15th Sunday in O.T. (C); July 14, 2019
Dt 30:10-14 Ps 69 Col 1:15-20 Lk 10:25-37
Deacon Jim McFadden; (New) Folsom Prison
In nature the laws of physics apply everywhere—there’s no escaping them. Take the Law of Gravity. What would happen if you denied the reality of this Law? Say, you jumped out of an airplane without a parachute and you’re pummeling to Earth and you say, “Hey, there’s no gravity here at 10,000 feet (or 5,000 feet and so on” But, then you splat against the ground. You were wrong: there is a Law of Gravity, which applies to all situations and times here on Earth; there are no exceptions.
Just as there are physical laws of nature, there are also moral laws, which are also universal and inescapable. This moral law is readily shown in the way we talk. We say things like, “That’s not fair.! That not the way things ought to be.” Or, “You promised and you ought to keep your promise.” Or, “Stop bulling him; he’s not bothering anyone.” We talk that way because there is an objective moral standard that we share in common with our fellow human beings.
If, on the other hand, we assume that life was like that Guns ‘n Roses song, Welcome to the Jungle, where we all had different competing desires, we’d fight each other to get our way, but we wouldn’t say we’d be quarreling over what’s right or wrong. Think of animals fighting over a fallen prey. We’d say they are fighting, but we wouldn’t say they were arguing over their prey.
Human beings, to be sure, fight with one another—sometimes in harsh, brutal fashion. We see that inside and outside these walls. The inhumanity we can do to one another seems to be without bounds. But, unlike animals, we just don’t fight, we quarrel. You see, ‘quarreling’ presupposes you’re arguing over some objective standards. For example, we can watch a baseball game and we can argue over an umpire’s call. We wouldn’t do that unless we knew the standards of baseball. If you’re arguing over balls and strikes, that presupposes you know that there is a strike zone and you know the rules of the game. What you’re arguing about is whether that particular pitch was a ball or a strike.
So, when we say that someone is being unfair, that presupposes that there is some standard of what fairness is. We may argue whether this particular instance was fair or not, we may offer justifications for our behavior, but were assuming that there is some standard of right and wrong that isn’t being adhered to.
O.K. , just as there are universal and inescapable laws of physics, there is a moral dimension that is natural according to who we are as human beings. There are moral laws that are universal and objective, which isn’t the same as my subjective desires.
If the moral law was just subjective and culturally conditioned and therefore morally relative, I’d insist on it, but I wouldn’t argue over it. If I prefer the Giants and you like the Dodgers, it all comes down to personal preference-and, the latter is arbitrary when push comes to shove.
But, the moral law isn’t a matter of personal preference because it is objective—it’s the natural way of how relationships ought to be—and its universal—it applies to ALL people regardless of circumstances.
So, the question that arises is where does this moral law come from? The best explanation is that there is a personal, intelligent Law-giver. The moral law is objective and universal because it doesn’t come from us, but, in a word, comes from God.
One of the great Doctors of the Church, St. Thomas Aquinas spoke of the natural law. Aquinas said that natural law is a reflection of the Eternal Law, which is the mind of God. Our sense of moral obligation is the inner voice of God, echoing within us.
Think of the implication of this truth. When you do the right thing, you are moving and living in God—you are thinking and acting according to God’s inner voice that dwells within you. The fruit of this righteousness is peace of mind. Doing what’s right aligns you in right relationship with God, others, and, indeed, Creation. Is there any better place to be?
St. John Henry Newman, writing in the 19th century explained our awareness of the moral law from a Christ-centered perspective. He said that our conscience is “the aboriginal vicar of Christ.” I know that’s quite a mouthful, but as we break it down, we’ll see that it is a profound truth.
‘Aboriginal’ refers to the first, earliest, primordial sources. Think of the Aborigines that preceded the English in Australia. The ‘vicar of Christ’ means the representative of Christ (the vicar) is our conscience, which connects us to the moral law. When we pay attention to our conscience and strive to do what is right, that is the divine voice stirring within us, urging us to do what is right, critiquing us when we go off line, and rewarding us with peace of mind and delight that comes with doing God’s will.
Brothers, when we follow our conscience, we’re recognizing something real and objective, just like the Law of Gravity. When we are in touch with our conscience, which is our awareness of the moral law, we know that we are in the presence of Someone who is talking to us here and now. We know when we make moral decisions, we are doing so in the presence of Someone who is urging us on and who is disapproving in the wrong decisions we make.
All of this traipsing through this moral landscape helps us to understand our first reading, which is taken from the book of Deuteronomy. Moses, the great Law-giver, says to the people, “if only you heed the voice of the Lord, your God and keep his commandments and statutes that are written in the book of the law” (Dt 30:10c). He goes on to specify that “this command which I enjoin on you today is not too mysterious and remote for you. It is not up in the sky, that you should say, ‘Who will go up in the sky to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may carry it out (vs. 11-12). Then we hear, “No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you only have to carry it out” (v. 14).
Someone may say we don’t hear the voice of God anymore . Nonsense! The voice of God is not up in the sky or across the sea that I have go looking for it. The voice of God is within us. What is that voice? It’s the voice of conscience. It’s the keen awareness of the moral law. It’s the voice of Someone who is commanding us, urging to be good. Conscience, the voice of God, the moral law—that’s what today’s reading from Deuteronomy is about.
What is this reading telling us? It couldn’t be simpler, brothers.
- LISTEN TO IT!
- ABIDE BY IT!
- ATTEND TO IT!
Hear the Word of God. It is closer to you than you are to yourself. Amen.