Fundamental Moral Theoogy and Scripture

27 avril 2012

Christian Moral Principles

Christian life is far more than observance of a moral code. To become Christians is to be given, as a gift, a new life in Christ. This new life is far more than a new morality. It enables us to enter into friendship with the Blessed Trinity, to love and to forgive one another, and to taste the joy of that new life in faith and hope and love that God pours into the hearts of those who accept his grace.

Yet believers, empowered by God’s grace, are called to “lead a life worthy of God” (1 Th 2:12). There are works of love that we have a duty to do, and evil deeds that we must avoid. Being morally upright people is not sufficient to make us Christians; and, indeed, we are not able consistently to lead morally good lives without the help of God’s grace. But a life of faith is not a lawless life. If we wish to be faithful followers of Christ, we must walk freely in the ways he points out for us.

Christian’s duties in the New Testament:

  • A Christian must avoid those evil kinds of acts that the Ten Commandments forbid (cf. Mt 19:16-19),
  • every kind of act so incompatible with love that those who do such things cannot “inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor 6:9; cf. Gal 5:21; CCC 2072).
  • faith teaches positive duties also: We have the duty to believe God, to trust him, and to do the works of love (cf. Jn 6:28-29; Mt 25:34-46; CCC 1965-1968).
  • we are to acquire those virtues needed to give consistency and faithfulness to our lives: “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. . . . Above all, clothe yourselves with love” (Col 3:12, 14; cf. CCC 1810-1811).
  • To grow toward the perfection of love of God and one another, we are to live lives shaped by the gifts of the Holy Spirit and by the Beatitudes (cf. CCC 1716-1717, 1830-1831).

 

NB: some of the moral directives of the Gospel are not precepts but counsels [CCC 1973-1975]

*to give all we have to the poor, and *to live a celibate life for the sake of the kingdom

we must suffer to guard the faith, or to keep the commandments, or to forgive

also the Gospel does promise us to make “light and easy” the saving burden of Christ’s commandments (Mt 11:28-30).

 

Foundational Principles:

There certain first principles from which flow all the duties faith teaches

  • The first principles of moral life: Christ teaches that the greatest precepts of all are those of love: that we should love God with all our hearts and love our neighbor as ourselves (Mt 22:37-39). He teaches, that “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Mt 22:40; cf. CCC 2055). This means that all the positive and negative duties of the Ten Commandments, all the moral requirements spoken by all the prophets and by Christ himself – all express simply what love requires.
  • St. Thomas Aquinas accepts faithfully the Gospel teaching that the two commandments of love are the first principles of moral life.
  • Contemporary Catholic moralists have done creative work to show that all the basic precepts of revealed religion follow necessarily from the duty to love. but this has to be a meaningful and true love.
  • Catholic moralists set aside other moral directives as principles in Christian morality. These are also other Gospel principles basic to Christian morality which flow from the requirements of love (cf. Rom 13:9).

 ° “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Lk 6:31); that is, we should treat each person with the fairness and concern we would wish others to show us. Observance of this, Christ tells us, sums up “the law and the prophets” (Lk 16:16).

° We should never deliberately do harm to anyone, for “Love does no wrong to a neighbor” (Rom 13:10). Each person is an image of God (with rights).

° it follows that we should never injure the neighbor by murder or adultery or perjury (Rom 13:9).

° A variety of factors must be considered in determining whether a particular human act is a morally good or bad one.

*Any element that determines that an act is good or bad must be good.

*First, the kind of act done must be a good kind of act (one capable of serving love of God and of neighbor).

*The intention for which the act is done must also be good.

*the circumstances must serve the goodness of the act.

*one must not foresee that the act (however good its kind and the intention may be) is likely to produce evil effects out of proportion to the good the act is expected to realize (CCC 1749-1756).

 

Moral Absolutes

  • Many moral rules have exceptions. For example, we should keep our promises, but not all promises (such as promises to help another do something evil) should be kept. For such moral rules one needs to know the motive and circumstances of the individual act before one can make a final judgment on whether it is good or bad.
  • Some moral rules have no exceptions: these are the moral absolutes

°  Never directly kill the innocent; never commit adultery; never swear falsely. (such acts are evil in themselves because they are always against Love) (CCC 1756; cf. Pope John Paul II, The Splendor of Truth, Veritatis Splendor, 79-83).

°  To choose freely to do a kind of deed that is evil – a deed like slaying the innocent, or committing fornication, or swearing falsely – is to do what a good person may never do. It is true that the evil brought about in such acts is only “physical” evils; but the deliberate doing of such things is a moral evil and against love

°  One may have a duty to fulfill one’s duties (or do something good) but has to do something really evil in order to achieve things that ought to be achieved (e.g. contraception or perjury). Here and now a good man has no way of achieving specific good objectives if the only means available is a bad one. It is evil to bring willingly good out of evil.

NB: martyrs are honored because they laid down their lives rather than doing something which is intrinsically evil (cf. Veritatis Splendor, 90-94).

Principles of Other Kinds

These are principles that are not themselves moral directives but cast light on the nature and meaning of moral principles. Some of these are spelled out with striking force in Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor (cf. 35-45).

  • Human actions are to be free action. Free actions are truly good (especially the freedom involved in free choice): it is evil to seek to condition or manipulate people so that they do good deeds or that good results are produced. (cf. CCC 1749; Veritatis Splendor, 38-41).
  • Law is a principle of Christian morality: the divine law that gives light to our lives is not a mere act of will, not an arbitrary imposition. God does not simply command us to do or not to do certain things, without gracious concern for our freedom, our hopes, and our fulfillment.
  • Grace is a principle of Christian moral life: For God has called us and made us to become his friends, and to have inexpressible joy in sharing his divine life. Moreover, in our fallen state, grace is needed to live a moral life faithfully (cf. CCC 1996).
  • The moral law is both a natural law and a revealed law. In fact, through Moses and the prophets, and most of all through Jesus Christ, God has made known to us the ways to fulfill the requirements of love, and to come to everlasting life.
  • we are naturally inclined to the natural law, “What the law requires is written on their hearts” (Rom 2:15). The principles of natural law are indeed accessible to all. We can all distinguish what is good from what is evil.

°  The natural law itself is revealed by God. The Decalogue sums up its basic elements. The teaching of Christ presents the moral law with great clarity and attractiveness.

 

Christ As the Principle of Christian Morality:

  • Christ is himself the primary teacher of the way we are to live to please God, and he is the source of the light of faith by which we can grasp with certainty the truth and goodness of his paths. Moreover, he is the source of the strength we need to walk faithfully in the ways of life. He is the goodness that makes us live an excellent moral life; he is the mercy that encourages us in all trials. He is himself both the life for which we long, and the way by which we can come to life.
  • Christian moral life is clearly not a dogged obeying of rules. It is rooted in love, and therefore at its heart it calls for a willing pursuit of what is truly good, for ourselves and for all we love. The Bible celebrates the truly and deeply good depths of reality. It celebrates life and friendship, truth and integrity of spirit, beauty and living in a glad, playful spirit before the Lord. The elements of life that philosophers have recognized as the goals of human striving, the goods that make human life rich and great, are also celebrated by the Scriptures

Small Christian Community, St. Jericho Parish (Nairobi)

27 avril 2012

Part I

On the thirteenth of January, I attended the Small Christian Community meeting of the Youth at St. Joseph Parish, Jericho, where I am doing my pastoral work. They normally meet on Fridays at 6:30 pm after the daily evening mass of the parish. The group is made of young people mostly members of the choirs of the parish, who felt the thirst for the word of God in their life. Some became members because for various reasons, they have no chance of attending their normal Small Christian Communities; others joined it as their second SCC because this is only for the youth. These young people form their own Small Christian Community where they meet every week as their way of experiencing SCC life as a new way of being church. But being members of this Small Christian Community does not prevent some of them from attending the Small Christian Community of their locality. Since they are from various places, they always meet in the church compound.

SEE: The number of the participants on the day that I visited them was 17 (six men and eleven women). On that day, I went with the parish priest who newly came to the parish and was doing his first visit to each group of the parish. But they were not aware that the parish priest was coming to their Small Christian Community meeting. They used both English and Kiswahili for all their activities. Surprising enough, that day, they chose special biblical readings for their gathering. They started the Small Christian Community meeting with songs of praise and worship. This took them about fifteen minutes. Then, began the section for bible sharing which took about thirty minutes. I can’t remember the number of those who shared. Even their secretary did not record their number. I noticed that most of them shared the word of God. During the section for the prayer of the faithful; only five of them prayed for various intentions. After the section for petitions, they now discuss about other members that were absent. Various reasons were mentioned as to justify their absence. One of the absent members lost her mother. In regards of this member who is mourning, each member proposed what he or she was to bring on the following Sunday when they will go to visit her. Some other sharings were related to some members who were jobless and who got a job or were to go for an interview the next week. Other programs such recollection day at komashrine (in two weeks time) and visits were made. After this, I (deacon) and the parish priest were asked to talk. The meeting ended with a concluding prayer (thanksgiving and our Father) by one of the lay members and the final blessing from me.

JUDGE: I really loved their meetings despite the fact that their many things that they had to look into: they did not begin the Small Christian Community meeting with silence, there was no time for silence in between the readings, the chairperson found it difficult to coordinate the session for proposition of gift because he forgot the normal procedure of the group and he had to be reminded by a member. They did very well for taking the reading only in English since they all understand English and allowing everyone to share in either both languages. About the readings, we (I and the parish priest) encouraged them to be always using the following Sunday reading. I personally, encouraged them to always make relevant the bible sharing to their personal life as young people.

ACT: Decisions were made about meeting after the third mass on Sunday in order to visit the girl who lost her mother, praying for their members who are still jobless, for those who were to go for job interview and those waiting for their results. It was also decided that either I or the parish priest will go with them for the recollection at komashrine. The parish priest promised to attend their SCC from time to time.

Part II: The use of Bible at Small Christian Community meeting

In the letter to the Hebrews we read: “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds” (Heb 1:1-2 NRS). These words of the author of Hebrews are still relevant to us whenever we meet for our Small Christian Community gatherings. Long ago God has chosen many and various ways to make himself known to us. The word of God as proclaimed word from the Bible is God himself speaking in our lives in many and various ways. The word of God is full of grace and it gives life to the hearers. The revealed word God, in all its fullness, Jesus Christ is what gathers, builds unity and the real expression of God in words to the members of Small Christian Communities. When we gather to read, to meditate on, to share and to pray the Word of God during our Small Christian Community gathering, we are nourished, enlightened and strengthened. Therefore, the Word of God is the soul of the church as a whole and of Small Christian Communities as the new way of being church, the neighborhood church.

Right from the time of the encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu which first called on Catholics to have greater knowledge of and love for the word of God (DAS 51), to the Second Vatican Council which states that “in the sacred books the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet his children, and talks with them. And such is the force and power of the word of God that it can serve the Church as her support and vigor, and the children of the Church as strength for their faith, food for the soul, and a pure and lasting source of spiritual life” (DV 21), the church has given great value to sharing of the Word of God and relating its message to the daily lives of the her members.

One of the occasions which give Catholics great opportunity to have access to the Word of God as Christian family is the gathering of Small Christian Community, the neighborhood church. Through Small Christian Communities, the church responds to her teaching which states that Christians must “go gladly to the sacred text itself, whether in the sacred liturgy, which is full of the divine words, or in devout reading, or in such suitable exercises and various other helps which, with the approval and guidance of the pastors of the Church, are happily spreading everywhere” (D V 25). It is obvious that one of those other helps which the document talks about is the Small Christian Community gathering. We can therefore say that during the sharing of the Word of God at the prayerful Small Christian Community gathering, God “meets His children with great love and speaks with them” (D V 21).

The Word of God plays great role at Small Christian Community gatherings. Its role is to point the members of Small Christian Communities to Jesus Christ, the Living Word of God; its aim is to direct the members to Christ who can save and understand their daily struggles better. It is the same Word of God that helps in revealing to the hearers their condition of life which is either the Christian pilgrim state of sin or the pilgrim state of grace. This revelation helps in preparing the pilgrim church for the reality of the eternal beatification. The Word of God highlights the need of humanity for a Savior, Jesus Christ, a friend who becomes a member of the Small Christian Community for he says “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Mat 18:20 NRS). The Word of God at Small Christian Community is the written revelation of God’s dream of fellowship with mankind, and it tells the hearers how to develop a lively relationship with God. The Word of God makes the Small Christian Communities means for building communion with neighbors and God.

At Small Christian Community, the shared Word of God is valuable for instruction, reproof, edification, and strengthening the faith of the participants. It helps the members of SCC from their childhood to know the sacred writings which instruct them for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus (cf. 2Tm 3:15 NRS). For St. Paul, “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work (2Tm 3:16-17 NRS).

The use of the Word of God at Small Christian Community is an expression of a new way of being herald of the gospel in the church. The fact that each member at the gathering, one-by-one, shares his or her daily joys, sorrows, feelings and experiences in the light of the Gospel makes each member an evangelizer, an apostle of the gospel of Christ. It was for the same purpose that St. Paul urges Timothy to “proclaim the message and, welcome or unwelcome, insist on it. Refute falsehood, correct error, give encouragement — but do all with patience and with care to instruct” (2Tm 4:2 NJB). Through the proclamation and sharing of the Word of God at SCC, Christian becomes their own preachers by making their preaching relevant to their being.

The Word of God as the central element of SCC fosters good Sunday liturgical celebration. It is either in the preparation, in normal circumstances, or in continuation of the Paschal mystery celebrated on Sunday. In this sense it can be regarded as a perpetuation of the liturgical mysteries of each season in the daily life of the faithful or as a response to the dismissal, “Go forth, the mass is ended,” of the liturgical celebration. Therefore, taking Sunday reading at SCC gives a missionary and ecclesial dimension to the gathering.

There are some difficulties attached to the reading and sharing of the Word of God at Small Christian Community meetings. Firstly, not knowing how to read leaves some members of Small Christian Communities idle. That is why a spirit of generosity and service is to be fostered among members of the same Small Christian Community. To these members who do not know how to read, the Word of God can still be read to them or translated to them in vernacular. This will help every member to fully participate in the SCC meeting. Secondly, faith sharing and life sharing can also become an obstacle to the fulfillment of the goal of Small Christian Community as a new way of being church. Some do not share because they are afraid that their sharing might become an object of gossips; others refuse to share for lack of scriptural knowledge and understanding. If prophet Hosea is to address this issue today, he will tell priests that his people perish for lack of knowledge since priests have rejected knowledge, and their duty of helping the faithful to grasp the Word of God, the teaching of God (cf. Hos 4:5-6 NJB). Sharing the Word of God gives the faithful, members of Small ChristianS Communities, an opportunity to answer and exercise the common priesthood.

On Dominus Iesus

27 avril 2012

« Dominus Iesus », the Declaration of Aug. 6, 2000, was published by the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, some days before the beatification of Pius IX. It was ratified and confirmed by Pope John Paul II. This declaration is a summary of the theological teachings of the Second Vatican Council about the relationship between Catholic teaching and religious truth of salvation. This summary appears in the Declaration’s subtitle: “The Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church.”

Having rejected in Part I, the theses that support “relativistic mentality” (5) and “the theory of the limited, incomplete, or imperfect character of the revelation of Jesus Christ”[1] (6), the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in “Dominus Iesus” reaffirms “the definitive and complete character of the revelation of Jesus Christ […]that, in the mystery of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Son of God, […] the full revelation of divine truth is given” (5).

The second part of “Dominus Iesus” opposes any relativism that introduces “a separation between the salvific action of the Word as such and that of the Word made man” (10). Here “Dominus Iesus” affirms that Jesus Christ is “ the ‘only begotten Son of the Father, who is in the bosom of the Father’ (Jn 1:18), his ‘beloved Son, in whom we have redemption [...] In him the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (11). After rejecting the “hypothesis of an economy of the Holy Spirit with a more universal breadth than that of the Incarnate Word, crucified and risen” (12) the declaration reaffirms the Catholic faith: “the salvific incarnation of the Word as a trinitarian event.[...] Furthermore, the salvific action of Jesus Christ, with and through his Spirit, extends beyond the visible boundaries of the Church to all humanity.” (12)

Using various biblical references the third part expresses that “the universal salvific will of the One and Triune God is offered and accomplished once for all in the mystery of the incarnation, death, and resurrection of the Son of God.” (14) Questioning the meaning of “other religious experiences and on their meaning in God’s salvific plan,” (14) the declaration supports that “the content of this participated mediation should be explored more deeply, but must remain always consistent with the principle of Christ’s unique mediation” (14) and should not be “understood as parallel or complementary” (14) to Christ’s unique mediation.  

The part IV is concerned with a typical Roman Catholic Ecclesiology. “Dominus Iesus” affirms that “the fullness of Christ’s salvific mystery belongs also to the church, inseparably united to her Lord.” (16). “This Church, constituted and organized as a society in the present world, subsists in [subsistit in] the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him” (16). The term “subsistit in” means “on the one hand, that the Church of Christ [...] continues to exist fully only in the Catholic Church, and on the other hand, that ‘outside of her structure, many elements can be found of sanctification and truth’” (16). Despise the fact that the fullness of grace and truth of means of salvation is entrusted to the Catholic Church, “these separated Churches and communities as such, though we believe they suffer from defects, have by no means been deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation” (17). But “Dominus Iesus” still believes that “the ecclesial communities which have not preserved the valid Episcopate and the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic mystery, are not Churches in the proper sense” (17) even though they share in the communion and are incorporated to Christ through baptism.

The fifth part of “Dominus Iesus” is more concerned about the relation that exists between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Christ and the Church of Christ. The strong bonds that exist among these three realities are expressed in terms of mission and the salvific role of the Church. The Church “is therefore the sign and instrument of the kingdom; she is called to announce and to establish the kingdom. On the other hand, the Church is the “people gathered by the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit” (18). For “Dominus Iesus”, “‘the action of Christ and the Spirit outside the Church’s visible boundaries’ must not be excluded” (19).

In the last part the Church is known as “the ‘universal sacrament of salvation’, since, united always in a mysterious way to the Saviour Jesus Christ, her Head” (20) because she is indispensable for “the salvation of every human being” (20). The Church cannot be regarded as “one way of salvation alongside those constituted by the other religions, seen as complementary to the Church or substantially equivalent to her” (21) even if they all aim at the eschatological kingdom of God. The Catholic Church has “the fullness of the means of salvation” (22) and all members of the Church must know that they will be saved “not from their own merits, but from the grace of Christ. [...] Inter-religious dialogue, therefore, as part of her evangelizing mission, is just one of the actions of the Church in her mission ad gentes” (22).

This Document is very valid and Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger does present its teaching in a manner that heeds the attention of those who came across it and read it. To be fair enough to  “Dominus Iesus”, I will say that the document is positively, an essential response to the belief in  religious pluralism and relativism. It does affirm courageously the Unicity and the universal salvific action of Christ that are open to the whole mankind. But contestations could arise from the criteria that define the “One Church of Christ”: the apostolic sucession, the successor of Peter, and the authenticity of the Eucharistic mystery. The valid apostolic sucession cannot be verified historically, the successor of Peter could be contested and authenticity of the Eucharistic mystery remains theological debate.

Placed side by side with other teachings of the Church, “Dominus Iesus” is thought in the light of the major teachings of the Church’s Magisterium. On one hand, it ignores all documents on ecumenical dialogues as if they never existed. On the other hand, “Dominus Iesus” is in agreement with the teachings of Vatican II and “Redemptoris missio”. These two Documents are the most cited ones. However, the Declaration does pass silently on Jews and Judaism while “Nostra aetate” does recognize them in its article No 4. It is true that the Declaration does not mention the name of any particular religion. Such silence is questionable because the visit of Pope John Paul II to the Holy Land right before this declaration was well appreciated by Jews leaders.

The tone and timing of this Declaration do not favour an objective reading of the Document. Its authoritative and apologetic tone gives the impression that the Catholic Church has everything to teach and nothing to learn from other religions. Various expressions justify this tone: “it must be firmly believed”, “contrary to the Church’s faith”, “must be firmly held’” and “faithful are required to profess”. The time of its publication was near to the beatification of Pius IX (September 3). Since Pius IX was connected to the definition of papal infallibility during the First Vatican Council, this document could be misunderstood.

The famous expression of reversal of attitude towards other religions, “subsists in [subsistit in] the Catholic Church” (16), carries a lot of weight. This expression affirms that the Church of Christ is not only equated to the Catholic Church. Though the Church is open towards other religions, she still believes that other religions “derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church” (16). Such belief grants easy access of salvation to Catholic Church.

Exploring the fact that the letter to Ephesians 1.9-10 says that “he [God] has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, […] to unite all things in Christ…”[2], and that Jesus assures Jews about the Last Judgment saying “Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; your accuser is Moses, on whom you have set your hope,” John 5.45 could we conclude that the whole mankind could be judged according to the law of Love which is common to all religions? Is it God’s plan of salvation that the fullness of grace and means of salvation should be primarily entrusted to the Catholic Church? Is there no need for more openness towards other religions in matters of “fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church”? To answer these questions, “Redemptor Hominis”[3] which talks of Christ as the Redeemer of each man and woman is to be read together with “Dominus Iesus”.


[1] Any number in parentheses refers to the article from “Dominus Iesus”.

[2] Any biblical reference in this work is from New Revised Standard Version.

[3] Cf. Pope John Paul II, “Redemptor Hominis”, March 4, 1979.

Bonjour tout le monde !

27 avril 2012

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