Thursday, October 25, 2007


“Morality” comes from the Latin, mos (plural, mores), for “custom”. It is synonymous with “Ethics” (Greek, ethos), the science of the goodness of human acts (i.e., actions that involve our intelligence and free will).

There are two bases for judging the goodness (or badness) of human acts: the objective (from the Latin, ob-, “in front of”, and –jectum, “thrown”) and the subjective (sub-, “under”). The objective basis is the “natural moral law”. The subjective basis is the “conscience” of the individual actor or agent.

The natural moral law is the set of “norms” or rules that derive from our “authentic” human nature, discernible by human reason. These norms are “objective”; i.e., they have an existence outside the individual human person, originating from God’s governance of the universe. Whether one agrees or not, murder, adultery, and theft, are immoral as they run counter to our true nature. Because of original sin, however, and the resulting “darkened” intellect of our “wounded” human nature, it is often difficult to figure out what these norms are. Fortunately for us, out of His goodness, God revealed these norms by way of a summary in the Ten Commandments.

While the norms of the natural moral law constitute the objective aspect of morality, the individual’s “conscience”—the judgment of the intellect concerning the goodness or evil of one’s action in the particular, concrete, situation—constitutes its subjective aspect. Thus, the moral blameworthiness of the individual for a particular act (and his legal liability also in many cases) depends not only on his violation of the natural moral law but also on whether he acted voluntarily and knowingly, i.e., against his good conscience. Thus, the insane or feeble-minded are exempt from moral and legal culpability.

A person must indeed act conformably with his conscience or else be “divided against himself” (diminishing his “integrity”). Still, a person’s conscience may be in error; in which case, while he might not be morally culpable for following his conscience, he would still suffer from the consequences of his objectively wrongful act. Thus, an insane person who ingests a lethal dose of poison would die despite the absence of moral culpability; and one who thought nothing wrong of drunken driving may wreck his car and injure himself or others. Accordingly, man also has a duty to educate his conscience, to have a “right” conscience. Ignorance of the objective wrongness of one’s particular act does not erase moral culpability if “he should have known”; i.e., if it was a contrived ignorance or one that he could have overcome (vincible ignorance).

Often, immoral acts result not so much from ignorance as from a refusal to accept the existence of objective norms; an assertion of “freedom” to define right and wrong, as Adam and Eve succumbed to the temptation to become “like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen 3:5). Pope John Paul II teaches:

“In the book of Genesis we read: 'The Lord God commanded man, saying, "You may eat freely of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die."' (Gen 2:16-17)….With this imagery, Revelation teaches that the power to decide what is good and what is evil does not belong to man, but to God alone. The man is certainly free, inasmuch as he can understand and accept God's commands. And he possesses an extremely far-reaching freedom, since he can eat 'of every tree of the garden.' But his freedom is not unlimited: it must halt before the 'tree of the knowledge of good and evil', for it is called to accept the moral law given by God. In fact, human freedom finds its authentic and complete fulfillment precisely in the acceptance of that law. God, who alone is good, knows perfectly what is good for man, and by virtue of his very love proposes this good to man in the commandments….God's law does not reduce, much less do away with human freedom; rather, it protects and promotes that freedom.” (Veritatis Splendor, No. 35; italics in the original)

To reach our end, union with God in His eternal happiness, we must live morally good lives. Our interior dispositions must be firmly oriented towards truth and goodness; otherwise, we cannot be united with God, Truth and Goodness Himself. “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48)—like Christ, Who is “perfect man” as well as “perfect God” (Athanasian Creed). We must behave according to our authentic human nature, neither as animals nor as disembodied spirits neglectful of the demands of our corporeality. On the other hand, because of the “weakened” will of our wounded nature, it is not easy to choose the good always. St. Paul attests: “The good that I want to do, I do not do; the evil that I do not want to do, that is what I do” (Rom 7:19). We are a bundle of “disordered tendencies”; hence, we need to struggle and we need grace (God’s help). We must use our freedom to “correspond” with the graces that we receive.

The norms of the natural moral law are not arbitrary, burdensome impositions from a tyrannical lawgiver; on the contrary, they are a guide to happiness from our loving Father. May we never give up in the struggle to be good, in all the events and circumstances of daily life.


Thursday, October 11, 2007


Rosarium means “garden of roses” or, better, “bouquet of roses”. When we pray the Holy Rosary, we are offering our Lady a bouquet, each “Hail Mary” a fragrant rose that pleases her and our Lord, because we are praising His mother, our mother. October is especially dedicated to promoting the Rosary.

The Rosary combines vocal prayers with mental prayer or contemplation. The vocal prayers principally consist of the sets of ten Hail Marys (decades) beginning with the Our Father and ending with the Trinitarian doxology (Glory Be). The mental prayer consists in contemplating the mysteries assigned to each decade. St. Josemaria Escriva has written an excellent meditation, booklet length, on the mysteries of the Rosary. His meditation is a model for combining “the piety of children” with “the doctrine of theologians”.

To facilitate contemplation, one could pause for a few seconds of quiet at the start of each decade, directing his attention to the particular scene as described in sacred scripture, situating oneself in it as a co-participant, or to a specific verse relating to the episode, and thus enter into the mystery.

There are four sets of mysteries: the Joyful, Sorrowful, Glorious and Luminous; the last one (Mysteria Lucis, Mysteries of Light) added by Pope John Paul II in his Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae (October 16, 2002). The Joyful Mysteries are the “main part” of the Rosary for meditation on Mondays and, since 2002, on Saturdays. The Sorrowful Mysteries are assigned to Tuesdays and Fridays; the Glorious Mysteries, to Sundays and Wednesdays; and the Mysteries of Light or Luminous Mysteries, to Thursdays.

In the First Joyful Mystery, the Annunciation of the Birth of our Lord, we could make our own Mary’s momentous Yes to the divine will: Ecce ancilla Domini, “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord,” fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum, “be it done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38); and in the Second, the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin, Mary’s Canticle, the Magnificat, “My soul magnifies the Lord,” as she acknowledged the praise of her cousin, Elizabeth (Lk 1:46). In the Third, the Nativity of our Lord, we can join the chorus of angels bringing the news to the shepherds, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of good will!” (Lk 2:14); and in the Fourth, the Presentation of our Lord, think over the words of Simeon, Nunc dimittis, “Now dismiss your servant, Lord, according to your word, in peace” (Lk 2:29). In the Fifth, the Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple, we could ponder the response of our Lord to Mary and Joseph: “Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?” (Lk 2:49).

In the First Sorrowful Mystery, the Agony in the Garden, we join our Lord saying, “Not my will but yours be done” (Lk 22:42). In the Second, the Scourging at the Pillar, we recall the prophecy of Isaiah: “He was bruised for our iniquities” (Is 53:5). In the Third, the Crowning with Thorns, we take up the soldiers’ mockery as our own earnest adoration, “Hail, King of the Jews!” (Mt 27:29, Mk 15:18, Jn 19:3); and in the Fourth, the Carrying of the Cross, another verse from Isaiah: “He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Is 53:4). In the Fifth, the Crucifixion and Death of our Lord, we consider seriously: “(Christ) became obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Philip 2:8).

In the First Glorious Mystery, the Resurrection, we ponder the announcement of the angel, “He has risen as he said” (Mt 28:6); and in the Second, the Ascension, our Lord’s bidding: “Go, make disciples of all nations… I am with you always, until the end of time” (Mt 28: 19-20). In the Third, the Descent of the Holy Spirit, we savor the words of the Psalmist, “Send forth your spirit, and they shall be created, and you shall renew the face of the earth” (Ps 104:30). In the Fourth, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, we gaze at Mary, the Ark of the Covenant: “Then God’s temple was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple” (Rev 11:19); and in the Fifth, the Coronation of our Lady, we watch with wonderment: “A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, the moon beneath her feet, and a crown of twelve stars on her head” (Rev 12:1).

In the First Luminous Mystery, the Baptism of our Lord, we can hear the Voice saying, “This is my beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased” (Mt 3:17). In the Second, the Self-Manifestation of our Lord at the Wedding Feast in Cana, we can take up Mary’s advice: “Do whatever He tells you” (Jn 2:5); and in the Third, the Proclamation of the Kingdom, the words of our Lord, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt 4:17). In the Fourth, the Transfiguration, we join Peter in his daze: “Lord, it is good for us to be here!” (Mt 17:1-9; Mk 9:2-10; Lk 9:28-36); and in the Fifth, the Institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper, we can reflect on our Lord’s command, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Lk 22:19).

Pope John Paul II describes the Rosary as “a compendium of the Gospel” and “a method of contemplation” that is “based on repetition”—not the pharisaical repetition of “empty phrases” eschewed by our Lord (Mt 6:7), but one “nourished by the desire to be conformed ever more completely to Christ”—because God respects “our human nature and its vital rhythms”. Indeed, “the simple prayer of the Rosary marks the rhythm of human life” (RVM, Nos. 18, 25-27).