Fr Rodney Kissinger, S.J

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There is a close connection between morality and sanctity. Our sanctity enables us to make good moral decisions and our good moral decisions make us grow in sanctity. Thus the necessity of prayer, the reception of the sacraments, and the importance of developing good habits and of controlling our passions. The thrust of Christianity is not the minimum observance of the law but the maximum imitation of Christ.

We should avoid two extremes: absolutizing church authority to the exclusion of conscience, and privatizing conscience to the exclusion of church authority. Both impoverish a quest for the truth. The tension between freedom and responsibility, law and conscience is creative. We need to maintain a balance; neither legalism nor license.

We do not judge persons. We do not know all the data. We cannot read a person's conscience or heart. We judge the action. The action may be objectively, materially, good or evil. This we can know. We may hate the sin but we love the sinner. “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” (John 8:7). If we all obeyed this command of our Lord there would never be any stone throwers. We are all sinners, actually in the past, potentially in the future and always carrying this treasure in a very fragile vessel. There is only one exception; Mary is “our tainted nature’s solitary boast.”

We do not demand perfection. The internationally famous psychologist, Carl Jung, used the analogy of “my shadow” to describe the dark and unknown part of the human psyche. That part of me that contains all the unwanted and undeveloped aspects of my personality. Reinhold Niebur must have experienced this shadow when he wrote the Serenity Prayer. “Lord, give me the serenity to accept what I cannot change, the courage to change what I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” The Alcoholics Anonymous, who have adopted this prayer as their own, freely admit that they experience their shadow and are unable to control it.

There is a natural tendency to suppress “my shadow” in order to protect the ego. But it is essential for our spiritual growth to acknowledge and accept it. We must humbly accept the fact that in spite of all of our efforts, we will never completely get rid of it. This shadow, this predominant fault, in rooted in our unique nature and in the dark recesses of the past. If we refuse to accept it, and keep on repressing it, we are not only headed for failure but also for misery and unhappiness.

“The perfect is the enemy of the good.” Demand perfection and you will destroy the good that you can do. I have never seen anyone more miserable and more unhappy than the perfectionist. And he makes all who live with him just as miserable and unhappy.

In fact, “my shadow” has an important role to play in my life and in my holiness and salvation. Confronting my shadow, and coming to terms with it has a transforming effect. St. Paul is an excellent example of the transforming power of confronting and accepting his shadow. Although he was an apostle and one of the greatest saints he experienced “his shadow,” “this thorn in the flesh,” as he called it. He pleaded with our Lord, three times, to remove it. Our Lord refused, saying, “My grace is sufficient for you. My power is made perfect in infirmity.” Paul accepted it. “Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and constraints for the sake of Christ, for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor.12:8-10)

In counseling others, we do not make decisions for them. The decision is theirs. This is their responsibility. This is also their great dignity, to have this personal relationship with God, to think for themselves, to take the initiative and to assume the responsibility for their own personal actions.

Discernment is not a one shot deal. We make the best possible decision we can right now, and at the same time we remain open to growth and change. We are pilgrims, we are sinners, and we are perfectible. Discernment is a never-ending process. We discern, decide, act, and then we discern, decide and act again. Action is part of the process of discernment. We cannot steer a car that is standing still.

Moral certitude is all that we can have as humans. Only God has absolute certitude. We will make mistakes. We will sometimes take our own inclination for a divine call. Yet if we remain loyal we come to see our errors and are more faithful in correcting them.

-One of the causes of great confusion today is the failure to distinguish between material sin and formal sin. To break a law is to commit a material sin. To go against one's conscience is to commit a formal sin.

We are obliged to keep the law. But we are not saved by the observance of the law. "Only by faith in Jesus Christ is a man made holy in God's sight. No observance of the law can achieve this." (Gal. 2: 16) The observance of the law should be the fruit of faith, hope and love.

We should have great esteem for the Church, and appreciate its insistence on the observance of the law. The Church is guided and protected by the Spirit of Truth, and has had 2,000 years experience in dealing with human nature and human problems. The Church proclaiming what is objectively true stands out like a beacon in a worldly sea of relativism. The Magisterium is our safeguard against the Media.

Reality is not all black and white. Today's problems are very complex. There are no simple, textbook answers. Two people using the same principles in the same situation can arrive at different conclusions. The influence of family, environment and education in moral formation is inestimable.

Christianity is not a blueprint for complacent mediocrity. Conformity with the Gospel is not easy. Without God it is impossible. The crucifix reminds us that it costs to be a lover. The language of love is sacrifice. Is the easy life really the happy life?


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