Sunday, November 17, 2013

Losing Our Moral Judgment

Student assembly address:

Nationally, marijuana use among teenagers is trending upward, with 22.9% of seniors in this country reporting they’ve smoked marijuana in the last month, according to 2012 data released by National Institute on Drug Abuse. That’s up from 18.5% five years earlier. It also means seniors are likelier to smoke marijuana than smoke a cigarette, as only 17.1 % of seniors say they’ve had a cigarette in the past month.  Alcohol usage nationally has declined slightly, with 28.1% of seniors reporting they’ve been drunk in the last month, down from 30.6% five years earlier.

Our sense here at JPII is that those national trends are reversed—that alcohol usage is on the rise, whereas marijuana usage, while still present, has declined.  Mr. McLaren reports he’s been informed of a rising number of events that occur in our families’ homes where drinking is a prominent feature.

So let’s talk about that for a moment.

When people drink heavily, otherwise sane and normal people do stupid, bad things. I’ve told this story before to a number of you, but my roommates in college at Notre Dame were good, smart and decent guys. One Thursday night in January, with the temperature near 10 degrees, a group of them went to the bars and got drunk. I was in the study hall on the ninth floor of my dorm, and I heard them when they came back, laughing loudly about something. About 5 minutes later, one of my roommates came in, looking sick, and said to me “You have to stop them.” “Stop them from what?” I said. “They have…. a cat. I can’t stomach it. “

So I walked out to the commons area, and what I witnessed almost made me throw up. They’d found a cat that was frozen to the sidewalk on the way back from the bars, took it back to the dorm, pinned it up on a bulletin board and were throwing darts at it.  Just as I walked in, one of my roommates jammed a pencil up one of the cat’s orifices, as everyone laughed, drunkenly. I took the cat down; they swore at me; one of them even tried to take a swing at me—a drunken swing, he missed—and I yelled at them to go to bed.  The next morning, after he sobered up, the roommate with the pencil came to find me and ask me what he had done, because it was fuzzy, and when I told him, he was absolutely disgusted with himself.  As I said, these were good guys. But they lost their sense of decency because they were drunk.

Being disgusted with oneself the morning after is a common theme of individuals who get drunk the night before.  Girls who are otherwise moral, good persons often lose their virginity—or even worse, become objects for multiple partners.  Men mistreat women in ways that they’d never do if they were sober, and because they’re decent guys, are eaten up with guilt about what they’ve done the next day.  It isn’t just an issue of not driving while drunk; it’s about losing all of our moral judgment, which opens us up to doing all sorts of horrible things to each other. Gang rapes in dorms are all too common in universities, even local ones, and drinking is usually part of the reason they occur.

Your character, your reputation, your good name—these are far more important than your GPA, your athletic or artistic accomplishments. All those things are fleeting and temporary, but who you are and what you’ve done stay with you.

One of the greatest advertising campaigns of all time is the Las Vegas commercial: “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. “ It’s as if we can do whatever we want there, and then magically forget about it when we come back home to our regular lives. Except we can’t compartmentalize like that.  Location doesn’t matter, because we’re still the same person, whether we’re in Vegas, or in Nashville, or at home, or whether we’re drunk or sober. We carry that guilt, that burden with us.

Even so, God forgives. And when God forgives, he forgets—as if he takes a video of our lives and simply deletes forever those parts we ask him to forgive us for. If you’re carrying around some guilt, seek out Fr. McGowan for the sacrament of reconciliation, and unload that burden and seek God’s forgiveness. If you’re not Catholic, though Father can’t administer the sacrament to you, he is happy to listen to you.

God wants us to be happy, and to be free of emotional burdens. He wants to forgive us, but he respects our freedom. We have to ask for it. We have to seek him out. In the interim, let's do our best not to put ourselves in a position where we do harm to other people and harm to ourselves. 

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