Some of the mistakes we make in life can’t be fixed.

Today I read Sam Gregg’s great piece at American Spectator today wherein he unloaded on sentimentalism.  HERE

A sample:

Despite its claims to take the mind seriously, sentimental humanitarianism is also rather “uncomfortable” (to use classic sentimental humanitarian language) with any substantive understanding of reason. It tends to reduce most debates to exchanges of feelings. You know you’re dealing with a sentimental humanitarian whenever someone responds to arguments with expressions such as “Well, I just feel…” or “You can’t say that,” or (the ultimate trump-card) “That’s hurtful.”

This is a good reminder for you who will pay attention to the lead up to the Synod on the Family in October.  It is expected that there will be a debate about Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried.  On one side we will see those who defend doctrine, going back to the Christ’s words in the Gospel and St. Paul’s teaching.  On the other we will see those who make strong appeals to mercy and suggest in vague ways that doctrine that has been clear since the beginning is somehow subject to change, if only we can apply the right hermeneutic (interpretive lens).  This later group will accuse the former of conducting a war on mercy: “You haven’t looked into the eyes of a divorcee who is remarried and seen the anguish. You are against mercy!  You are mean!”  The “You are mean!” Argument™ was given a test run over at Fishwrap recently, in one of several loooong rambling posts by Michael Sean Winters.

A while back I posted my own little rant about divorce, remarriage and Communion.  HERE  In this little rant I wrote:

People make mistakes. We are not angels. People sin. People suffer. That doesn’t mean we lie to them about what sin is and what their state is. No. We tell them the truth and then, with great concern and compassion, help them with clear teaching, a strong and certain Catholic identity, the sacraments Christ gave us as the ordinary means of our salvation, and encouragement.

We sinners move forward, up the hard, rocky, thorny, path and we refuse the smooth, broad and seemingly easier path down to Hell.

You know what?   Not everything can be “fixed”.

These days we expect everything to be fixable, to have a solution.  There must be some way to get around problems, some cure, some repair, some slight-of-hand.

No.  Not everything can be fixed.  Some of the mistakes we make in life can’t be fixed.  We must deal with the consequences of our choices, seeing them clearly for what they are and not living in a state of denial, or in some fantasy realm in which there are no true consequences for our actions.

Don’t get me wrong.  If there are good solutions to the problems that some couples get into that are consistent with what Christ and the Apostles taught and handed down, and which have been constantly reaffirmed in the whole course of the Church’s history, GREAT!  Let’s use them.  However, the life of grace, even in suffering, for the sake of happiness in heaven by far outweighs the short-term “fixes” of this life that could actually be spiritually dangerous.

It is not “sentimentality” to be concerned about the well-being of people who are in tough situations.  It is, however, a really bad plan to create “fixes” out of sentimentality that will, in the long run, do harm.

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  1. McCall1981 says:

    Card. Dolan has said not to expect much change on the Communion for the divorced/remarried issue:

  2. incredulous says:

    Ugh, it’s a tough pill to swallow, but I believe you are right and that Church doctrine is correct. Just the thought of life without a spousal companion is almost beyond gut wrenching especially once you’ve been married. Celibacy after decades of marriage is very lonely. There are many crosses we all bear. One point made in yesterday’s sermon related to gaining the world and losing your soul. Believing this, overcoming emotion with virtue, Catholic intellect and God’s grace can rule such carnal desire. It’s a tough road and it’s probably the most painful stand the Church must take. It requires a deep love of the Lord and faith in the intangible to act with virtue. We are washed in imagery of companionship, sex, good times, discomfort/pain avoidance, escapism, easy as pie hookups and fantasies. It takes a superhuman to live the doctrine, but faith is that God will assist you if you have the desire to serve Him. Have mercy and strengthen those who think they are too weak to live up to the teaching of Christ regarding the impossibility of divorce.

  3. ChrisRawlings says:

    You’re absolutely right that a kind of mawkish sentimentalism will be employed to argue in favor of admission of the divorced and remarried to Holy Communion. And I don’t want to underestimate the damage that such unbounded sentimentality can do to difficult debates like this one. At the same time, mercy divorced from justice ceases to be mercy at all, instead devolving into the nihilism of personal sentiment, and our bishops and cardinals (and Holy Father) certainly understand that. Using mercy to justify something deeply problematic from a theological perspective would endlessly regress down the slippery slope. As such, it would cease to be mercy at all.

    Perhaps the debate is valuable to have or perhaps it isn’t. But I cannot imagine it going beyond anything more than just debate, at least without compromising the Church’s penitential theology and even Divine Mercy itself. At least that’s how I see it. And that simply won’t happen at the synod.

    Besides, pure sentimentality can just as easily be used to highlight the grave evil of divorce. As a child of divorce, I can assure you that the wounds of divorce on children should absolutely break any sentient person’s heart. They are truly deep and it should be a source of great encouragement that the Church refuses to entertain the possibility of the dissolubility of marriage.

  4. Gaetano says:

    It strikes me that if the marriage was a mistake ab initio, there may be grounds for an annulment.

  5. benedetta says:

    Gaetano, exactly as in what Fr. Z said…when there are solutions, the Church uses them, as in grounds.

    Of course it’s equally bizarre when we are to deny mercy to an innocent child yet to be born growing in her mother’s womb, in order to give all the supposed mercy and compassion, and to not be mean towards, the mother.

    A solution that we have the means and capacity to do right here and now is to end abortion and care for both the mother and the growing child’s life, together. It is entirely reasonable and progressive.

  6. ChrisRawlings says:

    I should add that Divine Mercy itself can never be compromised, but the Church’s understanding of it can if those entrusted with the propagation of the faith fail to articulate the Church teaching. But I have been heartened by so many strong cardinals and bishops who have stepped up and argument beautifully for the Church’s traditional teaching on the matter. Isn’t it ironic (and delicious) that it has been Germans like Cardinals Brandmuller, Muller, and Ratzinger, and bishops like Stephen Oster, who have been some of the greatest voices for maintaining the Church’s current teaching?

    It makes me think that Pope Francis had exactly that strong, eloquent defense in mind when he opened the can of worms up at the last consistory. In many ways, the Church needed to be pushed to rearticulate that teaching in the face of more and more calls to abolish it. Doing so, of course, open the door to voices of dissent against the teaching, but it also arms bishops and priests with a new intellectual arsenal to use when these issues come up in daily life (as they mostly certainly do).

  7. benedetta says:

    As sacrificing a child from the safety of the womb is not something that can then be “fixed”, as that is a forever action, irreparable, we may provide the balm of the mercy of God in the sacrament of penance in such instances.

  8. Faithful to the Core says:

    Father Z is right. There are mistakes we make that can never be fixed. For example, my husband and I practiced contraception for many years. Now, firmly enfolded in the Extraordinary Mass community and catechized by them, we fully realize the depth of the wrong that we did. But now, past our fertile years, there is no changing or fixing. We have by the generosity of God two children and one grandchild. There will be no more (for moral reasons, not contraception). If we had been more generous, probably there would have been more children and more grandchildren. But there is no changing what we did, no do-over, no fixing. We live with the consequences of our choice. To accept the consequences of our bad choices with fortitude and patience is to accept God’s justice and draw closer to Him in our repentance. To try to evade those consequences is to try to evade God’s justice and move away from Him. To seek to remove those consequences from others, as in the case of divorced and remarried Catholics, in order to be “nice” , is to encourage them to disregard God and His justice and endanger their souls.

  9. madisoncanonist says:


  10. anilwang says:

    I think one of the issues we face is that the real Jesus has been hijacked and replaced with a syrup “don’t make anyone feel bad” Jesus. That’s not Jesus at all. I remember reading the Gospels for the first time when I was outside the Church. I was struck by how purposely annoying Jesus was, to Pharisees, even to the hosts that invited him to dinner. He even called his apostles idiots a number of times and even called a Canaanite Woman that was pleading for her daughter a dog.

    Jesus is truly meek and mild and there is love behind every apparent annoyance, but the average Catholic has no idea what meekness actually means. Similarly Moses was described as being the meekest man on earth but be was extremely firey and ordered the mass deaths of those who followed the golden calf.

    So of course, when we’re told we should do “What would Jesus do?”, we get a distorted message of what we really should do, based more one what would make us more comfortable, easier, and popular rather than the more painful, difficult and unpopular path. As C.S. Lewis put it, we don’t want a loving Father (that will discipline their kids), we want a loving Grandfather that just wants everyone to love him and have a good time.

  11. Gretchen says:

    This issue is near to my heart as a convert who went through the wrenching process of an annulment. It was thought my situation would be an ‘easy peasy’ Ligamen since my ex-husband (a non-Catholic was married before me). However, it was found he was first married to a Catholic who did not marry him in the Church. Oy. Learned a whole lot about the Church’s teaching on marriage through the process. At one point I had to come to terms with the idea that I might never be able to present myself for Communion. Was the Church still holding the deposit of faith or was the truth dependent on the outcome of an annulment? If the Catholic faith was true, then I had no choice. I would do whatever I could to live as a Catholic, no matter the outcome of the annulment proceedings. I was eventually granted an annulment, praise be to God. Yes, I know they are often granted in the USA, but it was nerve-wracking for many months and I had to come to grips with the concept of sacramental marriage. It is so far beyond what the common understanding of marriage is today.

    Second, I have a dear Catholic friend who is dealing with a second divorce (no annulments on any side) and just the kinds of issues that will be addressed at the Synod. I eagerly await the arrival of “Remaining in the Truth of Christ: Marriage and Communion in the Catholic Church.”

  12. scarda says:

    Sometimes you have to decide if you love Christ more than you love the world. It is not always an easy decision, living in the world as it is and as we are.

  13. xylkatie says:

    There should be no “blanket” absolution for irregular or disordered unions. Father is correct in that as humans we make mistakes, and the church will help up solve our mistakes, as much as Church teaching and tradition permits. However, in the end, it’s not the Church that bends, but we bend, we are transformed, to be in a more perfect image of Christ himself. Even if one is in a situation where the sacraments are denied, one can still live a life of fidelity and Christian virtue. This is the essence of our relationship with God–not the fact that we have been stamped as approved by a church body. God will judge us, not man.

  14. Ben Kenobi says:

    @Gretchen ” I had to come to grips with the concept of sacramental marriage. It is so far beyond what the common understanding of marriage is today.”

    Well said, ma’am. And thank you Father Z for writing this article.

  15. Celibacy after decades of marriage is very lonely.

    Erm – celibacy after decades of celibacy can also be very lonely …

    Of course, one can then stop feeling sorry for oneself, get out of the house, go to some parties, join a group, form a political party, get a pilot’s licence, get a motorbike licence, learn to shoot a gun, volunteer at an organisation to help people who are really suffering, babysit for some young marrieds who never get to do any of the above fun things, buy a birthday cake for a small child, buy a house and renovate it, learn to make pasta, join a choir, and say the Rosary daily.

    Sheesh. Do I have to come down there and draw that Synod a picture?

  16. incredulous says:

    Friend, this is a very sensitive topic for a lot of people and chastisement will alienate even though you could well be right. I’m not sure it is Christlike to alienate others with a judgmental attitude. Please consider that.

    And I personally certainly don’t need another hobby. About the only thing left to do is base jumping with a wing suit. A nice dinner with wine and great conversation with a MOTOS would be much preferable. It would be adultery though. Maybe joining an echolink net with Fr. Z at the helm would be better than all of the above.

    Really though, there are a lot of people who are very emotionally tied into what they consider a valid marriage but is not. This an immensely painful topic because the second marriage does wrap itself in love. It’s not like being in love with a bottle of booze, for example.

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  18. Gratias says:

    Sorry to say, the root cause of the Synod for the family is “Gay” marriage.

  19. VexillaRegis says:

    WWJD – I have been allergic to that motto since I first heard of it. A coworker, whose entire family is very involved in a Lutheran church, told us , that her daughter, 20 y/o, was such a fine young christian and wore this WWJD bracelet. She could do nothing wrong, what a holy girl!

    The daughter was living with her boyfriend (which her mother thought was perfectly OK).

  20. HeatherPA says:

    One thing which may come out of this all being dragged out of the dark and aired to the light is that perhaps priests will actually preach and address this and the co-inhabitation issues now, while stating the newly asserted Church doctrine regarding these situations.
    The synod will not change anything (it can’t, as we all know) but the publicity will only make it clear to those souls walking around clueless.

  21. Sonshine135 says:

    I always take comfort in Hebrews 12, and it is a great chapter to disprove the “smiley happy Jesus” crowd. The Lord disciplines those whom he loves and those that refuse the discipline are bastard children. Paul’s word are not sickeningly, saccharine sweet. While they appear hard, cold truth- anyone with a child who has gone off the straight and narrow recognized the unconditional love in this statement. I much rather be disciplined here on Earth than be thrown into eternal discipline. As Christians, we are supposed to look at life as eternal. Life doesn’t end at death. If you believe that, you will accept that discipline with joy.

  22. Supertradmum says:

    The problem is that two generations have grown up without having to face consequences in the home. Time-out benches do not work. Consequences teach young children that some things cannot be fixed and that all actions have good or bad results.

    The false theology pushed in the 1970s on in so-called Catholic schools, which I have called “wiggly worm religion” never addressed sin, purgatory, hell. And the “I’m OK, You’re OK” popular “theology” of the Evangelical types did not help, either.

    Without classical education, Aristotle, Aquinas, and Augustine, without European history or American history being required in schools, (and only the history of “cultures”), youth did not get the overview of how bad ideas, actions of individuals and peoples, ideologies have consequences.

    Sadly, relativism and subjectivism have replaced rational discourse, even among Catholics.
    Modernist heresies push the death of objective norms.

    The Good News is that one can still attain holiness after making mistakes which have consequences. God can use and does use everything as raw material for our perfection, as long as we recognize His Divine Providence is both perfect and permissive.

    I write about free will all the time on my blog. Very few moderns actually believe in free will. All evil is psychoanalyzed away. I am reading Fr. Chad Ripperger’s masterpiece, Introduction to The Science of Mental Health. One of his main points, also made by some other psychologists in the past, but in this book with the backing of Catholic teaching, is that sin may cause in some instances insanity. Do we not see this today?

    I have written earlier this week that bad ideas have consequences. So does sin. The saint finds humility in the facing of these sins and grows to love God more than self. One may wake up after making bad decisions, realizing that one was not thinking properly, or most likely, moving out of grace into serious sin, and one may repent, but one still has consequences. Such is the teaching on purgatory and for some, purgatory is worked out here and now.

  23. AnAmericanMother says:

    “Ye must distinguish. The action of Pity will live for ever: but the passion of Pity will not. The passion of pity, the pity we merely suffer, the ache that draws men to concede what should not be conceded and to flatter when they should speak truth, the pity that has cheated many a woman out of her virginity and many a statesman out of his honesty—that will die. It was used as a weapon by bad men against good ones: their weapon will be broken.”

    – George MacDonald to the Narrator, in Lewis’ The Great Divorce

  24. Friend, this is a very sensitive topic for a lot of people and chastisement will alienate even though you could well be right. I’m not sure it is Christlike to alienate others with a judgmental attitude. Please consider that.

    What judgmental attitude, and what chastisment? I just said people should stop feeling sorry for themselves.

    Self-pity is a sad kind of vice, and it’s one most of us pretend we don’t suffer from, because it’s so unattractive. And yet it’s rampant. There’s a really good online essay by Fr Donald Miller on it, which I actually keep printed out on my bedside table and re-read at regular intervals.

    A nice dinner with wine and great conversation with a MOTOS would be much preferable. It would be adultery though.

    Erm – I do this quite often, and it’s not adultery, principally because I don’t lay a hand on the person involved, and we’re not playing any games with each other. Honesty is essential. (And if I develop feelings for them which shouldn’t be acted on, I let them pass, and don’t act on them).

    It also helps to go out with a group of friends, including MOTOS, married and single. If you have loads of hobbies, as you clearly do, then you shouldn’t have much trouble finding a group of friends with whom to have dinner and nice wine and good conversation.

    Really though, there are a lot of people who are very emotionally tied into what they consider a valid marriage but is not. This an immensely painful topic because the second marriage does wrap itself in love. It’s not like being in love with a bottle of booze, for example.

    Some of the second ‘marriages’ I’ve seen aren’t wrapped in love. But to each his own.

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