by Fred Schaeffer, OFS
Yesterday was the feast day of Saint Joseph of Leonissa (Feb. 4), and in his biography we learn that he was known for his purity and austerity of his life. People who live lives that are "pure" generally have their morality under control.
What is morality? That's a very weighty question in the 21st Century. I think many people haven't the slightest idea nor do they particularly care about morality. A WordNet search gives us a generic answer: "concern with the distinction between good and evil or right and wrong; right or good conduct." From a Christian viewpoint: "one's values, choices and actions...We each create our own hybrid morality or ethical code from the values and virtues espoused by the various communities to which we belong. (1)"
For Christians we need to take that definition one step further: One's values and actions based on the example of Jesus Christ. In Jesus we love God, neighbor and self, because Jesus said: "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Mat. 22:37-39). The key to living a moral life is really in loving your neighbor as yourself. If you are unable to love yourself (be it through low self-esteem or weakness or some other problem), your moral values may suffer and thus you seek out people with similar moral values. But if you are morally strong, as today's saint was, you will seek out like-minded people, and thus continue to live a moral life.
I could dwell on examples of immorality (the opposite of morality), but I won't. One need only switch on the television set and listen to the news or look at a movie and the concept of immorality flashes in one's living room in red with a large neon sign. And if you use one of those gigantic television screens, it's there, in your face. One gets the feeling that those large screens have only one purpose... but no, I won't go there. But it's not even that simple. Read on.
"The sense of right and wrong . . . is so delicate, so fitful, so easily puzzled, obscured, perverted, so subtle in its argumentative methods, so impressionable by education, so biased by pride and passion, so unsteady in its course, that in the struggle for existence amid the various exercises and triumphs of the human intellect, the sense is at once the highest of all teachers yet the least luminous" (Newman, "Letter to the Duke of Norfolk", in section on conscience). (2)
We were created with a free will. But remember, that free will is a gift of God. To me, that means that God, who loves us 1000%, would be well pleased if we honor him by using that free will wisely. First, that means obedience to the Ten Commandments. What you can see on that screen in your living room is, nowadays often, completely in opposition to the Ten Commandments. No wonder there was so much ado in Alabama about that beautiful piece of granite that depicted the Ten Commandments. Those who deny the Ten Commandments believe in "out of sight, out of mind," and that, my brothers and sisters, is morally wrong.
Abortion is morally reprehensible. Abortion is murdering the innocents for the convenience of Mom or Dad. In Mark 15:15 - Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas to them and, after he had Jesus scourged, handed him over to be crucified. It was expedient for Pontius Pilate to hand Jesus over to be crucified because the crowds demanded His death... just as it seems expedient for Mom and Dad to decide they just do not want that baby now. They do not know the value of life, or worse yet, they refuse to consider the value of a life. They are still morally responsible for their actions. I wouldn't wish to be in their shoes when facing Jesus and when He asks: "What did you do for the least of my children?"
In the address of Pope (St.) John Paul II, to the Fourth World Meeting of Families in January 2003, he said, "Dear Christian families, proclaim joyfully to the whole world the wonderful treasure which you, as domestic churches, possess! Christian couples, in your communion of life and love, in your mutual self-giving and in your generous openness to children, become, in Christ, the light of the world. The Lord asks you daily to be like a lamp which does not remain hidden, but is put "on a stand, and ... gives light to all in the house" (Mt 5:15).
Above all, be "good news" for the third millennium by remaining faithful to your vocation. Whether you were married recently or many years ago, the Sacrament of Matrimony continues to be your own special way of being disciples of Jesus, contributing to the spread of the Kingdom of God and growing in the holiness to which all Christians are called. As the Second Vatican Council noted, Christian couples, in the fulfillment of their marital and family responsibilities, "increasingly advance their own perfection and their mutual sanctification"
What happy families there would be, if we all felt that way. What a happy world this would be if abortion would decrease. Do you realize that the sin of abortion contributes to the human tragedy and increases our personal suffering? Jesus died on the Cross, a horrible and brutal death because of our sin. Everyone. Me too. But don't let "We all sin" be the excuse for an immoral decision when considering if we should do something questionable. Let us be the happy exception, for every moral decision in favor of God is one less sin to worry about.
What about ethics? Ethics is not the same as morality. Here I recommend you refer to an excellent Catholic website, on the topic of Morality / Sexual Ethics. This website is of Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama, a Jesuit college with an excellent Theological On-Line Library. This library is a good place to start when one is considering questions concerning Catholic teaching and they also cross-reference to Encyclicals and other Papal writings and to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The index page is at: http://www.shc.edu/theolibrary
Relationships are about love. We all have a need to love and to be loved. Love is never selfishness. Selfishness in a relationship isn't love. Immoral love is selfishness. It is not love. Many people have no idea what love really is because they never had a family who loved them. It is not surprising that the world in the 21st Century is such a problem, given the breakup of the family unit. A problem to whom, you may well ask, as God is more and more pushed into the background by those who want Him out of the picture. Do these folks really think that God has no knowledge of their actions because they are so far away from Him. No, God sees all. God loves all, but if we cannot understand love, then even God's love can be ineffective. That's not His fault. He reaches out to touch someone, but we do not want to be touched so we do not reach back to Him. I wish I had a solution to immorality. Yes, there is one, come to your senses, confess your sins to God, repent, and follow Jesus just as the Apostles did. That takes a lot of determination and guts. But the day will come my sisters and brothers, that the immorality of our times will be halted, and God's ways will prevail. He is love to perfection, and His Grace will turn us around and make us look inward, and shudder in disgust of the state of our soul. When He allows us to see ourselves as we are, then it is too late to make corrections. So, let's prepare now.
2/4/2004 (fview007.htm), revised 2/5/2019
Fred began writing Spiritual Reflections 25+ years ago, when he joined a religious order of monks which is no longer in existence. Fred was with that order for five years. He has been and continues to be a professed member of the Secular Franciscan Order. In addition, he made Private Vows of Obedience and Chastity in December 2002.
Secular Franciscan Order
Ordo Franciscanus Sæcularis
Divine Mercy Fraternity
Vero Beach, FL
Term expires: 2/10/2022
Fred Schaeffer, OFS
Helen Caldarone, OFS
Mary "Jean" McGovern, OFS
Jack Reddy, OFS
Donna Haro, OFS
Joanne Giordano, OFS
Fred Schaeffer, OFS
Five Franciscan Martyrs