We generate our ideals and ideas of moral concepts at an early age based on our upbringing. Our parents and grandparents help to define what morality means in our family. How our parents and grandparents respond to the message of the Gospels, helps to set the foundation for our moral and spiritual life.
Separating morality from spirituality can be a difficult task, especially for those raised in a life and culture where God exists as a part of the upbringing. This can offer challenges for pastoral ministers engaged in providing direction and coaching to those in need, when the upbringing centered more on punishment and guilt. It is difficult to see beyond the legalistic approach to morality and spirituality if the one in need has never experienced morality and spirituality as a means of respecting the dignity of others, loving others and loving oneself.
A balance must exist for the true message of moral development to blossom. Today’s Catholic Church still has its rules and requirements. There are still punishments for sin and the free will to choose right from wrong. These only address the moral elements. Morality is about our character. Who do we want to be in this moment? Our choice to do good or evil doesn’t need to have a spirituality about it. We can act on impulse that may have its roots in our early upbringing. We often expect consequences for our actions. This is how we were raised, and this is how our legalistic society reacts to our decisions. How do we introduce a spiritual element to counter balance morality?
Am I a spiritual person because I believe in treating others well? I practice integrity and look for the good in others. I strive for positive outcome where everyone may share in the rewards. Does this make me a moral person? I can still choose to take a negative action in the heat of the moment. I can still have negative thoughts about others. I can still be exclusive. I’m still governed by legalistic behaviors.
When ministering to others, we must consider all the factors that have come together to form the “character” of the person we’re ministering to. Spirituality can be defined by the “kind of life it engenders – one built on respecting the dignity of persons, kinship with creation, mutuality, reciprocity, equality, care, compassion and justice.” (Gula, TML)
We often associate morality with our “principles”. We act based on how we see the world and how that world is governed by our principles. As ministers, we are engaged in finding a bridge between morality and spirituality to help offset the purely moralistic approach to living. Blending allows us to still live within the legalistic confines while finding purpose in helping others and feeling good about ourselves.
The pendulum swings to the far right and far left and with this we must be careful to avoid excluding one or the other, morality or spirituality, from our ministerial approach. This approach requires patience and listening for comprehension. It requires us to allow our subject of ministry to understand their own thought process and form their own, while guided, conclusions.
Gula, Richard M. The Moral Life, Shifting toward the Spiritual. New York, NY. National Pastoral Life Center, 2004. Print.