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Regenerating the Moral and Spiritual Values of our Society Fr. Joseph Harris C.S.Sp.

January 30, 2009

The Splendour of Truth In his encyclical on the moral life, Veritatis Splendor, or in English the "Splendour of Truth" Pope John Paul II reminds us that Christian morality has its roots in the imitation of Christ. The then Pope writes, "Following Christ is the essential and primordial foundation of Christian morality," and following him involves "holding fast to the very person of Jesus" (no. 19). It means "becoming conformed to him who became a servant even to giving himself on the cross (cf. Phil. 2:5-8) (no. 21). Christ's giving himself on the cross is in fact the manifestation of the Father's love for us, a love which is meant to be the model which we Christians are called to follow. There is a progression in the understanding of this love which we are called to imitate. There is a movement from the Old Testament command which unfortunately we quote too often, to the command which Jesus left his disciples. The Old Testament commandment to love our neighbour as ourselves, which is at the heart of the precepts of the Decalogue, had been given to the Chosen People of old (cf. Dt 6:5; Lv 19:18). But, as the Holy Father reminds us, Jesus has given us a new commandment. We are to love one another as Jesus, who gave himself for us on the cross, loves us (cf. Jn 15:12) (no. 20). Commenting on this new commandment, the Pope writes: "Jesus' way of acting and his words, his deeds and his precepts constitute the moral rule of Christian life. Indeed, his actions, and in particular his Passion and Death on the Cross, are the living revelation of his love for the Father and for others. This is exactly the love that Jesus wishes to be imitated by all who follow him.Jesus asks of everyone who wishes to follow him: 'If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me' (Mt 16:24)" (no. 20). Moreover, the vocation to perfect love "is not," the Pope declares, "restricted to a small group. It is meant for everyone...", and it is most certainly meant for all of us gathered here in Synod

Signs of Moral Decadence The recent history of our land however shows that this commandment to love as He, Christ, loved has been largely forgotten. To a large extent the culture in which we operate proposes another model in which the self has become paramount and recent happenings show where that position leads. For the past few years the corruption index shows that on the world stage Trinidad and Tobago is being perceived as becoming increasingly corrupt. The multiplicity of commissions of inquiry and the idea among citizens that these inquiries are a waste of time also speak loudly to this growing perception. The growing disrespect for life seen in the murder rate, the increasing calls for pro-abortion legislation and the widening gap between the rich and the poor; the incidents of human trafficking, incest and child abuse; the alarming divorce rate and the discovery of examination papers for sale, the ethnic divisions, the total disrespect for the land and its uncontrolled use simply for profit, all cry out to us that there is a profound and frightening breakdown of morality in our nation, with a corresponding breakdown of the harmony which is God's plan for the world. What is even more frightening is our apparent acceptance as normal, of these signs of moral decadence. As a nation and we Catholics are included; we have attempted to put the blame for our moral decadence on the Government, on the Opposition, on the Judiciary, on the Police and on a host of other persons and institutions. We forget however that corrupt institutions come out of a corrupt society which is made up of corrupt individuals. The blame game is simply an excuse not to look at ourselves and the ways in which, over the past decades, we have let the surrounding culture influence us. In very subtle ways we began to think that what defines a person is the amount the person has, rather than the quality of his/her soul. We have let the culture shape us instead of being the ones to shape the culture There can be no doubt that we are in crisis, but crisis is always opportunity for creative ways of forging new realities. For us gathered here in Synod the new reality must be a Church which with humility and steadfastness is faithful to its mission of evangelizing both people and culture so that a new and morally revitalized Trinidad and Tobago comes into being. The bringing into being of a new and morally revitalized Trinidad and Tobago depends on moral persons. It depends on our recognition and acceptance that the foundation of all morality is the following of Christ or as St. Paul describes it, having the mind that was in Christ Jesus. It means answering the call to

holiness which is part and parcel of our baptismal anointing to be priests, living lives worthy of being offered to God; to be prophets proclaiming the message by our very lives and calling others through our very lives, to the acceptance of the message; to be kings, ensuring the well-being of those who find themselves on the margins. Witness of Life Someone once said that saints model holiness in such a way that others follow. In the midst of this period of moral decadence there are signs of hope which as Church we must highlight, because they point the way to the renewed morality and call us to imitation. The stories of upright men and women who in spite of great personal loss have remained faithful to Christian principles (accountants who have been black-listed because they refused to falsify accounts; teachers who have given lessons without charge to needy students; doctors who spend time with HIV patients and made them feel appreciated) must be known and celebrated. These are persons who are faithful to their vocation to witness to the truth of the Gospel. They are the present day martyrs and the blood of martyrs has always been the seed of Christians. This witness to enduring Christian values is not enough. Witness must be accompanied by Catechesis; a catechesis which not only addresses the intellectual aspects of our faith, but encourages, supports and celebrates the life long journey to an ever more joyful witness of our commitment to Christ. Catechesis This new catechesis must be very clear in its content and its aims. The following of Christ is summed up in the eight beatitudes. To put on the mind of Christ is to make the beatitudes the programme of our lives. Creative ways must be found to present these so that they are understood and become the foundation of a regenerated Moral Sense, a habitual way of thinking which rejects all that is contrary to the Gospel and which is linked of necessity to God's Vision for the World. God's vision for the World is harmony. As members of Church and as belonging to a Eucharistic people we are called to be servants of this harmony. Because of the name we bear as a country, we in T&T are called to create unity in diversity. The new catechesis must therefore empower us so that we live out the vocation to be priests, prophets and kings, proclaiming and living harmony so that we create a nation which is worthy of being offered to God.

The new catechesis must also address our relationship with God. St. John asks us; how can we love God whom we do not see, if we do not love the neighbour whom we see? Our relationship with God then depends on the concrete acts of love which we are invited to perform each day; and it is these acts of love which transform our prayer and worship from being a noisy gong or clanging symbol into a true relationship of love with the Father so that the expression "God's will" become more than MERE WORDS and be truly the guiding star of our lives. The relationship with the Father will lead almost inexorably to a relationship with Mary and the saints. Mary the mother of the Lord must be our mother leading us gently to her Son and the saints must become models of moral life instead of being simply intercessors. The relationship with God is expressed in prayer, prayer which like St. Monica's is lasting and enduring and which is built on hope, the knowledge that God's promises will come to fruition; prayer which expresses itself not simply in words but in an attitude to life. Making Catechesis Relevant The new catechesis must also address itself to the problem of old paradigms which no longer hold and which have not been replaced. Heaven and Hell no longer affect the way in which we operate. Accountability, both to the community and to God, as a value has been lost. The new catechesis must also promote the old value system of politeness and "broughtupsy" leading to a restored way of relating with each other which recognizes the other as being a child of God, a brother or a sister. This depends to a large extent on our recognizing the experience of first being loved by God when we were lost, crushed and without hope. This experience of being loved when we did not deserve it (as persons and communities) must move us to help others to have the same experience by doing for them what God has done and continues to do for us. It would be impossible to end this section without emphasizing that a new and creative way of presenting and encouraging the acceptance of the value systems concerning marriage, sex etc., must be developed. This catechesis must begin in the family because the family is the first school of authentic Christian living. It is in the family that morality must be modelled for children. Parents must row against the prevailing wisdom which promotes such things as the non-declaration of goods in the customs and the vilifying of persons of other ethnic groups. It is in the family that children must learn

generosity of spirit and pureness of heart. It is in the home that children must learn to courageously accept the consequences of living the truth. Parents must teach moral living with the understanding that the best teacher is the witness of life. Catholic education, which many here in our land believe is no longer Catholic, must regain its fundamental purpose and support or inculcate the value systems which the Gospel proposes. Contrary to what many believe, Catholic education is not about scholarships. It is about ensuring that our young men and women attain their eternal destiny and at the same time, are not focused only on the self, but promote the common good of society. Children and youth are therefore to be cared for in such a way, that their physical moral and intellectual talents may develop in a harmonious manner, so that they may attain a greater sense of responsibility and a right use of freedom and be formed to take an active role in social life. (Canon 795) It is important here to speak about imagination, understood not as a flight from reality but rather as a faculty which allows us to see beyond what meets the eye, beyond the established order of things in our world today. It allows us to see what might be, what could be. Imagination is a precursor to true liberty. It is moral imagination which gave the freedom to accountants to accept being black-listed instead of falsifying accounts; it is moral imagination which prompts teachers to give lessons without charge to students who are in need; It is moral imagination which allows doctors to spend time with HIV patients and make them feel appreciated. Catholic Education must foster a new moral imagination so that our young men and women dream of a new world in which power and money and pleasure are not the driving forces in their lives. Without moral imagination there will not be a morally regenerated Trinidad and Tobago. In all of this Catholics must remember that pertaining to the People of God demands that we be counter-cultural, striving incessantly to promote the reconciliation which is the fundamental ministry of the Church so that the world becomes the New Jerusalem which Christ can present to the Father. Conclusion Catholic moral life is in essence a following of Christ; it is the putting on of the mind which was in Christ and it is living the new commandment to love as Christ has loved us, giving himself on the cross for us and for all persons.

It must be admitted that the crisis of morality in our land is partially due to our failure as individuals and communities, to share the authentic relationship with God who first loved us in all spheres of our lives. The challenge to make our church relevant to this society, in which we now live, will be successful only if we become leaven, living the new commandment in all situations and with all persons and communities, giving them an experience of being loved first, even when they did not deserve it. If each catholic lives out the baptismal vocation to martyrdom; if each family truly becomes a domestic church, evangelizing both itself and others; and if the Church and its institutions live out the moral imperatives of the Gospel i.e. make the beatitudes incarnate in its dealings both within itself and with the world, then all of us both within and outside of the Church will experience once again the totally free and unconditional love of God. This experience once it is understood and lived will move us once again to the imitation of Christ which, as we are reminded by Pope John Paul II is "the essential and primordial foundation of Christian morality,"