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December 6, 2010

The 20th century theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar maintained there is an inseparable connection between love and truth. To know the truth is to perform an act of love. It is to step outside the confines of one's self and open oneself up to the object one is endeavouring to know.

The object is not some clearly delineated fact. In striving to know that object, one enters into "an ever-new mystery." To enter into the process of knowing is to love.

Love, however, can be partial or distorted. We can fail to move beyond our pre-conceived opinions. We can fail to open ourselves up to that which we are striving to know. We can fail to know the truth because we fail to love.

Von Balthasar's analysis is important for moral decision-making. The best moral decisions are, of course, acts of love. But before we act we have to discern. Preconceived notions can and often do distort our discernment.

In order to do what one wants to do, one can block out values and truths that ought to be considered. Indeed, more immoral decisions are made by a conscious or unconscious failure to seek the whole truth than by deliberately choosing evil. Lack of truth is due to a lack of love.

Recently, the WCR published an article by a woman who had conceived her two children through in vitro fertilization (Nov. 15). Her story was perhaps the best possible scenario for making what the Church rightly considers an immoral decision. She and her husband prayed about their decision. They consulted their priest and perhaps others. They made serious efforts to ensure no embryos created in the process would be destroyed or used in experimentation.

Yet their decision was still wrong. It was wrong because, as an accompanying article made clear, they failed to consider a whole range of other matters that make in vitro fertilization gravely immoral. Sperm is typically collected through masturbation. The conception of the child is turned from an act of physical love into a commercial enterprise. The freezing of human embryos violates human dignity. As well, other possible bad consequences of in vitro need to be considered.

The birth and life of a child are wonderful occurrences. But children are not possessions and they should not be manufactured.

Praying deeply about a decision and pondering it deeply does not automatically lead to a morally correct decision. When one has a strong desire to do something, one can easily settle for a partial truth.

The whole truth must be sought. Truth is found through love and love involves putting one's preconceptions and desires into the background. It accepts that those preconceptions and desires will and should be challenged. It further accepts that moral norms are truths, not opinions or matters of taste. The truth must always be loved.