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Suffering to sanctity

July 30, AD 2012 16 Comments

If it causes pain, it cannot be true.

This principle, it seems to me, is an unspoken premise underlying the general public’s passionate opposition to many of the Church’s teachings. The same-sex marriage movement, for example, decries the Church’s position on the subject because it causes emotional pain and anguish to gays and lesbians. Abortion advocates constantly bring up the physical pain, financial difficulty, and psychological challenges that many pregnant women face, the implication being that their struggles make abortion a tragic necessity.

Yet the same conviction outside the Church — that a moral precept that causes pain cannot be true — is present inside the Church, too, and probably in our hearts. On one Catholic blog, a female commenter said her (Catholic) husband was struggling to accept the Church’s teaching on contraception because natural family planning (when used to postpone childbearing) requires abstinence at the peak of a woman’s sexual desire.

So if any given ethical principle requires some degree of sacrifice, pain, or unpleasantness, it’s unfair and probably untrue.

Obviously, when it’s stated like that, almost everyone would reject it. Those of us who theoretically accept all the Church’s moral teachings would definitely reject it. But how much of the (unavoidable) pain of obeying Christ’s moral teachings are we actually willing to bear?

Are we willing to give our money and attention to the poor? To accept correction humbly? To criticize our own political parties when they fall short? To forgive those who have hurt or slandered us? To acknowledge the authority of flawed Church leaders? To face rejection for proclaiming the Gospel?

Does some internal resistance to sacrifice prevent us from accepting the full ramifications of following Jesus Christ?

Just some questions I’ve been pondering.

Because if Flannery O’Connor is right about sanctification — “All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful” — and you’re not encountering pain in your efforts to live virtuously, you may be doing something wrong.

About the Author:

Anna Williams is a junior fellow at First Things magazine, a former Collegiate Network fellow at USA TODAY, and a recent graduate of Hillsdale College.