Tuesday, April 9, 2013
In a recent TV commercial the Mad Ave people tried to catch the viewer's attention with this sentence: "If you have nothing important to say,
what's the use of talking?" If we were to follow this advice we would dutifully fulfill an old Chinese observation: "If we spoke only about those things in which we are expert, the world would be filled with a deep and respectful silence." What an uncharacteristic American society that would be! To many contemporary citizens such a suggestion is not only un American but ridiculous.
Americans love to stand around the office water cooler and give personal insights about everything ranging from how to solve the present woeful economic crisis to why Justin Bieber is a little cad. These articulations, not necessarily coming from wide knowledge, are usually said, however, with great vigor and confidence. And preferably one raises one's voice underscoring the accuracy of wild statements. The implication is, of course, that anyone who does not see the Talker's point is a high grade moron and clearly disposable. But fortunately It is one of the joys of America that everyone, especially dinosaurs like me, has the right of free expression and opinion yet balance, good sense, facts and sensitivity would be such a welcome addition.
However for the most part, the Talker need not know back ground spit about that which he opines. But only that his observations fit his own personal way of life because in America we learn that everyone is equal and that it is unseemly to place any restraint on anyone's opinion or lifestyle. Everyone thinks he is right and he should not be restrained. Certainly not by restraint of facts or reasonable understanding. Heaven forbid! Head line knowledge from the Times or the Village Voice is all that is needed. Or maybe the sound bites of Chris Matthews or even Bill Maher. The popular mode is to be followed. One must be "with it" and cool. Join the herd or suffer the consequences of irrelevancy. Tragically, huge numbers of us obediently follow the party line, whatever it might be, and nod our heads like little bopkins and fall into line lest we be categorized as " irrelevant."
American society, filled with superficial discourse, is often woefully lacking in critical thinking and logic. We are loaded from top level society to the peon with a huge contaminant of juvenile values (Fortunately, not always since we do have significant numbers of mature adult thinkers). We usually leap to conclusions but rarely struggle through premises. To suggest that perhaps the Talker is speaking out of his own subjective impulse and not out of reality would invite the arched eyebrow and the disapproving glance.
The notion that there might be a Truth "out there" Which is beyond any human control and Which exists of Its own self is apparently beyond much of modern capacity! I am told that everything is relative and "it all depends." I wonder if the alleged intellectual protestations are highly correlated with a sincere love and interest in the noblest level of human aspiration or, as I personally suspect, we are witnessing a colossal, almost demonic tsunami Rationalization. Am I cynical when I point out that in back of much of the talk of Tolerance and freedom and choice is sheer selfishness? Questionable behavior is the dynamic here, not heroic and noble thinking the articulation of which becomes a cover for the less noble.
While talking about something of which one knows little or nothing is a common human experience, it seems to me that lately grandiose blathering is surfacing more and more blatantly when discussion focuses on the Catholic Church. It is almost laughable when some guy with beer on his breath and heaven knows what on his mind, goes into snapshot analyses of Catholic theology. The recent election of the new Pope offered huge opportunities for clueless observations. Apart from the usuaI loopy charges that the Pope is the Anti-Christ, I heard and read many ominous rumblings about the need for the Church to get into the 21st century—let priests marry! Make women priests! Accept abortion! Accept same sex marriage! Say that homosexual acting out is not fornication! Accept embryonic stem cell research! Give control to the laity! Otherwise, they say, Catholicism is history. There is hardly any reference to the nature and symmetry of our Faith. Or its theological history and survival through many ages of assault, persecution and corruption of many of its adherents. Or the Promise of the Divine Founder that the Church would never succumb even to the gates of "hell." What does Catholicism really mean and really teach? Why is there such heavy almost exclusive secular emphasis on the need to meet modern human urges which are usually sexual? Where is the focus on the Divine? It seems again that it is a question of Catechesis. Some people, e.g. many cradle Catholics, don't really know their own Faith. Perhaps, they never saw the Beauty of Catholicism but only some weird tale told by manipulative and ignorant adults.
I hear very little of what the Faith means in its essence. That it was founded by God Himself in Jesus and is the Way to eternal happiness and Salvation but which the dissidents saw as a Fairy Tale. I hear of the oodles of Catholics who have left the Faith, many of whom never ever understood their own Religion. I would have left it too if their concept of Catholicism were true. I hear much of the foibles, i.e. sins, of Popes and priests and brutal nuns and stuff for nightmares! If it were all true, and much of it is questionable and even dishonest (in the sense that it is presented as the core of the Catholic history and teaching), it would be truly horrendous and would certainly call for desertion and rejection! But it is largely fictional and even where true, often reprehensibly distorted. To say that these attacks are skewed would be to use classic understatement.
How often I have told college undergrads that if I held their concept of God, I would be an atheist also. Their 'God' was certainly not mine but truly worthy of rejection. It was "funny" (?) to hear the new students brimming with what they called "rebellion" almost instantly becoming obedient sheep adopting the herd mentality of the bubble society of undergraduate liberal education.
Call it superficiality. Call it ignorance. Call it stiff necked or bigoted. The hard factor with which to struggle is that of Truth. Pilate asked the truly relevant question. What is it? Can one find it? Does what one thinks make truth? If, as Catholics say "God is Truth", logic alone could Thunder that Truth is unchangeable as God is unchangeable. Customs change. Styles change. Attitudes change. Mores change. But God and the things of God are unchangeable. It is naïve to believe that someday God will decree that abortion is OK since so many people want it and practice it. Or same sex marriage. Or theft. Or calumny. Or anything decreed by Him as Toeva or abominable. Regardless who so sins, Pope or peasant, it is evil and is un-Truth. Pope Benedict XVI constantly noted that the true evil of our time is Moral Relativism and as such indicated that the Church of Christ is the Power that differentiates between that which can change and that which cannot. ow tiredHHTtrh
The tiresome, anemic challenge of "Meat on Friday" and word changes in the updated Liturgy is emblematic of the superficiality of the age and an illustration of the title of this essay. The difference is cosmic but for those who cannot see the obvious, the unchanging and loving God of all reveals the Truth through His own Church. The gratitude of the Catholic is seen in the tumultuous joy of the thousands gathered before St. Peter's when it was announced "Habemus Papam" We have a Pope! We have leadership which is linked to the Divine Christ Himself. We have Truth.
Such a view is inimical to modern thought which prefers the Water cooler with its moral relativity to the Loggia which proclaims absolute Truth. Too bad we are so superficial when we have profound truth on a platter!
Thursday, March 28, 2013
A good friend of mine had just died and I was deeply and appropriately saddened. I was singing his character, personality, goodness and achievements when someone said "Yeah, but did you
know the scandal he was involved in years ago?"
His disclosure which I
wish I had
never heard, upset,
angered and disoriented me. I have wondered all these years why the informant felt the need to upend my personal perception of a fellow human being—and a deceased one at that! Why tell me that juicy morsel?
of dynamic is it that depresses a person to hear another
lauded? What kind of
is it that urges one to tear another down? Whatever it is, it is loaded with smallness of heart and
personal cowardice. The maligned one is rarely present to utter a word of self defense. Such gleeful eagerness
one of the more lovely of human characteristics. It is despicable
behavior and generally
the inner human soul --and apparently disapproved, also, by the Lord. He speaks bluntly of it through the Psalmist when He says in Psalm 101…."He who slanders another in secret, I will reduce to silence…."
The basis of the universal distaste for backbiting, I think, is deep in the very fiber of human nature since even the Mosiac Code itself, so probably intrinsic to the human being, thunders the right of all to a fundamental good name or reputation. '' Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor." In Catholic thinking, by penumbra and emanation processing, back biting (or detraction as it is technically called) which might involve the ugly truth about a person's history, is forbidden as is calumny which involves untruth or lies about a person's history.
There are obviously times in human affairs when such revelations are necessary and appropriate such as law enforcement and government/ business clearances for sensitive posts. Perhaps, in spiritual direction it can be helpful to encourage discouraged penitents by revealing the early weaknesses of persons who went on to achieve outstanding holiness.
Generally, In Catholic thinking, our dominant factor is the understanding of what has been called The Constant Resurrection." All human
beings are broken and vulnerable and, as such, are vulnerable to error and sin. Of course one can push this "envelope too far."
An example of this envelope pushing is the unfair categorization of religious people as hypocrites. There are those who are profuse in their criticism, for example, of devout Catholics who sincerely attend Mass and strive to keep the Commandments. They are called silly as well as broken. Yet, their calling simple Catholics "hypocrites" sounds more like a projection of the critics own guilt onto others. Of course, there are hypocrites in the Catholic Church on every level which should not be surprising in the light of the sin called Original. But the inductive leap from the particular, here, to the universal is truly uber Olympian. Rationalization is a sport as old as human functioning. But this appraisal is not about any specific group, only about the mercy of the Lord Who puts our sins behind His back and lovingly forgives those who are repentant and Who calls us to "now" living. How far do you go in making allowances for brokenness?
But about human weakness. Even the great committed Apostle Paul reminded himself to be careful lest he who had preached to others, might also fall. It was Paul, himself, as young Saul who had been guilty of infamous treatment of the new sect which followed Jesus of Nazareth. Do we focus on his early still plastic spiritual life or do we marvel at his work when he matured?
Then there was the Big Fisherman, Peter or Cephas who, somewhat boastfully, stated that though others might desert the Lord, he never would. But because of his panic and overwhelming terror he avowed publicly that he didn't even know Jesus. Yet he repented of cowardly denial, atoned and went on to become a prodigious saint and the first Vicar of Jesus on earth.
And Mary Magdalene who has become the great model of repentance and a saint after a "spotty" past is a case in point. Augustine of Hippo, likewise, after a very sinful early life (sinful according to his own words) became the great lover of God, great Christian intellectual and a spiritual model over the centuries for literally millions of people. Even the universally loved Francis of Assisi, the little poor man, had a wild and irreligious youth before he reformed and became a truly holy man.
There is a plethora of examples for every level of human experience. Ignatius of Loyola was a soldier who lived the usual wild life of the military of that historical period with little thought of God or the Godly life. He became the founder of the monumental Society of Jesus and a canonized saint. Blessed Raymund Lull of Majorca who was a notorious womanizer, reformed, repented sought absolution and atonement and subsequently became the patron saint for those who lust. There even is a saint from 7th century England, St. Caedmon (or Caedwilla), a former murderer, who repented when Jesus appeared to him. He is the patron of killers who seek repentance. St. Pelagia was a harlot. St. Margaret of Cortona lived with her boyfriend and became a single mother. In more recent times, the murderer of St. Maria Goretti, profoundly repented and spent the rest of his life atoning until he became amazingly saintly.
Even in our own 21st century we have the touching example of a prominent politician who was guilty of truly loathsome behavior in his earlier life but who repented, sought absolution and atonement with a subsequently admirable life. He has been ruthlessly criticized by some who ignore God's grace and who demean human nature by refusing to admit the possibility of human improvement. The insistence of focusing on past mistakes while Ignoring sincere and real growth in goodness smacks of not only pettiness but even more of denial the power of God.
The list of repentant lives is endless. And the moral is hope. The spiritual practice is "Where is he now spiritually, this person with the spotty past? How does he live now? Can I meet him as he is, not as he was?" Nothing sinful one has done in the past disqualifies the call to sainthood
One might, of course, have thoughts about the reverse situation, one in which the early life is admirable but the final years are filled with illness, dementia, impairment even pathos. Even the great blessed John Paul II, the Great, the majority of whose years were filled with glory and impact but whose final years were tragic and pitiful, is, indeed, also a case in point. But the focus is different. Here the respect and admiration of the past is clear. One understands the present because of the inevitable ravages of time itself. There is no attack on the personhood while in the previous instance, smallness of heart and touches of malice rule the ungenerous soul.
Perhaps, the past can never truly be forgotten but with the help of God's powerful help one can see the past in perspective. Repentance can be real. Holiness is possible for everyone, no matter what the past. If only we could be generous of heart and trusting,, wouldn't life be more meaningful and encouraging for everyone with all of us being winners ?