This autumn I am giving presentations to all the high school teachers, staff and administrators in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. These talks take place on an annual basis, and they are dedicated to a regular cycle of topics.
This year, the theme is morality. Lucky me! My guess is that disquisitions on doctrine or Church history or pastoral practice wouldn’t raise too many hackles, but ethics is practically guaranteed to rile people, especially now when issues of same-sex marriage, transgenderism and assisted suicide are so present in the public consciousness.
I am not sure whether I’m delighting or disappointing my audiences, but I am not ordering my talks to address these hot-button questions. Indeed, it is my conviction that a good deal of mischief and confusion is caused precisely by characterising Catholic morality primarily as a matrix for adjudicating such matters.
A purely rational or deductive approach to controversial ethical choices is largely an exercise in missing the point. For to know how to behave as a Christian is a function of knowing, first, who we are as Christians. Understanding how to act is, if I can pun a little, a function of understanding what play we are in.
The great biblical scholar NT Wright has said that most of us are like actors who are dressed up for Hamlet, who have memorised all the right lines from Hamlet, and who thoroughly grasp the thematics of Hamlet. The only problem is that we are in Romeo and Juliet. Therefore, what I am sharing with the good teachers of LA archdiocese is largely Christian anthropology, a fancy way of saying the articulation of what play we’re in and what role we’ve been given in that production.
Like the great Shakespeare plays, the drama of salvation history consists of five acts: Creation, the Fall, the Formation of Israel, the Coming of the Messiah and the Church. Comprehending the dynamics of all five acts is indispensable to knowing how to behave. So let’s take things one step at a time.
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