As man in the world, discerning what is right in each moment is a never-ending task. We hold within ourselves both an animal and rational nature, but we strive to be ruled by the rational, to rule our impulses and instincts and rise above them.
As rational man in the world, we do not simply act instinctively, but assess the situation confronting us and "take counsel" within ourselves, consciously reasoning and considering, "What is the goal we seek (the "good")?" We then choose the means to achieve that good and not only consent to do them but voluntarily will to actually do them.1
Since God created us with the ability to reason, with the freedom to choose what actions to take in this world, and the ability to act voluntarily, once we are old enough to think for ourselves, we are responsible for and will be held accountable for our actions (Ezekiel 18).2
If we are awakened to our duty in life, called to do good and avoid harm, we refuse to act mindlessly or simply go along with what others think. When considering any action, we keep in mind our ultimate goal, our happiness and the happiness of those around us - which is found in God - and choose what is pleasing to Him.
Although there are at least "a dozen different ethical theories"3 based upon widely differing worldviews, there is only one ethical system that is faithful to the Creator of our lives, protects authentic human rights, and truly avoids harm. Only the ethics of life reflects the divine and the natural moral law that is universally recognizable to man using right reason wherever he may be in the world.
The ethics of life guides us to choose those actions that promote life and the happiness of all. To discern these ethics of life, to know the natural moral law, we need to face reality and all of our experiences in life as they plainly are, realistically, not as we would have them be, or imagine them to be, or are told for some reason they must be, contrary to what we see before us.
To know what is right, we certainly need to use basic principles of logic and think rationally, understanding the situations around us without doubting what is clearly presented to our mind through our five senses. If we are to find our way at all, we cannot afford to deny the obvious. In pursuit of determining what is right, we cannot abandon what any sane person would realize to be true.
Some might wonder why it is important to state the obvious here. The answer is that so many today deny the obvious and therefore, go wildly astray in what they think, believe and do. Much of modern philosophy centuries ago abandoned common sense and ended up giving us nihilism, such as Nietsche's statement, "... there is simply no true world."4 and therefore, no beliefs are true, no sense of right and wrong is correct, and man's life has no ultimate meaning at all. Nihilism contradicts that which is most basic to man's experience.
Skepticism, which has its roots in some ancient philosophies, also contradicts man's basic experiences. Skeptics simply refuse to believe we can know anything absolutely and reliably, whether man, religion, what is right or wrong, or God. Therefore, what skeptics do best is doubt, engage in endless debate, and refuse to take a position absolutely. They like to consider themselves impartial, objective, "intellectual," and therefore not prone to "go to extremes" by actually believing in anything!
But skeptics do believe in something. Otherwise they wouldn't trust their senses when they walk across the street. They'd be afraid to do anything at all. If they act in any way, for any reason, they are trusting in something. They have faith in reason and use reason to argue against faith in anything else, especially God.
Yet, we may ask them, "If we are to be skeptical of everything, why should we even trust reason?" They have no answer. Scientists who are skeptical about religious faith say we should look to reason, science and the laws of nature they discover, but they, too, have no answer when we ask them, "Why should we trust reason, science or even the laws of nature?" They have faith in these but cannot explain why.
They use reason to argue that we should trust reason, which is a circular argument that doesn't really prove anything. Why is it automatically wrong to have faith in something greater than man, reason, science or even the laws of nature? We have faith that one and one is two, and that tomorrow the sun will rise. Why not have faith in the Creator of the sun and our ability to reason - in the Creator of the laws of nature, logic and mathematics?
Some say that the laws of nature and mathematics, as well as logic, reflect attributes of God. But skeptics push such considerations aside and insist on not believing in that Creator. Even when there is evidence for God's existence on all sides, it is simply their irrational preference to not believe in something or someone greater than themselves!
Out of such curiosities as perpetual skepticism, nihilistic thought and relativism come lethal mottoes such as, "It doesn't matter," "Whatever!" "If you feel like it, do it!" "We can never really know." Or worse, "I don't care." Relativism denies there is any absolute truth to be found, except the truth that there is no truth. Of course, that they contradict themselves in that very assertion seems to be lost upon those who hold to that "truth" and want all of us to believe deeply in that "truth!"
Much of modern philosophy will make any sane person's head spin, because it twists what any sane man knows, denies it completely, or perverts it somehow. Much modern philosophy questions the reality of this world as we know it. It provides assertions like, "If we know that matter is composed of electrons, protons or subatomic particles, or that matter is not really "solid," but is actually energy of a sort, then nothing we see is "real." Therefore, they irrationally conclude, "Nothing really exists." "No act is absolutely right or wrong!"
Is it any wonder that young men and women, even well-meaning as they might be, growing up in such a cultural environment, will rebel against their parents, experiment with drugs and alcohol, engage in sexual relations as young teenagers and outside of marriage, kill their own children through abortion, and live a mostly lawless lifestyle?
We must remember that the conscience enables us to properly make moral judgments. Without an upbringing that helps them to properly form their consciences and without accurate information, they either re-discover the natural moral law the hard way, through the school of life itself and all the suffering that involves, or they go on to live their lives out in opposition to the divine and the natural moral law.
Such modern philosophy departs from Aristotelian logic and first principles, the logic and basic principles that any honest man of common sense would know - things like his principle of non-contradiction: "Either something is true or it is not." It cannot be both true and false at the same time. Either it is true that two and two equal four, or it is false. We know two and two equal four.
His principle of the excluded middle: "either something is, or it is not." Either man exists at the beginning of his life or he does not. There is no "becoming" human and no "pre-human." There is no "in-between" human or "almost" human.
There is no "pre-embryo," only the completely human embryo. Man is completely human from the beginning of his existence and remains human all the way through till complete and true death: no breathing; no heart beat; no brain activity; complete organ, system and tissue failure with cellular decay; as well as no cellular respiration - that is, no cellular exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide.
The principle of identity, the necessary characteristics of what a thing is, is not subject to change; it is what it is. "The essence of the thing is nothing else."5 A man is not a bird. A rock is not a carrot. An injured man is always still man! Even many children know this to be true. These first principles are obvious to those capable of the most basic ability to think.
These first principles are self-evident. They form the basic principles that allow us to know anything that we know, and from them, to discover the common, unchanging nature of man and the natural moral law. They allow us to remain grounded in reality, to pursue scientific exploration of that reality and to investigate what is the ultimate purpose of human life. They enable us to determine what is right and wrong for man to do. They enable us to perceive the ethics of life.
They immediately help us establish an understanding of the culture of life. These first principles clarify our understanding that man is one hundred percent man at the moment sperm penetrates the oocyte and begins6 the developmental process of a unique genetically human being, or the moment the human embryo begins to develop in other ways, such as when a twin is formed or through other asexual methods.
They help us understand that if we destroy that, what exists at that moment or at any time thereafter, we are killing a human being and nothing but a human being, as all of us once were and are - as embryonic man, fetal man, newborn man, child man and adult man.
Practical philosophy, the philosophy made clear by St. Thomas Aquinas, combines such common sense logic with the way of faith. It is understandable to the common man as well as to the scholarly and faithful since it looks to all that is, and without denying the obvious, grounds itself in the reality God created and seeks to find a way of understanding.
Practical philosophy begins by affirming that we do know something about this world, and that whatever the world is, even if it changes at times, it has being. It is not an illusion. This something, that we call the reality that is all around us, gives evidence of the ultimate Being whom we call God. Practical philosophy affirms and explains what any intellectually honest man or woman would know, and would know is right, the natural moral law.
To find our way to that right, we must be sincere and follow the path wherever it leads, honestly, objectively, and faithfully. Whatever is true about this world, ourselves, or God does not need our preconceived ideas to exist. Truth simply is. Reality is. God created man to experience the reality of this world. We are to discover it as we explore reality through our experience of life, through the application of logic, science, or through our prayerful activities and contemplation.
What is right for us to do remains right for us to do, whether we know it or not, whether we do it or not, because what is right for us to do is in harmony with the divine law (revealed through the Ten Commandments) and with the natural moral law which are unchanging. Unfortunately, man throughout history has not done what is right to be done.
We have all erred. Through greed for power, status, pleasure, wealth or even knowledge, or reckless curiosity, man has caused terrible suffering for others. You and I have caused suffering for others as well as for ourselves. Man's choices have consequences and quite often, man seeks to act in this world without acknowledging God, and arrogantly attributes all credit for whatever he achieves to himself alone.
Proud man blindly proclaims his own greatness and looks to see that others acknowledge him, not God. Don't all of us at some time seek others' approval and praise without looking first to God?
However, those adventurous individuals who have discovered world-changing scientific principles and technology have almost all been individuals with faith, and they delight in considering new ideas and possibilities. Galileo, Copernicus, Newton, and Einstein all expressed faith in God's existence and found fulfillment in uncovering the truth about His Creation.
If those scientists, inventors, philosophers and theologians who make leaps in understanding would be truly frank about their discoveries, they would admit that with terribly intense work, they focused their mind one-pointedly on the object of their research, and at some moment in time, a new insight arose within their mind and awareness.
While it is true that knowledge is passed down from teacher to student, from written materials to reader, and can be arrived at through experimentation, investigation, logic, and reason, how completely new insights arise within the mind is not always explainable. While many may arrive at new insights through these methods alone, it is certainly the case that sometimes truly great insights arrive after much work and dedication have failed to lead anywhere.
Some great men and women who experienced these sudden breakthroughs in perception say, "It just came to me." "I had a dream and saw." "I suddenly understood." There was a leap in understanding, a new way of approaching and seeing the problem and its solution. We all know that reason may result in new insights, but we must humbly remember that revelation or inspiration can bring knowledge to man as well.
Even the very brightest and most knowledgeable individuals of equally extraordinary intelligence, contemplating all the evidence, data and investigational results, or logical proofs, might never see anew and arrive at these new insights.
While the same skeptics that doubt God's existence would explain this away and say that the "subconscious" continued to work on these problems until the mind consciously perceived the solution, those of faith recognize that at least some of these inspired insights are just that, "inspiration," a gift from the Spirit to man. Those of faith say, "Why not?" "Why couldn't God share knowledge with man?"
Arrogant men who assert that all discoveries and inventions are completely the work of man do not have the intellectual honesty to admit the possibility that inspiration actually occurs, even after, and especially after, the man of careful reasoning has worked with dedication and great effort. Even without knowing how they suddenly stumbled upon such new insights, some seize such opportunities and proudly claim all credit for themselves, thinking themselves great.
Only humble man, the humble scientist, investigator and thinker can and will sincerely give thanks to God for all he discovers and accomplishes, and for all he may be. As the prophet Isaiah said, "... all that we have accomplished You have done for us (Isaiah 26:12)." But how many give God the credit for the things they have accomplished in this world? How many say, "thank You Lord for helping me today?" How many praise God and sing within their hearts, "Oh God, how great and wonderful You are!"
The humble man will give thanks to his parents as well, for both body and mind and the skills he acquired in early life and uses to accomplish all he does in this life. The humble man recognizes these as the gift he received beginning with the moment his life was created and throughout his upbringing. He intelligently and gratefully recognizes that he was given the potential for these achievements. He honestly recognizes that he has applied his efforts to develop these gifts through study and hard work, and exercises the abilities, skills and knowledge gained as a tool to discover new knowledge and to serve the good of all.
Acknowledging God need not prevent us from appreciating the accomplishments of man, or our own accomplishments, but it requires that we place those accomplishments in context, humbly, recognizing who is the Lord of the entire universe, and who is but man. God would never have given man an inquisitive mind and the ability to reason if He had not wished that we grow in understanding and technological ability.
Just the same, He knew that with the power of any knowledge or technology comes the ability to cause much harm as well as much good.
Because man may cause harm, even terrible harm, knowingly or in ignorance, the dear Lord mercifully gave us the Law to keep us safe and to guide us toward our true happiness.
It is never enough to simply try to do the good! We must also avoid harm with each step we take. Avoiding harm includes avoiding the harm that is certain to result from an action, the harm that is likely to result, the harm that might result, and the harm that we do not even realize may result. If we do not seek to avoid harm, we certainly will not do the right and achieve good for those we serve!
The dear Lord taught us that the greatest law is to love. We can know as well that to love God and one another is the fulfillment of that law. When we ask, "What is right?" "What should I do in this situation?" as we must as man, we can look to the laws of man, but much better, the natural moral law and the divine law which perfectly reflect God's unending love. With fraternal love in our hearts, we rush to the aid of those in serious need. Each person in our care is then cared for as if he or she were our very own child, protectively held in our arms during a storm, the storm of life.
It is with these questions that we look for guidance, and so people throughout the world consult their Holy Scriptures, the words of the wise and those in authority, and most reasonably, the law, as well as societal customs and rules of conduct. So long as man has lived on Earth, the Lord has spoken to the minds and hearts of the people everywhere, inspiring and leading them toward His salvation.
The people of ancient Babylon, Egypt, China and India, Greece, Rome, or the Aztecs, Mayans and Incas in the Americas, among many other cultures, each had their own system of laws and courts. In each culture, the wise have pondered the nature of the right and the nature of the wrong as well as what rules and means of enforcing those rules should be instituted.
Each set of laws reflected the values and beliefs of that society, though many conceptions of the law, and of what is right or wrong, have been universally recognized, being based upon the natural moral law. But what is a law and what is the intended effect of law in society?
A law is a rule or set of rules arrived at through logic and reason, established for the good of all in the community, made by the one who has authority and is empowered to make such rules. A law is not law unless it is issued and made known; otherwise nobody would be aware of it and follow it.7 Those in government who have authority to make law also have authority to enforce law, assuring that the people follow the law and punishing those who violate the law.
Just laws are rules that tell us what is right to do, rules that when followed establish the natural order meant to exist in the community of men. Laws are meant to establish the virtue of justice in man's societal relationships at every level. They are made to restrain man from committing violence, causing harm and promoting anarchy in the community, which lead eventually to the destruction of that society, just as the planets, stars and galaxies would all be destroyed should they defy the laws of gravity somehow.
When man violates the laws, whether divine or man-made, he disturbs the peace that the dear Lord wishes for all men. When man forgets God, he violates the law and the society becomes corrupted. Widespread violations result in the loss of the way - children as well as adults do not respect authority or the wise. The people no longer value nor possess honor or bravery, and the weakened society crumbles before the ever-present challenges from surrounding nations.
Fear dwells in the land and man degrades himself, giving way to hatred and war. Man has repeatedly violated the law, caused inexpressible harm, and destroyed millions of lives, crops and even the land. Fighting wars, he has scarred those he touches, wounding them forever, whether physically, emotionally, psychologically or sometimes spiritually. Few nations have gone more than thirty or fifty years without being involved in one war or another.
Just human laws are based upon the divine law and natural moral law known to man through right reason alone. They act to promote the goodness in man that God wills be in man, in his marriage and family relationships, in his work relationships, and in his dealings with other men in the greater community. Just laws uplift man and with him, the entire society. Just laws promote man's loving relationship with all others in the community and therefore help to establish the culture of life.
In healthcare, just rules and standards of care protect life! Yet life is only protected in society and healthcare in particular, when the human law is applied and enforced equally for all men. While the divine and the natural moral law reflect the eternal law of God, just human laws reflect the divine and natural moral law. They, therefore, truly restrain man from committing harm and guide him in the paths of good works in this life.
Yet, what is the fullness of eternal law other than that which arises out of God's divine reason? Eternal law is established for the good of the entire created universe, made by the Ruler of all. Divine law is established for the good of man, made known to us through the words of the prophets and the dear Lord, written down in the Holy Scriptures as well as in the eternal Book of Life.
Eternal law is not anything separate from God Himself but exists forever as an aspect of His Being. Eternal law in its fullness is Righteousness Himself and is the support and foundation of all that is.
The divine and natural law known to man are expressions of the Lawgiver, and therefore provide us with a tiny glimpse into the infinite divine mind. Of course, we cannot know the totality of God, but we can know something of Him as He chooses to reveal Himself to us, through His law, through the natural law, through all of His Creation, through His life and actions on Earth and through the words and actions of His disciples. Whatever we know, "we know in part" only (1 Corinthians 13:12).
"Think of God as the sun and the eternal law as the sunlight. Without the sunlight, nothing would be visible at all; yet we cannot look at the sun directly because it is too powerful for our created eyes."8
We can say that the sunlight is a natural expression of the sun's "being" or nature. In just the same way, the eternal law, the divine law and the natural moral law all reflect God's nature or "image." Man, as well, is meant to reflect God's nature or image. But in his fallen state, with all the violence and selfishness man demonstrates on a daily basis, can we say that we reflect God's nature well? Hardly!
Yes, it is written that man is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26). But, it is man as true man, man as love personified, that most perfectly reflects and resembles God's being and demonstrates the ethics of life. Only true man filled with the Holy Spirit lives in perfect harmony with the divine law given to us by God (Romans 8:13-16). Such a man shines like the sun (Matthew 6:22).
Divine law is a reflection of God's eternal law and guides us "toward that unimaginable ultimate joy which is far beyond our merely natural good and consists of the vision of God Himself in heaven." The natural law is a "reflection of eternal law in the very structure of [our own] created rational mind, directing us to our natural good [in this world]."9
The divine law is expressed in the Ten Commandments and in the commandments of the dear Lord Jesus. The natural moral law is known to us through the proper use of our reasoning ability: we know what acts are good or bad for all human beings because of the common human nature we all share. Since ethics guide us to know how we should act in this world, it is clear that it is the divine and the natural moral law that define the ethics of life, guide us to live virtuously, and promote the culture of life.
As crude iron ore placed in a furnace soon becomes hot and radiant like the fire, the devoted man or woman who is immersed in God's love demonstrates the virtues and obeys the law, reflecting God's love on Earth. Perfect and true Man is known as the Son of God, the dear Lord who demonstrated the way of life and showed what is right to do.
Many are aware of and recognize the Ten Commandments, the Divine Law given to man through the prophet Moses, but they forget each time they think of these commandments that the dear Lord first said,
"I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery." - Exodus 20:2
What can we learn from what He chose to say first? Before we can even possibly reflect upon, accept and obey the Divine Law, we must recognize, acknowledge and revere Him! We must remember Him always, and in so doing, our mind and hearts, and our very lives are transformed.
We must realize that He is the One who faithfully and authentically cares about us and liberates us from our bondage. His just will is that the people be free and treated with respect as they remain faithful and live good lives.
Within healthcare, this means His will is that each patient served have his dignity honored as a human being, as our brother or sister, recognizing that his innate dignity is established out of the life God has given, and is nothing that man or government may determine, create or take away.
The dignity of man does not rest in the hands of any healthcare professional who seeks to give a patient a "death with dignity." The dignity of man is innate, and we are to respect that dignity by supporting life, caring and serving the life God has given to us in the person of our patient.
It is just that man be free as this is man's God-given right. He is our liberator, not just materially, but spiritually. He wants us to truly, freely, and lovingly relate to Him, not to deny Him, ignore Him or forget Him, or to even pretend to care about 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
And what truth is there, ultimately?
"Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through Me." - John 14:6
If we know the dear Lord's magnificence, His majesty, and adore Him, we will love our neighbor, our patients, our brothers and sisters in this world. If we don't love our neighbors or our patients, we do not have the love of God within us.
If we truly love Him, we are incapable of dishonoring our mother or father, or wanting to have those possessions others have, or stealing from them or murdering them. Nor can we take to ourselves the wife or husband of another; we cannot give too much importance to anything in this world and make it an "idol" or obsession that rules our lives. If we love Him, we will make time to focus exclusively on Him, to worship and praise Him. If we love Him, we would never use His name or words without respect and reverence (Exodus 20:1-17).
If we were dying of thirst and someone gave us water, we would not bow down to the water, would we? We would give thanks and praise to the one who gives that water. If we were starving or destitute, would we bow down to the food or money? Certainly not! But we would humble ourselves before the one who mercifully gave to us in our desperation.
Bhagirathi River at Gangotri at Uttarakhand, India - courtesy of Wikimedia Commons by atarax42 - "courtesy Wikimedia Commons by Atarax42"
The One who gives all, who gives us living water, freeing us from our bondage in this life, is the Lord and Creator of all that is, and therefore, we owe all to Him (John 4:1-42).
If we find joy in the mountains, seas, valleys and fields of the Earth, or even the pleasures of this world, we would not bow down to them, but to the First and only Maker of them all. This is the Lord who frees us and shows us how to live rightly within the world. It is not that we are to worship a god among many possible choices of gods! We are to worship Truth, Who truly has been, is and will be forever, the Infinite One, the uncaused First Cause Who existed before any other things existed at all.
It need not matter what name people of various times and places have given to Him. He is the Supreme and therefore, the reality of what is God above all gods. He is the One who the truly wise of all times have listened to and known in some way. We could say that He is Who He is. He says, "I am Who I am (Exodus 3:14)."
Acknowledging that God, man knows that he is just a man and that this life is only a part of what life is about, a preparation for what is to come, a school in which we learn what is virtue, what is right, what the Lord requires of us. For the law serves to teach us how to acquire virtue, and as "the chief intention of the Divine law is to establish man in friendship with God,"10 it is clear that it is His will that man experience that friendship with God, that man come to know our dear Lord.
I, and you, may merely be newly enrolled students in His elementary school of life, eager to hear what our great and wonderful Teacher has to share with us this day. Yes, we are all being tested by Him to see if we are true, even in little things.
As the apostle Peter said,
This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
"In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on My servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. - Acts 2:16-18
If we would see Him, knowing in our mind that He must be, we must act as if He is, by doing the right, the often very difficult. For He is with us, but looks to see if we are true and faithful, if we are ready and if we love, if we truly and utterly thirst for Him. Then, He will arrive suddenly, like a lover surprising his beloved, showering us with divine kisses and embracing us, giving us the water of life that truly quenches our thirst (Revelation 21:6).
If we would act in accordance with His just will, we will look lovingly upon His children who we serve in the clinics, food pantries, orphanages, hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, hospices and other outreaches to those in need. We will choose to provide that which is due them, giving them the professional care that is clinically appropriate in each moment, according to their condition. In so doing, we will remain true to our calling as healthcare professionals and as His children, serving His other children who are therefore, our brothers and sisters on this Earth.
If we would act in accordance with His just will, having the right ideas, or even intellectually "believing" the right things, is not enough. Reading, studying, praying mechanically is not enough (Matthew 6:7). Our heart must be "softened" and inclined toward Him. This is not an act based upon emotion.
It involves a detachment from the things of the world so that rather than becoming numb, we open to refined higher feelings that impel us to follow Him, and ultimately, to let go of all concerns for self (Mark 8:34-35).11 Even if we have faulty ideas about religion and theology, even if we have almost no ideas about these, if we come to Him in innocence, sincerely, with open hearts, and with detachment from the things of this world, He will bless us (Matthew 5:3-8).
Yes, we have a mind and a capacity for reason, but we also have a heart, and both must be in harmony with Him. We cannot know how to choose and act without consulting Him, and we know His will through prayer, through the divine law and principles made known to us in the Holy Scriptures, through the words of the truly wise, and through the natural moral law.
The fullness of His divine law, an eternal law, is not something dry, hard, or inert, even though it doesn't change. Just as God the Creator is alive but does not need to breathe, the Divine Law is mysteriously alive but has no need to breathe. We could say that God is perceived as eternal Law when we consider how the King of kings rules all Creation with His divine Will, while He is perceived as unending Love when we consider His divine mercy.
Yet, even though He rules all, He created man with the freedom of will to choose the right or the wrong, to live according to His law or not. It is no mistake that when man freely chooses to live in harmony with the divine and the natural moral law, love flourishes. It is no mistake that throughout the beauty of Nature, God's love is expressed.
The laws of Nature are the manifestation of how God put this universe together with the only true "genius" that exists. Scientists formulate laws of nature when they describe what those laws of nature are, but all the laws of Nature discovered by scientists pre-exist their discoveries.
Scientists never create any laws of nature, nor can man make one flower from scratch or act outside of any law of Nature. Whatever scientific discoveries and technologies man implements are done as a manipulation, imitation, or copy, of that which the Lord has already done.
The law is contained within and is part of His being. We know it as divine law and natural moral law when we consider how man should live and interact with others so that he finds the way of life. We know it as the laws of Nature when we consider how all the matter and energy in the universe exists and interacts.
As if swirling within an unmoving yet endless, infinite triangle of His triune Being (God as Father, as Son, and as Holy Spirit), the divine laws shine and illuminate the universe with their intelligence. They are innumerable yet are all part of one Law which is God Himself.
Man merely discovers aspects of the law as he grows in understanding. Any scientist who is intellectually honest will be humbled at the infinite wisdom with which all things are ordered and put together. No matter how much we discover, there is always infinitely more to learn!12 It is a truly amazing, awe-inspiring world through which we journey, and all of it shouts to us of His glory!
Can we live in this moment we have, acknowledging that amazing world? Can we retain our sense of awe before a wondrous and splendorous God? Can we stop the world of worries we carry with us day after day and begin to live in His world, the kingdom of heaven on Earth?
Can we give of ourselves so completely that we forget ourself and love with all we are? If so, only then can we use our reason rightly, and will rightly, and do the right, avoiding the wrong. For reason unguided by love is never right, and love that is not accompanied by the harmony that arises from reason is never true abiding love.
Man's heart and mind must both be utterly given to Him. This is one way of understanding what was meant when He told us,
"Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." - Matthew 7:13-14
We must stop and consider our path in this journey. Mindlessly moving along, we miss our mark, lose our way and go terribly astray, causing harm. We are in such a hurry to get wherever we are going; rushing impatiently ... what good is that? What if we're not even on the right road?
What if we're on the right road, but we then miss the turn we were supposed to make? What if we are supposed to see that flower, that sunrise, that smile? What if we are supposed to stop and help the one who has fallen in a ditch next to that road and we didn't even notice? What if we are meant to be awakened from our sleep and hear His voice speaking to us?
Do we bring our attention around to even listen for His voice, remaining ever ready to serve Him (1 Samuel 3)? We must never think that how the exalted saints lived is only for them! We must strive to follow their example in reaching out to our Lord, and in serving our patients and all others in society.
The secular-minded, the utilitarian "bioethicist," or the atheist who stubbornly rejects the natural moral law cannot really understand the ethics of life, just as some of the Pharisees and Sadducees of Yeshua's time did not truly understand His actions or the divine law that they supposedly knew and taught to the people. The secular-minded might intellectually understand, but they reject the entire worldview that affirms life, therefore they blind themselves to the truth.
Those who appreciate the natural moral law see very clearly that it is known to us through our practical experience and understanding of human nature and what is good or bad for all human beings in general because of the human nature that we all have in common.
However obvious the natural moral law is to those who understand it, it is not accepted by man as proud man, even if evidence for it is all around him. Man as proud man has no interest in understanding it. Proud man will not see the brightly shining sun, as he refuses to believe there is anything higher than himself. He refuses to open his eyes and then look up!
Man as proud man is set on pursuing his own pleasure, wealth, achievement, and power. He insists on thinking only as man, and refuses to consider what God has to say. However, when man is blessed by the Holy Spirit with humility and intellectual honesty, he begins to contemplate the common nature of man and life in this world, to contemplate what is right or wrong for man to do, and begins to understand the natural moral law (Matthew 16:13-27).
Those secular bioethicists or materialists of all sorts, who do not accept the divine law, or even the natural moral law, protest that it not only does not make sense to them, they say, "it is not right at all." While "things naturally known are self-evident,"13 they are only obvious to any honest, thinking individual, just as anyone can see that there is sky above and earth below.
While the blind cannot see the light, those who stubbornly oppose God prefer to be blind to the obvious and will not see! Yes, "the light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it" (John 1:5). Creatures of the dark despise the light and all the good that comes with it.
Even when presented with such undeniably obvious evidence of the natural moral law as the universal condemnation and anguish of the people when they experience the murder of the innocent, capture, torture and execution by invading soldiers, rape, theft, lying, fraud and cheating - however "intelligent" they may be, they still refuse to see it!
Even when the people in every culture in every land in every time have told stories to their children and to each other about the struggle between those who do evil and those who innocently live their lives - they still refuse to see it! If there were no natural moral law, why is it that the classic lessons in faith, morality and prudent living from the Proverbs of the Bible and from Aesop's Fables14 ring true generation after generation throughout the world?
The news and entertainments, the dramas and literature from culture to culture are filled with stories of justice and injustice, crime and punishment, or betrayal of timeless standards of what is right. Even when criminals are portrayed as heroes, readers can't help but hope that the "good" criminal lives while the "bad," really evil criminal is captured, punished or left to die. What does that tell us about the natural moral law and how universal it truly is?
The entertainments are filled with courageous attempts by men to right wrongs and re-establish justice. These just ways are known to man through the natural moral law. Yet, ignoring all evidence, the arrogant elites insist on "cleverly" picking a less obvious matter that may be ethically debated and say, "nobody agrees about this, therefore, there is no natural moral law."
When they observe some of the most strictly honest, trustworthy and reliable men and women in society state that God really does exist, they say, "well, they may be honest, but they are deluded about this, and maybe even insane" (John 10:20). They tell themselves that those who do works of kindness and those who seek to save lives are actually evil!
Secular materialists and those who set themselves against God do not recognize good when they see it. They cannot accept the amazing and wondrous reality that there is a God, and that he really does care about man. They project their own selfishness onto their image of what God might be like and tell themselves, "If I was God, among all that exists in the universe, I wouldn't care about such an insignificant being as man."
From their point of view, when someone begins to suffer, and becomes disabled or elderly, they say, "Better to end his life than let him suffer." From their point of view, all that matters is what they call the quality of life! They do not value the opportunity to love that arises in the labor-intensive work of caring for those in need. In their quest for efficiency and to rid society of any deemed to be no longer useful to society, they consider the ending of life, the greatest form of mercy.
They can't accept the reality of God's infinite goodness, compassion and mercy. They prefer to think that there is no God, so they can feel free to do whatever they want, without knowing that they are being judged or will be held accountable for all of it. They think that being "free" means being permitted to do anything, even if it is wrong according to the divine and the natural moral law - and even if as a result, terrible suffering results.
When they seize power, they make their own rules and laws that provide only the appearance of justice or fairness. Predictably, since they have no faith or honor, no allegiance to what is truly good, they see that rules contrary to the divine and the natural moral law are established, or they make sure that just laws are not enforced if they (or their friends and family) would suffer! Such practices restrain nothing, allowing the elite and powerful to do whatever they wish to do. Such ways of wielding power oppress the people, allow the killing of many and establish the culture of death.
Our perception of the natural moral law shows us what is truly right and good for us, and truly wrong and harmful, and helps us understand that "the first precept of law [is] that good is to be done and pursued, and evil is to be avoided."15
The Hippocratic Oath16 taken by physicians for about 2,400 years states in part:
"... I will do no harm or injustice to [my patients].
I will not give a lethal drug to anyone if I am asked, nor will I advise such a plan; and similarly I will not give a woman a pessary to cause an abortion.
In purity and according to divine law will I carry out my life and my art.
Isn't this very similar to saying, "I will do what is good and avoid evil?" as applied to the medical arts? It is tragic that physicians today do not, for the most part, take the Hippocratic Oath upon graduation from medical school. Many physicians take a modern oath17 that even suggests they may actually take a life in their medical practice!
Any physician who performs assisted-suicide, direct euthanasia, stealth euthanasia, involuntary medical experimentation resulting in death, or abortion,18 ends the life of a human being and violates the divine and the natural moral law. Any person who chooses to have a physician perform these immoral, unethical acts is violating the divine and the natural moral law. These acts are not permitted and are the most obvious manifestations of the culture of death.
The culture of life, on the other hand, arises through obedience to the law. The natural moral law is known most clearly to our intellects in moments when our hearts are open and our conscience is well-informed, and when we rightly use our ability to reason (Romans 2:12-16).
If we are intellectually honest, when we see or think about an innocent human being murdered, raped, or beaten, when we see or think about someone being robbed, when someone lies to us, we naturally do know that these acts are wrong, even evil. Just the thought of these wrong acts brings pain to our heart. We know that murder, rape, battery, theft and lying are wrong. This is our recognition of the natural moral law.
When we are in real need and receive help from others, or when we see others, the poor, vulnerable or ailing who are in need, and see that they are given what they need, whether food, clothing, shelter, protection, or healthcare, we know that these acts are good, moral and right. These are good, because they result in the well-being and happiness of those human beings whom we have served. We experience happiness when we see these good acts accomplished. This, too, is our recognition of the natural law.
Man has a physical and instinctual nature shared with the animals, yet in addition, man has reason. Every animal naturally seeks to survive and continue to exist. Man does as well. Whatever activities or ways of living that help us to survive and prosper, and to avoid any harm, "belong to the natural law." The natural inclinations we possess are created within us to guide us toward our own survival, development, well-being, true good and ultimate happiness in God.
Man as "animal," shares with the animals his natural inclination to survive, to eat, drink, sleep, find a mate and participate in sexual intercourse, educate his offspring, and so on, and these are good, in harmony with the natural moral law, when accomplished according to right reason. Man as "rational man," has a natural inclination to develop his reason, to continually learn new things, to live and participate in the human society, to know God, and so on, and these inclinations arising from our rational nature are also good.
Our natural inclinations guided by right reason lead to our highest good, lead us to turn away from acts that are not in harmony with the natural moral law, and lead us to enter into a truly loving relationship with the dear Lord, receiving through Him our salvation by grace.
Anyone who has lived on this Earth has at some point been astonished and rendered silent by the glorious beauty of Nature. Right reason impels us to take notice that "the heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands" (Psalm 19:1) and seek not only the good things of this world, but the genuine greatest good, the dear Lord Himself.
It is only due to man's pride that he willfully ignores all of this and goes his own way. However, in every land and time, people have desired to be free, to be loved, to be happy, and the way of God gives us all of these. We can see then, that throughout history there has been a continual conflict inflicted (by those who seek to serve their own short-sighted goals) upon those who seek to serve God and respect human rights and dignity by loving and caring for all. Those who immerse themselves in the culture of death despise those who serve the culture of life. They are defiant and arrogant. This is man against God and the life He gives (Matthew 6:24).
How to then proceed in our individual lives is a question each of us must ask, but that we even ask the question is a good beginning. To know what is right and wrong particularly, we need to understand the action we are contemplating doing, the circumstances surrounding the action, and the motive or intent we have in doing that action. In other words, the act we choose to do must itself be a good act that is not in violation of the divine or natural moral law, and our motive for doing so must also be good if we are to consider it a "right" action to willingly do. The circumstances in which the action is to be done, including the consequences of the action, must also be considered.19
For example, a bureaucrat might suggest that saving the government money is a good thing to do and then suggests that a life-saving treatment for a 75 year-old patient be denied, simply because they are "old." The intent to save money is good, but the circumstances which involve denying needed treatment for a suffering human being, likely resulting in the patient's death, is not good. The action is not right, because it directly harms the patient.
In considering this case, we might also consider that billions of dollars are wasted on fraudulent billings from dishonest healthcare providers. Eliminating that fraud would be a more humane and right way of saving money for the government.
2 St. Thomas Aquinas, "Whether venial sin can be in anyone with original sin alone?, Of Venial Sin In Itself, Treatise on Habits in Particular, Summa Theologica, FS, Q 89, article 6 [Back]
3 Diane N Irving, MA, PhD, Legally Valid Informed Consent, Individual Testimony before the New Jersey State Senate Health and Human Services Committee on Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research, Ethical and Public Policy Considerations, Nov, 2002 [Back]
7 St. Thomas Aquinas, "Of the Various Kinds of Law, "Treatise on Law," Summa Theologica, FS, Question 91. Law "is nothing else than an ordinance of reason for the common good, made by him who has care of the community, and promulgated." [Back]
11 St. John of the Cross, "Wherein is described how straight is the way that leads to eternal life and how completely detached and disencumbered must be those that will walk in it. We begin to speak of the detachment of the understanding, The Ascent of Mount Carmel, Bk II, ch vii. [Back]
15 St. Thomas Aquinas, "Whether the Natural Law Contains Several Precepts or One Only, Treatise on Law, Summa Theologica, FS, Question 94, article 2. [Back]