JUST A VENIAL SIN
At least one letter writer in the last issue cheered on Donald Cozzens’s analysis in “Sins, Mortal & Otherwise," yet this seems to be forgetting the theological points that make the entire idea of mortal sin still relevant.
First, I agree that that it doesn’t seem logical that eating meat on Friday (during Lent) should be equivalent to adultery. However, that’s not the correct comparison. The sin involved in eating the meat is not intrinsic to the act of eating meat; the sin is in disobeying those with legitimate authority to legislate certain aspects of Christian discipline. On the other hand, adultery is intrinsically sinful, and no earthly authority can ever change that. Both can be mortal sins, simply because of the rejection of authority.
Both areas can be the occasion for venial sins too, and this is the second point. Some people seem to forget a basic aspect of moral theology: three conditions are required for a sin to be considered mortal—serious matter, knowledge of that, and full consent. So there are certainly venial sins in the area of sexuality; it’s not true that “every thought, word, or deed ‘outside of marriage’” is mortally sinful. The hormone-ravaged teenager who struggles with masturbation may not be guilty of mortal sin, if it is habitual. This is not a reason to endorse such an act, but it shows that the church traditionally has acknowledged psychological factors that the science-based world only discovered in the last century.
Thus I might offer that the traditional moral structure of the church is actually much more developed than what is sometimes portrayed.
Rochester Hills, Mich.
THE PROBLEM IS CELIBACY
In his piece about the church’s approach to sexual morality, Donald Cozzens fails to address the underlying problem. The Roman Catholic Church is where it is because for two thousand years celibate men have been obsessing about sex. It was not so from the beginning. Celibacy is almost completely foreign to Jews, and the New Testament references to celibacy are rare. If Jesus and Mary were celibate or remained virginal, why is there no mention of this radical departure from contemporary Jewish teaching? Even Hillel and Shammai—the founders of Rabbinical Judaism, famous for their inability to agree on anything—agreed that to be still unmarried at the age of twenty placed a man outside the Covenant. It was a sin!
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus counsels a spouse to separate in the case of porneia, and remain a “eunuch for the sake of the kingdom,” but adds: “Let him accept this who can.” Porneia, which means, among other things “prostitution,” is a common word in the Septuagint, which is Matthew’s source of Hebrew Scripture. Half the Septuagint’s usages of the term refer to the Jewish people’s failures to live up to the Covenant in which God is portrayed as the “husband” to his prostituting spouse. If we read the passage in its Jewish context, Jesus is counseling his disciples to separate and remain chaste so that, like God, they can reunite with the sinning spouse upon repentance. Jesus recognizes the difficulty of this teaching and allows an out for those unable to accept it.
The visionary of the Book of Revelation may have seen 144,000 virgins clothed in white and gathered about the lamb, blessed souls never contaminated by contact with women. But I thank God every day that I am not one of them. How would I imagine God revealed in humanness if it weren’t for the eucharistic giving and receiving that my wife and I share.
Timothy B. Kunz, D. Min.
Richard Alleva has missed the point in his review of The Martian. It is a parody of the sci-fi genre that director Ridley Scott did much to promote in a previous film of his, Aliens. By chance, the “unabashedly earnest” hero left behind on Mars is a botanist, played by Matt Damon, who performs the miracle of growing potatoes on Martian soil. They become his exclusive daily diet for years. Any complaints from him? Not one. In fact, he is seen eating his monotonous fare with knife, fork, and gusto. Any sign of boredom or loneliness during the time on Mars? No, the botanist seems to be enjoying everything except the disco music left behind by one of the crew—no despair or thoughts of suicide for him! The rescue mission arrives in time to involve Damon’s character in a swing dance in space with twists and turns on bright blue cables worthy of a Pilolobus performance. If the expected angst is missing, it is deliberate, as Scott has transformed Andy Weir’s novel into a fun experience for all those jaded by the predictable plots and emotions of other recent lost-in-space films.
Santa Barbara, Calif.
THE BEST OF HER ERA
In response to Paul Moses’s review of Mary McGrory: The First Queen of Journalism: Mary McGrory was certainly one of the best of her era—bright, informed, and witty. Her writing style was a delight, too, fluent and flawless.
I was glad that author John Norris mentioned her devotion to St. Ann’s Infant and Maternity Home. For many years she went to St. Ann’s in the evening, usually once a week, to read to the children. She had great friendships with the Daughters of Charity at St. Ann’s, and when in old age some of the sisters went to the infirmary at the provincial house in Emmitsburg, Maryland, McGrory would regularly make the more than one-hundred-mile round trip to visit them.