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.