Friday, October 24, 2014

Graduality and the Terror of the Field Hospital

"Graduality" was one of the controversial ideas introduced in the Synod. I must admit I am a 'gradualist', I believe conversion is a gradual process, getting to Heaven is a gradual process. My thinking is based on such VII ideas as 'the pilgrim people of God', I believe we are a 'becoming' people. I even think we are 'becoming' Catholic.
It is interesting that the name of God can be understood both as 'I am who I am' but also 'I am becoming who I am becoming'. I like Newman's "To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often." Being a Catholic is about growth, like the Holy Vine, it grows and it is pruned and grows and bears fruit. The problem is avoiding the sense that progress is always about positive, sometimes growth can be in the wrong direction, sometimes it can be fruitless.
With 'Graduality' the problem is that we set the bar too low, similarly when we rule out 'Graduality' we can end up in process where there is no growth. 

A layman told me story about  a friend of his who was daily communicant, who was addicted to using prostitutes, having spent the night in his vice, he used go around London churches for Confession, having confessed and done his penance, he would receive Holy Communion and that evening return to his habitual vice. This continued for years. Confessors took his stated sorrow as a 'firm purpose of amendment', which it might well have been but he lacked the will to change. Even if he willed it, he didn't do it. Indeed he might well have desired it, he might well have detested his sin, been cover in guilt and anxiety, been torn in two for his genuine love for and desire for Christ, often with sexual sins there is loathing both of self and of the sin, but for all of that this man was making no progress but returning like a dog to his vomit. In fact those priests who handed out absolution, often because it is easier to do so than to confront someone with their sin, did this man more harm than good, and compounded his sacrilege and re-enforced his weakness. Yes, in strictly canonical terms he fulfilled what is required for absolution, he expressed sorrow for his sin but there was no growth, instead a hardening of irresolution.

Though personally I fear it because I am such a poor confessor, what I hope the pro-Graduality Synod Fathers were calling for wasn't about simply saying, 'It is alright come to Holy Communion' but what Pope Francis himself has used in the metaphor of a field hospital, indicating that a priest has to be like a doctor in a field hospital. It is easy to be sentimental about such a place, I think one of the good things about the Holy Father he is not sentimental but quite realistic. Sometimes a doctor in a field hospital must amputate a diseased limb, must operate without anesthetic or cause pain in order to reset fractured bones, have to sometimes apply a burning ointment to a festering wound or to give a bitter medicine, and sometimes force those who would prefer to lay in bed to get up and walk on tender stumps. A field hospital is a terrible place for both patients and doctors, it is full of smells and screams and often disorder. Sometimes one has decide a patient is too sick to be treated, or simply there is isn't space or time or medicine for a particular patient, or even that they are so diseased, so contagious they will infect other patients and even the staff that their very presence is a danger.

I think that today we have lost a sense of 'Graduality', I admit I am part of the 'Church of Nice', I like to say 'yes', I bend-over backwards to look for the good, like most modern priests, in fact all the priests I know. Yet this is something new. Constantine was baptised only on his death bed, not at the first sign of faith. In the days when the Church had to make it a rule that people received Holy Communion once a year (at Easter or thereabouts) it was only after a strict period of penance; -prayer, fasting and almsgiving, and meditation on the Passion, and of course Confession, and indeed a penitent rather than skipping from Confessor to Confessor was expected to go to their parish priest, who knew them and there own situation and was expected to 'examine' them, like a doctor in a field hospital and to prescribe, as the Council of Trent demanded, 'suitable medicine'.

'Gradualism' is about 'process', one of the great faults of the Church before VII was a loss of a sense of process, and of progress in the spiritual life, sacraments were given almost on demand, without any sense of the Church interacting with the recipient or expectation of growth. We do indeed need to welcome everyone, whatever their condition but we can't leave them in the same condition they entered the field hospital. The Pope used that metaphor, not that of a hospice, where we simply care for the dying, making them as comfortable as possible with increased doses of morphine until they eventually die!

Pray for Pastors to be courageous, especially in the Confessional.


smcjw said...

Father, this is one of the few times I fail to understand your point: Should the confessors have refused absolution to the sex-addict? Would this not have meant that there was no path to salvation for him? Refusing him absolution would have cut him off from the sacraments and this would have aggravated his situation even more.

A couple of months back you gave the example of the divorced remarried couple that had resolved to live together as brother and sister - and failed often. After having received absolution, they went to holy communion and tried anew, over and over again.

You said - and I agree - that this is sound pastoral (and doctrinal) practice. The situation of the sex addict is objectively more grave (though who can say if it is subjectively), but the same rules surely apply. If not, could you explain why? Nothing in your story seems to suggest that he was trying to make a mockery of the sacrament of confession. This is the only case in which one might refuse absolution.

Lynda said...

Becoming ever more holy, ever more perfect is gradual (requiring work). However, the act of Faith, or the act of penitence (required for absolution), or the reception of a sacrament is effected, completed, in a short, discrete period of time - these require full and immediate submission of the will, the intellect, the spirit.

Cosmos said...

Good points, Father, thank you.

I would just add that the gradulaism necessarily implies an ideal.

Are the bishops who are pushing for gradualism really saying that, for example, a co-habitating divorced couple will be slowly pushed towards the ideal? Will the homosexual couple be encouraged to leave their state and live as brothers?

To me, it appears that gradulaism is just the concept that is being used to provide cover for importing the "imperfect" situations. But no one will be pushing anyone to anything that is not politically correct.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Yes I think they are

The illustration was supposed to be one, as Cosmos points out. that illustrates the 'classic' Gradualist approach of simply leaving someone in 'good faith' in the 'hope' or wishful thinking that God 'gradually' will sought it out, or that man himself will at some point come to deal with his difficulty. It comes a weak 'pastoral' sense on the part of priests.
He wasn't making a mockery of the sacrament but needed someone to suggest or demand that situation ended. He was 'in good faith' but I would suggest really damaging himself, with no help. If this situation had been going on for years, the sacrament were not being fruitful, sacraments should be.

smcjw said...

The sacrament of confession - by ways of forcing the sinner to put his own sins in words in front of a priest - is quite immune to the gradualist danger of becoming a mere ritual without the healing pain of remorse and spiritual growth.

The priest can and should point out ways to avoid future occasions of sin, but the literal 'confession' is already a healing and painful act. If the confessor does no more than listen, it would be enough.

There is a danger that the penitent doesn't confess all his sins because he doesn't even consider them to be sinful. But this is pretty rare, I believe. Most simply don't go to confession in the first place.

Dispensing forgiveness of sins in indiscriminate and impersonal general absolutions or 'confessing directly to God' might lock people into states of static, sinful 'gradualism'. They offer the "Cheap Grace" of which Bonhoeffer writes. But that's a Protestant problem, not a Catholic one.

Sadie Vacantist said...

Some clarification of your intriguing example would be appreciated. I am of the view that the person should use the confessional but not receive communion. The issue you raise though is one of enablement so some further clarification would be appreciated.

philipjohnson said...

Father -with respect-a mortal sin is a mortal sin!We will find out these truths when we die.It is too late then.God bless.Philip Johnson.

Genty said...

Surely the condition for absolution is squarely on the penitent, confessing with a sincere and firm purpose of amendment. I was taught that if this is absent, or if a serious sin is deliberately withheld, there is no absolution from God even if the confessor says the words.
A priest can hardly be expected to be a mind reader and must take every person's confession in good faith. Gone are the days when he would know each parishioner well and weekly or monthly Confession was widespread.
The crux of it is that priests, on the whole, no longer talk about sin in their homilies and I don't mean the fire and brimstone of old. Reminding people of sin and the occasions of sin is the kind of gradualism which ought to be practised but rarely is.

Fred Brown said...

"Gradualism" is ultimately nothing more than a pathetic and cheap cover. It will be used to justify everything from sodomy to irregular relationships, a la the world. It is their latest new word, a la Rahner, created to justify the unjustifiable and so pacify the few remaining Catholics that would dare show authentic Catholic dissent. I can hear the Kasper bishops now, “Yes, of course we will never accept a same sex couple. But we must accompany them within the sacramental community, without pressure, or a time limit, until they “gradually” realise the truth.”

Naturally, there will be those so called Conservative Catholics that accept such nonsense as Gradualism. They will comfort themselves when they watch openly homosexual couples receiving the Blessed Sacrament, "It's not officially accepted behaviour! They must stop after they gradually come to realise the truth"

There will also be one or two Catholics, like myself, that are grateful that the bishops still bother to cover their dealings with a fig leave

Deacon Augustine said...

Fr., with respect I don't think you have made the necessary distinctions here between a gradual progress in the spiritual life ( which I don't think anybody would contest) and the condemned proposition of "graduality of the law".

The gradualism proposed by the Kasperites was a graduality of the law. This system of thought posits that virtue is an unattainable ideal and denies the efficacy of grace as being sufficient to help the subject live virtuously. The concept of objectively sinful acts is discarded and replaced by a subjective concept of sin which is dependent upon the circumstances the subject has to deal with and the spiritual condition of each individual subject. Thus if I went off with a floozy for the night, I would be an adulterer, but if somebody left their wife and "remarried" another, getting themselves into a situation which was difficult to get out of, their extra-marital sex isn't necessarily sinful at all. Hence all the talk about "looking for the good" in what would traditionally be termed an objectively sinful state of living, and the proposal that such people should be admitted to Holy Communion because their sin either does not exist or is forgivable after a period of penance. Graduality of the law removes the necessity for true repentance and conversion - no purpose of amendment need be present.

If "gradualism" of this sort were allowed to take root in the Church then ultimately there would be no sin that was too great to prevent people receiving Holy Communion, and the Sacrament of Penance would be obsolete. Repentance and conversion would be ideas that went out with the ark as God's mercy would be sufficient to ensure that all souls went to heaven (perhaps with the exception of those who were obsessed with the fashion of antiquated liturgy.)

This is the "gradualism" which was firmly condemned by JPII in Familiaris consortio, and I assume is not the kind of "gradualist" that you would call yourself?

John Fisher said...

I do not think the term "graduality" is an appropriate concept. It ignores completely that many do not want the Church, many Catholics have suddenly or gradually allowed themselves to be corrupted or blinded and they rather like it that way. They want the vice they want the sin. They don't want to choose. For many the only hope they have is priest at their death bed or a moment of cognition and sorrow before they die. Some conversions or moments of repentance and sanctification are sudden. A sexual partner who leaves, mental torment caused by guilt leading to a breakdown, losing wealth, losing health, old age on and on. A sudden realisation the necessity to repudiate sin. Gradulaism is wrong... giving Communion to those in mortal sin is a confirmation of the sin. It is saying to whatever torment of conscience don't feel bothered by your sin. It actually compromises. The false assumption is that change is gradual... it isn't not and change can be backwards and occur despite the all the good intentions. It is the person who must cut the shackles of circumstance and with their will persevere. Perseverance is a much better word. Behind this is God. In the story of the Prodigal son the father does not pursue the son or stalk him. He waited for the lesson to be learnt through disappointment. Did the synod really highlight Confession. That is the gate. Did the synod emphasise educating forming and prodding the conscience. No We must be merciful to those who are our friends, those we love but never is they persist in their mortal sin. We must be calm respectful but totally truthful or we share in the sin. If the Church admits those n mortal sin to Communion without Confession the Church shares in the sin. Does this seem correct?

Sadie Vacantist said...

I've just been reading Vinnie's insulting pastoral letter in CH. What planet do these men inhabit? Their opinion of the average Catholic in the pew is bewildering. We are all nasty, bigoted children in need of correction which he, all "post-synod and enlightened", proceeds to provide. This next time a bishop is invited to one of these events, I suggest he book a holiday in the Canaries instead.

Lynda said...

Very clearly explained, Deacon Augustine and John Fisher.

Liam Ronan said...

Dear Father Blake,

You say:

"he expressed sorrow for his sin but there was no growth, instead a hardening of irresolution."

How are we to know there is no growth? God knows the operation of His Grace on the soul. Perhaps this person becomes more and more hesitant to commit this sin over a lifetime and thus ever so gradually reform his life. The Father watches for his son and who sees his son though yet far down the road will run to embrace him.

I recall Matthew 18:21:

"Then Peter came and said to Him, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?"

Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.…"

I do not think God's forgiveness can be limited even for those who fall repeatedly.

Liam Ronan said...

Just as a further observation, Father, I agree that the man who habitually patronized prostitutes ought have some questions put to him by his confessor insofar as this repeated sin is concerned.

I am no priest but I might ask what the penitent recognized as the immediate occasions associated with this sin and how the penitent intended to avoid them in future.

Not to put undue pressure on this person but to make him spiritually reflect and prepare for the combat ahead of him.

If a friend who was a habitual smoker came to me and announced he was going to quit immediately I would ask him why he'd decided to do so after his years of smoking and what plans and helps he had arranged to assist him in fighting his addiction. I might then give him useful advice for quitting and intuit (based on his understanding of the realities he was facing)whether or no he was serious about quitting.

Bad analogy, I know, but it springs to mind.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Stop this 'who are we to judge' nonsense, Jesus tells to judge and discern, to tell a tree by its fruit, if someone is following a course of action over a number of years and nothin is happening, the read the signs of the time, it is time for something new to happen.

Liam Ronan said...

Dear Father Blake,

Ouch! I'll take that one for the team.

You might find this ironically amusing, but I was a judge in for 20 years before retiring.

MR said...

Father, I am a bit perplexed by your statement:

“It is interesting that the name of God can be understood both as 'I am who I am' but also 'I am becoming who I am becoming'.”

With respect, I’m not sure how anyone but a Teilhardian evolutionist can posit the later (perhaps that is your point?), for there is no “becoming” in God, He IS Who IS. No change, no “growth”, no potency, no graduality. Of course, once one accepts the premise of an evolutionary “God of becoming”, then Truth must suffer the same pains of liberating “growth”.

Steve said...

One would assume that graduality is the process whereby a sinner comes to realize the sin and to make amends. However, there seem to be some in the Church who would gradually move the faithful to the sinful position. It can work both ways.

John Fisher said...

"It is better to avoid sin than to correct it. For it is easier to resist an enemy by whom we have never been defeated, than one who has once seen us overcome and conquered. Every sin is more feared before we have once allowed ourselves to give in to it. However great the sin, as soon as it has come to be carried out in action, it is considered light, and committed without any fear. From such kindling wood, as from the rungs of a ladder, all sin is built up: perverse thoughts give rise to pleasure, pleasure to consent, consent to action, action to habit, habit to necessity. The man who is caught in such bonds is as it were chained and held fast by vice; he can never escape unless the Grace of God take his hand as he lies on the ground." (St Isidore of Seville, Sententiae II, 23 1-3; cf. Smaragdus of Saint-Mihiel, Diadema Monachorum, 34).

Hope said...

God is. He always was and always will be. The to be verb is for us. Not Him. God is unchangeable.

Familiaris Consortio condemned the heresy of graduality. The Synod 1985 rejected "gradual conversion." Either you have "Firm Purpose of Amendment" or you do not. Believe me as a former sinner; giving the penetent a rosary and a booklet and encouragement to turn to Jesus, Mary and St Joseph and Spuritual Reading; will do more to help that penetent or outright praying with him or telling him he must avoid that sin, or he will go to hell; and live without God's company forever will help him. Tough love given in steeper penances will help: or tell him to visit the Blessed Sacrament Chapel all night.