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RCIA – The Natural Law – 22nd Sunday in Ord. Time – Year B

September 2, 2012

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B                                                        Sep 2, 2012

Opening Prayer: God of light, we give you praise today, for every good gift comes from you. You spoke your Word of love and creation began. We thank you for making us the first fruits of this creation. As you speak your Word to us today, we humbly welcome Jesus – your Word – into our hearts that we might be made clean from within. Empowered by your Holy Spirit, make us temples of holiness and lovers of your Law of truth and light. Open us to hear your living Word and act on it each day of our lives. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Do you have any prayer intentions that you would like to be remembered during this session?

 

Reading 1 Dt 4:1-2, 6-8

Moses said to the people: “Now, Israel, hear the statutes and decrees which I am teaching you to observe, that you may live, and may enter in and take possession of the land which the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you. In your observance of the commandments of the LORD, your God, which I enjoin upon you, you shall not add to what I command you nor subtract from it. Observe them carefully, for thus will you give evidence of your wisdom and intelligence to the nations, who will hear of all these statutes and say, ‘This great nation is truly a wise and intelligent people.’ For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the LORD, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him? Or what great nation has statutes and decrees that are as just as this whole law which I am setting before you today?”

Responsorial Psalm Ps 15:2-3, 3-4, 4-5

R. (1a) One who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord.
Whoever walks blamelessly and does justice; who thinks the truth in his heart and slanders not with his tongue.
R. One who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord.
Who harms not his fellow man, nor takes up a reproach against his neighbor; by whom the reprobate (wicked) is despised, while he honors those who fear the LORD.
R. One who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord.
Who lends not his money at usury and accepts no bribe against the innocent. Whoever does these things shall never be disturbed.
R. One who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord.

Reading 2 Jas 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27

Dearest brothers and sisters: All good giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no alteration or shadow caused by change. He willed to give us birth by the word of truth that we may be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls.

Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves.

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

Gospel Mk 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

When the Pharisees with some scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus, they observed that some of his disciples ate their meals with unclean, that is, unwashed, hands. –For the Pharisees and, in fact, all Jews, do not eat without carefully washing their hands, keeping the tradition of the elders. And on coming from the marketplace they do not eat without purifying themselves. And there are many other things that they have traditionally observed, the purification of cups and jugs and kettles and beds. — So the Pharisees and scribes questioned him, “Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders but instead eat a meal with unclean hands?” He responded, “Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written: This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts. You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.”

He summoned the crowd again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile.

“From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile.”

 

Our focus today is on God’s Natural Law, and so we proclaim:

God’s law is written on our hearts so that we may learn to love. It illuminates our reason to know good and evil. It helps us attain our intended goal of Heaven.

 

What is it that we are challenged to “hear” in today’s Word of God?

Some insights might include: hearing and considering the commandments, there is wisdom in God’s Law, we must act upon the Word, and purity comes from within.

In today’s first reading Moses speaks of the law as a gift, a sign of God’s enduring care of His people. Imagine the wandering of the tribal peoples in the desert where God gave the commandments. The Law united them into a nation, for it celebrated their intimate relationship with the one God of the covenant. They were the only nation to claim such a close union with their God. For the Israelites the Law meant life, land, identity, justice, wisdom, and most importantly, the covenant: “I will be your God, and you will be my people.” The law is never a burden in Israelite spirituality. The law is God’s divine wisdom shared with human beings and it lights the way for them; but even more, it demonstrates the intimate relationship between God and Israel.

The Law of God, written on stone tablets, what we know as the Ten Commandments, is also written on the heart of each person, both in Moses’ time and today.

The Psalm begins with the question of who worships rightly, and the verses answer that question by describing a person of moral virtue. The moral life celebrated in this psalm brings us into “the presence of the Lord.”

If you are familiar with the play or movie called Godspell you might have heard a song in your head as the reading from the Letter of Saint James began.  The song “All Good Gifts” is a variation of that first line. James also refers to the moral and natural law in this passage. He says “humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls.” He goes on to say “be doers of the word and not hearers only.” We need to live an authentic life of faith which includes concrete good deeds. As we grow in our understanding of God’s Word, we are called to action. Without good acts hearing the Word is useless.

In the Gospel of Mark we hear Jesus calling the Pharisees hypocrites because they have distorted God’s Law and then criticize Jesus and his disciples for not following their distortions. These distortions to the Law grew over the centuries in the form of exacting rituals for every aspect of living. Unlike the Law that Moses gave the people, these exacting rituals did overly burden the Jewish people. For example, the washing the Pharisees were referring to was not about hygienic cleanliness but rather a ritual purity. Jesus goes on to say that outward cleanliness does not make a person holy, rather a person’s thoughts and actions that come from inside, from the heart, are what makes him dirty or clean. A person must not neglect his inner tendencies. We must spend time forming our conscience to live a pure and holy life before God. Purity is a state of the heart, not the condition of one’s appearance.  In the last paragraph Jesus lists the evils that come from within that defile a person, that make him sinful.

“From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile.”

All that being said, how does the Church continue to use cleansing waters to signify inner holiness?

 

Catholic Teaching – The Natural Law

God’s law is written on our hearts so that we may learn to love. It illuminates our reason to know good and evil. It helps us attain our intended goal of Heaven.

How can we open the way for holiness to come forth from within ourselves?

Let’s start with a few definitions:

  • Law – Rules of behavior and intention made by God or human authority intended to promote individual virtue and the good of society
  • Moral law – The law made by God for our own happiness and to keep us from turning away from his love
  • Love – God is love and from a human perspective, love is to will good to someone
  • Natural law – The moral law written on every human heart that can be known by reason alone
  • Revealed law – The moral law that God has given us through Moses and by Jesus Christ; the Ten Commandments express that law inscribed in the heart of every human person

 

Natural law is God’s law, stamped on our nature by a loving Father (see Romans 2:14-15)

The natural law is inscribed in our hearts because it is woven into the very fabric of creation; it is universal and unchanging. This natural law is knowable and understandable by all humans. Morality requires reason and only human beings can engage in moral behavior. God gave us knowledge and understanding, the ability to tell the difference between good and evil and the ability to choose between them. Since God has shown us the good, we must be just and kind to one another and worship God with a humble heart. While the Ten Commandments were given to the Israelites, God wrote the natural law on the hearts of every one, Jews and non-Jews, believers and non-believers. There is no excuse to say that we don’t know about it; all must obey the natural law. Our conscience guides us to do good and warns us when we do evil. Conscience is the voice of God inside us and he will judge everyone according to their actions.

God gave us knowledge and understanding and we can use those gifts to know God by seeking his truth. Sinfulness results if we deliberately fail to seek God, to honor him, and to thank him. We know in our hearts when we have sinned and when we have pleased God. Morality arises from a desire for God and expresses the dignity of the human person, where no one may be forced to act contrary to their conscience. Human dignity under the natural law affords the same rights to all humans, regardless of their level of understanding, i.e., infants and people with brain damage still retain the same human dignity as those able to reason.

Deep within ourselves we find a law which we didn’t create but which we must obey. We call this our conscience; it’s our most secret core and our sanctuary, it’s where we hear God’s voice. Our conscience is the practical moral judgment of our intellect and thought process that warns us when we are doing wrong and allows us to take responsibility for our actions. In this day and age of people struggling to “find themselves” it is clear that they are looking in all the wrong places if they fail to find themselves because they too can hear God’s voice. Having a well formed conscience where we can acknowledge our sinfulness allows us to know the truth about ourselves, and it is a condition for acting justly. The world offers us many distractions and so we need to make sure that we take the time to reflect and listen to our interior voice and we must form our conscience so that it makes proper judgment.

We must educate and form our conscience, especially if we are subjected to negative influences and worldly temptations. This education is a lifelong task and it should teach us virtue. The conscience is formed by reading the Bible and the teachings of the Church, which is called the Magisterium. Regular prayer and an examination of conscience also help to correctly form our conscience. An examination of conscience is what we call reflection in God’s presence on the state of our soul, usually done in preparation for the sacrament of penance and reconciliation.

There are many layers of law in the world. Laws are intended to promote individual virtue and the good of society. We have God’s laws and man’s laws. God’s laws are perfect; man’s laws are subject to imperfections. When a human law conflicts with God’s law, it is always God’s law that is superior.

 

What goes into making a moral act (see Luke 6:45)

We all have choices to make in this life. Do we make good choices or bad choices? How do we know if they are good or bad?

There are three parts in considering the morality of human acts, i.e., whether we are behaving good or bad. The parts are the object or act, the intention, and circumstances. First there is the act itself, whether it is truly good, it merely seems good, or it is truly bad. Murder and adultery, for example, are always bad acts. Second, the intention or reason for performing the act needs to be considered. Is it a good intention or a bad intention? Good intentions on bad acts are still evil, likewise good acts performed with bad intentions are also still evil, for example, helping a little old lady carry in her groceries may seem like a good act, but if the intension is to scope out her house so you can come back later and rob her makes the act an evil act. Third are the circumstances behind the act. The circumstances are secondary to the act and the intention, but they can increase or decrease a person’s responsibility in the act, regardless a bad act is still a bad act. Remember Patty Hearst, the socialite who was kidnapped in 1974, and then took part in a bank robbery with her captors? While she still committed evil by robbing a bank, her circumstances were such that her personal responsibility in the crime was decreased. There are a lot of factors that can play into the circumstances of an act, but if the act is a bad act it will always be a bad act regardless of the circumstances. Good intentions and mitigating circumstances are not enough to make a good moral act; for moral goodness all three parts of the act must be good; for evil, any one evil part pollutes the action.

So then we have to consider all three parts of an act to make a moral judgment on it, and all three parts must be morally good for an act to be morally good itself.

While we like to think of Robin Hood as a good thief, the fact of the matter is that he is still a thief and his actions were bad. But what about the plight of the poor people and the evils of others that were committed against them? Wasn’t he just helping them out? Unfortunately, not all situations in life are happy ones, but that doesn’t give us permission to commit a crime to make our life or someone else’s better. Two wrongs don’t make a right and sometimes we just have to make the best of our situation or find a different way to change it that doesn’t involve an evil act.

Robin Hood is one of many examples of someone helping the underdog by committing a sin. What other cultural Robin Hoods can you thing of?

Most of us have heard the passage “Do unto others as you would have others to do unto you.” Basically if you wouldn’t like it done to you, don’t do it to others.

Good acts done for the wrong reason or with the wrong intention gain no favor from God.

As we go through life we experience feelings and passions about people, things and happenings around us. In and of themselves feelings and passions are not bad, but if we don’t keep them in check, they can affect the goodness or badness of our actions if we let them get out of control. The principle passions are love and hatred, desire and fear, joy, sadness, and anger.

Passions become good or bad only when the intellect and will become involved. Said in another way, passions become good or bad only when our thoughts, reasoning, choices and self-control become involved. Moral perfection consists in desiring and choosing to be good, and by keeping our physical appetites and desires in check.

St. Augustine said “Virtue is what one does passionately; vice is what one cannot stop doing because of passion.”

What are some reasons that would cause us to make an error in judgment and act badly?

One of the many reason is an ignorance of Christ and his Gospel. Other reasons are bad examples given by others, enslavement to one’s passions, rejection of the Church’s authority and her teaching, and a lack of conversion and charity.

Natural law and God’s plan of salvation through Jesus (see John 14:6)

Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of all law. In the Gospel of John, Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through me.” As we study Jesus’ preaching in the Bible we see that he perfected the law, and his life on earth is the model we must follow to keep the law.

While we must keep the law we must also realize that breaking the law has consequences for the soul and for society. All evil offends God, and harms ourselves and others by creating a distance between us and God. We were all called to beatitude or to happiness with the perfect good, but due to original sin, the sin of Adam and Eve, our wounded nature is continually sinful and our consciences have become prone to uncertainty and error. As St. Paul says in his Letter to the Romans not one of us is righteous, no one does good, no one understands.  It sounds kind of hopeless now after we just heard that the natural law is written on our hearts. We must refer back to the part about forming our consciences according to God’s revelation. Only God’s revelation can help us to form our conscience correctly. Only God’s grace can save us.

The natural law is like a tattoo, it has a permanent imprint on us, but we need a written expression of it to reinforce it. God revealed his law as the Ten Commandments which he wrote on stone tablets and gave to Moses. Just because they are written in stone doesn’t mean that they are outdated in anyway. God’s laws are eternal. They don’t change with the times just as the whole Bible doesn’t change with the times.

Then God sent us Jesus who fulfilled the law. Jesus tells us that the law must not be relaxed in anyway, nothing changes, but he did give us some extra tools to help us understand the law better. The Beatitudes are expressions of the New Covenant where happiness is assured in this life provided we follow and imitate Christ. More importantly, God sent his Holy Spirit, by whose grace we are able to keep the law and can be saved. We are able to receive this grace because of Christ’s Passion and death on the cross.

 

The Holy Spirit guides the Church so that she cannot teach error (see John 16:13)

  • Because the natural law is needed for salvation –
    • Jesus founded the Church’s Magisterium; the Holy Spirit guides and animates her Tradition; her authority extends to proclaiming and teaching the natural law in areas not covered by the Ten Commandments
    • We can, with certainty in the Holy Spirit’s protection, form our consciences to the Church’s teaching; it is the reliable standard given by God to enlighten our path to him (see 1 Timothy 3:15)

Discussion

Why could it be more difficult in today’s culture to understand the precepts of the natural law?

How can you form your conscience to help you discern what is right and what is wrong?

Pope Paul VI said that many today have lost the sense of sin. What do you think this means?

 

Sources:

ACM – RCIA Catechist’s Manual

Foundations in Faith (Participant Book Catechumenate Year A)
(Not this book, but this series)

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