The Ends do not Justify the Means

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Beloved in the Lord, if you open your bible to the 1st Book of Kings, you will read that King Ahab liked to look at the beautiful vineyard next to his palace; it belonged to a man named Naboth. The King wanted that vineyard, but Naboth did not want to sell it. Ahab was sad, but his wife Jezebel said, ‘I will get it for you.’ So she had people lie and accuse Naboth of terrible crimes, so he was stoned to death. ‘Now, go and take possession of the vineyard,’ she said to him.
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Friends in Christ, there may be things that we want, like Naboth’s vineyard, or things that would be good to have, but we cannot obtain them by doing something evil. If a boy wants to buy his mother a birthday present, that is a good thing; but he may not steal money in order to buy it. We may not do evil, in order to achieve good. The ‘ends do not justify the means.’[i]
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By the ‘ends,’ we mean the goal, by the ‘means,’ is the way that we achieve that goal. The ends – the goal – cannot not justify bad means. If we are very much in need of a job, we try hard to get one; but we may not lie on the application in order to get it. We want a wonderful composition in literature class, but we may not copy someone else’s paper to do it. Even if something is VERY good, we may not do evil in order to obtain that good.
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‘My father is dying, I hate to see him suffer, so I will overdose him to end his life. No! Alleviating suffering is a good thing, but we may never use evil means to attain it, otherwise the whole action becomes evil. So this is an important principle in the Christian life which most distinguishes us from pagans.
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In his Epistle to the Romans, St. Paul says that we may not do evil in order to achieve good. (Rom 3:8) Every moral action requires, that WHAT we wish to achieve be good, but also, HOW we achieve that result must also be good. Lance Armstrong wanted something good, winning the Tour de France, fine; but cheating and using drugs made his achievements evil, not good.
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Today we see in the Gospel, that Jesus speaks about setting goals, such as building a tower. He says that we must sit down first and decide HOW we will build it. HOW we achieve our goal is just as important in the moral life. Our Lord says that if we have a good goal, the tower – and we wish to build it without the proper means, people will laugh at us when we fail to achieve it. Lance Armstrong did not take the proper means to achieve his goal, and now he is laughed at.
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If we wish to do something good, but we do it in a sinful way, we will then not have done any good, and the devil will laugh at us. ‘I want my boyfriend to love me, so I will indulge sinful pleasures with him.’ Now although being loved is good, sinning to achieve it, poisons the whole thing. ‘There is a great song I like, so I’ll get it illegally, but this is a sin; we may not do evil in order to achieve good.
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Now it may have occurred to you that our society totally rejects this principle, and that’s for sure. Everywhere, people do evil, in order to get what they want. Nowhere does the spirit of the age go more against the Christian faith than in this area.
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I’m pregnant; this will affect my career plans, my parents will be angry – so I’ll get an abortion. No! While sound career plans and good relations with parents are good things, we may not do evil to obtain what we wish. Some people rationalize; they say ‘It was an agonizing decision, the most difficult in my life, to abort my baby’ – or something else. They want it to seem somehow moral or ok, because they ‘agnonized’ over the decision. But this doesn’t make it right at all.
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These days, if people want something bad enough, they will rationalize and find any means to get it. I want a baby, so I will use any means to achieve it: surrogate motherhood, invitro fertilization, people even steal other people’s babies!   ‘I want an ‘A’ on my exam, it is critical for Law School, therefore I will cheat because this is just TOO important. But we may not do evil to achieve good, even if it is very important.
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Christians live a different way: If telling the truth at work will get me in trouble, I will do the right thing, no matter the cost. My girlfriend will stop going out with me if I won’t move in with her – so-be-it; I will not do what is immoral to have her. This principle is generally what will tell, whether one is a true Christian or not.
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Why do people so often do evil in order to achieve good? Because otherwise, they will have to suffer. Every time we say ‘no’ to doing something wrong, we must suffer a little bit. And this is why Our Lord says in the Gospel today that we must take up our cross to follow him. Being a disciple of Christ is to be a person of integrity; a true Christian does what is right no matter the cost.
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St. Perpetua, a young woman of the 4th century, was challenged by the authorities: ‘Are you a Christian,’ they demanded to know. She could have done what was easy to save her life, denied her faith – but no. Her response was strong and clear: ‘Yes I am a Christian.’
May the Blessed Virgin pray for us, that we also will always do what is right, no matter the cost; that we too can say: ‘I am a Christian.’

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[Entrusted to the prayers of St. Agatha]

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[i] CCC 1753

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