Jesus Is the Splendid Truth

Alfred McBride, 0. Praem.

In his book The Index of Leading Cultural Indicators, William Bennett reports these chilling statistics on the state of American society: Since 1960, violent crime has increased by 560 percent; the number of unmarried pregnant teenagers has nearly doubled; teen suicide has increased by more than 200 percent; and the number of divorces has increased nearly 200 percent, while the marriage rate is at an all-time low.

Bennett has diagnosed our nation’s true ills, which are moral and spiritual. If these are the symptoms of sickness, what is the cure? John Paul’s masterful encyclical prescribes the moral medicine that can heal us. The Holy Father’s forthright analysis of the moral malaise of the West and how to escape it provides all people of goodwill a plan for the moral renewal of our society.

His encyclical has three parts. The first section is a meditation on Christ’s dialogue with the rich young man (see Mt 19:16-30). The second part addresses themes essential to moral thinking and practice: truth, freedom, natural law, faith, and conscience. Here he also exposes the shortcomings of a false view of fundamental option and the basic weaknesses of proportionalism - a popular tool of many moral theologians today. The final section speaks of martyrdom as the ultimate witness to standing up for moral truth.

John Paul II shines the master image of light over his whole text: "O that we might see some good! Let the light of your face shine on us, 0 Lord" (Ps 4:7). God’s light shines through the natural law, the biblical covenants, and, above all, in Jesus Christ, the light of the world.

Jesus is the supreme moral teacher. As truth, Jesus reveals and explains the moral law (see the Sermon on the Mount in Chapters 5-7 of Matthew). As light, Jesus clarifies the path to goodness. As life, Jesus the Savior gives us the power of his Cross

and resurrection to overcome evil and choose the good.

Within our Church there are troubling departures from traditional Catholic moral teaching. "A new situation has come about in the Christian community itself, which has experienced the spread of numerous doubts and objections of a human and psychological, societal and cultural, religious and even properly theological nature with regard to the Church’s moral teachings" (No.4) Certain teachers within our Church have abandoned Catholic moral teachings for psychological, sociological, and theological reasons.

What are such teachers saying?(1) We should separate freedom and truth. (2) We should reject natural law. (3) We should declare certain moral teachings of the Church as unacceptable. (4) We should restrict the magisterium to merely "exhorting" people to do good and "propose values." Leave people alone to make up their own minds "independently" of the Church. If we divorce freedom from truth, then we have chaos. Whatever I choose is "good" because I alone am the standard. Small wonder the advocates of abortion speak of "pro-choice."If we throw out natural law, we deny any connection between the morality on earth and the divine moral law. But the natural law is an inborn gift within each of us. It is a reflection of the divine law. If we pick and choose what moral laws of the Church we will accept, we weaken our communion with the Church and harm the very unity of the Church itself. If we deny the Church an authoritative moral voice and restrict the Church simply to exhortation, we effectively make ourselves our own personal "church" and deny universal moral norms.

The pope says that these theories are taught "even in seminaries and faculties of theology" (No. 4). But true Christian moral teaching is of the greatest importance for the Church, the faith of Catholics, and for society itself. Seminarians and priests need to know and believe this. And all Catholics have the right to hear the truth.

We will not love God and neighbor when we reject our covenant with God and the commandments, which fulfill it. We face a moral crisis. We must affirm the unbreakable bond between faith and morality.

All quoted matter is from Veritatis SplendorLiving the Good Life, Pope John Paul II’s encyclical regarding certain fundamental questions of the Church’s moral theology. Articles by Fr. McBride in the coming months will study the encyclical. 1997 Our Sunday Visitor. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Return to List of Articles