Reflectons on Veritatis Spleandor by Alfred McBride, O.Praem.
One of the most shameless defenses of an evil choice may be found in a speech given by Gordon Gekko in the film Wall Street. The story is about an ambitious young broker, Bud Fox, whose quest for new clients leads him to Gekko, a financial wizard with a genius for making money. Gekko lures Fox into the illegal and lucrative world of corporate espionage and insider trading. Fox becomes rich overnight but at a price that he finds is too high to pay.
At a stockholders meeting, Gekko gives this praise of greed: "Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms greed for money, for life, for knowledge - has marked the upward surge of mankind. And greed - you mark my words - will save Teldar Paper Company and that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA."
Shouts of approval and loud applause follow this defense of one of the most self-destructive of the capital sins. Were St. Paul there he would have roared back, "The love of money [greed] is the root of all evils. Some people in their desire for it have strayed from the faith and have pierced themselves with many pains" (I Tim 6: 10).
The film portrays a world of stock options. But, basically, it is an environment of fundamental immoral options and the actions that flow from them. In this case, the fundamental option is greed. The acts that follow are industrial spying and insider trading. The option and the act go together and reinforce each other. Intensive illegal and immoral acts inflame the greed that in turn multiplies the avaricious deeds.
What works for vice also works for virtue. John Paul II establishes the link between a fundamental option for Christ and positive moral acts connected to it. "Jesus call to come, follow me marks the greatest possible exaltation of human freedom, yet at the same time it witnesses to the truth and obligation of acts of faith and of decisions which can be described as involving a fundamental option" (No. 66).
However, the Holy Father speaks against an interpretation of fundamental option that divorces it from individual moral acts. Its advocates claim that we can have a basic orientation to God in the "core of our person-hood." But they argue that our outward sinful acts do not necessarily affect the core of our persons. My real moral act is my inner choice for God. My behavior, good or bad, may or may not affect my inner choice.
The pontiff explains it this way: "Behavior ... comes to be considered as a merely physical process, and not according to the criteria proper to a human act. The conclusion to which this eventually leads is that the properly moral assessment of the person is reserved to the fundamental option, prescinding his choice of particular actions" (No. 65)
In other words, the unacceptable view argues that God will judge me on my fundamental option, not the deeds I perform. This is similar to saying, "I promise to be faithful and obedient to God, to love him with all my heart. But my acts of cheating, stealing, lying, and killing do not necessarily affect my orientation to God, my basic option." Hence, the only mortal sin is the reversal of my fundamental option for God.
John Paul II disagrees. "Mortal sin exists also when a person, knowingly and willingly... chooses something gravely disordered.... Such a choice already includes contempt for divine law, a rejection of Gods love for humanity and the whole of creation: the person turns away from God and loses charity. Thus the fundamental orientation can be radically changed by individual acts" ("Reconciliation and Penance," No. 17).
Returning to our opening story about Gordon Gekko: He knows the link between his fundamental option for greed and the acts necessary to implement it. He uses evolutionary talk to defend it. He scolds the board members of the company he is attacking: "You stand for the survival of the unfittest. You must either choose what is right, or get eliminated." Gordon is not confused by some vague connection between his basic choice and the steps needed to achieve his goal. There is a seamless flow between the two.
So it is when we choose God. Our acts affect our choice, and our choice influences our deeds.
Fr. McBride writes for Our Sunday Visitor. All quoted matter is from the encyclical, unless otherwise indicated ©1998 Our Sunday Visitor. Used by subcription. This article appeared in the October 1998 edition of The San Francisco Charismatics (ISSN 1098-4046). Member of the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada.
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