Q: What do you do if a sin keeps reoccurring?
I know that you must
have true sorrow for committing the sin
and that you must make a firm purpose of
amendment not to commit the sin again.
Must a person change the situations or
circumstances that in the past have preceded
that sin? If one does not change the
circumstances that are contributing to a sin,
is the confession of it still a valid one?
Mike, my boyfriend, stops in after we
have been on a date. I live with my parents,
who are asleep by the time we come in. We
haven’t had intercourse yet, but we have
moved beyond kissing and are certainly
headed in that direction. Mike says that he
is not trying to sin with me.
Besides going to Confession, what am I
obliged to do under these circumstances?
A: The short answer is that you are
obliged to do what you know is
right and to avoid situations and circumstances
that will make it very difficult
or nearly impossible for you to
Intercourse between husband and
wife reflects their lifelong commitment
to each other. Couples who are dating
may or may not marry each other. Under
those circumstances, they should
not act as though their level of commitment
to each other is greater than
it truly is. You are rightly concerned
that you are heading where you personally
are not now ready to go.
Without using the word itself, your
question involves the virtue of prudence.
The United States Catholic Catechism
for Adults, published by the
United States Conference of Catholic
Bishops, describes prudence as the cardinal
virtue “by which one knows the
true good in every circumstance and
chooses the right means to reach that
In A Concise Dictionary of Theology (Paulist Press), Gerald O’Collins, S.J.,
and Edward G. Farrugia, S.J., write that
prudence entails “the capacity to translate
general norms and ideals into practice.
Christian prudence is more than a
mere shrewdness that foresees difficulties
and avoids undesirable consequences.”
It helps to make “a coherent
whole of one’s moral life.”
When people act against what they
know to be morally good, they self-destruct
to some extent because they
voluntarily dull their moral instincts. In
doing so, they slightly redefine, always
in their favor, what they consider “no
Although this is clearly bothering
you, it apparently does not bother
Mike—at least not as much. If, however,
you always accept his viewpoint
about what conduct is proper,
isn’t that a pretty shaky foundation
on which to build a married relationship
that could last half a century
Can any good come to the two of
you if it requires a lie to oneself from
one of you? Bit by bit, wouldn’t that
person be self-destructing, moving
away from making “a coherent whole
of your moral life”? People can express
their love through not doing certain
things, by saying no to themselves and
yes to the person whom they love.
People sin—that’s a fact. Confession
enables us to tell the truth to ourselves
and to God—and then make the practical
decisions that will help us live in
a way that reflects our God-given dignity.
The Confessions you describe are
valid. God is merciful and honest: If we
want different results, we must do our
I once taught a high school student
who asked me at the end of class,
“What do love and self-sacrifice have to
do with one another?” Several things
caused me to believe that his was a sincere
request. Before the bell rang, I
managed to reply that, if he looked
very closely, wherever he observed genuine
love he would always find self-sacrifice
as part of it. In our August
2008 issue, Elizabeth Dreyer’s article,
“The Holiness of Everyday Life,” addressed
the connection between love
May you and Mike “live the truth
in love” (Ephesians 4:15). Such honesty
will build a strong foundation for your
future relationship with Mike or with
some other man who will recognize
your strong conscience as the gift it is.
Q: Not long ago I received a charm (a
cross, an anchor and a heart) signifying the virtues of faith, hope and charity.
I know that the cross is a symbol of faith
and the heart represents charity. Why is the
anchor a symbol of hope?
A: Christian art has long used an
anchor to symbolize hope because
an anchor symbolizes that ultimately
our trust is not in ourselves but
in God, who alone is steadfast and reliable.
The author of the Letter to the
Hebrews says that, in making a promise
to Abraham, God swore by himself.
“So when God wanted to give the heirs
of his promise an even clearer demonstration
of the immutability of his
purpose, he intervened with an oath,
so that by two immutable things, in
which it was impossible for God to lie,
we who have taken refuge might be
strongly encouraged to hold fast to the
hope that lies before us. This we have
as an anchor of the soul, sure and
Q: When I married a divorced man
over 30 years ago, I knew that
the Catholic Church of which I am a
member would not recognize our marriage.
My husband and I have attended
Mass regularly but have not received Holy
Communion. We raised our children as
My daughter recently saw on the Internet
that my husband’s ex-wife has passed
away. I quietly said a prayer for her and told
my husband about it the next day. He and
I are wondering if now we can marry in the
Catholic Church. Any light you can shed on
this will be appreciated.
A: Yes, you should be able to have
your marriage “convalidated”
(regularizing a valid civil marriage as a
sacrament in the Catholic Church) if
there is no other obstacle. Arranged
through your local parish, a convalidation
will require obtaining an official
copy of these civil records: your husband’s
first marriage, the divorce
decree, your present marriage and the
death of his ex-wife.
you will find the online version of our
February 2004 article about convalidation.
Once you and your pastor have
prepared for this, the actual celebration
can be as public or as private as
you and your husband wish.
Q: What can I say to my daughter who
says that my granddaughter wants
to be married on the beach rather than
have a church wedding? There is a fee for
the use of the church, but she can well
Weddings on beaches and in gardens
are becoming more and more frequent in
our area. When I mentioned to my daughter
the presence of the Blessed Sacrament
in a parish church, she responded that
God is everywhere.
A: Yes, God is everywhere—even
in churches! Although this issue
arises in terms of where the ceremony
will occur, I suspect there is a much
deeper issue. What does this marriage
represent? Is faith in Jesus important to
the bride and groom? Is this marriage
a statement of faith—as well as an expression
of new obligations according
to civil law?
Permission from the local bishop is
needed for a Catholic to marry outside
of a church. This “dispensation from
form” is more readily given if one of
the spouses is not baptized. Having a
wedding in a church can imply something
that is simply not true for this
couple. For couples who are both Christian,
a church building can remind all
who witness the wedding that the faith
community has a stake in the success
of this marriage.
Beaches, gardens, parks, etc., can still
make for wonderful wedding receptions.
Q: I know that cremation is becoming more common, but I am
aghast when family members or friends say that they are going
to have their ashes scattered in rivers, in forests or on hilltops. What
does the Catholic Church teach about this issue?
A: Your question arises often these days. The Catholic Church
teaches that a person’s ashes should be given the same respect
that his or her body is given. Burial in the ground or walled
in a columbarium niche shows that type of respect. Scattering to the wind
or over water does not. If you
search “cremation” on this site, you will find my earlier response to this question and
recommended links for further references.
If you have a question for Father Pat, please submit it here.
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