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.