Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
February 14, 2005
Witness bravely and lovingly
One of the great calls to the Church, to the followers of Jesus, at this point in history is to open our hearts and our lives to those who are excluded. It is to receive the unwanted, the ignored, the rejected on the margins of life. We are to do it, not so much with words and fine statements, but heart to heart, man to man, woman to woman.
Each of us are to imitate, in our own unique ways, the example of Jesus who so often showed his courage by healing and being with those deemed unclean.
Uncleanness today can mean many things - it can mean being poor, handicapped, dying, unborn, homosexual, a newcomer, a criminal, physically unattractive, the new person in town or a refugee. Depending on the context, it might also mean being Jewish, Roman Catholic, evangelical, Sikh or Muslim.
The feeling of being lonely, abandoned or excluded abounds. It is spread deep and wide through society. The Christian call today is to find those who feel on the outside and offer acceptance.
Often we don't feel comfortable doing this. It is easier to stay with what is familiar. Jean Vanier says that one facet of civilization is pretending that things are better than they really are. We want to maintain the fa‡ade and we shun our own weaknesses and the weaknesses of others. We want the illusion of success even though we know how fleeting success is.
A second call to the followers of Jesus is to take a stand in favour of universal standards of morality. Western society has grown weary and skeptical. Much of it no longer believes that there are inviolable standards of morality. This skepticism is born perhaps of guilt over what one has done and laziness or fear in the face of the call for the self-reform to which morality calls us. It may also be born of an intellectual superiority in which one believes society has progressed beyond such superstitions as universal morality.
But just as the call to receive the poor and unwanted into our hearts is an assertion of human dignity, so too is the call to assert the existence of moral norms that ought never be violated.
We abuse our freedom when we act against morality; we make ourselves less than fully human. Likewise, we cheapen our society when we give in to the temptation that says "Anything goes." The slow abandonment of the moral code in recent decades is reaping a whirlwind of rampant divorce, abortion, sexual permissiveness, violent crimes, drug abuse and overconsumption.
We are becoming a society without moral limits and, in doing so, we are making it much more difficult to pass on a sense of moral limits to the next generation. More than that, the traditional family, which was once considered the norm, is now often seen as a cauldron of pathologies that introduces more emotional sickness into society than it prevents.
Sadly, this abandonment of moral norms is creating economic, as well as social and moral, dislocation. While the wealthy have large safety nets which cushion their fall, when the middle class begin to lead lives outside moral norms, they do not have so far to fall. Excessive gambling, alcohol or drug abuse, single parenthood or living beyond one's means has driven many a person from the middle class into the trap of poverty from which there are few ways out.
It is our duty not only to accept those who are excluded but also to try to uphold standards of morality. Often this is like walking a tightrope. Many perceive that by speaking out in favour of morality, we are judging and excluding them.
How can we speak in such a way as to make it clear we are rejecting the sin, but accepting the sinner?
How we can tell society that moral standards need to be upheld for society's own good without sounding inordinately self-righteous?
We are in a debate over what is morally best for society. We are also in a dialogue with people who feel hurt and excluded in many ways.
It takes courage, but especially wisdom, to carry out these debates and dialogues in a manner that will both accept the person and state the truth.
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