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Friday, May 12, 2017

Man Acts! The Moral Act Must Be Based on Truth

“Thus we are in a certain way our own parents, creating ourselves as we will, by our decisions.” (St. Gregory of Nyssa)

by Susan Fox 

Last night, I studied a little beige spider. He was busy stringing a web over the space behind my clothes closet. He bounced and flew back and forth. He seemed very purposeful and energetic. 

Poor creature with eight eyes, he is almost blind. But when something touches his web he immediately responds, and prepares it for dinner.

His actions revealed his instinct for self-preservation. But the little creature was not aware of this.

However, the fact that I was aware of his actions, and at the same time aware of myself watching his actions revealed something about me as well. I am a man. Man acts. Only a man can purposely and deliberately act according to his free will.

“For man not only acts consciously, but he has the consciousness that he is acting and even that he is acting consciously,” said the future Pope Saint John Paul II in his book
The Acting Person published originally in Polish in 1969.

The future pope, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla said about this peculiar inner mirror — our consciousness — that it constitutes a specific and unique aspect in human action. It provides self knowledge — something a spider will never enjoy. This reflection on the Acting Person comes from a man who went to confession weekly.

Man is a creator of his own action. I made the decision to watch a spider. Such a decision will have a lasting effect on my inner life as did my parents’ decision to do the same. I come from a small community — known as a family. Growing up in this community, I stood and watched in awe all that moves and grows in the desert. 

“See Susie, look at that,” they said. “Ick,” I responded. We swept black widow spiders from our winter cabin, played with giant toads in our back yard in Los Angeles, marvelled at the beauty of flowers emerging from the spiky
Black widow spider
cactus in the Spring, watched jack rabbits leap across the desert, and dug out scorpions hibernating in the ground in the winter. On our way to the outhouse at night, we made a game of not stepping on the stink bugs. The tarantula? Well, we kept him in a cage in our apartment until one day, he got lose. Then we released him into our back yard. 

Life — we watched it from our car, our walks, our homes. It was an act of man that we enjoyed in full consciousness by participation in the community of our family. We did it for the common good. It engendered in us a love of nature, God’s creation.

“Man is not only the agent of his action, he is the creator of it,” Cardinal Wojtyla wrote. Acting produces and maintains its own effect in the actor. “The essence of creativeness is to shape the created work. In a sense, acting is also a work created by man.” Its essence is that it produces and maintains a lasting effect
Desert in Bloom
. Morality is one of its properties. Morality has no existence outside human acting. My beige spider, I’m sorry to say, has no morals.

“It is man’s conscious acting that make of him what and who he actually is,” Wojtyla said. His conscious actions not only make something of him, but also make somebody of him. Decision by decision, we become who we are by acting. “Thus we are in a certain way our own parents, creating ourselves as we will, by our decisions.” (St. Gregory of Nyssa)

The future pope also wrote about the transcendent aspect of man’s acts, which is not necessarily a spiritual thing. It is simply stepping outside of our normal boundaries. We can make a choice. We have self governance. “It is thus that every genuine ‘I 
will’ reveals the person’s transcendence in the action,” the future pope said. Spiders can’t step outside their normal boundaries. The spider will always build his web the same way his ancestors did 136 million years ago. Only the creature who has free will, genuine self-determination can be a person.

But consider the paralysed man lying by the pool of Bethesda for 38 years waiting to be healed. (John 5:1-14) Every so often an angel

came and stirred up the pool and the first one in was healed. Now here comes a man, Jesus, who asks the paralysed man, “Do you want to get well?” Out of habit, the man responds, “Sir, I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” In his inner consciousness, he probably thought the helpful stranger would stick around and assist him into the pool. But he didn’t realise the power that stirred the pool was standing before him.

Then Jesus said to him,
“Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” (John 5:8)

The man was cured. He cooperated in his transcendent will with Christ’s healing. He acted. He picked up his mat and walked. It was a simple decision. “I will obey this man. I will step out of the normal boundaries of my actions. I will stop laying around that pool.” He didn’t even know Who Jesus was. The Pharisees confronted him later because he was carrying his mat and walking. It was the Sabbath and all work was forbidden.
“The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ ”(John 5:11), he explained to the Pharisees, who immediately wanted to know who this man was. But the former paralytic had no idea who cured him for Jesus had slipped away in the crowd. But by his action of obedience, he became what he hadn’t been, a man who could walk. His conscious action made something of him, and somebody of him. It gave him freedom.

“It is man’s actions, the way he consciously acts, that make of him a good or bad man — good or bad in the moral sense” Wojtyla wrote. He explained that the root of man’s becoming good or bad by his actions is freedom. This freedom is visualised in the

sentence, “I may, but I need not.” The spider will never think, “There’s something on the web. I may eat it or I may not.” Bah. He will jump on it immediately without any self-awareness whatsoever. But I see a good dessert and I think, “I may, but I need not.”

Now what made the paralytic man decide to stand up? It was something really good. He wanted to be healed! He’d passionately wanted to be healed for 38 years. “The greater the good, the greater becomes its power to attract the will and also the person,” Wojtyla wrote. This is important. Man is attracted by what is perceived as good. “The critical factor in determining the maturity and the perfection of the person is his consent to be attracted by positive authentic values, his unreserved consent to be drawn in and absorbed by them.”

If one is ignorant of the truth or unable or unwilling to be attracted by the truth, his moral decisions will become incomprehensible.

Consider the case of Belinda and Shaun Stafford, a young couple, who wanted to have children, but couldn’t do so by normal means. They chose to create their children in a test tube using In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF), a procedure condemned by the Catholic Church. They were able to give birth to

Lachlan, 4, and 21-month-old twins Charlotte and William. However, in these procedures, more children are created than can normally be absorbed by the family. After three children, the Staffords felt their family was large enough. But seven more “babies” were frozen waiting their turn to be born.

“After completing our family, we looked into the donation of our remaining embryos,” Mrs Stafford told Parenting, an online magazine. “I wanted to keep having more babies but the emotional toll, plus financially it was too much.”

“Donating our embryos wasn’t an option for us and I couldn’t justify the yearly storage fee. I’d heard others had planted them in the garden but we move a lot, so I couldn’t do this. I needed them with me.”

So in what one might regard as a macabre gesture, they turned to an Australian company, Baby Bee Hummingbirds, to turn their seven living children into keepsake jewellery.

The future Pope John Paul II said it’s very important to examine the “moment of truth” in any human act. “Not all of the particular choices or decisions of the human will are correct. Too often man seeks and chooses what is not good for him. Such a choice or

Pope Saint John Paul II
decision is not just an error, because errors stem from the mind and not from the will. Choices and decisions, which take as their object what is not a real good— especially when contrary to what has been recognised as a real good— lead to the experience of guilt or sin.”

But the reality of guilt — of moral evil — demonstrates the fact that truth is rooted in the human will. If human acts are performed without reference to truth, “moral conduct most characteristic for the man-person would become incomprehensible.” the future pope concluded.

We have sunk into such times where it indeed appears that man’s actions are totally incomprehensible. We can certainly sympathise with the anguish Belinda and Shaun Stafford must have gone through when they realised they had seven more children than they needed. They wanted to give life to children. Instead, they ended up killing seven people. The moment of truth passed by and they didn’t see it. The keepsake jewellery embryos sort of put an exclamation mark on what they had done. But the real mistake was using In Vitro Fertilisation in the first place since it always ends in the death of some of the children conceived in that fashion.

The same incomprehensibility afflicted the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015, when it decided to legalise same sex “marriage.” The
“justices” created a terrible injustice to the reality of true marriage, believing Christians, and the children created and raised by same sex couples, who would never know their true father or mother. Same Sex Marriage: Another Chapter in Grimm's Fairy Tales. 

I walk to my car with a grocery list in hand, and I get in. I know I am going shopping and afterwards, I will be able to cook dinner and feed my family. Perhaps my actions resemble those of the spider, but in my case, completing this action will bring a sense of fulfilment. My conscience tells me I am doing my duty, living according to my state of life. Oh, perhaps I want to use the time to write poetry. That also is a good action, but when it comes to dinnertime, “I will” not “I want” — I make the choice to prepare to feed myself and my family. This is a good choice. I am fulfilled.

“Human freedom is not accomplished nor exercised in bypassing truth, but on the contrary by the person’s realisation and

surrender to truth. Truth is the key to what is good and what is evil,” Cardinal Wojtyla wrote. “When a man acts, he at once fulfils himself in the action, for as a human being, as a person, he becomes either good or evil.” Freedom itself is the surrender to the truth. When the person choses not to surrender to the truth, unfortunately, he is not fulfilled.

Doing evil leaves us empty. Jesus explained the same thing to the Jews who believed in Him: “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)

Unfortunately in the case of the legalisation of same sex “marriage,” the U.S. “moralists” on the Supreme Court perceived freedom as somehow in opposition to biological nature. Man lost his personhood. They made man a self-defining, “personal life project.” He was reduced to his own freedom, Pope Saint John Paul II wrote in Veritatis Splendour.

Then the rich young man came to Jesus and said, “Good Teacher, what good must I do to have eternal life?” Jesus told him to keep the commandments. “Which ones?” the young man asked. “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honour your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” The young man admitted he had been keeping the commandments from his youth. So Jesus said, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:16-21)

In his 1993 papal encyclical, Veritatis Splendour, Pope John Paul II takes up some of the themes he began in The Acting Person. In the rich young man, we can recognise every person, the pope says, who consciously or not approaches Christ and questions Him about morality. The rich young man was not just looking for rules but the full meaning of life, which is “the aspiration at the heart of every human decision and action, the quiet searching and interior prompting which sets freedom in motion.”

It is the Absolute Good that beckons us. “It is the echo of a call from God who is the origin and goal of man’s life.” the pope said. This absolute tug draws man to try to learn, “What is the truth?” And in finding the truth, we try to make it our goal in acting. When we act in truth, we realise that it is in the truth by which we are able to win our freedom. It is the truth that allows us to create ourselves as a good and fulfilled person. “Far from abolishing freedom (as was feared in the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision), truth liberates it,” Cardinal Wojtyla wrote.

“Without truthfulness (or while out of touch with it), the conscience — or more broadly speaking the whole specific system of the moral function and order — cannot be properly grasped and correctly interpreted.” Cardinal Wojtyla wrote, adding, “The conscience is no lawmaker; it does not itself create norms; rather it discovers them in the objective order of morality or law.”

Self-fulfilment in right moral actions is happiness itself, the future pope discloses, calling it “felicity.” Truth goes hand in hand with freedom. “I may, but I need not.” This reality makes man happy.

The consequences for the human person, when he chooses to ignore the truth can be catastrophic. The future pope called it disintegration. Sadly human disintegration occurs when man loses self-governance according to the truth of the good. “While self-determination means that man can govern himself …disintegration signifies … a deep-seated inability to govern oneself.” One becomes literally a slave to sin. Cardinal Wojtyla called it the collapse of the backbone. The end result is that man is not happy.

The fruit of such disintegration can be explicitly seen in pornography. Michelangelo’s great work of art in the Sistine Chapel is covered with naked human beings, but one
Naked Images in the Sistine Chapel, Rome
hardly notices their nakedness looking at the beautiful figures. They evoke a sense of both the physical and interior beauty of man. The human figures all have very small genitals. The focus is not on their sexuality.

However, pornographic pictures usually enlarge and exaggerate the genitals, or make the sexual act itself front and centre. In the picture, the human person himself is entirely lost. The person is reduced totally to his sexual aspect. And the people who force these pictures on everyone else on the internet have a very disordered interior life.  They cannot relate to anyone without thrusting their perverted interest on them. It reveals a brokenness in their acts originating from an exodus from the truth. They are not living in reality.

Chastity in the Catholic Catechism is defined as the “successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being.” This sexuality becomes “personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman. The virtue of chastity therefore involves the integrity of the person and the integrality of the gift.” 

Outside marriage, there is no opportunity for happiness in the sexual act. It is ironic that in all kinds of sexual sin, what is pursued is the happiness of the sexual act, but none is forthcoming, only repetitive pleasure, which leaves one feeling empty and drained.

Chastity begins like all virtues in an “apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom. It is long and exacting work.” (Catechism 2339) When temperance becomes a habit, the passions and sensual appetites are permeated with reason. The human person in his consciousness tries to reach for the true good in all his appetites and difficulties.

Take baby steps. Let your own voluntary decisions mother and father you through life toward happiness. St Peter calls us “living stones… being built into a spiritual house.”

In the foundation, we can begin to see occasional acts of kindness, restraint from curiosity especially in puerile things, patience in trial, moderation in speech -- a multitude of little choices. These in turn will strengthen the foundation, and allow a person to build himself into a good man or a good woman. It is his choices that accomplish this. Every good decision reinforces the foundation. Eventually finishing the attic of this spiritual house, you will notice you are putting the finishing touches on those powerful theological virtues of faith, hope and charity.

As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says:
“See, I lay a stone in Zion,
a chosen and precious cornerstone,
and the one who trusts in him
will never be put to shame.”
Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe,
“The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone,”and,
“A stone that causes people to stumble
and a rock that makes them fall.”
They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for.
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1Peter 2:4-9)

The message is simple. Seek to base your choices on the truth. Do not stumble because of Christ. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Fr. Spindelböck
Susan Fox is working on a master's degree in Marriage and Family at the International Theological Institute in Trumau, Austria. This is a paper she did for Fr. Rev. Prof. Dr. habil. Josef Spindelböck, a moral theologian faithful to the Catholic Magisterium. These are his comments: "I read your paper now, and is a very fresh essay with a good use of sources and literature!" Thank you for having done this wonderful work." Fr. Spindelböck. Follow Fr. Spindelböck on Twitter at @sepptirol or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/josef.spindelboeck

Interested in studying at the International Theological Institute? You can apply here.
Each student at ITI is only charged 6,000 Euros a year in tuition, but the actual cost of the education is 20,000 Euros. Donate here

Or to donate contact: Dipl. Ing. Alexander Pachta-Reyhofen, Director of Development (Europe), International Theological Institute, Email: a.pachtareyhofen@iti.ac.at

Wojtyla, Cardinal Karol. The Acting Person. Boston: D.Reidel Publishing Company, 1979.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition. Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1994.

Mayoh, Lisa. “Couples are turning extra IVF embryos into jewellery.” Parenting.(http://www.kidspot.com.au/parenting/real-life/in-the-news/couples-are-turning-extra-ivf-embryos-into-jewellery)

Fox, Susan. “Same Sex Marriage: Another Chapter in Grimm’s Fairy Tales.” Christ’s Faithful Witness, June 28, 2015. (https://christsfaithfulwitness.blogspot.co.at/2015/06/same-sex-marriage-another-chapter-in.html#.WRHWClJ7HFx)