Holiness Rules: How Contemporary Issues Should Drive Us to God
Returning to steady work on CatholicCulture.org after a week spent dealing with family issues, I find my perspective sharpened by distance. Having been pulled briefly away from daily commentary on the sacred and secular issues which affect our lives, I return convinced once again that all the significant issues we face are not only significant in their own right, but also spiritually significant. Truly, our spiritual maturity (or lack thereof) lies at the heart of just about everything.
This does not mean, of course, that the state of the Church and the state of the world are unimportant in themselves. But in the constant controversy which surrounds each of these “states”, we often let issues take on lives of their own, ignoring their deeper meaning. We forget at times that how we actually look at the issues, and how we attempt to resolve them, is largely a product of our spiritual values. We fail to realize that spiritual maturity is almost always at center stage.
In catching up on the news, for example, I read some of the press commentary on how the Supreme Court will decide the constitutionality of Obamacare. Thus E. J. Dionne, writing in The Washington Post, argued that it would be a sign of “judicial dictatorship” if the legislative decision on Obamacare were dismissed as unconstitutional. David Savage, writing in the Los Angeles Times, opined that the Court may be more interested in handing President Obama a political defeat than in anything else, and that voiding “a major federal regulatory law” would mark our entry into “a new era of judicial activism.”
Similarly, at NYMag.com, Jonathan Chait wrote that most Americans have long known that the Court’s “conservative” block puts “its own partisan and ideological leanings” above a strict interpretation of the law, and Dahlia Lithwick at Slate.com suggested that even many conservative legal experts were shocked to hear the “conservative” justices uttering “the most tendentious of the Tea Party-type arguments.”
All of this invective is directed against five members of the Supreme Court simply because they raised questions about whether Obamacare contains elements which fundamentally alter the powers of government with respect to the governed, which is a prime Constitutional question. It is also a fundamentally spiritual question which has much to do with the nature of man, the importance to human societies of free activity, and the differences between charity and public policy—in addition to a recognition of the plight of the less fortunate and their serious human needs.
Or take the Martin case, in which George Zimmerman shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Those on the right have been quick to defend Zimmerman, assuming that Martin was essentially a young Black thug who must have posed a physical threat to Zimmerman. Such commentators used Martin’s suspension from school and the boy’s hip-hop photos to paint a dark portrait of profound irresponsibility. Meanwhile, those on the left have adjusted the evidence to prove Zimmerman a racist. For example, the Today show played an edited version of the 911 call in which Zimmerman said that Martin was “up to no good” and “looks black”, never revealing that the latter comment was in response to the 911 operator’s question about Martin’s race.
In the absence of carefully-sifted evidence, too many reactions to this unfortunate incident have been determined by whatever each given person prefers to believe. The innate dignity of both Martin and Zimmerman is scarcely considered in the rush to judgment. The case is a perfect mirror of our own prejudices, and thus of our own spiritual shallowness. We cannot wait for truth, so great is our haste to condemn.
Immigration? The same thing. War? Here we go again. Taxes, spending and budget cuts? Watch out. Internal Church issues? Don’t get me started. As a culture, we are often very high on opinions, short on facts, and very short indeed on spiritual sense.
The various issues we face certainly are important in their own right, and most issues admit of a range of legitimate solutions. But even a recognition of the available range frequently depends as much on a spiritual discernment of the nature and ends of man as on a practical discernment of the inherent feasibility of particular options. In short, a great many issues demand an understanding of human nature, of the good, of right and wrong—an understanding of which the spiritually deaf and dumb are scarcely capable.
Moreover, just as often these issues will engage our passions before they engage our souls. Not only others but we ourselves can become very good at turning an issue into an occasion of sin rather than an occasion of grace. Why do we react as we do? What values do our reactions represent? Should we be happy with our response, or should we be ashamed? Are our arguments rationalizations? Do they hold up at prayer?
Sadly, as long as we are in this world, most issues will be decided by those who have grabbed power over others, among whom, almost by definition, the spiritually shallow will predominate. This is because a great many of those in power have sought their privileged position out of consideration for pomp and circumstance and worldly success. Thus motivated, those in power frequently pursue their own self-love. This takes two deadly forms: On the one hand, naked self-interest, such as increased wealth or power for the sake of human respect; on the other hand, the remaking of the world and those who live in it in their own image—a very common modern sin.
The spiritually shallow have no way to restrain such tendencies. For them the violation of every human dignity is easily justified in the name of their own goals and their own gods. But even if we are not among the powerful, we all have a tendency to get swept along, cheering or booing in the heat of the moment. We must, at the very least, take care to avoid becoming mere voices in the mob. Each issue ought to become an opportunity for a deeply personal analysis. We need to calm ourselves. We need to take time to explore our own motives while seriously inquiring into the will of God.
Whatever else they may be—and they are usually many things—the primary issues of the day are always spiritual. For one thing, we ought to know by now that we must rely on God to accomplish anything good. But more than this, the best resolution of most issues depends not only on a proper understanding of the relationship among God, nature and man but also on the spiritual maturity and strength to act for all the right reasons. And even if we are not in a position to act, the way we respond to these issues becomes a sort of mirror of the soul.
In dealing with these issues, we need to learn to see ourselves, and to see ourselves as God sees us. Coming back after a break, I once again find spiritual discernment to be our greatest responsibility.
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Posted by: Randal Mandock -
Apr. 17, 2012 2:14 PM ET USA
Excellent analysis, Dr. Mirus. And thus we see that the defining trait of any leader must be moral character. But not just any set of morals; e.g. "American values," "family values," "values clarification," etc. are all vague terms to me. On the other hand, Jewish morality, Hindu morality, Buddhist morality, Catholic morality, et al. are well-defined terms that can be objectively discerned and acted upon. And by Catholic definition, all morality is based on spirituality.