Thursday, June 09, 2011

Morality, the Holy Spirit, and the Catholic Church

In her long drawn dispute with the proponents of the RH Bill, the Catholic Church insists on the importance of an objective morality that should guide the laws and rules of conduct of the nation. For her any legislation that runs counter to natural law and the dignity of the human person is in the long run detrimental to the State no matter the many other good items and noble services that it proposes to extend to the citizenry.
Morality is more than the human positive laws. Morality, which consists of an accepted set of values, is basic to any harmonious and peaceful living among the members in society. It defines what is right and what is wrong; it enunciates the principle of conduct that states: ‘do good and avoid evil’; it dictates to every individual person the day-to-day way of living humanely and well; it orders people to make use of their freedom to make life choices that would define their true character, to come up with bold decisions that would impact the common good of the community in which they live. Man by the aid of his human reason can arrive at this moral truth. For deep inside the human spirit is lodged that faculty to discover what good is to be upheld and what evil is to be avoided; what it means to be a good person, what a just community looks like. It is within our natural capacity to figure out how we ought to be human.
But the Catholic Church does not content herself to the valid discovery of human reason to base her teaching regarding the human and the humane way of being and acting. The Church believes in the intervention of God in the complex affairs of men after the fall. To do that, she studies the precept of the Lord and meditates on His law. The set of values that she has imbibed and developed through the years has been influenced by the written Word of God, oral Tradition, and the Magisterium. The Ten Commandments that God gave to his people (Ex. 20:1-17) are bases of Church’s morality. They sum up God’s requirement in terms of relationship with Him and with one another. The nature of this relationship is love. It is first and foremost love relationship with God as expressed in Deut. 6:4-5: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone! Therefore, you shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength”. It is also a love relationship among His people as stated by Lev. 19:2: “Speak to the whole Israelite community and tell them: Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.” In the Old Testament, therefore, God expressly established a Covenant between Him and His people. The great “Shema” precept (“listen”) and the Ten Commandments were there precisely as requirement for the people to comply and to preserve the covenant of love.
Following the tradition of the Israelites the Church accepts the ten Commandments as her articulation of faithfulness to the Covenant. There is a God who loves us, hears our cries, saves us out of the many dangers in life, frees us from death. He is the God who invites us to an integral salvation by asking us to offer our “whole mind, whole soul, whole heart” to Him and to all those He loves. In this sense, Catholic morality in her consideration of the commandments as requirement for the preservation of that love relationship will not take sin as a trivial or private digression from the law. Every sin, whether mortal or venial, is an act of betrayal to that Someone who loves us; and act of treachery to our neighbor. Instead of being a private affair, every sin is serious matter, carrying with it destructive consequences not only to self but also to the community or to the nation at large. For instance, we have grown up thinking that the sin of “dishonesty in business” is only between me and my God. So we assume that it is a private matter that I have to settle with my “Boss up there”. Thus we never care to ask for forgiveness from the people we have harmed; we never care for making retribution for the damage done. For as we foolishly reason out: ‘anyway these people – the consumers - are personally unknown to me’
But in the standard of the Church, to be obedient to the Ten Commandments and the other existing laws would hardly make one a good Christian. It is a call not proper to the dignity of human persons. As Jesus once said: “I tell you, unless your holiness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees you shall not enter the kingdom of God’ (Mt. 5:20). If at all, it is but an open door to a far richer life of growing into the image and likeness of Jesus.
The Christian is a person who has moved to a different level of human existence in response to the call of Jesus Christ. His life is radically shaped by that call of the Spirit. As Jesus declared to Nicodemus: “I solemnly assure you, no one can see the reign of God unless he is begotten from above… no one can enter into God’s kingdom without being begotten of water and Spirit” (Jn 3: 3; 5) In this sense, to be a moral person is to be committed to configure one’s whole life according to the image and likeness of Christ.
Hence, the foundation of Catholic morality is God’s call to each one - configuratio Christi! Catholic morality is, in the words of St. Paul, putting on the “new man” Jesus Christ.