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St Thomas Aquinas (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

[NB: This post is the third in a series of papers on moral theology. You may read the first paper, “The Nature of the Soul and the End of Man,” here and the second paper, “The Nature of the Voluntary,” here.]

“Called to beatitude but wounded by sin, man stands in need of salvation from God. Divine help comes to him in Christ through the law that guides him and the grace that sustains him.”[1] Despite our wounded nature, God provides clear moral “signposts” to help guide us towards the good and our ultimate goal: the beatific vision. Primary among these “signposts” are the three moral determinates by which we can judge the good or evil of a human act. Closely related are the concepts of the law and conscience. Let us briefly consider how these come together to serve as our guides.

Every human act is morally good, evil, or indifferent. In other words, these human acts either move us towards God, away from God, or do neither.  In order to discern in which direction a particular act moves us, we must have some process of evaluation for human acts. This process of evaluation is the three moral determinates. They are: object, circumstances, and intent.

The moral object is the first determinate for the good or evil of a particular act. As Fr. Brian Mullady writes, “The constant tradition of the Catholic Church affirms that the object of the act is the first basis for determining the good or evil of an action, that is determined by reason, and this determination can occur regardless of the consequences or the greatest good for the greatest number.”[2] An act can be objectively good, evil, or indifferent depending on its relation to reason.

Knowledge of conditions is also required to make a complete moral judgment. Circumstances are truly exterior to the object of an act, so they do not form the moral species in themselves. Instead circumstances can add a character of good or evil depending if they act with or against reason. While not all circumstances add further conditions, it is possible for circumstances to render evil an action good in object. Likewise, an act indifferent in object can be rendered good or evil by circumstances. However, an act evil in object can never be rendered good by circumstances – in fact, we don’t even need to know all the circumstances if an act is evil in object (for example, attempts by some to “justify” abortion based on various circumstances).[3]

Next, we must consider intention or the individual reason a person performed an act. An act done from free will must have good motivation for the act to be wholly good. However, good intent cannot make up for an evil exterior act. For example, one cannot steal from another person with the intent of giving the goods stolen to the poor.[4]

Thus, objective judgment on the goodness or evilness of a human act must be based on all three moral determinates. An action is evil if it is not in accordance with reason from all three perspectives. As Fr. Mullady sums up, “Any given action which is contrary to the order of the world as created by God cannot be referred to God as an act of love…All three moral determinates must be in accord with nature for the action to be good.”[5]

While the three moral determinates provide a process of evaluation, we must consider by what standard human actions are evaluated. We find that the standard of evaluation is the law. In fact, the law is the source of the three moral determinates. Thus, an understanding of the nature of law and its types is critical to the study of fundamental morals.[6]

At the root of the crisis in modern moral theology is a detachment of human freedom from its essential and constitutive relationship to truth. Modern morals attempt to deny any real objective human nature and in the process reduce man to nothing more than his freedom. In its rejection of natural law as the basis for ethics, modern morals separates matter and form in human acts which results in a divorce of morals from nature. Yet, there are objective standards of truth to which human reason is servant since man did not create himself. This standard is God’s reason, which is the eternal law from which all other rightly ordered law must flow.[7]

“Law is a rule of conduct enacted by competent authority for the sake of the common good” or as St. Thomas says, “An ordinance of reason is what one calls law.” We find there are several different, yet interrelated, levels of moral law: eternal law, which is the source in God of all law; natural law, which allows man to discern by reason good and evil; revealed law, which is the Old Law and the New Law or the Law of the Gospel; and finally civil and ecclesiastical laws. All moral law finds its fullness and unity in Jesus Christ.[8]

While natural law provides objective moral standards discernable by human reason, the Old Law and the New Law help move man beyond merely avoiding evil and doing good. The Old Law, summed up in the Ten Commandments, prepares and disposes the chosen people for Christ. The New Law fulfills the Old Law as the perfection of divine law on earth through the work of Christ and is expressed most clearly in the Sermon on the Mount. While the Old Law prepared the way, it did not provide salvation in itself. The New Law, on the other hand, completes the work of salvation through the gift of grace given by the Holy Spirit to the People of God. It is the New Law which truly provides love, grace, and freedom.[9]

Finally, the conscience moves concept to action. As Fr. Mullady defines it, “Conscience is a judgment of practical reason in which an individual applies general principles of the moral law to specific actions here and now.” One must have an informed conscience, enlightened by moral judgment.  The proper formation of conscience is a lifelong task in which the Word of God serves to light the path.[10]

The tendency in modern moral theology to place freedom and law in opposition to each other has led to what Pope John Paul II described as “a ‘creative’ understanding of moral conscience, which diverges from the teaching of the Church’s tradition and her Magisterium.” Freedom of conscience is not moral license to adhere to error or a right to error, but instead means that man’s conscience cannot be coerced. A free choice to accept the Catholic faith also necessarily means one must freely accept the judgment of the Magisterium on matters of faith and morals.[11]

Thus, we find that man truly is at once both a servant and free. Through the use of his reason in free will, he comes to know natural law which leads to an understanding of the moral determinates for evaluating human actions. Enlightened in his conscience by the guiding light of the Word of God coupled with the guidance of divine grace, man freely chooses to become a servant to the Eternal Law in order to do good and avoid evil as he seeks his ultimate end of an eternal life in God.


Endnotes

[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church: 2nd ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 1949.

[2] Fr. Brian Mullady, O.P., Both a Servant and Free: A Primer in Fundamental Moral Theology (New Hope, NY: New Hope Publications, 2011), 123.

[3] Mullady, Servant and Free, 125-127.

[4] Mullady, Servant and Free, 128-129.

[5] Mullady, Servant and Free, 130-131.

[6] Mullady, Servant and Free, 147.

[7] Fr. Brian Mullady, O.P., Man’s Desire for God (Bloomington, IN: 1st Books Library, 2003), 52-54; Mullady, Servant and Free, 148.

[8] St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I-II, 90, 1, at New Advent, http://www.newadevent.org; CCC, 1951-1953.

[9] CCC, 1961-1973.

[10] CCC, 1778, 1783-1785; Mullady, Servant and Free, 176.

[11] CCC, 1782, 1790-1794, 2108; Mullady, Servant and Free, 175-176, 184.

2012 All rights reserved.  This copyrighted material may not be reposted or reproduced in any form without permission.]

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St. Thomas Aquinas (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

[NB: This post is the second in a series of papers on moral theology. You may read the first paper, “The Nature of the Soul and the End of Man,” here and the third paper, “The Three Moral Determinates in Relation to Law and Conscience,” here.]

“Man stands in the middle of creation, on the horizon of being, between flesh and spirit, between time and eternity.”[i] In order to approach moral theology from a correct perspective, we must begin with a proper understanding of the nature of man. In examining the nature of man, we come to understand the nature of the voluntary in which we find the power of the soul, and come to see how ignorance, passions, and circumstances affect the freedom of man.

Since man arrives at ultimate happiness through acts of the free will, our first task is distinguishing the primary characteristics of those acts by which man arrives at heaven from all other actions of nature. This is important since those actions which do not include the correct order of the intellect, will, and passions are not worthy of praise or blame and thus are not subject to moral responsibility.

In considering this, we find there are four requirements which must be satisfied for an action to be subject to moral responsibility:

1. It must be action, not passion (distinguishes actions from passivity).

2. It must result from a principle intrinsic to the being (distinguishes nature from violence).

3. The principle involves some knowledge of ends and means (distinguishes animals and man from nature).

4. The principle must include knowledge of why the ends and means express human nature (distinguishes man from animals).

Only actions which meet these requirements can be moral actions worthy of praise or blame and are the only means by which man arrives at or fails to arrive at heaven.[ii]

Actions which meet the requirements above are called voluntary. As St. Thomas tells us, “So men’s actions are in the fullest sense voluntary: they deliberate about the goal of which they are aware and about what will lead to it, and are able to pursue it or not.” It is precisely these voluntary actions which make man “lord of his own actions.” Thus, the person is the efficient cause of his own acts and therefore his own perfection in morals. So, while “every act directly willed is imputable to its author,” the intellect and will are not the only factors in determining moral responsibility. We must consider as well the affects of the passions, ignorance, and circumstances.[iii]

The passions enter into moral responsibility because they participate in the will. While the passions in man are born obedient to reason, they are not automatic and are able to resist the direction of the spirit or to not come along. As a result of original sin, man acquired a weakness of passions which causes them to rise before the will is brought to bear. Therefore, we must conclude that an action which results from the passions is less free than one which comes from the will.[iv]

Thus, we must consider the passions in forming a proper order of judging moral freedom. First, an act done merely from passion does not involve the will and therefore has little to do with morals, either for the good or for the bad. Second, acts done from reason guiding the will are those actions with which morals is primarily concerned. Finally, acts done with both the will and consequent passion show a greater freedom in deed, thereby becoming more virtuous or more sinful.[v]

We must also understand that nothing can be willed unless it is first known. The will cannot move towards anything unless it is first presented to the will, and only the intellect can do this. Therefore, ignorance must affect moral responsibility. Here too, the conscience comes into play since knowledge is necessary for action. Some, such as Socrates and Plato, played down the role of the senses (including the passions) in knowledge, claiming that the wise man is always the good man. St. Thomas, however, declared this a critical point.[vi]

St. Thomas presented a clear distinction between nescience, ignorance, and error. Nescience means simply a negation or absence of knowledge. Ignorance, on the other hand, means knowledge which a person should have by nature. Ignorance is either a perverse form of mind (i.e. a habit of false principles or false opinions which impede knowledge of truth) or it is error, meaning the approval of the false as true. It is important to note that “one can be in ignorance without making a judgment about truth, but one cannot be in error without making a false judgment.”[vii]

Simple nescience is not sinful since even angels lack complete knowledge of everything. Antecedent or invincible ignorance, ignorance which precedes an act of will in a way that the will can do nothing about it, causes involuntariness and therefore lacks responsibility. Consequent or vincible ignorance, in which a person wills to be ignorant, makes the act more voluntary.[viii]

If any of the three powers of the soul (intellect, will, and passions) are diminished or absent, the act is not fully voluntary. Thus, just because an act is conscious, it is not necessarily voluntary. As St. Thomas points out, ignorance of circumstances, not principle, is the primary ignorance which affects the voluntary in a way that makes the subject not responsible for an action. Circumstances are external factors which in some way affect the evaluation of an action. As St. Thomas writes, “Human acts are judged voluntary or involuntary according to knowledge or ignorance of circumstances.” Circumstances can affect the morality of an act in three ways. First, they can change the kind of act in its objectivity. Second, they can change the gravity of a deed. Third, they can affect the subject’s involvement in a deed and thus increase or decrease the depth of his choice for good or evil. The first two consider how circumstances affect the actual nature of the deed, which the last one considers how they affect freedom.[ix]

Thus, we come to see the nature of the voluntary in which we encounter the power of the soul, and come to see how ignorance, passions, and circumstances affect the freedom of man. As the Catechism teaches, “God created man a rational being, conferring on him the dignity of a person who can initiate and control his own action…with free will and is master over his own acts.” With the gift of grace, the Holy Spirit educates us in spiritual freedom so that we can become collaborators in His work in the Church and in the world. Through a right ordering of the powers of our souls: intellect, will, and passions; we obtain our perfection in freedom by directing our actions toward the ultimate good, our God and sovereign Good.[x]


Endnotes

 [i] As quoted in: Fr. Brian Mullady, O.P., Man’s Desire for God (Bloomington, IN: 1st Books Library, 2003), 22.

 [ii] Fr. Brian Mullady, O.P., Both a Servant and Free: A Primer in Fundamental Moral Theology (New Hope, NY: New Hope Publications, 2011), 55-57.

 [iii] Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I-II, 6, 2, at New Advent, http://www.newadevent.org; Mullady, Man’s Desire for God, 28; Mullady, Servant and Free, 63.

 [iv] Mullady, Servant and Free, 65, 67, 69.

[v] Mullady, Servant and Free, 69-70.

[vi] Mullady, Servant and Free, 70-71.

[vii] Mullady, Servant and Free, 71.

[viii] Mullady, Servant and Free, 72-73.

[ix] Aquinas, STh I-II, 7, 2; Mullady, Servant and Free, 74, 77.

[x] Catechism of the Catholic Church: 2nd ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 1730, 1742, 1744.

2011 All rights reserved.  This copyrighted material may not be reposted or reproduced in any form without permission.]

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St. Irenaeus (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

[NB: This post is the first in a series of papers on moral theology. You may read the second paper, “The Nature of the Voluntary,” here and the third paper, “The Three Moral Determinates in Relation to Law and Conscience,” here.]

“The glory of God is man fully alive; but man’s life is the vision of God,” St. Irenaeus declared in Adversus haereses.[i]  This phrase points to man’s ultimate and objective end. The current crisis in moral theology is mainly attributed to losing sight of a correct anthropology of man. In order to reestablish a correct view of moral theology, we must first reestablish a correct view of man. For us to see clearly the ultimate end of man and the objective nature of that end, we must begin with a correct understanding of the nature of the soul. Through this integration, the words of St. Irenaeus become clear and firmly establish our moral compass.

St. Augustine tells us that man is at once “both a servant and free.” It is upon this point we must build our understanding of the man’s soul. Moral theology traditionally hinged on finding a proper balance between duty to the law (the servant aspect) while also encouraging the spiritual formation which the law seeks to instill within man (the freedom aspect). Modern moralists have attempted to play one aspect off the other; a sort of “either/or.” Yet, a true understanding of man shows us it is a situation of “both/and.” In order to find its true direction, the human soul requires both, and therefore entails a return to a traditional understanding of man’s soul.[ii]

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over…[all creation]…upon the earth’” (Gen. 1:26, RSV-CE). Of all visible creation, man alone can know and love his Creator; called to share in His life. The Catechism tells us the human body is special precisely because it is animated by a spiritual soul. The immortal soul is a special gift of God created immediately by God and not “produced” by the parents, showing that from creation man was ordered to a supernatural end. Although undeserved by man, God is able to raise man’s spiritual soul to communion with Him. The Church believes the unity of body and soul is so profound that the soul is considered the “form” of the body: “…spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature.”[iii]

As a union of body and soul, material and spiritual, man interacts with created reality through his material body using his spiritual attributes of intellect and will. St. Thomas tells us only those actions of which man is master are properly called human. True human acts arise from deliberate use of the will and intellect; they involve reflection and choice. Moral choice requires the participation of both will and intellect since the concept of free will includes both powers.[iv]

The question now becomes one of determining how man should act, or the proper employment of intellect and will. A rational being must first determine the ultimate goal of his actions (the order of intention) before beginning to implement those goals. In this step, intellect is emphasized since a journey must first have a destination. Arrival at the destination is called the order of execution and here the will is emphasized since through the will a person attains his goals. Put simply: “One must investigate and decide on an ultimate destination and pursue it.”[v]

What is this ultimate destination for man? Being seeks perfection. So, in man’s every action, he seeks greater or further participation in being: “As the eye seeks sight, the mind seeks truth and the will seeks good or perfection.” This material end of the will, the actual good which perfects humanity, is the Holy Trinity. Thus, all things have the Holy Trinity as their origin and all things seek to return to the Holy Trinity.[vi]

For man, this happiness is the Beatific Vision. We find expression of this in Jesus’ preaching of the Beatitudes. The Church teaches that the Beatitudes respond to the natural desire for happiness placed in the human heart by God to draw man to Him and they reveal the goal of human existence, the ultimate end of human acts: God’s call to the Beatific Vision.[vii]

St. Thomas tells us, “man naturally desires, as his ultimate end, to know the first cause. But the first cause of all things is God. Therefore, the ultimate end of man is to know God.” Yet, he also tells us that “…throughout this life God can be known in no higher way than that whereby a cause is known through its effect.” God gave us an innate desire to know Him, yet did not provide us the means within ourselves to know Him by nature alone – we require His assistance of divine grace.[viii]

A misinterpretation of St. Thomas’s phrase “natural desire to see God” by Cardinal Thomas de Vio Cajetan (1469-1534) resulted in centuries of confusion in Catholic teaching. Cajetan took “desire” to mean an appetite of the will which negated the gratuitous character of grace. To compensate, he developed a “two-end” theory involving a hypothetical “pure nature” into which man could have been created, but instead was created in a second nature of grace which actually ordered man to Beatific Vision. Twentieth century theologians Henri de Lubac and Karl Rahner attempted to correct the failures in Cajetan’s theory, but instead only added to the confusion. The problem was rooted in an incorrect order of approach: happiness, possibility of attainment, and natural desire. The opposite is actually the correct order: the fact of natural desire, possibility, and then happiness.[ix]

An analysis of St. Thomas’s writing makes clear he did not mean “natural desire” as an appetite of the will, but as identical with the power of the intellect and its desire to know. This natural desire is a potential to know, not the knowledge itself. It is not desire in the sense of an appetite, but the tendency of every being to seek its perfection. Our destiny cannot be realized in this life because our intellect demands knowledge of the first cause. St. Thomas shows us that even the angels cannot be satisfied with knowing God merely as cause. As he concludes: “Although man is included to an ultimate end by nature, yet he cannot attain that end by nature, but only by grace because of the exalted character of the end.”[x]

Thus, the very nature of man’s soul drives him to reach towards the ultimate objective end of his being: the Beatific Vision. Although possessing an innate desire to see God, man cannot reach his ultimate end in his nature alone, but requires him to freely accept the freely offered gift from God of His grace. As the Catechism succinctly sums it up:

The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to Himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for[.][xi]


Endnotes

[i] As quoted in: Fr. Brian Mullady, O.P., Man’s Desire for God (Bloomington, IN: 1st Books Library, 2003), ix.

[ii] Fr. Brian Mullady, O.P., Both a Servant and Free: A Primer in Fundamental Moral Theology (New Hope, NY: New Hope Publications, 2011), xi, xiii.

[iii] Catechism of the Catholic Church: 2nd ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 356-357, 364- 367.

[iv] Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I-II, q. 1, a. 1, at New Advent, http://www.newadevent.org; Mullady, Man’s Desire for God, 34.

[v] Mullady, Man’s Desire for God, 34-35.

[vi] Mullady, Man’s Desire for God, 36-37.

[vii] CCC, 1718-1719.

[viii] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, III, 25, 11; III, 48, 9, Joseph Kenny, O.P. (ed.) (New York: Hanover House, 1955-1957) at Priory of the Immaculate Conception, http://dhspriory.org; Mullady, Man’s Desire for God, 42-43.

[ix] Mullady, Man’s Desire for God, 1-12.

[x] Mullady, Man’s Desire for God, 12-13, 15, 19.

[xi] CCC, 27.

2011 All rights reserved.  This copyrighted material may not be reposted or reproduced in any form without permission.]

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(Image: Wikimedia Commons)

When discussing sin, hell, and damnation in relation to salvation, people sometimes bring up an objection citing a person in an isolated jungle who has never heard the Gospel. Surely, they claim, God would not be so “cruel” as to condemn this person to hell merely because he never had an opportunity to hear the Gospel. This well-meaning, but utterly misguided, notion shows a deep lack of understanding regarding the true Catholic Faith. Let’s consider this situation a bit further to see if we can come to a better understanding regarding the Truth of God’s Law.

First, we very clearly need to distinguish that if a person outside Christ’s Church is saved, he is not saved because of his religion but in spite of it. Certainly God is completely free to save whomever He chooses, including those outside the Church, yet at the same time we cannot discount what He has told us through His Divine Revelation about His plan for Salvation.

Some within the Church, on both sides of the rail, have misinterpreted the teachings of Vatican II, either accidently or on purpose, to claim that every religion is just as good as any other and that the Catholic Church has no particular claim on the Truth, and therefore has no right or obligation to proselytize. This is a dangerous lie. Vatican II very clearly taught, in complete continuity with Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, that the fullness of Truth subsists in the Catholic Church (here’s a link to a very important document from the CDF clarifying the meaning of the word “subsists:” http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/document.php?n=162).

According to the Fathers of the Church, the most primitive religion is the natural religion of monotheism brought about by the work of God’s holy angels entrusted with the care of nations. As Fr. Jean Danielou says in The Angels and Their Mission, “The very regularity of the laws of nature is a sort of revelation through which man can recognize the existence of a provident God.” The angels were charged with the mission of providing protection and temporal assistance to nations, along with a primary spiritual role of leading pagan people towards God and retaining the spark of natural revelation. However, nations turned away from the natural religion due to the egotism and presumption of man, coupled with the activity of demons; instead of God, pagans turned to foolish worship of idols.

Thus, while elements of truth exist in other religions, they do not contain the fullness of Truth. God does not desire man to remain in the ignorance of false religion. Instead, those elements of truth in otherwise false religions are designed to prepare people for and lead them to the Truth, which is found only in the one, true, orthodox Catholic Faith. This is why missionary and apologetic activity remains critically important and why ecumenical activity should encourage dialogue but never compromise the Truth.

God is not cruel; He is pure and perfect love. As pure and perfect love, He grants us the free will to either accept or reject Him – for true love only exists if it is freely given and freely returned. Therefore, it is not God’s pure and perfect love which condemns us. It is we, through our own actions, who condemn ourselves. We forget that true love isn’t all smiley faces and warm puppies. Instead, true love is very often tough and difficult. Our Lord reminds us of this throughout Sacred Scripture. A close reading of Sacred Scripture shows us that salvation is anything but easy or a “given” – in fact our Lord clearly indicates the truth that not everyone is saved. In a misguided attempt not to “offend,” there’s been a de-emphasis of sin, the devil, and damnation in recent decades. Yet, isn’t it better to live in the Truth no matter how difficult it might be than to be “comforted” by a lie?

St. John pulls no punches when he tells us, “Unless a man is born again of water and the Holy Spirit he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God” (Jn 3:5). Thus, the Second Council of Lyons (1274) and the Council of Florence (1438-1445) declared: “the souls of those who die in mortal sin or with only original sin soon go down into hell, but there they receive different punishments.” Those two punishments are the “pain of loss” and the “pain of sense.” The “pain of loss” is the absence of the Beatific Vision. The “pain of sense” is brought about by actual sin and is felt by the senses even after the resurrection of the body. As Pope Innocent III summed it up, “the punishment for original sin is the loss of the vision of God, but the punishment for actual sin is the torment of an everlasting hell.”

The “pain of loss” is compatible with a state of natural bliss or perfect happiness – it merely lacks the Beatific Vision. This is the state many orthodox theologians throughout the history of the Church refer to as “limbo.” Limbo itself is not a dogmatic teaching of the Church, but is a strongly accepted theory among many eminent and solid theologians. I agree with the arguments for the existence of limbo and its role as the repository for souls who die without the Sacrament of Baptism. I don’t find this to be “cruel,” but instead simply a fact of the Truth. Those in limbo are in a state of perfect natural happiness; they are not being eternally punished as are those suffering “pain of sense,” instead they simply lack the Beatific Vision (they are happy, but unaware they could be more happy).

This notion that God wouldn’t be so “cruel” as not to save everyone comes down to believing what we wish to be true instead of what we’re told through Divine Revelation is actually the Truth. God clearly spells out His Law and the consequences of either rejecting or accepting that Law. Yet in our subjective and relativistic “me” centered society, we think it “unfair” and “cruel” if we’re held to an objective standard of Truth. However, at the end of the day, no matter how loudly we complain or how much we wish it were otherwise, we cannot break His Law, but only break ourselves against His Law.

As for our man we left standing alone in the middle of the jungle, did not our Lord command us to “make disciples of all nations?” If our man in the jungle dies without every hearing the Gospel, or worse yet turns to demon-inspired idolatry, then in a sense aren’t we at least partly to blame for not fully following the command of our Lord?

+JMJ

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Light of the World

I’m very saddened, but unfortunately not surprised, to see the liberal media bandwagon spinning and twisting the Pope’s comments on condoms.  The reality is the Church continues to rightfully teach that the use of artificial contraception in any form is dangerous due to the “de-humanizing” such practices have on human sexuality – and by extension the human person.  Despite the “spin” on the Pope’s comments by the liberal media and progressive liberal “Catholics,” nothing has changed in Church teaching.  Neither the Church, nor the Pope, approves the use of condoms or other artificial conception in any case.

First, one must understand, as many do not, that the Pope is allowed to express personal opinion on any matter he wishes – just as we all have that right.  Despite what some think, Catholicism does not hold that whatever the Pope says is automatically “official” teaching of the Church.  The Doctrine of Papal Infallibility only applies to teachings related to faith and morals, and even then, it must be specifically and clearly invoked.  Most people don’t know that the popes have very, very rarely exercised this authority, despite their voluminous writings from audiences, homilies, letters, etc.  To make an infallible statement on the teachings of Jesus Christ is a very serious process and never something done in mere casual conversation with a reporter.  In this situation, namely an extended interview with a reporter, the Pope’s comments are personal opinion, not “official” Church teaching.  Even so, again despite the “spin” put on his words, what the Pope said is consistent with Church teaching and actually shows tremendous charity on his part.

Second, most people, including many Catholics, completely fail to understand Church teaching on human sexuality.  Briefly, the Church teaches that since God is infinite love and created everything out of His infinite love, all His creation is good.   It is actually a very old heresy going back to the early days of Christianity to claim the body and sex are somehow “bad” or inherently evil.  We must also understand God created not because He had to create, but because He wanted to create out of His free will and His infinite love – which again reinforces the very goodness of His creation.

When it comes to humans, not only are we part of the goodness of God’s creation, we are even more special since we are created in His image.  How are we taught to treat gifts of great value, like a special family heirloom?  We’re taught to treat it with great care as a sign of respect to the giver of that gift – we honor the person by cherishing the gift he or she gave us.  Our humanity, which includes our sexuality, is the greatest gift we can ever receive, for it is only because of that gift that we exist.  Therefore if we truly desire to love, honor and serve the Lord, we must treat His gift, our humanity, with the absolute greatest respect.  Consequently, we must refrain from doing things which “dehumanizes” or goes against the nature of humanity – which includes things like promiscuous sex, unmarried sex, engaging in homosexual acts, abortion, artificial means to prevent the gift of human life and so forth.  All these things work to destroy our human nature – we need only look to today’s society for abundant proof of this fact.

Pope Benedict XVI, as anyone who reads his writings comes to know, is a very intelligent, scholarly and intellectual person.  While on one hand, this is very good as one can gain very deep insights by reading his work, on the other hand his is not writing which lends itself to the short sound-bites so many rely on as their sole source of information today.  As we see in this situation, one comment in a book-length interview, before the book is even released, is taken out of context and twisted to mean something else.  A society fed on nothing but sound-bites eats it up and never bothers to discover the truth for themselves.

All the headlines completely ignore this line from the Pope’s comments: “[The Church] does not regard it [use of condoms] as a real or moral solution.”  Saying it’s not “a real or moral” solution means it is not the right choice, not an “acceptable” choice and not a moral choice – in other words, it is bad and immoral.  If one bothers to read the Pope in context, he makes it clear up front that he does not approve of condom use by anyone.

However, and here’s where the charity I mentioned comes into play, the Pope goes on to say that if someone infected with a STD uses a condom to prevent disease transmission that fact (again, while not the right choice or moral choice) might indicate the beginning of a proper understanding of human sexuality in that person.  He’s really saying the first step to fixing your problem is the recognition you have a problem in the first place.  If we never recognize we have a problem, especially a moral problem, we can never begin taking steps to resolve that problem.  Only if we begin taking personal responsibility for our actions can we begin moving into the light of understanding and Truth.

Unfortunately, in all the media “spin,” we completely fail to grasp the Pope’s real message, a message applicable to all of us.  For far from being an affirmation of condom use, the Pope’s message is actually an affirmation of hope.  The hope we should all share as Christians that even the greatest sinner will eventually recognize his sins, open his heart to God, beg forgiveness and redemption and thereby gain entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven.  That is the Pope’s real message.  The headlines should actually proclaim:

“Pope says Hope of Redemption Possible for even the Greatest of Sinners”

Here are some links which further expound on the Pope’s true message:

http://insightscoop.typepad.com/2004/2010/11/excerpt-pope-benedict-xvi-discusses-condoms-and-the-spread-of-hiv.html

http://insightscoop.typepad.com/2004/2010/11/what-does-the-holy-father-really-say-about-condoms-in-the-new-book-janet-e-smith.html

http://www.americanthinker.com/blog/2010/11/the_pope_condoms_and_confusion.html

http://www.jimmyakin.org/2010/11/new-developments-on-the-pope-and-condoms.html

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The Temptation of Christ (Scheffer, 1854. Image: Wikipedia)

One of the fundamental causes of all our problems today, particularly in respect to dissent from the Magisterium of the Church, has to do with asking the wrong question.

When we encounter one of God’s teachings we don’t like or don’t understand, our secularized, self-centered society has taught us to ask:

“What’s wrong with the Church that they don’t get it?”

The “it” in this case being secular society’s philosophy of anything goes as long as it makes you feel good.

The question we should actually ask in these situations is:

“What’s wrong with me that I don’t get it?”

The “it” in this case being God’s plan for the eternal salvation of our souls.

True happiness and true freedom come only when we freely submit our will to the will of God.

“My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.” (Matt 26:39)

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Monsignor Charles Pope posted an excellent piece on the Archdiocese of Washington blog entitled “The Politician and the ‘Private’ Sin: Christine O’Donnell Runs Afoul of the ‘New Morality.’”  Msgr. Pope uses the “controversy” generated by recent airing of old video showing O’Donnell denouncing masturbation as a springboard for a discussion of the Catholic view of sexuality and masturbation.  Please follow the link above and read his full article.  Msgr. Pope’s teaching is spot-on and delivered with excellent pastoral care and wisdom.

I’m firmly convinced one of the greatest causes for a negative reaction against the Catholic Church today and for producing dissent from Church teaching by many “Catholics” is the very “closeness” of the Church herself.  Because the Church is so “familiar,” many people believe they’re complete experts on what the Church teaches based on nothing more than their own opinions and hearsay, particularly “Catholics” who vaguely recall Sister So-and-so (often a feminist dissenter – such as in my “Catholic” grade school) saying something about something in grade school Catechism class during the 1970s or 1980s.  Yet, what they think the Church teaches has little to no connection to her actual teaching.  Sexuality is a prime example.

Most people, and far too many “Catholics,” believe the Church teaches that anything connected with the body or with sex is “evil” and “dirty” – and that we should feel “guilty” for having any sort of “sinful” thought or feeling about sex.  This is pure rubbish!  Nothing could be further from the truth regarding actual Church teaching on human sexuality and the human body.

The Church has consistently taught that because Jesus was fully divine and fully human (two natures in one person), the human body is not inherently “dirty” or “evil.”  Any teaching to the contrary is heresy – and in fact the Church has fought many heresies founded upon the notion of the human body as “dirty” or “evil” since the days the early Church.  God would not have become fully human if He viewed our bodies and our sexuality as “dirty” and “evil.”  Instead, He gave us our bodies and everything associated with them, including our sexuality, as a gift of His free will.  Therefore, the Church has always held the body, and sexuality by connection, are wonderfully beautiful gifts from God.

The Church teaches that, as a gift from God, we should treat our sexuality with the utmost reverence and respect as we’d treat any other great gift given us by someone who cares deeply about us (and no one cares more about us than God).  As part of caring for and treasuring this gift, we should keep it oriented towards its divine purpose – the physical union of man and woman in marriage to produce children.  We don’t like to hear it today, but orienting our sexuality towards any other purpose goes against its nature and against God’s intention.

Instead of treating our sexuality with such respect, many of us discard it to the dung heap.  In a perverse twist of reality, our secular society claims this dung heap is “good” while Church teaching (which is the message of God and not man) is “bad.”  Secular society completely objectifies sexuality.  We are consistently taught, particularly through pornography, to treat people as nothing more than sexual objects for our self-centered sexual pleasure – including even our own bodies.  We’re taught to not worry about the true purpose of sexuality (little lone its beauty) by using contraceptives, and if those don’t work, “eliminating” the “accidental” “product” of a sexual encounter “gone wrong.”  After all, as Barack Obama believes, we wouldn’t want to “punish” anyone with a baby for a “mistake.”

We’ve truly become blind people wondering around in the dark eating from the trash heap while believing it’s a gourmet meal.  God offers us true light, true vision and a Heavenly banquet, yet we refuse His offer, believing we know better than Him the purpose of our humanity and sexuality.  The Church offers a guiding hand to help lead us blind souls into the light, yet we slap it away.  Why have we allowed Satan and his demons to blind us so?

It’s not a new problem.  It’s actually a very old and very simple problem.  From the time of Adam and Eve, humans have acted like unruly children by “playing God” and thinking they know better what’s best for them than the Father.  The solution is likewise abundantly simple.  We must submit our wills to the will of God.  We must trust that the Father does know what’s best for us.  Only in this decision do we find true freedom and authentic expression of our humanity and sexuality.

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