What Are Catholic Moral Responsibilities?
CHRISTIAN MORALITY AND CATHOLIC TEACHING
How We Live Out Our Faith
In his or her spiritual soul, intellect and free will, the human person is "the image and likeness of God." Our whole being is ordered to seeking truth and goodness in accord with our destiny which is eternal blessedness with God. (1701–1704)
We seek to reach eternal blessedness with God by following the dictates of our conscience to do good and avoid evil. This is lived out in our daily efforts to love God and neighbor. (1706)
Despite our makeup and destiny, our life is a continual struggle because original sin wounded our nature, leaving us attracted to sin. (1707)
By his passion, death and resurrection Jesus merited a new life for us. He restored to us what was lost by sin and renews us by grace in the Holy Spirit. (1708–1709)
A Christian is a baptized follower of Jesus Christ. (1694)
Christian morality is living in a way worthy of our dignity as human beings and God’s adopted children.
The great commandment to be lived by all who believe in God is: (2055)
We are to love God with our whole being and to love others as Jesus loves us, because God loves them and wants us to do the same. The spiritual and corporal works of mercy are ways to show this love. (See also Dt 6:4ff.) (1972)
Based on Matthew 25:35–36, the corporal works of mercy are:
The spiritual works of mercy are to counsel the doubtful, to instruct the ignorant, to admonish the sinner, to comfort the sorrowful, to forgive injuries, to bear wrongs patiently, to pray for the living and the dead.
The beatitudes are the core of Jesus’ teaching. They describe both our attitude as Disciples of Christ and the promises of the kingdom. (1716–1717)
The beatitudes are practical in that they offer us concrete ways to conform our life to the life and teachings of Christ. Just as the commandments express our desire for the true and good, so the beatitudes express our natural desire for happiness. By living the beatitudes we can begin to experience the life to come. (1717–1719)
The beatitudes challenge us to conform all our choices to the teachings of Jesus Christ. Living as his disciples should be our one true concern and the guiding principle in all our actions. (1723–1724)
Human freedom is our ability "to initiate and control" our own actions. We choose to do or not to do each action and are responsible for what we have chosen. Freedom does not mean simply doing what we want, but being free to choose the good. (1730–1731)
No. When we sin we weaken our freedom and become slaves of our desires, but when we rely on grace our inner freedom is strengthened and enhanced. (1740–1742)
We judge the morality of an act by asking:
· Is the action good or evil in itself?
· What is our intention or end in choosing it?
· What are the circumstances or consequences of this action?
For an act to be morally good, all three aspects must be good. For example, an act that is evil in itself, such as murder, cannot be made right by a good intention, such as relieving suffering. (1749–1756)
Passions are the feelings or emotions we experience, which are neither good nor evil in themselves. Their moral value depends on the way they are used by the mind and will. (1762–1770)
The Catechism of the Catholic Church lists the principal passions as "love and hatred, desire and fear, joy, sadness, and anger." (1772)
Sin is disobedience to God, an offense against him. It is also, as stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods." (1849–1850)
Actual sin is the personal sin which we commit. (1868)
There are two kinds of personal or actual sin, mortal and venial. (1854)
Mortal sin is a grave offense against God’s law by which we prefer something created to the Creator. (1855)
A sin is mortal or grave when these three conditions are present:
· grave matter, that is, a serious wrong or what is thought to be seriously wrong;
· full knowledge, that is, before or while committing it, the person clearly is aware that it is wrong;
· complete consent, that is, the person freely gives full consent to it. (1857–1859)
Yes, responsibility for mortal sin can be lessened by "unintentional ignorance," passions, external pressures and pathologies. Greater responsibility is imputed to anyone sinning through malice or hardness of heart, or to one who pretends not to know the seriousness of the sin. (1859–1860) (Refer to Lk 16:19–31)
By mortal sin a person turns away from God and so loses the gift of charity and sanctifying grace. Mortal sin takes away the merit of the person’s previous good actions and deprives one of the right to eternal happiness in heaven. Sincere repentance can reverse these effects. (1861)
God is not responsible for personal sin because he is all good and all holy, and for everyone who prays, God always provides sufficient grace to overcome temptations.
A sin is venial when one of the conditions for a mortal sin is missing. For example, the thought, desire, word, action or omission is wrong but not seriously so, or it is seriously wrong but a person does not clearly see this, or does not fully consent to it. (1862)
Venial sin lessens our charity and weakens our practice of the Catholic faith. It makes us weaker when faced with temptations to serious sin, and hinders our spiritual growth. (1863)
Although they do not destroy the life of grace, we should avoid venial sins because they are an offense to God and weaken our friendship with him. They also turn our hearts away from God and toward some created good instead, which makes it easier to commit more serious sins. (1863)
Sins of omission are the failure to do something one should have done.
Sins of omission may be mortal or venial depending upon what we have failed to do.
The chief reasons why people commit sin may be found in the seven capital sins. (1866)
The seven capital sins are:
The sins that cry to heaven are:
The sins against the Holy Spirit are despair of one’s salvation, presumption of saving oneself without merit or repentance, resisting the known truth, envy of the graces received by others, obstinacy in one’s sins, and final impenitence. (1864)
An occasion of sin is any circumstance (person, place, thing) which leads one to sin.
Although sin is a personal act, we share in the responsibility for another person’s sin if we cooperate with them in any of the following ways:
Social sin arises when people copy or cooperate with one another in allowing and promoting sin. This is often evident in what becomes socially acceptable or what is institutionalized in the social structure or laws. Some examples would be slavery, child labor, neglect of the poor or marginalized. (1869)
Situation ethics teaches that there is no fixed moral code given to human beings by the Creator. It holds that individuals must make moral choices according to a particular situation—that is, what is right or best in this moment for me. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "There are acts which, in and of themselves, independently of circumstances and intentions, are always gravely illicit by reason of their object, such as blasphemy and perjury, murder and adultery." (1756)
The "fundamental option" theory teaches that a good person can do something considered gravely sinful, and yet that particular action is not gravely sinful for him or her. This is because the person’s basic choice, or fundamental option is for God and the good. The theory holds that one gravely sinful act (a mortal sin) is not enough to separate one from God; a series of gravely forbidden acts would be required to prove that one’s option has changed. This teaching is false. It is not what the Church teaches regarding sin, free will and personal responsibility for each of one’s actions.
Conscience is a practical judgment (decision) as to whether an action, word, thought, desire or omission is good and to be consented to, or evil and to be avoided. It is our most secret core and sanctuary where we are alone with God. (1776–1778)
If we have reflected well and are certain that something is the right thing to do, we must follow our conscience. (1778)
To have a correct conscience one first needs to know God’s law (as it is known in the natural law and revealed in the Bible), the laws of the Church and also the particular duties of one’s state in life. Then one’s conscience will better express what is right or wrong in a particular situation. In addition, one needs to be prudent and upright in order to apply these criteria to the matter at hand. (1783)
Among those who help in the formation of conscience, parents play the major role by the instruction, example and guidance they give to their children. They are the first and the constant teachers of their children, instructing them about God’s love and his law, the duties of religion and society, virtues and family values. Others who influence the formation of conscience are pastors, teachers, relatives and civil and religious authorities. (1784)
Yes, prayer enlightens and strengthens conscience, giving it the direction of God’s Word. We need to examine our intentions and actions in the light of prayer. The grace of the Holy Spirit helps us to recognize and choose what is God’s will. (1785)
We are truly responsible for our actions because God gave us an intellect and free will, which we are to use to fulfill the purpose for which he made us. (1730)
A doubtful conscience is one which cannot decide if an act is good and to be done or evil and to be avoided. When in such a doubt one must either refrain from acting or resolve the doubt. (1787)
A scrupulous conscience is one that is constantly in doubt, in fear of sin when there is none, or in fear of mortal sin when there is only venial sin. A scrupulous conscience can be helped by direction from a wise confessor, humble prayer, and sometimes by professional help.
A lax conscience is one which judges more by convenience than by God’s law and leads a person to easily commit sin, slight or serious. Everything is judged carelessly, without thought of the consequences or the offense to God. (1791)
No, if a conscience errs because of invincible (unavoidable) ignorance, the person does not sin. (1793)
Everything that is legal is not necessarily morally right. Civil law cannot contradict the law of God. For example, the legality of abortion does not make it morally right. (1782)
No, we are never permitted to do evil in order that good may result from it. God wants us to have a good end and reach it by doing good deeds. Anyone, especially a Christian, must be ready to make sacrifices and if necessary even to go to death for the sake of one’s salvation. (1789)
"Everyone else is doing it” cannot excuse our wrongdoing, since God’s law is not based on popularity, but on his divine will and our final end.
OUR ACTIVE ROLE IN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
The Catholic Church has the right to make laws from its founder, Jesus Christ, who said to the apostles, his first leaders and bishops:
The Pope and bishops united with him exercise the Church’s right to make laws. The Pope has complete, supreme, ordinary and immediate jurisdiction over the universal Church. (880, 882, 883, 886)
Laws which affect the universal Church may be made by a general council of bishops united with the Pope, as at the Second Vatican Council. (884)
The precepts of the Church are special duties which Catholics are expected to obey and fulfill. These precepts prescribe certain acts of religion and penance, in order to apply the commandments of God and the teachings of the Gospel to the lives of the faithful. (2041)
These precepts, which are laws made by the Church, guarantee that Catholics practice the minimum amount of prayer and penance to grow in love of God and our neighbor. (2041)
Some duties expected of Catholics today include the following:
· All Sundays of the year
· January 1, The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God
· Easter Sunday
· December 25, Christmas Day
The universal Church also celebrates these other holy days: Epiphany, Corpus Christi (The Body and Blood of the Lord), the feasts of St. Joseph and the Apostles Peter and Paul. (2177) (See also the section on Sunday Mass under the third commandment.)
All Catholics are bound to do some penance in virtue of divine law. So that all may be joined in a common observance of penance, penitential days are prescribed in which the faithful pray, perform good works, deny themselves by fulfilling their responsibilities more faithfully and observe fast and abstinence. (1434–1435, 1438, 2043)
But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and then, on that day, they will fast (Mk 2:20).
A fast day is a day in which only one full meal is taken; the other two meals together should not equal a full meal. In the United States the only fast days are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Eating between meals is not permitted, but liquids, including milk and fruit juices, are allowed. (1438)
Catholics are obliged to fast who have reached the age of eighteen but are not yet fifty-nine.
The law of abstinence means refraining from eating meat on certain "days of abstinence" stipulated by the Church, such as Ash Wednesday.
The days for abstinence from meat are Ash Wednesday, the Fridays of Lent, and Good Friday. Catholics fourteen years of age and over are obliged to keep this law.
Fasting and abstinence are not the only penances required by Catholics. We are to do more penances of our own choosing especially on Fridays throughout the year, since Jesus gave his life for us on a Friday, and during Lent, when we recall what the Lord suffered for us.
Virtue is a power to do good or a habit of doing good. The main virtues are the theological (God-centered) virtues and the cardinal (hinge or key) virtues. Although these powers are free gifts of God we must use them, so that they truly become the habits of doing good that God meant them to be. (1803)
The moral virtues are human virtues or dispositions, attitudes and habits of conducting oneself in an upright and orderly way. They are strengths of character developed by personal effort which enable a person to live with freedom and self-control. (1804)
The cardinal virtues are the key moral virtues: prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance. The word "cardinal" comes from the Latin word for "hinge." The other moral virtues hinge on these four. (1805)
Prudence is the virtue which enables us to think carefully before acting, to make wise choices, and to do things well. (1806)
Justice is the virtue which enables us to give God and neighbor their due, thus safeguarding the rights of God and others. (1807)
Fortitude is the virtue by which we do what is good and right in spite of any difficulty. (1808)
Temperance is the virtue by which we exercise self-control with regard to the drives of human nature. (1809)
Other moral virtues are:
· Filial piety and patriotism, which help us love, honor and respect our parents and nation;
· Obedience, which helps us obey our parents and all authorities who represent God;
· Truthfulness, which helps us always tell the truth;
· Liberality, which helps us use rightly the goods of this world;
· Patience, which helps us to face trials and difficulties with calmness;
· Humility, which helps us to know ourselves and be grateful for whatever is good in us;
· Chastity, or purity, which helps us to be pure in mind, heart and body.
There are many other moral virtues besides these.
The theological virtues—faith, hope and charity—have God as their origin, motive and object. God gives them to us so that we might direct our whole life to him. (1812–1813)
"Theological" means that which pertains to God.
Faith is the supernatural virtue by which we believe all that God has revealed and teaches us through the Catholic Church, because he cannot deceive or be deceived. By faith we commit our whole selves to God. (1814)
We cannot be saved by faith alone; God requires that we give life to our belief through good works which spring from love. (1815)
Besides living our faith and constantly studying it, we must openly profess our faith. (1816)
We can grow in our faith by making frequent acts of faith, by praying for an increase of faith, by studying the truths of faith, by living according to God’s will, by choosing friends and associates wisely, and by reading or viewing only good things, avoiding anything against the teachings of the Church.
We put our faith into action by bringing the Gospel spirit into every aspect of our lives, especially in our relations with others. We thus witness to Christ, extend the kingdom of God and build a more human world.
Hope is the supernatural virtue by which we trust that God will give us eternal life and all we need to obtain it, because he is merciful and faithful to his promises. (1817)
We live by hope by trusting that God will give us the graces necessary for salvation and fulfill our desire for the blessedness of the kingdom. (1818)
Charity is the supernatural virtue by which we love God above all, and love all other people as ourselves for the love of God .(1822)
We live by charity by living the two great commandments: that is, loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, because he is worthy of all our love, and by loving our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God. In practice this involves obeying the commandments of God and of the Church and performing the works of mercy. (1823–1827)
The gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord. These gifts prepare us to receive grace and make it easier to practice the virtues. They permanently dispose us to be receptive to the inspirations of the Holy Spirit. (1830–1831)
Wisdom is the gift which helps us to love spiritual things, to put God first in our lives, and to judge what will be helpful and what will be an obstacle to reaching heaven.
The gift of understanding helps us to see more deeply into the truths we already believe by faith.
The gift of counsel or right judgment helps us to choose what is right, even in difficult circumstances.
Fortitude or courage is the gift which helps us to be brave and patient in overcoming difficulties and carrying out our duties.
Knowledge is the gift which helps us to evaluate created things in relation to God and to see them as instruments, not as goals.
Piety is the gift which helps us to love and reverence God as our Father and all people as our brothers and sisters, so that our service to both God and others will not be a burden.
Fear of the Lord helps us to respect God and to desire to please him in everything. It is not a fear of God, but a fear of offending him.
The fruits of the Holy Spirit are perfections that result from our response to the Holy Spirit’s impulses to do good (actual graces). The twelve fruits are charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control and chastity. (1832)
God will reward us for all our victories over temptation and sin, for all our good deeds and sacrifices done out of love for him, and for all our efforts to grow closer to him.
Edited - 01 December, 2005
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