…so I pass this correspondence along (anonymous, of course) for the benefits of others who likewise struggle with the notion that God is just about to demand Terrifying Colossal Superhuman Perfection of them:
My reader writes:
Hi Mark, I have a question about sin and God’s will that I’m hoping you can help me with. I don’t think I’m ready to give up everything and follow God.
That’s okay. Nobody else is either. And God does not ask that of us, so you are good.
If God asked me to leave everything I have or pursue a religious vocation, I don’t think I could. Is this a sin? On one hand, I’m not aware that God has actually asked me to do a particular thing.
No. It’s normal. And since you don’t know that God is asking that of you, I would set it aside and give that fear back to him. Jesus says not to worry about tomorrow since tomorrow will worry about itself. Your task, like the task of every other person who encounters Jesus, is to live in the present and ask what is pleasing to him in the here and now. The answer will be close at hand: in the love of your neighbor at your elbow, in the work of love and justice you need to do today, in the present offering of thanks for the blessings you have right now, in the prayers of petition you need for the pittance of daily bread you and those in your life require. If there are any Herculean feats Jesus demands of you, he will give you the grace and clear guidance to do them and you will want to do them. If you don’t want to do them, take that as your first clue that nobody is asking you to do them.
On the other, it seems like it must be a sin to know that I wouldn’t do it. And if it is a sin, doesn’t that mean I can’t receive absolution?
This is scrupulosity, not sin. Jesus desires your happiness, not your tripping over yourself in guilt about something you haven’t done and he has not asked you to do. Stop punishing yourself over not doing things he never asked you to do. Focus on what he does ask. Begin with very simple questions like “How do I love my neighbor in the here and now?” The answer will likely be very small and simple: Make him a sandwich, change his diaper, do the report she asked for, say the prayer you promised them. Keep it very small. Assume that any voice demanding Seven Herculean Feats from you is from Satan, not God, and tell him to buzz off in the Name of Jesus if he tries it.
I told all this to a priest recently just before confession, and he still heard my confession and granted absolution; was this valid? Any insight you can provide would be appreciated!
Yes. The absolution was most certainly valid. Trust it over this condemning voice in your head every time.