Cruel to be merciful

[Warning: This post contains explicit language regarding sexual sin. Also the BS word.]

The efforts of modernists I think have a good intent: To make life easier for people, to ease their guilt and relieve them of difficult moral dilemmas, and to have fewer grounds upon which people may judge and condemn others. This is done by making it less clear that things are wrong; we must consider the “reality” of people’s lives today and not be pharisaical in holding them to strict standards. In short, blur the distinction between right and wrong, so that more things are believed to fall on the “right” side of the divide than would otherwise be the case.

But making it harder to define things as wrong, also makes it harder to define them as right. By making it easier to do what before was considered sinful, you also make it harder to do what before was considered righteous. By eliminating mortal sin, you also eliminate moral heroism. You eliminate the need for Christians, in considering whether to take the more difficult moral path, to “die to self”, which Jesus says we must do if we are to be his disciples (Mt. 16:24).

I have no delusions that the more tradition-minded Church of the 1950s and earlier was morally pure. There has always been a spectrum of observance of the moral law, from the overly scrupulous to the outright evil, with varying degrees of obedience and laxity in between. But at least people could tell where they fell on the spectrum, if they ever wanted to know, by having moral boundaries clearly delineated.

This has partly to do with an experience of my own. In my 20s (and earlier), when I was a new “revert” (baptized as a baby but not raised in the faith), I was suffering from addiction to the “solitary sin” so common to young men (long before Internet porn!). Being a relatively new Christian and wanting desperately to please God, in gratitude for the gift of faith that he had given me, I strove against my sin as best I knew how, and went to confession often. The priests in the confessional were very patient and comforting towards me, assuring me that it was only human to struggle with this sin, and not to give up nor view myself as a failure as a Christian. At one point I asked a priest in confession whether I needed to abstain from Communion after having committed this sin, but before going to confession. His response was that “this kind of sin is 90% natural and only about 10% sinful, so no, I would not stay away from Communion.”

Again very comforting, but what was I to do? Was this an acceptable permanent state for a Catholic? Committing sexual sin on a regular basis, yet receiving absolution for free, upon request, with no demands or requirements to change my behavior, and with full access to the sacraments?

But one day I went to a different church for confession and got a different message: Masturbation is a mortal sin, and one must not receive Communion until it has been absolved. Receiving Communion in a state of mortal sin is a serious sacrilege, compounding the original sin. Continuing in this course of conduct will imperil your soul.

Tough words! They hit me like a ton of bricks. But guess what? After that day, I went six months without falling into my formerly habitual sin. And when I did fall, I immediately confessed it and abstained for another six months. Some might say I was enslaved by fear. But on the contrary, I felt liberated. And what was it that had set me free? One priest giving me the truth, straight up with no bullshit. If what he said was true, then this gave me something to put on the other side of the scale when weighing whether to give in to temptation: What’s more important to me? This momentary pleasure, or being able to receive Christ in the Eucharist on a regular basis, with a clear conscience?

Refusing to draw clear lines leaves people to wallow in their sins, when they themselves might be sick of wallowing and might well choose to stop wallowing, if only they could see their wallowing for what it is. I don’t judge those who know better and yet choose to wallow. It’s between them and God, and my nagging isn’t going to change their hearts. But I’m convinced that far more numerous souls fall into the pit and remain there, because its boundaries are no longer clearly marked. There might be more moral heroes out there, except that moral heroism, in the form of giving up the pleasures one loves and is naturally inclined to, is considered foolish and outdated, i.e. pharisaical; or at the very least is considered unnecessary since all sins can be excused on one ground or another and no one can really commit a mortal sin with full deliberation and consent of the will. After all, it’s the Year of Mercy.

One explanation for why liberals demand an ever vaster and more intrusive state

“Liberals are preselected for the incapacity to grasp the fact that certain evils might be necessarily concomitant upon certain goods. Liberals are by and large atheists and agnostics. Those who are religious are generally deists, which is to say atheists who believe in one very powerful alien. The reason they adopt this inexcusably stupid [Romans 1:20] position … is because they cannot see how evil is compatible with an omnipotent, omniscient and benevolent entity. St Thomas dismisses this objection extremely casually in ST Ia,2,3 obj 1 and reply:

“‘Objection 1. It seems that God does not exist; because if one of two contraries be infinite, the other would be altogether destroyed. But the word “God” means that He is infinite goodness. If, therefore, God existed, there would be no evil discoverable; but there is evil in the world. Therefore God does not exist.

“‘Reply to Objection 1. As Augustine says (Enchiridion xi): “Since God is the highest good, He would not allow any evil to exist in His works, unless His omnipotence and goodness were such as to bring good even out of evil.” This is part of the infinite goodness of God, that He should allow evil to exist, and out of it produce good.’

“The reason certain people cannot grasp this is because they do not understand that evil is privation and that God is subsistent being itself. As St Thomas says in Ia, 25, 6 ‘God can make something else better than each thing made by Him.’ Consequently, there will always be an infinitude of better possible worlds than any universe God has actually created. It is therefore pointless to complain that God has not made the best of all possible worlds as there is no such thing. God in His literally infinite wisdom makes use of our necessary finitude and imperfection to achieve good for us. As atheists and agnostics are unable or rather unwilling to accept this, they imagine therefore that anyone who can remedy any evil must do so, and if they do not do so they are themselves evil.

“As this is the pretext for their rejection of the Creator they must apply the same idiotic principle to the state. If there is any ill that the state could remedy and it does not, then the state must be responsible for that ill and will it to be. The idea that the attempt to remedy some ill by the state might occasion a greater ill or even that permitting some ill might occasion a good greater than that opposed by the evil tolerated must be rejected by the atheist and agnostic because otherwise they would have to surrender their beloved ‘problem of evil’ and expose themselves to the logic of theism. This is why atheists, agnostics and deists must demand an ever vaster an[d] more intrusive state intruding into every recess of human existence and when this state worsens every ill it seeks to remedy then some enemy must be identified ‘climate change’, ‘religion’ or ‘the forces or conservatism’, ‘human nature’ or hilariously ‘intolerance’ which may be blamed for the failure of their beloved Leviathan (and punished accordingly). For the only alternative is repentance and belief and this is a prospect that may not be contemplated even for a moment.”

Aelianus, “Refugees, Condoms, Atheists and Liberals“, Laodicea blog, October 24, 2015.

The tendency of liberal education, or why we need Ex corde Ecclesiae

“[S]uch Institutions [Catholic colleges not under the Church’s supervision and authority] may become hostile to Revealed Truth, in consequence of the circumstances of their teaching as well as of their end. They are employed in the pursuit of Liberal Knowledge, and Liberal Knowledge has a special tendency, not necessary or rightful, but a tendency in fact, when cultivated by beings such as we are, to impress us with a mere philosophical theory of life and conduct, in the place of Revelation. … Truth has two attributes—beauty and power; and while Useful Knowledge is the possession of truth as powerful, Liberal Knowledge is the apprehension of it as beautiful. Pursue it, either as beauty or as power, to its furthest extent and its true limit, and you are led by either road to the Eternal and Infinite, to the intimations of conscience and the announcements of the Church. Satisfy yourself with what is only visibly or intelligibly excellent, as you are likely to do, and you will make present utility and natural beauty the practical test of truth, and the sufficient object of the intellect. It is not that you will at once reject Catholicism, but you will measure and proportion it by an earthly standard. You will throw its highest and most momentous disclosures into the background, you will deny its principles, explain away its doctrines, re-arrange its precepts, and make light of its practices, even while you profess it. Knowledge, viewed as Knowledge, exerts a subtle influence in throwing us back on ourselves, and making us our own centre, and our minds the measure of all things. This then is the tendency of that Liberal Education, of which a University is the school, viz., to view Revealed Religion from an aspect of its own,—to fuse and recast it, to tune it, as it were, to a different key, and to reset its harmonies,—to circumscribe it by a circle which unwarrantably amputates here, and unduly developes there; and all under the notion, conscious or unconscious, that the human intellect, self-educated and self-supported, is more true and perfect in its ideas and judgments than that of Prophets and Apostles, to whom the sights and sounds of Heaven were immediately conveyed. A sense of propriety, order, consistency, and completeness gives birth to a rebellious stirring against miracle and mystery, against the severe and the terrible.”

John Henry Newman, The Idea of a University (1852), Discourse 9, “Duties of the Church towards Knowledge”.

Hiding the hard teachings

“There are many in the Church today who wonder and worry themselves over the slow exodus of her youths and the weakening of her power to attract those outside her doors. Then, acting in a way like Rehobo′am, these worriers chase the counsel of the young (or at least their culture) and seek to hide the hard teachings while showing only what might be popular. If we would but ‘learn from our ancestors in faith,’ the truth of the situation is plain to see: the word of God is rare in these days. The people do not find anything they need in the Church because they do not know their crimes and so cannot know they need forgiveness. They have been distracted by the shining idols put up in sin, in places far from God, and ever fewer ‘people go up to offer sacrifices in the house of the Lord,’ (1 Kings 12:27-29).”*

Dxfc, “Humanity: A History of Bad Habits,” Finding Myself Catholic blog, October 19, 2015.

*”After seeking advice, the king made two golden calves. He said to the people, ‘It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’ One he set up in Bethel, and the other in Dan.”

A birth control puzzle

When the question is asked, What should we do to reduce unwed pregnancies? most non-Christians would answer, increase sex-ed and access to birth control; whereas most Christians would answer, teach sexual abstinence before marriage, that is, reinstitute pre-marital sexual abstinence as a societal value. And when the liberals say no that doesn’t work, people will have sex no matter what you tell them, the Christians reply that that’s not true, they just have to learn to exercise discipline over their bodies.

Yet when the question is asked, what should be done to prevent unwanted pregnancies within marriage, most Christians would answer, use birth control!

Why the different answer when the context is within marriage? Are people no longer capable of exercising discipline over their bodies once they get married?

(See also “Discipline, concupiscence and birth control.”)

Did Jesus put compassion ahead of righteousness?

Someone argued recently that Jesus would have approved of gay marriage because he put “compassion for people ahead of adherence to religious dogma.” This is just a quick rebuttal to that argument, which I plan to elaborate on in a subsequent post.

When people say things like that, I can’t help wondering whether they’ve read the whole New Testament or only certain parts. Jesus may have put compassion ahead of religious dogma, but not ahead of righteousness:

“For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Mt. 5:20

He lists adultery and other sexual immorality along with murder and theft as things that make a man unrighteous:

“And he said, ‘What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.'” Mk. 7:20-23

He ate and drank with sinners, but for the sake of bringing them to repentance:

“And the Pharisees and their scribes murmured against his disciples, saying, ‘Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?’ And Jesus answered them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.’” Lk. 5:30-32

He taught that it’s better to pluck your eye out than to let it cause you to sin, since sin sends you to hell:

“’And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.”’” Mk. 9:43-48

Of course Jesus was compassionate and merciful. Otherwise he would not have been incarnated, healed the sick and the lame, and suffered and died on the Cross. But all of this was for the purpose of calling sinners to repentance, as he makes abundantly and repeatedly clear.

Jesus’ silence on homosexuality

A couple of times in the past week I have come across the argument that since Jesus doesn’t mention homosexuality in the Gospels, he must have thought there was nothing wrong with homosexual sex. This is just a quick rebuttal to that argument. I will have more to say about it in a subsequent post.

Jesus also didn’t mention kidnapping, child abuse or racism. Should we conclude that those things are fine with him? He also didn’t talk about murder, except when he said that being angry at your brother, and insulting him, and calling him a fool, is the same as murder and makes you liable to hell. (Mt. 5:21-26)

Jesus didn’t make any changes to the moral law as the Jews already understood it. The exceptions are when he makes the moral law even stricter, for example when he says that Moses allowed divorce but that “it was not that way in the beginning” (Mt. 19:8) and that “he who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery” (Lk. 16:18); or when he says that not only is adultery a sin, but that when you even look on a woman with lust you’re committing adultery in your heart (Mt. 5:27-28), and that if your eye causes you to stumble in this way then you should pluck it out rather than burn in hell (Mt. 5:29).

There is a Latin proverb to the effect that silence implies consent. My interlocutors take this to mean that since Jesus didn’t condemn homosexual sexual activity, he must have approved of it. This is to project modern sensibilities on the people of Jesus’ time; to assume that what we take for granted is what Jesus takes for granted, so long as he doesn’t state otherwise. But if Jesus’ silence implies consent, it would imply consent to the prevailing morality of the time — unless he states otherwise. He has no fear of speaking out against the prevailing paradigm when he disapproves of it. In the case of Jewish sexual morality, he does no such thing.

In light of this, it would not be warranted to conclude that because Jesus didn’t mention homosexuality, his intention was to overturn the traditional Jewish prohibition of homosexual sex.

Something good to remember

I don’t always agree with Hilary White, but I often admire and appreciate her insights. The following is her response to someone who had expressed strong bitterness towards (what I agree was) the post-Vatican II catastrophe in the Church. It’s something I had not thought of and I find it brilliantly expressed as well as darkly encouraging:

[A]cknowledging the unimaginable losses the collapse of the Church has caused, there is something good to remember here. In the past people had the Faith handed to them, and it cost them little or nothing to accept and keep it. They were often given little instruction past that which is given to children. People followed the Faith because it was what their parents did, or because all their neighbourhood was Catholic or their friends or businesses were. I know nuns who said that the exodus from the convents really happened because they had been given no intellectual formation in the Faith either in their homes or schools or the novitiate. It was mainly about how to walk and hold your hands so you looked like a holy nun. She had been a Carmelite, and she said they were told they were not allowed to read Teresa, for fear it would give them airs.

The Asteroid wiped all that away, and the people who had received the Faith so easily dropped it just as easily. What you get for nothing is not valued, even if it is pearls.

And now the Faith is still there and can still be found, but it is no longer easy. The result of the post-Conciliar catastrophe has been as our friend above said, but it has also created a race of Catholic guerilla fighters of which we are the second and third generation, and who are now going to be called upon to carry the fight forward. The ferocity with which they have acquired and kept the Faith is going to be required by everyone.

There is no more cheap grace to be had for tuppence in all the shops. Now if you want to know what is true, you have to go looking for it, develop your mind and knowledge and exercise your intellect and will, which faculties had become nearly atrophied in the immediate pre-conciliar period. Now just getting to know what you need to know to be a merely practising Catholic requires almost heroic effort of will and powers of investigation, as well as taking the trouble to learn to tell the truth from the sweet lies nearly all the parishes and priests are peddling. Heroism has, essentially, become our baseline.

And then you have to exercise those muscles of will to hold on to it as the World turns on you like a horde of screaming savages. In a situation like this one, the people who know and hold to the Faith are the Charles Atlas of the Catholic world. And it is going to be true very soon that they are going to require all that strength to stand up to what is coming at us.

Excerpted from Hilary White, “The Fantasy of Bitterness“, Orwell’s Picnic (blog), April 9, 2015.

Please help Richard Sullivan follow God’s call by donating to his fundraiser HERE