Living Morality: Day 14
‘A living morality in the existential sense is not formed only by the norms that clothe themselves in the form of commandments, precepts, and prohibitions, as in the case of “You shall not commit adultery.” The morality in which the very meaning of the human being is realized--which is, at the same time, the fulfillment of the law by the “superabounding” of justice through subjective vitality--is formed in the inner perception of values, from which duty is born as an expression of conscience, as an answer of one’s own personal “I.” Ethos makes us at one and the same time enter into the depth of the norm itself and descend into the interior of man, the subject of morality. Moral value is connected with the dynamic process of man’s innermost [being]. To reach it, it is not enough to stop “on the surface” of human actions, but one must penetrate precisely the interior.’ (TOB 24:3)
Wow. That’s a mouthful. Stay with us. Reflecting on the difference between ethics (objective law) and ethos (a person’s subject or interior world of values, motives, and feelings) can light up our understanding of living the truth of sexual wholeness. In The Theology of the Body, St. John Paul II teaches us how to cultivate an orientation of genuinely wanting to dignify others with our sexual offering. That contrasts with our ‘just say no’ position on extra-marital anything, fueled by excessive shame over passions that threaten us like a riptide.
Ethics can too easily become appearances. We strive to look ok; we satisfy our inner Pharisee by denying ourselves certain sexual ‘felonies.’ At the same time, we tolerate a host of misdemeanors that we deem ‘not as bad as’ x, y, or z. I recall a friend who sexed up his girlfriends but justified it on the grounds that he never ‘did the dirty deed’ with them. And I’ve known cultures of men who partake of each other without shame on the grounds that messing with women is worse.
St. John Paul II goes to the heart of the matter through Jesus. One section of TOB offers an in-depth look at ‘adultery of heart’ (Matt. 5:27, 28) and claims that sexual sin is not so much sourced in action as it is inner fantasy that surfaces as adultery. In other words, Jesus urges us to look at what is going on underneath our behavior. He invites us to look at the source of adultery, a much more difficult and rewarding task than just keeping one’s hands off a non-spouse. Our longings, our intentions, our feelings about these longings matter--Jesus wants to engage with us there and help us to weigh them. He wants us to know the power of our sexual offering: body and spirit. We then can become aware and sensitive as to how to wield that power in a way that dignifies others.
If I consider that even nourishing ‘adultery of heart’ violates something sacred in both parties, then I want to ask myself: Why? Where is this coming from? If I don’t seek deepening sight and conviction, then I veer off Jesus’ way. He is always faithful to help me find agreement with Him in living chastely. I can then stay true to the commandment from my heart, because I have allowed Jesus to penetrate mine with His dignifying love. I find that I want what He wants, which is to honor others by not making them objects of my lust.
An example. I am a married person. I love my wife, body and spirit. I dignify her in our exclusive sexual union and seek to ensure it remains exclusive. At the same time, I can on rare occasion lust for persons whom I idealize. I’m not proud of that, just aware. Such awareness invites me to engage openly with Jesus and a couple of His friends so I can help any person become truer--even when tempted by lust--while staying true to the man I am, a faithful, married one.
Through the words of Jesus, St. John Paul II helps us recognize that cultivating an inner life of faithfulness (ethos) helps us to live that faithfulness (ethics). Jesus’ transformation of our divided hearts takes time and effort. Yet what could be more precious? He redeems us for a life-giving morality that is sourced in our hearts’ agreement with His.
‘Teach me, Jesus, how to deepen an awareness of my own divided heart so I can heal. I want to love what you love, and at times I do not. I act like I do to please others but my heart wanders. Good Shepherd, find me as I seek You. Gather the broken parts and unite me with Your dignifying will. Give me much grace and patience as I grow into what is good and true and beautiful about adultery-free love.’
'Jesus, thank You for confirming Amy Coney Barrett to the US Supreme Court, Your bright light in a dismal political season.'