Anecdotes and Examples Illustrating The Catholic Catechism/lesson6

Anecdotes and Examples Illustrating The Catholic Catechism  (1904)  by Francis Spirago
Lesson 6



Q. Is original sin the only kind of sin?

A. Original sin is not the only kind of sin; there is another kind of sin, which we commit ourselves, called actual sin.

One of the Exceptions

No man is without sin. Many individuals in the pride of their hearts imagine themselves free from sin, because they do not steal, or murder, or commit any crime for which society would condemn them. Once, in the presence of others, a gentleman said to the parish priest: ‘‘ I never go to confession. Father; I really have no sins to confess.” ‘‘Since you never commit sin, you belong to the exceptions,” the father replied. “To what exceptions do I belong? Do you count me with the saints? ” the man inquired. He left the priest no peace until told what was meant, but first he had to give his word of honor that he would not take offense at the answer. Then the priest said: “ I will tell you who are the people who never sin: children who have not attained the age of reason, and idiots, or madmen who have lost their reason.” After this nothing more was said on religious topics. Seeing that man is as frail spiritually as he is corporally, no one can possibly venture to assert that he is without sin.

Q. What is actual sin?

A. Actual sin is any wilful thought, word, deed, or omission contrary to the law of God.

When will there be War again?

The sins of nations are followed by national calamities. In the year 1870, as is well known, France and Germany were at war. On the conclusion of hostilities, when the German army evacuated France, a French officer contemptuously asked a German officer, when another invasion might be looked for. He answered: “ That will probably be when the sins of France are greater than those of Germany.” Nations are punished in time by temporal misery.

Q. How many kinds of actual sin are there?

A. There are two kinds of actual sin — mortal and venial.

An Artificer is Instrumental in his Own Death

We ought not to take part in reprehensible transactions. Phelaris, the tyrant of Agrigentum, once commissioned an artificer to cast a metal bull of which the body should be hollow, so that if a man were shut up in it and a fire lighted underneath, he should be slowly burned to death. Accordingly the worker in metals manufactured this instrument of torture, and fashioned it in such a manner that it should bellow horribly if the unhappy victim inclosed within it uttered cries or groans. The first individual condemned by the tyrant to suffer this cruel death was the artificer who had made the ox of bronze. Those who heard this said, “ That man was burned in the fire he kindled; ’’ that is to say, he was to blame for his own misfortune because he provided the king with the means of torturing others.

Q. What is mortal sin?

A. Mortal sin is a grievous offense against the law of God.

The Biter Bitten

A brigand once concealed himself behind a thicket, lying in wait with a gun in his hand for a wealthy merchant who was to pass that way. When he heard his intended victim approaching, the robber dropped on one knee, in order to take better aim. Unwittingly he knelt upon a snake that was hidden beneath the dry leaves. The infuriated reptile sprang up and coiled itself round the arm and neck of the robber, who fired but missed his aim. On hearing his agonized cry, for the snake had already bitten him, the merchant hastened up. “ Alas! ” groaned the brigand, “ it serves me right. At the very moment when I thought to take your life, I meet my own death.” So it is with mortal sin; at the very moment we are guilty of it, the serpent of hell causes the death of our soul.

Q. Why is this sin called mortal?

A. This sin is called mortal because it deprives us of spiritual life, which is sanctifying grace, and brings everlasting death and damnation on the soul.

Rudolph of Hapsburg Refuses to Drink Water Taken from the Thirsty

The oppression of the poor and helpless is a sin so grievous that it even cries to Heaven for vengeance. In the year 1278 Rudolph of Hapsburg, the German emperor, was at war with Ottocar, the king of Bohemia. He defeated him in a pitched battle near Jedenspengen. At that time, in consequence of the great heat that prevailed, all the springs were dried up; the Emperor Rudolph suffered extremely from thirst, and no water could be got for him. Then two horse-soldiers rode to a distance in search of water for their emperor. At length they came upon a party of reapers who were taking their midday meal, with a large pitcher of water beside them. The imperial soldiers begged for the water, but the harvest-men would not give it to them, for it was scarce and they were very thirsty. Then the soldiers drew their swords and threatened to put the reapers to death if they refused to give it up. Trembling with alarm, the men reluctantly yielded, and the horsemen rode away in triumph with the pitcher of water. Joyfully they carried it to the emperor, and told him how they had obtained it. The monarch was just raising the pitcher to his parched lips when he heard the story; immediately he set it down, saying: “ I will not quench my thirst with water of which the poor have been robbed. Go and take what belongs to the poor back to them.” The soldiers were obliged to obey their royal master’s behest, and restore to the reapers the water of which they had been forcibly deprived. Many a rich man in the present day, who takes advantage of the poor for his own profit, might learn a lesson from the generous Emperor Rudolph.

Q. Haw many things are necessary to make a sin mortal?

A. To make a sin mortal, three things are necessary: a grievous matter, sufficient reflection, and full consent of the will.

The Lady who would not Pay the Dressmaker

Defrauding laborers of their wages is a sin that cries to Heaven. The following incident which occurred in Dresden, was reported in the newspapers. The daughter of a wealthy landed proprietor was married to a government official of high rank. On becoming “my lady,” she had a grand trousseau and many expensive dresses. Amongst other workwomen she employed a poor seamstress, who had a sick husband and eight children to support. When this woman, who was an able dress maker, brought home the gowns she had made, the lady praised her work and promised she would give her more in future, but she did not say a word about paying her. Weeks went by, and the poor woman did not get her money. Presently, when they were in great distress, she sent her eldest boy with the account to the lady. The boy, however, came back crying, having been scolded for his impudence, and brought no money. A few days later, the lady’s husband came home in high displeasure. She asked him what was the matter. He told her that her dressmaker’s eldest boy had been taken up for stealing a loaf of bread. “ When brought before the magistrate,” he said, “ the boy put all the blame on you, because you had so long withheld payment from the family when they were starving.” Needless to add that the bill was paid immediately, and the lady never kept working-people without their money again. Hence, we see that those who withhold from servants and working-people the wages due to. them are responsible, not only for the temporal misery they bring on them, but also for whatever wrongdoing may possibly ensue.

Q. What is venial sin?

A. Venial sin is a slight offense against the law of God in matters of less importance or in matters of great importance it is an offense committed without sufficient reflection or full consent of the will.

The Little Winebibber

St. Augustine relates that his mother, St. Monica, when still but a mere child, allowed herself to fall into an inordinate liking for wine. It seems that whenever her parents sent her to draw wine from the cellar she would put her lips to the pitcher and take a sip. By and by this trifling habit developed into a serious passion, and it was not until one day, when a servant, who usually accompanied her to the cellar, reproached her, in a fit of anger, with being a winebibber that St. Monica was aroused to her danger and inspired to correct herself, which she soon did. Single drops of deadly poison may be harmless, but if taken steadily they will kill. Dropping water will wear away even stones, and so, too, venial sins wear out our good resolutions.

Q. Which are the effects of venial sin?

A. The effects of venial sin are the lessening of the love of God in our hearty the making us less worthy of His help and the weakening of the power to resist mortal sin.

The Bear and the Honey

Indulgence in venial sins weakens the will. A certain prince gave an entertainment to which he invited several persons of rank. After a sumptuous repast he took his guests on to a balcony overlooking the courtyard in which stood a caldron of boiling honey. Into this courtyard a bear was suddenly let loose. As soon as it smelled the honey, it rushed up to the caldron and burned its muzzle terribly. Roaring with pain, it fled to the opposite end of the yard. But after a while it came near and began to lick up the honey. It was still too hot; the bear burned its tongue and again retreated to a distance, yet not so far as before. Once or twice it came up and tried again; finally it devoured all the honey with such greediness that it burst. Thus it is with a man who is addicted to vice. When the evil consequences of his misdeeds make themselves felt, the sinner forms excellent resolutions, but presently he relapses again into sin. The more often he sins, the less able he becomes to withstand temptation. At last he is ruined, both for time and for eternity.

Q. Which are the chief sources of sin?

A. The chief sources of sin are seven: Pride, Covetousness, Lust, Anger, Gluttony, Envy, and Sloth; and they are commonly called capital sins.



Since work is no disgrace, no one ought to be treated with contempt because he either does, or formerly did, earn his bread with the labor of his hands. One of the kings of Sweden invited a leading member of the House of Commons to dinner, in the hope of thereby gaining his vote on behalf of a project (the extension of a fortress) that he had formed. Now this man had formerly been engaged in the shoemaking trade, and when he took his seat at the royal table, he found himself next to a count, who prided himself on his rank. Presently the count, addressing his neighbor, said: “Is it true, sir, that you once were a shoemaker?” “Yes, it is quite true,” was the reply; “ but you, count, never were one? ” “ What do you mean by asking me such a question? ” said the count, flushing with anger. The deputy, who was quick at repartee, rejoined: “ I meant this: if you had ever been a shoemaker, you would certainly have remained one to the end of your days.” The count bit his lips. but the king, who overheard the conversation, laughed heartily, and said the count richly deserved the snub.


The poor can often help the rich in time of need. A poor countryman had to deliver several loads of wood at a large manufactory. When he brought his wagon into the courtyard of the factory, he noticed that the workmen had put up a new grindstone and rolled the old one into a corner. On the wagoner’s going to the master to receive payment for the wood, he asked if he might have the old grindstone. The manufacturer replied that he was welcome to take it, if only to get it out of the way. The man thanked him very heartily, and said it might, perhaps, be in his power to show the gentleman a civility. But at this the manufacturer got angry, and said, proudly: “ I want no civilities from you; if I require your services, I shall pay you for them.” The man went his way in silence, and took ' the coveted grindstone away with him. As often as he used it, he thought of what the rich man had said, and prayed God to give him some occasion of repaying him for the benefit he had conferred on him. The wished-for opportunity soon presented itself. One Sunday, when the countryman was on his way to church, he saw a carriage coming along the road at a mad gallop. The horses had taken fright, and the coachman had fallen from his seat. In the carriage the wealthy manufacturer was seated with his family, crying aloud for help. The countryman did not hesitate a moment; wrenching the hand-rail from a wooden bridge, he placed it across the road to stop the horses; and when they came up he sprang forward, seized the bridle, and with a strong hand forced them to come to a standstill. The master alighted, and taking out his purse, was going to reward the brave countryman. But the latter said: “Such services are not to be paid for with money. This is the return I make you for the old grindstone which you gave me.” This story shows us that we ought not to despise any one. We never know how we may need the services of the poorest and the humblest.



Those who support their parents from selfish motives have no merit in God’s sight. A rich manufacturer had two daughters, both of whom he married very well, giving them a splendid trousseau and ample dowry. But as they knew that he still had considerable property they begged him to divide it between them, promising that they would each provide for him in turn. The father was so foolish as to yield to them and part with all his fortune. He was soon made to repent of his weak compliance with their request, for they kept him like a beggar. The unfortunate man told his story to an old friend, himself a man of large means, and asked his advice. This friend at once gave him a bank-note, telling him to order an elaborate dinner and invite his daughters and their husbands, besides a select party of friends. He lent him besides, the sum of $50,000, telling him he would send a trusty messenger, while the dinner was going on, to fetch it. Accordingly, while the guests were at table, a liveried servant appeared with a note, requesting the master of the house to lend his friend that amount for three days. The host, apologizing for attending to urgent business, left the table, and taking the roll of notes from an iron safe, counted them out before the assembled company before intrusting them to the servant. His daughters and sons-in-law were astonished. From that time forth they totally changed their behavior to their father; his daughters vied with each other in their attentions to him. When he died, the safe from which he took the money was opened; they expected a rich legacy. To their amazement only a few stones were found in it, and a paper whereon were these words: “ That man is a fool who divides his property between his children during his lifetime.”


The miser is his own worst enemy. A certain miser, who grudged himself the bare necessaries of life, was seriously ill. As he grew worse and worse, he was at length prevailed upon to have medical advice. The doctor diagnosed his malady and declared that he had at most three days to live. He exhorted him to send for the priest and prepare for death. When he had gone, the miser did not follow his advice and summon the priest; he got out of bed and taking a quantity of bank-notes and bonds, he put them in the fireplace and set fire to them. He did not wish any one to inherit his property. Then he went back to bed. When the doctor came the next day, he found his patient had taken an unexpected turn for the better. On hearing this, the miser was aghast, thinking of what he had done. He did, in fact, recover wonderfully soon, and the money which he had remaining did not last long. In a few weeks’ time he had to beg his bread. Thus he had been his own worst enemy.



St. Thomas in his youth was bent on embracing the religious state, but his people opposed the idea. They even went so far as to employ a dissolute woman to make an attempt on his virtue. No sooner had she entered his apartment than the holy youth snatched up a red-hot poker and sent her screaming from the room. Kneeling down then he thanked God and renewed his vow of perpetual chastity. Presently he fell into a deep sleep, and in a dream beheld two angels approach and bind him about the loins with a cincture. From that time forth he was free from all impure temptations. Every temptation we reject we are made stronger against the next assault.



Anger makes a man blind to reason. A Turkish sultan, Bajazet, while carrying on war with the Tartars, was highly displeased with the officers of his array. He held a council of war and concluded that nothing short of putting them all to death would be sufficient punishment. His ministers were in great consternation at this decision, and knew not what to do. The court jester helped them out of the dilemma. He said to the sultan: “You are quite right. The officers richly deserve to be beheaded. Then we shall have no cause for alarm. You shall take the standard, and I will strap the drum round my shoulders. We two shall be able to vanquish the enemy without any one’s help.” This speech brought the sultan to his senses; his anger melted away and he forgave the officers. One who is angry does not consider the consequences of his actions.


Anger is a bad counsellor. A shepherd boy was guarding a flock of sheep in a mountainous region. One day while sitting on a rock he fell asleep, and kept nodding his head. The ram, which was close by, thought the shepherd was challenging him to a wrestling match, so he took a run and butted him with his horns. The boy, awakened from his slumbers in so ungentle a fashion, was in a great rage; in his anger he seized the ram by the horns and flung it to a distance. The animal fell backward and was precipitated down a steep declivity. The sheep — about a hundred in number — followed the ram and also fell headlong into the abyss. The shepherd tore his hair in despair, but what good did that do? The mischief done could not be repaired. Repentance comes too late for actions done in a moment of anger.


Plato the philosopher had occasion to chastise a bad boy. But as he was very much enraged on account of the culprit’s misdeeds, he begged his friend Xenocrates to undertake the chastisement for him. “ Be so good,” he said to him, “as to give the boy a sound flogging; I dare not do it myself, I am too angry with him.”



Father de Smet, the Jesuit missionary of the North American Indians, praises the tribe called Ravens for their opposition to the introduction among them of intoxicating liquors. “ What good is this firewater? ” said their chief. “ It burns the throat and stomach; it makes a man a bear; when he has drunk he bites, grunts, howls, and ends by falling down like a corpse. Your fire-water is evil; give it to our enemies; they will kill one another, and their wives and children will be objects of pity. As for us, we need it not; we are mad enough without it.” Excessive indulgence in intoxicants, if not the greatest, is one of the very greatest evils of this age.



Envy is overcome by benefits. The shops of two tradesmen who were in the same branch of business were situated opposite to each other. Two of a trade, the proverb says, do not agree; and so it was in this instance. Jealousy of each other caused them to become open enemies. Now one of the two felt pangs of conscience; he knew the sentiments he entertained toward his neighbor were highly reprehensible. He went to a priest, and asked him what he should do to propitiate his adversary. The priest replied: “ You can take no better course than this: whenever you have not the article required by your customers send them over the way to your neighbor.” The man followed this advice. The other tradesman soon learned who it was who sent customers to him, and on the first opportunity he took occasion to thank him. Thus the two were reconciled and lived on the best of terms with each other. As the sun’s rays melt ice, so benefits dispel jealousy.


Charlemagne’s daughters

Every one is bound to work. Charlemagne was one of the most famous monarchs that ever lived. He was not only an able ruler, but an exemplary father. He made all his daughters learn some kind of household work, — work which is usually performed by women; they had to sew, to spin, and even to wash and cook. The emperor himself would only wear linen which his daughters had spun, clothes which their deft fingers had made. Thus by the example of his own domestic arrangements he taught his subjects that not only is it no disgrace to work, but it is a duty incumbent on every one. Charlemagne’s daughters would put to shame many of the young ladies of the present day.


Sloth here leads to misery hereafter. In Holland long ago in early times people who would not work were subjected to the following punishment: They were confined singly in a small cell, into which a stream of water constantly flowed. The occupant of the cell was forced, to save himself from being drowned, to pump the water out; for this purpose there was a handle in the wall. The amount of water that flowed into the cell was proportioned to the strength of the man who had to pump it out; and the quantity was increased every day. By this means the limbs stiffened by want of use were rendered supple, and the indolent members of society soon begged to be released from their unwelcome task, and gladly accepted less toilsome and more profitable work. In a future life the slothful will not escape the divine chastisements.