February 6, 2012

At times, I have thought it would be beneficial to see the key events of our daily lives in a mirror or on a video at the end of the day. It could give one a hearty dose of reality. Seeing our actions with greater objectivity would help us realize that they may not be what we thought they were when we performed them.

Our tone of voice, our actions and even our words would not always be how we remember them. Seeing them from an external viewpoint might spur us to change.

God, however, has not given us the option of being able to automatically see our actions with external objectivity. Rather, we live our actions subjectively. We live with intention, desire, emotion and commitment.

Sometimes these subjective factors may not be apparent to others; other times, they may be more apparent to others than they are to ourselves.


Although we live subjectively, we do need to see ourselves through an objective lens. We need to see what we are doing well and where we fall down.

Sometimes, a comment from a friend or family member can hold a mirror up to a person and enable that person to see him or herself in a new light. Equally often, however, comments from others are reflections more of their own personal issues than of anything the acting person has done.

It is extremely difficult to do an honest and thorough examination of conscience. In that regard, I have to say that for the most part I do not find traditional schemas for such an examination to be helpful.


Such schemas are typically based on the Ten Commandments. When I violate one of at least the first eight commandments, I know it immediately. (The two commandments about "coveting" are another matter.) I don't need to go into my room and ponder my action to know that what I have done is wrong.

However, while I find that my clear violations of the commandments are not frequent, I also know that I am a long way from being holy. I am no saint and yet, according to the Second Vatican Council, that is exactly what each one of us is called to be.

I know that I could pray a lot more. But what else in my daily actions could I change so that I could become a saint?

To be a saint is to live as Jesus lived. Fortunately, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told us how we could follow in his footsteps. He gave several maxims or pointers, the most important of which are the Beatitudes.

This Lent, I would like to encourage our readers to reflect on the Beatitudes as a means for moral self-examination. Ash Wednesday this year is Feb. 22. However, with eight beatitudes and this introductory article, now is the time to begin this series so that it is completed before Easter. A wrap-up article will appear in our issue immediately after Easter.


At first glance, the Beatitudes may seem like an odd place to begin one's self-examination. How do I relate my everyday life to "virtues" such as meekness, mourning, purity of heart or persecution?

The answer to that question will become more obvious over the next eight weeks. Great theologians such as St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas have treated the Beatitudes as a cornerstone of moral theory.

While I will refer to Augustine and to others, the basic format for my discussion in these articles is based on the discussion of "modes of Christian response" in the first volume of contemporary moral theologian Germain Grisez's magnum opus The Way of the Lord Jesus.

A full consideration of Grisez's massive and, in places, technical, three-volume work is well beyond the capacity of any newspaper. However, there are places in his work that can be of great benefit to a general readership. His consideration of the Beatitudes is one of those areas.


I had the privilege of studying under Grisez as an undergraduate and graduate student in philosophy at Campion College, University of Regina, in the mid-1970s. That does not make me an expert on his work. But I do have a feel for the general approach of his moral thinking and his strong commitment to Vatican II's call for renewal in moral theology.

Because of the detail and complexity of The Way of the Lord Jesus, it has not reached a general Catholic audience to the extent it should.

Grisez's work, I believe, can be of great help to ordinary Catholics such as the readers of the WCR who regularly tell us they hunger for solid Catholic teaching.

These are not, however, the "Be-Happy Attitudes" that you might have heard from TV preachers. A serious study of the Beatitudes can lead one to a searing examination of one's life. What is called for may seem more than any person can manage.

My hope is that this series will spur at least some readers to a serious moral self-analysis and to a greater use of the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation that has fallen into disuse in recent decades.