The Moral Life: Fulfillment in Beatitude (Module Three) began and ended with a bang! This module was very interesting for a number of reasons: professionally, spiritually and personally.
When living (or at least trying to) a moral life, it seems easier to consider what we have done wrong than realizing what it is that we ought to be doing as faithful Catholics. There is any number of checklists - or examinations of conscience – that list all the possible sins against each of the commandments. On the other hand, there are few lists that make us consider what we ought to doing because of the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes. All too often, we are just like the young man in the Gospels who thought he was good enough because he had religiously observed all the commandments while failing to consider what more he could have been doing or ought to have been doing. When asked to do one more thing, he walked away. The question naturally arises: how different are we? You may be interested to know that I have written a book for teens called “Black and White: An Examination of the Moral Life” which asks the teens to take into consideration ‘what they ought to be doing ‘simultaneous to their examination of what they did wrong based on the Beatitudes, the Ten Commandments and the Greatest Commandment. While far short of the Catechism, it hopes to get teens to do more than just try and follow the letter of the law. This is one more reason why this module was particularly interesting to me.
This Module covered many worthwhile topics – so much so that it is almost impossible to summarize them well in a two page paper. Let’s start at the beginning. Deacon Michalak helped us understand the underpinnings of the Ten Commandments by teaching that the commandments are kind of like the tip of the iceberg. There is way more to the Ten Commandments than meets the eye. For example, the Pharisees probably followed the Ten Commandments but needed to do a whole lot more than follow the letter of the law. All of us ought to consider that we ought to want to follow the Ten Commandments because they are designed by God and for specific reasons. What are those reasons? The Ten Commandments are many things including the following. They are a test of our love, a challenge to do better and a standard to live up. They beg us to ‘put on’ virtue, discern truth and strive for authentic freedom when we obey them for all the right reasons. But even they are not enough to get us to heaven if you consider the parable of the Rich Young Man. We learned that authentic freedom helps us choose well because it is aided by virtue rather than vice.
Deacon Michalak (a great teacher) pointed out that we can’t understand the purpose of the Commandments unless we understand the underpinnings or foundations from which they were built and that St Thomas Aquinas found these to be more interesting than the actual Ten Commandments. St. Thomas’ natural intelligence, wisdom and theological interests point to his holy purpose in life: to help the rest of us (millennia later) to better understand these underpinnings. Most of us could not have found this purpose in life as interesting or purposeful as Thomas must have - even though it sure was worthwhile considering how immemorial his teachings are. St. Thomas helps us learn how to evaluate human behavior; discern moral actions vs. immoral actions; understand the natural Hierarchy of Happiness; avoid sin, understand virtue (Cardinal, Theological, natural) evaluate moral norms, understand Natural Law and the Conscience. He also helped develop the Twelve Steps leading up to and including the action itself. The University of St. Thomas has a worthy patron saint – unfortunately one theology professor seems in need of a refresher course in the Catechism considering that one young man recently told me that this man questions the principle of infallibility.
We learned that the moral life is a journey into spiritual maturity whereas the immoral life is a journey into hell. Everybody does not attain spiritual maturity for obvious reasons: sin, vice, lack of faith, etc. This journey to the final Goal – or away from it - is always dynamic ; it is never static. Even when we aren’t moving toward God we are moving away from Him. The spiritual journey re-shapes us whether we realize it or not. The longer we walk the more perfected we ought to be getting. Holiness is matured by grace; it is through grace that we begin to live the moral life – the baby steps taken towards holiness. Eventually, we blossom into everlasting happiness. On the other hand, ungodliness grows by means of putting on vice rather than virtue. Those who arrive at Hell do so by having perfected the trinitarian partnership of me; myself and I. Sin collapses the world around us sinking us into the narrowest of relationships – one that has room only for myself.
The synthesis of the Hierarchy of Happiness was interesting in light of today’s misunderstandings about pleasure and happiness. America seems doomed to unhappiness given the fact that we fail to preserve basic necessary principles including the appreciation for all human life; a basic respect for Natural Law and common good; practice of the Golden Rule, etc. Too many fail to appreciate that freedom is the ability to do what we ought to do in order to obtain the greater good and the Greatest Good. Freedom is too often defined as my ability to do what I want, when I want, and how I want. It is plain to see that this misunderstanding will only continue to shrink our ability to “do what we ought to do…” While there is no rivalry between genuine freedom and grace, there is always going to be rivalry between vice and genuine freedom because the former impedes the latter. Vice pulls us inward whereas authentic freedom prompts us to regard the common good for all and for the Greatest Good.
The discussion about virtue was really interesting to me. Virtue is our capacity to do good for others. It is the freedom to act with excellence. I had never before considered virtue as the boundaries of the football field wherein the game is played. It is true; nobody would enjoy participating or watching any sport without clearly defined winners, losers, and rules. The same goes for real life even though many people today suggest that we don’t need to live by the rules or tally up the wins and losses in the game of Life and Love (loss: abortion, disease, divorce, same sex attractions, vs. wins: stable family life, authentic love, joyful children, etc). We can readily observe how Law sustains reality while Goals keep us within the bounds. It should be readily apparent that only God gets to define reality because he created it! Creatures can enjoy reality but they can’t re-define or define it. After all, moral order and reality can lead in only one direction. It is either truth or it isn’t. Only God is the source of constant goodness. He never changes. We can all share God at once. Only he never runs out of love or life. There is always more to know about God. We will never be able to exhaust Him or his love. This is the only truthful reality; every other reality is manmade and therefore fallible, destructible, erodible and conditional. It’s a good reminder that “an act is not morally upright because the Church says it is so but because is it objectively good and that’s why the Church says it is so!
The theological virtues (Faith, Hope Charity) along with the Cardinal virtues perfect our will which in turn make us more human. Prudence is the most important Cardinal virtue; imprudence is the lack of the cardinal virtues: fortitude, justice, prudence, and wisdom. Fr. Klockman mentioned that all of us are weak in especially one Theological virtues and one Cardinal virtue. We were asked to consider which virtue(s) are our Achilles Heal because that is where we will most likely be tempted and attacked by the evil one. Father also mentioned that through the very wounds (sin) that we inflict upon Christ, become the fountain for every lasting life when we lay our sins at his holy feet. Ironically, our sin can become the way to love Christ more and more. It is also the way to move away from Christ more and more. What we do matters here and now and for all eternity.
We learned that our conscience is not like Jiminy Cricket who kept reminding Pinocchio to stop lying. Rather our consciences are the result of judging rightly all along; it is our witness to the truth as we already know it. It is the fruit of our capacity to reason well. In other words, it will not be superior to the formation process we have undertaken.
There were so many other points that were interesting so let me capture them in the remaining paragraphs. Pope Pius Xll said the loss of the sense of sin was the greatest sin of the 20th Century. Moral relativism seems one and the same as the loss of the sense of sin and so other than this, what is the greatest sin of the 21st Century? Redefining sin itself?
Child formation involves getting the kid out of the kid ( was a great line of Deacon Dan). He also said that every action leads to either sin or grace.
Words matter as this Communication Era rapidly redefines is and was. Consider how moral evils have become accepted ways of life just by changing the lingo used when describing them. Abortions no longer talk about lives lost but choices made; babies are called fetus or tissue; contraception has been labeled to be a woman’s health issue and the responsible way to plan families; sodomy is now just a same sex attraction; etc.
The Ten Commandment discussions were very good. They certainly are just the tip of the iceberg until you begin to study the depth of their command in light of the Beatitudes and the Greatest Commandment. This has been another very fulfilling semester. Thank you for all the teachers and staff.