There is a great struggle that goes on inside people who are predisposed to righteousness. God, the bible tells us, is righteous. And because that is the case, we human beings who are made in his image and likeness, will find ourselves gravitating towards righteousness. Together with the call to holiness and sanctity and perfection, lies the call to be righteous as well. When this is insufficiently understood, it can become a great stumbling block for many people.
Classic moral teachings that are seen in the Roman Catholic church gives those under her care very clear moral guidelines, and many of them do require a certain moral framework within which they are both intelligible and beautiful. In order to comprehend and embrace this beauty, one has to also embrace a certain philosophy of life. One classic example is the Catholic teaching that all human life is sacred, from natural conception to natural death. Within this broad understanding lie all of the church’s moral teachings that include a prohibition against abortion, artificial and manipulated conception, sex outside of marriage (whether they be heterosexual or homosexual in nature), and the act of ending one’s life willfully. For the most part, these laws make brilliant sense only within the system of a Catholic mind. Outside of the acceptance of an orthodox Catholic moral mind, many of these teachings will be easily discarded, ignored and dismissed as merely being fussy.
This is why it is understandable that many who do not operate within this philosophical and moral framework and mind stridently find our teachings offensive and reprehensible. The many who troll Church teachings on the Internet are evident of this.
How does the Catholic broach this? Jesus’ teachings have been clear to love one’s enemies, and herein lays the great challenge. To love those who disagree with us requires of us to do what is also difficult – to enter into their shoes and walk with them. Will we find ourselves at some sort of impasse when we do that? Certainly. While we can sit with brothers and sisters of the same-sex community and even have meals with them, sometimes we may find ourselves making silent judgments on how imperfect and narrow their definition of love is. Even as we try to enter into a dialogue with those who are pro-choice, angrily carrying our pro-life placards and harbouring resentment and silent rancor at our opponents easily make us appear self-righteous, making our cause doubly challenging. Unwittingly, it may give us a sense of moral superiority, and can even cause us to appear churlish.
Perhaps this is why so many prefer to take the high road of moral righteousness. It is far easier to hold tightly to the rudiments of moral truths that we had been grounded on and tell the world ‘you are wrong’. Doing this, unfortunately, impedes dialogue and a softening of hearts. Those of us who are in official positions of leadership in the faith have a far more pressing need to remember this, even as we instruct and form the hearts and minds of the faithful who come under our care. More and more, with the world having strong views that are often directly opposed to the Church’s, it becomes even more imperative that we never forget to have charity in the foundation of our lives.
Speaking the Truth in Love
I am the last to say that this is an easy task. I myself have sometimes taken the easier way out and out of either indolence or impatience, chosen instead the high ground of ‘shoulds’. I have to keep reminding myself of the old adage that God does write straight with crooked lines. To be able to see that my brothers and sisters who live differently could be teaching me a thing or two about charity, patience, kindness and generosity is humbling.
We need a new way of not just holding the truth with a new empathy, but also a new way of imparting it. Truth as truth is unchanged and unchangeable, but it may require repackaging frequently. This has to be the task of any serious theologian.
Fr Luke Fong is a catholic priest in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore. He blogs regularly at Reflections & Ruminations.