The Bride of Christ has one true voice, to proclaim the Truth. And she has one true medicine, the balm of forgiveness, by which those dead to the divine life, lying like rotting corpses though their bodies glisten and flourish, by which those dead to the divine life can see the evil of their ways, the threat of its eternal completion, and repent. And she can dispense the latter only if she proclaims the former.
Thus, to obstruct the full proclamation of the truth in order to “assuage” a soul that hurts does that soul no true good but true harm. The only exception would be this: If this temporary “assuaging” were simply the non-proclamation of the fullness of the truth, a partial proclamation of nothing but truth, devoid of all deceit, and if this temporary partiality were ordered directly and immediately towards full proclamation.
Why would this count as a legitimate exception? Some sinners cannot bear all the truth at once. They would run towards their certain ruin were you to convey the full truth to them. Their eyes are in darkness. Day comes only from Dawn. Even the stars give forth their light, so that the pilgrim man has not become totally depraved in absolute darkness. But in his weakened state, the sinner needs a gradual disclosure of truth, in patience and kindness. Meanwhile, the sinner is still quite threatened by his own ignorance. The “silence” of an imprudently patient pastor does not a righteous man the sinner make. Thus, the dead patient must be brought round steadily to that full proclamation. What should I say, how much, and when? Is he ready? All these concerns are good. We must be prudent. Yet again, we must be confident in the Spirit. We must not underestimate the extent of the Holy Spirit’s power to illuminate, sustain, and uplift the sinner.
BUT! To tell a person that is Living in Sin that he is as such “ok” is directly to contradict that absolutely necessary order to the full proclamation. It is to leave the sinner in his sins. It is “not to lift a finger” to help the poor sinner carry his burden. For my “magical lie” will not abolish his burden. For what reason would I think that I should lie to the sinner? Because he is a friend whose human affection I do not want to lose? (But Thomas More rightly stands firm, “Then if you do not want me to do my conscience and so cause the king some discomfort, please come to hell with me when I am condemned for lying, for our fellowship’s sake.”) What could justify the LIE that one who is Living in Sin is “ok”?
There is no justification whatsoever.
Now, the reception of the Holy Eucharist is the act of the spousal soul, receiving the Bridegroom. It is an act of spousal union. It requires love and peace of heart. It requires well being. Unity of mind and heart between the spouses. Just as no spouses would make love well were they not first to be reconciled, after a serious dispute, before embracing each other in this way, so no Catholic should receive the Eucharist in a state of sin. This is to offend the Holy Lord who died for us. This is implicitly to deny that one is in sinful state, needing reconciliation. Such denial will lead to impenitence. And do you not know that God is storing up wrath for your impenitence? His patience is meant for your repentance, not for your “assuaged conscience”.
Now, the sinner is often confused. In fact, all sinners are necessarily confused. For in choosing evil, they say to themselves, “This is right.” “This is ok.” But it is not right. It is not ok. Yet, since the sinner is confused, he often has difficulty in seeing this. Hence, often, another is needed. Especially if the sin is habitual. Especially if he is “living in sin”.
Now, the priest who shepherds souls has a viewpoint more objective than that of the individual struggling with sin. Thus, the priest must shepherd that individual, through his confusion, towards the full truth as quickly as possible. Consoling the disconsolate, the priest must nevertheless NEVER LIE. For the priest has no power to “make just” by a false declaration. Thus, the priest who tells a man that is living in sin “You are ok, because Jesus loves you,” is, regardless of his intent, deceiving the sinner. This would mock God’s justice, usurp God’s authority; it would be an attempt to build a Temple out of human hands by a Pelagian mindset according to which man can, laugh, justify man. Such counsel would be phony advice. If we hear that such advice is given, we should try in charity to think that we do not understand all the facts, or that we misheard something. But as for the truth of good advice (This is something about which we certainly can judge): What the sinner needs is not pious or impious lies, but pious truth. If the fullness of that truth must await patience for a time, this is never an excuse for a lie.
What shall effect a real change in the sinner in the long run. The lie? Or the truth? Truth, every time. Even if it is bluntly stated, the truth, not the lie, gives life.
Compare the plight of a poor sinner deceived by counsel poisonous because false and foolish, compare that with the plight of a sinner coldly, perhaps rudely, awoken from her slumber of sin. We see the latter in the marvelous scene in Brideshead Revisited, by the BBC. Julia and Charles have been having an affair for quite some time. Julia is now confronted by her blunt brother, Bridey. She goes off with Charles and sits beside a fountain. Watch the scene, rent the videos, read the book.
This is the most marvelous scene in 20th century literature. (Or perhaps a related one, quite delicate, from The Moviegoer.) This scene exhibits Catholic piety. Only true Catholic piety can get the sinner to this point antecedent to conversion. Meanwhile, all “warm feelings” are, in the end, but obstacles to this conversion. Yes, warm feelings and fuzzy handshakes and silliness are in the end obstacles. There is a reason people find saints annoying. They remind you that you are dust, o man, and you shall rot into the ground and feed maggots. For in sin you were conceived, and in the dust of death you shall die. How soon have we forgotten that life-giving pronouncement of our Most Holy Lord. How this death, this illness, this limp, this weakness, this forgetfulness — how it all gets in my way. I have plans. I have goals. Let me meet them. Away with those in my way. This is why the saints are annoying. Because they proclaim that all your plans are as a drop in the ocean, compared with what God has in store for you. When you were a youth, you walked like a youth, spoke like a youth, and went about wherever you wanted. But when you grow up, someone will take you where you do not want to go. (But you will go, knowing that He who allows it, is Life.)
The healing wrought by the truth in this marvelous scene has a ripple effect. In other words, truth gives birth to life, and life awakens life in the dead. But wicked pastoral advice, if publicly known, causes scandal and thus leads souls to hell. Woe to the one who offers false advice that covers up the sins of those who need to repent; worse if this advise confuses others. No, we cannot set up this-worldly booths to serve the temple of the world in its progressive movement towards a future of human engineering and too-human hopes. We cannot and we must not. For that world is misguided and deadly.
But woe also to those who let their ears be tickled by false advice. For, God forbid that anyone should think that he has an excuse to sin because a priest has given him false advice. He has no such excuse. False pastoral advice must be shunned by all as diametrically opposed to the Gospel, to the Church’s true voice, to the Holy Lord who instituted his bride the Church, and to the sinner’s eternal welfare.