With the Carnival season upon us, one Catholic priest is urging Christians to pay close attention to what is going on within them as they engage the season.
Fr Dexter Brereton CSSp, Parish Priest at St Francis of Assisi, Erin, and Lecturer in Systematic Theology, School of Theology at the Seminary of St John Vianney and the Uganda Martyrs told Catholic News the first thing Christians ought to remember, when deciding matters of right and wrong is this: Rules do not make moral choices, people do.
The decision as to the “rightness” or “wrongness” of a particular action (a ‘dutty wine’ for example) is not always plain and obvious, he said.
“It requires awareness and discernment,” Fr Brereton said. He explained that as Catholics, our moral tradition speaks of the act itself, the circumstances and the intention of the person doing it, as guides to deciding whether actions are wrong or right.
He gave another example of a “properly married couple” could be engaging in a morally degrading act if they are having sex through manipulation or force.
On the issue of whether Christians should participate in Carnival, Fr Brereton said the Church invites all to be free and responsible in moral choices. Meritorious acts he said, demand one’s full and free involvement.
The approach of questioning ‘How do I know when I have sinned/ gone too far?’ is perhaps the “wrong” way to approach the issue of one’s behaviour during the Carnival festivities.
The real issue, is that persons take time to read the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which Fr Brereton believes offers a positive moral vision of life for young people. For example, in regard to sexual behaviour CCC 2337 offers a vision of humans as sexual beings. We are invited to chastity. “…the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man or woman in their bodily and spiritual being. Sexuality in which our belonging to the bodily and biological world, is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another in the complete and lifelong gift of a man and a woman.”
Thus, it is that the Church, through the Catechism invites all to strive to become whole and balanced persons before it sets about forbidding specific acts.
Fr Brereton maintains that Christians ought to recognise that they are in some way accountable to God and to the religious community of which they are a part.
“We never make choices as if the Church’s teaching or that of our community do not matter,” he told Catholic News.
In the final analysis, the choice belongs to us, because of the primacy and freedom of our conscience.
“This is the Church’s teaching. The condition of our heart, or our conscience plays a major role in determining whether something is right or wrong,” he explained.
Fr Brereton’s offers these practical tips to guide behaviour during Carnival, bearing in mind that one cannot always simply look at actions and tell whether they are right and wrong:
1. Develop the capacity for self-examination. Ask yourself: “What happened to me during last Carnival?” “What were the problems I encountered?” When did they start?” “Who was I with?” “What was I consuming?”. This process, he said, can lead persons to discover what constitutes an occasion of sin. An occasion of sin refers to a situation, thing or even a person, which can entice us to sin. What is an occasion of sin for one may not be an occasion of sin for another. Thus, if one knows that alcohol abuse is frequent in his/her family, maybe he/she should avoid persons who drink heavily.
2. Develop common sense. Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 3.26 says ‘Those who love danger will perish in it’. Avoid situations where your moral virtue will be severely tested. Avoidance is often the better part of valour.
3. Develop awareness of your emotional dynamics. If for example, your dancing leaves you extremely aroused (horny) or you feel yourself losing control, then you have probably gone too far.
4. Develop a sense of compassion. Be aware of what may be going on in others. Do not lead others into sin. Fr Brereton said it is very wrong to deliberately seek to entice someone to sin or to arousal through one’s actions, words or appearance. “Our patriarchal misogynistic society encourages men to take the role of ‘sexual conquerer’ and women to take the role of ‘temptress’. Both women and men, he said, suffer as a result. As Christians, especially during the Carnival festivities are called to resist the death-dealing parts of our culture.
5. Develop your knowledge of Catholic doctrine. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is a wonderful source of moral guidance for Catholics. Nos. 2052 to 2550 cover the Ten Commandments and it is here that we can find a lot of encouragement to live whole and balanced lives, not simply rules telling us what not to do.
By Kaelanne Jordan