Presenting Catholic Teachings on Morality

by Joyce Stolberg,
author of God Calls You by Name

Some persons coming into the Catholic Church already possess and practice strong concepts of Christian morality, and have well-developed consciences. This may be particularly true of those who have lived pious Christian lives in Protestant denominations. Some persons coming into the Catholic Church, however, have been inculturated into the modern world's lax moral standards.

Prepare for your discussions of Catholic moral teachings by praying to the Holy Spirit for the gift of counsel, which you have already received at your own confirmation. Present these teachings with courage and clarity, confident that the Holy Spirit will act within the hearts and souls of those entrusted to your formation. The same Holy Spirit who led them to the Catholic Church will give them the grace to transform their lives when these teachings are presented with kindness and respect but without compromise.

Chapter Seven of God Calls You by Name explores the uniqueness and dignity of humankind in God's creation, the theology of original sin and actual sin, the capital sins, natural law, revealed law (the 10 Commandments) Jesus' law of love, and the role of virtues and the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the process of conscience formation. Chapter Eight takes us to the final destination of our human journey, exploring death, judgment, heaven, purgatory, and hell, where the life choices we make are rewarded or punished. Chapter Nine presents specific teachings on Catholic morality in keeping with the teaching Magisterium of the Church. Prominent issues dealt with in this chapter include but are not limited to abortion, stem cell research, euthanasia, suicide, and use and misuse of morphine. Discussion of human sexuality covers prohibition of sexual activity outside the sacred bonds of Holy Matrimony. Included also in this chapter is the Church's basic social teaching and a short discussion of the relationship between moral issues and politics.

Any discussion on conscience formation must engage your participants' adult level abstract thinking processes. When I present the contents of Chapter 7, I stress the basic difference between human beings and animals: humans have immortal souls made in the image and likeness of God. This is the essence of human dignity, and of human responsibility --- each person possesses an immortal soul that was created directly by God and must answer to God. I discuss original sin, the primordial offense of our first parents, as well as actual sin, both mortal and venial. I then present natural law, followed by revealed law, expressed in the 10 Commandments.

Then I change the pace of the class. I pass out copies of the 10 Commandments, and ask participants to look at them for a moment. I tell them to think about the 10 Commandments while I am reading a story. I ask: what characters in the story broke which Commandments, who influenced others to break Commandments, who kept the Commandments, who were unduly influenced by others and which individuals or groups were innocent. I then read 1 Kings 21: 1-29: this is the story of Naboth's vineyard, which was unjustly taken by King Ahab, urged on by his queen, Jezebel. This is a story of greed, deceit, and murder; yet idolatry and disdain for God's covenant lurk only slightly beneath the surface. Following the story, I initiate a discussion designed to demonstrate how multiple Commandments had been broken through interrelated actions. Admittedly, this works best in groups whose members possess some working knowledge of the basic 10 Commandments. The process of dissecting the interplay of a collage of intentions and actions in the anatomy of a complex serious sin draws forth the participants' abstract thinking capabilities and evokes adult level moral judgment. Following this discussion, I outline what is required and forbidden by each commandment, as explained near the end of Chapter 7. If this lesson requires more than one session, give it an extra session.

This chapter includes a discussion of Christ's law of love as taught in the Gospels: Jesus came to fulfill the Law, not to abolish it. Jesus requires, yet goes beyond adherence to the 10 Commandments. Chapter 7 presents an overview of conscience formation, virtues and vices, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. I usually spend more time on Christ's law of love, the virtues, and on the Eight Beatitudes during the retreat in preparation for the Rite of Acceptance into the Catechumenate and the Rite of Welcome.

Chapter 8 is a formal presentation of the "Last Things" (death, judgment, heaven, and hell). Since these topics are dealt with liturgically in November, it is very appropriate to teach them sometime during the month of November as well. Here we deal with the consequences of our actions and life choices. I usually begin this topic by reviewing the dignity of humankind as a unique composite of body and soul, created by God to be happy with him for all eternity.

Several issues surface almost every year during the presentation of this topic. Among our Protestant brethren, there tends to be a hazy or absent concept of purgatory. This may logically follow from the fact that the book of Maccabees, while considered deuterocanonical in the Catholic canon, is numbered among the apocryphal books in most Protestant Bibles. You will find a scriptural basis for the theology of purgatory in 2 Maccabees 12:43. (See God Calls You by Name, Page 127.) Another issue concerns the concept held by some that the soul "sleeps" from the time of death until the time of the resurrection of the dead and the general judgment. Stress here that the soul is awake, fully conscious, and encounters God in an individual or "particular" judgment, immediately following death. The soul remains fully conscious in reward or punishment. There will also be a second, or general judgment at the end of time at the resurrection of the dead. A third issue to explore, especially with catechumens coming from non-Christian religions, is the Catholic teaching that there is no reincarnation. Each human soul is created by God at the moment of conception; each takes only one journey through life, whether that tour lasts but a day or for 100 years. That is why our cooperation with God's grace here and now affects our status for all eternity. Be sure that these points are discussed and understood by your candidates and catechumens.

Chapter 9 presents practical aspects of morality as presented and clarified by the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. Some of the most important issues revolve around respect for life and around human sexuality. Respect for human life includes the emphatic prohibition of procured abortion in any form, including very early abortions. In preparing for this lesson, consult the references to the Catechism of the Catholic Church provided on page 140 of God Calls You by Name. Emphasize also the prohibition of in-vitro fertilization and embryonic stem cell research. Even some Catholics are unsure about these issues. Stress also that, at the other end of the spectrum, euthanasia and suicide are seriously contrary to God's law.

Expect issues concerning the use of morphine to surface: it may be used to relieve pain, even if there is a possibility of an unwanted secondary effect, but it must never be used primarily to deliberately hasten death. The wrenching issue of suicide will likely emerge: remember here that, while suicide is objectively a serious sin, the other requirements for mortal sin --- full knowledge, full consent, and the requirement that it be considered seriously sinful by the person at the time it is committed, may possibly be lacking. Many psychological illnesses and factors compromise these requirements; therefore we painfully but lovingly entrust the person's soul to the infinite mercy of God.

Expect and prepare for issues to surface also in the realm of human sexuality. The Sacrament of Matrimony elevates the proper use of human sexuality to such dignity that it becomes a sign of God's love for his Church and makes the blessed couple co-creators with God of a new human being. Because of this very dignity, inappropriate expression of human sexuality is seriously sinful. Issues that repeatedly surface here include: engaging in sexual activity prior to marriage, homosexual activity, casual sex, and birth control. Prepare by studying the questions and answers in the Catechism references in Chapter 9 of God Calls You by Name. All those who are not living in the bonds of holy matrimony are called, with the help of God's grace, to observe chastity by abstaining from sexual activity. Sexual activity within the bonds of marriage must be open to the possibility of new life; artificial means of birth control are likewise prohibited because they destroy the openness to life proper to the act of marriage. Natural family planning, which respects the rhythm of the women's cycle, is permissible. While homosexual activity is prohibited, those with homosexual tendencies are called to live in chastity in the same way as other single persons.

All or most of these issues will surface at some time during the course of your RCIA process. If you prepare to discuss them in a manner which engages the thinking processes of your participants, rather than simply stating rules and prohibitions, you will be facilitating the development of their consciences and enabling them to apply solid Catholic teaching when evaluating the morality of unforeseeable life dilemmas.

cepts of Christian morality, and have well-developed consciences. This may be particularly true of those who have lived pious Christian lives in Protestant denominations. Some persons coming into the Catholic Church, however, have been inculturated into the modern world's lax moral standards.

 

Prepare for your discussions of Catholic moral teachings by praying to the Holy Spirit for the gift of counsel, which you have already received at your own confirmation.Present these teachings with courage and clarity, confident that the Holy Spirit will act within the hearts and souls of those entrusted to your formation.The same Holy Spirit who led them to the Catholic Church will give them the grace to transform their lives when these teachings are presented with kindness and respect but without compromise.

Chapter Seven of God Calls You by Name explores the uniqueness and dignity of humankind in God's creation, the theology of original sin and actual sin, the capital sins, natural law, revealed law (the 10 Commandments) Jesus' law of love, and the role of virtues and the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the process of conscience formation. Chapter Eight takes us to the final destination of our human journey, exploring death, judgment, heaven, purgatory, and hell, where the life choices we make are rewarded or punished. Chapter Nine presents specific teachings on Catholic morality in keeping with the teaching Magisterium of the Church. Prominent issues dealt with in this chapter include but are not limited to abortion, stem cell research, euthanasia, suicide, and use and misuse of morphine. Discussion of human sexuality covers prohibition of sexual activity outside the sacred bonds of Holy Matrimony. Included also in this chapter is the Church's basic social teaching and a short discussion of the relationship between moral issues and politics.

Any discussion on conscience formation must engage your participants' adult level abstract thinking processes.When I present the contents of Chapter 7, I stress the basic difference between human beings and animals: humans have immortal souls made in the image and likeness of God.This is the essence of human dignity, and of human responsibility --- each person possesses an immortal soul that was created directly by God and must answer to God.I discuss original sin, the primordial offense of our first parents, as well as actual sin, both mortal and venial.I then present natural law, followed by revealed law, expressed in the 10 Commandments.

Then I change the pace of the class.I pass out copies of the 10 Commandments, and ask participants to look at them for a moment.I tell them to think about the 10 Commandments while I am reading a story.I ask: what characters in the story broke which Commandments, who influenced others to break Commandments, who kept the Commandments, who were unduly influenced by others and which individuals or groups were innocent.I then read 1 Kings 21: 1-29: this is the story of Naboth's vineyard, which was unjustly taken by King Ahab, urged on by his queen, Jezebel.This is a story of greed, deceit, and murder; yet idolatry and disdain for God's covenant lurk only slightly beneath the surface.Following the story, I initiate a discussion designed to demonstrate how multiple Commandments had been broken through interrelated actions.Admittedly, this works best in groups whose members possess some working knowledge of the basic 10 Commandments.The process of dissecting the interplay of a collage of intentions and actions in the anatomy of a complex serious sin draws forth the participants' abstract thinking capabilities and evokes adult level moral judgment.Following this discussion, I outline what is required and forbidden by each commandment, as explained near the end of Chapter 7.If this lesson requires more than one session, give it an extra session.

This chapter includes a discussion of Christ's law of love as taught in the Gospels: Jesus came to fulfill the Law, not to abolish it.Jesus requires, yet goes beyond adherence to the 10 Commandments.Chapter 7 presents an overview of conscience formation, virtues and vices, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.I usually spend more time on Christ's law of love, the virtues, and on the Eight Beatitudes during the retreat in preparation for the Rite of Acceptance into the Catechumenate and the Rite of Welcome.

Chapter 8 is a formal presentation of the "Last Things" (death, judgment, heaven, and hell).Since these topics are dealt with liturgically in November, it is very appropriate to teach them sometime during the month of November as well.Here we deal with the consequences of our actions and life choices.I usually begin this topic by reviewing the dignity of humankind as a unique composite of body and soul, created by God to be happy with him for all eternity.

Several issues surface almost every year during the presentation of this topic.Among our Protestant brethren, there tends to be a hazy or absent concept of purgatory.This may logically follow from the fact that the book of Maccabees, while considered deuterocanonical in the Catholic canon, is numbered among the apocryphal books in most Protestant Bibles.You will find a scriptural basis for the theology of purgatory in 2 Maccabees 12:43.(See God Calls You by Name, Page 127.) Another issue concerns the concept held by some that the soul "sleeps" from the time of death until the time of the resurrection of the dead and the general judgment. Stress here that the soul is awake, fully conscious, and encounters God in an individual or "particular" judgment, immediately following death. The soul remains fully conscious in reward or punishment. There will also be a second, or general judgment at the end of time at the resurrection of the dead. A third issue to explore, especially with catechumens coming from non-Christian religions, is the Catholic teaching that there is no reincarnation. Each human soul is created by God at the moment of conception; each takes only one journey through life, whether that tour lasts but a day or for 100 years. That is why our cooperation with God's grace here and now affects our status for all eternity. Be sure that these points are discussed and understood by your candidates and catechumens.

Chapter 9 presents practical aspects of morality as presented and clarified by the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.Some of the most important issues revolve around respect for life and around human sexuality.Respect for human life includes the emphatic prohibition of procured abortion in any form, including very early abortions.In preparing for this lesson, consult the references to the Catechism of the Catholic Church provided on page 140 of God Calls You by Name.Emphasize also the prohibition of in-vitro fertilization and embryonic stem cell research.Even some Catholics are unsure about these issues.Stress also that, at the other end of the spectrum, euthanasia and suicide are seriously contrary to God's law.

Expect issues concerning the use of morphine to surface: it may be used to relieve pain, even if there is a possibility of an unwanted secondary effect, but it must never be used primarily to deliberately hasten death.The wrenching issue of suicide will likely emerge: remember here that, while suicide is objectively a serious sin, the other requirements for mortal sin --- full knowledge, full consent, and the requirement that it be considered seriously sinful by the person at the time it is committed, may possibly be lacking.Many psychological illnesses and factors compromise these requirements; therefore we painfully but lovingly entrust the person's soul to the infinite mercy of God.

Expect and prepare for issues to surface also in the realm of human sexuality.The Sacrament of Matrimony elevates the proper use of human sexuality to such dignity that it becomes a sign of God's love for his Church and makes the blessed couple co-creators with God of a new human being.Because of this very dignity, inappropriate expression of human sexuality is seriously sinful.Issues that repeatedly surface here include: engaging in sexual activity prior to marriage, homosexual activity, casual sex, and birth control.Prepare by studying the questions and answers in the Catechism references in Chapter 9 of God Calls You by Name. All those who are not living in the bonds of holy matrimony are called, with the help of God's grace, to observe chastity by abstaining from sexual activity. Sexual activity within the bonds of marriage must be open to the possibility of new life; artificial means of birth control are likewise prohibited because they destroy the openness to life proper to the act of marriage. Natural family planning, which respects the rhythm of the women's cycle, is permissible. While homosexual activity is prohibited, those with homosexual tendencies are called to live in chastity in the same way as other single persons.

All or most of these issues will surface at some time during the course of your RCIA process.If you prepare to discuss them in a manner which engages the thinking processes of your participants, rather than simply stating rules and prohibitions, you will be facilitating the development of their consciences and enabling them to apply solid Catholic teaching when evaluating the morality of unforeseeable life dilemmas.