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The Moral Emergency Room

Where do we fight our battles?
by Matthew P. Schnieder, LC | Source:

Voters in almost every state have now given “gay marriage” advocates a record that makes the hapless 2008 Detroit Lions look good: over 30 losses without one victory at the polls. But we have to ask ourselves: why are we voting whether we should support Adam and Steve’s sexual preferences? A little while back, a local 40 Days for Life reported that half a dozen babies were rescued in the 40 days. Why would a woman want to dispose of the flesh of her flesh? We won battles that should not have even been fought. 

The moral body of society is much like a physical body – just as a physical body can be healthy or sick, the moral body of society can be just or decrepit. When a vote on gay marriage is won or a baby is saved at the door of an abortion clinic – it is good, but it indicates a deeper problem in moral health like 400 pound man who just had a heart attack and was stabilized. If he had eaten something other than fried chicken and jelly doughnuts, he probably would not be in the emergency room. In dealing with moral issues in society, the tendency is to focus on the emergency room cases of moral decay, and not fix the systematic problems which would avert trips to the moral emergency room. Here we need to examine how to bring it back to health; but first let’s briefly examine the sliding definition of moral health, its relation to culture, and the most prevalent illnesses in our culture. 

As the overall moral health wanes, the definition of moral health deteriorates; one is healthy if he just has a cold but everyone else has terminal cancer. Any opinion poll on “gay marriage” or “animal rights” that divides respondents by age shows that the younger they are, the more they favor it. This goes beyond opinions to practice: I am in my 20s, and more than half the kids I went to school with now live with their boyfriend or girlfriend. In such a situation, someone who did everything but cohabitated would be in the healthy half. True moral health, now defined in relation to culture, can only be defined in relation to the ideal. 

Our moral health is a part of our culture; a shared view of what is important and how we ought to live. Arguments abound about when and how our culture turned south but arguing often gets us nowhere. We need to turn north again. One interesting thing about culture is that the deepest cultures can return to the roots but end up at a different place then where they were originally; they return to the principles but apply them to a new situation. In the history of our faith, decadence has repetitively given way to a new commitment. Marriage is analogous to culture in this respect: a couple renews their wedding vows to love in their current situation; they love again based on the same principles as their first wedding vows even though they are each 20 years older. 

Let’s quickly review three of the most prevalent moral illnesses in our society. Casinos thrive. When they come up for a vote, such as in 2009 in Ohio, the arguments do not revolve around morals but economics. Divorce numbers swell to the point that the majority of marriages end in divorce. No other contract can one party break without consulting or reimbursing the other. Eliminating no-fault divorce, that is making it like any other contract, would bring justice back to the system. Pornography proliferates. It catches the average boy at age 11; hides behind the false euphemism of Adult Entertainment; and pays off those who dare oppose it. 

Moral health 

Junk food removal is insufficient. True health requires healthy food and exercise – a Christian culture of justice and love. Let’s just showcase a few of the manifold opportunities. Couples come in for marriage preparation classes expecting a Thanksgiving feast and we offer them TV-dinner turkey. We speed through the procedure leaving it at “don’t do A,” “don’t do B,” and “do C.” Is it any wonder they end up in critical condition or in the emergency room? Christopher West used to teach marriage prep using Theology of the Body. In anonymous surveys before and after, he found that 91% were unfaithful to chastity before marriage at the start, but by the end of class, 48% of them had decided to wait and another 20% were considering it. Now this would give every marriage a boost. 

To train moral health, catechesis needs to be examined. Is it just a 2 hour class on Tuesday night that really amounts to babysitting or is it an important part of school, family and parish activity? A few years back, I was the substitute one night half way thought a year of studying the Old Testament. I asked the 6th grade CCD students who Moses was, and received a dozen blank looks. We do not need theologians, but there are some basics we need to teach. 

Faith and the virtues have to actually be lived if we want real health. Simply avoiding trips to the emergency room is not a healthy life. The next generation is a generation of experience not of intellectualism, and the Church should be there to offer the most profound experiences. If a kid only warms a pew on Sunday, he has a 3% chance of being active in his faith as an adult. The majority who switch religions in life do so before age 25. To save Catholicism in America (and Canada), the next generation needs to be involved. Look concretely, how many parishes near you have a program where young people can experience Christ? I ask you to consider what you can do to involve them – no sacrifice is too great. Catholic youth ministry programs have advanced to the point that anyone can run them and get a good response from the kids. Life Teen attracts many kids and puts Mass as the first item on their agenda for the week. Conquest (boys) and Challenge (girls) get young people to practice virtue and to spread their faith in direct action. Even Catholic versions of Boy Scouts and Girl Guides help kids to move beyond a minimalist view of the Faith. 

Our civilization is in evident decadence and decay; we cannot sit back and watch the fire and brimstone fall making side comments about how sad it is. The temptation is to focus on the emergency room but a truly moral society removes systematic not just acute problems. Every doctor will tell you to exercise regularly and have a healthy diet to be fit – this needs to be our advice for the moral body too. Those of us already involved in the Church (and the fact that you got this far means you are or can be involved) are those who need move forward; each individual needs to commit. If each of us doesn’t change, society will not; the moral body will succumb to the parasites currently infecting it unless each one of us good people forms a strong body to fiercely fight the foul fiends. 

Matthew P. Schneider, LC is a religious brother and seminarian with the Legionaries of Christ. For disclosure, he wrote parts of the Conquest formation program. He can be reached at

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Published by: Mike
Date: 2011-01-20 12:58:04
Matthew, Thank you for this article. It renews my interest in Conquest for my son, and Challenge for the girls. Mike

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