More on Wedding Attendance…

My blog post“Should I Attend the Wedding or Not?”prompted several questions and comments last week that I would like to address.

One reader asked about the validity of a Catholic marrying an Orthodox Christian in an Orthodox Church without a dispensation from his bishop. In the interest of ecumenism, theCode of Canon Lawis less rigid in such a case. The Catholic party still has a legal obligation to obtain a dispensation from his bishop but failure to do so will not impede a valid marriage from coming into existence. Canon 1127 §1 explains:

Nevertheless, if a Catholic party contracts marriage with a non-Catholic party of an Eastern rite, the canonical form of the celebration must be observed for liceity only; for validity, however, the presence of a sacred minister is required and the other requirements of law are to be observed.

Another reader recalled that canon law once included exemptions for Catholics who had formally defected from the faith. Indeed, the code once included such exemptions but Pope Benedict XVI removed them in 2009. You can read about this in his apostolic letter Omnium in Mentem.

Several readers brought up a more general area of concern: The fear of straining relationships or even losing contact with friends or relatives over choosing not to attend a wedding that will not result in a valid marriage. One reader characterized such a decision as “instigating a break” in the relationship. It is important to remember that the problematic situation being dealt with has been instigated by the fallen-away Catholic, not the person choosing to refrain from attending the wedding on moral grounds. When a person attempts to sever his relationship with the Church he should recognize that there will be consequences to his decision. Family members and friends who remain faithful will not take his decision as lightly as he might. That said, I suspect that the fears of many faithful Catholics who are faced with such a dilemma are greatly exaggerated.

A further issue raised was concern about maintaining a relationship in the interest of bringing a fallen-away Catholic back to the Church. Some readers seemed to argue that attending a wedding that will not result in a valid marriage is acceptable if not attending would hinder one’s influence over the fallen-away Catholic’s potential future reversion to the faith. To me, this reasoning sounds perilously close to choosing to do evil (i.e., supporting another in sin) so that good may result (i.e., influence is maintained). The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1756) addresses such an attitude:

It is therefore an error to judge the morality of human acts by considering only the intention that inspires them or the circumstances (environment, social pressure, duress or emergency, etc.) which supply their context. There are acts which, in and of themselves, independently of circumstances and intentions, are always gravely illicit by reason of their object; such as blasphemy and perjury, murder and adultery. One may not do evil so that good may result from it.

I hope this helps.

“Should I Attend the Wedding or Not?”

This time of year wedding invitations start showing up in mailboxes and Catholics begin facing difficult decisions about whether or not to attend the weddings of lapsed Catholics. At Catholic Answers, we hear from the relatives and friends of fallen-away Catholics who are planning their weddings outside the Church. What is a serious Catholic to do?

The law of the Church

When any Catholic—even a lapsed one—gets married, he must have a Catholic wedding ceremony in order for his marriage to be valid. The Code of Canon Law states: “Only those marriages are valid which are contracted before the local [bishop], pastor, or a priest or deacon delegated by either of them, who assist, and before two witnesses” (can. 1108 §1). If a Catholic wishes to validly marry any other way (e.g., in his fiancé’s Protestant Church) he must obtain a dispensation from his bishop to not have a Catholic wedding. (This is ordinarily handled through his local pastor.) If he fails to obtain a dispensation and proceed with a wedding outside the Church, his marriage will not be valid.

Unfortunately, it is somewhat common these days for a lapsed Catholic to simply ignore his obligations in the Catholic Church and get married in a Protestant wedding or a civil ceremony instead. He might think, “I’m no longer a Catholic so I don’t have to worry about it.” This is wrong thinking. Once a person is a Catholic, he remains bound by the laws of the Church even if he falls away. Canon 1117 states, “The form prescribed above must be observed if at least one of the parties contracting the marriage was baptized in the Catholic Church or received into it.” No exception is made for a lapsed Catholic.

Imagine an American citizen proclaiming, “I no longer consider myself to be an American, so I don’t have to worry about breaking federal laws.” It doesn’t work that way! A citizen cannot arbitrarily exempt himself from justly enacted laws. The same applies to state laws. If a man fails to get a marriage license, the state will not recognize his marriage. He might move to another state, but he will then become subject to the laws of that state. Being a citizen of the Catholic Church is somewhat similar, but there is no place to where one may move that he is no longer under the jurisdiction of the Catholic Church: The Church has universal jurisdiction.

How can the Catholic Church defend such a claim to universal legal authority? It is God-given authority. Jesus gave the Church the authority to enact laws that bind her citizens. He said to Peter (the first pope) and then later to all of the apostles, “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 16:18; 18:18). The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains:

The power to “bind and loose” connotes the authority to absolve sins, to pronounce doctrinal judgments, and to make disciplinary decisions in the Church. Jesus entrusted this authority to the Church through the ministry of the apostles and in particular through the ministry of Peter, the only one to whom he specifically entrusted the keys of the kingdom (CCC 553, emphasis added).

The teaching of the Church

This being the case, the Church authoritatively states in canon 11, “Merely ecclesiastical [Church imposed] laws bind those who have been baptized in the Catholic Church or received into it, possess the efficient use of reason, and, unless the law expressly provides otherwise, have completed seven years of age.” Thus, Catholics ordinarily must have a Catholic wedding ceremony in order for their marriages to be valid.

Why does the Church impose such a law? The Catechism explains:

Several reasons converge to explain this requirement:

– Sacramental marriage is a liturgical act. It is therefore appropriate that it should be celebrated in the public liturgy of the Church;

– Marriage introduces one into an ecclesial order and creates rights and duties in the Church between the spouses and towards their children;

– Since marriage is a state of life in the Church, certainty about it is necessary (hence the obligation to have witnesses);

– The public character of the consent protects the “I do” once given and helps the spouses remain faithful to it (CCC 1631).

Even so, lapsed Catholics often ignore the Church. Their weddings do not result in valid marriages, yet the couples begin living together, and they expect others to treat them as though they are validly married. This creates difficult situations for family members and friends who are serious Catholics.

Should I attend the wedding or not?

The Catholic Church does not explicitly address the question of whether or not to attend a wedding that will not result in a valid marriage, but it does more broadly address words and attitudes which encourage and confirm others in objectively wrong behavior. The Catechism states:

Every word or attitude is forbidden which by flattery, adulation, or complaisance encourages and confirms another in malicious acts and perverse conduct. Adulation is a grave fault if it makes one an accomplice in another’s vices or grave sins. Neither the desire to be of service nor friendship justifies duplicitous speech. Adulation is a venial sin when it only seeks to be agreeable, to avoid evil, to meet a need, or to obtain legitimate advantages (CCC 2480).

Additionally, scandal (i.e., leading others into sin) must be a considered. What would attending the wedding say to the couple and to others? The Catechism explains:

Scandal is an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil. The person who gives scandal becomes his neighbor’s tempter. He damages virtue and integrity; he may even draw his brother into spiritual death. Scandal is a grave offense if by deed or omission another is deliberately led into a grave offense.

Scandal takes on a particular gravity by reason of the authority of those who cause it or the weakness of those who are scandalized. It prompted our Lord to utter this curse: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” Scandal is grave when given by those who by nature or office are obliged to teach and educate others. Jesus reproaches the scribes and Pharisees on this account: he likens them to wolves in sheep’s clothing (CCC 2284-2285).

Therefore, in consideration of all this, I cannot recommend attending a wedding that will not result in a valid marriage. Instead, I recommend charitably explaining the reasons for declining the invitation as well as expressing hope and offering guidance for the couple in amending their plans.

Who is Praying For Matthew Warren?

Twenty-seven-year-old Matthew Warren committed suicide on April 5. He was the son of Rick Warren, pastor of the well-known megachurch Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. During this time of grief and devastation for the Warren family, Rick and his wife, Kay, a couple well-known and warmly loved throughout much of the world, have been graciously flooded with condolences and prayers of support. 

Sadly, though, as I follow the aftermath of this tragedy I cannot help but see in it a second, almost hidden tragedy: Spiritual care for Matthew Warren has ceased; it ceased the moment his death became known.

Saddleback, a Southern Baptist Church, rejects the doctrine of praying for the dead, as do all major Protestant denominations. This is due in part to the Reformers’ rejection of 2 Maccabees, which clearly demonstrates the doctrine in action. That book records a story of fallen soldiers who were found to be wearing tokens of idols under their tunics—thus, they died committing the sin of idolatry. Even so, their leader Judas Maccabeus and his men prayed for them:

[T]hey turned to prayer, beseeching that the sin which had been committed might be wholly blotted out . . . [Judas Maccabeus] also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering (2 Macc. 12:42-43a).

Maccabeus and his men sought to provide for the spiritual welfare of the fallen soldiers even after their deaths. The soldiers had died in God’s friendship, fighting a holy battle, but they had committed idolatry in the process. Their sins still needed atoning-for. The passage continues:

In doing this [Maccabeus] acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection. For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin. (2 Macc 43b-45)

This Scripture passage indicates that praying for the dead is an honorable act that can help the deceased be purified of imperfections before entering heaven. Of course, prayers are not needed for those already in heaven, and those in hell cannot benefit by prayers. But prayers can and do help those destined for heaven who first need purification. All of Christianity recognized and practiced such “holy and pious” deeds until the Reformers came along. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1032) explains:

From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God. The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead.

But who is praying for Matthew Warren? Saddleback Church isn’t. Southern Baptists aren’t. Other Protestants aren’t. Their thoughts of Matthew in the glory of heaven are surely comforting to them but, especially considering the way he died, he quite possibly could be in need of purification that their prayers and other intercessions could greatly help with.

Just as Judas Maccabeus and his men could pray for fallen idolaters, Christians today can pray for fallen suicide victims. The Catechism (2283) notes that, “The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives”. So should all Christians.

For the repose of the soul of Matthew Warren, we pray to the Lord.

Winning Doesn’t Take Care of Everything

Last week Tiger Woods won the Arnold Palmer Invitational and regained his title as the No. 1 golfer in the world, a title he had lost in 2010 after the consequences of his adulterous lifestyle caught up with him and affected his “game.” His faithful endorser Nike was quick to celebrate Woods’s return to the top with an ad stating, “Winning Takes Care of Everything” (pictured). Many PGA fans understood this message to mean that winning is all that really matters. Forget Tiger’s problems off the golf course; his game is back.

Tragically, today it seems that too many athletes, endorsers, and fans share this sentiment. Athletes are no longer held accountable as role models off the field as well as on it. Success in their respective sports reigns supreme. As long as they are winning, what they do in their personal lives is not important. This is tragic, because many fans look to them as role models—even in their personal lives—whether they like it or not. Pope John Paul II, an avid athlete himself, brought attention to this matter in an address to young athletes:

[P]eople tend to extol you as heroes, as human models who inspire ideals of life and action, especially among youth. And this fact places you at the center of a particular social and ethical problem. You are observed by many people and expected to be outstanding figures not only during athletic competitions but also when you are off the sport field. You are asked to be examples of human virtue, apart from your accomplishments of physical strength and endurance.

The main reason for this should be obvious. As role models, athletes are particularly susceptible to leading others astray in life. They are susceptible to giving scandal. The Catechism of the Catholic Churchexplains: “Scandal is an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil. The person who gives scandal becomes his neighbor’s tempter. He damages virtue and integrity; he may even draw his brother into spiritual death” (CCC 2284). Thus, athletes have a duty to their fans to lead lives of virtue because their fans may tend to emulate them. Being good examples to their fans is part of the loving care that is due them (cf. Matt. 19:19).

But even beyond a duty to their fans, athletes have a duty to themselves to not allow their successes to overshadow what is truly most important in their lives. There is a goal far greater than being the best at what they do in this temporal life, and that goal must always remain in focus. John Paul II went on to explain this in his address:

[T]here are certain values in your life which cannot be forgotten. These values will set you on that clear track which has to be followed in order for you to reach life’s ultimate goal.

Primary among them is the religious meaning of human existence. Sport, as you well know, is an activity that involves more than the movement of the body: it demands the use of intelligence and the disciplining of the will. It reveals, in other words, the wonderful structure of the human person created by God as a spiritual being, a unity of body and spirit. . . .

May this truth never be overlooked or set aside in the world of sport, but may it always shine forth clearly. For athletic activity is never separated from the activities of the spirit.

If athletes succeed at sports but overlook or set aside spiritual matters, where does that leave them? I’m reminded of Jesus’ words, “For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?” (Matt. 16:26). And where does that leave sports? John Paul II continued:

If sport is reduced to the cult of the human body, forgetting the primacy of the spirit, or if it were to hinder your moral and intellectual development, or result in your serving less than noble aims, then it would lose its true significance and, in the long run, it would become even harmful to your healthy and full growth as human persons. You are true athletes when you prepare yourselves not only by training your bodies but also by constantly engaging the spiritual dimensions of your person for a harmonious development of all your human talents.

Athletes like San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers seem to understand John Paul II’s message. We should pray for such understanding among all athletes because, in the long run, winning really doesn’t take care of everything.

A Tragic Story of a Senator and His “Gay” Son

Senator Rob Portman, a Christian from Ohio, recently submitted an editorial announcing, “I’ve changed my mind on the question of marriage for same-sex couples”. He now supports it. This is shocking news from a Republican in the senate “who could be one of the most conservative members of that chamber” according to the Christian Coalition of America. What made him change his mind? “Two years ago, my son Will, then a college freshman, told my wife, Jane, and me that he is gay.”

Such an announcement is excruciatingly painful for any parent but it is especially troublesome for Christian parents whose faith absolutely condemns homosexual behavior as gravely sinful. Senator Portman admits that he “wrestled with” reconciling his Christian faith with his decision to approve of homosexual behavior. His vague rationale has become all too cliché: “Ultimately, it came down to the Bible’s overarching themes of love and compassion and my belief that we are all children of God.”

Such a simplified justification for flip-flopping on a moral doctrine is far too common today and Christians should know better. It is simply badtheology. It is true that Jesus taught his followers to love one another. In fact, loving one another is the second greatest commandment, second only to loving God: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:37-39). Unfortunately, Christians like Senator Portman fail to understand what this love that Jesus commanded actually looks like.

The word “love” in the passage cited above is translated both times from the Greek word agapao which denotes love that is concerned primarily with our relationships with God as well as with each other’s relationships with God. When it comes to loving another person, this type of love desires the other’s salvation and takes effective steps to help ensure it. This type of love may be contrasted with philon, a type of love more concerned with friendship with one another than it is with each other’s friendship with God. (For a fuller treatment of the various types of love, see What is Authentic Christian Love?)

The so-called “love and compassion” that Senator Portman and others often accentuate is not the agapao type of love that Jesus commanded. Rather, it is the philon type of love about which Jesus said, “he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matt 10:37). Senator Portman has apparently made his own friendly relationship with his son a priority ahead of what is truly good for Will.

Will Portman has now become a victim twice. First, he is a victim of Adam, as are we all, in that he suffers from attraction to sin, a consequence of original sin. But now he also is a victim of his own father who has chosen to coddle him in immoral behavior rather than to follow St. Paul’s teaching to “shun immorality” (1 Cor 6:18), a gesture that would be a truly loving action in the interest of Will’s salvation. This should be of great concern to Senator Portman for in Jesus’ words, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matt 18:6).

Let us pray for both father and son.

The Seven Signs

Seven Sacraments

A textbook used for confirmation preparation in a parish in California teaches students that the sacrament of confirmation “only came into existence in the third century” and that “there was no sacrament of penance in the early church”. I suppose such sacramental ignorance is not surprising given that a deacon who instructs catechists in the same diocese teaches that at one time there were only two sacraments and, at another time, twenty two.

The Church teaches very clearly that the seven sacraments administered by the Church today were instituted by Christ. Those seven “outward signs instituted by Christ to give grace” have been administered by the Church since the first century. There was never a time in Church history when there were twenty two sacraments nor was there ever a time when there were only two.

It could be that there was a time when the term sacrament was used so broadly that it referred to twenty two more generally defined signs, but only seven of those signs would have actually been sacraments as the term is used today. It could also be that there was a time when the term sacrament was used so narrowly that it referred to only two of the actual sacraments but that does not mean that the other five sacraments did not also exist referenced by different terminology.

The following quotations are from the Catechism of the Catholic Church(paragraph numbers in parentheses):

The Sacraments (1210):

Christ instituted the sacraments of the new law. There are seven: Baptism, Confirmation (or Chrismation), the Eucharist, Penance, the Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders and Matrimony. The seven sacraments touch all the stages and all the important moments of Christian life: they give birth and increase, healing and mission to the Christian’s life of faith. There is thus a certain resemblance between the stages of natural life and the stages of the spiritual life.

Baptism (1226):

From the very day of Pentecost the Church has celebrated and administered holy Baptism. Indeed St. Peter declares to the crowd astounded by his preaching: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” The apostles and their collaborators offer Baptism to anyone who believed in Jesus: Jews, the God-fearing, pagans. Always, Baptism is seen as connected with faith: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household,” St. Paul declared to his jailer in Philippi. And the narrative continues, the jailer “was baptized at once, with all his family.”

Confirmation (1288):

From [Pentecost] on the apostles, in fulfillment of Christ’s will, imparted to the newly baptized by the laying on of hands the gift of the Spirit that completes the grace of Baptism. For this reason in the Letter to the Hebrews the doctrine concerning Baptism and the laying on of hands is listed among the first elements of Christian instruction. The imposition of hands is rightly recognized by the Catholic tradition as the origin of the sacrament of Confirmation, which in a certain way perpetuates the grace of Pentecost in the Church.

Eucharist (1323):

At the Last Supper, on the night he was betrayed, our Savior instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice of his Body and Blood. This he did in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the cross throughout the ages until he should come again, and so to entrust to his beloved Spouse, the Church, a memorial of his death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a Paschal banquet “in which Christ is consumed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us.”

Penance (1446):

Christ instituted the sacrament of Penance for all sinful members of his Church: above all for those who, since Baptism, have fallen into grave sin, and have thus lost their baptismal grace and wounded ecclesial communion. It is to them that the sacrament of Penance offers a new possibility to convert and to recover the grace of justification. The Fathers of the Church present this sacrament as “the second plank [of salvation] after the shipwreck which is the loss of grace.”

Anointing of the Sick (1510):

 However, the apostolic Church has its own rite for the sick, attested to by St. James: “Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders [presbyters] of the Church and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.” Tradition has recognized in this rite one of the seven sacraments.

Holy Orders (1555):

Amongst those various offices which have been exercised in the Church from the earliest times the chief place, according to the witness of tradition, is held by the function of those who, through their appointment to the dignity and responsibility of bishop, and in virtue consequently of the unbroken succession going back to the beginning, are regarded as transmitters of the apostolic line.

Matrimony (1601):

The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament.

The Jury is Out

I recently received a jury summons in the mail. As a citizen of the United States, serving on a jury is a civic duty. U.S. Code Title 28, Part V, Chapter 121 § 1861 states that all citizens have “an obligation to serve as jurors when summoned for that purpose”.

Commonly, the role of a juror is to decide whether or not a defendant’s conduct has been acceptable under the law. In other words, a juror must judge a defendant’s behavior. Every citizen has the obligation to do this. While many people may find excuses to get out of jury duty, everyone recognizes the necessity of jurors judging their peers’ behavior according to the law of the land.

Of course, there is a higher law than the civil law handed on by legislators: God’s law handed on by the Church. Civil law is primarily concerned with temporal matters, God’s law with the eternal. This being the case, since it is important to judge behavior under civil law, it must be immeasurably more important to judge behavior under God’s law. Why is it then, when it comes to the eternally significant laws of God, that so many Christians—even Catholics—shirk their responsibilities?

There is a nonsensical disconnect in this. People judge their peers’ behavior under civil law where a defendant’s temporal freedoms may be curtailed but when it comes to the potential loss of eternal life—what really matters most—they refuse to judge. (Actually, they unwittinglyjudge that the behavior of judging behavior is wrong!)

For example, during a recent exchange concerning homosexuality, I was berated by a Catholic woman who supported her cousin’s same-sex relationship. I judged, as the Church does, that her cousin’s behavior was immoral and that it should not be supported. I was labeled a bigot and a hater. She wrote, “I believe in God’s desire for us not to judge other people, but to accept them for what they are and love them all”. What a tragedy. Her cousin needed someone to tell her the truth, not coddle her in her destructive behavior! She needed fraternal correction; Christian love (i.e., charity) actually demanded it.


Now, I’m not suggesting that we judge another’sculpability in eternal matters as we do in temporal matters – that is God’s domain. But should we not judge the objective morality of our neighbor’s behavior for his own good and the good of others? I addressed this question from a biblical perspective in a magazine article I wrote some time ago. I invite you to read it and judge for yourself: Judge Not?