21 January 2009

The role of feelings

The kids were sick this past Sunday and it was my turn to go to church, so I took the opportunity to go to the Anglican church. I needed some liturgy in my life.

Anyway, as I was in the service I was struck by how ruled by feelings I can be. The main part of the service, the Eucharist, was wonderful as always. But the rest of the service was less inspiring. First, the organ at the church they are using until their place is built has stopped working, so it was piano only (and they indicated that’s how it would be in the new building since they won’t have an organ right away). Then, I didn’t know any of the hymns and they weren’t particularly good (Anglican hymnody pales in comparison to that of the Methodists to me). And finally the main rector wasn’t there this week so there was a guest speaker. He was ok, but frankly, I’ve become quite used to hearing excellent teachers on Sunday mornings.

So I was sitting in the service, sorting through my feelings. I worry sometimes that I over-romanticize things, then get tired of it or bored when the reality doesn’t live up to the ideal in my head. Here I was in exactly the kind of church I’ve been dying to go to and everything was seemingly conspiring against me to make it less than inspiring.

It troubles me that I’m like this. And I’ll admit, it’s not just a concern for me with Anglicanism, but with any thoughts of becoming Catholic. I don’t want to feel this way. This is a big deal to drag my wife and family into a tradition that is foreign to them and totally different from either of our immediate family. It can’t be done on simply matters of taste and preference, which can then be so easily affected by the lack of an organ or second-rate hymnody. It’s got to be about something deeper. And I also understand that worship ultimately isn't about me, it's about God. I do benefit and receive many blessings from worshiping God, but the main reason for being there on Sunday mornings isn't for me to get something, it's for me to give something.

And on an intellectual level, I know that if I become convinced that certain beliefs are true and are important, and I know that the church I'm attending doesn't believe that way but another option in town does, then I should start attending the church that teaches correctly. This becomes an even bigger deal if I become convinced of the claims the Catholic Church makes because it's not just a matter of this doctrine or that one, but it's a matter of believing that it is the Church that Christ and the Apostles founded and that it has been given the authority to interpret Scripture and determine correct doctrine and practice. If I'm convinced something of that magnitude is true, how much do my feelings on how inspiring the Sunday service is really matter? "Not much" is my educated guess. But it depresses me to think that I'd be locked into a style of worship that really isn't open to debate the way it is in Protestant circles and because of my ephemeral feelings, I may grow bored with.

Maybe you think I'm worrying about nothing, but this is the way my mind works. I've jumped on trendy things in the past and have a natural bent toward things that are different from what most of my family or friends are into. Then about the time they begin to come around on it, I've moved on to the next thing. To some degree I wonder if my dalliance with Calvinism was that way. I was so convinced it was the right view of Scripture and salvation. Now, not so much. Would it be like this for this liturgy or Catholicism issue? Because that's a whole lot of pain, stress and upheaval for something that could change in 5-10 years.

25 comments:

Stacey said...

Hi Ragamuffin!

Thanks for acquiescing to my request for some word from someone in the same boat as me.

Sometimes I miss the more moving moments of my evangelical life. The music was always a big thing for me. Before this stint into Catholicism, I was at an Assembly of God church with a fantastic choir and a great preacher. But like you said, if they're not right in what they're teaching you then how can you stay there?

Our feelings are tricky, a lot of times suggesting the grass is greener on the other side or the other side is more fun. But that happens no matter where you are, like you've noticed. It doesn't mean that your reason is failing you. In any church you go to, you may feel a distance from God's presence, not because of that church but because of us. But God has called us to have faith even in the dark, and do His will instead of following our own desires. Have you heard of "Come Be My Light" a compilation of Mother Teresa's letters? She had just this problem for nearly fifty years of her life.

So how do you feel about a lot of the issues in Catholicism? i.e. transubstantiation, justification by faith alone when that faith gives fruit to charity, etc. Or are you thinking more that if they have valid authority, then you'd just have to accept it? Btw, are your children old enough that it'd be hard for them to switch churches? Are you big into reading about histories and theologies?

Well, I've just slung a million questions your way! It seems most of the conversion stories I read online are already there and the struggle is whitewashed by a completed journey. They forget to mention being told that they're defecting to the whore of Babylon or to a man-made institution, that their family opposes them for it, that their own feelings make them want to just go to the nearest Protestant church on the corner. But we have to do what God tells us, don't we?

Ragamuffin said...

So how do you feel about a lot of the issues in Catholicism? i.e. transubstantiation, justification by faith alone when that faith gives fruit to charity, etc. Or are you thinking more that if they have valid authority, then you'd just have to accept it? Btw, are your children old enough that it'd be hard for them to switch churches? Are you big into reading about histories and theologies?
I'm reading some stuff on the argument over forensic justification, impartation vs imputation and stuff like that. I know that's a key issue and I want to see the arguments for each side.

On transubstantiation, I probably fall more in the Anglican or Eastern Orthodox view right now. Something like God is manifest in the Bread and Wine somehow (it's not merely a symbol), but I have no idea how and feel the Catholic explanation goes too far in trying to explain what is really just a mystery.

In terms of "sola fide", that's tied to forensic justification to some extent. All I know is that I once felt I was a Calvinist with regard to soteriology, but the Catholic arguments have pierced several holes in that for me. I'm in a state of flux.

To some extent though, you hit it: it's a question of authority. If the Catholic Church is who she says she is, then her teachings are right and carry the day. I'll just have to accept some things I don't fully understand on faith.

My kids are young enough to adjust. But it will go against all of both sides of our family, save a relative that lives in another state, and change the way in which they are raised fairly significantly. And it would be a huge adjustment for my wife as well. She has some issues with Catholic beliefs, even though I've explained some of the troubling ones such as "praying" to Mary or other saints, one of them being what she sees as a real scandal in how annulments are handled. Despite what official church teaching on them is, she sees it in practice as a hypocritical end-around the prohibition on divorce. Especially when you see wealthy and prominent Catholic families like the Kennedys abuse it and gain annulments.

James said...

Ragamuffin,

I linked over from Stacey’s blog and started reading your archives. Very interesting.

I’m curious about a few things you’ve mentioned in some of the old posts about looking for a church such as the desire for a better children’s program. What exactly do you mean? I’m a cradle Catholic so the whole idea of a children’s program is kind of foreign to me. I grew up attending mass since I was a baby (first on my mother’s knee in the cry room, being made to sit perfectly still and quiet) and am rather opinionated on the matter.

When I was a kid my childhood parish starting having a separate thing where the children would leave after the homily (or before, I can’t recall exactly) and go make macaroni pictures of Jesus or some such thing. Even at the time I was adamantly opposed to such a thing and refused to go with my friends. The Anglican wife of my youth’s uncle and aunt’s parish has a day-care/play-room thing for the little kids and I was a little shocked by its existence when we went for a visit. In my opinion a child’s place is with the family at worship.

Your posts interest me because you are coming from a completely foreign place from me. Growing up I had no cognizance that there was such a thing as a non-Catholic so I enjoy the insights into another prospective that blogs such as yours provide. I will definitely have to check back from time to time.

I do have to take issue with your lumping of Anglican and Eastern Orthodox views on the Eucharist into the same category. As you know, Anglican positions on this issue run the whole gamut, but even the most firm Anglican believers in the “real presence” that I have met still stop far short of the Orthodox position. (cf Pontificator’s Eleventh Law)

Now I know that many modern Orthodox, especially in the Anglophone world, like to play up the mystical aspect but the fact remains that like Catholics the Orthodox believe in the corporeal presence of Christ in the Eucharist; the Eucharist is Jesus Himself. Actually, in the past many Orthodox have used the term transubstantiation (cf Q107 of the Orthodox Confession of Faith of Peter Moghila) even if some today would pooh-pooh it as being “too Latin.”

You mentioned your wife having some issues with the annulment thing. I might be able to address the topic as I am (unfortunately) currently going the process. If either you or she would like to discuss it from a first-hand perspective I would be willing to discuss it privately. My email is jamesg042(at)gmail(dot)com.

James G

Ragamuffin said...

Hi James. Thanks for posting and the questions you asked. I enjoy talking with people who have a totally different experience than mine. So let me see if I can hit on a few of your questions. I might split it up into two responses and do one now and another tomorrow or the next day.

James: Even at the time I was adamantly opposed to such a thing and refused to go with my friends. The Anglican wife of my youth’s uncle and aunt’s parish has a day-care/play-room thing for the little kids and I was a little shocked by its existence when we went for a visit. In my opinion a child’s place is with the family at worship.


I've actually experienced both. Growing up Methodist, we had Sunday School before church, then the morning worship service where all but the youngest (read: toddlers) sat with their parents. The evangelical churches since then have all had very tailored children's programs and they are much more involved than making macaroni pictures of Jesus. Some have a corporate children's service with praise songs but all have age appropriate teaching about God, Jesus, our faith, the Bible and so on. They learn Scripture verses, key elements of the faith and things like that, but it's done in a way that keeps their attention and is "on their level." This usually goes all the way up to 5th grade after which point, they joint the adults in the regular service.

I can see the value of both approaches. At the Anglican service they sort of split the difference. The kids spend the first part of the service (up through the sermon/homily) in a "Children's Service" with Bible stories and singing. They come back right before the Peace and prior to the beginning of the liturgy of the Eucharist (except for kids 3 and under). I liked that our older daughter was there to see us receive the Eucharist and see Mom and Dad worship the Lord in this profound way.

But I don't want church to be boring to them either. I want them to want to come to church and be learning about the Lord during that time we're there in a way that they understand.

The downside of the "segregation" approach to me is that the churches that do it all the way to 5th or 6th grade sort of perpetuate an "entertainment" expectation in the kids. They spend years having puppets and all kinds of bells and whistles, then abruptly join the adults and have to sit quietly and listen. So I don't like that part.

But aside from what happens during the service, age-appropriate and fun Sunday school programs and such are all part of it. Perhaps children's choir or something. The main thing is just a fun, inviting opportunity for our kids to learn about the Lord on their level that reinforces and helps with the things we're teaching them at home.

[end of Part 1] :)

Ragamuffin said...

JAMES: I do have to take issue with your lumping of Anglican and Eastern Orthodox views on the Eucharist into the same category. As you know, Anglican positions on this issue run the whole gamut, but even the most firm Anglican believers in the “real presence” that I have met still stop far short of the Orthodox position. (cf Pontificator’s Eleventh Law)

Now I know that many modern Orthodox, especially in the Anglophone world, like to play up the mystical aspect but the fact remains that like Catholics the Orthodox believe in the corporeal presence of Christ in the Eucharist; the Eucharist isJesus Himself. Actually, in the past many Orthodox have used the term transubstantiation (cf Q107 of the Orthodox Confession of Faith of Peter Moghila) even if some today would pooh-pooh it as being “too Latin.”


I’m not sure which post you’re referring to where I lumped all these views in together. But I do sort of put Anglicans, Lutherans, Orthodox and Catholics in a separate category than say Baptists, Church of Christ and most Pentecostals for instance. The former group view the Eucharist as something much more than symbolic. They believe that in some mysterious way, Christ is “really present” in the elements and the partaking of the bread and the wine. In fact, in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, the minister says this:

We celebrate the memorial of our redemption, O Father, in this sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. Recalling his death, resurrection, and ascension, we offer you these gifts.

Sanctify them by your Holy Spirit to be for your people the Body and Blood of your Son, the holy food and drink of new and unending life in him.



The 1928 Book of Common Prayer used by even more traditionalist Anglicans says this:

And we most humbly beseech thee, O merciful Father, to hear us; and, of thy almighty goodness, vouchsafe to bless and sanctify, with thy Word and Holy Spirit, these thy gifts and creatures of bread and wine; that we, receiving them according to thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ’s holy institution, in remembrance of his death and passion, may be partakers of his most blessed Body and Blood.

-and-

Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, and our souls washed through his most precious Blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.


Granted, what the Orthodox and Catholics believe regarding the Real Presence goes even further than that, but Anglicans and Lutherans do believe that Christ is truly present in this sacrament in a way that goes beyond other ways in which Christ is present with us always.

Contrast that with the typical Baptist or Church of Christ view, which is that the elements of bread and wine (or usually grape juice) are merely symbols. They are a memorial and representation of a spiritual reality and are meant for us to merely recall again Christ’s sacrifice for us 2000 years ago and nothing more. That’s the distinction I was making.

You see a similar dividing line on baptism. Anglicans, Catholics, Orthodox, Lutherans and some Presbyterians even all view baptism as a sacrament in which something is actually happening. Sins are literally being washed away and incorporation into the body of Christ is literally occurring, even in infants since they do not view it as something that requires specific mental assent on the part of the one baptized. Baptists, Church of Christ and other similar evangelicals see baptism as merely an “outward sign of an inward change” and is done after one has personally made a decision to repent and follow Christ. It is done as an act of obedience to God, following Christ’s example and as a public declaration of their faith. Nothing more.

So that’s all I was trying to say by grouping them that way. I’ve seen the 11th law thing and agree that the Orthodox and Catholics go a step further than most Anglicans and Lutherans, but my grouping is a tad broader.

James said...

Ragamuffin,

I was referring to your previous comment, not a whole post.

The American Prayer Books emphasize the “Real Presence” a lot more than their (e.g. English) counterparts because of their heritage from the Scottish Episcopal Church which was very high-church as well as other influences. However, given the lack of any binding opinion on the matter an Anglican can hold a view along the whole spectrum from Baptist to transubstantiation (I have met Anglican baptists). The emphasis on the “Real Presence” varies from parish to parish and person to person but the majority I have met hover just to the left of Lutherans. Below is my “Jesus in the Eucharist” Spectrum; from purely mystical/spiritual to actually being Jesus, Body, Blood, Soul & Divinity.

Jesus in the Eucharist Spectrum
Mystical--------------BBSD
|----|----|----|----|----|

-|-----------|-------|----|
Bap--------Prsby--Luth--C&O

--||||||||||||||||--|-
--------Anglican-------AP-

I would put Baptists at the far left and Presbyterians about the middle. The Lutheran “consubstantiation” is to the right and Catholics and the Orthodox all the way over. Anglicans would be from a bit past Baptists to a bit past Lutherans with some outliers (e.g. Anglo-papalists) right about where Catholics and the Orthodox are.

So yes, broadly speaking the (typical American) Anglican is closer to the Orthodox than to the Baptist but the distance and variability is considerable.

While we’re on the subject of the Eucharist; what’s up with the grape juice? How do they justify using it when the Bible is quite clear that Jesus drank wine?

I would also agree about Baptism: Catholics, Orthodox, Lutherans, some Presbyterians and most Anglicans believe that sins are actually washed away by it and that it makes one a Christian. I would also say that most would not consider a non-baptized believer to be a Christian (this is not to deny that Catechumens believe in Christ or can go to Heaven, only that they are not yet Christians).

Personally, I think the Baptist-ish belief about the Sacraments (i.e. that there are no Sacraments and only two “Ordinances”) is the perfect complementarity to the modern materialistic view. The traditional Christian belief is in a union between the Spiritual and the Material world (e.g. Man has a spiritual and material nature; the Incarnation) and the Sacraments are material means that produce spiritual effects. Modern man has rejected the spiritual world and only believes in the material so a religious view that denies spiritual effects to material actions is right to his taste. Even if one accepts that there is a spiritual world (e.g. Angels, ghosts) they are most likely to see it as completely separate and that never the two shall meet.

Your thoughts?

James G

Ragamuffin said...

You're probably right about the spectrum of Anglicans worldwide. I can only speak for the ones in the Bible Belt of the Southern US and all of them around here seem to be somewhere from just left of the Lutherans to just left of the Catholics and Orthodox (using your handy-dandy chart).

JAMES: While we’re on the subject of the Eucharist; what’s up with the grape juice? How do they justify using it when the Bible is quite clear that Jesus drank wine?

It started in the late 1800s as an outgrowth of the temperance movement. Thomas Bramwell Welch (yes THAT Welch), a devout Methodist, developed a process for pasteurizing grape juice so it would keep and not sour or ferment and began using it in his church where he was a communion steward. His son began marketing it to temperance minded churches as the movement gained steam. The rationale is that the Greek word is actually "fruit of the vine" and not fermented wine specifically and thus grape juice is an acceptable substitute. The Methodist church has continued to use it out of deference to members who may be recovering alcoholics.

Now, to your issue about a material view of the world, I think your last sentence is key. But rather than being similar to materialists, the view really smacks more of Gnosticism. It's a notion that captures what you said where the material and spiritual are completely and wholly separate but the key is the underlying "why?" I think it's related to Gnostic views because it seems to flow from an idea that the spiritual is good and the material is of no value or even in some ways "bad." So in their eyes, attributing good spiritual attributes to mere matter in some way taints the spiritual aspect and leaves the door open to superstitious behavior. It would be like carrying around a lucky rabbit's foot to them. In essense you're "binding God" to act in a certain way when you use the right material and say the right words and that just seems sacrilegious to them. But that flows out of a mindset that sees the material world as corrupting and thus spiritual means are kept utterly separate to keep them pure and true.

Ragamuffin said...

Where'd you disappear to, James?

MamasBoy said...

Becoming Catholic is a much more serious matter than becoming a strong proponent of Calvinism. It changes more of not only one's theology, but one's relationships. There's often a heavy price to be paid.

It is intriguing that you would call your interest in Calvinism a dalliance, as that is similar to the language that Chesterton used when describing his initial interest in Catholicism.
http://www.earlychurchfathers.org/fullcircle/index.php?entry=entry090121-164156

I cannot speak for you, but regarding myself, I knew that I was either headed toward Catholicism or Skepticism/Agnosticism. If I couldn't trust the Church that compiled the Scriptures to interpret them properly, then I couldn't trust the compilation either. If I couldn't trust their compilation as being accurate, then I was bound to regard key segments of Scripture as questionable, leading to a state similar to Judaism in Jesus time, when various groups disputed which of the OT books were truly to be honored as Scripture, with profound doctrinal differences coming out of those disputes (e.g., belief in an afterlife, angels, and how to interpret the Law). For me, rejection of the Catholicism was rejection of any certainty regarding the canon and with that the whole of Protestant theology that is based on such certainty. As Newman wrote, "The Christianity of history is not Protestantism. If ever there were a safe truth it is this, and Protestantism has ever felt it so; to be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant" Maybe you will come to a different conclusion, but that was mine. Boy, that's a long way of saying I really doubt a conversion to Catholicism, should it happen, would be of the transient sort.

Also, if you are near NM, Jeffrey Steenson, former Episcopalian bishop of NM and west Texas is being ordained this Saturday in Rio Rancho, NM. It would be an interesting chance to possibly get some questions answered if you have any.

MB

MamasBoy said...

Oh, regarding annulments, much of the dissonance between theology and practice goes back to the idea of law itself in Catholicism. In order for a law to have an effect, it must be known (promulgated and understood). In other words, unlike the American judicial system, ignorance is an excuse. This is also why one is much better off as ignorant anti-Catholic than someone who has looked into the Church, decided it is true and decided not to convert. While Scripture and Church teaching set the ideal for sacramental marriage, one good book to help reconcile the differences one sometimes sees is Ed Peters' book, Annulments And The Catholic Church: Straight Answers To Tough Questions.

MB

Stacey said...

MamasBoy,

I think I'm currently at the "Catholic or bust" point. Like you say, if the church who compiled the Scriptures cannot be trusted, can the Scriptures be trusted, can the faith be true? More and more, it looks like the Reformation didn't have a leg to stand on. It began speaking out on abuses of practices and never reached the level of legitimately finding bad beliefs in the Church. Also, at Beggars All, some people are trying to claim the Church Fathers were not Catholic, but reading large sections of their works for myself, I find that claim ludicrous. So the historic church is Catholic, recognized the Scriptures and interprets them... in the words of Ignatius: "Apart from these things there is nothing that can be called a Church."

James said...

Ragamuffin,

Sorry, I was composing a monster comment on the relation between the “Gnostic” tendency and the acceptance of contraception but then things got real busy at work (even been working OT). Also, I take the weekends (Fri-Sun) off from the Internet. It gives me more time to do other things like be tech support for my aunts and brew beer (Irish Stout this time).

In a previous thread you wrote: “Issues surrounding the use of contraception such as a wife using the pill for medical reasons unrelated to pregnancy and this meaning the couple cannot have sex or a spouse with a communicable disease (AIDS, hepatits) and not being able to use condom to allow them to have sex without infecting the other.” For some reason my brain is telling me that you dealt with this same thing again somewhere else but I can’t find it in the archives right now. I wish you would expound more on the topic so I could better answer your question; specifically if it is the blanket prohibition on contraception you have an issue with or just these specific examples. Anyway, I bring it up because I want to address a specific aspect of the contraceptive mentality.

MamasBoy,

I totally concur with your recommendation of Ed Peters’ book. I sent copies to the wife of my youth and to all my witnesses. The book also helped answer a lot of questions my mother and grandmother had on the matter.

James G

Ragamuffin said...

James,

I probably have a general issue with the blanket ban on artificial contraception if I'm being honest. I'm just not sure I really buy the distinction between using a condom for instance and using NFP, especially since the effectiveness of NFP when practiced properly is pretty much as good as many artificial means. It doesn't seem to me that properly practiced NFP is any more "open to life" than using a condom.

But even if I go along with the distinction that the Catholic Church makes, I do still have the specific issues I mentioned in my previous post. It seems to me to be such a rigid interpretation of doctrine that it leaves little to no room for grace and human weakness and frailty.

I'll admit I have a similar issue with divorce. Don't get me wrong...I'm no divorce advocate. I think that the vast majority of reasons for divorce are unbiblical and shouldn't be allowed. But I think of specific situations like my friend who was married 10 years or so, that because of both their knowledge and understanding of what marriage is supposed to be couldn't claim "ignorance" as cause for an annulment. His wife cheated on him and left him for another man. He was a good husband to her and she left him. This was years ago and she ended up marrying her lover. The fact that he remains bound by the marriage to her and cannot remarry while she was the one that left and is even "remarried" seems harsh and unfair. I could understand if he was complicit in the dissolution of the marriage or if he was the one that cheated, but that's not the case.

It's stuff like that and the contraception situations I mentioned before that I can't get my mind around. It seems to be putting rigid interpretation of rules above people and runs dangerously close to the attitude of the Pharisees. Jesus seemed to be constantly correcting them and pointing out that healing a man or having him take up his mat and walk is not "working on the Sabbath." They were too narrowly interpreting God's laws. These situations seem analogous to me.

James said...

Ragamuffin,

I’ve been thinking about your previous comment. Specifically:

Now, to your issue about a material view of the world, I think your last sentence is key. But rather than being similar to materialists, the view really smacks more of Gnosticism. It's a notion that captures what you said where the material and spiritual are completely and wholly separate but the key is the underlying "why?" I think it's related to Gnostic views because it seems to flow from an idea that the spiritual is good and the material is of no value or even in some ways "bad." So in their eyes, attributing good spiritual attributes to mere matter in some way taints the spiritual aspect and leaves the door open to superstitious behavior. It would be like carrying around a lucky rabbit's foot to them. In essense you're "binding God" to act in a certain way when you use the right material and say the right words and that just seems sacrilegious to them. But that flows out of a mindset that sees the material world as corrupting and thus spiritual means are kept utterly separate to keep them pure and true.

I’m always weary of describing Protestant tendencies as “Gnostic” because I have so little first-hand knowledge of them. Still, I take your point and agree with it. There is a real disconnect in our modern world (and not just amongst Protestants) between the spiritual and the material and I don’t know what to ascribe it to. Whether it’s a denial of the spiritual altogether or just a complete separation we are denying an entire aspect of our nature and separating ourselves from something vital; even in our intimate relationships.

...it seems to flow from an idea that the spiritual is good and the material is of no value... This idea that the material has no value or that the physical has no impact on the spiritual is behind the barriers we erect in our lives and especially in our intimate relationships. It is particularly behind the acceptance of contraception.

St. John of Damascus writing against the Iconoclasts wrote in On the Holy Images: “You look down upon matter and call it contemptible. This is what the Manicheans did, but holy Scripture pronounces it to be good; for it says, 'And God saw all that He had made, and it was very good.' I say matter is God's creation and a good thing. Now, if you say it is bad, you say either that it is not from God, or you make Him a cause of evil.” p71

This “Gnostic” separation of matter and spirit is the chief ill that afflicts our society. The separation of the material and spiritual ultimately results in denial of the two foundational dogmas, the Incarnation and the resurrection of the body. If our bodies are just mere shells of no consequence and it is only our souls/spirits that matter than the Divine Condescension has no theological merit because it does not matter that God became a physical man. It also doesn’t matter that Jesus bodily rose from the grave because all that is important is that His spirit survived death.

The denial of the sacramental world-view is not the first step toward theological liberalism and apostasy; it is the only step. For once you have denied to matter its proper place in the economy of salvation you have robbed the Incarnation and Resurrection of their significance. The rejection of the Sacraments and the whole sacramental idea of matter being a vehicle of grace results in Iconoclasm (a chief characteristic of most Protestantism) and ultimately utilitarianism.

We have been trained to think of our bodies as mere conveyances and amusements. The idea that our bodies are a temple is ludicrous to even the “religious” modern man and therefore what we do with them has no bearing on our spiritual well being. The separation of the physical and spiritual is intimately related to the separation of the chief end of sexual relations (children) from the act itself. The idea of pregnancy as “an accident” is a perfect illustration of this. How can pregnancy be an accident; did you accidentally have sex? Sex by its very nature and purpose leads to babies. Only by accepting the implicit dualism of modern society and it’s separation of the material and spiritual is it possible to mentally separate sex from its ultimate end.

I had always been baffled by Protestantism’s near universal capitulation to contraception. After the Anglicans became the first Christian body to accept even the limited use of contraception in 1930 it was just the blink of an eye before the entirety of Protestantism had followed. However, once the dualistic tendencies inherent to the rejection of the sacramental system are taken into account then it becomes much clearer. Once one separation (matter and spirit) is accepted, the separation of other fundamentally connected things becomes impossible to resist. Protestantism was by its nature incapable of resisting.

Whenever we engage in an inherently sterile sex act (that is an act that is by its nature incapable of conception such as sodomy or contraceptive sex; to be distinguished from acts which are incidentally non-conceptive due to circumstances of time or age) we degrade sex because we have robbed it of an intrinsic aspect – the potential to create new life. “I will use you for pleasure or even for intimacy (something we all need) but I will not go that extra step and join fully and permanently with you in the spiritual and physical act of creation.”

Now here we will all object and say, “That’s not what I’m doing. I’m not objectifying my wife or using her. I’m pursuing the unitive good of the sexual act or pursuing intimacy while being a good steward by limiting family size.” Of course we object, no one wants to admit that they are treating their wife in such a shabby manner; we lie to justify so many things. Even if you have already or will in the future have children with the person, at this moment in time you are denying to the act its fullness and robbing it of its inherent spirituality.

This is not to say that we may only engage in marital relations when we are most likely to conceive or that all sex acts must result in conception. No, this is only saying that we must not deliberately or intentionally frustrate the procreative end of sex.

I’ll try to address your specific points in my next posts.

James G

James said...

I'm just not sure I really buy the distinction between using a condom for instance and using NFP, especially since the effectiveness of NFP when practiced properly is pretty much as good as many artificial means. It doesn't seem to me that properly practiced NFP is any more "open to life" than using a condom.

I agree that NFP can be as effective as artificial means (and studies have shown it to be as or more effective). The issue of intent enters into it and I will discuss that later. For now the main point I will try and make is:
Engaging in sex during the times in a woman’s cycle when conception is improbable does not constitute a willful frustration of procreation for nothing is actively done to prevent it.

The inability to distinguish between the intentional frustrating of conception inherent to contracepted sex and periodic abstaining during the fertile times of a woman’s cycle is a product of our materialistic world-view. We see the end result (having sex without conceiving a child) as being the same therefore we think that the means of achieving that result are morally equivalent. The materialistic view is ultimately utilitarian and the utilitarian view will see any means of achieving a desired result as being acceptable. This is false because a “moral” end cannot be achieved by the use of an immoral means. It is also false because intentionally acting to prevent conception is not equivalent to failing to act when a woman is fertile.

I think we can all agree that there is a difference between acting and not acting. Contraception is a deliberate action so there is no way to argue that it is not the willful frustration of the procreative aspect of sex. On this basis alone we should be able to see the fundamental difference between contraception and NFP. Now many will counter that all the temperature taking etc of NFP are also actions but I say not so. The action in question is the deliberate frustration of procreation. Charting a woman’s cycle can have many uses and all that is gained from it is knowledge. What we do with that knowledge is the key. If we know a woman is fertile and we use a condom to have sex with her we act to prevent conception. NFP is the very definition of inaction - we do nothing. The next question to be answered is whether we have sinned by our inaction.

A man and wife have a duty to have children; it was the first commandment given by God. The Catholic Church rightly sees a “marriage” that is entered into with the deliberate intention of not having children as being inherently invalid. This is because what is being entered into is not a marriage because it specifically denies one of the fundamental purposes behind marriage. Refusing to comply with this duty is rank disobedience to God and it is disobedience that merits condemnation just as it did for our first parents. But is there a duty to engage in sex every time that conception is probable?

To be continued...

James G

James said...

Is there a duty to engage in sex every time that conception is probable? That is a question that I cannot answer presently; I simply lack the knowledge. If you believe that there is such a duty then both NFP and perpetual continence would be immoral as sins of neglect. If not then perpetual continence at least must be acceptable. If perpetual then why not periodic? I don’t know. I am not an advocate for NFP; only against contraception.

Now to address: Issues surrounding the use of contraception such as a wife using the pill for medical reasons unrelated to pregnancy and this meaning the couple cannot have sex or a spouse with a communicable disease (AIDS, hepatits) and not being able to use condom to allow them to have sex without infecting the other.

The therapeutic use of hormonal pills is a bit of a grey area. Because the intent is not contraception but a legitimate medical reason then sex is technically still allowed because the infertility is a secondary unintentional effect. A similar case would be the removal of the testes because of testicular cancer. Because the resulting sterility is not intended (as it would be with a vasectomy) then sex is still morally okay. Now the pill presents other moral problems because of its abortifacient potential. The thought of an unintentional miscarriage resulting from the use of the pill haunts my personal nightmares and I don’t know how anyone could be willing to risk it. Because of the abortifacient potential my personal opinion is that abstinence or the use of NFP would be obligatory so as not to accidentally kill a child.

Many argue for the use of condoms to prevent the transmission of disease as similarly allowable. The argument is that the primary intent is to prevent the spread of disease and that physically preventing the union of egg and sperm is a secondary effect. I’m not buying it.

If the prevention of disease transmission is really the desire than condoms are a very poor way of going about it. Condoms are woefully inadequate to the task with high failure rates due to slippage and breakage. Abstinence is the only truly effective way to prevent the sexual transmission of diseases. Condom use in such a case amounts to little more than Russian Roulette. Will I get infected this time or not? Let’s take a chance and spin the wheel.

Even if condoms were 100% effective in preventing disease transmission there is another problem. The use of a condom applies only to sex. There is no other circumstance for which a condom would be used. The pill has some legitimate therapeutic uses; a condom only exists for one purpose. A condom is only used in order to have sex without consequences. The condom is the epitome of turning sex into being solely about gratification. Can there be anything more degrading and objectifying than saying, I can only have relations with you if I put on my PPE? Is your partner a person or hazardous waste?

Other objections that might be raised such as rape or supposed third-world countries where women are forced to have sex with infected husbands are more properly dealt with by addressing the particular underlying crimes and do not belong in a discussion of contraception. They all devolve into questions of “Can an immoral means be used to prevent a greater injustice?” And that leads to the final topic you brought up: divorce.

James G

James said...

I'll admit I have a similar issue with divorce. Don't get me wrong...I'm no divorce advocate. I think that the vast majority of reasons for divorce are unbiblical and shouldn't be allowed.

By “divorce” what do you mean specifically? Does “divorce” automatically imply the ability to contract another marriage? What biblical grounds are there for divorce? (In case you can’t tell, I’m just itching to get into a discussion of pornea.)

But I think of specific situations like my friend who was married 10 years or so, that because of both their knowledge and understanding of what marriage is supposed to be couldn't claim "ignorance" as cause for an annulment. His wife cheated on him and left him for another man. He was a good husband to her and she left him. This was years ago and she ended up marrying her lover. The fact that he remains bound by the marriage to her and cannot remarry while she was the one that left and is even "remarried" seems harsh and unfair. I could understand if he was complicit in the dissolution of the marriage or if he was the one that cheated, but that's not the case.

Are we guaranteed “fairness” in this life? Are we health and wealth Christians or disciples of Him who said, “take up your cross and follow me”? Does right behavior always lead to happiness? Was it “fair” for the wife of my youth to forcibly divorce me against my will and falsely accuse me of the most horrible things? Was it too harsh a thing to impotently watch as the woman I loved lost her mind and self-destructed while no one would lift a finger to help her?

I say all these things not to diminish your friend’s pain and suffering but to drive home the point that happiness and fairness is not what we get in this life. If true fairness is what we got then we would all justly be condemned to eternal hellfire. From what you say your friend was not at fault. However, the sinful behavior of another does not justify him or anyone else in committing sin.

Either marriage is permanent and indissoluble or it is not. Either divorce and re-marriage is adultery as Jesus said or it is not. If two people validly marry then they are bound until death they do part. Just because one is faithless and breaks their sacred vows does not justify the other in doing the same.

I am fond of saying that the biggest separation in our society is not between Left and Right but between those who believe in an objective reality and those who believe that everything is subjective. If marriage exists independent of the laws we make regulating it then no amount of legislation can change it. If marriage is permanent and exclusive then no law of man can bring about a “re-marriage.” Your friend’s wife is an adulteress and will remain so for as long as she continues in her sinful relationship. No color of law will change that and woe be it for her if she does not repent.

Because of the hardness of our hearts, Moses allowed divorce. But Christ has given us hearts of flesh. Which do we want, true hearts or divorce because we cannot have both?

One of my favorite prayers is the Hail, Holy Queen. My favorite part is: “To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve. To thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this vale of tears.” We tend to forget that suffering is our lot in this life; happiness is for the next.

James G

Ragamuffin said...

Can there be anything more degrading and objectifying than saying, I can only have relations with you if I put on my PPE? Is your partner a person or hazardous waste?
Not any more than caring for someone with a much more contagious disease but both of you wearing masks over your mouth and nose and perhaps other protective garb and being careful that you don't touch or use the same items so that you can have more close proximity and perhaps hug or hold hands and such.

The partner isn't hazardous waste, they just have a disease that warrants certain precautions to avoid infecting the other person. Both people wish to be closer and share as much intimacy as they can without harming the other person. We make these kinds of choices all the time, weighing the risks vs the benefits. Of course the only 100% effective method on not contracting certain things is just to avoid the person altogether, but that's not acceptable to either side. So they try to minimize the risks while allowing as much contact/closeness/affection/etc. as they can, knowing that depending on the disease, any of these things will include small amounts of risk.

James said...

Of course the only 100% effective method on not contracting certain things is just to avoid the person altogether, but that's not acceptable to either side. So they try to minimize the risks while allowing as much contact/closeness/affection/etc. as they can, knowing that depending on the disease, any of these things will include small amounts of risk.

Yes, and that is why family members are the most prone to catching diseases from their loved ones.

But the question that must be asked in order to make condom use acceptable is: Is sex necessary for intimacy? If yes then what of those incapable of it due to infirmity, age or impotence? Can they not have a loving and fulfilling life together? If no then what mandates the necessity of allowing them to use condoms; and why risk it?

We’re acting as if we have a say in the matter. People will do what they will, wrong or right. God has set a standard and either we conform to His will or our own. If the Church was to say tomorrow that it’s okay for AIDS patients to use condoms (and that’s a big and nigh-impossible “if”) would that objectively make it all right? The Church has the power to dispense from her laws but not from God’s. The Church says (and always has) that using contraception is against God’s law. Does the Church even have the power to condone such a thing?

Again, condoms are woefully inadequate to prevent disease transmission. We delude ourselves by calling it “safe sex” or even “safer sex,” as if sex was something we needed protection from. Is sex so vitally necessary that it must be had at all costs; that the Church should compromise God’s moral law and the health of the people so that it could be engaged in with a soothed conscience?

James G

Ragamuffin said...

Yes, and that is why family members are the most prone to catching diseases from their loved ones.

But the question that must be asked in order to make condom use acceptable is: Is sex necessary for intimacy?




Of course not. But neither is hugging, kissing, touching and so on. But these things are ways in which we show affection and foster intimacy. And depending on the disease, any of the above things could increase one's risk of getting infected even with precautions taken. But we don't deem that to be wrong and we don't say that touching or being close with masks, gloves and such is treating the afflicted partner as "hazardous waste." We merely see it as giving and receiving as much physical affection as we can without resorting to a hands off policy.

If the Church was to say tomorrow that it’s okay for AIDS patients to use condoms (and that’s a big and nigh-impossible “if”) would that objectively make it all right? The Church has the power to dispense from her laws but not from God’s. The Church says (and always has) that using contraception is against God’s law. Does the Church even have the power to condone such a thing?



I'd say that depends on whether the Church is who she says she is. If so, then making such a distinction would likely be somewhat analogous to allowing a couple to have sex despite the woman taking birth control pills for reasons other than contraception.

The Church has always said that contraception is against God's laws, but doesn't prohibit married couples from having sex if the birth control pills are not being used with the intent of preventing pregnancy.

The condom isn't being used for the purpose of contraception, it's merely a byproduct of preventing disease while allowing the couple to engage in their full range of marital rights.

Maybe one day a special condom could be created that somehow allows for pregnancy but only shields from disease (not sure that's even possible, but go with me here). The point is, the couple in question isn't opposed to having children. If the Church allowed some simple form of artificial insemination, they'd be more than willing to do that in conjunction with using the condom to prevent disease.

I'm just exploring the question. There seems to be a lot of rigidity here that isn't necessary when all factors are considered. Granted, impotence or incapacity are situations where sex isn't physically possible. But that's a different category than where it's completely possible but just requires some precautions.

James said...

If so, then making such a distinction would likely be somewhat analogous to allowing a couple to have sex despite the woman taking birth control pills for reasons other than contraception.

The Church has always said that contraception is against God's laws, but doesn't prohibit married couples from having sex if the birth control pills are not being used with the intent of preventing pregnancy.


I think a point of clarification needs to be made here just so we’re all perfectly clear. The Church in so far as she has spoken on the issue has said that when a woman is using medications such as the pill for non-contraceptive reasons that the couple can continue to have sex without committing the sin of contraception. This is not a loop-hole where a woman can get a prescription for the pill to clear up her acne and get the side benefit of no babies but for serious and grave medical reasons where another viable alternative is not available. This is for a simple reason: if there is no intent to contracept then there can be no guilt. This is also only addressed to the contraceptive side-effect and not to any other potential side-effects.

I have not found a sufficiently authoritative judgment on the matter of the abortifacient risk of the pill to consider it closed. In so far as it has been treated by those within the Church I have only found warnings to proceed cautiously and that NFP or abstinence is recommended to mitigate the risk. Because spontaneous abortion is an unintended side-effect, guilt may be mitigated because of lack of intent. Even still, given the gravity of the side-effect I do not understand how anyone of good conscience would be willing to take such a risk.

The condom isn't being used for the purpose of contraception, it's merely a byproduct of preventing disease while allowing the couple to engage in their full range of marital rights.

Minimal offense intended (I would be dishonest if I said “no offense intended”) but Protestants always seem obsessed with sex. Either it’s “sex is bad, we must suppress all carnal urges” (e.g. Rev Graham of Graham cracker fame) or “sex is all that matters, you Catholics with your forced celibacy for priests are unbiblical, repressive weirdoes.” You speak of “marital rights” but how far do our rights over each other extend? In the realm of sex can we force our spouse to have relations even if it is potentially fatal? Does that not constitute an abuse? If a disease is so dangerous that one must use a condom to prevent its transmission does not the risk far outweigh any benefit?

One CDC “fact sheet” I saw recently listed a two-year study as finding a 1% HIV transmission rate for perfect condom use vs a 12% transmission rate for intermittent condom use. Since HIV is purported to be 100% fatal that means that an infected spouse has a 1% chance of killing their partner over two years with perfect condom use. Is that an acceptable result?

But neither is hugging, kissing, touching and so on. But these things are ways in which we show affection and foster intimacy. And depending on the disease, any of the above things could increase one's risk of getting infected even with precautions taken. But we don't deem that to be wrong and we don't say that touching or being close with masks, gloves and such is treating the afflicted partner as "hazardous waste." We merely see it as giving and receiving as much physical affection as we can without resorting to a hands off policy.

I was the one that equated using a condom with treating the partner as “hazardous waste” and personally, yes, I would consider touching with masks and gloves to be the same. What it says is, “I don’t want to catch what you have. I’ll be affectionate but not at the risk of my health.” And maybe that’s fine if the person has just been bitten by the Outbreak monkey but if they suffer from a chronic disease and that is how we treat them on a day to day basis then I say we are treating them rather shabbily.

Hugging, kissing and touching are all good ways of showing affection but sex is in a category all of its own. A homosexual couple (potentially) could hug and kiss without committing sin. A married man could do all those things (within propriety) with a woman other than his wife and still have committed no sin. Sex is different because by its nature it allows us to participate with God in the act of creation. Sex is held to a higher standard because of what it intrinsically is and thus any deformation or distortion of it is sinful.

If the Church allowed some simple form of artificial insemination, they'd be more than willing to do that in conjunction with using the condom to prevent disease.

The Church categorically opposes artificial insemination and related fertility treatments. This is because the separation of procreation from the sex act in any way and in either direction is a distortion of the God intended and created order. Again, the utilitarian view says that if the result is the same the method is irrelevant. But not all paths are morally equal.

You say that a condom can be used for strictly prophylactic purposes without intending to contracept. I fail to see your reasoning. I don’t think it is possible to separate the use of a condom from contraception. I can use a condom as a water balloon but that does not change what a condom is by its nature.

I know it’s a bit late in the game to introduce a new argument but supposing for a moment that the prophylactic use of a condom could be separated from its contraceptive use; could it be argued that it was still intrinsically evil because it destroyed the lesser good of sex, the unitive aspect? That is, is there something inherent to the use of a condom that prevents the total self-donation that is supposed to be entailed in sex? Can saying, “I give myself to you but don’t want your diseases” destroy the self-giving? I recall bringing up this possibility in a debate on this very topic (condom use for preventing disease transmission) before but I never fleshed out my argument. I’ll ponder this awhile and then get back.

James G

MamasBoy said...

“But even if I go along with the distinction that the Catholic Church makes, I do still have the specific issues I mentioned in my previous post. It seems to me to be such a rigid interpretation of doctrine that it leaves little to no room for grace and human weakness and frailty.”

Ragamuffin,

I hope you don’t mind me responding to the above comment in relation to divorce and remarriage.

In my opinion, it is exactly the Catholic Church that offers the most grace and forgiveness to humanity. It is relatively easy to love one’s enemy from a distance or in the abstract. Loving one’s enemy is much harder when that person is one’s spouse. It is much easier for a person to say that since their spouse is living in an adulterous relationship that is recognized by the state, then they are free to go off and live in an adulterous relationship that is recognized by the state. However, Christ’s insistence on the sanctity of monogamous marriage, till death do they part, even when the world around us says the marriage is over and a party is free to “marry” is truly the path of grace, forgiveness and unconditional love. How can we expect our kids to believe that love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, (and) endures all things” if we don’t model it for them, even in trying circumstances. Remarriage while one’s spouse is alive is the absence of patience, hope, faith and endurance. It is the rejection of Christian love.

The Church doesn’t just hang the abandoned spouse out to dry, though. She faithfully encourages the spouse who is sinning to return. She proclaims that adultery, even when recognized by the state as “marriage” is a mortal sin and denies that person access to the Eucharist. She faithfully calls the sinning spouse(s) to repentance, and has done so since the earliest days of Christianity. As Justin Martyr said in the mid 100’s, "According to our Teacher, just as they are sinners who contract a second marriage, even though it be in accord with human law, so also are they sinners who look with lustful desire at a woman. He repudiates not only one who actually commits adultery, but even one who wishes to do so; for not only our actions are manifest to God, but even our thoughts"

Regarding your friend, specifically, you claim that he knew what marriage was supposed to be and couldn’t claim “ignorance,” but did he really? Are you sure he knew that marriage is until death do they part, even if his spouse was an unfaithful, lying whore? Did his wife know that marriage is until death do they part, even if her husband was an abusive, alcoholic piece of $%^&? Or, perhaps, did they think that civil marriage was practically equivalent to Christian marriage, and in the event that their spouse turned out to be far less than a saint, then civil divorce and remarriage were an option? I wouldn’t be so hasty to claim that your friend understood the true nature of Christian marriage, since so few do these days.

Ultimately, it comes down to whose authority you trust to interpret Scripture. The Catholic Church stands with 20 centuries of faithfulness to Jesus teaching on the indissolubility of marriage, even in tough cases. She cannot change her doctrine on the indissolubility of marriage, because it was received from Christ himself and has been faithfully passed down through the ages.

MB

Ragamuffin said...

Regarding your friend, specifically, you claim that he knew what marriage was supposed to be and couldn’t claim “ignorance,” but did he really? Are you sure he knew that marriage is until death do they part, even if his spouse was an unfaithful, lying whore? Did his wife know that marriage is until death do they part, even if her husband was an abusive, alcoholic piece of $%^&? Or, perhaps, did they think that civil marriage was practically equivalent to Christian marriage, and in the event that their spouse turned out to be far less than a saint, then civil divorce and remarriage were an option? I wouldn’t be so hasty to claim that your friend understood the true nature of Christian marriage, since so few do these days.



I can assure you that he understood what marriage meant. He's still unmarried to this day (almost 20 years later), though he did start dating some again a few years after she left and married her lover. He wasn't abusive or alcoholic. He was a pastor, a faithful Christian and is a good man. One of the most Christlike people I know really.

I just always found it sad that were he Catholic, the interpretation of Jesus' words regarding divorce and adultery would be so strict (yes, I've heard the explanation of "porneia", James), that he remains bound to a woman that does not love him and has been married to another man for 16 years or so while she enjoys the benefits of married life.

Stacey said...

I haven't read this whole thread, but I thought I would share a link to Patty Bond's blog. She is a Catholic convert and got divorced after she converted. Her blog discusses conversion, sexual abuse, and annulments and divorce. It may help to hear from the perspective of someone who has been through it.

James said...

I don’t want this to sound too harsh but there is no way to sugar-coat it. Look at what you wrote: ...he remains bound to a woman that does not love him and has been married to another man for 16 years or so while she enjoys the benefits of married life.

That makes it sound like the only thing that is of any value is sex. I applaud your friend for his constancy but just because he is unmarried does not necessitate that he be lonely. He can (and hopefully does) have many friendships, including with women, which can fulfill most of a man’s need for intimacy. He could even live in companionship with a woman “as brother and sister.” However, he is not permitted to sin and to have sex with another (even under the color of law) while still bound in matrimony is gravely sinful. Again you are arguing that because his perfidious wife is having illicit and immoral sex he should be able to as well; for what other “benefits” of “married” life is he denied?

I just always found it sad that were he Catholic, the interpretation of Jesus' words regarding divorce and adultery would be so strict (yes, I've heard the explanation of "porneia", James)...

You say you’ve heard the explanation of pornea but it obviously didn’t sink in otherwise you wouldn’t make such statements. We know two things: 1) pornea does not mean adultery, that word is moicheia; and 2) that Mathew is possibly ambiguous and capable of multiple understandings. You’re a recovering Calvinist; isn’t one of the tenets of Calvinism the perspicuity of scripture and the interpretation of ambiguous passages from clearer ones. If Mathew was all we had to go on concerning Jesus’ teaching regarding divorce then one could possibly hold to one of the interpretations that permits divorce for sexual immorality. However, we have the completely unambiguous passages of Luke 16:18 and Mark 10 as well as “not I but the Lord” in 1 Corinthians 7 and the Church’s universal and constant teaching. How much more explicit do you need than: “The LORD, the God of Israel, says that He hates divorce (Malachi 2:16)”?

And it is not just the “Catholic” interpretation of Jesus’ words but the universal position (cf this Protestant gloss on the matter) in Western Christendom (and Eastern for the first 500yrs) until the “Reformers” allowed it’s perversion in order to curry favor with secular rulers. Even still, divorce amongst Protestants was a rare thing until the advent of “no fault” divorce when, in true Erastian fashion, it became mainstream in the Protestant world.

I have read some pretty convoluted attempts to explain away “Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery.” and somehow say that Jesus permitted what he explicitly condemns as adultery. There can be legitimate reasons for a couple to separate and even some that mandate it; but the Lord is explicit: “if she depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband.”

And just so you don’t think I’m just down on the sex-obsessed Protestants and am saying that everything is peaches and cream with the Catholics, I’ll address one of MamasBoy’s comments.

[The Church] faithfully encourages the spouse who is sinning to return. She proclaims that adultery, even when recognized by the state as “marriage” is a mortal sin and denies that person access to the Eucharist. She faithfully calls the sinning spouse(s) to repentance, and has done so since the earliest days of Christianity.

Yes, it’s true that divorced and re-married Catholics are told to refrain from Communion but not much is really done to enforce it. Maybe it is out of pastoral sensitivity (something I completely lack) but it seems that the message is not being pronounced very hard. Rarely indeed will one encounter a homily explicitly stating that “re-marriage” is adultery let alone calling for those sinners to repent and reform their lives. Too many clergy and others treat a pending divorce as a fait accompli and many more still practically condone the adulterous second union.

This world is sick and pussy-footing around the “hard teachings” will not make it any better. Jesus did not say, “Do as you will.” Rather He said, “Repent and receive mercy. Go and sin no more.” Is it mercy to say nothing while another commits mortal sin? Is it Christian love to abandon another to perdition because of our moral cowardice? To call that which is sin not sin or advocate the condoning of sin is to deny Christ because it denies that He has grace sufficient to sustain us in all our trials.

Ragamuffin, I again salute your friend who has maintained his fidelity for so long. The 20 months I’ve lived through almost seems unbearable; I can’t imagine 20 years. But all things are possible with God’s grace. We must encourage each other to fidelity and not to iniquity.

James G