Ask a theological question (open)

Use the comment section below to ask a theological question. I prefer topics on which I’ve written in my books or blog, but I’ll answer almost any question in Catholic theology.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.

40 thoughts on “Ask a theological question (open)

  1. How do you reconcile divine goodness (God’s self-giving character), with the existence of hell and the sense pain experienced in hell?

    “The Church has repeatedly defined this truth, e.g. in the profession of faith made in the Second Council of Lyons (Denz., n. 464) and in the Decree of Union in the Council of Florence (Denz., n. 693): “the souls of those who depart in mortal sin, or only in original sin, go down immediately into hell, to be visited, however, with unequal punishments” (poenis disparibus).”

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  2. Concerning you last response on the subject of the intrinsic evil of the death penalty, my interlocutor responded:

    “The Magisterium has consistently held that homicide is
    intrinsically evil, which is referring to moral evil as identified in
    the Fifth Commandment, not the trivial observation that death is
    physically harmful. If “homicide is evil” meant merely “physical
    evil,” this would not be a moral teaching at all.

    Death is a “physical evil,” i.e. a physical harm. Deliberately killing
    a man is a moral evil, i.e. evil in the proper sense. Homicide is
    intrinsically evil as a moral object, regardless of what your ultimate
    intention is, and regardless of circumstances. In self-defense, we
    certainly “will” the killing of a human in the sense that the action
    is deliberate, which is true of any moral action. The question is
    whether we will the killing as a means. (Obviously it is evil to
    will it as an end.)

    You may argue credibly that killing is being willed as a means, but
    this is not the rule of double effect. It’s arguing against the rule
    of double effect (either in general or as applied to self-defense),
    claiming that what in fact is going on is we are using killing as a
    means to a good end. Someone who takes this position must claim at
    least one of the following: (a) that a good end can justify an evil
    means or (b) that killing is not an intrinsically evil means. (As
    always, when I say “evil” without qualification, I mean moral evil.)
    You seem to be taking position (b), since saying that killing is only
    a “physical evil” seems to imply denying that is a moral evil.

    (a) is utterly contrary to Catholic moral theology, which has
    consistently denied consequentialism, i.e. that the “ends justify the
    means.”

    (b) is at least debatable. It is long established in Catholic teaching
    that killing innocent human life is intrinsically evil. This leaves
    open the possibility that it is not intrinsically evil to kill the
    guilty, but some reason must be given for that, and I’ve reviewed the
    reason given by St. Thomas. Still, in the case of ordinary
    self-defense, we can easily come up with examples where we must kill
    someone who is innocent of serious crime; for example, if we are
    attacked by an insane person; or if we must kill an enemy soldier who
    is conscripted into service. In these cases, we clearly are dealing
    with an intrinsically evil means (since, by supposition, the killing
    is willed as a means). So if we are denied the rule of double effect,
    we must resort to the error of consequentialism, where the moral evil
    of killing the innocent is justified by our good end.

    In honesty, I am fully sympathetic to the position that we are in fact
    willing the slaying as a means. This seems best in accord with
    psychological reality, as I mentioned twice in my previous response. I
    don’t pretend to refute this position on rationalistic grounds, but
    merely note that it is contrary to what Catholics have accepted
    regarding self-defense, and inconsistent with any serious belief that
    homicide is intrinsically evil.”

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    • I don’t want to argue with this other person by proxy, or at all. I’ve made my position on the death penalty clear in previous responses. Do you have a brief question or concise argument on this subject?

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  3. “Justice is inherent to the nature of God. The damned in Hell suffer just punishments for the decisions of their free will.”

    My question is, how does God communicate His goodness to those in hell? Does the fact that they simply exist suffice to show God’s goodness? Mind you, I believe in the doctrine of eternal hell.

    How do the pains of hell inflicted by God Himself, comport with divine goodness. Citing Divine Justice does not really resolve the issue. Is the fact that they suffer a good thing? I imagine not. Suffering is a privation according to Catholic teaching. But here we have the positive affliction of pain sense. It makes it slightly more difficult to reconcile with divine goodness.

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  4. A few questions.

    Discuss how you approach someone who can’t seperate their sin from their identity. Is emphasizing “you’re a beautiful child of God” the best approach?
    If someone is a cafeteria Catholic and tells you their sexual sins are “healing” how do you respond? I mean, telling them the Truth can drive them away from the church. Also, it’s a sin because it violates procreation, so it could very well be good in the circumstances of emotional health, but bad in the inherent object of the act. (So in a sense it’s healing, just incredibly “spiritually damaging.”).
    Is “insensitivity” always wrong? Even for say a drill sargent in the army? Some people, like me, get motivated by insensitivity: “suck it up and avoid sin.” But the Catechism speaks of “compassion, respect, and sensitivity” (Saying repeatedly that someone is a beautiful child of God). Is it ever moral to be insensitive?
    What about “validating emotions.” If someone’s emotions lead them to reject church teaching (ex: their intuition tells them homosexual acts are “expressing love”) should we validate those feelings, since they will then eventually have to invalidate and reject those heretical inclinations if they want to be loyal to the Magisterium.
    You’ve said you’d rather have a smaller church that accepts church teaching, than a larger one where it’s paritionars reject portions of the Faith. Isn’t that approach immoral in the font of circumstances: the purpose of the Church is to lead people to heaven. So if it is true at the same time (a) the person’s choices are mortal sins, but (b) the person doing them is a beautiful child of God, and if Catholics will leave the Church AND STILL DO THOSE SINS if they are told their acts are the “grave depravity” that they are, would it not that be bad in the circumstances of the act to rather have them leave the Church and still sin, than ignore/ don’t talk about sins to keep them in the Church.

    I mean, even though the sinner rejects some of its teachings, it’s way harder to go to heaven not being in the Church, so it appears we’d rather have the sinner stay in the church and keep sinning/ reject its teachings than leave it entirely. Because then they won’t pass on the Faith to their kids, so we risk losing an entire generation of Catholics. I mean, it will then be so much harder to evangelize to their kids who will be practical atheists from birth, so shouldn’t the whole mission be to keep people in the Church (as long as we being them to the Faith in a moral way)?

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    • A person who is in a state of actual mortal sin is not a beautiful child of God. Only persons in the state of grace are children of God by spiritual adoption, in the fullest sense of the word. Children of God who have gone astray by unrepentant actual mortal sins deserve correction. They should not be deceived by the Church into thinking that they can get to Heaven without repenting from actual mortal sin. So the Church should inform them that they have separated themselves from God by these sins. It would be harmful to everyone’s path of salvation to treat everyone as if they were full members of the Church, when in fact they are heretics or schismatics or unrepentant from mortal sin. Leaving them in the Church is deceptive, as if they were on the path of salvation.

      Insensitivity can be moral, as when John the Baptist or Jesus spoke harshly to the Pharisees or to other sinners.

      People who commit sexual sins should simply be taught what the Church teaches. I wouldn’t start by accepting their erroneous ideas, such as that the sin is healing.

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  5. Okay, don’t say, “your a beautiful child of God”… say “God loves you” instead. Would that change your answer?

    WHICH ACTION PLAN IS BETTER?
    Action plan 1: Correct a sinner in actual mortal sin who blantantly rejects the Church’s teachings.

    Result1: They leave the Church and are still actual mortal sinning in 2 years.
    Result2: They don’t pass on the Faith to their kids. It will then be even harder to evangelize to them.

    Action plan 2: Ignore their sin for the time being. Don’t “correct” the person, but pray rosaries with them every day. Then after you’ve drawn them closer to Jesus, and made them love Catholicism, now slowly “correct” them.

    Result: They stay in the Church, pass on their Faith to their kids, and then 2 years later they are actively working to stop their mortal sins.

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    • We have a moral obligation to preach the truth. We can’t hide the truth based on the claim that the consequences will be better. I don’t think plan 2 is more effective. But even if it were, the end doesn’t justify the means. The Pharisees sinned more because Jesus confronted them with the truth, and with their sins. They would have sinned less if He left them alone. But He did not. He gave them truth, and they made their decisions. We should follow His example.

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  6. How do we meet the conditions of “preaching the Truth?” I mean: we cannot be obligated to preach the Truth at every moment… you wouldn’t go into a bar and say: “you’re sinning, you’re sinning, you’re sinning…”

    And in my example, we EVENTUALLY preached the Truth to the sinner (after a year). So how soon do you have to confront them with the Truth… in your first conversation, after a month of being friends… or in my example after a year?

    MOST IMPORTANT: Why cannot we divide up tasks between Catholics? In the same way that we have different religious organizations focused on different things: some help the poor, some focus on ending abortion, etc. Are ALL Catholics obligated to preach the Truth, or if you know that a priest already preached the Truth in a sermon where the sinner was present, are you further obligated to preach the Truth to them?

    (This is essentially FATHER JAMES MARTIN’S argument: gay people have the Truth preached to them already at some point in their lives, so we don’t need to drive it home in hundreds of times. Instead we can emphasize God’s love and mercy most of the time… and just occasionally preach the Truth. WHAT DO YOU THINK OF FR. MARTIN’S ARGUMENT?)

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    • I can’t tell you what to do in each and every situation. I’m not sure what hypothetical or real situation you are presenting. If you know someone who is sinning by cohabitation, let’s say, you are not personally obligated to convince them to change their ways, nor to confront them as individuals. I’m not going to reply to Fr. Martin. Others have already done so sufficiently well.

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  7. Well, this will be my last post on this topic, so I’ll make it brief.
    Say you are dating a woman who is willing to go along with Catholic morality, but is not Catholic yet, so does not believe in the Church’s teachings fully. We have already discussed what Catholics believe so you can say I met the obligation of “preaching the Truth.”

    Whenever topics of sin come up she feels incredibly guilty of the sins she did in the past and cannot separate herself (her identity) from the sin.
    A few weeks later, she said I invalided her experiences by saying sins were not “healing.” And I just briefly said they were perhaps emotionally healing, but definitely not spiritually healing.
    She says it is “unhealthy” to invalidate her feelings. She says don’t talk about sin because we already discussed it, and it makes her feel extremely guilty.

    So question: If a topic ever comes up again, say a few weeks from now, where she calls something “healing” which is mortal sin, do I have an obligation to “correct” her? Or should I realize she already knows the Catholic position, and it makes her feel guilty, and just remain silent. And instead reply with “God loves you so much.”

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    • I’m not going to tell you what to say or do in specific cases. You have to use your own conscience and good judgment. You do not need to keep repeating teachings of the Church that you have already made clear; you do not need to keep bringing up the subject of past sins. You don’t need to keep correcting someone until they adopt your point of view.

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  8. Here is a little humor for you:

    A Franciscan and a Jesuit were arguing over whose Order was the greater one. They decided to put the question to God and prayed for an answer. A beam of light came down and a letter floated to them in it. It read:

    Dear Franciscan and Jesuit:
    Pleas stop arguing over such nonsense.
    Signed
    God, O.P.

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  9. Hi. Thank you for defending the Holy Father. I’m suffering from an addiction to masturbation and pornography. I go to confession as often as I can, but often I will feel ridiculous confessing only this sin. I also have the feeling that most priests looks lightly on this type of sin. Question 1: can I receive communion if I’ve sinned by masturbating, but is intending to confess the sin in the near future? Question 2: can and should I pray if I’ve gravely sinned? Or would this not have any meaning, since I have walked away from Gods will? I have found great comfort in the writings of the French priest Jacques Philippe and he seems to think that having committed a mortal sin should not stopping us from praying to God, as this would give Satan a victory and be detrimental of our spiritual life. St. Thérèse of Lisieux’s writings also seems to endorse this. What do you think?

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    • No, you may not receive Communion, until you confess this sin, unless you are in danger of death and cannot get to confession (in which case, make an act of perfect contrition first).
      Yes, you can and should pray. As soon as you repent from this sin, pray to God for forgiveness and express your sorrow for all sin out of love for God. Prayer even by someone in a state of mortal sin can be done in cooperation with actual graces. But return to the state of grace as soon as possible by an act of perfect contrition.

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