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Friday, 19 December 2008

The value of Humanae Vitae and frequent confession

This weekend's Catholic Herald carries an interview given by Bishop Kieran Conry of Arundel and Brighton with Andrew Brown: ‘You can't talk to young people about salvation. What does that mean to them?’. There is also a news article by Mark Greaves about the interview: Bishop advises against frequent Confession.

Fully aware of the respect that is due to our Bishops, and with assurance of a sincere Memento in my Mass tomorrow morning for Bishop Conry, I hope it will not be presumptuous to offer a few comments and suggestions regarding some of the matters of which he spoke.

Speaking of Humanae Vitae, Bishop Conry said that the basic commandment to love God, and love your neighbour has been left largely unexplored. I venture to suggest that Pope Benedict XVI's encyclical "Deus Caritas Est" does in fact address the question seriously.

The text of one part of the interview addresses the importance or otherwise of Humanae Vitae:
"Well, first of all, I would disagree that it's a key teaching. The key teachings of the Church are in the Creed. It's not a life issue." To do with the transmission of life, then? "It's to do with what family and married life means, being open to procreation. So it's not a life issue because then you tie it in with abortion. The two are completely different issues."
With the deepest respect for His Lordship's apostolic office, I feel bound to disagree. All of the pro-life organisations who work with women who have, for one reason or another, turned to abortion as a solution to a problem, agree that contraception does not prevent abortion but leads to abortion. I remember hearing a stirring lecture by Sr Roseann Reddy of the Sisters of the Gospel of Life on precisely this point. The Good Counsel Network addressed the Association of Priests for the Gospel of Life earlier this year, pointing out that the vast majority of those who came to them in a "crisis pregnancy", determined upon an abortion, reported that the reason for their decision was "contraceptive failure". And of course, we know that what is often spoken of as "contraception" may work in an abortifacient manner (as in the case of the pill) or is in fact designed to do so (as in the case of so-called "emergency contraception").

As long as we fail to give the teaching of Humanae Vitae due weight, we will continue to fail those young people who are confused by the massive pressure of "sexual health services" and imagine that sexual activity can be something engaged upon without serious consequences. We also fail our married couples who are deprived of the Church's vision of "openness to life" and all its consequences for their relationship.

Although Bishop Conry does affirm that young people have a sense of sin and talks of a moving "Reconciliation Service" at Lourdes, he will surely surprise people with his answer to the question "Is it a good idea to go to Confession regularly?":
"No, because my own experience when we had Confession every day at St Chad's Cathedral in Birmingham was that regular penitents came back with exactly the same words week after week. So there you would say, actually, there is no conversion taking place."
Again, with some trepidation and, I hope, humility, I beg to differ - offering in defence of my boldness the words of Pope Benedict XVI to a course offered by the Sacred Penitentiary earlier this year:
The Lenten Season, in which we now find ourselves, reminds us that in our Christian life we must always aspire to conversion and that when we receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation frequently the desire for Gospel perfection is kept alive in believers. If this constant desire is absent, the celebration of the Sacrament unfortunately risks becoming something formal that has no effect on the fabric of daily life. If, moreover, even when one is motivated by the desire to follow Jesus one does not go regularly to confession, one risks gradually slowing his or her spiritual pace to the point of increasingly weakening and ultimately perhaps even exhausting it.
Certainly, we should avoid formalism and routine in our confessions; this formalism is best avoided by frequent, devout celebration of the sacrament with due and careful preparation. We may indeed find that we confess the same sins over and over again - but as Fr John Edwards explained light-heartedly during a mission he once gave in my parish, it would not be a better confession if we had a whole set of new sins to confess.

Regarding the importance of frequent confession for priests, Pope John Paul II said:
We priests, on the basis of our personal experience, can certainly say that the more careful we are to receive the sacrament of penance and to approach it frequently and with good dispositions, the better we fulfill our own ministry as confessors and ensure that our penitents benefit from it. (Reconciliatio et Paenitentia 31.6)
Speaking of the importance of frequent confession for all, the same Pope said in 2004, at a course organised by the Sacred Penitentiary:
It would be an illusion to seek after holiness, according to the vocation one has received from God, without partaking frequently of this sacrament of conversion and reconciliation.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church also reinforces this teaching:
Without being strictly necessary, confession of everyday faults (venial sins) is nevertheless strongly recommended by the Church. Indeed the regular confession of our venial sins helps us form our conscience, fight against evil tendencies, let ourselves be healed by Christ and progress in the life of the Spirit. By receiving more frequently through this sacrament the gift of the Father's mercy, we are spurred to be merciful as he is merciful. (CCC 1458)
Bishop Conry also made a number of comments about Summorum Pontificum which Fr Z has discussed in his post "Catholic Herald: Bp. Conry (Arundel & Brighton) speaks out". Damien Thompson has also written about the interview in his post "Church teaching on birth control could be wrong, says English Catholic bishop". Both Fr Z and Damien speak positively about Bishop Conry as a man (decent, compassionate, open, frank) whilst disagreeing with his doctrinal views. Along with Fr Z, I would imagine that a meal with a frank discussion would make for a pleasant evening. Now wouldn't that be a good blog photo!

PS. Valle Adurni has addressed the question of how many times hell is mentioned in the New Testament. See: Point of information.
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