Saturday, July 23, 2016

What does it profit a man?


A well known lawyer was asked to give his support to a national ruler.  He would not give his support. He did not criticize the leader; he spoke no ill words about said leader or the actions that leader had taken; he withdrew from his position and went home to live a quiet life. But his silence was not acceptable to the leader.  The lack of support was so troubling to this leader, that he demanded, through penalty of jail time, an oath affirming what the leader was doing.  For refusing to take the oath, this lawyer was vilified, even by former friends, and eventually thrown into jail, where a council of investigators repeatedly interrogated him on why he would not sign the oath, take the pledge, offer his public endorsement.  Eventually, through the lies of another former friend, this lawyer was found guilty of denying the oath, and his head was cut off.  His final words?  “I die the king’s good servant; but God’s first.”
You know the lawyer as Saint Thomas More.  The leader was King Henry VIII. 
While I would not draw any kind of equivalency between those events and the recent kerfuffle regarding Ted Cruz’s lack of endorsement for Donald Trump, I would like to point out some similarities, because, as they say, history doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes. 
First of all, to get it out of the way, if Cruz had endorsed Trump during his speech, that does not mean I would have changed my own mind and supported the charlatan. I would have liked to hear his reasons, of course, since I respect Cruz as a man and as a thinker, but it would be impossible to give my vote to a man of no principle like Trump. That being said, I thought Cruz knocked it out of the park, and stood by his own convictions and his own conscience with his lack of endorsement.  Surely, the vicious attacks on Cruz’s family by Trump were the more glaring reasons for the lack of an endorsement. What normal human being, what principled man would give support to someone who did the things, and said the things Trump did and said about Cruz’s wife and family?  And continued to say when the whole thing was over. . .  So many political prognosticators and opinion writers and politicians attacked Cruz viciously, along the lines of their chosen leader’s vein, following the non-endorsement. One wonders how they would react in a similar circumstance. I will not call into question their fidelity to their spouses and families.  I will call into question their awareness of the basics of morality and hierarchy of values.  Being faithful to one’s family is second only to fidelity to God.  Political parties fall far below those two obligations.  
And isn’t it interesting that Cruz let the repeated personal attacks of Trump (Lyin’ Ted) brush off him like the proverbial water off a duck’s back.  Trump gets outraged at far milder perceived sleights. It is my humble opinion that another reason Cruz would not endorse Trump is that he truly believes Trump to be an unacceptable candidate for the office of the presidency.  I happen to believe that, so I won’t be voting for him.
Let’s go back to Thomas More.  
In one part of the series of events that led to his arrest and eventual execution, Henry had made himself head of the Church of England, gave himself a divorce from Catherine of Aragon, and prepared to wed Anne Boleyn.  Many of Thomas’ former friends,  including nobles and clergy, exhorted him to attend the wedding to show his friendliness to the king.  Thomas told a story of ancient Rome, and I paraphrase:
There was a law that a virgin could not receive the death sentence. Yet a young virgin woman was found guilty of a capital crime. The emperor wanted to have her executed, but felt constrained by the law. His advisors told him, “Your excellency, all you have to do is deflower her, and then the beasts can devour her.”  Thomas went on, “Gentlemen, the beasts may devour me, but you will never deflower me.”  
Thomas saw attendance at the invalid marriage as a public repudiation of the very principles for which in his conscience he resigned his office as chancellor to the king, returned to private life and stood fast against accepting what Henry had done.  
It is interesting to note, as I learned from Wikipedia’s entry on Robert Bolt, that he himself had been imprisoned for four weeks, because of his stance against nuclear proliferation. He refused to sign a declaration that he would not engage in such activities any more.  A movie director visited him in prison after two weeks, and urged him to sign, so that they could get on with finishing a film based on one of his plays, “Lawrence of Arabia.”  Bolt later regretted his actions and never spoke to the director again.  Bolt had an awareness of the duties of conscience, something that comes out in his play about Thomas More.
Cruz received boos from the Trump hungry crowd for simply telling people to vote their conscience. Much has been written about this, but it is at the core of what matters.  Those who deride and vilify Cruz for his non-endorsement have no idea what it means to follow one’s conscience. Like More, he has been called a traitor and many other vile things.  It is absolutely amazing. 
The most outrageous charge is that he is a narcissist.  “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”  The irony is that those who charge Cruz with this moniker are supporting the third narcissist in recent history to run for president. And they gladly do so!  If Cruz were the narcissist they claim him to be, he would have given his endorsement at the convention, and used that “leverage” for his own personal gain.  Instead, since Cruz understands politics better than most people, he went against the tide of angry Trump humpers and the establishment and stood by his conscience, knowing that he would be attacked.  
The term “political suicide” has been used to describe his non-endorsement.  No one can say for sure how this will play out for Cruz moving forward. Much depends on the outcome of the election, of course.  There will be those who blame him if Hillary wins, astonishingly from those who cannot see the disaster that is a Trump campaign.  If Trump pulls it off and wins, my prognostication, for what it’s worth, is that people will see the horror of a Trump presidency for what it can only be, and perhaps look to Cruz or someone like him to primary Trump in 2020.  
Let’s look at some of those attacking Cruz.  
Chris Christie, a failed governor, has been quite vicious.  This is the same failed governor whose head is so far up Trump’s what’s-it that he can taste the toupee. Did you ever see the video of Trump scooting Christie away to go back to New Jersey? Or mocking his obesity? Does Christie have any shred of self-respect?
Ann Coulter, whose brain has been turned to utter mush, has been quite nasty towards Cruz.  This is the same lame-brain who said only Romney could win; who loved Chris Christie; who thinks Mitch McConnell is an honorable man. 
Sarah Palin, whose folksy charm has become its own caricature, is one who declared Cruz’s political life over. I mean, come on. Loser vice presidential candidate and failed governor?  Her obeisance to Trump has gotten her far, hasn’t it? So far that she wasn’t able to get on one of those flying things called an airplane to come to Cleveland from Alaska. That was Trump’s excuse for her non-participance at the convention. A lie, I am sure.  He just didn’t want her there.
And so we could go on, but these are the ones who stick in my mind at the moment.  
The oddest thing about the whole thing is that the anti-establishment Trump and his followers are so in bed with the establishment that the word “outsider” cannot describe any of this nightmare. It was the establishment that engineered the booing of Cruz, along with the Trump humpers. They knew he would not endorse, and they wanted to use the occasion to attack Cruz.  I think of another Henry, angry at another Thomas (history rhymes), who said, “Will no one ride me of this troublesome priest?”  That was Henry II who wanted to be rid of Thomas Beckett. Trump and his allies in the establishment wanted to get rid of Cruz politically. They all hate Cruz because he doesn’t tow their line.  And now the establishment is wedded to Trump like Anne Boleyn to Henry VIII. For not endorsing the marriage, Cruz is the very image of an outsider.
But what about Hillary? The Supreme Court? Trade? Freedom?  To quote Andrew McCarthy from his recent National Review article, “I will never be able to say I want him to win -- only that I’m certain I want Hillary Clinton to lose.” That being said, I cannot support a charlatan who is as dangerous as Hillary should he get the office.  I truly believe that. Or let me borrow again from Thomas More: “It’s not that I BELIEVE it, but that “I” believe it.”  Any candidate for any office needs to set out reasons for my support, and then show that he or she means it.  Trump has been very clear he does not support what I am looking for in a candidate, and has even said he doesn’t want the vote of conservatives. Okay, then.
Thomas More lost his head because he wouldn’t lose his mind or soul for the privilege of the king’s good graces.  Cruz may lose his political life, but he has kept his soul and his conscience clear. 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Who created Trump?

Who created Donald Trump?

God. God created Donald Trump.  This is something no one should ever forget. God brought him in to being; God allowed the Donald to be so influential in this current political environment.  This is catechism 101.  

Yet, God works through human means and free decisions, so how do we explain this Trump phenomenon? 

One could go insane trying to navigate through the mind and life history of the man, but some things are so apparent that they are missed by the casual observer. One might add that the casual observer is more than likely a Trump supporter.  He sounds strong and bold and nation-changing, but is that true?  Yes.  It is true.  If he’s nominated, the nation would be changed, for we would see a top-tier celebrity candidate be within reach of the presidency.  We have already had a second-rate celebrity take that office; having a top-tier celebrity obtain that position would be. . . well, let’s not delve into apocalyptic talk.

But one thing is certainly true, apart from the providence of the Almighty, and that is the fact that the Republican Party is responsible for Donald Trump. As much as the “establishment” decries Trump’s rantings at their lack of vision, and apart from the appeals that establishment spokesmen have made to the Donald (in fear of a Ted Cruz candidacy) in these latter days before the Iowa caucuses, we cannot fail to note that back in 2012, every single presidential candidate (was there one who did not?  Maybe Ron Paul?) kissed the ring of the Donald at Trump Tower.  Why wouldn’t he think he was God’s gift to the GOP?

I’ve been involved and interested in presidential politics since I was 5 1/2 years old and heard that George McGovern wanted children to go to government school 12 months every year.  I remember clearly decrying this assault on liberty and freedom when I had only been in school for a little over a month (1972!).  I have followed these elections ever since, and so I think I have some experience in the matter.

Trump was the kingmaker back in 2012.  They all felt obliged to ascend to the throne and ask for a blessing from the Pontiff of Endorsements. I found that very strange then, and see its fruit now. 

You see, I remember despising Trump back in 1999, when he had his interview with Tim Russert, and declared himself “very pro-choice”.  Despise him? Of course!  How does one not despise a man (or woman) who thinks it is “okay” or “legal” to cut the brains out of an unborn baby? Such a man deserves no support from even the lamest conservative, despite what position he takes on immigration or trade.  As one of my professors used to say, about those who claim to be “pro-choice”, and thus for abortion:  “If you don’t know that, what else don’t you know?”

But the blame for the rise of Trump lies squarely on the heads of the GOP who were too insecure in their (lack of) convictions to think that this man’s blessing was necessary to ascend to prominence in the polls.  The monster who is Trump was built from the wreckage of the GOP’s advancement of such dinosaurs as Dole and McCain, and the shiny new “severe” conservatives like Romney.  It was fed by the weakened “Abby Normal” brainlessness of Sarah Palin (whose endorsement sounded better on SNL than in its actual happening). And what the heck happened to Ann Coulter? She stood for something once; now she. . . well.  I don’t pay attention anymore.


Nevertheless, Trump’s rise is directly connected to a GOP party that thought it could go head-to-head against the Democrats at their same game of personality over politics.  Whatever whining or praising that arises from the GOP about this shameless man’s so-called popularity, the impact he has had is directly related to the wimpyness of the so-called leaders of the GOP.  They made this man. They rejected him at first; now they run to his shadow.  It’s shameless, but I bet they will not be so amused when he eats them alive at a banquet hosted by Mr. Trump’s best friends, Mrs Pelosi, Mr. Reid and Chucky Schumer. 

Monday, August 10, 2015

And the Church teaches what about sex?


Two recent news events converged in such a way that this is a necessary explication of something rarely understood in Catholic teaching.  The two stories are at opposite ends of the spectrum, and so they miss the nuanced middle that often encompasses the “both/and” of good theology.
The first story is about a popular Catholic layman who makes and distributes videos commenting on the latest scandal or earth-shattering news item that affects the Catholic faith and society.  This fellow has apparently either endorsed directly or allowed to be endorsed on his site the idea that the use of Natural Family Planning (NFP) by Catholic couples is sinful, unless the reasons for its use are very grave. This school of thought looks upon any couple using NFP as violating the spirit of the Church’s teaching because they are selfish.  If a couple does not have a large number of children, then they must be using NFP as contraception, and therefore are guilty of sin.
While one could suppose in a given situation that a certain couple is selfish in their intentions of using this Church approved method of spacing children or avoiding conception, that determination is not for anyone else to make except the couple.  While a couple may seek counsel from a wise pastor or spiritual director about their inner motivations, if they are open to life when they engage in the marital act, there is no sexual sin involved. God may tell them at the last day that they should have had more children, but that judgment is literally up to God.
The other story is about a popular governor who proclaimed quite loudly (as most of the things he says are quite loudly declaimed) that he used contraception, and then went on to ask, “Does that make me a bad Catholic?”  I am not sure what his motivation for stating such a thing was, and his wife should be embarrassed by the public admission. The simple answer is that, yes, using contraception in a marriage is a sinful act, one that requires one to repent, and would prima facie prevent one from receiving Holy Communion.  Thus, such a person would be a bad Catholic, that is, not a practicing Catholic.  While it is possible for a married couple to use contraception in a moment of weakness, and thus need to seek forgiveness in the sacrament of Penance, the idea that one would brag about it as a lifestyle choice and, apparently, a regular part of his marital life?  That not only would prevent such a person from participating in the Sacraments because of the use of contraception until true penitence is shown, but also involves the sin of scandal.  This person has publicly admitted to a sinful lifestyle, without regrets. His attitude about it may lead others to think that they, too, can use it and be good Catholics, and thus he has contributed to the sin of another, or even many others.  “Look, honey, the governor used it!  Why can’t we?”
What the Church teaches about the marital act is that it has two aspects that are inseparable:  unity and openness to life. The spouses engage in the marital love embrace as a sign of their mutual commitment.  Hence, the act must be one of love and never one of force.  It is the consummation of a bond that has the added element of a graced encounter with the Lord, Who binds the two together for their mutual benefit and growth in life and holiness. God created sex for this reason, for the mutual benefit of husband and wife.  Even the pleasure is part of His plan and is so intimate between spouses that they should joyfully engage in this complete renewal of their vows, now made flesh between them.  
As a physical act, it has certain dimensions that require (we must say today) a man and a woman. The very orientation of the physical act is towards “something”, or rather, some one.  There is a reason that, apart from a little blue pill, some things stop happening once the act reaches a certain conclusion.  The man shares with and within his wife something of his very self.  While the Biblical understanding of the science behind conception is incomplete, the substance of Biblical teaching is that the seed of the man is not something extraneous to him, but of his very self.  Genetics only confirms this even further, as does the understanding of how the actual act of conception takes place, whereby what is “of the man” meets what is “of the woman” to form from the two one new, unrepeatable new person with his or her own genetic make up, his or her own body capable of growth as an individual.  
So serious is the possibility of this new creation that the act whereby a new human being comes into existence requires protection (from harm!) and a sense of sacred awe.  For one to turn the act into a mere physical act of satisfaction is itself contra naturam (against nature).  As important as the pleasurable feelings and emotions are as the act is taking place, they are a part of something above and beyond the individual or even the couple.  As with creation in general, the human person is a steward of creation, not its overlord. 
In contracepting, the couple is adding an additional act into the marital act that by its intention is to render it sterile, even if temporarily.  This is why it has been called “artificial contraception”.  An “artifice” is used, be it a pill, a device or some other action, to take away, on purpose, the life-giving aspect of the marital act. While the couple may be in love, choose to engage in the act as is their right, and enjoy each other in unity, they have, unfortunately, introduced something additional that takes away a crucial element of what they are doing, and, to use St. John Paul II’s terminology, they speak a different word by contracepting that contradicts the word they are saying with their bodies, “I am yours; you are mine.”  They deliberately insert a barrier of non-acceptance in what should be an act, by each spouse, of total acceptance and complete giving.
But what do we make of the Church “allowing” the use of NFP?  Why and how is it different than taking a pill or putting on a device? Isn’t the intention the same and have the same effect? Again, while the generosity of a given couple is something they really do need to pray about and discuss, a couple that learns and properly uses NFP is not violating the marital act in any way.  Perhaps they are guilty of selfishness in some way; that is not for another to say. What can be said is that when they decide to engage in the marital act itself, they remain open to the possibility of life, and do not add a separate act into their embrace that of its very nature is against one of the two goods of marriage.  
The respect that is demanded of the husband for the nature of his wife’s body is part and parcel of his responsibility as a husband and a man, just as she must respect his body and what he is capable of doing along with her in the procreation of new life. The conversation and communication that must take place between husband and wife, on a whole multitude of subjects, including their openness and preparedness for a new life, is what makes a marriage strong and healthy in the first place. Should they reasonably decide that at a certain time or season or situation having a baby is not best for them and their other children, they abstain during known fertile times while respecting the dignity of what their marital love means beyond themselves. NFP simply enables them to know, with some degree of certitude, that a woman most likely will not conceive during a particular time during her cycle. Engaging in relations during those times is their right as husband and wife, shows their love for each other, yet still remains open to the possibility of life without violating the inner structure, we might say, of how procreation happens. 
The Church offers this clear teaching, and has done so since the beginning, as she offers all of her moral guidance: to help people find and discover what is God’s will for them and enable them to have a fully formed and correct conscience. The two hazards of today, as evidenced by the stories to which I alluded above, attack the Church’s teaching from two different angles.  The governor’s broadcast of his ignorance of the Church’s teaching is an assault on conscience since it seeks to justify bad behavior on his part and thus contributes to the weakening of consciences that has proliferated in the Church and society for decades. The popular preacher man’s attitude, unfortunately held by many among the more “traditionally minded” set of Catholics, is an angry assault on the consciences of others who have their own set of legitimate needs and desires, and certainly do not need yet another harsh word spoken to them by this new generation of Pharisees. 
God made man for love and for life.  He created marriage as a sign of His own covenantal love for humanity, and more specifically, His Church. Respecting marriage in all of its complexity and in its possibilities is a central obligation of the Church and society.  Marriage is a difficult path for most couples. The last thing married couples need today is conscience warping self-aggrandizement from any angle. The future of humanity and the good of souls is at stake.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Saint Thomas More on Marriage and Weddings

One of the largest and most tragic fractures in the history of Christendom was the loss of England to the Catholic Church during the reign of Henry VIII.  When Martin Luther, and others,  had convinced much of what is now Germany and many other nations to separate from the authority of the Pope, Henry VIII stood firm and earned the title “Defender of the Faith” from the Pope.  The King outlined in very clear language how the seven sacraments were indeed of the Gospel and part and parcel of Christian belief.  
Henry became king when his brother died.  The pope granted a dispensation to Henry so that he could marry his brother’s widow, Catherine of Aragon.  Unfortunately for them, Queen Catherine was unable to bear a male heir (we now know by genetic biology that this was not her “fault” since the sex of a baby depends on the chromosome coming from the male sperm, but that’s beside the point.).  Henry saw the hand of God in his and was troubled in conscience, something his defenders even with the Catholic Church claim.  He felt that it may have been a sin to marry his brother’s widow, and God was punishing him for this.  This is not to delve into his extra-marital affairs of whatever scope, but he was certainly smitten with Anne Boleyn and saw in her the chance to have a male heir. 
Thus he began his efforts to receive a writ of divorce from the Pope so that he could marry Anne and produce the male heir he so long desired.  The pope said “no”, and thus began efforts on Henry’s part to accomplish his designs, even if that should mean his separation from the authority of the papacy.  What was at stake was not only the sanctity of marriage but the  nature of authority in the Church and in society.  Could a monarch claim dominion of the Church in his country, and was that authority valid for matters within the Church?  Caesaro-papism has long been a troubling issue within Christianity, going back to Constantine himself, who felt it his right and duty to order things about in the Church.  
A thorn in the side of King Henry was his chancellor, Thomas More.  More was on the forefront of humanism in the West.  While remaining completely faithful to the Church, he also saw that some of the advances in philosophy and culture taking place late in the 15th century were something a thinking and believing Catholic should embrace.  For all of that “progressive” thinking, he stood firm in his adherence to the Catholic Church. When Henry ordered Parliament to enact the Act of Supremacy, making the British King head of the Church in England, More quietly resigned his position, and returned to private life. . . or so he thought.  
The act contained within it an oath, required of all subjects of the King, in which one would pledge fealty to the Act and to the King as head of the Church.  More refused, without saying why, since making known his mind would mean treason according to the Act.
For a time, More was allowed to keep on as he wanted, but his silence and non-participation made the king look bad, and so more serious means were used to force his adherence and acceptance of the Act of Supremacy, up to and including his unlawful imprisonment.
During the back and forth, and before Henry gave himself a divorce and “married” Anne, some of More’s friends approached him and empathized with his position.  Some of these friends were bishops who had submitted to the Act, thus abandoning their allegiance to the papacy.  They suggested that he at least attend the wedding, for this might placate the Henry, and thus More would be allowed to live in peace.  
In response to this, More told the story of ancient Rome, wherein there was a law that a virgin, no matter her crime, was not to be executed for a capital crime.  The emperor wanted to execute a young woman, but could not because she was a virgin. His counselors offered their advice, “First, your highness, first deflower her, and then the beasts can devour her.”  More told these advisors and former friends that “they may devour me, but they will never deflower me.”

Today, More would be called a bigot, a hater, a closed-minded fiend who deserved to be imprisoned and even to have his “house” burned down for refusing to participate in what was a ceremony of love.  Today, we call him Saint Thomas More, all because he remained faithful to his conscience and would not “bend to the marriage.”  He lost his head, but gained eternity.  

Sunday, April 5, 2015

When a wedding isn't just a wedding

One of the largest and most tragic fractures in the history of Christendom was the loss of England to the Catholic Church during the reign of Henry VIII.  When Martin Luther, and others,  had convinced much of what is now Germany and many other nations to separate from the authority of the Pope, Henry VIII stood firm and earned the title “Defender of the Faith” from the Pope.  The King outlined in very clear language how the seven sacraments were indeed of the Gospel and part and parcel of Christian belief.  
Henry, of course, became king when his brother died.  The pope granted a dispensation to Henry so that he could marry his brother’s widow, Catherine of Aragon.  Unfortunately for them, Queen Catherine was unable to bear a male heir (we now know by genetic biology that this was not her “fault” since the sex of a baby depends on the chromosome coming from the male sperm, but that’s beside the point.).  Henry saw the hand of God in his and was troubled in conscience, something his defenders even with the Catholic Church claim.  He felt that it may have been a sin to marry his brother’s widow, and God was punishing him for this.  This is not to delve into his extra-marital affairs of whatever scope, but he was certainly smitten with Anne Boleyn and saw in her the chance to have a male heir. 
Thus he began his efforts to receive a writ of divorce from the Pope so that he could marry Anne and produce the male heir he so long desired.  The pope said “no”, and thus began efforts on Henry’s part to accomplish his designs, even if that should mean his separation from the authority of the papacy.  What was at stake was not only the sanctity of marriage but the  nature of authority in the Church and in society.  Could a monarch claim dominion of the Church in his country, and was that authority valid for matters within the Church?  Caesaro-papism has long been a troubling issue within Christianity, going back to Constantine himself, who felt it his right and duty to order things about in the Church.  
A thorn in the side of King Henry was his chancellor, Thomas More.  More was on the forefront of humanism in the West.  While remaining completely faithful to the Church, he also saw that some of the advances in philosophy and culture taking place late in the 15th century were something a thinking and believing Catholic should embrace.  For all of that “progressive” thinking, he stood firm in his adherence to the Catholic Church. When Henry ordered Parliament to enact the Act of Supremacy, making the British King head of the Church in England, More quietly resigned his position, and returned to private life. . . or so he thought.  
The act contained within it an oath, required of all subjects of the King, in which one would pledge fealty to the Act and to the King as head of the Church.  More refused, without saying why, since making known his mind would mean treason according to the Act.
For a time, More was allowed to keep on as he wanted, but his silence and non-participation made the king look bad, and so more serious means were used to force his adherence and acceptance of the Act of Supremacy, up to and including his unlawful imprisonment.
During the back and forth, and before Henry gave himself a divorce and “married” Anne, some of More’s friends approached him and empathized with his position.  Some of these friends were bishops who had submitted to the Act, thus abandoning their allegiance to the papacy.  They suggested that he at least attend the wedding, for this might placate Henry, and thus More would be allowed to live in peace.  
In response to this, More told the story of ancient Rome, wherein there was a law that a virgin, no matter her crime, was not to be executed for a capital crime.  The emperor wanted to execute a young woman, but could not because she was a virgin. His counselors offered their advice, “First, your highness, first deflower her, and then the beasts can devour her.”  More told these advisors and former friends that “they may devour me, but they will never deflower me.”

Today, More would be called a bigot, a hater, a closed-minded fiend who deserved to be imprisoned and even to have his “house” burned down for refusing to participate in what was a ceremony of love.  Today, we call him Saint Thomas More, all because he remained faithful to his conscience and would not “bend to the marriage.”  He lost his head, but gained eternity.  

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

I kill myself! but hopefully not...


Lots of posts about depression lately. It was called "meloncholia" by the scholastic (and previous) philosophers. It's a touchy subject especially when someone prominent makes the last act of self-life-taking. Many seek to find a physiological explanation of it: it's because he/she was sick in the head/body. Some see it as an existential experience: life became overwhelming, and this was their "out". Others take the moralistic stance: you can choose to be happy or sad. Others take the "spiritual" stance: He/she is in a better place, free from pain.
In the end, it's about dealing with all of the circumstances surrounding those and other factors. Of course, the claim may be made that unless someone has been through or in or around depression, then one has no right to talk or comment about it. What a quandry! Are we all bound to wring our hands and wonder "how" "why" or "what could be done?" Is it incumbent upon the commentator to ask him/herself, "Have I actually experienced depression, and thus am I competent to comment on it?"
A strange thing happens when one takes a stance on depression...one may have to demonstrate one's "street creds" in this area in order to garner a "right" to comment on it. See how I've filled this post with "quotation marks" to venture into this arena of discussion?
The fact of the matter is we are all living on a knife's edge between sanity and insanity. We all have issues that can drive us over the edge, or into a life of abundance. In any given moment, I may find myself leaning one way or the other. Much has to do with our formation from birth. Much has to do with the choices we've made in the meantime. A lot has to do with our genetic make-up. It seems undeniable that depression can be a genetic factor in families. yet that cannot explain many who have risen from depressive factors and family history to life success.
I would note that a person who at some point makes the decision to say, "This is it. I 'must' take my own life as an act of..... (fill in the blank)" has made a multiple of decisions before that moment, or may have been forced into various decisions by others, thus depriving such person of the liberty necessary to make a free decision.
In the end, none of us knows the whys, wherefores or whatifs that any other person makes. This is part of the counsel of Christ that we not judge. St. Therese notes that God is just, and this was a great consolation for her, since she knew that God would be mercifully just, and take into account her weaknesses when He judged her.
That being said, in every moment, we are self-judges of our own thoughts, and have sovereignty over how we look at others, and ourselves. Is it a merciful look? a kind look? a just look? have we left someone or some class of persons out of our so-called adult gaze of maturity? I think of the little babies who never get a kind look...who are considered disposable. Decisions we make have consequences. They reverberate, and turn our character in one way or another. Not all paths are just. Not all paths lead to peace. Some lead to severe judgment, and rejection. That's not a judgment on any one person. It's a statement of psychological and emotional fact. If free choice in these matters were not a factor, if choices are not part of the equation, if the consequences of our actions were not a substantive element of later dire choices, then there is no hope for the one who is at the beginning of suffering such experiences.
And let us not forget that the number one factor in leading us to a life of grace and peace is a surrender to the One Who alone can give real peace. This is why the 10th commandment is as important as the 1st.....in that violating it can lead to a violation of the latter.
in the end, of course, we all should give thanks to God that He is, as St. Therese noted so often, a God of Mercy, Who looks upon each of us as His child, for Whom He lived, and died, and rose. And loves us always....despite the choices we make....and perhaps, to spite the choices we have made.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The promise He made to Abraham and to his children forever. . .


                As I have begun again to go through the Bible from start to finish, I find new insights along the way, even as I’ve read it all several times before.  What is striking is the nature of faith in the people of Israel, going back to the Patriarch Abraham.  What set Israel apart is their acceptance and belief in only One God.  Early on, this was what is called “henotheism”, or, they only had one God, as opposed to the surrounding cultures which had multiple gods.  It took awhile for the Hebrews to develop the understanding that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was the only true God.  The God who made everything had chosen Abram, and his descendants, as His special people.
                Oddly, this choice of them as peculiarly His own came at a time in their history when the other part of God’s promise seemed to be broken, that they would inherit the land of Canaan in perpetuity.  After the exile of the northern kingdom of Israel, and then the consequent exile of Judah, the Hebrews needed to come to a deeper understanding of their relationship to God, and what it meant to be His people.  Surprisingly, along with the realization that their God was the only true God also opened up the prophets to speak of Israel as a sign for all the nations, and indeed the vehicle by which He would reveal Himself more broadly.  In the later prophets we have universal themes develop which bear this out, even if at the time it was not understood; indeed, it would not fully dawn upon them in fullness until Christ came, and sent the apostles out to all the nations.
                But what is consistent throughout the history of the Hebrews, from Abraham on to the last of the prophets, is the nature of the faith.  God remains unseen by human eyes, but still makes Himself present in various ways, as the letter to the Hebrews points out. How Abraham heard or knew God was speaking to him is really irrelevant.  He had an awareness of God that led him to wander based upon a promise he heard, and to remain faithful even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, such as the length of time it took for him to finally have the child of the promise.
                This is what makes Abraham so great, that he remained faithful in the face of his trials. Somehow God would fulfill the promise, and that was enough for Abraham.  The great heroes of the Old Testament are those who imitated Abraham in this consistency, not turning to other gods to solve their problems, be they hand-made idols, or nature gods, or whatever.  The pure faith that gave strength was in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 
                Consider David.  Though he sinned mightily by committing adultery and murder, and then sinned by numbering the people, he never sought help from other gods.  He was simply a real man who sinned, and repented.  His son Solomon, however, was not so faithful, and by worshipping other gods, to whom his many wives introduced him, he was a cause of the splitting of the kingdom in twain, and the subsequent evils that afflicted the Israelites for centuries.
                This brings us to the one who exhibited the greatest faith the world has ever known, or will ever know: that of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Steeped in the faith tradition of her people, she knew the prophecies, and was certainly attuned to God’s directions her whole life. Though possibly (from tradition with a small “t”) she was a member of the priestly tribe, or certainly related to it (hence, Elizabeth, her kinswoman, being married to Zechariah, a priest), her faith was not centered on the Temple once she was older, for she lived, after all, in Nazareth by the time the Annunciation took place. Yet she had that awareness of God’s care for her, and knew her obligation to be faithful to Him.
                It was this faith that enabled her to be open to the message of the angel, and to believe what she heard.  It’s important to note that her question to the angel Gabriel was not “how can this be”, implying a bit of doubt, but “how will this be. . . since I do not know man.”  This indicates that she knew God could enable her to conceive, but since she was dedicated to virginity, she needed more information.  I propose that she was, in a way, testing the spirit of the angel to make sure that her divinely inspired vow of virginity was not going to be at stake.  Somewhere Saint Ambrose makes this point in other verbiage.
                Once apprised of the protection of her virginity, she opens herself, and her womb, to the working of the Holy Spirit, and the rest, as they say is history, so to speak.
                And on that note, since the proof is in the pudding, isn’t it interesting that a shepherd from the Podunk area of Mesopotamia who claimed to have been called by God, and that God had promised him descendants as numerous as the sand on the seashore, indeed became the Patriarch of billions who trace their religious life back to him?  One surely cannot claim that this faith took off through force of arms, since conversions were not sought by the Israelites (not really anyway), and so much of the history of the Hebrews was very much under persecution and exile.  Even the Church sought conversions through witness, and not force (even if at certain times there have been forced conversions, but always contrary to Church teaching).  Nevertheless, what Abraham believed, in a loving God Who would fulfill His promises and provide protection to that end, is still the center of the Judeo-Christian religious system. 
                It’s funny when talking with atheists who like to note that there are “thousands of gods” and “which one do you choose”, since the obvious answer is: the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Who became a man in Jesus Christ to save us.
                Which brings us back to the Blessed Mother. . .  Abraham had his faith tested when God asked him to offer up Isaac, and act that was designed not for God’s knowledge, but for Abraham’s sake, to bring his faith to perfection.  (As an aside, this story was also kept alive in the mind of the Hebrews to tell them that human sacrifice was not on God’s wish list.).  Mary received word that she would conceive and bear a son, without knowledge of man.  It happened, and Jesus was born.  She was also told that her Son would have an eternal kingdom, yet on the cross, that seemed to be a lie.  She, like Abraham her father in faith, was tested, and even moreso.  The beauty of the faith of the Virgin Mary is that she continued to believe as she held the corpse of her Son in her arms at the foot of the cross.  The Annunciation is bound to the mystery of the cross as much as any other event in her life.  As Abraham continued to believe that “God Himself will provide a lamb”, so the Virgin Mary believed that the cross was not the end, but the new beginning of her Son’s eternal kingdom.