I’ve spent the last week looking for anything non-COVID-19 to write about, but the only other hot topic at the moment is the SSPX and that’s also been done to death this week by much more capable hands. (Or at least a girl can hope the topic is now dead!) So, I guess we’re left with pandemic hoopla. It’s pretty much all COVID all the time.
As we moved into the land of “Open/Don’t Open” last week, I saw the continued lambasting of good Catholics on both sides of the issue. Honestly, I’ve never seen “stupid” thrown around so much since I was in kindergarten. Can I ask a question? What if you are wrong? What if the stupid one is you for calling Catholics you agreed with two seconds ago stupid? It’s been uber annoying watching this. It’s like many turned into liberals in the last two months with an utter desire to have everyone fall in line behind whatever they think at the moment. I think the underlying cause is that they’re probably not too confident in their own opinion. Please, just form an opinion based on your well-formed conscience and stop flogging everyone who doesn’t share that idea. Even if you are wrong, the only way you can really go wrong is by trying to ensure you feel good about it.
So, let’s go over this again. The decision to open the country or to keep it closed – and in the Catholic world this very much includes public Masses and sacraments – is what’s called a prudential judgment. Can you say that with me? And prudential judgments very often bring on the principle of double effect.
1806 Prudence is the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it; “the prudent man looks where he is going.” “Keep sane and sober for your prayers.” Prudence is “right reason in action,” writes St. Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle. It is not to be confused with timidity or fear, nor with duplicity or dissimulation. It is called auriga virtutum (the charioteer of the virtues); it guides the other virtues by setting rule and measure. It is prudence that immediately guides the judgment of conscience. The prudent man determines and directs his conduct in accordance with this judgment. With the help of this virtue we apply moral principles to particular cases without error and overcome doubts about the good to achieve and the evil to avoid. http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s1c1a7.htm
And the principle of double effect?
In Catholic moral theology, a principle called “double effect” states that an action that has two effects (one good, one bad) is permissible if:
The act itself is not intrinsically wrong.
The person acting intends only the good effect and would act otherwise if possible to avoid the bad effect.
The bad effect does not cause the good effect .
The good effect “outweighs” the bad effect.
So, we’ve got two camps in the faithful Catholicland (there’s actually one more camp where I and many others live): you’ve got the “Allowing public Masses is going to kill somebody’s grandma or a healthcare worker!”, then you have the “Disallowing public Masses is going to kill souls and cause loss of life when the economy collapses and people starve to death and/or kill themselves!” It seems like neither side realizes that both could be at least a little bit right. Where I live, the third camp, prudential judgment and Primacy of Conscience are the order of the day with this pandemic. And no, I’m not talking about the ridiculous ideas put forth by James Martin, SJ. I’m talking about Catholics who try their hardest to form their will around doctrine and the teachings of the Church.
In my Catholic hood, we are looking at the rest and thinking, “What the heck is wrong with you people?!” I don’t have a problem with people debating whether whatever business should open or close, but accusations of “You’re evil!”, “You’re anti-life!”, “You’re anti-freedom!”, etc., is crazy. This is a very, very prudential situation. Let’s look one more time at the primacy of conscience – especially the part in bold.
1776 “Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, sounds in his heart at the right moment. . . . For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God. . . . His conscience is man’s most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths.”
- THE JUDGMENT OF CONSCIENCE
1777 Moral conscience, present at the heart of the person, enjoins him at the appropriate moment to do good and to avoid evil. It also judges particular choices, approving those that are good and denouncing those that are evil. It bears witness to the authority of truth in reference to the supreme Good to which the human person is drawn, and it welcomes the commandments. When he listens to his conscience, the prudent man can hear God speaking.
1778 Conscience is a judgment of reason whereby the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act that he is going to perform, is in the process of performing, or has already completed. In all he says and does, man is obliged to follow faithfully what he knows to be just and right. It is by the judgment of his conscience that man perceives and recognizes the prescriptions of the divine law:
Conscience is a law of the mind; yet [Christians] would not grant that it is nothing more; I mean that it was not a dictate, nor conveyed the notion of responsibility, of duty, of a threat and a promise. . . . [Conscience] is a messenger of him, who, both in nature and in grace, speaks to us behind a veil, and teaches and rules us by his representatives. Conscience is the aboriginal Vicar of Christ.
1779 It is important for every person to be sufficiently present to himself in order to hear and follow the voice of his conscience. This requirement of interiority is all the more necessary as life often distracts us from any reflection, self-examination or introspection:
Return to your conscience, question it. . . . Turn inward, brethren, and in everything you do, see God as your witness.
1780 The dignity of the human person implies and requires uprightness of moral conscience. Conscience includes the perception of the principles of morality (synderesis); their application in the given circumstances by practical discernment of reasons and goods; and finally judgment about concrete acts yet to be performed or already performed. The truth about the moral good, stated in the law of reason, is recognized practically and concretely by the prudent judgment of conscience. We call that man prudent who chooses in conformity with this judgment.
1781 Conscience enables one to assume responsibility for the acts performed. If man commits evil, the just judgment of conscience can remain within him as the witness to the universal truth of the good, at the same time as the evil of his particular choice. The verdict of the judgment of conscience remains a pledge of hope and mercy. In attesting to the fault committed, it calls to mind the forgiveness that must be asked, the good that must still be practiced, and the virtue that must be constantly cultivated with the grace of God:
We shall . . . reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.
1782 Man has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions. “He must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience. Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters.”
- THE FORMATION OF CONSCIENCE
1783 Conscience must be informed and moral judgment enlightened. A well-formed conscience is upright and truthful. It formulates its judgments according to reason, in conformity with the true good willed by the wisdom of the Creator. The education of conscience is indispensable for human beings who are subjected to negative influences and tempted by sin to prefer their own judgment and to reject authoritative teachings.
1784 The education of the conscience is a lifelong task. From the earliest years, it awakens the child to the knowledge and practice of the interior law recognized by conscience. Prudent education teaches virtue; it prevents or cures fear, selfishness and pride, resentment arising from guilt, and feelings of complacency, born of human weakness and faults. The education of the conscience guarantees freedom and engenders peace of heart.
1785 In the formation of conscience the Word of God is the light for our path, we must assimilate it in faith and prayer and put it into practice. We must also examine our conscience before the Lord’s Cross. We are assisted by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, aided by the witness or advice of others and guided by the authoritative teaching of the Church.
III. TO CHOOSE IN ACCORD WITH CONSCIENCE
1786 Faced with a moral choice, conscience can make either a right judgment in accordance with reason and the divine law or, on the contrary, an erroneous judgment that departs from them.
1787 Man is sometimes confronted by situations that make moral judgments less assured and decision difficult. But he must always seriously seek what is right and good and discern the will of God expressed in divine law.
1788 To this purpose, man strives to interpret the data of experience and the signs of the times assisted by the virtue of prudence, by the advice of competent people, and by the help of the Holy Spirit and his gifts.
1789 Some rules apply in every case:
– One may never do evil so that good may result from it;
– the Golden Rule: “Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them.”
– charity always proceeds by way of respect for one’s neighbor and his conscience: “Thus sinning against your brethren and wounding their conscience . . . you sin against Christ.” Therefore “it is right not to . . . do anything that makes your brother stumble.”
- ERRONEOUS JUDGMENT
1790 A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience. If he were deliberately to act against it, he would condemn himself. Yet it can happen that moral conscience remains in ignorance and makes erroneous judgments about acts to be performed or already committed.
1791 This ignorance can often be imputed to personal responsibility. This is the case when a man “takes little trouble to find out what is true and good, or when conscience is by degrees almost blinded through the habit of committing sin.” In such cases, the person is culpable for the evil he commits.
1792 Ignorance of Christ and his Gospel, bad example given by others, enslavement to one’s passions, assertion of a mistaken notion of autonomy of conscience, rejection of the Church’s authority and her teaching, lack of conversion and of charity: these can be at the source of errors of judgment in moral conduct.
1793 If – on the contrary – the ignorance is invincible, or the moral subject is not responsible for his erroneous judgment, the evil committed by the person cannot be imputed to him. It remains no less an evil, a privation, a disorder. One must therefore work to correct the errors of moral conscience.
1794 A good and pure conscience is enlightened by true faith, for charity proceeds at the same time “from a pure heart and a good conscience and sincere faith.”
The more a correct conscience prevails, the more do persons and groups turn aside from blind choice and try to be guided by objective standards of moral conduct.”
Please read that again slowly. It’s a pretty much a Catholic flow chart like this:
This way of thinking doesn’t get suspended in times of pandemics. I have a “Twitter friend” who disagrees with me on public Masses, but we don’t call each other stupid, evil, naïve, etc. because we understand this. I know he’s making the best decision he can, and he understands that of me. Same goes for the bishops, priests, etc. I would argue that some made decisions a little too quickly, perhaps, but I wouldn’t call them stupid or evil for that. There are a few who seem a little bit giddy about keeping all sacraments shut down, but I think no matter what well-formed conscience decision you’ve made, you’d agree that’s not the attitude to have. I mean, really, they’re acting like it would just be fine and dandy to never have Mass again. But back to those striving to live the good Catholic life. Do you really, honestly think that those who have made the decision one way or the other are simply doing it out of fear, or on the flip side, for love of money? Or could both sides be doing it out of a desire to prevent human suffering? Something to ponder.
One other thing this week deserves a mention. While I find Cardinal Cupich to be lacking in many moral and theological areas on most days, kudos to him for putting together a team to give Last Rites! Yes, I realize he essentially said “Prayer doesn’t work” a few days later, but can we just relish the one shred of sanity left in him? I’m hoping more will find creative ways to bring back the sacraments sooner than later, but yay for him at least trying to get the last ones possible to those who need it.
Prayers this all ends soon!