Monday, May 28, 2018

Death before mortal sin.

Another interesting discussion on Facebook.

A friend posted a commentary on something a spiritual-director woman online posted about preferring that one's child die rather than commit a mortal sin.  (She did a poll.)  The comments were 'against it' or rather censorious, to put it mildly.  I love little exchanges like that.  There are so many examples of the saints, even in the Old Testament, who would rather die than sin against God.  The most classic example is from the Book of Maccabees about the mother and her seven sons she urged to die rather than eat pork. One by one they were tortured and killed, rather than offend God.

At first I responded with my idea of where people get these ideas from - the examples of the saints.  I wrote the following comment to be a bit tongue in cheek, making light of their 'piety':
Francis de Sales quotes Bl. Blanche of Castile, the mother of St. Louis King of France: "My son, I would sooner see you die than guilty of a mortal sin." Similarly, St. Rita prayed that her sons wouldn't take revenge upon her husband's murderers, and they died before they could do anything. These examples are meant to instill great fear of God - in a good way, that is, their devotion be so great, their greatest fear would be offending God. Traditional piety has always been full of drama of course. Consider that the modesty and chastity of St. Aloysius moved him to avoid looking at his mother. Pious folks seem to want to repeat these examples and are very good at trying to scare the hell out of apostates, heretics and libertines. Although it seems to me the notion of mortal sin is pretty much lost on us these days - this strategy doesn't work especially well.  
It's good to remember that the children of the saints weren't always well treated or coddled, as we do today.  We try to shield children from all sorts of evils and send them to counsellors whenever tragedy strikes. Just imagine Margaret of Cortona's son, what he had to go through with her penitence and poverty, only to be sent to a monastery when he was old enough? Then of course all of Angela of Foligno's kids died and she was free to pursue the penitential life. Jane de Chantal walked over the body of her (adult) son who laid on the threshold in his attempt to keep her from founding a convent. There are so many examples of saints doing crazy stuff. LOL! Religious people are rather queer, haven't you noticed? - My comment  
I took my comment down, pretty much because contemporary people seem to regard this sort of 'heroic detachment' as mere hyperbole, and one is more or less forbidden to even suggest such a horrific example to others.  I was also ashamed that I made light of another person's piety.  The original objection on Facebook was that it somehow contradicted pro-life ideology.  To be sure that's beyond my competence - so I thought I better back off.

In another reply I had also cited Dominic Savio who at seven years of age vowed: "Death before sin!"  I noted I made the same promise when I was about Savio's age, but it didn't work for me.  I tried to make light of the whole thing, but it was wrong for me to play games like that.  Gratefully I suddenly remembered something St. John Paul II wrote regarding this very same issue - which confirmed my reluctance to add more to the conversation.
The Church proposes the example of numerous Saints who bore witness to and defended moral truth even to the point of enduring martyrdom, or who preferred death to a single mortal sin. In raising them to the honor of the altars, the Church has canonized their witness and declared the truth of their judgment, according to which the love of God entails the obligation to respect his commandments, even in the most dire of circumstances, and the refusal to betray those commandments, even for the sake of saving one’s own life. - Veritatis Splendor, 91
Of course, this leads one to consider the 'virgin martyrs', especially in modern times, with Maria Goretti at the lead.  Parents are loathe to consider such an end for their kids.  I'm thinking this must be the pivot of the argument.  It seems to turn the tables and becomes a pro-choice argument against pro-lifers?  I'm not sure, but I think I need to stay away from these online battles.


  1. I love the story of the mother and her 7 sons but do I hope it ever happens to me? No.

  2. "Death before sin," was also what Blessed Charles, the last Emperor of Austria-Hungary expressed to his children. Personally, I do not think it is a bad thing to expect great things of children. God bless you this Memorial Day - Susan, ofs

  3. I dunno, it’s one of those things that makes sense to me intellectually, but I cannot say I’d rather my child be dead than commit a mortal sin ever. Maybe it’s because I know I committed many, and have received Mercy from God.

    Also, all those Saint stories just remind me of how much the saints creep me out and why I can’t get close to any of them. It’s my fault, I know, but seriously, I do not ever look at stuff like that and say “I’ll have what they’re having.”

    1. You have the healthiest attitude - we can't have what they were having anyway - it is not God's will for us. Remember our exchanges over this? But now you are happily married and have Henry - that is so not how we talk today and you are perfectly in sync with Catholic teaching. I would think the more heroic thing to do is say, I would rather die than for you to commit a mortal sin - leave the kid alone. LOL! It's not God's will for us and I have never met anyone willing to do that. Even entertaining an idea like that would probably have authorities taking the kid away from you. So - onward we go. Obviously God didn't want me to die as a kid rather than offend him or fall away. I begged him to take my life as a kid so I wouldn't repeat the sins of my parents, he wanted me to live I guess. I'm still here. Haha!

  4. You’re the best, Terry. God bless you, my friend :)


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