By CHRISTIE L. CHICOINE
CS&T STAFF WRITER
Redemptorist Father Dennis J. Billy is the new Cardinal Krol Chair of Moral Theology at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood. A native of New York, Father Billy, 55, was ordained a priest in 1980. For more than 20 years, he was professor of the history of moral theology and Christian spirituality at the Alphonsian Academy of Rome’s Pontifical Lateran University.
Q. What do you consider to be among the top moral issues Catholics should be concerned about today?
A. From the perspective of the Church’s attempts to defend the most poor and the most vulnerable in society, we could see quite an array of issues. Certainly, the defense of the unborn and the abortion issue is something which would be at the top of the hierarchy of moral truths. It shouldn’t just be placed there as one among many – it has a depth of consideration….
Poor and vulnerable children in society don’t have a lot of say in the way in which they are reared in the early stages of life. Therefore, it’s very important that we defend family and marriage – that children be raised in an environment where they can be nurtured and develop in a holistic way.
Those who are sick and aging who may not be able to defend themselves need to have a voice as well.
Future generations of Americans will inherit our planet. In that way, the environment becomes a very important issue.We can’t be just so focused on our own present needs and concerns that we forget that we are passing on the great wealth and resources of our planet to those who come after us.
Q. What can the everyday Catholic do to advance the Church’s teachings on these issues?
A. It’s very important for the everyday Catholic to recognize that we’re all members of a larger body and we all have a role to play. Not everybody is going to play a decisive role in terms of leadership or strategies for confronting these very serious moral issues, but … be informed about the issues, speak up and have your voice heard. Get involved to the extent that you can within your family, your local parish, your community.
It’s important that we recognize that our moral life is intimately connected with our faith life and therefore intimately related to our relationship with God.
Q. How would you address the current economic crisis?
A. It is very serious. I’m not an economist that can really analyze the various causes that went into this. But it seems that part of the reason has to do with that age-old tendency … of self-centeredness, pride, greed… In some ways, this present crisis has a positive dimension to it. It’s sort of awakened us and it could perhaps show us that we’ve lived beyond our means, many of us, and it calls us to redirect our values. It’s a call to live more simply. Consumer society is based on developing these “needs” within us: you need to buy this, you need to have that. But so many of these things we really don’t need. Our ultimate need is intimacy with God.
I do think that the economic situation is going to pass. There’s the sense that it’s going to be long, but we’re ultimately going to survive this and be better for it … just as the people of the generation who lived through the Great Depression learned some very basic values about spending, about what was really important. When you’re hungry, you know what’s really important. Hopefully, as we pass through it, we’ll relearn some of the more basic values of the Catholic faith which perhaps have been blurred in our vision or perhaps not forefront in our minds.
Q. What practical things should parents do to promote Catholic moral teaching at the various stages of their children’s development?
A. Parents teach by their own lives, by their presence to their children, by the concern, love and care that they give their children. The most practical thing that a parent can do in raising their children – if they want to promote Catholic moral teaching – would be to live their faith. If Church teaching is truly important in their lives, then the faith will be developed most certainly by being involved in parish activities, going to Mass, but also at home. The first place where the faith is communicated is the home. I would suggest … saying grace before meals, shutting the television off and actually having a family meal, reading from the Scriptures, getting involved in helping others in the community. Slow down, build a rhythm to your family’s life.
Q. What advice do you have for young adult, single Catholics and elderly Catholics?
A. What God wants for everyone is to be happy. But happiness comes only from a deep, intimate relationship with God. That’s what moral theology is really all about – helping us to the way of happiness. It’s not a list of obligations, of dos and don’ts. Moral theology, if you look at the tradition, is about our journey to God and our destiny in God.
I would tell young adults to learn about their faith. The Church wants to be a part of your future. What we learn in CCD from grades one through eight is not even scratching the surface of the depth and wisdom that is present within the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Catholic Church.
Single Catholics, for many, that’s their vocation. But others may feel life has passed them by. Maybe they feel, I never got married, I wonder why? They could feel very lonely. I would encourage single Catholics, as I would all, to focus on their relationship with God and to seek out good, solid friendships. The moral life is about our journey to God and relationships. Single Catholics have a role to play in the Church. Many have become a part of Catholic lay movements. God has a plan for them.
Elderly Catholics, toward the end of their lives, may look back on their lives and see that many of their friends and loved ones are no longer here. They’re beginning to think about the end of their own lives. Some may feel lonely and abandoned. I would just encourage them to have hope and believe, have faith in God. You’re never truly alone. God is closer to them than they may realize. Jesus’ words to the disciples at the resurrection were, “Do not be afraid.”
For more information, call the Cardinal Krol Chair of Moral Theology at (610) 785-6500.
CS&T Staff Writer Christie L. Chicoine may be reached at (215) 587-2468 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Father Billy’s recommended readings on the subject of moral theology include:
* Part III of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church
* The Knights of Columbus’ “Luke E. Hart Series”
* Liguori Publications: “The Essential Moral Handbook: A Guide to Catholic Living,” by Kevin J. O’Neil and Peter Black