Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Moral Truth (CCC 1691-2051)

Catechism Class Eleven

Jesus calls us to universal holiness. He calls us all to be perfect, just as His Father in heaven is perfect. Thus, in addition to helping to form our faith, another function of the Magisterium is to teach us and assist us in the formation of our consciences, which involves an act of reason, not feeling. That is, moral conscience, present in the heart of the person, is a judgment of reason which at the appropriate moment enjoins him to do good and to avoid evil. Whereas the natural law discloses the objective and universal demands of the moral good, conscience is the application of the law to a particular case.

In helping us to properly form our moral consciences, the Church does not really teach anything new, anything that was not previously revealed by God or is not already written as the natural law on men’s hearts and therefore discoverable and knowable by reason. Under the natural law, the concepts of truth, justice, good and evil, and values of right and wrong are deemed fundamental, absolute, and transcendent. As a component of transcendent truth, morality is objective, not subjective, relative, or situational.

And what are those teachings? Very simply they are this – (1) Love the Lord thy God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind; and (2) Love one another, as Jesus loves us, so too should we love one another. Those are the teachings of the Lord and His Church in a nutshell. This is our general vocation.

So what does that mean in practical terms?

(1) Love God. God is Truth, God is Transcendent, God is Reason, and God is Love, and we ourselves are not gods. So we should be humble; admit and know that there are things greater than ourselves. We should follow Truth; take love into our heart; take Christ and the Holy Spirit into our very being, spiritually and bodily, through the sacraments. We should remain in communication with God, pray to Him in thanks for what we have and ask Him for what we need.

God does not force Himself on us; He does not save us against our will or without our consent. Thus, when we do wrong, we should be contrite and formally ask his forgiveness, generally and in the Sacrament of Confession. The only unforgiveable sin is the refusal to ask for or accept forgiveness, and thereby “blaspheme” the Holy Spirit. God will not force forgiveness on us and, thus, it is not He who sends us to Hell, which is separation from God; rather, we choose it by our own will.

(2) Love one another. We should love – truly love – as God loves, for His is the most perfect and complete kind of love. The Latin word for the kind of love that God is is caritas, from which we get the word “charity.” Such a love is more than an emotional feeling, more than an attraction or desire for personal happiness. Such true and total love is a conscious act of the will to subordinate oneself and unconditionally and selflessly seek the good and welfare of the other, including the gift of self for the other’s benefit, whether that love is returned or not and whether or not the other “deserves” to be loved.

The command that we should love “one another” means that we should acknowledge that we are not alone in the world -- there are other people, brothers, sisters, neighbors. Instead of being selfishly focused inward, our love must be selflessly turned outward. And because they too are children of God, we are all equal. We should respect the inherent dignity of all human persons, no matter how seemingly insignificant, undesirable, or useless. We should show mercy to others, and forgive them when they injure us.

In all things, we should do good and avoid evil. This is part of the natural law that is written on men’s hearts. We should endeavor to live a life of virtue, rather than vice. Embracing virtues like the theological virtues of faith, hope, charity, and the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance, while rejecting vices and capital sins like undue pride, covetousness, lust, vengeful anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth.

In charity, we should give of ourselves to others, not take from them, help others, not hinder them. We should be willing to show compassion toward others, that is, to suffer with them, and not abandon them. We should affirm and respect the dignity of every human person from the very beginning of their creation, from the instant of existence. Love seeks the good of the other, including the good which is truth, namely, the truth of the other as a “person,” and not as a thing to be used for our amusement, a subject and not an object, an end in his or herself, and not merely a means to be exploited by us or used up and then tossed aside or thrown away as if they are trash. We all have intrinsic meaning, every one of us.

These are not harsh prohibitions or restrictions on our freedoms, but instead are truths that lead us to authentic freedom. Freedom necessarily is dependent and contingent upon truth. Thus, it is necessarily limited by truth, including moral truth. That is, authentic freedom is the ability to do what is right, and not the ability to do as one pleases. This is because one ought to do good, and what is good and right is that which is consistent with truth. And to do that which is inconsistent with truth is not freedom, but is instead being confined and controlled by error. Error causes disorder and leads to more error. The consequence of sin is that, by embracing a false and counterfeit “freedom,” we necessarily become a slave to error, even if we erroneously continue to insist that we are still free.

These truths are already written on our hearts, but because our ability to reason and discover these truths ourselves has been corrupted by sin and the temptations of the world, in order to help, the Holy Spirit guides the Church in teaching us and explaining these truths. And to help individuals overcome that temptation to sin, the Holy Spirit provide us grace -- if we seek it and accept it. At times, it may be very difficult to love or forgive, it may seem to be impossible, but whatever may be lacking in our own will or power, God will give by grace to those who ask.

Now, a gift -- any gift -- is not completed and is totally useless unless it is accepted by the recipient. If a gift is returned to sender, or is simply put in a closet, unopened, it is as if it was never received. Thus, it is necessary that you accept the gifts that are the graces of God.

Grace presupposes nature, it does not replace it. In conferring grace, God does not simply wipe out our humanity; He does not impose Himself upon us against our will and treat us as puppets. Rather, grace builds on our nature and works within it to heal, perfect, elevate, and transform that nature. We must allow the Holy Spirit and gift of grace to come into our hearts, and not simply set that grace aside and ignore it. And we must allow the fruits of that grace to grow within us. If we resist and ignore those graces, if we shut ourselves off from the Truth and Love which are the Holy Spirit, then life becomes much harder and unsatisfactory. If we turn away from the Light, it is much more difficult to find our way through life in the darkness. And if we resist too long, we will find ourselves in the darkness forever.

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