The Central Question of Moral Theology

While I was at Notre Dame Seminary, we were asked probably 1000 times this simple question by one of our professors. What is the central question of moral theology? Without hesitation all of us could answer, “Teacher what good must I do to inherit eternal life.” One of our moral theology professors wanted us to know this central claim without hesitation and model our lives after it. Another part of this is we had to recall which passage in scripture it came from, Matthew 19:16. Today’s Gospel has almost the same language with a few minor differences. Differences aside this question should have us ponder? What must I do to inherit eternal life? We likely have all asked this question in one way or another. This question should move us to examine our lives, what are we doing and how does it affect my faith? How am I living out God’s commandments?

In my final semester, our teacher proposed an answer to this question. For my brother seminarians who haven’t got there yet, I won’t spoil it! Ask the Deacons next spring if you really want to know about it! On the other hand, our Lord in today’s Gospel moves this man to answer his own question. (note this wasn’t the answer our professor gave us) But he says

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself. (Luke 10:25)

Any Jewish follower in that audience would immediately know where this came from. It is the Shema which just like our professor drilled the central question of moral theology, any Jewish child would know this by heart very early in life..

you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might (Deuteronomy 6:5)

Interestingly enough the second part of the answer comes from a less known, at least to Jewish ears.

but you shall love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18.)

For our Lord, it seems the answer to the question is simple but not easy to live out. I believe that by God’s grace this can be done! May we strive to love our God and our Neighbor with everything we have, we may fall short, but by God’s grace, it can be done! Finally, when it comes to the love of neighbor, we should look no further than Jesus. He died on the cross for us, he gave his life for us. Any way we can sacrifice and lay down our lives for others we will be living out this command to love God and neighbor.

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