This post builds on an earlier post Gradualism of the Law and Catholic Practice. In that post I proposed using the sacraments of Reconciliation and The Eucharist to help a married man practicing birth control by coitus interruptus to form an intention to stop the practice. He would receive Absolution and be eligible for reception of The Eucharistic without an intention to stop the practice. Under current practice, Absolution is not given without an intention to stop an immoral practice. From my experience as a marathon runner, I would like to suggest a model for rationalizing giving Absolution to someone who is not yet willing to profess having an intention never againto violate the moral law in question.
Frequently in marathon running after fifteen miles or so, the temptation to drop out of the race is very strong. When this temptation arises one might say to himself, or a companion so tempted, that there should be no thoughts of dropping out or completing the race until the next water stop. (Usually water and energy drink stations are at every two or three miles.) You can always make it to the next water stop. Maybe at the next water stop thoughts about the whole race can be entertained. But for now think only of staying on the course until the next stop. On occasion I have completed marathons by going from “water stop to water stop.” I have never dropped out of a marathon and have completed 175 full marathons. Other people have told me that they completed marathons by following my advice to go from water stop to water stop. Don’t think about the whole course.
Here is how this lesson from marathon running could be applied to getting Absolution and receiving the Eucharist. The confessor would ask the man practicing coitus interruptus to refrain from sexual intercourse with his wife until after receiving the Eucharist. Perhaps this would be on the Sunday immediately following Confession on Saturday. He would have the intention not to commit this sin for this short period of time and would leave undetermined what he would do afterwards. Maybe after receiving the Eucharist this Sunday, he would have the strength to refrain another week or day if he were able to attend daily Mass.
This model of having short term intentions to refrain from violating a law with an openness to extending that term after reception of the Eucharist can readily be extended to other cases for gradually practicing Catholic conjugal chastity. But Catholic moral and sacramental theologians would need to investigate the intelligibility and admissibility of such short term and incomplete intentions.
This post augments Chapter VIII on Birth Control in my book Confronting Sexual Nihilism . My book Confronting Sexual Nihilism: Traditional Sexual Morality as an Antidote to Nihilism was released by Tate Publishing on March 11, 2014. See Book Web Page for information about the book. The publisher’s listed price is $26.99. Printed copies can be purchased here by credit card for $12.99, plus $3.71 for shipping and handling.
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