Category Archives: Morality

Love vs kindness

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-by Msgr Charles Pope

“Kindness is a very great thing and has an important place in our relationships. Kindness is evidenced by goodness and charitable behavior, a pleasantness, tenderness and concern for others. According to Aristotle, kindness is an emotion manifesting itself by the desire to help somebody in need, without expecting anything in return. Peter Kreeft defines kindness as “sympathy, with the desire to relieve another’s suffering.” [Envoy Magazine, Vol 9.3, p. 20]

However, as Kreeft himself notes, it is a very great mistake to equate kindness with love. Kindness is an aspect of love, but it is necessarily distinct from love. For is sometimes happens that love, which wills what is best for the other, may deem it best not to remove all suffering. A father, in fact may impose punishment on a child out of love. Kindness generally seeks to alleviate suffering and negativity. Love understands that suffering often has a salvific role. My parents disciplined me out of love. Had they been merely kind to me, I would likely have been spoiled, undisciplined and ill-equipped for life.

Paradoxically the more we love the more we will often see mere kindness diminish. Consider how kind we can be to strangers. We may sometimes give money to strangers with little questions asked. But if a son or daughter asks for money we may often want to know why and, even if we give it, we will frequently lecture them about being more responsible with their money. The interaction may be less kind, but it may also be more loving for it seeks to end the problem rather than merely relieve the symptom of the problem.

The good eclipses the best – And herein lies the danger of reducing love to kindness. In simply seeking to alleviate the suffering of the moment or to give people what they want, many deeper issues go unresolved and worsen. Welfare has created a slavish dependence for many in our culture. And it is not just the poor in our cities. There is corporate welfare, and many other subsidies and entitlements that too many can no longer go without. Rather than addressing the root causes of poverty, dependence or poor economic conditions and bad business models, kindness interrupts love’s deeper role and treats only the suffering of the moment. In this sense the merely good (kindness) replaces the truly best (Love). True love gives what is best, not merely what is immediately preferred.

Further, many false expectations are centered in the exaltation of kindness over love. Generally this is manifest in the fact that suffering of any kind is seen as obnoxious and even the cause for legal action. It has also led to our demands for comfort to go on steroids. Demand for euthanasia flow from this sort of thinking as well.

A final and very terrible effect often flows from mistaking mere kindness for love is that it disposes many towards atheism. Here I simply want to quote Peter Kreeft because he says it so well:

It is painfully obvious that God is not mere kindness, for He does not remove all suffering, though He has the power to do so. Indeed, this very fact — that the God Who is Omnipotent and can, at any instant, miraculously erase all suffering from the world, deliberately chooses not to do so — is the commonest argument that unbelievers use against Him. The number one argument for atheism stems from the confusion between love and kindness. [Peter Kreeft, Envoy Magazine, Vol 9.3, p. 20]

Kindness is a very great attribute and it surely has its place. But we must carefully distinguish it from love. Exalting kindness over love amounts to a denial of the wisdom of the Cross. Kindness focuses on comfort and alleviating suffering and this is a very great thing. But love is greater thing for it wills what is best, not what is merely desired.”

Love,
Matthew

Holiness is more than being nice

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-by Msgr. Charles Pope

“We live in a time that has tended to reduce holiness to merely being nice and agreeable. In this manner of thinking holiness tends to be variously thought of as: getting along well with everyone, being kind, agreeable, helpful, likable, generous, pleasant, mild mannered, amiable, good humored, middle of the road, even tempered, placid, benevolent, friendly, forbearing, tolerant, thoughtful, and the like. It can all be summed up by saying that “so-and-so” is “basically a nice person.” And thus the goal seems more to be nice than holy.

If you think this isn’t so, listen to how people talk at funerals. “Wow, Joe was a great guy!….We’re all gonna miss his jokes….Joe liked everybody! Joe would do anything for you!” Now all this is fine. But did Joe pray? Did Joe raise his kids in the fear of the Lord? Did Joe set a moral example that summoned others to holiness? Maybe he did but people don’t usually talk about that at the wake service. All that seems to matter is that Joe was a “great guy.” But the goal in life is not just to be a great guy, it is to be holy.

Now, none of the qualities listed above the previous paragraphs are wrong or bad. But the problem is that we have largely reduced holiness to these sorts of qualities, to being “basically a nice person.” Oh sure, holy people will be known to pray and that sort of stuff but God forbid that some one might exhibit righteous anger or rebuke sin. No, that wouldn’t be nice at all! It’s wrong to upset people isn’t it? And thus we tend to limit what holiness should be like.

But true holiness, while it does not seek a fight, does not easily fit into this world’s schemes and categories. It tends to run against the grain and upset the status quo. Jesus could surely be kind, merciful and forgiving. But he was also holy. And true holiness does not compromise the truth, does not go along to get along. It does not remain silent just so everyone can be happy and unoffended. Jesus did not end up on the Cross because he was “basically a nice person.” He spoke the truth in love. He prophetically denounced hypocrisy, duplicity, sin and injustice. It is true He also blessed children and repentant sinners found refuge in Him and a strong advocate. But Jesus was no fool, and He didn’t just go around slapping every one’s back and being nice. Jesus was holy. And holiness is hot to the touch. It is not easily endured by the tepid and worldly minded. They killed Him for it.

Too many Christians have substituted niceness for holiness and hence endure almost no hostility from the world. Too many Christians think that getting along and being popular is their main task. Having enemies is somehow “unchristian.” Never mind that Jesus told us to love our enemies (which presupposes we have some). No, having enemies is surely a sign that we are not getting along with people and that is not very nice (err….”holy”).

Now this attitude is deadly to living a prophetic Christian witness. Of course the word “witness” is Biblically tied to the word “martyr.” Martyrs do not end up dead by being nice. They usually end up dead or at least persecuted by running afoul of the world’s norms and priorities. And when told to be nice and go along to get along, they declined and continued as an irritant to a world that demands compromise with evil, approval of sin, and silence about faith. But this is our call, not to be nice, to be holy. Holy means “set apart,” “distinct from what is around it.”

There is a place for niceness and ordinary human kindness. But the point is that holiness cannot be reduced to this. There are times where holiness demands that we speak out strongly and unambiguously. True holiness will lead us increasingly to live in a way that others will often find an irritant. Perhaps our radical simplicity and generosity will prick their conscience. Perhaps our deep devotion to God will cause them to feel uneasy. Perhaps our moral positions will offend their politics or worldly ethics. Our mentioning of a day of judgment that looms may incite their anger. And so forth…. We do not seek conflict, but conflict finds us. The world demands that we back down and be nice, that we get along better.

Holiness is not of this world. True holiness brings an increasingly radical transformation that makes the recipient seem to be a foreigner in this world who speaks with a strange accent and has foreign ways. He does not fit into simple political distinctions, does not conform to worldly categories. True holiness ignites a fire in the recipient and fire changes everything it touches. In the end no one remains neutral to a truly holy person. Either they complain of the heat or draw warmth, but no one is neutral.

Holiness is a lot more than being nice.”

Love,
Matthew

Be a Man!!! Live the Life of Virtue/the Virtuous Life

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-Andrea Mantegna (Isola di Carturo, circa 1431 – Mantua, 1506)
Minerva Expelling the Vices from the Garden of Virtue, circa 1500-1502, oil on canvas; H. 1.59 m; W. 1.92 m, Paris, Musée du Louvre, dép. des Peintures, inv. 371 (please click on the image for greater detail)
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-by Sam Guzman, “The Catholic Gentleman”

“Virtue isn’t often associated with manliness these days. In fact, the exact opposite is true—many believe you aren’t a real man unless you are a “bad boy” or a rebel. But this wasn’t always the case. In fact, the word “virtue: comes from the Latin word vir, meaning man. Virtue literally means manliness. In ancient times, philosophers like Aristotle encouraged men to cultivate virtue to reach their full potential.

What is Virtue?

It is hard to live a virtuous life if we don’t first know what virtue it is. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines virtue in the following way:

“A virtue is an habitual and firm disposition to do the good. It allows the person not only to perform good acts, but to give the best of himself. The virtuous person tends toward the good with all his sensory and spiritual powers; he pursues the good and chooses it in concrete actions.” -CCC 1803

In other words, virtue is the habit of choosing what is good and right, despite our own inclinations.

Getting still more specific, the Catholic Church teaches that we should cultivate seven different virtues—four cardinal (or natural) virtues and three theological (or supernatural) virtues. The cardinal virtues are prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice, and the theological virtues are faith, hope, and charity. I’ll save the definition of these virtues for another post.

Why Does Virtue Matter?

For the Catholic man, virtue isn’t an option. We have to cultivate virtue, both natural and supernatural, if we want to live a holy life and get to heaven. But why?

Virtue is essential because we all are filled with disordered passions. Anger, gluttony, lust, laziness, envy, pride, and greed—these sins are churning about in our souls constantly due to our fallen nature. If we don’t tame them, they will kill us spiritually. That’s why the Church calls them the seven deadly sins. Virtue helps us to tame these passions and overcome them, building the foundation for a holy life.

St. Paul talks about this very fact in his letter to the Romans. He says,

“For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.”
Romans 8:13

In other words, if you are living a supernaturally virtuous life, empowered by grace, you are on the road to heaven. If you aren’t, however, and your life is characterized by the seven deadly sins, you are probably on the road to hell.

This may sound harsh, but it is true. Virtue is that important.

Choose the Virtuous Life

Many men coast through life without a thought to where they are going. They don’t really worry about things like temperance, prudence, or fortitude—let alone faith, hope or charity. But no one gets to heaven on cruise control. If you’ve been living aimlessly, decide today to pursue virtue with all your heart. Ask the Holy Spirit for the graces you need to be a virtuous man.”

Love, & please pray for me to always be a Catholic GENTLE-MAN!!, a man who practices Virtue,
Matthew

The Necessary Spiritual Battle

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The Christian soul, when created, is not yet not perfected.  The soul, like the body, requires maturity and maturation.  The carnal desires and pleasures of the body are good, in that God created them, too.  Our free will and its responsibility to choose wisely, in a holy way, according to His will, are corrupted by our fall from grace in God.  So, humans may take the good nature of the carnal desires and pervert them by attempting to derive pleasure from disordered ends; not the birth of children, not the love of spouse.  We can never perfect ourselves by our own efforts; we only make progress by His Grace. As Pope Benedict reflected:  “Holiness does not consist in not making mistakes or never sinning.  Holiness grows with the capacity for conversion, repentance, willingness to begin again, and above all with the capacity for reconciliation and forgiveness.”

Why would God allow such a thing?  We know that God gifts us with free will, praise Him!!!, and even allows disordered choices by the very definition of the name “free” in the gift.  But, we also know that God, when he allows disorder, has, in His infinite Wisdom, a great good in mind.  God is so omnipotent and omniscient, He brings good out of our disordered choosing.  The good, may I propose, that he brings out of disordered choosing from carnal desire is the denial of the lie that in the pleasure which results from acting on carnal desire, that all our fulfillment lies therein; not in God, but in orgasm, or sensation.  The average practitioner of this lie realizes that no matter how much dissolution they give themselves over to, there is always something missing.  Something, at first, without reflection, difficult to identify, troubling.  This void, this ache, is our union with the Infinite, for which we were made.  The pleasure is a shadow, a reflection, a hollow specter of that fulfillment in God, yet to be attained by the soul, but hinted at in our mortal experience, beautifully.  This is what St Augustine speaks of when he cries out:  “Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you!”

The Spiritual Battle is necessary, as necessary as physical struggle and work for the body, to strengthen, to grow, to discipline, to more perfect, the soul.  See, God does bring good from evil.  He truly does.  Praise Him!!!!!!  We must caution against, however, the misinterpretation that sin and struggle are a good in themselves.  They are not.  They are evil and the result of evil.  Occasions, or near occasions, of sin must be avoided at all opportunities, with our cooperation, certainly, but aided infinitely and only by His grace; our true hope.

Love,
Matthew

“Conscience is a window to Truth.” – Rev. Wojciech Giertych, OP, Theologian for the Papal Household

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ROME, November 4, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – Conscience is a window to truth, according to the pope’s theologian. And an act of conscience is an act of reason, not something to be confused with feelings.

Father Wojciech Giertych, Theologian for the Papal Household, aka Master of the Sacred Palace, sat down with LifeSiteNews during the final week of the Vatican’s Synod on the Family to discuss some of the issues considered during the international gathering of bishops called to address challenges to the family.

Father Giertych did not take part in the synod, and he was therefore not privy to any of the closed discussion occurring there, nor was he able to speak to specific synod developments.

However, the one on-call theologian for the pope, Father Giertych is a valuable resource on the Church’s teaching. And he was able to offer clarity on some of the moral areas discussed so widely at the synod.

Given the underlying question of conscience during the synod gathering, LifeSiteNews asked Father Giertych about the prevalent indifference to sin in society and its implications. He concurred that there is an absence of a sense of sin today in many parts of the world, with the effects carrying over into real consequences for people’s lives.

“If the perception of moral truth is unclear, then people are lost,” Father Giertych said. “People aren’t quite sure what is right and what is wrong.”

Following this, conscience is now often cited to allow permission for people to act on their impulses and desires, without regard for sin or consequence.

Specific to the synod, a term that received attention was “inviolability of conscience,” which seeks to establish an individual’s personal conscience as paramount, without necessarily first defining conscience.

Father Giertych told LifeSiteNews that we have to be careful in what we mean by the term “conscience.”

“Conscience is the act of practical reason,” he stated.

“Many people identify conscience with feelings,” said Father Giertych. “Feelings are secondary; conscience is a window to truth. … The conscience has to be formed to see the truth.”

We should not identify our conscience with our feelings, he continued. Rather, we have to go to the truth of the matter. And application of conscience is not an arbitrary thing.

“The idea of a subjective conscience, that I invent my moral principles as I go along – this is absurd. This is absolutely wrong.”
“You have to perceive the truth of the matter,” stated Father Giertych, “by reason.” This means taking all factors involved into account.

There are three specific criteria that determine an individual’s perception of the truth related to an act of conscience, Father Giertych told LifeSiteNews. These are the intention, the object of the act, and the circumstances. “If one is missing, then the whole act is inappropriate.”

The truth of an act of conscience can vary according those criteria.

One example he explained was the question of whether a doctor should amputate a patient’s limb. This is an extremely serious thing, and it would not be appropriate to take the limb in a medical setting where it could be saved. However, it is another matter entirely if leaving the limb will kill the patient.

Father Giertych clarified that while the conditions that establish the criteria surrounding an act of conscience can vary, the definition of conscience and its application do not.

“The idea of a subjective conscience, that I invent my moral principles as I go along – this is absurd. This is absolutely wrong,” he told LifeSiteNews.

The concept of conscience permeated much of the synod discussions, as it directly relates to the moral issues debated there.

Among the most hotly disputed matters was that of Holy Communion for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics.

Father Giertych revisited for LifeSiteNews the fundamental question of who should present him- or herself for the Eucharist.

“Every individual before he receives Holy Communion has to see that he receives the Communion worthily, believing this is the body and blood the soul and the divinity of Jesus Christ given under the species of bread and wine,” he said, “and that the individual is in a state of grace. That means that individual is not aware of having committed mortal sin.”

When someone is in a state of grave sin, Father Giertych said, he must be absolved of his sin before presenting himself for Communion.

“If that is the case, then it’s required to go to Confession and be absolved of the sin,” he stated.

A perfect conversion is necessary for worthiness to receive Communion, the papal theologian continued, and that means a conversion toward God and an aversion to sin.

The same can be said of any temptation, Father Giertych explained, as it is in the case of Catholics living objectively in a situation that is contrary to the moral truth.

No one is owed Communion; rather, it is a gift from the Lord to be given proper regard and handling.

“The graces of God we receive as a gift from God,” said Father Giertych, “and so we have to persist in an attitude of gratitude. … Whereas if we approach the gifts of God with our list of demands, it destroys the purity of our relationship with God. So any sort of sense of entitlement is incorrect. It’s inappropriate.”

“The teaching of St. Paul is clear,” the theologian explained: “we have to be worthy to receive the Eucharist, we cannot receive it unworthily, and affirmation of sin makes a person unworthy.”

When asked about the idea often expressed that Communion is not a prize for the perfect, but medicine for the sick, Father Giertych clarified that this does not negate the elements necessary to be worthy of receiving Communion.

“The sacraments are a nourishment,” he said, “but they’re nourishment that has to be received in truth, and in the pure relationship of gratitude towards God, and in the recognition of the light that God has given us.”

“The graces of God we receive as a gift from God, and so we have to persist in an attitude of gratitude.”

Father Giertych pointed out that the Commandments and moral teaching transmitted in the Church are also a gift, and that one must accept all of the gifts God gives to properly accept any.

“We receive Jesus not only on the sacraments, but also in the teaching that accompanies the sacraments,” he said.

And Father Giertych dismisses the idea of a supermarket approach, saying, “You enter the supermarket: ‘I want this, no, I don’t want that. … But in our relationship with God, we cannot impose upon God our own list of demands. ‘I want these graces, I don’t want those other graces…’ If we are pure in our relationship to God, we accept them all.”

To the argument that the Church must adapt Her teaching to align with society’s standards today, Father Giertych counters that today is not at all different from any other time in that no justification exists to allow the Church’s principles to be compromised.

It’s not a novelty that times change and the Church would face new challenges, he told LifeSiteNews.

The Church had to invent certain practical ways to help people to live the fullness of the Gospel in the past, he said, but the fullness of the Gospel has not changed.

“Human nature, the sacraments, divine grace, what we receive from Christ and the identity of the Church, the mission of the Church has not changed. [T]he principles have not changed; human nature has not changed. And the guidance that God gave us ultimately in the Word made flesh, in Christ, that does not change.”

Regarding the concept discussed during the synod of Church decentralization, Father Giertych was quick to correct a misconception that the Vatican controls everything. He said the term decentralization refers to government.

He also clarified that the Church has always defended the concept of subsidiarity – the idea that it’s always best to handle things on the local level whenever possible.

“The local bishop should address his individual diocese’s problems by applying the Gospel, Church teaching, and tradition.”
But the idea that any doctrinal matters could be managed at the diocesan level is wrong, he said, as it is not the local bishop’s place to do so.

Individual bishops must handle issues in their respective dioceses, but only within the confines of upholding Church teaching. A bishop cannot decide doctrinal issues because he hasn’t the authority, as the Church’s teaching comes from the Church and therefore cannot be changed.

“The local bishop should address his individual diocese’s problems,” said Father Giertych, “by applying the Gospel, Church teaching, and tradition.”

Love,
Matthew

Ideas have consequences: the reality of conscience

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“Simply having a conscience is insufficient. The gift of conscience requires, directly implies, a grave responsibility for proper formation.” -MPM

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-by Dennis Buonafede

“…The awareness of conscience transcends time and culture. The Persians, Egyptians, Assyro-Babylonians and Hebrews all had an awareness of conscience, Confucius and Mencius in China did as well. Socrates associated conscience with an inner warning voice which he believed had its origin in God. The Stoics, like Marcus Aurelius in Rome, saw conscience as the voice of reason; again a manifestation of the spark of the divine in humanity. The early Church Fathers and the philosophers of the Middle Age each developed their understanding of conscience based on their knowledge and experience. For example, along with Scripture, St. Ambrose was influenced by Cicero, St. Augustine by Plato and St. Thomas Aquinas by Aristotle. [iii]

So central is conscience to the human person that its very existence is an argument for the existence of God. Dr. Kreeft explains:

“The argument from conscience is one of the only two arguments for the existence of God alluded to in Scripture, the other being the argument from design (both in Romans). Both arguments are essentially simple natural intuitions. Only when complex, artificial objections are made do these arguments begin to take on a complex appearance.

The simple, intuitive point of the argument from conscience is that everyone in the world knows, deep down, that he is absolutely obligated to be and do good, and this absolute obligation could come only from God. Thus everyone knows God, however obscurely, by this moral intuition, which we usually call conscience. Conscience is the voice of God in the soul.” [iv]

While today we describe conscience as a “feeling” that something is right or wrong, it would be more accurate to center conscience in the intellect, hence it is the knowledge of what is right and wrong. Yet “it is intuitive knowledge rather than rational or analytical knowledge, and it is first of all the knowledge that I must always do right and never wrong, the knowledge of my absolute obligation to goodness, all goodness: justice and charity and virtue and holiness; only in the second place is it the knowledge of which things are right and which things are wrong.” [v]

We see in Dr. Kreeft’s explanation that conscience is a metaphysical awareness. When we discussed the First Principles,[vi] we saw that one of the First Principles in the order of Being is the Moral Order, namely, that good ought to be pursued and evil avoided. Human beings, embedded in this metaphysical order, and gifted with intellect, are intuitively attuned to this reality. [vii]

The advent of Christianity did much to develop our understanding of conscience, but within the last few centuries a change in understanding has crept into the Western mindset. Conscience has become associated more with feeling than with fact and it enables individuals to circumvent what would seem to be common sense. In Catholic circles, this exultation of personal conscience is what “allows” Catholics for Choice to claim that they can support abortion and all forms of artificial birth control “in good conscience.” Even their main publication is entitled “Conscience”. [viii]

St. John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890) foresaw this development when he wrote the following lament on the state of conscience to the Duke of Norfolk:

“[It is]the right of thinking, speaking, writing and acting, according to their judgment or their humour, without any thought of God at all. They do not even pretend to go by any moral rule, but they demand, what they think is an Englishman’s prerogative, to be his own master in all things, and to profess what he pleases, asking no-one’s leave, and accounting priest or preacher, speaker or writer, unutterably impertinent, who dares to say a word against his going to perdition, if he like it, in his own way. Conscience has rights because it has duties; but in this age, with a large portion of the public, it is the very right and freedom of conscience to dispense with conscience, to ignore a Lawgiver and Judge, to be independent of unseen obligations. It becomes a license to take up any or no religion, to take up this or that and let it go again, to go to Church, to go to Chapel, to boast of being above all religions and to be impartial critic of each of them. Conscience is a stern monitor, but in this century it has been superseded by a counterfeit, which the eighteen centuries prior to it never heard of, and could not have mistaken for it, if they had. It is the right of self-will.” [ix]

Lessons from Pinocchio

In 1883, the Italian author Carlo Lorenzini published a book entitled Pinocchio, a story of a mischievous puppet that was brought to life and became human when he learned the value of self-sacrifice. Walt Disney produced a film in 1940 that kept the basis of the story but made Pinocchio more readily lovable than the original. Also, in the Disney version, the role of Jiminy Cricket, Pinocchio’s conscience, was given a more prominent role.

The story of Pinocchio is a moral tale, but also has a more profound metaphysical element to it (which the original writers may or may not have been aware of). In the Disney version the Blue Fairy gives life to a wooden puppet that was created by a lonely carpenter named Geppetto, who made a wish that the puppet could be a real son. After a series of adventures Pinocchio learns self-sacrifice and the Blue Fairy makes him “human”.

In fact, Pinocchio was human the moment he had that principle of Life which was both rational and volitional. The movie showed us this when the first thing that Geppetto had Pinocchio do was to go to school. His “substance” was human, his “accidents” or “attributes” were those of a puppet. [x] What his choices and actions did was to make him either more human or less human. In the movie, Pinocchio goes to the Island of Pleasure and begins to transform into a donkey. The moral here is that denial or neglect of our true nature leads us to descend into a more materialistic existence, one more fitting to animals than humans, something that we can see plenty of evidence for in our Western society, especially among the young.

Pinocchio’s transformation at the end of the story, arising from his unselfish behaviour, was not a change in substance but a perfection of it. Unlike the Englishmen in St. Newman’s Letter, Pinocchio’s conscience did not lead him to self-will but rather to self-giving.

Ideas Have Consequences

It is obvious that our conscience alone is insufficient, as it needs to be formed and educated by solid moral teaching and example. Yet, at the same time, the Second Vatican Council declared that “Conscience is man’s most secret core, and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths” (GS 16). From a philosophical perspective, the more we respond to a properly informed conscience, the more we conform to reality. The more we conform to reality, the more human we become. In the spiritual life, the Second Stage is often called the “Illuminative Stage” where, among other things, God’s grace illuminates and makes more sensitive our conscience.

When we examined Metaphysics we recognized that there is a logical (yet simultaneous) order in First Principles, beginning with Non-Contradiction and ending with the Moral Order. We also see in examining Human Nature, that we also have a logical (yet simultaneous) order in our being, starting with Reason that grasps the First Principles and ending with conscience; that desire to conform to the Moral Order. Our greatness is not that we can “know” reality but that we can willfully conform to that reality; not just to know truth but unite ourselves to Truth Incarnate, in cooperation with God’s Grace.

Pope Benedict, in response to a question on conscience, stated:

“In the Christian tradition, ‘conscience’, ‘con-scientia’, means ‘with knowledge’: that is, ourselves, our being is open and can listen to the voice of being itself, the voice of God. Thus, the voice of the great values is engraved in our being and the greatness of the human being is precisely that he is not closed in on himself, he is not reduced to the material, something quantifiable, but possesses an inner openness to the essentials and has the possibility of listening. In the depths of our being, not only can we listen to the needs of the moment, to material needs, but we can also hear the voice of the Creator himself and thus discern what is good and what is bad. Of course, this capacity for listening must be taught and encouraged.” [xi]

An End and a Beginning

Those readers who have been following this series may have noticed that philosophy, while “simple” and “common sense” in content, is difficult in comprehension. It is also time consuming. In God’s mercy, He aids our reason with Revelation and Grace. All of Human Nature is contained in the first four chapters of Genesis. The Law is found in the Ten Commandments. Our politics should be the Beatitudes. Yet unfortunately, we live in an age that has reduced Christian Revelation to just another option; equal among many.

As a Catholic teacher, my approach to the subject of philosophy is that it is a tool by which young people can be evangelized; it is what St. Aquinas calls the “Gospel of Natural Reason.” Focusing on the areas of speculative reason as outlined in Metaphysics and Human Nature, it is impossible not to come into an awareness of the Divine. Only willful avoidance of the Truth, as seen in the course of philosophical thought in the last five centuries, has led us to the point where Reason itself is in eclipse.

Yet speculative philosophy can only take us so far. Since human beings are, at their core, an acting person, they must know by which principles they ought to act. This leads us to the area of philosophy known as Ethics or Morals. It also includes Politics. Here we leave speculative philosophy behind and engage in Practical Philosophy or Applied Philosophy.

While I will be addressing specific moral and political issues, I will do so in the context of laying out the logical consequences and principles that flow from what we’ve discovered through speculative philosophy. Among the topics of discussion with be: “The Good,” “Happiness,” “Natural Law,” “Virtue,” “Principle of Double Effect,” “Human Rights,” “Solidarity” and “Subsidiarity,” among others.”

Love,
Matthew

Footnotes:

[iii] A good, yet brief, examination of conscience can be found at: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04268a.htm and the Catechism of the Catholic Church http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s1c1a6.htm

[iv] http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics/conscience.htm

[v] ibid.

[vi] http://www.integratedcatholiclife.org/2015/06/dennis-buonafede-the-metaphysics-of-man-and-broccoli/

[vii] Of course, human history is rife with evil so our ability to know and do the good is limited. The doctrine of Original Sin explains why the intellect is darkened and the will is malicious. It also explains the need for the 10 Commandments to enlighten the Intellect and the necessity of Grace to give the Will the power to choose the good known by the intellect. Secular humanists, in contrast, place all their hope on “education” as if that was enough for men to change their behaviour.

[viii] http://www.catholicsforchoice.org/conscience/default.asp

[ix] Letter to the Duke of York, p.58 as quoted in: Newman Today, Volume 1, Ignatius Press, 1988, p.73

[x] See PRINCIPLE OF SUBSTANCE in http://www.integratedcatholiclife.org/2015/06/dennis-buonafede-the-metaphysics-of-man-and-broccoli/

[xi] http://annunciations.wordpress.com/2007/08/20/q-a-with-pope-benedict-xvi-formation-of-conscience/

Good vs Evil vs Relativism: the ends never justify the means. Never. Ever. Ever. Never.

NeverEver

“Men do not differ much about what things they will call evils; they differ enormously about what evils they will call excusable.” – G.K. Chesterton

Here in Wisconsin, our legislature is debating the ban on sale of aborted fetal tissue, enflamed by the recent Planned Parenthood expose’ videos.  The dean of the medical school of the University of Wisconsin and a couple legislators have argued against this ban citing the benefits of medical research.  Clearly, I note, they are not catechized in Catholic teaching.

CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
PART THREE
LIFE IN CHRIST

SECTION ONE
MAN’S VOCATION LIFE IN THE SPIRIT

CHAPTER ONE
THE DIGNITY OF THE HUMAN PERSON

ARTICLE 4
THE MORALITY OF HUMAN ACTS

1749 Freedom makes man a moral subject. When he acts deliberately, man is, so to speak, the father of his acts. Human acts, that is, acts that are freely chosen in consequence of a judgment of conscience, can be morally evaluated. They are either good or evil.

I. THE SOURCES OF MORALITY

1750 The morality of human acts depends on:

– the object chosen;

– the end in view or the intention;

– the circumstances of the action.

The object, the intention, and the circumstances make up the “sources,” or constitutive elements, of the morality of human acts.

1751 The object chosen is a good toward which the will deliberately directs itself. It is the matter of a human act. The object chosen morally specifies the act of the will, insofar as reason recognizes and judges it to be or not to be in conformity with the true good. Objective norms of morality express the rational order of good and evil, attested to by conscience.

1752 In contrast to the object, the intention resides in the acting subject. Because it lies at the voluntary source of an action and determines it by its end, intention is an element essential to the moral evaluation of an action. The end is the first goal of the intention and indicates the purpose pursued in the action. The intention is a movement of the will toward the end: it is concerned with the goal of the activity. It aims at the good anticipated from the action undertaken. Intention is not limited to directing individual actions, but can guide several actions toward one and the same purpose; it can orient one’s whole life toward its ultimate end. For example, a service done with the end of helping one’s neighbor can at the same time be inspired by the love of God as the ultimate end of all our actions. One and the same action can also be inspired by several intentions, such as performing a service in order to obtain a favor or to boast about it.

1753 A good intention (for example, that of helping one’s neighbor) does not make behavior that is intrinsically disordered, such as lying and calumny, good or just. The end does not justify the means. Thus the condemnation of an innocent person cannot be justified as a legitimate means of saving the nation. On the other hand, an added bad intention (such as vainglory) makes an act evil that, in and of itself, can be good (such as almsgiving).39

1754 The circumstances, including the consequences, are secondary elements of a moral act. They contribute to increasing or diminishing the moral goodness or evil of human acts (for example, the amount of a theft). They can also diminish or increase the agent’s responsibility (such as acting out of a fear of death). Circumstances of themselves cannot change the moral quality of acts themselves; they can make neither good nor right an action that is in itself evil.

II. GOOD ACTS AND EVIL ACTS

1755 A morally good act requires the goodness of the object, of the end, and of the circumstances together. An evil end corrupts the action, even if the object is good in itself (such as praying and fasting “in order to be seen by men”).

The object of the choice can by itself vitiate an act in its entirety. There are some concrete acts – such as fornication – that it is always wrong to choose, because choosing them entails a disorder of the will, that is, a moral evil.

1756 It is therefore an error to judge the morality of human acts by considering only the intention that inspires them or the circumstances (environment, social pressure, duress or emergency, etc.) which supply their context. There are acts which, in and of themselves, independently of circumstances and intentions, are always gravely illicit by reason of their object; such as blasphemy and perjury, murder and adultery. One may not do evil so that good may result from it.

IN BRIEF

1757 The object, the intention, and the circumstances make up the three “sources” of the morality of human acts.

1758 The object chosen morally specifies the act of willing accordingly as reason recognizes and judges it good or evil.

1759 “An evil action cannot be justified by reference to a good intention” (cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, Dec. praec. 6). The end does not justify the means.

1760 A morally good act requires the goodness of its object, of its end, and of its circumstances together.

1761 There are concrete acts that it is always wrong to choose, because their choice entails a disorder of the will, i.e., a moral evil. One may not do evil so that good may result from it.”

USCCB

Love,
Matthew

Vincible Ignorance – Ignorance is NOT a synonym for stupid

ignorance

There’s a joke that goes:  a missionary has just catechized a native, and the native asks, “‘If I did not know about God and sin, would I go to hell?’ Priest: ‘No, not if you did not know.’ Native: ‘Then why did you tell me?’

There is a good answer to this. I hope the priest responded, “For the sake of the JOY of the Gospel!!!!”

CCC 1790 A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience. If he were deliberately to act against it, he would condemn himself. Yet it can happen that moral conscience remains in ignorance and makes erroneous judgments about acts to be performed or already committed.

CCC 1791 This ignorance can often be imputed to personal responsibility. This is the case when a man “takes little trouble to find out what is true and good, or when conscience is by degrees almost blinded through the habit of committing sin.” In such cases, the person is culpable for the evil he commits.

CCC 1792 Ignorance of Christ and his Gospel, bad example given by others, enslavement to one’s passions, assertion of a mistaken notion of autonomy of conscience, rejection of the Church’s authority and her teaching, lack of conversion and of charity: these can be at the source of errors of judgment in moral conduct.

CCC 846 How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers? Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body:

Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; He is present to us in His body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.

Vincible ignorance is imputable because it could be overcome by a reasonable effort, but, for some cause attributable to the agent, that effort is not made.  The ignorance is therefore due to a culpable negligence or a deliberate bad choice on the part of the agent. This may come about in several ways.

For example, from deliberate negligence when a man refuses to find out the truth, so that he may be at liberty to go on as he is going, or when, because of pleasures and other distractions, he cannot be bothered to find out. Or it may come about from a deliberate will to indulge a particular passion, which later, in its heat and fury, clouds and obscures the mind, and so brings about a state of ignorance. Or again, ignorance may be the result of an evil habit, which has so blunted the conscience that the sinner is, or thinks that he is, ignorant of the wickedness of his actions. Lastly, ignorance may be caused by a refusal to stop and consider further, although a doubt has arisen; this is characteristic of hotheaded and impetuous people who are impatient of reflection.

This vincible ignorance admits of three degrees of seriousness, dependent on the way in which it has been brought about:

  1. First, it may be “simple“. That is, it is caused by a simple, not gravely culpable negligence. For example, a clerk misreads a price.  In Church terms, he is given bad theology or catechesis, or is not guided by qualified instructors.  This is not a case of total negligence – he looked for and – saw a nearby price/a heretical or inferior theology.  He made an honest mistake.  How was he to know?
  2. Secondly, this vincible ignorance may be “crass” or “supine“.  Here the negligence is total or relatively so, in a matter in which care was a clear duty and easy of fulfillment.  The clerk, too lazy to care, is content with a mere guess. He makes up his own theology.  He disregards Apostolic Tradition, of any kind.  The gravity of the blame due to “crass” ignorance depends on the gravity of the matter at stake.
  3. Thirdly, such ignorance may be “affected” or deliberate.  That is, it is the result of a direct conscious act of will.  The agent deliberately keeps himself in ignorance, lest by finding out the truth he should be prevented by his conscience from doing what he wants to do.  He doesn’t care what the Truth is.  He doesn’t want to find out, because he fears its implications.  He is willfully ignorant, deliberately.  He doesn’t want to listen.  He doesn’t want to hear.  He doesn’t care.  This is the worst, most blameworthy, form of vincible ignorance.

-by Greg Witherow, Holy Trinity Parish, Gainesville, VA

“To begin with, the teaching that “there is no salvation outside of the Church”1 is a “de fide” (what must be believed) dogma2. The Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 stated, “The universal Church of the faithful is one outside of which none is saved”. This was the teaching also of the Union Council of Florence (1438-1445), Pope Innocent III, Clement VI, Benedict XIV, Pope Boniface VIII in the papal bull Unam Sanctum, Pius IX, Leo XIII and Pius XII in the Encyclical Mystici Corporis3. But does the Magisterium address exceptions to formal membership to the Church?

This question is answered by reviewing the excommunication of Father Leonard Feeney, Feeneyism, in 1953, a recent yet pre-Vatican II4 case that illustrates the Church’s teaching. Father Feeney was excommunicated because he rejected the teaching of baptism of desire, either explicit or implicit. As baptism is the gate into the Catholic Church, he held all the unbaptized are undoubtedly lost. This was in direct conflict with the teaching of the
Church. It has always been held that salvation is possible for the unbaptized, assuming the person has either an explicit or implicit desire for Christ and his Church. Such people are mystically (not formally) attached to the Church, if indeed they are in a state of
grace5. The Feeney case illustrates two things. First, there are exceptions to formal membership and secondly, such exceptions are not a post Vatican II invention.”

“Even if Catholics faithful to Tradition are reduced to a handful, they are the ones who are the true Church of Jesus Christ.”
St. Athanasius

“Turn your thoughts away from a non-Catholic, turn away your ears, so that you may have strength to grasp life everlasting through the one, true and holy Catholic Church. Our Lord warns all the faithful: they must not put any faith in heretics or schismatics. “
-St. Augustine

Love,
Matthew

  1. Pope Boniface VIII proclaimed this in the papal bull Unam Sanctum in 1302.
  2. The Fundamentals of the Catholic Faith, page 312.
  3. Taken from The Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (by Dr. Ludwig Ott) on page 312.
  4. I will use as many pre-Vatican II examples as possible as some are suspicious of the post-Vatican II era.
  5. The story of Cornelius in Acts 10 depicts a non-Christian who was a true follower of God. In the story we see Cornelius is neither a Christian (he hadn’t heard the Gospel yet) nor a Jew (he was considered by Peter to be a Gentile). Yet he was in a state of grace before he received the Gospel or was baptized. We know this because his prayers were heard and his alms were accepted as pleasing to God, as Hebrews 11:6 states, “without faith it is impossible to please God”. This means Cornelius must have had faith, which can only be obtained by the work of the Holy Spirit on someone’s soul. Cornelius had the Holy Spirit in the same manner pre-Pentecost believers had Him. With baptism he received a post-Pentecost portion of the Holy Spirit. Characteristics Cornelius had marking him as a man of God included prayer, fasting, almsgiving, the fear of the Lord, righteousness AND upon hearing the Gospel, he did not reject it – i.e. it was not because he was “a good person”. Baptism brought him into a full, formal communion with the Church.

Marriage: A Hard Discipline Over a Lifetime

catholicmonarchy

I have known many happy marriages, but never a compatible one. The whole aim of marriage is to fight through and survive the instant when incompatibility becomes unquestionable. For a man and a woman, as such, are incompatible.” -GK Chesterton

Old joke, but too true!!!  Out of the mouth of babes, Catholic school children, when asked “What are the seven Sacraments?”  Answer:  “Baptism, Penance, Eucharist, Confirmation, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders and … Martyrdom!” 🙂

revstephenfreeman

-by Rev. Stephen Freeman

“‘When couples come to ministers to talk about their marriage ceremonies, ministers think it’s interesting to ask if they love one another. What a stupid question! How would they know? A Christian marriage isn’t about whether you’re in love. Christian marriage is giving you the practice of fidelity over a lifetime in which you can look back upon the marriage and call it love. It is a hard discipline over many years.’ – Stanley Hauerwas

No issues in the modern world seem to be pressing the Church with as much force as those surrounding sex and marriage. The so-called Sexual Revolution has, for the most part, succeeded in radically changing how our culture understands both matters. Drawing from a highly selective (and sometimes contradictory) set of political, sociological and scientific arguments, opponents of the Christian tradition are pressing the case for radical reform with an abandon that bears all of the hallmarks of a revolution. And they have moved into the ascendancy.

Those manning the barricades describe themselves as “defending marriage.” That is a deep inaccuracy: marriage, as an institution, was surrendered quite some time ago. Today’s battles are not about marriage but simply about dividing the spoils of its destruction. It is too late to defend marriage. Rather than being defended, marriage needs to be taught and lived. The Church needs to be willing to become the place where that teaching occurs as well as the place that can sustain couples in the struggle required to live it. Fortunately, the spiritual inheritance of the Church has gifted it with all of the tools necessary for that task. It lacks only people who are willing to take up the struggle.

Marriage laws were once the legal framework of a Christian culture. Despite the ravages of the Enlightenment and Reformation, the general framework of marriage remained untouched. The Church, in many lands, particularly those of English legal tradition, acted as an arm of the State while the State acted to uphold the Christian ideal of marriage. As Hauerwas noted in the opening quote, marriage as an institution was never traditionally about romantic love: it was about fidelity, stability, paternity and duty towards family. The traditional Western marriage rite never asked a couple, “Do you love him?” It simply asked, “Do you promise to love?” That simple promise was only one of a number of things:

WILT thou have this woman to thy wedded wife, to live together after God’s ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony? Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honor, and keep her, in sickness, and in health? And forsaking all others, keep thee only to her, so long as you both shall live?

And this:

I N. take thee N. to my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness, and in health, to love and to cherish, until we are parted by death; according to God’s holy ordinance, and thereto I plight thee my troth.

Obviously, the primary intent of these promises was faithfulness in all circumstances over the course of an entire lifetime. The laws that surrounded marriage existed to enforce this promise and sought to make it difficult to do otherwise.

Divorce was difficult to obtain – long waiting periods were required and very specific conditions had to be met for one to be granted. Churches made remarriage quite difficult, to say the least. Obligations to children were very well-defined and grounded in parental (biological) rights and obligations. Indeed, there was a large complex of family laws that tilted the culture towards marriage at every turn.

Of course, none of this would have represented any benefit had it not also reflected a cultural consensus. Contrary to popular sayings, morality can indeed be legislated (laws do almost nothing else). But moral laws are simply experienced as oppression if they do not generally agree with the moral consensus of a culture. The laws upholding marriage were themselves a cultural consensus: people felt these laws to be inherently correct.

Parenthetically, it must be stated as well that the laws governing marriage and property were often tilted against women – that is a matter that I will not address in this present article.

The moral consensus governing marriage began to dissolve primarily in the Post-World War II era in Western cultures. There are many causes that contributed to this breakdown. My favorite culprit is the rapid rise in mobility (particularly in America) that destroyed the stability of the extended family and atomized family life.

The first major legal blow to this traditional arrangement was the enactment of “no-fault” divorce laws, in which no reasons needed to be given for a divorce. It is worth noting that these were first enacted in Russia in early 1918, shortly after the Bolshevik Revolution. The purpose (as stated in Wikipedia) was to “revolutionize society at every level.” That experiment later met with significant revisions. The first state to enact such laws in the U.S. was California, which did not do so until 1969. Such laws have since become normative across the country.

These changes in marriage law have been accompanied by an evolution in the cultural meaning of marriage. From the earlier bond of a virtually indissoluble union, marriage has morphed into a contractual agreement between two persons for their own self-defined ends. According to a 2002 study, by age 44, roughly 95 percent of all American adults have had pre-marital sex. For all intents, we may say that virtually all Americans, by mid-life, have had sex outside of marriage.

These are clear reasons for understanding that “defense of marriage” is simply too late. The Tradition has become passé. But none of this says that the Tradition is wrong or in any way incorrect.

Of course, there are many “remnants” of traditional Christian marriage. Most people still imagine that marriage will be for a life-time, though they worry that somehow they may not be so lucky themselves. Pre-nuptial agreements are primarily tools of the rich. Even same-sex relationships are professing a desire for life-long commitments.

But all of the sentiments surrounding life-long commitments are just that – sentiments. They are not grounded in the most obvious reasons for life-long relationships. Rather, they belong to the genre of fairy tales: “living happily ever after.”

The classical Christian marriage belongs to the genre of martyrdom. It is a commitment to death. As Hauerwas notes: faithfulness over the course of a life-time defines what it means to “love” someone. At the end of a faithful life, we may say of someone, “He loved his wife.”

Some have begun to write about the so-called “Benedict Option,” a notion first introduced by Alasdair MacIntyre in his book, After Virtue. It compares the contemporary situation to that of the collapse of the Roman Christian Imperium in the West (i.e., the Dark Ages). Christian civilization, MacIntyre notes, was not rebuilt through a major conquering or legislating force, but through the patient endurance of small monastic communities and surrounding Christian villages. That pattern marked the spread of Christian civilization for many centuries in many places, both East and West.

It would seem clear that a legislative option has long been a moot point. When 95 percent of the population is engaging in sex outside of marriage (to say the least) no legislation of a traditional sort is likely to make a difference. The greater question is whether such a cultural tidal wave will inundate the Church’s teaching or render it inert – a canonical witness to a by-gone time, acknowledged perhaps in confession but irrelevant to daily choices (this is already true in many places).

The “Benedict Option” can only be judged over the course of centuries, doubtless to the dismay of our impatient age. But, as noted, those things required are already largely in place. The marriage rite (in those Churches who refuse the present errors) remains committed to the life-long union of a man and a woman with clearly stated goals of fidelity. The canon laws supporting such marriages remain intact. Lacking is sufficient teaching and formation in the virtues required to live the martyrdom of marriage.

Modern culture has emphasized suffering as undesirable and an object to be remedied. Our resources are devoted to the ending of suffering and not to its endurance. Of course, the abiding myth of Modernity is that suffering can be eliminated. This is neither true nor desirable.

Virtues of patience, endurance, sacrifice, selflessness, generosity, kindness, steadfastness, loyalty, and other such qualities are impossible without the presence of suffering. The Christian faith does not disparage the relief of suffering, but neither does it make it definitive for the acquisition of virtue. Christ is quite clear that all will suffer. It is pretty much the case that no good thing comes about in human society except through the voluntary suffering of some person or persons. The goodness in our lives is rooted in the grace of heroic actions.

In the absence of stable, life-long, self-sacrificing marriages, all discussion of sex and sexuality is reduced to abstractions. An eloquent case for traditional families is currently being made by the chaos and dysfunction set in motion by their absence. No amount of legislation or social programs will succeed in replacing the most natural of human traditions. The social corrosion represented by our over-populated prisons, births outside of marriage (over 40 percent in the general population and over 70 percent among non-Hispanic African Americans), and similar phenomenon continue to predict a breakdown of civility on the most fundamental level. We passed into the “Dark Ages” some time ago. The “Benedict Option” is already in place. It is in your parish and in your marriage. Every day you endure and succeed in a faithful union to your spouse and children is a heroic act of grace-filled living.”

We are not promised that the Option will be successful as a civilizational cure. Such things are in the hands of God. But we should have no doubt about the Modern Project (Ed. the current trend) going on around us. It is not building a Brave New World. It is merely destroying the old one and letting its children roam amid the ruins. (Ed. another Dark Ages of civilization)”

Love,
Matthew

What Is the teaching of the Catholic Church on tattoos and body piercing?

clothed with strength and dignity

-www.cuf.org, Catholics United for Faith

Tattoos and acts of body piercing are not intrinsically evil. The Church offers principles by which Catholics can discern whether it is sinful to be tattooed or have one’s body pierced in particular situations.

WHAT SACRED SCRIPTURE HAS TO SAY

Some Protestant authors have argued that the Bible forbids tattoos and body piercing. They typically cite the following verse: “You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh on account of the dead or tattoo any marks upon you: I am the Lord” (Lev. 19:28).

References to this verse are not present in important magisterial documents and in the principal writings of the Fathers of the Church. It is the consensus of Catholic biblical commentators that this prohibition is not part of the unchanging moral law, but part of the ritual law specific to the Old Testament. Many commentators believe that this prohibition was intended to separate Israel from its Canaanite neighbors; some believe that the cuttings in the flesh and tattoo marks to which the verse refers were part of idolatrous Canaanite worship. The context of the verse favors this interpretation. The preceding verse reads, “You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard” (Lev. 19:27)—this prohibition is certainly not applied to members of the Church.

The Church does not teach that Sacred Scripture forbids tattooing and body piercing, but the Church does offer principles by which to discern whether, in particular situations, it is sinful to be tattooed or have one’s body pierced.

RESPECT FOR HEALTH & BODILY INTEGRITY

The Fifth Commandment—”You shall not kill”—does not simply require respect for human life; it also compels Christians to respect the dignity of persons and to safeguard peace (see The Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 2258-2330). Respect for the dignity of persons includes, among other things, respect for the souls of others, for their health, and for their bodily integrity.

“Life and physical health,” the Church teaches, “are precious gifts entrusted to us by God. We must take reasonable care of them, taking into account the needs of others and the common good” (Catechism, no. 2288). Prudence dictates that persons considering tattoos or body piercing research any health risks that may be involved. If a particular act of tattooing or body piercing entails a likely risk to health, it would be more or less sinful depending upon the gravity of the risk. If a particular act involves mutilation—if the act renders a bodily organ unable to perform its function—the act is immoral (Catechism, no. 2297).

CHARITY AND RESPECT FOR THE SOULS OF OTHERS

Catholics must also consider the common good when they decide whether to be tattooed or have their bodies pierced. In certain instances—for example, in indigenous cultures in which tattooing is a rite of passage to adulthood—the common good practically demands that a person be tattooed.1

In the United States and other Western countries, however, considerations of the common good generally lead one away from being tattooed or having one’s body parts2 pierced (as they are commonly regarded as socially unacceptable.)

The question of whether an act of tattooing or body piercing hinders a Catholic’s evangelizing mission leads to the broader question of whether such an act harms the souls of others. Tattoos whose words and images celebrate the demonic, are unchaste, or otherwise offend against charity are immoral.

Even if a tattoo’s words and images are not uncharitable in themselves, the act of obtaining a tattoo can be rendered immoral if done so with an evil intention—for example, in order to spite one’s parents or society (cf. Catechism, no. 1752).

Persons considering body piercing should also be aware of the implicit messages that the particular act of piercing conveys in a particular time and place. Some acts of body piercing can imply approval for the immoral homosexual lifestyle. Other acts of body piercing can imply active participation in, or a desire to participate in, other unchaste acts. In such cases, the acts of body piercing are immoral because they appear to manifest an approval of sin and thus scandalize others (cf. Catechism, no. 1868, 2284).

QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER

Persons considering getting tattoos or having their bodies pierced may want to reflect on the following questions:

    • Does this particular act of tattooing or body piercing involve a risk to my health?
    • Would this act mutilate me—that is, would it inhibit the proper functioning of my skin or another organ of my body?
    • Is the explicit message of my tattoo compatible with love of God and neighbor?
    • Is the implicit message of my tattoo compatible with love of God and neighbor? Does it convey an implicitly unchaste message?
    • Why do I want to get a tattoo or have my body pierced?
    • If I am under the authority of my parents, would this act be an act of disobedience that would violate the Fourth Commandment?
    • Would this particular act needlessly offend my family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues, and thus hinder my ability to lead others to Christ and His Church?
    • Can the expense involved be justified in light of the needs of my family, the Church, and the poor?

In most cultural contexts in the United States, a woman’s decision to have her ears pierced is compatible with respect for health and bodily integrity, charity, and respect for the souls of others. Other acts of piercing and tattooing are more open to question.

The criteria above can help one come to a prayerful and prudent decision in one’s particular circumstances.

Love,
Matthew

1 In People on the Move (December 2003, pp. 281-88),a publication of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, Fr. Mathias Bhuriya has written about the role of tattooing in the Adi-Vasi Bhalai nomadic Indian culture.

2 i.e., Obviously, not referring here to women’s pierced ears.