September 24, 2017
So, as you saw last week, I could not long avoid the ‘communal’ dimension of Christian spirituality. But, now that we are back out of the cul de sac of individualism, let us not retreat!Instead, let us move forward into the realm where spirituality becomes daily life — morality.
As you know, I resist, at every turn, any tendecy to reduce spirituality to moral action.But I resist, too, any attempt to reduce spirituality to praying!
We defined spirituality as a conscious living of one’s life in the light of an Absolute Other, who, for Christians, is the Father of Jesus Christ.
Moral behavior — like prayer — is the result of a decision to live our daily lives with one another in consciousness of this same God and Father. That is why Jesus can so readily bundle our relationship with our neighbor and our relationship with God.
This is a big deal! Pay attention to this description! Morality is not a matter of keeping rules — not even the Decalog — or having excuses for not keeping them. Morality is not a matter of observing (or not) the cultural and legal conventions that are enshrined in laws and etiquette and political correctness. Even more; if prayer is not just about generating nice feelings for myself, neither is morality principally about my own feelings or the feelings of others. The presence of God on the horizon, or at the center, of my life with another human, demands a more objective definition of morality.
This is one of Catholicism’s chief contributions to moral discussions — the objectivity of the moral norm. Even actions that are not gratifying or pleasant for the doer or the one done to may be morally necessary or forbidden.
Does that mean that every person in a similar situation must respond in the exact same, lock-step way? Yes and no. No one will be morally allowed to think only of self and self’s interests or feelings. That would be wrong even intellectually. After all, we do not live alone; reality includes the Other and others. Thus, realistic moral deciding must take these others into account. But those who have lived longer in the consciousness of these others and who have trained themselves to think
and act with them as always factors in the deciding process, will be more sensitive, more consistent and more ‘other-centered’ in their moral decisions than are those who are new to the endeavor. Thus, one moral agent may be required just to leave well enough alone, while another may be obligated to take heroic measures. This is called moral progressiveness, and is the result of moral maturation. In either case, the actor will not be the first or the determining item of consideration.
One of the most pernicious tricks that we use to convince young Christians to behave in certain ways is to tell them that they will feel better about themselves. The fact is that they may feel worse! But they will be saner; they will have expanded the sphere of their moral consideration; someone else may feel better; the universe will have been kept from implosion. Not bad trade-offs for a bit of inconvenience!
Really and truly and inconveniently yours,