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Christ Our Teacher and Leader in Morality

Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

The foundation of Christian morality is not a set of rules. It is not even a list of commandments. It is a person. It is Jesus Christ.

Certainly Christianity has moral principles. It is not, as some would say, merely an attitude or an approach to human conduct. No, it is very definite and demanding on our behavior.

The reason is because our guide is no less than the Savior.

What may seem to some as only a passing incident in the Gospels, is really the bedrock of Christ’s teaching on the moral order. It is the dialogue between Christ and the rich young man.

15.   Who opened the conversation?

It was a rich young man, who is not identified by name in the Gospels. While all three of the first evangelists narrate the conversation, we shall concentrate on the text of St. Matthew. (16)

16.   What does the young man ask our Lord?

He asks the Savior, “Good Master, what good must I do to have eternal life?” (16)

17.   What is Christ’s answer?

Christ first chides the young man, by saying, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good.” Then Jesus answered the man’s question, “If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” (16)

18.   What was the young man’s reaction?

He asked a question in return. “Which commandments should I keep?” (16)

19.   What did Jesus say?

He named six commandments, namely
  • You shall not kill.

  • You shall not commit adultery.

  • You shall not steal.

  • You shall not bear false witness.

  • Honor your father and mother, and

  • You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

20.   How did the man react?

He told Jesus that he had kept all of these commandments since childhood. So he asked, “What do I still lack?” In other words, “What more should I do?” (16)

21.   What was Christ’s response?

Christ told him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:16-21). (16)

22.   Does the young man in the Gospel represent all of us?

Yes, what the man was asking is what all of us want to know in the depths of our heart. “What is the meaning of life? What are we in this world? Where did we come from, and what is our destiny?” (17)

23.   Who alone can answer these basic questions?

Only Christ can answer them, through the Church He founded precisely for this purpose. That is why the Church exists, to guide us on our path through this life to the eternal life for which we were made. (17)

24.   Do people today need to return to Christ to know their purpose in life?

Yes, more than ever before. They are restless, uncertain, plagued with weakness and sinfulness. They desperately need to rise above the illusions which the world offers them, and find in Christ the only true answer to their needs. (20)

25.   Why did Jesus first chide the young man, by saying, “There is only one who is good”?

Jesus talked this way in order to impress the young man with the fact that only God can answer the question, “What is good?” Why only God? Because only God is goodness itself. (23)

26.   How does the Church provide us with the answers to life’s questions?

The Church was formed by Christ, who is God. She is constantly enlightened by His Spirit. She tells us that our ultimate purpose is to live for the glory of God. (25)

27.   What does the Church tell us is the core of the moral law?

It is the acknowledgement of the Lord as God. All particular precepts flow from this basic truth: that God alone is the One who is good. He alone has the right to tell us what is good. He alone can give us the light and strength we need to do what is good. (30)

28.   When did God reveal the basic laws that we are to obey?

On Mt. Sinai, when He gave Moses the Ten Commandments. (30)

29.   Did Christ abrogate the Ten Commandments?

On the contrary. He confirmed them by His divine authority. As the new Moses, in the Sermon on the Mount, he discloses that the Decalogue is the will of God. It is the way and the condition for our salvation. (31)

30.   What is the fundamental way that Christ elevated the Ten Commandments?

Christ first elevated the Ten Commandments?
Christ first elevated the Ten Commandments by raising the purpose or goal of their observance. In the Old Testament, the Chosen People, were assured the promised land if they kept the Ten Commandments. In the New Testament Christ promises the kingdom of heaven to those who are faithful to the “Ten Words” of the Decalogue. (32)

31.   Is this promise only for life after death?

No, Christ’s promise is indeed for eternal life in heavenly eternity. But we are to experience the joys of this life already here on earth. By faith, the observance of the Ten Commandments assures us of meaning to our lives, of supernatural light for our minds, and of happiness which is a foretaste of the life to come.

32.   Did Christ specify which of the commandments we are to obey?

Yes, but only by way of example. In answering the young man’s question about which commandments he was to observe, Christ chose five, namely, the prohibition of murder, adultery, stealing, lying, and the precept of honoring our parents. Then, by way of summary, He gave the second of the two basic commandments of God: to love our neighbor as ourselves. (34-5)

33.   What is implied in these commandments identified by Christ?

They express the five foundational laws of safeguarding the dignity of the human person and the solidarity of human society, namely:
  • The sanctity of human life.

  • The communion of persons in marriage and the family

  • The right to private property.

  • The need for truthfulness in human communication, and

  • The right to one’s good name. (36)

34.   What is the underlying commandment of God in these five precepts?

It is the commandment to love our neighbor. These five precepts represent the basic conditions for loving our neighbor, and the proof of that love. (37)

35.   How are these precepts the first necessary step on the journey toward freedom?

In the words of St. Augustine, “The beginning of freedom is to be free form crimes…such as murder, adultery, fornication, theft, fraud, ( ) and so forth. When once one is without these crimes—and every Christian should be without them—one begins to lift up his head towards freedom. But this is only the beginning of freedom, not perfect freedom.” (In Johannis Evangelium Tractatus, 41, 10). (37)

36.   Why did Christ, concentrate on the love of our neighbor?

Because He knew that in practice this is how we mainly prove our love for God. (38).

37.   Did Christ ever explain, who is our neighbor?

Yes, in another conversation, this time with a lawyer, who asked Christ, “Who is my neighbor?” On that occasion the Savior gave the parable of the Good Samaritan. The whole parable is Christ’s explanation and elevation of the meaning of “neighbor.” Unlike the Jewish idea of a neighbor as someone related by kinship of blood, on Christian terms a neighbor is anyone and everyone whom God’s providence places into our lives as the object of Christian charity. (38)

38.   How are these two commandments of love of God and neighbor related?

They are related inseparably. There cannot be true love of others unless there is first a selfless love of God. And the witness to our selfless love of God is our love for others, indeed our love for everyone whom God’s providence places into our lives. (39)

39.   How did Christ witness to the practice of these two loves?

By every word He spoke, every action He performed and, finally, by His death on the cross out of love for His Father in loving us by the shedding of his blood for our redemption. (39)

40.   What, then, are the two indivisible loves of Christianity?

They are the love for God and the love for humanity. Separate the two and you no longer have Christianity. (39)

Copyright © 1998 Inter Mirifica

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