The Christian community has accumulated a wealth of “moral wisdom” over centuries. In the first two chapters of James Keenan’s Moral Wisdom: Lessons and Texts from the Catholic Tradition, Keenan looks to examine the lessons acquired by the Christian faith and tradition on love and conscience. Keenan cites personal experiences from life to connect with the reader on a deeper level and teach the Christian community about its moral obligations to God.
No human emotion is more fundamental to the Christian tradition than love. Love is the most reoccurring theme in the Bible because love is our understanding of God. In the Bible, the life and death of Jesus reveals to us the unrelenting love of God, whether that love was reciprocated or not. Therefore, it makes perfect sense that James Keenan would begin his book, Moral Wisdom, on the very subject. For instance, Keenan (2017) explains that. “our tradition testifies to the love of God as the foundation of the call to become a Christian.” (p. 13)
To further defend his stance on beginning with love, James Keenan (2017) uses the terrorist attacks of the World Trade Center as an example and explains, that when the victims were faced with imminent death, all they wanted to express in their final moments was love. Keenan (2017) elaborates on this by saying, “the human spirit so clearly feels how incomplete it is, that it moves relentlessly toward a union with others.” (p. 8) In fact, Keenan (2017) makes it clear that this search for union is what they wanted to experience in the last moments of their lives,” and that this union, “was a more apparent concern than hatred for those who did this, then the fear of what was about to happen.” (p. 8) Similarly, if faced with the same fate, I would not be wasting my energy focusing on hatred, because those final moments are so precious. On the contrary, I would be using my energy to focus on the things that matter most in the world, my family and friends and the love that I have for them.
James Keenan (2017) also describes love as “a call to grow” and mentions that, “the call to growth often becomes and injunction to cultivate the virtues.” (p. 22) For Christians, this call to growth, and move forward as disciples of God, is always from the conscience. Out of love, God commands us to move forward in our lives and to seek growth but to allow ourselves to grow in love with Him. Conscience helps us to differentiate between right and wrong and helps us become closer to God in our quest to becomes the best Christians that we can be.
While elaborating on the conscience, James Keenan (2017) teaches us that the superego will allow us to become complacent by saying, “Because we are so interested in being loved, the superego threatens us with isolation and therefore hearkens us always to conformity.” (p. 25) But Keenan (2017) reminds us that the conscience “is suspicious of conformity, particularly when injustice is at stake. Because the conscience calls us to aim more at being the one who loves than the beloved, it prompts us to often reach out to the one that the more conformists society rejects.” (p.25) This statement has a lot of implications in our society today. As we have learned historically, our humanity can only move forward when we choose to stand up for those to whom justice is not being served. We must heed this command from God even though we may risk be ostracized for this is the only way that humanity can progress morally and ethically.
In his book, Moral Wisdom: Lessons and Texts from the Catholic Tradition, James Keenan explains that God is love and that we must not only have love for ourselves and for God, but we also must love one another. God makes love possible and when we learn lessons of love, we learn to be less selfish and more connected to one another. Secondly, Keenan teaches us that is we choose to act out of conscience, even though our actions may be wrong, a person can still be good in the eyes of God. Keenan’s personal reflections allow us to revisit the concepts of love and conscience but in a more spiritual way. Even those who do not believe in God can appreciate the lessons that James Keenan is teaching us because these concepts are relevant to all.
Keenan, S. J. J. F. (2017). Moral Wisdom: Lessons and Texts from the Catholic Tradition. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Pub. Group.