We often combine into one phrase the words: right and good. And we intend them to mean more or less the same thing. What is right is also good, just as what is good is also right. And so, at mass, when the Preface is introduced by the celebrant’s invocation: “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God”, we respond: “It is right and just (good)” (derived from the Latin: “dignum et justum est”).
But is that always the case? That is, is “the right” always “the good”? and, is “the good” always “the right”? I am speeding along the road with my child bleeding severely. He cut himself and I’m rushing him to the hospital. I speed right through, first, a stop sign, then a red light. What I am doing is not “right”, but is it “good”? I may think so. Or, I’m tallying up my income tax for the year, and have figured out how much, percentage-wise, my income tax goes toward supporting abortion practices, and I simply deduct that amount from what I intend to pay. I may feel good about it, but is it right? It seems that the right and the good are not always “on the same page”.
Something is right because it conforms to a law or statute that has been enacted by lawful authority, the best instance of which is God Himself, as, for example, in His ten commandments. We usually give authority the “benefit of the doubt”, presuming it is in a position to know what it is doing, more so than I, since it likely has access to more information and consultation than I do.
But sometimes a particular enactment rubs me the wrong way, and, though I may have trouble articulating my problem clearly, I am convinced that a particular law or decree is wrong, and may be not only incorrect but also immoral, or evil. It may even be the law of the land, or of the area where I live, but it disturbs my conscience.
On the other hand, I may be of the opinion that the only way to protect my child from serious harm is to refuse all vaccinations for him or her. I may not be violating a law in doing so, but I am going against common wisdom and practice in this regard, and, in the opinion of most people, subjecting my child to harm (sickness) and, incidentally, their children too. I may be convinced I am doing something good for my boy or girl, even though most of the medical profession is strongly of the opinion that what I am doing is not right, and goes against the prevailing protocols of its practitioners. Something may be good (in my judgment) even though it is not right (in the judgment of the professionals).
So how do we handle what Is not always “dignum et justum est”? What if it’s dignum but not justum, or justum but not dignum? Do I just go ahead and do what I think is good? Or do I always tend to do what is supposedly right, even though I have qualms about its goodness? Or do I always do what seems to me to be good, regardless whether others think it is the wrong thing to do or not?
So it’s Ash Wednesday and I am not supposed to eat meat on this day of abstinence, but I am feeling weak and the doctor told me to eat meat whenever I feel the offset of weakness. Or I’m on vacation in the backwoods of Minnesota and it’s Sunday with no church in sight. Do I interrupt my short vacation to travel a great distance to attend mass, or do I tell myself I need this break and the Lord will understand?
Life is full of these conundrums. Fortunately, for the most part, dignum et justum est go together, that is, they are not opposed. But sometimes they stand in opposition to one another, and present us a problem. The best we can do is consult, if we have the opportunity, or, failing that, pray about it and proceed to do what is dignum et justum.