July 11, 2012

Becoming More Christ-Like

The catechism readings this week went a long way toward summing up the lesson of this particular chapter.  Section One of the catechism (Life In Christ) is about man’s vocation:  Life in the Spirit.  Chapter One (which we’ve been going through these past few weeks) is about The Dignity of the Human Person.  That dignity flows from the fact that we are made in the image of God, something we’ve heard over and over in the past.  We’ve reviewed doctrines which explain how we are meant to live in that image, how we freely act to grow in holiness, and (in this week’s reading) how we can measure our progress.  Here’s a quick summary:

The Beatitudes (given in the Sermon on the Mount) depict the countenance of Jesus Christ --- the countenance we should aspire to imitate --- and the actions and attitudes characteristic of the Christian life. 1717  The Beatitudes reveal the goal of human existence, the ultimate end of human acts:  God calls us to his own beatitude. 1719  The beatitude we are promised confronts us with decisive moral choices along the way.  It invites us to purify our hearts of bad instincts and to seek the love of God above all else. 1723

By reason, man is capable of understanding the order of things established by the Creator, and recognizing the voice of God (and the urgings of his Spirit).  1704, 6  By free will, man is capable of directing himself toward his true good.  1704  The right to the exercise of freedom, especially in moral and religious matters, is an inalienable requirement of the dignity of the human person. 1738   (This right, a doctrine of our faith, is being denied to Christians by recent government dictates.)  A morally good act requires the goodness of the object, of the end, and of the circumstances together.  1755  It belongs to the perfection of the moral or human good that the passions (emotions) be governed by reason.  1767  The perfection of the moral good consists in man’s being moved to the good not only by his will but also by his “heart.” 1775

Thus, we’ve seen that our goal in life is to imitate Jesus.  By reason and free will, we can direct ourselves toward that type of life.  Our natural emotions can lead us astray, so we need to evaluate them with reason, not just give in to them.  If we form our “heart” correctly, we will not have dwell on how to choose the good, but will be naturally inclined toward it.  Thus we came to this week, our conscience which can be formed as “our heart” to incline us toward the good, and the virtues which help form it.

Conscience is a judgment of reason whereby the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act that he is going to perform. 1778  The education of the conscience is a lifelong task; prudent education teaches virtue.  1784  (We reflected on this statement:  At any point in our life our conscience IS imperfect; while we can and must rely on it, we must also question it, especially if we find indicators that it may be in error --- such as comments or contrary actions from friends, or contrary authoritative teaching of the Church, or even the actions of the masses (is everyone else wrong and I’m right?)  Fortunately, as we read on, we learned some means of educating our conscience, and measuring its correctness).

In the formation of conscience the Word of God is the light for our path; we must assimilate it in faith and prayer.  We are assisted by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, aided by the witness or advice of others and guided by the authoritative teaching of the Church. 1784  Some rules always apply to our actions:  One may never do evil so that good may result from it; the Golden Rule: Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; and, charity always proceeds by way of respect for one’s neighbor.  1789  A well-formed conscience is upright and truthful.  It formulates its judgments according to reason, in conformity with the true good willed by the wisdom of the Creator.  1798

 A virtue is an habitual (over and over and over, practice, practice, practice) and firm disposition (attitude) to do the good.  The virtuous person tends toward the good with all his sensory and spiritual powers; he pursues the good and chooses it in concrete actions.  The goal of a virtuous life is to become like God.   1803  (The practice of virtues educates our conscience, inclines it to naturally choose the good.  This is the answer to the question of: “Just what do I do to grow in holiness and become more like God?”  Practice virtues.)

Human virtues are firm attitudes, stable dispositions, habitual perfections of intellect and will that govern our actions, order (prioritize) our passions, and guide our conduct according to reason and faith.  They make possible ease, self-mastery, and joy (it doesn’t feel hard or rule-driven) in leading a morally good life.  These virtues are acquired by human effort.  They are the fruit and seed (they re-enforce themselves) of morally good acts (the more you do good, the easier it becomes to do good).  1803  YOUCAT said it well:  We must work at forming our character so that we can freely, joyfully, and easily accomplish what is good. Q 300

Four (human) virtues play a pivotal role and accordingly are called “cardinal” virtues:  Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, and Temperance.  1805  (The first three are oriented toward our behavior toward our neighbor, while the last is oriented towards ourselves.)  Temperance is the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods.  It ensure the will’s mastery over instincts and keeps desires within the limits of what is honorable. (self-control) 1809 

Human virtues, acquired by education, by deliberate acts and by a perseverance ever-renewed in repeated efforts (practice, practice, practice) are purified and elevated by divine grace.  With God’s help, they forge character. (The answer to the question:  “What kind of a man are you?”) 1810  It is not easy for man, wounded by sin, to maintain moral balance.  Christ’s gift of salvation offers us (we can refuse) the grace necessary to persevere in the pursuit of the virtues.  Everyone should always ask for this grace of light and strength, frequent the sacraments, cooperate with the Holy Spirit, and follow his calls to love what is good and shun evil. 1811

The human virtues are rooted in the theological virtues (faith, hope and charity) which adapt man’s faculties for participation in the divine nature (the heavenly beatitude).  They dispose Christians to live in a relationship with the Holy Trinity.  1812  They are infused by God into the souls of the faithful to make them capable of acting as his children and meriting eternal life.  1813  (Therefore:  theological virtues are infused by God, and human virtues are acquired by man’s effort)

The moral life of Christians is sustained by the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.  These are permanent dispositions (inclinations) which make man docile in following the promptings of the Holy Spirit.  They complete and perfect the virtues of those who receive them.  1830, 1  The Fruits of the Spirit are perfections that the Holy Spirit forms in us as the first fruits of eternal glory (signs of meriting heaven).  1832  We cannot therefore rely on our feelings or our works to conclude that we are justified and saved.  However, according to the Lord’s words – “Thus you will know them by their fruits” – reflection on God’s blessings in our life and in the lives of the saints offers us a guarantee that grace is at work in us. 2005  (Therefore, we can’t be sure we are saved, but reflection on God’s blessings, the fruits of the Spirit, are an indicator of our progress).

The Greek word metanoia means to receive different thoughts, and gain deeper insight.  It refers to a changing of direction, a conversion.  It is not a static concept; you don’t convert your thoughts instantly, it is an on-going process (from Stinissen’s book This Is The Day).  That is what we are learning about here, an opening of our eyes, and seeing how we are to live --- and how to change ourselves to live that way.
So, we’ve learned about our goal in life, how we are given tools to reach that goal, how we can work to make progress, and how we can measure our progress.  We’ve learned how to get our life on the path to heaven.  Unfortunately, ….next week we’ll read Article 8 of Chapter One:  Mercy and Sin, things which may help us get moving again when we’re stuck in a rough spot on the path, or throw us off the path completely.   (Maybe you need to read those words above again:  It’s not easy.)    

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