TCA Faith for September/October 2012

Following My Conscience?

Q. In recent months much publicity has been given to the Church’s condemnation of using artificial contraceptives. Recently, in a women’s club meeting in our parish, one of our members stated quite positively an opinion to which I could think of no response. She, who faithfully attends Mass, said this: “I know the Church condemns using artificial contraception, but my conscience tells me it’s not wrong. I follow my conscience in this matter because the Church tells us we have to follow our consciences.” What could, or should, I have said to her? 

Name withheld by request, via e-mail  

A. First of all, your friend misunderstands the nature of conscience. Conscience is an acquired capacity or ability for making moral judgments. It is a judging faculty by which we decide whether a given action is right or wrong. Conscience is not subjective. It must have a standard by which to make its judgments. Conscience cannot determine what the standard is. Your friend’s conscience can say nothing about any standard of morality. 

Evidently, the lady in question does not realize that the conflict is not between the Church’s teaching and what her conscience tells her. These two cannot conflict, because they operate on totally different planes. She has chosen by her will — not by her conscience — to believe using artificial contraception is morally acceptable. That chosen belief — not her conscience — is in conflict with the Church’s teaching. She has set her desire to legitimate and/or use artificial contraception against the Church’s teaching. She has chosen a belief to be the standard by which her conscience must operate. And, of course, she will get the answer she wants. 

Moreover, not only does the Church tell us we must follow our consciences, but with equal force, and perhaps even more basically, she tells us we must correctly form our consciences — that is, we must accept the truth by which our consciences are to be guided. Holy Mother Church is our teacher in matters of faith and morals. In the instance under discussion, your friend has denied the Church’s authority and substituted her own. 

Finally, your friend needs to be told this. The Church’s condemnation of using artificial contraception is infallibly taught by the Church’s ordinary magisterium. In 1998, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued an addendum to Blessed John Paul II’s apostolic letter Ad Tuendam Fidem. The congregation warned that anyone who denies any of the Church’s official teachings “would therefore no longer be in full communion with the Catholic Church.” 

Are We Set Aside?

Q. I am struggling with a question, and I hope you can enlighten me. What does it mean if God sets you aside for his purpose? Should you give up your ministries and only take care of your family which is in need of decontamination from selfishness? I am also in college and God is giving me direction as to where He is leading me, but I am feeling guilty for not continuing my outside ministries. 

Totally confused, via email  

A. Each one of us has from God a vocation for the fulfillment of which He “set us aside.” Speaking generally, we can say that “purpose” is to grow into the image and likeness of Christ in our state of life. 

Do you have a family for which you’re responsible? If so, on the human level your ministering to them surely must be your primary concern. If you believe God has led you into higher education, can you care for your family while pursuing a degree in college? You speak of concern about neglecting “outside ministries.” Is it possible you have unreal expectations about fulfilling multiple callings? Surely God does not call to other ministries a person who already has heavy and demanding responsibilities. 

Was von Stauffenberg a Martyr?

Q. I have seen the movie “Valkyrie” and a detailed documentary on the History Channel about the story of Claus von Stauffenberg and his plot against Adolf Hitler. I have been wondering about him ever since. After doing more research regarding tyrannicide I wondered if von Stauffenberg, a devout Catholic, could be considered a martyr, possibly a saint for his actions and intentions to close the concentration camps. 

Martha, via email  

A. So far as I know, von Stauffenberg was put to death because of his opposition to Hitler, not because of his faith. He would not be considered a martyr. Moreover, while he had good intentions, he and those associated with him were working to accomplish those intentions by an evil means — namely, murder. The Church assures us we can never use an evil means to bring about a good. However demonically evil Hitler’s actions may have been, killing him would have been a serious sin.

Faith and Words? 

Q. In The Catholic Answer I read the question “‘Get Behind Me Satan’?” (Jan./Feb., 2012). The last paragraph reads in part: “Finally, you can remind your friend that the ‘rock’ could not be Peter’s statement of faith. It is impossible to establish an institution simply on words.”  

My question is this: Don’t we believe in Jesus and His Church by faith and words? After all, I didn’t witness the Resurrection or the miracles performed by Jesus. I take it all on faith through Catholic teaching and reading the Bible. I believe that Peter is the earthly head of the Church. Doesn’t feeding the sheep mean that we are to follow Peter’s teaching? Didn’t Peter teach by words and miracles? Could you please expand this for me?  

Jeanne, via email  

A. Thank you for your question. It shows need for elaboration of the second sentence you quoted from the previous TCA answer.  

In his “An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine,” Blessed John Henry Newman gave us a common-sense, but often ignored, reminder: “A revelation is not given, if there be no authority to decide what it is that is given” (Chapter 2, Section 2,6). We believe in Jesus and His words because He left us an institution which infallibly preserved His words, brings them to us today, interprets them for us. 

We were not eyewitnesses of Our Lord’s miracles and His resurrection, true. Yet we have the testimony of eyewitnesses, whose testimony has come to us through an unbroken succession of teachers (our pope and bishops). Yes, Peter taught by words and miracles, and through the Church he and his successors have been teaching Catholics for 2,000 years. And not Catholics alone. All Christian truth which non-Catholic traditions have retained came to them only through the Church and her tradition. 

He Rose “Again”?

Q. I want to understand the line in the Creed, “and he rose again from the dead.” Why is it framed as “again”? He rose only once. Or does the phrase reflect the fact that we celebrate His victory over death every year at Easter? 

Bill, via email  

A. That adverb “again” does sometimes puzzle people, since, as you say, Our Lord rose from the dead only once. Start with the fact that in the Latin form of the Confiteor, the word for “again” (iterum) does not occur. In Latin the Creed simply states, “he rose on the third day.” The word “again” has been added by translators. 

But since we have the word “again” in the English version of the Creed, how shall we understand this troublesome adverb? The first dictionary definition of “again” is, “in return” or “back.” Using this definition would clearly communicate the Creed’s meaning: “he rose in return from the dead,” or “he rose back from the dead.” In our present translation the word “again” refers to Our Lord’s return to life, not to a second rising from the dead.

The Fire of Purgatory

Q. I hope you can give me some peace on something very troubling to me. Since childhood I have believed in purgatory. Recently, my friend who is involved with the Divine Mercy program gave me a paper about the vision of St. Faustina and how she saw fire in purgatory. Could you please explain this? 

Frances, Stockton, Calif. 

A. Obviously, I cannot explain St. Faustina’s vision. Whatever she saw, of course, is private revelation, binding only on her. 

In sacred Scripture, the metaphor of fire is often used to suggest eternal suffering of the damned. Only God knows the exact nature of that punishment for having completely rejected Him. Mystics other than St. Faustina have also associated the symbol of fire with the experience of purgatory. But the suffering of purgatory is a totally different reality than the suffering of hell. 

Remember that the purpose of life in purgatory is purgation. The purpose of whatever suffering it involves is to prepare us for the Beatific Vision. Complete cleansing of the soul of all attachment to sin, all traces of self-centeredness; complete healing of and freedom from the consequences of sin: this is what purgatory will do for us. Apart from the souls in heaven, the only souls in creation who have absolute assurance of eventually sharing in the life of heaven are the souls in purgatory. Surely life in purgatory is deeply joyful, whatever the suffering involved. 

John’s Followers?

Q. In the second Joyful Mystery, John leaps for joy in Elizabeth’s womb, recognizing that Mary was carrying our Lord and Savior in her womb. John also recognized Jesus as Lord at the baptism in the Jordan River. My question is, Why then would John send his followers to Jesus to ask if he was the Messiah, or was there another to follow? 

Shawn, Kansas City, Mo. 

A. Perhaps many of us have been puzzled by the text in question: “Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, ‘Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?’” (Mt 11:2-3, RSV). Two other instances of recognition by John are recorded in St. John’s Gospel (see 1:29-34 and 1:35-36). 

The most likely explanation of John’s sending his disciples on a mission of inquiry is this: He wanted them to see for themselves that Jesus is indeed the Messiah, thus ridding their minds of the common expectation of a messianic political leader. Note that Jesus did not give them a direct answer about His identity. Rather, He pointed to His works as if to ask, “What do you think?” His listing of His healings should have recalled to their minds several passages from Isaiah (see 26:19; 29:18; 35:4-6; 61:1-2). 

There is another possible reason for John’s query. John was in prison. Not a prison like ours. (Some years ago one of my friends, a probation officer, was invited with others to inspect a new federal prison about to open in San Diego. She was amazed by the luxury of the place: wall-to-wall carpeting, huge color television screens, elaborate gymnasium, basketball court on the roof, and so on.) John’s prison would have been an appalling dungeon, unfit for human habitation. He was there because he had so fearlessly proclaimed the Messiah and His kingdom. He knew his life was only hanging by a thread, soon to be snapped. He might have agonized over a doubt such as, “Was I mistaken?” It is possible — and this is only speculation — that in his suffering he needed reassurance of that which he knew in his heart. And so he told his disciples, in effect, “for my sake and yours, go and ask!” 

Or might John have been motivated by both these reasons? 

The Church and Homosexuality?

Q. Is there a recommended resource — book(s) or author(s) — for dealing with the Church’s teaching on homosexuality in “laymen’s terms”? My closest friend is wrestling with demons in her struggle toward God, and one of the strongest is the death by suicide of her closest childhood friend who was a lesbian. My friend has grave reservations about the doctrines concerning these things, and I need to be more fluent in them to help her. 

James, via email  

A. The basic source to be consulted is Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics, issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the end of 1975. (You can find a copy online under the document’s Latin title, Persona Humana.) Section 8 is devoted specifically to homosexuality, but the teaching in the other sections puts this issue in proper perspective. You should also study paragraphs 2357-2359 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. 

Same-sex attraction in itself, while not sinful, is “objectively disordered.” Homosexual acts, however, “are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved” (Catechism, No. 2357). 

As you know, we have in this country a very powerful, heavily financed homosexual lobby. Under its leadership a most aggressive campaign is being carried on by the media and many educational institutions to lead our people to accept homosexuality as equal to heterosexuality. A number of state legislatures have caved in to the pressure, allowing for homosexual “marriage” in their laws. 

The Catechism tells us that persons afflicted with same-sex attraction “must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s cross the difficulties they may encounter from their conditions” (No. 2358). Like all unmarried persons, those with same-sex attraction “are called to chastity” (No. 2359). Sexual acts outside the bonds of marriage are always mortally sinful. 

Image and Likeness?

Q. We are made in God’s image and likeness. How does the Catholic Church explain this? With regard to soul and spirit, some writings say they are the same thing, while others say the soul is the intellect, emotions, etc. Which is the correct interpretation in this matter according to the Catholic Church? 

Frances, via email  

A. The Catechism summarizes the Church’s teaching on this issue (see Nos. 356-379). Here is a listing of some of the more important dimensions of our being created in God’s image and likeness. I will use the word “man” in its generic sense. 

Of all God’s creatures, only man has capacity to know and love his Creator. He is the only creature enabled to share in the life of God himself. All else in the universe was created by God for the sake of man. He alone has rationality, self-possession by which, in response to God’s grace, he can respond in covenant with God. 

Man is the only creature who partakes both of the spiritual and the material worlds. Sometimes in Scripture the whole person is spoken of in terms of “soul.” But, says the Catechism, “‘soul’ also refers to the innermost aspect of man, that which is of greatest value in him, that by which he is most especially in God’s image: ‘soul’ signifies the spiritual principle in man” (No. 363). 

The First Letter to the Thessalonians refers to “spirit, soul, and body” (5:23). This does not mean “spirit” and “soul” are somewhat separate entities. Rather, “‘Spirit’ signifies that from creation man is ordered to a supernatural end” (Catechism, No. 367). 

The End of the World?

Q. In a previous issue of The Catholic Answer part of a response to a question stated that Jesus did not know when the end of the world would occur. Being God and knowing all things, how can Jesus not know the end of time? 

Paul, Grand Rapids, Mich. 

A. The passage in question is Mark 13:32. Speaking of the end of time, Our Lord said, “But of that day or hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Immediately before His ascension, Jesus told His apostles, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority” (Acts 1:7). In other words, this information was not given to His perfect human knowledge. It is not part of what He was sent to reveal. Moreover, if Our Lord had specified a time for the end, He would thereby have placed himself under the restriction of time. But that would be unthinkable: He is lord of all time.  

What good would it do us to know the exact time when the world comes to an end? Knowing a specific date would create complacency in us. It would distract us from facing the fact that the end of our time on earth can come any minute. It would undercut Jesus’ clear command to be always watchful, always ready for His coming for us at the end of our lives: “Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time will come…. Watch therefore…. And what I say to you I say to all: Watch” (Mk 13:33-37).

Behemoth and Leviathan

Q. According to a Protestant science textbook website, Job 40:15-23 and 41:1-34 “implies” that the Behemoth and the Leviathan were dinosaurs, and, therefore, Job was a witness to these dinosaurs. What is the Catholic view of dinosaurs in the Bible? 

Name withheld by request, via email  

A. There’s general agreement, I think, that the age of the dinosaurs long antedated the age when man appeared on the scene. By the time Job came along, there would have been no dinosaurs for him to witness. 

The website you refer to is only engaging in fanciful speculation. 

Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D., serves as chaplain for several national Catholic apostolates, an adjunct professor of theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, and an assistant pastor at St. Peter’s Church in the same city.