Monday, January 21, 2008

Being a Faithful Catholic in America: Part I - Introduction

I am writing this in response to a call given by Archbishop Hughes, our shepherd and a successor of the Apostles, at a conference I recently attended. What follows is a reflection meant to help each of us examine and form our consciences to better enable us to live our lives as faithful Christian Catholics in America, specifically in preparation for the upcoming elections. I do not claim to have complete knowledge or understanding of the truth, but I do claim to be repeating what the Church teaches and demands of us as members of the Body of the Christ.

In his homily at the opening Mass for the 2008 Hoffinger Conference, Archbishop Hughes spoke of the universal call to holiness. He, as our shepherd, wants to remind each one of us that we are all, every single one of us, called to be a saint. Holiness is not reserved for a chosen few. God loves us unconditionally and wants us to respond to His gift of self with our own limitless gift of love for He who is Love. We all need to honestly strive to rid ourselves of our sinful tendencies, prejudices and preconceived notions, and to work toward sainthood.

This requires, among other things, that we learn to identify ourselves first and foremost as Catholics, as members of the Church which is the Bride of Christ and which is guided “in spirit and in truth” by the Holy Spirit. We must pray for the humility to submit ourselves to the wisdom and prudence of the Church’s teachings. We should not ignore or belittle the wisdom of the Holy Spirit speaking through the Church in favor of the beliefs or standards or our nation, our political party, our school, or ourselves. We are not primarily Republican or Democrat, American or New Orleanian. We are Catholic, which means we are members of the body of Christ along with millions of other people from all over the world. Our primary love and allegiance belongs to Jesus Christ, our Savior and King
The Archbishop of Denver, who was also at the conference, put it this way,

“Catholic is a word that has real meaning. We don’t control or invent that meaning as individuals. We inherit it from the gospel and the experience of the Church over the centuries. We can choose to be something else, but if we choose to call ourselves Catholic, then that word has consequences for what we believe and how we act. We can’t truthfully claim to be Catholic and then act as though we’re not. Being a Catholic is a bit like being married. We have a relationship with the Church and with Jesus Christ that’s similar to being a spouse. If a man says he loves his wife, his wife will want to see the evidence in his love and fidelity. The same applies to our relationship with God. If we say we’re Catholic, we need to show that by our love for the Church and our fidelity to what she teaches and believes. Otherwise we’re just fooling ourselves, because God certainly won’t be fooled.” (

As Christians we should be the leaven which raises the morality and holiness of our community, indeed of our country, to higher levels of holiness. However, if we examine American society we cannot noticeably see the good witness of Christians in our culture. Instead of being witnesses to the Truth of Christ as the apostles were, we have tended to blend in with the rest of our society which can NOT rightly be called good or virtuous. Because of our Catholic identity and our universal call to holiness we must always inform and examine our consciences on the issues in our country and never settle for the opinions of the authorities in our preferred political parties or talk shows.

In light of this, the successors of the Apostles, our American Bishops write the following, “There are some things we must never do, as individuals or as a society, because they are always incompatible with love of God and neighbor. Such actions are so deeply flawed that they are always opposed to the authentic good of persons. These are called “intrinsically evil” actions” ( The bishops include the followings actions in this category: abortion, euthanasia, human cloning, embryonic stem cell research, genocide, torture, racism, unjust war and unjust immigration laws.

In the following days and weeks I shall attempt to offer reflections on some of these issues in order to better educate myself, and all of us, on them and to challenge to submit to the wisdom and guidance of Mother Church. I invite you all to participate in these reflections by sharing your thoughts in the comment boxes.

Part II: Consistent Life Ethic
PartIII: Racism
Part IV: Immigration


DUgradstudent said...

I'm really looking forward to it.

One thing I've been thinking about lately is the meaning of "intrinsic evil." To what extent can something be so evil that it is intrinsically so? And for whom? The link Josh provided from the US bishops says that certain acts "are always opposed to the authentic good of persons." Does that mean for persons in collective? Autonomous individuals? Is there a difference? At least superficially there seems to be a huge ideological difference.

By "authentic good" we mean the good that orients people to love and the God who is love. This is directly opposed to "intrinsic evil." But might there also be lesser goods present in some acts labeled "intrinsically evil"? So by "instrinic evil" do we mean that the sum is always negative or do we mean that every part is negative? By extension, by "authentic good" do we mean that the sum is always positive or do we mean that every part is positive?

Finally, abortion and euthanasia are always called "intrinsically evil", but what of other taking of human life? What is the difference between "mortal sin" and "intrinsic evil"?

Sorry this ended up more questions than reflections!


JB said...

Thanks for the comment and questions. Some of these are pretty tough. I'm going to give them a shot, but Ashley will probably be able to do answer more clearly and more extensively.
Before answering any specific questions let me add ( I think) that the concept of "intrinsically evil acts" was first really thrust with authority into the discussion of moral theology in JPII's encyclical Veritas Splendor. MAny theologians (normally proportionalists) disagree, claiming that no act can in itself always evil, there can always be mitigating circumstances which negate the evil of the act, or so they say. However, JPII and other orthodox theologians clearly disagree.
To what extent can something be so evil that it is intrinsically so?
Actions that are intrinsically evil are incapable of being ordered to God because they contradict the good of the person made in the image and likeness of God. They are always wrong, quite apart from the intention of the one acting.
According to CCC 1755, "A morally good act requires the goodness of the object, of the end, and of the circumstances together." If any of these three is lacking, the act will be evil.
But not all evil acts are intrinsically evil. For that to be the case, the object of the act needs to be bad. The object is not the intention of the person doing the act, but the intention of the act itself.
If acts are intrinsically evil, a good intention or particular circumstances can diminish their evil, but they cannot remove it. They remain "irremediably" evil acts; "per se" and in themselves they are not capable of being ordered to God and to the good of the person. "As for acts which are themselves sins , Saint Augustine writes, like theft, fornication, blasphemy, who would dare affirm that, by doing them for good motives ("causis bonis"), they would no longer be sins, or, what is even more absurd, that they would be sins that are justified?".
"Consequently, circumstances or intentions can never transform an act intrinsically evil by virtue of its object into an act "subjectively" good or defensible as a choice.
(Veritatis Splendor, 81)

JB said...

I didn't want to make the previous comment TOO long.

In reference to a few comments you made or questions you posed:

I believe "authentic good" refers to an act being ordered to God.

Does that mean for persons in collective? Authentic individuals?

I think that means that whenever an act violates the dignity of a person it is an evil. Intrinsically evil acts in themselves do this, such as torture, murder, rape, abortion, etc. These can never, regardless of the intention of the acting agent (saving lives, in the case of torture, by extracting info) be considered good because the act itself violates the dignity of the person.

What is the difference between "mortal sin" and "intrinsic evil"?

In order to commit a serious sin (Mortal sin), three elements are necessary:
Serious Matter
Full Knowledge
Full Consent
If any one of these three is lacking, it is not a mortal sin.
Therefore, someone can commit an intrinsically evil act, but if they don't know that the act is evil, their culpability would be mitigated and might not be a mortal sin. For example, if a young teenager who does not know or whose conscience does not tell her abortion is wrong feels compelled to pursue an abortion because her parents have threatened her with abuse if she gets pregnant would be committing a mortal sin, although she would be participating in an intrinsically evil act, if she had an abortion.

If you need more clarification feel free to email me.


AB said...

To amend JB's last comment, I think he meant:

"would NOT be committing a mortal sin, although she would be participating in an intrinsically evil act"

Furthermore, we say this hypothetically. Only the person him/herself and God can truly determine the culpability of a person.