VERITATIS SPLENDOR CONFERENCE (Part 4)
by Fr. Peter Pilsner
This week we will consider sections 9 through 12.
At the end of section 8, the Holy Father tells us that we should allow
Jesus to be our teacher and let him guide our understanding step by step
until we arrive at the answer to the young man's question. In section 9,
Jesus brings us to the first step.
VS>> 9. Jesus says: "Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only
one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments"
(Mt 19:17). In the versions of the Evangelists Mark and Luke the question
is phrased in this way: "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God
alone" (Mk 10:18; cf. Lk 18:19).
Before answering the question, Jesus wishes the young man to have a clear
idea of why he asked his question. The "Good Teacher" points out to
him--and to all of us--that the answer to the question, "What good must I
do to have eternal life?" can only be found by turning one's mind and
heart to the "One" who is good: "No one is good but God alone" (Mk 10:18;
cf. Lk 18:19). "Only God can answer the question about what is good,
because he is the Good itself."
"To ask about the good," in fact, "ultimately means to turn towards God,"
the fullness of goodness. Jesus shows that the young man's question is
really a "religious question," and that the goodness that attracts and at
the same time obliges man has its source in God, and indeed is God
himself. God alone is worthy of being loved "with all one's heart, and
with all one's soul, and with all one's mind" (Mt 22:37). He is the source
of man's happiness. Jesus brings the question about morally good action
back to its religious foundations, to the acknowledgment of God, who alone
is goodness, fullness of life, the final end of human activity, and
FP>> Jesus points out that, "No one is good but God alone." He affirms
that only God possesses goodness in its fullness and perfection. It is
one of God's attributes, as we would say. Hence, when a person asks a
question such as, "How do I lead a good life?" "What is the right thing to
do?" "How do I become a good and just person?" or "What must I do to gain
everlasting life?" it shows that he as a deep desire to be good, like "the
Good God." Such a person is searching for God, whether he realizes it or
not. His questions may not say so explicitly, but insorfar as they reveal
a quest for moral goodness, they reveal a search for God, the source and
perfection of all goodness.
By the way, perhaps this point is relevant for those in this forum who
have been discussing what a person must do to be saved, and how it it
possible for a non-believer to be saved. A person who does not believe in
God or in Christ may ask, "Is abortion moral or immoral?" If by her
question she means, "What is the right thing to do, so that I may do it,
no matter what the cost?" she is involved in the search for God, the
source of all goodness and the guide and model of all right behavior.
And, if she searches for the answer to her question with diligence and
sincerity, she will come to realize that abortion is wrong, and will do
God's will by respecting life, and therein be pleasing to Him. If
however, what she is really asking is, "How can I justify the practice of
abortion, so I can have one and not feel guilty?" She is not searching for
God at all, but rather herself. She will have to answer to God for what
she does, if she has the abortion. Of course, God knows the inner spirit
in which every moral question is asked.
Now when we say that God is good, what do we mean? Permit me to use a
very ordinary example to describe what we mean by "good" in general. A
man is hungry. He sees a deli; he stops in; he buys a sandwich; he eats
it; he is not hungry anymore. This man had a desire -- a desire for
energy, strength, and a way to assuage his feeling of hunger. So, he went
in search of food. For him, food was a "good." It attracted him, it
motivated a search on his part, BECAUSE it had, in itself, the power to
give him what he desired. When he at last ate the sandwhich, he ENJOYED
IT, because his hunger was satisfied, his desire was met, and his search
Primarily, this is what we mean by "good." It is something that attracts
us, because it has some inherent perfection that corresponds to our needs,
and which, once possessed, leads to satisfaction and joy. Now the point I
want to make is this: when we say that God is good, we are not saying
primarily that He has done many good things for us. (We could express
this by saying that He is infinitely generous, or merciful, or loving.)
Primarily, we are saying that we are drawn to him by attraction, and that
it will be our ulitmate joy to possess Him. In the words of an author I
have forgotten, we call God good, not because he has saved us, but because
he steals our hearts away from us. To put it another way, when we say
that God is good, we mean that He is infinitely "loveable." Or again, just
as a painting "deserves" our admiration, just because it is beautiful, God
is the object of our greatest love, simply because He is good (and would
be the object of our love even if He had never done anything for us).
This is the meaning of "good" that John Paul II refers to and relies on in
this encyclical -- something that attracts us, and makes us happy once we
possess it. Note again what he writes: "the goodness that ATTRACTS and at
the same time obliges man has its source in God, and indeed is God
himself. God alone is WORTHY OF BEING LOVED with all one's heart, and
with all one's soul, and with all one's mind" (Mt 22:37)." [Note: "Worthy
of being loved" is another way of saying, inherently GOOD.] He is the
SOURCE OF MAN'S HAPPINESS. Jesus brings the question about morally good
action back to its religious foundations, to the acknowledgment of God,
who alone is goodness, fullness of life, the final end of human activity,
and perfect HAPPINESS."
VS>>10. The Church, instructed by the Teacher's words, believes that man,
made in the image of the Creator, redeemed by the Blood of Christ and made
holy by the presence of the Holy Spirit, has as the "ultimate purpose" of
his life to "live 'for the praise of God's glory'" (cf. Eph 1:12),
striving to make each of his actions reflect the splendour of that glory.
"Know, then, O beautiful soul, that you are "the image of God"," writes
"Know that you are "the glory of God" (1 Cor 11:7). Hear how you are his
glory. The Prophet says: "Your knowledge has become too wonderful for me"
(cf. Ps. 138:6, Vulg.). That is to say, in my work your majesty has become
more wonderful; in the counsels of men your wisdom is exalted. When I
consider myself, such as I am known to you in my secret thoughts and
deepest emotions, the mysteries of your knowledge are disclosed to me.
Know then, O man, your greatness, and be vigilant".
FP>> Why was man created? To give God glory. How do we give Him glory?
By being His image in the world. We are made in God's image and likeness,
and so it is our joy and task to "image" God, to relfect His perfections
to the world. We strive to imitate God, to be like him, and insofar as we
do so, his glory is made manifest, through us, to the world. This is
man's greatness and glory.
VS>> "What man is and what he must do becomes clear as soon as God reveals
himself." The Decalogue is based on these words: "I am the Lord your God,
who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage" (Ex
20:2-3). In the "ten words" of the Covenant with Israel, and in the whole
Law, God makes himself known and acknowledged as the One who "alone is
good"; the One who despite man's sin remains the "model" for moral action,
in accordance with his command, "You shall be holy; for I the Lord your
God am holy" (Lev 19:2); as the One who, faithful to his love for man,
gives him his Law (cf. Ex 19:9-24 and 20:18-21) in order to restore man's
original and peaceful harmony with the Creator and with all creation, and,
what is more, to draw him into his divine love: "I will walk among you,
and will be your God, and you shall be my people" (Lev 26:12).
FP>> Now, to use another of my silly little examples, if I asked you to
dress up as a clown, and you had never seen a clown in your life, you
would not be able to do what I asked. But if I then showed you some
pictures of clowns, then you would know what I was talking about and what
I expected. (You would not necessarily DO what I asked, but at least you
would understand.) In a like way, if I tell someone that he will be happy
and good insofar as he tries to imitate God, and be the image of God in
the world, I will first have to tell him something about WHAT GOD IS LIKE.
Once he discovers in the Sacred Scriptures and the Magisterium what the
perfections of God are, then he can set himself to the task of imitating
God, and will do so, of course, in his own limited, human way. As John
Paul II says, "What man is and what he must do becomes clear as soon as
God reveals himself." When God shows us who He is and what He is like, we
then know who we are, and what we must strive to become.
This idea of being an imitator of God or of imaging Him is found
throughout Scripture. John Paul II quotes the Old Testament: "You shall
be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy" (Lev 19:2). In this verse, we
see that God's holiness is the model for ours. We could also quote the
words of Jesus, "You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your
neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, and
pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your
heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and
causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who
love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the
same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that?
Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father
is perfect." (Matthew 5:43-48)
VS>> "The moral life presents itself as the response" due to the many
gratuitous initiatives taken by God out of love for man. It is a response
of love, according to the statement made in Deuteronomy about the
fundamental commandment: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord;
and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all
your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you
this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to
your children" (Dt 6:4-7). Thus the moral life, caught up in the
gratuitousness of God's love, is called to reflect his glory: "For the one
who loves God it is enough to be pleasing to the One whom he loves: for no
greater reward should be sought than that love itself; charity in fact is
of God in such a way that God himself is charity".
FP>> As if God's goodness alone were not enough reason for loving Him, we
can consider as well the many acts of love God has performed on our
behalf. We love God not only because He is good, but because "He loved
us, and sent His Son as expiation for our sins" (1 John 4:10). Our love
for God is more than our attraction to His infinite Goodness. It is our
response to his "gratuitous initiatives."
If we love God, and strive to be pleasing to him, in response to His love
for us, we are leading a moral life. By loving God, we are imaging God,
Who is love.
VS>> 11. The statement that "There is only one who is good" thus brings us
back to the "first tablet" of the commandments, which calls us to
acknowledge God as the one Lord of all and to worship him alone for his
infinite holiness (cf. Ex 20:2-11). "The good is belonging to God, obeying
him," walking humbly with him in doing justice and in loving kindness (cf.
Mic 6:8). "Acknowledging the Lord as God is the very core, the heart of
the Law, from which the particular precepts flow and towards which they
are ordered. In the morality of the commandments the fact that the people
of Israel belongs to the Lord is made evident, because God alone is the
One who is good. Such is the witness of Sacred Scripture, imbued in every
one of its pages with a lively perception of God's absolute holiness:
"Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts" (Is 6:3).
But if God alone is the Good, no human effort, not even the most rigorous
observance of the commandments, succeeds in "fulfilling" the Law, that is,
acknowledging the Lord as God and rendering him the worship due to him
alone (cf. Mt 4:10). "This 'fulfilment' can come only from a gift of God:"
the offer of a share in the divine Goodness revealed and communicated in
Jesus, the one whom the rich young man addresses with the words "Good
Teacher" (Mk 10:17; Lk 18:18). What the young man now perhaps only dimly
perceives will in the end be fully revealed by Jesus himself in the
invitation: "Come, follow me" (Mt 19:21).
FP>>"Acknowledging the Lord as God is the very core, the heart of the
Law." The idea that God must be accepted as Lord in order for a moral law
to exist at all, is one that John Paul II returns to again and again in
his writings. Often, the idea is expressed differently, that a rejection
of moral law, or disobedience of moral law is a rejection of the rightful
authority of God. Consider, for example, this quote from the Encyclical
on the Holy Spirit:
36. According to the witness concerning the beginning which we find in the
Scriptures and in Tradition, after the first (and also more complete)
description in the Book of Genesis, sin in its original form is understood
as " disobedience " and this means simply and directly transgression of a
prohibition laid down by God. But in the light of the whole context
it is also obvious that the ultimate roots of this disobedience are to be
sought in the whole real situation of man. Having been called into
existence, the human being--man and woman--is a creature. The "image of
God", consisting in rationality and freedom, expresses the greatness and
dignity of the human subject, who is a person. But this personal subject
is also always a creature: in his existence and essence he depends on the
Creator. According to the Book of Genesis, "the tree of the knowledge of
good and evil" was to express and constantly remind man of the "limit"
impassable for a created being. God's prohibition is to be understood in
this sense: the Creator forbids man and woman to eat of the fruit of the
tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The words of the enticement, that
is to say the temptation, as formulated in the sacred text, are an
inducement to transgress this prohibition--that is to say to go beyond
that "limit": "When you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will
be like God ("like gods "), knowing good and evil".
"Disobedience" means precisely going beyond that limit, which remains
impassable to the will and the freedom of man as a created being. [Take
note of this next sentence!] For God the Creator is the one definitive
source of the moral order in the world created by him. Man cannot decide
by himself what is good and what is evil--cannot "know good and evil, like
God". In the created world God indeed remains the first and sovereign
source for deciding about good and evil, through the intimate truth of
being, which is the reflection of the Word, the eternal Son,
consubstantial with the Father. To man, created to the image of God, the
Holy Spirit gives the gift of conscience, so that in this conscience the
image may faithfully reflect its model, which is both Wisdom and eternal
Law, the source of the moral order in man and in the world.
"Disobedience", as the original dimension of sin, means the rejection of
this source, through man's claim to become an independent and exclusive
source for deciding about good and evil. The Spirit who "searches the
depths of God", and who at the same time is for man the light of
conscience and the source of the moral order, knows in all its fullness
this dimension of the sin inscribed in the mystery of man's beginning. And
the Spirit does not cease "convincing the world of it" in connection with
the Cross of Christ on Golgotha.
FP>> Now, I will here introduce a question that we will be able to come
back to: If the lawmakers of a country pass a law making abortion illegal;
and the reason for the law is that abortion is morally abhorrent; and, if,
as John Paul II says, morality has its foundation in God, Who is Goodness
and Love; then isn't it true, that the said lawmakers are using law to
force the people under their authority to comply with to the demands of a
Hope to hear from you all!