On Accomodating Weakness in Spiritual Direction

On Accomodating Weakness in Spiritual Direction May 1, 2012

Some of my readers on the Perry Lorenzo thread are registering surprise at the conversation with confessors/spiritual directors I mention in which some have told me they sometimes deem it better, for the time being in a specific relationship, for a homosexual relationship to continue due to the fact that worse damage will be done a soul if it does not. One reader suggests this is consequentialism. Others somehow glean from this that I don’t think homosex a sin. I’m amazed.

Me: I think it’s standard issue Catholic pastoral theology and common sense to take into account human weakness and the overall good of the person in the struggle with sin. Think about your own struggles with chronic, besetting sin. The best advice I have ever gotten in the confessional is “Baby steps, not giant impossible demands you can’t meet”. Confessors are (at least according to the confessors I’ve talked to) trained to counsel penitents to do what they can, not to attempt some gigantic impossible act of stoicism that is a) rooted in pride, not grace and b) doomed to failure which will only push them into despair (also rooted in pride) so that c) they lose hope that they can overcome their chronic sin.

Those who demand that a penitent who is trouble by chronic sin Just Knock It Off or They Are Phoneys need to remember that the penitent wouldn’t, after all, be in the confessional if they weren’t already aware they were sinners and need to change. But sin is complicated and often involves other people and a complex web of responsibilities. So, to give just one possible scenario out of *millions*, I can imagine a gay penitent seeking to become a disciple of Jesus feeling honor-bound not to abandon a partner who is, say, prone to suicidal thoughts and terror of rejection. Or I can imagine a confessor telling somebody in the grip of ungovernable compulsion to try to take baby steps to mitigate that compulsion rather than telling them to quit cold turkey or face the wrath of God. Spiritual direction is a delicate art and the brutal simplicities of the combox culture of black and white are but one reason I would never in a million years suggest anybody who is seeking spiritual guidance or healing turn to cyberspace for it. It’s so very easy for folks in cyberspace to know all about what’s wrong with people who are struggling with temptation they themselves don’t feel.

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