Culpability for Sins Related to Addiction

One of the most common questions I see is how culpable are addicted Catholics for their sins caused by addiction. After all, if they are fully culpable for the sin, they are in a state of mortal sin, a very serious situation. Answering the question is never easy because addiction limits control of the mind, but a pretty good idea can be achieved. To start with, the Catechism of the Catholic Church names three requirements for a person to be culpability for mortal sin: the sin in question has to be grave, the person must have had full knowledge that it was grave, and the person must have deliberately consented to the sin (CCC 1857). If any of these are not met, the person can only be culpable for venial sin. The sin is still objectively a mortal sin, but the person’s soul remains in a state of grace (assuming it was in a state of grace beforehand).

For the purposes of this article, I assume the person has a drug addition, but this text can be applied to any kind of addiction. Drug addicts have reached a point where their body is dependent on the drug. Their body doesn’t know how to live without it. This causes strong withdrawal symptoms whenever they try to quit. Sadly, it’s usually only at this point that the person realizes the drug was addictive. Many people are caught by surprise.

Because the addicted Catholic doesn’t have much control over their drug use, they don’t meet the requirement for deliberate consent. Their culpability for the sin of using the drug is greatly diminished. This doesn’t give them an excuse to use drugs. It simply means that while fighting their cravings the best they can, the focus should be on addiction treatment. They need to recognize that the addiction leads to repeating the sin, so fighting the cravings is just one small part of overcoming the addiction. They may not be culpable for much sin when using the drug, but they are definitely responsible for their efforts to treat the addiction.

Enter Rehabilitation

Rehabilitation is most likely to succeed because the addicted Catholic is literally forced to not use the drug. Meanwhile medical staff are on standby in case withdrawal symptoms become dangerous. After a few months, the person’s dependence on the drug will be greatly reduced, giving them much higher chance of staying away from the drug. Rehab is a humbling experience as the person has to admit they can’t trust themselves to stop using the drug. During rehab they acknowledge this by putting other people in control of their life for a few months. Rehab may not be an option for everyone because of the high price and time away from work, but if it is an option, it is generally recommended as the first step in recovering from addiction.

Join a Support Group and Get an Accountability Partner

After rehabilitation, the person will be advised to join a support group, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). In the support group successes and failures can be discussed in a safe environment. The biggest benefit of a support group is keeping the addicted person motivated to keep fighting for abstinence in every moment. Knowing they will have to tell someone about their failure is a strong motivator to keep away from the drug. Through the support group, the person can also get an accountability partner. In AA, they call these people sponsors. The partner is also dealing with addiction. The partner becomes a good friend able to support the addicted Catholic outside of the support group meetings.

Participate in the Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist

Through these sacraments, Catholics are blessed with grace that aids in the fight against mortal sin and addiction (CCC 1496, 1393, 1395). Because the Eucharist cannot be taken unless the recipient is in a state of grace (CCC 1385, 1395), addicted Catholics should find a church that does confessions shortly before mass. That way they are assured they are in a state of grace when they receive Holy Communion. At a minimum, a weekly habit of using these sacraments should be formed. Even better would be a daily habit, but many churches don’t offer daily confession or mass. Addicted Catholics should use the sacraments as much as possible.

Avoid Near Occasions of Sin

Near occasions of sins are situations where the person is pretty sure they won’t be able to resist using the drug. As part of the Sacrament of Penance, the Catholic is obligated to firmly resolve to avoid future sins (CCC 1490). Part of this is changing their lifestyle to avoid as many near occasions of sin as possible. For example, maybe they have certain friends they always do drugs with. Then the logical thing to do is not associate with those friends. The Catholic should examine their life for these occasions making lifestyle changes as needed to reduce their drug use. This isn’t always possible. Maybe those friends are roommates they depend on to pay the rent. God understands that there can be unavoidable near occasions, but all avoidable ones must be avoided. Every time they use the drug, they should be thinking about what led to it, so they can make changes to prevent access to the drug next time.

 

These are just some of the resources available to Catholics fighting addiction. Outside of rehabilitation, these resources are mostly cost free. During addiction, there is a good chance the Catholic is not culpable for the mortal sins committed through drug use. At the same time, they need to be actively working to recover from the addiction. If they are doing all they can to fight the addiction, using all the resources available, there is a good chance they are not committing any mortal sins through laziness about or deliberate ignorance of their addiction. When an addicted Catholic is doing all they can, they should understand that their actions are only half of the picture. The other half is God healing them.

God may choose to let an addicted Catholic struggle for some time to learn an important lesson, such as humility. After all, in the helplessness of addiction, a person sees very clearly how much they need God. Assuming they are doing everything possible, they can trust that God will do his part to heal them when the time is right. Those with addictions should be patient and not despair the state of their soul (CCC 2091).

I truly believe if an addicted Catholic is doing all they can, yet die before overcoming the addiction, God will not hold it against them. If they are fighting their cravings, avoiding their near occasions of sin, participating in the sacraments, active in a support group, working with an accountability partner, going to rehab whenever they have a relapse, and using all other resources to fight the addiction, God will invite this person into his kingdom on their last day. All that work won’t be meaningless just because they were still addicted when they died. God will reward that hard work. God doesn’t expect perfection, but he wants to see a continual effort made throughout life.

Warning: What I have written here is not to be taken as professional or medical advice. For medical advice see a doctor or addiction specialist. For spiritual questions specific to your addiction, ask your priest or confessor in the freely available Sacrament of Penance.

May God bless you with his abundant grace,
Jared

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The Real Way to Make America Great Again

On Monday, I wrote about how the Internet poses many dangers to children, which requires parents to pay attention to how their children use the Internet. This is part of the larger task of raising children with good, moral values. It’s a tiring job for parents, but it must be done because of how important raising good children is.

It is in the home when children learn all the habits and the discipline that they carry with them the rest of their adult life (CCC 2207). It is true that people are constantly changing throughout life, adopting new values and leaving others behind, but many of those good values will stick around. This greatly improves their decisionmaking. The better their decisions are the more successful they are at supporting themselves and serving others. People with good values serve the needy and less fortunate, are a positive influence to others, and truly enrich their communities. The biggest impact good values has is when they raise their own children. Many of those good values that they learned from their parents are now passed down to the next generation.

Across a population with good values, the society creates a collective reinforcement of good behavior (CCC 2212). No one is perfect — people make mistakes and commit sin — but others see that sin and call the person out on it. The population corrects itself. How can good values make such a big difference though? It all comes down to the everyday decisions people make. When the majority of people have good values, most of their decisions are going to be good because the foundation of good values is love and love is sacrificial. When the population as a whole sacrifices for others, it automatically prevents many societal problems from happening.

There are fewer divorces, single parents, and broken families. The families are stronger, so when a relative is in need, the family members pitch in to help them out. Business owners treat their workers well (CCC 2213). No sky high paychecks for the top executives while workers at the bottom are stuck with measly wages. In general, people become much more self-sufficient. They, along with the occasional help from friends and family, can take care of themselves. This takes a huge weight off the government, so now the government is no longer in debt. That allows more money to be spent on defense and other services which the people cannot provide for themselves.

In short, people with good values have a habit of sacrificing for the good of the whole. This is why the Church says that families are the foundation of society (CCC 2207). People with bad values are selfish. They do their own thing, maybe not outright ignoring the needs of others, but at least not paying attention. Many of our current problems would just disappear if the vast majority could sacrifice for the whole, but it all starts with children in the home (CCC 2208).

The human race has thrived over thousands of years by passing down good values from generation to generation. It’s a continuous cycle of goodness. When children don’t learn good values, the cycle is just the opposite. Rather than enriching their communities, the children grow up to be burdens on their communities. They are a negative influence and those bad values are instilled in the next generation of children, who go on to to also be negative influences in their communities. We are currently in a negative cycle.

After the postwar boom, life was good for so many years, parents became too hands-off with children. When everything was going so well, parents just didn’t have any worry about their children’s future. The children could find their own way to success because success was everywhere. This started slowly and ramped up until the present, where huge percentage of children enter the world unprepared. While the children are responsible for their actions in adulthood, their parents share some blame for not taking the time to instill good values in them.

We have parents these days with almost no interest in their children. They busy their children with smartphones and televisions, never really spending any time with them. Many times the parents are sitting there, but not really present. Their head is buried in their own smartphone while the children do whatever they want. This is not the way to raise children. When you have a generation of children who grow up being taught mostly by entertainment, it’s no wonder our country is having problems. Entertainment should always be just entertainment. It might teach a good lesson occasionally, but most of this comes from the parents. Just because a problem is known doesn’t mean there is an easy fix. In households where parents aren’t learning good values, what should be done? I don’t know the answer, but I do have an idea.

Right now, there is way too much focus on the classroom when the greater measure of a child’s success is the quality of their parenting, not education. The classroom can teach many good values to children, but it has to be reinforced by parents or else the children won’t carry much of those values forward in their later years. Spending all kinds of money on expensive schools or technology won’t help much. That money should instead be spent on improving parenting. The ideal approach is different depending on the situation.

For all parents, money should be spent educating them on good parenting. A key part of this should be guidelines on how much time to spend with children each week. Many parents are workaholics, showering their children with gifts instead of just hanging out and talking with them. The children don’t need expensive cars, huge houses, or luxurious vacations. They need their parents. Better for parents to work less and have more time to spend with the children, teaching good values and reinforcing values they have already learned.

Some parents have to work long hours just to make ends meet. They should be helped with more than just good parenting education (CCC 2208). Two options are available. Either they can get supplemental money that allows them to work fewer hours, giving them time to spend with their children, or society can organize helper families who have the means to take in the children a few hours a day when the parents are not available. Ideally, the children’s own parents would have time to spend with them, but in some cases, they would need help from others. It would be very important that both biological parents and helper parents would be consistent in how they raise the children.

In cases where parents ignored the good parenting education and continued to be bad parents, the government would have permission to remove the children and place them in a better home. In existing practice children are removed if they are being abused or neglected, but parents not being present for their children and not teaching good values really is neglect. The children might be getting food, water, shelter, and all the basic needs, but having available parents is really a basic need. If parents can’t or won’t provide this, the government should give the children to parents that will. This doesn’t mean they would be cutoff from their children. The children would just live in a home where they were the focus. The parents could still visit their children whenever they wanted.

These changes would require many laws to be passed — it wouldn’t be easy at all — but the only way America will get out of this rut is if sacrificing for others is well-known and regularly practiced by all people. That happens in the home when parents teach their children true love, which is having a habit of looking out for the needs of others. Most good values are about doing what’s best for the family as a whole, something that directly translates into doing what’s best for society as a whole.

Everyone would have to come together to make this happen. Of course, parents would have to listen to the advice given, change their lifestyles, and put that advice into practice, but this would also require the government, charities, and other parents to sacrifice for the good of the children. The government, in its duty to support the family (CCC 2210-2211), would need to shift money into parenting instead of education, watch for bad parenting, and move children as needed. Parents with surplus time and money would need to volunteer to help children whose parents were too busy. Charities would have to supplement government support for both needy parents and helper parents (CCC 2209).

The results would not happen overnight. In fact, there wouldn’t be any results until the next generation became adults, entered society, and got into leadership positions. Children become adults at age 18 but don’t really impact society until middle age, maybe ages 40 to 60. We have had decades of decline due to bad parenting, so it would take decades of good parenting to get back to good values and success. If society became lax and parents started neglecting their children again, the decline would return. This effort would have to continue to maintain a good society and a strong country.

The real way to make America great again is raising great children. That requires having great parents. This idea is possible. It’s a longshot because of how society is so focused on education instead of supporting families, but it is possible. It just requires people to see the truth themselves and teach it to all those around them. When enough people get behind it, change can happen.

May God bless you with his abundant grace,
Jared

There is only Good and Evil

In our secular society, people like to say there is no white or black, just shades of gray. While this makes sense when talking about complex issues, for which there is no solution that solves every problem, it definitely does not make sense when it comes to morality. There is no gray to God. Every single word, thought, or action is either good or evil. Liberal people like to think every action is gray, so they don’t have to worry about right and wrong. What’s wrong for one person, is right for someone else. This is just not true.

We Catholics have a sense of how good or evil a particular word, thought or action is. For evil actions, we have the doctrine on venial and mortal sin, which gives a clear dividing line between small sins and serious sins (CCC 1854-1855). Even without that doctrine we can get an understanding of a sin’s weight based on the damage it does to the victim. For good actions, how much sacrifice the person has to go through to do the good action gives us a rough idea of how good the action was. A polite thank you doesn’t involve much sacrifice, but a person donating one of their kidneys for a loved one to live is a pretty big sacrifice.

Because of our faith, we can kind of tell roughly how good or evil any word, thought, or action is. From there we can see that there is no gray. Every action is clearly good or evil (CCC 1470, 1732). Some actions might be only a small good, others might only be a small evil, but they are still one or the other. There is no gray. Knowing this means that even some things that seem irrelevant to morality, like watching TV, are either good or evil. If done to excess, watching TV would be evil. If done in moderation, it would be good. Watching TV may only be a very minor good or evil, but it is still one or the other in every instance.

Another thing many secular people believe in is “the end justifies the means”. I already wrote about this in another post, but this false belief states that an evil action is okay if it has a good end (CCC 1753). We Catholics are against this because we can never do evil ever, but secular people consider the overall effect of the action to be gray. They see the evil (black) combine with the good (white) to become gray. The truth is it is only gray when both the means and the end are combined. There was only one action done here though, and that action was evil. No matter what the end was, it was evil, a sin, to do that. The morality of an action must be judged individually. The consequences help determine how good or how evil the action is, but consequences can’t change the morality of the original action (CCC 1755-1756).

It is important for Catholics to analyze their sins and those of others for good and evil. A lot of times people will try to justify their actions by believing in the idea that a word, thought, or action could be gray. It makes them feel better about their sin. Instead, we should be honest with ourselves and others about our failings and admit them. As Bible said, sin should be exposed to the light (Eph 5:11-14). Rather than trying to cover it up with excuses, we should admit the sin and that we are not perfect (humility, CCC 2631). We are still trying to do better. It is much easier to correct ourselves if we are honest about what we need to work on. It’s like those 12 step programs. The first step is always admitting the existence of a problem. No correction can happen until this first step is completed.

This is a good lesson in general for doing well in life. When there is a problem, tackle it as early as possible. Don’t let it linger and fester. Like an infected wound, it will just continue to get worse. We’ve all read stories about a person’s lie getting them deeper and deeper in trouble. This is even more important for sin because sin always leads to more sin. The more the soul gets sin caked on it, the easier it is for the person to commit more sins. Before they know it they can be so covered in dirt, it’s a ton of work to clean up.

May God bless you with his abundant grace,
Jared