moral musings

Doing the Father’s will

“Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary”

-St. Francis of Assisi

divergent views

Since the beginning of known history there has been a premium placed on ‘doing’ as different from merely ‘saying’.  Jesus also supports this value, giving us that illuminating parable of the two sons. The first, being asked by the father to go into the farm and do some work, instantly said yes. But he did not go. The second, equally asked by the father to do the same work, refused. He later thought well of it, and eventually went.  Jesus pointed out that the second son did the will of the father, precisely because only he did the required work.[1] Only he fulfilled the will of the father, lending credence to his words by his actions.

Thus to be a Christian in the true sense of the word is to carry out the dictates of the Father as revealed through the Son by the working of the Spirit. Worshiping the Father in truth and in spirit is only possible in a commitment to what he has laid down as his will; rooting for the kingdom of God to come is therefore by consequence  a constant abiding, even if gradually, by the divine will. That is clear enough.

There is however a grey area to the understanding of this “will of the Father.” The problem in our multicultural, hyper-religious world is an interpretation of what constitutes this divine will. There are several arguments in several quarters as to what is right. There are many who hold, in contrast to classical thoughts of individuals like Thomas Aquinas or even contemporary thoughts of seasoned scholars like Servais Pinckaers or William May, that there are no moral absolutes. In other words, we can always find a reason to excuse the contravention of a given natural law no matter how important such a law is. The bottom of line of that argument is that situations are basically dependent on circumstances; nothing is objectively wrong or right. It is all about how it all happened and under what situation it did happen.  In such ethical stances, no law can be applied on its face value without thinking of the existent situation of the people to which it applies. And that is understandable enough. However the logical consequence of this reasoning is a multiplication of situations which resemble more of moral quagmires without any tangible moral direction as far as such situations are concerned. The question therefore surfaces again, “What is the will of the Father?” And how do we interpret such a will which is revealed to us in the Scriptures and the Sacred Tradition?[2] In the midst of the global confusion about moral issues, particularly within the sexuality ambience, what direction is to be followed?

Those questions are easier asked than answered. In these days the will of the Father would seem difficult to discern in the light of the many troubling questions arising from a society which has grown essentially self-referent. This is compounded more so because the definition of that institution which is usually looked up to as the better source of interpretation of the Father’s will, the Church of God, is today far from being lucid. The body of Christ, represented in different ecclesial communities lay claim to different understanding of the Father’s will. The scourge of disunity therefore complicates further an already difficult moral horizon. This has made for the disparate interpretation of the “will of the Father.”

In the face of this sort of dilemma and difficulty, it is important to remind ourselves that the early moments of the Church as a united body of Christ was never quite free of such moral quagmires. One major difficulty the early church, as administered by the apostles, faced was the issue of deciding the necessity or otherwise of circumcision.[3] While the gentile converts wanted freedom from this practice, the Jewish converts would not hear of neglecting their valued culture and religious practice. It is easy for us to read this as mere history now, but it was a real moral dilemma for those early witnesses of faith.

As it was in the beginning, so it is now. The Church of God rose to this moral dilemma of the obligation or otherwise of circumcision by giving a rule, inspired by the Holy Spirit, not to burden gentile converts with the obligation of circumcision. That of course could not have been satisfactory to all parties, particularly the zealous Jewish converts. But that was the outcome of the deliberation of the Church, inspired by the Holy Spirit. And by the way, this rule of exception, given by the Apostles and elders in the Church in Jerusalem, became the proceeding of the first ever Council in the Church.[4]The point here is that there is yet the moral voice of Christ speaking through his Church, even in the midst of a cacophony of several views.

That “still voice” does not cease to make its direction known in the guidance it gives to the Church of Christ even today.  Moral dilemmas therefore may never end. But the will of the Father would always be made known in that “still voice”, which ever animates the Church of Christ as she navigates the turbulent waters of history.

“Doing the Father’s will” in our pluralistic society and religiously-divided world would always have to pass the moral crucible of “what is the Father’s will?”, a question which cannot possibly receive a consensual answer in the society. It is for such moral crucibles as this that Christ has set up his Church “to teach all nations”, not basing her convictions  on human reasoning or some popular consensus, but on the directions of He who has promised to be with his Church “to the end of time.”[5]

[1] Matthew 21:28-32

[2] Great sources which flow from the same divine well-spring. Cf. Dei Verbum, 9.

[3] Cf. Acts 15:5-29

[4]A foundational step towards what would eventually become Ecumenical Councils in the Church. Cf. Leo Donald Davis, The First Seven Ecumenical Councils, (Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 1990), pp. 21ff.

[5] Matthew 28:19-20


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