The morning of day 4 of our Lenten Journey that I share with 2.19 Billion Christians? It cannot be. A century ago there were only 600 million recorded. Yet it can feel like we are only 600 million strong.
And even that number does not capture the loneliness of being a believer. Yes, having belief and faith in God can be a very lonely experience today. Yesterday at noon I was able to get to church. There is the consolation of the redeemer in the sacrament of the Eucharist, the comfort of the rituals, the wisdom of the liturgy, and a scattering of believers in the pews. Yet the experience for me was a very lonely experience.
Each of us carried into church the weariness of our sufferings and challenges of our deeply oriented secular world, spent sometime receiving graces and giving prayer, and left quietly 45 minutes later to return to an indifferent world. Sometimes the saintly most walk alone.
Once outside of the believer bubble we face unrelenting bombardment of human suffering, horrific clerical failures, negative news cycles, systemic injustices, and wide spread corruption on a national and global scale. Personally we may see these injustices directly affecting us or our loved ones. And on a deeply personal level we must also contend with our relationship with others and how they are treating us as well as how well we are living our the Christian ethos in our daily relationships.
Doing so with humility and in most secular circles without any reference to our spiritual principles can be daunting. Even with fellow believers, raising our shared beliefs when it is inconvenient is an easy way to kill a communication and possibly even a friendship. Many individuals do not hold the spiritual and moral norms of our faith despite perhaps espousing to do so and or even have been in the pew besides us Sunday past.
Belief has become a deeply personal experience that is not welcome in the public sphere. Genuine and non-ostentatious effort to raise our Christian voices are seen as hypocritical and ostentatious. To put it blatantly, our society including many Christians believe living Christian ideals as a nation is impractical, in-achievable, and idealistically naive. This is evident in our political representation (and votes) where we have anti-immigration, anti-social justice, and anti-poor poverty legislation. It is evident in our congregations as we have deep suspicions of the “other” on many different levels. And yet we believe and strive.
How do we persist? How do we grow? There are many tools of faith that exceed this post scope. Today I will share one from my morning reading from a Lenten guide (called the Little Black Book) that I picked up while traveling few weeks back when I visited a lovely church that had an open and warm greeting atmosphere as well as juice and cookies in the foyer for after church mingling. (I did not feel alone that day in Church despite being among strangers!).
The reading raised the idea of there are days when I think I am useless. There are days when I can’t seem to do anything worthwhile. The author challenges us to look at by what standards are we judging ourselves?
Are we judging ourselves by our individual standards or by the standards of others? Are we judging ourselves or others by material standards? Are we assuming we understand our role within the larger framework of good and evil or our role within the mystery of Divine Providence?
The author suggest that “God measures our worth by the love in my heart, the prayers on my lips, the faith deep within, the hope that never fails, the suffering patiently endured and offered to God.” I can certainly do better with the latter.
Saint Therese (the little flower) and other Saints have actually prayed to God to send them suffering so they may better serve him! I imperfectly in my prayers say “God, I don’t think I can handle anymore, but your will, not mine, be done.” Perhaps we should not be so focused on what we accomplish? This is so antithetical to western thought.
I so desire to write everyday to share my Lenten journey. Day two was wonderful and God provided me several living affirmations as I served others. Day three was quietly circumspect and day four just underway.
That being said I am living a Lenten journey while doing what God calls me to do. I cannot retreat from the world for forty days and live a contemplative life or writing blog post!. I am where I should be today. I do not know where I will be tomorrow or what sufferings or blessing will come my way. I do not know how my actions will serve God or serve as a vehicle for divine providence. I have only gratitude and surrender to God’s will.
This can be a very lonely experience, especially in times of spiritual aridity. This little sacrifice is feebly humorous when contrasted to the pain and suffering of others or to the greatest sacrifice ever given by the Son of God to redeem us before the father.
Perhaps let me simplify my message today with words from St. Catherine of Siena:
Have a wonderful and contemplative Lenten experience!
A.M. seemed days ago when my day began with a reading on Lent. The ashes on my head from the morning Mass to start the day is a faint memory. Mine seemed to be a cross over between the Franciscan and the one stroke above. I have decided on a sacrifice that I do not need to name here name here. Omission of an activity that brings worldly satisfaction is not that hard to do.
Action on the other hand requires effort. Day 1 of lent this year was planned for me before I awoke with the groundwork laid perhaps before I was born. The efforts I made were not overly demanding today and yet they were more so than I ever imagined myself doing.
There was opportunity today to look into the eyes of others struggling with greater misfortune than eye, and by both compassion and comparison, revelations of my life’s journey, good and bad, times past were revealed to me as if I was watching a movie, standing outside myself, life in a Charles Dickens novel. The past can be hard enough, but not as threatening as the future!
I am a little wary of where Lent will bring me like when Ebenezer Scrooge was told he will be visited three ghost, he replied simply “I’d rather not!” How often do we turn away from personal revelation into busy activity by turning outward to the world rather than inward to the spirit?
Not much time today for self-reflection or significant prayer time. Soon I will retire to my nightly prayer. It will not be long before my eye lids fall from days exhaustion and my mind departs to the mystery of dreams.
Hopefully this first day of Lent called you to reflect some, make minor or major adjustments where you could, and gave the rest up to God once you were exhausted with what could be done by your hands as guided by the Holy Spirit.
Until tomorrow, in the words of Tiny Tim, God bless Us, Everyone!
P.S. If you are not sure how to approach Lent this year, perhaps a Jesuit guide to Lent can guide you: https://www.americamagazine.org/lent
Wednesday cannot come too soon. Join me in reflection and preparation for a Lenten journey. If it were within my power everyone I know and everyone they know and so on would prepare now as if this were the last chance to prepare ourselves for eternity. So dramatic and out of reach. It is it really?
The song Shallow resonates with us. We know it to possess hidden spiritual truths. This lent fill that void with spiritual permanence. In the movie “A star is born” Jack was so close to the answer, and but one dissenting voice took him away from the road forward.
Tell me something, boy, do you ever get tired of tryin’ fill that void….
Arise each morning as if prepared for war. Your foe is admirable in strenght, in numbers, and persistence. Cleverer than most and evasive when needed, confrontational when least expected. You are keenly aware you cannot fight this war alone – but nor can you control your brothers in arms actions, the soildiers you may lead, or the superiors above you to make the right decisions as well as commit to action with determination. Your army and your discipline will carry you through the day.
There will be losses and pain. There will be some amongst you who are traitorus, cowardly, or simply incompetant. Some rare men will rise above your measure of men and carry those who cannot carry themselves. You will, if you look honestly enough within yourself, may find your own actions wanting when compared to the most bravest and noblest amonst us – the self-less, natural warriors of our cause.
Today our war is an internal war. Our Holy Army is filled with imperfect and outright immoral men embedded in our ranks from the church pew upwards into the highest offices of the catholic church.
The news and relevations of our church’s misuse of power and abuse of women, children, nuns and others is symbolically and literary a spear in the side of Jesus Christ, our church, and our faith. Many are walking away from God as the vessel of his living word is so abused and tarnished by the actions of the faithful – that any spiritual or theological truths cannot be grasped through the burning fire of our Sodum and Gomorrah.
I met with a priest this week and was provided the mercy and grace of the sacrament of confession. On the issues of the Church crisis the providence and direction of the church was less clear as Pope Francis and the 190 church leaders meet today. Our leaders have more than stumbled badly – they have given away vast tracts of any semblance of moral authority. our congregation is badly battered, beaten, and tired.
With this emotive experience, two readings fell into my hand this morning.
Thomas kempis, from the Imitation of Christ said “I am so weary of all that I read and hear and see, for only in you is that I will or can desire (pg. 19).” How true is this writing from the 1400s today.
And yesterday a book arrived as recomended by a family member out of the blue, the Dialogue by Catherine of Siena. The introduction and prologue alone directed by attentions:
“how storm tossed and offensive to God the world is….page 26”
and her 4 petitions that set up the as of yet unread book: prayer for self, prayer for the Holy Church, prayer for the whole world (especially for Christians that have rebelled), and prayer for divine providence for a particular certian case.
Today and hopefully everyday I rise armed with prayer of my 4 petitions, perhaps slightly altered in style and verbiage, but nonetheless, armed to face the days external challenges, my own self-conquest when my very own desires are too heavily weighted with worldly concerns, my trust in an ultiamte divine providence no matter how many actions we take to subvert god’s ultimate will, and openness to a living and merciful god. We are colelctively fallible through our own free will – our immorality and transgressions are our way, not Gods.
Whether you are fighting yourself, fellow man, or the Devil himself – do not go to battle alone, unprepared or unarmed. Everyday is an opportunity to seek greater perfection through prayer, discipline, and action no matter what battlefield is demanding your attention.
Today 190 Church leaders are meeting with Pope Francis to address the Sexual abuse crisis. Hidden underneath it is the patriarchal structure of the church.
At least three NYT articles today are discussing current immorality of church leaders with abuse of Nuns, Children, and other related legacies and current day abuses.
A recent NYT article[i] exposes hypocrisy of Southern Baptist presenting rapist as men of God. One even served time and is now on the pulpit despite being a sex offender. The material here is incendiary. Any incidence of sexual abuse, rape, child molestation, child predators coupled with clergy of any religious denomination hits people deep in their souls – believers, atheist (yes, atheist have a soul), parents, and anybody with moral conscience. The article takes a shot across the bow of all male run religious institutions of Christianity with both theological reference and historical and current day clergy immorality:
“Underneath it all is this patriarchy that goes back millennia,” Serene Jones, the president of Union Theological Seminary, told me, noting the commonality of the Catholic and Southern Baptist Churches: “They both have very masculine understandings of God, and have a structure where men are considered the closest representatives of God.”
The paradox is that Jesus and the early Christian church seem to have been very open to women. The only person in the New Testament who wins an argument with Jesus is an unnamed woman who begs him to heal her daughter (Mark 7:24-30 and Matthew 15:21-28).
The indifference to criminal behavior is an echo of what has been unearthed in the Roman Catholic Church over the decades. The latest sickening revelations are of priests getting away with raping nuns and with assaulting deaf students.
The author raises Mary of Magdalene as a leader in the church and given a teaching role by Jesus Christ. In this gnostic gospel, Mary Magdalene appears as a disciple, singled out by Jesus for special teachings. In this excerpt, the other disciples are discouraged and grieving Jesus’ death. Mary stands up and attempts to comfort them, reminding them that Jesus’ presence remains with them. Peter asks her to tell them the words of Jesus which she remembers. To his surprise, she does not reminisce about past conversations with Jesus, but claims that Jesus spoke to her that very day in a vision.[ii] Being a Gnostic gospel by definition however, places this outside traditional Christian and Catholic fundamental beliefs.
Putting celibacy aside and child predators as a different
category of disorder altogether, what if our conception of God was more feminine
and/or Women had equal footing in God’s work?
What if we got it wrong in early Christianity and male disciples was
necessary at that time purely due to our primitive social and cultural norms of
The average priest and typical lay person cannot defend the Catholic church’s positions on homosexuality without retreating to insular theology that ignores scientific, sociological, psychological, and priestly realities. Yet these same individuals lay claim to absolute truth on God’s judgement of homosexuality and promote a culture of denial, hatred, and persecution. We have a theological construct that is disordered in and of itself:
“From the standpoint of the psychology of personal constructs we may define a disorder as any personal construction which is used repeatedly in spite of consistent invalidation.” George Kelly
Cross-cultural similarities evinced by the Lethbridge study offer further evidence that being gay is genetic. The etiology of homosexuality, biological or otherwise, should have no bearing on gay individuals’ right to equality.[i] In a prior post I went in-depth on the hypocrisy of our teachings and morality on this issue: An incomplete look at Homosexuality and Catholicism (unfiltered).[ii] As lay people and priest we are making statements that fly in the face of science and the experiences of our own priest:
“…..gay men likely make up at least 30 to 40 percent of the American Catholic clergy, according to dozens of estimates from gay priests themselves and researchers. Some priests say the number is closer to 75 percent.”[iii]
The NYT times article quotation is well researched and ample evidence exist via other investigations and common knowledge that a significant percentage of Catholic Priest are Gay men that have chosen to be servants of God, and like heterosexual men, have chosen celibacy. The article link below gives indepth accounts from our priest. How can we as an institution continue to deny the existence of Homosexuality as a given both in society and in the clergy?
“Insanity Is Doing the Same Thing Over and Over Again and Expecting Different Results.”[iv]
Whether it was Einstein or others that coined this phrase it is applicable to our church today. The public rightfully so is just not accepting our arguments on homosexuality just because we keep saying it is immoral.
The commentary section in this article has calls for utilizing the RICO act to condemn and ban the Catholic Church. This is not unheard of and has happened multiple times in human history – often in conjunction with violence and murder. Significant portions of society see the Catholic Church as a safe haven for sexual predators, advocate for discriminatory practices, and a history of sinful and murderous actions. As an institution we have both directly committed atrocious actions and indirectly supported or were silent when nation states committed the same.
The churches response to institutional crisis has been woefully shameful and amateurish simplistic approach: ignore, deny, accept, promise change, apologize, retreat behind the walls of our human nature to be sinful, repent, rinse, wash, repeat. Our public, our faithful, and our educated youth are not accepting this non-responsibility. Pope Francis understands this and is wearily challenging the conservative church to move forward without sacrificing our fundamental beliefs:
The weariness of hope (that) comes from seeing a Church wounded by her own sin” and of a Church “which so often failed to hear all those cries”.[v]
Pope Francis is hemmed in by Church tradition thinly supported by selected pieces of scripture to maintain theological stances on celibacy, women’s roles in the church, and Homosexuality and LGBTQ issues. A significant portion of remaining believers will not support shifting traditions in these areas despite our clergy’s significant failure to live up to these espoused standards and volumes scientific and even scriptural support to have tradition evolve and be more in alignment with the Triune of God (God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit). The teachings and actions of the Catholic Church, its priest, and congregation are simply not living up to the spirit of the laws. Countless parables are available where Jews condemned and challenge Jesus for breaking Judaic law when he carried out his father’s work.
Tradition can change and should change when we come to know that its basis is unfounded and misguided:
“On June 22, 1633, the Church handed down the following order: “We pronounce, judge, and declare, that you, the said Galileo… have rendered yourself vehemently suspected by this Holy Office of heresy, that is, of having believed and held the doctrine (which is false and contrary to the Holy and Divine Scriptures) that the sun is the center of the world, and that it does not move from east to west, and that the earth does move, and is not the center of the world.”
The church and its believers rely on short memories and the adage this too will pass. And it very well may albeit a diminished and tarnished Church. But should it pass by quietly?
At the end of the day our faith is best rooted in the Triune and not in the individual actions of priest. In five days, Pope Francis will lead the institution in addressing the sexual abuse crisis in the church. There will be a call to blame it on homosexual priest as disordered individuals as the cause. Numbers and studies prove this is a fallacy. Homosexuals are no more likely to abuse children than heterosexuals. But there is no scientific basis for asserting that they are more likely than heterosexual men to do so. Child predators are fixated on children and should not be characterized by their sexual orientation but by their preoccupation with children regardless of sexual orientation.
If the church goes this route, aside from persecuting Homosexuality (and LGBQT people in general) the church will ignore the root of ingrained practices and traditions that may leave child predator in place, continue to promote an unhealthy life style for our priest (lack of transparency, isolation, and dwindling numbers), and a closed toxic institutional approach.
Pope Francis requires our prayers and the grace of the Triune to lead our church out of the middle age definitions of human sexuality and human relationships in general. How can we return to our roots as a faith without falling prey to grave errors? How much more grave can the errors be than those we have already committed in God’s name or while wearing the vestiges of the priesthood? Retreating from the public spear, reducing our public footprint is not the answer. The answer is humility, compassion and change by all us in the pews, in the clergy, and at the Vatican – from the janitor to the Pope let no stone be upturned and left unchanged. We need to transcend our human traditions and return to divine transcendence.
February 10, 2019
A letter to a man accused of Murder;
Today Reverend Mano Salla gave a homily on his definition of prayer. I may write him to get the words verbatim. However, for now my brief interpretation will have to do.
- Know thy self: Take time out to become aware of one’s self in quiet reflection. Recognizing our creatureliness and propensity for sinful acts. Presenting privately between you and God alone the great divide as you understand it and the specific action(s) or lack of action(s) that you would be weary of presenting to God (or a fellow human being) today.
- Mercy and Gratitude: After reflecting on your shortcomings and being intimately and honestly aware of your desires and propensities for good and evil thoughts or actions, seek God’s mercy and express gratitude and acceptance of whatever may come if only we can be closer to his presence. Radically give to God all that you are (Good and Bad) and pray for his saving grace and guidance in every moment.
- Alchemy: Through action and prayer live seeking a transformation in Christ, through his redemptive powers and your humble actions and discipline to go forth in whatever situation you are in, with reverence, acceptance, and praise for God. To allow God into your heart and soul and be open to the mystery of faith, that God can do what humans alone cannot achieve.
How can this help me when all is lost and the dead cannot be made un-dead?
We: I say to you we do not understand death or afterlife. Yes, the murdered are no longer with us – we have taken them even though only one maybe convicted of the singular action. We have a collective guilt as human beings where each of us can and should be doing more to promote a cultural of valuing and humbly believing it could have been us that wielded a bloody knife if circumstances had been different for us, we could be the accused or the guilty murderer. No one can judge us by God’s measure but God. We do not know the outcome of the lives we have taken by human hands (genocide, abortion, war, murder, allowing starvation and poverty, and general apathy for others). We can pray that a merciful God has received them.
You: Nonetheless, as we are mortal and of the earth you will be judged fairly or unfairly by man’s justice and opinion. You cannot alter history or bring the dead back to life. You can pray for forgiveness, pray for the dead and for the families that grieve, and pray for God’s mercy. You can pray to use the remainder of your life, whether behind bars or outside the prison walls, living according to God’s will in thought and in action. Perhaps by the time death’s door comes to you God may have provided you with the opportunity to become transformed and redeemed through his saving grace alone and your humble actions from now until the day for your death comes as well.
I cannot imagine the anguish of living in prison awaiting condemnation for murdering another. Rage and anger for an innocent man and remorse and guilt for a guilty man. You are alone regardless of your proclamation of innocence or guilt – you are condemned as guilty unless proven otherwise despite our judicial systems declaration – “the law presumes all innocent of crime until proven guilty.” Many an innocent man has been found guilty and many a guilty man set free. Your predicament is a brutal one. I in my heart know only God can see you through your suffering and loneliness – no man, fellow accused, or even priest can help carry your suffering and anguish. Only God can help with your willingness to transform pain and suffering into a holiness born out of tragedy.
Things will never be the same as before you found yourself behind those walls. Relinquishing the past and accepting the current trajectory – whatever it maybe – is the beginning. Finding God or letting God be your freedom to transcend the physical walls, bars, and demeaning existence of prison life is in my view your best hope for peace now and salvation later.
Prayer for you and those around you:
We pray, our Father, for those whose freedom has been taken from them: for all who suffer imprisonment, whether for crime or for conscience’ sake; for all whose vision of your world is seen through bars, and in whose heart the lamp of hope burns low. God of mercy, give them help, according to their need, and hear our prayer for Jesus Christ’s sake. (Timothy Dudley-Smith)
Don’t go it alone:
Find the prison chaplain and use your time wisely. Nationwide Christians are reaching out to bring inmates faith and possible redemption like Behind the Bars in Delaware (https://www.behindthebars.org/).
May this letter find you safe from physical and psychological harm. May my writing not offend you or be taken as any form of judgement of you directly. Accept my letter as a written prayer and expression of God’s love for you. I am deeply saddened by all those whose lives have been cut short by murder and all those who sit in judgement (guilty or innocent) of such crimes.
1: a medieval chemical science and speculative philosophy aiming to achieve the transmutation of the base metals into gold, the discovery of a universal cure for disease, and the discovery of a means of indefinitely prolonging life
2: a power or process that changes or transforms something in a mysterious or impressive way
If you are reading this and are not an inmate – please consider giving to a prison ministry in your area or to Delaware Prison ministry above. If not out of the goodness of your heart and charity – how about just recognizing most inmates will be your neighbor soon!
The sins of Adam, the first parent, have been transcended to us as his descendants including suffering and death. It is not that God has punished us by an addition – but merely withdrew his blessing and left us with our base selves. Is this “Original Justice” for eternity until the end of time anyway for a just God to act? Did it really take 4000 years for God to figure out how to reach mankind by sending his only son, the great Redeemer, Jesus Christ? And why did not the great Redeemer not only lift “Original Sin” but lift and restore us to original mint condition – with eternal life and an end to suffering?
I cannot answer my own critique of this biblical narrative successfully with resounding confidence – no less explain the faith to the unbeliever. Christology has answers within its theological system – which Thomas Aquinas thoughtfully described before he gave up writing all-together, perhaps recognizing the impossibility of truly representing the Holy Trinity with human language.
The take away of this second treatise on Faith is the Incarnation of Jesus Christ (human body, true rational soul, and perfect deity), born of the Virgin Mary, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born, suffered and died for our salvation.
Aquinas delves into the heresy’s and errors of his time and painstakingly answers and clarifies the mystery of the faith amid much controversy. The questions raised back than are just as pertinent today. As cradle Catholics we may fall into error in just accepting or taking for granted our beliefs as we have been taught by tradition and scripture. This is a grave error and risk. Our living faith is not meant to remain at the level of an infancy narrative or elementary school rote memory of church history. We are called to progress within our life times as well as from generation to generation. But are we ready for his calling?
“My Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from me. Never the less, not as I will, but as thou will.”
If you pray what Jesus prayed, with awareness of its potential consequences and full commitment to integrating God’s will as best you can discern, life at once is exponentially more joyful and frightening. Spiritual enlightenment comes with both joy and suffering.
I could answer the questions above – but they would only invite more questions, and the answers to those the same, and so on to eternity. It is unfathomable. That does not mean God and the Holy Trinity do not exist much the same as atoms and particles exist despite that I cannot discern them with the naked eye. It is just as difficult to disbelieve as to believe in God – both require a leap of faith at the end point of human inquiry (after exhausting all scientific, philosophical, theological, and historical artifacts at our disposal). It is an unbearable reality that the more we know, the more we become aware of how much we do not know. Yet, we have a natural calling to pursue and have intimate knowledge of all that is knowable and unknowable.
This “dumb ox” named Thomas Aquinas, was born about 1225 A.D. He is recognized as one of 35 Doctors of the Church. “The whole basis of his thought is this: If it is wrong to give up the Faith for the sake of reason, it is also wrong to give up reason for the sake of the faith.”
In public dialogue it is nearly impossible to dialogue on the essence of our faith as we see it through the eyes of man today and by the sins of our fellow man, sadly our clergy, and our own shortcomings. The volumes of debris we have littered amidst our holy traditions and teachings is strangling the true essence of our faith. So sometimes we have to reach back in time in addition to reading scripture.
The final take away: Thomas Aquinas was known to pray before he wrote and to ask God’s guidance. Whatever your calling in life, this sounds to me like a great take away before you go off to perform your calling each day and as you retire at the end of the day. Knowing your calling requires knowing your faith – both theologically and through a personal relationship with God.
Thanks for visiting.
If we were purely driven by animal instinctual needs and life and death were solely driven by survival of the herd decisions this would only be a sad consequence of natural selection and unfortunate gene mutation. It is a significant financial drain on the family and society to provide for a person with Down’s syndrome over a lifespan. It is evident, however, whether you acknowledge a God or not, that we are superior to the animal kingdom and have the capacity to love and nurture beyond the narrow scope of survival instincts.
The story below is evidence of an entire nation deciding to end life before it starts based on avoiding emotional hardship and financial inconvenience. The reality is our society and the global economy has financial markets that are written and codified to serve profits, not people. If our markets were designed to serve people — the poor, the medicallly compromised, the disabled, and other vulnerable groups would not be seen as hardships but as equals among us. It is easy to condem an individual that aborts a life. I believe we all are condemned by failing to have a market driven system that works to serve all humanity rather than the few. It is not a utopian ideal.
It is individual and societal selfishness and conceit that continues to perpetuate the myth that we are better than the “other.” That our status in life is somehow driven by our own individual accomplishments forgetting the graces bestowed on us that may have fostered our success.
If given arbitrary power over who lives and who dies where does the line get drawn? If given arbitrary power to to say who has access to healthcare, food, housing, and clean water – who decides. We have that power today and are failing as individuals and as a society to wield our superior morality and human capacity by drawing the line in favor of our own perceived wealth. You know it in your heart – but are besieged by justifications, beholden to tribal beliefs of your political party and social status, driven by fear of loss, and to cowardly oriented to face the immensity of our collective failures. I have been down the road of self-justification. I have also been down the road of “it is beyond my control.” Both are unacceptable options as human beings with a moral conscience. Especially Christian Republicans and Democrats.
Most do not grasp the arbitrary nature of our market economy despite historical lessons of wealth being wiped out overnight. Without safety nets for built into our markets people’s hearts close up in fear and shun the vulnerable, sometimes in mass. Where do you draw the line?
“For a man’s desire comes to rest in the knowledge of God Alone” (pg. 121)
I seek safety in certainty while existentially acknowledging the folly of assuming any permanence or security in my immediate state of being. And yet with all my force of will, well to be honest not all my force of will, perhaps not even the majority of my will, maybe even a little less than a minority stakeholder position? Sorry, I am on a tangent of self-condemnation on the amount of my time spent on habitual activities that I take for granted, omissions of actions that may be pleasing to God, and overall expenditure of my will towards worldly goods and achievements. What was I saying?
With good intentions I set out each day to avoid being “evil” and to be as closely as possible living up to my God-given potential to be good. In essence Aquinas points out that if we successfully do not allow evil to impinge our good character – evil is non-existent. A little tongue twister of Aquinas puts it this way:
“To be evil, however, is not good, in fact,
not to be evil is included in the notion of good.
Therefore no nature is an evil.” (pg. 126)
Thomas spends page after page on Good and Evil laying out that no human being is essentially evil. At our core every human being is good. It is the “privation” of good that allows evil in and gives life to evil actions – but at our core we are all in God’s image. Much time is spent on this as it is core to understanding our predicament as a human lot. We cannot simply condemn a man as pure evil or pure other despite his evil actions – no matter how horrendous and apparently evil they may be. This inclination is so very tempting. In the shadows of a Jeffrey Dahmer, Adolf Hitler, fallen priests who have abused their vows, and countless other predators, surely my little transgressions are invisible in the scheme of humanity.
No, they are not invisible to God or to me. They condemn me here in this life and if I don’t stand up and try to cleanse them here they will condemn me for eternity. We create our own mental prisons and misery here on earth and we prepare our eternity at the same time.
In the midst of my battle with striving to be good enters in the whirlwind of living in a mortal body, within a secular world, alongside believers and unbelievers, striving to live a holy life, while being battered by the defects of my nature and that of my fellow-man.
Throw on top of that Seraphim, Cherubims, Thrones, Principalities, Powers, and Archangels seeking to support and ensure Divine Providence and I am reduced to a molecule within a teardrop adrift in the oceans of man’s misery. Thomas Aquinas demonstrates for me how terribly inept man’s language is at deciphering free will, fate, and Divine Providence within the contraries of Good and Evil lurking within our beings.
There is much talk of God’s angels working with things that must necessarily happen and things that are contingently actionable. In other words, God has great respect for our free will – and hence allows the permission of evil. I am of course skimming over a few droplets of the Saints painstaking proofs and philosophical treatise on Catholic thought and actions. Wrap your head around this dialectical pearl:
“If evil were completely excluded from things, much good would be rendered impossible. Consequently it is the concern of Divine Providence, not to safeguard all beings from evil, but to see to it that the evil which arises is ordained to some good.”
A morally right man right now is facing pain and the rigors of old age. The suffering he has is not due to an individual defect of character by my estimation, but by our souls being connected to our corporeal bodies. We by original sin have forfeited life free from suffering. A man I do not know named Mark made his wife a walking stick. His wife was at the Dover Nascar race just but a few days ago. I was drawn to the walking stick as I have made a few in my day. I complimented the stick and its size, strength, and artistry and said tell your husband a man who has made many sticks admires his work. She looked to her friend and smiled as her eyes glazed. They both turned to me, still smiling, but eyes watered, and told me he had passed. I promised to say a prayer for Mark after getting his name and they disappeared hand in hand into the crowd a little bit lighter than before stopping by the trailer I where I was selling Nascar merchandise.
We by original sin have also forfeited eternal life as mortals. I struggle with the reality of original sin, suffering, and death raining misery on me and my fellow-man centuries after the creation story.
And in these two cases, pain and death, it is not evil per se even though we may error in calling it so, but merely a defect of nature that our mortal bodies slowly give way. I pray and ask you, the reader, to pray for the morally right man to have the strength to face his pain or for God to alleviate it according to God’s plan. I pray and ask you to pray for Mark and for his widow with the walking stick. In my heart I truly believe both men have “arch angels” watching over them, guiding them along divine providence’s path. It is hard to draw good out of these real situations, but I know good comes out of the suffering caused to these men and their loved ones. Yet I cannot explain it to you. I diverged here into real life, right now. It is easy to get lost in the words of Thomas Aquinas as a theological and intellectual exercise. Our faith is not a faith of dead letters. There is application and meaning today as much if not more so than there was 2000 years ago.
And then there is the greater evil of man renouncing his goodness by accepting evil into his heart and acting on such inclinations. Whether it be me acting in an evil manner or me being the recipient of evil acts I have struggled as well with God’s seemingly passive presence. I remember my anger as a kid when I was losing a fight with three boys. After sometime I eventually got pinned to the floor. I looked across the street and saw my grandfather just standing there watching with my dog Butchie (or rather his dog!). Only then did he signal and my dog from a sitting position ran across the street and rather gently knocked off my attackers. Does God passively watch what we can handle first?
We simply do not have the ocular vision of God. I know what my Grandfather was doing. He believed men must be men and must learn from every situation. He let me learn until there was nothing else left to learn before freeing my dog to help. This is an innocent boyhood story. The suffering of man at the hands of others is too gruesome and horrific to detail here. It is beyond my spiritual imagination to easily accept a passive God in the face of such atrocities. Why, I do not know. I should know as his only son for our redemption died a death by crucifixion and lived a life where his closest allies would betray him.
I do not have to worry about unjustly being condemned for original sin – I have acquired my own list of blights on my essential goodness that call for God’s mercy as well. Aquinas deftly defines the intersections of Sin, Grace, and Eternity. It frightens me to think I will receive justice for my actions as fixed by Divine Providence either here on earth or in the hereafter!
My reading of Aquinas stresses to me the logic and passionate need to make amends for my sins now as best I can if I have not already done so and to avoid to the best of my ability future transgressions. If I am open to assistance, Aquinas says “rational creatures are given divine aids that are not merely proportionate to nature but transcend the capacity of nature.” Thank goodness, for my nature and my intellect are woefully shorthanded in the fight between good and evil. It is not that I am a woefully evil man that frightens me – it is the mere sense of powerlessness over any suffering that awaits me!
And now Thomas Aquinas addresses Death and Bodily Resurrection. Again words I believe fail us. Nevertheless he depicted for me a philosophical and theological treatise in fifteen pages that details the logical conclusion of the reunification of the corporeal body, our intellect, and out soul.
He draws from the Creed, from the bible, and from philosophy and describes our essential essence rising and being united – no more, no less, according to a count predetermined by Divine Providence. This section ends with final consummation of man in eternity – where are found to be in perfect repose, integrated and arrived in a state of immobility – no longer vulnerable to human desires, but fully at rest and peace in God’s eternity. But when will this day come?
“So, once the number of men who are to be bought into being for eternal life is filled out and they are actually established in the possession of eternal life, the movement of the heavens will cease, just as the motion of any instrument ceases after a project has been carried through to completion.” (pg. 195)
In the meantime, Saint Aquinas gives us a picture of Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory. In my spiritual imagination, despite having read the Dante’s Divine Comedy, I have always struggled with the spiritual concept of purgatory, much less hell. The latter is for other people, “not I” says my inner voice.
I imagine myself being acceptable to God relatively speaking to the history of mankind – with ample expectation of God being a loving and merciful God. Aquinas seems to imply it is not necessarily how we started the journey towards our end, but where we finish the race:
“Accordingly, the soul will remain perpetually in whatever last end it is to have set for itself at the time of death, desiring the state as the most suitable, whether it is good or evil.” (pg. 201)
The after-death life is difficult to convey and perhaps indefinable for mankind beyond glimpses of grace or revelation as provided to us by prophets, saints, and inferences from the scripture. Much has been written about the book of Revelation as well as the end of times. I find it most useful to have utmost reverence for what I cannot understand (eternal life and timeless God) and to focus on what is most attainable here on earth as evidence of spiritual truths.
It is evident to me that no amount of worldly possessions, power, or praise can fill man’s desire to know and be in proximity to God. Everything we touch here on earth is temporal. Almost everything we accomplish or come to own immediately begins to depreciate once obtained or create anxiety at fear of loss.
I say almost everything as we live mostly according to worldly concerns and driven by worldly measurements. It does not have to be so. When we are able to see the essence of things according to their proper value relative to our desire and pursuit of holiness everything becomes aligned with Godliness.
Examine your life and your possessions through the eyes of God and eternity and weigh your spiritual assets as closely as your material wealth. How does your balance sheet weigh today? Wait – how can we measure ourselves through the eyes of God? We cannot.
We can however meditate on the beatitudes and how open we are to living our lives in concert with the Holy Spirit and the essence of each beatitude. The challenges posed by each of the statements following “Blessed are” can be an eye-opening experience, a reflecting pool if you will, of our openness and cooperation with God’s graces. True happiness can be found in them here on earth – while acknowledging human suffering will remain with us as long as we remain mortal.
This ends my import and reflection on the “First Treatise on Faith” from the Shorter Summa by Saint Thomas Aquinas. (Pages 9 – 211 in two parts). Before I could finish this post the man suffering from pain was called home by a God. His family has come together to mourn and celebrate his life.
While sadness and tears are abundant they are for our loss. He is in a good place. As we work, live, play, and love, our obituary is being prepared, our place after death being reserved. It is hard to fathom this in our human perspective as it was hard to believe that Jesus could raise Lazarus from the dead. This is the nature of our suffering here on earth – a search for connection to the eternal truth, to God, and to our place in eternity. We cannot fully realize this mystery until death comes for us as well.