Thursday, February 23, 2017

Lust ... A Mortal Sin or Not?

Several years ago, an Evangelical Protestant friend of mind, who was baptized a Catholic and who had twelve years of Catholic education, posed the following question to me: 

“So in the Catholic world, if a priest, or even the Pope, had a lustful thought towards a woman, which Jesus himself calls adultery (Mt 5:28), and then immediately after that thought, the priest or the Pope has a heart attack and dies, is the priest or Pope going to hell because they didn’t get a chance to repent of that one sin?”

I responded to him at that time, but today I am thinking once again of this question.  First of all, the Catholic teaching is that if person (anyone) dies in the state of mortal sin, that person would be condemned to hell for all eternity.  This includes priests and popes.  It must be no secret to anyone these days that priests, bishops, cardinals, and popes are not perfect and are subject to just as much temptation and sin as any other human being.  There are priests and popes that have been declared saints by the Church, but there are also plenty of priests and popes that have not been declared saints by the Church and may, in fact, be in that place of torment.

Secondly, however, my Protestant friend specifically mentioned the sin of Lust – “a lustful thought.” The question now is:  Is a lustful thought a mortal sin?  In general, a sin is defined as an offense against God.  Some such offenses are serious, while others are not so serious.  For example, murder is serious, but steeling a friend’s pencil is not so serious.  Serious sins are called mortal sins.  Not-so-serious sins are called venial sins.  To answer the question, we must make the determination if “a lustful thought” is venial or mortal.

The Church teaches that Lust, which is one of the seven so-called “deadly” sins as defined by the Church, may or may not be mortal depending on whether the thought is voluntary or involuntary (I refer you to the book Catholicism for Dummies by Fr. John Trigilio and Fr. Kenneth Brighenti, pages 211-212).  If one engages in the conscious and deliberate act of having a lustful thought, meaning that if the sin occurs when you initiate, consent to, and/or continue fantasizing about sexual activity with another person, then that thought is a mortal sin and, if it is not forgiven in the sacrament of Confession, would condemn you to hell.  If it is a spontaneous, involuntary thought, then it would not.

That brings up other Catholic teachings concerning mortal sins.  There are three conditions that must be met in order for a sin to be mortal.  (1)It must be a truly serious offense against God; (2) the sinner must be aware that it is a serious offense; and, (3) knowing that it is a serious offense, the sinner must fully consent to committing the sin.  So, seriousness, awareness, and consent are the three conditions.

I have one final thought on this topic.  We on earth cannot judge others.  We can know seriousness, but we cannot know another’s state of mind as to awareness or consent.  Whether one merits heaven or is condemned to hell is up to our omniscient God on Judgement Day.    

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Serious Prayer is Needed Today

Back in the 80’s and 90’s, I had a pastor in my parish in Lincoln, Nebraska, that used to lament the fact that Catholics today don’t know their faith like they should.  To help with this problem, he created a Rite of Catholic Initiation for Adults (RCIA) class (a class non-Catholics take to prepare to join the Catholic Church) and invited both Catholics and non-Catholics alike to attend.  It was (is) a 3-4 month class that met once a week for about two hours.  The word spread far and wide throughout the Lincoln Diocese and beyond and created a bit of a stir.  Registrations for the class included, as requested, both Catholics and non-Catholics and the numbers soon mushroomed.  He decided to videotape the lectures, and even did so outside the classroom for people who could not attend.  I know because I actually did the taping for him with my personal home video camera.  It was good for me, because I exposed again to what I had supposedly learned during my twelve years of Catholic school back in 1954-66.

I am now re-reading a book titled Meat and Potatoes Catholicism by Father Joseph Classen.  Fr. Classen laments the same things, that Catholics today don’t know their faith like they should.  He places the blame on the “new” liberal culture that invaded us back in the 60’s and 70’s and the misguided reaction to the teachings of Vatican Council II.  The intent of Vatican II was to breathe new life into the Church.  It occurred during the pontificates of John XXIII and Paul VI in 1958-64.  I was in high school when the changes came down.  The changes could be seen during the daily Masses we students attended at the beginning of each school day and included Mass in English instead of Latin, the priest-celibrant facing the people (which meant that a new altar had to be installed in all the Catholic churches worldwide), and new hymns sung in English at the beginning, during the offertory, at Communion time, and at the end.  But there was so much more.

There was also a relaxation of some “rules.”  For example, before Vatican II, Catholics were required, under pain of serious sin, to abstain from eating meat on all Fridays of the year.  After Vatican II, this rule was modified.  This abstinence was now required only during Lent.  It was suggested that, on the other Fridays, a Catholic may choose to abstain, but in its place, perform some other act of penance (in remembrance of the day Christ died, which was a Friday).  All that got communicated at my parish was that we could now eat meat … not the rest.  I think it exemplified how Vatican II directives were often either misinterpreted or ignored.  Something else that stands out for me is the fact that orders of religious sisters took this “breath of fresh air” to mean that they should allow sisters to wear lay clothes instead of the traditional “habits.”  And this meant that the nuns now go to a beauty shop to have their hair styled (for example) like all lay women.  What is wrong with this picture?  Perhaps most serious of all is that many Catholic schools have closed, including the one I attended all those years ago.  That means that generations of our children will now not know their faith like they should.

This post could get very long.  Let me just say that I believe that this list of changes and misinterpretations are the cause of the myriad of problems we are seeing today.  This, along with the liberalization of our culture, both in society in general and in the lives of Catholics, means that there are fewer vocations to the priesthood and religious life; that there is a sex scandal among Catholic clergy; that young Catholics leave the Church, especially when exposed to misguided professors and others at our colleges and universities; and that attendance at Mass is down worldwide.  Catholic men and women don’t know their faith.  I lament that fact too, just like my former pastor and like Father Classen. Serious prayer is needed today.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Doctrine, or Dogma?

Over the past few months I’ve been encountering the terms “doctrine” and “dogma” in my reading, and, every time I do, I  wonder:  when is something a doctrine and when is something a dogma?  So I decided to, once and for all, go on a search for the definitions. 

I found that the definitions were expressed by Stacy Trasancos in her book Particles of Faith:  A Catholic Guide to Navigating Science.  Trasancos is a PhD chemist who converted to Catholicism.  If you are a scientist, her book is a very good read, by the way.  Anyway, the following is her statement on “doctrine” and “dogma.”  “The word ‘doctrine’ means teaching, or instruction.  Dogmas are doctrines, but they are more specific and directly connected to divine revelation whereas other teaching can derive from those truths but not be explicitly connected to them.”  This derivation would then be a doctrine, but not a dogma.  Her example of a dogma is the Holy Trinity, the teaching that says that there are three persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) in one God.  The Holy Trinity is a doctrine that is also a dogma because it is a teaching found directly from what God has revealed in Sacred Scripture or Sacred Tradition.  The Catholic teaching opposing contraception, however, is a doctrine that is not a dogma because it is derived from teachings that are dogmas, meaning it is not found explicitly in Sacred Scripture or Sacred Tradition.  Trasancos references the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 88-90.

I also found a statement of these definitions in the book The Everything Guide to Catholicism by Fr. Richard Gribble.  His definition of “dogma” is similar to Trasancos’, except that, besides a “dogma teaching” being found explicitly in Sacred Scripture or Sacred Tradition, he says it can be found in teachings “proposed by the Church, either by solemn judgment or by the ordinary and universal Magisterium, to be believed as having been divinely revealed.”  His examples are the many doctrines involving the Blessed Virgin Mary.  He says that four of these doctrines “have been raised to the level of dogma.”  These are Mary the Mother of God, the Perpetual Virginity of Mary, the Immaculate Conception, and the Assumption of Mary into Heaven.  Any other teachings or celebrations involving Mary are doctrines but not dogmas.

By the way, Protestantism has its doctrines too.  The Scripture Alone (Sola Scriptura) and Faith Alone (Sola Fide) teachings are protestant doctrines.  I don’t know if there is a distinction made between doctrine and dogma, however.  If you are a Protestant, perhaps you can answer that as a comment in this post.

So there you have it!  Doctrines and Dogmas are official teachings of a given faith.  In the Catholic Church, all dogmas are doctrines, but not all doctrines are dogmas.  And there I have it!

Thursday, February 2, 2017

John Wayne: A Prodigal Son

Most people are familiar with Jesus’ parable that has come to be known as “The Prodigal Son.”  (Luke 15:11-32).  It is the story that illustrates Jesus’ concern for the lost and God’s love for the repentant sinner.  It is not unlike the real life drama of many wayward souls.  I just finished reading the book Deathbed Conversions:  Finding Faith at the Finish Line by Karen Edmisten.  In this book, the lives of thirteen famous people are briefly recounted to try to sum up what can happen to the human heart when God’s love is allowed to enter in.  These are late-in-life conversions to the Catholic faith.

An example is megastar John Wayne.  Wayne, whom we also know as the Duke, married his first of three wives, Josephine (Josie) Saenz, while in college at the University of Southern California.  Josie was a devout Catholic who raised their four children in the Church.  The Duke refused to convert to Josie’s family faith, but they wed nonetheless.  And, as so often happens in Hollywood, the marriage ended in divorce after only twelve years following Wayne’s affair with his future second wife, Chata Bauer.  The four children were ages ten, eight, five, and four.  It was not unlike the prodigal son (in this case, he was a prodigal husband) in that the man totally rejected her way of life to live a life of dissipation and debauchery.  The Duke’s drinking and womanizing (he began an affair with his third wife while still married to Chata) brought an end to his second marriage.  The new woman, Pilar, soon became pregnant.  Edmisten writes, concerning Duke’s marriage to this third woman:  “But, it was a messy beginning – their secret affair, a pregnancy, and an abortion.” 

Edmisten then asks (and answers) the question “How did this thrice-married, hard-drinking, larger-than-life megastar make his leap to Catholicism?”  How was it that he, like the prodigal son in Jesus’ parable, came to his senses?  His first wife, who never re-married, prayed for him unceasingly.  All three of his wives and all seven of his children remained faithful Catholics.  His good friend, John Ford, died “with priests in his room and a rosary in his hand.”  He was always surrounded by faithful Catholics.  Dying of lung cancer and in consultation with a priest, he did convert on his deathbed. 

The story brings to mind another message from Scripture.  How is it that someone who lives an immoral life can be given his heavenly reward at the last possible minute alongside all those who have been faithful for their entire life?   It reminds me of the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Mat 20:1-16):  How can the workers who only worked for a short time be given the same wage as those who worked the entire day?  The prodigal son’s father expressed the answer this way:  “We must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.”   (Luke 15:32).  The heavenly reward is for all who die in the state of grace.  Amen.