Wherever we turn these days, we seem confronted by one extreme position or another. As the tragedy of clerical abuse continues to unfold, the Archbishop of San Francisco has designated three successive First Fridays for priests to fast and offer special prayers “…for the renewal of the Church.” By contrast, in the middle of last month, one of my Dominican brothers preached,
Whatever the psychic or situational forces…that led men into abusing children…I think it is a waste of time to address the problem by psychoanalyzing them, or praying for them, or lapsing into whatever alas, alas, alack is the current finger-waving spiritual nostrum….
Responses (positive or negative) to the recent allegations against our President’s Supreme Court nominee illustrate a similar polarization. Everyone has an opinion, and no one seems open to discussion or change. Fr. Ron Rolheiser, in a recent reflection on “Moral Outrage,” observed,
…on both sides, there’s the righteous appeal to morality and divine authority…in a way that, in essence, says: I have a right to demonize you and to shut my ears to anything you have to say because you’re wrong and immoral and I, in the name of God and truth. And standing up to you. Moreover, your immorality gives me the legitimate bracket the essentials of human respect…in the name of God and of truth.
We might ask whether this has always been the case, or whether present-day media, to attract larger audiences, have simply amplified the noise in the news. While historians consider the matter, we might reasonably lament the demise of a classic moral axiom: In Medio stat Virtus”: “Virtue stands in the middle.” When we consider our moral positions, we must be very clear: we may not not take moral stands. However, when we express these positions we must recall Aristotle’s teaching that a virtue is a point between excess and deficit. Our virtuous position stands between two vices – too much and too little. We Catholic Christians embrace virtue when our actions or the opinions we express accurately reflect the moral principles we have learned from Christ and His Church. Some of these rely on standards that are non-negotiable. Truth and Justice, for example, are absolute. Others may vary.
But how should faithful Christians express and defend their moral convictions? Someone has observed, “Good manners are better than good habits,” which suggests we might simply keep silent – a sensible choice when debate approaches contention. However, if we consider the example of John the Baptist, patron of our Order, we must acknowledge that we are (occasionally, at least) called to proclaim the truth without considering the consequences. The virtue of Prudence, which our theology defines as “right reason applied to action” comes to our aid when we need to make a difficult choice.
We must also embrace Our Savior’s command to love, even those who hate us. All of us, even our enemies, are God’s creatures, and deserve our respect. Otherwise, we act no better than the pagans and Pharisees whom Jesus condemns for doing good only to those they love – and from whom they expect a return.
The month of October invites us to offer special honor to Our Blessed Mother, whom we honor as Queen of the Most Holy Rosary. May she who is also our Queen of Peace be a source of strength and consolation in these troubled times!