Thursday, May 25, 2006

Will Holy Days of Obligation Disappear?

I wish we had more Holy Days of Obligation. I honestly can say that I miss Ascension Thursday. Catholicism in the United States has become all too complacent regarding Holy Days of Obligation. And hasn't it become confusing as well? Who can remember really when certain Holy Days are not Holy Days because they fall on certain days of the week? I have to go review the rules when I need to understand for what is considered a Holy Day of Obligation. For those who do not understand, the US Conference of Bishops received approval to abrogate the precept to attend Mass on certainly Holy Days if these solemnities fall on Monday or Saturday: these solemnities are Mary, Mother of God, January 1; the Assumption, August 15; and All Saints Day, November 1. You can review the relevant section of Canon Law regarding this issue here.

It seems that in order to accomodate more people attending certain solemnities, the US bishops thought it was wise to move these days to Sunday so more people could observe these Holy Days. It also seems that we are moving in the direction that more and more of these solemnities will end up on Sundays or with new rules to dispense the obligation of attending. Sunday, the Lord's Day, unfortunately has become the only "holy" day that most Catholics will attend the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. I use "holy" in quotation marks in the previous sentence because I am not sure Sunday is an obvious Holy Day anymore either.

I want to offer a truly strong observation: Day after day Our Lord is neglected and abandoned by people who do not go to daily Mass. You may interject that daily Mass is not a requirement. But by bringing such an objection, you miss the point and show your bias by seeing your faith in the terms of obligations and law. The Holy Faith that we have received from Holy Mother Church is not one to be bound by rules and obligations. Sure, the laws and obligations are important, but they merely serve as a signt posts in the road of faith to help guide us. If you see yourself in this manner, saying I have to go to Church on Sunday because it is one of the Ten Commandments, then the faith which you practice is not a developed one. It is a child's view of the world. A more mature faith would attend to the Lord everyday possible. It should be our desire to go to Mass on Sunday and everyday because we come to participate in the Lord's sacrifice and receive Our Lord in His Most Precious Body and Blood. Should we not seek to adore Our Lord each and every day through this most supreme act of prayer with the WHOLE Church? Making such an effort is a sacrifice. You may have to get up early in the morning. You may have to go after work or during a lunch break to participate in Mass. But is not Our Lord worth it? I mean, we can find time to watch TV or read news or spend time on the internet but it seems Our Lord is a concern for Sunday alone or when we "really" need Him. If we practiced our faith with the devotion that we spend in other areas of our lives, then I think we would have a rich and life-giving faith.

I want to offer a few quotes I found in an old Adoremus Bulletin online. For those who do not know, Adoremus - Society for the Renewal of the Sacred Liturgy, is "an association of Catholics ... to promote authentic reform of the Liturgy of the Roman Rite." You can find their website here. Adoremus Bulletin is their journal which covers the liturgical scene. In the online edition of Vol. IV, No. 8, December 1998/January 1999, the writers of Adoremus summarize the US bishops discussion concerning the transfer of Ascension to Sunday. I want to offer several quotes from bishops who spoke concerning this change. You can read the whole article here which has many more statements from various bishop. Bishop Alfred Hughes (now of New Orleans, but then of Baton Rouge), opposing the transfer said:
...[m]y continuing concern is accommodation to our culture, and the backing away from sacrifice, and the loss of a sense of transcendence. And these are issues that are recurring, and every time we take a step in the direction that's being proposed, it seems to me that we yield a little bit more about our identity in the culture that we want to transform as well as find ourselves incultured into.

I'm aware that the decisions that we've already made about holy days have introduced a lot of confusion in our faithful, and it seems to me that the uneven implementation of this is going to introduce further confusion. So I would rise to speak against this particular proposal.
Bishop Raymond Burke (now of St. Louis, but then of La Crosse) opposed the move as well:
First of all, from a theological and liturgical point of view the Ascension is central to the celebration of the Paschal Mystery, the most sacred time of year in our whole liturgical year. And its placement within the forty days after Easter and ten days before the coming of the Holy Spirit is a key to the whole observance of this time: Our Lord, at His Ascension, instructing His disciples to pray for the new outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and then the observance of that first novena of prayer before the coming of the Spirit.

Practically, this transfer is not dictated by hardship or necessity. It has never been easier for our people to assist at Mass on Sunday or the holy days. [W]e are making the transfer in order to make it more convenient for people to observe the solemnity at the price of losing the sense of sacred time, and the sacrifice which we need to make in order to observe sacred times.

Practically, too, the possibility of the transfer will generate more confusion about the importance of this solemnity, as well as the other holy days of obligation, and with regard to the obligation to participate in the Eucharist on Sunday and on the holy days. With the mobility of our society and the ease of communications, this confusion is inevitable....
These questions and concerns found in these two statements continue to linger in my mind. Have we become too accomodating? Have we lost a sense of sacrifice? Have we lost a sense of transcendence? Have we confused the meaning of Holy Days of Obligations in general? I will leave these questions for you to ponder but you already should have an idea of where I sense we are heading.

Should not our hearts be burning within us in order that we may share the joy of the resurrected Lord and the faith which shapes and gives meaning to our lives? (see Luke 24:32-34)

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Authentic Moral Action

I had been awaiting a complete English translation of this address for sometime now. It is Pope Benedict's address to the members of the Pontifical Biblical Commission which met in Rome in late April 2006. You can find the address here. The address touches on one of the themes to which I have made plenty of my time studying: human action. In this address, Pope Benedict offers a beautiful reflection on the model for "authentic moral action" - Jesus Christ:
He makes his will coincide with the will of God the Father in the acceptance and carrying out of his mission: his food is to do the Father's will (cf. Jn 4: 34). He always does the things that are pleasing to the Father, putting his words into practice (cf. Jn 8: 29-55); he says the things that the Father asked him to say and to proclaim (cf. Jn 12: 49).

In revealing the Father and his way of acting, Jesus at the same time reveals the norms of upright human action. He affirms this connection in an explicit and exemplary way when, in concluding his teaching on loving one's enemies (cf. Mt 5: 43-47), he says: "You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Mt 5: 48).

This divine, divine-human, perfection becomes possible for us if we are closely united with Christ, our Savior.
This perfection is possible in this life. It is not some unattainable ideal as some people want us to believe. We just have to unite ourselves closely with Christ because it is "the incarnate Logos who enables us to share in his divine life and sustains us with his grace on the journey towards our true fulfillment."

Christ, as the Word made flesh, lived out this very life to which God calls us to live. Indeed, Jesus does not simply ask us to follow him, but also through Baptism, Christ "allows us to participate in his own life, thereby enabling us to understanding his teaching and to put into practice." As followers of Christ, initiated into the divine life of God himself, we are invited "to enter into communion of life with him and to accept in faith and joy his 'easy' yoke and his 'light' burden (cf. Mt 11:28-30)." We are not alone in living out our Christian lives but rather we participating in the very life of Christ himself. So our task is to grow ever deeper in union with Christ.

And by uniting ourselves ever more closely to Christ, we can see "what man really is" because Christ, the Word made flesh, illuminates for us who man definitively is.
Consequently, the relationship with Christ defines the loftiest realization of man's moral action. This human action is directly based on obedience to God's law, on union with Christ and on the indwelling of the Spirit in the believer's soul. It is not an action dictated by merely exterior norms, but stems from the vital relationship that connects believers to Christ and to God.
So authentic moral action has two major components. First, the action must be in obedience to God's law. We must never act in disobedience to God's law. But the external obedience to God's law is not enough. Second, the action must be based upon our union with Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. So it is with grace and the participation in the life of Christ, and our openness to God's will that we find ourselves as authentic moral actors, living a life towards our true and fulfilling destiny in the fullness of God himself.

AIDS Prevention Strategies

For those not familiar with the website TheFactIs.Org, I highly recommend it for some great articles on social issues. An article posted on Monday, entitled "AIDS at 25: The Current Strategy Has Failed" by Dale O'Leary contains some powerful insights into the current strategies for dealing with AIDS. O'Leary argues that the current strategy of prevention for combating AIDS has failed because, regardless of the amount of millions of dollars put into education and condoms, "the number of persons living with AIDS has increased dramatically...." O'Leary points out that it is rather easy to avoid HIV infection:
A person who is chaste before marriage, faithful in marriage and married to someone who is also faithful, who receives high quality medical care, and who doesn't inject illegal drugs as virtually zero chance of becoming HIV positive. (emphasis added)
Chastity before and during marriage provides a solid method for the prevention of HIV infection. "If prevention is so easy," O'Leary asks, "why is the epidemic continuing unabated?" The following response to the question shows the unfortunate political nature of the public strategy for dealing with the prevention of HIV infection. O' Leary writes:
Because a coalition of AIDS patients and activists set up an AIDS establishment which vetoed every tested public health strategy for controlling a sexually transmitted disease. Don't tell people not to engage in promiscuity, prostitution, and injected drug use, they insisted, just tell them to be responsible and use safe sex. This hasn't worked because people who engage in "multi-partnering," employ "sex workers," and have "substance abuse" problems are by definition not responsible. The research shows there is a clear connection between irresponsible sexual behaviors and alcohol and drug abuse. Twenty-five years of experience has proven that no matter how much safe sex education the irresponsible receive they will not use a condom every time. And therefore the epidemic will continue. (emphasis added)
The strategy of the prevention of spreading AIDS through the propagation of safe-sex education has failed. People who engage in risky sexual or drug use behavior cannot be considered to ever be responsible. Isn't it ironic that these teachers of safe-sex are preaching to deaf ears? How we help people take on responsibility, that is something I am not prepared to argue at this point.

So what should we do to prevent the spreading of AIDS? First, O'Leary says that we have to get away from the AIDS establishment controlling the public policy in this area. Second O'Leary suggests that we have to implement, what I view as a pretty aggressive strategy for targeting the spread of AIDS. O'Leary suggests the following methods which "were suggested and rejected at the beginning of the epidemic":
1) mandatory testing of at risk populations, people seeking health care, those applying for health insurance or Medicaid, everyone under arrest, and pregnant women; 2) contact tracing and partner notification; 3) cracking down on the statutory rape of young women and sexual child abuse; 4) making knowingly infecting another person a crime; 5) abstinence education.
I am not sure if I agree with all of these suggestions. I have not given it much thought to be honest about how best to combat the spreading of AIDS. Would aggresive forms of testing to the groups mentioned above really make a difference in the prevention of AIDS? Surely it will make some of them more aware and help some stop the spreading of AIDS. I am not sure it will change people's behavior in the long run because as O'Leary notes the AIDS establishment has aggrestively sought to protect and promote sexual liberation over the goal of preventing new infections. As long as sexual liberation and sexual pleasure are the foci of people, no amount of aggresive testing will change things because it comes down to the responsibility issue. How do we imbue sexual behavior with a sense of responsibility. For Catholics, it is pretty easy. You turn to the Church and its' guidance which points to marriage as the ONLY and PROPER place for sexual activity. But for those who do not hold such a view, how do we provide those people with a framework in which to understand chastity outside of marriage and chastity within marriage? I do not have any answers here either.

Regardless of the many questions that exist on such an issue, it is important to see an examination of AIDS prevention strategies and where improvement can be made, and O'Leary certainly is to be commended for taking on the current "safe sex" prevention strategy and showing what a sham it really is.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Marriage and the Family

In a speech given to the John Paul II Institute conference entitled "The Legacy of John Paul II on Marriage and the Family: to Love Human Love," Pope Benedict draws upon the vast source of teaching from John Paul II and illuminates, in very short form, several appropriate points. By the way, you can find the whole address here.

Pope Benedict alludes to Karol Wojtyla's (John Paul II) early days as a priest and bishop and the idea to "teach to love" which guided him through the difficult times after the publication of Paul VI's encyclical Humanae vitae, which, not coincidentally, Pope Benedict calls "prophetic and always timely (profetica e sempre attuale)."

This idea to "teach to love" undergirded John Paul II's "Catechisis on Human Love," found in the Wednesday audiences that spaned several years. Found in these catecheses are two fundamental elements (one of which I will discuss) to which, Pope Benedict notes, the John Paul II institute has reflected and developed over the past twenty-five years:
The first element is that marriage and the family are rooted in the innermost core of the truth about man and his destiny. Sacred Scripture reveals that the vocation to love is part of that authentic image of God that the Creator willed to imprint in his creature, calling man to become similar to him precisely in the measure in which man is open to love. The sexual difference entailed in the body of man and woman is not, therefore, a simple biological fact, but bears a much more profound meaning: It expresses that way of love with which man and woman become only one flesh; they can realize an authentic communion of persons open to the transmission of life and cooperate in this way with God in the procreation of new human beings.
One could spend a lifetime writing and developing those ideas contained in the first two sentences of that paragraph. Pope Benedict first calls attention to marriage and family being founded upon the truth about the human person and his calling towards God. The Church's teaching on marriage and family are not founded upon a false notion of patriarchy or out-dated idea concerning how to live but rather about the very nature and truth concerning who we are and how best to find happiness in this life and the next. Pope Benedict indictates the core of this understanding is from Sacred Scripture in light of man's call to love as being an "authentic image of God." And through love, we can become more and more closely united to God himself. Secondly and seemingly almost out of place, Pope Benedict refers to the sexual difference of man and woman not as simply biological but as expressive of the way of love between man and woman as "one flesh." The allusion to sexual difference is important because one of the insights drawn from the Theology of the Body is the complementarity that exists between man and woman because they are meant for each other. Contained in this "one flesh" of man and woman is the sacred reflection of Christ's relationship to his Church. This sacred reflection of Christ and the Church should help us gain insights into the importance of the total giving of self needed within the "one flesh" unity of man and woman in marriage. Because in this total giving of self in the conjugal act, man and woman are an "authentic communion of persons" which is open to new life and to the cooperation of God in procreation.

More could be said about this one paragraph but I will end my reflections for now. I may return again to this speech because it contains many such gems.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Continual Pushing of Abortion

The following headline caught my attention this morning: "OB-GYNs urge women to get morning-after pill in advance. Unwanted pregnancies targeted, but confusion reigns." You can find the article here (registration may be required to access it).

"The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists kicked off a campaign this week to prevent unwanted pregnancies by encouraging women to get prescriptions for emergency contraception. But physicans face considerable challenges in getting women to keep the morning-after pill in the medicine cabinet. Some women have never heard of it; others confuse it with the abortion pill. And some fear that keeping it on hand would make them seem promiscuous. Others worry that, if too readily available, it could be used as routine contraception. Last year, officials with the Food and Drug Administration - despite recommendations from agency scientists - postponed a decision to make the drug available over the counter, citing concerns that it might encourage teen sex.... The morning-after pill, trade name 'Plan B,' is a high dosage of the hormones in regular birth control pills. If administered within 72 hours of intercourse, it can stop the release of the egg, prevent fertilization or prevent implantation of the egg in the womb. It has no effect if a woman is already pregnant."

First, I want to clear up a major misconception contained already in the article. The Plan B pill is not just contraceptive, but rather it is also an abortifacient. Plan B works in three possible ways: 1) it inhibits ovulation, or 2) it delays ovulation, or 3) it prohibits the implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterine wall. The first two ways are contraceptive methods, but the third way is an abortive method, a chemical abortion. No matter how much these doctors attempt to couch the language of the usage of the pill as a contraceptive or an interceptor of fertilization, Plan B can and does act in as an abortifacient under the right circumstances. The egg prevented from implantation is not just an egg, but a fertilized egg. The fertilized egg is not the same egg it was before fertilization because of the combination of the sperm and egg now have formed something new. It is sad that this group of doctors is trying to misinform women concerning the full effects of this drug on their bodies and the new life that could be killed.

Apparently, this group of OB-GYNs is starting an educational campaign called "Ask me" which is "the response of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists to the FDA's refusal to make the drug available over the counter." One doctor is quoted as saying that the campaign is aimed at "anybody who may need emergency contraception, which is everybody that does not want to become pregnant for whatever reason." This educational campaign includes "'Ask me' buttons for physicians to wear to encourage patients to inquire about the drug, and posters that read 'Accidents Happen. Morning afters can be tough.'"

It sickens me to think that that these doctor are pushing this drug; how about those posters, "accidents happen"? Was the accident that I forgot to get my partner to use a condom? or I forgot to take my birth control pills? or the condom broke? Or getting pregnant is an accident? I didn't think sexual intercourse was a mystery to people who engage in it. I mean, doesn't everybody past the age of 12 know the consequences of what happens when a man and woman have sexual intercourse? A group of doctors who are spend their medical profession taking care of women (and who deliver babies!!) want to push women to take Plan B. These doctors are suppose to care for these women, and this is the care given. I think the poster contains a great irony: "Morning afters can be tough"! Possible side effects of Plan B (courtesy of the American Life League site - see below for more details):
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • infertility
  • breast tenderness
  • ectopic pregnancy (can be life threatening)
  • blood clot formation
And, let us not forget that emergency contraception offers absolutely NO protection against sexually transmitted diseases. Who knew that the morning after pill could be that tough? What reasonable person would subject themselves to such possible side-effects? Of course, desperate women who find themselves in the situation of possibly being pregnant would subject themselves to Plan B.

The medical profession seems incapable of pushing responsibility (think abstinence here, it's safe, easy, free, and the best contraceptive available, with no harmful side-effects); instead, medicine has become a commercialized industry of solving people's "medical problems" (problems that were never considered to be medical in the proper sense) and fulfilling the desires of people to do what they want, when they want, and how they want it. Our culture has fallen so far from God in these areas. Our culture has submitted itself to the control of man through technology and its advances. At times, I am afraid of where things will go, especially in regards to the relation of law and medicine. Who knows how soon it will be when the government starts meddling even deeper into these areas of medicine?

For further reading regarding this topic, please check the following links:

the Morning After Pill by the American Life League
Comments on FDA Proposal to Change EC from Prescription to Over-the Counter by the USCCB Office of the General Counsel
Statement on the So-Called Morning-After Pill by the Pontifical Academy for Life

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

One wonders what St. Dominic and St. Thomas think of teaching like this....

Below, I have excerpted a passage from a prepared talk given by the former master general of the Dominican Order, Fr. Timothy Radcliffe at the L.A. Religious Education Congress. You can find the whole text here.

First, a preface to clarify a few terms he uses (these quotes are from his address): 1) "By Communion Catholics I mean those who came, after the council, to feel the urgent need to rebuild the inner life of the church. They went with theologians like Hans von Balthasar and the then Joseph Ratzinger. Their theology often stressed Catholic identity, was wary of too hearty an embrace of modernity, and they stressed the cross. They had their publication. It was called Communio;" 2) "By Kingdom Catholics, I mean those of us who have a deep sense of the church as the pilgrim people of God, on the way to the kingdom. The theologians who have been central for this tradition have been people like the Jesuit Karl Rahner, and the Dominicans Edward Schillebeeckx and Gustavo GutiƩrrez. This tradition stresses openness to the world, finding the presence of the Holy Spirit working outside the church, freedom and the pursuit of justice. They became very much identified with a publication called Concilium."

On the topic of sexual ethics, Radcliffe writes, "The church faces something of a crisis in sexual ethics. We propose a beautiful ideal, of sexual intercourse within the context of a lifelong commitment to a person of the other sex, open to the reproduction of children. And yet this ideal is hardly understood, let alone practiced, by most people within our society. A large percentage of people are either divorced and remarried, or living with partners, or practicing contraception or in same-sex relationships. The percentages, at least in Britain, are not much different for Catholics. So there is a chasm between the church’s teaching about sexual behavior and what Catholics live."

You got that? The Church's teaching is an ideal. And many people ignore the Church's teaching anyway. So, shouldn't the Church's teaching be discarded since nobody is following it? Certainly a very good "Dominican" argument. St. Thomas would be proud.

Radcliffe continues, "One reaction to this, often that of Communion Catholics, is to insist on the teaching. This has been the teaching of the church through the centuries, and it would be dishonest to surrender it or to compromise with a corrupt society. If our teaching is true, then we must stand by it, even if it offends people. Many Kingdom Catholics will feel unhappy about this. Millions of decent Catholics will find themselves pushed to the edge of the community because they are in what are called 'irregular situations.' This may be by chance, or weakness or a genuine disagreement with the church’s teaching. It is for people like this that Christ came, and how can we act in any way that makes them feel less than fully welcome?"

When has the Church ever insisted that the teaching should be maintained because it is the teaching of the Church. I have never heard of such a circular argument ever given by the Church. But if the Church insists on its' teachings, then people who do not follow the Church's teaching are marginalized. Did not Christ come for them? Not to repeat things I have already posted, but let us turn back to what John Paul II says concerning the idealized Church teaching and the marginalization of Churchgoers. "Only in the mystery of Christ's Redemption do we discover the "concrete" possibilities of man. 'It would be a very serious error to conclude... that the Church's teaching is essentially only an "ideal" which must then be adapted, proportioned, graduated to the so-called concrete possibilities of man, according to a "balancing of the goods in question". But what are the "concrete possibilities of man"? And of which man are we speaking? Of man dominated by lust or of man redeemed by Christ? This is what is at stake: the reality of Christ's redemption. Christ has redeemed us! This means that he has given us the possibility of realizing the entire truth of our being; he has set our freedom free from the domination of concupiscence. And if redeemed man still sins, this is not due to an imperfection of Christ's redemptive act, but to man's will not to avail himself of the grace which flows from that act. God's command is of course proportioned to man's capabilities; but to the capabilities of the man to whom the Holy Spirit has been given; of the man who, though he has fallen into sin, can always obtain pardon and enjoy the presence of the Holy Spirit.'" John Paul II notes that Christ has freed us from the domination of concupiscence and has given us what we need to be able to realize the "truth" of our being. So we have a choice. We can either be dominated by lust - which seems to be Radcliffe's scenario or we can be redeemed by Christ, which would be the Church's teaching. Which do you prefer? A slave to sin? or freedom in Christ?

Finally, Radcliffe says, "This is a real dilemma. Often what happens is that the church’s official teaching is proclaimed, but we look the other way and let it be known that everyone is welcome. We call this “the pastoral solution,” but it can look simply dishonest. Should we firmly proclaim the traditional sexual ethics and risk distancing people from Christ? Or should we be more accommodating, with the risk of just surrendering a moral vision?"

You follow Radcliffe? It is the Church and its outdated teaching which keeps people from Christ instead of sin! Radcliffe says we should make accomodations and do away with the idealized moral vision of the Church's teaching. Who needs it! So ultimately, the Church should remove the notion of sin, it would seem, and more people would embrace Christ and the Church????
Why bother with Christ then if we are free to do what we want? Once you have removed the evil that man can perpetuate through his own freedom and actions, then you remove why Christ came in the first place. The power of the Cross has been emptied.

Radcliffe says more one more jewel to adorn crown of accomodation, but my blood pressure needs to calm down. I will end on a far positive note. It is the concluding paragraph section of Veritatis Splendor:

"In the heart of every Christian, in the inmost depths of each person, there is always an echo of the question which the young man in the Gospel once asked Jesus: "Teacher, what good must I do to have eternal life?" (Mt 19:16). Everyone, however, needs to address this question to the "Good Teacher", since he is the only one who can answer in the fullness of truth, in all situations, in the most varied of circumstances. And when Christians ask him the question which rises from their conscience, the Lord replies in the words of the New Covenant which have been entrusted to his Church. As the Apostle Paul said of himself, we have been sent "to preach the Gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, lest the Cross of Christ be emptied of its power" (1 Cor 1:17). The Church's answer to man's question contains the wisdom and power of Christ Crucified, the Truth which gives of itself.

When people ask the Church the questions raised by their consciences, when the faithful in the Church turn to their Bishops and Pastors, the Church's reply contains the voice of Jesus Christ, the voice of the truth about good and evil. In the words spoken by the Church there resounds, in people's inmost being, the voice of God who "alone is good" (cf. Mt 19:17), who alone "is love" (1 Jn 4:8, 16).

"Through the anointing of the Spirit this gentle but challenging word becomes light and life for man. Again the Apostle Paul invites us to have confidence, because "our competence is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not in a written code but in the Spirit... The Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit" (2 Cor 3:5-6, 17-18)."

Monday, May 01, 2006

More Responses to Choosing the Lesser Evil

Just this morning, I came across again these powerful passages in John Paul II's Veritatis Splendor, paragraph #102-105 regarding the difficult situations in morality and our need to choose the truth with the help of God's grace, and that no commandment is too burdensome with God's help. I have added emphasis to certain passages, which make the points that need to be made in such arguments against the choosing of lesser evil. Since I am in the middle of doing some work, I won't offer more reflections of my own at this point; maybe later. I encourage you to read these sections if you haven't, and if you have read Veritatis Splendor, please take a moment to re-read these sections. You can find the whole encyclical here.


102. Even in the most difficult situations man must respect the norm of morality so that he can be obedient to God's holy commandment and consistent with his own dignity as a person. Certainly, maintaining a harmony between freedom and truth occasionally demands uncommon sacrifices, and must be won at a high price: it can even involve martyrdom. But, as universal and daily experience demonstrates, man is tempted to break that harmony: "I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate... I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want" (Rom 7:15, 19).

What is the ultimate source of this inner division of man? His history of sin begins when he no longer acknowledges the Lord as his Creator and himself wishes to be the one who determines, with complete independence, what is good and what is evil. "You will be like God, knowing good and evil" (Gen 3:5): this was the first temptation, and it is echoed in all the other temptations to which man is more easily inclined to yield as a result of the original Fall.

But temptations can be overcome, sins can be avoided, because together with the commandments the Lord gives us the possibility of keeping them: "His eyes are on those who fear him, and he knows every deed of man. He has not commanded any one to be ungodly, and he has not given any one permission to sin" (Sir 15:19-20). Keeping God's law in particular situations can be difficult, extremely difficult, but it is never impossible. This is the constant teaching of the Church's tradition, and was expressed by the Council of Trent: "But no one, however much justified, ought to consider himself exempt from the observance of the commandments, nor should he employ that rash statement, forbidden by the Fathers under anathema, that the commandments of God are impossible of observance by one who is justified. For God does not command the impossible, but in commanding he admonishes you to do what you can and to pray for what you cannot, and he gives his aid to enable you. His commandments are not burdensome (cf. 1 Jn 5:3); his yoke is easy and his burden light (cf. Mt 11:30)."

103. Man always has before him the spiritual horizon of hope, thanks to the help of divine grace and with the cooperation of human freedom.

It is in the saving Cross of Jesus, in the gift of the Holy Spirit, in the Sacraments which flow forth from the pierced side of the Redeemer (cf. Jn 19:34), that believers find the grace and the strength always to keep God's holy law, even amid the gravest of hardships. As Saint Andrew of Crete observes, the law itself "was enlivened by grace and made to serve it in a harmonious and fruitful combination. Each element preserved its characteristics without change or confusion. In a divine manner, he turned what could be burdensome and tyrannical into what is easy to bear and a source of freedom".

Only in the mystery of Christ's Redemption do we discover the "concrete" possibilities of man. "It would be a very serious error to conclude... that the Church's teaching is essentially only an "ideal" which must then be adapted, proportioned, graduated to the so-called concrete possibilities of man, according to a "balancing of the goods in question". But what are the "concrete possibilities of man" ? And of which man are we speaking? Of man dominated by lust or of man redeemed by Christ? This is what is at stake: the reality of Christ's redemption. Christ has redeemed us! This means that he has given us the possibility of realizing the entire truth of our being; he has set our freedom free from the domination of concupiscence. And if redeemed man still sins, this is not due to an imperfection of Christ's redemptive act, but to man's will not to avail himself of the grace which flows from that act. God's command is of course proportioned to man's capabilities; but to the capabilities of the man to whom the Holy Spirit has been given; of the man who, though he has fallen into sin, can always obtain pardon and enjoy the presence of the Holy Spirit".

104. In this context, appropriate allowance is made both for God's mercy towards the sinner who converts and for the understanding of human weakness. Such understanding never means compromising and falsifying the standard of good and evil in order to adapt it to particular circumstances. It is quite human for the sinner to acknowledge his weakness and to ask mercy for his failings; what is unacceptable is the attitude of one who makes his own weakness the criterion of the truth about the good, so that he can feel self-justified, without even the need to have recourse to God and his mercy. An attitude of this sort corrupts the morality of society as a whole, since it encourages doubt about the objectivity of the moral law in general and a rejection of the absoluteness of moral prohibitions regarding specific human acts, and it ends up by confusing all judgments about values.

Instead, we should take to heart the message of the Gospel parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (cf. Lk 18:9-14). The tax collector might possibly have had some justification for the sins he committed, such as to diminish his responsibility. But his prayer does not dwell on such justifications, but rather on his own unworthiness before God's infinite holiness: "God, be merciful to me a sinner! " (Lk 18:13). The Pharisee, on the other hand, is self-justified, finding some excuse for each of his failings. Here we encounter two different attitudes of the moral conscience of man in every age. The tax collector represents a "repentant" conscience, fully aware of the frailty of its own nature and seeing in its own failings, whatever their subjective justifications, a confirmation of its need for redemption. The Pharisee represents a "self-satisfied" conscience, under the illusion that it is able to observe the law without the help of grace and convinced that it does not need mercy.

105. All people must take great care not to allow themselves to be tainted by the attitude of the Pharisee, which would seek to eliminate awareness of one's own limits and of one's own sin. In our own day this attitude is expressed particularly in the attempt to adapt the moral norm to one's own capacities and personal interests, and even in the rejection of the very idea of a norm. Accepting, on the other hand, the "disproportion" between the law and human ability (that is, the capacity of the moral forces of man left to himself) kindles the desire for grace and prepares one to receive it. "Who will deliver me from this body of death?" asks the Apostle Paul. And in an outburst of joy and gratitude he replies: "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! " (Rom 7:24-25).

We find the same awareness in the following prayer of Saint Ambrose of Milan: "What then is man, if you do not visit him? Remember, Lord, that you have made me as one who is weak, that you formed me from dust. How can I stand, if you do not constantly look upon me, to strengthen this clay, so that my strength may proceed from your face? When you hide your face, all grows weak (Ps 104:29): if you turn to look at me, woe is me! You have nothing to see in me but the stain of my crimes; there is no gain either in being abandoned or in being seen, because when we are seen, we offend you. Still, we can imagine that God does not reject those he sees, because he purifies those upon whom he gazes. Before him burns a fire capable of consuming our guilt (cf. Joel 2:3)".