Each of us has the power to make decisions, and the cumulative effect of those choices results in the goodness or badness of our society. Every action we take has an impact not just on us but on the world. All we need to do is look around us, pick up a daily paper, or watch the evening news to verify that there is much that is not right. A great deal of what is wrong is the result of the attitude and moral climate of our times. There are some who insist that this age has lost its ‘moral compass’.
As soon as we begin to speak of morality, there are those who object on the grounds that each person’s opinion is his or her own and equal to that of anyone else. For some, there can be no objective and commonly agreed-upon moral norm. For such persons, morality is an illusion. How many times have we heard that morality is a completely personal and subjective choice? This position is probably the most widespread and pernicious challenge to morality that our society has ever faced. The issue today in much of our public discourse – and certainly on talk shows – is: ‘Do values have any value?’
As Catholics, we recognize that there is more to life and human action than fleeting personal preference. Human existence is not a meaningless show of smoke and mirrors. Each one of us knows deep down at the very core of our being that there is such a thing as right and wrong – that, while the wrong choice may be alluring at the moment, it is a choice with lasting consequences. While individually we may not know the answer to every moral question, we are aware that there are answers – answers that oblige all of us.
There is right and wrong, human freedom, and the choice that each of us makes. At the core of human freedom is knowing and doing what we ‘ought’ to do rather than what we ‘can’ do. It is the voice of conscience that keeps reminding us what we ought to do even though there are enticing reasons to do otherwise.
Catholic morality is not only for Catholics. It is for everyone, because all are called to follow God’s law manifest in the natural moral order, revealed in the Ten Commandments, and made complete in Christ. Catholic morality is the authentic, central, and integral form of morality. It is the fullness of teaching on the human condition before God. Apart from faith in Christ, the great questions about the reality of feedom, the rationality of conscience, and the value of pursuing human good unselfishly cannot be fully answered. It is for this reason that we look to Jesus and listen to his Church.
Where do we go to know right from wrong in all of the myriad forms that moral issues appear today? Jesus has not left us orphans. The pledge of the Holy Spirit in the fourteenth chapter of John’s gospel is verified today as it has been for twenty centuries in the teaching office of the Church. In the many issues before us today, when decisions are presented with a range of good attached to each of the multiple choices, we need to listen to the sure and Spirit-led voice of the teaching office. It guides us in issues as complex and emotional as artificial insemination, physician assisted suicide, the massacre of the powerless, and the range of social justice, bioethical, and medical-moral dilemmas that manifest the complexity of the human condition.
It is true that morality is rooted in the natural moral order, because that order follows from God’s creation. But it is equally true that God chose to reveal the moral order in the old covenant, through the Decalogue, and in the new covenant through Christ. When the Church calls the faithful to specific moral teaching, it does so with the full weight and authority of Christ, who has empowered his Church to speak for him. At the same time, the Church presents cogent and compelling reasons for her teaching based on an appeal to human nature and the natural moral order that we all share.
Life is complex. Moral decisions are difficult. But we need not fear, because we have a sure moral guide. Christ reveals to us the way. He sends the Holy Spirit to guide us and he enlightens his Church in a way that we can with confidence and trust follow its teaching in matters of faith and morals.