One of the misunderstandings of the Christian moral life is that it is basically a long list of dos and don’ts, or that it is a set of rules imposed on us. As such it is largely seen in negative terms wherein out behavior is said to be limited and our freedom circumscribed by authoritative norms. All in all, not a very positive understanding of the moral life.

A more helpful and true understanding of the Christian moral life and of Christian moral norms is that they are descriptions of what a transformed human being is like. What begins to happen to a person who is indwelt by the Spirit of Christ? What do they look like, act like? What are their priorities and attitudes? In other words what begins to happen to a person in whom Jesus Christ really beings to live and whom he is transforming? In the great moral treatise of the Lord known as the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is not merely giving negative prescriptions (not to be angry, not to look lustfully, not to divorce or swear oaths, etc). Rather he is describing the transformed human person. Such a person has authority over their anger (Mt 5:22); has the courage to be reconciled to others around him (5:24); has authority over his thought life (5:28) and sexuality (5:28); loves his or her spouse (5:31); Is a man of his word (5:34); is not revengeful, feels no need to retaliate (5:39ff); and loves everyone, even his enemies (5:43ff). This is but a partial description of a human being not only being transformed but also set free from deep drives of sin like anger, greed, lust, pride, envy, gluttony, sloth, resentments, hatred, fears, bitterness, self-centeredness, egotism, bad priorities, worldliness and the like.

As the saving power of the blood of Christ begins to have its effects, the human person is transformed and the negative drives are replaced by positive ones such as joy, peace, patience, serenity, kindness, chastity, confidence, courage, trust and love. This is what happens to the human person in whom Jesus Christ lives through grace and the Holy Spirit. They are not only transformed, they are set free. Being holy is ultimately about being free and the Christian moral life is the description of that freedom and transformation.

Is this how you see it? Or is the Christian moral life just a list of dos and don’ts? What if we saw it more as a description than merely a prescription, as freedom more than limits?

How free are you? Take a good look at this video. It is the  Litany of Humility by Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val. As you look at it your flesh may well object to some of the statements. But consider them carefully and behold the freedom each statement offers. Holiness is about freedom in the end, being free from so many of the deep egotistical drives that keep us in bondage to fear, jealousy, envy, retaliation and the like. It is only a two minute video. As you watch it, consider the freedom it describes and ask, “Am I this free?”

15 Responses

  1. Sean says:

    Oh for the grace to recite that prayer and mean it from the bottom of my heart!

  2. Bill says:

    Wondeful thoughts! I love a song by a Christian artist named Michael Card called Joy in the Journey…
    It has the great lines:

    There is a joy in the journey
    There’s a light we can love on the way.
    There is a wonder and wildness to life,
    And freedom for those who obey.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=khrxWs05JSY

  3. Brian Z. says:

    I think many people look at our Lord’s teachings socially rather than spiritually. Jesus did not give us the commandments and the sermon on the mount to bind us in this world, he gave them to free us from the slavery of the Prince of this world, Satan. Being overly focused on lust, greed, materialism etc. keeps us prisoner to the flesh and prevents us from experiencing true happiness not only in this world, but the next. I try to explain to some of my friends who are doubters and who whenever something bad happens they think God is punishing them for “having a good time” that, yes, Jesus can punish if he chooses but most of the time I don’t think he has to. By choosing not to follow his teachings we will find plenty of suffering on our own. It’s not his way or the highway, his way is the ONLY way. We are sinners and we will suffer much in this world but he gave us a way to persevere and redeem ourselves when we fall. Being able to do so frees us from the the slavery of the Devil because it is sin that separates us from God and binds us to the evil one and if we are not careful it can bind us to him for eternity. Knowing that we can live without fear of screwing up , although we should do our best not to, because we always have a way back is true freedom. The freedom to choose our own path and how we wish to spend eternity. I don’t know about other people, but a high that lasts a few moments or even a few days is just not worth the suffering that will last forever in Hell. Just my opinion, what do I know? Thank you MSGR. for a wonderful and thought provoking post once again. God bless you Father.

    • WW2 Marine Veteran says:

      Well phrased Brian. Although we come together socially, we must remember we worship our Lord spritually.

    • Theresa R says:

      Brian – Absolutely agree. God is Just, but He is Mercy itself. The sin we choose usually has its own horrible side effect.
      God does not want us to suffer from it, which is why Jesus told us to “sin no more”.

  4. Rouxfus says:

    Thanks for the reflection and the video link, Monsignor. That’s a wonderful, but very difficult, prayer. It runs counter to most of what we’re taught in our fallen culture about how to be. The Beatitudes remain as radical and revolutionary as they were when Jesus surmounted the mount.

  5. Gerald Reiner says:

    +Litany of Humility+

    His Eminence Cardinal Merry delVal was accustomed to recite daily after he celebrated the Holy Mass

    O Jesus meek and humble of heart, hear me

    From the desire of being esteemed………Deliver Me Jesus

    From the desire of being loved………….Deliver me Jesus

    From the desire of being extolled ……….Deliver me Jesus

    From the desire of being honored…………..Deliver me Jesus

    From the desire of being praised……… Deliver me Jesus.

    From the desire of being preferred………Deliver me Jesus

    From the desire of being consulted………..Deliver me Jesus

    From the desire of being approved………….Deliver me Jesus

    From the fear of being humiliated………Deliver me Jesus

    From the fear of being despised…………Deliver me Jesus

    From the fear of suffering rebukes…………..Deliver me Jesus

    From the fear of being calumniated………..Deliver me Jesus

    From the fear of being forgotten……………. Deliver me Jesus

    From the fear of being ridiculed…………..Deliver me Jesus

    From the fear of being wronged…………Deliver me Jesus

    From the fear of being suspected………..Deliver me Jesus

    That others may be loved more than I……….Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it

    That others may be esteemed more than I …………….Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it

    That in the opinion of the world others may increase and I may decrease…………..Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it

    That others may be chosen and I set aside…………Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it

    That others may be praised and I unnoticed…………Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it

    That others may become holier than I, provided that I may became as holy as I should…………………..Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it. amen and amen

    Imprimatur James A McNulty Bishop of Paterson NJ

  6. Telemachus says:

    Sorry for the following rant, but I’ve been thinking about this for a while.

    Because early Christians had no extant human civilization to fight for, their lives were dedicated to building the Kingdom of God through repentance and total conversion, and so the teachings of Christ were naturally translated into DESCRIPTIONS of the lives they lived. Since the Protestant revolution, the Church has been trying to hold together the civilization that she helped build, putting her on the defensive. Once we as Christians went from building the Kingdom of God to trying to defend and hold together the City of Man through PRESCRIPTIVE law, our lives went from being focused on living the Life of Christ to making sure that that Life is being lived by others so as to conserve what has been built.

    On the one hand, it is good to conserve what is good in the City of Man. On the other hand, such attempts more often than not result in the use of force, steering the energy of well-meaning Christians away from living the Life of Christ towards dwelling on “what man hath wrought.” At that point, the Church stops leading by example and focuses instead on law, necessarily changing the way people think about the Faith. I don’t know a way out of this.

    Or rather, I do: focus on God, and all else will come in accordance with His Will. However, what of the “City of Man” then? I think the question answers itself.

    Feedback?

  7. John Masslon says:

    Monsignor,

    Do you have a little birdie in Rome? His Holiness spoke of this very issue this morning. See http://www.radiovaticana.org/en1/Articolo.asp?c=372497

  8. Katherine G ERT says:

    Catholicism does have rules…. but they are rules we are usually better off following in the end. The easiest example is the hook-up culture/college lifestyle vs. celibacy. The hook-up culture leads to nothing but emotional pain and emptiness. It isn’t real love, and it isn’t flattering to women or men. Celibacy, while difficult to live in this present day “hook-up” culture, is much more gratifying. My life is more faith filled and worthwhile being celibate than it was when I was stuck in the college lifestyle for a while.

    I attended a talk today that was excellent. It was about prayer, and how in our relationships with God we should love Him like we love our best friend or significant other. The priest also said that even though it’s hard, we should learn to love even our worst enemies. Why? Because we will definitely have to love these people in heaven, and we might as well start now. It’s not easy to do that, but maybe living a Christlike, moral life has to do with loving our enemies, and trying to avoid things that are bad for us.

  9. Bruce Newman says:

    Excellent. I already knew I wasn’t near as free as I should be without looking at the video. Lord, please help me maintain a pure and simple focus.

  10. TeaPot562 says:

    That prayer by Cardinal Merry Del Val is a marvelous corrective to the pain and sometimes high blood pressure that some of us get by trying to “compete” in the world. One can accomplish the work assigned, worry less, offer both tribulations and joys to the Lord, and be much happier by working that prayer into one’s attitudes and life. Thank you, Monsignor.
    TeaPot562

  11. natasha bailey says:

    the prayer by cardinal del val is beautiful in its humility.

  12. j geiger says:

    Freedom from needing to “save one”s self” is what salvation through Jesus Christ is all about- No more necessity for stabbing others in the back to get ahead or defend one’s self, or establish one’s importance- that is liberty! As one comes to know God”s true nature, one can begin to trust his directives as the path to the most fulfillment.

  13. Paulina says:

    Why complicate prayers with comparisons to other people? … let’s imitate Jesus, who kept it simple, a facet of God’s true nature. Jesus prayed in worship, in gratitude, and for guidance before acting … and surrendered his will to Divine Will everyday, and heard the Holy Spirit … He prayed in worship and in gratitude and for guidance after acting. It leads to knowing God and to making Him known, which is our purpose on Earth.

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