Living a Moral Life

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Three Points of Reference

The Gospel asks us to be always vigilant. It is so easy to be inconsistent. We want to love, but we get caught up in our own interests. We’re afraid to take action against injustice. We give up on friendships as soon as things get difficult. We say hurtful words.

Jesus knows our limitations very well: he ate with sinners; he went to Zacchaeus’ house. He doesn’t speak to “perfect” people, but to each and every one of us. We are called to make a difference in our own lives and the lives of those around us every day. Can we do it? How?

The choices Jesus made throughout his lifetime can help us when we have difficult decisions to make in our own lives. We must consider three things: freedom, conscience and responsibility. Without these three points of reference, no law or moral lifestyle can last.

Freedom

We are born with a lot of baggage: talents, limitations, personality traits, physical appearance and other characteristics. Our education marks us, as does the milieu we grow up in. Despite all of this, there is still room for us to become the people we want to be. We have freedom of choice, the decision is ours to make.

  • What about the laws in our society? Are they just rules that take away our personal freedom? What about the Ten Commandments?

Imagine a society with no laws. Anarchy would reign, followed by a slew of dangers, including the exploitation of the weakest members. Laws offer us freedom. They tell us how to act in order to respect our mutual rights. God’s commandments are the same. In the desert, the Jewish people learned how to keep a Covenant with God and crate a society. Here is how one of the brothers from Taize, a community in France, described freedom to a large gathering of young people in the summer of 1999.

“God doesn’t want to limit our freedom. Instead, he wants to offer us a greater space in which to move. So, when the Ten Commandments say: ‘You shall not kill…’ they also say: “You shall encourage life; you shall give life more space in which to grow.’ We tend to see the Ten Commandments as limiting. But the opposite is true!”
(“The Covenant,” Encounters of Taize, Summer 1999)

  • How do you react to laws?
  • How do reconcile your personal freedom and society’s laws?

Conscience

“Open your eyes! Wake up!” we say to others sometimes. These expressions make us think of our conscience, that capacity we have to look inside ourselves, to make judgments about what we do, to make choices, to open ourselves up to reality and to others. Our conscience keeps our eyes open and our ears tuned to the world.

Our conscience works continuously because we are constantly confronted with new situations. Cloning, for example, was first a possible cure for disease; now it raises questions about respecting life. What should we think about issues like this?

It is important to keep informed (to read newspapers, listen to experts, have discussions with many different people) and to consider things in the light of our fundamental choice – our faith in God. In the Encyclical Letter Evangelium Vitae [The Gospel of life], John Paul II talks about the choices our conscience calls us to make.

“In our present social context, marked by a dramatic struggle between the ‘culture of life’ and the ‘culture of death,’ there is need to develop a deep critical sense, capable of discerning true values and authentic needs.” (John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Evangelium Vitae, 1995, no. 95)

  • When you have to make a decision, what methods do you use to see your choices more clearly?
  • Can you give an example of how your faith in God allows you to make decisions more clearly?

Responsibility

    Even as children we hear the word “responsibility” over and over. Sometimes we get sick of hearing it! Nonetheless, responsibility goes hand and hand with independence, which is something we all long for. Young adults have a great responsibility towards themselves and others. You have to develop your talents, invest in friendship and loving relationships, express your needs, solve problems that affect your happiness, respect human rights, figure out where your life is going, be true to yourself, stay in touch with God, share and nurture your faith, and more.

    Pope John Paul II reminds us of the responsibility Jesus gave to his disciples:
    In our service of love, we must be inspired and distinguished by a specific attitude: we must care for the other as a person for whom God has made us responsible. As disciples of Jesus, we are called to become neighbors to everyone… (John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, 1995, no. 87)

  • What does “being a responsible person” mean to you?
  • Give an example of a time when you had to be “responsible.”

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