Sunday, June 29, 2014

The End of Morality

And now as We come to the end of this encyclical letter, We turn Our mind to you, reverently and lovingly, beloved and venerable brothers in the episcopate, with whom We share more closely the care of the spiritual good of the People of God.

For We invite all of you, We implore you, to give a lead to your priests who assist you in the sacred ministry, and to the faithful of your dioceses, and to devote yourselves with all zeal and without delay to safeguarding the holiness of marriage, in order to guide married life to its full human and Christian perfection.

Consider this mission as one of your most urgent responsibilities at the present time. As you well know, it calls for concerted pastoral action in every field of human diligence, economic, cultural and social. If simultaneous progress is made in these various fields, then the intimate life of parents and children in the family will be rendered not only more tolerable, but easier and more joyful. And life together in human society will be enriched with fraternal charity and made more stable with true peace when God's design which He conceived for the world is faithfully followed.

Venerable brothers, beloved sons, all men of good will, great indeed is the work of education, of progress and of charity to which We now summon all of you. And this We do relying on the unshakable teaching of the Church, which teaching Peter's successor together with his brothers in the Catholic episcopate faithfully guards and interprets.

And We are convinced that this truly great work will bring blessings both on the world and on the Church. For man cannot attain that true happiness for which he yearns with all the strength of his spirit, unless he keeps the laws which the Most High God has engraved in his very nature. These laws must be wisely and lovingly observed. On this great work, on all of you and especially on married couples, We implore from the God of all holiness and pity an abundance of heavenly grace as a pledge of which We gladly bestow Our apostolic blessing.

Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae 30-31

Reflection – So at long last we come to the close of the encyclical, which is a call to the bishops of the Church, and then to all men and women of faith and of good will, to build up marriage and family life according to the laws of God. “For man cannot attain that true happiness for which he yearns with all the strength of his spirit, unless he keeps the laws which the Most High God has engraved in his very nature.”

I will leave aside, having said in the past couple of days all I want to on the topic, the simple fact that these last paragraphs of the encyclical, and the encyclical as a whole, largely fell on deaf ears in 1968. I consider that to be one of the great, if not the greatest, of the tragedies of the modern Church, but I won’t add anything to what I’ve already said.

But just to conclude this series, it is worth reflecting on the sentence I quote – we cannot have true happiness outside of the keeping of the laws of God which are engraved on our nature. This is quite a statement, really. We can have ‘pleasure’, for sure, any time we want. Sensory pleasure is the easiest and cheapest of games to hunt. We can have all sorts of temporary happiness, perhaps at a little more effort—harmonious relationships, comfortable living arrangements, enjoyable work and recreation.

And all of that—even simple sensory pleasure—is not without its proper value and goodness. But happiness—that is something quite different. Real, deep, total, lasting happiness, the kind of thing that radiates from a person who is genuinely good, genuinely what he or she should be—this is not so common, and not so easy.

It is our Catholic faith, and indeed I don’t see how anyone can even have a theistic world view without holding this in some form, that this level of happiness, this highest attainment of human fulfillment and flourishing, cannot happen out of the keeping of the moral law, the law which comes from God but is inscribed in our human nature, our human being. And this flourishing and fulfillment is the end of morality--the goal, the point of it all.

And so when the Church monotonously, irritatingly, infuriatingly refuses to “change its rules” about this stuff, it is because (as I have said over and over and over again) we sincerely believe that the moral teachings we teach are not ‘our rules’ but God’s, and that God has taught humanity these rules (in part, but not entirely, through the Church He established) so that we can be happy and not miserable, fulfilled and not frustrated, joyful and not sorrowful.

And so the hierarchy of the Church is called to teach the moral law of God as an act of supreme charity and compassion. All the members of the Church, clergy and lay, and truly all men and women, are called to receive these teachings as coming from the hand of God, and strive to live them. And all of us together are called to be deeply merciful to one another, as there is not one of us—pope, bishop, priest, deacon, religious, lay faithful—who does not fall woefully short of the demands of the moral law, and who is not a sinner profoundly in need of God’s mercy.

Let us be kind to one another, but let us be kindest of all by continuing to set our eyes, minds and hearts on the heights of virtue and holiness and moral goodness, ultimately in living the great commandment to love God with all our hearts and oen another as Christ loved us.