Sunday, 19 August 2007

An Examination of Conscience for Teenagers

A Examination of Conscience for Teenagers

based on the Seven Deadly Sins
by Fr. Dylan James, 8-8-08

This examination of conscience is also available as a 2-sided Word document to either view or download at a Google Drive here
All references in the text below are to the Summa Theologica of St Thomas Aquinas.


5 STEPS FOR A GOOD CONFESSION

1. Examine your conscience -recall the sins that you have committed since your last good confession.
2. Be sincerely sorry for your sins.
3. Confess your sins to the priest.
4. Make certain that you confess all your mortal sins and the number of them.
5. After confession, do the penance the priest gives to you.


ACT OF CONTRITION
O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended You, and I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of Heaven and the pains of Hell, but most of all because they offend You, my God, Who are all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Your grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life. Amen.

Sins of omission: “In what I have done, and in what I have failed to do” -sins of omission may be more serious than sins of commission
e.g.Have I omitted to say my prayers?
Have I omitted to look for and respond to the needs of my friends?
Thought: “In thought, word, and deed”
e.g. Even if I did not gossip in word, did I judge someone in thought?
Each area of my life should be considered:
e.g. My family, my friends, school life, study

Each area of my life should be considered: my family, my friends, my study, my work, my prayer, those I work and live with etc.

Anagram: PLACES-G (the seven deadly sins):
Pride, Lust, Anger, Covetousness, Envy, Sloth, Gluttony

We can usually assume that each of these capital sins is at work in us in some manner and degree, an examination of conscience should help us see how.

Note: The following examination of conscience groups sins according to the capital sins, the seven deadly sins from which other sins typically flow. The same material act may be sinful for different reasons, therefore each person needs to apply this examination to himself carefully. E.g. An act of lying is wrong, but it might be motivated by the capital sin of vanity (to make you look good), or from the capital sin of sloth/laziness (to avoid work), or from envy (to damage the reputation of another), or from a mixture of all three.
E.g. The material act of giving to the poor can be motivated by charity (virtue) or by vanity (vice). Hence this examination uses the vices to specify our sins.


Pride (ST II-II q162)
Pride is the mother of all sin (St. Gregory the Great, c.f. St. Thomas Aquinas Summa Theologica II-II q162 a8).
Have I dwelt on the failings of others?
Have I judged others, in my thoughts or words?
Have I ranked myself better than others?
Have I borne hated for others?
Have I refused to learn from others?
Have I been stubborn? Refused to admit I was wrong? Refused to accept that another person had a better idea?
Have I been arrogant?
Have I refused to admit my own weaknesses?
Have I held others in contempt?
Pusillanimity –the opposite of pride:
Have I neglected to use the talents that God has given me?

Pusillanimity –the opposite of pride. False-humility fails to use our gifts.
Have I neglected to use the talents that God has given me?


Vanity (ST II-II q132)
Vanity is excessive concern about what others think of me –not just what they think of my appearance
Have I been overly concerned about what others think of me? Have I allowed this to motivate my actions?
Have I lied or exaggerated to make myself look good?
Have I wasted undue time and money on clothes and appearance?
Have I exercised in a vain manner, or with an excessive concern to make my body perfect?
Have I been content with my lowly position?


Lust (ST II-II q.153; CCC 2351)
“Lust is disordered desire for or inordinate enjoyment of sexual pleasure. Sexual pleasure is morally disordered when sought for itself, isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes.”(CCC 2351).
Custody of the Eyes: “Whoever looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt 5:28)
Have I viewed other people as mere sexual objects rather than as persons to be loved?
Pornography: On internet? or TV? or books?
Impure Thoughts:
Have I entertained impure thoughts?
Have I consented to impure thoughts?
Impure Words:
Conversation? Jokes?
Impure Acts:
Alone: Impure touches?
Incomplete or complete impure acts?
Impure touches with boy/girlfriend?
Have I flirted/toyed with the feelings of another?
Thoughtlessness: Have I thoughtfully considered and planned my actions?
Have I applied the standards of Christ to my actions?
Have I sought to avoid situations of sin?

Intemperance:
Have I driven recklessly, broken the speed limit (excessively)?
Have I respected the traffic laws enacted by the legitimate authority? (‘Fear God and honour the emperor’ 1 Pet 2:17)
Have I driven while under the influence of alcohol?


Anger/Wrath (ST II-II q158)
Anger is undue desire for vengeance –undue in cause or in amount.
Note the just anger of Christ cleansing the Temple: 'Zeal for thy house will consume me.' (Ps. 68:10): “How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!" (John 2:15-16)

Have I harboured resentment, grudges, and hatred in my thoughts?
Have I nurtured imaginary angry conversations?
Have I been slow to forgive?
Have I lost my temper?
Impatience:
How have I carried my cross?
How have I carried my cross?
Have I been impatient with people, family, events, sufferings, sicknesses?


Covetousness/Avarice (ST II-II q118 a1)
Avarice is the excessive love of possessing things
Have I cheated, stolen, or failed to return things that I borrowed?
Did I borrow things without permission?
Have I been generous and cheerful in giving?
Have I wasted money?


Envy (ST II-II q36)
Envy/Jealousy –is sadness at the happiness or good of another
Have I envied or been jealous of the abilities, talents, ideas, plans, good-looks, intelligence, clothes, car, possessions, friends etc of another person?
Have I taken pleasure in the failure or misfortune of another?
Have I rejoiced in the talents and good fortune of others?

Gossip and Sins of Speech:
Gossip: Have I judged others in my thoughts?
Have I damaged the reputation of another person by my words, attitude, or looks?
Have I repeated accusations that might not be true? Have I exaggerated?
Have I said things that were true but that I nonetheless should have kept private?
Have I failed to defend the reputation of others?
Have I failed to keep secrets?
Do I despise others of different race or class?
Lies: Have I lied or exaggerated?


Sloth/Apathy (ST II-II q35)
Laziness, especially in the things of God. Sloth is a sorrow in the face of spiritual good -it makes you lethargic and want to do nothing.
Have I sought God above all else, or have I put other priorities ahead of him? (e.g. friendships, ambition, comfort and ease)
Have I got so caught up in the things of this world that I’ve forgotten God?
Have I attended Mass each and every Sunday?
Have I neglected to say my daily prayers?
Have I entertained distractions in prayer, or failed to give God due concentration in prayer or Mass? (Note: Not giving God the effort He deserves in prayer is a sin, but it is not the same thing as involuntary weakness in mental distractions.)
Have I made a prayerful preparation before Mass and a good thanksgiving after Mass?
Have I risked losing my faith/piety by bad company, bad reading, cowardice, or pride?
Have I trusted God, especially in difficulty?
Have I received Holy Communion while in a state of serious sin? Have I neglected to seek Confession before Holy Communion?
Have I taken the Lord’s name in vain? Or used other foul language?

My Neighbour:
Have I been lazy in helping others?
Have I been attentive to the needs of my friends?
Has my conversation been focussed on my own pleasure, or on others?
Has my humour been insensitive to others?

My Family:
Have I been more focussed on myself than on the needs of others in my family?
Have I neglected to help at home?
I have quarrelled needlessly?
Have I been pointlessly stubborn?
Have I given a bad or lazy example to younger family members?

Punctuality and Discipline:
Have I wasted other people’s time by being late?
Have I made good use of my time, or have I wasted time needlessly? E.g. TV or internet or reading?
Have I gone to sleep on time?
Have I planned good use of relaxation and recreation, knowing that I need to rest well?
Have I studied as much as I should?


Gluttony (ST II-II q148)
Gluttony is the inordinate desire for food
Have I eaten more than I need?
To how serious an extent?
Have I drunk alcohol excessively?
Have driven after drinking?
Have I eaten greedily and with little consideration for those at table with me?
Have I regularly practiced fasting and self-denial, especially on Fridays?
Have I eaten meat on Fridays?
Have I always fasted an hour before receiving Holy Communion at Mass?


The Ten Commandments:
(1) I, the Lord, am your God. You shall not have other gods besides me.
(2) You shall not take the name of the Lord God in vain.
(3) Remember to keep holy the Lord's Day.
(4) Honour your father and your mother.
(5) You shall not kill.
(6) You shall not commit adultery.
(7) You shall not steal.
(8) You shall not bear false witness.
(9) You shall not covet your neighbour's wife.
(10) You shall not covet your neighbour's goods.

Friday, 10 August 2007

A detailed Examination of Conscience for Priests

A detailed Examination of Conscience for Priests

based on the Seven Deadly Sins
by Fr. Dylan James, 8-8-08

This examination of conscience is also available as a 2-sided Word document, in both A4 and USA letter sized paper. The A4 version is available to either view or download at a Google Drive here
All references in the text below are to the Summa Theologica of St Thomas Aquinas.

“In what I have done, and in what I have failed to do”
-sins of omission may be more serious than sins of commission
Our confession should specify our sins of omission,
e.g. Have I omitted to say my prayers? Omitted to look for and respond to the needs of my fellow priests?
In thought, word, and deed
-even if I did not gossip in word, did I judge someone in thought?
Each area of my life should be considered: my apostolate, my family, my friends, my study, my work, my prayer, those I work and live with etc.

Anagram: PLACES-G, Pride, Lust, Anger, Covetousness, Envy, Sloth, Gluttony
We can usually assume that each of these capital sins is at work in us in some manner and degree, an examination of conscience should help us see how.
Note: The following examination of conscience groups sins according to the capital sins, the seven deadly sins from which other sins typically flow. The same material act may be sinful for different reasons, therefore each person needs to apply this examination to himself carefully. E.g. An act of lying is wrong, but it might be motivated by the capital sin of vanity (to make you look good), or from the capital sin of sloth/laziness (to avoid work), or from envy (to damage the reputation of another), or from a mixture of all three.
E.g. The material act of giving to the poor can be motivated by charity (virtue) or by vanity (vice). Hence this examination uses the vices to specify our sins.


Pride (ST II-II q162)
Pride is the mother of all sin (St. Gregory the Great, c.f. St. Thomas Aquinas Summa Theologica II-II q162 a8). It is a craving for excellence beyond what is reasonable, an inordinate desire for one’s own superiority (ST II-II q162 a2). Reason requires that a man reach up for what is proportionate to him, and proportionate to his abilities. In pride a man seeks to be more than he should be. It makes a man hate being equal to men, and hate being less than God.

Have I refused to admit my own weaknesses?
Have I humbly admitted them to my spiritual director?
Have I sought things beyond me?
Have I dwelt on the failings of others?
Have I judged others? Ranked myself better than others?
Judging: In thought, word, or deed?
Have I borne hated for another?
Have I refused to learn from others?
Have I been stubborn? Refused to admit I was wrong? Refused to accept that another person had a better idea?
Have I abused my power by imposing my will/preferences/opinions
on parishioners, others in my care, or on friends?
Have I been insensitive in how I have proclaimed Christ’s truths?
Have I been arrogant? Have I held others in contempt?
Have I failed to show respect and obedience to those in authority?
To my Bishop, superior, spiritual director, professors?
In my inner judgements, and external words, or gossip?
Am I willing to go wherever the Bishop sends me? Cheerfully?
In my daily activity: Do I seek God’s will or my own will?

Have I failed to do my duties to my family/parents? E.g. return phone calls, visit, stay in touch? Have I been self-seeking in my time with family at home? Do I consider what I owe them? Have I spent time with them? How have I manifested my concern for them? Have I been forgiving and tolerant of them? Have I scandalized them by bad example?

Pusillanimity –the opposite of pride. False-humility fails to use our gifts.
Have I neglected to use the talents that God has given me?
Have I avoided my duty to deal with difficult people and situations?
Have I failed to preach the harder teachings of Christ? In morals?

Vanity (ST II-II q132)
Concerns external glory. ‘Glory’ –the good of a person manifested to others. The proper end of glory is: God’s glory, and, our neighbour’s salvation -these two criteria can test whether our desire for glory is virtuous. Vanity flows from pride and looks like pride. Glory can be vain/empty in three ways (a1): The honour/thing sought is itself unworthy; The person from whom you seek it is unworthy; The glory sought is not referred to God.
The 7 daughters of vainglory: Boasting, Deceit (when we do not deserve the praise), A passion for innovation (so that something ‘new’ makes us look good), Stubbornness of opinion, Quarrelling, Contention, Disobedience.


Have I acted/joked/given talks more to impress others than to do God’s will or to help others?
Has my humour and conversation been self-seeking? Have my jokes been unkind? Have I listened to others?
Have I lied or exaggerated to make myself look good?
Have I wasted undue time and money on clothes and appearance?
Is my physical exercise motivated by vanity or by health?
Ambition –have I sought recognition and advancement for my own glory, rather than to do God’s will?
Have I been content with my lowly position, or have I resented the role that Christ is asking me to fulfil?


Lust (ST II-II q.153; CCC 2351)
“Lust is disordered desire for or inordinate enjoyment of sexual pleasure. Sexual pleasure is morally disordered when sought for itself, isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes.”(CCC 2351). It is a sin of excess.
“Lust is about the greatest of pleasures, and these absorb the mind more than others” (St. Thomas), so when this goes wrong much goes wrong! But Lust is not the most serious sin –pride is.
The 8 daughters of lust (II-II q.153 a5): Blindness of the mind (because the passions cloud thinking), Rashness, Thoughtlessness, Inconstancy, Self-love, Hatred of God for forbidding lust, Love of the pleasures of this world, Despair of the future world.


Custody of the Eyes: “Whoever looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt 5:28)
Have I looked at others impurely? With what frequency? Has this led to impure thoughts? What frequency and duration? Have I viewed other people as mere sexual objects rather than as persons to be loved?
Pornography: Have I used the internet, or TV?
Have I flirted/danced/toyed with the feelings of another?
Have I guarded my heart and thoughts against developing affections for particular women? Have I behaved in a way that might tempt romantic affections from women? Have I imprudently spent time alone with a woman? Have I paid excessive attention to more attractive women?
Impure Thoughts: Have I entertained impure thoughts? Briefly, or at length?
With what frequency? On what occasions? (e.g. at night when half-asleep and less culpable, or when fully awake?)
Impure acts: Alone, or with another? What frequency and on what occasions?
Impure touches? Impurity in hugs with others?
Words: Have my jokes, conversation, and flattery been pure?
Have I listened to or told impure jokes, tolerated foul conversation?
Have I encouraged/approved/aided the unchaste acts of others?
Have I failed to preach about Christ’s teachings on holy purity?
Have I celebrated Holy Mass while in a state of serious sin?
Have I neglected to seek Confession before celebrating Mass?
Modesty –has my dress been an occasion of sin for others?
Have I sought to flatter myself by drawing improper attention to my body?

Play –Have I been guilty of an excess or deficiency in resting myself in ‘play’ or relaxation?
The soul’s rest is in pleasure (ST II-II q168 a2).
Have I refused to express mirth at another’s humour? (A man who has no humour is an unreasonable burden to his fellow man. ST II-II q168 a4)

Thoughtlessness: Have I thoughtfully considered and planned my actions?
Have I applied the standards of Christ to my actions?
Have I sought to avoid situations of sin?
Intemperance: Have I driven recklessly, broken the speed limit (excessively)?
Have I respected the traffic laws enacted by the legitimate authority? (‘Fear God and honour the emperor’ 1 Pet 2:17)
Have I driven while under the influence of alcohol?

Anger/Wrath (ST II-II q158)
Anger is undue desire for vengeance –undue in cause or in amount. Anger can be just or unjust: punishment can be too much or too little, it can even not be deserved at all; it can be measured out by someone who does not have the authority to give it. Anger through zeal can be dangerous, and cloud later judgments. Lack of due anger: “unreasonable patience is the hotbed of many vices, it fosters negligence, and incites not only the wicked but even the good to do wrong” (II-II q158 a8).
Note the just anger of Christ cleansing the Temple: 'Zeal for thy house will consume me.' (Ps. 68:10): “How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!" (John 2:15-16)
The 6 daughters of wrath: Indignation (we deem the one we are angry with to be unworthy), Swelling of the mind (as it fills with plots of revenge), Injurious words against our neighbour, Excessive manner of words against someone, Blasphemy, Quarrelling.


Have I tolerated abuses against others or against God? (lack of anger)
Have I harboured resentment, grudges, and hatred in my thoughts?
Have I imagined bad conversations to nurture my anger?
Have I judged rashly?
Have I plotted revenge?
Have I sought to be a peace-maker? Have I been physically violent?
Have I refused or been slow or ungracious in forgiving?
Have I insulted people? Quarrelled with people?
Lost my temper?
Have I been disagreeable, rude, or abrupt to parishioners?
Impatience: How have I carried my cross?
Have I been impatient with people, events, sufferings, sicknesses?
Do I accept the inconvenience of parishioners interrupting my plans?
Have I been angry with God rather than accepting of His will?

Covetousness/Avarice (ST II-II q118)
Avarice is the excessive love of possessing things (a1). It is contrary to reason and due measure. Material goods are only useful in helping us towards an end; to desire them in themselves in an evil. ‘The love of money is the root of all evil’ (1 Tim 6:10) –i.e. it is a capital sin.
The 7 daughters of avarice: Hard-heartedness to the poor, Insensitivity to mercy, Dissatisfaction in thoughts, Restlessness in deeds, Violence (to acquire things), Falsehood (in words, including perjury), Fraud (in transactions), Treachery (as in the case of Judas).
Diocesan priestly living demands ‘simplicity of life’, the avoidance of ‘anything which could have an air of vanity’(Directory on the Ministry and Life of Priests, n.67), and a particular configuration to ‘imitate the mystery you celebrate: model your life on the mystery of the Lord’s Cross’(Ordination Rite).


Have I sought to be poor, as Christ became poor for us (2 Cor 8:9)?
Have I been overly concerned about my own comfort and well-being?
Have I sought to have the Lord as my priestly inheritance (Num18:20)
or have I looked for earthly satisfactions?
Have I lived inner detachment from the world and its fading glories?
Have I been resentful of my lack of money?
Have I been generous in giving, even out of my own poverty,
especially to the poor? Have I given with a cheerful heart?
Have I sought to deny myself those worldly activities that are
unbecoming of a priest? Have I considered what these are?
Has my dining out, living quarters, transportation, car, vacations etc
eliminated ‘any kind of affectation and luxury’?
Have I bought myself an excessive amount of gadgets, ‘toys’, etc?
Have I unreasonably got the parish to buy these for me?
Have I cheated, stolen, or failed to pay my bills on time?
Have I found little ways to cheat the parish of money?
Have I borrowed without permission?
Have I been honest in my dealings with others?
Have I used people for my own ends and advantage?
Have I paid excessive attention to people because they were rich
or because they might give me money?
Have I been guilty of favouritism in other ways?
Have I wasted money on unnecessary expenses or gambling?

Various other sins against justice:
Lies: Have I told lies out of envy (to damage another’s reputation), laziness (to avoid work), or vanity (to make me look good)?
Have I failed to keep secrets?
Murder, Theft, Cheating, Contempt for others, Backbiting, Tale-bearing, Derision, Cursing, Boasting, Flattery, Quarrelling.

Envy (ST II-II q36)
Envy/Jealousy –is sadness at the happiness or good of another
The 5 Daughters of envy: Hatred (love desires the good of another), Tale-bearing (to lower a man’s reputation), Detraction, Joy at our neighbour’s misfortunes, Grief at our neighbour’s prosperity.


Have I envied or been jealous of the abilities, talents, ideas, plans, good-looks, intelligence, clothes, car, possessions, friends etc of another person?
Have I taken pleasure in the failure or misfortune of a brother priest?
Have I rejoiced in the talents and good fortune of my brother priests?
Have I resented the promotion or recognition given to others?

Gossip and Sins of Speech:
Every man has a right to a good name. A man’s good name is his most precious social possession. Without it he cannot function in society: people will not trust him, will not talk to him, will despise him etc. Every man thus has a right to a good name and we do not have a right to take this away from someone. Even when we are accurately describing someone’s bad characteristics we are still depriving him of the good name that he has a right to.
Slander/Calumny –telling an untruth about someone
Detraction –telling a truth about someone that lessens his reputation/good name.
Detraction: Have I damaged the reputation of another?
By deeds/looks/words have I caused others to have a lower opinion of someone else?
Slander: Have I exaggerated/lied about the faults of others?
Have I repeated accusations that might not be true?
Gossip: Have I led others to gossip?
Have I neglected to change the conversation/avoid conversation with others who are gossiping? Have I failed to defend the reputation of others?
Thoughts: Have I mentally judged others?
i.e. internal detraction/slander/gossip of the mind.
Have I been guilty of deception?
Do I despise others of different race, class or culture?

Sloth/Apathy (ST II-II q35)
Sloth is spiritual sorrow in the face of spiritual good, it is an oppressive sorrow that weighs on a man’s mind and makes him want to do nothing (a1). To not take joy in a good is a bad thing!
It is laziness in the things of God.
The 6 Daughter of sloth: Despair (by avoiding our ultimate end of God), Faint-heartedness (in the quest for sanctity), Sluggishness about the commandments, Spite (as in indignation –against other men who do seek sanctity), Malice (as a consequence of spite), Wandering after unlawful things (“Those who find no joy in spiritual pleasures have recourse to pleasures of the body” (a4)). Isidore adds: Idleness, drowsiness, uneasiness of mind, restlessness of body, instability, loquaciousness (talking too much), curiosity.


Have I sought God above all else, or have I put other priorities (e.g. friendships, clerical ambition, comfort and ease) ahead of him?
Have I got so caught up in the things of this world that I’ve forgotten God?
Have I risked losing my faith/piety by bad company, bad reading, cowardice, or pride?
Have I trusted God, especially in times of difficulty?
Have I kept the Lord’s Day holy?
Have I worked needlessly on Sunday?
Have I omitted some part of my plan of life: daily Mass, Breviary, daily Holy Hour, mental prayer, daily Rosary, spiritual reading etc?
Have I entertained distractions in prayer, or failed to give God due concentration in prayer, or rushed my Rosary, Office, or Holy Mass?
(Note: Not giving God the effort he deserves in prayer is a sin, but it is not the same thing as involuntary weakness in mental distractions.)
Have I fallen asleep in prayer due to lack of effort and discipline in getting to sleep on time? Have I gone to sleep on time?
Have I, due to lack of effort and discipline, lacked the sleep I need to study, engage in apostolate, and live charity to my neighbour?
Liturgy: Have I celebrated Mass every day (even when alone), reverently,
or have I been negligent and distracted in my approach?
Have I made priestly intercession for others, or only prayed for self?
Have I been faithful and observant of the rubrics at Mass?
Have I received Holy Communion reverently?
Have I made a due preparation before Mass begins?
Have I made an appropriate thanksgiving after Mass?
Laziness: Have I neglected the duties of my apostolate?
Have I returned phone calls?
Have I visited the sick and housebound?
Have I been negligent/sloppy/half-hearted in my apostolate?
Have I procrastinated (e.g. with email), avoiding more serious priorities? Have I wasted time watching useless TV, or internet?
Have I given serious time to study, knowing is necessary for a priest?

Words:
Has my conversation been focussed on my own pleasure, or on others?
Has my humour been insensitive/offensive to others?
Have I sinned against God by taking his name in vain?
Have I caused scandal to others by using foul language?
Example: Have I given scandal by setting a bad example to others by my sloth?
Has my behaviour or words led others to sin?
Have I set the good example Christ expects of a priest?
Punctuality: Have I sinned against my neighbour by being late for meetings?
Have I wasted other people’s time by being late or unprepared?
Have I sinned against God by being late for Mass or prayers?
Have I sought to help my fellow priests? Have I been attentive to their needs?

Gluttony (ST II-II q148)
Gluttony is the inordinate desire for food, unregulated by reason, knowingly exceeding need, for the sake of pleasure.
Gluttony tempts us in 5 ways: To seek food that is too much, too fancy, too expensive, to eat at improper/excessive times, or in hasty manner, or in a manner lacking manners & social consideration.
The 5 daughters of gluttony: Dullness of mind (whereas abstinence sharpens wits), Unseemly joy (the appetites get disordered), Idle talk, Scurrilous behaviour (because reason is dulled and bad behaviour follows), Bodily uncleanness.


Have I eaten more than I need? To how serious an extent?
Have I sought food with undue concentration?
Have I eaten with undue haste and lack of consideration of others?
Have I neglected the food needs of others at the table? (e.g. do I always take the last portion of food?)
Have I spent undue amounts of money of food?
Have I practiced fasting and self-denial, especially on Fridays and other fast days?
Have I fasted before receiving Holy Communion at Mass?
Is my heart set on pleasure and amusement?
Drunkenness: Drunkenness impairs our use of reason. Reason is a gift of God, and is thus rejected in drunkenness. Drunkenness lowers us to the level of the animals, it makes us incapable of virtuous acts, incapable of charity to others, it makes us incapable of knowing right from wrong.
Have I drunk alcohol to excess? Repeatedly? Scandalously?
Have I used prudence to plan the quantity of my drinking?

The Ten Commandments:
I, the Lord, am your God. You shall not have other gods besides me. You shall not take the name of the Lord God in vain. Remember to keep holy the Lord's Day. Honour your father and your mother. You shall not kill. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness. You shall not covet your neighbour's wife. You shall not covet your neighbour's goods.

Sunday, 1 July 2007

An Examination of Conscience for Lent, reflecting on Christ’s Suffering and Passion on the Cross

“The Cross exemplifies every virtue” (St Thomas Aquinas)
How do our lives compare with what Christ has shown us?


5 STEPS FOR A GOOD CONFESSION
1. Examine your conscience -recall the sins that you have committed since your last good confession.
2. Be sincerely sorry for your sins.
3. Confess your sins to the priest.
4. Make certain that you confess all your mortal sins and the number of them.
5. After confession, do the penance the priest gives to you.

ACT OF CONTRITION

O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended You, and I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of Heaven and the pains of Hell, but most of all because they offend You, my God, Who are all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Your grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life. Amen.

Sins of omission:
“In what I have done, and in what I have failed to do”-sins of omission may be more serious than sins of commission
e.g.Have I omitted to say my prayers?
or, Have I omitted to look for and respond to the needs of family?
Thought: “In thought, word, and deed”
e.g. Even if I did not gossip in word, did I judge someone in my thoughts?
Each area of my life should be considered:
e.g. My family, my friends, my work, my prayer, those I work and live with etc.


Christ loved us on the Cross: “Greater love than this has no one than to lay down his life for his friends”(Jn 15:13)
How have I failed to love?

Christ put our needs before His own, that we might be saved
“Each of you must think of others’ needs before your own”(Phil 2:4)

Have I been attentive to the needs of my neighbour, and the needs of my family?
Have I been lazy in helping others?
Have I been generous in giving to others?
Have I used people for my own ends and advantage?
Has my conversation been focussed on my own pleasure, or on others?
Has my humour been insensitive to others?
My Family:
Have I been more focussed on myself than on the needs of others?
Have I spent time with my family? How have I manifested my concern for them? Have I been forgiving and tolerant of them? Have I scandalized them by a bad or lazy example?
Punctuality and Discipline:
Have I wasted other people’s time by being late?
Have I sinned against God and the congregation by being late for Mass?

Christ forgave His murderers, even as He hung on the Cross, saying, “Father, forgive them”(Lk 23:34)
Have I been slow to forgive others?
Have I harboured resentment, grudges, and hatred in my thoughts?
Have I nurtured imaginary angry conversations?
Have I lost my temper?
Have I borne hated for another?
Gossip:
Have I judged others in my thoughts?
Have I damaged the reputation of another person by my words, attitude, or looks?
Have I repeated accusations that might not be true? Have I exaggerated?
Have I failed to defend the reputation of others?
Have I failed to keep secrets?
Lies: Have I lied or exaggerated?

Christ did the will of the Father, saying, “Not my will by Yours be done”(Lk 22:42)
Have I sought God and His will above all else, or have I put other priorities ahead of him? (e.g. friendships, ambition, comfort and ease)
Have I got so caught up in the things of this world that I’ve forgotten God?
Have I risked losing my faith/piety by bad company, bad reading, cowardice, or pride?
Christ was patient on the Cross, bearing it for our sakes
How have I carried my cross?
Have I been willing to suffer in my service of others?
Have I grumbled and complained? C.f. “Do everything without grumbling or arguing”(Phil 2:14)
Have I been impatient with people, family, events, sufferings, sicknesses?

Christ trusted in the Father, even as He died on the Cross, saying, “Father, into Your hands I commend my spirit”(Lk 23:46)
Have I trusted God, especially in times of difficulty?

Christ “despised earthly riches”, becoming “poor for our sake” (2 Cor 8 :9)
Have I ranked money and riches too highly?
Have I been overly concerned about my own comfort and well-being?
Have I been resentful of my lack of money?
Have I cheated, stolen, or failed to pay my bills on time?
Have I wasted money?
Have I envied or been jealous of the abilities, talents, ideas, good-looks, intelligence, clothes, possessions, money, friends, family, of others?

Christ “despised earthly pleasures” that He might give Himself in love for us
Have I been overly attached to pleasures of food or sex?

Have I eaten more than I need?
To how serious an extent?
Have I spent excessive money on food?
Have I drunk alcohol excessively?
Have driven after drinking?
Have I eaten greedily and with little consideration for those at table with me?
Have I given money to help the hungry?
Have I regularly practiced fasting and self-denial, especially on Fridays?
Have I abstained from meat on Fridays?
Have I always fasted an hour before receiving Holy Communion at Mass?
“Whoever looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt 5:28)
Have I viewed other people as mere sexual objects rather than as persons to be loved?
Pornography: On internet? or TV?
Have I entertained impure thoughts?
Impure Acts: Alone, or with another?

Christ prayed, even as He hung on the Cross
Have I neglected to say my daily prayers?
Have I entertained distractions in prayer?
Have I attended Mass each and every Sunday?
Have I done unnecessary servile work on a Sunday, or bought or sold things on a Sunday?
Have I made a prayerful preparation before Mass and a good thanksgiving after Mass?
Have I received Holy Communion while in a state of serious sin?
Have I neglected to seek Confession before Holy Communion?
Have I taken the Lord’s name in vain? Or used other foul language?

Christ allowed Himself to be mocked by the soldiers, spat upon, and publically striped of his clothes
Have I been overly concerned about what others think of me? Have I allowed this to motivate my actions?
Have I lied or exaggerated to make myself look good?
Have I wasted undue time and money on clothes and appearance?

“Christ was humbler yet, even to accepting death on a cross”(Phil 2:8)
Have I been content with my lowly position, or have I resented the role that Christ asks of me?
Have I refused to admit my own weaknesses?
Have I dwelt on the failings of others?
Have I judged others, in my thoughts or words?
Have I ranked myself better than others?
Have I refused to learn from others?
Do I despise others of different race, class or culture?
Have I been stubborn? Refused to admit I was wrong? Refused to accept that another person had a better idea?
Have I been arrogant?
Have I held others in contempt?
Pusillanimity –false humility:
Have I neglected to use the talents that God has given me?

Christ endured all things upon the Cross,
Have I persevered in the work God asks of me?

Have I made good use of my time, or have I wasted time needlessly? E.g. TV or internet?
Have I planned good use of relaxation and recreation, knowing that I need to rest well?
Have I gone to sleep on time?

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Chastity Cord of St Joseph

St. Joseph’s Cord
The devotion of wearing this cord in honour of St Joseph was approved by the Sacred Congregation of Rites on September 19, 1859, and it was also blessed and approved by Pope Pius IX. Graces obtained by the wearing of this Cord are as follows:
Saint Joseph’s special protection;
Purity of soul,
The grace of chastity,
Final perseverance,
Particular assistance at the hour of death.
The Cord should be of thread or cotton, with seven knots at one end, and should be worn around the waist. It should be blessed by a priest (see blessing prayers below). One who wears the Cord should recite the Glory be to the Father seven times daily in honour of St. Joseph, together with the prayer for purity below (From book: ‘Favorite prayers to St. Joseph’, p. 6)

Prayer For Purity
O Guardian of Virgins and holy Father Saint Joseph, into whose faithful keeping were entrusted Christ Jesus, Innocence itself, and Mary, Virgin of virgins, I pray and beseech thee by these dear pledges Jesus and Mary, that, being preserved from all uncleanness, I may with spotless mind, pure heart and chaste body ever serve Jesus and Mary most chastely all the days of my life. Amen.

Words of Saint Thomas Aquinas on St Joseph:
“Some Saints are privileged to extend to us their patronage with particular efficacy in certain needs, but not in others; but our holy patron Saint Joseph has the power to assist us in all cases, in every necessity, in every undertaking.”

Why a Chastity Cord?
The cincture, like the one priests wear at Mass, is a sign of chastity, and has been since the Church's beginning -and before. Old Testament priests wore cinctures, consecrated Virgins and religious wear cinctures, and the wearing of cinctures in honour of a particular Saint is ancient, first spoken of in the life of St. Monica, the mother of St. Augustine, and carried on by St. Dominic. Certain Confraternities and Archconfraternities (groups of faithful devoted to a religious cause) also wear cinctures as signs of their affiliation and chastity.
The Cord itself is simply a white cord of thread or cotton, knotted in 7 places (one knot for each of the 7 Sorrows of St. Joseph and their related Joys) and should be blessed by a priest..
The cincture or Cord of St. Joseph originated in Antwerp, Belgium, in 1657 with the miraculous cure of a devout Augustinian nun named Sister Elizabeth. After a severe and painful illness of three years’ duration, the physicians had given up hope of curing her and expected her soon to die. But Sister Elizabeth, having always been devoted to St. Joseph, made a cord, had it blessed in the Saint’s honor and put it around her waist. A few days later, when praying before his statue, she was suddenly freed from pain. Her recovery was considered miraculous. Eventually the devotion of the cord spread, and numerous special graces were obtained through its devout use. The cord was used not merely as a remedy against bodily ailments, but also as a spiritual aid to preserve the virtue of purity. The devotion was approved by the Sacred Congregation of Rites on September 19, 1859, and it was also blessed and approved by Pope Pius IX.

Seven Sorrows and Seven Joys of Saint Joseph
1. The doubt of St. Joseph (Matt. 1:19).......... The message of the Angel (Matt. 1:20)
2. The poverty of Jesus' birth (Luke 2:7)......... The birth of the Saviour (Luke 2:10-11)
3. The Circumcision (Luke 2:21)..................... The Holy Name of Jesus (Matt. 1:25)
4. The prophecy of Simeon (Luke 2:34).......... The effects of the Redemption (Luke 2:38)
5. The flight into Egypt (Matt. 2:14)................. The overthrow of the idols of Egypt (Is. 19:1)
6. The return from Egypt (Matt. 2:22).............. Life with Jesus and Mary at Nazareth (Luke 2:39)
7. The loss of the Child Jesus (Luke 2:45)........ The finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:46)


Priest's Blessing of Chastity Cord
V: Our help is in the name of the Lord.
R: Who made heaven and earth.
V: The Lord be with you.
R: And with your spirit
V: Let us pray.
Lord Jesus Christ, who gave us the counsel and love of virginity, and gave the precept of chastity, we appeal to Thy kindness, asking that You bless and hallow this cincture as a token of purity. Let he who girds himself with it as a safeguard of chastity be enabled, by the prayers of Saint Joseph, spouse of Your holy Mother, to practice that continence which is so pleasing to You, and to live in obedience to Your commandments. May he also obtain pardon of his sins, health in mind and body, and finally attain everlasting life. We ask this of You who live and reigns with God the Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, One God, forever and ever.
R: Amen.
V:Let us pray.
Almighty and everlasting God, grant, we pray, that those who revere the inviolate virginity of the most pure Virgin Mary and of Saint Joseph, her spouse, may by their prayers be pure in mind and body; through Christ our Lord.
R: Amen
Let us pray.
Almighty and everlasting God, who committed the boy Jesus and the most pure Mary, ever a Virgin, to the care of the chaste man Saint Joseph, we humbly entreat Thee that those who are girded with this cincture in honour of Saint Joseph and under his patronage may, by Your help and his prayers, persevere in holy chastity for all time; through Christ our Lord.
R: Amen.
Let us pray.
God, the lover and restorer of innocence, we pray that Your faithful who are to wear this cincture may, by the prayers of Saint Joseph, spouse of Your holy Mother, have his loins girded and hold burning lamps in his hands, and thus be likened to men who wait for their Lord when He shall return for a wedding, that when He comes and knocks he may open to Him, and be found worthy of being taken into everlasting joys; through You who live and reign forever and ever.
R: Amen
Then the priest sprinkles the cincture with holy water, and says:
Sprinkle me with hyssop, Lord, and I shall be clean of sin. Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
V: Save Your servants.
R: Who trust in You, my God.
V: Lord, send them aid from Your holy place.
R: And watch over them from Sion.
V: Lord, heed my prayer. R: And let my cry be heard by You.
V: The Lord be with you. R: And with your spirit.
Let us pray.
O God of mercy, God of goodness, You are pleased with all good things, and without whom no good work is begun, no good work is finished; kindly hear our prayers, and defend Your faithful, who is to wear this blessed cincture in honour of Saint Joseph and under his protection, from the snares of this world and all its lusts. Help him to persist in his holy resolution and to obtain pardon of his sins, and thus merit to be numbered among Your elect; through Christ our Lord.
R: Amen.

Wednesday, 28 February 2007

The Battle for Purity

This text can also be viewed/downloaded as a scribd document at http://www.scribd.com/doc/36288800/Battle-for-Purity




Ten Steps when faced by temptations to Unchastity

Some of these steps are adapted from the book ‘Christian Totality’ by Fr. Basil Cole OP and Fr. Paul Connor OP

Short term immediate reaction:
(1) Do not panic in your first awareness of the temptation –panic gives more power to the Tempter.

(2) Make an immediate (but brief) internal ‘no’ to the temptation.

(3) Make a short prayer for protection against the temptation.

(4) Distract your mind by thinking about something else.
Think about either something you find interesting (a good movie or novel), or absorbing (work problems), or pious (the sufferings of Christ on the Cross). i.e. do not panic yourself in fighting the impure thought (trying to ‘not think about it’ just makes you think even more about the very thing that you are trying not to think about!).
Thus, instead of fighting the thought, gently move your thoughts to another topic.


Longer term reaction, after the temptation has passed:
(5) Try to forget about the temptation,
or else it will lead to a recurrence of the same thought.
This also helps to avoid scruples in this regard. Simply move on to other things. Confess your degree of consent to the temptation, i.e. was it brief and passing consent, or more prolonged; was it consent in thought, or in word, or in deed. Then, after confessing it, forget about it and know you’re forgiven.

(6) Learn to re-channel your energy in activity
–otherwise sexual tension can increase.
Therefore do exercise; work; play.
Boredom is a great opening to impurity. Boredom, in this context, means a lack of feeling satisfied.
Healthy busy-ness in work can be an important way to avoid impurity.


(7) Learn to avoid occasions of sin –by experience.
E.g. Late night internet; lying in bed when not asleep.
Such ‘occasions’ are different for each person –you are not the same as your friend.
E.g. movies, beer, beachwear. Question: How do YOU respond to these situations?
Know yourself –know the situations and times that you tend to be tempted. Plan to avoid to these situations.
Remember that temptations can help us grow in grace, by overcoming them. But do not seek temptation.

(8) Work on the ‘allied’ virtues -as listed below
The virtues all inter-relate. Thus, even if you seem powerless before your struggles against purity, you can still work on these other virtues and thus indirectly grow in purity. i.e. do not despair.

(9) Self-Esteem
Compulsive masturbation can often be linked to a lack of self-esteem –the individual somehow feels more ‘sexual’ and mature this way. Working to feel more content about oneself in other aspects of life can help build a self-esteem that is not just the hollow myth vainly fostered by pop psychologists.

(10) Devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and the Blessed Virgin -Last but certainly not least!
Prayer helps us grow in our love of God and grow in our sense of being satisfied by his love for us. Loving God helps direct our desires to their ultimate and all-integrating end. A pure love for God only has affections for people (and things) in as much as such affections are part of our pure love.
The Blessed Sacrament is the earthly physical focus for our love of God, and it is our earthly physical focus for directing our devotions to counter disorder in our physical passions.
The Blessed Virgin is she who loved and loves purely, and can help us to do the same.
A daily half-hour of mental prayer before the Blessed Sacrament is a pivotal aid in purity.





Chastity –the Allied Virtues that we need cultivate:
c.f. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica

(a) Temperance –chastity is part of temperance (temperance is also called ‘moderation’).
Learning moderation and self-mastery in other pleasures will help us in our self-mastery in purity.
E.g. food, alcohol, conversation (don’t always engage in conversation for the sake of your own pleasure, but speak so as to listen and help others).
Regular (but moderate) fasting is a very important part of this.


(b) ‘Play’ –this is an important a virtue! Esp. Exercise and sports
There is such a thing as too much play, but there is also such a thing as a lack of it.
The lack of play in our lives can sometimes be due to pride (we foolishly think that we are strong enough to not need to relax). The soul’s rest is in pleasure (ST II-II q168 a2). God intends us to rest the body and spirit in licit pleasures. When we deny ourselves licit pleasures and joys (and friendships) we then get more tempted to illicit pleasures. Note two excesses:

(a) A pampered body (with excess pleasure and no disciplined exercise) leads to impurity.
(b) Boredom is a great opening to impurity. Boredom, in this context, means a lack of feeling satisfied. Therefore, Plan to give yourself things that entertain and please you!

(c) Industriousness –keep at your work.
Keeping active in our work gives us a healthy satisfaction. A person satisfied in his work will be less prone to seek illicit satisfactions in impurity. A lack of work (like a lack of play) can lead to boredom and then to impurity.

(d) Humility –know your limits. Know when to flee temptation.
E.g. Know which movies may affect you more than they affect other people. PLAN: when you are in a calm sense of mind, in your stronger self, THEN plan for how you will avoid impurity. I.e. plan how to avoid what are occasions of sin for you. If you habitually lack humility in other things you are more likely to fall in impurity.
Remember that God allows us to be tempted to humble us. Impurity –“this vice is for the greatest part a just punishment of pride” (L.Scupoli, The Spiritual Combat, ch19). Therefore, let such temptations increase your humility, and know your dependence on grace. You are weak, just like your neighbour, humble yourself before God and man.


(e) Sobriety vs. drunkenness.
Learn due ‘measure’ in what is appropriate for you (not what is appropriate for others).
Drunkenness is an obvious pathway to impurity: it lowers our capacity to fight temptation, and lets the passions gain dominance over our rational faculty.

(f) Abstinence vs. gluttony. The virtue of refraining –a virtue we can then apply to sex.
Asceticism in food and drink leads to self-mastery, leads to knowledge of how to LICITLY use pleasures.

(g) Purity –meaning chastity in its outwards signs of kisses, embraces, touches, looks.
If we are not pure in these things then chastity in the heart will be impossible. This calls for prudence, self-knowledge, reflection, and an awareness of what is appropriate in different contexts.

(h) Modesty of dress.
If we seek to look provocatively attractive to others it’s difficult to think of ourselves in a pure manner.
Our immodest dress will lead others to have sinful thoughts. This calls for prudence, advice from others, and an awareness of how others react to us.


(i) Charity
This is a theological virtue, and is directly infused in us by God, but we can enable it to increase by removing the obstacles to it.
CCC 2347: the virtue of chastity blossoms in friendships, a pure focus for love, and spiritual communion, whether male or female (but note the obvious question of prudence in intimate friendships with members of the opposite sex, e.g. it’d be unusual for a man to seek an intimate friendship with a woman who was someone else’s wife).



Final thought:
WOMEN too. Unchastity is often preached about as if it only affected men, but it affects women too. Do not be overly embarrassed to confess it, to examine your conscience about it: examine your thoughts, affections, flirtations etc.
Note also: GUARDING YOUR HEART. Unchaste affections for someone you are not free to date is a form of unchastity.


Sunday, 7 January 2007

New Science backs the Early Embryo’s Personhood!

Recent Science and the Personhood of the Human Embryo.
By the Rev Dr Dylan James, Moral Theology Lecturer, Wonersh Seminary. Fr James recently completed a doctorate in bioethics on the notion of personhood, focussing on the embryo.



It’s now over two decades since the Warnock Report of 1984 led the way in approving experiments on human embryos in the UK. Back in 1984 many scientific claims were made to justify the 14-day time period that was given to experiment on embryos. The UK government now proposes extending embryo experimentation and works on the assumption that the 14-day time frame can be accepted as a starting point. However, recent science undermines the claims that were initially made for Warnock and this article will outline some points which indicate why the government should be re-thinking the Warnock position and not using it as a foundation.

Before looking at the science, it must be noted that the notion of a ‘person’ is a philosophical concept and not a scientific one. Similarly, which ‘rights’ we should accord to persons is an ethical matter and not a scientific one. However, science is very relevant because it shows us whether or not the embryo meets the criteria which define a person. Catholic bioethicists typically use the definition of the person first proposed by Boethius in the Sixth Century: ‘a person is an individual substance of a rational nature’. Turning this into a set of scientific criteria, this means that a human person must be an ‘individual’ and thus the question that needs to be asked about the early embryo is whether it is just a loosely-related collection of cells or whether it is properly an ‘individual’. Scientific data now implies that the transition from egg and sperm to an individual takes place within minutes of fertilisation beginning. Of course, none of this is likely to convince the hardened utilitarian who merely cares about the greatest good for the greatest number and does not care about whether it is a person he is experimenting on, but most people don’t appeal just to utilitarian calculus and the new science might sway them.

1. First, let us recall what the Warnock Report (mistakenly) took as being scientifically established. In the 1980s it was claimed that the cells of the early embryo were ‘undifferentiated’ and that the embryo was thus no more than a ‘loose collection of cells’. The supposed evidence to back this claim was that (it was then thought) it is not yet established which cells will become which types of future tissues, e.g. which will become the placenta and which will become heart cells etc. The early cells were referred to as ‘totipotent’ meaning that any one of them could become a whole new individual if separated from the cluster. It was thought that the cells only become differentiated at 14 days when the primitive streak (the early backbone) forms. As evidence of the undifferentiated status of the cells, it was pointed out that up until the formation of the primitive streak at implantation the embryo can divide and form identical monozygotic twins. It thus seemed to Warnock fair to claim that prior to 14 days there was no ‘individual’, there thus could not be a ‘person’, and so it was ethical to experiment on the early embryo.

Since the turn of the millennium, however, embryology has been aware of the ‘positional information’ possessed by the cells of the early embryo. This means that the cells are not as ‘totipotent’ as once thought and that the cells are in fact already differentiated at the two-cell stage with it being largely determined which cell’s progeny will form the ‘embryo proper’ and which cell’s progeny will form extra-embryonic material like the placenta. This positional information is established by the position of the initial sperm entry point, at fertilisation, long before the formation of the primitive streak at 14 days. It is the position of the sperm entry point that establishes an axis that determines where the initial cell will divide into two cells, where the position of the primitive streak will be, and thus where the backbone will form. There is thus a direct line of continuity from the position of the sperm entry point to the future adult body. Further, we also now know the speed and manner in which the ovum’s outer membrane changes to repel further sperm penetration, a process that establishes the zygote as a closed system. This process takes 1-3 minutes from initial sperm penetration of the outer membrane.

2. This said, what of the claim that the capacity of the early embryo to divide into twins means that it cannot be an individual? As the philosopher Prof. Kevin Flannery SJ has noted, a divisible individual is still an individual, and a ‘divisible individual’ is not a contradiction in terms. As Aristotle observed, many living individuals are divisible into two or more other living individuals, like plants or flatworms. Being divisible does not stop you being a living individual. Of course, what happens to the identity of the pre-existing individual is unclear. If the initial zygote possesses a spiritual soul, what happens when the embryo splits? Does the original embryo die and its soul get replaced by two new souls in the two new twins? Or does it continue and a new person split off from it, with its newly created soul? Or is twinning the result of an internal materially determined factor that would indicate that there were two souls present from fertilisation onwards, each sharing, in their own specific manner, some part of the one physical, organic unity of cells?

Though such questions cannot be easily answered, Nicanor Austriaco OP has argued that the first explanation corresponds better to some of the scientific data. What scientific data might indicate whether or not the embryo starts out as an individual person that is then destroyed in the division that produces two new individuals or whether it starts out as two closely related persons destined-to-twin? If the first scenario holds, then twinning would seem to be some form of defect in the program of development and if this is the case then we would expect to see some other signs of defect. This is, in fact, what we do find, with identical twins suffering from a statistically significant greater number of birth defects, defects ranging from indeterminate sex to anomalies of the tongue to Down syndrome. The fact of these defects does not easily accord with the second two scenarios and suggests that the first scenario could be the philosophically correct way to interpret the situation. This said, recent studies from the Mio Fertility Clinic in Yonago, Japan have suggested that it may be possible to predict which embryos will divide into twins. The research on this point is presently inconclusive, but, if this is true, then it would seem to follow that the third scenario is the correct interpretation. In short, we don’t yet have enough scientific information to be confident in determining which of these three philosophical interpretations is correct.

Nonetheless, whether twinning is the result of an individual that becomes two individuals or is the result of a cell cluster that was already two individuals but looked like one, the potential of the embryo to divide does not imply there is not already an individual present (or two individuals present), an individual who is a person with rights. Despite the fact that we don’t presently fully understand the factors that lead to the phenomenon of twinning, its existence as relatively rare phenomenon does not give us grounds to deny the early embryo its personal rights.

3. Having said that the cells of the early embryo are already differentiated, it must be noted that before the 14-day stage the cells do still have a certain ‘plasticity’ in that they can be re-programmed to another differentiation: the positional information they once possessed seems to be destroyed by their being separated from their cluster. None of this suggests, however, that the cell cluster was not an individual prior to such a change, nor does it suggest that more individuals appearing in twinning is a philosophical problem.

Another aspect of the ‘plasticity’ of the cells of the early embryo can be seen in the formation of chimeras. A chimera is a creature that has cells of a different DNA in different parts of it. In Greek mythology the chimera had a lion’s head, a goat’s body and a serpent’s tail. In modern science chimeras have been created with mice by merging together two different embryos when they are at the cell-cluster stage. Amazingly, the cells seem to re-differentiate themselves to form one new embryo that will mature into an adult mouse that has some parts of it with one set of DNA and other parts with another set of DNA –black and white mice embryos have been combined to produce this in a visual way. This phenomenon seems also to occur naturally and some humans have been found to be such chimeras with different DNA in different parts of their body. One thing this indicates is that DNA is not as central to individuality as was once thought: some writers used to claim that the early embryo was an individual because it had established DNA, however, the existence of chimeras suggests that DNA is not a precondition of individuality. In fact, the previous paragraphs have argued that individuality is established within 1-3 minutes: well-before DNA is established.

4. One final scientific issue: some sceptics of the personhood of the early embryo point out that the embryo suffers from a very high mortality rate. Some estimates claim that as many as 50% of embryos do not survive to birth. If all of these embryos are persons and thus have immortal souls, is heaven really full of people who never even achieved birth? This may seem like a startling concept.

In considering this it is worth noting that many ‘lost’ embryos are not real embryos at all but are rather ‘pseudo-embryos’ and that this is why they are expelled from the womb. While science’s ability to analyse this is still developing, Austriaco illustrates the issue by arguing argues that “complete hydatidiform moles” are such non-embryos while “partial hydatidiform moles” are embryos (but disabled ones). But in the final analysis it should be noted that for much of human history infant mortality has approached or exceeded 50% and thus this also suggests that heaven is full of people who never achieved adulthood. No Catholic would conclude from this that the baby at the breast is not a person worthy of full respect and protection. Similarly, the high mortality rate that embryos suffer from is no reason not to consider them to be persons.

5. Finally, when all is said and done, it must be conceded that a debate remains. Though science today gives us stronger reasons to argue for the personhood of the early embryo than there were two decades ago, some people still doubt the embryo’s personhood . How then should someone proceed in the face of doubt? When dealing with the rights of others, the SCDF in 1974 identified an important moral principle when it reiterated that, “It is objectively a grave sin to dare to risk murder”. If a deer hunter sees a bush moving he cannot shoot until he is morally certain that it is a deer and not a person who is moving it. The basic point with respect to the embryo is that recent science has shifted the burden of proof strongly in favour of the notion that an individual is established at fertilisation and thus strengthens the philosophical position that a person is instantiated that this stage. It follows that the risk of murder is even clearer now that it was when the Warnock Report was produced in 1984.


Recommended for further reading:
Austriaco, Nicanor Pier Giorgio O.P., “Are Teratomas Embryos or Non-embryos?”, National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly 5.4 (Winter 2005), pp.697-706.)
Austriaco, Nicanor Pier Giorgio O.P. “On Static Eggs and Dynamic Embryos: A Systems Perspective”, National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly v.3 n.4 (Winter 2002): 659-83.
Austriaco, Nicanor Pier Giorgio O.P., “The Pre-Implantation Embryo Revisited: A Two-Celled Individual or Two Individual Cells”, Linacre Quarterly n.70 v.2 (2003):121-6.
Austriaco, Nicanor Pier Giorgio O.P., “Immediate Hominization from a Systems Perspective”, National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly 4.4 (Winter 2004): 719-38.
Flannery, Kevin L., S.J. “Applying Aristotle in Contemporary Embryology”, The Thomist 67 (2003): 249-78.
Seyfer, Tara L. “The Science of Chimeras and Hybrids”, Ethics and Medics 29.7 (July 2004): 1-3.
Sarah Hake, “Mobile Protein Signals Cell Fate”, Nature 413.6853 (20 September 2001): 261-4.
Karolina Piotrowska, Florence Wianny, Roger A. Pedersen and Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz, “Blastomeres arising from the first cleavage division have distinguishable fates in normal mouse development”, Development 128.19 (October 2001): 3739-3748.
Berenika Plusa, Karolina Piotrowska, and Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz, “Sperm Entry Position Provides a Surface Marker for the First Cleavage Plane of the Mouse Zygote”, Genesis 32.3 (March 2002): 193-8.
Pontifical Academy for Life, Final Communiqué of the 12th General Assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life and Congress (23 March 2006).
Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Let Me Live: Declaration by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on Procured Abortion (London: Catholic Truth Society, 1974).