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318 • Part III. Christian Morality: The Faith Lived


Our culture frequently exalts individual autonomy against community

and tradition. This can lead to a suspicion of rules and norms that come

from a tradition. This can also be a cause of a healthy criticism of a legal-

ism that can arise from concentrating on rules and norms.

Advocates of Christian morality can sometimes lapse into a legalism

that leads to an unproductive moralizing. There is no doubt that love has

to be the essential foundation of the moral life. But just as essential in

this earthly realm are rules and laws that show how love may be applied

in real life. In heaven, love alone will suffice. In this world, we need

moral guidance from the Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount,

the Precepts of the Church, and other rules to see how love works.

Love alone, set adrift from moral direction, can easily descend into

sentimentality that puts us at the mercy of our feelings. Popular enter-

tainment romanticizes love and tends to omit the difficult demands of

the moral order.

In our permissive culture, love is sometimes so romanticized that

it is separated from sacrifice. Because of this, tough moral choices can-

not be faced. The absence of sacrificial love dooms the possibility of an

authentic moral life.

Scripturally and theologically, the Christian moral life begins with

a loving relationship with God, a covenant love made possible by the

sacrifice of Christ. The Commandments and other moral rules are given

to us as ways of protecting the values that foster love of God and oth-

ers. They provide us with ways to express love, sometimes by forbidding

whatever contradicts love.

The moral life requires grace. The


speaks of this in

terms of life in Christ and the inner presence of the Holy Spirit, actively

enlightening our moral compass and supplying the spiritual strength to

do the right thing. The grace that comes to us from Christ in the Spirit

is as essential as love and rules and, in fact, makes love and keeping the

rules possible.