Posts filed under: morality

I was taught that when Jesus died on the cross a new covenant was formed. I thought this meant that everything before no longer holds true. If that is right, then why does the church enforce Lev 18? If its wrong, why dont they enforce Lev 11? - Anonymous

Wow, I wish more people would ask this question!

It’s often one of the basic misunderstandings that leads some of the New Atheists to assume (incorrectly) that believers in Christ treat the minor dietary prescriptions of the Law of Moses with the same reverence as the New Commandment to love one another as Christ has loved us. So much would become clearer were they to pay attention to what the Church says about the Bible… (sigh).

Read all the way through Matthew 5, and you can see how Jesus really surprised his contemporaries. First he talks about not abolishing the law but bringing it to completion (verse 17), but then goes on to give a completely new (more intense) interpretation of some of its precepts (verses 21-22, verses 27-28) and then apparently completely reverse some others (verses 31-32, verses 33-34, verses 38-39, verses 43-44). Most importantly, and this has bearing on your question about Leviticus 11's dietary regulations, Jesus will at one point specifically declare that all foods are clean and that those dietary regulations are now superseded (Mark 7:19; the whole section is worth reading for context).

For what it’s worth, it took a good deal of effort for the early Church to come to understand that last point: see Acts 10 or Romans 14 for some of the controversy.

So what’s clear is that Jesus’ New Covenant isn’t simply starting completely from scratch. It’s more like a restoration of the conditions on God’s relationship with humanity to their original luster and splendor; that’s the criteria that Jesus explicitly invokes all through Matthew 5.

So if a lot of extra food regulations had taken on exaggerated importance in the hands of men, and if Jesus chooses to free us from those, it also means that he purifies certain things about sexual activity (for example, Matthew 5:27-28, already cited above, but more startingly, his prohibition of divorce at the start of Matthew 19).

There are certain things about human sexuality that are written into the structure of who we are, which are reflected in the specific norms of Leviticus 18. It’s not good for us to sexualize our relationships with close relatives. It’s not good for us to use our sexuality outside of the structure created by God to protect it: marriage. It’s not good for us to turn sexuality into a purely pleasurable activity devoid of true lasting committed life-giving love (masturbation, pornography, homosexuality, artificial contraception, etc). It simply won’t do us good in the long run.

So since Jesus didn’t specifically reveal to us the need to abrogate elements of the Law of Moses which had to do with activities like homosexuality, for example, we presume that they continue in force and that they in fact reveal to us something about the original structure of who we are. (You’ll note, though, that the Church did in fact quietly ignore certain elements which are based on biological ignorance, like Leviticus 18:19).

That’s all backed up by verses like, famously, Romans 1:26-28, which reinforce that basic teaching.

Sure, it can be hard for us to understand, but the basic attitude of faith is not “let me figure this out totally for myself with my puny human brain” but “I accept trustingly that what God asks from me, even if I don’t understand it, is what will be best for me.” Ouch. Not easy for us. Ever. But necessary. Really really necessary.

God bless you!

- Father Shane

In religious matters, the modern world believes in indifference. Very simply, this means that it has no great loves and no great hates; no causes worth living for and no causes worth dying for.

It counts its virtues by the vices from which it abstains, asks that religion be easy and pleasant, sneers the term “mystic” at those who are spiritually inclined, dislikes enthusiasm and loves benevolence, makes elegance the test of virtue and hygiene the test of morality, believes that one may be too religious but never too refined. It holds that no one ever loses his soul, except for some great and foul crime such as murder.

— Archbishop Fulton Sheen

What are ways to provide spiritual nourishment for a loved one or significant other? - Anonymous

We’re limited in the ways we can influence each other spiritually. Ultimately it’s the Holy Spirit who is the great influencer, so we human beings can either be a help or a hindrance to his work. Your job, if you choose to try to provide spiritual nourishment, is simply to try to smooth the way for him.

God is far more patient than we are, so part of that cooperation with him is the sometimes painful reality of acknowledging that all you can do in any given moment is to help someone take another step towards God. If they’re far from him, don’t expect gigantic instant conversions; expect frustratingly small baby steps in the right direction, but rejoice with God when they happen. (The same rule holds for all of us in our own lives… we need to have realistic expectations.)

So start with an honest assessment of how this person is living his or her life at all relevant levels: moral life, enthusiasm about moral/spiritual things, healthy dealings with others, psychological balance, personal history, etc. Then think in terms of what those small steps towards God would look like. It’s important to have all this clear in your own mind, or you can try to force the issue too quickly and end up being frustrated and possibly even damaging your relationship.

The next thing to ask is what exactly in your role in this person’s life will empower you to influence them. If you’re merely friends or acquaintances, you’ve got a lot less leverage than if there is a deep mutual trust between you; if your relationship is very close on some levels (family ties or romantic ties), it’s not necessarily a given that the person will trust you for spiritual guidance even though they might trust you on other things. Your trustworthiness in this department could also be called the spiritual “authority” you wield (subjectively) over a person.

Based on those, you may get an idea of how you can influence them. Are you restricted to merely witnessing (letting your Christianity shine through in a non-pretentious, natural way) or trying to connect the person with a spiritual leader they’ll trust who can lead them deeper (a priest, a spiritual director, a dynamic layperson, etc.) or can you try to spiritualize the relationship (bringing up spiritual topics in your conversations or spending time together in spiritual activities)?

The answers to those questions will vary with every relationship, so you might be able to buy a copy of “The Imitation of Christ” for one person in your life but be restricted to simply playing Christian music in the car occasionally when someone else is around.

Importantly: Don’t feel like you have to be the perfect Christian in order to win someone over or minister to them. Perfect Christians don’t exist. We all share our brokenness together and we all strive for holiness, but we all have moments in which we’re running towards the goal and moments when we’re stumbling or slipping backwards. Ministering means pointing people towards Christ, not towards yourself, so you’re never “unworthy” of that… and you’re never worthy of drawing attention to yourself or of expecting to be rewarded for your “performance” in the Christian life. It’s all only ever about loving Christ.

In the end, you’re in some sort of relationship with this person, but giving him or her “spiritual nourishment” means strengthening his or her relationship with Jesus Christ. So it’s not really about “your relationship,” but actually about a relationship in which you’re merely a very interested bystander. You’re simply hoping for the greatest thing that can possibly happen to this person you love: the powerful transformation in happiness and hope that comes from a deep relationship with their Lord and Savior.

God bless you!

- Father Shane

Is listening to songs from Youtube okay? I mean, songs that aren't uploaded by the artists who sang/created them? Thank you very much! God bless you! - Anonymous

Good question! You’ll get different opinions from different ethicists on this, since there’s this gray area where copyright law doesn’t necessarily align perfectly with the moral law. At times, copyright law can be very restrictive because it’s at the service of raw profitability rather than expressing real moral norms. That, of course, has to be balanced with the basic moral precept to follow justly constituted civil law except for serious reasons (for example, breaking a speeding law to get someone to the hospital).

Okay, that was complicated. But the rest of the thing is complicated too:

  • When you listen to a song repeatedly, you’re becoming more and more attached to that band, and more and more likely to actually buy that band’s music at some future date.
  • When songs are made available in digital format, the record label is automatically taking the risk that the songs be reused.
  • You’re also helping fund YouTube (and sometimes the person who uploaded the video) as you’re exposed to ads that other people paid for.
  • It’s likely that you’ll also eventually watch the official music video on YouTube at some point, which directly benefits the band financially.
  • There is no potential for future distribution on your part if you don’t download the song.
  • All of these factors are similar to what happens when you listen to radio stations, Pandora, Spotify, etc. Lots of people are benefiting financially from your consumption, and you’re more likely to spend in the future.

So there are several “mitigating factors” in play that make this form of listening a lot less culpable than outright piracy, and probably minimally culpable anyway. I wouldn’t worry about it too much, but definitely it would be good to have the attitude of knowing that you’re receiving something free and that you have some degree of obligation to keep the system (and your favorite people) strong. Again, you may get stricter opinions on this, but we’re in the realm of moral theology where opinions are guaranteed to be diverse because our intellects are limited, and mine is more limited than most… so take it as an opinion.

And as always, “you are what you eat,” so if the songs you listen to glorify God, then you’re on the road to spiritual health. If not, “GIGO!”

God bless you!

- Father Shane

Good Day, father! :) Thanks for opening up your askbox. My question is this: For Catholics who want to live the faith fully, is it a sin to watch "sensitive" scenes in movies? (I don't know what to call it!) For example, passionate kissing scenes and the like? Similarly, is it a sin to read about them and listen to songs with bad lyrics? (For example, common lyrics of hiphop songs have references to sex, etc.) Is there an objective answer to this or does it differ based on self knowledge? - Anonymous

Here’s a great answer on that point from a priest friend of mine: part 1, part 2, and part 3. Does that help?

God bless you!

- Father Shane

Several years back, I was doing my best to strive towards faith but— I don’t know. I honestly don’t want to be ‘good’ or ‘holy’, and, consequently, I haven’t struggled towards being those for the past several years. I feel like I might be a Heretic or something equally unholy…and a part of me finds strength in that. I’m sorry this is barely a question, and I’m sorry if it makes you uncomfortable. I just don’t know what to do. - Anonymous

I can sympathize… how confused we can get within sometimes!

I guess a more important question would be to ask yourself if you feel a desire to be “happy.” We almost always do, at least in some sort of vague way — though sometimes we can get the impression that we don’t deserve it — and though we are notoriously bad at figuring out what makes us happy.

The Church doesn’t talk about the things that God has revealed in terms of being constraints on our freedom… “thou shalt not!” God isn’t cruel like that… in fact, what the Church talks about is how much God desires our happiness. Eternally, in fact! If we’re his children and if we’re very much loved by him, he hasn’t just made a list of rules in order to find reasons to condemn us. That would be horrible.

But think about a seat belt. It’s a constraint on our freedom too; we can’t move around freely. But if you’re in a car or in an airplane or on a roller coaster — and life really is a roller coaster so often — you really want that seat belt! It’s the only thing that guarantees you safety and health and happiness.

The commandments are like that. More than arbitrary restrictions, they’re the user’s manual to life. In other words, God preferred to tell us a little bit about ourselves so that we wouldn’t flail around this life suffering the consequences of our freedom poorly used, and making others suffer as well.

So your question makes me think that what you’re missing most is to truly discover where your true happiness lies, and that you’re not comfortable with where you’re at. That the things you thought would make you happy… haven’t. Hard to think of another reason why you would be writing to me.

It takes a little bit of obedience and humility to tell God “yes,” and sometimes we can prefer to run from obedience, even if we know it will cost us even greater suffering. All I can tell you is that if you truly give God a chance and test him… tell him that you’ll set aside the habits you’ve followed for a while, and it’s up to him to fill your inner emptiness… or else.

You’re in a relationship with God, and the “reset” button is always within reach if you want it. “Unholiness” simply means that that relationship is broken right now; true happiness is within reach if you’re willing to try to change, and to let God transform your heart into something glowing and warm again.

God bless you! I’ll keep you in prayer.

- Father Shane

What about getting tipsy? is that okay? - Anonymous

It depends a little on the circumstances. What’s wrong (= “bad for us”) is when we lose (= “give away”) control of ourselves and our actions. You can be tipsy and still be in control, but if you’re around the wrong people and your judgment is clouded enough, you might be essentially “losing control” of your actions and what could happen in those circumstances, whereas you might be entirely in control if drinking at home with someone you trust.

Make sense? God bless you!

- Father Shane

Hi Father, a friend of mine wants to have a surgical procedure done to regain his hair. He has tried to appreciate himself with less of it (due to balding) but now feels as though he longs for it. He also feels called to marriage and feels as though if his appearance was different, it would be easier for him to find someone. Does the Church have a stance on plastic surgery? Is it the intention that matters? Do you think the act could be sinful in this scenario? Thanks for your time, GB - Anonymous

Good question! It’s complicated.

Per se, plastic surgery is morally neutral, so it’s the intention linked to the particular procedure that gives it its moral weight, but in only a very few cases of procured plastic surgery (as opposed to reconstructive surgery after an accident, for example) is the proper intention actually achieved. It’s just very very easy for vanity (or also a desire to gain power over others) to slip in.

In this case, it could be legit, especially since it’s tied to a perceived vocation, but it’s probably more important for him to focus first on the interior beautification (virtues, gallantry, etc.) that will endear him to his future spouse than to focus on externals. Women tend to forgive men’s appearance more readily than men do for women, but they also tend to be more attuned to the inner person than men are (at least at first).

Sometimes as well, our appearance is simply a cross we have to bear, and an invitation from God to look to what truly endears us to him and to others, and what is truly important to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

Besides, any hair he adds now will be lost later anyway.

So it’s not necessarily sinful if his intention is pure, but that’s hard to achieve and he may want to look in other directions first.

God bless you!

- Father Shane

` Then there's the issue on condoms. The primary goal of sex IS to create life but wasn't it once said that natural methods of birth control was morally good by Vatican II? & when the difference between natural birth control VS artificial ones was brought up as an issue (let's not count hormone altering ones), wasn't it concluded that either one was fine only to have that argument reneged due to our prioritized traditions? Does that mean contraceptives are okay conditionally? I'm confused.[cont] - Anonymous

Sort of. The birth control debate had been brewing since before Vatican II but was resolved in 1968 (3 years after the Council closed) by Pope Paul VI.

There were theologians with varying opinions (that usually happens!), but ultimately the decision was made on the grounds of morality rather than pure tradition.

Here’s an excellent article by St. Louis’ Archbishop Carlson that explains the decision very succintly. If you want to go deeper, you might appreciate this.

God bless you!

- Father Shane

It’s easy and tempting to convince ourselves that we don’t need Jesus Christ. That we can achieve a level of moral perfection, a level of holiness even, by our own hard work and determination. But hard work alone won’t rid us of unclean spirits and effort alone will not make us into saints. Grace is the key.

— Bishop James Conley (Denver, aux.)

I recently watched Downton Abbey S1 and there are a few inappropriate scenes. I tried to not watch them but some of the dialogue was necessary. Most people wouldn't even think these scenes were that bad (it wasn't nudity or anything like that) but they bothered me as I want to keep my mind pure and holy. Was it wrong for me to watch this show? Is it worth not watching anymore even if it was only 5 minutes of 6 hours that was bad? How can I discern what media is OK? I'm really conflicted on this. - Anonymous

It’s a very complex issue, and I’m not sure if I’ll get this right, but let’s try.

There are certain types of images which aren’t appropriate for anyone to watch (Christian or not). Little by little, pornographic images and content have filtered into mainstream media consumption. But what to do about things that are simply borderline?

In part it depends on yourself. You’ll know what topics and images create reactions in you that only your spouse should. Your sensibilities and sensitivities may differ significantly from other people’s. Holding your attention on something inappropriate, knowing that it’s not good for you and that you’re in danger of offending the Lord, is never going to do you any good and can become something important to bring up in Confession.

Many times, the sheer gratuitousness of an inappropriate scene means that it can be easily skipped (with your DVR, TiVo, etc.) without doing any harm to the story line or your enjoyment of the show. Too bad it wasn’t the case here. Then, too, making the sacrifice of not watching something even though you know it’s part of the plot can be a way to tell God that you love Him more than your entertainment.

The key is to know that “you are what you eat,” in a certain way. Or, more prosaically and modernly, “garbage in, garbage out.” Don’t feed yourself poison. That means that even shows that don’t show nudity can be full of corrosive attitudes and nonchalant approaches to sexuality that can wear down your resistance and change your mindset imperceptibly. 

So those are all factors to keep in mind; as you can see, there aren’t any blanket condemnations in there. It’s up to you to discover what does you good and what doesn’t. Discussing these things in Confession can also give you more peace of mind. The media — Tumblr included — aren’t going to help you out much; in fact, it’s tougher to watch TV now more than ever. But keep God first and remember that “blessed are the pure of heart, for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8).

To see what the Catechism says about porn, check out #2354. For its very positive take on trying to live the Ninth Commandment well, click here.

I hope it helps! God bless you.

- Father Shane

The Church in the United States is called, in season and out of season, to proclaim a Gospel which not only proposes unchanging moral truths but proposes them precisely as the key to human happiness and social prospering. … With her long tradition of respect for the right relationship between faith and reason, the Church has a critical role to play in countering cultural currents which, on the basis of an extreme individualism, seek to promote notions of freedom detached from moral truth.

— Pope Benedict XVI, today

Moral neutrality should not be an option. You can’t fight something with nothing. Because if we don’t stand for something, we can’t stand against anything.

— David Cameron, UK prime minister

Do all pro-life Tumblr people know about Heroic News?

I was reading the question you answered a few months ago about how a woman tying her tubes is a sin, even in marriage. So if a married, Catholic couple have had kids and they decide that they're too old or that they don't have enough financially/time-wise for more kids, would they be sinning if the woman decided to get her tubes tied? Or if the man undergoes a vasectomy? - Anonymous

Well, this is a point that has caused the Church a great deal of grief, but yes, we have to be faithful to what we are as sexual beings.

Here’s how the YouCat explains it, putting “sterilization” (the two methods you mention) into a broader context:

Why are all methods of preventing the conception of a child not equally good?

The Church recommends the refined methods of self-observation and Natural Family Planning (NFP) as methods of deliberately regulating conception. These are in keeping with the dignity of man and woman; they respect the innate laws of the female body; they demand mutual affection and consideration and therefore are a school of love.

The Church pays careful attention to the order of nature and sees in it a deep meaning. For her it is therefore not a matter of indifference whether a couple manipulates the woman’s fertility or instead makes use of the natural alteration of fertile and infertile days. It is no accident that NFP is called natural: It is ecological, holistic, healthy, and an exercise in partnership. On the other hand, the Church rejects all artificial means of contraception — namely, chemical methods (“the Pill”), mechanical methods (for example, condoms, IUDs), and surgical methods (sterilization) — since these attempt to separate the sexual act from its procreative potential and block the total self-giving of husband and wife. Such methods can even endanger the woman’s health, have an abortifacient effect (= cause a very early abortion), and in the long run be detrimental to the couple’s love life.

So what the Church is saying is that sterilization turns sex into something that God didn’t intend it to be. Hope it helps! Not an easy topic by any means. Plenty of good books out there… try googling “theology of the body.”

God bless you!

- Father Shane

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