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What guides our moral choices?

November 23, 2013

If you find this interesting, there’s another of my blog entries that looks at similar themes: it’s called “I am the gate of the sheepfold” published on April 22, 2013

Youth Sunday   24th November 2013      Luke 23: 35-43

Last Thursday I was at a fascinating talk by Professor Linda Woodhead of Lancaster University about the results a national survey of the moral and religious beliefs of people in Great Britain.  And today the Church around the world is focusing on our young people. I’m going to link the two things.

So first, I’ll share some interesting things the research revealed about how practising Catholics decide what is moral or immoral, in other words, how we work out if something is right or wrong.

Professor Woodhead said one fifth of us Catholics use our ‘own reason and judgment’ in making moral choices. That’s good. Holy Mother Church stresses that we should combine our Faith and our Reason, our own brains, to decide what is right and wrong. We need to do that because, surprise, surprise, in our daily lives we are constantly challenged to make difficult choices. How do we learn to keep on the right path? We keep in touch with Jesus and His teachings by mixing with other Christians and making sure we keep going to church.

17% of practicing Catholics said they get their moral guidance from the Tradition and Teaching of the Church. Another good answer. The Catholic Church, founded by Jesus Christ, has the God-given authority to defend and teach the Faith. If you want to find out what this sound moral guidance is, it’s a good idea to come to be part of the Christian community and come church regularly.

And another 17% of practicing Catholics say their source of reference on moral issues is ‘the family’. That’ again an excellent answer, the one that’ll be the choice of most of our young people. Their morality, although they may not realise it until later in their lives, is shaped and moulded by the people they’re closest to – their families. So, young people, as you start to become more independent, don’t prove you’re independent by not going to church. You’re at a stage in life when you definitely need to keep coming to Church. No. Prove you’re independent in a grown-up, positive way – come to church, come with your friends, and encourage each other to come.

And that gets really important if you move away from home. Why? Because another thing the survey discovered was that there are just three issues that define any person’s moral outlook, be they Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Moslems, agnostics, atheists – anyone. The touchstones of where someone’s moral and religious values lie are abortion, same-sex marriage and euthanasia. On these moral issues, more than 90% of people in this country believe that they should be free to make up their own minds. They are sadly, dangerously wrong, because it means each individual has to start from scratch to work out the right things to do, rejecting the experience and wisdom of everyone who went before them: parents, teachers, 2,000 years of the Church. All neglected or rejected. No wonder some people make some big mistakes as young adults.

We need to be ready to understand that today’s world is morally risky because it’s a much more self-centred, individualistic society where people say, ‘I live by my own rules”. A minority of people – just 8½% – hold true to and respect the type of morality we hold to as Christians.

So if you are serious about your Faith, and I know you are, because you’re here, two things are guaranteed:

you are going to be very much out of step with the moral and religious beliefs of nine out of ten people you will meet in your lives;

but you are going to be much, much more confident of who you are and what life is about.

That doesn’t mean it’ll be easy, but you will, so to speak, be building your house high on solid rock, not on a beach with the tide coming in. Now, if you are aged between 15 and 25 this bit is especially for you. The survey found that you haven’t made your minds up yet on the three key moral issues.

So dear young people, the choice you are coming to is whether or not to hang on in there and hold true to what you have done so far in your lives. You can continue to come to church and be part of the wider Christian family.

This is precisely what Pope Francis said to the two million young people on Copacabana Beach in Brazil at World Youth Day earlier this year: “Go, do not be afraid, and serve.” And He told you that you don’t need to go out into the world on your own. The Pope reminded the young people: “(W)e are sent together. Dear young friends, be aware of the companionship of the whole Church and also the communion of the saints on this mission.”

And the Pope went on to say said our priests should make it their business continue to remain with the young people, to help them to become actively engaged in the Church, to never let them feel alone. Otherwise young people simply drift away from the Church, the Church becomes irrelevant. The reason is they are not ready for the shock they receive from the ages of 15, when they naturally want to become more independent, but are endlessly bombarded with the world’s confused morality.

If you are going to or went to a Catholic School, as you become more independent you’ll be meeting a lot more people who haven’t been in the caring Christian environment of a Catholic family and a Catholic community. It’s not their fault. And I’m not saying this to frighten you. I’m not saying that the people you are going to meet are evil people; but you will find a lot more moral confusion. A lot more people who, to a shocking degree, just don’t care about anyone but themselves – and they don’t even realise it. Really. There’s a lot more lying and cheating out there, a lot less integrity. A lot more disrespect for God. You need to be ready, because it can come as a bit of a shock, especially when old school friends join in. In shock, people often freeze – they don’t know how to react.

Our young people need to be ready for the double standards and hostile environment, masquerading as “freedom”, “excitement” and “being cool”. Of course, most of the people out there don’t hate us Christians, but they’re bemused by us. In such a difficult world there’s a real danger that our young people, yes, you young people, will join the crowd, and slowly, slowly you can, without realizing it, abandon your faith under the pressure to be like everyone else.

Did you notice it was one of the men hanging on a cross next to Jesus who defended Him against the taunts and insults of the baying mob? And by sharing Jesus’ view of the world God promised him his place in heaven.

The Pope’s final words at World Youth Day were these: “Dear young friends, as you return to your homes, do not be afraid to be generous with Christ, to bear witness to his Gospel. Jesus Christ is counting on you! The Church is counting on you! The Pope is counting on you! May Mary, Mother of Jesus and our Mother, always accompany you with her tenderness: “Go and make disciples of all nations.” Amen.

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