h/t Fr. Z.
by Dr. Samuel GreggOctober 17, 2015
Dr. Samuel Gregg is Research Director at the Acton Institute. He has written and spoken extensively on questions of political economy, economic history, ethics in finance, and natural law theory. He has an MA in political philosophy from the University of Melbourne, and a Doctor of Philosophy degree in moral philosophy and political economy from the University of Oxford, where he worked under the supervision of Professor John Finnis.
I have little doubt that particular Western European bishops would like to deploy the sentimental humanitarian terminology that presently clouds more-than-a-few Catholic minds in the name of being more sensitive. But if bishops are seriously interested in being pastoral, then perhaps a better strategy would be for them to invest time in clearly explaining to their priests and faithful what is an intrinsically evil act and why such acts are incapable of being ordered to the good. Indeed, some might further ask, why do some Catholic clergy continue treating lay Catholics as if we’re simply incapable of comprehending something that has been well-understood by many often far-less well-educated Catholics for centuries?
Sin and True Mercy
Some Synod fathers have mentioned the need for the Church to look at reality and acknowledge the different state of affairs in which people find themselves. I agree. So here’s one reality that has been made manifest by contemporary discussions of intrinsically evil acts. It is this: that throughout much of the West the last fifty years have not been marked by thorough catechesis in the truths of the Catholic Faith, or, as Vatican II stated in Lumen Gentium “the faith which is to be believed and applied to conduct” [fides credenda et moribus applicanda] (LG 25; italics = Dr. Gregg's emphasis).
And there is yet another reality that some Synod fathers might like to consider. It’s this: mercy itself demands that catechesis involves, among many other things, Catholics coming to know that intrinsically evil acts put our souls at risk. The God fully revealed in the Person of Jesus Christ is indeed a merciful God. But He also loves us so much that He’s willing to allow us to reject His love and freely opt for eternal separation from Him (That separation is called hell). Yes, there is a type of fundamental option that every Christian must make for Christ. But the Church has also always taught that some acts effectively render that faith “dead.” In John Paul’s words, “it is revoked when man engages his freedom in conscious decisions to the contrary, with regard to morally grave matter” (VS 67). And it stays revoked, until, that is, we make another free choice, which is to repent and resolve to go and sin no more.
Avoiding intrinsically evil acts is only part of the way to salvation. As illustrated by the parable of the rich young man upon which Veritatis Splendor’s first chapter reflects, observing the thou-shalt-nots of the Commandments is only the starting point—not the end—of the narrow path towards perfection to which Christ calls us. (Following note to "pastoral" bishops:) Ignoring or wishing away the truth about intrinsically evils acts in the name of being more pastoral, however, is perhaps one of the least merciful things we can do if we actually care about people’s salvation.
Now that’s a reality worth all of us pondering.