November 5, 2017 § 83 Comments
Since 1999, I have directed a pastoral counseling agency that conducts over 12,000 [hours] of pastoral counseling per year. That means that, over the last 18 years, I have either personally conducted, or been directly responsible for, over 216,000 hours of pastoral counseling, which is all about asking how one can apply the teachings of our Catholic faith to some of the most complex situations one could encounter in life. Our agency’s services are delivered in English and Spanish to Catholic couples, families, and individuals across North and South America, Europe, Asia (primarily Hong Kong and India), Australia, and Africa, which has given me a uniquely multi-cultural lens through which to view this question of pastoral practice. I am a Fellow of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, and I serve as the Chair of the Education Committee for the Catholic Psychotherapy Association, which is responsible for the professional development of the next generation of pastoral psychotherapists. I also direct a graduate program in pastoral studies which is forming the next generation of pastoral ministers. I have written over 20 books and programs on a host of serious, practical, faith-based topics that have been translated into at least 7 languages.
The idea that the laity are doomed to be spiritual also-rans strikes me as a particularly pernicious failure of pastoral practice. I am, frankly, appalled that what appears to be driving the progressive advocacy of an interpretation of Chapter 8 of AL that supports communion for Catholics who are remarried without the benefit of annulment is that lay people are just too weak to live holy lives. It seems to me that some 50 years after Vatican II, lay people deserve a little better than “we think we have to lower the bar because, well, you suck.”
… I happen to work with an awful lot of people who have been heroically bearing the cross of living faithfully in their irregular marriages for years and who are a testament both to the fact that the current teaching bears real personal and relational fruit AND the fact that heroism is for the average Christian (thank you very much). On their behalf, I can only say, “How dare you.” to anyone, who out of their misguided approach to pastoral practice would seek to demean the witness of such faithful, courageous, godly, and yes, heroic people.
(HT: LMS Chairman)
September 29, 2017 § 47 Comments
These radical traditionalist Vatican II haters are always stirring up trouble. Why can’t they just all shut up and get on the Big Pope Francis Mercy Train?
Here are a few words from one of those ridiculous radtrads who think that endorsing Communion for divorced and remarried people sows confusion about the indissolubility of marriage. What a buffoon! Who does this guy think he is, the Pope or something?
However, the Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried. They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist. Besides this, there is another special pastoral reason: if these people were admitted to the Eucharist, the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the Church’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage.
Reconciliation in the sacrament of Penance which would open the way to the Eucharist, can only be granted to those who, repenting of having broken the sign of the Covenant and of fidelity to Christ, are sincerely ready to undertake a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage. This means, in practice, that when, for serious reasons, such as for example the children’s upbringing, a man and a woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate, they “take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples.”
September 26, 2017 § 174 Comments
… the real question is whether every [sexually active] irregular marriage or cohabiting relationship [objectively] constitutes unrepented adultery or fornication. The Pope thinks not, and I agree with him. […]
The same goes for the idea that some irregular sexual relationships are the best people can do in their current circumstances. Sometimes the answer is yes, …
Wrong: the answer is an unequivocal yes to the first, and an unequivocal no to the second. (I don’t know what the Pope thinks).
It is never morally acceptable to choose intrinsically immoral behaviors. The “best someone can do in their current circumstances” never constitutes choosing an intrinsically immoral behavior, whatever “ticking time bomb” consequences they may perceive to be at stake. Compassion for difficult circumstances never translates into a determination that choosing objectively immoral behavior is “the best we can do”, that is, good.
Furthermore, what must be done in any given situation depends on the circumstances, not all of which can be foreseen; on the other hand there are kinds of behaviour which can never, in any situation, be a proper response — a response which is in conformity with the dignity of the person. Finally, it is always possible that man, as the result of coercion or other circumstances, can be hindered from doing certain good actions; but he can never be hindered from not doing certain actions, especially if he is prepared to die rather than to do evil.
The Church has always taught that one may never choose kinds of behaviour prohibited by the moral commandments expressed in negative form in the Old and New Testaments.
It is never morally acceptable to torture prisoners. It is never morally acceptable to fornicate, commit adultery, or engage in contracepted intercourse. It is never morally acceptable to kill the innocent. It is never morally acceptable to contract for profits on a mutuum loan.
If someone thinks that choosing an intrinsically immoral behaviour – killing some innocent people, for example, even when he is convinced that many more will die from other causes if he chooses not to – is “the best he can do”, he needs to think again. Choosing an evil behaviour is never under any circumstances “the best you can do.”
This is ultimately the same old consequentialist utilitarian nonsense that modernity has been shoveling for centuries, changing up the labels to beg the question on behalf of the Current Year sins the speaker wishes to reframe as virtuous.
A preview of future consequentialism, same as past consequentialism:
From a theoretical viewpoint, development [of a theory of licit sex outside of marriage] was retarded by the concept of normally married conjugal relations, which led to a belief that ever to admit sex outside of wedlock would be to destroy the fornication prohibition itself. …
In the end, as everyone knows, licit sex outside of marriage came to be considered the norm, and fornication the exception …
If that one doesn’t resonate, try this one on for size:
From a theoretical viewpoint, development [of a theory of killing innocents on purpose] was retarded by the concept that killing innocent people is normally murder, which led to a belief that ever to admit choosing to kill innocent people would be to destroy the murder prohibition itself. …
In the end, as everyone knows, licit ‘collateral damage’ from bombing came to be considered the norm, and murder the exception …
Examples can be multiplied by iterating over particular vicious acts someone is attempting to frame as a virtuous act in certain circumstances.
Now it is uncontroversially true that some sins are more objectively grave than others, and that personal culpability varies based on circumstances, pressures, etc. It is also uncontroversially true that some objectively evil choices represent an improvement over other objectively evil choices. A serial killer who has gone from murdering one person a week to murdering only one person a year can be said to be on an objective path of improvement, in a sense. In this same sense it is true that there may be improvements taking place in the life of any unrepentant mortal sinner.
But it doesn’t follow that killing just a few more people is “the best he can do.” The best he can do is repent and make a commitment, with the help of God’s grace and human authorities, to stop choosing immoral behaviors and to do the right thing.
Note: In this post I am addressing the specific cited contentions, not the so-called ‘filial correction’, which I have not read.
May 10, 2017 § 34 Comments
In this post I will argue that usury is worse than adultery in an important sense.
First we need some background.
We distinguish between what we call venial matter and grave matter (mortally sinful kinds of behavior). White lies, for example, are the former. We should never commit any sin (by definition), but for the purposes of this post we will set aside venial sin and consider only grave matter.
Choice of grave matter justly deserves the punishment of Hell. Without Christ’s freely given grace (ordinarily received through participation in the sacraments He instituted), mortal sin brings the judgment of justly deserved eternal condemnation.
Contracepted sex, adultery, sodomy, masturbation, and skipping Mass on Sunday without good reason are all grave matter. (Skipping Mass is grave matter because it involves disobedience of rightful authority in an important matter).
This list is, needless to say, nonexhaustive. And particular instances of other kinds of sins (e.g. theft, lying, usury) may be grave or venial depending on content: stealing a cookie from the cookie jar is probably venial, but stealing an old couples’ life savings is certainly grave matter.
We can consider the relative gravity of kinds of mortal sins under three modes by asking three distinct questions.
1) What are the most grave sins for you?
These are the mortally sinful behaviors which you are most likely to commit. You are most likely to commit mortal sins when you have a strong temptation to them, when the means to do so are easily available, and when you don’t personally intuit (for whatever reason) the moral gravity of the offense. These are the most grave and dangerous sins for you.
2) What are the most grave sins corporately?
This follows a similar pattern but for communities as opposed to individuals. It depends in part upon what kinds of grave sins the community does not, qua community, treat as grave sins. If in a particular community contraception is considered generally acceptable, adultery is not considered acceptable, and many more people contracept than commit adultery, then contraception is a more grave sin than adultery corporately.
3) What are the most grave sins abstractly?
Without disparaging the possibility of addressing this question philosophically, I would suggest that it is rare for people to take an interest in this mode of gravity except as a means of avoiding the discomfort of addressing the other two modes: harlots dancing on the head of a pin, if you will.
Now for the argument:
Gravity in the first mode depends upon the particular person and his circumstances, of course, and so any argument about the relative gravity of sins generally speaking will not apply. It is worth noting though that the gravity of kinds of sins in the individual relation will have significant dependence upon the corporate relation, because man is a social animal with all that implies. (We might think of this as a ‘moral theory of special relativity’).
Gravity in the third mode is of abstract interest, but purely abstract relations between species of sin in a Platonic sense is not the sort of gravity the argument will address. (We might think of this as asking the question ‘what was moral gravity like before the Big Bang?’) The argument is that usury is concretely, as instantiated in our actual present reality, more grave than adultery.
Corporately, in our society in general, there remains some resistance to the idea that adultery is a perfectly normal and acceptable thing. Resistance to the idea that usury is a perfectly normal and acceptable thing is immaterial; in fact even basic comprehension of what usury actually means (and doesn’t mean) is extremely thin on the ground.
There is still a pretty clear understanding, in more orthodox communities, of what adultery actually is and is not; and there remains strong moral disapproval in those communities. The same cannot be said of usury. Even in the most orthodox communities there is confusion over what ‘usury’ actually means, despite the ultimate simplicity of the subject matter and numerous Magisterial statements over the course of millennia. Even in the most orthodox communities there is controversy where there should not be controversy: there is rejection of the Tradition of the Church and the Magisterium (not to mention a lack of financial competence) in favor of an intrinsically uncharitable, modernist, subjective approach to usury.
In short, the most orthodox of communities are not corrupted by confusion and dissent over the grave moral wrong of adultery to the same extent these same communities are corrupted by confusion and dissent over the grave moral wrong of usury.
And an important figure in Christianity once said:
Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam in thy own eye, and then shalt thou see to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.
 The traditional conjecture that different sinners have different experiences of Hell, depending upon their particular sins, may be worth a mention.
 We also have the concept of extraordinary grace, which is our way of acknowledging that, while God has promised to us the efficacy of His sacraments and always keeps His promises, He is not limited to dispensing grace in only this way. However it is also worth noting that the presumption that one will onesself personally receive extraordinary grace is, itself, grave matter.
March 28, 2017 § 38 Comments
Liberalism – making freedom a political priority – is, at bottom, rationally incoherent. But it is easy to see how folks committed to it might come to see having more options – independent of whether those options are or are not of any objective value – as something to be encouraged and pursued. Doctrine abstracted and analyzed in itself is one thing. As an active social force in a population of real people it is another. Under liberalism authority and tradition come to be (selectively) seen as something to be overcome, so the number of available options tends to proliferate in direct proportion to the amoral trivial banality of those options. You can live in any kind of city you want as long as it sports modern architecture, Starbucks, gay pride parades, and its own vibrant Little Somalia.
Against my better judgment I got into a combox back and forth with a commenter on donalgrame about whether modern men have a harder time pursuing the good in marriage and family than modern women: whether women, objectively speaking, have better options available than men when it comes to pursuing the good in sex and marriage. I’ve noted before that modern people can get as much sexual stimulation as they want: what has become increasingly difficult is pursuing the good in sex and marriage, not pursuing ultimately self-destructive and unsatisfactory hedonism.
One of the things that constantly comes up is that, because men and women are different, the kind of immoral sexual stimulation available to women differs from the kind of immoral sexual stimulation available to men. Sure, men can immerse themselves in pornography and masturbation all they want, and can even go to a strip bar or hire a hooker. But the average woman has greater empowerment to fornicate specifically than the average man, because in modern hookup culture 80% of the women are fornicating with 20% of the men.
It follows (!) that men have a harder time pursuing the good in sex and marriage than women.
But at the end of the day, this is like arguing that meth heads have it so much better than heroin addicts. Modernity does indeed produce a marketplace of all sorts of degenerate choices; but anyone who can’t see that making good choices has become harder for everyone is living under a rock.
October 14, 2016 § 21 Comments
If you want to succeed in marrying, having children, and raising a family, you have to be prepared to judge the right time to grab a woman unexpectedly and kiss her without waiting for her explicit consent.
If you want to avoid charges of sexual assault you must never even consider grabbing a woman unexpectedly and kissing her without waiting for her explicit consent.
June 5, 2016 § 34 Comments
Reader GJ uses the term “weaponized ambiguity” in the comments below, as a cognate of what I have called weaponized nihilism and of what others have referred to as the motte-and-bailey strategy. These are of course all forms of the venerable bait and switch, with the psychological feature that the person doing the arguing may be unaware of his equivocation.
Weaponized ambiguity strikes me, not without irony, as a very clarifying term. It captures and clarifies the way in which the execrable hides behind the banal and tautological.
Examples are always helpful.
Feminism is just the acknowledgment that women are people too … when it isn’t instigating mass murder.
Game is a toolbox of techniques which empower a man to be socially dominant … so pay no attention to the fact that the reason you will only learn it from the male equivalent of sluts is that it is the male equivalent of sluttiness.
Usury is charging unjust interest on loans … pay no attention to the fact that usury is any contractual profit at all on mutuum loans, and that even unjust interest charged on non recourse loans is not usury strictly speaking. The main thing we need to do is to avoid moral clarity.
Contraception involves a purely subjective feeling that you want sex but do not want a baby right now. Pay no attention to the minor matter of choosing objectively mutilated sexual behaviors versus abstinence.
And adultery is sex outside of marriage. But of course you can marry whomever or whatever you want whenever you want, and marriage lasts only as long as you want it to last.
Which is how Humanae Vitae becomes Vix Pervenit.