Mortal v. Venial

Mortal sin is like a bomb blast: the damage to one’s soul is immediate and catastrophic.

Venial sin is like a termite infestation. It may not seem like much at first, but if you don’t deal with it quickly and decisively, that one or two wee little bugs you almost don’t even notice are going to multiply, and become a colony; and that colony has the capability of doing some serious long-term damage to the structure it inhabits: your soul.

When someone we love is in mortal sin –

It doesn’t matter who it is, or how much we love them, or how “good” that person is:

Our affection doesn’t sanctify that person’s sin.

Okay – it’s understandable that people want to minimize and whitewash their loved one’s flaws. But when someone we love is engaged in acts of mortal sin, we must have the courage to look at those acts and to name them for what they are. I don’t care what your son or daughter or nephew or best friend is doing – if you can’t recognize that their mortal sin is just that, then you’re not loving their immortal soul.

This is called cooperation with grave matter, and it’s also a sin, by the way.

One of the most courageous couples I know did something incredibly hard and risky: they sat their lesbian daughter down and told her in no uncertain terms, “As long as you are involved in the lifestyle, you aren’t welcome here. We cannot, we will not tolerate your engaging in sin as if it were of no consequence.”

It might have been horrible – the daughter might have rebelled, she might have chosen her partner over her family, she might have estranged herself from her family for years and years. Instead, she chose her family – and because they loved her enough to tell her that sin is sin, she is now out of the lifestyle and able to look back objectively and with admirable honesty at what she left behind. At the ugly and manipulative community she escaped.

In any event, she told me, some time later, her parents had made sure that there would be someone who loved her enough to tell her the truth – that what she was doing was morally wrong, unacceptable in a Christian, and dangerous. If she ever struggled or vacillated in her choice, she had the truth echoing in her mind the whole time.

Love cannot – must not! lose sight of the fact that those we love possess a soul that is immortal, that we all will face a particular Judgment and pay the penalties – the just penalties – for our sins. And when we ourselves prevaricate, rather than facing head-on our duty to the Truth, then we compound the wrong; we take guilt to ourselves and we prolong and deepen our loved one’s slavery to sin.

Just who are we, anyway?

Part of my research for Pray, Study, Work – I’ve been reading the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity (Apostolicam Actuositatem) from the Second Vatican Council. Every Catholic ought to read this, and Lumen Gentium (the Dogmatic Constitution on the Faith).

In a nutshell (because this has to be a brief post this morning), the laity have two major functions in the life of Christendom:

First, we have a duty, a mandate, to bring the Gospel into the secular world we frequent in our careers, education, and daily associations.

Second, we have the mandate to infuse that worldly world with Gospel values – to be a redeeming influence on it.

Now. It may be because I live in an area where a lot of retirees move, but it seems to me that I far too frequently hear Catholics complain that they’ve “done their bit,” and are now ready to kick back and relax a bit.

Ladies and gentlemen: There is no retirement from the Church Militant. We hope to graduate, but resignation is unthinkable!

This is the sort of attitude I lament in “Spiritual Warfare.” Our culture is in the mess it’s in because good Christian people – Catholic and nonCatholic – have bought into the lie that we have an obligation to shut up and get out of the way so that people who reject our paradigm can do whatever they want in order to think they’re “happy.”

We need to get off our fannies and quit acting as if we were called to be Church Somnolent.

Is “confessing” Jesus enough?

I was observing Morning Prayer, earlier, and the Reading from Romans 10 really jumped out at me:

… if you confess with your moth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. (Rom. 10: 9-10 – I’m using the NASB here.)

This is the verse that my ex- tossed at me, so nonchalantly, nearly fifteen years ago, when he had finally come out of the closet and admitted to our daughters (and through them, to me) that he’s homosexual. “So it doesn’t matter what I do,” he concluded.

It bothered me then. It bothers me now. Spouting off platitudes does NOT save souls.

Paul is addressing Roman (Gentile – pagan) converts to Christianity. These are men and women who had made a radical decision to abandon the numerous Roman deities (most notably Caesar, himself) in favor of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, through Jesus Christ, Whom they recognized and embraced as the Son of that God.

Conversion to Christianity wasn’t a popular cultural event in Rome. Martyrdom of the Christians had already begun (remember the stoning of Stephen? and how that precipitated the conversion of Saul of Tarsus to Christ?). These people were putting their lives on the line, here. They were defying the State religion, the accepted culture – standing out like sore thumbs by adopting this wholly countercultural religious identity with a wholly different set of morals and ethics. No more banquets, complete with trips to the vomitorium. No more orgies. No more acknowledgments of the state deities…

Such bizarre behaviors placed one in suspicion of the authorities. “Hey, you there! we haven’t seen you at the established feasts and altars. We’re told you’ve become one of those dangerous Christians, and your behavior certainly looks that way. Come along now and do your duty! Prove yourself a loyal Roman!”

“Well, see, I can’t sacrifice to the gods. I am a Christian – ”

See? this is what this form of Confession (declaration) does – it verifies and confirms what one’s character and behavior have already demonstrated to the world.

This Confession that Jesus is Lord is subsequent to conduct that has already led to the accusation.

Take someone living wholly in the world, living a regular old licentious lifestyle, no one is going to come persecuting them for being Christian – their lifestyle defies such a ludicrous accusation!

So – once again – lifestyle counts. Morals count. Ethics count. If you will, works count. They give an irrefutable testimony of what we believe, what we value, what we love.

Matt used to say, “Let’s give them the evidence to convict us now.” He’s right. Our words and our actions must coincide. And the words, the Confession, is subsequent to our conversion of heart and values.

An Open Letter to friends – on Marriage

Dear M.,

I see on Facebook that you were married yesterday, and I want to write to share with you my best wishes for your greatest happiness.

I also want to share with you my very grave concern that you have chosen to marry outside the Church. By not waiting until your boyfriend’s prior marriage was resolved through the proper channels of the Tribunal, by being married by a nonCatholic minister, you have entered into a marriage which is both invalid and illicit.

This means that you and your new civilly recognized spouse. have removed yourselves from full Communion with Mother Church, and you cannot receive any of the sacraments until P’s prior marital bond has been resolved –

IF it’s resolved. Declarations of nullity are not a right, nor are they guaranteed. Even where indisputable grounds exist, those grounds still have to be adequately demonstrated to the Tribunal. Without such demonstration, the Tribunal cannot declare affirmatively in the case, and you’re going to be slap flat-out sunk.  Canon 1100 warns that private opinion doesn’t eliminate the possibility that nuptial consent was actually present.

You also need to consider what impact, what influence, your decision to marry outside the Church is going to have on your friends and relatives. You have received scores, at least, of congratulations from people who don’t understand the gravity of what you have done, here. Your actions make it look as if it doesn’t matter that a nonCatholic minister is not approved for Catholic Sacraments, that a nonCatholic minister’s ordination bears the same weight of authority and authenticity as a Catholic priest’s.

In other words, you’ve added scandal to the mix.

I never would have thought you would have taken such a dangerous, even irresponsible step. Too often, in our acquaintance, I’ve seen you speak affirmatively of the Church’s requirements, and labor with those who would treat those requirements carelessly. Now you’ve followed the same path, and from your announcement it appears that you feel your particular personal circumstances justify willful rejection of the very rules I’ve heard you defend repeatedly as long as I’ve known you.

Marriage is not the civil contract you have treated it to be. It is a sacrament, and as such under the rightful authority of Christ’s Church. You cannot in seriousness ask God to bless and reward such disregard, nor expect such scorn for the wisdom of the Church to be shrugged off as inconsequential.

You’re off to a very bad start, and I’m sorrier for it than I can say. I hope you will at least possess the integrity to not present yourself for Communion until your civil union can be convalidated, and I hope that the spiritual communion open to you will teach you renewed and greater respect for the Magisterial authority of the Church.


Once falsely accused –

I’m home from Mass today because of knee and back pain. I had to call Fr N to let him know of my absence, and he had some shocking and very distressing news for me: one of my dear priest friends has had his priestly faculties suspended in the wake of accusations that he behaved inappropriately toward a then-minor girl, back in the early ’80s.

I’ve known Fr K for more than ten years. He heard my first Confession, and numerous subsequent ones, and he has always given me solid, sane, spiritual counsel. He’s been a good friend, and a great support during a particular difficulty he happened to walk in the door to face… and I’m having a very hard time believing this accusation.

I’ve been falsely accused. When the ex- and I separated, he told his parents (and who knows who else) that I was having an affair with one of my professors (I was in college at the time). I suppose I can see how he found it easy to foster this idea: after being treated like an idiot unworthy of simple conversation in the privacy of our own home, I was deliriously enthusiastic about being in an academic setting where brilliant people, and this professor in particular (who had a reputation for being difficult to get along with) treated me as if I were someone special, possessing brilliance, even. I thought the world of this professor who opened the world for me, and he seemed rather partial to me – within the confines of the classroom.

HOWEVER, a mutual admiration society is not adultery, and the closest we came to even a social relationship was a brief exchange we had by the milk case of the local grocery store, that July –
Laura: Hey, Dr. B – how’s summer school going?
Professor: Laura, I swear, the incoming freshmen are getting dumber every year. I can’t wait for the regular term to begin so I can be with my upperclassmen again!

I really thought adultery was supposed to have a bit more to it than that? be a bit more exciting? a bit more wicked?

But somehow quite a lot more was added to the story during the translation, it appears. And, of course, there are those foolish people who will always love a scandal more than the truth. We just have to live with that.

There are a lot of factors that motivate people to lie – on both sides of the fence, let me add. The guilty are almost always going to vehemently deny culpability, even when caught in the act (just ask anyone who’s been married to a drunk caught in any one of a thousand lies), and for some reason I simply cannot fathom, sometimes people lie about the innocent.

It’s terribly hard to be a priest these days. It’s never easy – the self-abnegation required is unimaginable for folks like me. Folks just don’t have an idea what priests go through, day to day, in solitude, often without adequate fraternal support and comaraderie. And it’s open season on Catholic priests anyway.  Hardly a week goes by that a preacher or youth minister in some Protestant group or other isn’t reported by our local news outlets to be arrested and charged with some form of abuse or misconduct, but none of those denominations, seminaries, or camps go through the scrutiny or public insults that our good Catholic priests suffer.

Pray for our priests. Pray for the accused, and the accusers. Pray for Truth and justice.

* * * *

On another, but not unrelated note:

A well-known pro-life activist reports that another well-known pro-life activist suffered a bit of public humiliation over the weekend of the National March for Life. Names don’t matter for the point I want to make.

That point is this: that we who call ourselves by the name of Christ have a greater obligation to conduct ourselves appropriately in public, not to glory or wallow in gossip, not to rejoice in a fellow Christian’s downfall.

Akin to this situation is the uproar that occurred when Pat Robertson made his perhaps-indiscreet remarks about voodoo having something to do with Haiti’s current misery in the wake of the horrible earthquakes it has suffered this past week and a half. Mr. Robertson was called a number of immature and offensive names in Facebook and around the internet media. I rebuked one young man for using an offensive word as a predicate nominative –

We have to be above such behavior, if we’re going to make a difference in the world. Okay?

“I’ve done my share…”

That’s a comment that was made to me several years ago at choir practice. The particular topic, if it matters, was the financing of a Catholic school for our area’s children.

I don’t know why that conversation popped into my head tonight, but there came with it this thought:

There is no retiring from the Church Militant. Graduation, when the end of this life comes to us. Resignation – but the consequences of that are terrifying.

No, the only thing to do is to BE Church Militant for as long as God gives us breath, doing what we can do in our particular sphere.

Pray for priests –

Looking online for a book about Fr. McGivney, founder of the Knights of Columbus,for a customer, I came across a blog by a priest calling for a boycott of the Knights because of its opposition to a GLBT agenda.

This priest is one who created a terrible scandal in the Diocese of Fresno a year or so ago when, in opposition to Proposition 8, he “came out” to his parish. That a priest would give rise to scandal and confusion in his parish is sad enough, but that he – and the priests who post to his blog demanding that the Church give in to their prideful demands – should be so utterly devoid of understanding and so willful of their own way is heartbreaking.

The Catholic Church is truly at a crisis. Pray for her without ceasing.

Some Holy Saturday thoughts –

… not of any particularly holy subject; in fact, most of my noodlings are disappointingly mundane.

Matt directed me to a GLBT blog yesterday (not going to post link here, although he has done in DE) which is decidedly anti-Catholic. The writer is protesting the appointment of Timothy Dolan to archdiocese of New York. She speaks her objection very clearly when she calls him “the darling of the anti-gay … crowd,” but then she makes a lot of smoke and noise, blaming Dolan and the entire Catholic paradigm for the priest abuse scandal.

The irony of her stance is that the sex scandal involved priests with pubescent boys – hence, the issue is a homosexual issue. Pederasty is a subset of the homosexual lifestyle, like it or not (and since my ex- was seduced by a pederast, I “NOT”). And she seems completely oblivious to the fact that her real objection is that Dolan won’t cave to the GLBT agenda.

Matt and I have both posted comments, and this gal is pretty angry with us, too.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

This incident appears (I need to clear my perception with Matt) to have pushed DE into new territory. We began with the premise of opposing FOCA and the pro-abort platform of our new president. Matt particularly wanted to be careful not to be too flagrantly a Catholic voice so we would not alienate other Christians who need help and encouragement in fighting the pro-life battle.  But now we seem to be engaging the broader spectrum of the culture wars. Matt’s posted about this GLBT blog, and particularly her attack on the Church.

She’s come over to DE and posted some pretty hostile comments. That’s okay, so far – Matt’s given her good response, and I think I have, too.

We haven’t discussed any of this, between ourselves, but it seems to me a good direction to be going. engaging the whole culture war.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Easter Weekend. I love this season better than Christmas – and that’s saying something! It’s grueling for all involved in some branch of Church work, beginning with our priests. There are extra Masses, Confessions, activities. There are changes in the Sanctuary to oversee and implement – the stripping of the altar, for instance, after Holy Thursday. There are rituals to rehearse again – and the ordinary duties of sick calls, emergencies, etc. don’t take a vacation just or a marathon week.

Musicians also have a grueling week. The extra music for the Triduum and Easter Sunday give any choir, organist, or cantor a heavier workout than at any other time of the year.

It’s the music that helps bring the liturgical seasons to life for me.

Thursday night I cantored the Propers of the Mass at a Latin High Mass. For the uninitiated, the “Ordinaries” are those things that remain constant in the liturgy week in and week out – the Gloria, the Kyrie, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, etc. The “Propers” are those things that vary according to the liturgy: the Introit, the Gradual, the Tract, the Communion antiphon. Propers are rarely observed in the Ordinary Form of the Mass – although they are present in the fuller liturgy. During the Latin High Mass, they are sung. In Latin – which isn’t as difficult as it sounds, since Latin, unlike English, has a rigid pronunciation rule. For me, the challenge is to get my eyes to move quickly enough between words and staff, so I get the right syllable with the right tone.

I also helped the choir at this parish sing the beautiful “Attende Domine.”

Yesterday the schola came from Raleigh and carried the major weight of the Good Friday liturgy. There was also a priest visiting from the FSSP (Fraternal Society of St. Peter) who concelebrated with Fr. P., singing antiphonally the beautiful Good Friday Gospel of John. He was a tenor to Father P’s baritone, so the alternating roles were very distinctive and beautiful.

Today I catch my breath, but more importantly I have two pieces to learn for tomorrow: the Vidi aquam (I saw water…) which opens the Easter liturgy, and the Easter Sequence, Victimae paschale.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

A good day at work. Mostly. I’m experiencing the most appalling, embarrassing memory lapses lately. Not just memory, but mental endeavors of all description. Mixing up saints and their particular stories, mixing up titles of books and authors (who knew there’s more than one City of God, and not just Augustine’s???) –

I’m going to go practice the Vidi aquam “I saw water flowing from the side of the temple” – and the Victimae paschale laudes for tomorrow.


I haven’t been blogging much of late – in part because of work on Deliberate Engagement. But I also have not been blogging much because it’s been that time of year when energy is depleted. Short days, grey weather, several anniversaries and a heavy personal challenge have left me without a lot to blog from.

I don’t want this blog to deteriorate into political rants. It would be easy to do, and in fact has occurred in anticipation of the November election. Others are doing a better job of that, though (although I’d like to see some of the rudeness curtailed – we need to be better than our opponents).

I think I want the blog to be like a step into a living room in a home, where we can talk about unpleasant things – but in a constructive, hopeful way. It’s not enough to complain about the horrendous decisions being made in Washington right now, if we can’t also discuss ways to counter them – and confirm to one another that we’ll help each other through the hard times coming.

It’s so easy, especially during short grey days, to just not try. “I told you so,” “Why couldn’t they see this was on the horizon when they voted in November?” and the like.

Yet this is where we watch the opposition, make our strategy, shore up our resources, and generally get dug in.

My recommendations, for what they are worth (and this is a note to myself, I admit):

1. Do not give in to the sarcastic appelations floating around in emails right now. Calling our new president “the gangsta” is as low-class and insulting as the insults of the left who made rude comments and gestures to our President Bush. Do we really want to be like them? I thought not.

2. This is the season to draw closer to the Source – in additional prayer and Bible study, study of the Catechism, of the lives and writings of the Saints. This is the time to spend weekly time before the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament (Perpetual Adoration if you have a nearby parish participating in that Devotion).

3. Practical preparation is also prudent. If we are in for a tough time, economically, begin now making plans and investing in what you need in order to become more self-sufficient. Stock up on staples (there are several threads in the FlyLady discussion forum on this topic). Simplify now so you can be more serene later.

4. Draw near to like-minded people for comfort and consolation. So the new president deleted the online prayer meeting from the White House website and replaced faith-based policies with outrageous liberal agendas. Does that stop us from praying? May this be the beginning of a groundswell of prayer such as has never been seen before in this nation! May the unity of God’s people be stronger than ever.

We got lazy during the Bush administration. The warnings were there but they were too easy to ignore.

Now we have had a wake-up call. Open your home to dinners with others who support life and sanity in the culture. Discuss how you can make a difference on the local level. Discuss your relationships with your elected officials in Washington and in your state capital – and encourage one another to contact those representatives with your desires for your state and this Nation.

Treat even our opponents with courtesy and dignity. This isn’t easy, but it’s necessary. The means we use are every bit as important as the ends we hope to achieve.

We’ll help one another get through this.