DAILY CATHOLIC FRI-SAT-SUN September 18-20, 1998 vol. 9, no. 183
MITERS THAT MATTER
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[EDITOR'S NOTE: The following is a pastoral letter written to the Youth of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania by their shepherd Bishop Donald W. Wuerl on the controversy over the Clinton scandals and how young people, as well as old should respond. In other words his pastoral is intended for all God's children, not just Pittsburgh and therefore we bring this to you in hopes all will understand the gravity of the situation and place their trust in God, not man. It was written on the Feast of The Holy Cross and released this weekend.]
RIGHT AND WRONG
The publication of the report to the United States House of Representatives by the Independent Counsel, Kenneth W. Starr, on the investigation of President William Clinton is one more episode in a series of events that has dominated the media and held the attention of a great number of people for many months and, in all likelihood, will continue to do so into the future. While there is much to speculate on there are some things that are, or should be, clear to everyone.
Aside from the political and legal issues there are serious moral matters. The fact that the moral dimension of the President’s conduct has been so obscured in the frantic effort to defend him calls for some clarification, especially for our young people who look to public figures for an example of how one is to live.
In writing this letter to the youth of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, I call upon all of our faith family, the members of the Catholic Church, to affirm once again some very basic truths so that our young are not left bewildered by all of the politically correct double talk, the made-for-TV morality and the talk show deluge of opinions justifying just about anything in the name of personal freedom.
There is a right and a wrong. Moral conduct is determined by God’s law, not public opinion polls. All are called to live a moral life, even powerful and popular persons. There are consequences to our actions and we have to be courageous enough to admit our sins and accept correction. Lying to cover up our wrong actions only adds to the wrong. Moral failure calls for repentance. God’s mercy prompts us to be merciful. We are called to forgiveness as we wish to be forgiven.
THERE IS A RIGHT AND A WRONG
At issue in the conduct of the President is not what types of activity are seen as politically correct, or socially acceptable to a large number of people in popular approval polls but basic morality. What the President did was wrong. Even he admits that.
Each one of us is free to make choices. Our decisions are important because they shape our life. Good choices take us in one direction; bad choices have devastating results. When we make choices we enter the world of morality. Some things cry out to be done and often we know we can and should do them. But there are also things we know we should not do.
We live responsibly when we care about what is truly good and when we acknowledge the authority of God to direct our choices. Morality is another word for living a good, full, decent life according to right choices.
We live a moral life when we try to follow God’s plan and Jesus’ way for us. The voice of God speaks to us in our conscience. The challenge of every follower of Jesus is to listen to that voice and respond to it. When one enters his or her own heart, sincerely seeking the truth, God waits there.
SEX IS NOT A FORM OF RECREATION
Love is the norm of all Christian moral living. And love is more than sex. Jesus knew that love is the greatest of all gifts. Sexuality is itself a powerful gift of God, but it needs to be guided by a wise and strong love. The commandments of God and Jesus’ teaching about love are not simply a set of narrow rules. They teach us to channel the powerful drives of sexuality into authentic and honest love. This kind of love is meant to endure a lifetime. Personal love, touched with the energy of sexuality, speaks of God’s plan of faithful and lasting commitment, of promises that must be kept.
Do not be deceived by the recent polls that show a general complacency of a large segment of the population with so called “inappropriate” sexual activity. Sex is much more than a form of personal recreation. Even in the White House wrong sex is immoral. Calling it by any other name just compounds the sin.
The sixth commandment calls every married person to remain faithful to his or her spouse. “You shall not commit adultery.” Sex brings with it great responsibility because it calls for full commitment to your future together. Sexual activity’s rightful place is only in the committed love of marriage.
When you read or hear that some people view infidelity, adultery, and fornication as personal choices that are no one else’s business, remember, those actions are wrong no matter who does them. “Recreational” sex is immoral and destructive. It is not a private personal activity that affects only two people; it is one that impacts all of us.
What has gotten lost by some in the sad White House affair is that even if a President is unfaithful it is wrong. It is immoral. When you are tempted to ask “If it is all right for the president, why isn’t it all right for me?”, remember that it is not all right for the President. It is wrong.
LYING ONLY MAKES IT WORSE
The heart and sometimes lust lead us to make wrong choices. Sometimes we make mistakes. Persons can seek pleasure casually and forget the more important values in life. At such times we can wrongfully choose momentary satisfaction over honest and committed love. We can decide on the false and destructive use of the gifts entrusted to us by God. But the solution to one wrong is not another one.
The whole White House scandal is as much about falsehood and deception as it is about sex. What has been communicated is a terrible yet clear message: Truth is only what you are clever enough to convince people to believe.
What is particularly disturbing in this whole sorry mess is the message that you can win in politics by manipulating the truth, by lying. The truth about life is that you win in what really counts by personal integrity – by telling the truth.
The eighth commandment forbids misrepresenting the truth in our relations with others. “You shall not bear false witness…” Offenses against the truth express by word or deed a refusal to commit oneself to moral uprightness.
Do not be taken in by the idea that it is all right to lie if you want to protect your career. The end never justifies the means. Or as Jesus put it: “What does it profit a person to gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his soul” (Mk. 8.36)
Your personal integrity is your most precious possession. No one can take it from you. If we learn anything from the White House scandal it is that personal character does count. Integrity is important. No matter what else you hear from the spin doctors who are paid to twist the truth and make a lie seem credible, the truth is important. It is so important that Jesus calls himself the Truth.
Jesus also told us “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’” (Matt. 5.37). Language was meant to communicate. Only in communicating the truth can we ever expect to build a good and just society. Nothing so hurts a family, a friendship or a nation as the knowledge that the person who is speaking to you is not telling the truth.
We often hear about “teachable moments.” This is certainly one of them. And I am convinced that you are not only capable of understanding what is right but that you are also able to make responsible decisions. Your lives, as the future of our nation and our Church, are too important to be influenced and even directed by the “anything goes” mentality.
GOD’S MERCY AWAITS US ALL
Jesus teaches us that only the one without sin should cast the first stone. We are not to condemn any person. One reason we need to be quick to forgive is because we know that but for the grace of God we would be in the same situation.
Anyone can fall. We are all weak. Jesus knows that. So do we. In this, as in so many matters, his teaching was both sublime and practical. His Church today continues to call us to “hate the sin and love the sinner.”
Jesus insisted on things that might seem too idealistic to us. But he also promised to be with us and to provide what we need to fulfill our hopes. When you look into your heart ask God to help you see all that is truly good there. Open your heart to God’s word and Jesus’ love so that you might always walk before God and others as a moral, truthful person full of goodness and integrity.
In the power of the Holy Spirit, and in the joy of faith, Jesus’ followers learned to live as he taught, and then to teach what he commanded. Today the Church must continue to proclaim Christ’s teaching about truth, integrity and morality. We do this to keep faith with our Lord.
The most precious gift we have to pass on to you is God’s word and the wisdom of two thousand years of human and Christian experience, alive in the Holy Spirit. The message is a clear one. There is right and wrong. God’s law is our norm. Morality and integrity are very important in our personal lives and the life of this nation. This way of life with all its challenges and proven values is what the Church shares with you so that our lives and yours will grow into the fullness that Jesus promises.
May you know the strength of God’s Holy Spirit and the love of Jesus every day of your life.
Faithfully in Christ,
+Donald Wuerl, Bishop of Pittsburgh
Miters that Matter