Intro. to Christian Morality

Gardening the Soul

The soul is a garden. When a garden is planted the gardener knows what they want to get from the garden when it is time for harvest. The gardener plants the best fruits and vegetables. The gardener, then maintains the garden, protects it from weather that may harm it, fertilizes it, and nurtures the garden not just to harvest a large yield, but also for a beautiful array of colors and succulent taste. The gardener must also prevent growth of plants that rob the sown plants of water, nutrients, and light necessary for proper growth and yield. “The Saint is the Sinner who kept trying”- Saint Josemaría Escrivá

Precepts of the Catholic Church

1.             You shall attend Mass on Sundays and on holy days of obligation and rest from servile labor. 

We must “sanctify the day commemorating the Resurrection of the Lord” (Sunday), as well as the principal feast days, known as Catholic holy days of obligation. This requires attending Mass, “and by resting from those works and activities which could impede such a sanctification of these days.”

2.             You shall confess your sins at least once a year. 

We must prepare for the Eucharist by means of the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession). This sacrament “continues Baptism’s work of conversion and forgiveness.”

3.             You shall receive the sacrament of the Eucharist at least during the Easter season. 

This “guarantees as a minimum the reception of the Lord’s Body and Blood in connection with the Paschal feasts, the origin and center of the Christian liturgy.”

4.             You shall observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church. 

“The fourth precept ensures the times of ascesis and penance which prepare us for the liturgical feasts and help us acquire mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart.” See below for more about fasting & abstinence.

5.             You shall help to provide for the needs of the Church. 

“The fifth precept means that the faithful are obliged to assist with the material needs of the Church, each according to his own ability.”

The 4 Cardinal Virtues

"If anyone loves righteousness, [Wisdom's] labors are virtues; for she teaches temperance and prudence, justice, and courage."64 These virtues are praised under other names in many passages of Scripture.

1. Prudence is the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it; "the prudent man looks where he is going." "Keep sane and sober for your prayers." Prudence is "right reason in action," writes St. Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle.67 It is not to be confused with timidity or fear, nor with duplicity or dissimulation. It is called auriga virtutum (the charioteer of the virtues); it guides the other virtues by setting rule and measure. It is prudence that immediately guides the judgment of conscience. The prudent man determines and directs his conduct in accordance with this judgment. With the help of this virtue we apply moral principles to particular cases without error and overcome doubts about the good to achieve and the evil to avoid.

2. Justice is the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor. Justice toward God is called the "virtue of religion." Justice toward men disposes one to respect the rights of each and to establish in human relationships the harmony that promotes equity with regard to persons and to the common good. The just man, often mentioned in the Sacred Scriptures, is distinguished by habitual right thinking and the uprightness of his conduct toward his neighbor. "You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor."68 "Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven."69

3. Fortitude is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. It strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life. The virtue of fortitude enables one to conquer fear, even fear of death, and to face trials and persecutions. It disposes one even to renounce and sacrifice his life in defense of a just cause. "The Lord is my strength and my song."70 "In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."71

4. Temperance is the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods. It ensures the will's mastery over instincts and keeps desires within the limits of what is honorable. The temperate person directs the sensitive appetites toward what is good and maintains a healthy discretion: "Do not follow your inclination and strength, walking according to the desires of your heart."72 Temperance is often praised in the Old Testament: "Do not follow your base desires, but restrain your appetites."73 In the New Testament it is called "moderation" or "sobriety." We ought "to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world."74

To live well is nothing other than to love God with all one's heart, with all one's soul and with all one's efforts; from this it comes about that love is kept whole and uncorrupted (through temperance). No misfortune can disturb it (and this is fortitude). It obeys only [God] (and this is justice), and is careful in discerning things, so as not to be surprised by deceit or trickery (and this is prudence).

The 7 Deadly Sins

1. Sloth is often equated with laziness; but the kind of laziness that sloth is is often misunderstood. Sloth is fundamentally a sadness in the presence of eternal or spiritual goods, and ultimately God Himself. Sloth is often disguised by "workaholism," or by a "busy-ness" about temporal things that is actually a means of avoiding eternal and spiritual things, and ultimately God. Sloth is often manifested by "boredom" about attending Mass or praying, for example. Saint Thomas Aquinas calls sloth the "sin against the Sabbath."

2. Envy is a sadness in the presence of the goodness of others. Rather than move us to emulate the goodness of others, envy leads us to find a way to justify the fact that we lack the goodness that others possess. A manifestation of envy today is ethical relativism, which denies that there are any objective moral norms. This denial is intended to subvert the objective status of the goodness of others.

3. Covetousness is a disordered and excessive desire to control persons, places, or things. Contrary to generosity, covetousness manifests itself today especially in the contraceptive mentality. The contraceptive mentality is the distorted attempt to control one's own as well as another's body, including the human capacity for sexual loving and procreation. The tragic result of the contraceptive mentality -- the "sexual holocaust" of the past twenty-five years -- is the reduction of one's own and another's body to "mere dress." The contraceptive mentality has reduced woman to a merely passive receptacle of male predatory tendencies.

4. Vainglory or pride is respecting oneself or others for the wrong reasons. Pride today is often manifested in the news media when, for example, a Catholic legislator who consistently promotes a so-called "pro-choice" position is praised by the Catholic media for his or her position on welfare reform.

5. Gluttony is the excessive preoccupation with our bodies at the cost of becoming forgetful of our souls, not only in terms of excessive eating and drinking, but also in terms of excessive preoccupation with physical fitness and physical beauty.

6. Lust is the vehement disorder of sexual desires, as in the case of the so-called "homosexual lifestyle" or the widespread phenomenon of "living together." Lust reduces human sexuality to genitality. As a result, lust tends to distort human sexual genital activity into a form of recreation. Ironically and tragically, lust leads to a fear of fertility and to an animosity for children, as expressed in practices such as rape, sterilization, contraception, abortion, pornography, child molestation, adultery, and divorce.

7.    Finally, anger is a mixture of sadness and hatred in the presence of what is true. (Don't be confused by the fact that "anger" is the name of a spirited emotion as well as the name of the distortion of that emotion.) 

It is important to notice that five of the seven deadly sins latch onto a "part" or dimension of the soul called desire or eros, the home of the central emotion of love and the dimension of soul where we are usually "located" on a daily basis. In light of this fact, it is extremely easy to drift into sloth, envy, covetousness, gluttony, or lust.

Anger is the "cancerous growth" on the dimension of the soul called spiritedness or thumos, the home of the secondary emotions such fear. Vainglory or pride is the distortion of the dimension of the soul called mind or logos, the home of intellect.

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