Commandments are NOT mere “ideals” from which some are excused because, “They’re tooo haaard!” Wherein Fr. Z rants.

two-roads-heaven-hellWith all the chatter these days about virtuous behavior being an “ideal” and jawing about “paradigm shifts” and so forth, I present anew something I posted exactly one year ago today.

___ Originally published 17 Feb 2017

Look. I’m the first one to admit that I am a sinner.  I sin and I go to confession with a firm purpose of amendment.  When I fall, I get back up, again with a firm purpose of amendment.  I go to confession. I keep trying.

I do not think that, just because I sin and fall, God’s commandments are only “ideals” which some other people may be able to keep, but that I – poor wretch that I am – cannot and, therefore, I’m a special case whom the Church must tell, “There there, John, you don’t really have to change your ways.  Go ahead and receive Communion anyway! (cf Gen 3:1)”

Since I am a priest, the whole sin v. state of grace thing is officially a Big Deal™ which I must monitor on a daily basis, especially after reading the news, my email and writing this blog.

It’s not like I can go to Mass (as celebrant) and not receive Communion, like a lay person. If I don’t receive, it isn’t Mass.  So, the pressure is on.

That said, let’s learn something from St. John Paul about the possibility of living in the state of grace.

This is from the 1993 encyclical Veritatis splendor, seemingly contradicted by the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris laetitia, chapter 8.  In fact, of the famous Five Dubia sent by the Four Cardinals to the Holy Father (the signer of Amoris laetitia) two Dubia concern Veritatis splendor.

Cf Veritatis splendor, 102-104 (my emphases and comments):

Grace and obedience to God’s law

102. Even in the most difficult situations man must respect the norm of morality so that he can be obedient to God’s holy commandment and consistent with his own dignity as a person. [This has to do with our dignity.] Certainly, maintaining a harmony between freedom and truth occasionally demands uncommon sacrifices, and must be won at a high price: it can even involve martyrdom. But, as universal and daily experience demonstrates, man is tempted to break that harmony: “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate… I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want” (Rom 7:15, 19).

What is the ultimate source of this inner division of man? His history of sin begins when he no longer acknowledges the Lord as his Creator and himself wishes to be the one who determines, with complete independence, what is good and what is evil. “You will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen 3:5): this was the first temptation, and it is echoed in all the other temptations to which man is more easily inclined to yield as a result of the original Fall. [This is the danger inherent in the cant that people can go to Communion if their “consciences” allow.  Conscience… formed how?]

But temptations can be overcome, sins can be avoided, because together with the commandments the Lord gives us the possibility of keeping them: “His eyes are on those who fear him, and he knows every deed of man. He has not commanded any one to be ungodly, and he has not given any one permission to sin” (Sir 15:19-20). Keeping God’s law in particular situations can be difficult, extremely difficult, but it is never impossible. [Did you get that?] This is the constant teaching of the Church’s tradition, and was expressed by the Council of Trent: “But no one, however much justified, ought to consider himself exempt from the observance of the commandments, nor should he employ that rash statement, forbidden by the Fathers under anathema, that the commandments of God are impossible of observance by one who is justified. [I posted on that HERE.] For God does not command the impossible, but in commanding he admonishes you to do what you can and to pray for what you cannot, and he gives his aid to enable you. [SEE?] His commandments are not burdensome (cf. 1 Jn 5:3); his yoke is easy and his burden light (cf. Mt 11:30)”.

103. Man always has before him the spiritual horizon of hope, thanks to the help of divine grace and with the cooperation of human freedom.

It is in the saving Cross of Jesus, in the gift of the Holy Spirit, in the Sacraments which flow forth from the pierced side of the Redeemer (cf. Jn 19:34), that believers find the grace and the strength always to keep God’s holy law, even amid the gravest of hardships. As Saint Andrew of Crete observes, the law itself “was enlivened by grace and made to serve it in a harmonious and fruitful combination. Each element preserved its characteristics without change or confusion. In a divine manner, he turned what could be burdensome and tyrannical into what is easy to bear and a source of freedom”.

Only in the mystery of Christ’s Redemption do we discover the “concrete” possibilities of man. [NB!] It would be a very serious error to conclude… that the Church’s teaching is essentially only an “ideal” which must then be adapted, proportioned, graduated to the so-called concrete possibilities of man, according to a “balancing of the goods in question”. [Did you get that?] But what are the “concrete possibilities of man”? And of which man are we speaking? Of man dominated by lust or of man redeemed by Christ? This is what is at stake: the reality of Christ’s redemption. Christ has redeemed us! This means that he has given us the possibility of realizing the entire truth of our being; he has set our freedom free from the domination of concupiscence. [NB!] And if redeemed man still sins, this is not due to an imperfection of Christ’s redemptive act, but to man’s will not to avail himself of the grace which flows from that act. God’s command is of course proportioned to man’s capabilities; but to the capabilities of the man to whom the Holy Spirit has been given; of the man who, though he has fallen into sin, can always obtain pardon and enjoy the presence of the Holy Spirit”.

104. In this context, appropriate allowance is made both for God’s mercy towards the sinner who converts and for the understanding of human weakness. Such understanding never means compromising and falsifying the standard of good and evil in order to adapt it to particular circumstances. It is quite human for the sinner to acknowledge his weakness and to ask mercy for his failings; what is unacceptable is the attitude of one who makes his own weakness the criterion of the truth about the good, so that he can feel self-justified, without even the need to have recourse to God and his mercy. An attitude of this sort corrupts the morality of society as a whole, since it encourages doubt about the objectivity of the moral law in general and a rejection of the absoluteness of moral prohibitions regarding specific human acts, and it ends up by confusing all judgments about values. [“Encouraging doubt” about those thing is, apparently, BAD.  As a matter of fact, it is scandalous, isn’t it?  As Killick would say, “Which it’s millstones ain’t in it!”]


Oh yes… that’s right.  I forgot.  Veritatis splendor came out in late 1993.  That’s 23, almost 24 whole years ago!  [about 25 now!] That’s really old!  Surely VS isn’t relevant today, is it?  Imagine paying attention to something that outdated!

If you were looking for the promised rant, look no farther.

Everyone, don’t be overly discouraged if you fall into sin, even something that is repetitive and truly hard to root out.

Sense the prevenient grace that God is extending to you!  Be truly sorry for your sins, resolve to sin no more, get up off your sorry backsides, go out the door and …


One of the effects of the Sacrament of Penance is a strengthening against sin.

We can do this!  We have to encourage each other and not make excuses.  We have to look at the truth straight on and not get mired in sloppy sentiment.  Truth doesn’t short-circuit compassion, but compassion doesn’t usurp truth.

Here’s a dose of truth.

One of the important things to know ahead of time about amending your life is that, when the temptations come, you have to be willing to suffer.

A firm purpose of amendment means embracing the Cross.  It means being willing to stay up there on your cross and suffering.  Saying “No!” to yourself, saying “No!” to a temptation is the hard path, but it is the path that leads to heaven.  As soon as you say “No!”, the suffering will begin, especially when it comes to more carnal matters.  The cross will be laid upon you.  Then you will carry it.  You might fall!  Then you will be nailed to it.  Then you will thirst and cry to God.  This is how we must face temptations and root out sins.  We face them with a plan and the foreknowledge of the suffering to follow.

On our own, we can’t do it.  With God, we can.  It is not impossible with God’s help.  It is impossible only if we are alone, and we are never alone.

God offers the crosses and the graces every time.   The cross, your daily cross and suffering is the road.  Suffering is bad, but it is good.  Suffering corrects us and tests us.  Suffering purifies us and strengthens us.  It’s all a question of what you love.  If you love God and want heaven enough, then with love you will stay up on that gift of a cross and you will suffer in sorrowfully joyful pain.  It will be bad.  But know also that it is, without question, suffering’s easy yoke.  It is the easy yoke because you are exactly where you ought to be in God’s plan for your rescue from sin into heaven.

Christ is already victorious.  We must live His victory in our bodies and souls.  His victory was through the Cross.  Our victory is through the Cross.   Reject the Cross and you cannot be saved.  Reject your crosses and you imperil your salvation.

The Church teaches with Christ’s authority.  The Church, faithful to Christ her spouse, wants your salvation, just as Christ wants your salvation.  Christ offers crosses to help you.  Therefore, some of the Church’s teachings will be occasions of crosses which you must bear for the sake of your salvation.

The Church isn’t trying to ruin what might otherwise be a good time in life.  She is trying to help you to Heaven, and that means saying “No!” to a lot of things, because there are a lot of things that can drag us to Hell if we are not careful.  Hell’s road is deception, to which we are lead by ease.  The road to Heaven is arduous, steep, long, fraught with challenges.  But Heaven’s road is the happier, even though it is the harder.

If someone comes along and tells you that you don’t need to stay up there on your cross… that’s from Hell.  It certainly is not from God.

Please share!

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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7 Responses to Commandments are NOT mere “ideals” from which some are excused because, “They’re tooo haaard!” Wherein Fr. Z rants.

  1. Pingback: Commandments are NOT mere “ideals” from which some are excused because, “They’re tooo haaard!” Wherein Fr. Z rants. | Trump:The American Years

  2. ex seaxe says:

    I am still wanting to understand how the Orthodox churches can have developed a different approach. This is difficult because there is no single central agreement among them. However, it seems that they do not question the indissloubility of marriage, and regard with great suspicion the Catholic method of trying to prove a defect in the sacramental form and thus pronounce an annulment. Is it this? :- They take the view that abandoning the sacramental committment to one person and entering an enduring committment to another person is the sin, a grave sin, but that the continuation of the committment is not neccessarily a grave sin. There is of course the further step of accepting that the committment is not fulfilled in a brother-sister relationship but must be open to sexual congress.

  3. Oliverian says:

    In reading your excerpts from VS, and your commentary, I was at several points reminded of something I read not long ago :

    “Have you yet resisted temptation to the point of the spilling of your blood?” Of course I had to answer “No.” And most of us would give the same answer. But right on the heels of reading that came the memory of having been taught “God never permits you to be tempted beyond your ability to resist.” Which of course means He supplies all the grace necessary – and proportionate to the nature / strength of the temptation.

    And right on the heels of that thought came another : “Where sin abounds, grace abounds the more.”

    Thank you Father Z., for this post. I’ll be printing it out.

  4. MaryM096 says:

    Thank you for this much needed posting, Father Z. It’s something all of us need to be reminded of.

  5. Dad of Six says:

    “Basilides Melchischyros” in First Things today has a witty take on a certain Cardinal’s recent “elucidation of Amoris Laetitia.”

    Set any liquids down before reading.

  6. LarryW2LJ says:

    Of course the Ten Commandments are not ideals. God knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows what’s good for us and in the end, what will make us happy. True happiness is being with Him for eternity and to that end, He gave us a road map to get there. If we trust and obey, always, we’ll get there. If we choose to use our free will and take the other road, we’ll get what we asked for, “and it ain’t happiness.”

    It’s not like we don’t have history to guide us and teach us this, either. Just read the Old Testament for Pete’s sake! The whole, entire book can be summed up pretty much like this – when the Israelite people were faithful and obeyed God, things were copacetic. When they went off on their own and started following the ways of the world, things went to hell in a hand basket, pretty darn quick.

    Sound familiar?