Monday, February 14, 2011

Being Moral Makes a Difference for Life.

Being Moral Makes a Difference for Life.
 by Sir Danni Alarcon Polillo

It bothers me that so many people today see morality as a negative thing. It need not be so, though I admit some Catholic books that presume you are talking about sin when you mention morality do not help the case. When I tell people that I am teaching moral theology, I can often sense their reaction: "poor fellow, what a boring job he must have?"

Morality is not negative and it is concerned with much more than sin. Far from being boring it can be the most exciting area of study in the Church today. Being moral means that we take human life seriously and that we try to do what is good for and in life. To be moral is another way of saying that we seek deep happiness in what we do. That's hardly negative or boring, is it?

Examples might help to explain this. We go out for a walk and pass a down and out person on the street. Part of us says "no point in throwing money away." But there is a little tug in our heart that whispers, "maybe this is one of the genuine case?" Our aged mother may be ill, and in need of direct family support. We can say: "there are a few of my sisters near her, they'll do the necessary." But a little uneasiness may accompany that: should I do something more even if it means disturbing my pattern of life and work?" And think of the problem of terrorism that is so much at the center of world politics right now. For argument's sake, let me grant that a person is in favor of the global war against terrorism. Once again, though, there may be a little doubt: "do I believe too easily what the TV and the media are telling me, and is the war being conducted within the acceptable limits of justice and peace-seeking?"

I don't want to suggest that the actions taken in these cases are immoral. They are quite possibly good moral choices. But the examples have another purpose for me here. Notice the sort of dilemma that they throw up. Should I give money to the down and out person? Could I do more for my mother? Should I be better informed about the current war? These are heavy questions. Abstract discussions about what I should do, could do or ought to do tend to paralyze us because there are often no clear answers. The examples not only take us away from the abstract discussion, they have another purpose for me here.

They show that morality begins, and indeed ends, in the concrete experience of everyday life. All three examples are likely occurrences for people. That's important. Morality is not something that is imposed on me from the outside, something that is demanded from me by the authorities of the Church. Morality is about the struggle to be good and do what is right.

That is why it is useful to begin our reflection on morality by the simple statement: being moral makes a difference in life. Turn that on it head and it might be even clearer: being immoral makes a difference to life, because it shows we are no longer struggling to be good or do what is right. And where do we notice this difference? The first place, rather obviously, is in us. When we are moral we are becoming the best type of person we can be: we develop moral character. And if we do this in one situation we are more likely to continue to be of good character in another difficult situation. You can see the difference too in the community around us. Good moral choices by individual people change the moral environment. Would the social system of apartheid in South Africa have collapsed or would there be the fragile process for peace in Northern Ireland society if individual people had not taken courageous decisions first? I doubt it. There is yet another level where we can notice the difference that being moral makes. Our spiritual fiber is strengthened. The reason for this is that morality is not just about acting with good intentions or with a view of improving society. Morality is also about choosing the right actions in a given situation. Because right actions shape the practices and habits of our life, we are more likely to have a stable frame of reference that allows the spiritual questions to enter gently into our consideration.

We can say, therefore, that being moral is about three things:
1. It is about the human person becoming a genuinely good person.
2. It is about choosing the right actions in life.
3. It is about buildings a sense of community that is open to spiritual values.

That is a long way from identifying morality with sin, or worrying that someone like me who teaches moral theology is stuck in some negative frame of reference. Being moral can make a difference in life – my life, your life, our life together in the society. That is the vision, a human one, yes, but it is not simply that.

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