Monday, July 11, 2016

Should We Ever Disregard the Law and "Follow Our Hearts"?

Perhaps this post won't make total sense, as it's more a stream of consciousness type deal I'll be writing here. I apologize in advance if it isn't totally coherent, and really, this is going to be my sounding board so I don't lose the thoughts floating around in my head. It's just that something really bugged me about the homily given by a visiting priest at Mass today, and it left me scratching my head, trying to figure out what point the priest was trying to get across. Now I don't think there's anything wrong with this man, he is a priest following his vocation and brings us the Eucharist, but there are some questionable things that he says, and it's a bit disconcerting. The part that really got me was when he said that mantra we all seem to hear from the secular world and Hollywood: "Follow your heart". Seeing as we're humans who suffer from concupiscence, it might not be good to always follow our heart, especially if by "heart" we mean our "conscience" and "good intentions", as the connotation seems to mean so often today.
Sacred Heart of Jesus with Saint Ignatius of Loyola and Saint Aloysius Gonzaga- José de Páez 
Now, what he said in context was, "We don't always have to follow the law, because our heart knows right from wrong." Well, who gives the laws in the Church? Jesus said the law was fulfilled in Him, not abolished, and not a jot or tittle would pass until He comes again. The priest kind of qualified it with his final and closing sentence when he said that some people need the law to be written down on paper, because their hearts don't know the law yet. And that was it. I think some more explanation was needed in this short homily, because it left me feeling confused. He came out and said that at certain points it's OK to break the law if our hearts are telling us to do something else. He said he's done it a few times, and gave an example of how he attended his brother's wedding outside the Church even though he did not get permission from the Bishop to do so. It was mentioned the marriage was regularized a few years later. I'm not a canon law expert, so I don't know what law the priest was breaking by going to his brother's wedding, but let's just say he actually was breaking a law. Maybe it had something to do with the scandal a priest could give at a wedding of a Catholic marrying outside the Church, I don't know. But let's say there was a willingness to break the law because there was a "feeling in the heart" that superseded the law of the Church. Why would you want to do that? If the Pope and the bishops in communion with him have been given the authority to bind and loose from Christ Himself, why would we want to disobey those that Christ has put in His stead?

Who knows, maybe he did have a good reason, and he actually wasn't breaking canon law or causing scandal. But he didn't go into detail, and that left me, my family, and I'm fairly sure many others in the pews that day, confused. The example of the brother's wedding was used to show that sometimes it's OK to break the law. But then at the end, it's turned around to say that some people need the law written down so they can follow it. Well which is it? Is it OK to break the law if one thinks it's not loving to congratulate their brother on the day of his "wedding" to his male partner? Is it OK to break the law of the Church if a woman feels in her heart she should become a priest, even though the Church has infallibly declared and taught since Apostolic times that this is not possible? Is it OK to break the law and use contraception if it turns out the wife is extremely fertile, the couple has discerned having another child is not best right now, and the lack of sexual relations is frustrating the relationship, therefore leading the couple to "follow their hearts" and have sex using contraception so they can be confident they won't conceive during the fertile time?

We could use many more examples here, and therein the danger of "following your heart" is obvious if we don't pay attention to the Magisterium of Christ's Church. Paragraph 2039 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) reads: "Personal conscience and reason should not be set in opposition to the moral law or the Magisterium of the Church." Today, personal conscience is analogous with "the heart", with what we feel is right. Of course, we also know from the CCC that that conscience needs to be well-formed. Leon J. Suprenant, Jr. paraphrases CCC 1792 well: "Do I try to justify conduct that our Lord considers sinful? Is there a part of my life that I haven't turned over to God? Are there Church teachings I refuse to accept? Do I strive to form my conscience based on the firm foundation of Catholic truth, or do I look for teachers who will "tickle my ears" (2 Tim. 4:3)?" These articles from the New Evangelizers give some great exposition on the matter:
"Because of Original Sin, the inner moral compass of our hearts was busted.  My heart does not tell me now what is right or wrong.  It only tells me how I feel about something.   But our feelings have no bearing a thing’s rightness or wrongness."
So do we follow our hearts or do we follow the teaching authority of the Church? Jesus said that "For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander" (Matt. 15:19). Scripture also tells us that "the hearts of men are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead." (Eccl. 9:3), and that "The heart is deceitful above all things,and desperately corrupt; who can understand it?" (Jer. 17:9).

Indeed, we're called to bring our hearts closer to Christ, and to inflame in our hearts the desire to become closer to God by inviting the Holy Spirit into us, because as we know, God wants to dispense His graces upon each and every one of us. But we must be open, and our consciences (our hearts) must be well-formed so that we can be more assured we are following the right path laid out for us by the Church. It doesn't matter if it's a disciplinary norm of canon law, or a dogmatic teaching solemnly defined by the Pope himself. We owe obedience to the Church. If we are sons and daughters of God, we should do our best to listen to the teachings and commands of the Church. Thank God we have the Sacrament of reconciliation to go to when we fail, but to deliberately tell people it's OK to break the law at certain points in our lives...? That doesn't sound right at all.

So we as Catholic Christians have the task of purifying our hearts, of bringing them closer to God and away from our own passions. As St. Mark the Ascetic said, "Until you have eradicated evil, do not obey your heart; for it will seek more of what it already contains within itself." It's something we must continuously work at and pray for. I truly hope and pray that the Holy Spirit opens my heart everyday. As it says in the Scriptures, "A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances" (Ezek, 36:26-27). I look at the examples of the saints, see how they lived a holy life, and I realize that they are human, and look what they achieved! I can do this too! They never would've told me that it's OK to break the rules if my heart feels like I should. St. Alphonsus of Liguori said "'Thy will be done!' This is what the saints had continually on their lips and in their hearts." I do my best to not just "follow the rules" but to have my heart in union with the will of God and do the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, and pray for my brothers and sisters. I think Fr. Tom Loya says it best, and I'll leave it at that:

"That's why I love being Catholic. Catholic is not... a set of rules. It is about a way of seeing and living according to that vision."

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