Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The moral argument is not enough

A lot of pastors, parents and teachers are running up against brick walls when trying to make the moral argument in favor of marriage as God intended; that is, marriage as between a man and a woman. Especially with millennials, the best arguments can made with very few results. Quite often, the response from young people is that the Catholic Church "hates gay people"; or, at the very least, the Church is discriminatory against same-sex partners who should have "equal" rights as heterosexual couples. Again, no matter how eloquent or persuasive the teacher is, it is often met with either apathy or hostility on the part of the youth or young adult.

But here is the problem: It is not the moral argument by itself that will lead to higher moral standards. What converted the barbaric and uncivilized continent of Europe centuries ago was not the moral argument per say. It was the proclamation of the Gospel and being initiated into the life of Christ that made it possible for the moral law of Christ to be understood, accepted and lived out. To say it another way: Conversion to the person of Jesus Christ and a meaningful-personal relationship with him is really the only way to persuade the youth about the sanctity of marriage or even the dignity of life. Sure, there are individual exceptions here and there. But as a rule, the soul has to be sanctified before the intellect can be truly enlightened about the moral truths the Lord has revealed.

Blessed Fr. Antonio Rosmini, in 1832, wrote a book entitled, Of the Five Wounds of the Holy Church. In it, he reminded in contemporaries that even the exercise of heroic virtue, by the early Christians, wasn't enough to convert the ancient pagans. He said,

"To merely imitate Christ or the virtues of the Apostles was insufficient for the regeneration of mankind. On the contrary, virtue, even heroic virtue, was often an object of hatred. Without moral strength an unattainable perfection of obedience to the commands of Christ could only aggravate the pagan’s despair of reaching it."

What was needed was moral strength. And the moral strength proceeded from a practical force that arose from worship and the Sacraments "whereby man could attain the grace of the Almighty." This is why it is important to recall that the Apostles did not found of school of philosophy. Authentic Christianity was never proposed as such because ideas- no matter how true -were never enough to regenerate the soul.

Grace proceeds from an encounter with Christ. Grace, when acted on, then leads to holiness. From there, holiness becomes a real source of knowledge...knowledge of God and knowledge of his moral law. Again, Rosmini says that this was the key to the success of the early Church Fathers in bringing about so many conversions in the first Christian millennium:

"This was the leading principle and foundation of the system followed in the first centuries; knowledge and holiness were closely combined, the one springing from the other. It may be truly said that knowledge sprang from holiness, since the former was sought solely out of love to the latter; knowledge was sought after so far as it was essential to holiness, and no other knowledge was desired. In this combination we find the true spirit of that doctrine which is destined to save the world: it is no ideal doctrine, but practical and real truth."

I think this is key if we want to stop spinning the wheels while going nowhere. If the sanctity of marriage and other moral principles are to be accepted, pastors, parents and teachers will have to focus on conversion as the foundation for that acceptance. This is how it was done in early Christianity and I believe it still holds true today.

A Price is Demanded

I'm at a Catholic conference for catechetical leaders this week in St. Louis. I was informed by one of the speakers that an evangelical pastor was denied entrance into Canada at the border simply because of his public opposition to same-sex marriage. This is yet another indication of what lingers just over the horizon. Princeton professor, Robert George, said at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast just a few days ago:

“The days of socially acceptable Christianity are over. The days of comfortable Catholicism are past. It is no longer easy to be a faithful Christian, a good Catholic, an authentic witness to the truths of the Gospel. A price is demanded and must be paid. There are costs of discipleship—heavy costs, costs that are burdensome and painful to bear… [A] tame Catholic, a Catholic who is ashamed of the Gospel—or who is willing to act publicly as if he or she were ashamed—is still socially acceptable. But a Catholic who makes it clear that he or she is not ashamed is in for a rough go—he or she must be prepared to take risks and make sacrifices.”

Yet, as some Catholics mentioned at this conference that I'm at, the urgency is not yet manifested at the local parish level. But soon, I am afraid, men and women in leadership positions will be forced to provide some guidance to "unashamed" Catholics who are greeted with hostility and intolerance when their views about marriage are made known to others. After all, as Professor Robert George said, many of them will have to pay a price. And that price needs to be understood within the context of the Cross. To be accused of bigotry, to be denied services, or even to lose a job or friends will have to be seen as a participation of Christ's Passion.

It is only by paying this debt- a debt caused by years of timidity and silence within the Church -that the sanctity of marriage can be restored. And the more we pay the debt by boldly affirming that marriage can only be between a man and a woman, the more the virtue of courage will be reproduced and multiplied among Christians.