As a student at Rome's Gregorian University during the early 1960s, I was influenced by those moral theology professors who were beginning to explore the field of the "fundamental option."

They encouraged us to look beyond some of the small actions that made up our grade-school examination of conscience and to zero in on the root choices we make in life. By concentrating on such life-altering decisions, we would better be able to deal with the "little stuff" that causes us so many moral problems.

Though not everyone agreed with their approach, they received a huge vote of confidence years later when the reforms of the Sacrament of Reconciliation were promulgated by the Church.

Options

We confessors were encouraged to help penitents go beyond their surface sins to explore the deeper choices they had made -- choices that eventually led to the sinful things they were confessing.

We were first to assist them in discovering the fundamental options that governed their lives, then help them reflect on how those choices meshed with (or differed from) the choices Jesus had made in selflessly giving Himself to God and others.

No longer was there to be just a quick recitation of sins, a little pep talk, penance, the Act of Contrition and absolution.

If this new approach were put into practice, experts at the time thought the average confession should last at least 20 minutes!

But, except for "face-to-face" spaces in our confessionals, few of those reforms were ever implemented. That's why some of us priests must be having a few guilt feelings as we hear Sunday's three readings. Each revolves around a fundamental choice people are presumed to make that determines how they live their lives.

In the first reading (Joshua 24:1-2a,15-17,18b), Joshua offers his people a clear alternative: "If it does not please you to serve Yahweh, decide today whom you will serve -- the gods your ancestors served beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are now dwelling. As for me and my household, we will serve Yahweh."

Their lives and those of their descendants were determined by the choice they made.

In the second reading (Ephesians 5:21-32), Paul offers husbands and wives in Ephesus an option. Will they live out their marriage as single, independent people, trying selfishly to get as much from their relationship as they possibly can? Or will they imitate the risen Jesus' selfless relationship with His Church -- "nourishing and cherishing" one's spouse, concerned only for the other's good?

Such a decision isn't made just once a lifetime. It's made every time a person gives himself or herself to another, as Jesus constantly gives Himself to us. The more we accept His giving, the more we should give ourselves.

Choosing Jesus

In the Gospel (John 6:60-69), John asks his community to reflect on an option they once made in order to help them understand the new dimension of the Eucharist his Gospel offers.

Though some Christians at the time were no longer "accompanying" Jesus down this new, unexplored road, those who were willing to start the journey could only fall back on the choice they made years before: "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God."

Having put Jesus at the center of their lives, they looked at everything through the lens of that option. They had decided to give themselves to the risen Jesus working among them, even if the life He offered led them into new ways of understanding reality.

Even if we don't get lots of fundamental option theology in the confessional, we certainly get it in Scripture. No matter where it comes from, "Try it; you'll like it!" It's guaranteed to change your moral life.

(8/24/06)