Commandments are NOT mere “ideals” from which some people are excused because they’re hard! Wherein Fr. Z rants.

two-roads-heaven-hellLook. 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!  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.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Fiat Domine says:

    Dear Father Z,
    So soothing to the Spiritual ears to hear Truth, Catholic Truth, Truth that leads to Life.
    Thank you dear Father – a good Father who leads his children to Heaven, not hell.

  2. Grodegang says:

    Thank you Father for this clarification. I appreciate your ‘rants’. This particular rant has really helped me as I have been struggling with my own cross (temptations). You have given me reassurance to pick up my cross and bear it with confidence with the knowledge that Jesus is there beside me. God Bless you.

  3. Dirk1973 says:

    The only one who can stop this AL heresy is cardinal Müller,he has the authority. See if Francis dares to attack or contradict him

  4. TDPelletier says:

    Thank you, Father. That part about being willing to accept the suffering that comes with being faithful to God helped me a lot.

  5. JARay says:

    What an excellent ripost to that booklet just written by Cardinal Coccopalmerio. Thank you very much Father Z.
    I do so agree with “Dirk1973” that AL is heresy…well the chapter 8 bit is anyway.

  6. LarryW2LJ says:

    That’s why God didn’t call them “The Ten Suggestions”.

  7. jameeka says:

    Wow. I don’t think i’ve ever heard this from the pulpit before. From the confessional maybe, once, and not with such Clarity. Thank you!

  8. Paul says:

    “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.”

    Thank you for these words. A reminder that it is a hard path to follow and a reminder that we have to pick ourselves up again particularly for the sins that are hard to root out as you say. And your next paragraph is an excellent reminder that we need to pray for help to avoid the occasion of sin – something I often forget to do.

  9. Serviam says:


  10. Mary Jane says:

    Excellent, Fr Z! Thank you!!

  11. graytown says:

    I love to attend Mass several times a week.
    I made up my mind – by God’s Grace – a long time ago to NEVER knowingly receive our Lord in an unworthy manner.
    So – I go to Cofession – ALOT
    What an awesome Sacrament !

  12. JabbaPapa says:

    The problem is that there are two conficting definitions of the word “ideal”.

    From the OED 2nd Edition, 2009 —

    2. a.A.2.a Conceived or regarded as perfect or supremely excellent in its kind; answering to one’s highest conception.


    4. a.A.4.a Existing only in idea; confined to thought or imagination; imaginary: opp. to real or actual. Hence sometimes, Not real or practical; based on an idea or fancy; fancied, visionary.

    When Catholic teaching speaks of “ideals”, it is the first, more classical, definition that is intended. The ideals are the hard and precise terms that a Catholic is asked by God to strive for and live by.

    Unfortunately, more and more Catholics who read these teachings, understand instead the latter, which is of course entirely and completely opposite and detrimental to the very foundation of the Catholicity, as it suggests that the Revelation itself might be simply some mental artefact.

  13. JabbaPapa says:

    It is very interesting that Pope Saint John Paul II reiterated the anathema of Trent (after the publication of the 1983 Code of Canon Law even, which formally removed the juridical penalty of anathema) — this does not mean that Cardinal Kasper and ilk are “excommunicated”, but it does mean that their proposals are strongly condemned as anathema.

    Because the penalty has been abolished, a word should be said about the status of the conciliar canons that employed this penalty. In addition to prescribing the imposition of a juridical penalty, the phrase anathema sit (“let him be anathema”) also came to be one of the phrases that the Church traditionally has used to issue doctrinal definitions.

    Catholic scholars have long recognized that when an ecumenical council applies this phrase to a doctrinal matter, then the matter is settled infallibly. (If a council applied the phrase to a disciplinary matter, then the matter would not be settled infallibly, since only matters of doctrine, not discipline, are subject to doctrinal definition.)

    Thus, when Trent and other ecumenical councils employed anathema sit in regard to doctrinal matters, not only was a judicial penalty prescribed but a doctrinal definition was also made. Today, the judicial penalty may be gone, but the doctrinal definition remains. Everything that was infallibly decided by these councils is still infallibly settled.

    This has consequences under current canon law. Those things that are both divinely revealed by God and proposed as such by the Church cannot be obdurately denied or doubted without the offense of heresy (CIC [1983] 751). Heresy does carry a penalty of automatic (latae sententiae) excommunication (can. 1041, 2º), though this does not apply to those who have never been members of the Catholic Church (can. 11), and even then there is a significant list of exceptions (can. 1323).

    Another less important point is that, of course, an Encyclical is of greater Doctrinal but also Disciplinary Authority than an Exhortation.

    Amoris Laetitia cannot then be correctly read except by assuming that its passages lacking clarity are intended with the infallible Doctrines of the Church, and Her Laws, in mind.

    Proposals contradicting these things, by proposing the admission to the Sacraments of those in objective states of unrepentant, unconfessed mortal sin, are anathema.

  14. pray4truth says:

    Thank you, Father Z! We can always count on you for the truth! JMJ :-)

  15. Adaquano says:

    Thank you Fr. Z! As a sinner that struggles sin that are far less fashionable than those of the flesh, I am often troubled by this current approach and wonder where is this mercy for those like me? Not to go through my whole history, but I have come to point where I am far more accepting of my cross and my struggle. Have I reached the point where I can lovingly embrace it as cross embraced the cross? No, but I now understand more fully the beauty of taking up your cross. There are still struggled with growing despondent and believing I was made to continually fall into my sin, I understand God’s call for me to grow beyond that and be the son he has called to be. With the help of a loving wife, loving parents, and now a spiritual director and the grace of the sacraments I can see that the life Christ calls me to is not impossible.

  16. Fr. W says:

    Thank you for posting this section from Veritatis Splendor. These paragraphs will make up the bulk of my “From the Pastor’s Desk” column in next week’s parish bulletin and will be the theme of this weekend’s homilies.

  17. scholastica says:

    I too have never heard this, ” as soon as you say ‘no’, the suffering will begin…” I plan to print this one and post it near a crucifix as a constant reminder. Should be a great source of strength as we enter Lent. Thanks Father!

  18. AveMariaGratiaPlena says:

    Thank you so much for this, Fr. Z. The struggle IS real! And it is constant! In addition to needing to hear about how difficult it is to overcome sin and temptation, I also need to hear the message that one never becomes “comfortable” in one’s faith – it is a constant battle. In fact, one of my temptations (perhaps others have it as well) is the notion that at some point in the future everything will be comfortable and fine, that as long as I’m saying my prayers, availing myself of the sacraments, etc., that I’ll be in some kind of permanently peaceful state. For me, that’s a major trap. It’s so important to hear that one must always be on guard, one must never get smug/comfortable, one must always be turning and turning again to the Lord (and Mary, etc.) for help.

    At my local Ordinary Form Mass this past Sunday our “baby” priest (ordained in June) gave a wonderful homily not only about loving one’s enemies (and how it doesn’t mean being all warm and fuzzy about them but deciding to pray for them), but about how very difficult we can expect it to be to “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Far from being a Debbie-Downer message, it is very helpful to someone like me who has a tendency to expect things to be easy, or to dream that “one day everything will be more comfortable/simple, etc.” When I know to expect a struggle and for things to be difficult, I am more prepared and more likely to lean on the Lord instead of myself.

    Life is tough, but our Church gives us the means to let God guide us!

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