A little love song for my groom and my love!
Living in union with Jesus on the Cross for this Lenten Season. Please pray for the good work being revealed in the mystery of suffering.
This has been a very difficult season, that began this fall, when H1N1 broke out severely in Cheyenne, before the shots were available. The attack took 6 weeks for the lungs to be completely clear, but the real hit was what the virus did to my gut (Crohn’s) and my immune systerm.
By Christmas, even with medical treatment, my Crohn’s was not settling down, but seemed to get worse each day. Right after Christmas, my parents and I went for a surgical consultation at St. Luke’s in Denver, CO. My excellent colorectal surgeon, a GOD SEND, examined me ever so gently with the greatest of respect and dignity. After less then 15 minutes he had seen enough and heard enough. Ask me to get my parents if they wished and we met the next hour and half in his personal office.
Very intense meeting with many tears, because my colon could not be saved. Scar tissue that had been building up for over 14 years and was in a rapid degeneration process that was going to cause a major life threatening condition in about 2 – 6 months. I had to have a colostomy, or I would not survive.
So on January 21, I went in for a very intense surgery where my anus, rectum, and small part of my large bowel was completely removed and I was given a pernament ostomy in the bottom left side area. (Little dark humor, I am offically a bag lady!) This surgery is very hard, for they have to completely reconstruct the pelvic floor to hold all your internal organs in. Very intense, I remember lying in bed feeling those muscles moving for the first time. Oh my what a little taste of the pain Christ experience hanging on the cross trying to lift those muscles to breath. What a humble experience beyond real words to express.
My recovery though was going really well, after 7 days I was able to go back to Wyoming with my parents, not strong enough to be on my own yet still. Anyways I had gone for my sugery follow up 2 weeks after and my surgeon was going to release me for half days starting 22nd of February. Two days later I had a fever, upper respitory infection and allergic reaction occuring from adhesives around the stoma.
While this was occuring I got to experience first hand the great, great, great poverty here in Wyoming for those who need adequate care and at times the severe lack of it here. I had a number to call during the weekend for a homecare nurse on call to come to the house if something was wrong. No answer any call anywhere. I was scared to go to ER here and knew my regular nurse would be in first thing Monday morning. So we waited for her, when she came she freaked, knew something was very wrong. Started the referral process to get a specialist nurse, only one in area. Her agency sat on the paperwork for 24 hours, not til the next afternoon when my nurse called to see if she came that she went livid and started to fight the system to get her to me.
Weds morning went to my GI specialist, who said WOCN nurse has final call, but he wanted me to go back to Denver as soon as possible. Went back home and my angel came to my rescue. Even my other nurse came to help and while they were working on me, my surgeon called me from Denver. Such a God event who spoke directly to my specialist nurse. By nine am, Feb 11th I was back in the hospital receiving excellent care with so much Christ centered compassion from everyone at St. Lukes. Though by the time I was released from the Hospital on the 19th, I had gone through 3 surgeries in less then a months time.
Final one was Ash Wednesday, got first humira shot and ashes on my forehead just before being sent back into the OR. What a beautiful way to begin my lenten journey. On the cross for him and all those who are abandoned in their suffering.
Years ago when I was sent back to Wyoming from a religious community I was so in love with, after a severe attack, completely a God event, because I belong in Wyoming, not elsewhere, I knew God was working and I received many consolations and graces. I was a needy little soul who needed the cotton candy to get through the deep grief and severe physical pain when going down a path I did not want to take.
This journey is a very different one. What a blessing that my last class I completed a paper on Saints of Darkness, the Redemptive Sufferings of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta and our much beloved JPII. What a blessing that theological exploration gave me in recognizing amongst this journey a beautiful call within this mystery of suffering that is being revealed each day during this intense Lenten Journey. For years I have been praying for the Lord to tell me where he needed me most, what is the work he needs here for this particular people and place of the frontier church.
He has revealed it and it is so beautiful and such a deep need for the poorest of the poor amongst us here in Wyoming. The ones who are isolated and abandoned because of disease and disability. I have the next year or so to live in union with these poor, to pray, to work, to study, and to live among them as one of them.
We are already beginning a work, to start a support network. But it is bigger then that. We do not have Catholic heathcare here in Wyoming, and we needed something that is for the particular challenges of rural life here. For too many are falling through the cracks. Free clinics in area have had to shut down, and shortages are just awlful. Education needed of public, patients, family, care givers, and professionals in the field. The innate dignity of the human person needs to be protected through the whole life from conception to natural death.
Good hearted, faithful servants in heath care here are being overwhelm by a mentality that heath care is a business. Euthanasia is being practiced here quietly without any fanfare under the guise of hospice care. Cases in the local hosptial, hospice center, and nursing facilities where others have suffered the same fate as Terri Shavio and no one spoke up for them. (Hippa does a good job hiding the reality at times.) Like me others have been abandoned when they need help the most. This is going to change, others have already started the work. Now I have been asked to enter into it as well.
I knew after a tremendous healing at the Marian Eucharistic Conferrence in Jackson Hole on October 23, 2004, that by accepting my special mission, my bitterness in this life would increase. I can now say this is a path I can gladly take for it brings our Lord such pleasure to use me so. He can crush my bones if he so chooses.Though just like before, this will pass, because there is a very important work needed here. I know in my heart of hearts, even if i can’t feel his heart, that I am very close to him this Lenten Season. I ask for your prayers for me and the others on the frontlines here in Wyoming. Know you are all in mine and if you have any special requests send me a message and I will offer my sufferings for you and your intentions as well.
One in the sufferings of Christ,
a little handmaid
As you can see I have not visited my blog in quite awhile. Last spring the subbing and wrapping up fulltime classes really tied me up. Shortly after school was out and I got a job and was in training all summer. In a few days I will post some other papers I wrote last semester to the blog. The best one was on Redemptive Suffering in the lives of our Saints of Darkness (John Paul II and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.)
Because of the economy I had to cut back on studies to half time and find a fulltime job. I started June 8th. Shortly after graduating as a claims processor and going to the floor in September, to help those who have been in a car accident or had a tree fall on their house, our office was struck down with swine flu. Unfortunately, I caught it too. This past fall semester has been a very difficult one dealing with complications from swine flu, trying to keep up with grad studies, and working fulltime.
In October while I was in the midst of the bad bug, we received a new Bishop. Oh did that give my heart hope and pure joy. Any pain and suffering had that much more meaning and purpose. So yes I offered it up and then two weeks into the midst, our Holy Father announced out New Bishop. Paul Etienne. Our Lord was sending us our own Paul.
After the initial bug hit me, something was not right with my immune system. As some may know, I have lived with chronic health issues since childhood. Technically I live with Crohn’s, Celiac, Arthritis, and Asthma. Well as you can guess by now swine flu is not a good thing to come down with.
I just know it was such a blessing for the Lord to give me the Job he did, because if I was still working as teacher or subbing, I would be much more in a hurt locker. I lived for a year without any heathcare or insurance, now I have it. I have been given an extended medical leave of absence with the assurance of a job when I have recovered.
That bug did something to my immune system, like put it into hyper over drive. Anyways when my GI specialist completed a colonoscopy shortly after the virus ravaged inside, he found that an area of scar tissue, I carried for many years, was beyond medical intervention.
So just after Christmas my parents and I found out from a very specialized surgeon down in Denver I had about 2 to 6 months before I blew. Basically a few months before I would have been life lighted. The scar tissue needed to be removed because it was falling apart like hamburger meat at a rapid pace.
So Jan 21st I had a permanent colostomy with pelvic floor rebuild. (Major, major, major surgery.) My recovery was going so well. I was at my parents in 7 days and had just completed my first follow up with my surgeon. He thought in two weeks I could go back to half days at work.
2 days later, my father and I both had an upper respiratory infection. Not good, in four days the skin around my surgery sight had rotted away on my body. VERY BAD! One of the worst complications for a Crohn’s patient happened. It had manifested itself on the outside on the body and eaten away at the skin.
So on the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes; I was rushed back down to Denver and under the knife once more to save my stoma and my life. I knew I was in her hands. I was at peace through this even though I couldn’t feel Christ’s heart or closeness, but I could sense his work through those around me. All I could do was unite my pain with all those in need of prayer, the children in Haiti and new bishop, diocese, and those others I met who were so sick.
Then slow progress as they began medical intervention with high dose IV steroids, Humira, and 6-MP to get the Crohn’s back in remission. On Ash Wednesday I was told to get ready to go home. So we were preparing to do just that, but Lent was just beginning. Suddenly my surgeon was there with two wound care nurses and suddenly I was going back to the OR. Still some dead tissue to be removed. So minutes before rushing to the OR, this beautiful deacon from the Cathedral down the street shows up in my room by my bed. Oh what a joy! The Lord was not forgetting me. That beautiful servant of God planted the biggest black cross of ashes on my forehead. As I was rolled into the OR, my surgeon let out a big roar and said, “The Man Got You!”
See through this all I had the wonderful care of a Christian Hospital at St. Luke’s in Denver across from St. Joseph. How much Christ had to be in so much control, because it is the very hospital with the one other Crohn’s patient in the region already dealing with this same rare manifestation. The team of doctors already knew what needed to be done.
So ALL I ask is for prayers and keep them coming. God is working a Lenten miracle in me. For the skin that they thought was gone forever is growing back and my wound care specialists said it is because of prayer. Wow what a Lenten journey. My question though is if it is so possible to be so close to Christ in his wounds that you can’t hear his heart beat? Always before when I suffered I experienced tremendous consolations, now it is just the reality of the pain. But mysteriously there is still this abiding joy in my heart, but it is not emotion. All I can do is smile, which is my Lenten journey. To not complain but to be still in joy and complete total trust that he is in control and that this is just another season. God always can make lemonade with us can’t he?
“This I command you, to love one another.” ~ John 15:17 (RSV)
As the Living Word, Jesus Christ eloquently fulfilled the Old Mosaic Law and in so doing, recreated the law to the demands of love. Jesus commanded his apostles to go out to all the ends of the earth and to be his witnesses to the Good News of the Gospel. He promised that the Holy Spirit would assist them in preserving the true teachings of His word with special grace and help them to grasp the depths of the sacred truth. With full authority in his name, these most dedicated of the disciples committed themselves to protecting the purity of this new faith as they began to spread the Gospel.
At first the Christians, who were all Jewish, only witnessed within the Jewish community, but it was not for long. Peter, the prime apostle, right at the beginning of his public ministry was challenged to assent to the true reality of the Gospel, when he was invited by Cornelius, a Roman centurion, to come to his home to speak to the Gentiles gathered there.
Under the Old Mosaic Law, Peter, as a circumcised Jew, was forbidden to be with the “unclean” Gentiles. Before he received the invitation, Peter was told in a dream through the Holy Spirit, “What God has cleansed, you must not call common.” Even though he did not fully understand the message, he graciously followed as he was called forth by strange gentiles to come with them to Cornelius. As Peter spoke to this great crowd of faith filled Gentiles, the gift of the Holy Spirit poured out to all of them and the other Jewish witnesses with him were shocked as they “heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God.” This dramatic prophetic act of humble obedience and love for all peoples opened the door to the first theological controversy for the new born Christian Church.
By 50 A.D., as stated in Acts 15, we see this great controversy come to the forefront in the young Church’s first council in Jerusalem. St. Paul with Barnabas, following the Holy Spirit’s guidance had been building the Christian Church amongst the Gentiles. When in Antioch they encountered Christians from Judea who where teaching that all Gentiles must be circumcised and follow the Mosaic Law before they could become Christians. The purity of the message of the Gospel was under its first attack. St. Paul and Barnabas set forth to Jerusalem to converse with the apostles and other elders and witness to them about the massive and authentic conversions of the Gentiles within their ministry.
During the council of Jerusalem the primacy of the first “pope”, Peter, was affirmed by the members of the apostles and elders when an agreement was made that Gentiles were embracing the “radical newness and integrity in ways of thinking and living” , as demanded by the Gospel. They would be asked to refrain from “pollution from idols” , to live chastely, and not to eat meat or drink blood sacrificed to the pagan gods.
Basically speaking this first council of the Church affirmed that Christians did not have to be Jewish first to be converted to the Christian life. The Council avowed that the Gospel, a universal message of hope and truth, was meant for all nations who hungered for the Good News. Christ had come for all of humanity to set free man under the “easy” yoke of the Gospel. Even in the beginning the first Christians recognized that through Christ, all can receive the actuality of freedom, thereby conforming the totality of their hearts to the demands of love and embracing the abundant life of Christ – who is, who was, and who always will be – The Law.
i R. Lawler, D. Wuerl, T. Lawler, The Teaching of Christ. Our Sunday Visitor
Press, Huntington, IN, 2005, 185.
ii Acts 10: 15
iii Acts 10:46
iv The Teaching of Christ, 186.
v Acts 15: 20
Copyright May 2009 by Janelle Wingert
“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another…and forgiving each other,…and above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts. ” ~ Col 3:12-15
The spiritual journey towards eternal happiness is fully accomplished through the perfection of the cardinal and theological virtues, which transform the interior motives of the human heart. Through a docility of heart the Holy Spirit is free to mold and form the human interior life of the soul. Throughout the human journey, there is a battle taking place between living a virtuous life centered in Christ and a life of selfish self-fulfillment.
As embodied persons, we are transformed body and soul as in much as we freely cooperate with the work of the Holy Spirit, who works to trinify our interior essence with divine grace so that we may live as authentic human beings. “The root reason for human dignity lies in man’s call to communion with God.” (Paul VI 1965, #19) When we are trinified we are drawn into and transformed by the Trinitarian life of God, thereby trinifying everything we are and do, which makes us fully, freely and authentically human. As we begin to live our authentic life in Christ, we become more enhanced images of him as living icons of the Beatitudes and the other divine precepts of Christian life.
Due to our fallen nature, it is humanly impossible for us to live fully human as we were designed to be. We must have Christ, the perfect translation of Divine Love in human terms, to accomplish true human maturity. “We cannot reap the fruit of our moral undertakings without the help of a higher power, the mercy of God.” (Pinckaers 1995, 147) In other words, Christ is in the only one who can free us from the chains that bind us into the slavery of sin and vice. We are given a tremendous divine gift at our baptism when the theological virtues are infused within our souls. Using these divine gifts though require more divine help throughout our human journey, for we are habitually too weedy to recognize the interior movements of the Holy Spirit within our own souls.
We must be tutored, put into practice, and persevere in the Christian life so that we can gain knowledge of the desire to do only the good and reject what is bad. Perfection requires that the good become the very essence of our interior motives, to the point of becoming second nature, which becomes our true freedom. The essence of our happiness ensues on our ability to live in a virtuous way and control our emotions. It is imperative that we be meticulous about acquiring and maintaining good habits, which are virtues, or we will fall into bad ones – known as vices. Vices only lead the soul to sin, especially the capital sins which severe our relationship with God, ourselves, and each other with mortal consequences.
We are fallen creatures who have a complex interior veracity within our souls that can be constrained by perplexing emotions. These emotions are found within the depths of the three dimensions of the human soul known as eros, thumos, and logos. The affective emotions and the spirited emotions are found in the eros and thumos respectively. Without Christ we can become enslaved to the interior motives and movements of our heart as a result of the effects of original sin which causes a deep woundedness within the human soul.
We are embodied persons, which means that every action, we take affects us, bodies and souls. “The person, including the body, is completely entrusted to himself, and it is in the unity of body and soul that the person is the subject of his own moral acts.” (John Paul II 1993, #48)
Anyone who seeks to justify vice, often attempts to divide themselves into two realities, thereby separating their spiritual and moral actions from their biological or physical functions – a form of dualism. These individuals would be the first to deny the existence of a spiritual reality to human life and their actions. Often people fail to recognize that they have a soul and that their spirit is inseparable from their embodied personhood. They live in a delusion with the inability to be freed from the effects of their own fallen nature. Ultimately, a person deceives themselves believing that they are satisfied, though often enough if truly honest with themselves, they lack true happiness. These individuals are constantly seeking more power, more money, or more pleasure to fill their broken interiors, because they lack the joy and peace of the true “fulfillment” they seek- their lost humanity.
Literally, they become slaves to themselves by living in the flesh, which becomes a shallow life purely impulse driven. Humans were designed to live in the spirit in communion with God and all those called to His Kingdom. Those who live in the flesh will never reach their fullness of humanity, though the divine grace needed to do so is freely given as “gift” to all who seek it. “Growth into a virtuous life is growth in ‘civilizing’ and giving good direction even to our passions.” (Wuerl 2005, 253) A person must be able to acknowledge the need to grow in virtue before they can even begin to hope to be freed from almost animalistic like instincts which make themselves less than designed to be.
In utmost humility we must first recognize in ourselves that we have the capacity to do great evil and that we need God’s divine help before we can find authentic freedom of body and soul, which transcends human instinct and impulsiveness. After being praised for her passion for the poorest of the poor, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta responded, “I could have been another Hitler.” This great saint knew that her passion could have been used for great harm and in humility she explained to the startled reporter that human beings have the potential for evil inside – even within her own heart.
“The Christian life begins with humility, which supplies the necessary foundation for the spiritual edifice and is formed in imitation of the humility of Christ.” (Pinckaers 1998, 191) Only in humility with a desire to be reconciled to God are we able to begin the true journey to authentic humanness. Humility doesn’t mean that doing great things or the perfection of holiness is impossible, because through God’s divine grace and mercy, He can do wonders in the hearts of even the smallest among us. “God has not called his servants to a mediocre, ordinary life, but rather to the perfection of a sublime holiness.” (Blessed Henry Suso) God desires perfection from all of his children and only those who have reached holy perfection are in heaven, because in heaven all are saints. It is much better for a soul to “work out” their salvation here on earth and strive for Christian perfection in the present moment. By being authentic virtuous Christians in the fullness of our humanity now, we may be granted the grace to live out our purgatory in this life, instead of the next.
Human “dignity demands that, we act according to a knowing and free choice that is personally motivated and prompted from within, not under blind internal impulse nor by mere external pressure. Man achieves such a dignity when emancipating himself from all captivity to passion; he pursues his goal in a spontaneous choice of what is good…” (Paul VI 1965, #17) From God’s design, we were made to be in complete union with God and all in his kingdom with complete freedom and fullness of our humanity. Only in the trinified human dignity is “authentic freedom … an exceptional sign of the divine image within man.” (Paul VI 1965, #17) One who resides with the full dignity of their humanity lives with an authentic faith completely integrated within their moral life.
This is a lifetime’s journey of transformation to reach the perfection all are meant to be in this life. As the excellence of Christian life is manifested through the interior work of the Holy Spirit within a person, the fullness of their humanity is attained through divine grace. Life according to the Spirit allows for the New Law of Christ to be inscribed in the hearts of faithful followers of Jesus. “The New Law … touches us in our intimate depths and our most authentic spontaneity. This is why it is called an interior law, a law of grace, a law of freedom.“ (Pinckaers 1998, 193) Thus, the New Law transforms the person into a new being who can live in the divine precepts of God’s grace.
Due to our fallen nature, we become enslaved to sin, because we fail to grow in virtues and therefore fail to balance the struggle between the three dimensions of our soul and between our bodies and spirit. Basically speaking, through our human weaknesses our emotions can get the best of us. They are not bad in themselves; it is what we do with our emotions that can teach us to grow in virtue and holiness or fall into vice and sin. Only through a more complete understanding of our relationship between our bodies and souls are we able to truly understand and have control of our own moral acts. Harmony between the body and soul is found through SPICE; or spiritual, physical, intellectual, communicative, and emotional harmony. This lack of balance in our culture is most seen in the lack of “real” adults in our society, for many of our contemporaries are more like adolescents than men or women. We see the effects of the lack of SPICE in broken marriages, domestic abuse, depression, desecration of the human body, and so many other ills in society. A moral theory of virtues transforms the impulses and motivation of the human soul thereby helping the person to accomplish SPICE in their life. (May 1992)
When one is able to master SPICE in their life, their very personhood – souls and bodies – are trinified. Through Trinification we are able to accomplish the human freedom necessary to become mothers and fathers. All of humanity is called to motherhood or fatherhood as expressed within their particular vocation and state of life. If they a called to marriage, they are called to physical motherhood and fatherhood. But those in religious life as consecrated persons and ordained priests are also called to spiritual motherhood and fatherhood. Single people also have a part to share in motherhood and fatherhood as celibate mature persons, through they way they relate to their community, church, and the families around them. We can see these expressions of mature adulthood most perfectly expressed in missionary life and secular institutes. For we only become truly human by the complete gift of self to God and others in no matter what state we are called too.
God gives us free “gifts” we need to emancipate ourselves, achieve SPICE, and discover our true vocation. These gifts are known as the virtues which when perfected become second natures that help to train our interior motives to be further propelled to the good. “A virtue is a settled disposition characteristic of the good person, a tendency toward the altogether good, truly loving, and therefore morally right action in any relevant situation.” (Wuerl 2005, 254)
The cardinal virtues help the three capacities of the soul to encounter interior harmony. These virtues are prudence, fortitude, temperance, and justice. The first three help us with our interior emotions and motives while the last helps us to protect our relationship with God and others. Prudence perfects the mind or logos so that a soul can think rightly. Fortitude hones the spirited emotions of hope, courage, fear, despair, and anger. Temperance mediates the affective emotions of love, desire, joy, hatred, aversion, and sadness. Justice helps us to treat God and all others with the utmost respect.
However, as stated before, we are still in need of divine help, which is where the theological virtues come into play. The theological virtues, especially love “… deepens and strengthens [human virtues], even enhancing them with divine dimensions.” (Pinckaers 1995, 123) The theological virtues of faith, hope, and love actually help our virtues to become “divine” second natures. “Faith furnishes motives of which reason would never dream, and theological charity offers inspiration that surpasses anything found in nature.” (Hardon 1966, 200) And of course the theological virtue of hope gives us the strength, courage, and resilience to persist in acquiring Christian perfection, because we have the conviction that the Lord keeps his promises, for he is not finished with us yet. With hope we look to our ultimate happiness of eternal life which awaits us after this difficult and arduous journey we call life. “By these means of these gifts the soul is excited and encouraged to seek after and attain the evangelical beatitudes.” (Leo XIII 1897, #654)
As St. Paul charges us, “… therefore you have received Christ Jesus, the Lord, so live in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught.” (Col: 2: 6-7) The Holy Spirit’s movement within our interior souls teaches us how to grow in virtue and divine love. God loves us so much that He has given us other ways, even Himself incarnated, to teach us how to live more fully. For as said before Jesus, was the complete translation of divine love spoken in the most eloquent of human conversation.
The optimal education of the Christian moral life can be found in the Sermon of the Mount. Within the Sermon, the Christian moral life can be ascertained within the sublime though paradoxical truths of the beatitudes. For the beatitudes speak in the perfection of human expressions drawing upon the innate universal longings of the human heart to find true happiness. They give us “…a path involving a moral and spiritual journey towards perfection, at the heart of which is love.” (John Paul II 1993, #15) This New Law in Christ is a way of life that all are called to dwell in – a new decree that bestows human liberty in its totality. “God’s call is a call to complete authentic freedom, as freedom to do with joy and spontaneity what one’s heart most desires.” (Wuerl 2005, 255)
This joy and spontaneity are found by living with the beatitudes authentically which “brings a deepening of interiority on the level of the ‘heart.’” (Pinckaers 1995, 137) The Beatitudes set “in order perfectly all the interior movements of the human person.” (Pinckaers 1995, 145) By embracing this New Law in Christ a heart feels “an interior urge – a genuine ‘necessity’…to live them in their fullness” (John Paul II 1993, #18) out of love for God, themselves and mankind. The gift of virtues lived as a manifestation of the beatitudes in a human life do “not lessen but reinforce the moral demands of love.” (John Paul II 1993, #24) As virtues become perfected within us, we begin to become a self-portrait or image of Christ revealed through the spontaneous expression of the Beatitudes in our actions and interior motives. Our love surpasses human nature and enters into the realm of the divine love of Christ articulated in the world. We literally become Christ’s hands, feet, eyes, and heart in the world working to build His kingdom in the current moment.
All we have to do to discover these truths, is to look at multitude of saints and blesseds who have lived this convoluted life with God’s grace. These other portraits of Christ have come from all ages, places, walks of life, sufferings and trials. They are a further testament to the shear power of Christ’s mercy and love working with the weakest of human beings who mastered the moral Christian life – deeply rooted in the Beatitudes, virtues, and demands of love. “The beatitudes teach us faith and courage. They put into our hearts an astounding hope, new, strong, and capable of carrying us through the worst trials, so that for the sake of the Lord we can even find joy and light–heartedness in the midst of them.” (Pinckaers 1998, 35) There are no joyless saints, which can gives us great hope that God can work a miracle in us too.
“For by the incarnation the Father’s Word assumed, and sanctified through His cross and resurrection, the whole of man, body and soul…” (Paul VI 1965, #41) by trinifing him in Christ through the expression of the Beatitudes, an authentic spiritual life of faith, and the perfection of the virtues within man’s interior. Even in the midst of poverty and suffering, by living an authentic Catholic moral life all of mankind is drawn into communion with the divine. The virtues, gifts of the Holy Spirit, beatitudes, and our Christian lives are ordered to eternal happiness in the Kingdom of God. (Pinckaers 1998, 29 – 35) The theological virtues of faith and hope become the source of all the good we do. Furthermore, even in the tiniest and most routine of actions in union with Christ, can be accomplished in sanctified love – via the extra-ordinary grace of the Holy Spirit, these moral actions become trinified in the demands of perfect charity.
Catholic Biblical Association of Great Britian. The Holy Bible, RSV, 2nd Edition. San Fransico: Ignatius Press, 2006.
Hardon, John A. The Catholic Catechism: A Contemporary Catechism of the Teachings of the Catholic Church. New York: Doubleday, 1966.
John Paul II, Pope. “Veritatis Splendor.” Encyclical, August 15, 1993.
Leo XIII, Pope. “Divinum Illud Munus.” Encyclical, May 9, 1897.
Paul VI, Pope. “Gaudium at Spes.” Documents of Vatican II, December 7, 1965: 19.
—. “Luman Gentium.” Documents of Vatican II, November 21, 1964.
Pinckaers, Servais. The Pursuit of Happiness God’s Way: Living the Beatitudes. Staten Island: Abba House, 1998.
—. The Sources of Christian Ethics. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1995.
Wuerl, Bishop Donald W. The Teaching of Christ: A Catholic Catechism for Adults. Huntington: Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., 2005.
Copyright January 2009 by Janelle Wingert
“They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption; for whatever overcomes a man, to that he is enslaved.” ~ 2 Peter 2:19 (RSV)
The question of making sense of our lives has practically been removed from the sphere of public debate as the truths of freedom and faith are rejected and morality is reduced to politicized ideologies. Our major cultural crisis is rooted in a disordered moral reasoning, disguised as open-minded dialog which tries to silence those who follow strong morals rooted in faith and reason. The battle has reach the highest priority for those concerned with the common good, as the current powers of our secular civil authorities have begun directly clashing with the Church and her ecclesiastical authority. What many modern ideologists of the relativistic and socialistic right fail to recognize is that the question of making sense of our lives is embedded within the depths of the human heart which can only be copiously realized within the discipline of moral theology.
This question is of the utmost primacy of those who work for the common good because they fully acknowledge that the loss of the sense of the transcendental, rejection of absolute truth, and denial of moral norms puts all of humanity in grave danger. For this treacherous direction of society will only enslave man to moral anarchy and state sanctioned tyranny. These very morals that secular relativists and socialists reject are the very “values that protect man in his deepest needs.” (Ratzinger 1985)
These human “needs” can only be found within the proper understanding of the theology of conscience in relationship with the freedom for excellence and the culture of life. Modern man must look to moral theology as a means for all mankind to live in true freedom and harmony. As history has repeated itself before, the Church’s moral teachings will always clatter against the culture of the world. She must always engage the ideologies that are rooted in the original temptations faced by our primordial parents in the Garden of Eve. No matter how much modern man wishes, he can never “play” God without great peril to all of humanity. For in actuality, in doing so he chooses death, corruption, and enslavement for all.
The theology of conscience is a synthesis of our motives, actions, and norms guided by the Holy Spirit within our hearts which assists humanity to become true images of Christ within in the world. St. Thomas Aquinas a great teacher in moral reasoning saw the will as the human “faculty of love and desires” which is central to recognize the interior motives of the human heart. The interior motives of the human heart where the conscience has been properly formed do not result in enslavement but gives the person the power to “love in the purest and strongest sense of the word.” (Pinckaers, 387-391)
A person with a properly formed conscience is living in the totality of integration of body and soul in complete harmony with the image of Christ within them. A properly formed Christian conscience is known “to act not alone, but under the enlightenment and the impulse derived from revelation and grace in a strictly supernatural order.” (Rickaby 2007)
“Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, sounds in his heart at the right moment. . . . For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God. . . . His conscience is man’s most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths.” (CCC, 1776)
This voice or Holy Spirit witnesses to the human soul ordaining the heart to follow the moral law, not to restrict man but to give him the complete freedom needed to live the fullness of his being. “A well-formed conscience will never contradict the objective moral law, as taught by Christ and his Church.” (CCC, 1783-5)
Modern man engulfed within the culture of death, has rejected this reality by embracing relativism, thereby corrupting his heart and violating his own conscience. These improperly formed consciences enslave man to reduce other human beings to objects whose only usefulness is the selfish pleasures of men. In light of rampant materialism, humanity is reduced to an object of utilitarian needs to meet scientific, economic and political ends. Society is threatened with self-destruction when the idea of freedom of choice without any moral compass becomes the norm. These twisted consciences perpetuates a false freedom based on choice which “becomes the moral norm that justifies everything else, including – if necessary – violence, homicide, mendacity… and what looks like ‘liberation’ turns into its opposite and shows its diabolic visage in deeds.” (Ratzinger 1985)
Why are improperly formed consciences dangerous for society and the individual? These ideologies of moral relativism, eclipses of conscience, materialism, and freedom of choice at all cost are opening the door to a diabolical culture with a “fundamental disrespect and contempt for the embodied nature of the human person.” (Torraco n.d., 1-15) The reality of the culture of death is that humanity rejects the image of God within them, thereby violating their consciences and giving away their humanity. The secular view of conscience rejects the deepest needs of the human person by enslaving them to follow their feelings and opinions, basically to act without really using their moral reasoning – nearby rejecting the dignity of conscience in its totality.
By following a malformed conscience, individuals condition themselves to be attracted to evil acts. With each evil act, it becomes harder to do the good. The influence of improperly formed conscience attacks the very essence of the person not just affecting what they do but what they become. They will no longer be good, but enslaved to a lifestyle that leads to perpetual sin and evil – ultimately to the mortal death of the soul. Imagine a world where all humanity has a dead soul? Doesn’t sound like heaven, does it? A society with no moral compass is a culture whose corporate soul is dead, for it becomes a society “more humanitarianism in the abstract” and looses its “humanity in the concrete.” (Herberg Fall 1986)
“The moral sense of conscience must be molded, not developed simply by feelings, opinions, circumstance, intentions or movements, but by the deep moral sense in which we participate by being human and capable of reason. Conscience does not simply decide for happy or sad, but for good or evil.” (Bransfield) Conscience needs to be properly formed through the practice of a virtuous life, where each act aids the person to grow more and more like the image of Christ. To reject that reality means that an individual will become enslaved to depravity, which is not actualized freedom.
An exploration of the proper ideal of freedom must be explored in order to understand its relationship with the theology of conscience. Within the culture of death, freedom has a very different meaning then from the Christian perspective. The culture of death proclaims a false freedom that emphasizes the autonomy of the human person. Just like John Donne once said, “No man is an island, entire of itself,” (Doone 1624) Human beings are social beings where their actions influence all those around them; emotionally, physically, and spiritually. To reject that idea is to live in a false reality. Humanity does not create their own realities that are mandated by the whims of emotions and opinions. Humanity is not omnipotent; humanity has been created by one who created a single universe guided by absolute truth grounded in the objective realities of eternal, natural, and moral laws. These laws can not be rejected by “realists” because to do so, rejects living in the objective reality. Relativists, who live the actuality of their poor moral reasoning, launch themselves into a life enslaved by addictions, depression, hopelessness and other forms of psychosis and degeneracy.
True human freedom allows a person to strive to live in the fullness of their humanity. This Christian perspective of freedom is the source of the founding of our Bill of Rights. Man was created with inalienable rights. These inalienable rights are given not by the state but by the one who created us all. To reject the moral reality that is the source of the founding of a Nation dedicated to the protection of the inalienable rights of the human person is to force the culture into despotism.
Actualized human freedom is not a freedom “from” mentality, but a form of freedom that commands a person to guard their dignity of conscience. A culture that truly wants humans to live in true freedom must also protect the dignity of their citizen’s conscience and give them the freedom to follow their conscience without coercion.
“The notion and actualization of freedom” flow from one’s love and capacity for living a life steeped in the virtues. (Spitzer, 209) The idea of liberty as a freedom “from”, freedom of choice, or even a freedom of indifference does not give the human person emancipation but violates their human dignity at all levels. Fr. Pinckaers speaks of a freedom for excellence which is grounded in the human potentiality and capacity for truth and goodness. The essence of this freedom becomes “a spontaneous attraction for the highest truth and goodness.” (Pinckaers, 387)
“True freedom consists in proceeding along the way of truth according to one’s vocation” (Benedict, 2007) where the human person experiences the freedom to become what God created them to be. Being fully human, gives a person the freedom of excellence to become more then just pure existence but also turns their very personhood into a living gift for others. True freedom allows for human relationships to be based on virtue – instead of how the secular world directs relationships into the fleeting pleasures and usefulness of an egotistical reality. Living in true human freedom, our lives become an offer of our very selves freely given to the demands of love “by learning the ways of holiness so that we might be able to relate to God for all eternity.” (Keating 2008)
The call of personal holiness is not a new one and is at the core to constructing an authentic culture of life. This was the call to the new evangelization that Pope John Paul II always spoke about – a personal call to live human life in its fullness. “With a spirit of generous self-giving, recognize that you are directly involved in the new evangelization, which demands the involvement of all of us. Proclaim Christ, who ‘died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who for their sakes died and was raised up.’ (2 Cor 5:15).” (Letter to Youth, 1993) Those who live for him also live for the love of their brother, sister, and the least amongst themselves, which protects the common good for all peoples.
The new evangelization, lived within the context of relationships with the other, is rooted in the family and the actualization of SPICE within a person’s life. The forming of proper conscience is central to the duty of family life – the domestic church. For it is within the family that a person first learns how to relate to themselves and others in a proper moral way. Family life is the primary source of the school for a life of virtue. Just as families are the sacred seed for all of culture, so to the family is the primary place where one learns morality. Even secular science, especially those within the education profession, have known that the ability to learn the basics of right and wrong happen within the first formative years of human development, which means that all the basics of morality is learned by the age of six.
That critical information contained within the most basic of child development courses, only further validates why the Church emphasizes the sacredness and importance of family life for all of society. Just turning on the local news will confirm material evidence that family life is under attack and endangered by moral ambiguity, state policies and societal pressures that are oppressive and unfriendly to family life. Restrict a healthy, and dare we say holy family life, and society restricts human freedom for all. If a person has a hard time reaching their full potential in a troubled family life; it is even harder to achieve SPICE in their adult life which helps a person reach their full capacity for goodness and perfect charity. The foundations of a person’s fullness of humanity are laid down in their formative years.
Family life and the proper formation of the conscience remain essential to the edifice of a culture of life. Fr. Spitzer states very urgently to the need for a cultural revolution of the interior kind in his striking book Healing the Culture. With his dynamic synthesis of the cultural war taking place in society he talks about a disease that is infesting our culture at its foundation.
If we are moved beyond the more insidious effects of the agent [culture of death], we must begin to understand it. We must learn how to see it for what it really is. Rather than content ourselves with cataloguing its every effect, we must get to the nature of the beast. I would submit that the beast’s identity is reflected in the minimalistic way we see ourselves. More precisely, it is a radically incomplete cultural attitude about what it means to be a human person. (Spitzer, 17)
A moral theology of conscience’s main concern and expertise is the only authentic way to explore what it means to be a human person. To deny this truth in society attacks all of humanity at the core of man’s essence. “Conscience is man’s most secret core, and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths” (GS 16). Our forefathers recognized this reality and strived to form a more perfect union of people. In order to protect the inalienable right of all persons to strive for that interior relationship with their creator, they guaranteed the protections within that union to require the legitimate governmental protections of those rights.
Without proper formed consciences the citizens of this union are being led down a dicey incline that threatens their inalienable rights that so many throughout it’s brief history have died to protect. In order to save this beautiful union we must raise our voices and defend those rights to properly shape our consciences and use them for the common good. Our secular brothers and sisters must be informed of the joy and freedom that is apprehended through the appreciative authenticity of what it means to be a human person. Failure to do so, will lead our culture to self destruction.
A properly formed conscience has an interior “orientation to the highest” which leads the soul to excellence in moral life. (Pinckaers, 387) A culture that rejects excellence in moral life cannot help but to decline into complete moral chaos and totalitarianism for all of its citizens. Those of the secular elite that proclaim that faith based ideologies are domineering and will thwart the further development of human society are dead wrong – literally.
Our society needs moral theology and proper formation of consciences to give mutual people living within a civilized culture the compass they need to prosper and live in true freedom. Pope Benedict stated in his first encyclical, “Faith liberates reason from its blind spots and therefore helps it to be ever more fully itself. Faith enables reason to do its work more effectively and to see its proper object more clearly.” (DCE, II, 28a) Faith balanced with proper and sound moral reasoning will only help a society to grow and develop. The cultural context on how that reality is unsurpassed is one that protects and guards the dignity of the human person in all states of life and the true meaning of human life – which is a culture of life.
Bransfield, Brian. “Voting by Conscience.” Faithful Citizenship. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. 2007 – 2009. http://www.faithfulcitizenship.org/media/article/bransfield (accessed March 31, 2009).
Catholic Biblical Association of Great Britian. The Holy Bible, RSV, 2nd Edition. San Fransico: Ignatius Press, 2006.
Doone, John. “Devotions Upon Emergent Occassions: Meditation XVI.” Indianna State University Online Library. 1624. http://isu.indstate.edu/ilnprof/ENG451/ISLAND/ (accessed April 3, 2009).
Herberg, Will. “What is the Moral Crisis?” The Intercollegiate Review, Fall 1986: 7-12.
II, John Paul. “Letter to the Youth of the World.” World Youth Day VIII. Denver, 1993. 6.
Keating, James. “When You Wrestle with Your Conscience, Who Wins?” Catholic Culture. Edited by Envoy Magazine. March/April 2008. http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?id=8367&repos=1&subrepos=0&searchid=443075 (accessed Mar 31, 2009).
Pinckaers, Servais. The Sources of Christian Ethics. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1995.
Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal (Pope Benedict XVI) and Vittorio Messori. The Ratzinger Report: An Exclusive Interview on the State of the Church. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1985.
Rickaby, John. “Conscience.” The Original Catholic Encyclopedia. Edited by Catholic Answers. The Appleton Company. 2007. http://oce.catholic.com/index.php?title=Conscience (accessed Mar 31, 2009).
Spitzer, Robert J. Healing the Culture: A Commonsense Philosophy of Happiness, Freedom and the Life Issues. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000.
Torraco, Stephen F. “The Incarnation and the Politics of the Family: The Alternative to the Path of Least Resistance.” 1-15.
XVI, Benedict. “Formation of Conscience in Fundamental Values.” Catholic Culture. Edited by Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Feb 10, 2007. http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?id=7447&repos1&subrepos=0&searchid=440448 (accessed Mar 31, 2009).
XVI, Benedict. Deus Caritas Est. Vatican City: Pauline Books & Media, 2006.
Copyright February 2009 by Janelle Wingert
“You show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” ~ 2 Cor 3: 3
Christ has delivered us from the slavery of the law through his life, death, and resurrection, having completed the law of the Old Testament by transcending the old law with the Evangelical Law. This New Law can only be understood with the proper illumination in regards to its relationship between human natural inclinations and the Ten Commandments. God, our creator promulgated the eternal law in the most perfect of designs that encompasses all of the natural laws, primary precepts and moral law.
Through His great wisdom and design maturing in a moral life would be completely possible for us through natural means, where using human reasoning we can discover the universal truths and norms found within the primary precepts of divine law. “Nature provides a purposive design discoverable by one who would make the effort to contemplate, receive, or ‘listen’ to” the Old law. (Torraco, Listening to Nature, August 1993) The natural law and the primary precepts are a means to help civilize ourselves from working in denying and failing to follow the natural inclinations of every human heart. “Even in most difficult situations man must respect the norm of morality so that he can be obedient to God’s holy commandment and consistent with his own dignity as a person.” (VS, 102)
These natural inclinations of the heart are the good desires of self-preservation, procreation and the raising of children, and to know the truth of God and live in society. All goods unto themselves these inclinations are totally identical with the primary precepts in the Decalogue that safeguard and contain the natural law within them. “Only God, the Supreme Good, constitutes the unshakable foundation and essential condition of morality, and thus of the commandments, particularly those negative commandments which always and in every case prohibit behavior and actions incompatible with the personal dignity of every man.” (VS, 99) In God’s great merciful and omnipotent understanding of human nature to thwart natural inclinations through original sin, he gave us the Old Law to control our disordered passions that threaten our physical, mental, and spiritual lives. Through His loving gift our Lord impresses upon us our duties to Him and each other by instructing us on what to do and what not to do, so we would know without a doubt the effect of sin in ourselves.
Bar, we must guard from looking at the Ten Commandments as just a list of rules to follow. By living these primary precepts like children, we are nurtured to grow into the New Law that Christ gave us, for when we understand the true beauty of the Old Law and recognize we need more we are able to say “in the depths of my soul I delight in your law and know that your commands are good, just and holy.” (A’ Kempis 1989)
For St. Paul explained, “Now before faith came, we were confined under the law, kept under restraint until faith should be revealed. So that the law was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian; for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Gal 3: 23 – 27) He is referring to the New Evangelical law that doesn’t bind us but sets us free.
The evangelical law is a law of love, grace, and freedom because we are freed from being a slave to the law because the evangelical law completes us in utmost maturity where we are prepared to receive our heritance in Christ. The more we work in union with the divine law we move beyond just being friends of God by being transformed into the actual daughters and sons of the Most High. (Denzi 1922 – 1939)
The divine law works within the hearts of individuals, who freely stop and listen to the divine inclinations that work in union with the natural human inclinations for a specific good. Jesus Christ completes this new law, bringing its fullness in order to help us to mature to the Ultimate Good and share in the interior Trinitarian life of God. For the evangelical law give us the divine tools to follow a way of perfection with utmost Christian maturity in all things moral and spiritual in life.
Therefore, comes the most imperative task at hand, to explain why it is vital for us to think aright in order for our personal maturity and the responsibility of civilization to be actualized. Let’s first look to the role of proper moral reasoning to help in the individual maturing of an adult person. God created man in his own image for us to live in utmost freedom in harmony with each other, ourselves, creation and him. Failure to think aright in moral reasoning opens the individual to make decisions that are physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually dangerous to their full development into a free human being living in the full truth of their dignity.
“The person who acts of his own accord following a natural instinct that has been perfected by virtue can be said to act with full freedom.” (Pinckaers, 186) The freedom and charity that is infused into us by the evangelical law furnishes us with what we require to freely choose the inclinations of our heart, for they are trinified in Christ. St. Augustine once said, “Do what you want.” He was not stating a hedonistic view point of morality, but was explaining how the Christian who has been perfected in the Evangelical Law is free to follow their heart, for their heart is inclined not just to follow natural law, but divine law. This natural instinct that St. Thomas explains in his Summa Theologica, does not just talk about a natural way of live, but an instinct that is supernatural through the grace of the Holy Spirit.
Why then again is this so important for us to renew our aright thinking not just as individuals but as a culture, at this particular time and place in our civilization’s history? The sudden tyrannical growth of the “culture of death” within all aspects of public life only intensifies the battle for our very humanity, which is in danger of being completely denied and suppressed. A relativistic society renounces all sound moral reasoning and thereby makes it impossible to find true meaning for human life. This view point is void of all veracity and rational thought. If we are human beings living in this world we are participating in the eternal law even if we deny that it exists, like all relativists do.
The argument in our secular society that tries to say that morality is a private matter is void in truth. “Civilization depends on the civilized imposing their standards on the uncivilized. … If you can’t accept that, you are against civilization.” (Canavan 1989) God’s truth and divine law does not run in contradiction against the true development and maturing of human civilization. To deny our true humanity and the true meaning of human life is to reduce ourselves back to barbarianism. Repudiating moral reasoning in the public sphere is to open our civilization to a schizophrenic personality that threatens our very culture at its core being. Basically it will spiral civilization into to pure chaos which will destroy itself from within and deny the unalienable rights of all humanity, thereby opening the door to pure tyranny.
The best illustration of this reality is to look at the most controversial battle taking place between the culture of life and the culture of death – abortion. We can first gaze upon the interior reality of the abortionist and the role he plays in attacking the humanity in all of us. Through the vary nature of his trade, he redefines what morality is. “His goal becomes to graft the goals of public health onto his techniques for establishing a new culture with individual autonomy as its major premise and which can be efficiently hedonist with minimal adverse consequences. Under this system, techniques and those who wield them become the measure of the new ‘morality’—really the old immorality.” (Marshall and Donovan Winter 1992) Abortion denies the humanity of the smallest and weakest among us.
The whole “culture of death” that frequently puts those is most risk in mortal peril, spoils the development of a society overall. “The assumption that abortion and euthanasia are human rights … is seen … as a contradiction which amounts to a denial of the human dignity and freedom which the law is supposed to protect. A society will be judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members; and among the most vulnerable are surely the unborn and the dying. A materialistic view of the human person will concede little value and dignity to either. What is then claimed as a victory for human rights is really the sanctioning of a freedom sundered from truth.” (John Paul II 25 May 2000) Moral reasoning is necessary to protect civilization from a cruel reality that will destroy humanity from within itself.
These collective pressures from the “culture of death” threaten human life and attack the innate dignity of all humanity. “At the root of such a culture is the “mother” of all its contradictions: on the one hand, the strong tendency to deny the concrete reality of human nature, and the other, the desire to destroy it (thereby admitting its existence), specifically by ripping apart the intimate unity between body and soul.” (Torraco, Campaign Update Winter 1994) These types of inconsistencies attest to the irrationality of amoral thought that defends the materialistic view of the human person.
Not only does this twisted view of the dignity of the human person damage civilization, it also grievously harms the individual in their ability to mature into a human person at a moral and spiritual level. The premise for the defense of abortion and other anti-life legislation is often argued by proclaiming a right to privacy. First off, it is irrational to argue for the right to privacy over another human beings right to life, which obliviously super cedes the prior. By proclaiming a right to privacy, the humanity of the individual is destroyed and their own rights and dignity are violated. “This privacy rests on the assumption that human freedom is freedom from being in relation to others because the very presence of others compromises my freedom and my selfhood… To be free, the other who calls me into relation and responsibility must be annihilated.” (Miller November 1991)
Humanity only fully develops and matures with the sincere gift of self for the other. In other words, “no man is an island.” We were created to be in relationship and in “agape” with each other and with God in the Trinitarian life of the Holy Trinity. To fail to live this way, is to fail to live in our actuality of our humanity.
Through Christ and the Evangelical Law we are called to live “better angels of our nature.” Though the path to renewing moral theology to the “right” notion may seem daunting and like a loosing battle. We can take courage in the fact that Christ will overcome all. Ethics without the divine law is actually leads to moral and spiritual death, because a person and a culture can only attain true humanity and civilization with divine help. For to be anything less then how God created us to be is to frustrate our very development as adults grounded in authentic morality and leading a fruitful and blessed spiritual life. For the only way to be our best is to be our best, which requires the free movement and grace of the Holy Spirit within the heart of individuals and the corporate soul of a society. “…The salvation of our race was accomplished by the mystery of the Cross, and since the Church, dispenser of that salvation after the triumph of Christ, was founded upon earth and instituted, Providence established a new order for a new people.” (Leo XIII September 22, 1891)
We have a great hope to renew our morality as a civilization and a people with the renewal of moral theology. Though “the natural law is a participation in us of the eternal law: while human law falls short of the eternal law.” (Aquinas 1989, Q96, 2) St. Thomas was explaining that we all participate in the eternal law though we always fall short. We can find great hope in the knowledge that God realizes the true difficulty we have in living in our true humanity.
God through Christ has given us the tools necessary to develop morally and spiritually in evangelical truth and freedom. As St. Thomas explained latter in his Treatise of the Law, “There are two ways in which a thing may be instilled into man. First, through being part of his nature, and thus the natural law is instilled into man. Secondly, a thing is instilled into man by being, as it were, added on to his nature by a gift of grace. In this way the New Law is instilled into man, not only by indicating to him what he should do, but also by helping him to accomplish it.” (Aquinas 1989, Q166, 1) Through the evangelical law, which is the Holy Spirit, we have the ultimate guild to help us navigate the difficult waters of our present culture with truth and freedom by cooperating with the divine law that has transfigured our hearts into Christ.
A’ Kempis, Thomas, trans. by William C. Creasy. The Imitation of Christ. Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, Inc., 1989.
Aquinas, Thomas. The Summa Theological of Saint Thomas Aquinas. 2nd Revised. Prima Secundae Partis. 1989.
Canavan, Francis. “Commentary.” Catholic Eye, 1989.
Catholic Biblical Association of Great Britian. The Holy Bible, RSV, 2nd Edition. San Fransico: Ignatius Press, 2006.
Denzi. “Pius XI 1922 – 1939.” Sources of Catholic Dogma, 1922 – 1939: #2231.
John Paul II, Pope. “Address to the New Ambassador of New Zealand.” Vatican, 25 May 2000.
—. “Veritatis Splendor.” Encyclical, August 15, 1993.
Leo XIII, Pope. “Octobri Mense.” Apostolic Letter. Rome, September 22, 1891. #4.
Marshall, Robert G., and Charles A. Donovan. “Will Birth Control Prevent Abortion?” Human Life Review (Ignatius Press) 18, no. 1 (Winter 1992): 41-49.
Miller, Monica Migliorino. “Severed Ties: How Abortion Dissolves Feminine Authority.” Crisis 9, no. 10 (November 1991): 21-26.
Pinckaers, Servais. The Sources of Christian Ethics. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1995.
Torraco, Stephen F. “Listening to Nature: The Significance of Leon Kass of Catholic Moral Theology.” Linarce Quarterly, August 1993.
Torraco, Stephen F. “The Better Angels of Our Nature.” The Catholic Campaign for America, Winter 1994: 3.
Copyright March 2009 by Janelle Wingert
“Put on the new man, created after the
likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph 4:24)
The call of Jesus to be His disciples is a mandate to live the fullness of the kerygma. This kerygma is not abstract thoughts or ideologies, but a way of life that originates in the Living Word – a divine person- Jesus Christ. Moral Theology is part of this dynamic organism that transforms the very heart and life of the disciple beyond just mere human potential. For the Christian person is transfigured in Christ and truly made a new creature as he or she grows closer in personal holiness and their ultimate goal of eternal life and happiness.
Understanding this fundamental key to living a life in Christ is central to understanding Fr. Pinckaer’s distinction between fragmented and total approaches to Scripture. How can a moral person live and imitate Christ if they are not fully infused with the Living Word? Moral Theology is not an island that can stand alone from the rest of the kerygma, it must be soaked in the whole truth to be authentically lived.
For years modern ethicists have been picking apart the Living Word to prove certain norms for the moral life. This view of reducing the Word into human understanding at the most nominalist level can not but help to lead to a moral theology of obligation. Obligation only leads a person down the road of least resistance to living the moral life. Moral obligation does not challenge the believer to live fully in Christ which bears more abundant fruit beyond all human capacity.
This fragmented approach has many within the ecclesia concerned for its ramifications of the properly forming of the conscience of Christians. “In his apostolic exhortation Evandelii nuntiandi (1975), Pope Paul VI mentioned the split between the gospel and culture as “a drama of our time.” (Dulles 2004) Through the minimalist approach to moral theology there has been a wide gap formed between abstract ideologies and the reality of living a true moral life in a postmodern world.
As Monsignor Melina said, “Fragmentation means having a very deep interest in particular issues without having a vision of the whole reality… Church’s moral theology must focus on the integral liberation of the human person, not just on norms, in order to respond to the crisis of modernity.” (Melina 2004) Most recently our Holy Father spoke about this major issue facing all theology when addressing Catholic Educators he stated, “Intellectual charity upholds the essential unity of knowledge against fragmentation which ensues when reason is detached from the pursuit of truth.” (B. XVI 2008)
An ethicist that only uses the fragmented approach to scripture to explain moral theology greatly reduces the capacity for humans to truly live freely in the Truth. The ethicist using the fragmented approach to scripture seeks just the bits and pieces of the Word that are removed from any other religious or ethical traditions, thereby divorcing the Living Word from Himself. Anyone with common sense would know that fragmentation takes scripture completely out of context, which only brings moral confusion. Morality is much more complex in the fullness expressed through the Gospels and St. Paul’s teachings on the moral life. The fragmented approach has great limitations in shedding light on moral truths, because it only has part of the whole package. The truth is lost in the fragmented approach to scripture for its translations only offer shallow insights that lead to basic obligations and a nominalist approach to morality.
Fr. Picknaer explains that the Church Fathers and St. Paul had a much deeper, picture of the Scriptures and how it relates to the moral life. Their approach did not separate the deep truths to the practicalities of living a moral life in Christ.
“St. Paul’s moral teaching united dogma and morality closely and made no distinction between morality and spirituality, or even exhortation. Nor did it endorse the separation of transcendent and categorical levels. Those distinctions, as we know them, stem from a concept of morality focusing on obligation- a concept that had never occurred to St. Paul.” (Pinckaer, 133)
For these deep truths united with dogma and morality “are not simply dogmatic abstract statements; for St. Paul they are directly operative and effect profound change in the personality and life of the Christian.” (Pinckaer, 117) As our Catechism says, “Truth becomes visible in the mirror of God’s essence, because man can be rightly understood only in relation to God.” (CCC, 2052-82) Only by infusing itself with the Living Word can moral theology begin to grasp how the Truth relates to man and his actions.
“Saint Paul’s basic moral emphasis is not obligation, but happiness and salvation. Saint Paul reflects on the virtues leading to God, but he doesn’t give us a systematic lecture on morals. He’s referring to moral problems as they arise in his moral work. If the teaching of morals consists in moral imperatives, we will search for them in the Bible exclusive of faith, etc. To read Saint Paul, we should set aside modern moral categories. We also won’t discover New Testament morality by divorcing it from what is common with the Old Testament and what is obvious in Greek thought.” (Giertych 2003)
St. Paul had a deep understanding of the power of Christ to transform the very lives and personalities of the Christian person, for he had experienced it first hand. This reality poses an important question for ourselves. Do we as modern people truly experience the transformation of Christ in our lives if we are only concerned with moral obligation?
Repeatedly St. Paul taught that we are made into new creatures in Christ. Through this transformation the human virtues we naturally have are divinely altered. As Picknaer explains love “deepens and strengthens [human virtues], even enhancing them with a divine dimension.” (Pinckaer, 123) This leads to a person whose interiority is divinely informed with a Christ-like morality that is active in love and charity. Because of this transformation when a Christian is empowered by Christ to be the best, they are led to a total approach of understanding the scriptures where their moral lives and spirituality are united in the Living Word.
That is why St. Paul taught morality as he went, because the Gospel is for all peoples and all times. The scriptures have something new to say to us even today, for when the Word comes in contact with the reality of modern life, it has something to say in the now. This doesn’t mean that the divine truths behind those scriptures are changed but that they are the Living Word, that breaths and lives within us. As Fr. Picknaer states best, “St. Paul’s moral theory [is a] theory of action-with-Christ, or again, action-in-Christ.” (Pinckaer, 128)
Under just obligation moral life will fail for “no rules can be made that will apply perfectly to all situations, and in any case people can be remarkably cunning in complying with the letter of the law while undermining its spirit.” (Anderson, 92) The Patristic Tradition has the full truth that we all need the divine infusion of scripture into our moral fiber to lead truly Christian Moral lives. For only in a faith infused by the Living Word can the moral life “lead the Christian to see life as a service to Christ and devotion to neighbor” (Pinckaer, 122) thereby leading them to their ultimate end of happiness fully united in Christ in the kingdom to come.
Anderson, Carl. A Civilization of Love: What Every Catholic Can Do to Transform the World. New York: Harper One, 2008.
Dulles, Cardinal Avery S.J. “Challenges to Moral and Cultural Renewal.” Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture. September 28, 2004. http://ethicscenter.nd.edu/archives/dulles.shtml (accessed November 24, 2008).
Giertych, Fr. Wojciech, OP. “Fundamental Moral Theology.” Catholic Books Online Library. 2003. http://www.cfpeople.org/Boks/Moral/moral.htm (accessed November 24, 2008).
II, John Paul. Catechism of the Catholic Church. 2nd. Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997.
Melina, Monsignor Livio. “A Look at Catholic Higher Education and the Future of Moral Theology.” EWTN Online Library. March 18, 2004. http://www.ewtn.com/library/Theology/ZEDUMOR.HTM (accessed November 24, 2008).
Pinckaer, Servais. The Sources of Christian Ethics. 3rd. Washinton, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1995.
XVI, Benedict. “Meeting with Catholic Educators.” Libreria Editrice Vaticana. April 17, 2008. http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_XVI/speaches/2008/april/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spec_20080417_cath-univ-washington_en.htm/ (accessed November 24, 2008).
Copyrighted December 2008 by Janelle M Wingert
“It is not the greatness of our actions that matters
but the amount of love that we put into them.” ~Mother Teresa
A moral theology of happiness gives humanity the opportunity to live the most authentic human life possible because of the transforming power of charity. Through charity all discussion of evil, sin, suffering, and free-will is given the potential to be transfigured into the highest good, thereby pointing the way to the ultimate end of eternal happiness. Modern ethicists diminish the role of charity within moral life to the greatest peril of mankind. For a moral theology of obligation will only collapse unto itself, for without the full truth what it means to be human within the moral framework, modern morality fails to give meaning to human life.
The modern school of a moral theology of obligation reduces the definitive meaning and purpose to the most pressing questions that all humanity confronts. What is the true meaning of evil, sin, suffering, and free-will within the mystery of human life? Modern ethicists, according to Fr. Pinckaer do not even attempt to find the essential meaning of these questions and often exclude those questions all together, for their theology of moral obligation reduces the human heart to less than it is meant to be. Through this reduction of the fullest potential of a human life, modern thought leaves a great emptiness for all humanity. For instead of seeking what Man truly longs for in the depth of his heart, man looks to pleasure, power, money, or any “god” to fill the void, what Fr. Picnkaer calls the “the chasm of meaningless.”
By failing to address the deep need to have true meaning in life modern ethics open the human person to become a slave to sin and obligation. Without true understanding of the innate dignity that the Lord has given to man in the gift of free-will, man gives himself away when ever he misuses the gift. Thereby through the disordered use of free-will, man becoming less human. Free-will is the gift that God gave uniquely to mankind and in its truest sense, where the human heart is truly free – free-will is the gift to choose goodness, beauty, and truth. Eve eating from the tree of knowledge was her misusing her free-will to supersede the Lord’s divine authority and understanding of good. From this single act man could see that which is not good within him and others. Concupiscence, the disorder of the human passions, is where the fallen heart brought death and suffering into the world. By rejecting the true meaning of free-will man gives himself away in a disordered manner which is sin. Through the choice to sin the human heart rejects its highest good and embraces the actuality of evil. Sin becomes the lack of anything good, beautiful, or true within a person’s action or evil acts.
By rejecting the highest meaning of human free-will, the definitive goal for happiness becomes impossible to be reached. For humanity can not cross the great chasm that has grown through his actions between his extreme good and his dehumanized self. The elemental struggle between the light and darkness of the human soul is undertaken within the deficient will.
Because of sins entrance within the world, evil has found the potentiality to dwell within creation and the human heart. Evil being the absence of all that is good, beauty, and true in its fullest significance. There are several forms of evil that manifest themselves within human life. Physical evil, the deprivation of anything good, can be human suffering from the lack of good, such as physical sickness or spiritual pain. Moral evil is caused by the free-will choosing against the will of God in any context.
Ultimately that which is worst is moral evil, for it does the most harm to the human soul. Physical evil can open the human heart to turn towards God with more ease, in contrast to the moral evil that turns the heart away from the divine will of God. Physical evil can befall the innocent and malicious equally, but the heart who freely chooses an intrinsic moral evil is acting freely with offensive cunning. So moral evil is the worst a human being can do in life and leads to the mortal death of the soul. Simply put those who do evil suffer the most harm then those who suffer from their evil actions. “Forgive them Lord, for they do not know what they do.”
Human suffering is caused as stated before by physical evil. Without a definitive understanding of human life and its meaning suffering becomes unbearable and can lead to despair– the death of the soul. Just witnessing a funeral of those who do not have any faith is excruciating for death has no meaning, no purpose. To their minds and hearts it is the final end, and pointless. The grief is overwhelming to the human heart and thereby oppresses and crushes the spirit under its weight. Going to a non-Catholic funeral can be an intense experience of deprivation and darkness. Hope ceases to be.
But Christian morality has the supreme answer to all these deep abiding questions to life. For a moral theology of happiness has the answers every heart longs for, because it directs the heart to its supreme end and good. Every suffering the human soul experiences develops “meaning, value, and wholeness.”
Moral theology geared towards the eternal happiness allows charity to manifest itself in the most distressed events and places within human life. Suffering is the opposite of happiness. But it is only in suffering that a person is able to truly recognize true happiness. Through the deprivation of happiness most people are too busy within the confines of modern life and fail to recognize it before suffering visits them. In the midst of suffering they can not help but see that it is missing in their life. Suffering opens the door for genuine desire for the ultimate good and end of eternal happiness.
Also through charity suffering actually becomes a means to enter the Kingdom of God as Christ described in his Beatitudes. Through suffering a person is given the opportunity to love in a new way, to carry their cross per say. Suffering turns the human heart upside down and causes it to concentrate on those things that really matter in life. For in suffering the distractions of life are not as freely experienced as before. Through suffering a person is given the chance to look deeply within the self. If the suffering is then seen in light of the cross of Christ the soul can allow the suffering to be offered for the supreme good of not just themselves but for others. For suffering births hope and opens the heart to be cleansed and filled with divine charity of the Lord. Through suffering the human heart grows in its capacity for love, compassion, and solidarity. Suffering opens up the possibility of looking beyond the self to the greatest good of the other.
Charity in its essential consequence is sacrificial in its essence and true nature. Through charity the human heart is able to see the radiant beauty of the persons they are relating to through out their lives. Christian charity opens the heart to recognize the divine nature and beauty within all. This opens up major possibilities in transforming the very nature of morality. For no longer are moral actions just obligations, but they are actions to draw out the greatest good for others out of love. The ultimate end of the action taken is for the ultimate good, not just because someone is obligated to do something. “God sees the heart of man.” An action maybe good and moral, but it is the root of the heart that motivates the action taken and if that root is lifeless and done without love, it is not a fertile authentic moral action. The moral action of obligation is fake and superficial. Self-love even in the act of generosity is still self-seeking and not an act of love. For true generosity does not seek any award of any kind. Christian love and charity is a call to die unto the self. A moral action should be a gift of self to the other, either to God or another person, completed out of love.
The one who is truly living a moral life focused on the ultimate eternal good is a person who will bare the fruit of the Holy Spirit within their Life. Through humility the human heart can manifest the perfect self-love that truly acts in true charity towards another.
The supreme meaning of charity with moral theology is the perfect Charity, God who is love. For within the divine nature of God to be love, he can take any situation in human life and work it towards the ultimate good of man. That means evil does not have the final say in all things. God is infinite and knows and understands all things. Through His eternal self, he constantly lives within the divine moment, where everything that ever was, and ever will be is completely presence within the divine moment. He knew that in allowing free-will he was allowing the potentially of evil to be present in the world and human life. God is fully aware of every choice a human will make before they make it. Which raises a big fundamental question in regards to moral theology? If God in his divine and perfect will thought it of the utmost importance to give man free-will, then the choice man makes to do good or evil is so vital the relationship between man and the divine. God did not want automatic robots that would always do his divine will. He wanted his creatures made in his image and likeness to truly freely love him wholly and entirely through an act of free-will.
So the moral theology of happiness that is discussed within Fr. Picknaer’s book is crucial to embracing the fullness of the meaning of human life. For through God’s divine revelation within the beginning of creation — the universal the foundation for the proper understanding of the moral life was set down and is seen within the context of charity for the ultimate goal and end of complete union with God. Mother Teresa said it best, “There are no great things, only small things with great love. Happy are those.”
Copyrighted October 2008 by Janelle M Wingert
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