Skip to comments.Obedience vs. Conscience (Help Lapsed Catholics Return to Christ and His Church) [Caucus]
Posted on 08/15/2010 1:52:23 PM PDT by NYer
What to do about all the lapsed Catholics? Those Catholics who don’t come to church because they reject the Church’s teachings on such matters as contraception, the ordination of women to the diaconate, and married priests.
Father Joseph Breen of Nashville proposed in a video posted last month on his parish website (and since removed) that these individuals are under the erroneous view that they need to accept these teachings. He says that as adults they need to be obedient to nothing but “the spirit of God”: The conscience is supreme.
Ironically, Father Breen invokes a Church teaching to defend rejecting Church teaching. He likely has in mind the principle found in the Catechism: “A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience” (No. 1790). He rejects the principle articulated in Lumen Gentium No. 25: “In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent.” Father Breen chooses to believe what he wants to believe and rejects the rest.
How can it be simultaneously true that Catholics must follow their consciences and that Catholics must follow Church teaching?
First, we must understand that the conscience is not equivalent to our thoughts or our opinions or our judgments. The Catechism (No. 1776) defines the conscience as an inner sanctuary in which we listen to God’s voice for guidance about our actions. So when someone is consulting his or her conscience, the question being asked is not “Do I think this action is good or bad?” but “Does God judge this action to be good or bad?” And God speaks to the consciences of Catholics through the Church.
If a Catholic is considering doing something that the Church teaches to be wrong, he can be certain that he is not listening to his conscience, but some other “voice” that has caught his attention.
Consider a question of conscience of this sort: “My wife has been in a persistent vegetative state for years. Would it be immoral for me to have relations with my lovely, lonely, unmarried secretary? We would get married if we could, but until my wife dies, I am not free to marry.”
Suppose this unfortunate, lonely husband said he thought his conscience was clear on this point — he was not really committing adultery because his wife was not available as a wife. Now, only God knows the extent of this man’s confusion and how honestly he has tried to work through the issues. But wouldn’t a Catholic priest have to say to this man, “I am sorry, but you are not properly consulting your conscience. God is clear on this point: Adultery is having sexual intercourse with someone who is not your spouse, and that is precisely what you would be doing.”
Such a man ignoring Church teaching would certainly be welcome to attend Catholic services, but would not be welcome to receive the Eucharist.
Let’s consider another question: “Should I have a baby through in vitro fertilization?” I suspect a Catholic asking the question in the proper fashion — “Would God approve of me having a baby through in vitro fertilization?” — when talking with God in her inner sanctuary, would hear God’s voice say: “You are a Catholic; I have set up the Church to guide you in such decisions; turn to the Church for guidance, and you will be hearing my voice on this matter.”
She must now do what Catholics are obliged to do: “Form” her conscience (Catechism, Nos. 1783-87). Truly forming the conscience involves reading Church documents, seeking clarification on difficult points, and praying that God will lead one to the truth. After all that, suppose she still is not convinced that IVF is moral. Is she free to utilize IVF and still remain a Catholic in good standing?
Only God can know the source of her confusion, but any Catholic priest should tell her she is violating God’s law and would not be free to receive the Eucharist, though she is certainly welcome at church.
Would Father Breen maintain that the above individuals are doing what is right when they follow their “consciences”? Would Father Breen hold that there are any teachings of the Church from which a Catholic is not free to dissent on the basis of conscience? Teachings on racism, greed etc.?
He may respond that different kinds of teaching require different levels of obedience. It is correct that the Church itself teaches that different teachings require different levels of adherence, but all of those listed by Father Breen as nonbinding the Church teaches require “religious assent.”
What should we do to bring lapsed Catholics back to the Church? Father Breen recommends that we turn the Church into a more inviting place, and he believes the Church would be more welcoming were it to become more like Protestant churches which accept contraception, women ministers and married priests.
What will Father Breen provide that these churches don’t? Some even have plush seating and Starbucks coffee. What can compete with that? The sacraments?
Well, the validity of the sacraments is dependent upon a certain structure of the Church that is rooted in the validity of the papacy. But Father Breen is questioning the papacy, and he encourages his flock to do the same. A huge flaw in his proposal is that Protestant churches are rapidly declining in membership, not growing. I suspect their flocks will decline further as those lapsed Catholics who have found their way there eventually cease worshipping altogether.
Let me offer a proposal for winning back lapsed Catholics: something worth coming back to.
Priests should evince a tremendous love for Christ and his Church and the papacy. They should do everything they can to help their congregation fall in love with Christ and his Church; they should encourage them to read Scripture and receive the sacraments; they should find a myriad of ways to help them understand and accept Church teaching on difficult issues and inspire them to live lives of radical Christian service.
These Catholics will then go out into the world as powerhouses of grace and as knowledgeable witnesses to their faith. I suspect both lapsed Catholics and those who are entirely “unchurched” might find the Catholic Church has something to offer them found nowhere else in the world.
One of my favorite topics. Evangelization is just beginning to come of age in the Catholic Church. We are learning how to do it. Ask questions? Contact and invite.
How would you like to go to Mass with me? To Adult Bible Study with Father _________?
I’ll pick you up for Scripture Study next Tuesday morning.
Are you interested in suffering? (Answer Yes or No doesn’t really matter.) That’s great! We’re going to have a presentation on the Catholic way of looking at suffering next _______ evening. How about you being my guest?
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Yes, that's a real conversation-starter!
But seriously, you always have great ideas.
LOL! Only for someone that you know is going through a great deal of mental, spiritual or physical pain.
Notice I said how Catholics look at suffering. (Much different than the secular world.)
But you still got me!
Yes, the invitation to a presentation on suffering in Catholic theology is quite reasonable. Anyone could benefit, because we all have suffering in our lives, simply through being human in a fallen world. Being able to “do something productive” with it is a real blessing.
My impression is that Janet did not listen to the video of Fr. Breen.
One never leaves the Catholic Church — once baptized you are always a Catholic and are welcome to return at any time.
Just make an appointment to talk with the priest.
At my church — strange — not! They subjects are approached. In fact something about abortion, pregnancy, etc. is mentioned EVERY week!
Time to come home and be a REAL Catholic. Don’t judge in generalities by looking at CINOs Pelosi, Biden, et al who have excommunicated themselves by their support of abortion.
Traditional parishes are thriving.
EWTN and Catholic radio are thriving...
This must be because they have something to offer..
Could that be firm, unambiguous teaching rather then feel good soft puffy rhetoric.
I agree with your post completely. Even a letter sent to registered parishioners telling them the pastor hopes they are happy in the parish and his goals for the parish would do wonders. Honesty and love would win out. The Truth is already there.
I think Catholics today need to see someone openly living a joyful Catholic life. We are too quiet about what we are thinking, feeling, and doing. We are shy about it.
A priest I knew once said that if people you encounter in your daily life are not aware you are Catholic, you are not living out the Faith the way you should be. The Light should shine.
I find it helpful to wear a medal. Other Catholics recognize it and those who have fallen away will sometimes comment on it. That opens up the door to discussion. I also wear ashes to work on Ash Wednesday. I have to go to Mass early to get them, but it is the one time of the year I can really broadcast it at work (I work at a public school). It is hard because so few do it now, but I think it may be doing a little good for the lukewarm to see it.
We have to LIVE Catholic. With joy. We have to be an example for young people today. As St. Francis once said, “Preach the Gospel at all times and, when necessary, use words.” Example is powerful.
Go to a Latin Mass if one is nearby. You’ll probably hear all about “They don’t talk about abortion, premarital sex, gay marriage...IN the chuches”.
Thanks for this. I really needed it today. My friend, a fallen away Catholic that I’ve been praying for, really frustrated me today. I was saying a decade of the rosary with my 3 year old daughter when he called. I told him what we were doing & he said “sounds like a bunch of hoodie-ha to me”! AAAGGGHHHH!!!!!! I cannot stand the thought of this man being in Satan’s grasp! I prayed so hard this evening for him & will continue to do so. I can be pretty stubborn.....he dosen’t know who he’s messing with ;-)
Thank you for the post and ping. Like you, I attended catholic school for 12 years and also taught CCD. In my last parish, the Director for Religious Education approached my confirmation students, looking for volunteers to perform a liturgical dance. That is a liturgical abuse. It is"illicit." These type of abuses are less serious and do not cause the failure of the Consecration of the Eucharist. There are a wide variety of these types of abuses which detract from the holiness and reverence in the Mass. My reaction? Fight back!
Inaestimabile Donum and Canon Law state:
"The faithful have a right to a true Liturgy, which means the Liturgy desired and laid down by the Church, which has in fact indicated where adaptations may be made as called for by pastoral requirements in different places or by different groups of people. Undue experimentation, changes and creativity bewilder the faithful.
I charitably approached the DRE with USCCB documentation to show that liturgical dance is not allowed in the liturgy. She brought this to the pastor who dismissed it. I then approached him. When that failed, I wrote to the Diocesan Director for Liturgy and Divine Worship, copied the bishop and Cardinal Arinze, Prefect, Congregation for Divine Worship. The response quoted some arcane document to support multiculturalism. Undaunted, I wrote a 2nd time citing Canon Law - Under the authority of the diocesan Bishop, the parish priest must direct this liturgy in his own parish, and he is bound to be on guard against abuses.. That worked. The liturgical dance was cancelled.
This is not to suggest you must jump through hoops to ensure the Mass you attend is valid. However, not only do you have a right to a valid liturgy, you have an obligation to address problems in your parish. The Church is Christ's bride (Ephesians 5:29) and has "no spot, wrinkle or blemish" (Ephesians 5:27). Individual clergy may commit sins, even popes commit sins because in the Church there are both "weeds and wheat" (Matthew 13:30).
While I was successful in addressing one abuse, there were others. What eventually sent me packing from that parish was watching an EMHC drop a consecrated host on the floor of the sanctuary and not know how to handle the situation. It was more than I could bear. I then submitted this agony to our Lord and asked him to "guide me to a holy priest, a reverent liturgy and a community where my God-given abilities could be of service". That day, I compiled a list of 8 parishes within a limited radius of my home and included 2 Eastern Catholic Churches. Each Sunday I attended Mass at a different parish, always repeating the same prayer. When I arrived at the Maronite (one of the eastern church) Church, our Lord let me know in no uncertain terms, that this is where he wanted me. That was nearly 7 years ago.
Since then, I have served as VP of the women's sodality, been elected to the parish council, successfully written a grant that raised nearly $200,000 to refurbish our future church, and now serve as Director for Religious Education.
Being a Catholic is not just about receiving, it is also about giving. I would suggest to anyone who is discontent with the status of their local parishes, to get involved and make a difference. For it is in giving that we receive. St. Francis of Assisi.
Should you be interested in learning more about the Eastern Catholic Churches, please freepmail me. May our Lord bless you on your journey!
That woke me up. You said once a catholic, always a catholic. Wrong. The church lost it's moral standing with me when they did not stand up against what is wrong. They keep making the same mistakes throughout history. The latest being the not protecting children from pedophiles, rather than doing what is right. They did not want there church name smeared, so let the children be hurt. Better some children suffer than a whole church be smeared??? I was one of many who were physically abused by nuns and priest at our parish. My life was miserable because I thought God hated me. They represented God to me and I thought that is how God felt about me. People want to think this is rare at churches. Think again. I know others (not at my church) who were hurt as well. There is no way God is on the side of the church. That is why so many people like me found churches that not only SHOW us God's word in the bible, but also encourage us to live it out the best we can. I feel sorry for those who think a religion is going to get them to heaven. They're in for a big surprise.