Friday, July 26, 2019

The Moment of Decision

Some of the Pharisees who were with him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not also blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains. (John 9:40-41)

Some Catholics, when the Church calls out certain behaviors as contrary to the Catholic teaching, react with sorrow upon learning that they held or did something against Church teaching that they never thought about before their discovery, regretting their past ignorance and henceforth strive to change their ways.

On the other hand, when the Church calls out certain behaviors as contrary to the Catholic teaching, some who practice that behavior protest, saying that the Church should instead “stay out of politics,” displaying a profound ignorance of what the Church actually teaches and refusing to take correction from their bishops or the Pope to amend their lives. Frequently, they invoke conscience against the Church even though we must use Church teaching as a measure to judge whether our conscience has gone wrong—not the reverse.

The difference between the two attitudes can be described by St. Augustine in his work, The Free Choice of Will. Is the person in question ignorant against their will (i.e. if they had any idea that their behavior was wrong, they never would have done it)? Or did the person simply never bother to ask whether the actions they supported were wrong and refuse correction when learning otherwise?

This is where Gaudium et Spes, #16 helps us evaluate our behavior:

In fidelity to conscience, Christians are joined with the rest of men in the search for truth, and for the genuine solution to the numerous problems which arise in the life of individuals from social relationships. Hence the more right conscience holds sway, the more persons and groups turn aside from blind choice and strive to be guided by the objective norms of morality. Conscience frequently errs from invincible ignorance without losing its dignity. The same cannot be said for a man who cares but little for truth and goodness, or for a conscience which by degrees grows practically sightless as a result of habitual sin.

The person who is ignorant against their will tries to do what is right and, if they discover they have gone wrong, try to learn and live by what they have discovered to be right. The person who does not care that their behavior is condemned by the Church and, in fact, takes a stand against the Church when the Church reaffirms her teachings, is failing to seek and actually rejecting the truth when revealed to them.

It’s not for me to determine what category you, the reader, falls under in this decision. That’s for you and your confessor to determine. But we can ask ourselves about our own response. Do we feel like the scales fall from our eyes when we learn and strive to change our ways? Or do we burn with resentment against the Church and accuse the magisterium of “playing politics” or “heresy,” or downplay it as a “prudential judgment” we can ignore?

If we do the former, we are doing right. If the latter, we are in danger of willingly rejecting God by rejecting those whom He sent (cf. Luke 10:16).

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