Does God maybe not care so much whether we strive to be holy?

Does God maybe not care so much whether we strive to be holy? July 20, 2018

So I was doing some digging around on what our archbishop is up to, being annoyed, again, that he seems to prioritize social justice issues over providing spiritual care for his (still-dwindling) flock, and I came across a talk that he gave on Amoris Laetitia back a couple months ago.  As summarized at National Catholic Review, and also incorporating an interview, he again returns to his theme that what matters is “accompanying” people:

Cupich said he does not think the church can propose a general solution for all divorced and remarried persons.

“I think that accompanying means first of all that you have to get to know the person and walk with them,” the cardinal said. “It would be against the accompaniment model of ministry if in fact you began to speak about particular questions in general ways.”

The article then goes on to quote Cupich’s speech:

“When taken seriously, this definition [of conscience] demands a profound respect for the discernment of married couples and families,” the cardinal states. “Their decisions of conscience represent God’s personal guidance for the particularities of their lives. In other words, the voice of conscience — the voice of God … could very well affirm the necessity of living at some distance from the Church’s understanding of the ideal.”

And near as I can tell, Cupich’s main idea seems to be that, sure, God calls some of us to be holy, but as far as most of us are concerned, he’s really pretty OK with sin, because it’s just too hard to strive to avoid it.  We should, therefore, discern whether in our particular case, it is easy or difficult to leave our sins, and, if the latter, it’s OK with God if we’re not ready yet.

This sounds absurd, doesn’t it?  I mean, yes, God loves us despite our sinfulness, and knows that, however hard we try, we may yet fail, over and over again.  We may even, as sinners, be unable to see right from wrong; we may think that our conscience is telling us to do something, or telling us that something we want to do, is perfectly fine (shoplifting, fudging on our taxes, sleeping in on Sundays, cheating on a test, etc.) and not actually a sin, because, well, that’s the very nature of sin.  We may indeed not hear God’s call, nor make much of an effort to listen, but it is a core belief of Christianity that all are called to be holy, though all may not be called to the religious life, and that salvation comes from forgiveness of sins when we fall short, not from an all-purpose “waiver” and permission to sin.  In fact, it was the Manicheans, a heretical group of early Christian times, who distinguished between the “elect” and the “hearers”, the latter group not obliged to follow their understanding of God’s law, was it not?

But Cupich’s interpretation of Amoris Laetitia is that we are not all called to strive for holiness.  Sure, God may be calling some of us to change our lives, but for the rest of us, it’s good enough to maybe make a few little changes, at least for the time being, until God definitively and unmistakeably calls us to reform our lives in more difficult ways.

Of course, what he’s saying, more specifically, is that it’s too difficult for a divorced person who is civilly remarried to abstain from sex.  And perhaps it’s also too hard for someone who is cohabitating with a partner who isn’t willing to marry, to leave, such as when there are children in the relationship.  And it’s too difficult for a gay or lesbian person to remain chaste.  Certainly it’s out of the question that a married couple should refrain from sex on the periodic basis required for the practice of natural family planning.

It’s too hard.  Therefore, because God would never ask anyone to do anything that’s too hard, he clearly is OK with it.

One tries to think of counter-examples.  St. Augustine was unwilling for many years to become baptized, because he would have to cease cohabitating.  Zaccheus the tax collector (“a wee little man”), was called upon by Jesus to leave that life.  Dorothy Day broke up with the father of her child upon becoming Catholic. But one imagines that Cupich would respond, “well, in each such case, Jesus knew they had the ability to make these changes,” that, for example, Zaccheus had the ability to withstand the hit to his finances that giving up his corrupt tax-collecting involved.  It’s then an odd sort of pairing of Calvinism and Universalism:  all are saved, but only the Elect are called to live out their lives following God’s law.


And the objective seems to be to provide greater “leniency”, so to speak, while claiming that the moral teachings of the Catholic Church haven’t changed.  The “ideals,” you see, are still the same, but not everyone is called upon to follow those ideals, and, if you aren’t, then maybe it’s still a good idea to seek guidance on how you can live your Best Life Now — and if this added assurance that you don’t have to feel bad about not meeting up to those ideals helps you feel a bit more welcome at church, that’s a little extra bonus.

And — just as a reminder — I do think that the way forward would have been a different view of annulments, understanding that, in hindsight, it is difficult to have complete confidence that both parties were mature enough to understand that marriage is lifelong, given that the culture which surrounds them says otherwise, so that one might consider a benefit-of-the-doubt approach that “you might not have been sacramentally married the first time around.”  Which is quite a bit different than “yes, you were sacramentally married before, so that your new civil marriage isn’t actually a valid marriage, but that’s OK anyway.”  (Old blog post here.)



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