First Principles by Monsignor Ferrarese

Sometimes we make great errors because we don’t understand the overriding context within which we make decisions and accomplish actions in our life.

Perhaps an example will help. One summer day, I went with a friend to the summer house of a family we both knew very well. It was a joyous afternoon of fun and conversation. But at one point my friend was thirsty. He got up from the table and went to the refrigerator to get something to drink. I was shocked and so were the owners of the house. He did this simple action so calmly. It would be a normal and unremarkable action except that this was not his house! He was out of bounds. He overstepped an accepted boundary. His action did not fit into the current context: we were guests, and it was up to the host to offer us beverages, etc. If the house belonged to my friend, going to the refrigerator would have been a normal action; but here, it seemed unreflective at best and downright rude at worst. The context within which an action is done can define whether the action is good or bad.

The context is the atmosphere within which the action manifests its meaning and value or lack of value. When we watch things on TV or read the newspaper, it is clear that the writers and performers are working in a silently-accepted context that the things of God have no place in the Universe; that all that is important is the material and that there is no God, no accountability beyond human law and judgement; that the things of God, like Scripture, are at best a curiosity from the distant past; and, most importantly, that we are not responsible to a Higher Being for our lives and that Higher Being we call ‘God’ has nothing to do with our private lives nor any say as to what we decide for our lives. Their cry is, “This is my body, my existence; and beyond the people I consider important in my life, I am not responsible to anyone else.”

Thus, when the believer speaks out of another perspective and context, it is at best ‘interesting’ and at worst a delusion to those whose only context is ‘this world’.

In other words, once you believe in God, everything changes. We are responsible ultimately not to our own self, not the direct superiors in our lives (employers, public leaders, law enforcers etc.), but to God, who knows everything about us, to whom we go when we die to be judged as deserving of eternal blessedness or eternal damnation. The center of gravity for a believer is the will of God.

For those who do not believe in God, there is no ultimate accountability. Like immature children in grade school, they think that cheating is bad only when you are caught. If you lie or cheat or steal, it is not wrong if you get away with it. There is no objective moral code. Though many would not be honest enough to admit it even to themselves, there are no rules for us except what I want so that I can worship at the altar of freedom. When I die, all is forgotten for I cease to exist. This can be a comforting thought for those who do wrong: it is very possible to get away with it! For, they opine, there is no God. Karl Marx said that religion was the opium of the people. So, we can say with even more certainty: atheism is the opium of the evil-doer!

Once we understand the pervasive power of first principles that underlie our decisions and perspectives, we should call ourselves to account: As a person of faith, do I do all things as one of God’s servants, or do I say I am a believer and then do what I want? Faith has consequences. If it did not, then it would not be faith but a false self-construction or what used to be called an “Idol”. The frightening awareness of this line of thinking is that we may have many idolaters sitting in our pews and thinking they are Catholics. Sadly, the same may be true of priests on the altar!

The true and proper reason for us to do what we do is not our comfort, or habit, or inclination; nor, of course, the temptations of the Evil One. Our reason to do everything we think, say or accomplish should be for the glory of God and the salvation of our souls. To truly understand this fact and to act on it all the time is what should be our main aim in life.

The witness of the martyrs is the most eloquent and radical defense of this teaching. To die for an unreal nonexistent being (God) would be an absurdity. But, since there is a God to Whom I owe my very existence, giving my life is but a small sacrifice to the enormity of God’s love.

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” – Romans 12:2

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