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Christ’s Love and God’s Law

by Gerard F. Baumbach

I am convinced the policeman did not have time to ponder his decision. So many people had already been lost.

The officer who spotted my son Dan rushing up an escalator, trying to escape from the World Trade Center complex on 9/11, could not predict what would happen next. He shouted and ran toward Dan, landing next to him as the explosive force of the collapsing South Tower engulfed the area. They held each other tightly, the officer protecting my son. After this round of rumbling and after hearing Dan’s assurance that he could move, the policeman moved on. Dan eventually found his way out, aided by others.

We do not know the identity of Dan’s protector or whether he survived the 9/11 attacks. My family’s words, left at St. Paul’s Chapel on lower Broadway, are directed to this hero of virtue: With deepest gratitude in honor of the police officer who saved our son’s life on September 11, 2001. We do not know your name. We hope you survived. Please know that we are eternally grateful. We are praying for you and will never forget you.

The moral life

How might we describe living according to a moral standard?

I would propose that it is a call, a summons, a gift, an awareness. Some days it may be lived moment to moment. Though challenged by evil and exhausted by temptation, it is wrapped in goodness. The moral life is the life we strive to live each day.

As Catholics, we believe that the moral life is lived from within the life of grace given us through our acceptance of the call to be Christian—not alone but within the community of the Church. It is Christ’s love come alive on the way of faith. It is guided by the Father’s giving, the Son’s dying and rising, and the Spirit’s abiding—all as close as the next breath we take.


Primed for virtuous living

What “stored” memories do you have?

Upon opening a storage box while looking for a pair of gloves, I came across some belongings of my late mother. I detected a familiar and beloved scent as I reached for her hospital volunteer jacket. Memory became reality for me in that brief and unexpected moment. It was as if Mom was somehow continuing to witness to the virtuous life she had lived.

From among all of creation, we humans are the ones made in God’s own image and likeness. No wonder we are sometimes overwhelmed. Recapture that thought: We are made in God’s own image and likeness. What love!

We are wrapped from “cover to cover” with the dignity of the divine. We are primed for virtuous living.

Living a virtuous life means seeking to live a life disposed to all that is good. “Good” does not mean “what I want.” It means “what is best.” This involves developing habits and embracing inclinations to do what is good. It involves understanding our gift of free will as that which frees us for living a virtuous life.

This is not easy, especially because of tendencies that can lessen our resolve and lead to sin. Even if we fall, the healing gift of God’s mercy and forgiveness is there for us. Our trust in God’s grace and pursuit of what is good can become part of our gospel-driven response to whatever stands in the way of our hunger for virtue.

Natural law

God gives us the natural law to guide us on the way of faith. This law resides deep within each of us and enables us to tell good from evil.

The natural law reminds us of all that our Creator has done for us over the ages. “Its most pronounced expression is found in the Ten Commandments, described as ‘the privileged expression of the natural law’” (U.S. Catholic Catechism for Adults, p. 327).

Jesus himself embraces the commandments. He tells a young man, “If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” The young man affirms his faithfulness to the commandments but cannot bring himself to give away his belongings to the poor and follow Jesus (Mt 19:16-22).

We bear witness to the new life that God shares with us in Christ Jesus. “In Christ we have been called to a New Covenant and a New Law that fulfills and perfects the Old Law” (USCCA, p. 325).

Fulfill and perfect are not the same as forget. The Ten Commandments move us toward virtuous living not just as individuals but as part of the heritage of our community of faith.

Propelled to witness

Nurtured by the gift of the sacraments (especially those of Eucharist and Reconciliation), we form our consciences informed by Church teaching and our daily living of a virtuous life.

When my mother died, many members of a parish society to which she belonged came to her wake. The society’s ministry focus was outreach and social justice. One leader told me that Mom had been responsible for arranging for transportation to medical care for an estimated 10,000 people over a 20-year period. In fact, Mom had made six such calls on the day she died.

We give ourselves to Christ as we give ourselves to others. We cannot resist opportunities to witness to the Savior each day. We are thrust forward, wrapped in Jesus’ love and guided by the Beatitudes (Mt 5:3-12).

Sustained by the life of grace, we come to the aid of those who are poor in spirit or who mourn. We become gentle caretakers of the gospel as God’s own peacemakers. We work for justice and all that is right, knowing that we may not see the fruits of our labors.

We live in community, worship together and live with consciousness of our call to solidarity with others. As we do this, we find that living morally as individuals is connected to living morally as part of a community.

The way of faith sometimes includes twists, turns and steep rises that welcome and challenge us. However, the New Law—“the grace of the Holy Spirit that we receive through faith in Jesus Christ” (USCCA, p. 329)—propels us to live for God along the way.

In a social climate ripe with challenges to the need for objective standards of morality, we Christians can become countercultural. We can affirm standards of Christian morality even when it is difficult or unpopular to do so.

The Beatitudes summon us to risk living by the New Law. They call us to love, inviting us to enter into the life of the Master Teacher, Jesus himself, as faithful disciples. Jesus is with us, keeping us afloat, protecting us, giving himself for us. The hearts and hands of others, now Christ’s own, lift us up.

Virtuous living

Who are your “heroes of virtue”? Might your choices include saints from our Catholic tradition?

Heroes of virtue may live next door to us or in the apartment down the hall. They may try to survive winter nights on cold city streets. They may sit in a nearby cubicle at work or collect our recyclables. They may comfort our children when they slip on a playground or take our calls seeking support late into the night. They are people of grace.

The Christian moral life is not a distant goal that God places just beyond our reach as some sort of divine tease. People we know and trust, as well as others whom we may not know personally, help us to experience the reality of God’s love and presence all along the way of faith.

Remember, we are primed for virtuous living.

The theme of this article is drawn from Ch. 23 and 24 of the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults (pp. 307-338).

Gerard F. Baumbach is the director of the Center for Catechetical Initiatives and a concurrent professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame. He spent nearly 25 years at William H. Sadlier, Inc., working as an editor and as executive vice president and publisher. A former D.R.E., he holds a doctorate in religious education from New York University.

Next: Loving God With Whole Mind and Heart



• Who are your “heroes of virtue”? What have they taught you about living a moral life? Would anyone consider you a “hero of virtue”?

• What does it mean to you to live by a moral standard? How does the community (its influence and your responsibility to it) enter into your understanding of moral living?

• “We give ourselves to Christ as we give ourselves to others.” What does this mean to you? What more can you do to give yourself more fully to Christ—and to others? When has it been difficult or unpopular to live your Christian values?




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