Right and Wrong

I offer these comments by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen on what is right and wrong:

“There is an organ in my home. As I look at the notes on that organ, I could ask, which note is good and which note is bad? Which note is right and which note is wrong?  One cannot say that any particular note is right or any particular note is wrong. What makes a note right or wrong?  ts correspondence to a standard. Once I have a piece of music before me, I know what I ought to do, what note I should hit, what note I ought not to hit. So, too, we have a moral standard within us which is our conscience. What is good and bad is in relationship to that standard which is not of our own making. We do not draw our own maps, and decide what the distance between Chicago and New York will be, for instance. We do not arbitrarily set our own watches. We set them by a standard outside of us. When we buy material, for example, we do not decide that a yard will be twenty-four inches instead of thirty-six inches. A good, therefore, is that which helps us in relationship to the attainment of purposes and goals and destinies which are in accordance with right reason. …

 “What makes a thing bad? Well, here is a pencil. This is a good pencil; it writes. Is it a good can opener? It certainly is not. Suppose I use it as a can opener. What happens? First of all, I do not open the can. Second, I destroy the pencil. Now if I, for example, decide to do certain things which I ought not to do, I do not attain the purpose for which I was created. For example, becoming an alcoholic does not make me happy. Furthermore, I destroy myself, just as I destroyed the pencil in using it to open a can. When I disobey God, I do not make myself very happy on the inside, and I certainly destroy any peace of soul that I ought to have” (Through the Year With Fulton Sheen [San Francisco: Ignatius, 2003], pages 155-156).

 I think these reflections are excellent ways to lead people to love doing what is right. In the first selection, Sheen invites us to consider the standard of morality. It is not popular these days to talk about things being right or wrong in themselves, but Sheen uses the example of musical notes to show how, just as notes are right or wrong as they relate to a written set of instructions on how to play them, so our actions are right or wrong as they relate to the moral law. We didn’t make the moral law. The Church did not make the moral law. God made the moral law, and we do not have the authority to change it. We can choose to ignore the law God has placed in our hearts, but just because we ignore it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, any more than rewriting a map for our convenience of travel doesn’t shorten the distance from Chicago to New York.

So here’s the great part: rewriting that map will not make us happy. We can only be happy if we live according to the standard that God has placed within us. This standard – the moral law – exists outside of us. It is not ours to change. It was here before we were born, and it will be here after we die. We choose to live by it or not, but we were meant to live by it. Sheen uses the example of a pencil, which is destroyed if someone tries to use it to open a can. Just so, we will be happy only if we try to live as God wants us to live. Oh, we are likely to fall down, to sin, but then we acknowledge whatever wrong we have done to God, receive his forgiveness, and resolve once more to live by the law God has placed within our hearts.

Last Sunday afternoon, after the Masses here at the parish were concluded, 28 of our tenth-graders went with their parents and sponsors to the Cathedral of St. Paul to be confirmed. It was a surprise for me to find that the confirming bishop was Archbishop Harry Flynn, who is now just a few days short of his 80th birthday. Archbishop Flynn spoke in a stirring way to the young people from so many parishes who had come for Confirmation. Revealing the same kind of conviction that animated the preaching and lectures of Archbishop Fulton Sheen, who died 35 years ago, our own retired prelate urged the youth to recognize that there is a moral law and that they should listen to it. He, as bishops so often do when confirming teenagers, forcefully told them to say no to drugs, and to say no to premarital sex. He encouraged them to come to Mass and to find Christ there. We all ought to heed that advice, even though it’s unfashionable these days to speak of such things.

Parish Pastoral Council Nominations

The Parish Pastoral Council is a body of parishioners which advises the pastor and helps make decisions regarding the pastoral needs of the parish.

We need your help to identify potential parish leadership. This is a process that relies on the power of the Holy Spirit working in all of us.

In the Stewardship Renewal in January several people expressed their willingness to be considered, and we are very grateful. We do want to make sure any other interested parties can also be part of the discernment. Please see the nomination form inserted into the bulletin and nominate yourself or another parishioner for this role. The application deadline is May 12, 2013.

Leave a Reply