Splendor of Truth - The Moral Life



Over what laws does the Church have authority? On which sectors of human affairs are they allowed to make judgments? (CCC 2032-2040)

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 instincts.    

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 this instinct.

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 truth.

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 receive.

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” and think.)

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 Truth. It can be no other way – if someone else were more “true” than God, then that someone would be God.

Second, 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 another.

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 level.

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.



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