Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Moral Theology (Notes of 2015)

Moral Theology (Notes of 2015)

Moral Thinking: A Theological Approach

Introduction to Moral Theology

Moral theology as a theological reflection
1.       We see moral theology as a reflection on moral life—on “how to live a good life”. This is, however, a theology and so our reflection will be theological. How can our Christian faith shed light on morality? How can our Christian faith shed light on choices, decisions and actions bearing on morality?
2.       Of course all this boils down to one basic concern. How can we live a life like Christ? We make major decisions now and then regarding certain choices that affect our lives and the lives of others. How can we be like Christ in such situations? This, hopefully, is what moral theology can reflect on.
When do we speak of “morality”?
3.       But then what is this thing called “morality”? If I am cooking an egg and I have to decide between scrambled or hardboiled, is this about “morality”? If I were a scientist studying the chemical composition of water, is this about “morality”? If I have to choose between aborting or not aborting a foetus in the womb, is this about “morality”? So when is a choice or action about morality?
4.       Morality begins when we realize that we are not the only persons in this world. There are other people with their own thoughts, feelings, plans, goals. The sense of morality starts when we recognize that our choices and actions will touch on the lives of others. There is an expression, “too full of oneself”. Morality is a response against this being “too full of oneself”. There are other people too.
5.       In the world there are cases when human dignity is violated. Such violation cannot be accepted, cannot be tolerated. Morality emerges from such situations in which the dignity of the person is shaken.
6.       So when we say “morality” we need to see if our choices and actions affect the lives of others and how are their lives affected. We need to see also if human dignity is respected or violated.  
Ethics and morality: an important distinction
7.       We tend to use both words, ethics and morality, quite interchangeably. To be ethical is to be moral and to be moral is to be ethical. So do they mean the same thing? Well, yes and no. Yes because they both touch on the human person and human dignity. They both deal with the question of respecting human dignity. But we still need to make certain precisions that distinguish them. The differences are crucial and they can help a lot our reflections.
8.       Ethics is about our desire for a good life. Of course this includes our notion of what is a good person living this good life. We want to live a good life and we want to be good persons. Ethics is our way of saying what this is all about. Yes, it is about ourselves and about our relationships with others. Relationships are not just with people we know but also with all humanity. So we consider social relationships and even relationships among countries.
9.       Ethics therefore is about a general view of what it means to live fully, good and what it means to be a full and good person. We hope that this view holds for everyone.
10.   But then we need to be honest with ourselves too. It is not automatic that we just step out of being too full of ourselves. It is not automatic that choose and act according to what is proper to all humanity. We still have our selfish agenda lurking inside of us. We still have the tendency to be preferential in our respect and concern—we do not just open our lives to everyone.
11.   So morality comes in by presenting norms, rules, prescriptions and even prohibitions. In other words, there are the “oughts” and “shoulds” to follow. We make choices and decisions based on what we should do. Do not steal, for example. Do not tell a lie, for example. Give space to the handicapped person in the bus or train, as another example. These are norms that guide us in decision making.

Norms based on ethics 
12.   In the Bible we see that there are norms and rules and prescriptions. In the Old Testament there are very many regulations. We know well the Decalogue—the “Ten Commandments”. The Decalogue has two versions, one in Exodus and another in Deuteronomy.
13.   The New Testament seems to have less of norms. Yet, even the New Testament presents norms. The Sermon on the Mount of Jesus presents a few norms. St. Paul in his letters gives exhortations. Yes, unlike the Old Testament, the New Testament has few norms. Yet there are still norms. So we can say that the Bible contains moral elements that say what should be done.
14.   Yet if we look closely, we will realize that the moral elements are based on ethical foundations. Take the example of the Decalogue. It looks like a set of norms. But the norms are given in view of living fully in the land given to the people of Israel. To live fully is to be free from slavery and to refuse repeating the same situation in Egypt. To live fully is to be faithful to the covenant with the Lord God; the identity of the people of Israel is that of being “chosen” and “elected” by the Lord God.
15.   So even if there are norms, they still presuppose an ethics: a view of a good life.
16.   In the New Testament we see that Jesus re-orients the laws. During the time of Jesus there was a strong obsession over the details of the laws. Jesus had to remind people that there was an ethical ground. That ethics was fading away. Jesus then had to remind people that underneath all laws is an ethics of love of God and neighbor. To live a good life is to be children of the Lord God and be like the Father.
17.   This in fact is core to our Christian moral living. We recognize that we are children of God, that we are brothers and sisters to each other, and that to live fully we be like Jesus and live in Jesus. St. Paul has given directions to this (see Gal.2/20; 5/13-6/2; Rom. 6). St. John would use the word “remain”. To live fully is to remain in Christ. (See Jn.13/34; 15/9-17; 1Jn.4/7-13).
18.   In is not enough to have norms, rules and regulations. We need to be clear with the ethics underlying them. Without the sense of ethics, we will be stuck in legalism. Legalism cannot help us in very tough situations. Medical doctors are at times confronted with moral dilemma. Some business people who want to live as Christians are confronted with hard choices to do. Many lovers, during the early stages of their relationships, struggle with moral choices. If norms are simply shoved into them, we cannot be sure how far they can make strong decisions. We need some ethical views too.
19.   Jesus was confronted by the legalism of his time. He would always take an ethical stand by emphasizing the love of the Father and the liberation of the human person within that love. Take the example of Sabbath. Remember how this practice became so heavy it enslaved people. Jesus reminded people that underneath the practice of Sabbath is liberation and not slavery (see Mk.3/1-6). 
Practical Wisdom
20.   A person can be very good in intellectual activities. Another person can be good with manual work and is very skillful manually. So in a way they are “wise” in their fields. In moral life, however, we need a “practical wisdom”. Some medieval theologians would use the word “prudence”. Ancient Greek philosophers would use the word phronesis.
21.   So what is this practical wisdom? As we have just discussed above, it means a combination of ethics and morality. It means that we discern not only according to rules and regulations but also according to our sense of a good life and what is a good person. We manage our morality and our ethics. Fortunately we have our Christian faith to shed light on our practical wisdom. We can do a moral theology on moral life. Our practical wisdom can be greatly helped. In Christianity there are so many treasures, insights that can really guide us.

 Three areas that can help us
22.   So where do we go for reference in moral life? What can help us in ourphronesis? Three things can be mentioned: the Bible, Church tradition and our own personal experiences.
23.   The Bible is filled with insights about God, about the human person, about relationships, about redemption, etc. How can we fail to notice how the Bible can shed light on moral living?
24.   Then we have Church Tradition. Over many centuries the Church has meditated on revelation and concrete human experiences. We see reflections of saints and doctors of the Church. We read many texts of teachers and researchers. Over centuries the Church has offered some norms—yes,, moral norms. Somehow we have to be thankful for what the Church can offer and the meditations she gives. The Magisterium has offered—and continues to offer—deep teachings regarding moral life.
25.   Let us not forget our personal resources. Each one is in direct contact with the concrete events of daily life. The Bible or the Magisterium may not be competent in saying what exactly an economic or political policy should be. But the direct and immediate contact of Christians in these areas are resources for moral discernment. In fact thanks to their insights the Magisterium is able to give a deeper teaching on moral life in economics and politics.
26.   All three—Bible, Church Tradition and personal experiences—interact together to form a path in making moral choices, decisions and actions. They are very helpful resources.

Annex document

Human Dignity

Vatican II published an important document touching on modern times, Gaudium et spes. There we read about the dignity of the human person. The human is really central and even summit. This dignity of the human person is what serves as foundation of social life. If we are to ask what is it that we must constantly and vigilantly recognize as basis of all we do, is it human dignity.
Theologically, the dignity of the human person is directly related to the mystery of the Word made flesh (see Gaudium et spes 22). The human is created in the image and likeness of God and the Word—the Son—became flesh and lived among us (see Jn.1/14). The Word incarnated and became human—Jesus was in solidarity with humanity. The incarnation of Jesus was such a strong affirmation—and reaffirmation—of the value and dignity of the human. Truly the human is so valuable, the image of God is so valuable that God himself became human. Jesus in his incarnation and solidarity with us fully honored our humanity. Jesus also opened the doors telling us that we belong to the Father. Human as we are, we are meant to live in communion with God.
Human dignity is inalienable. This word, “inalienable” means that our dignity cannot be “alien” or “foreign” to us. By virtue of the fact that we are human; we cannot remove dignity from us. Dignity is not an addition to us. It is not a separate aspect of ourselves. We are of dignity. The fact that we are image of God and the fact that the Word became human affirm our dignity.
The sense of “being human” therefore is always linked with relationship with God.God is our source of “being” and God is the final end of our “being”. Now, there are different ways of living. Within culture some of us are richer, some are poorer. Some have more power, other have less power. Some are prestigious, others are not. But we have been created as image of God so no matter what status we have in societywe remain image of God and we remain those whom Jesus shared life with. We can never say that a poor person has “less dignity” than the rich person. We all and altogether share the same dignity. Human dignity goes beyond the cultural statuses and labels we hold. Hence Gaudim et spes insists that because dignity is proper toeveryone our dignity has rights that should not be violated. (See Gaudium ert spes26).
The dignity of each of us is not based on success or failure in social life. It is not dependent on capacities, abilities and talents. Human dignity is based on a simple fact: God loves each of us.
This discussion on dignity clarifies the different stand we need to make in front of moral-ethical issues like abortion and euthanasia. We are also guided in our economic and political activities. We cannot remove the fact that we are all equal in dignity. Jesus has affirmed this well by being one of us. His incarnation and solidarity with us affirm that each and every single human is honored equally.Each and every single human person is “joined with” Christ; for we see how Christ became so fully human he even experienced suffering and death like all of us.(See Gaudium et spes 22). In Jesus Christ all humans stand in dignity.
Yes, the Word incanated—the Word became flesh. So flesh is, itself, an incarnation. We as human are incarnated. We are “in-flesh”. In our human condition as incarnate we are in link with everything around us. We taste our sweat; it is salty. We have the minerals in us. We grow and develop parts of our bodies; we are like the vegetation. We have sensations and feeling; we are like the other animals. Then of course we think and we reason out—and we use our thinking to relate with the world. We are a kind of “summary” of the whole universe! How can we look down and belittle our being incarnate? Our different relationships with the world around us—with people, animals, things—are all possible thanks to our very own incarnation. Through our incarnation we enter into relationships with others.
What is so fantastic and wonderful is that the Word became flesh so that we be more and more clear about the love of God for us. In terms of ethics-morality, such as in the case of bioethics, sexual life and medical ethics, we can be guided by this dignity of the human incarnate. We can be guided in our discernment about what we shall do with the human body—as in transgender change, alcoholism, drug addiction, torture, prostitution and even work conditions. (See Gaudium et spes 27). We can also be guided in our discernment about our relationship with Nature—the ecological problem which is so actual today. How do we see our incarnation in front of Nature?
Now we believe in God as Trinitarian. The human is image of God—yes—who is Trinitarian. What do we see in the Trinity? We see communion. We see love and sharing. So our being image of the Trinitarian God leads us to recognize that we too are community. We are fulfilled and truly human in communion with others. We make full and real our being-human in communion, in relationship, is being-with others. To live with others is not an addition to our being-human. The human being is inter-relational. The human being is "communitarian". (See Gaudium et spes 25).
Social life, with all its different elements—economics, politics, etc.—must therefore have full respect for the human dignity. We can never say that some need to be in communion with others while others do not. To be human and to live in dignity is to be social. Society and all the institutions within society must give priority to human dignity. If we talk of economic growth and development we need to consider human dignity. We need to consider the community. We cannot just grow and develop economically at the expense of the community. We cannot be exclusive in economic growth and development. Each one must have a participation. Here we can think of the ethics of work and capital.

Now, social life has become so complex and so complicated we experience so much inequality—and poverty and misery. If we are to take seriously the respect for human dignity we need to be vigilant about the conditions of the poor and the marginalized. This is why we have, in the Church, the “preferential option for the poor”. Social life has become so complex that, indeed, many are marginalized. So many may have started to question their own dignity. The preferential option for the poor is to affirm that the poor always have dignity that must be respected. 

                                                                            The Bible 


27.  If we read texts from epistles of St. Paul, we will notice one important attitude. It is the attitude of thanksgiving. Christ has done so much for us. He has presented to us the love of God and how we really belong to the Father. The message of Christ was given in the form of the Kingdom. Christ took his message seriously and he was willing to die for it. He was crucified. Later he was risen from death. The follower of Christ is thankful for what Christ had done. Living a good life is aresponse of thanks to Christ.
28.  This is clear in the texts of St. Paul. A good life is really a life of response to the love Jesus Christ showed. Thanks to Christ we live a good life. (See Eph4/1 and Rom12/1, as examples).
29. In front of the Bible, then, we can assume the same attitude of thanksgiving. We enter into the world of the Bible in gratitude to what God has done to us and we seek guidance from the Scriptures. We consult the Bible to help us in our lives--to help us respond to God's love by living a good life. How can Scriptures guide us in living as good life? Take the example of reading the gospels texts. We can ask ourselves how the texts can help improve our "being like Christ". How can the gospel texts enlighten us on our discipleship with Christ?
30. Moral theology can take nourishment from Scriptures. Of course the human sciences--like psychology and sociology--can help us in our moral theological discussions. The gospels can enlighten our use of the human sciences (see a Vatican II text, Gaudim et Spes 16). (See also another Vatican II text, Optatam Totius 16). The Bible can offer us views about living a moral life in response to God's love for us.
31.  The Bible is a "treasure box" filled with so many insights about life and how life can be oriented to God. In a way we can say that the Bible is a kind of "motivationally encouraging" text. It motivates us to conduct our lives in a good way.
32. We say that the Revelation of God took place within history and the Bible is composed of books that record--theologically and spiritually--the Revelation of God. The Bible offers insights that can help us discern God at work in history and in concrete human lives. How can we respond to the presence in concrete events? How can we shape our lives and make our lives correspond with Revelation in history? The Bible offers images, ideas, symbols, narratives that can help organize our lives and discern God's works in our world.
33. As Christians we say we are disciples of Jesus. How can the Bible then teach us about this discipleship? How can discipleship be incarnated in our lives? How can we live like Christ in a world that is, today, so complex and filled with struggles? Jesus said that we should love each other "as I have loved you" (Jn15/12). We have received love and we have the model of the love of Jesus. A good moral life is a response. We shape our hearts and minds and actions in response to God's love in Christ. Here is where the Bible, again, can help us.
34. Yes, when we decide and act in concrete situations of life we might not take norms directly from the Bible. But thanks to having read the Bible, we can havemore depth in our decisions and actions. The Bible can help us in moral discernment. The Bible--especially the gospel texts--can "in-form" us. We are formed within ourselves. We are formed according to Christ. (See Ph.3/10 and 21; 2Cor.3/18; Gal.5).

The example of the parables

35. The parables of Jesus are wonderful stories about the Kingdom. They are presented in a way that does not just make us think rationally. In fact, notice that the parables are in story forms--they are narratives. So our imagination is touched quite a lot more than our logical side. The parables point to very concrete experiences--like our experiences of trees and seeds and soil.
36. Although we can be "at home" with the imaginative images of parables, we are also left quite challenged. A new view of life and world is offered by the parables. The parables invite us--they invite our imaginations--to open us and see new horizons about God's workings. Eventually we are invited to a conversion--to say "yes" the Kingdom of God is real and is at work.
37.  Notice then that the parables help us look at our lives and discern the Kingdom present and growing around us. We are invited to be like Christ--to engage also, like Christ, and be "sowers" of the seed, like in Mk.4/10-12. We may not appear so effective in or own sowing, but we stay in confidence that the Kingdom grows and will give abundance one day. We sow in confidence as we can see in Mk.4/26-29. In fact we might be surprised that the Kingdom looks so small and insignificant--like a mustard seed. But the small grain becomes a big tree. We are told of a mysterious abundance that will result. Even if what we experience now is so small and of little importance, we do not lose confidence. Abundance is promised, as we see in Mk.4/30-32.
38. The parables can shape our attitudes and help us keep confidence and patience. Live a good life. Help others live a good life. Have confidence, "abundance" is promised. Have patience, the Kingdom is present and is growing in ways that God fully knows. Be humble, we rely on God. In front of crises in life, how can parables help us? How can the parables help us look at our situations of deep confusion and help us look at these situations in the way of Christ?
39. In moral theology two Bible texts are often discussed. We shall do the same here. One is the Decalogue--or the Ten Commandments. The other is the Sermon on the Mount of Jesus (in Matthew) and the Beatitudes. The Decalogue can help us understand "what it is to be human" and live with God. The Beatitudes can help us see how we can be "in conformity with Christ". Let us explore these in our discussions.

Three excerpts from: THE BIBLE AND MORALITY
The Decalogue/Moral teachings of prophets/Beatitudes
27. Three other characteristics, however, make of the original Decalogue an irreplaceable foundation for an inspiring morality that appeal to modern sensibilities: its range is virtually universal. It fits the theological framework of the covenant; it is rooted in a historical context of liberation.
1. The scope of the commandments goes beyond the confines of a particular nation, even those of God’s elected people. The values they promote are applicable to the whole of humanity in any region and in any period of history. We shall see later that even the first two prohibitions, apart from the apparent specificity of the designation ‘the LORD God of Israel’, express a universal value.
2. The covenantal framework of the Decalogue subordinates ten commandments, as they are called, to the notion of the Law itself understood as a gift, as God’s gratuitous donation, a global ‘path’, a clearly traced way which renders possible and facilitates humanity’s radical orientation towards God, towards an intimate communication with him, towards happiness rather than misery and towards life rather than death.
3. In the introduction to the Decalogue the LORD sums up the narrative of his liberating act: he has led out his own from a ‘house’ in which they were ‘enslaved’ (Ex 20.2). Now a people that wants to be free of a suffocating external yoke and has just achieved this will be careful not to seek another enslaving and stifling internal yoke. The Decalogue, in fact, opens the way to a morality of social liberation. In Israel the appreciation of freedom is wide enough to include the earth itself, all cultivable land. Every seven years (sabbatical year) and further every forty-nine years (jubilee year) there is an obligation to let the earth rest, free from every violence, safe from every plough and ploughshare (cf. Lev 25.1–54).
c. Consequences for today’s morality
29. On the other hand the virtually universal range of biblical morality, its place in a theological covenantal framework and its roots in the historical context of liberation can have a certain attraction in our times.
1. Who never dreams of a system of values that transcends and unites nationalities and cultures?
2. The primary insistence on a theological approach rather than on a large number of behavioural precepts and prohibitions may arouse greater interest in the fundamentals of biblical morality among people who are allergic to laws that seem to limit personal liberty.
3. Awareness of the concrete circumstances in which the Decalogue took shape in history shows to what extent this basic and fundamental text, far from being restrictive or oppressive, in fact stands at the service of human freedom, both individual and collective.
3) Discovering values in obligations
30. The Decalogue contains all the elements necessary to provide a foundation for a balanced moral reflection suitable for our times. It is however not sufficient to translate it from the original Hebrew into a modern language. In its canonical formulation it has the form of apodictic laws detailing a morality of duties (deontology)
Nothing prevents us understanding the contents of the Israelite charter in a different but no less faithful manner, in terms of a morality of values (axiology). Transcribed in this way, the Decalogue acquires a greater clarity and contemporary appeal. Indeed, such an adjustment loses nothing but gains enormously in depth. Prohibitions concentrate only on avoiding certain ways of behaving, they encourage, at the most, an ‘emergency-brake’ morality (e.g. abstaining from adultery by not courting another man’s wife). Positive precepts, for their part, may go no further than some gesture or attitude to quiet the conscience; at most they may encourage a morality of minimal actions (e.g. the view that the dedication of one hour a week to worship constitutes observance of the Sabbath). A commitment to values, however, represents an open-ended project, whose demands are unlimited.
Translated into a terminology of values the precepts of the Decalogue point to the following values: the Absolute, religious homage, time, the family, life, the stability of the male and female couple, freedom (the Hebrew verb gnb probably refers to abduction not to the theft of material objects), good reputation, the household, the house and its material belongings.
Each of these values opens a ‘programme’, a moral demand that is never complete. The following propositions, each introduced by a verb, illustrate the dynamic to which each of these values gives rise.
Three vertical values referring to the relationship of the human person to God
1. to offer homage to the one Absolute God
2. to respect the presence and the mission of God in the world (signified by ‘the name’)
3. to prize the sacred dimension of time

Seven horizontal values regarding the relationships between human persons.
4. to honour the family
5. to further the right to life
6. to safeguard the union of the couple, man and wife
7. to defend the right of each person to respect for his or her personal liberty and dignity
8. to safeguard the reputation of other people
9. to respect every individual (members of a household, family or group)
10. to leave to others their material goods.
The ten values seen in the Decalogue are presented in decreasing order of value, from the most to the least important, God in the first place and material goods in the last. Within human relationships family, life, and a stable marriage head the list.
This analysis therefore offers humanity in search of autonomy a legal and moral support that can prove both fruitful and stable. In our present situation, however, it may seem unattractive, as the popular scale of values commonly followed in today’s world runs contrary to the biblical proposal. It puts human beings before God. Indeed, material goods, economics in a certain sense, may stand at the head of the list. When a political and social system is founded, openly or not, on false basic values (or uncertainty about values), when commerce and consumerism are considered more important than personal relationships, that system is fractured from its very beginning, and doomed, sooner or later, to collapse.
By contrast, the Decalogue opens up a broad way towards a liberating morality, giving first place to God’s sovereignty over the world (values nn. 1 and 2), offering every individual the possibility of dedicating time to God and of managing time in a constructive manner (n. 3), broadening the opportunities of family life (n. 4), defending life, even an apparently unproductive life of suffering, against arbitrary decisions of the system and subtle manipulations of public opinion (n. 5), neutralizing the seeds of division that render married life so fragile, especially in our days (n. 6), preventing all forms of exploitation of the body, of the heart and of ideas (n. 7), protecting personal reputations from attack (n. 8) and from all kinds of deception, of exploitation, abuse and coercion (nn. 9 and 10). The moral teaching of the prophets
36. Justice is a basic theme in all the prophets. However, they treat it never separately and systematically, but only in relation to God’s guidance of Israel’s history. This looks to both past and future. Since God freed Israel from slavery in Egypt and led her into her land, Israelites should live according to the commandments God gave Moses on Mount Sinai (cf. the framing of the ten commandments in Deut 5.1-6, 28-33). However, as they failed to follow this path and adopted the practices of the nations, God decided to raise up foreign invaders against them to devastate their land and take them into exile (Hos 2; Jer 2.1–3.5). With regard to the future, God will save a remnant of the people from their diaspora among the nations and will lead them back to their land where they will at last live as a faithful community around the Temple in obedience to the old commandments (Is 4; 43). This basic connection between ethics and history, both present and future, is developed in Ezek 20, which constitutes the Magna Carta of a reborn Israel.
On the basis of God’s presence in the history of Israel the prophets confronted the people with their way of life which was in complete contrast with the ‘Law’ of God (Is 1.10; 42.24; Jer 2.8; 6.19; Ezek 22.26; Hos 4.6; Amos 2.4; Zeph 3.4; Zech 7.12). This divine rule for Israel’s conduct contained a variety of norms and customs derived from tribal and local legislation, from tribal traditions, from priestly teaching and wisdom instruction. The moral preaching of the prophets places its accent on the concept of social justice (mishpath,tsedaqah: Isa 1.27; 5.7; 28.17; 58.2; Jer 5.1; 22.3; 33.15; Ezek 18.5; Hos 5.1; Amos 5.7). The prophets brought Israelite society face to face with this human and divine model in all its demands: the various roles in a law-court from king to judge, from witness to defendant (Isa 59.1-15; Jer 5.26–31; 21.11-22.19; Amos 5.7–17), the corruption of the rulers (Ezek 34; Hos 4; Mal 1.6–29), the rights of various social classes particularly of the marginalized (Isa 58; Jer 34), the widening economic gap between landowners and impoverished peasants (Isa 5.8, 12; Amos 8; Micah 2), the dislocation between cultic practice and daily behaviour (Isa 1.1–20; Jer 7), and the degradation of public morality in general (Isa 32.1–8; Jer 9.1–9).
Lastly, to understand adequately the ethics of the prophetic writings we must bear in mind the fact that morality, both social and personal, ultimately derives from God himself, from his righteousness (Isa 30.18; 45.8; Jer 9.24; Zeph 3.5) and his holiness (Ezek 15.11; Isa 6.3; 63.10–11; Ezek 37.28; Hos 11.9).

3.1.2. The proclamation of God’s kingdom and its moral implications
45. Jesus announces the gospel of God when he says: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has drawn near”, he then immediately adds the exhortation to act accordingly: “repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mk 1.15). He proclaims the nearness of the kingdom of God, to be heard and accepted through conversion and faith. A change of mentality is needed, new ways of thought and a new vision, conditioned by God’s kingdom, perceived through the wisdom of faith.
The principal purpose of Jesus’ mission is to reveal God, the Father (Mt 11.27), and his reign, his way of acting. This revelation occurs throughout the whole of Jesus’ mission, by his preaching, his mighty works, his passion and his resurrection.
Acting in this way, Jesus reveals at the same time the norms of righteous human behaviour. He affirms this connection by saying: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt 5.48); he thus sums up and founds his teaching about the love of enemies (Mt 5.43-48) and the whole section of antitheses (Mt 5.21- 48). We shall present some aspects:
a. Jesus as Guide
46. Jesus manifests his authority to show the right way for human conduct specifically by the call of the disciples. All four gospels place this call at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (Mt 4.18–22; Mk 1.16–20; Lk 5.1–11); Jn 1.35–51). With the invitation “Follow me!” (Mk 1.17) he presents himself as a guide who knows both the destination and the way to reach it; he offers at the same time to those whom he calls, communion of life with him and the example of how to tread the way he indicates. He thus shows what is meant by the preceding command “Repent and believe” (1.15); the disciples live out their conversion and their faith by accepting his invitation and by placing their trust in his guidance.
The path traced by Jesus is not presented as an authoritative norm imposed externally. Jesus himself walks along it and asks no more of the disciples than to follow his example. Moreover, his relations with the disciples do not consist in dry and disinterested lecturing. He calls them ‘sons’ (Jn 13.33; 21.6), ‘friends’ (Jn 15.14–15), ‘brothers and sisters’ (Mt 12.50; 28.10; Jn 20.17), and not them alone, for he invites all men and women to come to him and to enter a close and cordial communion of life with him (Mt 11.28–30). In this communion of life with him they learn from Jesus the way of right conduct, they partake of his Spirit and walk along with him.
The relationship of Jesus with his disciples is not something limited in time, it is a model for all generations. When Jesus sends the eleven disciples to the universal mission he mentions his all-embracing authority and says: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mt 28.18–20). All members of all peoples to the end of the age are destined to become Jesus’ disciples. The relationship with and the experience of Jesus’ person lived by the first disciples and the teaching imparted to them serve as a pattern for all ages.
b. The Beatitudes (dispositions specially stressed)
47. A whole list of fundamental virtues and dispositions is to be found in the beatitudes. Matthew records eight, Luke four, at the beginning of the first and longest of Jesus’ discourses (Mt 5.3–10; Lk 6.20–22); they present them as a sort of synthesis of his teaching. The beatitudes belong to a literary genre used in the Old Testament and other parts of the New Testament. They attribute joy and happiness to certain persons and dispositions, often in connection with a promise of future blessing. In both gospels the first beatitude concerns the poor, the last one those who suffer persecution; Jesus declares them possessors of God’s kingdom, thus creating an intimate connection between the central theme of his message and the dispositions which he highlights. In Matthew (5.3–10) the beatitudes mention the poor in spirit, that is, those who live in a precarious situation and, above all, acknowledge that they themselves have nothing, are wholly dependent on God. Then come the afflicted who do not turn in upon themselves but compassionately participate in the necessities and sufferings of others. Next come the meek who do not use violence but respect their neighbours just as they are. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness desire intensely to act according to God’s will in expectation of the kingdom. The merciful offer active help to the needy (cf. Mt 25.31–46) and are ready to grant pardon (Mt 18.33). The pure in heart seek the will of God with integral and undivided commitment. The peacemakers do everything in their power to maintain and re-establish love-inspired fellowship among human beings. Those persecuted for righteousness’ sake remain faithful to the will of God despite the consequent difficulties.
These virtues and dispositions correspond to the teaching of Jesus in all the gospels and also reflect the behaviour of Jesus himself. For this reason following Jesus faithfully leads to a life animated by these virtues.
We have already recalled the close connection between human dispositions and God’s action in the first and last beatitudes. This association is, however, to be found in all the beatitudes, for each one speaks in its promise, sometimes rather indirectly, of God’s ‘future action’: God will console, he will give the land as inheritance, he will satiate, he will have mercy, he will admit into his vision, he will acknowledge them as his sons and daughters. In the beatitudes Jesus does not establish a code of abstract norms and duties about right human conduct, but by presenting norms for human conduct he reveals at the same time God’s future action. Therefore the beatitudes constitute one of the most compact and explicit revelations about God that is to be found in the gospels. They present God’s future action not only as a recompense for the conduct prescribed, but also as basis and motive that render it both possible and reasonable. Poverty in spirit or fidelity under persecution do not stand as obligations on their own. Those who accept with faith Jesus’ revelation on God’s way of acting, summarized in the proclamation of the kingdom of God, are not left to themselves but will be enabled to recognize their complete dependence on God, to suffer persecution rather than strive to save their lives at all costs.
We cannot of course mention all models of conduct that appear in the actions and teaching of Jesus. We shall only recall Jesus’ strong insistence on pardoning those who have become our debtors (Mt 6.11, 14–15; 18.21–35), the concern for children (Mk 9.35–37; 10.13–16), and solicitude for simple people ((Mt 18.10–14). Most of all discipleship of Jesus implies determination not to be served, but to serve. Jesus gives the example of this requirement: “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and give his life a ransom for many.” (Mk 10.45). The service of Jesus is limitless and includes the sacrifice of his life. Jesus’ death on the cross for all humanity constitutes the highest expression of his love. For this reason the invitation to discipleship does not mean following Jesus only in his actions, in his style of life and in his ministry; it includes the invitation to participate in his suffering and in his cross, to accept persecution, even to die a violent death. This appears clearly in the request Jesus addresses to all, to the disciples as well as to the crowd: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Mk 8.34).
The Decalogue

40. If we open the Table of Contents--say of the New American Bible--we will notice that the Old Testament is divided into three major sections. There is the section of the Pentateuch and the Historical Books, there is the section on the Prophets and there is the section on Wisdom literature. We cannot go into study of all. Let us just dwell on the Decalogue, which is in the Pentateuch part, and a bit of prophets.
41. If we read the Pentateuch part we will notice how the legal stipulations and stories/narratives are so inter-woven. The story of liberation from Egypt all the way to the encounter with the Lord God in Sinai is woven with the promulgation of the Ten Commandments. Bible experts will note that in the heart of the narratives and the law is the Covenant between God and the people of Israel. The promulgation of the Decalogue is found within the narrative of liberation and Covenant.
42. The stories tell us about the good things God had done for the people of Israel. The people have been gifted with good things--from liberation to land. Then the people were also gifted with the Ten Commandments. To receive the good things is, subsequently, to engage in the observance of the laws. The people have received the initiative of God to a Covenant and to give shape to that Covenant, God gave the laws.
43. Notice then that a. God did wonderful things, good things, then b. God made a Covenant with the people and c. the Laws were next given.
44. The important thing that God gave was the liberation from slavery. Now that God-and-people are together, the people are asked to respond to what God had done by living properly with the Ten Commandments. To live under the precepts of the Decalogue is to respond to God's liberating gift. 
45. But wait! Look at what is underneath the Decalogue. Underneath it is the call to avoid going back to slavery. God freed the nation from slavery, God now gives the people Laws that will help them avoid returning to slavery. So the Laws were designed to be "anti-slavery", so to speak. 
46. The people agree on this--thanks to the Covenant. They promised to practice the Laws. (Of course, as history will show, the people will disobey. This is why the prophets came, a topic for later.)
47. Read the Decalogue (and there are two versions, one is in Ex. 20/1-17 and the other is in Dt.5/6-21). The Decalogue can be chopped up into two parts. The first part is about God and people, it is a vertical dimension. The second part is about to live within the social group. This is the horizontal dimension. Basic in the Decalogue is to live in liberty, avoid slavery, do not return to slavery. God is a God of liberation, continue to remain in God.
48. Ok, so liberation was "gifted" to the people. The Decalogue then is also a "gift". The People are to respond by observing the Decalogue. In this response is confidence in the Lord God. Have confidence that the Decalogue is really for your own good. It is really for the well-being of society. 
49.The most developed part of the Decalogue is the section on Sabbath. There is work to be done--six days of work--but it is to be interrupted by the seventh day, the Sabbath day. It is the day with the Lord. The Sabbath is a kind of "displacing" oneself. During Sabbath, one is to remember the Lord God, what the Lord God had done. Remember also that I am not lone. There are other people and they too must be taken seriously. Rest is a shared rest. It is not just my rest. 
50. One has received good things from the Lord God, so during Sabbath be reminded that life is a matter of sharing. Having received from God, now one shares. Note that the Sabbath is, itself, a repetition of what God did during the time of Creation. On the seventh day, God took rest. So too must the people rest--again with a shared rest. 

The Prophets

51. The people of Israel have not been so faithful to the Covenant with the Lord God. How often have they violated it? How "hard-headed" have they been? So comes the prophet who is to remind the nation that there is a Covenant with God. The Covenant has been distorted. Now, common to all prophets is the anguish about the people having lost God fidelity to God. Prophets will cry out against this because this has a serious consequence which is injustice. For prophets rejecting God and social injustice are inseparable. There is a necessary unity between fidelity to Covenant with God and justice. If this unity is broken, any religious practice will be in vain. We can think of the prophet Hosea, for example, who denounced the nation as having become an adulterous nation. The people have abandoned God and have become followers of Baal. 
52. But prophets did not just denounce. In their message they also spoke of renewal. A renewal would happen. The classic text is Jeremiah 31. Even if the social conditions are tragic, the Lord God promises a renewal of the Covenant. The people's heart of stone will become hearts of flesh. There is a promised future that will renew the Covenant between God and people. 
53. In the prophetic vision is an "eschatology"--or the fulfillment of the end of time. A new and definite Covenant will be made and it will involve new social relationships. (Hence, it is relevant for moral theology.) The "new heart" will lead to justice and peace.
54. We know that this "new Covenant" will happen in Jesus Christ. Hence , in tradition we have the "New Testament"--the "New Covenant".  

Behind the Decalogue is the liberation of living in Covenant with God

1.    To be free, it is to do what we want to do. Ok, fine. But we need to think about this well enough. If I am so free I can do what I want, my neighbour will also claim freedom—and doing what he/she wants to do. If my neighbour wants to steal my computer, because my neighbour is free, how will I react?
2.    Reflecting about this about freedom, we see that freedom is linked with rules and regulations—with “shoulds”. Look at musicians. They play well their musical instruments, and they play the instruments freely. Yet, we know that to be able to play well like that means the discipline of entering into the rules of playing. Look at persons in sports. Think of experts, say, in science.
3.    Rules, norms, laws—they are necessary to fix the framework of acting and behaving. They are “parapets” that secure us from falling. They give us a sense of discipline and also security. We feel free inside the parapets. We know we will not fall. We see this in Exodus 20/1-17—known as the “Decalogue”. 
4.    When God led the Hebrews in the desert after years of slavery in Egypt he wanted to give chance to people to be in-charge of their lives and be happy in their freedom from slavery. But we know the story. The people were not able to appreciate the liberty given to them.
5.    The people were so familiar with their life of slavery in Egypt, they needed to have a new familiarity—familiarity with liberty. The habit of slavery was marked by the sense of “being nobody”, “having no real identity”, “without autonomy and choice”. So that the people learn to live in new freedom—away from slavery—God gave them a reference—a parapet: the Decalogue. 
6.    Remember that when God freed the people of Israel God also concluded a covenant with the people. I am your God, you are my people. Inscribed inside the covenant is a set of rules, laws, commandments—the Decalogue. Do not forget this. The Decalogue is fruit of covenant. The Decalogue may look like “external rules” but interior to it is the covenant—the love relationship that God initiated with the people of Israel.
7.    We might have grown up with the idea that the “commandments” are just rules to follow. They might even look like controlling our behaviour. “God is watching you…so obey  him in what he wants”. But notice the starting point of the Decalogue: God is liberator who pulled the people out of slavery. A God watching each move we make is not a liberating God. He might be a policeman…but not the liberator from slavery.
8.    God gave the Decalogue to help people gain a new sense of life and not return to slavery. To be able to live this new freedom, the people received the Decalogue. The Decalogue would serve as a guide for living—a common reference that can make the people “someone” and not just “slaves” of Egypt.
9.    The new liberty of the people is very much marked by the sense of “mastery” but a mastery that must be mastered. Be master of your land, have power over the nation…but remember to be like God…control your powers and live in justice. The new liberty of the people would mean also “you may do what you want, feel free to eat from any tree…but there is a limit…you are not to eat from this one tree”. Notice the very close link between the Creation story and the Decalogue. The Decalogue is that “but”. Do what you want but do not return to slavery.

On the Beatitudes
Part One:
  1. The whole section on the Beatitudes is inserted in a narration of the “Sermon on the Mountain” (Mtt.5-7).
  2. Jesus, seated, teaches on a mountain. Later Jesus will be up a mountain again—during the Transfiguration. Mountain reminds us of Moses and Mt. Sinai. Jesus then goes down to do healings (Mt 8-9). Jesus speaks and acts. Action and teaching are never separated. Jesus… proclaims the good news of the Kingdom of Heaven and he heals the sick and infirmity of the people (see Mt 4/23 and 9/35).
  3. Crowds follow Jesus (4, 23-25). They are from all over the place…and at the end of the Sermon on the Mount they are impressed by the teaching of Jesus. As they follow Jesus they might be seeing some healings: a leper is cleansed (see for example 8/1-2).
  4. The Beatitudes focus on the Kingdom of Heaven. This theme dominates the Sermon on the Mountain. In showing the Kingdom, Jesus accomplishes the Law and the Prophets without abolishing anything (see Mt 7/12). The whole sermon is concluded by the two paths: (see Mt 7, 13-14). Follow the narrow path. This image is again repeated, but this time with the image of two houses: on built on sand, the other built on rock (Mt 7/24-27). We are to choose.
Part Two
  1. In Matthew the series of the Beatitudes is “beginning” of the discourses of Jesus on the mountain. They serve as “beginnings” of the Sermon on the Mountain. What does “beginning” remind us of? It can remind us of the book of Genesis. The word of God is at the beginning of all creation (Gn 1). The word of God says and does what it says. At the end of each stage of creation God sees what he has just created and sees that it is “good”. The Beatitudes serve as a kind of “creation” story of a different kind—creation of a new way of living.
  2. There is another “beginning” in the Bible. This time it is the covenant concluded in Sinai (see Ex 19-24). It takes place in a mountain. Moses is sitting with the elders…which is similar to Jesus assembled with his Apostles.
  3. The first phrases of the covenant in Sinai are the Ten Words or “Decalogue” (see Ex 20). The Decalogue begins with a small comment: “I made you leave Egypt, from the house of slavery”. God reminds the people of Israel how he liberated them. Exodus was a marvelous account.
  4. Now, with Jesus on the mountain, it is not so much about marvelous events of the past. It is now a declaration of the Beatitudes. It is a new way of “giving birth” to a new people. It is addressed to all…and not just to Israel.
  5. Let us look at the text of Matthew. The word “happy” is mentioned nine times. Does it not look like incomplete—nine? Well, at least when compared with the Decalogue, Jesus has “nine” and the Decalogue has “ten”.
  6. But the beatitudes end with an injunction in v. 12 : “Rejoice and be glad” which is another way of saying ''be happy”. The meaning of “beatitude” is now so clear. Those who Jesus calls as “happy” are those who respond to his call for a different way of living. To live according to the path of the Beatitudes is to rejoice and be glad. This is a vocation! To be happy is a vocation—a destiny one is called to.
  7. This is what is strange in the beatitudes. Imagine being called to be “poor” or the “mourn”. And the poor and the mourning are said to be “happy”!
  8. Note that during these last two verses, (v. 11-12), Jesus talks to a “you”—in the plural. While addressing this “you” Jesus also talks about himself: “on my account” (v.11). The secret of the Beatitudes takes place in the relation between Jesus and those to whom he speaks. Rejoicing and gladness crown this relation with Jesus—living on his account.
  9. Two verses of the Beatitudes (v. 3 and 10) refer to the present, and both refer to the Kingdom of heaven: “theirs is the Kingdom...”. The other verses (v. 4-9), use the verb in the future: “they will inherit…they will be consoled”.  The Beatitudes are declarations that have value for the present and it this present opens up an future—something to look forward to.
  10. The Beatitudes are presented, also, in a constant way: “Blessed—or Happy—are those…”. Those who are happy are marked by conditions they in: “poor in spirit”, “those who mourn”, those who are meek”, they are “pure in heart”, they are “hungry” and “thirsty”. They are “merciful” and they are “peacemakers”. They are “persecuted”.
  11. In the Old Testament, prophets would speak of the reverse: “Woe to you…” (see for example Am 5/18 and 6/1; Is 5/8-25 and 10/1-4). The prophets stigmatized those who did injustice and the prophets announced their fate.
  12. In a way, the Beatitudes of Jesus have something prophetic in them. But Jesus does not announce “woes” but happiness. Strange is that what appears as “woe” to the world is happiness for Jesus. To be persecuted on account of Jesus is a “woe” to many people. But not for Jesus. It is cause of happiness. It is possible to rejoice and be glad when attached to Jesus.
  13. Who exactly is Jesus talking about? The four Beatitudes at the start is addressed to people who “lack” something: poor, humiliated, meek, mourning, hungry and thirsty. They all revolve around a central lack: lack of justice.
  14. The next beatitudes still center on justice, but they focus on ''engagement'': engage in mercy, engage in purity of heart, engage in working for peace, engage in being persecuted in the struggle for justice. Under different angles, we can say that Beatitudes declare who are happy: those for whom justice (of the Kingdom—see Mt 5/20) is a major concern. If the prophets of the past denounced injustice, Jesus today announces that happy are those who place central concern for justice in their lives.
  15. The paradox of the Beatitudes touches us intimately too. The paradox signifies the way we relate with God. By confidently living according to the Beatitudes we are given the promise of joy and gladness—happiness—with Jesus.
  16. Jesus gives us promises of happiness, the Beatitudes. In the heart of these is living “correctly” in relationship with God and with others.
  17. If we say that God is Creator, we also mean that everything in his works is “just” by way of birth and origin. If there is birth, if there is life—and by extension healing—there is justice. Justice is a way of promoting life. If there is death and division, giving wounds and harm, it is contrary to the goodness given in creation, and it is “unjust”. There is injustice. There is something “diabolical”—which literally means “source of dispersion”.
  18. If we say that God is love, we affirm that each person—no matter the age or ethnic members or income or gender—each person is beloved by God. God is love, therefore God loves each of us. So it is just to forgive. There is justice here. It is just to respect the dignity of each one. Even the person with abominable actions deserve the respect of his/her dignity.  The inverse is quite unacceptable. What idea of justice is there if we say that God crushes people and sends them to a place of eternal torture. This is not a God of love.
  19. Jesus invites us to better know God and to follow the path of God. Jesus invites us to have an experience of God—be inspired by God and be “shaped” by God, like the potter and the clay. Jesus calls us to live in justice—which is a hope, a research and an opening up to God.
  20. Before we “engage” maybe we need to experience what it means to be loved by God. Before we forgive, maybe we need to recognize how we are forgiven by God. Before we speak about loving others, we might need to recognize how God has loved us from the start of life. In the “Our Father”, Jesus shows this clearly. “Forgive us our offences as we forgive those who offend against us” (Mat 6/12).
  21. We shall have our hunger and thirst for justice—and it is a justice that first of all goes beyond us and precedes us: it is from God, the God of life and love. If we shall desire fighting against injustice, shall we recognize the justice in us granted by God. We are given life and love.
Brief meditations on the (Matt)  Beatitudes
  1. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven. The kingdom belongs to them now, right now. To be poor in spirit is to be with total trust in God. God is the main wealth.  The poor in spirit recognizes absolute need for God. To live with “spiritual poverty” is to live with childlike trust in God. Therese of Lisieux always said this in her writings. Even if she would fall asleep in her prayers, she would think she is asleep on the laps of God. There is joy that comes from this living in this poverty of spirit. Happy are we when the spirit is poor. We are ready to bear life’s conditions for God's sake.
  2. Blessed (happy) are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. To be meek is to bend down—it is to recognize what is real. It is considered stupid to be meek when in the heart of society—we would rather show strength. To be meek however is not to be shy. As we just said, it is to bend down and say yes to what is real and revealed. Is not Jesus "meek and humble of heart"? He is not shy. To be meek, in the sense of the Beatitudes, is to have courage and strength. It is to have courage and strength to live the values of the kingdom. It is to have courage and strength to stand up and speak against injustice. So strength or courage exercised in a meek or humble way is a kingdom value that we ought to seek. We will be blessed and happy when we discover how to exercise courage and strength in a meek and humble way.
  3. Blessed (happy) are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Why do we mourn? The prophets in the Old Testament mourned for the injustices. Jesus knows how to mourn. When Jerusalem refused to accept him, he mourned (see Lk 13/34-36). Jesus mourned when he learned of the death of his friend Lazarus (see John 11/36). In Ignatius retreats, we ask for the grace to mourn. We mourn because we see people suffer, because we see sin, because we see injustice and because we see how Jesus is set aside. We are happy in this mourning. We are clear about our compassion and concern.
  4. Blessed (happy) are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. We  are called to recognize right relationships with truth and justice, right relationship with God and others. This might mean getting ridiculed, persecuted and even killed for what is right, true and just. Jesus says we get happiness here because we are on the right side.  Hunger and thirst for justice implies a strong and continuous desire to grow morally personal, sure, but also morally social/interpersonal. We want that others live a just life too. It is a happy task—we are glad to do it.
  5. Blessed (happy) are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Remember the mercy of the Father waiting for the prodigal) son to return? Remember the forgiveness demanded from Peter—not just seven but seventy seven times? Mercy is cause for liberation. When there is mercy, we allow the future to continue. We do not imprison. We seek to be merciful and it makes us happy because it will keep our hearts free of un-forgiveness. Notice that when we do not know how to forgive, we are unhappy. Blessed (happy) are the pure in heart, for they will see God. The pure in heart are clear with what they want—their motives are pure. There are no “hidden agenda” in what they say or do. This is happiness, right? There is nothing hidden, nothing to protect from the eyes of others…it is transparency. It is happiness that does not have to engage in manipulation and control.
  6. Blessed (happy) are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God. “Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace." The "peacemaker" not only lives in peace with others but also does his/her best to preserve peace. He/she seeks to work for peace in the family, neighborhood, workplace etc. Peace is building bridges, not walls. It is cooperation in healing and “co-redeeming” with Jesus.
  7. "Blessed (happy) are the persecuted for holiness for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of slander against you because of me. Be glad and rejoice for your reward is great in heaven; they persecuted the prophets before you in the very same way." They are happy now—right now. Christianity was once an outlawed religion. Christians were slandered, persecuted, jailed and put to death. Today there are people who work for justice and righteousness. Are they not also persecuted. But theirs is the kingdom now—right now. Many are persecuted for speaking up for the poor and against injustices. They are happy doing it.
What beatitude is strong in you? Which beatitude do you wish to grow more in you?
Introducing the Beatitudes of Luke  (Lk 6/20-26)
  1. Jesus, in the account of Luke offers four “happy”. Happy are the poor, the hungry, those who cry and those who are excluded. To the “happy” correspond those who “unhappy”: the rich, the full, the laughing, and those with good reputation.
  2. In Luke we note that Jesus comes to bring the good news to the poor. The poor are happy because the Reign of God is for them, now. The Son of God is at their side. He is one with them.
  3. Luke introduces this “now” in the Beatitudes. The reason to be happy lies in the future—there is something to look forward to. “You will be filled…you will laugh”. The Kingdom is with Jesus himself, he should know what he is talking about. Jesus “raises his eyes to the disciples” (v. 20) and he sees the development the sharing that John has already preached (see Lk 3/ 11; see also Ac 2/ 44-45 ; 4/ 32).
  4. Those who are persecuted now will have their day in heaven. They can jump for joy even at the moment of persecution. They can see that their fate is very much like the fate of the true prophets of the past. Those prophets of the past were persecuted because they denounced the use of religion to hide injustice.
  5. God is really at the side of the poor. We can look at one text of Luke for illustration. In Ac 5/ 41, after being beaten up, the disciples “leave the Sanhedrin full of joy”.
  6. What about the rich and those who are filled and those who laugh? Their consolation is now. It will pass away. They forget that God alone is the solid foundation. Again we can look at Acts regarding the story of Herod of  Agrippa (see Ac 12/ 21-23).
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In the footsteps of Jesus: The Sermon on the Mount

55. Jesus came and he preached the Kingdom of God. It is a message, too, of liberation. God loves us so why get stuck in darkness? God reigns so why get stuck in the slavery of injustice, self-centeredness, indifference, in short, sin? Because of God's reign we need not crave for what only causes us to suffer all the more. The message of Jesus is victory over death and darkness and sin. 
56. Jesus then invites us to discipleship. "I am the light of the world, whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life" (Jn.8/12). It is now time to see and encounter God...realize that God is a loving God. Jesus shows that love--he incarnates that love. 
57. St. Paul in fact exhorts us to be conformed to Christ". We shall say more of this in a while. Just like Jesus, the disciple then is called to love too, starting especially the unloved, the marginalised, the poor, the oppressed, the sinner. Love the "least" among us. Show to others that God is a loving God and that God loves them too. 
58. The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 illustrates very well this message of Jesus. As we read the Sermon we notice that it is a kind of "portrait of Jesus".  Jesus is a "happy man"--the manof beatitudes. He is the man to follow; he is the one to conform to. One feature of Jesus that we clearly see is that he is radical--he goes to the roots. His moral demand goes to the heart from which all start. His is a morality rooted in the heart. Happiness, in terms of the Beatitudes, is precisely that happiness that has "mastered", so to speak, the heart.
59. Look at his description of adultery. Looking at someone else with a "dirty mind" is already an adultery even if one has done no outward action yet! (See Mt.5/27-28). Our modern thinking would react to this is say, "corny" or "killjoy" or "outdated" or "not-in-line-with-modern-science". But let us look closely at what Jesus is emphasizing. He puts moral life within the perspective of God as Our Father. If God is then Father to us, we are brothers and sisters to each other. The invitation to turn away from lust is, at the same time, an invitation to really give reverence to each other. What reason do I give in lusting over my sister or brother? 
60. We cannot also say that Jesus is far from what modern psychology says. In fact Jesus himself knows that when lust emerges from the heart, it is like opening the door to lustful action. So to do "dirty thinking" over someone is like putting the foot against the door that can close; it is already to keep the door open--the door to action. Maybe no action follows; but to develop lust in the heart is a risk in itself. Jesus is a good psychologist! 
61. As we read the Sermon on the Mount we can note how frequent Jesus employs the word "Father". The word "Father" saturates the Sermon. It forms the core of the Sermon. Be thankful we have a loving Father. We are called to lead a good life because Our Father loves us. Hence we appreciate the fact that are to be children of the "Heavenly Father" (see Mt.5/45). Live like children of the Father and so be brothers and sisters to one another. As the Father loves and respects, we too love and respect each other. The Sermon on the Mount has then three guiding elements: a. the paternity of the Father, b. the fact of our being God's children and c. our fraternal love for each other. When Jesus goes to the heart for moral conduct, he has all three in mind. How can we refuse this?
62. Through our reading of the Sermon on the Mount we see that Jesus deepens the insights of the Old Testament. What has been planted in the Old Testament is now fully manifest. In the message of Jesus is the fullness of the message of the Father. Jesus confirms this in his giving of life on the cross. 

In the footsteps of Jesus: The letters of St. Paul

63. St. Paul had issues with the Law. We are "ok" not through observance of the Law but through faith in Jesus Christ. (See Gal. 2/16). To be accepted by God we do not rely on performance but rather we rely on believing--faith (see Gal.3/1-5 and 4/1-7). 
64. During the time of St. Paul the observance of the Law created tensions within society and it created separation--elitism--in front of the other nations. It created a cultural behaviour of being "exclusive". The Jews were made to feel that they were  separate from everybody else. It was a "closed identity". So St. Paul would reacted and say that God welcomes everyone and anyone--whether Jew or Greek, slave or master, etc. (See Gal.3/28 and Rom.10/12).
65. Leave behind then the "performance style" of living. What is acceptable to God is not how well one performs the prescriptions of the Torah; what is acceptable is faith in Jesus Christ. But what does this faith do? This faith pulls one out of the "closed identity", the "elitism". This faith brings one to a more "open identity". One is not longer subservient to the prescriptions of the Law; one lives under grace. 
66. This may look abstract so let us see it this way. When we are conducting our behaviour because of the Law, we are not yet quite "matured", right? We live in performance of what are prescribed by the Law. To live in grace--in faith--is to live "self-propelling". We do not need to be told (by the Law) about what we should do. We "self-propel"; we take the initiative to live properly. It is our choice and not the imposition of the Law to live a good life.
67. But careful...To have faith does not mean that we can do anything we want without control. It does not mean that we follow no law. It does not mean we can sin. St. Paul himself asked this question: "Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace?" (Rom.6/15). No, this is not what we should do. If we have faith--really deep in our hearts as grace--then we live a transformed life. Life is characterized by fraternal life and service. Just like Christ we constantly die from darkness and rise to life (see Rom.6/13). We quit the life of the "flesh" and we live the life of the "spirit". (See Gal.5/20-23). Christ has, indeed, liberated us. So we do not turn to the life of the "flesh" marked by selfishness, jealousy, hatred, injustice, lust, etc.
68. It is curious to note that although St. Paul seems to have been "counter-Law", he has in fact taken a deeper stand--a stand that makes for a more authentic living of the Law. He "makes authentic" the Law by telling us what is real Law. Real Law is fraternal life--love of one another. "The whole Law is fulfilled in one sentence: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'" (Gal.5/14). So St.Paul is not nihilist in Law. He turns the Law and puts in it is rightful place: love of neighbor. This Law is guidance for morality. It is our response ot God's love for us and for our neighbor.
69. Of course we need the Holy Spirit to inspire us and to animate us regularly to live our this Law of Love. (See Gal.5/22 and Rom.5/5).   

Natural Law in Church Tradition

1. In the tradition of the Church we read a lot about “natural law”. Moral theologians have been
discerning as to where there is moral living that is applicable to all—not just for Christian believers.
Catholics theologians and other thinkers have used the notion of natural law in many areas of life—
politics, economics, sexuality, human-rights, medical issues, etc. But still, even if the notion is widely
used, understanding it is not easy.
2. Let us look at the word “natural”. It is from the root “to be born”. So it implies something innate and
essential to a thing. Natural means the properties intrinsic to a thing. If we remove the natural, the
thing stops being what it is. If we apply this to us, humans, it is natural for us to have bodies, to have
desires, to think, to reason, etc.
3. Let us look at the word “law”. In natural law the word “law” does not mean rules and regulations. So
this word is not related to things like “laws of the country”; it is not related to civil law. No. The word
“law” in natural law is moral law. It concerns our capacity to think and to decide—it is innate in us
to think and decide. So “law” here means—it is a fact that we cannot deny and delete. We are, by
nature, moral creatures and we simply have to recognize this (and revere it).
4. (Check the documents of the popes given to you earlier.) Notice how the popes view natural
law. a. The popes would say that there is a natural way of doing things. There is an innate way of
doing things—in social life, in marriage, etc. We are doing what is proper to human beings when
we do things as natural to us. b. If we do not act and live according to what is natural in us, we
contradict God. God created us and gave us properties natural to us. If we refuse to comply, we are
rejecting what God has given to us. c. We cannot just do anything we want. We have to consider our
human nature. If we step beyond our nature we abuse ourselves. We do harm. d. Notice also the
importance given to reason…the use of the “head”. Think, discern, decide.
5. In the Bible there is no explicit mention of “natural law”. This term is not found in the Bible. But
some passages indicate the sense of natural law. See for example Wisdom 6/12-14 and 13/4-9.
By contemplating the universe we sense a plan of God—that God’s will is integrated in creation.
Creation is given a nature coming from God.
6. In the New testament we have the writings of St. Paul. Also he did not use the term “natural law”.
But he spoke os what is very natural to all humans. There is a law inscribed in the human heart—and
it is in all humans. See Rom.1/20-23 and 2/14-16.
7. In the gospel texts, we read about the parables of Jesus. They too indicate something of the natural
law. The parables show what is natural in us. There are basic human values, for example. Check out
the parables.
8. In the Church tradition, a lot is taken from St. Thomas Aquinas. He has largely marked the idea of
“natural law”. In fact, the documents we read from the Popes are heavily influenced by the ideas of
St. T.A. The book he wrote, Summa Theologica, has many parts dealing with natural law. (See the
texts assigned earlier in class).
9. For St. T.A. there is first the creative design of God for all. This is what he called as “eternal law”.
This is in God himself. When God created the world he gave properties to his creation. Creation
participates in the eternal law of God. This participation is what St.T.A. calls as “natural law”.

10. We, humans, are creatures of God. We are rational-thinking creatures. So what is natural for us is
our reasoning capacity. This capacity regulates and ordains our lives. Let us be more clear with this.
11. As creatures, we have natural properties to common to other creatures. For example we have
desires and inclinations—just like the other animals. This is natural to us. But, added to this, we have
reason. We can think, discern and make up our minds. We make plans and goals. We coordinate our
actions in view of the plans we make.
12. We do not simply make plans and goals out of nothing. We have a base: our desires and inclinations.
Already the inclinations influence us, they orient us. We cannot remove them, they are natural to
us. So we need to know these inclinations—discern them. This discernment is the work of reason—
a property natural to us humans. Reason relies on what we already have and at the same time
it makes its own moves too. God has provided us our inclinations (like he has provided to other
creatures) and God has provided us with reason, which is unique to us. So what is natural to us?
Well, we have both levels—the inclinations and reasoning capacity.
13. If we look closely at these two, we will notice a moral orientation. Basically, we are naturally
oriented to do good and avoid evil. It is a “natural law” in us. It is in our nature to do good and avoid
evil. How do we do good and avoid evil? a. We preserve and conserve our being b. We look for (and
apply) what is proper to us—like education and reproduction. c. We make sure that truth and justice
are in our social lives.
14. We do make efforts to attain these three. Yes, our reasoning capacity may not be so accurate and
clear when we apply our efforts but, according to St.T.A., the three (above) are definitely present
and are definitely in our nature. They are the base for all other things we do. When we consider
moral demands we may have many difficulties and we may not be so sure as to what to do. But, the
three have to be the base: conserve being, seek out what is proper to all of us, and live in truth and
15. In the perspective of St.T.A., reason is given a high importance. Morality is possible because we have
reason. We can think and discern. Each person—no matter who he/she is—is a moral being thanks
to the reasoning capacity. For St. T.A., God really wanted us to be like this. This is the nature he has
given us. We have an innate moral nature.
16. Over the centuries the ideas of St.T.A. have been tested and even questioned. Some moral
theologians note that there are unclear elements that are difficult to apply in our modern times.
Still, in general, the ideas of St. T.A. remain accepted in the Church. There are, however, some
refinements to consider. What are some of them?
17. In modern times we have realized more and more the complexities of humanity. We are not simple
beings. We have many elements in us—psychological, sociological, cultural, etc. When we speak of
what is “natural” today we must recognize the complexity. When we look at our reasoning capacity
we cannot over-simplify it and say that we are very lucid and clear with reasoning. No. We also have
deep seated complexities—like the “sub-conscious” as discovered by the science of psychology.
This is what makes discussion of natural law more difficult now. Many theologians are struggling to
determine what exactly is the most natural in us.
18. Another point that the Church is emphasizing today is that natural law is objective. It is not just
a result of what we imagine or what we want. It is not arbitrary. In fact the notion of natural law
furnishes us discernment against the arbitrary. For example, today we see major issues about
human rights and human dignity. The human being is naturally gifted with reason, thinking, deciding
capacities. These should be respected. Human rights violations are often in the neglect of people’s
capacity to think and decide for their lives. So the Church will emphasize on the objectivity of human
rights. These rights are not to be arbitrarily accepted and dismissed. They are there, natural, present
and cannot be removed.
19. There is one final point we might find interesting. In the tradition of the Church, following the
thoughts of St. T.A., natural law is applicable to all humans. No it is not just for us, Christians. All
human beings are marked by the natural law. Now, today the Church is very interested in dialogue
with other cultures, traditions and religions. Through the idea of natural law the Church engages
in dialogue. The Church sees the natural law as one good area of dialogue. It is possible to have a
universal ethics—a sharing among all peoples.

Natural law: St. Thomas Aquinas

1. The notion of "natural law" is very important in the Church. It is so used over and over again in encyclicals and other teachings. Before we even describe what it is, let us first clarify the terms. The word "natural" means that which is innate. It is from the Latin word natus which is "birth" or "to be born". When the world was created each creature was created with--or "born with"--specific features proper to each creature. The human being was created with natural features proper to the human. Well, we can think of the human body, human intellect/reasoning, freedom, etc. So for the human being there are features properly human. They are natural to us.
2. What about the notion of "law"? In natural law the word "law" here means moral law. It is not "law" as we find in the legal world. It is moral law--what we should do morally. So we can think of norms and rules of morality. The human being is naturally created with specific human features and it is also natural for the human to be moral. 
3. There is a whole history behind this concept of natural law--mostly taken from Roman philosophy and the Scriptures. The most cited source for natural law is that of the ideas of St. Thomas Aquinas. So let us see what he says.
4. For St. Thomas Aquinas God has a plan for all. So there is something proper to God. God has his goals and his plans and his will--all that belong to God. A term is used to apply to that, namely "eternal law". Now, natural law comes next. Remember that God created the world and created each creature with natural features. Natural law--which is a moral law in the human person--participates in the eternal law of God. Natural law was inscribed to us, humans, as part of God's design--his eternal law. So, in principle, we say that the natural law is derived from God--the foundation is still in God. God gave us the natural law. 
5. St. Thomas Aquinas would describe the participation with the eternal law of God. This participation has two forms: material and formal.
     a. Material participation means that we have material--biological, genetic, physical tendencies. We eat,              we drink, we protect ourselves from the weather, we reproduce, we educate our offsprings, etc. So              in  material participation we participate in the biological features that God gave us.
     b. Formal participations means that we have reason, we think, we decide, we manage our actions and              decisions. Note here that in formal participation we are in our human dimension. In material                        participation we share in the biological conditions of other animals. In formal participation we are in our
         human realm.
6. Now, how does natural law work then? Notice that we have material--biological--inclinations and tendencies. They are already there in our existence as creatures. But then we are also have our formal feature of being rational--we think, we reflect, we discern. So in natural law we regulate ourselves, using reason, to adjust to our material inclinations. Reason regulates, adjusts, decides according to what is already innate in us. So here we make a kind of summary statement of natural law for St. Thomas Aquinas: Natural law is about norms proper to what are innate in us and reason discerns and manages our actions so that we do what is innate in us. Reason regulates us to adjust constantly to our natural, human, inclinations. We use our heads--we reason--to see where we connect with what is natural in us.
7. This may sound abstract. To help us, let us look at the contents of this natural law. Keep in mind that for St. Thomas Aquinas we have natural inclinations. We should comply with what is natural in us; to do this we need to use our rational ability. Now, what is the most fundamental natural inclination in us? For St. Thomas Aquinas, the foundation is a norm--a norm of natural law: Do good and avoid evil. For the human being the most innate and basic is to do good and to avoid evil. Now, how do we do good and avoid evil? St. Thomas Aquinas would then specify certain norms: 
     a. We do good and avoid evil by conserving being. We do not ruin life. We do not opt for the                        destruction of life. So to do good and to avoid evil is to make sure we live.
     b. We do good and avoid evil when we work for what is the common good done by all creatures. What           is it that all creatures do? Well, creatures reproduce and make sure that offsprings are adapted to life-           -so creatures "educate" their offsprings. To reproduce and to educate children are what we also must            do.
     c. We do good and avoid evil when we search for truth and understanding. We try to gain insight into           the realities around us. This is more proper to our human elements. Together with this search for truth             is social life. We live in truth within society--in life with others. 
8. To do good and avoid evil by conserving life, complying with our biological inclinations and in pursuit of truth and social living is the most fundamental norm of natural law. Of course this is so general in presentation. It must be applied in our different cultural contexts. The application to culture can be difficult at at times vague. St. Thomas Aquinas himself admitted that when the general norm is applied, it is never so easy. 
9. This notion of natural law has been open to many debates and questionings. But certainly it has a positive contribution to moral thinking. For one thing, it has a strong confidence in our reasoning ability. It believes that we are really interested in the good and not the evil. Furthermore, this reasoning ability is proper to all humans--believer or not. Another positive point here is that the human is still autonomous. In other words the human still has to use reason to discern and to act. It is an autonomy given by God to us--human creatures.
10. What if we disobey natural law? Now we can mention the notion of "sin". For St. Thomas Aquinas, our wrong use of reason is a sin. Sin is what is opposed to reason. It is a "counter-reason". Remember that reason, for St. Thomas Aquinas, is what we use to adjust to what is innate in us. Look at what we mentioned above--do good and avoid evil by conserving life, reproducing and educating, seeking truth and living socially. Now if we violate any of these we sin. It is not what God wants us to do. It is not our proper use of reason--our God given reason. We have to use our heads when we eat, when we do sex, when we live with others, etc. We eat to conserve life. What about gluttony? We do sex to reproduce and procreate. What about masturbation? We share with others in society. What about competition?
11. Notice then that for St. Thomas Aquinas when we deform our doing good and avoiding evil we sin. We are not using our reason properly and we are going against the order given by God. 
12. Now, surely you, as a modern person, you are shaken with questions. But before we start criticizing the ideas of St. Thomas Aquinas, let us be aware of the role of the natural law in morality. Morality is sometimes reduced to "convention", that is, reduced exclusively to what people agree on. Convention can be dangerous. If everyone agrees to torture anyone and say it is is dangerous. If everyone agrees that corruption is is dangerous. 
13. It is also dangerous to reduce morality according to what is "arbitrary". Arbitrary means that norms depend on the dispositions of certain people. A government might say that only the rich people will have health and education services. It is moral to focus on the rich; never mind the poor. This is dangerous and intolerable. The government might say that indigenous people can be removed from their lands and all trees there can be cut--it is morally ok to do these. Again, this is arbitrary--depending simply on what government wants. Again, this is intolerable. 
14. The notion of natural law opposes a convention-and-arbitrary-style of morality. Somehow there has to be something fixed and stable independent of what we agree on. There has to be something morally objective. This is why the Church relies a lot on the natural law--it is about what God has fixed as stable and secure for moral life. 

Conscience in Some Documents of the Church

From Vatican II Gaudium et Spes #16:

1.    16. In the depths of his conscience, man detects a law which he does not impose upon himself, but which holds him to obedience. Always summoning him to love good and avoid evil, the voice of conscience when necessary speaks to his heart: do this, shun that. For man has in his heart a law written by God; to obey it is the very dignity of man; according to it he will be judged. Conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of a man. There he is alone with God, Whose voice echoes in his depths. In a wonderful manner conscience reveals that law which is fulfilled by love of God and neighbor. In fidelity to conscience, Christians are joined with the rest of men in the search for truth, and for the genuine solution to the numerous problems which arise in the life of individuals from social relationships.
2.    Commentary: Notice what the document is saying. See how conscience is a “sanctuary” and there we are “alone with God”—we are directly in front of God. Conscience shows us our full human dignity. We human have a vital openness to God. We are capable of going beyond ourselves—and God is wanteing to meet us always. Where can this happen? In our conscience.

From Vatican II Gaudium et Spes #50:

3.    #50. “…in their manner of acting, spouses should be aware that they cannot proceed arbitrarily, but must always be governed according to a conscience dutifully conformed to the divine law itself, and should be submissive toward the Church's teaching office, which authentically interprets that law in the light of the Gospel. That divine law reveals and protects the integral meaning of conjugal love, and impels it toward a truly human fulfillment. Thus, trusting in divine Providence and refining the spirit of sacrifice, married Christians glorify the Creator and strive toward fulfillment in Christ when with a generous human and Christian sense of responsibility they acquit themselves of the duty to procreate”.
4.    Commentary: This text is for lay Christians, and notably for the married couples. Notice the emphasis here. Couples must be guided by conscience. Why? Because conscience is connected to God’s will. Note also that couples must be “submissive” to the teachings of the Church. Those teachings have a strong sense of revelation and the Gospel—which are definite guides for conscience. There is one point to note: the duty to procreate is part of the call of the conscience of married couples.

From Vatican II Dignitatis Humanae #2-3

5.    2. This Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.
6.    The council further declares that the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself. This right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed and thus it is to become a civil right.
7.    It is in accordance with their dignity as persons-that is, beings endowed with reason and free will and therefore privileged to bear personal responsibility-that all men should be at once impelled by nature and also bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth. They are also bound to adhere to the truth, once it is known, and to order their whole lives in accord with the demands of truth. However, men cannot discharge these obligations in a manner in keeping with their own nature unless they enjoy immunity from external coercion as well as psychological freedom. Therefore the right to religious freedom has its foundation not in the subjective disposition of the person, but in his very nature. In consequence, the right to this immunity continues to exist even in those who do not live up to their obligation of seeking the truth and adhering to it and the exercise of this right is not to be impeded, provided that just public order be observed.
8.    3. Further light is shed on the subject if one considers that the highest norm of human life is the divine law-eternal, objective and universal-whereby God orders, directs and governs the entire universe and all the ways of the human community by a plan conceived in wisdom and love. Man has been made by God to participate in this law, with the result that, under the gentle disposition of divine Providence, he can come to perceive ever more fully the truth that is unchanging. Wherefore every man has the duty, and therefore the right, to seek the truth in matters religious in order that he may with prudence form for himself right and true judgments of conscience, under use of all suitable means.
9.    …Moreover, as the truth is discovered, it is by a personal assent that men are to adhere to it.
10.  On his part, man perceives and acknowledges the imperatives of the divine law through the mediation of conscience. In all his activity a man is bound to follow his conscience in order that he may come to God, the end and purpose of life. It follows that he is not to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his conscience. Nor, on the other hand, is he to be restrained from acting in accordance with his conscience, especially in matters religious. The reason is that the exercise of religion, of its very nature, consists before all else in those internal, voluntary and free acts whereby man sets the course of his life directly toward God.
11.  Commentary: In these texts conscience is the obligation to seek the truth. It is natural for humans to seek the truth—it is in human nature to seek. There should be no constraint to this seeking—religious freedom must be recognized. If people express themselves from a religious perspective—in their conscience—this expression must be respected. In conscience people move to God. So there should be no obstacle to this. Human-religious freedom must be respected.

From Pope John Paul II: Veritatis Splendor #60
(If you have the time, read the whole section from #57-#64)

12.  60. Like the natural law itself and all practical knowledge, the judgment of conscience also has an imperative character: man must act in accordance with it. If man acts against this judgment or, in a case where he lacks certainty about the rightness and goodness of a determined act, still performs that act, he stands condemned by his own conscience, the proximate norm of personal morality. The dignity of this rational forum and the authority of its voice and judgments derive from the truth about moral good and evil, which it is called to listen to and to express. This truth is indicated by the "divine law", the universal and objective norm of morality. The judgment of conscience does not establish the law; rather it bears witness to the authority of the natural law and of the practical reason with reference to the supreme good, whose attractiveness the human person perceives and whose commandments he accepts. "Conscience is not an independent and exclusive capacity to decide what is good and what is evil. Rather there is profoundly imprinted upon it a principle of obedience vis-à-vis the objective norm which establishes and conditions the correspondence of its decisions with the commands and prohibitions which are at the basis of human behaviour".

13.  62. Conscience, as the judgment of an act, is not exempt from the possibility of error. As the Council puts it, "not infrequently conscience can be mistaken as a result of invincible ignorance, although it does not on that account forfeit its dignity; but this cannot be said when a man shows little concern for seeking what is true and good, and conscience gradually becomes almost blind from being accustomed to sin". In these brief words the Council sums up the doctrine which the Church down the centuries has developed with regard to the erroneous conscience.
14.  Certainly, in order to have a "good conscience" (1 Tim 1:5), man must seek the truth and must make judgments in accordance with that same truth. As the Apostle Paul says, the conscience must be "confirmed by the Holy Spirit" (cf. Rom 9:1); it must be "clear" (2 Tim 1:3); it must not "practise cunning and tamper with God's word", but "openly state the truth" (cf. 2 Cor 4:2). On the other hand, the Apostle also warns Christians: "Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect" (Rom 12:2).
15.  Paul's admonition urges us to be watchful, warning us that in the judgments of our conscience the possibility of error is always present. Conscience is not an infallible judge; it can make mistakes. However, error of conscience can be the result of an invincible ignorance, an ignorance of which the subject is not aware and which he is unable to overcome by himself.
16.  The Council reminds us that in cases where such invincible ignorance is not culpable, conscience does not lose its dignity, because even when it directs us to act in a way not in conformity with the objective moral order, it continues to speak in the name of that truth about the good which the subject is called to seek sincerely.
17.  Commentary: Conscience must be obeyed, according to the Pope. Why? Because it bears witness to the truth about God and the truth about his Will—as seen in the eternal law. Now, conscience can be mistaken. It can be in error. It is not infallible. But, because it is directed to the truth and because it obeys God, it remains in dignity even in error.
18.  (Also if you have time, you might want to read Article 6 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church)

What is naturally human?

15. The natural law has been a source of difficulties primarily because the idea of "human nature" needs clarifying. Maybe our discussion of human act can help us appreciate the difficulties. When we look at the human act let u keep in mind that it is precisely "human". It is interesting that Vatican II mentions the human as "human person" and not as "human nature". In the perspective of human nature the emphasis is on the biological structure and functioning of the human. Hence when speaking of sexual ethics the corporal takes an central role. The purpose of sex--or the conjugal act--is mainly on procreation. People question this, saying that a married couple expresses love through the act even independent of procreating. The human is more than biological. 
16. The Church would continue to hold on the idea that the conjugal act remains oriented to procreation--and we can think of encyclicals of popes. That said, the Church is aware of the complexity of the human and is not naive to stick to a natural biological stand. Thus we appreciate Vatican II and its Gaudium et spes in particular.
17. Moving to an emphasis on human person, the Church acknowledges thewholeness of the human person. Yes, the biological is there and so too are many other aspects. We can see this in Gaudium et spes 12 and 51. 
18. The human act can therefore be evaluated beyond the "natural" and "biological". What is integrally natural is the whole of the person. Now let us move to a discussion of the human act. We keep in mind it is a human person's act.
19. The document Gaudium et spes (see # 10) gives us a set of deep questions that every human person asks. They are questions about life, death, living with others, etc. They are basic existential questions. This indicates how the Church recognizes the universality of the human condition. The human person is, indeed, a person of questions about life and existence. The human wants to make sense out of life and existence. The human "does something" about life and existence--by working, by doing art, by poetry, by language, by religion, etc. To exist and to have meaning in existence are integral within the human effort to express. In moral-ethical terms, the human desires to live-good-with-others. This is a desire not only on a personal level but also on an institutional level.  (We can check our discussion above on "Ethics and morality: an important distinction".)
20. The human person has many aspects, many dimensions. We can mention the aspect of inter-acting with others. The interaction is not simply biological. When I talk to someone there are three elements involved. One, obviously, is my presence. The other, also obviously, is the presence of the other person. Third is what is in-between us, namely, language. Note then that I take a hold of myself and I solicit the other person. I solicit an understanding of what I say and maybe of what I want the person to do. The language in-between us goes beyond us. Language is aninstitution that both of us rely on. It is "out there" quite independent of us. It is what everybody else speaks. It is not the exclusive property of the two of us. Here we see the fact that even in a simple interaction we are part of a bigger--institutional--reality. As we interact we continue to preserve an institution. 
21. This is human reality. Each is certainly an individual but in-the-world-with-others and in-an-institutional world. (If I go to the store and buy something, even without having said anything to the cashier I have a part within institutions--like finance and the economics of supply and demand, etc. If I communicate with the other person I use gestures and other cultural codes, elements of the social world we belong to,)
22. Let us look at the features of a human action. One thing is clear, it is "meaningful". In other words, a human act makes sense. An action is not like that of a stone rolling down a hill. In human action there is a whole mixture of cause and intention. We are situated in a world that already has its own objective spatial-temporal-social reality, including, of course, our body. We respond to that world. We grow hungry. We grow thirsty. We feel lonely. We experience poverty or abundance. Events happen around us. People act on us. Etc. We respond and make our plans--plans for the day, the week, the year...plans for life. The conditions of the world around us cause us to intend plans, project, goal. Again, Action is a mixture of cause and intention. The rolling stone doe not "do" the same thing. It is rolling down because of gravity, and that's it. When a person acts to seek for a career or profession, the person is facing a situation--maybe it is time to leave the parents' house and take an independent step, as prescribed by the culture of that person; maybe the financial status of the person is precarious; maybe the person is obliged to a marriage, etc. The person then considers the goal of a good high paying job in response to the conditions. Note how radically different this is from the rolling stone.
23. Note then that there is something more than just biological functioning here. What we see is a whole complex human reality. It is a reality that makes sense for the person in the action. To evaluate an action--such as doing a moral evaluation--we cannot just limit the focus on the "nature-biological" aspect. (The Popes who emphasized the procreation side of the conjugal act did not limit themselves to the "natural-biological". They had their own reading of the human act.)
24. One important aspect of the human act is the use of power. In an act that is directed to someone else, there is always power involved. My intention is not fully disclosed to the other person. When I deal with the other there is a level of "opacity"; there is the lack of full transparency. This is part of the human condition. We are not rolling stones. Neither are we dis-embodied angels. I am not you and you are not me. In any interaction between us we cannot fully see each other's thoughts and feelings and intentions. We employ some form of power over each other.Consequently, this can involve violation of the dignity of each other.
25. This is where the so-called "golden rule" comes in: Do not do unto others what you do not want them to do to you. This is a moral code that is present in all cultures and societies. We also can understand why we need to preserve "good"and "just" institutions. We would like that institutions serve to guarantee justice, respect, honesty, etc., in interactions among us.
26. We mention that an action has an intention behind it. We make plans and goals. An action is not isolated from other actions we have done in the past nor is it isolated from possible future actions. In other words, we act in view of many goals set in the future. A young man going to a classroom may have the plan of completing the course for the semester in view of finishing with a college degree and in view of getting a profession and in view of starting a family and in view of securing a retirement in old age and in view of passing on resources to childrenand in view of dying decently and going to heaven. A very simple act of attending a classroom course is inserted within a whole series of many other plans.
27. An act may thus be part of a "story line"--or as is popularly called today as "the story of my life". Each of us has a life story and we can take a reflective distance and look at what we see. How do we view our past....from childhood to today. What were the "yes" and "no" we did in the past? What are our life-plans? Maybe there is a plot in the story. Maybe we can even ask the modern behavioral sciences to help us interpret the life story. Maybe we can look at examples of stories in literature, Bible, lives of saints Koran, Tipitaka, etc.
28. Changes happen too. Yes we cannot do anything to change the past but we change our views about the past. We interpret and re-interpret it. Our plans for the future also change. (Just look at ourselves today and we are surprised to realize that, to a large extent, we never planned today to happen.) Our life story changes. We can ask if there is fulfillment going on even if changes happen.
29. No life story is neutral; somehow we make value judgments. We say that an event is "good" or "unfortunate" or "fantastic" or "horrible" or "well-done" or "traumatic", etc. We might say, "My life is a success" or "it is a failure". We make judgments. We make moral evaluations. An act is inserted within a life story and it can be evaluated morally.
30. The human person is capable of thinking and reflecting and discerning. The human person can see his/her role in his/her actions. The human person is "behind" the human action. In other words, the human is responsible. Yes, there arecircumstances that are beyond the control of the person. But the goal making and the formulation of the life story are within the choices and responsibilities of the person.
31. It is not enough to formulate a life story. In a way there is need to formulate moral norms too--what is good or bad. When is an action and a life story respectful of human dignity or violation of human dignity? When is an action intolerable? Morality, in a general way, is a matter of responsibility behind actions towards oneself, of course, but especially towards others. The presence of the other person requires that I consider the effects and consequences of my actions toward that person. Morality is also a response in assuring that institutions we live in allow us to "live-together" in a good and respectful way.

A more Christian view

32. Faith is our reception of Revelation from God. We believe that God made sense out of human life. Faith enlightens experience and reasoning, thinking. Our reason the receives what is revealed. Note then that faith does not suppress reason. It is not a substitution for reason. We do not say that we take reason away so that faith takes over our moral life; so that henceforth it is not our rational capacity but our faith that directs moral life. To speak of morality is one thing, and to speak of faith is another. They do not necessarily have to be the same. They can move on separate registries. Morality, for the Christian, is morality enlightened by faith. Faith giveslight to human reality. Human reality is what it is--the human condition is what all humans share.
33. Jesus Christ is the Word made flesh. Hence Jesus took the human condition--he was not alien to the human condition. His incarnation gives light to the human condition. From the creation story to the Incarnation of the Word, one element is emphasized: human dignity. The human person is image of God and is called toconform to Christ. The Church social doctrine has well given prominence to this.
34. Human dignity is from God and God will not take it away from the human. It is ingrained in the human--and the human, by identity, is dignified. This dignity is not due to what we do or achieve or what we fail to do. No matter who each person is, human dignity is there. No matter what a person has done, human dignity is there. Hence we are all the same, equal in dignity. Remember that the Incarnation of Jesus is his solidarity with the human condition. No matter who a person is, Christ went in solidarity with her or him. Jesus Christ united with all of us (seeGaudium et spes 22). Maybe we are unequal in wealth, power, prestige. We are unequal in achievements. But never are we unequal in dignity.
35. God is Trinity. Trinity is community--a community of persons giving to each other. God is a God of love--God is love (see 1Jn. 4/8-16). Hence love is a dynamic reality in the Trinity. This translates to us, human. We too are self-giving. Jesus prayed that we all be one (see Jn17. 21-22). We are meant to resemble the Trinity and live in communion with each other (see Gaudium et spes 24). The assumption here is that the human is capable of self-giving and sharing. The human is capable of loving and of receiving love. Individual and community are bound together.
36. Morally this means community living. Our actions have social-community elements. We have received, we also share. In the Church social doctrine there is the principle of "solidarity". Already in our very ordinary lives we have received from the solidarity of others with us. Family, neighborhood, school, Church, etc. have contributed to building who we are. We, in turn, have our share in the community.
36. Our faith also tells us that Christ has won over darkness and death. He faced the threat of the cross to how the truth of his message. This means that for us too  we face the cross of life to live seriously our communion with others. Yes, the going gets tough in the world of misunderstanding, injustice, violence, etc. But we do not live in hopelessness and despair. We live in hope knowing that, just like Jesus, we are victorious. We do not opt for anti-communion and pro-despair.
37. Note that even as we make a Christian reflection on the human person we affirm what is basic in the human. Our faith sheds light on it without forcing the human moral life to be necessarily Christian.  The human has dignity, that is fundamentally human! The human lives with others. That too is fundamentally human. Our faith re-affirms that and recognizing that no matter what culture and religion a person holds, dignity and living-with-others remain validly human. This is an extension of the "nature" that medieval philosophy may have tried to articulate.

What is integrally human?

38. The human person is "relational". We live-with-others. We are integrally oriented to live with others. Already in our younger years we have been taught to live with others. The experts in social science call this "socialization". We learn about just relationships, respect of others, etc.
39. Our individual and private goals are justified on the condition that we respect and recognize inter-dependence. The social doctrine of the Church, for example, would agree that we hold on to private ownership and it is alright to own things for oneself and one's family. Yet the Church emphasizes that this be put under a more important principle which is the destination of all properties for all. When we think of this well we can apply it to moral decisions in which we consider the quality of life with others. Our faith tells us that we live in wisdom, knowledge, love, service for the Kingdom. Life is lived with others, we live in a "life-giving" way; not in a "death giving" way.
39. We are "embodied". In theology we use the term "incarnation" to refer to the becoming-flesh of the Word. Jesus Christ is the Word made flesh. He took the human form and came in solidarity with humanity. This has given immense value, honor and importance to us--to our body and our human condition. One important aspect can be highlighted: the human person cannot be a means and must be end.The human person cannot be a tool or instrument of other people's actions. The human person is already source of decisions, choices, initiatives. Whatever we do to someone else we need to keep in mind that the other person has his/her "owness". This applies even in the body level. The body of a person is not just a thing, not just an object. The body and the person are somehow also one and the same. In philosophy we say, "I am my body". Thanks to body we are able to enter into relationships with others, with the environment and with God. Think about the body and ask what we do if we take drugs or other harmful chemicals. Today we see very clearly the environmental degradation all around us. A disrespect for the body extends to disrespect for Nature.
40. We are "temporal". We need time to do things. We move in time. We live in time. We grow and develop in time, not in an instant. Our moral life is also a life in time. We learn to value others in time. We gain moral insights in time. We are part of culture that emerges and passes away. We are in a certain section of history. Had I been born in the 1800's life would be different. Knowledge and information would be different.
41.We are in solidarity with all humanity. We are all humans and we all have equal dignity. We live in a human community. Justice is for all. The common good is for all. Love is for all. Our solidarity is with the people around us and even with the future generations. We prepare for their lives too.  
To be “neutral” and say, “It does not matter, any decision is ok”
1.    Let us say that students go and have fun in the swimming pool of the Marist campus. Then a group of persons, say they are also students, come and ask the school administration to allow nude swimming. They want nude swimming in the pool. The nudists will say that they do not intend to force others to go nude, so whoever wants to go nude can do so and those who do not want are not obliged.
2.    Can we say then that the swimming pool becomes a partially nude pool? Can we say that it is not completely a nude-swimming pool because not everyone has to go nude? Of course not. Once nudists are allowed to swim with nothing on, the pool becomes a nudist pool. Now, consider a school administrator who has to decide on the matter. If the school administrator says, “It does not matter, I am neutral”, that administrator is also saying that there is nothing wrong in being nude in the school swimming pool.
3.    If the school allows nude swimming, the other people—non-nudists—who come to the pool will have lost their chance to swim without disgust or shame. Those who come to the pool for swimming in the usual way will have to face the fact that some people go naked there.
4.    To stay neutral is, at the same time, to make a stand. Not to take a stand is already a stand. To say, “Abortion is in the choice of whoever wants, it is not obliged…abort or not abort, it’s ok, I’m neutral” is already to make a stand allowing abortion.
5.    One important factor to keep in mind is that when we allow something due to neutrality, we also affect the society. A society that says that some people can abort or gays can marry each other will be a different society from a society that does not have abortion or same sex marriage. If a society tolerates abortion and gay marriage, it becomes a society that stops protecting the unborn and stops respecting family life. Ok, not everyone is forced to abort their babies and not everyone is forced to marry in a same-sex way. But the reality of abortion and same-sex marriage will be a presence in that society. For people who want to cultivate the values of life-preservation and traditional marriage, the task of educating will be different now that abortion and same sex marriage are possible options in society.
6.    Neutrality is a self-contradiction. Not to make a stand is a self-contradiction. To say, “It does not matter if infants are aborted or not” one is already saying that infants do not have the right to protection. One opens the door—or at least does not prevent the door from opening—to the loss of infant protection. The neutral person refuses the recognize the right of infants in the wombs. Neutrality is already a way of taking a stand while pretending not to take a stand. Neutrality is a position taking. It has its sets of values and choices that also excludes other choices and values.
Moral Conscience

42. We emphasize here "moral". There is the "conscience" or awareness we have of what we do, what we feel, what we say, et. We are present to ourselves and we are aware of what is happening to us. In a way we can call that awareness "conscience". But moral conscience is not just about awareness; it is evaluative. In moral conscience we evaluate and judge what we do. We confront what we do.  When we evaluate we rely on rules and norms about "good" and "bad".
43. In Medieval Church tradition there are three levels of moral conscience. One level is the "automatic" or "spontaneous" level. St. Thomas Aquinas coined the term synderesis. This is the habitual and automatic conscience. Immediately, according to Aquinas, we have a sense of good and bad. This is present in us and it was given to us by our Creator. The second level is the reasoning level. Here we think, discern, get an understanding, evaluate an action. We find out by consulting others what is good or bad. The third level is the decision level. Here we decide; we make a step after having discerned and after having looked at possible alternative actions.
44. Now, actual moral conscience, according to Aquinas, is in levels two and three. Sometimes moral conscience, due to levels two and three, is called "practical reason". We evaluate, discern and then act. It is a praxis.
45. In moral conscience we decide: "I decide". The self is implicated. There is the responsibility and choice made by "me and me personally".
46. St. Paul is said to have introduced the notion of conscience in the Christian tradition. Conscience is what is truly human in us and it is in dialogue with God. For us Christians we have something very interior to us and at the same time we are accountable to God. Through the Holy Spirit, God speaks in us (see 1Cor.4/3-5). Look at the case of eating meat used for idol sacrifices, as we read in the story of St. Paul. For the, let us say, "progressive" an "alert" Christian there is no problem with eating meat used for idol worship. Idol worship is nonsense and need not worry the Christian. But then there are others, maybe fresh in the faith, who will imitate the "alert" Christians. They too will eat meat used for idol worship. But those "fresh
 Christians might be scandalized. So it is wise not to eat meat used for idol worship so as not to scandalize those who are fresh in the faith. Listen to the conscience and decide to avoid eating such meat. Conscience therefore is  way of listening to God and considering the situations of others. (See 1Cor.8). 
46. In fact, says St. Paul, even non-Christians have conscience. Others may not know the Law nor the tradition. But deep within them is a sense of good and bad. Deep within them is an "interior judgment"--conscience. (See Rom.2/14-15).
47. Vatican II gives us good teaching on conscience. (See the document Gaudium et spes). Conscience is the center of a person, it is the sanctuary deep within. There the person is in communication with God. Thanks to conscience the human also has dignity (see Gaudium et spes 16). Conscience is not a human cultural product. It is given by God; it comes from God. 
48. Gaudium et spes recognizes that we can make mistakes in using conscience. Ok, we do not lose our dignity even if we make an error. Yet we have a responsibility to make sure that our conscience is in line with true action. It is a Christian responsibility to form conscience. It is also important to take guidance from the Magisterium of the Church. In conscience we have Christian wisdom and Church teachings. Always remember, when following conscience, to consult Church teachings. Yes, there is the personal Christian wisdom, and there is also the teachings.     

Follow Conscience

49. Follow conscience...and form it. We need to let conscience also grow, mature. This is our human condition--our incarnation. Conscience is not always clear and lucid. Remember that we grow and develop in life--relating with others. Our moral wisdom is gained over time as we inter-act with others and realize we are not alone and others also have their lives, feelings, thoughts. As we grow in wisdom we see that there are things that we should not do--they are prohibitions. We see that we should not violate others. Conscience is our vigilance over human dignity and humanization. Conscience is our vigilance over the truth in our relationships.
50. Conscience recognizes its fragility' its fallibility, and recognizes that there are objective rules and norms to respect. Conscience, said Pope John Paul II recognizes that it needs rules (see Veritatis splendor 60-61). Conscience recognizes that there is a truth and reality beyond it. We were born in a world with others..never alone. Our fullness and our humanization is not our monopoly. It is a life with others; there is an objective reality out there greater than us. I
51. As Christians we situate conscience in the light of Revelation. It is the Revelation in Christ who shows us what it is to be truly and fully human. We have our guide! Christian conscience is vigilant about how Christ can guide us. As Christians we also have the Church Teachings that have reflected on Christ and God's Revelation. The Church has, over centuries, formulated moral norms that can also guide us.
52. We make mistakes. Conscience is not infallible. Yes, we have synderesis, a discussed above (see # 43). We have that "sense" of good and bad. Yet our discernment can be mistaken. Yet, we should obey conscience. After having weighed information and other data, and we see what we should do, guided by conscience, then do it! Conscience does not lose its dignity when it errs (see Veritatis splendor 62). What is important is that we orient ourselves for the good. We cannot justify indifference to the good. We cannot excuse ourselves if we make no effort to choose good and avoid evil (see Veritatis spledor 63). Conscience, even if it errs, is always directed to doing good and avoiding evil. Hence in conscience we admit error when we see it. We admit responsibility in what we decide and act.

When Making A Decision

1. When deciding, always follow your conscience. The Church has, over the centuries, respected this. Pope John Paul II said this: “…the judgment of conscience also has an imperative character: man must act in accordance with it. If man acts against this judgment or, in a case where he lacks certainty about the rightness and goodness of a determined act, still performs that act, he stands condemned by his own conscience, the proximate norm of personal morality” (Veritatis splendour 60).
2. But be careful. There are certain possible errors involved when we follow the conscience. One error is conformism. We may be saying “I follow my conscience”—but this is so influenced by the opinions of others, we decide according to what others will say. “Oh, let me see if other will agree first”. One other error is legalism. This is blind obedience to authority and the laws without putting in any form of discernment. “Because authority said it, so I agree, period. No need to ask.” This too is quite an error because, indeed, there are times when even authority and laws make mistakes. Then there is solipsism. Here we say, “I alone”. So here we do not even see the need to refer to others. Modern psychology has shown the dangers of solipsism. The “subconscious” has a strong influence on us, so even if we think we can make choices “alone”, the subconscious can still be at work in us and we do not know it.
3. So the Church will insist that even if we follow conscience, it must be a formed conscience. We must form the conscience. We must enlighten it. Conscience itself will recognize this—it will ask to be formed. It is a responsibility.
4. From a secular level, we form our conscience to see how we are in-charge of our decisions and actions. Each time we make decisions, we make decisions. Sometimes a person might say, “I decided because others said so”. Well, it is true that there can be other people involved and we conform with them. But in the end, we too have a part in the decision. We have our roles. Sometimes someone will not decide. The person decides not to decide. It is still a decision—and the person is still the author behind it. Not to decide is also a decision. So formation is to help us recognize our roles and responsibilities behind decision making. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “The education of the conscience is a lifelong task. From the earliest years, it awakens the child to the knowledge and practice of the interior law recognized by conscience. Prudent education teaches virtue; it prevents or cures fear, selfishness and pride, resentment arising from guilt, and feelings of complacency, born of human weakness and faults. The education of the conscience guarantees freedom and engenders peace of heart” (CCC 1784).
5. Formation is also to help us see how humanizing our choices are. Are we really constructing a human world when we decide? Are we true to the dignity and beauty of being human? Or maybe my choice dehumanizes—it destroys and harms. So we need to be enlightened here.
6. Underneath this formation is the concern against selfishness. We need to be formed to step out of the narrow confines of egoism and self-centeredness. There are people out there—they too have their own thoughts and feelings. They too have their own lives and their own dignity. If I am too full of myself, it lose touch of the dignity of others. My decisions will be always about “me”. So formation is to help us move out of this and reach out to respecting the reality of other people. We form ourselves to seek for the good—my good and the good of others. Life is not all about me.
7. Let us go to a more Christian perspective. We saw that a basic result of redemption is the fact that we have all become brothers and sisters to each other with Jesus as our Brother and the Father as Our Father. So formation helps us to recognize that in our actions we stay fraternal. Formation helps us to move and live as brothers and sisters to each other—as children of Our Father.
8. The Pope John Paul II saw the need for some kind of “norms” guiding conscience. Here is what he says. He says that conscience is a voice inside of us that derives from truth “…indicated by the ‘divine law, the universal and objective norm of morality” (Veritatis splendour 60). The Pope continues to say that “the judgment of conscience does not establish the law; rather it bears witness to the authority of the natural law and of the practical reason with reference to the supreme good” (Veritatis splendour 60). Conscience, for the Pope, “is not an independent and exclusive capacity to decide what is good and what is evil. Rather there is profoundly imprinted upon it a principle of obedience vis-à-vis the objective norm which establishes and conditions the correspondence of its decisions with the commands and prohibitions which are at the basis of human behaviour” (Veritatis splendour 60).  Notice what the Pope is saying. Conscience must obey something objective—and this objectivity corresponds to certain commands proper to human behaviour. Conscience still is a witness to something more solid.
9. Ok, so there is formation to keep us from folding back on ourselves in our egoism. Formation is to open us up to the solid truths that God has established for all humans. We behave humanly and we treat others humanly—this is objective. Conscience needs formation to realize this.
It is important to say that formation is moral formation and not cultural formation. In our societies and culture we might find wise laws and wise precepts. They can help in our formation of conscience. But remember we follow them because they are moral. For the Church this will mean that we are interested in the natural law. We follow what is for the good and not just what is being said by culture.
10. For the Christian, there is need to be formed by Revelation. Yes, we use reason—this is part of the natural in us. But reason still must be guided by the light of Revelation. We need to be attuned to what God revealed. So we look to Christ. We look to the Scriptures. We look to the Ten Commandments. We look to the Magisterium of the Church—which is in our tradition. In other textbooks of moral theology there is the notion of “moral absolutes”. This means that whether we like it or not, some norms hold as “absolutely true”. We need to attune conscience to those absolute norms. In fact. Pope John Paul II mentioned it.
11. Pope John Paul II wrote an encyclical Reconciliatio et Poenitentia. He wrote of a precept: "there exist acts which per se and in themselves, independently of circumstances, are always seriously wrong by reason of their object." He based this on the Decalogue and on the preaching of the Old Testament, and of course the preaching of the Apostles based on what the Apostles learned from Jesus.
12. In April 10, 1986, Pope John Paul II gave a talk which was his "Discourse to the International Congress of Moral Theology". There he said that "there are moral norms that have a precise content which is immutable and unconditioned . . . for example, the norm . . . which forbids the direct killing of an innocent person."
13. So Pope John Paul II affirms the existence of moral absolutes. They stand independent of what our conscience says. They do not rely on our conscience for them to be true. In fact the whole Veritatis Splendor of Pope John Paul II revolves around this. He assumes, of course, that he is simply articulating the constant teaching of the Church. The moral absolutes are so absolute that even God could not dispense with them! To do so would be to deny his very own being.
14. In synderesis (see above)  we are never erroneous. Always, by nature, we want what is good for us. But when it comes to discerning and acting, we are not always clear. We make mistakes a lot too often. We have levels of ignorance. Conscience is not infallible, it can still be erroneous.
But this is not reason for saying, “Ah, so I make mistakes….so no need for penalties”. No, we are also responsible for our errors. If synderesis is faithful to what is good, then it is responsible. Once we see we make a mistake, we need to repair.

Annex A: A guide to discernment
Start with the universal. We look at general moral principles that hold for all people, for all culture and for all time. A German philosopher can help us here: “act and decide in such a way that what you do will also be done by everyone”. So when we decide we see if the decision is allowed for all humans and for all times. For example, is stealing something that we want applicable to all people? Let us take a more Christian perspective. Loving others is a universal element. It is true for all people, in all cultures and in any time of history. Honour your Father and Your Mother. Do not Kill. These universal elements seem valid.
Then move to the particular. The general-universal may look ok, but when we move to more concrete cases, things get more difficult to discern. If we say “love one another”…will we allow or not allow divorce? So in the particular we try to investigate the norms, laws and rules operating in society and in Church. How do the laws of society apply? Well, this is a course in Theology. So look at Church norms. What do they say? This is the particular level. Keep in mind that the assumption with the particular is that the norms and laws are oriented for the good of humanity. Be sure that when we look at these norms for reference, we seek the morality they contain—the morality and not just the cultural.
 The particular level serves to question the conscience. What does society say—what do the rules and laws say? This is not just about what I say and what I want. What does society say about divorce? Maybe I want to divorce my wife. But what about society? My conscience must look at this too. Of course from a Christian perspective we ask: What does the Magisterium say? Is the Magisterium in favour of divorce? This helps conscience.
Then we more to the singular. Here we come face-to-face with the actual situation. Let us say Mr. X and Miss. Y love each other—so they claim. We agree that “love one another”. Society may allow this love to be expressed. But now in the actual case, both persons want to live-in without marriage. Ah, this is the actual choice they make. What is our evaluation? We are now interest not in lovers in general, not in couples in general but in Mr. X and Miss. Y. in the concrete, singular unique situation.
Let conscience be the “conductor of the orchestra”—combining the universal with the particular and with the singular. But one thing we must not forget—and this is never to be forgotten. Pray. The spiritual dimension must always be there.
Now that we will have to decide on a singular cases. Maybe we can refine our strategy of moral discernment. Here is one strategy:
Consider the absolutely non-conditional: What is the “no-no” in the situation. Well, rape, is a “no-no”. Torture is a “no-no”. So when we look at a singular case, immediately we do not open doors to the unconditional
Consider the possible case of the “lesser evil”: Maybe a certain amount of harm and damage might have to be done. So what is the lesser harm? What is the lesser damage?
Consider the totality of the situation. A part is within a total whole. The good of one part must aim for the good of the whole. A doctor might have to remove a part of a body—amputate—for the survival of the patient. So the singular case will affect the total life of the person involved. Part of discernment will be to evaluate this.
Consider “equality”: In some cases we might need to break the existing law. Maybe the law does not apply to this singular case. Stealing is prohibited by the law. But someone wants his gun back to kill another person. So I do not return his gun—I “steal” it.
Consider the “double effect”: In some cases both good and bad effects might happen. We need to ask how much good and how much bad will happen? Squatter families have been living in an area for some time, and you, government official, must decide on evicting them or not. It is bad because families will be affected. It is good because it is justice for the rightful owner of the property. Sometimes we need to refine this:
Will the bad choice really do harm or not? If no one gets hurt and no one is harmed, then we might decide in favour of the bad choice.
Can we avoid doing something bad for the sake of the good? A woman with cancer needs operation. But she is pregnant and the baby might die in the operation. So, do we continue with the surgery?
Annex B: A Major Moral Question: Does the end justify the means?
Does The End Justify the Means?

Many would propose that good and bad depend on results. We do good to bring about the happiness and well-being of others—as many others as can be. You can see this in your countries too. Maybe there are government decisions that might be unjust now but will bring good fruits later. Think of the global institutions. The IMF would advise poor countries to cut back on basic social services such as health care in order to maximize economic growth. The result of reducing services will be good.
In today’s moral discussions, this is sometimes called “consequentialism” or “proportionalism”. “Consequentialism” means that the “consequence” (or end result) of an action is most important. “Proportionalism” means that an action has value in proportion to the results or ends. Good action means “useful” action is in its results or end. Notice the general idea of all these. Let us call them “end-justifies-means-mentality”. Do what you want so long as the result is ok. The end outweighs the process.
This mentality would propose that the foundation of morality is in the outcome.
In terms of conscience, this mentality will say that if conscience tells us to do bad now for the sake of a good result later, then follow the conscience. It is the conscience that will tell us the consequences. Anyway, we have good intentions.
So notice then the stand of “end-justifies-means-mentality”: we intend always the most effective means to bring about the good, fine, and so long as the good outcome outweighs any undesired evil.
There is, however, a problem here. We can never know always that what we do now will result in a greater good later. We cannot know with absolute certainty the future consequences. We therefore have to rely on something else. Our foresight is really limited.  We cannot presume that we are all-knowing gods.
The premise of “end-justifies-means-mentality” is that we can always have good intentions. This is enough. The actual human act is morally neutral. The action becomes moral once it is linked with an intention for the good result. What I actually do is irrelevant, as long as the intention is ok. This is the “end-justifies-means-mentality” way.
In the Christian tradition—and in the Church—the dignity of the human person is absolute. The human is image of God. The human person can never become a means to an end. The “end-justifies-means-mentality” makes the human person a means—do something wrong now…anyway the end will be ok later. “end-justifies-means-mentality” would say that human rights can be violated…anyway later all will be ok. But, for the Church, human rights should not be violated at any moment.
So in our Catholic moral theology we have absolute norms. We have to stick to some absolute realities that will tell us, at each moment of a moral action, when we are still doing good or already doing bad.
In the New Testament we have seen this struggle with “end-justifies-means-mentality” thinking. Remember that the religious authorities and the romans were worried about the popularity of Jesus. So “it is necessary that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish” (John 11/47-50).  Jesus must be killed—it is a “means” to protect the life of the nation.  This thinking helped the Romans put Jesus to the cross. It was a form of “end-justifies-means-mentality” thinking.
As we said at the start of our semester, an action has plan or intention, steps and the attitude we have to the conditions we are in. If any of the three is bad, then we drop the whole action. A good plan, for example, does not always make the steps good. Cheating is immoral. Maybe I cheat because I need to pass the exam for a good future. The physical act—the steps—in the carrying out of the plan is wrong. So do not cheat at all.
Moral decision is not easy, but conscience alone is not enough. Result is not enough. For Catholic moral theology, we need to consult absolute norms. Not everything can be determined by a single standard. Because we are a Catholic school, we need to look at our Catholic moral tradition. But, right now we need to say: Does The End Justify the Means? No, not in Catholic Moral Thinking.
CASES in Proportionalism:
Blondie was not able to study for her coming exams because she was so busy with many other things, so urgent. Her family needed her to do some errands that only she could do. She needs to pass the exam in order to finish school and then find work to help her family. Exam day comes and she cheats. She says, “I cheat for a good result. I will finish my college and then help my family. One day, nobody in my family will be forced to go hungry. So my cheating helps my family”. Is Blondie correct?
Popeye knows that Olive is a daughter of a rich capitalist. So Popeye visits her, he gives her flowers and chocolate candies. He gives her the impression that he loves her and wants to marry her. But deep within, he is really interested in the security and wealth of having her as his wife. Finally, he marries her after a year of courting. Is this ok? 
A pregnant mother discovers that she has some cancer cells in her uterus. She goes to the doctor. The doctor says, “We have to abort the baby first to save the uterus”. The mother starts to think. “Well, if I save my uterus, then I can have more babies later. Abortion cannot be avoided…so I will say yes to the doctor”. Is the mother correct?
What is sin? It is what God forgives. Ok, that looks simple enough. But we need to clarify. First there is “original sin”. This is very often misunderstood. Our modern world is uneasy with it.
It is an experience. Our lives show the enormous difficulties we have with being one with God and having confidence with God. Our daily life experiences tell how we are so deeply wounded. It seems that our very human nature is wounded. Our will to do good and aoid evil is not firm and sure. How often have we hurt people? How often have we done harm? Hence we have an experience of fragility.
It is a condition in which we are in. Original sin is not a personally done sin. We have “contracted it”. The whole humanity has contracted it.
It is a mystery. We were created good. God is not the author of evil, nor of sin, nor of death due to sin. We say, with the Church, that sin is from us, the human. It is a mystery.
It is a consequence. Ok, we are wounded but this does not mean we have no healing. God comes to heal. God did come in Christ. The presence of Christ is victory over sin. If there is so much sin, there is also so much more grace  (see Rm5/ 21). Redemption is o wonderful; it is the fullness of grace.

Sin: liberty and responsibility
God created us as free humans. We can freely refuse the love of God. True liberty is liberty from sin. It is to be of service to God and fruitful in holiness and assured of the fullness of life. The contrary is death: the “salary” of sin is death (see Rom6/ 23). Note how sin is pictured here. It is our refusal to participate in joy and fullness of life. We go contrary to what will really make us fully human and joyful…blooming!
We discussed “natural law”. It is what has been given to us—this moral law in us. We have conscience to accompany us in our decisions. Hence we make good use of our reasoning capacity and we listen to our conscience. Look at the respect for life; look at the respect for others. They are all clearly “in us”.
The we can rely on the Bible such as the Decalogue and the Beatitudes. They present to us the liberating initiative of God. They tell us of how we are beloved of God. Consequently we too work to liberate and to love. Our moral lives can be marked by these. We can enter into the path of Covenant with God—a Covenant that makes us free and happy.

Let us not forget the Redemption that Jesus manifested. To live in Christ is to live in friendship and intimacy with him. We have been called to freedom (see Gal5/13). The fullness of the Decalogue is clear in our friendship with Jesus. Live in grace and love of God. It is a responsibility.

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