There are few things that I can say about literally everyone. Most generalizations are just generalizations which admit of exceptions and many would claim that it is misguided to attempt to say something about all men. However, I can certainly say that everyone wants to be happy. No one, no matter who it is, seeks unhappiness, for such a thing is impossible. Now, man’s happiness as we have discussed recently consists ultimately in God. So a reasonable person ought to act in order that he may reach this end. This is the definition of morality. We have discussed lately the moral teachings of the Church. As we have said many times, it is not as though the Church has created morality, rather, when discussing the natural law, the Church is simply the infallible messenger of truths which we can discover using reason. The Church cannot change what is moral (as the Church cannot change human nature) and the Church cannot change what she teaches to be moral (as this would amount to the Church teaching an error at one point or another which entails being fallible). If all we have said thus far is true, it follows that the Church is the infallible teacher on how to be ultimately fulfilled (i.e. happy).
This point is essential for those faithful to Church teaching to realize. If we forget this, we forget what morality is about and unfortunately many have done this. Morality is articulated in the form of specific laws. Now a codification of laws is necessary for morality because without them, we do not know how to reach happiness. However, there are two significant worries when discussing law: (1) that law becomes an end in itself and (2) that the letter of the law is all that matters. The law is made an end in itself when we follow the law for the sake of the law, in other words, we think that the law is the end of the story. This is not the case, rather, the end of the story is we follow the law in order to reach our end. When we reach our end we both secure our happiness and glorify God. Following the letter of the law but not the spirit of the law is erroneous because all laws are articulated in human language and therefore are in some sense faulty. This means that we can always conform our actions to certain words if we twist the meaning of words but this does not mean we are actually following the law.
As a reaction to these errors, liberals have seen fit to throw out laws and moral manuals which teach the law altogether as “reactionary” and “oppressive.” Of course, every lie has a bit of truth, and there is truth in responding to the two errors above but the liberals took it to an extreme. The extreme is basically that morality can never be articulated in the form of law and that any attempt is necessarily fatally flawed. This gives liberals room to always make up their own rules and act in any way they wish. In order to not become out and out deniers of objective morality, liberals have used another truth and warped it in order accomplish their agenda, namely, they have used conscience as their weapon. Our conscience tells us how to act and a correct conscience is one that is formed according to natural law as taught by the infallible Church. Liberals however make conscience out to be an ability to decide what is right and wrong (essentially this is what they are claiming even if they deny it or sugar coat it). Because of this there has become a war between law and conscience over morality.
Recently we discussed the poll sent out to determine how Catholics view certain family-related moral issues. Of course liberals like to think this means that the Church has become a democracy and has decided to reevaluate her moral teachings. As stated above, this either entails the Church is fallible (heresy) or that morality isn’t objective and universal (irrational). Liberals in the Church have no problem with either conclusion as it means freedom to do as you please. This case illustrates the conflict between law and conscience. On the one hand we have liberals who say “we must use our conscience to decide morality” and this is obviously relevant to the poll which they interpret as the deciding factor over whether or not something is moral. Alternatively, some will argue that this is wrong because it violates the law. While this is true it is not the entire story. Similarly, many Christians who are vocal about moral issues hold a version of Divine Command Theory which is a purely law based theory of ethics. This reinforces the struggle between law and conscience. Since it is true that the law holds, what is wrong with this law vs conscience debate?
The problem is that the law does not make sense all by itself and this plays a role in distorting the truth thus leading those in the Church to err. Even though the conservatives who preach the law are right in principle, after fighting the liberals they are weakened and concede a little bit of what the liberals are saying. As a result, often those who accept Church teaching are afraid to teach it. Without a basis for why the law matters, it can appear to be oppressive in some sense to place it on others and at some level those in the Church come to the conclusion that it is better to hide morality or downplay it. This would not happen if we remembered law is not the end in itself, rather, it is the articulation of how to reach a higher end, namely, happiness with God. When we have this in mind, we can reaffirm moral truth in the face of adversity because we know why we are doing this, we recognize we are not just articulating lifeless laws that seem to place unnecessary burden on people. Of course there is a need to be prudent as to when and how to articulate certain moral truths, but the point is that we shouldn’t cover up what we’re all about.
This point applies to a number of other similar cases. For instances, some have argued that we accept civil unions as a compromise solution to same-sex “marriage.” Now, granting legal benefits to a group of two men is not itself wrong and because it is not technically marriage it fulfills the law. Now, it might fulfill the letter of the law, but there is a greater problem. The problem is that civil unions are designed specifically for homosexual couples, in other words, they are a form of approval for immoral acts and a form of encouragement to these acts as well as a method of undermining marriage. In other words, they lead people away from God even if they are called by a seemingly innocent name. Likewise, some argue that we should accept the distribution of condoms in Africa to fight AIDS. Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI both fought against this because it “dehumanized sexuality.” Liberals argue that it is too legalistic to fight condoms in this case (which is a seemingly good argument because on the face of it, fighting AIDS is a very good cause and it seems as though some law in some book is not good enough to counteract this effect). A conservative who argues that it is against the rules seems to have no leg to stand on. Now, I do not think that there is any way at all in the current climate to make large numbers of those against Church teaching to say “Never-mind! I am opposed to condoms for fighting AIDS,” but at the same time, I think that the conservative position is stronger if we understand what we are fighting. We are not fighting for some law that says condoms are bad, rather, we are fighting for happiness. Now, if condoms are contrary to man’s nature (which they are) and they do in fact dehumanize sexuality (as the Popes have taught), then of course we should be opposed to them, even if they were 100% effective in ending AIDS (which they are clearly not). The reason is obvious: even if every single physical evil was eradicated, it would not follow that any single man ended up happy. On the other hand, if every moral evil (everything contrary to man’s nature that prevents him from reaching his end) was eradicated, no matter what physical evil remains, every man would ultimately be happy.
Liberals like to say things like “abortion and immigration are on the same footing and we should care about both issues” seamless garment style. We have discussed this many times here at CatholicXray. Immigration (and similar economic issues) are questions of empirical facts and prudential judgment in the modern world. The reason is that nearly everyone agrees on the basic moral principles (even if not everyone lives by them). On the other hand, most people agree on the empirical facts surrounding abortion but disagree on the moral principles. Abortion is the legalization of murder and in itself the death of children (murder or otherwise) is a bigger issue than most. But even deeper than that, the difference between abortion and many other issues is not one of degree but of kind because as I just said, abortion is an issue of moral principle rather than empirical fact. Suppose for the sake of argument that we were entirely off in terms of our evaluation of economic or immigration facts to the point that we were doing serious temporal harm to immigrants or the poor or whomever. If this were the case (which it is not) abortion would still be a bigger issue. Now, clearly, these other issues would be of concern in society, even moral concern because we have to care about other people. But deliberate intrinsic immorality is far worse than unintentional harm, even though we should seek to fight both. No matter how we twist these issues, abortion is always the most important because it is intrinsically immoral.
Another issue would be divorced and remarried Catholics. There is a lot of debate over how to handle difficult cases of divorce and remarriage. The Church will not change her teaching because that is impossible. As for what the Church should do in terms of Canon Law and pastoral care, I do not know. But we should always keep in mind that we cannot soften or downplay immorality. The primary goal is to make people in these irregular situations happy, but remember, man’s happiness does not lie in having it easy down here, but on reaching our goal in heaven. This touches on the false dichotomy between “theological” and “pastoral.” Sometimes we see these as code terms for traditional and modern or liberal and conservative and they are often used as such. The problem is that in reality pastoral simply means how to relate the theological to people. In the case of divorced people liberals sometimes argue for a “pastoral” solution which usually means in some way softening the immorality of divorce and telling people how good they are. But in fact, this may not be pastoral at all, because it may lead people to act immorally. A liberal might say that it’s nice and it makes people feel good, but we should be on guard to remember that if it is immoral it ultimately is harmful. Thus the goal of being pastoral is not to make people feel good but rather to make people ultimately happy in heaven. The same could be said about preaching on hell, encouraging confession, and on the list goes.
On the other side of the aisle so to speak, there are traditionalists who fight tooth and nail for Latin in the Liturgy and to get rid of the Luminous mysteries of the Rosary (for the record, the Latin thing I sympathize with, the Rosary part not at all). Traditionalists may argue that Latin is the language of the Church and it has historical value. This is all true and good but it’s secondary. The real question is whether or not Latin honors God more and helps people get to heaven. In itself it doesn’t honor God more, so the only question is whether or not people are more reverent when using it because it creates a certain atmosphere. There may be a case to be made for this but the point is that we shouldn’t fight for Latin for Latin’s sake but we should always keep in mind what the goal is. As for the Luminous mysteries, I don’t even know where to begin. Clearly those who argue against these aren’t on the right track. How in the world could these mysteries not aid man in reaching heaven?
What is the solution to these problems? The Church should recognize what the goal is, namely happiness. The more we remember this, the more we can achieve the goal. If a football team is focused solely on beating up and bruising their rival, they might play a good game, but in losing sight of the point, they might end up losing the game as well by playing sloppily. Victory will only come when we remember what we are fighting for. As a final note, remember that Catholics are always preaching in a sense. Others observe what we do and how we do it. All Catholics are called to evangelize and spread the faith in some way. Married couples raise their children up Catholic. Priests and Bishops have to teach the faith. Everyone plays a role by word, deed, prayer, and suffering. In doing all of this, we should remember we are not just imposing our culture or fulfilling our laws. What we are doing is spreading happiness, something everyone wants. Advent is fast approaching and in Advent we are told to “rejoice.” How can we not rejoice when we know how to be happy?