Over what laws does the Church have authority? On which sectors
of human affairs are they allowed to make judgments? (CCC
The Church always has the right to announce moral principles.
As well, they can make judgments on human affairs if they
pertain to fundamental human rights and the salvation of souls.
The authority of the Magisterium also includes the precepts of
natural law because their observance is necessary for salvation.
Not only does the Church and its Magisterium have the right to
proclaim these truths, but the faithful have the right to
receive them. All men are made for truth and should have access
to it so that they can know it and live it.
What are the obligatory precepts to which all Catholics must
adhere? (CCC 2041-2043)
The following precepts are the minimum needed by the
faithful to assist in prayer and moral efforts and actions and
to grow in love of God and neighbor. We should never stop at the
minimum however. True love wants to love with its whole self as
much as possible. Naturally, love goes to the extreme. This
should be our goal. However, the following is what the Church
requires to preserve love, life, and growth in the Church.
The first precept requires that we attend Mass
on Sundays and holy days of obligations (Feast of the
Assumption, Immaculate Conception, All Souls Day, etc.) As well,
it requires that is a day of rest, free from work and activities
that will make the day less holy.
The second precept requires that we go confess
our sins at least once a year in the Sacrament of
Reconciliation. However, if a person is in mortal sin, he should
confess as soon as possible.
The third precept requires that we receive the
Eucharist at least once during the Easter Season (Easter and the
50 days following it).
The fourth precept requires that we observe
days of fasting and abstinence that are prescribed by the
Church. Days of fasting include Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
Days of abstinence are Fridays (in which we are asked to offer
some sacrifice) and the Fridays of Lent in which we are asked to
abstain from meat. These are times of penance that help us
repair for sin and acquire mastery over our bodily passions and
The fifth precept requires that w assist and
provide for the material needs of the Church, each according to
his own ability.
Is there really such thing as absolute moral laws that apply for
all men? Don’t we have the ability to decide for ourselves what
is right and what is wrong? (CCC 1950-1953)
Yes, there is an absolute law that applies for all man, and
no we do not have the ability or right to determine it
ourselves. In fact, this is the root of all human rebellion and
sin – a desire to determine for ourselves what is good and what
is evil. It is the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden. They were
told not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil
because only God determines what is good and evil. By eating of
this tree, they rebelled against this fundamental truth. They
wanted to make their own rules, be their own judge. Is this not
reminiscent of every human sin? Each time we sin, we are saying
to God, “I know better than you.” What a failure in reason. What
makes us believe that the creature knows better than the Creator
what is best for him? This is like the car saying to its
auto-manufacturer that is going to run itself with soda instead
of gasoline – and then actually doing so. We laugh at this silly
example, but in essence that is what we say to God every time we
sin – I know best. Why do we do this? Unfortunately, we have a
distorted image of God in our minds. We do not trust that He is
good and that He wants our best, that He wants us to be happy.
So we take matters into our own hands. This is why Jesus came to
the earth – to show us that the Father can be trusted no matter
what. He showed us that God is Love, and that this Love is
willing to die to prove itself to us.
How do we know of what absolute moral law really consists?
First, all law comes from God’s divine and eternal law. In
creation, God established a natural order that is
governed by natural laws. These laws ensure that creation
functions and operates according to its intended and beautiful
purpose. A fundamental truth is that creation is orderly, just
like God. All things, non-living and living (excluding humans)
follow these laws without choice. The apple falls from the tree
due to gravity, no matter what. Animals behave in characteristic
ways due to the natural laws imprinted in their beings; we call
He gave human beings a natural law as well. However, God not
only imprinted us with a natural law that flowed from His
eternal law, but He also gave us the ability to know it (through
our intellect) and the ability to choose whether or not to
follow it (through our will). Animals do not have either of
these capabilities. The natural law is imprinted into our being,
stamped in each one of us. This is why men with no formal
religion, men who lived before the time of Christ, men who never
heard of the Jews or Jesus, have the capability to live moral
and orderly lives. The ability to know these laws is imprinted
in us, and our conscience speaks it to us.
God’s natural law can be discovered by human reason, and this
is why all men are obligated to follow it. We all have the
capability to know it. Natural law is based on first
principles. First principles are self-evident truths,
meaning you cannot help but see the truth in them. These first
principles are the building blocks on which we can discover
more. For example, in math, we must know how to first add and
subtract. From these first principles (adding and subtracting),
we can discover everything else about math. The same is true of
the natural law. Here are some examples of first principles:
Everything that changes has a cause.
The whole is greater than the parts.
The human mind is capable of knowing truth.
Truth and reality exist.
Good should be sought, and evil should be avoided.
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
God is to be loved above all.
Famous philosophers like Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates were
able to come to understand this, and they came to some
fundamental truths concerning the content of natural law.
Aristotle, beginning with first principles, was almost able to
come to the full truth concerning natural and moral law without
ever knowing of Judaism or Christianity. Why did he fall short?
Unfortunately, sin has darkened our intellect and weakened
our wills. Therefore, it is far more difficult to know
the natural law and far more difficult to follow it.
Because of sin, we have greatly diminished our capacity to
correctly understand natural law, and we have extreme difficulty
following it. Because of this diminished capacity, even the most
brilliant men like Aristotle were only able to come close; it
requires more than what we are capable. It requires grace and
revelation from God. God reveals the natural law to us, not only
through nature, but through His words, His actions, and His Son.
We also need grace to purify and renew our minds concerning the
Therefore, in conclusion, in order to know God’s law fully
and without error, we need our intellect, God’s revelation
given through the Church, and the help of His grace. Finally,
when we know it, we must act on it.
Why does God give us so many rules to follow? It seems as though
He does not want us to enjoy ourselves.
The question itself here betrays the false assumption on
which it is based. Unfortunately, most the time we view God’s
rules as things that prevent us from enjoying ourselves. This is
our first mistake. A car manufacturer includes a manual when it
sells new cars. The manual gives the owner information and
suggestions about the functions, make-up, and maintenance of the
car. We can easily agree that if a person were to follow the
suggestions in the manual to perfection that his car will run at
peak performance for the longest period of time. The same thing
applies to us and the laws of God. The Lord gave us life, our
bodies, creation, one another and Himself. He wants us to be
perfectly happy. Therefore, He gave us guidelines to follow in
order to endure that we “function” in the best possible way.
Notice a few things about this. Always, without fail, God gives
the gift first and then, only afterwards, does He provide
rules to maintain it. He does not wave the gift in front of us
and require that we do certain things in order to attain it. He
does not put obligations on us, and then reward us if we perform
well. No. He gives us great gifts, and then He helps us to
maintain and keep them by giving up rules to follow. The rules
are not burdensome; instead, they lead to perfect happiness.
When we live according the laws of God, we are living as we were
created to live, and only then will we have perfect peace and
joy. As long as we believe that “we know best,” we will continue
to experience interior and exterior misery.
How can you say that He gives the gift before He gives the
rules? Isn’t that how heaven works: we do good works and then
we go to heaven?
This is how it initially seems, but no. Heaven is ours. He
has offered and given the gift. It is waiting there for us, and
God will never take it away. Heaven is full union with the Lord
and a sharing in His life. We actually already have some of this
here on earth. We are partially united with God now, according
the level of our holiness. As well, each time we receive the
Eucharist we become more physically and spiritually united with
Christ. We must imagine life as a journey, a walk toward the
sun. The sun is there, but far away. As we get closer to it, we
experience more of the heat and light that it gives off. And if
we choose to keep walking, we will eventually arrive, and we
will be united with the sun, experiencing its full brilliance
and beauty. The only reason we will not enjoy the presence of
the sun is if we choose to turn around and walk away. In this
case, it is not the sun that is moving, but instead it is us.
The same is true with heaven and the love of God. He has offered
the gift, we can experience some of its joys now, and these joys
will increase as we choose to walk to closer to Him. Heaven will
never be a gift that is taken away; we only lose it if we reject
it. Just because we do not have full possession of the gift,
this does not mean that the Lord is withholding it until we do
enough good things. His hands are constantly open to us, pouring
out His grace, but He can only give as much as we are willing to
Why do religions have different laws? Is it possible that more
than one may be proclaiming the truth?
As we said before, man’s ability to know and follow truth has
been distorted by sin. We see this clearly with the presence of
so many different religions in the world. All claim that they
possess truth. However, it is easy to see that they cannot all
be true because many of their beliefs contradict. For example,
imagine two people are looking at a blue sweater. One says it is
blue, the other claims it is red. One person must be wrong; it
is impossible that both are correct. (Now some people may say,
“What if the person who says it is red is color blind, and he
sees it as red. Aren’t both people right then? No. The sweater
is still blue. Though it may appear red to the
color-blind man, the sweater is still blue. This actually
perfectly illustrates the problem with man today. People see
things, and claim certain “truths” that are actually wrong;
however, they truly believe they are correct. But just like the
color blind man, the error lies not in truth itself, but in
the man. No matter how much we may “see” something as truth,
we must understand that truth never changes. The error
always comes from inside us, from an error in the way we “see”
Therefore, we can quickly conclude that some of these
religions must be proclaiming things that are not true.
How do we know what real right and wrong is, what God’s laws
really are? In other words, which religion, if any, has the
right idea about God?
If we understand that some religions must be proclaiming
false ideas, we are led to a potential internal crisis – how do
I know what truth really is? This is truly a potentially
overwhelming question because our whole lives depend on it.
However, we can be at peace because there is a light to follow.
First, God is
It can be no other way – if someone else were more “true” than
God, then that someone would be God.
wants us to know Truth.
If He did not, He would be a mean and terrible God because He
would be tricking us and making us believe lies. If this is the
case, then the conversation is over and we have no hope for
anything anymore. We are doomed to eternal misery. Fortunately,
this is not the case, for God is Love and Truth.
Next, we have
the ability to know and recognize truth. We were created for it. God wants us to be able to
know Him so He created us with the ability to know and
understand Him. This is what our intellect is for. Again, if
this were not the case, we would be under the power of a
powerful, yet unloving God, who is content to allow us to wonder
aimlessly through life with no direction, no help, and no
knowledge. Again, we are thankful that God is Love and this is
not the case.
All of this should give us hope, for we know that we have the
ability to know God and that He actually wants
us to know Him. This means that even if we have lost some
ability to understand truth because of sin, we have a God who
will help us in our need. Therefore, the first step in finding
truth is simply having a sincere desire to find it and the
perseverance to go out looking for it, knowing the Lord is going
to help us in our search. As long as we continue to look and
change our lives according to it when we find it, the Lord will
never cease to lead us to Him.
Many great men have embarked on this journey in the search of
truth. And all men who persevered in this quest have found the
Catholic Church. Countless souls throughout history have looked
and have found what they are looking for in the Church. Why?
Because they find Truth there. The Truth present in the Church
is evident in a number of ways. First, it is reasonable. Second,
it is conforms to human experience. It conforms to history. Our
minds recognize it as truth (remember our intellect is
created to recognize it). It has the power to change us. Last,
it is cohesive. What does this mean? It means that everything
fits perfectly together. St. John Henry Neumann once said that
Truth is a like a giant tapestry: if you pull out a thread from
one part, the entire thing will unravel. This is true about the
truths of our faith. Each one relies on and works together with
the others. This is where most other religions clearly fail.
They claim two truths, but those two things don’t make sense
with one another. Truth is cohesive, in that the whole
encompasses all the parts, and none of the parts contradict one
If you are searching, first pray with a sincere heart to a
Lord that is waiting for you to know Him. Then have courage to
embark on the search, and be willing to open your hearts to what
you find, knowing you will find neither the rest nor the peace
your heart desires until you have embraced it.
Did Jesus abolish the Law of the Old Testament when He came? Do
we have to still follow its precepts? (CCC 1961-1974)
No, Jesus did not abolish the Old Law, but instead, He
fulfilled it. What does this mean? In order to understand, we
need to look at the entire history of humanity as a single,
developing person. In the beginning humanity was a baby, a small
child. When children are small we give them rules. These rules
are meant for their safety and well-being. They are basic, and
they are meant to instill in them a sense of right and wrong.
However, the children may not fully understand the rules or
their purposes at the time. In the beginning, parents need to
develop a sense of obedience and this often comes before
understanding. In other words, though a parent may try to
explain a rule, they still expect obedience to it, regardless of
whether the child understands it or not. Obviously, a mom is not
going to wait to tell her toddler not to touch the stove until
the toddler is fully capable of understanding why. This is a
good lesson for us. We need to obey first, and then understand,
or else we risk getting burned. This is the first way we can
look at the Old Law. It is given to a people not capable of
understanding the fullness of God’s laws. Therefore, the laws
are more basic and not complete or perfect. This is why it is
said that Christ came in the “fullness of time.” He came at a
moment in history in which humanity, the child, was capable of
understanding what He wanted to reveal. He wants us to fully
understand His laws, but He also realizes our capabilities and
works within them. He cannot give us understanding until our
mind is developed enough to receive it.
Next, the Old Law was meant to re-instill a sense of our need
for God. With the first sin and every sin, we claim (whether we
know it or not) that we do not need God. We basically tell Him
that we can figure things out on our own. However, this is not
true, and God needs us to realize it because we will not return
to God until we realize we need Him. The Old Law helps us
understand this. It does this by providing precepts and rules
that we are not capable of following with our own strength. It
shows us what we are supposed to do. However, our fallen
humanity cannot do it. We are in need of God’s grace and
strength. God gives the Israelites the Law; they try to fulfill
it; they cannot; therefore, they must turn to the Lord for help.
The Law creates in them the awareness that they need God. In
fact, they fall so many times that they become desperate. This
is when God sent His Son. Again, in the “fullness of time” He
sends His Son to fulfill the Law. Now through Him,
He gives us the grace to be able to do the same. Sending His Son
before we understood that we needed Him would have been
pointless – we will not seek what we do not think we need. The
Lord works the same way in each of our lives today. Sometimes He
allows us to fall many times until we understand that we need
His help. This increases our humility and allows Him to help us.
If He gave us the graces before we understood that we cannot do
it on our own, we would become prideful thinking we were
fulfilling His law by our own strength.
In conclusion, the New Law fulfills the Old Law and
provides the grace for us to fulfill it. It is the Law of
Love. It refines, surpasses and perfects the Old Law, raising it
to its intended level. The child has grown and become a man.
This new man in Christ can understand the fullness of what God
wants to reveal. Yes, we must follow the precepts of the Old
Law, but in their essence, not their details. We must
love our neighbor. In the Old Law this entitled strict justice,
maybe even and eye for an eye. But the Jesus elevated love for
neighbor to its intended purpose – love to extreme of laying
down your life. The New Law elevates the Old Law to its intended
If someone else is not Catholic, how can I require him to follow
the same moral precepts as myself if he has his own set of
beliefs about what is right and wrong? (CCC 1954-1960)
Reading the previous questions will lend more insight to this
answer so we keep this one brief and simple. If God’s laws are
intended to help us have happiness, fulfillment and peace, then
why wouldn’t someone want to follow them? If we really love
someone, we should help them find truth because only truth
satisfies the longings of every human heart. We do this first
by living out the truth in our own lives – this is the best way
to prove its efficacy. Second, we speak the truth in love
always. Third, we pray for people to open their hearts to the
truth. Very simply – truth is love. Therefore, we must love
them, for love always triumphs in the human heart.