I’m deeply disappointed and perplexed at how some writers define catholic living. Articles on Catholic living habitually contain a biblical line or two, and is defined by two transactions – sin and forgiveness. Mercy is a commodity this day and age and is seen as redemption for a sinner. In the devaluation of sin, confessionals have become brothels, where forgiveness and confession meet in the middle for the synthesis of absolution – just like two bodies meet for one’s emancipation in an orgasm. The freedom from gravity that mercy delivers should not be merely a transaction of words, it should be bound by a commitment not to sin or to ensure that ethical living is the standard that the sinner will abide by in times to come.
As a lecturer in bioethics and ethics in two Sri Lankan universities, I’m awe-stricken at the level of ignorance of basic ethics for daily life. Ethics are bound by codes, law-etched or de-facto, and this beautiful subject is unequivocally diverse and on occasions universal, such as with the notion of “you shall not kill another human being”. Ethics is embedded in the 10 commandments and that should be the soul of catholic living. The last seven commandments in particular, have been formulated to ensure that a catholic treats a fellow human with respect, dignity and acceptance as a rule of thumb.
What is tolerance – a hackneyed word – in this day and age? It is about ensuring that someone who has a different value system, differing view point or cultural upbringing distinct from yours, is treated with acceptance, or at least with acknowledgement of his/her way of life and bequeathing respect where it’s needed most. Judgements should be spared and kept only inside the mental faculties and talking behind their back or gossiping should be kept to a minimal. Only then will you pay homage and respect to that person for who he/she is. That should be the ethos of tolerance – not just the misguided notion of acceptance of every sinner or wrongdoer. Some people are fast to point the finger at the righteous for calling the fallen “sinners” but the same keep hushed lips when the fallen call a holy person or a pledged virgin, “a prude”. This is the sheer polarity in double standards of tolerance in today’s world. It should be clearly remembered that liberals are equally susceptible and culpable to judgement as the righteous – let us not omit that inconvenient fact from public dialogue.
Just today, I read about how anger is supposed to be an uncatholic emotion. Well, God was angry with the Egyptians and spared Joseph’s lineage from disasters. Jesus was angry at the market place and he even ransacked sale outlets and even cracked his whip in utter disrespect, Mary and Joseph were subtly angry at Jesus when he was lost at the temple and Moses had bouts of anger when God did not deliver on time. It seems so many biblical figures, including God, have been known to be angry and humans too are susceptible to this very unpleasant emotion. Still what matters is that one doesn’t bottle things up nor spray them around. You need to sculpt the clay of anger in to beautiful meaningful creations that could be a portal of beauty or upliftment. So when you’re angry, do a charitable deed, play a musical instrument, create a composition of words or notes or even engage in prayer, after all, what matters is that anger should be used as a propeller of self-improvement and a mechanism of fostering greater good, where good is in short-supply.
What is good about Pope Francis’s tenure is the focus on social evils, social justice and the incorporation of environmental issues into theology. Now even in some seminaries, the catholic viewpoint on issues such as the environment, ecology, conservation, climate change and pollution are addressed as key themes of theology. This is a positive and groundbreaking development, as God’s gift to mankind – planet earth – is preserved by diminishing the anthropogenic evils that impact our ambient environment. As a lecturer in Ecology and Environmental Ethics, I foresee the development of a catholic conscience to Gaia’s survival and this Goldilocks planet should be a place of perfect equilibrium of nature and natives, where we not just partake a social contract but also sign a native contract to safeguard and preserve this turquoise globe for future generations. Eco-Catholicism should be a word in encyclopedias because Catholics, as one of the foremost religions of our planet, should be responsible custodians of what we use and deconstruct for our daily flourishing. Catholics are not just bound by human life, but also need to preserve the biodiversity around, the flora and the fauna, because every animal was molded from a clump of divine clay. That is the assurance delivered by providence. Therefore catholic living should be environmentally-conscious and should always transcend anthropocentrism to accept and practice a deeper philosophy such as “Deep Ecology” which states that we should only use the environment for our most vital needs. Only then will our catholic living reverberate through time and space to influence the betterment of the planet and harmony between communities divided by the legacy of Babel Tower.
Noah’s ark is one example of God’s consciousness to safeguard biodiversity. Noah took on board the Ark, pairs of organisms, to ensure that there is a continuum of life on earth. This same ethos should be the fundamental mind-frame of the Catholic church when it comes to catholic living. We should be empathetic to our lesser organisms and be benevolent and philanthropic to the preservation of all life forms on planet earth. Only then will we have the correct balance, when biological cycling will ensure the continuation of life in our wondrous world. Jesus was a foot soldier, a wanderer, who prayed inside gardens, befriended people who lived in the wilderness and in the coastal belt, a person who was always closer to nature and natives of the land. We too need to be just like him, and conserve the natural world around us, because that will be our legacy, for better or worse.
Catholic living has many dimensions to it. It is not only based on the notion of mercy. Mercy is only a mechanism of rectification and renewal and not the founding ethos of the catholic faith. Catholicism is about tolerance, charity, environmental consciousness and about being a wheel of change to a world saturated with social evils. It’s about deeds which foster positive transformation and not preaching of the word of god, which will be forgotten in a matter of a day or two. We don’t need to build massive ships to save mankind, just placing a compost bin in the garden or ensuring that water and electricity is used with caution, will suffice.
Still just like Noah was a ship builder, there is a responsibility on the shoulders of every catholic, to build a beautiful earth to carry our diverse life forms. We are after all custodians of our own Ark and what better way to be guardians but to practice a conscious faith that will ensure the perpetuation of life and preserve goodness inside our planet earth.