Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

There was a slogan a few years ago that proclaimed its own gospel: "If it feels good – do it!" This teaching claims that each individual person has the freedom and even the duty to define truth for himself or herself: "If it feels good, it is morally good."

It’s a common position taken in sexual ethics: "It can’t be a sin, we love each other." Here, the individual defines for himself or herself what is morally upright. It follows that this disposition has little regard for any other moral norms. Of course, this self-centered notion of the moral life has nothing to do with Christianity. It’s indefensible for any people of our faith to claim that they determine for themselves what is and isn’t morally true.

Beginning with the Old Testament and all the way through to the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus, people of faith have opposed this false sense of self-definition by claiming that God has a lot to do with defining moral truth and its laws.

Most world religions teach that God is the author of the moral law. The Catholic moral tradition has always maintained that human freedom is not abolished, but affirmed by God’s moral law. In other words, the human person grows in his or her understanding of life by better coming to know what God envisioned while creating the human person out of an act of total and free love.

Through voluntarily directing his or her life toward God, the individual becomes a human being "fully alive" (Veritatis Splendor, 72). The person living the life found in God brings glory to God – "the glory of God is a living man" (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Bk IV. 20, 7). Thus, in choosing "the way" of God, we find true freedom and fulfillment because God is both the Creator and the authentic source of truth itself.

In this free ordering of the human person to God, we must understand that we are referring to the total person – not simply the areas within ourselves that are conveniently and agreeably reflective by nature. While it’s common and natural to reflect upon God and his love when we face a serious illness or the loss of a loved one, we can be slow to consider God at other times. As we grow closer to Christ and Christ becomes ever more our "way" of life, the love of God is revealed to be much more far-reaching than we may have first thought.

Christ intends to be a norm for the entirety of our lives. The times that we cry, those that bring laughter, others that bring love are all to become occasions of God (Eccl 3: 1-8). In other words, we are called to appreciate all of our affections, feelings and emotions so that they are in keeping with "the way" of Jesus. Theologically, we are considering the "principal passions": love, hatred, desire, fear, joy, sadness, and anger (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1762-1770). As both God and man, Jesus fully shared in all the principal passions of humanity and revealed to us how to raise them up to the good through virtue and how to avoid perverting them by vices.

In themselves, our passions are neither morally good nor evil. Thus, the moral character of our passions, whether we employ them appropriately or not, depends on how we engage our reason and free will. We have the freedom to choose to give in to our passions or to direct them in keeping with the Gospel and the moral law. The principal passions are morally good when they contribute to a good action and evil in the opposite case. For many people, this is less than obvious. For example, how can the passion of hatred be morally neutral, or good?

Among the several definitions for "hatred" in Webster’s Dictionary we find "hatred: a strong dislike." Someone who has a hatred for racism and sexism could be directing the passion of hatred in a manner befitting human dignity and the Gospel. On the other hand, the thought of killing a doctor who performs abortions because of a deep-seated dislike or hatred for abortion, an evil in itself, could lead to immorality by leading to an improper action such as murder. Thus, the passion of hatred is revealed to be morally good or evil depending on the choices one makes. We should be clear in our understanding that although they can be related, the passion of hatred is not the same as the grave sin of hatred forbidden in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:21, 44-45; Catechism, 2303).

A great example of the passions of hatred and anger is the scriptural scene of Jesus expelling the mo-neychangers from the temple and overturning their tables (Mk 11: 15-19). Many people have trouble with this passage, finding Jesus’ passions difficult to grasp. While we tend to see and speak of Jesus in terms of his great love and sense of justice, we often fail to appreciate his total share in our human condition, save sin, but including the passions. Put simply, is Jesus’ hatred for the moneychangers’ exploitation of the faithful justified? If we understand this exploitation as evil, Jesus is just in expelling this sin from his Father’s house. "Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes?" (Jer 7:11)

Through a prayerful reading of Jesus’ purification of the temple, we can see that within his filial heart there lies a great desire for God the Father; the injustice of the moneychangers’ actions offends his fundamental vocation to the Father. The Son desires everything to be directed toward the Father. Thus, it makes perfect sense both emotionally and theologically that Jesus’ passions would be directed against anything that tried to offend that intimate filial relationship.

Jesus’ fundamental choice for his Father’s will becomes a pattern for our Christian discipleship. In keeping with the example of Christ, we don’t appropriate truth for ourselves according to our feelings. Instead we cling faithfully to God’s will in spite of bad feelings. We live good lives when we direct all that we are toward God. We must faithfully love God in both the wonderful times of joy, love and desire and the disappointing times of sadness, hatred, fear and anger. As Saint Augustine stated: "To live well is nothing other than to love God with all one’s heart, with all one’s soul and with all one’s efforts …"

Father Hinkley is the Pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish and the Shrine of St. Anne for Mothers, both in Waterbury.