1999 September/Questions

  1. Does the sin of greed encompass more than eating and drinking too much?

Is it true that the sin of greed involves not only eating and drinking too much, but being fussy, i.e. eating only what one likes, e.g. insisting on butter and refusing margarine, turning down certain vegetables, indulging daily in an assortment of expensive condiments which are unnecessary, etc., etc., or is all this only an imperfection, and not part of the sin of greed?

  1. To prevent acts necessary for the well-being of our nature—like eating and drinking—from becoming onerous and perhaps neglected, God has attached a certain pleasure to them. In the case of food and drink, one may enjoy the pleasure, but one must keep in mind, at least implicitly, the purpose of eating and drinking, which is the maintenance of health. To eat and drink too much, or too much of what is not good for health, or with too much avidity, is to sin by gluttony. But it is also a sin to eat for pleasure alone. To quote an assertion condemned lay Pope Innocent XI: “To eat and drink to repletion for pleasure alone is not a sin, provided no harm is done to health, for one may lawfully enjoy the acts of natural appetite.” One may enjoy one’s food and drink, but always with at least a vague consciousness that food and drink are for the well-being of the body, and must be used as such. Hence excessive fussiness over food is wrong since it places undue emphasis on the pleasure food gives. In itself it is venially sinful, unless some serious harm is done in consequence, e.g. spending too much money on food, sinning against charity by one’s fussy demands, and so on.
  1. Can earnest “health eating” be an obstruction to vocations?

Is is not right (or at least very unwise) for Catholics to involve their families in the question of “health diets”, e.g. not eating, say, white bread/ refined flour products/ white sugar/ fried foods! tinned goods, taking lots of vitamin pills every day, etc., etc.? I heard a priest once say that this is a plan of the devil to obstruct vocations because girls, for example, who were fussy about what they ate and whether it was cooked in, a really healthy way would never last in a convent where the budget and time factor could not encompass special diets.

  1. Although reasonable care should be taken over one’s health, this should never .became an obsession to the paint where bodily health becomes an end in life rather than just a means to a life more useful in God’s service. And if it detracts from more important things?such as a vocation?then it can become sinful.

There is, in any case, a lot of futility in the kind of “health diets” many people practise. Fundamentally, it is enough to pay attention to getting a balanced diet of normal food: meat, vegetables, fruit, etc., to not eat too much, and to get enough exercise. All this is catered for in the religious life.


  1. Can one be born with homosexual or bisexual tendencies?

Is it true that many male homosexuals are born with an excess of female hormones, and so cannot help their orientation? Or is it always caused by sin in the first place? If it is not a person’s own fault, is it perhaps a cross and what could be God’s plan for such abnormal people?

  1. A very disputed question! Without being able to give a definitive response, since medical research in this field is not yet conclusive, it would seem, nevertheless, that a homosexual orientation is something that to a certain extent—even a large extent-is biological in origin. Homosexuals do not become homosexuals purely by immoral behaviour, although this can certainly aggravate it, but by a lack (it seems) of male hormones in the first few formative weeks after conception. The cause of this lack can be genetic at least to some degree.
    What matters, however, is that the subsequent homosexual tendency is a natural aberration, one way in which our human nature has malfunctioned since the Fall. Hence, simply because it is ‘natural’ does not mean that it must be accepted as good. There are other aberrations that we can be born with, e.g. an excessively aggressive or ill-tempered nature, laziness, gluttony, etc., all which we have to strive to overcome.

It is possible for a homosexual tendency to be so pronounced as to make marriage with a person of the opposite sex morally impossible. In this case the individual in question has only one option—celibacy. It is a real cross but not an unbearable one if he has sufficient faith arid trust in God to persevere in a very difficult but potentially very meritorious path.

  1. What is the SSPX ruling on shorts worn privately, and trousers under skirts?

Is it a sin for Catholic girls or women to wear shorts, even long ones, anywhere except in their own homes (if indeed that)? With regard to the SSPX ruling that females may not wear trousers to church, is it all right during winter for trousers to be worn with a normal length skirt over the top?

  1. The problem with shorts or longs is not so much that they are immodest (longs at least need not be) but that they are—still—identified as being a male form of clothing, and hence should not be worn in public where men and women must be clearly seen to be what they are. Equating the male and female appearance is one step towards confusing the male and female roles, God-given and built into human nature.

It is possible, however, that in private it may be practical for certain jobs to wear long pants (although as a priest I have been amazed by what I can do in a cassock). Wearing them is then acceptable, provided it is strictly for a necessary job and does not become habitual.

  1. How can Catholics practise the seven Corporal Works of Mercy under local circumstances?

Please explain in practical terms how Catholics can practise the seven Corporal Works of Mercy in these modern times in Africa? Is it sufficient to try to practise the seven Spiritual Works of Mercy, or will we be judged on having glossed over the Corporal ones?

  1. As a reminder (or as news), the seven Corporal Works of mercy are:
  • to feed the hungry;
  • to give drink to the thirsty;
  • to clothe the naked;
  • to harbour the harbourless;
  • to visit the sick;
  • to visit the imprisoned;
  • to bury the dead

To difficulty in helping people who have these needs is that they come in two kinds: those who genuinely need help and are grateful for it, and those who take advantage of the generous to the point where they can sometimes even make themselves an intolerable burden to them. At the outset it is not always easy to tell the difference, so what attitude should one adopt towards those who come for help?

In the case of the first three—the hungry, the (nonalcoholic) thirsty and the naked (or insufficiently clothed)—one cannot turn them away with the excuse that they should work for a living. With the African economy in the state it is, there are many who through no fault of their own simply cannot find work. People whom you know to have a genuine need you should help within your means, bearing in mind that your obligations towards your kin must come first.

If you are not certain of the genuinness of the charity case who comes knocking at the door, it is better to give him something small to tide him over until you know him better. Usually not money.

Harbouring the harbourless can also present problems. In concrete, this usually means someone you know who can no longer afford the rent for their own accommodation. If they are near relations they should be taken in, unless there is some clear reason for not doing so, e.g. scandalous behaviour on their, part. By the fourth Commandment one has the obligation to do what one can for one’s family.

One is not obliged to take in acquaintances or strangers, although, depending on the circumstances, it can be a real act of charity to do so. One case that comes up not infrequently is that of someone who is in trouble (not with the Law) and needs a bed for the night. If you can confirm that his story is genuine then it is an act of charity to take him in. If he tries to outstay his welcome, however, then he can be made to leave.

Visiting the sick, or the elderly in old-age homes is a work of mercy that is very necessary and very much neglected in our times. We live in a busy world, nonetheless it is important to make time for those we know, especially friends and family. It can be an onerous task, but one which God will not fail to reward. The same applies to the imprisoned. Even more than the sick, prisoners feel cut off from their fellow men and have very much need of the charity and consolation that a visitor can bring. It can make all the difference to his/her spiritual and moral wellbeing too.

Burying the dead in practice today means making provision for a decent funeral for oneself and those near to oneself, and not resorting to cremation because it happens to be cheaper. Cremation remains an act of irreverence for the dead and is wrong.

Finally, don’t forget the Spiritual Works of Mercy which are more important, and perhaps more neglected:

  • to convert the sinner;
  • instruct the ignorant;
  • to counsel the doubtful;
  • to comfort the sorrowful;
  • to bear wrongs patiently;
  • to forgive injuries;
  • to pray for the living and the dead.

CorrectionLast month in resonse to the question regarding the ruling of the Church regarding annual Confession it was stated that there is an obligation to go to Confession at least once a year even if one is conscious only of venial sins. This needs to be corrected.

In fact, the obligation applies only if one is conscious of having committed mortal sin. The principle that a law must be narrowly applied if it carries a grave obligation applies here. Mortal sin must be confessed but there is no obligation to confess venial sins, as these can be removed by other means, e.g. an act of contrition, a prayer, an act of charity, etc. Hence, if one is not aware of having committed any mortal sins one is not held under pain of grave sin to go to Confession.

However, it remains that one has need of the benefits of Confession, at least from time to time, and it is imprudent to forego it for too long. Usually, a Catholic who is serious about practising his/her Faith is advised to go at least every month. In the times we live, we need all the graces we can get and Confession is a powerful source of these. Take advantage of it!