Clarity and Confusion

There is a song that was particularly dear to me many years ago when I came to my conversion experience. One of the lyrics goes “Lord, take the darkness from my min, when confusion makes me blind, come renew me with your truth.” A short while later, a friend of mine changed the lyrics when we sang to “when temptation makes me blind…” He reasoned that temptation was a spiritual problem, but confusion was not.

Over the years I have come to see that my friend was wrong.

Confusion, like temptation, is not necessarily a spiritual weakness. Jesus was tempted, after all. And God can use our confusion as a means to his will. Sometimes in our confusion, we come to realize how in the dark we truly are. As the great Rich Mullins wrote, sometimes God allows us to be confused so that I can come to the place “where I’m lost enough to let myself be led.”

But there is another kind of confusion that is incredibly problematic for Catholics: moral confusion.

One of the things that I have found in all my years of teaching is that my students want to know the answers to their questions. Even if they don’t like the answers, they want clear responses from their teacher. I can see how many of them roll their eyes when I tell them how is too far to go with their boyfriend or girlfriend. Some of them bristle when I inform them that intentionally skipping the Lord’s Day Mass is a mortal sin. I understand the temptation that some teachers have in avoiding the difficult topics. But it is the responsibility of the theology teacher to speak the truth, whether convenient or inconvenient.

To be sure, not all answers are cut and dried. When I get a question like, “Is it true that if someone kills themselves, they are going to hell?” it requires a great deal of sensitive explanation. But even with cases like these, it is important to be absolutely clear. There are some who would shy away from the Church’s teaching here so as not to offend those who have lost their loved ones to suicide. But this leads to more problems, not less.

Take a concrete issue from recent days. Inside of the Church of Santa Maria, close to the Vatican, were displayed statues of Pachamama in recognition of the Amazon Synod. The problem was that Pachamama is a god to some people who reverence and worship Pachamama as an idol. So some Catholics took the statues and threw them into the Tiber. Pope Francis apologized for this desecration of Pachamama. This whole event has led to a great deal of confusion.

Was this an idol? And if so, shouldn’t they be removed from the Church? If they are not idols, but they are not sacred images, why are they on display in the Church? If they are simply symbols of planet earth, then why did people bow down and reverence them? If they were not reverencing them, what were they doing?

All of this confusion leads to even bigger problems. Can we revere and image that is being used by some as an idol for worship? It would seem the answer is obviously no. That is, unless there is absolute clarity on the part of all involved that Pachamama is only a symbol. But this is problematic, since the lived experience seems to say the opposite.

When Peter was at Antioch, he made sure to eat with the Jewish Christians and follow the Jewish dietary laws. Paul took Peter in front of everyone and scolded him. Peter’s actions caused confusion among the Gentile Christians, and Paul wasn’t having it. Paul understood that this confusion could be used for diabolical doubt and the erosion of true faith.

In America, Pope Paul VI refused to excommunicate Catholic leaders who openly defied his teaching on artificial contraception. Many, like author Philip Jenkins, believed that Paul feared if he did so it would lead to a schism with the American Catholics. And to be sure, a Schism would be disastrous. But even more disastrous is what followed. In the confusion, many people came to the conclusion that they could be full-fledged Catholics and reject essential Catholic teaching. If the pope wasn’t going to kick them out, then it must be okay, right? This is why we have so many “pro-choice” Catholics and Catholics who support things like same-sex “marriage” while other fundamental teachings like the Real Presence of the Eucharist.

I believe that there are some (and feel free to disagree with me on this point), that use the confusion as a moral smoke-screen. Thinking that the moral teachings are the Church are too difficult, they create an atmosphere where the answers are intentionally murky. They think that as long as people act in good conscience, then the confusion excuses their rejection of the moral law.

But this overlooks one of the most important lessons about the moral law: that it exists for our good. Sin is not just bad, it is bad for us. Yes, confusion may lessen the culpability, but it doesn’t change the disastrous effect it has on our lives and the world. If you raised by an alcoholic, you may have less culpability if you become an alcoholic yourself. But whether it is your fault or not, alcoholism can destroy your life.

Confusion leads people away from the freedom that comes from the Gospel. People who turn away from sin are like people who have finally awakened from a bad dream and can see things clearly. And seeing things clearly, they can make better choices that will bring them closer to their earthly and eternal happiness.

There are some things that will always be mysterious to us. For example, will never fully understand the love of God. But we must know His love with clarity.

Be clear. Be decisive. Be the light of the world.

Copyright 2019, WL Grayson

W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

I am a devoutly Catholic theology teacher who loves a popular culture that often, quite frankly, hates me. I grew up absorbing every movie, TV show, comic book, science fiction novel, etc. I could find. As of today I’ve watched over 2100 movies and tv shows. They take up a huge part of my life. I don’t know that this is a good thing, but it has given me a common vocabulary to draw from in order to illustrate whatever theological point I make in class. I’ve used American Pie the song to explain the Book of Revelation (I’ll post on this some time later) and American Pie the movie to help explain Eucharist (don’t ask). The point is that the popular culture is popular for a reason. It is woven into the fabric of our lives and imaginations, for good or ill. In this blog I will attempt to bring together the things of heaven with the things of earth. Of course this goal may be too lofty for someone like me.

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