Holiness, Penance, and Moral Theology

Despite the constancy of the faith throughout two millennia, Christianity is always being adapted to the present age, usually with some difficulty, debate, and struggle. Catholic history presents us with so many examples of this that we can hardly claim that our particular time or setting deserves the crown of being the “most unique,” despite the rise of automobiles, smartphones, computers, nuclear weapons, and the nuclear family. And yet, it is our time! One of the tasks of moral theology is to identify the needs of the present situation and to aid in the moral discernment of contemporary Christians, while trying to avoid the arrogance of presuming that there is nothing to be learned from the virtuous lives of those who practiced the faith before our time, dealing with moral struggles that were every bit as genuine as those of our own days. When we look at the current era, we find something distinct in the present articulation of the role of the laity. The now famous  Chapter V of Lumen Gentium, entitled “The Universal Call to Holiness in the Church,” emphasizes that holiness is not solely for priests and professed religious, but for every believer: “Therefore, all the faithful of Christ are invited to strive for the holiness and perfection of their own proper state. Indeed they have an obligation to so strive. Let all then have care that...

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