What Guides Your Morality?

Today I would like to continue the discussion of morality by offering two contrasting perspectives on what might be our principal guide in our moral choices.

The first one may be held by Christians and non-Christians alike but I see it as falling well short of Jesus’ commandment to love our neighbor. These people might start by saying we live in a “dog eat dog world,” meaning is out for themselves so you better do what you need to take care of yourself.

People like this don’t care who they step on or hurt along the way (hardly Christian). They are in it for their own glory (pride) and material wealth (greed). They might go so far as to steal the credit for good work that belongs to someone else. They might lie to make themselves look. When they can’t find a way to make themselves look better, they find ways to belittle others, making the other person look bad so they can feel better about themselves. Who do you know that spends more time belittling others than advocating for their own position?

As to the accumulation of wealth, in its discussion on the Seventh Commandment (paragraphs 2401 and following), You shall not steal, the Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms the ownership of private property but reminds us of the “universal destination” of all things for the good of everyone. We have the right to have private property but not to the detriment of others. That would be stealing. That would be a sin.

The people described above are motivated by selfish desires.

When one begins to move to the universal destination of goods, one might shift from a purely selfish perspective to a utilitarian perspective, sometimes described as the greatest good for the greatest number.

That’s a start but it doesn’t get us to focus on Jesus’ command to love our neighbor. It’s motive might be about “duty” (Deontological ethics) rather than love.

Here I turn to the Golden Rule, “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12, Luke 6:31). How do you want to be treated? Do you want to be treated only as an object of pleasure (Sixth Commandment – You shall not commit adultery) for others or do you want to be treated with love? Do you want to be treated as a means for others to get what they want or do you want to be loved?

Being rooted in love for God and our neighbor might mean we don’t have so much ourselves. If we have more than we need, we are called to share it with others who have less. We do this in love. It makes for a community that is there for one another. In such a community, one doesn’t have to worry about saving as much in reserve because you can trust that someone will help you in your need. I am not advocating for socialism. The Catholic Church speaks of the ills of socialism in its social encyclicals). I’m advocating for love.

In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray “thy kingdom come.” God’s kingdom is one of love. We do not build up the kingdom if we are only concerned about ourselves. We help make the world a better place when we set aside pride, greed, and gluttony. We help make the world a better place when we set aside lust, seeing the person for who they are rather than a means for pleasure.

Lord, help us to love, to treat others with the same love we hope they treat us with.


Fr. Jeff

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