Why We Must Set Our Morality Bars High

Morality crossroads

When we think about morality, we often tell ourselves to avoid the big sins and be nice. Although these goals are good, especially for the novice Christian, they do not strike at the essence of our moral responsibilities. Rather, they can become justifications for lesser sins and lead us into moral relativism. We tell ourselves that we are good people, but all we are doing is setting the morality bar low. Allow me to explain.

Two Analogies

Imagine a man who desires nothing more than to be a couch potato. He does the bare minimum in life and never excels at anything other than being lazy. This man justifies his behavior by telling himself that he is not harming others and that he is always nice to people. He sets the bar low, and he submits to himself as his standard for conduct. He becomes his own truth. Although he easily achieves his goal, he merely exists and never makes himself a better person.

Now, imagine a man who desires to be a doctor. He sets his sights on this profession, goes to school, learns from others on the job, and focuses on making himself a good doctor. This man sets the bar high and submits to the standards for physicians. He takes the tools given to him and applies them to the myriad situations he encounters. By successfully confronting any number of problems and even learning from his failures, he uses his tools and experiences to make himself a better doctor.

(Note: These are only examples.  I am not deriding other jobs, professions, parenting, etc.)

If we apply the first man’s work ethic to moral behavior, we will quickly conclude that this man will either remain in his sins or seek forgiveness only to turn back to them (2 Peter 2:22, RSVCE). He will do this because he has set the morality bar low and does not cooperate with the grace God gave him through forgiveness. Essentially, he rejects grace by refusing to use it.  He submits to himself and, therefore, the standard of moral relativism.

Think about the man who buried the talent his master gave him. Rather than using the talent for its purpose, he did nothing with it. He committed the sin of sloth. So, the master returned and cast the man into the outer darkness (Matthew 25:14-30).

Conversely, if we apply the work ethic of the second man to moral behavior, we can conclude that this man will seek forgiveness and cooperate with grace to become morally perfect. Even if he falls, he will return to God and continue his journey toward moral perfection. He does this because of grace and because he uses it to set his morality bar high. In other words, his submission to God and his cooperation with grace leads to more grace until he completely conquers sin. He rejects relativism and embraces objective moral truths.

Think about the men who doubled their talents (Matthew 25). They submitted to the master’s desire for them to use the talents for their intended purposes. The master returns, sets them over much, and brings them into his joy.

For more on moral perfection, click here.

Jesus Christ, Our Standard Bearer

To understand where we should set our morality bars, we need to look at only one person, Jesus Christ. Jesus gives us the true standard for moral behavior. He became human and died to save us from the wages of sin, which is death. He gives us the grace to increase in holiness and the command to be perfect as the Heavenly Father is perfect. Because of His example of humility and self-sacrifice, and His command to be morally perfect, He obliges us to seize upon His grace to morally perfect ourselves.

Difficulty

Everything I have written about morality thus far is easy to say but difficult to practice. However, we have to start in order to finish. Jesus says that we must take up our crosses daily and follow Him (Luke 9:23). He also tells us, “Enter by the narrow gate…. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few (Matthew 7:13). He is telling us up front that the journey will be difficult, but He also tells us that anything is possible with God (Matthew 19:26).

Additionally, He says that His burden is light, and His yoke is easy (Matthew 11:30). He says this because He wants to help us live a virtuous life and because He designed us for His yoke. As those made in the image and likeness of God, we must conform ourselves to Jesus and yoke ourselves to Him. The more we practice His virtues the better His yoke fits. In other words, the more we practice conformity to Christ by walking alongside Him and imitating Him, the more human we become.

We must take up our crosses daily because Satan and his minions erect obstacles to our daily walk with Christ.  But if we put on Jesus’ yoke continuously, He will equip and fortify us to battle Satan and tear down these obstacles.

Of course, the question people inevitably raise is this – How do we become more like Jesus Christ, perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect?

The Beatitudes

Thankfully, Jesus left us instructions to guide us, and a Church to walk with us. First, we should look at the beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12). Beatitude means blessed and happy, which is why every beatitude begins with, “Blessed are the….” We could also say, “Happy are the….” Therefore, Jesus blesses us and makes us happy through our conformity to the beatitudes.

Paraphrasing, He says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, the meek, they who mourn, they that hunger and thirst for justice, the merciful, the clean of heart, the peacemakers, and they that suffer persecution for justice’s sake,” for they will find true happiness.

The Catholic Church teaches that:

The Beatitudes reveal the goal of human existence, the ultimate end of human acts: God calls us to his own beatitude. This vocation is addressed to each individual personally, but also to the Church as a whole, the new people made up of those who have accepted the promise and live from it in faith (CCC 1719).

Seven Vices and Virtues

The Church also teaches about the seven deadly sins and their remedies, the seven holy virtues. We must reject the former and embrace the latter. In fact, in our efforts to reach the morality bar, we must replace the former with the latter.

The Church calls us to replace pride with humility, envy with kindness, sloth with diligence, wrath with patience, greed with charity, lust with chastity, and gluttony with temperance. If we simply seek forgiveness but do not replace that which is forgiven with a virtue, we become like the man with an unclean spirit (Matthew 12:43-45, RSVCE):

When the unclean spirit has gone out of a man, he passes through waterless places seeking rest, but he finds none. Then he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes, he finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then he goes and brings with him seven other spirits more evil than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first.

And Isaiah the prophet writes, “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good” (1:16-17). In other words, replace evil acts with good ones.

The Sacraments

Finally, we should look at the seven sacraments and how they move us toward moral perfection by the grace they communicate. I am convinced that we cannot achieve moral perfection (i.e., complete sanctification) in this life without frequently availing ourselves of the sacraments, especially confession and the Eucharist.

I say this because I have witnessed the results. Although I am far from perfect, I have seen how sacramental graces have helped me to move progressively further from the sins I used to commit.

  • Baptism washes away a person’s sins and makes them a member of Jesus Christ’s body, the Catholic Church (Matthew 28:19, Romans 6:3). It is the sacrament of regeneration (Titus 3:5), of being born anew (John 3:3). This sacrament removes our enmity with God and makes us His friends by infusing us with sanctifying grace (1 Corinthians 6:11). If we fall from His friendship via mortal sin, we have a related sacrament that we must seek, the Sacrament of Reconciliation (i.e., Confession; click here for more on confession; click here for more on baptism).
  • Confession restores sanctifying grace, friendship with God, and membership in the Catholic Church (1 John 1:9). Just as the Church has a duty to administer baptism for the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 28:19), it has a corresponding duty to administer the Sacrament of Reconciliation for those who have committed mortal sin after baptism (John 20:23). This sacrament is indispensable for those seeking moral perfection. In fact, ordinarily speaking, one cannot become perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect without it. Additionally, this sacrament is also available for those who have not committed mortal sins. Many Catholics go to confession once every week or two to confess venial sins that they may “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18; see also CCC 1458).
  • The Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith in God. It is the body, blood, soul, and divinity of our Lord (Matthew 26:26-29). Just as the Jews worshipped God who appeared to them as a pillar of cloud (Exodus 33:9-11), we worship Jesus who appears to us as bread and wine. By receiving the Eucharist worthily, God gives us life (John 6:32-58). By refusing to receive the Eucharist worthily, we choose death (1 Corinthians 27-30). We must receive Him in the Eucharist because He wants to feed us with “true bread” (John 6:32) for our spiritual journeys toward moral perfection and Heaven. For more on the Eucharist, please click here.
  • Confirmation strengthens us to go out and do the works of the Holy Spirit. The Catholic Church anoints us with the seal of the Holy Spirit to strengthen our resolve in Christ Jesus (Luke 24:49, Act 1:8, Acts 2:4, 2 Corinthians 1:22). This sacrament emboldens us to share the truth with others both in season and out of season (2 Timothy 4:2).
  • Marriage joins one man and one woman together in Christ for the purposes of spousal unity, procreation, and sanctification through mutual assistance in imitation of Christ’s marriage to the Catholic Church (Ephesians 5:21-33). In this sacrament, man and woman become one flesh to participate in God’s power of creating persons (Mark 10:7-8). Even if they fail in creating others, this purpose manifests itself every time the two consummate their marriage. Therefore, every married couple must engage in the conjugal act without contracepting. Otherwise, they end up objectifying one another by making pleasure, rather than procreation, union, and holiness, the end of their act (Galatians 5:19-26). In essence, they exchange grace for the sin of lust. For more on sexual morality, please click here.
  • Holy Orders are necessary for Church unity and administering the sacraments (Luke 22:19 and others). Without this sacrament, the Church would have long ago descended into chaos, contradictions, and relativism reminiscent of Protestantism and the world at large. This sacrament gives us priests chosen from among the royal priesthood of the faithful (1 Peter 2:9). Their duty is to administer the sacraments and journey with us toward sanctification, to “present [us] as a pure bride to her one husband” (2 Corinthians 11:2), and to serve those in their care (Luke 22:25-26).
  • The Anointing of the Sick fortifies the soul with the grace of final perseverance for one who is suffering from a serious illness or who is at risk of death (Mark 6:13). This sacrament will raise up the sick man and forgive him his sins. “Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven” (James 5:14-15).
Set Your Morality Bars High

Our Lord commands us to be morally perfect, but we cannot achieve this without His grace and our cooperation with it. Also, God gives us a variety of remedies for our sins. We simply have to embrace them and stop making excuses. The world and demonic entities tell us that we cannot be morally perfect in this life. Their words are from Satan, and we must ignore them. In fact, we must imitate Christ and stand as a contradiction to the world.

So, be perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48), pure as the heavenly Father is pure (1 John 3:3), righteous as the heavenly Father is righteous (1 John 3:7) and holy as the heavenly Father is holy (1 Peter 1:16). Set your morality bars high because God gives us the power to do so. A false faith believes that God cannot morally perfect us in this life, but true faith knows that God can perfect us in this life and make us ready for Heaven at the moment of our deaths (see CCC 1472). God bless and keep the faith!

[Social media appeal: Hello, readers! If you think my article, or any other article at Catholic Stand, will help others better understand and/or spread the faith, please post a link to your social media account(s). Thank you!]

This article on morality first appeared on Catholic Stand.