I was pleasantly surprised this morning to hear (on the New York Times Audio Digest) this story  about the Pope’s speech to the US Bishops on Wednesday.
It was an excellent assessment of the lives we tend to live in America where we’ve gotten comfortable compartmentalizing our faiths or belief systems away from the realities of our lives at work and in other settings in the world. Said the Bishop of Rome:
“Is it consistent to profess our beliefs in church on Sunday and then during the week to promote business practices or medical procedures contrary to those beliefs?” he asked in a lengthy address to the bishops. “Is it consistent for practicing Catholics to ignore or exploit the poor and the marginalized, to promote sexual behavior contrary to Catholic moral teaching or to adopt positions that contradict the right to life of every human being from conception to natural death?”
“Any tendency to treat religion as a private matter must be resisted,” he said.
Clearly, Benedict sees the topics of Abortion, Usury (and other practices that prey on the poor) and Social Reform in particular, and I share these same concerns, but he hits a stronger chord that resonates with me.
How easy it is for us to proclaim one thing and either perform or ignore offenses against what we proclaim. The story of our character is told in the things we do and the way we react to the events around us day to day. It has not only become easy to tolerate what we know and proclaim to be wrong, but to teach others to do likewise.
As society has become more and more corrupted in the past decades, we’ve become (not intending to overuse an already worn expression) like the frog slowly cooked in a pot of water, never realizing how far we’ve been moved from what we know is right to what we once knew was wrong… and now we are confused and almost boiling to death. As a result, we have practically lost our credibility in a world that is intent on having it all and treating any attempt at proclaiming even basic honesty and integrity as “antiquated” and “intolerant”.
To make matters worse, our corporate, political and government (including public school) worlds have taken a position that beyond legal definitions, right and wrong are relative, and that to press an ethical or moral position is inappropriate and just a “private matter” (much as Benedict has alluded to). It’s gotten to the point that one is uncomfortable taking any kind of stand for what is right lest we be chastised by our peers and perhaps terminated by our employers.
This is not the beginning of the decay of society, it is a result of it.
Although I am not Catholic, I share Pope Benedict’s concern and hope for a faith that expresses itself consistently through all parts of our lives.
I am fortunate to work for a company that despite being a large corporation and very restrictive about promoting individual faith values, does yet promote a culture of high ethical standards.
And yet there are times I have been placed in positions in years past where my principals, which are tied closely to my faith in Christ, have been challenged. With regret I must report that I some of these times I have failed to act according to my standards and the standards of my faith. But there have been times that God has helped me behave with integrity. Each day brings small and large challenges that require care and thoughtfulness, and ultimately we must simply endeavor to do our best. But we know when our character is on the block, and we can give in to our fears or do what we know is right.
Regardless of where we put our faith, we have very little once we give up our integrity. Let us take heart at doing good and be content that we retain our integrity.
If more of us can promote the values AND consistency recommended so well by Benedict, then perhaps there is still hope for our society.