Why is it that we do the things we do? “The unexamined life is not worth living” is a popular cliché. Starting into 2014, many New Year’s resolutions are accomplished or failed based on intentionality – what about overall intentionality of our actions? Between now and Lent I’ll try to start off the year with a series of articles about Christian Moral principles – tools to help us “inform” our consciences rather than leave us to live simply according to our feelings, or blindly to the letter of official Church teaching.
That is not to say that we can act in contradiction to Christian morality, but that there are situational nuances to which we can apply basic precepts like the Ten Commandments in concert with the Natural Law so that we confidently do what Jesus really would do rather than speculate on WWJD.
The morality of an act is the triangulation of the objective good of the act, the good of the subjective intention, and the appropriate circumstances of the act. A moral act in and of itself must be good, thus exceeding the bounds of the Ten Commandments is a clear disqualifier of an action from being moral. Don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t blaspheme, etc. The intention of the act must be good in and of itself. One cannot morally donate to charity when the objective is to simply evade taxes. When evaluating an intention, I ask whether it is geared toward increasing love for neighbour or not. If not, the action is not likely to be moral. Finally, the situational circumstances seal the good act and good intention as being truly good. Prescribing a drug to help a sick patient is all well and good unless it is a drug to which the patient is allergic. There are many cases where helping someone out can actually hurt them, and great care should be taken to ensure the circumstances do not disqualify the morality of a good act initiated with good intentions.
You can see how prudential judgment and thought is needed to live intentionally. This may not come easily, but evaluating your own actions during an examination of conscience (without being too scrupulous) is a fun way to apply this moral triangulation. Pursuing the good and loving with a concrete framework can also wean someone off of moral relativism. Give it a try and see what graces follow.
Happy New Year!
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