The Great Adventure Catholic Bible Study https://biblestudyforcatholics.com 73 Books. One Story. Your Story. Tue, 22 May 2018 19:57:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Art and the New Evangelization: How Beauty Will Save the World https://biblestudyforcatholics.com/art-and-the-new-evangelization-how-beauty-will-save-the-world/ Tue, 24 Apr 2018 19:52:48 +0000 https://biblestudyforcatholics.com/?p=10743 (The following is adapted from a live presentation delivered at the Ascension Summit in October of 2017)

When I was eight years old I had an experience that set a trajectory for my whole life. I was lying in bed, I had the radio on—this was the 1970s—and Bruce Springsteen comes on with his 70s anthem “Born to Run”. Something broke open in my soul. Something grabbed a hold of me and has never let go of me since.

He was singing about this place he wanted to get to, run to, and the girl he’s trying to get there with is named Wendy. Some seventeen years later I would marry a girl named Wendy. This song was like a prophetic vision of my life.

At the end of the song he says to Wendy:

    Some day girl, I don’t know when
    We’re gonna to get to that place
    Where we really wanna go
    And we’ll walk in the sun.
    But ‘till then, tramps like us
    Baby we were born to run

After that—and if you know the song you know what I’m talking about—Springsteen cracks open his rib cage and he lets this cosmic cry come out of his heart, and whatever it was he was feeling, I was feeling it too. “What was that?” I wondered. Something ginormous, like thunder, just rumbled through me. It was like the sky split open and I was staring into infinity.

Fast forward about thirty years. I was watching Bruce Springsteen induct U2, my other favorite band of all time, into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; and Springsteen explains to me what happened to me all those years earlier: “A great rock band,” he said, “searches for the same kind of combustible force that fueled the expansion of the universe after the big bang … They want the sky to split apart and for God to pour out.” Then Springsteen said, kind of sheepishly, “It’s embarrassing to want so much and expect so much from music.”  Then he added, “Except sometimes it happens.”

The Devil Doesn’t Have His Own Clay

I’m not wanting to baptize all of rock and roll, of course. There’s some really twisted stuff in popular music, especially when it comes to sex. But even there we have to remember that the devil doesn’t have his own clay. All he can do is take God’s clay (which is always “very good”) and twist it up. This means even the most sexually distorted rock song is an attempt––albeit a broken attempt––to sing the Song of Songs. Purity of heart enables us to see the good that got twisted up. I think this is what St. Paul meant when he said: “To the pure all things are pure.”  And then he added, “but to the corrupt and unbelieving nothing is pure … ” (Titus 1:15) because they project their own impurity onto even what is pure.

I’m sure each and every one of us can point to an experience—maybe in a movie theater, maybe at home reading a novel, maybe in a museum seeing a painting, or maybe listening to music—in which we experienced a beauty that pierced us. Beauty has the ability to pierce the heart like nothing else, and if we are going to evangelize the modern world, we will need encounters with real beauty to do it.

The Real Meaning of Eros

Eros, as St. John Paul II said, “implies the upward impulse of the human heart toward what is true, good and beautiful.” That is the classical sense of the word and that is how the Church uses it. When you’re attracted to something beautiful; when the truth of something just rings in your heart; when you watch a movie that just grabs hold of you; when you witness something so good, kind, or loving in human relationships and you get a lump in your throat or a tear comes to your eye––that’s eros being awakened in your heart. What I experienced when I was eight years old listening to Springsteen was eros.

Even children have eros, the nostalgia for the true, the good, and the beautiful—the longing for home (that’s what “nostalgia” actually means). Evangelization, if it is true evangelization, is always an appeal to eros, because eros is the desire of the human heart for God—for Truth, for Goodness, for Beauty. It passes by way of finite things, but launches us to infinite things. The first words that Jesus speaks in the Gospel of John are, “What are you looking for?” In other words, “What is your quest,” “What do you desire?”, “What do you long for?” That’s a direct appeal to eros.

Evangelization redirects eros by pointing us to its eternal satisfaction in the Marriage of the Lamb, by witnessing to the fact that there is a wedding feast that corresponds to man’s ache and the hunger for the infinite. The tragedy for me, growing up in Catholic schools in the 70s and 80s was that, while I felt eros, nobody ever connected the dots for me between that fire I felt inside and God. Religion class was entirely disconnected in my mind from those piercings I felt in my encounters with beauty.

Art that Blesses Your Heart

It’s very important that we reflect on the things that capture our hearts. What is the art, what are the stories, the movies, the TV shows, and the music that have captured your heart? Even if they were twisted up, remember there’s still something good in there that got twisted up. There can be a purification process for all of us which teaches us to see what is good in all the things that have captured our hearts. For example, I had to go through a time when I didn’t listen to certain music because it was connected in my mind with many disordered experiences in my life. I had to go through a kind of detox—not necessarily from the music itself (although sometimes that was the case, too), but from the associations that that music had in my life.

But as I journeyed in my relationship with Christ, a time came when the things that really captured my heart growing up came back around and I could appreciate them in a whole new way, because I came to see the good I was always attracted to without getting so easily snagged by the bad. I remember in 2004, when my spiritual director and I were just getting to know each other, he asked me to tell him about my prayer life––what were the highlights and what were the struggles and distractions. I said, “Well, one of the biggest stuggles I have when I’m trying to quiet my heart and listen to the Lord, is that songs and movies will pop into my head.  It’s a huge distraction.”

He got this big smile on his face and he said, “Did you ever think the Lord might be trying to speak to your heart through those songs and movies?”

I responded, “No, Father, this is like Springsteen, and U2, and Star Wars … secular stuff.”

Then he asked, “Were these songs and movies important to your heart when you were younger?”  “Well, yeah,” I said. “I mean, this is the stuff I grew up on.”

He said, “You don’t think the Lord knows how to speak your language? The Lord is trying to get to your heart, and one of the ways he does that is through art that speaks to you. The next time you’re in prayer, and a song or a scene from a movie comes into your mind, pay attention to it. Maybe the lyrics reflect something the Lord is trying to say to you, or maybe that song is connected to a certain memory in your life that the Lord wants to show you something about.”

That one meeting with my spiritual director changed my whole life. For years I thought these things were distractions, and I started to see that this was one of the ways God was reaching me, speaking to me very personally and intimately.

The Need for Art in Evangelization

I want to encourage you to take a rightful comfort in the art that blesses your heart.  Again, if certain things are twisted up in that art, allow the Lord to untwist them for you so you can see the real good to which you were always drawn.

Pope Paul VI, speaking to artists, not just Catholic artists, said, “We need you. We need your collaboration in order to carry out our ministry … Your art consists in grasping treasures from the heavenly realm of the spirit and clothing them in words, colors, forms—making [these heavenly treasures] accessible.”  He went so far as to say that without the gift of artists, the Church’s ministry would become “faultering and uncertain, and a special effort would be needed … to make the Church’s ministry artistic.”

When we think of the role of art in evangelization, we shouldn’t just think of of sacred art. It’s broader than that. St. John Paul II, in his letter to artists, said:

“Even beyond its typically religious expressions, true art has a close affinity with the world of faith, so that, even in situations where culture and the Church are far apart, art remains a kind of bridge to religious experience. In so far as it seeks the beautiful … art is by its nature a kind of appeal to the mystery. Even when they explore the darkest depths of the soul or the most unsettling aspects of evil, artists give voice in a way to the universal desire for redemption.”

Art, in order to reach the heart, has to be honest. It has to tell the real story, not candy-coated, not all prettied up and wrapped in a bow. It has to be willing to get ugly in order to become beautiful––that’s the paschal mystery. In fact, this is always a mark in the difference between true beauty and false beauty: does it contain that element of the paschal mystery, that need to passover into deeper dimensions of reality that only open up to us through suffering?

Truth and Beauty Intertwined

Truth and beauty always belong together. When we separate the two, we end up scorning the truth and porning the beauty. Let me explain. When the Church’s teaching is proclaimed in a dry, doctrinaire way, even if what we’re hearing is technically true, we’ll scorn it—and rightly so, because the heart feels the void of beauty. On the other hand, when we pursue beauty that’s divorced from truth, we porn it. By this I mean we reduce beauty to the merely physical level––cut off from any higher truth––and fixate ourselves on idealized images of “perfect physical beauty” for the sake of a selfish, base gratification.

When the true, the good, and the beautiful are dancing properly together, they evangelize on their own, because they awaken eros and call it to something beyond itself. The way to test if it is true beauty—if it is truth, goodness, and beauty in their proper dance together—or if it is a distortion of beauty, or a false beauty, is this: Does the beauty involve the element of the Cross? It is a bedrock biblical truth to say that on the most horrific day in human history, the day the Son of God was crucified, the most beautiful thing happened.

Authentic beauty always causes suffering. It causes an ache in the heart. Who would deny that one of the most beautiful things on planet earth is the birth of a child? But we can also recognize that the birth of that child comes with great labor pains. Any human endeavor that is going to lead people to the true, the good, and the beautiful is going to involve labor pains, and then the beauty of a birth.

Beauty emerging from pain, ugliness, or messiness is indicative of an authentic Christian life, it’s indicative of real holiness.  Burying our pain, ugliness, or messiness in the name of “holiness” is indicative of something inauthentic. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want only to know that I am loved when my masks are on. Anybody can put on a pretty face to win others’ approval. I want to know that I am loved when all the masks are off—in all my messiness. Someone once said to me, “Christopher, you’re a beautiful mess,” and I think that’s the best compliment we can give somebody. That’s who we really are, beautiful messes. And we are loved in that messiness. That’s the good news, and when we know that, not just in our heads but in our hearts, we can be naked without shame––not because we have nothing to be ashamed of, but because we know we’re loved right there in our shame.

Unlikely Beauty

I had the privilege of studying Pope St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body in the mid 1990s under Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete, a beautiful Catholic priest who was a personal friend of St. John Paul II. He was an overweight, totally disheveled, chain smoking sign of contradiction, and I loved him for it. He always had ashes all over his clerics and smoked in class even though there were no smoking signs everywhere. I was drawn to this man, not only because he was a brilliant professor, but because he had something I needed and knew I didn’t have. This man was free. He didn’t wear masks. What you saw was what you got, and it was incredibly attractive.

Albacete may never be a canonized saint, but in his own unique—dare I say messy—way, he exhibited a beautiful saintliness. Saints are not perfect people. They’re people who know they are perfectly loved in all their imperfections. They’re people who have all of their messiness open to the merciful love of God rather than covered over with a pious mask. They’re people who are in touch with their deepest yearning for the true, the good, and the beautiful; that is to say, they’re in touch with eros. That was Albacete. As he once said while leading a retreat (this is a paraphrase):

Look inside your own humanity, look deeper into it, because the Mystery was made flesh. The Mystery entered into this world and is seducing me with every drop of rain that falls … beauty is seducing us, and without clinging to the finite, we must allow it to inspire our yearning for the Infinite, Beauty with a capital B. This is the process of conversion. What must I do? I must be overcome by beauty, by beautiful things, by finding beauty everywhere … Allow yourself to be overwhelmed by beauty.

Getting Real with God

Those who do allow themselves to be overwhelmed by beauty will surely suffer, because, as we’ve said, true beauty always involves that element of the Cross. And that Cross will inevitably lead to a prayer of agony, to a deep cry in union with Christ, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!?”

On a retreat some years ago, there was a priest who led me through some exercises to help me get in touch with my heart and my real desires. In the process, a lot of anger toward God came out and I let him have it! I thought I needed to go to confession right away because of what I said to God. So I went to the priest and told him exactly what I said to God. I’ll never forget his response: “You just prayed Psalm 22 in union with Christ, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!?’” He continued, “You don’t need to confess that you got real with God. You need to confess that you haven’t been real with God. You’ve been wearing all of these pious masks. Now you’re taking them off. Now you’re getting naked before your Maker. That’s real prayer.”

The priest was teaching me that prayer is an exercise of desire. St. Augustine said that our hearts are a gymnasium of desire, and if you want to pray always then you need to get in touch with the deepest desires of your heart and let God stretch them, because the increase of our longing is the increase of our prayer.

And that’s my point. When we are longing for beauty, whether we know it or not, we’re longing for God.  Small “b” beauty––wherever we find it, is meant to lead us to capital “B” Beauty. It’s sacramental. And the longing itself is prayer. “The Fathers of the Church,” as Benedict XVI reminded us in a pre-papal essay, “say that prayer, properly understood, is nothing other than becoming a longing for God.” Evangelization is really nothing other than helping people see what it is they’re really longing for. And what we’re all really longing for is to participate fully in everlasting Beauty. The good news is that that everlasting Beauty wants nothing more than to be a gift to us, to fulfill our longing unto unimagined blissful satisfaction.


You May Also Like:

The Scandalous Beauty of God Becoming Man

An Interview with Maria Mitchell: Beauty Catches the World’s Attention

Bringing Beauty to the Everyday with Erica Tighe

The Beauty of Marriage from a Biblical Perspective

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Weeds Among the Wheat: Donatism and Why I’m Still Catholic https://biblestudyforcatholics.com/weeds-among-the-wheat-donatism-and-why-im-still-catholic/ Fri, 20 Apr 2018 19:58:44 +0000 https://biblestudyforcatholics.com/?p=10738 Lent proved to be a tremendous blessing for me this year. Like many others, I gave up, or at least greatly limited my time spent on electronic devices. What I had intended to be a penance turned out to be a gift. My family spent more quality time together. I prayed more. I did more spiritual reading. I didn’t miss not knowing what an old high school acquaintance had for dinner. Nor did I miss the often sensationalist portrayal of “newsworthy” events that flood our airwaves.

Now that Lent is over, I’ve allowed myself more time online, but, I still enjoy escaping from it as much as I can. So, unlike many Catholics in the Philadelphia area, I had no idea that another major scandal had occurred at a parish near me until I was told of it at work.

This time a priest, who had been assigned to replace another scandalous pastor, was reported to have embezzled parish funds. He also was reported to have engaged in “inappropriate relationships” with other adults. There’s no need to say what he did, because that’s not the point of this article. Rather, I’d like to discuss what we ought to think about this, but more importantly, what we should do about it.

Tough Time to Be a Catholic

What we believe is often at odds with the world in which we live. In a culture that doesn’t tolerate intolerance, the Church is often portrayed as one of the most intolerant institutions. The language used in this regard is intentional. It is said that we are opposed to reproductive rights, rather than saying we support the inalienable right to life. It is said that we are opposed to the LGBT community, but no mention is made of our belief in the dignity of each and every person as created in the image and likeness of God. The list goes on.

It’s a difficult enough task for us to defend and explain why we believe what we believe. But this task is made nearly impossible when our Church is ceaselessly saddled with scandal after scandal. “Why,” people have said to me, “would you continue to stay Catholic?!” Why indeed.

The simple answer is that I believe Jesus Christ established the Church. He vested his authority in Twelve men whom he called to minister the sacraments and proclaim the gospel throughout the world,(see Matthew 28:16-20). I believe that this Church is indefectible, that it cannot be destroyed by the world or the powers of darkness (see Matthew 16:16-20). But, I also believe that the pilgrim Church is imperfect. Its individual members have and will continue to fail.

What is Donatism?

The earliest Christians also wrestled with the human reality of the Church. St. Augustine was confronted with a group known as the Donatists who claimed that the only valid ministers were ministers who had never rejected the faith. And I get where they were coming from. I too would love for the Church’s ministers to be exemplars of holiness and sound theology. But St. Augustine knew that was just not possible. While he believed in the efficacy of the sacraments to sanctify us; he knew from personal experience that “sin is lurking at the door” (Genesis 4:7). No matter how hard we try to master it, no matter how much we want to do what is right, we often find ourselves doing that which we know is not right, (see Romans 7:13-24).

To great effect, St. Augustine employed the Parable of the Wheat and Tares to combat the error of the Donatists (see Matthew 13:24-30). This parable teaches us that we will always struggle with sin and sinners. We will not be rid of either in this life. Although we’d like a field of pure wheat, we will have to continue to live with a field that has been corrupted by noxious weeds. Although God sowed good seed, the enemy came and sowed weeds. Likewise, although Christ founded the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, the Church often finds itself more divided, less holy, less Catholic, and less apostolic than it is called to be. This doesn’t mean that the Church we have today is not the same Church founded by Christ. What it means is that the Church is still on the way and awaiting its ultimate purification during the harvest at the end of time.

So what are we to do about it now? If we can’t rid ourselves of these weeds, how do we deal with them? I have a few suggestions.

For the Laity:

1. Pray for our clergy: We demand that our priests give their entire lives to the Church. It’s often a thankless and lonely life. And, because of who they are, we have to acknowledge that priests are under constant spiritual attack. They need our fervent prayers. Pray for your priests and bishops by name, daily if you can.

2. Understand What the Church Is and Is Not: We have high expectations of the Church, and with good reason. The Church’s ministers should be held to a higher standard. Even so, they are human. They are affected by the same inclinations to sin as you and me, perhaps even moreso. They are far from perfect. When they fail to live up to the standards to which they are called, we need to understand that is a failure of the people who make up the Church. It is not a failure of him who established the Church. Scandals will come and go, but Christ’s Church will continue without fail.

For the Clergy:

1. Take Ownership of the Scandals: This should go without saying, but, it unfortunately needs to be said. Scandals themselves are bad enough, but the damage done by them is made nearly irreparable when they are covered up or even obfuscated with “official statements” carefully crafted by legal experts and PR firms. It all comes across as hypocritical and insincere, because, let’s face it, it is insincere. There is often a greater interest in protecting the financial well-being of the diocesan corporation, than in doing what justice requires for those who have become victims of the Church. We are called to a higher standard of justice and love. Trust in God will work for the good for those who do what love requires.

2. Our Priests Need Better Ongoing Formation: It seems to me that we are missing the forest for the trees, and we are apparently missing the most important aspect of formation. Those called to ministry should be men “of good repute, full of the spirit and of wisdom” (Acts 6:3). Of course our priests need to be well-formed intellectually, pastorally, and liturgically. But all of those things are meaningless if our priests are not continually transformed personally and spiritually. A yearly retreat does not do. I’m no physician, but I do have a chronic condition. And I know that if I don’t maintain my health and continue to take my medicine, I will suffer. Every Christian has a chronic inclination to sin. We can’t solve that problem by going on an annual retreat. We can’t solve it by reciting the breviary at each of the hours. These things alone will not suffice. If our minds are to be continually renewed, then we must be continually transformed by God, pursuing “what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:3). Fathers, I urge you, strive to be more Christlike at each and every moment of each and every day.

While these things may help, none of them will “solve the problem.” I would appreciate any suggestions you have to share in the comments. Even so, there is no human panacea to the problem of sin in this world. The field of the Church will continue to grow both wheat and weeds. But those who endure to the end will be saved (Matthew 24:13).


You May Also Like:

Early Church Fathers Upholding Transubstantiation in Their Own Words

Tackling Tough Topics (The Ascension Roundtable Podcast)

Feel Like Quitting? (The Jeff Cavins Show podcast)

Are All Catholics Hypocrites? (Fr. Mike Schmitz)

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Allow Jesus to Shepherd You https://biblestudyforcatholics.com/allow-jesus-to-shepherd-you/ Fri, 20 Apr 2018 18:40:15 +0000 https://biblestudyforcatholics.com/?p=10649

In this week’s video for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Jeff Cavins reflects on what Jesus means when he says he is the Good Shepherd. The readings are:

First Reading: Acts 4:8-12
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 118:1, 8-9, 21-23, 26, 28, 29
Second Reading: 1 John 3:1-2
Alleluia: John 10:14
Gospel: John 10:11-18


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Why the Symbols in John’s Gospel Matter

Scripture, Sacrament, and God’s Invitation to Intimacy

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Living Your Vocation Like a Good Shepherd  https://biblestudyforcatholics.com/living-your-vocation-like-a-good-shepherd/ Thu, 19 Apr 2018 19:09:49 +0000 https://biblestudyforcatholics.com/?p=10734 In John 10:11-18 Jesus presents three distinct characters; the Good Shepherd, the hired hand, and the wolf. Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He lays his life down for his sheep. FYI: you’re the sheep.

So, what is the take away? Well, first off, Jesus loves us enough to die for us, and he does so knowing us. We are not a nameless sheep. He knows us, and we know him. At least we do if we are his sheep. Take a moment to really hear that. Jesus goes out of his way to tell us that the Good Shepherd knows his sheep. He knows you. Too often the concept that God died for “us” creeps into our mind, and we forget that God died for me. The Good Shepherd knows the sheep.

The second take away is a reminder that as followers of Christ we are supposed to be imitators of Christ. We are supposed to be like him. That means in our daily lives we should be seeking to offer our lives for others, the way he offers his life for us. That doesn’t just mean offering up the annoying circumstances of life. Listen to Jesus’ words about how he gives his life:

“No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:18).

Sounds like he is talking about something more than getting stuck in traffic and “offering it up.” Jesus’ sacrifice is more than incidental. It is intentional.

Imitating the Good Shepherd in Marriage

We too are called to intentionally offer our lives as “living sacrifices.” Most often that is going to take place within the context of our vocation, or state of life. Want to see the Good Shepherd lived out in a marriage? Watch the joyful self sacrifice of a father who wakes up before the sun to head to work so that he can sustain and support his wife and children.

There is a lot of death to self that happens when you rise at o’dark thirty. There is a real laying down of one’s life. Or, watch the wife, who manages the household with joy, so as to foster a happy, healthy home, where the love of God can be tangibly experienced. Married life is a powerful example of living out the call to be like Christ, the Good Shepherd … at least, it can be.

The Hired Worker

Remember the second character, the hired worker? Well, too often this character is seen in married life. Rather than participating in the sacrifice of Christ, this person ends up acting out the life of the hired servant. I have been this guy far too often. It is the grumbling father who just wants to sit on the couch and be served, forgetting to serve. If you have ever found yourself keeping a mental ledger of what you are doing verses what your spouse is doing, then you are probably slipping into the hired servant category. The hired servant has a place. He does stuff, but he does stuff so that he can be rewarded.

In marriage, service should not be tied to reward. When times are good, the hired servant is fine. But, when the proverbial excrement hits that fan, the hired servant crumbles and runs. Again, living your vocation in the example of Christ, we had to remember that Christ did not run from the Cross. He did not come out swinging. He offers his life. He made himself totally present to the Cross. When trial and challenge faces your vocation, it isn’t time to go on a guys golf trip, or on a girls escape weekend. It is time to carry the cross, not for yourself, but for the sake of the beloved.

The Wolf

Not to be forgotten is the wolf. The wolf seeks to destroy, kill, and devour. You would be a fool to think there is no evil. You would be a fool to think that your holy marriage is not something the devil would like to destroy. The hired servant does not even look out for the wolf. He is taken by surprise and runs when it appears. If you are not actively seeking to strengthen your marriage and protect your marriage you might be the hired servant.

The Good Shepherd would rather lay down his life than abandon the sheep. I cannot help but remember St. Paul’s words in Ephesians, chapter six:

“Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:13). 

You don’t put on armor unless you’re expecting a fight. St. Paul tells us to put it on and to be ready. In marriage that means standing guard against the temptations of the world, and being ready to rebuke them in Jesus’ name. Sloth, lust, arrogance, etc. Be on guard, and when the devil whispers his lies and temptations, be ready to fight. Better to die fighting than to give up the sheep.

Jesus calls us to imitate him. He tells us that we too are called to lay down our lives. It is not an incidental offering, but an intentional one. Most often, the place you will be called to imitate the shepherd is in your vocation. It is only in giving up our lives that we truly live.


You May Also Like:

Allow Jesus to Shepherd You

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Scripture, Sacrament, and God’s Invitation to Intimacy

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Is It Ever Morally OK to Lie? https://biblestudyforcatholics.com/is-it-ever-morally-ok-to-lie/ Wed, 18 Apr 2018 18:49:11 +0000 https://biblestudyforcatholics.com/?p=10731 In this article I will answer the following question “from the parking lot”:

“The church claims to be absolute. It also claims that a morally wrong action is always evil no matter the circumstances. The church says lying is a morally wrong action. It has also said at a different time that it’s okay to lie to save a life and even occasionally obligatory. So how can the church be absolute? Please explain.”

The Church has plenty to say in this matter. In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church has no fewer than forty-nine paragraphs dedicated to the importance of telling the truth, and what that means.

Before getting into the meat and potatoes of this question, let us look at the initial claim, that “the church claims to be absolute.” Merriam Webster gives several definitions of absolute, including: “free from imperfection,” “positive, unquestionable,” “fundamental, ultimate,” and “being, governed by, or characteristic of a ruler or authority completely free from constitutional or other restraint” (which, when it comes to the pope and his authority over The Vatican City State, is relevant). Most of these do not seem to apply to the question. The Church does claim that it’s dogmas are unchanging, and that they must be absolutely believed by all in the Church.

Where Does the Truth Lie?

But the definition of a lie (unlike, for example, the definition of the Immaculate Conception) is not dogma. Before we go further, let us continue with the questioner’s next sentence, “a morally wrong action is always evil no matter the circumstances.” True. While the culpability of the person committing an act may be mitigated or aggravated by extenuating circumstances, the morality of an act itself is not dependent on circumstances. “The church says lying is a morally wrong action.”  Also true: “By its very nature, lying is to be condemned” (CCC, 2485).

Before wrapping up, our questioner states, “It has also said at a different time that it’s okay to lie to save a life and even occasionally obligatory.” In this case, if the blog were a game show, I’d have to break out a buzzer and flash an X on the screen. I am aware of no case in which the Church has said at any time that “it’s okay to lie to save a life,” let alone it ever being “obligatory” to lie.  

Might it have occurred that a Catholic perhaps explained to our questioner that there may be cases where a lie was less harmful than other actions? Perhaps, but the Church is clear that “Since it violates the virtue of truthfulness, a lie does real violence to another. It affects his ability to know, which is a condition of every judgment and decision. It contains the seed of discord and all consequent evils” (CCC, 2486).

What Is a Lie Exactly?

So what, according to the Church, is a lie? “A lie consists in speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving. The Lord denounces lying as the work of the devil” (CCC, 2482). Therefore, every time someone speaks untruthfully so as to deceive someone, their action “is to be condemned,” as it “does real violence to another,” and the speaker is doing “the work of the devil.” I’d say this is pretty clear (and, dare I write it: absolute).

Please note again, the definition of a lie is “speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving.” Therefore speaking a falsehood unknowingly is not a lie. If I get a part in a school play, and my role is “Tree #3” (a role fit for my acting talent if ever there was one), I am not lying when I step forward and say “I’m a Tree with branches wide, My leaves give shade and a spot to hide.” No one is being deceived, because everyone knows that I’m in a play. Also not a lie would be speaking a falsehood, even knowingly, if that is not meant to deceive. So myths and symbols which describe a greater good in a more understandable way could be acceptable.

The Gestapo Scenario

Now the example that is always given in this case is one I hate: the hypothetical question of hiding Jewish neighbors during World War II era Germany. “What if” one inquires “you had a neighbor hiding in your house, and the Gestapo came to the door asking if there were any Jews in the house? Wouldn’t it be OK to lie then?”

I hate this question for several reasons. First, because it seems like an excuse to find a way to lie. If someone asks this today, I find it hard to believe it is because they are concerned about the state of the soul of a homeowner seventy-two years ago. (In fact, this is another slippery slope: we should be more concerned with the state of our own souls than others’). My guess is there are two reasons one would ask the question about the Gestapo: Either to challenge the authority of the person (or Church) who says lying is always wrong, or to find a claim that sometimes it could be OK to lie, and then once that is the case rationalization follows.

The other reason I dislike the question is that, if dealing with the Gestapo, if they believed there was a reason to enter the house, it’s fair to say—I believe—they would simply enter it.

But for the sake of argument, let us say that there is a scenario in which I am placed where I believe if I lie, it could lead to a greater good. Do I have any choice? Well, the Catechism has this to say:

“The right to the communication of the truth is not unconditional. Everyone must conform his life to the Gospel precept of fraternal love. This requires us in concrete situations to judge whether or not it is appropriate to reveal the truth to someone who asks for it” (CCC, 2488).

What does this mean? Put simply, not everyone has a right to have the truth communicated to them.  In other words, if a hypothetical Nazi asks if there are Jewish neighbors in my house, I could say, with good conscience “I have not brought anyone into my house,” even if my wife or children did sneak them in. I know the truth. I don’t have to reveal it. That is not immoral. The act of not sharing the truth is not inherently sinful. Just like there is no obligation for me to walk down the street saying “The temperature is eighty-four degrees!”

All Lies Matter

Paragraphs 2484 and 2485 of the Catechism imply there may be some cases where a lie is a venial sin. However, The fact that something is “only” a venial sin doesn’t make it OK. We should never strive for “only” venial sin. In fact, the attitude that leads to this often leads to the repetition of venial sins, which leads to other problems.

“Deliberate and unrepented venial sin disposes us little by little to commit mortal sin … Sin creates a proclivity to sin; it engenders vice by repetition of the same acts … The repetition of sins – even venial ones – engenders vices, among which are the capital sins.” (CCC, 1863, 1865, 1867).

So to get back to where we started, the original question was flawed in that it was based on a premise that the Church teaches it is OK to lie. It is never OK, it should always be avoided.

If anyone has other questions about the Catholic Faith that you would like our writers to answer, let us know in the comments. 


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