People deal with difficult moral issues all the time: racism, immigration, abortion, invitro fertilization, medical care, homelessness, drugs, homosexuality, war and unjust aggression, etc. Catholics often turn to the church when making important ethical decisions because she is a marvelous and steady guide for us. We start with objective standards of morality, like the Ten Commandments, Beatitudes, Code of Canon Law, Catholic Catechism, and Catholic Social Teachings; we apply them to the situation we face. We factor in significant philosophical principles, like the lesser of two evils, the greater good, or principle of double effect. Most importantly, we turn to our conscience, the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, so we can make well-informed decisions. We also look to the Pope and magisterial teachings to gain additional insight.
One hot topic in our nation today is border security while dealing with immigration, asylum seekers, refugees, migrant workers, and other huddled masses that yearn for a better life. Many municipalities and jurisdictions declare themselves to be sanctuary cities where no documents will be required of foreigners and no government harassment given them. The governors of states on the southern border are overwhelmed by immigrants. It is only right that those professing sanctuary would help by receiving them. Though Kansas City is not a sanctuary city, it is a welcoming city that anticipates receiving them, too, but with a plan in place to welcome them, much as Afghan refugees were recently welcomed. The American bishops, primarily based on biblical revelation and our history as an immigrant nation, instruct us to welcome foreigners in the Judeo-Christian tradition. They remind us that the Holy Family in Egypt dealt with similar challenges as do today’s refugees and migrants.
One hot topic in our world is (always) war, unjust aggression, and participation in a war that is justified. Though war is always a defeat for humanity, through time, the church has held varied, and seemingly contradictory, positions on whether certain wars can be justified. It has also flip-flopped on other vital issues through time, like the death penalty. Various popes have reminded us that doctrine evolves, and morality evolves as society evolves and we learn more. Pope Francis also reminded us in the encyclical, Amoris Laetitia, that moral and pastoral issues cannot always be solved by magisterial teachings. He offers several principles for us to live by: time over space, unity over conflict, the whole over the parts, and reality over ideas. It is good to exchange ideas, but we exist in what is real and, therefore, should not tie ourselves to ideologies. To profess being a sanctuary city but resent the arrival of undocumented foreigners is an example of the ideological problem. To condemn abortion or contraception in all cases until your daughter is raped or the victim of incest is another. We have cast out gay or divorced people from the church, labeling them as disordered or excommunicated; but we see it through a different lens when we suffer divorce, ourselves, or discover that our child is gay. We ought to rise above ideology to help each other deal with real circumstances in a sacred manner.
All this is to say that we operate from an objective standard of morality, which is good, but there is a higher teaching and more important guide for us to follow: the subjective standard of morality that allows us to assess a situation in light of particular issues, human factors, a well-informed conscience, and the Holy Spirit’s guidance to help us make a wise and holy decision, which is sometimes the lesser of evils. There is a lot of darkness in our world, and our task is to always move toward the light. For it is Christ, Himself, the light of the world, that will show us the way through difficult situations.