hearing the detractor with smiling attention, for you thus encourage him, and consequently share in his guilt. It is a grievous offense to set fire to a house, but it is scarcely less culpable to stand idly by witnessing its destruction instead of aiding in extinguishing the flames.

But of all detractions, that which is directed against virtuous persons is the most sinful. It not only injures the person assailed, but tends to discourage others who are beginners in virtue, while it confirms the cowardice of those who will not risk our censures by striving to do good. For what would be no scandal or stumbling block to the strong may prove an insurmountable obstacle to the weak. If you would appreciate the evil of this kind of scandal, reflect upon these words of Our Saviour: "He that shall scandalize one of these little ones that believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be drowned in the depth of the sea." (Matt. 18:6). Avoid, therefore, as you would a sacrilege, all scandalous reflections upon persons consecrated to God. If their conduct furnish matter for censure, nevertheless continue to respect the sacred character with which they are invested, for it is of them that Our Saviour has said: "He that toucheth you, toucheth the apple of my eye." (Zach. 2:8).

All that we have said of detraction applies with still more reason to those who make others the object of derision and raillery; for this vice, besides having all the evil consequences of the first two, presupposes pride, presumption, and contempt for one's neighbor. In the Old Law God especially warns us against it: "Thou shalt not be a detractor, nor a whisperer among the people." (Lev. 19:16). We have no need to insist upon the enormity of this vice; what we have said on the subject of detraction is sufficient.  

On Rash Judgments

Those who are addicted to detraction and raillery do not confine themselves to what they know, but indulge in suppositions and rash judgments. When they no longer find matter to censure they invent evil intentions, misinterpret good actions, forgetting that Our Saviour has said: "Judge. not, that you may not be judged; for with what judgment you judge you shall be judged." (Matt. 7:1-2). Here also the offense may frequently be a mortal sin, particularly when we venture to judge in a matter of grave importance upon. very slight evidence. If it be only a suspicion, not a real judgment, it may be only a venial sin, because the act has, not been completed. Even by suspicion, however, a mortal sin can be committed by suspecting virtuous persons of enormous crimes.  

On the Commandments of the Church

Besides these sins against the Commandments of God there are those against the commandments of the Church, which also impose upon us a grave obligation. Such are the precepts to hear Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation; to confess our sins at least once a year, and to receive the Holy Eucharist at Easter or thereabouts; to pay tithes to our pastor, and to observe the days of fasting and abstinence prescribed by the Church. The precept of fasting is binding from the age of 21 and upwards; that of abstinence obliges all who have attained the age of reason. The sick, the convalescent, nursing women, women in pregnancy, those whose labors are severe, and those who are too poor to afford one full meal a day, are exempt from the law of fasting. There may be other lawful reasons for dispensation, for which the faithful ought to apply to their pastor or confessor, and not take it upon themselves to set aside the law of the Church.

The difference between abstinence and fasting should be remembered. By fasting we mean eating only one full meal in the day, with a slight collation in the evening. By abstinence we mean giving up the use of flesh-meat. It should be borne in mind, therefore, on Ember days and at other times of fast, that the law is not fulfilled by simply abstaining from meat. Unless you are excused by some of the reasons given above or by dispensation, you must observe the fast by eating only one full meal, with the collation in the evening, and a warm drink, with a cracker or small piece of bread, in the morning.

In regard to hearing Mass, we must endeavor to be present at the Holy Sacrifice not only in body but in mind, with silence and recollection, having our thoughts fixed upon the mystery of the altar, or upon some other pious subject. The recital of devout prayers, especially the Rosary, is an excellent means of keeping ourselves united with God. If we are at the head of a house we must be careful to see that all under our charge hear Mass, not only on Sundays, but also on holy days. Too much laxity regarding holy days is apt to prevail among those who earn their bread by the sweat of their brow. They should remember that the obligation to hear Mass on a holy day is the same as the obligation to hear it on Sunday. Consequently, they must make serious and sincere efforts to comply with this duty. To attend an early Mass may involve the loss of a little sleep, but they should remember that these holy days occur but seldom, and that they must do something to atone for their sins and to merit the kingdom of Heaven. Parents and employers will have a severe account to render to God if they cause or permit those confided to their care to neglect this sacred duty. When there is a just reason, such as the care of the sick or any other pressing necessity which prevents Mass, we are released from the obligation.