If we come to the point where the conflict is not between good and evil, but between good and good or evil and evil, we can navigate safely if we have within us the working of the Holy Spirit called charity.
Some years back, I was in a hospital room with a dying woman. She was a Roman Catholic, and I am an Anglican priest. It seemed that she could die at any moment, and no priest from her own church was anywhere in sight. She wanted very badly to make a confession and to be anointed, and even to be given Communion one last time. I believe that I have every sacramental charism that my brother, a Roman Catholic priest, has. But, the rules in her church don’t allow her to regard the sacraments of the Anglican priesthood. Of course, if only the other priest would come through the door, there would be no dilemma. But, he won’t make it on time. He cannot.
Here was a true-life dilemma. And, although it was not as exciting as potential gunfire, and the action of “24,” it was life and death nonetheless. I believe I can hear her confession, give true Absolution, and reach into my Pyx to give her the real Body of Christ- one last time. I believe I can give her a valid Anointing with oil, and pray with all efficacy. And, her mind is so gone that she can no longer understand the distinction between an Anglican priest and a Roman Catholic priest (not that I had failed to lay my cards on the table. She simply could not think to make sense of any difference). What of the importance of truth? What about high principles of Ecumenical relations? What if she recovers, and her conscience becomes troubled by having received what she might later consider [rightly or wrongly] to have been dubious sacraments?
What, on the other hand, if she dies without Absolution, without a final gesture of faith that might be the difference between entering into life or death when her soul departs? To receive these sacraments for the last time, to have a handle that faith can grasp by turning to God upon her deathbed, might be her lifeline. Maybe God brought me into this room this day. But, no matter what, I am, in someone’s eyes, “damned if I do, damned if I don’t.” What I believed to be the way of charity was all I could rely upon. As she seemed to be slipping away, I ministered the sacraments and prepared her to die.
There is more to this story, and I have told it before. She actually pulled through by the slimmest of chances, and lived for a couple of years (be careful with that anointing and praying. You never quite know if it will spoil a funeral or not). She returned to the Roman Catholic Church (after years of separation), and led her grown children back into her Church as well.
The correspondence of Hell must be very well guarded. Aside from a few letters that were discovered by C.S. Lewis, the devilish mind remains hidden or scrambled. Nonetheless, even without Screwtape’s letters to Wormwood, we could imagine the extent to which diabolical frustration must rise. Try as they might, the forces of Darkness are not able to purge man (in their terms). No matter the degree to which sin distorts the human creature, his evil cannot be pure evil. It is always contaminated by the image of God, and is at best a mere distortion of the goodness of the created world.
Some may believe I did the wrong thing, when I believed she was dying (well, she was dying, and it was expected by the hospital and doctors that she would die). And, to the frustration of the devils who cannot create pure evil in their human “patients,” even if sin was present in some technical sense, so was charity, and the image of God.