03 November 2010
Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
As a high school athlete, it’s amazing to me to see professional athletes excel in their field. Whether it’s Brandon Inge from the Tigers, my NBA basketball heroes like Michael Jordan or Larry Byrd (which tells you just how long it’s been since I followed the NBA), or a tennis player like Rafael Nadal, it’s easy to recognize how naturally they excel in their particular sports. In fact, we use that term whenever we see someone at any level excel at a particular activity: “He or she’s a natural,” we often say.
Today’s first reading talks to us about another kind of natural: Natural Law. What is this Natural Law? It’s a law, which, as Moses said, is given by God in the commandments, that are written in the book of the law, but which is also, “‘not too mysterious and remote for you. It is not up in the sky…Nor is it across the sea. […]No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out.’”
It’s a law that is imprinted upon our conscience, the very voice of God in our hearts, where God and humans come together in a very personal way, and where we can learn what God wants from us, in both the affirmative and the negative, as in, “do this” or “don’t do that.”
But, if we’re not careful, we may think that Natural Law is whatever comes easiest to us, like the way we use the phrase, “He or she is a natural.” But that’s not what it means. After all, this Natural Law was written down for us in the form of the Ten Commandments, just in case we ever became confused about what was contained within Natural Law. And many of the things written down in the Ten Commandments could come very easy to us. It can be very easy to not honor our father or mother. After hitting our hand with a hammer it can be very easy to take the Lord’s name in vain. When we see something we want, it can be very easy to steal that item. Or even if we just follow our passions, it could seem natural for a person to commit the sin of adultery, or coveting another person’s spouse. And yet, the Ten Commandments specifically condemn these, so we know that Natural Law is not about doing what’s easiest.
But then how is it natural? Natural here does not mean that it happens in nature, either. First of all, we are very different from animals. And secondly, there are many things that happen in nature, that is, in the wild, that are atrocious and that we would never condone. Many animals abandon their young. Some animals even eat their young! Certainly that’s not a part of Natural Law!
So, by natural the Church means what is in accord with our nature, that is, what actions help us to be fully human, and therefore bring us happiness, maybe not pleasure in this life, but true joy in the life to come. It means those principles that, if we stop to think about it, and let ourselves be guided by the grace of the Holy Spirit given to us in Baptism, in Confirmation, and in the Eucharist, as well as the entire sacramental life of the Church, help us to lead a full life, for example: do good and avoid evil; worship God and no one or nothing else; do not murder; do not bear false witness, etc., etc.
And while, as we heard from Deuteronomy today, the Natural Law is in our hearts, we sometimes need help in figuring out what good we ought to do, and what evil we ought to avoid in particular circumstances. And that is where we find the scholar of the law, who tried to test Jesus. The scholar knew the Ten Commandments; he knew many of the basics of the Natural Law. And yet, seeking to justify himself, he wanted to know just how far he had to go in loving his neighbor as himself. And so Jesus gives him the parable of the Good Samaritan to illustrate how far our love of neighbor has to go.
Sometimes, even without seeking to justify ourselves, or to prove just how good we are, we still need Jesus’ help to understand the Natural Law, and those aspects of morality that stem from Natural Law. We need Jesus to help clarify the issues because we live in the midst of a society which often doesn’t even accept the Natural Law, or objective moral rules, and who therefore muddy the waters of what goods to choose, and what evil, or even lesser goods, to avoid.
And the voice of Jesus that is present in the world today, which clarifies for us what is contained in and flows from the Natural Law, is the Magisterium, the official teaching office of the Church, with the Pope, the Vicar, or spokesman, of Christ, as its head, along with his brother bishops in union with him. We have only to look at the Catechism; Compendium to the Catechism, a shorter, and easier-to-read version of the Catechism; or the US Catholic Catechism for Adults to delve deeper into what God intends for us as human persons, and what will truly bring us everlasting happiness.
God had given us a great gift, the gift of the Natural Law, to help us understand what will truly make us happy. And when our minds are clouded by the darkness of sin, both our own sin and the sins of the members of society which surround us, God continues to teach us through Jesus, His Son, by means of the Magisterium of the Church, protected from error by the Holy Spirit. Hopefully we can respond to these great gifts, and live in ways that reflect our Catholic faith, the truth that will bring us true joy, so that when others see our happiness and joy in the Lord that come from following the Natural Law, they will look up to us even more than to Brandon Inge, or Michael Jordan and Larry Byrd, or Rafael Nadal, as we ourselves look up to the saints, and that they will be converted, and find true happiness, one day, in heaven for themselves.