Ask a child the following questions:
What would happen if your mom tried to sew buttons onto your shirt using a fork instead of a needle? What if you tried to write a letter with a spaghetti noodle? How far would your dad’s car get if he filled the gas tank with water? Would eating sand keep your body healthy and well-nourished?
You and the child can have a lot of fun with those types of questions. Even a young kid can understand the silliness, the futility—and even the harm—of using something against its nature or purpose. And just as we humans create and design things with a certain purpose and end in mind, God did the same thing when he created and designed mankind.
“What is the nature of a thing?” and “What is the nature of a human being?”—these questions are the basis for understanding the natural law.
Natural law (not to be confused with the laws of nature) is simply another term for the universal moral law, which is inscribed on the heart of every human. Natural law applies to all people and in all eras without exception. In other words, the natural law is not merely “morality for Catholics” or a “religious thing”—it is universal. The Catechism puts it like this: “The natural law expresses the original moral sense which enables man to discern by reason the good and the evil, the truth and the lie” (1954).
Unlike truths we know through divine revelation (such as the nature of the Trinity or the sacraments), natural law can be accessed by the light of human reason alone. That is why atheists and believers alike can understand that things like murder, rape, stealing, lying, disrespecting one’s parents, and even cutting someone in line are unjust or immoral acts.
Now, that doesn’t ensure that individual humans will actually obey the moral law, nor that sin or bad formation will not obscure it, but natural law is knowable nonetheless. Pope Leo XIII describes the natural law:
The natural law is written and engraved in the soul of each and every man, because it is human reason ordaining him to do good and forbidding him to sin. . . . But this command of human reason would not have the force of law if it were not the voice and interpreter of a higher reason to which our spirit and our freedom must be submitted (Libertas Praestantissimum).
As anyone can see from the silly questions at the beginning of this article, if we use a thing against its nature or design, things don’t go so well. But if we use a thing according to its nature or design, there is flourishing. The same goes for human beings: when we act according to our nature and design, we see human flourishing, which means we see virtue, strong families, and thriving societies. When we act against our nature and design, we get confusion, disorder, and sin.
All around us today, we see that people are adrift and disoriented. “Progressivism,” specifically sexual progressivism, is redefining morality so rapidly that we can’t be sure that what is acceptable today will still be acceptable tomorrow. When we institute relativism as the norm for morality, nothing is fixed, everything is shifting beneath our feet. Because of that, we must bring back a way of teaching that will give people, especially our children, a sure footing.
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