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.