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Becoming a caring moralist

I would always consider myself a moralist, but how I try to share my ideas of morality with others is another thing.

Within the hallowed halls of a beautifully adorned church, there will always be those who would unrelentingly appropriate for themselves the guardianship of the sacred spaces in the midst of the profanity of the secular world, perhaps much inspired by the classical architecture surrounding them.

Moralists often pride themselves as protectors of a holy and immaculate portal through which everybody are invited to enter, but through which those invited are subjected to their close scrutiny. 

Whatever our point of reference in validating one’s “holiness,” may range from our own fuzzy interpretations of the general standards set by the Church concerning Christian fidelity and duty, to our own fuzzier personal moral standards buttressing our unchangeable ethical world views.

At any rate, we may have unjustly earned with our naive self-righteousness, the title of “modern Inquisitors.”

For moralists, there are simply two spiritual castes — those who are deserving of redemption, and those who are not.

In other words, we evoke the imagery of insensitive people claiming for ourselves the duty to enact and preserve what may be purported to be “God’s will for humanity” irrevocably set in stone. We have become a people conditioned beyond negotiation and at times, beyond humane empathy. 

It is indeed a soulful relief — and a brutal admonition — to remember however, that we essentially have a God who listens and understands. All of us are challenged to do the same.

Thinking and acting morally does not impose on anyone the obligation to achieve self-perfection — and to deserve even if it can exist only in one’s self-righteous imagination, a rightful place in heaven. Moreover, thinking and acting morally does not and should not give to anyone the excuse to find the slightest fault in others — as if the glories of paradise can belong only to oneself. 

Rather, thinking and acting morally must commit us to the duty to seek the inner goodness in others and to strive for the welfare of all.

Morality — in contrast to what I have always sensed in my many incursions with parish workers eager to make a “moralist” statement to make their parish priest proud — is simply living a life of love, freely and responsibly living it, giving the same life and love to God and neighbor while ensuring that they understand and develop the same freedom and responsibility for others. 

The desirable outcome of a genuine moral outlook and discipline must be the certainty of development of the human person, in the context where such development is taking place. Any thoughts or actions therefore, that do not give life, that do not offer love, that cannot teach one to conduct oneself freely with full knowledge of its consequences, is not moral — and we may all be guilty of having done so much of these against others for what we thought was a “brave defense” of the Gospel.

Morality thus breathes life into the Good News that once and for all time, brings salvation to the poor and the forsaken. It should never snuff that same life out of anyone. Unlike other teachers in his time, Jesus attracted so many people to himself, giving life wherever he went because he even cared more for those who were “dirty” and “unholy,” for those who didn’t want to belong, and those who couldn’t belong. He was perhaps the only one who could be approached by those who thought of themselves as “undeserving.”

All of us are challenged to keep his story alive, that the Christ may continue to attract those like ourselves, who seem to have no worth. 

It will be a tremendous spiritual burden upon us, if many others will turn away from the Gospel and dismiss it as being “too preachy,” simply because we have stubbornly insisted on being too self-assured. Only because of our proud foolishness, in spite of the eternalness of the Word that Jesus promised, can the Gospel slowly die into oblivion; only because of our moralistic arrogance can the kingdom of God gradually become an unfulfillable reality.

I may have a few questions though, on the nature of this morality model fundamentally founded on caritas: Is the Christian life simply an imperative call to love? It seems that with all the confusion and anxiety in a society of strife, only love seems to stand out as the obvious solution. But what becomes of our Christian duty to simply obey?

Which leads us to another question: Will our new morality model lead us to challenge unquestioning obedience, in the name of love? Is there still wisdom in the classic Confucian postulate that unquestioning obedience of subordinates should be given to the dictates of superiors supposedly committed to their development? How can we all be reassured that there will be no hierarchical abuse?

Personally, complete abandonment of an Oriental heritage of mindful and parental dedication to the Church Magisterium may be unwise, even if moral dilemmas are at stake. Humanly fallible as they may seem, moralists are still our pastors; they are still our guides. 

Only if they can today realize the humility of occasionally descending their teaching thrones to be one with the “smell of the sheep,” then I think we also have to promise them the loyalty — and our own humility — of listening to the richness of their advice and direction. Thus, we will achieve the healthy tension between “taught morality” and individual moral convictions, an optimal balance that may serve well the community that is the Church.

Brother Jess is a professed brother of the Secular Franciscan Order. He serves as minister of the St. Pio of Pietrelcina Fraternity at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Mandaluyong City, coordinator of the Padre Pio Prayer Groups of the Capuchins in the Philippines, and prison counselor and catechist for the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.

The views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of UCA News.

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