Society's misplaced virtues

A recent interaction recalled to my mind something that was first brought to my attention by Msgr. Robert Sokolowski. In one of his courses, we read Veritatis Splendor, which includes this passage:

32. Certain currents of modern thought have gone so far as to exalt freedom to such an extent that it becomes an absolute, which would then be the source of values. This is the direction taken by doctrines which have lost the sense of the transcendent or which are explicitly atheist. The individual conscience is accorded the status of a supreme tribunal of moral judgment which hands down categorical and infallible decisions about good and evil. To the affirmation that one has a duty to follow one’s conscience is unduly added the affirmation that one’s moral judgment is true merely by the fact that it has its origin in the conscience. But in this way the inescapable claims of truth disappear, yielding their place to a criterion of sincerity, authenticity and “being at peace with oneself”, so much so that some have come to adopt a radically subjectivistic conception of moral judgment.

Sincerity and authenticity. These two words are society’s trump cards over many moral discussions. When someone is doing something objectively wrong, people are quick to set the action aside, “At least she is so firm in her convictions,” “He really does what he believes.” The modernist desire to placate everyone’s senses and give everyone a pat on the back (corresponding to the feel-good Happy Jesus image) misses the point. I may believe with all my heart that I am the King of England, but believing does not make it so. I may sincerely tell my wife that I stopped at the grocery store when it is a complete and utter lie. Being “sincere” or “authentic” does not mean you are “good.”

There is an objective truth that we can discover if we are willing to submit to it. Humility, the precursor to all other virtues, is seeing yourself in right relation to God. As St. Catherine of Siena said: You are He Who is and I am she who is not. We must submit to this truth where it is found, for only in that truth we find true freedom. Let us pray for this virtue ever more to combat the false virtues of our day.

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