Saturday, October 06, 2012

Selective censorship

Rome's justification gaultlet

HT: Bnonn Tennant

Making the world a better place

I’m going to quote some comments from a thread on Roger Ebert’s journal:

These comments illustrate why it’s so easy to raise the problem of evil, but so hard to mount the argument from evil. It’s easy for us to imagine short-term improvements to our fallen world, but that bumps into the law of unintended consequences. Eliminating one evil may eliminate a resulting good. Or eliminating one evil may introduce another evil. Floating the problem of evil is simple enough, but turning that into an argument from evil is terribly complicated.

I don’t know that any of these commenters are Christian, but that illustrates the difficulty unbelievers have in pressing the problem of evil as soon as we downshift from vague abstractions to detailed alternatives.

Dom | October 4, 2012 10:24 PM

I think killing Hitler would be worth a shot for changing history. Another German dictator may not have had the same rancid distaste for Jews as he did. Everything I've read indicates that the Final Solution was either his idea entirely, or he was able to convince so many around him to embrace it as fervently as he did. Sure, Goebbels and his henchmen would possibly have led other immoral lives, but I don't think they would have had the power that Hitler gave them.

It's hard to imagine something worse than Hitler. No one's going to blame you if you kill baby Hitler and somehow history suffers even more for it.

B. Harrison | October 5, 2012 1:29 AM

Oh, that's a juicy question.
We'd all like to think history would be better if someone had killed baby (or adolescent) Hitler, but how can we know that? It could have been a lot worse. What you say about such a movement being inevitable in Germany is probably true...preventing the First war would have changed a lot more than killing Hitler. Hitler was in many ways just along for the ride---depending on how well the great man theory sits with you. I'll never forget the portrayal of Napoleon in "War and Peace" as not having, at the core, much to do with anything, acting more as the self-important figurehead of a movement lodged deep in the European psyche. I'm not sure if I believe that, but it's interesting, and probably has some truth to it.
As for worse, let's not forget Hitler bungled things. If you kill baby Hitler and it does turn out to be someone else who leads the Nazis, maybe they would have done a better job. Invading Russia was a big mistake, and another man might not have done that. Another man might have made some decision that resulted in Germany developing the atom bomb first. As awful as the War was, it could have turned out a lot more so.
Destiny's so complex....would things like civil rights have been possible without the War? Before the War, racism was acceptable, a part of everyday life. That all changed when people saw where it led if taken to the extreme. I know many people whose grandparents met because of the War. So, tinkering with time is such a deadly business that yes, I would let baby Hitler live. Not that that doesn't leave my conscience uneasy.

Paul M | October 5, 2012 6:23 AM


I've actually pondered that question for most of my life, I think from when I was 14 and read Stephen King's 'The Dead Zone'. The main reason being there's no guarantee the next world conqueror would be any better, maybe bringing the Final Solution to it's ultimate conclusion: exterminating every other tribe of humans in the world.

Also, having the photographic evidence of the death camps as well as extensive media records of how it all got started serves to prevent this sort of thing from happening again, at least in theory. In practice perhaps it has only made the approach of extreme sociopolitical ideologies more creeping and subtle, a "Totalitarian Tiptoe" instead of the thunderous approach of synchronized jackboots.

These days the Final Solution is looking more like turning the world into a prison camp than extermination, with Total Information Awareness and control replacing the need for genocide, and a varied, managed gene pool to ensure the future supply of worker drones to run the machinery. Extreme population culling would still necessarily apply, however.

Fans of alternate history have long speculated Germany may have conquered the world had they developed the A-bomb first.

Kevin T | October 5, 2012 8:42 AM

Consciously or not, the movie you're referencing is The Dead Zone and I agree with Herbert Lom's doctor that it would be morally justified to save millions by killing the child who would grow up to kill them. But on the other hand Hitler had such an impact on history that you don't know what might have happened had he not existed, and if the alternative timeline might have been even worse. Just one example: what if the A-bomb had been discovered by Stalin?

matt beasley | October 5, 2012 9:35 AM

The Hitler questions always seems to stem from some deep moral questioning of ourselves. It serves no other purpose than to act as a sort of thought experiment. Do you approve of abortion? What if you could have aborted Hitler? And so on...

It seems to be the ultimate example of a utilitarian argument for morality. In which, generally speaking, it is argued that the killing of one person is more advantageous than the killing of two. The question is, what moral situation could be argued to be worse than the mass destruction a single Hitler caused?

Of course, these kinds of discussions are fun (interesting?) thought experiments, but to me do little to forward our actions at hand. I think the question, What is worth killing for?, emanates a real, applicable topic for us all.

Killing for the protection of one's self or the life of another, seems understandably justified. Self-defense it is called. But the line starts to grey when we're talking about protecting not another life, but a concept.

Is killing for liberty moral? Killing for country or culture? Killing for an understandable tax code? Killing for not wanting to wear a burka?

These types of questions challenge the utilitarian approach to morality as it forces us ask ourselves as to what is more valuable. More importantly though, it forces us to realize that our sense of what is valuable, is not universally shared. Thus, people will draw lines in the sand as to what is worth killing for, that others will find absurd.

The Hitler question, in its many forms, is easy to answer. But with a malleable sense of value, the co-existence of extremist Islam with western civilization is much more challenging.

Tim | October 5, 2012 11:58 AM

Too many uncertainties. Despite the horror that Nazi Germany unleashed on the world, if Hitler hadn't been alive to rise to power, would some other evil such as Stalin have been able to run unchecked at a later date and perhaps nuclear war would have ensued? Many people believe WWII was cathartic for the world in some ways. As horrible as what happened in history because of Hitler's existence, unless I had a reset button to explore multiple alternate histories to see EXACTLY what the outcome would be if I went back in time to change certain things, I wouldn't do it. That decision would probably haunt me for the rest of my life, but at this time, I stand by it. WWII was the most destructive conflict in human history, but the world survived it. I would only go back to change history being unsure of the outcomes of my actions if the world was going to be destroyed by something like a nuclear war if I did nothing where the earth becomes uninhabitable.

Sometimes, by trying to spare people pain, you end up making them weaker.

Patty H. | October 5, 2012 4:55 PM

Millions of people were born because their parents met, directly or indirectly, because of WWII. If you went back in time to stop WWII, you would cause millions to be born who did not exist before and doom millions of others to nonexistence. You yourself might no longer exist. The moral dilemma of "killing Hitler" isn't as black and white as you think, even if you killed him when he was a World War I soldier instead of an infant.

Patty H. | October 5, 2012 5:10 PM

More thoughts on WWII. Let's say that you prevent WWII and return to the U.S. Would it be a dirt poor U.S. that never recovered from the Depression and descended into fascism? Would it be a U.S. with the Jim Crow system and legally mandated discrimination based on race, color, sex, ethnicity, etc.? Would it be a U.S. without the huge middle class created by the GI Bill? Like it or not, America's prosperity and expansions of basic freedom have their origins in WWII.

I sometimes tease my father by saying that Dec. 7, 1941 was the luckiest day of his life - he just didn't know it at the time. The war that resulted from the Pearl Harbor attack caused the U.S. government to greatly expand opportunity and offer advancement to millions who would have otherwise spent their lives in poverty.

We have climbed a ladder built with the blood and suffering of millions of strangers. Sad but true.

Wayne Hepner | October 5, 2012 6:00 PM

Kill Hitler? No way, it’s just too big a change to take responsibility for, and I don’t really have that much faith in the power of people’s good or bad intentions over the course of history. I don’t really buy that there would have been a Hitler even if it wasn’t our Hitler, but if you change the proposition to one that, with or without a Hitler, there would have been a World War II even if it wasn’t our World War II, that I find not at all difficult to believe. So, changing the course of the lives of almost every person on the planet from over twenty years before I was born, millions who died living, millions who lived dying, people never meeting the people they would have married in another time stream, every one of those who lives, dies or just changes path potentially the ancestor of someone who would be just as important as Hitler, that’s a little above my pay grade.

Aside from those kinds of obvious changes, even if killing Hitler would have prevented there being a Holocaust and a second World War, would that necessarily be an entirely good thing? Events like that don’t just physically change the world; they change how people think. The ability of a culturally sophisticated, technologically advanced people like the Germans to follow a path of moral depravity shattered outmoded late nineteenth century paradigms of how we define cultural superiority. What if that hadn’t happened? The Age of Imperialism lasting for centuries longer? A world on the brink of environmental collapse without the moderating influences that have kept us alive this long? Or more likely, something much less obvious that will have catastrophic consequences a hundred or two hundred years from now.

Intuitive Calvinism

Out of the mouth of babes!

Sounds familiar? Predestination? Meticulous providence?

My eleven year old son intuits the idea that so many things in the past have led to the uniqueness of his birth. His mom and I had to meet, and that would not have happened if I didn't go get coffee one day, and if mom had married her high school sweetheart, etc. He then goes beyond that to say the same complicated line of events had to happen for my parents, my wife's parents, their parents, their parents, and so on and so on. So he and I eventually settle on this: EVERYTHING in history had to happen in order for him to be born.

"Would you kill Baby Hitler?"

"Would you kill Baby Hitler?"

Of course, you would have needed to know on April 20, 1889 that the little boy would grow up to become Adolf Hitler, and would commit all of the crimes we now know he committed. The only way you could know that, apart from precognition, would be to have traveled backward in time from a point when Hitler had committed all his crimes and you knew about them.

One of the stock objections to Biblical morality is the mass execution of the Canaanites, by divine command. Now there are some scholars, of whom Richard Hess is the most distinguished, who think this involves a traditional misinterpretation of the text.

But suppose, for the sake of argument, that the traditional interpretation is correct. Roger Ebert has raised an obvious counterexample. Ebert is, himself, a lapsed Catholic. I believe he’s an atheist or at least an agnostic.

And that’s what makes his hypothetical significant. Unbelievers (and theological liberals) typically attack the morality of the OT conquest accounts. Yet Ebert, a fellow unbeliever, is posing a hard question that’s applicable to that issue.

Canaanite boys were too young to be soldiers. And we might even say they were “innocent” (in the qualified sense that children are innocent). Yet, if allowed to live, they’d grow up to be combatants. They’d mature into Israel’s mortal enemies. They’d implement the Final Solution. So we’re dealing with the moral and functional equivalent of an infant Hitler scenario.

What are the viable alternatives?

i) After killing the adults, do you just leave them orphaned? To fend for themselves? How would they survive on their own in the harsh conditions of the ANE?

ii) In theory, Israelites could adopt them and raise them as their own. And that might work when they were too young to know any better. But when they became old enough to remember or realize that their adoptive parents were the killers of their biological parents (and other blood relations), they’d naturally hate their adoptive parents.

For instance, suppose, when you were very young, a couple broke into your home, murdered your parents, kidnapped you, and raised you. If you were very young, you might temporarily adapt to your new caregivers. Identify with your new caregivers.

But as you continued to mature, you’d become increasingly aware of what they’d had done to your parents. Not only what they’d done to them, but what they’d done to you by forcibly removing you from your parents. By depriving you of that upbringing. Your natural allegiance to your parents would kick in. You’d despise your kidnappers. You’d be tempted to avenge your parents.

My immediate point is that unbelievers suffer from conflicting intuitions. They vehemently object to the OT conquest narratives, but their knee-jerk objections are superficial. As even a fellow unbeliever like Roger Ebert points out, the issue is morally complicated.

Saving the Canaanites

Suppose that God knew that unless he were to command the Israelites to wipe out their enemies, they themselves would be wiped out. And suppose further, as the Bible teaches, that Israel was God’s chosen vessel to provide a way of salvation to the world–including those very people wiped out in those genocidal attacks…So it is entirely possible that the conquest narratives are consistent with God’s doing all he can to save the Canaanites and to do what’s best for them in the long term…Moreover, according to Christian thought, the deaths of those Canaanites were partially instrumental in making possible the coming of Jesus through the preserved remnant of Israel.

D. Baggett & J. Walls, Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality (Oxford 2011), 138-40.

I think this argument has some promising features, although it also has some problematic features. I think it can be rehabilitated.

i) Their argument contains the gratuitous assumption that God ought to give every Canaanite a chance to be saved. For the moment, let’s bracket the special case of infant Canaanites. (By “infant,” I mean Canaanites who died before the age of discretion.)

In reference to adults (i.e. those above the age of discretion), God can justly punish them by executing them as well as damning them. In that respect, God’s command to wipe out the Canaanites doesn’t even present a prima facie problem. They are sinners. No special explanation is required to justify God exacting retributive judgment on the wicked. To the contrary, that’s what a just God is supposed to do. Punish evildoers. God would be unjust if he failed to requite iniquity.

ii) What some readers find objectionable is not the execution of the men, but the execution of noncombatants. As combatants, able-bodied men are fair game in time of war. But the women (and children) are a different story.

The immunity of noncombatants is very chivalrous, but morally irrelevant to the case at hand. Women are moral agents. Women can be just as sinful, just as guilty, as men.

This isn’t just a case of war, but holy war. God is judging the Canaanites for their iniquity.

In addition, Canaanite boys would grow up to be combatants.

iii) What many readers find especially objectionable is the execution of the kids. I’d note, in passing, that from a Biblical standpoint, even infants are guilty in Adam. That’s a controversial claim, and I’m not going to take the time to defend it in this post, but I think it’s both Biblical and defensible.

iv) Another question is how pagans can be saved. According to one theory, they can be saved by favorably responding to general revelation.

But according to Scripture, people can only be saved by favorably responding to special revelation. Indeed, that’s one of the distinctive privileges and advantages of the Chosen People. By special revelation, they enjoy a saving knowledge of the true God–in contrast to the heathen, who are sunk in idolatry.

By living in proximity to the Jews, it’s possible for Gentiles to be saved, if they become worshipers of the true God of Israel. If they convert to the true faith.

I could spend more time all (iii-iv). For now I’m just blocking out the issues.

v) Baggett and Walls apparently agree with me that access special revelation is a precondition for salvation. They get around this by postulating postmortem evangelism (139-40).

That postulate reflects the degree to which modern Arminianism increasingly deviates from Biblical orthodoxy. But I’m not going to argue the point here and now.

vi) The authors’ argument involves the counterintuitive assumption that the future can affect the past. But we normally think the past can affect the future, not vice versa. To make this work, we need to supply two subsidiary conditions:

a) If God is timeless, then God can confer a past benefit that’s contingent on the realization of a future condition. God’s viewpoint is ontologically independent of the temporal sequence.

b) If history unfolds according to God’s master plan, then God can arrange events so that a future event will affect a past event. The past is planned with a view to the future, and vice versa.

vii) Both (vi-a) and (b) are consistent with Calvinism. However, they present problems for Arminianism. For one thing, many modern Arminians deny God’s timeless eternality.

For instance, they think a genuine dialogue between God and men must take place in real time. In order for God to genuinely respond to human petitions, God must actually listen to the human speaker. Wait for the speaker to have his say.

If, by contrast, God is timeless, then this is a canned dialogue. It lacks the give-and-take of a genuine exchange.

If, however, God is conditioned by time, then God is in no position to confer a past benefit that’s contingent on the realization of a future condition. A temporal God lacks the transcendent perspective of take it all in at a glance.

viii) On a related note, some Arminians explicate divine foreknowledge to mean God knows the future by foreseeing what will happen. He’s on the receiving end of the process.

But in that event, God isn’t planning the outcome. God can’t orchestrate events so that a future event affects a past event. Rather, his foreknowledge is the effect of what will transpire. So God doesn’t control or coordinate the relationship between past and future events. For what will transpire is the cause of God’s foresight. God doesn’t make that happen. Rather, that happening makes God prescient.

One could spend more time unpacking (vii-viii). For now I’m presenting a thumbnail sketch of an argumentative strategy.

ix) What about Calvinism? Given Calvinism, it’s easier to see how God could save infant Canaanites. They’d be saved by regeneration in this life, and faith in the afterlife.

Since, moreover, God plans world history, and knows what he plans, God can orchestrate events to confer a retroactive benefit. Although the atonement is future in relation to infant Canaanites, they can be saved ahead of time.

x) I’m not taking a position on the salvation of Canaanite babies. Because Scripture says so little about the fate of those who die in infancy, there is no Reformed consensus on the issue. Any position will be speculative.

Some Calvinists believe in universal infant salvation. Some Calvinists believe the dying infants of believers are saved. Likewise, we can be open to the possibility that God saves infants of unbelieving parents. All these positions are coherent with Calvinism.

xi) So we could appropriate the argument of Baggett and Walls. Indeed, the argument works better when it’s adapted to Reformed presuppositions.

Given Calvinism, mass execution of the Canaanites could be God’s way of saving infant Canaanites. In order to save anyone, God must protect ancient Israel from her mortal enemies. For ancient Israel is the conduit of the Messiah.

But in principle, that can circle back to the benefit of the casualties. By protecting Israel at the immediate expense of her pagan enemies, that, in turn, could lay the groundwork for their subsequent redemption (of a subset thereof). They are harmed in the short-term, but restored in the long-term. And the former is a necessary precondition of the latter.

xii) An unbeliever might object that this is ingenious special pleading. The conquest narratives say nothing about the salvation of infant Canaanites. That's an anachronistic rationalization. Retrofitting the OT.

xiii) To that objection, I’d say several things:

a) The argument from silence cuts both ways. If Scripture is silent on the eternal fate of Canaanite infants, then unbelievers are in no position to say God wronged them by bringing about their premature demise. For the unbeliever is ignorant of how the story ultimately ends. (Not to mention other justificatory considerations.)

b) Scripture does say God blessed Israel with a view to blessing the Gentiles. That’s as old as the Abrahamic covenant. And that’s reiterated in the Prophets. God made provision for their eventual redemption from the outset.

Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean Gentiles who lived in the past would reap the benefits. But it’s consistent with that outcome–just as elect Jews who lived in the past would reap the benefits.

c) If a belief-system has the internal resources to address unanticipated objections, that’s to the credit of the belief-system. If, after the fact, unbelievers raise an objection that wasn’t on the radar back then, but Christian theology has the wherewithal to field that objection, then that illustrates the richness of Christian theology. Indeed, that’s something we’d expect if God inspired the Bible.

Roman Catholic List Paradigms

Ever since Bryan Cross brought up the concept of “Agape Paradigm” vs “List Paradigm”, nothing has seemed more disingenuous to me. That’s because the Roman Catholicism I grew up with simply amounted to following rules and understanding what was the minimum I needed to do so I wouldn’t get into trouble

Note that while the “Precepts of the church” in the current version are called “the very necessary minimums”, in an earlier version these were called “the indispensible minimums”.

Indispensible because these are Rome’s minimum list of “things you gotta do” in order not to go to hell under the Roman system. (Of course, there’s always a back-door way out. But the back-doors have been figured out after such a time as Rome was VERY serious about putting these lists of minimums in place).

The two posts below illustrate that perfectly:

The Roman Catholic List Paradigm: Precepts of the Church
The Roman Catholic List Paradigm: Holy Days of Obligation

I found these while looking for something else. And while I’d never seen them quite in this way, they encapsulate perfectly the list paradigm that Bryan has been trying to foist upon Protestants.

What’s compelling about these two items (and there are many more like them), is that it’s not just that you have to observe these things; it’s how you have to observe them that really is where Rome becomes a nit-picky nanny.

[And that’s a phrase that seems to suit Bryan very well.]

The Roman Catholic List Paradigm: Holy Days of Obligation

Catholic Holy Days of Obligation

The Catholic Holy Days of Obligation are our most important feast days.
They are the principal liturgical feasts that honor the mysteries of the Lord, the Virgin Mary, and the saints.

Rejoice! Catholics know that these are the most important days of the year. And of course the best way to celebrate them is to...

...celebrate Holy Mass with all the angels and saints!

The Calendar

Here's a simple chart showing the Catholic holy days of obligation. I've added information for the Universal Church (the Church as a whole), the U.S., and a few other English-speaking countries.

Write them on your calendar, so you'll know when to start celebrating!

Universal Church
England & Wales
Jan. 1: Mary, Mother of God

Jan. 6: Epiphany
Mar. 17: St. Patrick

March 19: St. Joseph

Holy Body & Blood of Christ
June 29: Sts. Peter & Paul



Aug. 15: Assumption

Nov. 1: All Saints

Dec. 8: Immaculate Conception

Dec. 25: Christmas

Key to Catholic Holy Days of Obligation:
Transferred to the Sunday between Jan. 2 and Jan. 8
Transferred to the following Sunday
If the date is on Saturday or Monday, there is no obligation for that year

(This nice chart is adapted from the one in the Handbook of Prayers, edited by James Socias and published by the Midwest Theological Forum. That's a great little book that contains a wealth of information about being Catholic, besides a large number of good Catholic prayers.)

But why are they obligations?

I know: the term "Catholic holy days of obligation" contains the word obligation. That's unfortunate.

Too many Catholics look on these wonderful feasts with a dreary sense of obligation.

They are so much more than that! We celebrate the most important feasts of our liturgical year on these days.

We call them obligations because the Precepts of the Catholic Church tell us that celebrating those feast days is a part of the minimum level of commitment to the Catholic faith.

(The first precept mentions the Catholic holy days of obligation — see item #2042 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.)

Those who are devout in their love for the Lord will find that we celebrate some saint's feast day on nearly every day of the year!

This brief article on the Catholic holy days of obligation is just one of a series of articles about Catholic morality. There are also more articles for the beginning Catholic available from our home page

The Roman Catholic List Paradigm: The Precepts of the Church

Intentional violation of the precepts or the Commandments is a grave matter, meaning a mortal sin

(If you're a beginning Catholic, the book you're using to learn the Catholic faith should list these precepts of the Catholic Church. If not, get a different book! I recommend Alan Schreck's The Essential Catholic Catechism. It's an outstanding, very readable primer about Catholic Christianity.) 

The Precepts
  1. You shall attend Mass on Sundays and on holy days of obligation and rest from servile labor.
We must "sanctify the day commemorating the Resurrection of the Lord" (Sunday), as well as the principal feast days, known as Catholic holy days of obligation. This requires attending Mass, "and by resting from those works and activities which could impede such a sanctification of these days."
  1. You shall confess your sins at least once a year.
We must prepare for the Eucharist by means of the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession). This sacrament "continues Baptism's work of conversion and forgiveness."
  1. You shall receive the sacrament of the Eucharist at least during the Easter season.
This "guarantees as a minimum the reception of the Lord's Body and Blood in connection with the Paschal feasts, the origin and center of the Christian liturgy."
  1. You shall observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church.
"The fourth precept ensures the times of ascesis and penance which prepare us for the liturgical feasts and help us acquire mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart." See below for more about fasting & abstinence.
  1. You shall help to provide for the needs of the Church.
"The fifth precept means that the faithful are obliged to assist with the material needs of the Church, each according to his own ability."

(These quotations are from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in its section about the Precepts of the Catholic Church (#2041-3).) 

Note that these precepts of the Catholic Church are required, unless you have a legitimate reason for not meeting them. For example:
  • If you are sick, tending to a sick child, or camping in the wilderness on Sunday and cannot get to Mass, it is not a grave violation to miss Mass that day.
  • Children, the elderly, and pregnant or nursing women do not have to fast on normal fast days (Ash Wednesday and Good Friday). 

More about fasting & abstinence

One of the precepts of the Catholic Church requires fasting & abstinence as signs of repentance. Repentance means to turn away from sin and turn back to God. 

Catholic spirituality traditionally includes in repentance some form of penance. Penance means some practice that lets us express sorrow for our sins and helps repair the damage that sin has caused. 

Penance gives us important practice in resisting temptation, thereby strengthening us. It greatly strengthens a number of virtues, especially charity, and it greatly enriches life. 

The Catholic Church has two official forms of penitential practices: fasting and abstinence. These are so important that they're one of the precepts of the Catholic Church. 

Fasting is reducing the amount of food you eat below normal levels. Specifically, on fast days you may eat one full meal and two smaller meals, but those two smaller together should not exceed the amount of the normal meal. Snacking is also prohibited on fast days. 

All Catholics age 18 to 59 are required to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. You are excused from fasting if you have a legitimate need to eat a normal amount of food on fast days. This includes:
  • The sick or infirm, including handicapped or mentally ill people who need the nourishment or cannot make a free choice to fast
  • Pregnant or nursing women
  • Some manual laborers 

Abstinence means not eating meat (fish is not considered meat in this case). All Catholics 14 and older are required to observe abstinence on these days:
  • Ash Wednesday, Good Friday (the Friday before Easter), and all Fridays in Lent.
  • Outside the U.S., this is required on all Fridays of the year, in honor of the Passion of Jesus on Good Friday.
  • In the U.S., it is still strongly recommended to observe Friday abstinence outside of Lent, but Catholics may choose to substitute another penitential practice or act of charity for these days.

Note that the duty to perform the tasks of your state in life takes precedence over the law of fasting in the precepts of the Catholic Church. If fasting honestly causes you to be unable to fulfill your required tasks, it is uncharitable to fast — the law of fasting would not apply in this case. (Consult with a priest if this is a concern to you.) 

Go beyond the minimum!
Always remember: the precepts of the Catholic Church are minimum levels of participation in the life of the Church. Out of love for Christ and a desire to advance in the spiritual life, you will normally try to do far more than they require.

Many people recommend that Catholics:
  • Attend Mass at least one more time a week. (Most Church parishes celebrate Mass every day of the year!)
  • Go to confession at least once a month, and find a regular confessor so he can give you better guidance.
  • Find a good spiritual director to give you sound guidance for growing in the spiritual life.
  • Receive the sacrament of the Eucharist at every Mass, if you meet the guidelines for reception (are free from mortal sin, etc.).
  • Make a habit of practicing penitential and charitable acts beyond those required by the precepts of the Catholic Church.
  • Contribute as much as possible to the material needs of the Church and the needy.

This brief article on the precepts of the Catholic Church is just one of a series of articles about Catholic morality. There are also more articles for the beginning Catholic available from our home page.