From a reader:
I was wondering if it was possible for a natural miscarriage to be a sin. The doctors couldn’t tell me why it happened, but statistically miscarriages are more likely when the mother is obese, as I am/was.
And while I never intended the miscarriage to happen, I am clearly responsible both for my weight and the act of becoming pregnant. Ought I to confess it? And since it deals with such a grave issue as human life, is it a mortal sin?
I know you are busy but I am longing for peace of mind on this issue.
A final question, if the miscarriage itself is not a sin, does that mean blaming myself anyway is a sin? I’m not sure I can forgive myself the mistake, even if my intentions were never wrong.
Firstly, I am very sorry for the loss and pain you have had.
It is hard to imagine how a miscarriage could be a sin, unless a woman tries to provoke it or unless she was purposely negligent of her health knowing she was pregnant. While I don’t know all the circumstances or your situation, from what you wrote you don’t have to confess a miscarriage. All sorts of things can happen which are entirely out of your control. Put that out of your mind now.
It is true that we are responsible for our health. Mistreating our bodies is wrong, for , as John Paul II’s “theology of the body” stressed, we are our bodies. Our bodies are not meat machines in which our real selves ride around. Our bodies are not our possessions, as if they were things apart from our real selves. We cannot do anything we want to our bodies, treating them like a mobile phone or a car or a potted plant. The argument, “It’s my body and I can do what I want to it!”, as if your body were something apart from you which you can possess as an object, is a very dangerous line of thought. If you can do anything you want to your body, and in so doing you aren’t really hurting yourself, then anyone else could do something to your body and not really hurt you yourself. Once our bodies are reduced to objects which we can possess, we are open to all manner of objectifcation.
Also, when it comes to mortal sin, there are acts which are objectively wrong considered in themselves, but we can have greater or lesser culpability for those acts to the extent that our minds and wills are engaged in the commission of those acts. For example, once a person is deeply addicted to something, nearly without human control, her culpability is somewhat attenuated when it comes to individual acts. However, her behavior which led to that addiction, if she was aware of what was going on, could very well have been, probably was, culpable. Addiction stems in part from repetition and that repetition started voluntarily.
So, it is possible that a woman can be culpable for getting into an unhealthy physical condition. However, once she is in that condition, and then tries to take care of her health so that she can bring her pregnancy to term, it is hard for me to imagine how her miscarriage can be a “sin”. It’s sad, but it isn’t sin.
We should take care of ourselves, always tuning our self-care according to our state in life, our vocations.
For example, women of child-bearing age who are married should always have in mind that they could conceive. They should have that in mind and keep themselves in shape. But we can turn the sock inside out too. There is a real shortage of priests today. Therefore, priests today have an even greater responsibility to take care of their health for the sake of God’s people who depend on the sacraments only priests can provide. Just as an officer commanding are large force is obliged to keep himself safe so that he can attain the objective and keep casulties as low as possible, so too a priest has an obligation to see to his own well-being for the sake of his flock. And if that is the case for a priest, how much more for a bishop or a pope? The process for naming a bishop is complex. During the time of an empty see, people are without their bishop. I remember the controversy stirred when Pope John Paul II insisted that a swimming pool be build at Castel Gandolfo. He had great resistance. Popes, apparently, didn’t swim… never mind Peter throwing himself into the water and swimming to shore… but I digress. In any event, the Pope said “A pool is easier than a conclave.” The point was that he wanted to keep himself in good health for the sake of the Church.
Thus, while a priest can wax eloquent about how women should take care of their health, it would behoove that priest to follow his own advice regarding his own health.
Thanks, therefore, for the question. It was a good reminder. A friend of mine has recently started on a serious plan get into shape and reduce some risk factors. Sometimes, when we are feeling great, we forget how old we are or what we might face down the line. Time to take stock and make some plans of my own!