Therese of Lisieux – Pope Benedict XVI's General Audience

Today the Holy Father's General Audience was on St. Therese of Lisieiux, St. Therese of the Child Jesus. The greater part of the audience is a retelling of her life. In the last two paragraphs the Pontiff reflects on her significance for us. I have translated these two paragraphs from the Italian. (An English translation is apparently not yet available.) Pope Benedict XVI points out that the saint is especially a guide for theologians. The science of theology that relies upon study depends for its vitality upon the "science of the saints", the science that comes from union with God in love and prayer.


Dear friends, with St. Therese of the Child Jesus we too should be able to repeat to the Lord every day that we want to live from love for Him and for others, to learn, at the school of the saints, to love authentically and totally. Therese is one of the "little ones" of the Gospel who let themselves be led by God in the profundity of his mystery. A guide for everyone, especially for those who, in the People of God, carry out the ministry of theologians. With humility and charity, faith and hope, Therese enters continuously into the heart of Sacred Scripture that contains the mystery of Christ. Such a reading of the Bible, nourished by the science of love, is not opposed to academic science. The science of the saints, in fact, of which she herself speaks on the last page of The Story of a Soul, is the highest science. "All the saints have understood it, perhaps most especially those who filled the universe with the radiance of the Gospel teaching. Is it not indeed from prayer that Saints Paul, Augustine, John of the Cross, Thomas Aquinas, Francis, Dominic and so many other illustrious Friends of God drew this Divine science which ravishes the greatest minds?"(Ms C, 36r). Inseparable from the Gospel, the Eucharist is for Therese the Sacrament of Divine Love that lowers Himself to the utmost to raise us up to Him. In her last Letter, on a picture that represents the Baby Jesus in the consecrated Host, the Saint wrote these simple words: "I can not fear a God who for me has become so small! (…) I love Him! For he is nothing but Love and Mercy!" (LT 266).

In the Gospel Therese discovers above all the Mercy of Jesus, to the point of saying: "To me He gave His infinite mercy, through it I contemplate and love the other divine perfections! (…) Then all seems to me radiant with love, Justice itself (and perhaps more than anything else) seems to me clothed in love"(Ms A, 84r). Thus she expresses it also in the last lines of the Story of a Soul: "As soon as I look to the Holy Gospel, I breath the perfumes of Jesus' life, and I know which way to run … It is not to the first place, but to the last that I hurry … I feel that even if I had on my conscience all the sins that one could commit, I would run, my heart broken with sorrow, into the Arms of Jesus, because I know how much you love the prodigal son who returns to Him" (Ms C, 36v-37r). "Confidence and Love" are therefore the final point of the story of her life, two words that like beacons have illuminated her whole path of holiness, so that she can guide others in the same way as hers, the "little way of confidence and love," of spiritual childhood (cf. Ms C, 2v-3r; LT 226). Confidence like that of a child who abandons itself into the hands of God, inseparable from a strong commitment, rooted in true love, which is a total gift of self, forever, as the Saint says in contemplating Mary: "To love is to give everything, and to give oneself" (Because I love you, Mary, P 54/22). Thus Therese shows all of us that the Christian life consists in living fully the grace of baptism in the total gift of self to the love of the Father, in order to live like Christ, in the fire of the Holy Spirit, His very love for all others. Thank you.

Married Saints and Continence

In an earlier post, Married Saints – Why so few?, I addressed the question of why there are so few married saints canonized as married saints, that is, in view of the life they lived as married persons. In the comment thread to that post, I was asked why so many of the married persons who have been canonized lived in continence, that is, without having sexual intercourse with their spouse for a significant portion of their life as married persons.

Again, there are several possible answers, grouped according to the general manner they explain the connection between this continence and canonization.

There is a positive correlation from continence to charity (continence contributes to charity, or is thought to do so)

(1a) Such continence is in fact extremely helpful, indeed practically necessary in order to attain the heroic virtue to which canonization attests.

(1b) Such continence was thought to be necessary in order to attain the perfection of charity.

Amongst all relationships, conjugal affection engrosses men's hearts more than another other, so that our first parent said: "A man leaves father and mother, and clings to his wife" (Gen. 2:24). Hence, they who are aiming at perfection, must, above all things, avoid the bond of marriage.
The second way to perfection, by which a man may be more free to devote himself to God, and to cling more perfectly to him, is the observance of perpetual chastity… The way of continence is most necessary for attaining perfection… Abraham had so great spiritual perfection in virtue, that his spirit did not fall short of perfect love for God on account either of temporal possessions or of married life. But if another man who does not have the same spiritual virtue, strives to attain perfection, while retaining riches and entering into marriage, his error in presuming to treat Our Lord's words as of small account will soon be demonstrated. (St. Thomas Aquinas, On The Perfection of the Spiritual Life; this quotation, from a saint and universal doctor of the Church, is intended as support for 1a and 1b.)

There is a positive correlation from continence to canonization

(2) The holiness of married saints who practiced such continence is more evident than the holiness of others.

One reason for this, as I mentioned in the previous post, is that holiness always involves following the spirit of the evangelical counsels (poverty, chastity, obedience); and other things being equal, someone's following the spirit of the counsels is more evident when it is incarnated in the literal following of the counsels.

There is a positive correlation from holiness to continence

(3) Those who are well advanced in charity and the other virtues are disposed and desirous of practicing such continence. (This may follow to some extent of itself, and to so extent due to 1b.)

Fulton Sheen, in his work Three to Get Married, suggests something along these lines:

All love is a flight towards immortality. There is a suggestion of Divine Love in every form of erotic love, as the lake reflects the moon…. Sex is only the self-starter on the motor of the family…. The begetting of children enlarges the field of service and loving sacrifice for the sake of the family. In a well-regulated moral heart, as time goes on, the erotic love diminishes and the religious love increases. In marriages that are truly Christian, the love of God increases through the years, not in the sense that husband and wife love one another less, but that they love God more. Love passes from an affection for outer appearances to those inner depths of personality which embody the Divine spirit. There are few things more beautiful in life than to see that deep passion of man for woman, which begot children, transfigured into that deeper passion for the Spirit of God. It sometimes happens in a Christian marriage that when one of the partners dies, there is no taking of another spouse, lest there be the descent to lower realms from that higher love, from the Agape to the Eros.

As before, so here I suggest the answer is, in varying degrees: all of the above. Continence in its various forms (the periodic continence practiced in NFP, continence during times of more intensive prayer (e.g., Lent) mentioned by St. Paul, or continence after the children-bearing time) is a valuable means to growth in the gift of oneself implied in charity; it was considered to be a valuable, practically necessary means; it manifests virtue; and it often flows naturally from charity.

A few points to be made pertinent to the remarks of the commentator in the previous post

(a) A spiritual director might rightly refrain from taking any initiative in advising a particular couple to such continence for a long period, and might caution them if they are desirous of practicing it for a long period. That does not mean, however, that he would or should strongly disallow or strongly advise against it.

(b) There have definitely been various developments in the Church's understanding of virginity and marriage. It seems quite true to say that in praising virginity and continence, marital relationships were not infrequently excessively devalued. There are various reasons for this, one of which is that in general there was a greater concern to safeguard the special value of virginity than of marriage. Hence, if it was difficult to avoid either failing to properly appreciate virginity or failing to properly appreciate marriage, as it was and is difficult for people to properly appreciate both, they preferred to fail to properly appreciate marriage rather than to fail to appreciate virginity, with the natural consequence that in many cases they did fail to properly appreciate marriage.

(c) To affirm a greater possibility of love in giving sex up for the sake of a greater good, as in the case of celibacy or continence, does not imply that sex is bad or even hinders any particular degree of holiness, anymore than the affirmation that "there is no greater love than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" means that life is bad, or that living is an obstacle to becoming holy.

Counterfeit Charity

St. Francis de Sales in his Treatise on the Love of God devotes the fourth book to describing how we may lose charity, and there notes how charity, which is properly a share we have in God's own love, produces a likeness of itself on the human level. So long as charity remains, this is all fine and as it ought to be, and charity indeed makes use of this human love. But a certain danger exists that one may fall away from charity, and be deceived by this merely human love into thinking that one still possesses charity.

When holy charity residents for a long time in a receptive soul, she produces a second love, which is not a love of charity, though it proceeds from charity; it is a human love, yet it is so much like charity that even if afterward charity perishes in the soul it seems to be still there, inasmuch as it leaves behind this picture and likeness of itself, which so represents charity that one who was ignorant would be thereby deceived. (Treatise on the Love of God, book IV, ch. 9)

When separated from charity, this human love, no longer being opened upon the unlimited and divine good, must be restricted in its scope. One is willing to do some things for this sake of this love, but not others.

And yet there is a great difference between charity and the human love it produces in us: for the voice of charity declares, impresses, and effects all the commandments of God in our hearts; the human love which remains after it does indeed sometimes declare and impress all the commandments, yet it never effects them all, but some few only. (Ibid.)

One who fails in watchfulness, who lets his commitments slide, as it were, and over a period of time neglects the love of God or neighbor, may not notice any sudden fall from charity, but may seem to themselves and to others to still be in a state of charity.

I have seen certain young people, well brought up in the love of God, who, putting themselves out of that path, remained for some time during their miserable decay still giving great signs of their past virtue, and, the habit acquired in time of charity resisting present vice, scarcely could one for some months discern whether they were out of charity or not, and whether they were virtuous or vicious, till such time as the course of things made it clear that these virtuous exercises proceeded not from present charity but from past, not from perfect but from imperfect love, which charity had left behind her, as a sign that she had lodged in those souls (ibid., ch. 10).

Hence, while this human love is certainly good, its capability of appearing as true charity is a danger for us, who may think we have charity when we do not.

Though this imperfect love be good in itself, yet it is perilous for us; for oftentimes we are contented with it alone, because having many exterior and interior marks of charity, we, thinking we have charity, deceive ourselves and think we are holy, while, in this vain persuasion, the sins which deprived us of charity increase, grow great, and multiply so fast that in the end they make themselves masters of our heart (ibid.).

The way to discern whether or not one loves with true charity, whether charity or merely its counterfeit is present, is by considering what would be willing to do for God, should friendship with God require it. If there is anything we would not be willing to do for God even if friendship with him demanded it, our love is not the true love of charity, but a merely human love that appears like it.

But, you will ask me, what means is there to discern whether it be Rachel or Lia, charity or imperfect love, which gives me the feelings of devotion wherewith I am touched? If when you examine in particular the objects of the desires, affections and designs which you have at the time, you find any one for which you would go against the will and good-pleasure of God by sinning mortally, it is then beyond doubt that all the feeling, all the facility and promptitude which you have in God's service, issue from no other source than human and imperfect love: for if perfect love reigned in us—Ah! it would break every affection, every desire, every design, the object of which was so pernicious, and it would not endure that your heart should behold it. (Ch. 11)

Though St. Francis de Sales does not explicitly speak about the other result of the examination–that one finds nothing for which one would go against the will and good-pleasure of God by sinning mortally–since the question is how to "discern whether it be… charity or imperfect love", it seems the logical conclusion that if in examining oneself, one finds nothing for which one would go against the will of God by sinning mortally (and the basic attitude one seeks to have toward God is one of love rather than, say, fear of hell), that one should have confidence that God's grace has kept one in his love.

One note of caution on this: St. Francis de Sales takes for granted that one has the capacity and willingness to make an honest examination of oneself; if one is unwillingly to examine oneself honestly before God and in God's light, then a lack of awareness of anything for which one would violate God's will by mortal sin would not seem to constitute particularly good evidence for the presence of charity.

Mortal Sin and Fundamental Option 2

In the previous post I attempted to describe a man who, as far as morally possible, related to his family in a manner analogous to the manner a Christian relates to God, so that even things that normally are not incompatible with marital love would exclude it.

We could also consider a more realistic case, in which a man's fight with his wife isn't incompatible with loving for her. There are, still, individual acts that are quite incompatible with love for her, e.g., attempting to kill one of their children, or signing over all his property to another woman for whom he has strong feelings. In this case, too, it's psychologically not possible for him to go rapidly back and forth from loving her to performing such acts incompatible with loving her, unless those acts are not really voluntary—and are performed only due to being drunk, for instance. Such acts that involve breaking off his love for his wife in most cases only complete and manifest a process begun long ago, of failing in love for her.

Mortal Sin and Fundamental Option

One of the reasons why many theologians have been attracted to the theory of a "fundamental option" is that it seems in certain respects to correspond better to real-life experience. If we consider visible human relationships, between two married persons for example,we don't find persons who go frequently back and forth from being totally committed to each other, to selfishly rejecting each other, back to total commitment, and so on. As a rule, the relationship will overall either be gradually improving or deteriorating, and individual quarrels don't completely disrupt the relationship. If a man ceases to love his wife on account of a single dispute or fight, that would be taken as a sign he didn't really love her in the first place, or that he had been neglecting his love for her, letting various selfish interests break it down, and that the quarrel is only the terminus of a long process.

Leaving aside the theological aspect, based on God's covenant with man, the supernatural virtue of charity, etc., what is happening when a person resolves to live a certain manner of life, and yet occasionally, or perhaps frequently, performs concrete acts that are inconsistent with that? For example, he resolves to live for his family, and looks for his happiness within his family (and in the wider sense, within his society). But he sometimes performs acts, such as staying out excessively late drinking with his fellow workers, that don't make sense within that framework, but only make sense on the supposition of a preference for something else above happiness as a member of his family, within a framework in which what he wants is the ultimate point of reference, where self-love is the final measure. Or in other words, in terms of the end/means relationship, certain acts he does objectively can't be truly ordered towards the end of family happiness as a final goal, but only towards some other end, that may be thought of more vaguely (living a pleasant life), but that at any rate is some other final goal.

One might explain the situation in several ways:

1. The ultimate goal of his life is, and remains, the common good of his family and his happiness within that family, though he performs individual acts that don't make sense and are unreasonable in terms of that goal.

2. The ultimate goal of his life is all along some vague goal (living a good life, a social and pleasant life, or the like), in which his family's good is one element among others, though an important one.

3. The ultimate goal of his life is the good of his family most of the time, but when he does acts objectively contrary to that goal, then when he is doing those acts, he thereby re-orientates himself towards another final end, and remains directed towards that end until he makes a fresh resolve to live his life as a whole for his family.

The first and second explanations do seem, on the face of it, more plausible interpretations of what is going on than the third.

If we accept the first explanation, what would that mean in terms of the voluntariness of the man's acts? Since whatever one wills, one wills for the sake of one's final end, the man is therefore willing, for the sake of his final end, to do something actually inconsistent with that final end. This would seem to imply that his act is not perfectly voluntary, at least not in the respect in which it is contrary to his ultimate end. (This distinction, though it is often forgotten or overlooked, is an important one. An act may be completely voluntary in the sense that it is the result of a very conscious and explicit choice, without all of the goodness or badness of that act necessarily being voluntary).

The analogy one might make with love for God and the performance of sinful acts is, I think, clear. For the time we will continue to leave aside the issues pertaining to charity as an virtue infused by God and dependent on grace. A person who resolves to life his live above all for God, and yet on not so infrequent occasions does things objectively inconsistent with taking God as the rule for one's life, is like the man in the example above, who resolves to live for his family, and yet fails at certain times to act in consistency with that resolve. If one held that he continues, in fact, to be seeking God as his ultimate end, it seems one would similarly have to say that the acts objectively inconsistent with that end, or at any rate the badness and stupidity of those acts, are not entirely voluntary. Thus they would constitute venial sins by reason of a lack of full voluntariness.

But on this account, would any acts be fully voluntary? I'll return to this question in another post.

Fundamental Option and Salvation

The CDF in Persona Humana (1975) and Pope John Paul II in Reconciliatio et Paenitentia (1984) and in Veritatis Splendor (1993) reject the theological theory of a fundamental option insofar as such a theory is understood or interpreted in a manner that denies the traditional doctrine concerning mortal sin, whereby any one conscious and deliberate grave violation of the moral order, which is rooted upon love of God and neighbor, is enough to separate a person from God.

There are those who go as far as to affirm that mortal sin, which causes separation from God, only exists in the formal refusal directly opposed to God's call, or in that selfishness which completely and deliberately closes itself to the love of neighbor. They say that it is only then that there comes into play the fundamental option, that is to say the decision which totally commits the person and which is necessary if mortal sin is to exist; by this option the person, from the depths of the personality, takes up or ratifies a fundamental attitude towards God or people.

In reality, it is precisely the fundamental option which in the last resort defines a person's moral disposition. But it can be completely changed by particular acts, especially when, as often happens, these have been prepared for by previous more superficial acts. Whatever the case, it is wrong to say that particular acts are not enough to constitute mortal sin.

According to the Church's teaching, mortal sin, which is opposed to God, does not consist only in formal and direct resistance to the commandment of charity. It is equally to be found in this opposition to authentic love which is included in every deliberate transgression, in serious matter, of each of the moral laws.
… A person therefore sins mortally not only when his action comes from direct contempt for love of God and neighbor, but also when he consciously and freely, for whatever reason, chooses something which is seriously disordered (Persona Humana, n. 10, emphasis added).

Two distinct principles are here affirmed. First, the orientation of one's life is not a decision made in abstract from the concrete choices to act in the here-and-now. That to which one ultimately orients of one's life (one's final end) must be, at least virtually, the end of every voluntary human action. If an action is in fact incompatible with one's end, the voluntary performance of that action is implicitly a redirection of one's life towards some other end, with which that choice is compatible. Thus a person who once made a decision to life for God, and then, for the sake of money or pleasure, gravely violates the order of charity, is implicitly redirecting his life towards money, pleasure, or, more likely, towards some broader and vaguer goal, such as "the kind of life I decide on" (in this case one makes oneself, rather than God, the ultimate measure of one's life).

Secondly, Persona Humana affirms not only that one's fundamental orientation can be changed by concrete choices, but that one individual concrete choice of something gravely disordered can change one's orientation. (Note, however, that it does not very clearly affirm that one individual choice totally on its own can change one's orientation, though it suggests it by the wording "especially when, as often happens, these [particular acts] have been prepared for by previous more superficial acts."

Later Statements

The same principles are affirmed in Reconciliation and Penance, n. 17: (1) "Mortal sin exists also when a person knowingly and willingly, for whatever reason, chooses something gravely disordered. In fact, such a choice already includes contempt for the divine law, a rejection of God's love for humanity and the whole of creation; the person turns away from God and loses charity."  The concrete choice to do things that are incompatible with having God as one's final end, can alter one's orientation to the final end. (2) "Thus the fundamental orientation can be radically changed by individual acts." A single act may suffice for this change of orientation.

And again, in Veritatis Splendor, n. 68:

Man does not suffer perdition only by being unfaithful to that fundamental option whereby he has made "a free self-commitment to God" (Dei Verbum, 5; cf. Persona Humana, n. 10) . With every freely committed mortal sin, he offends God as the giver of the law and as a result becomes guilty with regard to the entire law (cf. Jas 2:8-11); even if he perseveres in faith, he loses "sanctifying grace", "charity" and "eternal happiness" (cf. Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, 17)

Veritatis Splendor, n. 70, quotes the section of Reconciliatio et Paenitentia that we quoted above, reaffirming this teaching.

Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi

Pope Benedict in Spe Salvi takes a position that sounds quite similar to the theory of a fundamental option. He is speaking directly about salvation or damnation, but in accordance with the teaching of the Church that "to die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1033), what he says has implications about mortal sin.

Persona Humana says, "There are those who go as far as to affirm that mortal sin, which causes separation from God, only exists in the formal refusal directly opposed to God's call, or in that selfishness which completely and deliberately closes itself to the love of neighbor" (emphasis added).

Pope Benedict XVI says in Spe Salvi:

With death, our life-choice becomes definitive—our life stands before the judge. Our choice, which in the course of an entire life takes on a certain shape, can have a variety of forms. [While this does not actually imply that an individual choice doesn't, or doesn't frequently alter one's "life-choice", it does suggest it to some extent.] There can be people who have totally destroyed their desire for truth and readiness to love, people for whom everything has become a lie, people who have lived for hatred and have suppressed all love within themselves. [This sounds very much like the position of the theologians mentioned in Persona Humana.] This is a terrifying thought, but alarming profiles of this type can be seen in certain figures of our own history. In such people all would be beyond remedy and the destruction of good would be irrevocable: this is what we mean by the word Hell (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1033-1037). On the other hand there can be people who are utterly pure, completely permeated by God, and thus fully open to their neighbors—people for whom communion with God even now gives direction to their entire being and whose journey towards God only brings to fulfillment what they already are (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1023-1029).

46. Yet we know from experience that neither case is normal in human life. For the great majority of people—we may suppose—there remains in the depths of their being an ultimate interior openness to truth, to love, to God. In the concrete choices of life, however, it is covered over by ever new compromises with evil—much filth covers purity, but the thirst for purity remains and it still constantly re-emerges from all that is base and remains present in the soul. What happens to such individuals when they appear before the Judge? Will all the impurity they have amassed through life suddenly cease to matter?
47…
In this way the inter-relation between justice and grace also becomes clear: the way we live our lives is not immaterial, but our defilement does not stain us for ever if we have at least continued to reach out towards Christ, towards truth and towards love. Indeed, it has already been burned away through Christ's Passion. At the moment of judgment we experience and we absorb the overwhelming power of his love over all the evil in the world and in ourselves. (Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi – emphasis added)

The Pope seems to be saying that those persons who have not descended so far as to have "totally destroyed their desire for truth and readiness to love," and who "have lived for hatred and have suppressed all love within themselves," have not definitively rejected Christ, but are living in such a way that he is still their final end, though their orientation towards this end is covered up (contradicted?) by numerous concrete choices they make and actions they perform, and that they will be saved, though "as through fire." Unless we posit a moment of revelation and conversion in the very instant of death or afterward, this would imply that the "great majority of people" is not in a state of mortal sin.

Do any of my readers know of passages from Pope Benedict XVI/Cardinal Ratzinger that would shed light on his understanding of a fundamental option/life-choice?

In a coming post or posts I'll try to delve into some of the difficulties from a Thomistic perspective.

Perfect Contrition and the Sacrament of Penance

I was struck today by a potentially misleading formulation in the Catechism of the Catholic Church regarding the necessity of intending to confess one's sins in the Sacrament of Penance.

A certain inseparability of remission of sins and the Sacrament of Penance is taught by the Council of Trent and by Pope John Paul II:

Council of Trent

Docet praeterea etsi contritionem hanc aliquando charitate perfectam esse contigat hominem que Deo reconciliare priusquam hoc sacramentum actu suscipiatur ipsam nihilominus reconciliationem ipsi contritioni sine sacramenti voto quod in illa includitur non esse adscribendam.

[The Council] teaches, further, that although this contrition is sometimes perfected by charity and reconciles man with God before this sacrament [of confession] is actually received, this reconciliation is still not to be ascribed to that contrition without the intention of receiving the sacrament [sacramenti voto] that is included in that contrition.

God willed reconciliation to take place in Christ and in his Mystical Body, the Church, in a visible manner. True repentance for sin and love for God implies a desire to accept God's will in this, as in other matters. Hence it includes a desire to sensibly receive reconciliation, in the instrument instituted by Christ, namely sacramental confession. The Council, responding to the Protestant position, insists that one must make reference to this means established by Christ in giving an account of how reconciliation now takes place in Christ.

Reconciliation and Penance (Pope John Paul II)

This same understanding is presented by John Paul II from a pastoral point of view in Reconciliatio et Paenitentia (Reconciliation and Penance). For the believer, the doctrine about the sacrament of confession has as a practical consequence that one desire to receive the grace of reconciliation in an "incarnate" manner, that is in the sacrament.

The first conviction is that for a Christian the sacrament of penance is the primary way of obtaining forgiveness and the remission of serious sin committed after baptism. Certainly the Savior and his salvific action are not so bound to a sacramental sign as to be unable in any period or area of the history of salvation to work outside and above the sacraments. But in the school of faith we learn that the same Savior desired and provided that the simple and precious sacraments of faith would ordinarily be the effective means through which his redemptive power passes and operates. It would therefore be foolish, as well as presumptuous, to wish arbitrarily to disregard the means of grace and salvation which the Lord has provided and, in the specific case, to claim to receive forgiveness while doing without the sacrament which was instituted by Christ precisely for forgiveness.

Catechism of the Catholic Church

The Catechism of the Catholic Church seems to make an attempt to simplify the teaching:

1452 Contritio cum ex amore provenit Dei super omnia amati, « perfecta » appellatur (caritatis contritio). Talis contritio veniales remittit defectus; etiam veniam obtinet peccatorum mortalium, si firmum implicat propositum ad confessionem sacramentalem recurrendi quam primum possibile sit. (Cf Concilium Tridentinum, Sess. 14a, Doctrina de sacramento Paenitentiae, c. 4: DS 1677.)

1452 When it arises from a love by which God is loved above all else, contrition is called "perfect" (contrition of charity). Such contrition remits venial sins; it also obtains forgiveness of mortal sins if it includes the firm resolution to have recourse to sacramental confession as soon as possible. (Cf. Council of Trent (1551): DS 1677.)

However, this way of expressing the need for the sacrament of Penance is potentially quite misleading. Rather than saying something along the lines of "it also obtains forgiveness of mortal sins–genuine contrition includes the firm resolution etc." it says that contrition arising from love of God above all things (charity) "obtains forgiveness of mortal sins if it includes the firm resolution etc." The intention of the author(s) of this text may have been to say, in a subtle way, "one who is really contrite and loves God above all things will desire to observe the visible expression of reconciliation established by God (the Sacrament of Penance); one who is unwilling to observe this visible expression is deceiving himself if he thinks that his contrition is genuinely motivated by love of God." But as it stands, the text suggests that it is possible to have contrition arising from charity, and yet remain burdened by unforgiven mortal sin. This is practically a contradiction in terms, since charity is friendship with God, and a share in God's own love and life, while mortal sin consists in the loss of the divine life in us, and in separation from God. Moreover, if we granted that it were possible to have charity without sins being forgiven, in the event that one was not resolved to have recourse to sacramental confession, we would, in effect, be treating the sign of reconciliation with God (the Sacrament) as more important than the reality of friendship with God and participation in his life (charity).

Judging Favorably

As promised, this post is on seeing the best in people–judging them charitably, or favorably, rather than indifferently or strictly.

St. Thomas Aquinas explains in an article on favorable judgment, "whether doubtful matters should always be interpreted in the more favorable way", that when a person's fault is not manifest, we should always tend more to judge him in a positive light, to interpret his action in the most favorable light, rather than in the way that is most likely to be true.

But how can that be? St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross says, "Do not accept anything as the truth if it lacks love, and do not accept anything as love which lacks truth! One without the other becomes a destructive lie." If charity seeks the truth, how can a incorrect judgment really be the charitable judgment?

St. Thomas gives a twofold explanation. On the one hand, it pertains directly to charity to think well of another person when possible, and is contrary to charity to think badly of another possible when not necessary. And on the other hand, it is not a serious problem to be mistaken about a truth such as whether or not someone did something bad. It is a serious matter to be mistaken about universal truths about ourselves and the world (e.g., to be mistaken about whether man has a soul, whether he can be responsible for his actions, etc.), but a mistake about some particular thing is only incidentally bad, and thus when the matter is not clear, but is doubtful, then the consideration of charity or love prevails.

Seven Principles of the Spiritual Life

I've added Br. Thomas's description of Seven Principles of the Spiritual Life to the website. The principles, based on the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Therese of Lisieux, are the following:

1. To keep God in mind at all times.
2. To trust in God as much as possible.
3. To do all things for the love of God.
4. Not to trust in oneself.
5. Not to seek oneself.
6. To do all things with joy.
7. To be as energetic as possible.

The sixth and seventh principles may be a bit of a surprise. Is it even in our power to do things with joy? What does "energy" have to do with spiritual life? Yet St. Paul tells us to "Rejoice in the Lord always" (Phil 4:4), and St. Therese says that energy "is the most necessary virtue; with energy one can easily reach the height of perfection" (LT 178). These and the other principles are explained at greater length in the article. Comments are welcome!

Universal Call to Holiness

"There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call" (Eph. 4:4).

St. Francis de Sales, whose feast we celebrate today, is known for his teaching that all Christians are called to holiness. The teaching of the universal call to holiness did not originate with the Second Vatican Council, but was also taught before. "Universal call," means, quite simply, that all men and women and called to holiness. And in Casti Connubii, for example, Pope Pius XI says precisely that: "All men of every condition," in whatever state of life they are, "can and ought to imitate that most perfect example of holiness," Christ himself, "and by God's grace to arrive at the summit of perfection." (n. 23) Nevertheless the universal call to holiness is a particularly special emphasis of the Second Vatican Council; it is taken up expressly in Chapter 5 of Lumen Gentium, which we look at today. The following is an attempt to draw out briefly some of the basic important points made in this chapter on this universal vocation of all Christians.

The Fathers of Vatican II see the call to holiness as deriving from two sources: the mystery of the Church, and more fundamentally, the mystery of Christ himself.

The Church and Holiness
"The Church is believed to be indefectibly holy" (n. 39), for Christ gave himself up for her "that he might sanctify her," uniting her to himself as his body and perfecting her by the gift of the Holy Spirit. Because the Church is holy, all members of the Church are called to be holy, "to become what they are," and to manifest this holiness in their lives, by faithfulness to the movement of the Spirit, by the practice of charity.

Christ and Holiness
Christ himself preached holiness of life to all. "Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." He provided the means for holiness, sending the Spirit, who pours love into men's hearts, that they might love God above all, and love each other as Christ loves them. Moreover, in baptism the faithful put on Christ, becoming sons of God and sharers in the divine nature. Thus they are made holy by the grace of God. They must then hold on to this holiness and live it out in their concrete lives, they must live in a manner that is fitting to those who are holy.

The Council concludes then, that all members of the Church, all Christ's faithful, whatever their rank or status, are called to the fullness of Christian life and the perfection of charity.

Attainment of Holiness
The concrete way of attaining holiness and the perfection of charity depends on one's situation and duties, yet some things can be said in general:
(1) we should use our strengths and talents as a gift from Christ.
(2) We should follow Christ and become like him, seeking the Father's will in all things, the glory of God and the good of our neighbor.
(3) We should use our personal gifts and fulfill our duties in the spirit of faith working through love.
(4) We should receive all things with faith from the hand of the heavenly Father.

These four means of attaining holiness can be grouped into two basic attitudes: the spirit to accept all things as coming from the loving hand of God, and the aim to do all things in accordance with God's will out of love for him.

The Council in the following paragraphs makes a number of particular remarks on the paths to holiness of bishops, priests, clerics, married persons, and those who suffer. It then returns to the theme of holiness as the common pursuit of all. Holiness is first of all a gift of grace, the gift of love by which we love God above all things and our neighbor for God's sake. But in order for love to grow, we must cooperate with this grace, completing what God has begun in us. (n. 42)

Some actions flowing from grace are common to all Christians: the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, participation in the liturgy, prayer, self-denial, service of our brothers and sisters, and the practice of all the virtues. All such actions are to be ruled by charity, enlivened by charity, and expressions of charity.

Some exceptional expressions of love, which are not actually common to all Christians, are given particular mention by the Council.

Martyrdom
The greatest proof of love is martyrdom. There is no greater love than to lay down one's life for Christ and one's brethren. Not all will be faced with martyrdom, but all must be prepared to confess Christ, whatever may come, whether it means losing one's job, one's reputation, or even one's life.

Virginity, Poverty, and Obedience
The evangelical counsels of virginity/celibacy, poverty, and obedience are special means for fostering the holiness of the Church, each being in its own way a particular imitation of Christ.

The chapter closes with the summary statement: "all the faithful of Christ are invited to strive for the holiness and perfection of their own proper state. Indeed they have an obligation to so strive."

Call to Holiness in Marriage
See also the article on the call to holiness in Christian marriage.

Universal Call to Poverty?
The spirit of poverty, and even a degree of actual poverty, is a invitation and call not only to religious, but to all Christians. A very worth-while book on the gospel call to poverty is Happy Are You Poor: The Simple Life and Spiritual Freedom by Thomas Dubay. This book is written for all Catholics (not just for those considering or discerning a religious vocation!) and seeks to present the Gospel challenge simply and directly, and thus help them to live their Christian vocation.