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April 13, 2018 Our Catholic Faith No Comments

Editor’s Note: In agreeing with our advice about not attending an invalid wedding of a family member or friend, D.B. of Pennsylvania sent along a form letter that one might send in response to an invitation to attend such a ceremony. As an aside from the letter, D.B. wondered if John the Baptist would have attended the wedding of King Herod to his brother’s wife — “you know, just to keep the lines of communication open.” Or whether Thomas More would have attended the wedding of “his pal King Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn after leaving his wife Catherine of Aragon” — “you know, just to keep up their relationship and, incidentally, to save his own head.” Here is the text of D.B.’s letter:
Dear (Name):
I have been invited to attend your “wedding” scheduled for (date). It appears that the “marriage” will be invalid for one or more of the following reasons, and therefore will be a life without grace (Catechism, nn. 1648-1650).
First, a Catholic getting married outside the Church (w/o Church approval).
Second, one of the parties is already married to someone else.
Third, the parties are of the same sex.
Since we love you, and also want to save our own souls, we ask you to understand that we must follow our own conscience and Church teaching, and not attend what will be an invalid marriage. We trust you will respect that we would not want to compromise on such an important issue.
To help you understand this decision, we ask you to consider:
To attend would water down and show disrespect for our own valid, indissoluble marriage (Catechism, n. 1614, Matt. 19:6).
We would show disrespect of the scriptural passages regarding “unlawful marriages” (Mark 10:11-12, Luke 16:18, Acts 15:29).
We would part company with St. John the Baptist and St. Thomas More, who lost their heads out of love for marriage.
Thank you for understanding our (and the Church’s) position, and be assured of our prayers for you.
Sincerely, (Name)

Q. A 19-year-old man had a serious case of the flu which led to sepsis. He subsequently had his hands and feet amputated in an attempt to save his life. The Church teaches that it is morally permissible to refuse extraordinary means for survival. Could this unfortunate man have chosen to refuse the amputations and put himself in God’s hands? — R.M., New York.
A. An important part of Catholic ethical teaching, from St. Thomas Aquinas until today, is the principle of totality, which says, in the words of Pope Pius XII, that “each particular organ is subordinate to the whole of the body and ought therefore to yield to it in case of conflict.” Speaking in 1952 at the First International Congress of Histopathology of the Nervous System, the Holy Father said that “the principle of totality states that the part exists for the whole, and that consequently the good of the part remains subordinate to the good of the whole, that the whole is decisive for the part and can dispose of it in its own interest.”
It is easy to see how removal of a diseased organ, such as a breast, a uterus, a gall bladder, or a gangrenous leg, could be morally justified, but the Church also teaches that a healthy organ can be excised if that is the only way to preserve the integrity of the body. As Pius XII said: “It can also happen that the removal of a healthy organ and the suppression of its normal functioning will remove from a disease, cancer, for example, its field of growth, or in any case, essentially change the conditions of its existence. If there is no other means at our disposal, surgical intervention on the healthy organ is permitted.”
What makes the case cited by R.M. more complicated is the scope of the procedure, not just amputation or excision of one or two organs, but the removal of both hands and both feet. So the question is, would it have been morally permissible for this man to refuse the amputations because they constituted the use of extraordinary means?
Let’s define what is meant by extraordinary means by first defining ordinary means.
According to Catholic moral teaching, a person is always bound to take ordinary steps to preserve his life or health. The usual conditions for ordinary means are hope of benefit for the patient, a procedure that is not difficult (i.e., not experimental or exotic), in accord with one’s financial and psychological status, and not unreasonable. Anything else would be considered extraordinary, and one is not morally obliged to use such means, unless a person is not reconciled with God or the lives of others depend on the life of the patient.
In its 1980 Declaration on Euthanasia, the Vatican’s Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said that while the term “extraordinary means” is still valid, the principle is “perhaps less clear today by reason of the imprecision of the term and the rapid progress made in the treatment of sickness. Thus, some people prefer to speak of ‘proportionate’ and ‘disproportionate’ means. In any case, it will be possible to make a correct judgment as to the means by studying the type of treatment to be used, its degree of complexity or risk, its cost and the possibilities of using it, and comparing these elements with the result that can be expected, taking into account the state of the sick person and his or her physical and moral resources.”
Considering the amazing advances today in the field of prosthetics, it is probable that the young man in question will be able to function at a high level and to lead a fairly normal life. Since this is so, we think that he was right to undergo the amputations, and thus, in a different sense that what R.M. had in mind, to “put himself in God’s hands.” This was a brave decision on his part, and we pray that God will sustain him in the future.

Q. What do you think about the Divine Mercy Chaplet and Divine Mercy Sunday? Some books and papers I have read are against it. — M.G., Alabama.
A. We don’t know what you have read, but any Catholic who is against the Divine Mercy devotions is way off base. They trace back to Sr. Faustina, a Polish nun to whom Jesus appeared in 1931. Our Lord asked Faustina to have a painting done of Him that would say across the bottom, “Jesus, I trust in you.” If you have seen the image, you know that it shows two rays coming from the side of Jesus — the white rays signifying water and the red rays signifying blood.
The water from the side of Christ, of course, symbolizes the water of Baptism, which washes away original sin. The blood symbolizes the Holy Eucharist, when the wine is changed into the Blood of Christ. Jesus said that all the sin and evil in the world are just a drop in the ocean of His mercy. In 1935, Jesus appeared again to Sr. Faustina and dictated to her the Divine Mercy Chaplet, a series of prayers said on the rosary that will help even the most hardened sinner get to Heaven if he sincerely prays that chaplet. This chaplet is to be prayed every day at three o’clock, the hour when Jesus died on the cross.
Sr. Faustina never saw the fruits of her efforts since she died from tuberculosis in 1938 at the age of 33. At first, her wishes and those of Jesus were not heeded because some Church leaders weren’t sure that they were authentic, but after John Paul became Pope in 1978, he concluded that Faustina’s requests were legitimate and, in 2000, he declared her a saint and proclaimed to the whole world that the Sunday after Easter would henceforth be celebrated as Divine Mercy Sunday.
How anyone could reject this great gift of mercy to the Church is beyond us.

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Having watched the first session of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops General Meeting, and that fact that the Pope has ordered them not vote on any action items, I have to ask, what is the point of this meeting? What is the point of National Bishops' Conferences?

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Our Catholic Faith (Section B of print edition)

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