The salvation of souls is the supreme law of the Church

A commenter in a discussion at Patrick Madrid’s blog gave a wonderful explanation of how to speak the truth in charity. I want to remember this and thought I’d share it too.

The issue isn’t whether abortion is murder or not. That’s a given: yes.

The issue is whether, in the context of a discussion, this truth is the paramount one in the hierarchy of truths. The Code of Canon Law, which is an invaluable resource for instruction about the heart and mind of the Church, gives us an interesting clue on this point. The very last canon, which deals with the transfer of pastors, says this:

“In cases of transfer, the prescripts of can. 1747 are to be applied, canonical equity is to be observed, and the salvation of souls, which must always be the supreme law of the Church, is to be kept before one’s eyes,” (CIC 1752).

The salvation of souls is the supreme law of the Church, and if I might add, its primary mission. In fact, I need not, because the Catechism says it better (CCC 849-51). Salvation, and thus missionary work, must be grounded in truth. The fundamental truth of all human affairs is that God’s great love for us wills to save all men, and we must order our presentation of subordinate truths in a manner that will make them most credible. Missionary work, our proactive, evangelical share in this saving plan, requires patience, the Catechism tells us (CCC 854). That is because people are all coming from different places and experiences and will respond to different individual true statements in different ways; this also largely depends upon the person by whom they hear the truth proclaimed.

When dealing with someone on an issue, particularly a thorny one, I ask myself a few questions, since the salvation of souls – and not the simple proclamation of truth – is the highest law of the Church. The questions include: “Will this person listen to me? I am a 32 year old man with such-and-such a personality, this sort of relationship to the person, and this sort of reasons and experience to fall back on. Will he listen to me? Can I express the truth clearly and charitably? Are my motivations pure – that is, about my love for this person – or are my motivations tainted by anger, spiritual ambition, or what have you? Is it a truth that I need to proclaim? Can the person wait to hear it, or must it be spoken now, with dire consequences otherwise? Am I well disposed to help the person cope with any emotional fallout that might arise, to really care about the PERSON and not just the argument?”

If it sounds like I am making a very complicated issue of a simple debate, that’s because it’s not about an issue, but about souls. The salvation of souls is the supreme law of the Church. For my part, I try to make the supreme law of my conduct to be faith, hope, and charity. These three alleviate the burden of having to win debates, do it myself, and cater to my own interior motivations. I am free – when tuned into these divinely given virtues – to say, “Hey, maybe I don’t win this today, but Jesus wins in the end, so I am free just to pray for the person and trust God, if that’s all I can do now.” BAM! Pressure gone.

It is no lie, if a post-abortive woman asks, “Am I a murderer?” to respond, “You are a beloved daughter of God, who wants you only to know his love, to repent of the sins of your past, and live new life with him – just like everybody else.” It is no lie, nor is it an evasion. It is defering one truth in favor of a much more important one.

2 Responses to The salvation of souls is the supreme law of the Church

  1. Melanie Bettinelli December 30, 2009 at 4:14 am #

    Oh isn’t it? I just love Georges de la Tour.

  2. Philosopher Mom December 30, 2009 at 7:31 am #

    One of my favorite paintings!

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