Flowers for the Immaculate Conception (Sincerity ≠ Justification edition)


Last Summer, a dear reader who is way too good to me had me take a picture of one of her large flowering plants, saying that it would be good as one of the “Flowers for the Immaculate Conception” editions.

“But it’s a tall plant with seven-fold fingery green leaves that look like marijuana!” I objected.

“It’s not marijuana!” she said.

“But, but…” I objected.

“Grrrr…” she said.

So I put it up:


What do I know about marijuana? Nothing. Would my guardian angel smack me down for giving marijuana to Mary? I put it up. No one knew the name of this plant. Such a risk! But then, recently (though now well past my birthday) this wonderful reader gave me the card pictured above with this message inside:


Haha! A CLEOME! NOT marijuana. I’m happy to have given that flower to the Immaculate Conception. But what if it had been marijuana, would my sincere gift have been rejected by Mary. No. Not in this case. Because it’s neither here nor there as regards morality. It’s merely the intention that counts in this case.

But a question arises: Does sincerity equal justification in all cases?

This is a question which came up in class from a young seminarian classmate of young seminarian Joseph Ratzinger. His fellow student asked whether or not Hitler could go to heaven justified by his at least self-perceived sincerity to assist humanity in having a “final solution” for “purifying the race.” Young Joseph was appalled and sickened by the question, and says that that was when he instantly understood with the clarity of a lightning bolt that sincerity doesn’t justify, an erroneous conscience doesn’t justify, feelings and emotions do not justify. Only the sanctifying grace provided to us by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ justifies, coming to us, as it does, with supernaturally provided faith, hope and charity. We are not our own saviors by way of our own self-congratulation.

When I read: “It’s a CLEOME!” I laughed out loud for happiness that it wasn’t marijuana that I gave to Mary. The prayer of this reader is that of Mary herself for all of us:

“May Our Lord Jesus Christ bless you and keep you in His loving arms.”

Hitler will never come to know that his monstrousness was, after all, something good. No.

  • You can have a mistaken conscience and still go straight to hell. And, on this point, there is such a thing as purposed ignorance. The hell of that ignorance is not bliss.
  • You can have all the sincerity in your own eyes you want and still go straight to hell where all the wax filling in the holes of conscience will melt and reveal the ugliness that is there. [“Sincere” means “without wax”, that is, because something (say, restored furniture) doesn’t need to fake that it’s perfect because it already is perfect, without blemish, and therefore without wax: it’s “sincere.”].
  • You can have all the self-pleasing feelings and emotions you want and still go straight to hell. Did you know that feeling and emotions are fallen with the rest of our human nature? Ever once notice that? They don’t follow reason after original sin. It’s takes only the slightest bit of humility and reality to take note of that.

Speaking of humility, which is provided to us with God’s love, is that which will enable one to avoid that kind of self-congratulation which would have us claim that we’re justified by ignorance, by an erroneous conscience. Saint Paul says that we have God’s law written in our hearts, that which is called the Natural Law, that which is written into our nature by our Creator. Example: Thou shalt not murder the innocent. We can’t claim ignorance. We know that. It’s arrogance, a lust for power over God which would have one claim that murdering the innocent is just fine and dandy in all of one’s sincerity. It doesn’t work that way.

So, this flower is once again given to the Immaculate Conception, Jesus’ good mom. She saw, with horror, all of our own self-justification, our ignoring of her Son even while He redeemed us on the Cross, tortured to death, taking our place, the Innocent for the guilty. “It’s better that one man die than that a whole nation perish” shouted the High Priest Caiaphas. And so did we all. And Mary saw it all…. A flower for you, Mary. Thank you for being in solidarity with your Son right to the end. Thank you for being a mother to us in your solidarity with your Son’s purpose of justifiying us with His love, His forgiveness, His goodness and kindness, His Truth.


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9 responses to “Flowers for the Immaculate Conception (Sincerity ≠ Justification edition)

  1. nancyv

    Oh, not my goodness but God’s! (my new saying)
    I felt this arrow hit me where it hurt and thank you very much. The ways I would noodle around to justify my thoughts ….ugh. Thank you Father.
    Lovely Cleome. So you wouldn’t give our Mother tobacco flowering, right?

  2. Thanks for posting the photo of the Cleome. It brought back many pleasant memories of my mom. She had a flower garden filled with these dainty plants. I knew it wasn’t a marijuana plant but I couldn’t remember its real name.

    This flower probably pleases Our Lady a lot, because it, like her Son, was falsely accused. (smile) Thanks for a great posting and God bless you, Father and all my fellow readers of this blog.

  3. elizdelphi

    What you say about having a mistaken conscience and still going to hell seems well said to me, this is something I want to understand better Do you know a good book to suggest that discusses culpable versus non culpable ignorance?

    • Father George David Byers

      Just any old manual. But really only our Lord can judge all the unrepeatable circumstances.

      • elizdelphi

        Yes! But actually I was trying to buy such a manual recently and I could not figure out what exactly to look for–a title. What is a title or two that I should look for? There are other things I want to consult it for as well. Frustratingly, I think I once had exactly the kind of thing that I now want but I sold it because I didn’t immediately need it that much and it was worth money–and I do not remember the title. It explained principles and also cases such as, it’s okay if the altar boy goes during Mass into the sacristy to get something, but if he goes outside and over to the rectory to retrieve the bells from there he sins.

  4. Father George David Byers

    So – and this is just from memory, mind you – the most typical of manuals of all that is manualisticness is Jones – Adelmann[sp?] – a tiny volume. That’s from back in the day, and still very much combines canon law and moral theology, as was the practice. I think that that’s a mistaken practice as it’s way to easy for fallen human nature to treat the absolutes of moral theology (and there are many) in a way that some of the canons which can be dispensed are treated. I haven’t looked at it in any serious way, and looked at it at all, and now can’t find it, for years. Anyway, Jones and Adelmann present a general overview, and it’s in English, not in Latin. That will make some say “Pfft!”, but, whatever.

    Another, with a general overview of conscience, is Delhaye on The Christian Conscience. I haven’t read that through. I narrowed in on some parts, like, thirty and forty years ago! So, take that with a grain of salt.

    By far and away the best is the Summa Theologiae of Aquinas. That’s an absolute.

    Even better, memorize the canons on original sin and justification and on grace in the Council of Trent. That’s your basis.

    The encyclicals of Saint Pope John Paul II on moral questions are also essential.

  5. elizdelphi

    Thank you so much for this, the one manual, yes blessedly in English, is Moral Theology by Jone-Adelman which cannot be had for less than $64 incl shipping so I am going to wait a bit but I have found a reasonable priced copy of The Christian Conscience by Delhaye and placed an order. In the meantime I can read the Council of Trent–and I have the Summa here. Besides personal interest, I feel like I am in way over my non-theologian, non academic head on something, it may be that I will try to email you some other time for some other advice that you perhaps have relatively more competency for than the good cleric who is urging me about this.

    • elizdelphi

      Okay, in fact there is a bookseller St Bonaventure Publications that has Moral Theology by Jone-Adelman in the Tan Books reprint for way, way less than anyone else so I got that. Years ago I got a different Tan books set from them at a very low price so they must have a vast stock of old Tan books that they just always sell cheap regardless of the market? That particular one is out of print since maybe before Tan was bought out. If anyone else wants that or another Tan book try there.

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