Return to Catholicism?

Question: I was raised Catholic, but I have been married twice, divorced and then lived with a woman. I now live alone and my Catholic friends tell me to return to the Catholic Church. I do lots of unpaid volunteer work. Is that good enough to go to heaven if I die suddenly? What should I do?

Name withheld, Atchison, Kansas

Answer: Your friends are right, return to the Catholic Church. What this means, practically, is you should go to confession and resume receiving holy Communion. In situations like yours, where one has been away from the Church for some time and struggled to live some of the teachings (in this case, holy matrimony), you would do well to meet with your parish priest or some other priest your friends can recommend. It is often fruitful to spend some time discussing your life and struggles in the context of a longer confession and/or a counseling session with a priest. In order to make a good confession, you must bring with you a purpose of amendment to live a chaste life and follow the teachings of the Church on holy matrimony. Perhaps the priest can discuss these with you, help you understand your struggles of the past and assist you with the proper vision going forward.

Regular prayer, the word of God, sacraments and walking in fellowship with the Church are essential to finding our way through the desert of this world to the promised land of heaven.

As for good works, we cannot purchase, as it were, forgiveness from God. Thus, good works cannot replace true repentance and returning to Christ, whose mercy is free. However, good works can reflect a repentant heart and help to cleanse us from our sinful tendencies. So you are commended and encouraged to continue in the good works you have undertaken! May God bless you and your journey back into the practice of the Faith.

Hominids and rationality

Question: You recently wrote that Adam and Eve are (theologically) considered the first human beings. And though God gave them rational souls, he may have developed the physical aspect of man through evolution. However, some of the hominids that precede Homo sapiens seem to have some rational tendencies, such as burying the dead and fashioning tools. Does this mean their brains were developed enough to know values such as right and wrong?

Steve Brestic, Merrionette Park, Illinois

Answer: Exactly what they “knew” is somewhat speculative. Even some nonrational animals today show signs of social behaviors such as organized hunting, etc. Reward and punishment can also condition animal behavior. However, this does not mean they are engaging in moral reasoning or accessing metaphysical concepts such as justice and right and wrong. Further, moral reasoning and accountability presuppose freedom. We do not presuppose freedom in nonrational animals, and thus we do not hold them morally accountable for their actions.   

It was probably the same with these early hominids. Anthropologists will properly debate the “emergence” of the rational intellect and moral reasoning within their field, but theologically, we posit the beginnings of this with the direct creation of the rational souls of Adam and Eve, prescinded from matters of brain development, etc.

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org. Send questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to msgrpope@osv.com. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.