Dear Parishioners, +JMJ
For this bulletin letter, I will give you another excerpt from my Baltimore Thomistic conference on “Becoming a Better Confessor”. The keynote address of the whole conference was given the first night by Father Romano Caesarius, O.P. Father Caesarius is another one of those famous Dominicans of our time. A couple of his books served as morality texts for us in seminary. His talk was entitled, “Charity, Mortal Sin and the Spiritual Life”. Rather than try to piece together a seamless address, here are some of the main points I wrote down:
-Fr. Caesarius began by referring to Pope Benedict XVI’s 2007 encyclical, Spe salvi (par. 45): With death, our life-choice becomes definitive—our life stands before the judge. Our choice, which in the course of an entire life takes on a certain shape, can have a variety of forms. There can be people who have totally destroyed their desire for truth and readiness to love, people for whom everything has become a lie, people who have lived for hatred and have suppressed all love within themselves. This is a terrifying thought, but alarming profiles of this type can be seen in certain figures of our own history. In such people all would be beyond remedy and the destruction of good would be irrevocable: this is what we mean by the word Hell. On the other hand there can be people who are utterly pure, completely permeated by God, and thus fully open to their neighbours—people for whom communion with God even now gives direction to their entire being and whose journey towards God only brings to fulfilment what they already are.
-Whereas the pope write of peoples lives leading them to heaven or to hell, there is a general sense in society today that everybody will end up in heaven: “A happy inclusivism dominates today’s culture.” Catholics who give into this “happy inclusivism”, no longer believing they should try to bring people to Jesus Christ, “are left without a spring in their spiritual step”. [Why should they try to live a holy life, rather than a bad one?]
-The Church still speaks about mortal sin, that act by which a man rejects God and aims his own being towards the creature (conversio ad creaturam). Pope Saint John Paul II’s encyclical, Veritatis splendor (par. 70), on the moral life, explains mortal sin in this way.
-In the United States, the years 1968-1993 were a crazy period for living and teaching the moral life. Cardinal Charles Journet in 1958 suggested that society was getting so bad that there were actually parts of culture that the teaching of the Church could not penetrate. The Cardinal was speaking about the culture outside the Church, but unfortunately today his statement even applies to some people within the Church. Some Catholics have given themselves so much to the ways of the world that one has to question how much grace some of them even receive through the sacraments. [Lack of faith, and sinfulness, inhibit the reception of grace that is objectively present in a sacrament for the soul otherwise well disposed.]
-St. Thomas Aquinas taught that one way you can tell if you are living the life of grace is that you take delight in God and are displeased with those things that displease God.
-Priests rationalize giving Holy Communion to everybody, not wanting to upset people who really should not be receiving Communion. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (par. 1385) teaches that anyone conscious of grave sin should not approach for Holy Communion. [Note that Fr. Caesarius is referring here to something that would be very publicly known about a person, such as a Catholic politician who is pro-abortion. A priest cannot otherwise determine who ought to be refraining from the Eucharist.]
-Pope Saint John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis splendor, on the moral life (par. 63) reads, “It is always from the truth that the dignity of conscience derives.” There is a “moral teleology”; i.e., the moral life is all about the human person objectively designed to find his/her goal in God’s presence ultimately. That is the end for which the human person is made. The full and accurate use of one’s conscience is determined by the extent to which the conscience adheres to this goal. A mistaken or wicked conscience does not change the nature of the human person, or the nature of objectively evil acts. [Although there is a type of ignorance that reduces culpability.]
-There are even some Church leaders who suggests that sexual acts contrary to God’s design are now acceptable. “It is not true that the sins of impurity have now found a place in the Divine.”
-St. Thomas Aquinas said it is the gravest sin to approach the Eucharist in a state of mortal sin. He said this is equivalent to Judas kissing Jesus under the guise of friendship.
-We should ask what Divine friendship entails. This is a fresh approach to morality. Veritatis splendor (par. 1) addresses the way original sin and actual sin can greatly weaken man’s ability to seek the truth and live by it. “But no darkness of error or of sin can totally take away from man the light of God the Creator.” Here is a “vocational teleology”; i.e., there is always the call of God happening in the deepest part of the human person.… a call to friendship with God. This is always the person’s highest goal. Catholics must love what Christ loves.
-Remember classics, such as This Tremendous Lover, by Fr. Eugene Boylan, taking up the theme of Christ as our Divine Friend.
-In the last century, or more, we have tried to analyze mortal sin in terms of whether the person had full knowledge and full freedom regarding a gravely evil act. It is so much more hopeful to approach things from the perspective of virtue training. Every act moves a person along the path of virtue, or along the path of vice. Every act increases a person’s communion with the Lord, or decreases it. No wonder that eventually sinners stop coming to Mass. Vices of impurity eventually harden into something ugly, not beautiful. Consider the transformation of the human person that occurs because of sinful acts or good acts.
-For today’s world we need to think of morality in terms of the virtues, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the Beatitudes. These all have to do with the formation of the character of the human person in the likeness of God, in His Friendship.
So there are the main points I noted from Fr. Caesarius’ talk. I hope something here resonates helpfully for you, as you consider your own understanding of the moral life. I certainly recommend to all of you Pope Saint John Paul II’s Veritatis splendor, his encyclical on the moral life. It is amazing.
Have a blessed week!
In cordibus Iesu et Mariae,