“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.
-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)
-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.”
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,
We are easily confused and forgetful. Simple creatures, simple used here in its most derogatory sense. Knuckle-draggers. How quickly did Adam & Eve given THE Garden of Eden, think it was theirs to do with as they wish? To abuse? Unthinkingly? Unknowingly? Ingrates!!!! Morons!!!! Idiots!!!! Imbeciles!!!!
How easily no longer a gift with very livable stipulations? How quickly? We still do. We feel we are God made, an oxymoron, all the theists in the audience just shuddered at those words, in the image and likeness of ourselves. Self-referential is always bad logic, etc.
I AM ALWAYS, HAVE ALWAYS BEEN terrified of a vow of obedience. I still am. Given twenty-five years of corporate human authority relationships, THAT HAS DEFINITELY NOT LESSENED, ITS GOTTEN WORSE!!! SO MUCH EVIDENCE TO THE CONTRARY, ST DILBERT CORPORATE, ORA PRO NOBIS!!! MUCH, MUCH WORSE!!! I am most willful. My own way is one of, if not THE greatest pleasure I derive in life, free will, my own. In the Order of Preachers, there is ONLY ONE VOW: OBEDIENCE. There is no need for any other with that ONE.
The funny thing is…pssst, it’s secret…marriage IS a vow of obedience!!!! DAMN!!!! Low-blow!!! Sneak-attack!!! Don’t tell anyone!! No one will ever get married, again! An implicit, ableit profoundly strong vow to the good of the family, NOT one’s own agenda, preferences, will, willfulness, etc.; the obedience of love. The obedience of Christ to the Father, of the creature to the Creator simply for the gift of being. SUM, ERGO AGAPE!!! It makes no conditions!!! It does not negotiate!!! Love is NOT reasonable!!! It wants what it wants, and will never settle for less!!! It is very demanding/immature that way!!! Shhhhh…..misery loves company. We need more marrieds!!!! (Maniacal laugh, Ha, ha, ha, ha…..!! Join us!!! Resistance is futile!!!)
From divorced and remarried, to excommunicated, to conscious of mortal sin, what is Mass without Communion? Really?
“Mass is not just so you get Communion! For hundreds of years, the majority of Catholics did not receive Communion most Sundays of the year but were expected at Mass. The Eucharistic celebration is a re-presentation of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Communion perfects this by uniting us to Jesus, but the Mass has value even if you don’t receive Communion. Being present at the death and resurrection is one of the most wonderful things we can do.
Before we even consider Communion for the divorced and remarried, we have to reflect on the value of Mass without Communion – both as a whole Church and with each individual couple.
Many people, at least in Canada and the USA, think that they cannot participate in Mass without receiving Communion. This is false. Communion perfects one’s participation in the Mass, but one can participate without receiving Communion.
I remember the difficulty of explaining to a non-Catholic child at a Catholic high school what value there was for him to show up at Mass with his class. I understood the reasons, but I still had difficulty in communicating it clearly. A reflection by the Church on this point would help us all be able to explain this aspect of our faith better.
A deeper reflection on single life, especially those called to non-consecrated chastity
We have told single people clearly that they need to live the chaste life. However, there is more than chastity. How can their friendships have meaning? How can they serve? What are they called to as single people? What gifts can they offer the Church?
We need to reflect on those who don’t choose singleness, at least directly or initially. We have had a lot of reflection in the Church on those who consecrate their singleness to God — priests, religious and the like — but not much on other single people.
A single layperson can do a lot to build up Christ’s kingdom in ways married people can’t. There is a pragmatic level I think most can agree on: since single people don’t have kids to raise, they generally have more free time. However, I have a sense of a deeper spiritual significance. Unfortunately, I can’t concisely and clearly indicate what this is. I hope that some reflection on this, either inside the synod or outside of it, can help us all express the significance better.
The ones who’ve gotten the most press regarding this reflection are those with same-sex-attraction, but I think it also applies to many others. For example, someone might dedicate themselves so fully to a cause – anything from the pro-life movement to extending our knowledge in some scientific field – that they don’t have much time to date. Another might simply have bad luck in trying to find the right person. Spiritual Friendship has started to pursue this reflection, at least for those with same-sex-attraction, although I’m not sure of every reflection they make. Reflecting more on non-consecrated singleness will help these people be stronger members of the Church.
Supporting Francis’s initiative to improve the marriage annulment process
Last month, Pope Francis published some norms to simplify the annulment process. I hope these changes help people in this difficult situation and that the synod fathers concur. The rules put forward by Pope Francis might have seemed technical but some of them will have positive impact quite quickly. For example, a friend was telling me about someone who has been waiting 11 years for an annulment because their ex-spouse lives in Russia and the Russian tribunal won’t act. With the new norms, the tribunal here can act without the Russian tribunal because one of the parties currently lives here (before these norms, a tribunal would need to certify other tribunals that could have jurisdiction didn’t want the case before proceeding).
I think we can point to some positive points of the annulment process. For example, John W. Miller wrote in the Wall Street Journal: “The annulment … involves facing what happened, not denying it, and the process includes helping you avoid failing relationship patterns in the future… In my entire experience of getting divorced, the church dissolution was the only time someone asked me that raw and caring question: What really happened?” For him, the annulment process helped resolve issues from his marriage and divorce.
Support faith-filled families
Cardinal Dolan blogged about the need for us to support “those who, relying on God’s grace and mercy, strive for virtue and fidelity.” He also referred to those who give up careers to take care of their kids. These families may not be perfect but represent the ideal we hope that other families strive for. If we want to strengthen families, we need to support these families. At times we can fall into the danger of reaching out to each marginalized group that we forget those in the center. Once we support these families we can often use them as an example for other families that the ideal is possible.
Centering on such families helps us also show that divorce can be avoided and having more than two kids doesn’t make you certifiably crazy. Without witnesses to the Church’s teaching on marriage, few people today will accept that teaching.
Explain the value of commitment to young people
Today, the percentage of young people getting married is dropping more and more. Our culture has stopped valuing commitment at all. This can also be seen from a drop in religious life and commitment to the priesthood. I think it would be great to reflect on the value of committing your life to another: whether that other is another person or God himself. Hopefully the synod can help us get away from a temporary culture.
Lack of commitment destroys the family. A family is made by a stable couple that is fully committing to each other in marriage. Even long-term cohabitation is not stable because at any moment, either one can leave.
The questions dealt with here will be almost prerequisite questions: Why commit? What value does commitment add? Can commitment last a lifetime? Why commit to another person or to God in a vocation? In the past, these questions were presupposed, but they are often not today. The younger generation has certain values it can teach us but it struggles in this area.
This list is obviously not exhaustive. To a certain extent I’ve presented areas I know we can reflect on and improve without certainty on the best route for improvement. I felt that the proposals getting most media airtime either change doctrine or dangerously bordered on doing so. Instead these are five areas that the Church has a general teaching on, but where there is still a large area open for further reflection. All of these improvements begin in reflection and theory but have a concrete and practical application to help the family or those around the family (such as single people). Whether the synod talks about these or not, each of us can reflect on them more deeply and hopefully improve the Church’s pastoral practice.”
“One of the oldest spiritual struggles experienced by serious Catholics is the struggle between following Church teaching and following one’s conscience when they’re in conflict. Earlier, we heard from Father Tony Flannery, an Irish priest who was recently silenced by the Vatican for openly questioning Church teachings on the origins of the priesthood, women’s ordination and homosexuality. The Irish hierarchy said he had broken his vow of obedience, but Father Flannery believed he had to follow a higher authority, his conscience.
For another view, we turned to another priest named Father Thomas Petri, OP. He’s an instructor in moral theology and pastoral studies at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. When we presented him with Father Flannery’s dilemma, he had a very different answer.”
Father Thomas Petri:
“Well, to put it very succinctly, priests take a vow of obedience or make a promise of obedience because they’re public representatives of the Church. They’re public persons. So when a man is ordained, he can no longer claim to be a private person. He may still have elements of his life that the faithful don’t see, but he still is in some ways representing the Church publicly.
So the vow of obedience and the promise of obedience to say Church teachings or to what the Church believes and teaches, helps him to live that way and to authentically then witness to what the Church puts forth as the Gospel and teaching of Jesus Christ.”
“So if you were Tony Flannery and you disagreed on some of the things that he does, what would you do?”
Father Thomas Petri:
“Well, first of all, I wouldn’t broadcast it to begin with. I wouldn’t broadcast it. I would take it to prayer. I would take it to spiritual direction. I would take it to my superiors. I would want to study it. I know a very prominent, for example, sister who is now on the International Theological Commission who was once in favor of women’s ordination. She studied herself out of that position. She was, for the longest time, one of the few nuns in America who had a PhD in theology in the late 70s and early 80s, because her mind was open to looking this up and trying to figure out why the Church teaches what it does. That’s what I hope I would do if I ever were to come across this bridge.”
“And of course I don’t know who that nun is but I know an awful lot of people who work on that issue. I don’t know anybody that’s argued themselves out of it.”
Father Thomas Petri:
“Well, Sister Sarah Butler would be the one you’d want to look up.”
“Yes, okay. That’s a name that I’ve heard, I must admit. Now, as we mentioned in the introduction, there are many Catholics over many centuries who have come into conflict between this idea of obedience and the idea of conscience. The conscience tells them something other than what the Church teaching is. So how do they relate to each other in Catholic teaching? What’s the official word on that?”
Father Thomas Petri:
“Well, when we talk about conscience, so often it’s used as a substitute for personal opinion. It’s my personal opinion that this is true or that is true. So we have to mean something different about the word conscience than we do personal opinion, and the Church’s position, down through the century, has always been faithful living in conscience, that their conscience is formed by living the life of the faith, living life with Jesus Christ. Living life in worship of God day in and day out, Sunday after Sunday, going to Mass, preaching, studying the word, being docile to what the saints and the fathers have said, that this forms their conscience.
So that’s what we mean when we talk about conscience in a certain sense. When we talk about a priest’s obedience and his relationship to conscience, well, we’re talking about a priest who in good conscience made a public commitment to the Church and to be faithful to the Church. And certainly there can be times in a priest’s life when those do come into conflict in his own existential experience, his own living the life. Absolutely. But how do you handle that, that’s a different question.”
“And Father Tony Flannery did what – certainly he’s not the first, he went public –”
Father Thomas Petri: “Sure.”
Moderator: “– with some of the struggles that he was having with various teachings of the Church, but a Catholic I believe is supposed to have something called an informed conscience, what does that mean?”
Father Thomas Petri:
“Well, it means just those things I was talking about. To have an informed conscience is simply to not walk around blindly. Well, whatever I think is right that must be right. That’s not an informed conscience. It doesn’t mean not questioning, it doesn’t mean being a robot and just taking everything in blindly and without question, but it does mean giving the Church the benefit of the doubt and allowing it to sink in so that it informs my life.”
Moderator: “So Church teaching and someone’s conscience might not always coincide or else conscience would be totally redundant, wouldn’t it?”
Father Thomas Petri: “Well, that’s right. Also, a person’s conscience cannot simply be the blind guide either because culture –”
Moderator: “No, no, I’m talking about an informed conscience, somebody who knows what the Church teaches, has reflected on it, maybe prayed about it, all that sort of stuff. I know plenty of people who have done that and still have conflicts.”
Father Thomas Petri:
“Well, still have conflicts. So the question would be when you have a conflict, how are you going about living your life within that conflict? Right. And the Church’s traditional teaching has always been that Catholics who have difficulty in conscience should be docile to the wisdom of the centuries and the wisdom of the Church, of the wisdom of the Church, and then to try to work through their difficulties with their pastors, with the Saints, with the (writings of the historical) Fathers of the Church.”
“Let me quote you something from the official teaching of the Church. This is from the document on religious liberty at the Second Vatican Council and we all know that official councils of the Church are the highest teaching authority. It says, and I’m quoting, “The individual must not be forced to act against conscience nor be prevented from acting according to conscience, especially in religious matters.” And in another place, it says, “It is therefore fully in accordance with the nature of faith that in religious matters that every form of human coercion should be excluded.” So it seems to me that be excluded.”
Father Thomas Petri: “Absolutely.”
Moderator: “So it seems to me that what I always learned as the primacy of conscience, is in fact primary if a person is informed and has reflected on it.”
Father Thomas Petri:
“Well, I guess it goes to what we mean by informed here but I would say that the document, the Vatican II document on religious liberty is primary concerned with forcing conversions which you know in the Catholic tradition, as in other traditions, that was a sad part of our history. What we’re talking about is Catholics who are baptized and baptized into the faith of the Catholic Church and presumably baptized and have at some point in their life accepted the Catholic Church as the granter of truth as revealed by Jesus Christ.
Then having a difficulty or some sort of conflict and then following that, publically dissenting from the Catholic Church and what the Catholic Church teaches as you say. That’s a completely different question than coercion. Because then the question is, is this baptized person, has this baptized person really embraced and fully lived the teaching of Jesus Christ as it is communicated to us by the Church?”
“I’m thinking in terms of Father Tony Flannery’s case, and he’s not alone on this. There are certainly a number of people in recent Church history who when they have expressed a view that is not a 100 percent in accord with the Church’s teaching, get faced with sign this statement of orthodoxy which is a direct opposition to what they believe.”
Father Thomas Petri: “In conscience.”
Moderator: “Right. Or keep quiet and don’t say anything more about it. And it would be against their conscience to sign a statement that they don’t agree with. They would be lying essentially.”
Father Thomas Petri:
“Right. So what I would want to go back to on that is my initial point that a priest is a public person. He is a public representative of the Church and I think any corporation. Even if we just take it away from the spiritual and bring it to the secular, any corporation, if you have a CEO of the corporation and saying no, you should be Microsoft and not Apple, can I say that on – we’re not getting paid for these endorsements, but you should buy Microsoft and not Apple, but I work for Apple. That’s a real problem for the corporation.
The same is true for the Church. If you have a priest who has been ordained to be faithful and has made a public commitment of fidelity, he’s given the oath of fidelity; he now then goes out as a priest that others can look at as a representative of the Church. He goes out and says things that are directly contrary because he’s having his own personal crisis or conflict. He in fact is leading people away from the Church.”
“But what would you say to a priest who makes a statement like that out of the deep concern for the Church because he’s out there with the faithful – this particular priest gave retreats and so forth all over the country of Ireland. So he knew a lot of people who were in conflict with the teaching of the Church. He was deeply concerned about the future of the Church and it’s direction. So he wasn’t trying to be obtuse. He was expressing this out of love for the Church. Most people that have been in this situation, that I know, did it for the same motive.”
Father Thomas Petri:
“And I would not disagree with that. I think most people do this out of good intentions and good faith, but when a priest then sets himself up in opposition to the Church, he is claiming for himself a personal authority that he really doesn’t have. He has as an individual but he no longer speaks for the Church. You see? So when the Church says – when the congregation for the doctrine of faith says to Father Flannery, you cannot present yourself publicly as a priest, well, it’s because he really no longer has been. It’s an after the fact sort of thing.”
“Well, most of the priests that I’ve known that have expressed some dissenting view publicly have made it clear that the official teaching is this but these are the questions that I have and I’m concerned about the future of the Church whether it should let’s use some concrete examples. Whether ordained women or treat lesbian and gay people differently or whatever it is that they’re concerned about, it’s because they detect that there is a need for a more loving Church and they’re representing that Church. At least that’s how I’ve heard it.”
Father Thomas Petri:
“Sure. And I would want to dispute the idea that the Church is not loving because it holds to what it believes to be the revealed word of Jesus Christ. So I would want to dispute that. But I would say that there is one thing for a priest to say. ‘Well, here’s what the Church has traditionally taught. I don’t quite understand it. I’m not sure I agree with it.’ There is quite another thing for a priest to publicly say the Church is wrong.”
“How in the world then does change take place in the Church? If you can’t have open discussion, and may I say Pope Francis at the recent Synod on the Family, invited all those present to say what they think, even if they thought he didn’t agree with them.”
Father Thomas Petri:
“Right. That’s right. Look, there’s some things that simply cannot change. Some things that simply cannot change in the Church, and I realize that’s an unpopular position in today’s culture where we vote in and out politicians and people sometimes think well, the new pope is going to come in, he’s going to change this or – the pope does not have authority, nor do the bishops nor does the magisterium of the Church to change anything that has already been determined to have been revealed by Jesus Christ and his Apostles. Other areas, there can be development but nothing that contradicts what Christ Himself has done and said.”
“But you know and I know that there are Church teachings, and I suppose we could dispute about whether they go back to the apostles or not, but there are Church teachings on issues which were considered very sacred at one time which have changed. The position on usury. Charging interest on lending for example. Position on evolution. The ways in which it’s acceptable to interpret scripture; we used to do it literally. We no longer do it that way. Those are significant things which have changed over time.”
Father Thomas Petri:
“Yeah, I’m not sure – I mean, they might be perceived as significant, but we never declared those to be divinely revealed, any of those teachings. They would’ve been sort of lower level outgrowths of what we do know to be divinely revealed and what we believe to be divinely revealed. That’s really what I want to say to that. Not all teachings have the same weight. Not all the teachings have the same levels of fidelity and obedience that are required.”
“But where conscience comes up today as we all know has a lot to do with issues of sexuality, and one of the most common – and if you read the polls, widely common, has to do with married couples and contraception. I’m sure you’ve known, too, and I certainly have, plenty of married couples who are much aware that the official teaching of the Church is opposed to the use of artificial contraception.
So they know what the Church teaches, they’re informed, but they don’t believe for reasons of health or finances or whatever, that they can risk having more children. And natural family planning doesn’t work for them let’s say. It doesn’t work for a number of people. So they use it in good conscience. And if you read the polls, it’s about a vast majority.”
Father Thomas Petri: “Oh, it’s pretty high. I can see that.”
Moderator: “It’s a vast majority of Catholics. And plenty of priests assure them, at least privately, that this is okay. So how does that fit?”
Father Thomas Petri: Well, I would say a couple of things about that. First of all, it goes back to what we were talking about, what constitutes a formed conscience? For a person to simply know that the Church teaches that you shouldn’t do it, that’s not really a formed conscience. That’s just knowledge. That’s just information. To have a formed conscience is to live day in and day out the life of the faith, the life of the Church.”
Moderator: “And a number of these people do. They’re regular communicants.”
Father Thomas Petri: “Well, certainly they do but have they ever been exposed to a real rationale, like the real reasons why the Church teaches this? And I think you would agree with me, how many priests talk about this? A few. Very few.”
Moderator: “Almost none.”
Father Thomas Petri:
“Exactly. Have they ever been exposed to a dynamic priest who can explain why this is better than the other way? Have they been exposed to John Paul’s theology of the body for example which is what he was trying to do with that, trying to get people to see this is actually the more beautiful way to live. What you just said a minute ago. Just because they know the Church teaches against it, doesn’t seem to meet or constitute a formed conscience. How have they lived? Have they ever really studied it? Have they ever really tried to understand why the Church would say that? Most of them – they just know – well, I know the Church teaches against this but we do it anyway.”
“Now, when I talked to Father Flannery, one of his main complaints was not that the Vatican said that his views were incorrect, but how they dealt with him. For example, his views had been public in Ireland for some time before they censured him. But they didn’t dialogue with him. They didn’t invite him to dialogue. They didn’t respond to him when he said he wanted to dialogue. They simply demanded that he sign this statement of orthodoxy and be silent. They never dealt with him face-to-face. So it raises the question, is this the way to deal with a man whose been a priest for 40 years?”
Father Thomas Petri:
“Sure. We have one side of the story; I don’t know the other side of the story. Sometimes there is dialogue and I trust what Father Flannery has said, that that’s his experience, and all I can say is if true, that’s how he experienced it, I think anybody would say that that’s not the appropriate way to deal with a priest or to deal with these issues. Now, from my own perspective, I do know theologians and priests who have gotten into this sort of conundrum with the Holy See and that wasn’t their experience at all. It was completely different.”
“It seems to me that there is however a huge disconnect between what the Church teaches, particularly on issues of sexuality, and what the laity actually do. All you’ve got to do is look at the polls to see that in both North America and Western Europe. So are, “Disobedient” priest like Tony Flannery a symptom of that or is he some kind of a wakeup call that maybe the hierarchy should pay more attention?”
Father Thomas Petri:
“No, I don’t think he’s a wake-up call because you refer to the polls and polling Catholics, there are a number of Catholics who are nominal Catholics. They self-identify as a Catholic but they’re not necessarily living the life of the Church.They’re not going to Mass but maybe twice a year, they’re not soaking in the preaching, they may not even have good preaching depending on who their pastor or priest is. But they don’t necessarily typify what we would call a true, dedicated, faithful Catholic. They may be baptized, they may be struggling, they may trying to live the faith as best they can but if they’re not engaging these issues from the life of faith, they’re not engaging them at all as far as we’re concerned.”
Moderator: “Thank you so much for joining us today.”
Father Thomas Petri: “Thank you, Maryanne.”
Moderator: “Father Thomas Petri is an instructor in moral theology and pastoral studies at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. where he also serves as an academic dean and vice president.”
“Truth is not determined by a majority.” – Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
“The Gospel describes both justice and the interior dispositions that go even further in making one righteous. The cardinal virtue of justice, as St. Thomas Aquinas defines it, is the “habit whereby a man renders to each one his due by a constant and perpetual will.”
From this, we can draw out two of the chief characteristics of justice. The first is that it is concerned with other persons. It’s about giving to one distinct from oneself what he or she deserves. Secondly, justice is objective. It is primarily about the thing that is owed. It is not about what the other wants to receive or what you want to give.
The commandment “Thou shalt not kill” regards justice, then, in its most proper form. It is a matter of showing due respect for the life God has given to the other man. Jesus gives other examples of unjust behavior to avoid. One owes respect not just to the life of the other but to his dignity as man as well, and so one ought not to disdain him by slandering or committing detraction against him. Christ goes even further than justice properly speaking (i.e., our outward actions) and addresses what can be called justice analogously. That is, He describes how to “be right” with oneself, and this is by overcoming one’s passions, such as anger.
If the Gospel passage talks about establishing a just relation with our brother, what about our relationship with God? We might be tempted to think that Lent is about merely establishing a just relationship between ourselves and Him. Perhaps, for example, we think of the penances we undertake simply as a way of “repaying” God for dying on the Cross for us. It does indeed fall within the scope of justice to offer prayers and sacrifices to God, since we owe all we have and even our very existence to Him. We can never really repay God fully, though, either for that existence or for the redemption He worked for us. So we can never have a truly just relationship with Him in that sense.
Lent is not about evening things out with God. Since our prayers and sacrifices add nothing to God’s greatness or happiness, they are not primarily for His benefit, but rather for our own. Lent helps us recognize what we owe God, but even beyond that it is about preparing for the celebration of Christ’s supreme act of charity in suffering His Passion and death for our salvation. The prayer and penances are a means to our growth in charity, which is achieved when obstacles between ourselves and God are removed.
As Jesus notes in the Gospel, one of those obstacles often is a lack of peace with our brother. For, “he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 Jn 4:20). This Lent, may the charity of the Just Man fill us with longing for the kingdom of heaven and inspire us to imitate Him.”
“Whom/what shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or the sword? As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him Who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:35-39
Pornography is a BIG problem in modern society. Actually, no. Pornography is a HUGE problem in modern society. Did you know that 10-15% of all search engine requests and 20% of smart phone searches are for pornography? Studies show that 90% of boys and 60% of girls are exposed to pornography before they are 18 years old. In addition, 70% of young men and 20% of young women view pornography every week and pornographic sites have more monthly visitors than Twitter and Amazon combined.
We should first, as the Jesuits say, define our terms. The word “pornography” comes from the Greek words, “porne,”meaning a harlot, prostitute, or whore, and “graphos,” meaning a writing or depiction. If we put both words together we arrive at “A depiction or description of the activities of whores.”
With the theatre debut of “Fifty Shades of Grey” imminent, does the media we consume affect us? Positively? Negatively? Violent video games? Music? Violence in fim? Print? The news? Literature? Do we have an adult responsibility to intentionally choose the media we expose ourselves towards? Guided by a moral path? Based in and on our values? Imho, I believe the answer is “yes” to all of the above. It is His grace ALONE which can save us, in the here and now. I say that with conviction as a sinner, who has prayed for His grace and received, and I continue to struggle but also feel, in a very real way, His healing presence. I do. Mt 7:7. Pray for me, please.
Not convinced that porn is wrong? Then quit because it’s making you miserable.
I was very pleased to see that GQ Magazine has joined the growing number of secular publications that are beginning the painful process of examining our out-of-control cultural obsession with pornography, recently publishing an article entitled 10 Reasons You Should Quit Watching Porn.
While a number of prominent feminists (including Naomi Wolf) have openly condemned pornography, men have been slow to engage in the discussion, for obvious reasons. Recently, I decided I wanted to get a male perspective on the porn plague for my radio show—so I called up one of the foremost male scholars in the field, Dr. Robert Jensen, author of both “Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity” and “Pornography: The Production and Consumption of Inequality,” co-authored with Dr. Gail Dines.
Dr. Jensen, a self-described radical feminist, approaches the pornography discussion with a pragmatism that eschews much of the sound and fury that makes up the debate elsewhere. Men, he believes, often just really haven’t thought through what they’re doing when they consume porn.
“For me,” he told me, “the challenge to men—originally it was just the challenge to myself, and then I became part of the [anti-porn] movement—a broader challenge was, ‘Is that who we want to be? Is that consistent with our own moral principles and political principles?’ And even at a more basic level, does that kind of arrangement really make us happy? Do we feel fulfilled?
And that’s one of the ways we need to speak about this. Not just to talk about the sexual exploitation industries, in the way that they injure women—and they do injure women in all sorts of ways—but also the way they leave us men in very constrained, confined, and in the end incredible roles…The effect of these sexual exploitation industries and then violence more generally on women is pretty clear. But I think men also have to think about what it does to us as human beings.
A lot of this boils down to how pornography inevitably shapes the relationships men have with the women in their lives. Dr. Jensen is not convinced by male bravado in regards to porn use. When they obsess over pornography, men often watch the rest of their lives disintegrate.
I’ve spoken to a lot of men and women over the years, both in formal interview situations and just informally after talks or presentations. And what’s clear is that the repeated habitual use of pornography, especially the most cruel and degrading forms of pornography that present women as these degraded objects, that the habitual use of that kind of pornography by men has a direct effect on relationships.
So, I’ve heard from many men and women about how the male partner’s use of pornography will distort what had perhaps prior to that been a healthy, intimate and sexual relationship. These stories are piling up everywhere. I always say – it’s partly joke but it’s actually very accurate – that if you want to know about the effects of repeated pornography use on heterosexual relationships in this culture, there are two kinds of people you can ask. One is marriage therapists and the other is divorce lawyers, because these things are actually coming up as relationships disintegrate.
Dr. Robert Jensen sees pornography as a great threat to women’s rights, because the systematic dehumanization of women through pornography is leaking into the culture in dangerous ways.
“Society has become less sexist,” he told me. “Women have more access to higher education, they can make more inroads into politics and government…but we’ve also lost ground. And I think this question of rape, pornography, and the trivializing of sexual violence is one of those reasons where we’ve lost ground, and I think in fact that’s part of the reason people have so much trouble talking about pornography. Now, I’ve always said that, and people say, ‘Well, the reason we don’t talk about porn is we have trouble talking about sex!’ And I always say, ‘Look around at this culture. People are talking about sex all the time!’”
The cultural discussion around pornography, Dr. Jensen points out, is actually a very good opportunity for feminists and religious conservatives to find common ground. Both groups, after all, oppose the dehumanization of women.
I think this is actually one of the issues where conversation between conservatives – you know, often people rooted in a particular religious perspective – there’s a real possibility for dialogue with a least one part of the feminist movement. Now, as you pointed out, other segments of the feminist movement are celebrating pornography and calling it liberation, and the dialogue there is more difficult. But I’m always eager to engage on all of these issues, and as someone who considers himself on the Left, and a radical feminist, but also goes to church, I find church space is very important for this because even when there are significant differences in theology between people within a Christian community in my case, there’s still the common ground for dialogue and that’s more important than ever.
Men, Dr. Jensen says, hate being talked down to—which is one of the reasons that men can speak out about pornography to other men in a powerful way.
When I talk to men about this, I don’t pretend that, you know, I’m somehow on high and mighty throne telling people how to behave. I grew up as a man in, post-WWII America, what I would call the Playboy World, and I struggled with this and to some degree still struggle, which is why I stay away from pornography of all kinds because I feel like it takes me into a place where I don’t like the person I am. Now that’s often a hard conversation for men who are trained to be tough and stoic and not reveal emotion, but those are the kind of conversations I think we have to have and I think we can have them. At least in my own life, I know I’ve been able to have them.
And these conversations, Dr. Jensen believes, are essential to moving the discussion forward. There is no one magic bullet, no one strategy to fighting the influence of pornography in our culture. But opening up dialogue with male consumers is one indispensable part of that strategy.
“One thing I’ve learned is that if you’re man, and you’re trying to disconnect from the pornographic world by yourself, if you want to go it alone, I can guarantee you you’ll fail,” he told me. “Because these are difficult questions and they’re very hard to negotiate on our own.”
So we have to find these kinds of spaces where men can talk to each other and the notion of porn as addiction is, I think, actually very complex. I’m not comfortable calling the use of pornography or the use of any media an addiction in terms that we typically use that for drugs and alcohol. But certainly there are patterns of habitual repeated use that people engaged in the activity can recognize is counterproductive, that it’s hurting themselves – yet they’re compelled to do it. Whether we call that compulsion addiction, or whatever we want to call it, men are more and more aware of this.
When I first started doing work on this, 25 years ago, I could be guaranteed that most men would be hostile. For what I’ve noticed and what Gail [Dines] and I talked about over the years is that because more and more men are troubled by exactly what you’re describing, the sense that what they’re doing is not only wrong in some political or moral sense, but it’s affecting the way they are able to be with their female partner, that these men are compelled now to think about this almost out of self-interest, because they can feel what it’s doing to them. I think that’s part of the solution to this problem, to make spaces more attractive to men to talk about this.
One of my friends in the anti-porn movement often notes that men are generally the problem when it comes to porn—but they also are, and must be, the solution. When men start fully realizing what pornography is doing to them—destroying their healthy relationships with female partners, friends, and family members, rewiring their brains in dangerous ways, twisting their view of sexuality, and physical fallout including erectile dysfunction – they recognize that using pornography just isn’t worth it. Pornography is fantasy, not real life – but it has the power to destroy so much real happiness.”
“Christian, remember your dignity, and the price which was paid to purchase your salvation!” -cf Pope St Leo the Great, Sermo 22 in nat. Dom., 3:PL 54,192C.
“Christian, recognize your dignity and, now that you share in God’s own nature, do not return to your former base condition by sinning. Remember Who is your head and of Whose body you are a member. Never forget that you have been rescued from the power of darkness and brought into the light of the Kingdom of God.” -CCC 1691, St. Leo the Great, Sermo 22 in nat. Dom., 3:PL 54,192C.
At its most basic level, custody of the eyes simply means controlling what you allow yourself to see. It means guarding your sense of sight carefully, realizing that what you view will leave an indelible mark on your soul.
Many of the saints, in their zeal for purity, would never look anyone in the face. “To avoid the sight of dangerous objects, the saints were accustomed to keep their eyes almost continually fixed on the earth, and to abstain even from looking at innocent objects,” says St. Alphonsus de Liguori.
Now, staring at the floor at all times is a bit extreme for most of us, but it does demonstrate the seriousness with which the saints viewed the importance of purity. They teach us that is simply impossible to allow hundreds of immodest images into our minds, however innocently, and remain pure.
Of course, to the modern mind, this guarding of the eyes is rather quaint and even ridiculous. How prudish, many would think, to think that we should exercise any control over what we see. And yet, if we care about our souls, we have no other option.
HOW TO PRACTICE IT
The best place to begin practicing custody of the eyes is in the things which we can control, such as movies, magazines, or television shows. If your favorite TV show has a sex scene every 5 minutes, you need to cut it out of your life. It’s not worth the temptation. In short, don’t consume things that are occasions of sin. Carelessly putting yourself in spiritual danger in this way is a grave sin itself, so take it seriously.
It’s actually rather easy to edit what you consume. But what about the things we can’t control, such as the immodestly dressed person walking past you? This takes far more prayer-fueled discipline and practice. That said, here are some suggestions.
First, if you’re struggling with the way someone else is dressed, immediately look elsewhere, perhaps their face. I don’t care how beautiful anyone is, it is essentially impossible to lust after someone’s face. The face is the icon of each person’s humanity, and it is far easier to respect a person’s dignity when you’re looking at their face and not her body.
Second, it may just be appropriate to stare at the floor sometimes, especially if there’s no other way to avoid temptation. This doesn’t have to be the norm, but if the situation warrants it, it is foolish not to do so. (Ed. better to appear foolish, or daft, in the eyes of man, than guilty before the eyes of Jesus at our particular judgment.)
Third, avoid places you know are especially problematic for you. For most, the beach can be a problem. Dozens of people in tiny bikinis is just too much. If that’s the case for you, avoid the beach.
Finally, fast and pray. This should go without saying, and yet I am always amazed that people think they can control themselves without God’s help. (Ed. Grace. It’s ALL ABOUT GRACE!!!! Jn 15:5) It simply isn’t possible. (Ed. PRAY!!!! And it will be given to you! I promise! Mt 7:7-8)We always need grace in the battle against concupiscence, and if we trust in ourselves and our own willpower, we will do nothing but fail. (Ed. We are powerless. He is ALL-POWERFUL!!!)
Yes, temptation is everywhere, but we are not helpless victims. (Ed. We have THE GREATEST ALLY in our battle with sin!!! We do!!! We do!!! Praise Him, Church!!! Praise Him!!!) We must take the need for purity seriously, and that means guarding carefully what we allow ourselves to see. Through prayer, fasting, and practice, we can learn to take control of our eyes and avoid temptation. This isn’t quaint and archaic—it’s basic to spiritual survival.
Let us call upon our most pure Lady and her chaste husband St. Joseph, begging their intercession for our purity.”
Male saints holding lilies symbolize their purity of life, St Joseph, Most Chaste Spouse, pray for us!!!!
“It is a common doctrine of the Saints that one of the principal means of leading a good and exemplary life is modesty and custody of the eyes. For, as there is nothing so adapted to preserve devotion in a soul, and to cause compunction and edification in others, as this modesty, so there is nothing which so much exposes a person to relaxation and scandals as its opposite.”—-St. Alphonsus Rodriguez
Founding Mothers & Fathers of the United States were trained in Virtues, literally, as children. It was foundational to their education. See books by Bill Bennett. The Virtues led and formed the framework in their alphabetical training, reading, and writing. It does not bode well, this practice & these virtues have fallen out of practice/ fashion in their creation, imho.
In Christian philosophy, theological virtues are the character qualities associated with salvation. The three theological virtues are:
Faith – steadfastness in belief.
Hope – expectation of and desire of receiving; refraining from despair and capability of not giving up.
Love – selfless, unconditional, and voluntary loving-kindness such as helping one’s neighbors.
They occur in the Bible at 1 Corinthians 13:13.
In Catholic theology, it is held that these virtues differ from the Cardinal Virtues in that they can not be obtained by human effort. A person can only receive them by their being “infused”—through Divine grace—into the person.
The theological virtues are so named because the object of these virtues is the divine being (theos). Other virtues have vice at their extremes, and are only virtues when they are maintained between these extremes. In the case of the Theological Virtues, they do not contribute to vice at the positive extreme; that is, there is no vice in having an unlimited amount of faith, hope, or love, when God is the object of that virtue. (Ed. There is no such thing as “too much of a good thing” with the Theological Virtues, as their ultimate aim is God, Himself.)
More than one vice can be the opposite of each theological virtue:
Lack of faith may give place to incredulity (as in atheism and agnosticism), blasphemy or apostasy.
Lack of hope may give place to despair or cynicism.
Lack of love may give place to hatred, wrath or indifference.
Theological Virtues are often depicted in art as young women. The symbols most often associated with them are:
Faith – cross, pointing upward, staff and chalice, lamp, candle Hope – anchor, harp, flaming brand, palm Charity – flaming heart, with children, gathering fruit
“St. Thomas Aquinas explains the fittingness of the Incarnation in several reasons, including how it raises our minds and hearts to an increase in faith, hope, and charity. Here I highlight a few of these reasons with respect to the Nativity of Christ and its manifestation.
Faith, as St. Thomas defines it, is the habit of the mind whereby eternal life is begun in us, making the will assent to what is non-apparent. Faith rests in God as First Truth Speaking. St. Thomas says that faith “is made more certain by believing God Himself Who speaks.” In Jesus Christ, we literally hear God’s own words, from His own mouth. St. Augustine says that, “In order that man might journey more trustfully toward the truth, the Truth itself, the Son of God, having assumed human nature, established and founded faith.”
But note that Jesus became an object of faith before He began His public ministry. Indeed, Simeon takes the child Jesus in his arms and proclaims Him “a light for revelation to the Gentiles” (Lk 2:32). St. Thomas says that “the Magi were the ‘first-fruits of the Gentiles,’ who were to believe in Christ.” Simeon’s prophecy was already fulfilled in the Magi, who sought Him in response to the sign of the star and who did Him homage.
Consider what hope is. The theological virtue of hope relies firmly on God for what is necessary for eternal life. In hope, our human will clings to the goodness of God for us. Augustine says, “Nothing was so necessary for raising our hope as to show us how deeply God loved us. And what could afford us a stronger proof of this than that the Son of God should become a partner with us of human nature?” Why should the Incarnation correspond to hope, as St. Augustine suggests? In hope, we formally depend on God’s merciful omnipotence: that He is omnipotent shows us that He can save us, and that He is merciful—as shown by the Incarnation—shows us that He wants to.
In the Incarnation, God pulls out all the stops. One Dominican commentator has noted that “no greater way is intelligible by which God could communicate Himself to the creature” than by uniting human nature to His Person. Seeing the Christ child in the manger, we know that God took the most extreme means to save us from sin, and we have confidence that He will continue to offer us the means to be rescued from our sin and given sanctifying grace.
While hope clings to God as good for us, charity clings to God as good in Himself. The divine goodness is what primarily motivates us to charity. But secondarily, St. Thomas explains, it is aimed at “other reasons that inspire us with love for Him, or which make it our duty to love Him,” and these “are secondary and result from the first.” The Incarnation is the greatest of these secondary reasons. The history of Christ’s Nativity and infancy counts powerfully towards this. Seeing that Christ became a weak and helpless infant becomes, for us, a motive to love in return. As Augustine said, “If we have been slow to love, at least let us hasten to love in return.”
Love breaks forth in acts of joy and peace. We experience joy in the possession of the good and peace when we are at concord, even within ourselves. At the Nativity the angels announce good news of a “great joy” (Lk 2:10), and their hymn of praise wishes “peace” among men of good will (Lk 2:14). All of this is because the Savior is born in the city of David, whose Nativity incites us to the acts and effects of love.”
In the Dominican tradition, even though voluntarily wishing to live the evangelical vows of poverty, celibacy, and obedience, only one vow is taken. You guessed it, obedience. The one I struggle with most.
Three months before my temporary vows of three years, it was as if God had spoken directly to me. It wasn’t a decision I reasoned into myself. I don’t know how better to describe it than that. Holy Thursday night I went to bed. Good Friday morning I woke up with perhaps the strongest conviction I may have ever had to date. I must go. Spooky.
Lying prostrate on the floor of the Church before the altar, and then kneeling before the superior, my hands in his, saying “I, Brother Matthew Paul (I would have liked this, the same as my baptismal name because St Dominic carried two texts. You guessed it, the Gospel of Matthew and the letters of St Paul with him at all times; the only two. Choosing a religious name is no longer strictly your novice master’s decision. Supposedly, the candidate submits three suggestions and the novice master and the novice “discern” together. I don’t know how this really works in practice. Never made it that far.)…make profession and promise obedience (facio professionem & promitto obedientiam) to God and to Blessed Mary and Blessed Dominic and to you (Name), (Title), and to (Name), the Master General of the Order of Friar Preachers, and your successors, according to the Rule of Blessed Augustine and the Institutions of the Friars Preachers, that I will be obedient (ero obediens) to you and to your successors until (temp = time period, perpetual = “unto death/usque ad mortem”). (nb Phil 2:8)
“Riding the metro this summer, I saw some young men with t-shirts that proclaim: “Obey.” Presumably (and here I speculate), it’s a sarcastic jab at supposedly traditional and conservative values, a statement just as likely to come from someone who would proclaim, “question authority!”
This leads me to wonder: what do these young men think when they pass someone– like myself– in garb which symbolizes a very traditional kind of obedience? As all the world knows, we practice a very particular kind of authority to a very crusty, old institution. “I, Brother John, make profession and promise obedience…”
Georgetown’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) recently inquired about women’s attitudes on joining religious life. One of the personal comments exemplifies an attitude which, I think, sums up this negative view of obedience. When a woman was asked why she was not interested in being a sister, she replied, “I’m not willing to be totally submissive to the rules and obligations of the order’s leader.” Now, there’s an objection! Perhaps this could be the heart of their possible objection. Obedience, described as a repression of individuality and abandonment of responsibility, hardly seems virtuous.
The Scriptures, though, speak of obedience and disobedience in the context of the fall of man. Our first parents, in an act of disobedience, tried to seize what was proper to God. The Catechism summarizes and explains the Church’s teaching on the fall:
“He [i.e., Adam] chose himself over and against God, against the requirements of his creaturely status and therefore against his own good. Created in a state of holiness, man was destined to be fully ‘divinized’ by God in glory. Seduced by the devil, he wanted to ‘be like God,’ but ‘without God, before God, and not in accordance with God.’ (CCC 398)”
From the beginning God destined man to share in the gift of divine life, to be “divinized.” The fault of our first parents lies not in wanting the fullness of life and goodness, but in wanting it apart from God — a metaphysical and moral absurdity. God, although all-powerful, cannot make a creature that is not totally and utterly dependent on Him.
It is ironic: seeking the fullness of life apart from God, they grasped as fruit only death. St. Paul, that inspired interpreter of salvation history, sums up the fall of Adam and Christ’s redemption in this way: “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous” (Rom 5:19). And he offers us a corresponding irony: Christ, submitting Himself obediently to death (cf. Phil 2:8), won life and salvation for all men.
I suspect that many resent obedience because they see it as a restriction of what is good in life. There is a sense in which the initial objection is true: there is a necessity of true death to self in order to live to Christ. This is why Christ says, “enter by the narrow gate… for the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matt 7:13-14). But for those who do enter by the narrow gate, Christ also tells us that “if any one enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture” where we will “have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn 10: 9-10). Our obedience takes the pattern of Christ’s, which bears fruit only in death and leads to true freedom in eternal life, for “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (Jn 12:24).
-Dominican House of Studies, Washington, DC, solemn vows
“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
“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.
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.
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.
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.”
Summa Catechetica, "Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam." – St Anselm, "Let your religion be less of a theory, and more of a love affair." -G.K. Chesterton, "I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men and women who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, and who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it."- Bl John Henry Newman, "Encounter, not confrontation; attraction, not promotion; dialogue, not debate." -cf Pope Francis, "To convert someone, go and take them by the hand and guide them." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP. 1 saint ruins ALL the cynicism in Hell & on Earth. “When we pray we talk to God; when we read God talks to us…All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection.” -St Isidore of Seville, “Also in some meditations today I earnestly asked our Lord to watch over my compositions that they might do me no harm through the enmity or imprudence of any man or my own; that He would have them as His own and employ or not employ them as He should see fit. And this I believe is heard.” -GM Hopkins, SJ