Each issue carries an imprimatur from
the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Reprinting prohibited
Christ’s Love and God’s Law
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.
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.
Who are your “heroes of virtue”? Might
your choices include saints from our
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
The theme of this article is drawn from Ch. 23 and 24 of the
United States Catholic Catechism for Adults (pp. 307-338).
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?