This post applies some ideas from an earlier post : Gradualism of the Law in Sexual Morality. Also it assumes some familiarity with Catholic teaching about eligibility to receive the Eucharist and making a good confession.
I write as a Catholic. However, nothing I write has any standing or authority as Catholic teaching. I am speculating about using the Catholic Sacrament of Reconciliation to bring penitents gradually to conform to moral laws for correct behavior. The issue confronted is that the priest should not give Absolution if the penitent lacks an intention never again to commit the sins confessed,i.e., a firm purpose of amendment.
Consider a case of a Catholic married man who practices birth control with his wife by withdrawal – coitus interruptus. They think that they have good reason for doing so. They do not intend to stop in the forseeable future. They both know that the Church condemns this practice as gravely wrong. Neither will claim that the Church teaching is incorrect. Nonetheless neither feels that what they are doing is seriously wrong. They doubt that God would condemn them to hell for this practice as they believe He would if they committed adultery without repentance. Still both think and feel that they would be morally and relgiously better off by having unimpeded sexual intercourse and be in conformity with Church teaching. In particular they would like to enjoy receiving absolution in confession and receiving the Eucharistic without doubt that they may be receiving the Eucharist unworthily because either they have not received absolution or not confessed their practice.
Since confession is made individually and obviously the Eucharist is received individually, I will focus on the husband’s problems.
He believes that if he does not confess his practice, the priest’s absolution is ineffective for it does not apply to all his sins. If he confesses doing acts of coitus interruptus but admits that he does not intend to stop the practice, the priest under current rules should refuse absolution. If he lies about his intention to stop, his confession is sacriligious and he has compounded his moral and religious guilt. He finds no way to improve his religious and moral life through the Catholic sacraments of Confession and Communion. The obstacle is his current refusal, or inability, to form honestly an intention to try to conform to the Church’s teaching condemning his method of conception control.
Contrast his plight with a the case of a fifty year old man married to a woman of the same age. He arouses himself with pornography and regularly masturbates. His wife would like more physical contact with him and wonders why he frequently is so indifferent at his relatively young age. He realizes that he is heading towards being a “dirty old man.” He remembers that confession and communion helped him in his struggle for purity when he was a school boy. The sacraments did not totally prevent him from succumbing to temptations. But the sacraments helped him and gave him solace when he failed. Now he would like to shed his sense of decadence by returning to his school boy idealism. He can go to confession tell of his masturbation and porn viewing, genuinely say that he has an intention to stop both. Stopping both has no costs and will bring other benefits. However, both he and the priest realize that he may succumb to temptations despite the good intentions.
The genuine intention needs to involve some plans, explicit or implicit, for avoiding andovercoming temptations. A significant part of these plans might very well be frequent reception of the sacraments of confession and communion.
Here is the main theme of this Blog Post. The sacraments can and ought to be used to help a person gradually live completely in conformity with a law with which he intends to conform. Could the sacraments of confession and reception of the Eucharist be used over a period of time to help a person form an intention to conform to a law? This would be gradulism of the law. In particular, could the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist be used to help this husband practicing conception control by coitus interruptus gradually to form an intention to stop this practice in violation of Catholic teaching? Could current teaching about use of the sacraments allow this use of the sacraments? Could current teachings be slightly altered to accommodate this use of the sacraments to gradually bring people to commit themselves to obedience to the law.
My book Confronting Sexual Nihilism raises similar considerations in Chapter VIII on Birth Control.
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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