Telling Right From Wrong

09-22-2022From the desk of Fr. Villa

It’s not uncommon to hear people including unfortunately Catholics who approach morality from a strictly personal viewpoint: “I’ll decide what’s right and wrong for me” Or “The Church can’t tell me what to do. I decide according to my own conscience.” The Irish Conference of Catholic Bishops years ago published a masterful summary of Catholic teaching about telling right from wrong. These principles of Catholic teaching follow below:

Morality deals with the quality of human actions after deliberation and free will/choice. These actions can be good or bad. Conscience is the voice of God echoing in the heart of each person, prompting the person to do good and avoid evil. It judges the quality of our action and is helped by the virtue of prudence.

Because we are all wounded by sin, original and personal, knowledge of what is right and wrong and actually doing what is right cannot be achieved without personal struggle or help from outside. Our will is weak and prone to sin. Morality is not simply personal. We often hear the cliché about “consenting adults in the privacy of the home” not affecting the world at large. This is nonsense. Human society is a spiritual reality and is affected by the decisions good or bad of those who make up the society.

The principles of right and wrong are objective, universal, and indivisible. They are to be found in all peoples at all times though not practiced by all. (Rom 1:18). They are insights into the requirements of our humanity, of conscience, which measure and guide the actions of individuals and communities. They constitute what pre-Christian philosophers called the natural law and they are definitively articulated, summarized, and clarified in the Ten Commandments. (Ex 20:2-7: Deut. 5:6-21)

Christian morality is about Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever. It concerns our becoming Christ-like and acting in a Christ-like manner. It is concerned with ultimate happiness in the life of heaven. Christ has established His Church to continue His work until the end of time and to teach with authority in His Name. The moral teachings of the Church in Christ’s Name, as articulated by the Church’s teaching authority, the Pope and the bishops in union with him, are directed to the individual consciences of all Christians and humanity in general. It is not a set of rules for Catholic. It is the articulated way of living in Christ which Catholics accept as coming from the Lord.

We are created in a certain way as rational beings composed of body and soul. When we act in accord with the way God created us this is good. When we act against the way God created us this is bad. When we sin we act against ourselves and it’s not simply about a set of rules. God tells us to avoid certain behavior because it will harm us and cause harm to others.

There is a false understanding of conscience as though conscience is the source of what’s right and wrong and can invent moral principles. Conscience is the faculty to decide what to do and is not the source of good and evil.