Saturday, October 17, 2015

Mercy in the Face of Divorce

Suppose a man and woman marry in the Church, that is, they receive the sacrament of matrimony. Then ten or so years later, perhaps with kids in the interim, they divorce. A not uncommon scenario. Maybe one or both goes on to meet someone else, date, and enter into another marriage at the courthouse, or maybe not. Let's just stick to them being divorced civilly for now.

When the man and woman receive their divorce papers, what happens to the grace of sacrament? That is, what happens to the divine help that God has provided to each of them and both of them? (Because that is what grace is - a helping hand from God that allows one to do things that otherwise would be humanly difficult or impossible.) Does this grace disappear too? No. It remains there for either or both to take advantage of.

Back to those who remarry civilly. Of course, Church teaching regarding the permanance of marriage still recognizes the first marriage at continuing. This is said to impose a hardship on those who civilly remarry and that in mercy they should receive Holy Communion in order to obtain the graces therefrom.

It is right and good that they should receive grace. They need that grace. Very much. We all need God's help, especially in difficult circumstances.

But those who call for Communion for those who are civilly remarried are forgetting something. No, not the indissolubility of the marital bond. They -- and those who focus on the bond of marriage overlook this too -- they are forgetting the grace of the prior sacrament of matrimony. It is still there. When we speak of indissolubility, included in that is the indissolubility of matrimonial grace. No one can separate us from the love of God.

God offers us his mercy and grace if only we will accept it. He offers us his mercy and grace in a number of ways. Two ways in particular are -- the revealed teaching of the Church and in the sacraments. Church teaching on marriage, family and human sexuality are not a burden, they are not a bunch of harsh rules, they are the Good News of God, they are given us by Christ in his mercy through the Holy Spirit. The sacrament of marriage that is lifelong is not bondage, it is not a chain -- it is itself a mercy and a grace that frees those who receive it.

The problem is that like the other sacraments -- Confirmation being high on the list -- too many people take the gift of those graces and leave it unopened, or they open the gift, use it for a while, and then stick it in the back of the closet, where it sits unused.

The man and the woman who marry in the Church, only to divorce ten years later, ten years after that they still have those graces they received in the sacrament. They each only have to take them out of the closet. And it is there they will find the mercy and help they desire.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Sigh. No. Just no.

One of the most grave threats to the faith and to the well-being of society is a grossly distorted and erroneous understanding of conscience. This highly destructive error was most prominent in the wake of Humanae Vitae, effectively giving license to reject objective moral truth and do whatever you want, but now it has once again reared its ugly and evil head. (See recent confused comments of Archbishop Blase Cupich)

The word "conscience" comes from the Latin "con-scientia," meaning "with knowledge." Knowledge of what? Knowledge of something other than our subjective selves, something that is beyond the self -- it is knowledge of objective and eternal truth, the "anamnesis" of the Creator who exhorts us to love in truth.

Conscience is not the same as one’s opinions or feelings, and one cannot choose or create his own conscience. That is not the conscience, that is the will.

The Nazi leader Hermann Goring proclaimed, "my conscience is Adolf Hitler." Others proclaim, "my conscience is myself." But the foundation of conscience is not man, but God.

Rightly understood, conscience is not the voice of self or the personal will, but is the voice of God within our hearts, our very souls; it is the light of objective moral truth which is given us so that we might make our way in the dark. (See Dominum et Vivificantem, 43) In this, God speaks even to the hearts of atheists and, if they are otherwise of good faith, they can hear Him even if they do not realize that it is His voice speaking to them.

We ourselves are not the light, God is the Light. The task of conscience is not to create moral truth, but to perceive it and then apply it, not ignore it. The judgment of conscience does not establish the law or decide for itself what is right or wrong; rather it bears witness to the authority of the natural law, it is the voice of Truth within the person calling him to act in conformance with truth, to do good and avoid evil. In other words, conscience is a judgment of reason in the application of objective moral truth to a particular case.

In our perception of such moral truth, we are assisted by the Magisterium of the Church, by the Pope and bishops, who are in turn specially guided and protected from error by the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete promised to us by Jesus Christ. Thus, as Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman noted, a properly-formed good conscience cannot be one that is in contradiction with the teachings of the Church.

Prior to the obligation of conscience is the obligation to properly form one's conscience, or more specifically, "an actual conscience, conscience understood as a 'co-knowing' with the truth," in the words of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger in his 1991 talk, Conscience and Truth. If we have a false, improperly-formed conscience, one that is not "with knowledge" of objective truth, but is instead one that is "with ignorance" of objective truth, including knowing contradiction with authoritative Church teaching, including those teachings on human sexuality and marriage, then we cannot assert a right to follow it.

The "obligation" to follow one’s conscience is an obligation to follow a good conscience, one that is "with knowledge" of transcendent objective truth, and not a bad or malformed counterfeit "conscience."

Conscience is meant to accuse one of error in sin, not justify sin, and conscience is most emphatically not a license to delude ourselves to truth so as to justify doing, facilitating, or participating in that which is intrinsically wrong or mala in se (evil in and of itself). One's "subjective conviction and the lack of doubts and scruples which follow therefrom" are not sufficient, explains Cardinal Ratzinger, "it will not do to identify man's conscience with the self-consciousness of the I, with it subjective certainty about itself and its moral behavior," especially in a relativistic age when so many can no longer see moral fault and sin. (see also Evangelium Vitae, 24)

With this connection to transcendent objective moral truth, in all things we have an obligation in conscience, written as law upon our hearts, to do the good and resist evil. (Gaudium et Spes, 16) This obligation to follow a good conscience, properly formed in conformity with the teachings of the Church, does not restrict human freedom, but instead calls the person to genuine freedom in truth, for only in truth will one be set free.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Once Again Before the Tree of Knowledge

Today, we are called to preach the Gospel of Truth, praying that people turn away from the culture of self-delusion and lies that leads to death.

On Friday, June 26, 2015, we were treated to this from on-high:
Obergefell v. Hodges, ___ U.S. ___ (2015).
The Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach, a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow persons, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity. . . .

From their beginning to their most recent page, the annals of human history reveal the transcendent importance of marriage. The lifelong union of a man and a woman always has promised nobility and dignity to all persons, without regard to their station in life. . . . The ancient origins of marriage confirm its centrality, but it has not stood in isolation from developments in law and society. The history of marriage is one of both continuity and change. . . .

Choices about marriage shape an individual’s destiny. As the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts has explained, because “it fulfils yearnings for security, safe haven, and connection that express our common humanity, civil marriage is an esteemed institution, and the decision whether and whom to marry is among life’s momentous acts of self-definition.” Goodridge, 440 Mass., at 322, 798 N. E. 2d, at 955.

The nature of marriage is that, through its enduring bond, two persons together can find other freedoms, such as expression, intimacy, and spirituality. . . . The right to marry thus dignifies couples who “wish to define themselves by their commitment to each other.” . . .

The right to marry is fundamental as a matter of history and tradition, but rights come not from ancient sources alone. They rise, too, from a better informed understanding of how constitutional imperatives define a liberty that remains urgent in our own era.
We've heard this before. It was said in a more concise way a dozen years ago:
Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003).
These matters, involving the most intimate and personal choices a person may make in a lifetime, choices central to personal dignity and autonomy, are central to the liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under compulsion of the State.
But these words were heard even further back -- all the way back to the beginning:

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-8.
The LORD God then took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it. The LORD God gave man this order: "You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and bad. From that tree you shall not eat; the moment you eat from it you are surely doomed to die." * * *

Now the serpent was the most cunning of all the animals that the LORD God had made. The serpent asked the woman, "Did God really tell you not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?"

The woman answered the serpent: "We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; it is only about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, 'You shall not eat it or even touch it, lest you die.'"

But the serpent said to the woman: "You certainly will not die! No, God knows well that the moment you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who know what is good and what is bad."

The woman saw that the tree was good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and ate it; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized that they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.
Once again those words uttered at the dawn of human history have echoed from the bench and through the land. Those who proclaim with unbounded hubris to know better than all of humanity, to have a "better informed understanding," to be greater and wiser than all who have come before, again repeat the lie that one can be like a god, with the freedom, the power, to choose one's own reality, one's own conception of truth and error, of right and wrong.

Do not eat the fruit of the tree being offered you. The judicial fiat proclamation of "same-sex marriage" in Obergefell, like the words of Lawrence before it, is founded on a lie disguised as liberty and equality. In a very real sense, it is that very first lie uttered in the Garden – a corruption, not only of God's gift of creation of man as male and female, complementary of each other in a way that is intrinsically unitive and fruitful, but His gift of free choice. It is the lie whispered by the serpent in Eve's ear, "You can be a god. Eat of this fruit and you yourself can choose what is right and wrong. You can choose your own truth, your own reality. You can decree that what is different is actually the same, you can choose your inherently sterile relationship to be the equal of one that is procreative."

But this so-called “right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life” is completely divorced from transcendent Truth. We are not, we cannot be, gods unto ourselves. Existence is what it is. We have free will, but we cannot choose our own truth, we cannot choose our own reality.

And, as with that first lie, the lie of today that is "same-sex marriage," and gender change, where a man is now a woman and all are supposed to applaud, and abortion, and cloning, and embryonic experimentation, and physician-assisted death for the sick and elderly, as with the first lie, these modern lies have taken and will take an enormous toll.

Nothing Has Changed

The sun still rises in the east. Blue is still blue. Two plus two are still four. And the conjugal union of a man and woman is still the only relationship that is capable as constituting marriage.

Truth does not change. A thing is what it is. Unfortunately, that includes Justice Kennedy being Justice Kennedy.

The question is -- Do you stand for truth? Or do you bend to legal fictions? Will you marvel at the emperor's pretend clothes? Or worse, will you eat the Fruit of the Tree that we are being encouraged to eat?