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Christian Morality: In the Breath of God

Overview

To emphasize the “thisworldly” aspects of the reign of God and of Christian living does not at all suggest that in our daily lives we must become social activists. Many of us can identify important moral obligations arising from our relationships as parents, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, friends, workers, etc. Some of us are healthy; some of us are ill and homebound. Some of us have positions of enormous influence in public life; many of us do not. So the ways in which we actively participate in God’s...

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Overview

To emphasize the “thisworldly” aspects of the reign of God and of Christian living does not at all suggest that in our daily lives we must become social activists. Many of us can identify important moral obligations arising from our relationships as parents, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, friends, workers, etc. Some of us are healthy; some of us are ill and homebound. Some of us have positions of enormous influence in public life; many of us do not. So the ways in which we actively participate in God’s work of fashioning a reign of justice, love, and peace are likely to vary greatly from person to person.
 We must all care about our neighbor and, in the ways that are open to us, we must do what we can to contribute to God’s work. We must tend the garden we are in.
—From chapter 2

Is it difficult to follow Christ? Is it a challenge to be faithful to the Gospel? Can it be exhausting to devote oneself to building up God’s reign of love and justice on this earth? Of course! But that is a far cry from “the dark side of the Good News.” Whatever else it involves, the Christian moral life begins with the experience that we are loved by God in an unimaginable, unfathomable way. The Christian moral life is our attempt to respond to the gift of that love. The primary aim of this book is to convey that conviction as we look at some of the important themes and dimensions of Christian morality.

 

Catholic Basics: A Pastoral Ministry Series offers an indepth yet accessible understanding of the fundamentals of the Catholic faith for adults, both those preparing for lay ministry and those interested in the topics for their own personal growth. The series helps readers explore the Catholic tradition and apply what they have learned to their lives and ministry situations. Each title offers a reliable introduction to a specific topic and provides a foundational understanding of the concepts.
Each book in the series presents a Catholic understanding of its topic as found in Scripture and the teachings of the Church. Each of the authors has paid special attention to the documents of the Second Vatican Council and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, so that further learning can be guided by these core resources.
Chapters conclude with study questions that may be used for small group review or for individual reflection. Additionally, suggestions for further reading offer dependable guides for extra study.
The initiative of the National Conference of Catechetical Leadership led to the development of an earlier version of this series. The indispensable contribution of the series editor, Dr. Thomas Walters, helped ensure that the concepts and ideas presented here are easily accessible to a wide audience.

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Meet the Author

Russell B. Connors, Jr., PhD, a native Clevelander, studied Christian ethics at the Academia Alfonsiana in Rome, Italy, where he earned a doctoral degree in 1983. He served on the faculty of St. Mary Seminary in Cleveland from 1983-1995 and now teaches at the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, Minnesota. Dr. Connors was the 1990-91 Fellow in Bioethics at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, and has served as a consultant to the ethics committees of several hospitals and nursing homes. He has published numerous articles on Christian ethics in a variety of scholarly journals, and with Patrick T. McCormick is the coauthor of Character, Choices, and Community: The Three Faces of Christian Ethics.

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About the Series

 

Catholic Basics: A Pastoral Ministry Series offers an indepth yet accessible understanding of the fundamentals of the Catholic faith for adults, both those preparing for lay ministry and those interested in the topics for their own personal growth. The series helps readers explore the Catholic tradition and apply what they have learned to their lives and ministry situations. Each title offers a reliable introduction to a specific topic and provides a foundational understanding of the concepts.
Each book in the series presents a Catholic understanding of its topic as found in Scripture and the teachings of the Church. Each of the authors has paid special attention to the documents of the Second Vatican Council and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, so that further learning can be guided by these core resources.
Chapters conclude with study questions that may be used for small group review or for individual reflection. Additionally, suggestions for further reading offer dependable guides for extra study.
The initiative of the National Conference of Catechetical Leadership led to the development of an earlier version of this series. The indispensable contribution of the series editor, Dr. Thomas Walters, helped ensure that the concepts and ideas presented here are easily accessible to a wide audience.

 

CERTIFICATION STANDARDS: NATIONAL RESOURCES FOR CHURCH MINISTRY

 

Each book in this theology series relates to standards for theological competency identified in the resources listed below. Three national church ministry organizations provide standards for certification programs that serve their respective ministries. The standards were developed in collaboration with the United States Catholic Conference Commission on Certification and Accreditation. The fourth resource is the latest document, developed to identify common goals of the three sets of standards.

 

Competency Based Certification Standards for Pastoral Ministers, Pastoral Associates and Parish Life Coordinators. Chicago: National Association for Lay Ministry, Inc. (NALM), 1994.
These standards address three roles found in pastoral ministry settings in the United States. They were the earliest to receive approval from the United States Catholic Conference Commission on Certification and Accreditation. Copies are available from the National Association for Lay Ministry, 5420 S. Cornell, Chicago, IL 60615-5604.

 

National Certification Standards for Professional Parish Directors of Religious Education. Washington, DC: National Conference for Catechetical Leadership, 1998.
NCCL developed standards to foster appropriate initial education and formation, as well as continuing personal and professional development, of those who serve as directors of religious education (DREs). The standards address various areas of knowledge and abilities needed in the personal, theological, and professional aspects of the ministry. Also included is a code of ethics for professional catechetical leaders. Available from the National Conference of Catechetical Leadership, 3021 Fourth Street NE, Washington, DC 20017-1102.

 

NFCYM Competency-Based Standards for the Coordinator of Youth Ministry. Washington, DC: National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry, 1996.
This document lays out the wide range of knowledge and skills that support ministry with young people, as well as the successful leadership and organization of youth ministry wherever it may be situated. The standards are available from the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry, 415 Michigan Avenue NE, Suite 40, Washington, DC 20017-1518.

 

Merkt, Joseph T., ed. Common Formation Goals for Ministry. A joint publication of NALM, NFCYM, and NCCL, 2000.
Rev. Joseph Merkt compared the documentation of standards cited by three national organizations serving pastoral, youth, and catechetical ministries. The resulting statement of common goals identifies common ground for those who prepare persons for ministry, as well as for the many who wear multiple hats. Copies are available from NALM, NCCL, or NFCYM.

 

PREFACE

 

Several acknowledgments are in order. First, I am grateful to Bishop Anthony Pilla, from the Diocese of Cleveland, Ohio, and to a group of colleagues at St. Mary Seminary in Cleveland for providing the invitation and the setting to study the Catechism of the Catholic Church when it was first published several years ago. Those conversations—which led to a series of articles on the Catechism by Bishop Pilla—continued to nourish me with ideas and insights as I wrote. I am indebted to Amy Clancy and to Rita Chilar from the Theology Department at the College of St. Catherine where I currently teach. Their proofreading was helpful as was Rita’s “technical assistance” (helping me figure out some of the mysteries of my computer). My thanks also goes to my wife, Patty, not only for her proofreading of the text, but for listening to me talk through so many of my ideas—especially over breakfast. This book is better (as am I) because of the way she listens and because of the way she speaks up.

 

INTRODUCTION

 

Years ago, when I was just starting to study moral theology, a friend of mine used to enjoy teasing me about the nature of my discipline. His area of graduate studies was Christian faith itself. So when we were at social gatherings and people would ask what he studied, he’d reply, “I focus on God—God’s love, God’s grace, God’s Spirit.” Then the question would turn to me, but before I could explain what I studied, my friend would jump in and say, “Oh, he does moral theology—you know, all the rules and regulations of Catholicism. It’s the dark side of the Good News; somebody’s got to do it.”
“The dark side of the Good News.” If this book has one main purpose, I suppose it could be said that its aim is to prove my friend wrong. Christian morality is nothing other than living in Christ—living in the love, grace, and Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of God.
Is it difficult to follow Christ? Is it a challenge to be faithful to the Gospel? Can it be exhausting to devote oneself to building up God’s reign of love and justice on this earth? Of course! But that is a far cry from “the dark side of the Good News.” Whatever else it involves, the Christian moral life begins with the experience that we are loved by God in an unimaginable, unfathomable way. The Christian moral life is our attempt to respond to the gift of that love. The primary aim of this book is to convey that conviction as we look at some of the important themes and dimensions of Christian morality.
I have tried to write in a nontechnical, reader-friendly style, inviting readers to reflect along the way on their own experience as Christian moral persons. Although each of the seven chapters should be able to “stand on its own two feet,” there is an overall rationale for the book’s outline. The first two chapters are companions. With different emphases, they attempt to answer the question, “Just what is Christian morality?” Chapter 1 emphasizes God. Christian moral living is about responding to God’s love, so we first reflect on the nature of that love. The emphasis of chapter 2 is on ourselves. Christian morality concerns our call to take an active role in the work of the reign of God.
Chapter 3 focuses on the reality of conscience. I propose a threefold way of looking at conscience that turns out to be something of a model for decision making for Christian people. Chapter 4 turns its attention to what might be called the “dynamics” of Christian living. We look at the nature of sin and its power in our lives and in the world. But more importantly (because if sin abounds, grace abounds more), we discuss resurrection faith and Christian hope and how they impact the human processes of conversion. I think this chapter is filled with very good news.
The last three chapters focus on specific areas of Christian moral responsibility. Chapter 5 is an overview of some important Catholic convictions about the promotion of our health and the preservation of human life. It is a quick excursion into medical ethics from a Catholic perspective. Chapter 6 addresses some important themes and ideas concerning human sexuality, chief among them being the goodness and sacredness of sexuality and our call to live our lives sexually, not only with joy and delight but also with honesty and responsibility. Chapter 7 presents some of the key convictions of Catholic social teaching, with emphasis on human dignity, human rights (especially economic rights), and what the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) calls “a preferential love for the poor.”
The primary source for this book is the CCC. Readers would do well to have a copy of the Catechism nearby. Sometimes I will quote the text of the Catechism, but at other times I will simply refer to paragraph numbers from the text. At the same time, much of what is presented here is consonant with the ideas and insights of a number of contemporary Catholic theologians. To be clear, the aim is not to provide a detailed commentary on all the sections of the CCC that have something to do with morality, but rather to present an overview of the Christian moral life, drawing regularly from material in the CCC. If this book sheds light on what it means for you to respond to the love of God, and if it helps you understand the connection between that response and some of the concrete moral challenges of your life, my efforts will have been worthwhile.

 

CHAPTER 1
Christian Morality and the Love of God

 

It’s wonderful to talk to Mike these days. On the one hand, he’s the same old Mike—an opinionated, strong-willed, confirmed bachelor whose bark, as everyone has always known, is a lot more ferocious than his bite. On the other hand, there is something delightfully new about Mike. You see, he has fallen in love. That’s the only way to put it. There is a joy about him now that starts deep down inside and bubbles up spontaneously to the surface as you listen to him talk. As you might guess, Mike struggles to put into words just what he’s experiencing. At one of his more articulate moments he put it this way: “Heck, I was happy before, but not like this. I don’t really know where Maria came from or how she found her way into my life, but I think I’m going to spend the rest of my life being thankful and trying to respond to the gift that she is.”

 

From the Catechism: Paragraph 1692

 

Perhaps it seems odd, but there is a connection between Mike’s experience and what the Christian moral life and this book are all about.
Mike has been “knocked off his feet” by Maria. In his words, she is a “gift,” and he has an inkling that he is going to spend the rest of his life not only being grateful, but trying to respond to the awesome gift that Maria’s love—that Maria herself—is for him.
What is the Christian moral life? It is nothing other than the recognition of the amazing gift of God’s loving presence in our lives and our continuing effort to respond to that love. That’s it. Living our lives as Christians may not always be easy (that’s an understatement), but it does not seem complicated. God loves us amazingly, especially in and through the person and work of Jesus Christ. Christians are those who know this and who spend their lives being thankful and trying to respond to the gift of God’s love. May none of the pages and ideas that follow come to obscure or interfere with this simple but profound understanding of what the Christian life is all about.
If Christian living is a matter of responding to God’s love, then it seems important to reflect on that love and what it means to respond to it. That is the first order of business of this chapter. After that I connect this with the Spirit of God and propose that Christian living means living in the Spirit. The chapter concludes with a more specific reflection on Christian sacramental life, with special attention to Baptism and Eucharist.

 

Christian Moral Life as Response to the Love of God

 

If the Christian moral life, in an overarching way, can be described as a life of response to God’s love, then it is important to begin by noting some things about that love. So what shall we say about God and the love of God? That is even more difficult than asking Mike to describe Maria; words will fall short. Nevertheless, I propose that there are three things that should command our attention.
First, it is important to remind ourselves of a core Christian conviction: God is love. This is not simply a repetition of a couple of verses from the First Letter of John in the New Testament (see 1 John 4:8 and 16), but an overriding conviction of both the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Israelites seemed to believe, for example, that God’s saving action on their behalf— in rescuing them from slavery in Egypt and helping them begin their journey toward their own land—revealed something not only about what God could do, but about who God was: an amazing and gracious God of love. And over and over in the parables of Jesus—most notably in Luke’s story of the prodigal son (see 15:11–32), perhaps more properly called the story of the loving father—it is not something that is revealed to us, but someone: God, whose love is so all-encompassing that it is appropriate to say that God is love.
This should not strike us as something completely foreign. An analogy with human love is helpful here. Mike, for example, knows that he has received an amazing gift. He has not received something fromMaria; he has received Maria herself. That is what genuine love is about, is it not? It is the gift of self to another. When we love another, we give the gift of ourselves—our minds and hearts, time and talents, hopes and concerns. The more totally we love, the more complete is the gift. This is not to say that we who have experienced the gift of God’s presence and love in our lives have received “all there is” of God. God is also mystery. To use a spatial image that falls far short of the reality, God is “bigger” than our minds and hearts can receive fully. And yet what we know of God is real. What we believe is that God loves us in a way that reveals not simply what God does, but who God is.
A second dimension of God’s love to which we should give some attention is prompted by a question: “How does God love us?” Now there are probably a hundred good answers to that question. But here is one that seems close to the core of Christian faith: God loves us graciously. The author of the New Testament Letter to the Ephesians expressed well what the graciousness of God’s love is all about.

 

But God, who is rich in mercy, out of great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast.
(2:4–9)

 

This passage captures an important Christian conviction. God loves us not because our good deeds have earned that love and not because we always do the right thing—because, as we all know, we don’t. No, God’s love is given to us independent of our goodness or badness, rightness or wrongness. The word in Christian tradition for this is grace; God’s love is given freely, just because that is the way God is.
The parables of Jesus point to this truth often. In the story of the loving father, for example, the celebration that was held upon the prodigal son’s return was obviously not in response to his fidelity, or even because this son was moved with remorse (more than anything else, it seems, he returned because he was hungry). The father was rich in mercy, lavish in love. That is the point. That is God’s way, God’s gracious way of loving.
A third aspect of God’s love that calls for our attention is the fact that God’s love is powerful; it is transformative. The allimportant exodus event for the Israelites displays this well. God was revealed in the Israelites’ midst as a God who cared about their plight. But God’s love and care involved more than a feeling. And so we read in the story:

 

I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land.
(Exodus 3:7–8)

 

This great story reveals well the nature of God’s love; it is a verb. God’s love is made manifest in powerful deeds—deeds of compassion, healing, and justice. Just as Mike seems to be “a new person” because of the way Maria’s love has touched him, so too (but even more) those who are touched by the powerful love of God are made new. The story of “the good thief ” who hung on a cross next to Jesus on Calvary displays this truth dramatically. In that story, the forgiving love of God was revealed through the words and deeds of Jesus, and in a simple but profound way, the thief was forgiven (see Luke 23:39–43). God’s love makes us new. So what are the implications of all of this? We are saying that God is love, that God loves us all freely and graciously, and that God’s love is made manifest in powerful, transformative deeds. And how does this information bear on Christian living? The answer to that question seems to be captured well in this brief passage from the First Letter of John from the New Testament.

 

God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.
(4:9–12)

 

Christian living, the author tells us, begins with an appreciation of the gift of God’s life and love in our midst, the gift of Jesus Christ. But it does not stop there; rather, it moves to a response that is nothing less than loving one another with the same love that we have received. Note that the passage does not simply say that we are to imitate the love of God (the self-giving, gracious, transformative love of God). No, we are to love with the same love with which God loves us. When we love in self-giving, gracious, and transformative ways, this passage would have us believe, then God is “dwelling” in us, God is at work in us, and somehow God’s presence in the world is brought to greater perfection through us.
Can we take this seriously? Do we really think we can love in this way? Do passages like this, which suggest that we should be holy as God is holy (see Leviticus 19:2) or that we should be compassionate as God is compassionate (see Colossians 3:12–13) push us to be “spiritual overachievers”—and leave us feeling like ultimate failures? Are we capable of loving and living this way? To answer these questions, let us look to other key ingredients of our faith: our convictions about the Spirit of God.

 

Christian Moral Life as Life in the Spirit

 

I would hardly be the first to suggest that over the centuries (and into our day) the Holy Spirit has tended to be the forgotten one of the Christian Trinity of Father-Son-Spirit. There may be many reasons for this, perhaps not least among them being the fact that images for this third “member” of the Trinity—wind, fire, etc.— are so elusive. Perhaps the authors of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) hoped to correct this. Perhaps that is why the very first chapter of the first section of part 3—the part that deals most directly with Christian morality—is entitled “Man’s Vocation: Life in the Spirit.” Taking this cue from the CCC, let us reflect briefly—and in a threefold way—on what it means to say that our vocation is to live in the Spirit of God.
Staying in close contact with the text of the CCC, the first thing to note about our call to live in the Spirit relates to Christian faith concerning our creation. The CCC tells us that the dignity we have as persons is based on the fact that we have been created in the image of God (see #1700), that God’s image is present in all of us (see #1702), and that because of this wonderful way we have been created we participate in the light and power of the Spirit of God (see #1704).
Taking these texts seriously leads to startling conclusions. For instance, if I truly believe that I am made in the image of God, that I participate in the light and power of the divine Spirit, then at my darkest hour of failure or sinfulness, I am called to believe that I am still holy. I am called to believe, as the poster suggests, that “God did not make junk” when God created me. And if I were to take seriously that everyone is created in God’s Spirit and is, therefore, a “dwelling place” of God’s living presence, then indeed I would care if there were even one person anywhere on this earth who was hungry or poor or abandoned or abused— much less millions of people! And if I were a Catholic in Northern Ireland and had grown up in a culture of suspicion and hatred for Protestants, or if I were a Christian in Jerusalem living in near despair over the centuries-old religiously motivated hostilities in the Middle East, or if I were a black woman in the Deep South in 1850 and had grown up with the indignity and abuses of slavery and wondered if there could ever be freedom and common decency for all people, then the belief in the presence of the Holy Spirit in every human being—regardless of age, race, gender, ethnic background, economic status, or any other potentially divisive factor—might give me reason for hope and motivation to work for justice and peace. That is the point—or at least part of the point. If all human beings have the Spirit of the living God within them, then everyone is holy and should be treated not only with respect but also with reverence! That, I think, is what the CCC would have us believe.
A second important feature of what “life in the Spirit” means has to do with our connection with Jesus Christ himself. To live a Christian life is not simply to live like Christ, or to try to imitate Christ, for in the end, on our own power, we will fall short. Rather, Christian life begins with the belief that in some amazing and transforming way, Christ lives in us. There is a power, a life, in us that is not simply our own; this power, this life, is God’s power, God’s life, and, more specifically, it is the power of the Spirit of God.
This means at least two things. First, we are called and empowered to continue the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ in our world today. It is the Spirit of God who makes that possible. Our faith invites us to believe that as we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit we are at the same time receiving the Spirit of Jesus Christ. And if Jesus’ mission and ministry on this earth were all about reconciliation, healing, forgiveness, and love (among other things), then our lives must “be about” the same things. It is the Spirit of God that “connects us” with the mission and ministry of Jesus.
Second, we should notice that the Spirit of God that is shared with us and that connects us with Christ is the Spirit of the risen Christ, victorious over death. One passage from John’s Gospel that the CCC refers to in particular (see John 19:28–30) does not present a picture of Jesus handing over his spirit in a moment of defeat, but in a moment of victory. We receive the Spirit of God from Jesus who was victorious over the powers of trial and temptation, sickness and suffering, damnation and death.
None of this is to say, of course, that Christian life—life in the Spirit—is easy. But it is to say that living like Christ and in his Spirit means living with a kind of power and a source of hope that would otherwise be impossible. If temptation, suffering, and death did not have the last word in the life of Jesus, they will not have the last word for those who live in his Spirit either.
A third and final feature of what “life in the Spirit” means deals with living in love. And in a sense this brings us around “full circle” to where we began: Christian living is living in the love of God. Recalling two New Testament passages, the CCC puts it this way:

 

“God is Love” (1 John 4:8 and 16), and love is his first gift, containing all others. “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5).
(#733)

 

It is through the power of the Holy Spirit, this passage instructs, that the love of God has been given to us. And further, the gift of God’s love in us is a living and abiding gift.
The closest analogy we have for this—one that may make these reflections less “dizzying”—is the gift of human love. Mike senses that the gift of Maria’s love is not a momentary or passing gift, but one that is enduring. In a sense, he has received Maria herself in a mysterious, wonderful, and abiding way. And it looks as though Mike is gearing up to base the rest of his life on that gift. All the more so with God. Our Christian faith invites us to believe that through the power of the Spirit we have received nothing less than the gift of God into our lives in an enduring, abiding way. Our faith invites us also to live our lives in response to that love by doing what we can to love others as God has loved us. It is the Spirit of God who makes this possible.

 

Christian Moral Life as Sacramental Life

 

If the thesis of this chapter is that the Christian moral life is, at its core, a life of response to God’s love, this conviction is dramatized in a magnificent way in the celebration of the sacraments. Let us examine this briefly with regard to the sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist.

 

BAPTISM

 

The CCC discusses the importance of Baptism at some length, but for our purposes three things about this sacrament seem particularly significant: Baptism is about dying and rising; it is about access to a special kind of grace and power; and it is about incorporation into the Body of Christ.
Commenting on the origins of the word baptism, the CCC explains that when we are “plunged” into the water we are “plunged” into Christ’s death, so that we can rise with him as new creatures (see #1214).
There can be no mistake about it; as this text reminds us, to be initiated into Christ means entering into an ongoing process of dying and rising. Most dramatically at the Easter Vigil Liturgy, when the catechumens are plunged into the baptismal water, it is dramatized for the entire community what it means to live as followers of Jesus. We must be buried with Christ so that we can be raised up with Christ. We must be willing to die to selfishness and sin so that we can live lives of selflessness and grace. Note that Baptism is a one-time event; it is not repeated. At the same time, however, baptismal life is a never-ending process, a process of letting go of what is old about us so that we can be renewed in God’s love and grace.
Later on in its treatment of Baptism, the CCC comments on the grace of Baptism. What the grace of this sacrament enables the baptized to do is: “to live and act under the prompting of the Holy Spirit . . . allowing them to grow in goodness through moral virtues” (#1266).
This is an important and insightful text. It makes clear that the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, received in a new way in Baptism, are given to us so that we may live and act in Spiritguided ways and thereby grow in goodness and virtue. We will look at this more closely in our discussion of conscience and decision making in chapter 3. For now we should note simply that for Christians, the presence of God’s Spirit in our lives should change the question we ask ourselves as we consider difficult moral choices. For the believer, the question “What do I think I should do?” might become “What do I believe the Spirit of God is prompting me to do?” As we shall see, those questions need not be in conflict, but the latter question opens us up to a source of wisdom not accessible to those who ask only the first question.
Finally, it is through Baptism that we become part of the Body of Christ. Two things are important about this. First, the Christian life is not lived alone. To use directional images, our life of response to the love of God is not simply a vertical, God-and- I, Jesus-and-I, affair. The Christian life has a horizontal dimension: it concerns our relationships with one another. This is important not simply because we are called to demonstrate our love of God through our love of neighbor, but—just as important— because we actually encounter the presence of God in our neighbor (see Matthew 25:31–46, for example). Together we are the Body of Christ in this world. We come to know and love Christ through coming to know and love one another.
The second thing to notice about the passage above is that incorporation into the Body of Christ is an invitation—a challenge— to recognize our essential unity with one another, a unity that is meant to overcome any of the divisions of nationality, culture, race, or gender. This is both a present reality and a future hope. It is real because one need only look around to notice the amazing diversity that exists among the followers of Christ. It is nothing short of a miracle that there is enough “glue” to hold us together. That “glue,” of course, is the Spirit of God! But it is also true that we are not quite the Body of Christ that we are called to be; we are also a sinful people. The history of Christianity bears the marks of far too many factions and divisions that continue to be part of who we are today. So together we long for the day when God’s Spirit will bring our unity to completion.

 

EUCHARIST

 

One could say a thousand things about the importance of the Eucharist for the Christian life. Recalling the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, the CCC reminds us that the Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life” (#1324, LG 11). At this point let us add only two further comments.
First, the Eucharist is fundamentally about thanksgiving. In this sacrament, we express our gratitude for everything that God has done for us, especially through the love of Jesus Christ (see #1360).
This chapter emphasizes that the Christian moral life is essentially a life of response to the love of God—and central to that, of course, is thanksgiving. To return to the story at the beginning of the chapter, Mike is amazingly grateful for the gift of Maria’s love. Hopefully, that will stay with him forever. So, too, Christians are those who have experienced the gift of God’s love in their life. Their first and most basic response is to be grateful. Nowhere is this “posture of thanksgiving” dramatized better than in the Eucharist.
Second, as the CCC reminds us, the eucharistic liturgy ends with our being sent into the world to extend the mission and ministry of Christ to those we meet in our daily lives (see #1332). Among many other things, the Eucharist is food for the journey. It is for those who know that responding to God’s love in their daily lives is not easy. It is for those who know the world’s wounds and their own limitations as they try to be followers of Christ on a day-to-day basis. Eucharist is not a reward for those who have arrived, but nourishment for those who are on the way.

 

FOR REFLECTION

 

1. This chapter opens with an analogy: our attempt to respond to the gift of God’s love is like our attempt to respond to the gift of human love. In what way does this analogy seem to work? No doubt it is true that all analogies (certainly those we use in reference to God) fall short. How does this analogy fall short?
2. The chapter notes three things about the love of God: God is love; God’s love is gracious; God’s love is powerful. Which of these aspects of God’s love is most striking to you? Why? Drawing on your own experience, what else would you like to say about God’s love?
3. The chapter names several implications of saying that the Spirit of God dwells in all people. What were they? What do you think of them? What other implications can you think of for the conviction that God is “discoverable” in all people?
4. The chapter concludes with some reflections on the relationship between Baptism and the Eucharist in the Christian moral life. Drawing on your own experience of these sacraments, how would you describe the connection between these sacraments and the way we live our lives as Christians?

 

FOR FURTHER READING

 

Connors, Russell B. Jr., and Patrick T. McCormick. Character, Choices and Community: The Three Faces of Christian Ethics. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1998.
The First Letter of John from the New Testament.
Hill, Brennan, and William Madges. The Catechism: Highlights and Commentary. Mystic, CT: Twenty-Third Publications, 1994.
O’Keefe, Mark, O.S.B. Becoming Good, Becoming Holy: On the Relationship of Christian Ethics and Spirituality. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1995.
Second Vatican Council. “The Call to Holiness.” Chap. 8 in Lumen Gentium (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church), 1964.
Wadell, Paul. The Primacy of Love: An Introduction to the Ethics of Thomas Aquinas. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1992.
 

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Table of Contents

Table of Contents

About the Series viii

Certification Standards: National Resources for Church Ministry ix

Preface xi

Introduction xii

Chapter 1: Christian Morality and the Love of God 1
From the Catechism    2
Christian Moral Life as Response to the Love of God    3
Christian Moral Life as Life in the Spirit    7
Christian Moral Life as Sacramental Life    10
For Reflection   13
For Further Reading  13

Chapter 2: Christian Morality and the Reign of God 15
From the Catechism   16
Christian Convictions About the Reign of God    18
Christian Moral Life as Active Participation in Christ’s Work of Building the Reign of God   20
Christian Moral Life and “Thisworldliness”   24
For Reflection   27
For Further Reading   27

Chapter 3: Christian Morality and the Process of Conscienc
e 28
From the Catechism    29
Conscience as Capacity for Goodness and Rightness    31
Conscience as Process: The Homework of Moral Decision Making   33
Conscience as Judgment: Taking Responsibility 38
For Reflection    41
For Further Reading     41

Chapter 4: Christian Morality and the Dynamics of Sin and Conversion
43
From the Catechism   44
Sin: “Original” and “Actual”    45
Conversion as Command and Possibility    50
Resurrection Faith and Christian Hope    53
For Reflection    56
For Further Reading    56

Chapter 5: Christian Morality and Issues of Health and Life   58
From the Catechism 59
Catholic Convictions Concerning the Promotion of Health and the Preservation of Life    60
Catholic Convictions Concerning Direct and “Indirect” Killing    63
Catholic Convictions Concerning the Use and Nonuse of Medical Treatment    67
For Reflection   70
For Further Reading    71

Chapter 6: Christian Morality and Human Sexuality
  72
From the Catechism    74
Christian Faith and Sexuality: Creation and Integration    75
Norms and Values: Specific Issues    79
“Laws of Growth”    84
For Reflection    86
For Further Reading   87

Chapter 7: Christian Morality and Social Responsibility
   89
From the Catechism    91
Starting Points: Human Dignity and Human Rights    92
Focus: Economic Justice     97
“Preferential Love for the Poor”     101
For Reflection    105
For Further Reading    106

Conclusion 107
Bibliography 109
Acknowledgments 110
About the Author 111

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