One sunny summer day, after a morning of fun with our friends, we returned home for lunch and many tales of our adventures. Mom insisted that I should have a nap that afternoon and told me, contrary to the promises I had given to my friends to return after lunch, that I was forbidden to go.
I saw no reason for her harsh stance; we had been playing well together, had a great time, and plans to continue during the afternoon. Besides...I'd PROMISED I'd return!
All of my 4-or-5-year-old arguments fell on deaf ears, so it seemed, and Mom insisted that after lunch, I would be taking a nap.
As soon as I was "locked" in my room, a plan began to form. I was not one to play with dolls as a child, other than Barbie, and I played with Barbie like the boys played with their armies...only she became a leader of the Calvary Division! But I had a doll that had been given to me one Christmas, a gift that constantly mystified me. She was as tall as I was, had eyes that blinked, curly dark hair, and could "walk" if moved a certain way. I named her "Mary" (I think that was the doll's actual commercial name), and Mom constantly spoke of how that doll's hair was the same color as mine and she couldn't tell us apart from behind.
Parents, take note: your children hear and process very intelligently the things you say when you think they couldn't care less!
Oh, yes, I was listening, and it was by listening that I gained my "freedom"!
That fateful afternoon, after Mom had left, I quickly pulled back my bedcovers, got up, and put my tall doll in my place. I always slept with the covers over my head, so I pulled them up, leaving just enough hair visible for Mom to think it was me when she came in to check on me.
I went to my bedroom window, which was open, opened the screen, climbed out, and closed the screen behind me, leaving it cracked enough so that it didn't latch and would allow me re-entrance later.
Then I skipped off to join my friends!
It was a wonderful afternoon which ended unfortunately in a childhood fight, and I returned home steamin' mad!
Because I was so angry, I forgot my subversiveness and came in the front door, howling about my friend's betrayal and cruelty.
Mom was shocked. I can still remember how she stood there, wiping her hands on a towel as she came out of the kitchen, saying in anger and confusion, "I thought you were taking a nap!"
I stood rooted to the spot for a moment, then tried to run to my room to "destroy the evidence", but she got there first....and for the first time in my life, I was grounded. In fact, I wasn't allowed to play with "those boys" for a very long time.
And my doll was taken away. (That really wasn't punishment...I hated that doll.)
I have often remembered that day, usually with giggles, and even accolades from others exclaiming at the brilliance of my actions that day at such a young age.
That's the problem, though, isn't it? We are all too ready to laugh at and enjoy sin, and I admit I am STILL brought to great mirth when I remember my huge deception, and I am STILL at odds with my mother's very Just response. As I write my own story, I remain on MY side and see my mother as the enemy in it.
And I was "captured" and "punished" by "the enemy".
This story shows how far I yet have to go. Even though now as an adult, especially in our age, I see my Mother's anger as concern and love, and the consequences of my actions as true Justice, I still can't shake my joyful and unholy mirth at pulling one over on her when I was barely beyond toddlerhood!
This is how we are towards God, too.
All of us.
There are big (mortal, grave) sins, and there are venial (smaller) sins. Mortal sins destroy the virtue of Charity (Divine love) in OUR hearts, cutting us off from a relationship with God. Venial sins are small, often unintentional but encompass flaws that did not include intent, will, and full knowledge of what we are doing.
As I was a child, of course my sin was venial, but could anyone deny that my actions were totally innocent? No! Indeed, I disobeyed my mother, knowingly and willfully, I intended my lie (of my doll in my place) and I intended and willed my deception with full intention to get away with it. I might actually theologically argue that, even as a child, even so young, I had come VERY close to committing mortal sin. The only missing element was that the sin itself was not objectively grave, although it could be argued that it was.
And, make no mistake to try to excuse me; I knew at that time what I was doing, why, and the intended outcome.
That is human nature, and I cannot deny I knew the difference between right and wrong.
As adults, we try to excuse ourselves even more, trying to justify our actions in more perverse and more common terms.
But we now commit acts that don't involve disobedience to parents, but to God AND parents (if our parents gave us any objective moral formation at all).
When we commit mortal sin, which involves an objectively grave sin (murder, contraception, abortion, sexual acts outside of marriage, abusive sexual acts within marriage- like objectifying one's spouse, chemical abuse - going out with the intention of getting drunk, etc, use of the occult like Reiki, Tarot, Palm reading, etc....etc), we cut ourselves off from God.
He does not cut Himself off from us. He sent His only Son to die for us, a horrible death, because we are caught in this trap and can't get ourselves out.
We are all rams caught in thorns, and he offers Himself to take our place.
Yet still, we sin, and we cut ourselves off. We turn our backs on God.
When my Mom grounded me for my serious and dangerous disobedience, she gave the punishment out of love. Notice she did not eject me from the family, but saw what I needed; to be kept under closer supervision. She feared she would lose me, that something awful would happen, and saw that the correction I needed was to be kept within her sight so that she could form me more properly and more importantly....protect me.
When we cut ourselves off from God, something similar happens.
When we cut ourselves off from Divine Charity by committing mortal sin, God does not forget us, but, as soon as we recognize we are wrong (i.e. try to climb back in the window we evacuated or come in the front door in a frenzy) He pours His grace down upon us. He does this to get us back to Confession, to recognize who we are in relation to Him.
I once had a professor, a convert to the Church, who said that when he knew he had committed mortal sin, he felt "buoyed up" and almost BROUGHT to Confession by Divine Grace. He experienced more consolations in that period than when in a state of grace (if such a state can truly be discerned...we can hope but never presuppose in arrogance and pride). I've experienced the same thing; it is subtle, but present, and I always return to a state of dryness after Confession.
When we commit Mortal sin, in a way, we Excommunicate ourselves. Although the term "Excommunicate" applies to only certain, very very grave cases of "intelligent disobedience and betrayal", in a sense, that's what we do to ourselves when we act so willfully against Divine Charity.
The penalty of Excommunication, however, is far greater than anything most Catholics can ever experience. Even the term "Latae sentencia" applies ONLY under certain circumstances and has to be applied by one in authority, not by the word of Canon Law itself. Why? Because the penalty is much like being grounded; it is meant to heal.
When I was a child and was grounded for my serious offense, Mom, and Dad, saw that I needed to be kept closer to them, and so I was excluded from my social circle in order that I would both be formed and healed and directed according to what was right, and not allowed to travel in the terrible path I was headed had I had my own way.
So it is with excommunication; do you think such a penalty is designed for anything other than healing? Those who have been excommunicated are closest to the heart of the Church, for in their going astray, do you think they are forgotten or dismissed?
NO! They are held closer in prayer and in attention. It is they who are excommunicated who bear the burden of their exile, for this penalty is only imposed upon those who are busy having temper tantrums, accusing their family and parents of "hating them" because they are not allowed to wreak havoc without censure or some other similar reason.
Excommunication is the Ecclesiastical form of parental "Grounding"; nothing more, nothing less.
I learned from being grounded, and I was better formed by the discipline. I thank my parents for being so vigilant.
In our age, an age that rebels against any authority whatsoever, the penalty of Excommunication is seen by the faithful and the dissenters alike as an exile, which is a total misunderstanding of the theology and intent of the prescription.
I hope my comparison between grounding and excommunication has been of help to some of you. I do not offer my story as a full parallel or even as an accurate theological explanation, but only as an example that may offer some insight for those who struggle with the concept.
Know that if you do struggle with it, you are not alone, and your questions are encouraged.
Nothing that is True fears being questioned, for Truth has answers to all questions.
Sometimes I think I should pray that God ground me for all my earthly life.