Msgr. Bransfield of the USCCB discusses moral theology with pastoral leaders

Deacon Frank Villalobos, director of Hispanic ministry for the Office of Multicultural Ministry, and Mary Groeschen, youth minister at St. Agnes Church, were among 100 pastoral leaders who took part in a day-long Archdiocesan Leadership Institute seminar on moral theology. The event was held March 27 at the Flaget Center. (Record Photo by Marnie McAllister)

Record Assistant Editor

More than 100 pastoral leaders in the Archdiocese of Louisville contemplated a series of cases last week — drawing on their knowledge of moral theology — to determine how a person should behave in certain morally-sticky situations.

Monsignor Brian Bransfield

One case dealt with “Michael,” an active young adult Catholic who works in finance but has a second part-time job at a bookstore to save money for graduate school. The store’s inventory includes pornography, which the man must restock and sell. Participants in the March 27 program were asked, “What counsel would you give to Michael?”

Working in small groups, several people suggested he quit. Others suggested the man explain his objections to pornography and ask the store owner to stop carrying the material. Everyone agreed the young man had to do something — he had to make a choice consistent with his faith and morality.

The exercise was led by Msgr. Brian Bransfield, associate general secretary of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, who was the presenter at the latest Archdiocesan Leadership Institute, a day-long educational seminar held occasionally in the Archdiocese of Louisville.

Msgr. Bransfield focused his talk on moral theology and explained its principles through several case studies, Scripture and the encyclical Veritatis Splendor. The encyclical, written by Blessed John Paul II, was issued on Aug. 6, 1993, he noted, the Feast of the Transfiguration.

“That’s important,” the monsignor said. “A moral life is a transfigured life.”

“A lot of people see moral theology as a line,” he noted, pointing to a line on the floor of Flaget Center’s large meeting room — formerly a gym. Stepping on one side of the line, he said, “I’m in a state of grace.” Stepping to the other side, he said, “I’m going to hell.”

“There is something very true about that,” he acknowledged. “What do we do sooner or later? We build our house where? Right on the line. There’s a world of difference there — heaven and hell.

“But strong winds come along,” he said, in the form of boredom, insecurity, tragedy and other challenges that face families everyday. “What do we do when the world starts to tilt? We lean,” he said.`

“Jesus calls us not to build our house on the line,” Msgr. Bransfield said. “Where does he want us to live? In virtue.”

And virtue lies a great distance from the line between heaven and hell, far from the “near occasion of sin,” he noted.

The monsignor explained that virtue “is a good quality of mind by which one acts rightly” and added that, “God works in us, without us” toward virtue.

He continued to use the image of “building one’s house in virtue” as he discussed how a person can become and remain virtuous. There are certain things, he said, that can build such a house.

They are the sacraments and the gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, courage, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord. The four corners of the house, he said, should be formed by the theological virtues — prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance.

These combine to nurture in the human person the cardinal virtues of faith, hope and love.

Yet people have the ability at any time, he noted, to leap to the other side of the line  — into sin.

“Human beings can by their deliberate choice separate themselves from God,” he said during an interview after the program. “Through sin and concupiscence, we are tempted to deviate from Jesus. The sacrament of penance and the gift of God’s mercy heal us, free us from sin and lead us back to the church.”

Ultimately, he said, “it all flows from the cross of Jesus. From his suffering, death and glorious resurrection he has conquered sin and he gives us the grace to share his victory in our everyday actions.”

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