Fr. Paul MacNeil
4th Sunday of Lent - Has Morality Changed?
I was watching a disturbing documentary on Amazon Prime about the sexual abuse crisis in the Amish community ("Sins of the Amish"). Of course, we as a catholic church have had our own deeply scarring issues with sexual abuse, and I have all due respect for the religion and ideals of the Amish community. But one of the victims of sexual abuse was quoting from a manual for 11-year-old girls that she read when she was a little girl. it talks about how important it is for girls of that age to be modest because they might lead their brothers into sin. Your brothers, "innocently coming upon you," "his intentions were not bad, but he suddenly finds himself the victim of your carelessness." This was quoted but an adult woman who was sexually abused as a child. Today we recognize with horror that blaming the victim for rape is no longer accepted. When I look at the church's current teaching on sexuality taught in our schools, how well-balanced it is and how respectful of the dignity of each human being, I feel so grateful that our society has come so far.
The question I'm contemplating here is underneath this: Has morality changed, or is morality changing? Have we been wrong in the ethical teachings of the Church?
My answer is absolutely not. Here is a different set of questions: Was it ever ok for a teenage boy to sexually abuse his 11-year ole sister? Or an adult man hold his wife hostage under the threat of physical or psychological punishment? Was it ever ok for one human being to deliberately and intentionally hurt another human being? Was it ever ok for a priest to sexually abuse a minor? Was it ever ok for a government to sanction slavery and an abusive and life-threatening work environment? Was it ever ok to hold captive a sentient being in an unhealthy and oppressive zoo? Was it ever ok that a government to invade a person's home and separate children from parents for the purpose of destroying their culture? Was it ever ok to commit fraud?
Consider fraud more closely for a moment. I saw an article in the paper with a picture of a mouse trap with an icon of a house on it. The headline: "What I need to know about real estate-related fraud." The one thing the article point out is mortgage fraud - I quote:
"With financial stakes being typically high, real estate in Ontario can, unfortunately, be prone to many kinds of illegal activities. The form we hear about most often is mortgage fraud, which typically involves providing false information to manipulate a financial institution into lending funds it otherwise would not.
The problem is that after the fraudster is left, the homeowner is left in real trouble. I continue:
"So, my advice is to please remember that, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. For instance, someone asking you to apply for a mortgage in exchange for cash back, or to share profits from reselling a home, are red flags and I would highly recommend that you avoid considering them at all costs. Choosing to pursue such options will likely result in you being left with significant debts to repay and perhaps even criminal charges or lawsuits after the fraudster has run away with the mortgage funds. https://www.niagarafallsreview.ca/ts/life/homes/advice/2023/03/17/what-do-i-need-to-know-about-real-estate-related-fraud.html
Of course, the word for this is "fraud." And yet who hasn't heard of this happening to someone they know? And if we hear of it, who wouldn't from the depths of our hearts whisper a little prayer for them? Or even advocate for better laws, laws that are more just, fairer? Was this ever ok?
Next weekend is also solidarity Sunday. When we talk about social injustice, aren't we talking about fraud, and is it ever ok? You'll hear this repeated word for word in a few moments:
What would you do if people showed up heavily armed at your front door, and demanded you leave your home? What if they represented a powerful corporation or had the police with them? You might feel shocked, scared or angry. You might react with violence. Or you might comply, afraid for your family’s life and future. This is not a choice anyone should have to make.
Is this ever ok? "Every other day," we read from the literature on Solidarity Sunday,
"a land or human rights defender is killed for defending his or her community’s land and rights. Many more are forced from their homes by corporations and governments seeking to profit from oil, gas, mining and energy. Their way of life has become threatened: their waters are polluted, their forests are destroyed, and their land is seized or made uninhabitable. In the face of this, you might ask: what can we do?
The answer to these questions about whether morality has changed, whether it was ever ok to do wrong, to cause harm, must be a resounding no. Morality has reached its pinnacle of goodness in the revelation of Jesus Christ and it simply has not changed. That's why I am proud to be his disciple.
Here's the thing. Here's what has changed. It isn't that it was once ok to do wrong and now it's not, it was always wrong. What's changed and changing is that we keep finding new and ingenious ways to oppress each other and pretend it's not happening. Let me ask you this, about your life right now: "What are you pretending not to know?"
Let's talk about today's Gospel before I conclude. Isn't it wonderful about Jesus healing a blind man? What a great miracle worker. Not even sure I believe it it's so incredible. Who needs doctors and ophthalmologists if we've God Jesus? The divine healer? If I only have enough faith in him, I'll never be sick again! If that's all you think is happening here, I am afraid that you might be completely missing the point. This is not about a physical kind of healing, this is about blindness. What are you pretending not to see? Here we are, two thousand years later, still finding ways to rip each other off and abuse each other and we are still completely blind to it. We need to pray to God to lift our blindness so that we just stop hurting each other. We look back only 30 years ago and see this awful manual written for 11-year-old girls. Well, they may be didn't think it was so awful at the time, maybe they were just blind to this way of oppression. But it was awful. What are we blind to today? What are we not seeing? in what new and ingenious ways are we hurting each other? We must pray to God to heal our blindness, heal our hearts and make us see again.
Here is the passage from our second reading, I conclude by quoting it in full:
For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord, you are light. Walk as children of light, for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness; rather, expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly, but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”