Understanding Our Church

A Treasury of Arkansas Writers Discussing the Catholic Faith

With ability to recognize the difference, we are able to choose good

Published: September 21, 2002

By Father Andrew Smith

In his seminal work of theology, the “Summa Theologiae,” St. Thomas Aquinas examines many questions regarding our belief in God and our relationship to one another. By careful use of theological and philosophical principles, the “Summa” has retained its value over the centuries in helping Christians to carry out the work of theology: faith seeking understanding.

On loving and hating, St. Thomas Aquinas writes that, as creatures blessed with reason, our free will helps us to choose the good. We tend toward what is or seems to be good. “All these tendencies are at root forms of loving.” “What causes love is the goodness ... of (its) object,” writes St. Thomas. Certainly, because he is all-good, God deserves all our love: he who is most good is most desirable.

Therefore, it is appropriate for us to love God above all else. As we grow from childhood into adulthood, through our education and moral training we learn the difference between good and evil. Thus, our conscience is formed and we are able to make right choices, which are consistent with our love of the greatest good, the Lord God, and with his law. St. Thomas makes an important point about how our conscience should be formed and how it is supposed to work.

“Evil can only be loved because it seems good.” When our conscience is correctly formed, we can distinguish evil from good. When there is doubt, we may consult the Scriptures, the teaching of the Church, the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” and other documents and, of course, our pastor and our confessor.

When the goodness or moral value of a certain course of action is doubtful, correct use of our conscience dictates that we cannot act. We can never justify doing evil, even for a good outcome, and we can never do what we are not sure is good. The Letter to the Hebrews reminds us that the blood of Christ, offered up unblemished to God, will “cleanse our consciences from dead works to worship the living God!” (Hebrews 9:11-15)

Jesus offered his body and blood at the Last Supper and on the cross to take away our sins, to open up our freedom to choose good and to turn away from evil. Following his example, we can recognize that such things as abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, nuclear, chemical and biological warfare are evil. So too are actions which lessen the dignity of the human person, ourselves or others, or which violate the Ten Commandments and Christ’s commandment of love.

Only those who choose to ignore their conscience or who have failed to take responsibility to form it adequately can love such evils as if they were good. God loves us, the people he has created in his image and likeness. He sees the good in us, and sent his only son to die in order to release the power of his goodness and love in us. The “sacrifice of thanksgiving” we offer when we break the body and pour out the blood of the son of God in the Eucharist cleanses us from sin, and brings us to eternal life.