Thursday, August 11, 2011

Catholic Morality and the RH Bill

One positive offshoot of the on-going debate between the RH Bill and the Roman Catholic Church is the deliberate introspection and deeper study of morality that it has prodded. For quite a time the Church has taken for granted the study of morality in general, and in particular, of the morality of sexuality. The study on morality of sexuality has not been given that needed time to delve ever deeper into the richness of human acts and the realities of sex, into the spirituality of human behavior and habits, into the meaning of what human life really is from the perspective of man as a whole, his dignity, his ontological orientation, his relation with self and others, his acts befitting an embodied person whose expressions with the world outside him includes his sexuality. Hence, it is a joy for me to again hear a Catholic writer on spirituality who came up with an insightful statement that approximates a poetry on family life and sexuality, thus: “Perhaps there is nothing in this world as powerful to break selfishness as is the simple act of looking at our own children. In our love for them we are given a privileged avenue to feel as God feels – to burst in unselfishness, in joy, in delight, and in the desire to let another’s life be more real and important than our own” (Ronald Rolheiser, ‘How Children Raise their Parents,’ Western Catholic Reporter, 27 March 1995).

It has to be admitted that Catholic morality then was more focused on the ‘acts we have done’ instead of emphasizing on ‘what kind of person are we becoming’ by virtue of those acts. At first blush it may be the right way. After all what is wrong with the daily examination of conscience that has become our revered exercise, meticulously weighing up the acts that we have done? On closer look, however, if we focus our moral evaluation only on our acts, our tendency is to strive only for the minimum. We become minimalist. An example is the attitude: ‘how far should I go before I commit a mortal sin?’ Or ‘how many venial sins will add up into a mortal sin? This attitude shows that we tend to worry only about mortal sins and we tend not to care for those we conveniently label as small-time sins or, as we are used to say, venial. Moreover, we take notice of our ‘sins of commission’ but hardly do we give attention ‘for those we have failed to do’ or 'sins of omission'. By intently looking so much on the possible violations of our acts we become too individualistic, measuring, that is, its harmful effects only on how it affects us and seldom on how it impacts on other people. The sum total of all these is mediocre Christians - a state that once earned the ire of Christ who said: "I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth" (Rev 3:15).

Thanks to modern sciences on human behavior we now know that small and seemingly insignificant but repetitive actions can cement into a deep seated attitude and habit, which will later on induce someone to commit big decisions of mortal consequences for one self and others. Thanks also to psycho-spirituality we now know that the good ‘we have failed to do’ are, in the long run, as destructive as the wrong ‘we have done’. In other words, we become what we do! A husband’s adulterous encounter, for example, is not the authorship of Satan. Rather he has been conditioned by his small but increasingly becoming frequent flirtatious side glances, double-meaning jokes, and dubious gestures to younger officemates, small instances of neglect to his wife, and white lies when confronted about them. In other words, our venial sins cannot just be simply dismissed as insignificant for they might have a bearing on the kind of person that we are becoming.

It is along this context that we are hoping that in the face of the RH Bill controversy Catholic morality would return to the drawing board, strongly emphasizing therein ‘what type of person are we becoming in view of every single act that we effect.'


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