Catholic morality

SAINT JOHN PAUL II WARNED THAT AN AMORIS LAETITIA-LIKE ARGUMENT WOULD CONSTITUTE A SERIOUS ERROR

“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.” (Pope John Paul II, VS 104)

Amoris Laetitia, no. 303, contains a very controversial statement made by Pope Francis. It reads, in pertinent part:

“Yet conscience can do more than recognize that a given situation does not correspond objectively to the overall demands of the Gospel. It can also recognize with sincerity and honesty what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God, and come to see with a certain moral security that it is what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits, while yet not fully the objective ideal. In any event, let us recall that this discernment is dynamic; it must remain ever open to new stages of growth and to new decisions which can enable the ideal to be more fully realized.”

In his great encyclical on Catholic morality, Veritatis Splendor, Saint Pope John Paul II specifically foresaw and rejected the type of argument put forth in Amoris Laetia (303) quoted above. He stated very clearly that

“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.” (VS 103) 

Still further, Saint John Paul II stated:

“circumstances or intentions can never transform an act intrinsically evil by virtue of its object into an act “subjectively” good or defensible as a choice.” (VS 81)

Pope John Paul II explained in Veritatis Splendor the clear Catholic teaching that an intrinsically evil act cannot be creatively transformed into something willed by God under concrete circumstances (the suggestion put forth in AL 303 and 301).

“The negative moral precepts, those prohibiting certain concrete actions or kinds of behavior as intrinsically evil, do not allow for any legitimate exception. They do not leave room, in any morally acceptable way, for the “creativity” of any contrary determination whatsoever.” (Veritatis Splendor 67)

“The negative precepts of the natural law are universally valid. They oblige each and every individual, always and in every circumstance. It is a matter of prohibitions which forbid a given action semper et pro semper, without exception.” (VS 52)

By trying to claim that an intrinsically evil act like adultery, fornication or other “irregular union” may be the most generous response a person can give to God at a certain moment in his life, Pope Francis has strayed far from the firm and authentic foundations of Catholic morality. Pope John Paul II had already warned that such an argument is clearly erroneous.

CONCLUSION: In light of the above discussion, Amoris Laetitia is on very shaky ground. To repeat Saint John Paul II’s own words: “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.” (VS 103).

Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A., J.D.

References: I am relying largely on the following three internet articles which are available on-line. 1. Amoris Laetitia and John Paul II by John Kusch (containing some of the important VS quotations I have used); 2. Is Amoris Laetitia really Thomistic and against “decadent scholasticism”? Let’s hear what the Angelic Doctor says! by Luisella Scrosati; and 3. Is ‘Amoris Laetitia’ Really Thomistic? by Edward Pentin.

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THE GOSPEL CANNOT BE PREACHED AS IF MORAL TRANSFORMATION IS OPTIONAL

 

“And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” (Matthew 5:30)  

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification….” (1 Thes. 4:3)

The moral imperative of the Gospel is not optional; it is fundamental. In the preaching of Jesus conversion leads to a break with sin – as in Zacchaeus’ professed act of repentance and promised restitution, as in Jesus instructing the woman caught in adultery to sin no more, as in Jesus directly confronting the woman at the well about her immoral relationship. I have been reading Scripture for a long time now: who would dare to deny its urgent message to break with sin! Jesus says, “If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell” (Matthew 5:29). We are not allowed to invent a play Gospel where we become comfortable with sin. “Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of the Church.” Jesus preached about sin as a very serious matter, and so have all the Catholic Saints.

Morality is not a consolation prize in the Catholic Church…a sort of additional benefit you get if you want to apply for it. No, Catholic morality is the very heart and soul of the Gospel, indeed, it is the very joy of the Gospel. The Gospel is a profound call to repent, to break with sin, to accept new life in Christ.

In the preaching of Jesus the critical importance of morality is emphasized from the beginning of his ministry. Jesus may very well have met people “where they are,” in some sense of that phrase, but only to point them in the direction of living profoundly by the moral Gospel. Thus, in his famous Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7), preached at the commencement of his ministry, Jesus lays out a “manifesto” which is “a compendium of the moral code of Christianity” (Catholic Bible Dictionary, page 828). “He teaches on anger, adultery, marriage and divorce, oaths, retaliation, love for enemies, and alms-giving” (Id at 828). The fundamental importance of the moral life is firmly established – sometimes very dramatically –  in the preaching of Jesus. The beatitudes themselves represent the very highest moral perfection attainable in this life.

The Gospel is a call to holiness which will ultimately result in your complete and utter sanctification in Heaven. Therefore, there is no Gospel without the moral Gospel. To preach the Gospel is to preach holiness of life in imitation of Jesus and the Saints. To peach the Gospel is to preach a break with sin and a new life of grace in Christ. To preach the Gospel is to lead sinners to repentance. When we first hear someone preaching the Gospel, what do we hear: “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1: 2-4).

The modern tendency to preach the Gospel without reference to its moral demands will only lead to an “obscuring of the moral sense” (Saint Pope John Paul II,Veritatis Splendor, 106). Saint John Paul II teaches us that the “New Evangelization” must include the presentation of the moral Gospel. The Pope stated:

“Evangelization — and therefore the “new evangelization” — also involves the proclamation and presentation of morality. Jesus himself, even as he preached the Kingdom of God and its saving love, called people to faith and conversion (cf. Mk1:15). And when Peter, with the other Apostles, proclaimed the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead, he held out a new life to be lived, a “way” to be followed, for those who would be disciples of the Risen One (cf. Acts 2:37-41; 3:17-20). Just as it does in proclaiming the truths of faith, and even more so in presenting the foundations and content of Christian morality, the new evangelization will show its authenticity and unleash all its missionary force when it is carried out through the gift not only of the word proclaimed but also of the word lived. In particular,the life of holiness which is resplendent in so many members of the People of God, humble and often unseen, constitutes the simplest and most attractive way to perceive at once the beauty of truth, the liberating force of God’s love, and the value of unconditional fidelity to all the demands of the Lord’s law, even in the most difficult situations. For this reason, the Church, as a wise teacher of morality, has always invited believers to seek and to find in the Saints, and above all in the Virgin Mother of God “full of grace” and “all-holy”, the model, the strength and the joy needed to live a life in accordance with God’s commandments and the Beatitudes of the Gospel.” (Veritatis Splendor, 107)

 Saint John Paul II also reminded us that God’s Mercy is given to us to forgive, not justify, sin.

“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.” (Veritatis Splendor, 104).

Our children deserve to hear the full Gospel – that is to say they deserve to hear the Gospel preached without neutering its moral imperative. There is no Gospel without the moral Gospel because Jesus came to save us from sin.

“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners….” (1 Timothy 1:15).

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

Note: The panoply of virtues and gifts given to us in baptism, which flow from sanctifying grace, are supernatural strengths with which to lead a moral life.

Reference: I had a Professor who once said: “There is no Gospel without the moral Gospel.”

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