Category Archives: Morality

Sin is communal…only in extreme emergencies, confession.

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“If we claim we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar and His word is not in us.” -1 Jn 1:10

I had the…displeasure, you might say, of witnessing a communal penance service during a Catholic Mass in my life.  Mass was going on in a large auditorium in the Chicago suburbs.  The celebrant said some prayers, and then asked people to stand up when they felt forgiven.  One-by-one the entire congregation, or the majority, stood.  I did not.  I was in too much shock.  I don’t “think” I’m a wet towel?  I like to think I try to keep it real?  Hip?  As much as I can at 49?  Externally, I was in physical control.  Internally, I needed to be sedated.  I did finish Mass, though.  Yeah.  🙂

I realize Penitential Rite III of Vatican II, in very extreme circumstances, allows something along this vein.  None of these extenuating circumstances were present in this regular Sunday Mass, whatsoever.  I am not the Sunday Mass police, whatsoever, however, as an amateur Catholic wonk, I did drop a dime to the chancery, such was the scandal I personally encountered and felt.  🙁

IMPORTANT NOTE REGARDING THE COMMUNAL CONFESSION:

A Communal confession is valid only for emergency or unusual circumstances such as for those who live in remote areas or in a situation where there are insufficient priests available to hear everyone’s confesssion prior to attendance at the Holy Mass. (We are to be in the “state of grace”, absolved of all guilt due to mortal sin through the Sacrament, right?  Prior to receiving communion?  Remember that part?  I know you do, gentle reader.  I know you do.  I have faith, and trust, and confidence in you.  I do.  Pray for me, when I receive the Sacrament, and my examen is “fuzzy”.  Please, pray for me.  Please.)  Under ordinary circumstances it cannot replace individual confession (Catechism of the Catholic Church # 1483 and Code of Canon Law # 961 and # 962).

However, sin is communal.  No sin is EVER a strictly personal matter.

3/12/2009, -by Justin Cardinal Rigali, Archbishop of Philadelphia (retired)

“In a book which he wrote about his famous father, Enrico Caruso, Jr. described the atmosphere in the villa where Caruso lived and worked. The mood of the place was always determined by what the great tenor was doing. If he was sleeping, everyone was quiet. When he awoke, his enthusiasm for life was infectious and everyone seemed to rejoice with him. If his southern personality was expressed in anger, everyone in the villa trembled!

We don’t have to live with Enrico Caruso to know how the mood, words and actions of one person can affect an entire home. This can likewise be true of a place of business. One person can affect the entire atmosphere of a place and either raise it up with joy and enthusiasm or lower it with tension and anger.

This is also true of the community or family which we know as the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ. The actions of one member can either build up the Church of Christ through virtue and fidelity or weaken it by sin. It is mysterious how the actions of a human person can affect Christ’s Mystical Body but such is the power of human freedom that God not only allows us to make free choices but also allows our choices to build up or weaken the Church he has founded. This is why we can say that sin has both a personal and social aspect.

In the Exhortation, which followed the Synod of Bishops that had discussed the Sacrament of Penance, Pope John Paul II wrote: “By virtue of a human solidarity which is as mysterious and intangible as it is real and concrete, each individual’s sin in some way affects others. There is no sin, not even the most intimate and secret one, the most strictly individual one, that exclusively concerns the person committing it. With greater or lesser harm, every sin has repercussions on the ecclesial body and the whole human family. In this sense every sin can be considered a social sin” (Reconciliation and Penance, 2 [December 1984]).

The Sacrament of Penance

The Sacrament of Penance is always a vital part of our Christian lives but we highlight it in a special way during this Lenten season. This great Sacrament of God’s mercy has always manifested both the personal and communal aspects of sin and forgiveness. However, it has done this in different ways down through the centuries.

In the early centuries of the Church, there was a role given to what is called public penance. This was a penance performed in the midst of the community to highlight the truth which we have been discussing, namely the social as well as the personal aspect of sin. Public penance was not imposed upon everyone and it depended on the nature of the sin.

Saint Augustine wrote, concerning public penance: “If the sin is not only grievous in itself but involves scandal given to others, and if the bishop judges that it will be useful to the Church, let not the sinner refuse to do penance in the sight of many or even of the people at large, let the sinner not resist, nor through shame add to the mortal wound a greater evil” (Sermon 151, n. 3).

It was the confessor who would determine the necessity and the extent of the public penance imposed upon a penitent. This was done not to cause shame to the penitent but to highlight the communal nature of sin and the weakening of the Body of Christ caused by it. These periods of public penance often took place during the Lenten season, with the penance beginning on Ash Wednesday and ending with a formal ceremony of reconciliation on Holy Thursday. This practice of public penance gradually changed.

Although public penance was once a part of the celebration of the Sacrament, we must not confuse the manner of celebrating the Sacrament of Penance with the Sacrament itself. Penance is the Sacrament which Christ established to bring about the forgiveness of sins committed after Baptism. The Church is given the power to dispense the mercy of Jesus in this Sacrament. The priest, who acts in the person of Jesus, forgives sins in the name of the Church.

In this way, the public nature of forgiveness continues to be represented when this Sacrament is celebrated. It is the priest who, as the minister of the Sacrament in the name of the Church, also represents the public life of the Church. In this very private and intimate Sacrament, in which individual sin is confessed and forgiven, there is still a public role exercised through the ministry of the priest, who represents the entire Church.

In his Encyclical on the Mystical Body of Christ, Pope Pius XII beautifully expressed this mystery. He wrote: “As Jesus hung on the Cross, he not only satisfied the justice of the Eternal Father, but he also won for us, his brothers and sisters, an unending flow of graces. It was possible for Him personally, immediately, to impart these graces but He wished to do so only through a visible Church that would be formed by the union of people, and thus, through the Church, every inspanidual would perform a work of collaboration with Him in dispensing the graces of Redemption. The Word of God willed to make use of our nature, when in excruciating agony, He would redeem mankind. In much the same way, throughout the centuries, He makes use of the Church that the work begun might endure.

“Jesus Christ wishes to be helped by the members of His Body. This is not because he is indigent and weak, but rather because He has so willed it for the greater glory of His unspotted Spouse.

“Dying on the Cross, Christ left to the Church the immense treasury of the Redemption. Toward this she contributed nothing. But, when those graces come to be distributed, not only does Christ share this task of sanctification with His Church, but He wants it, in a way, to be due to her action” (Mystici Corporis, 44).

A life beyond

We have all heard the word “supernatural.” This means something which goes beyond or above the natural. In our natural understanding of what is public and what is private or personal, we tend to think in physical or visible terms. If we can see something, it is public. If something is hidden or known to us alone, it is personal. The Christian life, however, is a great reality which is real while not always being physical.

In the Sacrament of Penance, we may see just the priest and the penitent. However, because we are dealing with an action of God’s grace, given through the Church, we are actually dealing with something public and communal.

The sin of the inspanidual, which may be known to that person alone, has an effect on the entire community, thereby giving it a communal aspect. The forgiveness of God transmitted by the priest in Confession is an action involving the Church. It is through the ministry of the Church that the inspanidual sinner is reconciled to God and the family of believers.

Once this reconciliation has taken place, the inspanidual is able to go out once again and fulfill his or her communal role in building up the Church of Christ.

In speaking to the Bishops of the United States on their ad limina visit to the See of Peter, Pope John Paul II described this unity this way: “Only when the faithful recognize sin in their own lives are they ready to understand reconciliation and to open their hearts to penance and personal conversion. Only then are they able to contribute to the renewal of society, since personal conversion is also the only way that leads to the lasting renewal of society. This personal conversion, by spanine precept, is intimately linked to the Sacrament of Penance” (Address, 15 April 1983).

Jesus wishes us to have a relationship with Him which is real and living. He has given us dramatic signs of His love. However, in order to live that life fully, we must go beyond what is natural and visible. We live that life in union with the community of the Church which He founded and which, according to His plan, is the dispenser of that life.

When we sin, we weaken the entire Body of the Church and when we are sorry and ask forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we receive forgiveness from Christ but through that same Church. This is the wonderful plan that God has designed for our salvation.”

I am not only a teacher of youth, but an activist for their protection.

http://www.wsj.com/articles/william-bennett-and-robert-white-legal-pot-is-a-public-health-menace-1407970966

8/13/14

Legal Pot Is a Public Health Menace

-by William J. Bennett and Robert A. White

“The great irony, or misfortune, of the national debate over marijuana is that while almost all the science and research is going in one direction—pointing out the dangers of marijuana use—public opinion seems to be going in favor of broad legalization.

For example, last week a new study in the journal Current Addiction Reports found that regular pot use (defined as once a week) among teenagers and young adults led to cognitive decline, poor attention and memory, and decreased IQ. On Aug. 9, the American Psychological Association reported that at its annual convention the ramifications of marijuana legalization was much discussed, with Krista Lisdahl, director of the imaging and neuropsychology lab at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, saying: “It needs to be emphasized that regular cannabis use, which we consider once a week, is not safe and may result in addiction and neurocognitive damage, especially in youth.”

Since few marijuana users limit themselves to use once a week, the actual harm is much worse for developing brains. The APA noted that young people who become addicted to marijuana lose an average of six IQ points by adulthood. A long line of studies have found similar results—in 2012, a decades-long study of more than 1,000 New Zealanders who frequently smoked pot in adolescence pegged the IQ loss at eight points.

Yet in recent weeks and months, much media coverage of the marijuana issue has either tacitly or explicitly supported legalization. A CCN/ORC International survey in January found that a record 55% of Americans support marijuana legalization.

The disconnect between science and public opinion is so great that in a March WSJ/NBC News poll, Americans ranked sugar as more harmful than marijuana. The misinformation campaign appears to be succeeding.

Here’s the truth. The marijuana of today is simply not the same drug it was in the 1960s, ’70s, or ’80s, much less the 1930s. It is often at least five times stronger, with the levels of the psychoactive ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, averaging about 15% in the marijuana at dispensaries found in the states that have legalized pot for “medicinal” or, in the case of Colorado, recreational use. Often the THC level is 20% or higher.

With increased THC levels come increased health risks. Since Colorado legalized recreational use earlier this year, two deaths in the state have already been linked to marijuana. In both cases it was consumed in edible form, which can result in the user taking in even more THC than when smoking pot. “One man jumped to his death after consuming a large amount of marijuana contained in a cookie,” the Associated Press reported in April, “and in the other case, a man allegedly shot and killed his wife after eating marijuana candy.” Reports are coming out of Colorado in what amounts to a parade of horribles from more intoxicated driving to more emergency hospital admissions due to marijuana exposure and overdose.

Over the past 10 years, study after study has shown the damaging effect of marijuana on the teenage brain. Northwestern School of Medicine researchers reported in the Schizophrenia Bulletin in December that teens who smoked marijuana daily for about three years showed abnormal brain-structure changes. Marijuana use has clearly been linked to teen psychosis as well as decreases in IQ and permanent brain damage.

The response of those who support legalization: Teenagers can be kept away from marijuana. Yet given the dismal record regarding age-restricted use of tobacco and alcohol, success with barring teens from using legalized marijuana would be a first.

The reason such a large number of teens use alcohol and tobacco is precisely because those are legal products. The reason more are now using marijuana is because of its changing legal status—from something that was dangerous and forbidden to a product that is now considered “medicinal,” and in the states of Colorado and Washington recreational. Until recently, the illegality of marijuana, and the stigma of lawbreaking, had kept its use below that of tobacco and alcohol.

Legality is the mother of availability, and availability, as former Health, Education and Welfare Secretary Joseph A. Califano Jr. put it in his 2008 book on substance abuse, “High Society,” is the mother of use. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, currently 2.7 million Americans age 12 and older meet the clinical criteria for marijuana dependence, or addiction.

Mark A.R. Kleiman, a professor of public policy at the University of California, Los Angeles, has estimated that legalization can be expected to increase marijuana consumption by four to six times. Today’s 2.7 million marijuana dependents (addicts) would thus expand to as many as 16.2 million with nationwide legalization. That should alarm any parent, teacher or policy maker.

There are two conversations about marijuana taking place in this country: One, we fear, is based on an obsolete perception of marijuana as a relatively harmless, low-THC product. The other takes seriously the science of the new marijuana and its effect on teens, whose adulthood will be marred by the irreversible damage to their brains when young.

Supporters of marijuana legalization insist that times are changing and policy should too. But they are the ones stuck in the past—and charting a dangerous future for too many Americans.”

Pray for our young people.  Pray for Mara, please.  They are in such need of our prayers and active protection.  We will be judged by Him on how we defended the most vulnerable, I firmly believe, and the Gospel says.

Love,
Matthew

Avoiding Scrupulosity – Mt 7, “By their fruits you will know them…”

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A healthy, mature Catholic faith requires refraining and protecting oneself from scrupulosity. What is scrupulosity? Read on. Beware of malpracticing, even well intentioned clerics, bishops, Orders, laypeople and groups. They ARE out there. Go where by parish, priest, people, His everlasting mercy and love are embraced, practiced, and offered. JOY IS YOUR EVERLASTING BAPTISMAL RIGHT!!!! Especially so among the purported faithful. It is their baptismal obligation to ensure this for you!!! NEVER settle. NEVER! He is worth not settling!!! And, so ARE YOU, in His image and likeness. Require you be treated as such. Require it! Always! NO exceptions!!!! NONE!!! The Lord demands, requires, and orders it so!!! Jn 13:34.  Loving Jesus DOES NOT mean or ever imply being a door mat, or close, or worse.  Suffering is part of life.  Pray for those who cause it for you, but abuse is never ok, especially anywhere near or around church, ever.

If you don’t feel like you are in the presence of Jesus Himself among others (esp. Christians!), you’re in the wrong place! If you’re pressured, made to feel bad, instead of being gently counseled to consider your actions and their effect on yourself, others, your soul, your future, its implications if you continue, you’re in the wrong place. Trust me. Been around the Catholic block…a little. HEALTHY Catholic clergy and laypeople ARE the majority. Be discriminating in this vital area. The love and mercy of the Lord does not hurt. Quite the contrary. Seek out a healthy and well-balanced confessor. Trust in His (the Lord’s, and hopefully, your confessor’s) 🙂 everlasting mercy. That is not presumption, that is Divine Mercy. Divine Mercy!! Divine Mercy!!! Amen. Amen. Amen. Praise Him! Praise Him, Church!!!

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-by Rev. Thomas M. Santa CSSR (Fr. Thomas M. Santa, a Redemptorist priest, holds masters degrees in religious education and divinity. He is director of Scrupulous Anonymous and president and publisher of St. Louis-based Liguori Publications. His book Understanding Scrupulosity is available from Amazon.)

“The Vatican II document “Church in the Modern World”(Gaudium et Spes) offers a beautiful image of the center of the human person: “Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, tells him inwardly at the right moment: Do this; shun that. For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God. His dignity lies in observing this law, and by it he will be judged.” For each human person, our conscience — the core of our being — can be a place where we are “alone with God Whose voice echoes in His depths” (16).

For most people of faith, such an image is appealing. But for some the thought of communicating this intimately with the Lord produces a feeling not of comfort but of terror. Such people are convinced that because of the presence of evil in their life, God must be displeased with them. As a result, any sin — any manifestation of weakness or imperfection, often the most minute and insignificant — becomes their primary preoccupation, and an intimate relationship with the Lord is impossible.

This type of affliction is often called a “tender conscience,” but a more accurate description of people who suffer in this way is that they are scrupulous. Every priest who has ever sat in the confessional is well aware of such people’s spiritual struggle. Indeed, all those in the helping professions — priests, ministers, spiritual directors, and assorted health professionals — have individuals come to them seeking relief from the torment of the “thoughts that will not go away.” The scrupulous conscience is not the place of comfort and sanctuary that the Fathers of the Vatican Council speak about. It is a place of anxiety, frustration, and the never-ending struggle to determine what is sinful and what is not.

For people who have never struggled with a scrupulous conscience, this description might come as a surprise. In common usage, the word scrupulous means strict, careful, or exact. For example, we might speak favorably about a lawyer who scrupulously prepares his case so that every detail is studied or an accountant who scrupulously reviews his client’s balance sheet. But in the formation of conscience, scrupulosity is an altogether different thing.

What Is Scrupulosity?

In Catholic moral teaching, scrupulosity defines the spiritual and psychological state of a person who erroneously believes he is guilty of mortal sin and is therefore seldom in a state of grace. A scrupulous person has difficulty making choices and decisions even though he desires above all else to please God and to follow God’s law. For a scrupulous person, it isn’t that he doesn’t “carefully attend to the sacred and certain teaching of the Church” (as the Catechism teaches), but that he becomes overwhelmed with the details and nuances that may be present in the decision.

An example of the “crooked thinking” of a scrupulous conscience may be helpful. All of us are aware of the need to abstain from all food and beverages for one hour before the reception of Communion at Mass. We are aware that this is one of the conditions the Church expects us to fulfill for the worthy reception of the sacrament. We are also aware that this is nowhere as demanding as the previous prescription for a three-hour fast — or the even older fast from midnight of the night before — that was once part of our spiritual practice. Most of us do not become preoccupied with the prescription because it is so easily followed.

This is not the case for a scrupulous person. One hour is sixty minutes fraught with the possibility of making a mistake. There is confusion over what constitutes breaking the fast. For example, does lipstick break the fast? Or say a piece of food is dislodged from your teeth, despite your best efforts at brushing and flossing, and you inadvertedly swallow it. Does this action break the fast? Or perhaps the celebrant is a little quicker today than normal and you are not sure you’ve fasted for the entire sixty-minute period. What to do? To receive Communion may well be to risk sacrilege, the deliberate and unworthy reception of the Body of Christ.

Imagine how a person might feel consumed in this way by the doubt, fear, and anxiety of scrupulosity. One author described the experience of scrupulosity as “a thousand frightening fantasies” and yet another author as the “doubting disease.” Despite a person’s best efforts, despite his absolute commitment to the moral teaching of the Church, and despite his desire to serve the Lord, he is unable to arrive at a point of peace, confident that he’s done as much as can reasonably be required.

Formation Of Conscience

The Vatican Council teaches that, “in forming their consciences the faithful must pay careful attention to the sacred and certain teaching of the Church” (Dignitatis Humanae 14). The Catechism of the Catholic Church takes up the theme: “Man strives to interpret the data of experience and the signs of the times assisted by the virtue of prudence, by the advice of competent people, and by the help of the Holy Spirit” (1788). The informed conscience that emerges from this experience of formation can guide and lead a person on the path to the kingdom. Unfortunately, the Catechism does not specifically address the scrupulous person when it teaches about the duty to acquire a well-formed conscience.

That being the case and despite the obstacles, a scrupulous person may well be formed correctly and possess the knowledge of what is sinful and what may not be sinful. In fact, those who minister to the scrupulous find that they are often well versed in the moral law and the Commandments. What seems to be missing is the skill necessary to apply the moral law to the choices and the decisions that are a part of daily living.

How is it possible to know the objective truth yet be unable to apply it to daily life? Psychologists suggest that the key to understanding the scrupulous condition may lie in the childhood experiences of scrupulous individuals. Perhaps there was a rigid and repressive atmosphere in the home or too much of an emphasis on strict adherence to rules. Perhaps the parents were rigidly religious and overprotective. Negative attitudes expressed about God, morality, and sexuality — especially if these attitudes were communicated by authority figures — might also provide some sort of insight into how the condition was acquired.

Recent research suggests that scrupulosity may well be best described as a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). People who suffer from OCD experience obsessive thoughts that they cannot control about such things as aggressive acts, recurring thoughts involving obscene language, and constant focus on thoughts of germs and disease. Compulsive acts might include repeated dressing and undressing or the need to repeat certain words or phrases again and again. (Jack Nicholson gave a compelling portrayal of OCD behavior in the 1997 movie As Good As it Gets.) Continuing research into the possible connection between OCD and scrupulosity offers the potential for understanding the affliction that can only help future pastoral care.

From a religious viewpoint, the factor that seems most prevalent in the development of scrupulosity is a negative image of God. There is an exaggerated fear of all that is sacred manifested in any encounter with God or the Church. The sacraments — especially the Eucharist and confession — provide the most opportunity for anxiety. Prayer, both private and communal, often causes the anxiety and frustration identified with scrupulosity.

Regardless of how the scrupulous person got that way, the formation of his conscience, even with the best education and training, is a secondary concern — and may even be counterproductive — until the scrupulosity is identified and addressed. The moral freedom necessary to make sound decisions is absent. Since there is not present “ignorance of Christ and his gospel, enslavement to one’s passion, assertion of a mistaken notion of autonomy” (CCC 1791), perhaps the pastoral concern should not be to form a conscience but rather to help the person be freed from his scrupulosity — or if not freed, at least to experience some relief.

Scrupulous people hopefully realize that it is not because of a lack of effort on their part or because of a lack of commitment to Gods will that they suffer this affliction. Although the root cause of scrupulosity is not known, the person who suffers most certainly does not choose it. The fear and the anxiety that scrupulosity produces within the person as he strives to do the will of God are symptoms of the affliction and not an indication that the person is somehow displeasing to God. Because of their suffering, it is not too much of an assumption to believe that the Lord must be preparing a special place for the scrupulous.

The Traditional Pastoral Approach

In order to seek some relief or sense of assurance, scrupulous people often fall into a pattern of constant confession, spiritual direction, or professional counseling. Often the scrupulous person is seeing several people for counsel, each of whom is unaware of the others and is repeating advice and giving direction. More often than not the scrupulous person exhausts the people who are attempting to help. This leads to frustration in the helper and panic in the scrupulous person.

For this reason, a single, trained, patient, and informed confessor remains the best help and hope for the scrupulous person. This approach has as its source no less of an authority than St Alphonsus Liguori, bishop and doctor of the Church, patron of moral theologians — and also a person who suffered from scrupulosity and who is known to have worn out the confessors of Naples in his search for relief. St Alphonsus teaches, “I tell you that you should implicitly trust in obedience your confessor. This advice is given by all of the doctors of the Church and the holy fathers as well. In short, obedience to your confessor is the safest remedy which Jesus Christ left us for quieting the doubts of conscience, and we should give thanks for it.”

Despite the recommendation of the saint, it is often difficult for a person with scrupulosity, even it he recognizes the wisdom of the advice, to enter into a relationship with a single confessor. It is challenging to find a priest confessor who is willing to commit to this kind of relationship, often because of a feeling of inadequacy. Even if a priest confessor can be found, the scrupulous person is often hesitant to commit to one person to direct his spiritual growth because of a fear that he may have chosen someone who is not well trained or who is perhaps too patient and kind.

Regardless of how the scrupulous person might feel, he must force himself to choose this remedy. Not coincidentally, ultimate relief from the affliction of scrupulosity lies in the choice to act against fear and doubt.

Although commitment to a single confessor is of primary importance, another help is available. Understood as supportive and supplementary to the work of the confessor and the grace of the Holy Spirit, membership in Scrupulous Anonymous (SA) is also recommended.

SA has no meetings. It accomplishes its work through correspondence and the mutual prayer and support of its members. The primary vehicle for this correspondence is a monthly newsletter, Scrupulous Anonymous. Edited by a priest director, the newsletter is sent free to all who request it. During the more than thirty-five years that SA has been in existence, its members have demonstrated repeatedly that those who follow the direction of a single confessor and who use the monthly helps and encouragement that are provided in the newsletter can enjoy support and relief in their struggle. Often they are able to escape altogether the torment of scrupulosity.

The SA newsletter, suitable for both those who suffer from scrupulosity and their priest confessors, may be obtained by writing to SA, One Liguori Drive, Liguori, Missouri, 63057. Names and addresses, as well as all correspondence, are confidential.

A spiritual director is a good choice for all people who desire to progress in spiritual growth and development. But for the scrupulous person, such an individual is essential. Scrupulosity is a terrible spiritual affliction that makes it difficult for a person to believe in the mercy and forgiveness of a loving Father. Despite their best efforts and their commitment to moral teaching and the Commandments, scrupulous persons struggle daily on their spiritual journey. Working together with a trained and patient confessor, a scrupulous person can learn to act against his compulsion and slowly come to know the peace and confidence promised to those of good faith.”

You may also enjoy: http://www.catholic.com/magazine/articles/scrupulosity-the-occupational-hazard-of-the-catholic-moral-life

Love,
Matthew

Blind obedience – inconsistent with virtue

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“What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.”I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go. Which of the two did what his father wanted?” “The first,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the Kingdom of God ahead of you.” -Mt 21:28-31

-by Philip C. L. Gray, JCL
http://www.catholiccanonlaw.com/Blind%20Obedience.pdf

“Many people believe that true obedience is blind. That is, they believe if a person in authority makes a decision or gives a command, that decision or command should be followed without question simply because a person in authority gave it. Within the Catholic Church, many laity believe that whatever a priest or bishop says should be followed without question.

While there are limited circumstances and situations in which a person would be obligated to follow by trusting only in the source of the directive, authentic obedience is never blind. As a virtue related to justice, the exercise of obedience requires the use of prudence and knowledge of rights and obligations. Without such knowledge, a person risks acting in a manner inconsistent with virtue.

Human Act

The exercise of virtue is a human act. According to principles of Moral Theology, for an act to be considered “human” three elements must exist.

  • The person must have adequate knowledge of the situation, the options available, and the consequences of each option of acting.
  • Second, the person must be free to choose.
  • Finally, the person must intend to perform the act with its consequences; that is, he must actually exercise his knowledge and freedom within his choice of action.

While other outcomes often inevitably arise, the morality of the act and merit gained hinges on the intention, even if circumstances hinder the intended outcome from happening.

As a human act, all virtues require adequate knowledge, freedom, and intention. If one or more of these elements are missing, good effects may come about because of a particular action but virtue was not expressed.

Virtue

A virtue is an habitual and firm disposition to do the good and avoid evil (Catechism, 1803). As a habit, a person must consistently practice a particular manner of acting before it becomes a virtue. However, virtues are more than just habits. Habits are related primarily to functions of the body, and frequently arise quickly due to feelings of pleasure or avoidance of pain. In contrast, virtues are habitual dispositions.

As a disposition, they primarily arise through the use of those qualities associated with our spiritual nature, namely free will, knowledge and intention. By right use of these qualities we develop virtues in our lives. As a disposition to do the good and avoid evil, a virtue runs contrary to our sinful nature.

To exercise virtue, we must have adequate knowledge of God’s law and the situation at hand, the freedom to choose a path, and the right intention to follow God’s law in our decision. With consistent use of our intellect and free will to choose the right course of acting, we become inclined to act a certain way that is good. We identify this inclination to act in accordance with the good is known as “virtue”. Through the practice of virtue, we overcome sin in our lives and tend toward God.

Following classical moral theology, John Paul II describes virtue as in terms of integration of the whole person. We all have certain urges and inclinations associated with our bodies and our passions. If we recklessly follow these urges, we may or may not do good things. But we can be certain not to develop virtue. Rather, we would live like higher forms of animal life that allow their urges to dictate their actions. If we integrate the urge with proper knowledge of God’s law, and make a choice in conformity with His law, then we use our whole being to act and develop an inclination of placing God above ourselves (Cf.: John Paul II, Love and Responsibility).

Obedience is a Virtue

As a virtue, obedience belongs to the Cardinal Virtue of Justice. “Justice is the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor….The just man, often mentioned in the Sacred Scriptures, is distinguished by habitual right thinking and the uprightness of his conduct toward his neighbor” (Catechism, 1807). As understood by the Church, the exercise of Justice presupposes adequate knowledge of the rights of others. That’s what it means to give a person their due, we respect their rights. We cannot respect them if we do not know them. If we give them more or less than their due, we no longer act in justice.

The Church recognizes that those in authority have certain rights that their subjects must respect. The highest authority is God, and His Divine Law must be followed without question. All other rights, obligations, and laws remain subject to His Law. When faced with a conflict between obeying a higher and a lower law, we must obey the higher lest we sin. When we respect the rights of those in authority, we exercise obedience. Thus, obedience is the virtue associated with justice through which we give those in authority their rightful due, but their rightful due is never in violation of Divine Law.

Obedience and the Integration of the Person

To exercise the virtue of obedience, a person must properly integrate the three elements of a human act with a particular directive from one in authority. How does this work?

No human person has unlimited authority. Rather, all authority comes from God and must be exercised in a way that reflects His Divine Laws (Jn. 19:11). Thus, the first limit of authority is the limit of Divine Law. Whatever God has ordained must be followed, it cannot be changed. Not even a priest, bishop, or the Pope himself can change the directives of God.

Rather, the Magisterium is entrusted with the task of guarding the Deposit of Faith, not changing it (Cf.: 2 Tim. 1:14). This divine limit of authority operates in two ways. First, there exists Divine Laws that determine particular kinds of authority. Second, Divine Law sets the boundary of authority. It does this by establishing certain rights of individuals that cannot be denied by anyone. For example, parents have authority over their children by Divine Law, but parents cannot force an adult child to choose a particular vocation. Rather, the child has by Divine Law the freedom to choose its vocation, and no one can usurp that right.

One of the greatest rights enjoyed by all men that not even God violates is the right to freely choose. This freedom to choose presupposes knowledge of options and intention. Only when this freedom is allowed can true virtue develop. Only when a person freely chooses to act in conformity with a legitimate directive is obedience exercised.

Directives that violate Divine Law must be ignored, and in many circumstances we have an obligation to resist them actively. For this reason, men and women in China have an obligation to protect the lives of their unborn babies from forced abortion and resist the laws that mandate sterilization, contraceptives, and abortion.

The second limit of authority is the limit of Human Law. Human laws include ecclesiastical laws and secular laws. They have the primary goal of expressing God’s laws in concrete circumstances within a particular culture or society. To the extent human laws reflect Divine Law, they protect the Common Good and must be followed. To the extent they violate Divine Law and harm the Common Good, they must be ignored and possibly resisted. As in the case of forced sterilization and abortion in China, the laws mandating this are human laws that violate Divine Law rights and obligations. We must pray for all those in authority, even civil leaders, that their authority would be directed to the common good and the salvation of all (1 Tim. 2:1-4).

Frequently, human laws provide boundaries for the exercise of authority. These boundaries must be consistent with Divine Laws or they are not legitimate. If someone acts outside the legitimate bounds of their authority, they do not have to be obeyed. Remember, outside the boundaries of their legitimate authority, those in authority do not have power over us. Rather, they become our peers.

While a policeman has authority to pull someone over for speeding, he cannot force a person to buy a particular kind of car that won’t allow the person to speed. He can only suggest a kind of car to buy, and his suggestion can be taken by the person as the suggestion of a peer.

Thus, to develop the virtue of obedience, we must develop an adequate knowledge of Divine Laws and those Human Laws that regulate our lives. We have to know the limits of authority. If we do not know the limits of authority, we can be easily manipulated or used by lawful authority. If we freely follow a directive outside the bounds of legitimate authority, we are not acting in obedience (giving the authority its due). Rather, we are making a choice to agree over a course of action.

In a particular situation, we must have adequate knowledge of options and consequences. Lawful authority has an obligation to provide such information. If the authority does not provide it freely, the person has an obligation to seek it. Only with adequate knowledge can a person know what their rightful obligations are in a particular matter.

For an act of obedience to take place, the person must be free to choose the act demanded by authority. If the person is not free, he is being forced, and obedience is not an option. Obedience is always free, and freedom presupposes adequate knowledge.

Finally, a person must intend to obey or he does not obey. By intention, the person freely chooses the required act with adequate knowledge. This intention to fulfill an obligation to authority is critical, or obedience does not occur. It is not necessary for a person to agree with a directive, but only intend to follow it after having sufficient knowledge and freedom to choose. While other intentions may also direct the act at the same time (intention to satisfy an urge), there must be an intention to obey for obedience to be exercised.

Blind Obedience

There are some people who trust lawful authority to direct them without fail. When faced with a directive, they neither seek to know options and consequences nor deliberate their choices. They simply trust that lawful authority will stay within the bounds of its power. This attitude is not true obedience nor is it virtuous.

Because of the freedom we share in Christ, we have an obligation to know the legitimate boundaries of lawful authority in our lives. We have an obligation to know the Divine Laws and what our obligations to God are. Only with knowledge of Divine Laws and the legitimate boundaries of lawful authority can we obey. Without such knowledge, we fall prey to manipulation, coercion, or simply conformity to peers.

Likewise, lawful authority has an obligation to prove their position and to remain within the lawful bounds of their power. If one in authority does not do this, he violates the natural rights of his subjects. To paraphrase a Principle of Law identified by Pope Boniface VIII, one with authority must prove his authority.  He cannot simply claim it. Generally speaking, in the Church such proof usually comes from legitimate appointment or election. We are not bound to obey someone who cannot prove his authority.

Only when lawful authority stays within the bounds of its power do we have to obey. However, such obedience is not blind. Rather, the person who obeys recognizes that the directive given is within the bounds of the authority held, knows that it is not contrary to higher obligations, and freely chooses to follow it for the sake of giving authority its due. Moreover, when options are available, the person must be free to choose between options.”

Love,
Matthew

Mercy, or no?

God's mercy jesus-on-cross

I have thought about this post a lot. I have gone back and forth. From the one end of MYOGDB, to “What is the role of the Church in persistent, allow me the term, please, public “mortal sin”, as defined by the Church, especially of employees?”

What makes this question particularly difficult, and the below articles particularly difficult to swallow, is the evidentiary double standard for the “boys’ club” of the ordained?

My father hated unfairness; my mother, too. It was foundational of their characters. Joyfully, I seem to have inherited this intolerance. See, not all intolerance is necessarily bad?

I don’t know about you, but the two stories below seem to me to smack of unfairness? At least, of the lack of mercy? I don’t discount a sudden jolt can awaken sensibilities, but it seems mercy, patience, empathy, (not my strong or intuitive suits, grant you) albeit not validation, would be better? WWJD? The mercy of the Lord, not only His justice, is, too, a flowing river. It has been for me.

Did they interrupt Mass?  Did they wear an offensive t-shirt in Church?  Did they hand out offensive flyers in Church contrary to the Catholic faith?  Did they encourage others wrongly in Church?  If not, mercy.  Please read:

http://www.twincities.com/allheadlines/ci_10469058

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/chi-hundreds-attend-emotionally-charged-meeting-on-firing-of-churchs-gay-music-director-20140813-story.html?track=rss

In my search for my vocation, during college, I contacted the Legionaries of Christ.  (I TALK TO EVERYBODY!!!)  Two somber looking clerics, in full collar, what else, immediately appeared in Charlottesville, took me to dinner, and wanted me to leave college immediately.  In a big argument, where my mother cried, which always angered my father the most of anything, my father threatened to cut off tuition if I did.  I didn’t. I visited their seminary in CT.  One of the seminarians said they only get sick once in a while from the donated, unused food where they got their groceries.  🙁

-by Elizabeth Duffy, May 30, 2012

http://www.patheos.com//Catholic/Outrage-and-Outrageous-Mercy-Elizabeth-Duffy-05-31-2012.html

“There’s a retired priest in our town who travels to the different parishes when a pastor is off duty. I was sitting in a pew, wrestling a three-year-old before Mass one day, when I saw this particular priest in the sacristy putting on his vestments. My stomach lurched because I knew then that Mass would take a very long time. He always gives a rambling 45-minute homily. He also cries, every. single. time. he reads the Gospel.

It wasn’t too late to drive three miles over to the other parish in town. I’d only be a few minutes late getting there. But I felt this guilty sensation: what if scads of people escaped to other parishes every time I showed myself in Church?

I stayed.  (Ed: we all have our favorites, and less so.)

During the Gospel, as ordained, Father cried when Jesus said, “One of you will betray me,” and Judas dipped his morsel in the cup with Jesus. For some reason, on this day, the tears touched me. It was sad that Judas would betray Jesus, and that Jesus knew it, and Judas knew it, but that no one would stop it. It was sad that Judas would condemn his own soul as a result.

During the homily, Father let us know that it was the 50th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. He thanked us for celebrating with him. He recalled his baptism. He recalled his time in the seminary, and how during a homiletics course, his professor chastised him for using the term, “we sinners” in a homily, saying, “Never, ever, admit from the pulpit that you are a sinner.”

“My teacher was a very good and holy man who did much good for the Church,” said the retired priest, “but that is the one lesson I learned in seminary with which I have never agreed. Just as the Gospel points out today, good and evil have always existed side by side in every man, but Christ.”

In the wake of Father Thomas Williams’ revelation that he fathered a child during his priesthood, there have been a few blog posts going around that insist, it is okay to feel outrage about this situation. It’s not uncharitable to discuss the scandal, and we have a right to our feelings of anger about it.

To which I say, thank you for the permission to feel outrage. But not only do I not need another charismatic leader telling me how to function, the feeling of outrage at other people’s sins seems too easy to be the right response.

I recognize that many of these posts come from people who have had ties in the past to Regnum Christi or the Legion, and so they are used to being told that they should not discuss the failings they see in others.

I have to admit that the sense of charity offered to others, assuming the best of people, even though it contributed to a culture of silence, is something I miss from my Regnum Christi days.

At the time, it bothered me that I couldn’t go into the dorms with another co-worker and complain about the Consecrated lady whose heavy footfall in the hallway always meant that she was coming to ask: “Can you do me a favor?” She had so many favors to ask, and I just wanted to point it out to someone—”Have you noticed she always asks for favors, and they’re always totally easy things she could do for herself? Isn’t that annoying?”

I could not wait to point out that the emperor had no clothes. She acted holy but she wasn’t. I could recognize it, and all that was left for me to do was to say it out loud to someone, so we could feel mutual annoyance, and experience a bond. Keeping my feelings to myself was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done.

In the internet age, there are many, many watchdogs waiting to point out that the emperor has no clothes. It’s good, I suppose, that people, especially priests, aren’t getting away with tough sins. And it’s definitely good that they no longer get away with crimes—but what surprises me about all this information is that it doesn’t feel as good to dwell on it as I thought it would feel.

I want to feel outrage. My gut instinct says OUTRAGE! But, there’s a still small voice that says, Lord, protect me from the kind of thinking that says, I would never do that. I would never be unfaithful to my vocation. I would never deceive people who believed in me. I would never maintain the office of speaking for the faith when my private life was such a mess. What a Judas-y thing to do.

The problem with thinking that way is that A) it’s not accurate, and B) it distracts me from the outrage I should feel for my own failings. In different circumstances, with a different psychology, I have been unfaithful. I have been deceptive.

Do I feel outrage about the time I hid the receipt for an online purchase until the evidence was on my doorstep? Am I outraged about my pride? About trying to control people? About not praying? About my out-of-control anger? About giving less than I can to the poor? About being uncharitable in my thoughts toward good and faithful priests who happen to test my patience?

Good and evil do exist side by side in every man, so even if the circumstances of my life prohibit me from committing the exact sin that Father Thomas, or even Maciel committed—sins of public duplicity, of taking advantage of people’s trust and good intention, of abuse—it is equally outrageous that I betray my own vocation in the ways that are particular to my own life.

Saint Paul says that if we must boast, we should boast of our own weakness, not of our astute ability to identify other people’s sins. We could spend our whole lives cataloguing their sins, and never run out of things with which to be outraged (they use NFP selfishly; they have disordered sexual desires . . .). It’s exhausting to think about.

When I consider my own weakness, the truth is that I don’t feel outrage about my sin. If I’m able to silence the justifying reasons why I behaved the way I did for long enough to make a good confession, underneath I feel sadness and disappointment at my own Judas-y behavior, followed by tearful relief at God’s mercy.

Poor Jesus gives his life for all of humanity, but can’t even find twelve good men to eat at his table for his last meal. Judas betrays him. Peter denies him, and thousands of years in the future, priests continue to behave badly, and people keep ignoring their own sins, saying, Thank God I am not like them.

I no longer think that charity entails pretending that other people’s faults don’t exist, but it does seem to involve extending the same gentleness to others that I extend to myself.

I don’t think that what Father Thomas did is excusable, but it is forgivable, and when I imagine that God has already forgiven him, which is most likely the case, maintaining any kind of personal outrage becomes too much labor. Rather, tears seem more appropriate.

It’s no wonder the old priest in my town cries at the Word of God. Maybe tears are the only thing that make sense in response to the tragedy of human failing, and Christ’s outrageous mercy.”

Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner, a hypocrite, a denier of You.

“The measure with which you measure, shall be measured unto you!”  -Mt 7:1

Love,
Matthew

Sin, Temptation & Grace

RediscoveringGrace1

Introduction

“One of the most painful ordeals that God-fearing and virtuous souls are made to undergo is that of being tried by temptations. Temptations meet them at every turn and assail them from within and from without.

There is scarcely a day on which they do not experience the full truth of the words penned by St. Paul: “I do not the good that I will [i. e., that I desire to do]; but the evil which I hate, that I do. . . . To will [to do good] is present with me; but to accomplish that which is good I find not. For the good which I will, I do not; but the evil which I will not, that I do. . . . I am delighted with the law of God according to the inward man; but I see another law in my members fighting against the law of my mind, and captivating me in the law of sin that is in my members.” [Rom 7:15, 18-19, 22-23]

From this passage we can see that temptations assail the saint as well as the sinner. No man is exempt from their molestation. They follow us all through life like our very shadow, and they will not cease to trouble us until we have closed our eyes to this world in the hour of death.

Now, the mere fact of being tempted is in itself a heavy cross to those who are resolved to love God to the utmost capacity of their soul and are determined to keep themselves free from the stain of sin.  Sometimes they are assailed only at intervals for a short time; then again for long periods and almost continuously; sometimes only with moderate violence; at other times so vehemently and insistently that they seem to be driven to the verge of defeat and surrender. And this cross, heavy as it is in itself, is made still more so by the fact that often, when the conflict is over, they find it impossible to decide whether they have come out of it victorious and are still in the state of grace, or have gone down in defeat, rendered themselves guilty of sin and thus lost the love and friendship of God.

Not only this: two other factors often contribute to increase their disquietude and unhappiness. First, it may happen that because of a lack of proper instruction, they consider it actually sinful to be tempted; [Ed:  it’s NOT!] and second, they may consider the feelings and sensations that certain temptations, especially those of an impure nature, produce in the body as evidence and proof of willful and deliberate consent to these temptations.

From this it can easily be seen that temptations may become the source of an agonizing martyrdom to those who are poorly instructed in the subject.

And what is often the final outcome of this mistaken idea of the nature of temptations? Nothing less than this: it may lead to failure in the spiritual life. Mistaking their temptations for actual sins, and finding that in spite of their strongest resolutions they cannot keep from being tempted, many lose courage and say, “What is the use of trying any longer? I cannot keep from committing sin, do what I will; I might as well give up.” Thus, lack of proper knowledge induces a fatal discouragement and makes them relax their efforts to avoid sin. In the end, they yield easily to temptations and possibly contract the habit of sin, which may prove fatal to their eternal salvation.

Ignorance of the true nature of temptation paralyzes many a soul and exposes it to the imminent danger of eternal punishment, even though it had been destined to do great things for God and reach a high degree of eternal glory in Heaven. These considerations have prompted the writing of this treatise. It is intended to serve as a guide especially for souls who are tried by the fiery ordeal of temptations, and to point out how these can be turned into the means of greater love of God, increase of grace and merit here and endless glory hereafter.”

-Remler, CM, Rev. Francis J. (1874-1962), (2013-12-10). How to Resist Temptation (Kindle Locations 22-50). Sophia Institute Press. Kindle Edition.

I believe in grace.

Love,
Matthew

“…it has to cost me something, so that it can change me…”

When I was a Dominican novice, ever so briefly, my weekly ministry was to work in the food pantry at St John’s Social Service Center in Cincinnatti, OH.  (I “thought” the prison would be much “cooler”, but this was a blessed lesson in obedience to my novice master, Fr. Ambrose Eckinger, OP, a barber in secular life and a talented musician.)  I learned many real lessons about real poverty and dismissed many misconceptions and biases I possessed.

Within the same block was a beautiful salon and haven for the homeless.  They could take a shower, something I think we all take too much for granted.  What joy.  What pleasure.  What heaven.  Table stakes for social interaction.  Have their hair cut.  Have their clothes washed.  Receive mail.  Make and receive phone calls.  Find that job, the quick unthinking, unfeeling, dismissive retort of many.  “There, but for the grace of God…”  Ps 103:2.

On the glass front door was an etching of just a foot (Jesus) and the head of a woman bathing the foot with her tears and drying them with her long tresses.(Luke 7:36-50)  This Lent, let’s all bathe His feet and dry them with our hair.  To borrow, I know they won’t mind, a Jesuit prayer practice, let’s all, especially me, REALLY PRAY THAT, imagine actually doing that, being the penitent woman, man, husband, wife, brother, sister, mother, father, etc. this Lent.

Vatican Homeless Showers

Vatican Homeless Showers

Vatican Homeless Showers

Vatican Homeless Showers

Homeless person sleeps outside Vatican press office near St. Peter's Square

A view of the public restrooms just off St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, Friday, Feb. 6, 2015. Rome’s homeless are about to get some TLC. The Vatican is finishing renovations on public restrooms just off St. Peter’s Square that will include three showers and a barber shop for the homeless. Each “homeless pilgrim” as Vatican Radio called the clients Friday, will receive a kit including a towel, change of underwear, soap, deodorant, toothpaste, razor and shaving cream. The showers will be open every day but Wednesday, when the piazza is full for the pope’s general audience. Haircuts are available Mondays.

UPDATE:

“Vatican prepares to open showers, barber shop for homeless

-by Nicole Winfield, AP News
Feb 6, 2015

VATICAN CITY (AP) – Rome’s homeless are about to get some TLC.

The Vatican said Friday it had finished renovations on public restrooms just off St. Peter’s Square that will include three showers and a free barber shop for the city’s neediest.

Each “homeless pilgrim,” as the Vatican called the clients, will receive a kit including a towel, change of underwear, soap, deodorant, toothpaste, razor and shaving cream. The showers will be open every day but Wednesday, when the piazza is full for the pope’s general audience. Haircuts will be available Mondays.

Barbers volunteering on their days off – Rome’s barber shops are closed Mondays – as well as students from a local beauty school will be donating their time, as well as some sisters from religious orders and other volunteers.

The bathrooms were made with high-tech, easy-to-clean materials to ensure proper hygiene, the Vatican said in a statement. The walls are grey, with white washbasins and a high-tech looking barber chair.

Francis’ chief alms-giver, Monsignor Konrad Krajewski, has said the project is needed since homeless people are often shunned for their appearance and smell. The initiative is being funded by donations and sales of papal parchments sold by Krajewski’s office.

Francis has stepped up the role of the Vatican “elmosiniere” as part of his insistence that the church look out for the poorest. In addition to small acts of charity, Krajewski’s office handed out 400 sleeping bags to the homeless over Christmas, distributed 1,600 phone cards to new migrants on the island of Lampedusa, and this past week gave away some 300 umbrellas that had been left behind at the Vatican Museums to help the homeless cope with days of heavy rain in the capital.”

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photo_2

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2013/11/28/pope-francis-charity-office/3776499/

“I told him, ‘Eminence, this isn’t being an almoner. You might be able to sleep at night, but being an almoner has to cost you. Two euros is nothing for you. Take this poor person, bring him to your big apartment1 that has three bathrooms, let him take a shower – and your bathroom will stink for three days – and while he’s showering make him a coffee and serve it to him, and maybe give him your sweater…”

(1I always urge caution & prudence when dealing with those whose needs exceed our abilities, which is frequent.  The heart of charity is a beautiful thing; however, I strongly believe making professional services aware of the person’s plight and location is a far more loving and prudent thing than acting naively out of love.  I lost a dear friend, Lynn, in a tragic crime, where all she tried to do was help.  These are issues/circumstances beyond the layperson’s ability/competence and often result in the gravest of dangers.  Mt 10:16)

(Giving an Apostolic Blessing, from the papal almoner, for very special occasions, a wedding, an anniversary, etc. was always par for the course for McCormicks.  It was completely usual to go into a McCormick home and see the Apostolic Blessing hanging on the wall, framed, in a  place of honor, as it would be in any Catholic home, along with a framed picture of the Kennedy brothers, Jack & Bobby, (more highly regarded than actual saints) and the Holy Father.  Par for the course.  Par.)

Blessed Advent.

Love,
Matthew

Grace

grace, open hand, free gift, blocks, God, Christian

I believe in grace.  I can cite you examples in my own life, confidentially, where I have experienced the efficacious power of grace, and for which there is no other explanation I am aware of; certainly, the least of which would be my own efforts.  I believe in grace.  I rely on it desperately.  I seek it constantly.  I pray for it fervently.  I have no other hope; nor, wish any.

Br_Thomas_Davenport_OP
-by Br Thomas Davenport, OP

“It happens whenever a group of people spend a lot of time studying the same thing. Physicists tell quantum-mechanics jokes, musicians tell voice-part jokes, and Dominicans tell virtue-ethics jokes. Often enough, a word means one thing in common parlance and something very different in a specialized context, whether that context be physics, music, or moral theology. In this particular case, we were talking about our struggles in community life, and a brother was self-deprecatingly going through a litany of ways in which he lacks self-control. Summing them up, he profoundly declared, “I am the incontinent man.” Everyone burst out laughing.

Of course, we all knew what he meant. Aristotle defines an incontinent man as someone who thinks things through and knows, in general, what he ought to do; but, when a particular action is required, he succumbs, against his better judgment, to his malformed passions.

In a certain sense, it’s strange that this should happen—strange that someone who knows what he should do, doesn’t do it. On the other hand, it’s a very common experience—one that most of us know only too well—and it’s perfectly described by St. Paul: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I hate” (Rom 7:15).

Clearly, no one wants to live in a state of incontinence. In fact, a defining trait of the incontinent man is that, although he does the wrong thing, he is unhappy about it. (This is in contrast to the truly vicious man, who does the wrong thing and wouldn’t have it any other way.) It’s encouraging, then, that Aristotle suggests that a man can, by effort and training, rise above incontinence and achieve continence, or self-control.

Continence, however, is only half the battle, according to Aristotle. In a certain sense, nothing has changed about the way a continent man approaches an ethical choice. He still reasons to the same correct ethical conclusion, and he still feels the same base passions against it; it’s just that, now, he is able to subdue his passions and do the right thing. Obviously, doing the right thing is better than failing to do so, but is this the best we can hope for? Does the ideal of the moral life amount to gritting our teeth and fighting against our lower appetites, constantly tiptoeing our way through a minefield of passions?

Unfortunately, many really do see the moral life this way. In fact, following Immanuel Kant, some claim that the only way we can know we have done a good act for a good reason, and not from some selfish motive, is by fighting against our natural inclinations. On this view—which many well-intentioned Christians implicitly accept—the moral life is a constant battle against ourselves. The good life is reduced to a mere external fidelity to the Commandments, a joyless battle against disordered passion.

Unlike Kant, Aristotle doesn’t regard continence as the height of human virtue. For him, the truly virtuous man is the man who not only does the right thing because he knows it’s the right thing, but also does it with ease—that is, with the help, not the hindrance, of his passions. In fact, a truly virtuous man’s natural appetites are so attuned to the good that he hardly even needs to deliberate about moral actions. There is nothing pulling him in some other direction. For such a man, Aristotle says, virtue has become “a second nature.”

As inspiring as this picture of the virtuous man is, Aristotle seems to imply that if we aren’t raised this way from birth, we’re simply out of luck. Once we let any of our baser appetites go astray, there’s not a whole lot we can do except constantly struggle not to give in to them. Needless to say, this is not a very happy prospect.

Thankfully, this is where St. Thomas takes up the baton and gives us more hope.

He agrees with Aristotle about the dim prospect of becoming virtuous by natural means. No purely human agency, according to St. Thomas, can heal our moral brokenness. Fortunately, though, the grace of God is intimately at work in our lives, transforming and perfecting our nature, and the power of this grace can lift us out of whatever rut we may be stuck in.

This supernatural perspective teaches us two things. First, while we must continue to strive against the things that lead us into sin, we need not struggle alone. Second, if we try to go it alone, relying only on natural supports, we are ultimately bound to fail.

The grace of God doesn’t just help us attain true virtue; it makes such virtue possible. Even better, it makes the moral life something more than just a constant grind, a mere assent of the will against the angry protest of our passions. It makes it the right ordering of our entire humanity—intellect, will, and emotions—into the person God created us to be. This way, what we know we should do is not only what God calls us to do, but also what we truly desire.

This idyllic portrait of the virtuous man can be hard to accept for those of us still slogging it out in the realm of continence and incontinence. Yet we have the witness of the saints to give us hope. Though well aware of their sinfulness, and even beset by temptations, the saints are not grim figures who stoically suppress all of their passions. Rather, they are caught up in the love of God. They joyfully and wholeheartedly follow wherever He leads, depending on His grace every step of the way.”

Love,
Matthew

St Joseph, Terror of Demons, pray for us!

Cuzco School St Joseph

-Cuzco School, Peru, “Saint Joseph and the Christ Child”, late 17th-18th century. Oil on canvas, 43 x 32 1/8in. (109.2 x 81.6cm), Brooklyn Museum

In the Litany of St Joseph, one the titles of honor given to him is Terror of Demons.  Due to his unshakeable faith, his assiduous perseverance, his admirable purity and his exceptional humility, and given the nobility and grandeur of his vocation – the protection, sustenance and care of the Blessed Mother and Our Lord Jesus Christ, as head of the Holy Family – we can expect that God also endowed him with an equally proportional grace to carry out such a lofty mission in life. And certainly we can picture him as a sublime icon of manliness and a pillar of strength that would sow terrible fear among the powers of darkness given his noble task.  Would God allow/accept anything less for the earthly foster-father of His Son?

In Catholic iconography, St Joseph is pictured holding a staff from which a white lily grows.  This is due to Catholic hagiography which states from reliable, albeit non-scriptural, sources near to the period, when the holy priest Simeon gathered all the young men of Jerusalem from the house of David at the temple to choose who would be the rightful spouse of Our Lady, he was inspired by God to give each man a dry rod. After a period of prayer asking for the manifestation of the Divine Will, pure white lilies – the symbol of purity – blossomed from St. Joseph’s staff and a white dove, most pure and brilliant, hovered over his head giving Simeon the sign that he was the chosen one.

Hence, St. Joseph is the epitome of a pure man: pure in thought, pure in heart; pure in body and soul – destined to be the most chaste spouse of Mary Most Holy conceived without sin. In face of such sublime purity and holiness, it would not be farfetched to believe that the ugly, filthy infernal spirits would cower in petrified fear in his presence.

I have a special intention I am entrusting to St Joseph, in addition to so much I have already entrusted to him.  Pray for me!  St Joseph, Terror of Demons, pray for us!

Love,
Matthew

“…and they murmured against God.”

“The next day the whole Israelite community murmured against Moses and Aaron. “You have killed the Lord’s people,” they said.”  -Numbers 16:41


-by Br. Tomas Rosado, OP

Although they rarely get the respect they deserve, our tongues really should be numbered among our most prized bodily members. With them we sing of love, we broker peace, we passionately preach, and we attempt to express our very selves. They are nothing less than the tools that build up humanity and the kingdom of God. The psalmist sees the tongue as the instrument of God’s praise: “my tongue shall tell of thy righteousness and of thy praise all day long” (Ps 35:28). Our tongues, as a part of our human bodies, are destined for eternal glory, for union with God. At the Resurrection of the body, the whole of the human person will be united with God, and our tongues will perform their part in the eternal worship of God.

However, while we are still journeying toward our final rest and joy, our instrument of praise can be turned away from its purpose. Our current culture does not make many allowances for the virtues of the tongue; According to many, the tongue is for the advancement of man, by any means necessary. Lies are permitted, even practically encouraged, among certain professions and having the wit to spin the truth is even considered a virtue.

In addition to the temptation to violate the truth, directly or indirectly, we also face the temptation to use the truth as a weapon at the wrong time. St. Thomas sums up these sins of the tongue: “the railer intends to injure the honor of the person he rails, the backbiter to depreciate a good name, and the tale-bearer to destroy friendship, so too the derider intends to shame the person he derides” (ST II-II q. 75, art. 1).

The first, reviling, uses the truth as a direct and open attack upon another. One of your coworkers is receiving praise for her great performance at her job and you openly decry her drinking problem. When we revile another, we cast down the excellences of a person’s life by revealing embarrassing and unnecessary information in his or her presence.

Backbiting also kills a person’s reputation, but it does so in secret, undermining his or her position in the eyes of others. This is the person who pretends to be friends while secretly detesting us or hoping to make himself greater by climbing over our fallen name.

Tale-bearing is telling something bad about someone in order to disrupt relationships. This includes telling old stories about someone so that a couple will break up or telling the boss some unflattering details of a coworker’s past mistakes so that they will get passed over for a promotion. It can express itself as a refusal to allow the “old you” die or to prevent the flourishing of good relationships.

The last, what St. Thomas calls deriding, can be good or bad. In its good aspect, derision can be directed at the evil actions of another. Mocking the evil someone has done in order to show them it is shameful could be helpful in some situations, but usually it isn’t. On the other hand, derision is always evil when it is employed in the mockery of what is good. This occurs when people are made to feel ashamed for doing good, such as when they defend the faith or refuse to participate in immoral activities. Derision can also be aimed at people themselves, so that they feel they should be ashamed for existing and that they aren’t worthy of our care or love. This is always evil.

One can find examples of these sins or privations of the tongue by scanning almost any Internet article or comment box. But more illuminating than any example is the penance given by St. Philip Neri to a gossip. For her penance, St. Philip Neri told the woman to pluck a chicken outside of the church and bring him the plucked chicken. Puzzled, she obeyed. He then sent her back out to collect the feathers, but the wind had scattered most of them, so she only returned with a handful. “Sins of the tongue are like the feathers,” he said, “once uttered they cannot be recaptured.”

What can help us to be aware and stop these sins of the tongue? Silence. If we do not spend time in silence, how can we know the value of words? In silence, we come to greater awareness of the presence of God. We spend our mental words on the Lord and He shows us His peace. When we are with someone we love very much, words are unnecessary. They know what we think with a glance. In coming to deeper knowledge of God through this prayer of silence, we come to greater love of Him who will tame our tongues through His grace.

In the words of St. Augustine: “Your God, your Redeemer, your Tamer, your Chastiser, your Father, instructs you [and your ungovernable tongue.] For what purpose? In order that you may receive an inheritance where you will not have to bear your father to the grave, but where you shall have your Father Himself for your inheritance. In view of this hope, you are being instructed. Do you therefore murmur?”

Love,
Matthew