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Isn’t it a sin to vow something for life to God and then break it? Don’t fully professed sisters sin if they leave their order?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Tuesday 10, September 2019 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Vocation and Discernment
Religious persons released to the lay state remain baptized Catholics in good standing.

“A vow is a deliberate and free promise made to God concerning a possible and better good which must be fulfilled by reason of the virtue of religion.” So says The Code of Canon Law (CCC 1191). Another section outlines rules for taking public religious vows (CCC 654-658). Yet just as God is merciful, the church must also be merciful. Which is why Canon Law includes a process known as dispensation to relieve a person from such vows (see CCC 85-93). Dispensation is “the relaxation of a merely ecclesiastical law in a particular case” (CCC 85).

Church law is flexible when applied to individuals and specific cases. The law recognizes that human circumstances aren’t static; therefore, some changes receive the favor of the law’s flexibility. For a just cause, a religious sister or brother may request and receive dispensation from solemn or perpetual vows. “Just cause” may be a grave or debilitating difficulty fulfilling the requirements of religious life. No penalty is exacted for being released from perpetual vows. In no way does it remove the person's right of access to the sacraments. Religious persons released to the lay state remain baptized Catholics in good standing.

No shadow of sin is attached to the request for dispensation from solemn vows. Dispensation is offered under the grace and peace of Jesus—who gave Peter the keys of the Kingdom as a symbol of the church’s authority “to bind and to loose.” If a religious person is released from vows on earth, s/he is also assured such release in the sight of God.

To remain in good standing with the Church, a person seeking dispensation must follow the procedure of release from religious life. The dispensation must be sought from the “competent authority”: the major religious superior or bishop in some cases, the pope in others. Once a sister or brother has prayerfully discerned to leave religious life, the order or congregation is obliged to do everything possible to assist in requesting the dispensation. The order or congregation is also required to help the person financially in the transition to lay life.

Scripture has lots to say about taking vows—and breaking them. People are weak and prone to err. Therefore Jesus considers that vows and oaths should be made only sparingly. Thank God that mercy is given to those who show mercy!

Scripture: Genesis 28:20 (first vow); Leviticus 22:20-25 (unfulfilled with imperfect sacrifice); 27:2, 8 (require adjustment); Numbers 6:1-21 (binding for a time); Numbers 31 (women’s vows: inferior?); Deuteronomy 23:22-24; Judges 11:29-39 (keeping an illicit vow); Ecclesiastes 5:1-6; Matthew 5:33-37

Books: Religious Life at the Crossroads, by Amy Herford, CSJ (Orbis Books, 2014)

A Different Touch: A Study of Vows in Religious Life, by Judith Merkle, SNDdeN (Liturgical Press, 1998)

How can I prove the existence of God to atheists?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Tuesday 10, September 2019 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs
Faith isn’t an argument. It’s a fundamental commitment we each make for ourselves.

Proofs for God’s existence have been regularly proposed by the learned. Christian apologetics—which doesn’t manufacture apologies, but rather justifications, for believing—has also been busy offering defenses for the faith since the second century. None of this is guaranteed to make your spiritually skeptical buddy fall on his knees and profess the Creed. Faith isn’t an argument. It’s a fundamental commitment we each make for ourselves.

Justin Martyr (100-167) was among the first apologists to present Christianity in a way his Greco-Roman culture might find both reasonable and appealing. Thomas Merton (1915-1968), with his autobiographical Seven-Storey Mountain, attempted to do the same for 20th-century skeptics. Folks as diverse as missionaries, scholars, fiction writers, and filmmakers have tried to make faith reasonable and attractive to those outside the church. See a recent attempt in the 2018 film “An Interview with God,” starring David Strathairn in the title role.

The watchmaker analogy is often invoked to demonstrate the plausibility of belief. Say you find a watch on the beach. Even though you don’t see a watchmaker, you know there must be one. A watch is too perfect a mechanism to have evolved on its own. So too, one might say, the world itself.

Saint Anselm (1033-1109) claimed God must exist since we can imagine the most perfect Being. What would make this Being even more perfect is to actually exist. Other scholars like Baruch Spinoza (1232-1677), Rene Descartes (1596-1650), and Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) also formulated intellectual proofs. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) offered five possible proofs: there must be an Unmoved Mover at the back of all movement, an Uncaused Cause at the start of all being—and ditto for contingency, gradation, and design.

Blaise Paschal (1623-1662) offered a wager rather than a proof. We have the option to believe or not. If we believe and are wrong, we live a good life with the respect of friends, enjoy the consolations of religion, and are none the wiser after death. No harm done! If we don’t believe and are wrong, we have lots of explaining to do, and possibly face eternal damnation. If however, we believe and are correct, we receive eternal reward. Belief is a better wager than unbelief.

Perhaps the best choice of all is not to argue, prove, or bet. Just offer the example of a life of genuine discipleship, and see who’s attracted!

Scripture: John 20:24-29; 1 Corinthians 13:8-13; 2 Corinthians 5:7; Hebrews 11:1; James 2:14-18; 1 John 1:1-4 

Books: Chasing Mystery, by Carey Walsh (Liturgical Press, 2012)
Holy Clues: The Gospel According to Sherlock Holmes (Vintage Books, 1999)

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