What Software Engineering Teaches Me About Morality

I’m a software engineer and that means I look at a lot of computer code all day long.  Often, I’m working with other engineers and look at their code and offer suggestions for improvement.  I’m always telling other software engineers to not “reinvent the wheel.”  That means don’t write your own code to solve a problem that someone else has already adequately solved. For example, if my application needs to send an email notification, it would be a waste of my time to write my own email routine instead of using one someone else has already written.  Why should I go through all the effort to design, implement, debug, and test a piece of software when someone else, who probably knows a lot more about the details of email protocols, already made the effort and produced a tool that fits my needs?

The fifth of Thomas Aquinas' proofs of God's e...
St. Thomas Aquinas

I see parallels between code reuse in software engineering and theology. I often ponder why I believe what I believe. For example, I believe that abortion is an intrinsic evil. I know this because this is what the Catholic Church teaches.  According to the mainstream media or popular culture, that makes me an ignorant lemming who does not think for himself.  But quite the contrary, I’m not relying solely on my thoughts and emotions to arrive at the conclusion that abortion is evil.  I refer to thousands of years of Catholic teaching built on the foundation of some of the greatest philosophical minds the world has ever known.  Like the software engineer that builds an application using various tools and libraries others wrote, I build my moral foundation by integrating the deep insights of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.

People should use their talents while relying on the talents of others in areas where they aren’t experts.  I’m a software engineer, not a philosopher or theologian.  When people need help with their computer, they call me.  When I  need moral guidance I call St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Albert the Great, Blessed John Paul II, St. Augustine of Hippo, Pope Benedict XVI, and many other great minds of the Catholic Church.  I would be foolish to “wing it” and rely solely on my own thoughts and emotions when facing a moral question because I’m not utilizing all the time-tested thoughts and teachings available to me.  And whether it is a software engineer or someone looking for moral guidance, when you try to do everything yourself you will usually not produce as good of a solution as trusting those who have deep domain expertise.

The real “lemmings” in our culture are many of the ones who accuse the faithful of not utilizing rational thought.  While the Catholic faith built its foundation on people who really studied and thought about life’s great questions, many in society at large draw their beliefs from the words of politicians, special interest groups, celebrities, and talking heads on the news.  And like fads, their moral foundation is constantly changing because it’s based mostly on emotion and news polling.  How stable is that foundation if it is constantly in motion?  Why should the Catholic Church “modernize” if that would mean replacing its strong moral foundation with one that has no deeper thought than a joke on The Daily Show?  Do we really want to throw out the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas for the wisdom of Nancy Pelosi or Joe Biden?  Do we replace the influence of the Summa Theologica with the popular sentiment of “Everybody’s doing it.  Don’t you want to be cool?”

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Society has come down with a serious case of soundbiteitis.  Symptoms include basing your morality on the words of celebrities and politicians and believing various myths and flat out lies about the Catholic Church and her principles.  You are advised to meditate on the Fourth Glorious Mystery — Mary’s Assumption into Heaven.  Mary has a special place in Heaven and she serves as our guide to bring us into God’s grace and eventually into His heavenly kingdom.  Throughout generations she came to many people through apparitions with a message to turn towards prayer and to really attempt to understand Jesus’ Church.  To understand the Church, you need to read its teachings found in the Bible as well as the writings of her saints and theologians.  Mary knows just how great the fullness and joy of Heaven really is and she wants all of us to have an understanding of it too.  Because if we did take the time to educate ourselves about the Church, and pray for the faith to even feel the slightest sense of what awaits us in Heaven, we would turn away from our sinful ways.

We all have a choice.  Do we put base our morality on the sound bites of politicians and celebrities?  Or do we put our faith in the teachings of the Catholic Church, its generations of scholars, and our Heavenly Mother Mary?  Seems like a no brainer to me.

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The Feast of the Assumption

The statue of the Assumption venerated at Ghax...
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With all the upheaval and uncertainty in this world — riots in England, financial markets slowing down, jobs disappearing, etc., maybe it is time to get back to basics and focus on what’s really important.  Monday, 8/15/11, was the feast of the Assumption which we pray in the Fourth Glorious Mystery of the rosary.  In my meditation on that mystery, I talk about how Mary is our spiritual guide and offers us five easy habits we can use to get back in touch with God’s awesome grace.  I call them the 5 R’s — Recite (prayers), Read (the bible), Refrain (from indulgent eating), Repent (from your sins), and Receive (the Eucharist).  We should all take a little time out from all the worries of this world and focus on what is really important.  We should also pray particularly for all those who do not seem to have a spiritual compass and live in a world without hope or joy of something permanent such as God’s love.  We pray that they find the strength to orient themselves towards God’s truth and live in His grace.

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Rosary Meditation — The Fourth Glorious Mystery

In the Fourth Glorious Mystery of the holy rosary we meditate and pray on Mary’s Assumption into Heaven. Having accepted God’s plan in the Annunciation, Mary was honored by being assumed, body and soul, into God’s kingdom. However, Her work was far from over as She now takes the role of our guide and spiritual mentor. She is always trying to bring us closer to Her son, Jesus Christ.

Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Image by Lawrence OP via Flickr

In the Fourth Glorious Mystery of the holy rosary we meditate and pray on Mary’s Assumption into Heaven.  Having accepted God’s plan in the Annunciation, Mary was honored by being assumed, body and soul, into God’s kingdom.  However, Her work was far from over as She now takes the role of our guide and spiritual mentor.  She is always trying to bring us closer to Her son, Jesus Christ.  She has a difficult challenge since She needs to not only fight the forces of evil, but also fight against our own weaknesses to live as one of God’s children.

Mary has appeared to many different people over the centuries and reiterated the ways we can live in God’s grace and ultimately live in His kingdom of Heaven.  Her messages can be narrowed down to five simple behaviors that She wants all of us to do:

  • Pray:  How can you have a meaningful relationship with God unless you talk to Him?  It doesn’t matter whether you recite prayers, meditate, or just have a free-form prayer session.  You need to talk to God and more importantly, listen to what He tells you.
  • Bible: Again, how can you love God if you do not know Him or His Church?  Read the Bible, the Catechism, and the writings of saints and scholars.  Know your faith so that you can live it with every thought, word, and action.
  • Fast: The key is to detach yourself from the bonds of this world and leave room in your soul for God’s grace.  Mary’s messages at Medjugorje always talk about leaving room for Jesus’ love and mercy and fasting makes you more receptive to God’s truth.
  • Confession: You need to free yourself from the bonds of sin by receiving absolution.  Like a shower for your soul, the Sacrament of Confession cleans away the damage sin inflicts on you and strengthens your resolve to remain in a state of grace.
  • Eucharist: You need to receive Jesus’ Body and Blood regularly because it is your spiritual fuel that will give you the strength and resolve to do God’s will.

Mary wants only the best for us.  She wants us to be close to Her son, Jesus Christ.  That is why She was assumed into Heaven so that She can be our guide and protector from evil.  What She asks of us is not terribly difficult.  She asks us to recognize God in our lives through prayer and act according to His Word.  Taking the time to listen to Mary and following Her guidance will lead to something far greater than anything in this world — God’s kingdom.  So, when we pray this mystery we should ask ourselves, “Are we listening to our Heavenly Mother?”

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Imitate Mary and Say “Yes” to God

On Sunday, August 16, Pope Benedict XVI dedicated his Angelus reflections to Our Lady. Speaking to 4,000 people gathered in the courtyard of Castel Gandolfo’s apostolic palace, he explained that, like Mary, Catholics are called to say yes to God. His reflection touches on themes found in various rosary mysteries such as the Annunciation, the Assumption, and the Institution of the Eucharist. We should ask ourselves, do we have the faith to say yes to God as Mary did and the strength to carry out His will?

The icon of Annunciation from the Church of St...
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On Sunday, August 16, Pope Benedict XVI dedicated his Angelus reflections to Our Lady. Speaking to 4,000 people gathered in the courtyard of Castel Gandolfo’s apostolic palace, he explained that, like Mary, Catholics are called to say yes to God.  His reflection touches on themes found in various rosary mysteries such as the Annunciation, the Assumption, and the Institution of the Eucharist.  We should ask ourselves, do we have the faith to say yes to God as Mary did and the strength to carry out His will?

Here is what Pope Benedict said as reported on the Catholic News Agency:

“What happened to Mary is also valid for every man and woman,” he expounded. “God asks each of us to welcome him, to make available to him our hearts, our bodies, our entire existence, so that he can dwell in the world. He calls us to join ourselves to him in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, to form the Church together…by the very nature of our yes, that mysterious exchange also happens to and in us. We are assumed in the divinity of he who assumed our humanity.”

I like this idea that Mary not only said yes to God’s will, but also welcomed Him and made Him available to her heart.  I think often, even when we do God’s will, we do it begrudgingly and without a lot of joy.  We tend to think of God’s will as a burden, not a gift.  Of course going to Mass, receiving the sacraments, and following God’ laws are good things and something we should always strive to do.  But we should also remember than when we do say yes to God we receive a gift of grace which should fill our hearts with joy.  Who doesn’t find it even a little bit exciting that God lives within us when we accept His will?  With that prospect of God working through us, we should not only say yes to Him, but we should also jump at the opportunity with passion and vigor.

I think Mary had a very good understanding of the benefits and joy that come out of saying yes to God.  Did following God’s will make her life easier?  Of course not.  She was burdened with the scandle of an unwed pregnancy and then the sorrow of seeing her son crucified.  But I think she understood that these earthly burdens were minimal when compared to the eternal rewards of living in God’s grace.  I think we often forget about the infinite treasures of heaven amongst our daily struggles.  Because this heavenly reward is something beyond our understanding, we tend to lose sight of it and settle for meager substitutes.  We fall into sin doing things that make us temporarily happy now instead of taking that harder road that will ultimately lead to eternal happiness.  So let us listen to Pope Benedict and be like Mary.  Let us not only say yes to God, but say yes with the joy of knowing that following His plan for us will lead to a happiness greater than anything we can imagine.  And let us pray for everyone who has lost sight of that goal and have said no to God either through their words, thoughts, or actions.

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