A man can slip and not mean it. Sirach 19:15
There is a lot of flawed moral reasoning today around the issue of intentionality, feelings and thoughts. The truth is that we have to not only feel something is good and mean well, what we do must actually be good. Just because one feels the moon is made out of green cheese does not make it so!
As a priest, I have made many mistakes even though I meant well and felt I was doing the right thing at the time. None of them were too serious, but they did wake me up to the fact that good will alone is not enough.
Not too long after I was ordained, I was instructed to go to Somerset City Hospital to anoint a dying lady. I had never anointed anyone before, so I retrieved a small leather oil case from Father Buren’s office.
When I got to the hospital, I stood beside the bed while the doctors tried to revive the woman who was in the process of dying. Finally, the doctor pulled the plastic back on her oxygen tent and said, “OK, Father!” I rushed up to the bed, unscrewing the oil stock as I started the prayer. At that moment black ashes were sucked from the container in my hand and went all over the woman’s face and pillow.
I had no idea what had happened. I found out later that someone had put ashes in the oil stocks on a previous Ash Wednesday to take to the mission churches attached to the parish. Forgetting, they simply placed them on top of Father Buren’s file cabinet. Regardless of the fact that I meant well and felt that what I was doing was right, it was a disaster.
During my first pastorate, we had the practice of honoring one of the families of our small parish each Sunday. They sat in the front pew. We mentioned them by name in the petitions. They brought up the gifts. When I got to the petition, with them looking right at me, I prayed, “Let us pray for all the families of the parish except the Adams family.” What I meant to say was, “Let us pray for all the families of the parish especially the Adams family. Regardless of the fact that I meant well and felt that what I was doing was right, it was a disaster.
Once, during a wedding, I actually called the bride by the old girlfriend’s name. I had known the groom and his old girlfriend for years. I was used to saying their names together. When it came time for the vows, I automatically called his bride by his old girl friend’s name. Regardless of the fact that I meant well and felt that what I was doing was right, it was a disaster!
Likewise, when it comes to moral assessments, we cannot simply feel that something is good, it must actually be good.
Father J. Ronald Knott