Why Be Moral?
By Fr. Matthew Habiger, OSB | A moral theologian, former president of HLI and noted expert on Natural Family Planning, Fr. Habiger is also a monk at St. Benedict’s Abbey in Atchison, Kansas.
St. Alphonsus Liguori is the patron of all moral theologians. Moral theology deals with how we are to apply Jesus’ teachings to daily life: to all the choices we make, and to all the deeds we do.
We ask: “Why be moral?” Why be concerned about good and evil? People give different answers to this. Some say: “Because I want to get to heaven.” But heaven doesn’t have the same appeal today as in former times. This life, here on earth, has so many enticing allurements, so much glamour, that many people ignore heaven, and scramble after the “good life.”
To explain “why be moral” to our contemporaries today, a better approach is to appeal to happiness. What can make me happy? What is true happiness? Is it pleasure? Pleasures are fleeting. They never leave us satisfied. Look at the great price people are paying for separating sex from marriage and from fertility. Is it riches and power? These can make us secure and comfortable, but they can’t provide happiness. We always want more. Is it honor and prestige? Public opinion is very fickle. Is it friendship? Having good friends and a good relationship in marriage are very fulfilling, but they still leave us unsatisfied.
To be happy means that we succeed in attaining fulfillment, integral human fulfillment. We develop all the powers that we have as a human person, all our capacities and all our natural yearnings. The objects of these natural yearnings are all the various human goods that fulfill us: life and good health, truth, beauty, friendship, love and God.
So why be moral? Why do good and avoid/resist evil? Because this is the only way we can find happiness, true integral human fulfillment in this world, and total happiness in a higher world. God created us for himself. St. Augustine said: “You have made us for yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”
A person is the most complex thing God created. There are many dimensions to our persons, to our personality. Our challenge is to draw upon all the gifts and powers of our hearts, minds, wills and emotions and exercise them in the pursuit of the good. We are to love God with our whole heart, with our whole mind and will, and with all our strength. We are to love our neighbors as we do ourselves.
Jesus came to teach us how to do this. Jesus has the fullness of humanity, and when we discover Him and his full, rich, humanity, then we will find the exalted state to which we are called.
In the first reading today, Jeremiah said: “When I discovered your words, I devoured them.” Jesus is more than the written words of the Bible. Jesus is the living Word of God, the Logos. May we devour Him and find in Him the only one who can perfectly satisfy the deepest longings of our being.
Jesus is the treasure buried in a field. He is the pearl of great value. For these, we will sell everything we have, and make them our own.