The Acts We Perform; the People We BecomeFATHER ROBERT BARRON
Pope John Paul II put his finger on a problem typical of our time, namely, that people think that they can do lots of bad things while still remaining, deep down, "good persons," as though their characters are separable from the particular things that they do.
From the 1950's through the late 1970's Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II) was a professor of moral philosophy at the Catholic University of Lublin in Poland, specializing in sexual ethics and what we call today "marriage and family life." He produced two important books touching on these matters, The Acting Person, a rigorously philosophical exploration of Christian anthropology, and Love and Responsibility, a much more accessible analysis of love, sex, and marriage. These texts provided the foundation for the richly textured teaching of Pope John Paul II that now goes by the name "theology of the body." As was evident throughout his papacy, John Paul had a deep devotion to young people, and he wanted them to see the teaching of the church in regard to sex, not as a burden, but as an invitation to fuller life. In the context of this brief article, I would like to develop just one insight from John Paul's rich magisterium on sex and marriage, for I share the perennial concern of older people that too many young people are treating sex in a morally casual way.
Dr. Leonard Sax, a physician and psychiatrist, explored the phenomenon of the hook-up culture in his book Why Gender Matters, a text I would warmly recommend to teen-agers and their parents. He described that tawdry moral universe in some detail, and then he remarked that his psychiatrist's office is filled with young people – especially young women – who have fallen into debilitating depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. Dr. Sax theorized that these psychological symptoms are a function of a kind of cognitive dissonance. The wider society is telling teen-agers that they can behave in any way they like and still be "good people," but the consciences of these young people are telling a different story. Deep down, they know that selfish and irresponsible behavior is turning them into selfish and irresponsible people – and their souls are crying out. Their presence, in Dr. Sax's waiting room, witnesses to the truth of John Paul's understanding of the moral act.I might sum up John Paul's insight by saying that moral acts matter, both in the short run and in the long run. For weal or for woe, they produce immediate consequences, and they form characters. And so I might venture to say to a young person, tempted to engage in irresponsible sexual behavior: please realize that, though you may not immediately appreciate it, the particular things you choose to do are inevitably shaping the person you are becoming.
Father Robert Barron, "The Acts We Perform; the People We Become." Word on Fire (August, 2011).
Reprinted with permission of Father Robert Barron.
Father Barron's new video series "Catholicism" as described by George Weigel: "This is the most important media project in the history of the Catholic Church in America. A stimulating and compelling exploration of the spiritual, moral, and intellectual riches of the Catholic world."
For information go here.
Father Robert Barron is the founder of Word On Fire and is an acclaimed author, theologian and speaker. He is the Francis Cardinal George Professor of Faith and Culture at Mundelein Seminary near Chicago. Fr. Barron is also the creator and host of the groundbreaking, ten-part documentary series called CATHOLICISM (www.CatholismProject.org). Word On Fire (www.WordOnFire.org) programs reach millions of people and have been broadcast on WGN America, EWTN, Relevant Radio and the popular Word on Fire YouTube Channel. Fr. Barron is the author of, And Now I See: A Theology of Transformation, Thomas Aquinas: Spiritual Master, Heaven in Stone and Glass: Experiencing the Spirituality of the Great Cathedrals, Eucharist (Catholic Spirituality for Adults), Priority of Christ, The: Toward a Postliberal Catholicism, and Word on File: Proclaiming the Power of Christ.
Father Barron uses his YouTube channel to reach out to people and bring valuable lessons of faith alive by pointing out things that can be learned by watching popular characters of movies and television shows.
Copyright © 2011 Father Robert Barron
Not all articles published on CERC are the objects of official Church teaching, but these are supplied to provide supplementary information.