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Spiritual Informed Consent


A couple of days ago I wrote about how the bishops have not done a good job protecting our Catholic brand. They have allowed too many people to wave the Catholic banner as they offer false and damaging teaching. We are a thinking Church. Every Catholic must follow his informed conscience. In addition to knowing what the Church teaches and why it teaches what it does, an informed conscience must know the repercussions of a given choice or action.

As a physician, I am very familiar with the concept of informed consent. Patients cannot make intelligent information about their health care unless they have all the information about the benefits and risks of their medical options. It is my job to give my patients this information.  I think it would be helpful to use this approach as part of catechesis. Consider it spiritual informed consent.

The goal of medical care is optimal health. The ultimate goal for spiritual health is Eternal Life. Christ died for us that we might live. The gift of Salvation is ours if we choose to accept it. But we do have to accept it. How do we accept it? By doing the will of the Father. Therefore, we reject this great gift when we choose not to do God's will. Every time we sin, we are turning our back on Eternal Life.

Now just as diseases vary in their severity and curability, so too our sins vary. Some are more lethal to our souls than others. The sin of missing Mass, sexual sins, the sin of abortion, murder, and others are so significant that we call them mortal sins. They completely separate us from God. Even these mortal sins can be forgiven. Nothing is too big for God's mercy. But we have to approach God and ask for this forgiveness. We must be truly repentant. And if we have not confessed and received absolution for one of these mortal sins, we should not present ourselves to receive the Eucharist.

So here is where spiritual informed consent comes in. Catholics need to know what constitutes a mortal sin. Having taught seventh grade religious education for many years, I learned that many Catholic families had no idea that missing Mass for reasons like  soccer games, vacation, or visiting relatives is a serious sin that needs to be confessed. Catholics need to be told that defying Church teachings has consequences. If you know that the Church forbids the use of contraception and you do it anyway, you have put yourself out of Communion with the Church. It is no different than if you defy Church teachings on marriage and get a civil divorce and remarry without a decree of nullity. There seems to be no problem telling divorced Catholics who remarry not to receive Communion. Priests should tell Catholics using contraception the same thing. If these Catholics choose to persist in using contraception, then at least they do so knowing full well the consequences. It is not right to let them go their merry way without giving them all the ramifications of their choices.

This information needs to be given by priests from the pulpit. In addition, every marriage prep class needs to offer the full Catholic teaching on marriage and the reasons for this teaching. But it also needs to include the serious effects of ignoring this teaching. Similarly, every Baptismal preparation class, First Communion class, and Confirmation class should offer sound teaching that includes the spiritual injuries that occur when this teaching is rejected.

God gave us the gift of free will. We can choose to follow Him or to go our own way. In order to make an intelligent choice, we need to have the whole truth about the consequences of our actions. We need spiritual informed consent.

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