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The Parable of the Three Grandmothers

We too often busy ourselves with questions only God can answer and neglect responsibility for our ongoing lives.

(Image: michal dziekonski/

Three Catholic grandmothers are among the passengers on a plane to Chicago. The first is generous and kind. She lavishes gifts on her children and grandchildren and pays for their vacations. To retain peace in the family, she avoids talking about religion. Consequently, most members of her family don’t practice the Faith.

The second grandmother also has the mellowness that advanced years bring, is loved by her son and daughter, and is a favorite of the grandkids. She has a secret. As a young wife, she and her husband used contraception. She never confessed the sin because – to this day – she disagrees with Church teaching.

The third grandmother is irascible, but that’s not the word her kids use to describe her. Before widowhood, her husband — during arguments -— referred to her as a “battle ax.” Not very kind, but on target. They have five kids, but only two practice the Faith. The battle ax widow annoys the other three and nags them to attend Mass on Sunday.

The airplane to Chicago crashes in a snowstorm. All passengers perish. The three grandmothers stand before the judgment seat of God, rendering accounts for their lives, awaiting the verdict. How will they be judged?

Correct answer: “Mind your own business.”

We are not to judge a person’s soul. We do not have sufficient evidence to determine the eternal destiny of anyone. “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Mt. 7:1). “The Parable of the Three Grandmothers” reminds us of an inescapable reality. “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” (Mt. 25:13) God sees and judges all. We must be attentive to His law, respond to the sting of conscience, do good, and avoid evil.

Sin violates God’s law. The extent of our guilt depends upon three components. The action must be evil in itself (sinful matter), we must know that the choice is immoral, and we must commit the evil act with full consent of the will. If the stuff of sin is slight, we commit a venial sin. If the matter is grave, we are guilty of mortal sin. God forgives venial sins with everyday expressions of repentance (e.g., during the Penitential Rite of the Mass). God forgives mortal sins in response to our perfect contrition (sorrow for offending God). A good confession ratifies perfect contrition or elevates imperfect contrition (fear of God’s punishment) and provides confidence of forgiveness.

The bad habits of venial sin may prepare us to commit a mortal sin given the opportunity. Years ago, a school principal reported that a teacher caught one of the children stealing a pencil – the pettiest of theft. The kid was unrepentant, and the teacher informed the principal. The principal called the parents for Christian formation purposes. The parents dismissed the intervention. “It was only a pencil!” Wrong answer. “He who is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.” (Lk. 16:10)

A mortal sin — such as missing Mass on Sunday without a sufficient reason, hatred, many sexual transgressions, theft, slander, etc. – involves grievous matter, regardless of observable consequences. When we are responsible for the action, mortal sin robs the soul of sanctifying grace. Without repentance, we risk damnation. In doubt, the Sacrament of Penance helps us resolve the ambiguities that distinguish a mortal sin from venial sin.

Some mortal sins bring disturbing fixations. Most of our young people have friends and family members who have committed suicide. Many years ago, one of the eighth graders asked me in class if suicide was a mortal sin. I responded, “You tell me. What are the components of mortal sin?” He answered correctly. The student persisted. Are those who commit suicide condemned to hell? I responded, “It’s none of your business. Judge not, and you will not be judged.”

However, I suggested that those who commit suicide are usually severely emotionally disturbed. If the disturbance clouds minds and cripples consent of the will, maybe it is without the guilt of mortal sin. God – not us — judges souls.

Adolescent insecurities and stress are part of growing up. Young people must learn to deal with disappointments and avoid escapism – especially the escapism of ending it all as if that were possible. I instructed the students: “Raise your hand if you are severely emotionally disturbed.” None did. So I said, “That settles it. If you take your life, you will go to hell.”

Yet, we continue to seek certainty where certainty is not ours to have. Years ago, a priest friend told me that a young man died in a violent drug deal. His sister insisted that the grieving mother needed the priest to say that her son was in heaven. He refused, of course. Canonization belongs to the Church, and it is a very lengthy process. Until then, we mind our own business and pray for the repose of the souls of our loved ones – even our enemies.

In the Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes, the Preacher Qoheleth wrestles with the complexities of life and its existential frustrations: “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities!” He observes, “I have seen everything that is done under the sun; and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.” (Eccles. 1:14)

In the Parable of the Rich Fool (cf. Lk. 12:13-21), Jesus reinforces the message of Qoheleth. Preoccupied with earthly attachments, we seldom think of the hour of our deaths. “Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” Without Christ, all is vanity, and death is incomprehensible.

We too often busy ourselves with questions only God can answer and neglect responsibility for our ongoing lives. As we consider the eternal destiny of deceased friends, family, and enemies, let’s mind our own business and fulfill our vocations as best we can with God’s grace.

With confidence in His infinite mercy, leave the eternal destiny of our departed loved ones in God’s hands. Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord. And let perpetual light shine upon them.

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About Father Jerry J. Pokorsky 43 Articles
Father Jerry J. Pokorsky is a priest of the Diocese of Arlington. He is pastor of St. Catherine of Siena parish in Great Falls, Virginia.. He holds a Master of Divinity degree as well as a master’s degree in moral theology.


  1. Thank you so much for this well written, compassionate piece concerning sin and the judgment of others. I particularly appreciate reading that mental illness that clouds the ability to truly choose one’s actions, such as resultant addiction (so often a comorbidity of untreated mental illness), and suicide, is just that, an illness. We can no more judge those who take their lives than we can judge those who die from, say, cancer. Instead, I hope your article helps us all reach out to help those suffering from mental or emotional disturbances to get the help they need.

    • Amen. And deaths of despair are really an epidemic currently. As are unintentional overdoses through fentanyl.
      We have two local politicians in rehab that held/are holding public office. One barely survived a heroin overdose.
      My children lost a classmate to an overdose during the 2020 lockdown and any number of their friends are struggling with addictions. I’m a grandma and I know folks my age who are in and out of rehab. It’s a terrible scourge.

  2. Thank you for sharing this Father.
    Hank Williams sang a song about minding our own business and the message was if we mind our own business properly we won’t have time to mind that for others.

    • Welp….so much for the Spiritual Works of Mercy. In reality…if we do mind our business properly (following Jesus and the One True Faith) then we will be equipped to perform those works of mercy (minding others). The Church’s key mission is salvation. We are the Church. (CCC 776, 794, 795) Identifying and condemning sin is a necessary part of that mission.

      • Father was speaking about judging a soul AFTER death. It would not appear that. correcting a person committing sin while alive is an issue. St Paul engaged in a great deal of correction of early Christian communities and did so strongly. However it is up to God after a Soul passes how that soul is punished, if at all. Not us.

      • Yes, but I think Hank Williams shared some good advice also. We tend to worry more about other people’s imperfections instead of our own.

        • I don’t think that is really true. The ‘spirit’ of Vatican II crowd puts that out there because they don’t want to hear that their sin is, in fact, a sin. Anyway like I told the guy outside an abortion mill who was bringing his wife/girlfriend in for an abortion and told me to mind my own business…..I am minding my business.

      • Google is your friend. Well not really but it will at least help you find Hank Williams songs.
        Just search for “Mind Your Own Business ” by Hank Williams. God bless!

  3. All sin is grievous to God. It took the righteous blood of Jesus Christ to cleans us from sin. Big sin or little, without our faith in Jesus we are doomed.

    Psalm 51:5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.

    Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

    Romans 3:23 For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

    1 John 1:8-10 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

    2 Timothy 3:1-5 But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.

    Proverbs 28:13 Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.

    Obedience is always better, however the God of all mercy accepts our confession because we believe Jesus. In the garden, Adam and Eve did not believe God.

    In our lives, we believe what the Lord says, Jesus restores us to faith, we confess Him and rely totally upon Him.

    John 3:16-17 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

    Holy Scripture has much to say on our unrighteousness, yet Jesus understands us, has pity and renewal for us each day.

2 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. The Parable of the Three Grandmothers – Via Nova Media
  2. The Parable of the Three Grandmothers | Passionists Missionaries Kenya, Vice Province of St. Charles Lwanga, Fathers & Brothers

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