ON GOODNESS AND CHOICES

 

THERE is something else that must be said about the creation of man and woman that was determined “in the beginning.” And if we don’t understand this, if we don’t grasp this, then any discussion of morality, of right or wrong choices, of following God’s designs, risks casting the discussion of human sexuality into a sterile list of prohibitions. And this, I am certain, would only serve to deepen the divide between the Church’s beautiful and rich teachings on sexuality, and those who feel alienated by her.

The truth is that not only are we all created in God’s image, but also:

God looked at everything he had made, and found it very good. (Gen 1:31)

 

WE ARE GOOD, BUT FALLEN

We are made in God’s image, and therefore, made in the image of He who is Goodness itself. As the Psalmist wrote:

You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. I praise you, because I am wonderfully made. (Psalm 139:13-14)

The Blessed Virgin Mary was looking at the perfect reflection of herself when she held Christ in her arms because her whole life was in perfect harmony with her Creator. God wills this harmony for us too.

Now we all, to varying degrees, have the capacity to do what every other creature in creation does: eat, sleep, hunt, gather, etc. But because we are made in God’s image, we also have the capacity to love. And thus, it should be no surprise to find a couple who are living out of wedlock who are also good parents. Or two co-habiting homosexuals who are very generous. Or a husband addicted to pornography who is an honest worker. Or an atheist who is a selfless servant in an orphanage, etc. Evolutionists have often failed to account, beyond speculation and the limited field of science, for why we desire to be good, or even what love is. The Church’s answer is that we are created in the image of Him who is both Good and Love itself, and thus, there is a natural law within us guiding us toward these ends. [1] Just as gravity keeps the earth in orbit around the sun, it is this very goodness—the “gravity” of love—that keeps mankind in harmony with God and all creation.

However, that harmony with God, one another, and all creation was broken with the fall of Adam and Eve. And thus we see another principle at work: the ability to do wrong, to be driven toward serving selfish ends. It is precisely into this interior battle between the desire to do good and the urge to do evil that Jesus entered to “save us.” And that which liberates us is truth.

Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality. Love becomes an empty shell, to be filled in an arbitrary way. In a culture without truth, this is the fatal risk facing love. It falls prey to contingent subjective emotions and opinions, the word “love” is abused and distorted, to the point where it comes to mean the opposite. —POPE BENEDICT XVI, Caritas in Veritate, n. 3

Pornography is the icon of a “civilization of love” without truth. It is the desire to love, to be loved, and have relationship—but without the truth of our sexuality and its intrinsic meaning. So too, other sexual forms of expression, while seeking to be “good”, can also be a distortion of truth. What we are called to do is bring that which is in “disorder” into “order.” And Our Lord’s mercy and grace are there to help us.

This is to say that we must acknowledge and foster the good in others. But we also cannot let the good we see turn compassion into “sentimentality” where that which is immoral is simply swept under the carpet. The mission of the Lord is also that of the Church: to participate in the salvation of others. This cannot be accomplished in self-deception but only in truth.

 

REDISCOVERING MORAL ABSOLUTES

And that is where morality enters in. Morals, that is, laws or rules, help to enlighten our conscience and guide our actions according to the common good. Yet, why is there the notion in our times that our sexuality is a “free for all” that should be completely unmoored from any kind of morality?

Just like all of our other bodily functions, are there laws that govern our sexuality and order it toward health and happiness? For example, we know if we drink too much water, hyponatremia can set in and even kill you. If you eat too much, obesity can kill you. If you even breathe too fast, hyperventilation can cause you to collapse. So you see, we have to govern even our intake of such goods as water, food, and air. Why do we think, then, that the improper governance of our sexual appetite does not also bear serious consequences? The facts tell a different story. Sexually transmitted diseases have become epidemic, divorce rates are soaring, pornography is destroying marriages, and human trafficking has exploded in nearly every part of the world. Could it be that our sexuality also has boundaries that keep it in balance with our spiritual, emotional, and physical health? Moreover, what and who determines those boundaries?

Morals exist to guide human behavior toward one’s own good and the common good. But they are not arbitrarily derived, as we discussed in Part I. They flow from the natural law which “expresses the dignity of the person and determines the basis for his fundamental rights and duties.” [2]

But the grave danger in our time is the separation of ethics and morals from the natural law. This danger is further obscured when “rights” are secured solely by “popular vote.” History bears the fact that even the majority of populations can begin to embrace as “moral” something which is contrary to “goodness.” Look no further than the past century. Slavery was justified; so was restricting women’s right to vote; and of course, Nazism was democratically implemented by the people. This is all to say that there is nothing so fickle as majority opinion.

This is the sinister result of a relativism which reigns unopposed: the “right” ceases to be such, because it is no longer firmly founded on the inviolable dignity of the person, but is made subject to the will of the stronger part. In this way democracy, contradicting its own principles, effectively moves towards a form of totalitarianism. —POPE JOHN PAUL II, Evangelium Vitae, “The Gospel of Life”, n. 18, 20

These are strange times when a self-proclaimed “gay atheist” is questioning the Catholic Church in Ireland, not for her teachings, but for ‘the philosophical mess that religious conservatives are making of their case.’ He goes on to question:

Can’t these Christians see that the moral basis of their faith cannot be sought in the pollsters’ arithmetic? …can a preponderance of public opinion reverse the polarity between virtue and vice? Would it have occurred for a moment to Moses (let alone God) that he’d better defer to Moloch-worship because that’s what most of the Israelites wanted to do? It must surely be implicit in the claim of any of the world’s great religions that on questions of morality, a majority may be wrong… —Matthew Parris, The Spectator, May 30th, 2015

Parris is absolutely right. The fact that the moral foundations of modern society are shifting with barely a fight is because truth and reason have been eclipsed by weak Church-men who have compromised truth out of fear or self-gain.

…we need knowledge, we need truth, because without these we cannot stand firm, we cannot move forward. Faith without truth does not save, it does not provide a sure footing. It remains a beautiful story, the projection of our deep yearning for happiness, something capable of satisfying us to the extent that we are willing to deceive ourselves. —POPE FRANCIS, Lumen Fidei, Encyclical Letter, n. 24

This series on Human Sexuality and Freedom is intended to challenge all of us to ask if we are, in fact, deceiving ourselves, if we have convinced ourselves that the “freedom” we are expressing through our sexuality in the media, in music, in the way we dress, in our conversations, and in our bedrooms, is rather enslaving both ourselves and others? The only way to answer this question is to “awaken” the truth of who we are and rediscover the foundations of morality. As Pope Benedict warned:

Only if there is such a consensus on the essentials can constitutions and law function. This fundamental consensus derived from the Christian heritage is at risk… In reality, this makes reason blind to what is essential. To resist this eclipse of reason and to preserve its capacity for seeing the essential, for seeing God and man, for seeing what is good and what is true, is the common interest that must unite all people of good will. The very future of the world is at stake. —POPE BENEDICT XVI, Address to the Roman Curia, December 20th, 2010

Yes! We have to awaken the truth about our goodness. Christians have to go beyond debate and out into the world alongside the lost, bleeding, and even those who reject us, and let them see us contemplating their goodness. In this way, through love, we may find a common ground for the seeds of truth. We may find the possibility to awaken in others the “memory” of who we are: sons and daughters made in the image of God. For as Pope Francis said, we are suffering from “a massive amnesia in our contemporary world”:

The question of truth is really a question of memory, deep memory, for it deals with something prior to ourselves and can succeed in uniting us in a way that transcends our petty and limited individual consciousness. It is a question about the origin of all that is, in whose light we can glimpse the goal and thus the meaning of our common path. —POPE FRANCIS, Lumen Fidei, Encyclical Letter, 25

 

HUMAN REASON AND MORALITY

“We must obey God rather than men.”

That was Peter and the Apostles’ response to the leaders of their people when they were ordered to stop their teachings. [3] It should also be the response of our courts, legislatures and lawmakers today. For the natural law we discussed in Part I is not an invention of man nor the Church. It is, again, “nothing other than the light of understanding placed in us by God.” [4] Of course, some might retort that they don’t believe in God and therefore are not bound by the natural law. However, the “moral code” written into creation itself transcends all religions and can be perceived by human reason alone.

Take for example an infant boy. He has no idea why he has that “thing” down there. It makes no sense to him whatsoever. However, when he reaches the age of reason, he learns that that “thing” continues to make no sense apart from the female genitalia. So too, a young woman can also reason that her sexuality makes no sense apart from the male sex. They are a complementary. This can be understood by human reason alone. I mean, if a one year old can teach himself to put a round toy peg in a round hole, the idea that sexually explicit education in classrooms is “essential” becomes a bit of a farce, exposing an agenda of another kind…

That said, our human reason has become darkened by sin. And thus the truths of our human sexuality are often obscured.

The precepts of natural law are not perceived by everyone clearly and immediately. In the present situation sinful man needs grace and revelation so moral and religious truths may be known “by everyone with facility, with firm certainty and with no admixture of error.” Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), n. 1960

That is the role, in part, of the Church. Christ entrusted her with the mission to “teach everything” that Our Lord taught. This includes not only the Gospel of faith, but the moral Gospel as well. For if Jesus said that the truth will set us free, [5] it would seem imperative that we would know precisely what those truths are that liberate us, and those which enslave. Thus the Church was commissioned to teach both “faith and morals.” She does so infallibly through the Holy Spirit, who is “the Church’s living memory”, [6] by virtue of Christ’s promise:

…when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. (John 16:13)

Again, why am I pointing this out in a discussion on human sexuality? Because what good is it to discuss what is in fact morally “right” or “wrong” f rom the Church’s perspective unless we understand what the point of reference of the Church is? As Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco stated:

When the culture can no longer apprehend those natural truths, then the very foundation of our teaching evaporates and nothing we have to offer will make sense.Cruxnow.com, June 3rd, 2015

 

THE VOICE OF THE CHURCH TODAY

The point of reference of the Church is the natural law and the revelation of God through Jesus Christ. They are not mutually exclusive but comprise a unity of truth from one common source: the Creator.

The natural law, the Creator’s very good work, provides the solid foundation on which man can build the structure of moral rules to guide his choices. It also provides the indispensable moral foundation for building the human community. Finally, it provides the necessary basis for the civil law with which it is connected, whether by a reflection that draws conclusions from its principles, or by additions of a positive and juridical nature.CCC, n. 1959

The Church’s role then is not in competition with the State. Rather, it is to provide an infallible moral guiding-light for the State in its function to provide for, organize, and govern the common good of society. I like to say that the Church is the “mother of happiness.” For at the heart of her mission is bringing men and women into the “glorious freedom of the children of God.” [7] because “for freedom Christ set us free.” [8]

The Lord is concerned with not only our spiritual welfare but our bodily as well (for soul and body constitute a single nature), and therefore the Church’s maternal care extends also to our sexuality. Or one could say, her wisdom extends to the “bedroom” since “there is nothing hidden except to be made visible; nothing is secret except to come to light.” [9] That is to say that what happens in the bedroom is a concern of the Church because all our actions affect the way we relate to and interact with others on other levels, spiritually and psychologically, outside of the bedroom. Thus, authentic “sexual freedom” is also part of God’s design for our happiness, and that happiness is intrinsically tied to truth.

The Church [therefore] intends to continue to raise her voice in defense of mankind, even when policies of States and the majority of public opinion moves in the opposite direction. Truth, indeed, draws strength from itself and not from the amount of consent it arouses. —POPE BENEDICT XVI, Vatican, March 20, 2006

 

In Part III, a discussion on sex in the context of our inherent dignity.

 

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