The psychology of annulments

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The objective nullity of some putative marriages is a reality. You can’t marry your sister. You can’t kidnap a woman and force her to wed. You can’t marry under a false pretext – e.g., pretending to be single when you’re married to someone else. You need to be sober when saying your vows. Etc.

Nevertheless, annulments should be difficult, time-consuming, and expensive to obtain.

A healthy culture of marriage demands that Church and State assume the validity of all publicly celebrated marriages. That is the wisdom behind the “presumption of validity” that the Church has always maintained toward every civil marriage, even marriages that are purely natural and non-sacramental. A culture of marriage, protected by marital indissolubility and the presumption of validity, is necessary for the protection of children, the most innocent and helpless among us. The procreation and education of children is the primary purpose of marriage. That is to say: it is greater than the secondary purpose of marriage, which is the union and mutual help of the spouses. Therefore, it makes sense that the Church and human society arrange things in such a way that protects children from parental abandonment and the burden of illegitimacy.

All marriages are subject to difficulties, conflicts, trials, and crises of various kinds. That’s why the vows say “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part”. Everything is covered, even the very worst. A valid sacramental marriage cannot be dissolved for any reason whatsoever, no matter what the future may hold. It is absolutely essential, psychologically, that divorce and/or annulment never be considered an option in the minds of married people. When you say the vows, you accept every possible danger the future may bring – period.

Why is this so important? Because for most people, the married state is their means of salvation. The salvation of souls depends upon spouses enduring and persevering through the trials and tribulations of marriage. The Christian experience proves that marriages can survive their difficulties if spouses will only persevere in charity. But if one or both spouses has one eye on the annulment door, there is little incentive to persevere. It is just too easy to throw in the towel, and many do. The new “presumption of invalidity” for troubled marriages – reigning now for 40+ years and brought to a climax by the devastating motu proprio of Pope Francis – has become a classic “self-fulfilling prophecy”, achieving that which it assumes.

If the Church has failed to catechize marriage properly, the response should be a restoration of orthodox catechesis, not the normalization of of fast, cheap, drive-through annulments. In the eyes of the faithful, let the presumption of marital validity stand. Unfortunately there can be no presumption of validity for contemporary annulments.

St. Alphonsus Liguori: On the abuse of God’s mercy

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God is merciful. Behold the third delusion of sinners by which an immense number are lost! A learned author says, that the mercy of God sends more souls to hell than his justice; for sinners are induced, by a rash confidence in the divine mercy, to continue in sin and thus are lost. God is merciful. Who denies it? But great as is his mercy, how many does he send to hell every day ? God is merciful: but he is also just; and therefore he is obliged to punish those who offend him. He shows mercy; but to whom? To them who fear him. He hath strengthened His mercy toward them that fear Him. As a father hath compassion on his children, so hath the Lord compassion on them that fear Him (Ps. cii, 11, 13). But he executes justice on those who despise him, and abuse his mercy to insult him the more.

God pardons sin; but he cannot pardon the will or the determination to sin. St Augustine says, that he who sins with the intention of afterward repenting, is not a penitent, but a mocker of God’s majesty. But the Apostle tells as that God does not allow himself to be mocked. Be not deceived. God is not mocked (Gal. vi, 7). It would be a mockery of God to insult him as often and as much as you please, and afterward to expect heaven. But as God has shown me to many mercies hitherto, so I hope he will treat me with mercy hereafter. Behold the fourth delusion ! Then, must the Lord, because he has had compassion on you, show mercy forever, and never chastise you ? No: the greater have been his mercies to you, the more you have reason to fear that, if you offend him again, he will pardon you no more, but will take vengeance on your sins.

Say not: I have sinned, and what harm hath befallen me? For the Most High is a patient rewarder (Ecclus. v, 4). Say not: I have sinned, and have not been punished; for though God endures, he will not do so, forever. When, the number of mercies which he has resolved to show to the sinner is exhausted, he then punishes all his sins together. And the longer God has waited for his repentance, the more severe will be his punishment, says St. Gregory. (In Evang. Hom. 13). If then, O my brother, you see that you have, often offended God, and that he has not sent you to hell you should say; The mercies of the Lord that we are not consumed (Lam. iii, 22). Lord ! I thank Thee, for not having sent me to hell, as I deserved. Consider how many have been damned for fewer sins than you have committed, and labor to atone, by penance and other good works, for the offences you have offered to God. The patience which he has had with you, and the great mercies which he has shown to you, and not to others, ought to animate you not to offend him again, but to serve and love him.

Pope St. Pius X: A letter in defense of Cardinal Newman

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Blessed John Henry Newman – like many nuanced and complex thinkers – has the unhappy burden of being misunderstood by just about everybody. He dedicated his life to fighting against liberalism in religion, becoming one of its most formidable enemies. His effectiveness was undoubtedly due, in part, not only to his powers of persuasion, but also to the example he presented as a powerful intellect and evidently liberal (in the classic sense meaning “free”) personality devoting itself to the service of … dogma. Catholic dogma! If Newman is for it, there must be something to it! Nevertheless he was also intellectually satisfying and persuasive, assisting the conversions of multitudes to the eternal Catholic Faith. These days, however, one often finds Newman disingenuously adopted by the very same liberals who Newman would have eaten for breakfast if he had the opportunity. I have long wondered how most of the nation’s heterodox “Newman Centers” on university campuses get away with the name. The only possible explanation is that they know nothing about Newman’s work beyond, perhaps, a rude caricature of his theory of conscience.

At the same time there have always been a number of Catholics who have suspected and even accused Newman of the very liberalism he condemned. And to be honest, his critics aren’t entirely wrong. Newman breathed the cultural air of Oxford liberalism for much of his life: these were the people he was arguing with, these were the minds he had to convince, and it seems clear that he adopted some of their premises for the sake of common ground. We should expect that he shared much of this common ground even without consciously embracing it. But I have to maintain that Newman’s liberalism – yes, the term is fair if used in context – was largely a matter of temperament and process, not religion, and though it did lead to mistakes in my opinion, on balance it did not pose a threat to the integral Catholic faith he professed and defended. On the contrary, Newman’s thought opened the doors to a perfectly legitimate investigative approach to Catholicism that most intellectuals felt was heretofore closed to them. Would that all Catholics were as “liberal” as Newman!

But don’t take my word for it. As the result of a brief discussion with a friend this afternoon, I found online a letter from Pope St. Pius X himself defending Newman against his critics – a rebuke not only to traditionalists who revere Pope St. Pius X and revile Newman, but also to certain liberals for whom Newman is the hero and Pius X the villain. I reproduce the letter here in its entirety.

LETTER

In which Pope Pius X approves the work of the Bishop of Limerick
on the writings of Cardinal Newman.

To his Venerable Brother
Edward Thomas Bishop of Limerick

Venerable Brother, greetings and Our Apostolic blessing. We hereby inform you that your essay, in which you show that the writings of Cardinal Newman, far from being in disagreement with Our Encyclical Letter Pascendi, are very much in harmony with it, has been emphatically approved by Us: for you could not have better served both the truth and the dignity of man.

It is clear that those people whose errors We have condemned in that Document had decided among themselves to produce something of their own invention with which to seek the commendation of a distinguished person. And so they everywhere assert with confidence that they have taken these things from the very source and summit of authority, and that therefore We cannot censure their teachings, but rather that We had even previously gone so far as to condemn what such a great author had taught.

Incredible though it may appear, although it is not always realised, there are to be found those who are so puffed up with pride that it is enough to overwhelm the mind, and who are convinced that they are Catholics and pass themselves off as such, while in matters concerning the inner discipline of religion they prefer the authority of their own private teaching to the pre-eminent authority of the Magisterium of the Apostolic See. Not only do you fully demonstrate their obstinacy but you also show clearly their deceitfulness.

For, if in the things he had written before his profession of the Catholic faith one can justly detect something which may have a kind of similarity with certain Modernist formulas, you are correct in saying that this is not relevant to his later works. Moreover, as far as that matter is concerned, his way of thinking has been expressed in very different ways, both in the spoken word and in his published writings, and the author himself, on his admission into the Catholic Church, forwarded all his writings to the authority of the same Church so that any corrections might be made, if judged appropriate.

Regarding the large number of books of great importance and influence which he wrote as a Catholic, it is hardly necessary to exonerate them from any connection with this present heresy. And indeed, in the domain of England, it is common knowledge that Henry Newman pleaded the cause of the Catholic faith in his prolific literary output so effectively that his work was both highly beneficial to its citizens and greatly appreciated by Our Predecessors: and so he is held worthy of office whom Leo XIII, undoubtedly a shrewd judge of men and affairs, appointed Cardinal; indeed he was very highly regarded by him at every stage of his career, and deservedly so.

Truly, there is something about such a large quantity of work and his long hours of labour lasting far into the night that seems foreign to the usual way of theologians: nothing can be found to bring any suspicion about his faith. You correctly state that it is entirely to be expected that where no new signs of heresy were apparent he has perhaps used an off-guard manner of speaking to some people in certain places, but that what the Modernists do is to falsely and deceitfully take those words out of the whole context of what he meant to say and twist them to suit their own meaning.

We therefore congratulate you for having, through your knowledge of all his writings, brilliantly vindicated the memory of this eminently upright and wise man from injustice: and also for having, to the best of your ability, brought your influence to bear among your fellow-countrymen, but particularly among the English people, so that those who were accustomed to abusing his name and deceiving the ignorant should henceforth cease doing so.

Would that they should follow Newman the author faithfully by studying his books without, to be sure, being addicted to their own prejudices, and let them not with wicked cunning conjure anything up from them or declare that their own opinions are confirmed in them; but instead let them understand his pure and whole principles, his lessons and inspiration which they contain. They will learn many excellent things from such a great teacher: in the first place, to regard the Magisterium of the Church as sacred, to defend the doctrine handed down inviolately by the Fathers and, what is of highest importance to the safeguarding of Catholic truth, to follow and obey the Successor of St. Peter with the greatest faith.

To you, therefore, Venerable Brother, and to your clergy and people, We give Our heartfelt thanks for having taken the trouble to help Us in Our reduced circumstances by sending your communal gift of financial aid: and in order to gain for you all, but first and foremost for yourself, the gifts of God’s goodness, and as a testimony of Our benevolence, We affectionately bestow Our Apostolic blessing.

Given in Rome at St. Peter’s, on 10 March 1908, in the fifth year of Our Pontificate.
Pius PP. X

Aunts, uncles, and cousins

New Sherwood

One effect of the shrinking modern family is that people today grow up not only with very few siblings, but also with few aunts, uncles, and cousins. The author of this article, Anthony Esolen, has 39 first cousins, twenty of whom grew up in his hometown of 5,000.  I have a grand total of three first cousins, none of whom I grew up with, and only one whom I see every now and then. Large extended families like Dr. Esolen’s helped an earlier generation survive the Great Depression. If one household was down on its luck, there was an uncle who owned a business, or a cousin with a spare room, or an aunt with time to babysit. Chances were good that a sizeable number of family members lived close enough to be called in an emergency. If a relationship went sour, as they do even in the best…

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Catholics and Genesis

New Sherwood

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The other day I came across the following statement on a Catholic blog:

“Allow me to stress the most important thing for any Catholic to know regarding the historical accuracy of the Old Testament. First and foremost, as Catholic Christians, our faith is NOT based on this historical accuracy of the Old Testament at all. Our faith is based on the historical accuracy of the New Testament alone. The Old Testament simply serves as a historical, religious and cultural context in which to interpret the New Testament. That is all. So as Catholic Christians, we don’t need the Old Testament to be 100% historically accurate to have faith in Jesus Christ and the writings of the New Testament.

It is the opinion of this blogger that the events of the Old Testament probably do represent actual historical events, starting with the life of Abraham (about Genesis chapter 12) onward. Prior…

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Holy Communion, Jansenism, and Scruples

New Sherwood

There is nothing greater on this poor earth. To receive the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ – and with Him all the graces that God can bestow upon the soul – is the most sublime and significant thing one can do in this life.

Such a magnificent gift is not to be trifled with.

All Catholics know that one should not receive the Eucharist when in a state of mortal sin. But many a Catholic would not know a mortal sin if it bit him on the arse. This is not a new problem. Saint Teresa of Avila, in her autobiography, describes some of her earliest priest-confessors who were themselves confused on the point and led her astray:

“What was venial they said was no sin at all, and what was serious mortal sin they said was venial. This did me so much harm…

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On the attainment of peace

From “Abandonment to Divine Providence”, by Fr. Jean-Pierre de Caussade, SJ:

There is no solid peace except in submission to the divine action.

The soul that does not attach itself solely to the will of God will find neither satisfaction nor sanctification in any other means however excellent by which it may attempt to gain them.

If that which God Himself chooses for you does not content you, from whom do you expect to obtain what you desire? If you are disgusted with the meat prepared for you by the divine will itself, what food would not be insipid to so depraved a taste? No soul can be really nourished, fortified, purified, enriched, and sanctified except in fulfilling the duties of the present moment. What more would you have? As in this you can find all good, why seek it elsewhere? Do you know better than God? As he ordains it thus why do you desire it differently? Can His wisdom and goodness be deceived? When you find something to be in accordance with this divine wisdom and goodness ought you not to conclude that it must needs be excellent? Do you imagine you will find peace in resisting the Almighty? Is it not, on the contrary, this resistance which we too often continue without owning it even to ourselves which is the cause of all our troubles?

It is only just, therefore, that the soul that is dissatisfied with the divine action for each present moment should be punished by being unable to find happiness in anything else. If books, the example of the saints, and spiritual conversations deprive the soul of peace; if they fill the mind without satisfying it; it is a sign that one has strayed from the path of pure abandonment to the divine action, and that one is only seeking to please oneself. To be employed in this way is to prevent God from finding an entrance. All this must be got rid of because of being an obstacle to grace.

But if the divine will ordains the use of these things the soul may receive them like the rest-that is to say-as the means ordained by God which it accepts simply to use, and leaves afterwards when their moment has passed for the duties of the moment that follows. There is, in fact, nothing really good that does not emanate from the ordinance of God, and nothing, however good in itself, can be better adapted for the sanctification of the soul and the attainment of peace.

Thomas Aquinas College in the spring

We were privileged to visit Thomas Aquinas College again this month. I attended one philosophy class and two theology seminars, and left greatly impressed with the participating students. One of the children remarked that TAC feels more like “home” than home, and I can definitely see the point. Here are some photos taken by a family friend who accompanied us:

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The economy collapses on the young

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When I left home at age 17, I almost lived the libertarian fantasy: with no favors, no preferences, no connections, and on the sheer force of a naked resume and a youthful smile, I knocked on doors in the industrial parks of Sacramento until a total stranger agreed to hire me for minimum wage.

I say “almost” because I was nevertheless surviving on the goodwill of relatives, who provided room and board for me while I “made it on my own”. I went to work for a family owned business, even though I wasn’t a family member.

It has long been my dream to be in a position to provide employment for my own children should they ever be in need. The older I get, the more unlikely it seems this dream will ever come to pass. Chances are, my children will have to “make it on their own” too. Increasingly our economy is leaving the young behind. 

” … I wonder how much kids are suffering from the absence of a father who can prevail on personal or business connections to help them find that first job, begin an apprenticeship, or begin a career. Moms can do those things too, of course, but there’s no doubt that the single-parent family leaves kids with one less parent to open doors for them.  And those parents are often younger, and working less stable, shorter-term jobs.  The connections needed to give their children a hand into the job market are less common than they used to be.  A powerful, subtle network that once helped young people interface with the job market has gone offline.”

Indeed. At age 46 – technically a member of “Generation X” – I belong to a transitional generation in which, for some, personal and familial connections still mattered, but for many, the expectation was one of total independence. Radical individualism. Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. Etc. By the 1980s employment by means of family connections, for example, was widely considered to be “nepotism”. A man working for his father’s business was thought to have been given an unfair advantage, at the expense of workers who may be better qualified.

Fast forward to 2013, and that mentality is thoroughly entrenched. We live in a militant meritocracy – in theory, at least, unless one is in possession of ideological entitlements (e.g., one is female, non-white, a disabled veteran, or homosexual). But if you don’t win the meritocracy contest, and if you aren’t entitled to decent employment for ideological reasons, then it’s tough going these days. Especially for the young. The unemployment rate for young people ages 16-24 exceeds 50 percent.

Insofar as we are to preserve a remnant of Christian civilization in the dark days ahead, we will need to get back to the practice of taking care of our own. Parents who are capable should make every effort to secure employment for their children, meritocracy be damned.