The Lord Delights in You

Homily for the 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
http://www.lifeissues.net/writers/mcm/mcm_367homily1.16.2022ordinarytime2.html

Deacon D. McManaman

“No more shall people call you ‘Forsaken, ‘ but you shall be called ‘My Delight, ‘ for the LORD delights in you.”

            There is no doubt that in this reading, the Lord is addressing Israel, who is His bride. However, the deeper and ultimate meaning of these verses is that they address each individual human person, each one created in the image and likeness of God. We know this from the gospels, for Christ healed individual persons. This is what has been so difficult for human beings throughout history to understand. We tend to see ourselves as members of a larger group, and of course we are, but the problem is that the group can and often does overshadow the concrete person; for the person does not exist for the group, rather, the group exists for the person (just as man was not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath was made for man). The group as a whole is not a person, but you are a person. Christ, who is the Second Person of the Trinity of Persons, came to redeem the human person, and if you were the only person who needed to be redeemed, Christ would have come for you and you alone.

            On one of my pastoral visits to a local elementary school, a young grade 5 girl said to me that she was told by her parents that, with respect to this pandemic, “God is taking a vacation”. Although there is something hopeful in this claim–insofar as vacations come to an end and the vacationer returns and takes care of outstanding business–, it is a rather dangerous claim to make, for God does not leave us alone even for an instant. In fact, you and I have God’s undivided attention at every instant of our existence, and children above all need to understand that. It is not possible for a limited human being to give undivided attention to more than one person at the same time, but God can give each individual person His undivided attention simultaneously and perpetually, because God is unlimited. 

            It is remarkable to consider what it means that we have God’s undivided attention at every instant of our existence; for it means He loves each one of us as if there is only one of us, that is, as if you are the only one for Him to love. It is as if everything in the universe was created ultimately for you alone, that all this exists to sustain and serve you, i.e., the environment, the law of gravity and all the other laws of physics, the cycles, and the entire order of nature, etc. In fact, if you or I really knew how much God loves us, we would die of joy. And this life is precisely about learning to be loved like that. This means allowing myself to be loved like that, for you and I tend not to allow that for ourselves because we have a very uncompromising and narrow sense of justice for ourselves and thus don’t see ourselves as deserving of that love, so we choose not to open ourselves to it. But His love for us is not a matter of justice–of course, no one deserves to be loved like that–rather, His love is a matter of pure gift. 

            The Lord delights in you, completely attentive to you at every instant of your existence. He does not delight in you because you are so talented and have achieved so much–that’s the love of this world; this world loves you by virtue of your gifts and talents or is indifferent to you by virtue of your lack of them. God, on the other hand, loves you because you are His, you are in His image and likeness; He sees you in Himself, and Himself in you.  

            It is so important to get a handle on this. It is difficult to do so because the culture in which we live does not see the value of the individual person, or as Berdyaev would have put it, the privileges of the nobility have not been extended to all mankind, which would raise all to the level of nobility, “since human dignity was first recognized for the aristocracy” (See his The Fate of Man in the Modern World). We continue to think in terms of the group–general democratization rather than general aristocratization–, and we value others on the basis of how useful they are to the group as a whole. We award students for their contribution to the group, for their achievements, which reflect well on the group, the school, the school board, etc., and whose talents promise to serve society well in the future. But in terms of the person himself or herself, we still don’t quite get it; for we still have legalized abortion. Medical schools are permeated with a pro-abortion/pro-choice mentality. The developing child in the womb is simply not recognized as “person”.

            Upon conversion, however, when a person becomes a new creation in Christ, when he is awakened to the knowledge of how much he is loved by God, that God really does pay undivided attention to him at every moment of his existence and is loved as if he or she is the only one that exists, it is then that he or she begins to notice the person, is awakened to the absolute and intrinsic value and dignity of the person–for we only see in others what we see in ourselves. It is at that point that morality suddenly becomes easy. To have a moral discussion with people today can be very difficult; they can become upset rather quickly. It is generally true that morality is painful for most people. But after a true conversion experience, it is no longer painful, and moral science becomes a “no brainer”. The problem is there are a lot of people in the Church, who regularly come to Mass, but who still have yet to convert. These are the people who write letters to the bishop when moral matters are preached in a way consistent with the teachings of the Church, but which upsets them nonetheless. Such people want religion without conversion. It’s not that they are nasty or horrible people; they just have not been awakened to the “personhood” of others, because they haven’t been awakened to their own personhood through an acute awareness of the divine gaze upon them. The purpose of this life is to come to know the delight that the Lord has for you personally and to allow yourself to be moved by that love. 

Thoughts on Systems, Being, and the Superconscious

https://www.lifeissues.net/writers/mcm/mcm_366thoughts.html

Douglas P. McManaman

There are many avenues one may take to demonstrate the existence of God. As our starting point for this discussion, let’s consider systems. There are all sorts of systems in the world: complex and non-complex–it does not matter what particular system we consider. But let us ask: “What is the most certain thing we can say about systems?” We can say, without a doubt, that a system is composed of simpler units. A system is a multiplicity of some kind, and so it is made up of parts. Moreover, a system depends upon the behavior of its parts. Emergent properties, for example, depend upon the interactions of the parts of the system (i.e., a swarm of bees, traffic, the market, etc.). Most systems are composed of parts which are in turn smaller systems, and these too are composed of parts or smaller units, which in turn are often systems unto themselves.

Now if the system, whatever system we are talking about, depends upon its smaller units, which may in turn be systems, we can determine with certainty that there cannot be an infinite number of smaller units upon which a larger system depends.  How do we know this? We can employ the same reasoning (reductio ad absurdum) used to show that not everything can be “relative”–in the most general sense of that term.  

What is relative depends upon something outside itself, in relation to which we understand it. For example, ‘John is tall’ is relative; for there is no “absolute” tall, only ‘relative’ tall. In other words, John is tall “in relation to” something other than John, namely the national average, or the class average, or the team average, etc. Without that “in relation to”, it is impossible to come to a determinate or definite understanding of the claim: ‘John is tall’. So, let’s call a relative claim (like ‘John is tall’) the “final term” of a series. We both know John and we both agree that John is tall, because we both understand that in relation to which the claim is true, i.e., the national average (let’s say John is 7’,2”). The final term of a series will, if it is truly relative, depend on the term that is immediately prior, whatever that is.  Let’s label the final term Z, and its predecessor Y, and Y’s predecessor X. In order to understand that Z is relative, I must at the same time know that Z is relative ‘in relation to’ Y. If I did not understand Z “in relation to” Y, if my understanding of Z did not depend upon anything outside itself, then Z would be understood “through itself” (per se), rather than ‘in relation to’ something other than Z, such as Y, and thus Z would not be relative. So, my understanding of Z depends upon my understanding of Y–if Z is truly relative. But we are testing the claim that everything is relative, so we have to maintain that even Y is relative, and thus my understanding of Y depends upon my understanding of X, whatever that turns out to be. Since everything is relative (or so we believe at this point), my understanding of X depends upon my understanding of W. So, in order to understand, here and now, Z, I must here and now understand Y, X, and W simultaneously–otherwise my understanding of Z is “indeterminate” (without “term” or end, that is, indefinite). Indefinite understanding, however, is unachieved. But I truly do understand that John is tall, and I understand that it is a relative claim (He’s not absolutely tall, but only in relation to the societal average, or the team average, etc.). This means I understand, here and now, all the factors that are conditions for my understanding of the claim: “John is tall” (i.e., Y, X, W, etc.). 

There cannot be an infinite series of “relatives” upon which my understanding of Z depends. If there were, I would never achieve a definitive understanding of Z, which is a claim that is relative. My understanding would depend upon an indeterminate (or infinite) number of factors, and so my understanding would be perpetually indeterminate, indefinite, without term or end. Hence, not everything is relative, and thus there is something that is “absolute”.  We need not know what that is. All we know for certain is that an infinite series of relatives is impossible. 

Similarly, not everything can be a system. In other words, not everything can be a unit that is constituted by a multiplicity of smaller units–if the system depends upon those smaller units (as atoms depend upon subatomic particles, for example, or a society depends upon people, or a body depends upon cells, etc.); otherwise, the system that is constituted by an actually infinite number of smaller systems would never achieve the status of a determined system. Hence, there are units that are non-systems. These non-systems are one and indivisible. 

This is what led the first atomists to say that the one indivisible unit (atomai = uncuttable) is being in its truest sense. The atomists claimed that the reality that we perceive outside of us is not being per se, but appearance, the result of the interactions of true beings or ‘atoms’. We need not get into atomism at this point–for there are definite problems with it. But what is important is their insight that being is one and indivisible. They borrowed that from Parmenides.  Here’s how it works.

“Is” is one and indivisible. A circle, for example, is not indivisible–it can be divided into two (i.e., halves). By dividing the single quantity, which is the circle, it becomes multiple. Whatever has quantity is divisible, even if only logically divisible. But “is” or “being” in its most general sense has no parts. What is it that is outside of “is” or “being”?  The answer is “non-is”, or non-being, or what amounts to the same thing: nothing. In other words, what is “outside” of my hand? A possible answer is “my leg”, for example. My leg is not my hand. This part is outside of that part, or “is not” that part. But “being” or “is” cannot be a “part”. The reason is that outside of ‘is’ is non-is, or nothing. So “being” is one and indivisible. In sum, there is nothing outside of being. There is something outside of this or that circle, or this or that system, but there is nothing outside of “is” considered as such. Hence, being is not a quantity.

An infinite series of multiple units, in the here and now, that go to make up systems, which in turn make up larger systems, etc., is impossible; for no definite system would result. Multiplicity is eventually reduced to a single indivisible unit. What is that unit? This single unit is either at the bottom of the system, or at the top of the system. In other words, the unit determines the system to be, but it does so either from below and proceeds upwards or from the top and proceeds downwards. The single determines the multiple, which is to say that being determines the potential. The reductionist habit of mind tends to see the direction as proceeding from below and up towards the top. But that would seem to imply that the result, namely reality as it appears to us, is not being per se. 

So, let’s consider what it means to proceed from the top downwards. A being can be a system. For example, the human being is a complex system. But system describes “what” a thing is. Thus, system as system is not being, because being is one and undivided, and so the system must be determined by being. That by virtue of which a system is (or exists), cannot be a system. Hence, system does not explain being; rather, being explains system, at least ultimately. It is the act of existing (esse) of the system that accounts for the very existence of the system–as long as the system we are talking about is a single being–a swarm of bees or even a beehive, for example, is a complex system, but it is not a single being. “I”, on the other hand, am a single being and I experience myself as such. 

A multiplicity of beings, however, does require explanation, unless those beings contain within themselves the sufficient reason or explanation for their own being. As long as there is a distinction between “what” a thing is (system or not) and its very existence, that thing is contingent and does not contain within itself the sufficient reason for its existence. Whatever being contains the sufficient reason for its own being within itself will be “Being Itself” (its nature is “to be”), and thus absolutely One–there cannot be two beings that are “is” pure and simple. 

At the very foundation of reality is a single, indivisible One. The relationship between this One and everything else is something for later, but at this point, let it be said that multiplicity cannot go on forever, just as “relativity” cannot constitute an infinite regress. 

Subjectivity

I am conscious of the fact that I know things outside of me (objects). When I close my eyes, I am also conscious of the fact that I am imagining or remembering things that are not me; these are objects of internal sensation. I know, but I also know that I know, or know that I am knowing things other than me. And so, my knowledge is twofold. I certainly know, albeit imperfectly, the object before me (objective knowledge), but I also know un-objectively, or subjectively, that is, I know myself as subject. I can certainly make myself the object of my knowledge, but in so doing, that objective knowledge of myself is at the same time accompanied by an intuition, a subjective knowledge, an awareness that I am knowing myself as object. This subjective knowledge, or knowledge of myself as “subject”, is intuited and does not become objective. It is always behind me, so to speak. 

There is much about myself of which I am aware. For example, I am aware that I am not necessary. What this means is that I know that I am an actualized potentiality–I did not always exist but do exist now. I also know that I am limited. Although I know myself as a being per se, thus relatively independent, it is also true that I am to a certain degree “relative”; for I know myself “in relation to” things other than me. And so, I know that I am not absolute. I have a profound sense of my own contingency–I am aware that I exist, but I am aware that existence is that which I “have”, not that which I am–I cannot say that “I am being”. I am a human kind of being, I am a complex being, a system if you will, but I am not my own existence. Rather, my existence is “had” or possessed–not possessed by a part of me, but by the whole of me. But that awareness of my own contingency (that I need not be) can only be had against the background of what is non-contingent, because contingency is a relative term, and as such can only be understood in relation to that which is non-contingent. In other words, on some level, I am aware of non-contingency, that is, I am aware of necessity, or that which “is” necessarily, and I know that I am not it. But that knowledge or awareness has not always been explicit; it has been implicit or preconscious before it was made explicit. That knowledge, which is an intuition, comes from the “subjective” plane or realm. It accompanies me always, but it is in the background, so to speak. It is a real knowledge that is non-objective, or subjective. In short, I know that I am not the Necessary Being, but the awareness of the Necessary Being is a condition that renders it possible for me to know myself as non-necessary or contingent. 

This is the realm of spirit. Spirit includes a preconscious knowledge of God, which is not to be confused with an objective and explicit knowledge. Mystical knowledge, or an awareness of the presence of God (the Necessary Being), occurs in this realm, the realm of the superconscious. It is real, non-objective, subjective (not in the sense of a purely individual construct), spiritual, and superconscious. 

Objectification and Abortion

http://www.lifeissues.net/writers/mcm/mcm_365objectificationandabortion.html

Deacon D. McManaman

Very often while serving at a Mass, I will look out at the congregation and reflect upon the fact that there are so many people in front of me about whom I know virtually nothing. I also know that if I were to sit down with any one of them and begin a conversation about their life, a whole world would open up before me and I would never see that person the same way again. They would go from an object before me to a ‘thou’, a concrete subject with a history. In other words, their personhood would gradually come into focus. What this means is that they would become increasingly real to me. I believe this is what Nicolas Berdyaev means when he insists that there “is no greater mistake than to confuse objectivity with reality. The objective is that which is least real, least existential.”[1] What, then, is most real? In short, it is “subjectivity”, or personhood. That is why the more this unknown person communicates, the more he reveals his status as spirit, as subjectivity with a history that is still moving, and thus a subject with meaning. That is “real being”. Berdyaev writes: “…my inward spiritual experience is not an object. Spirit is never object: the existence of that which exists is never an object.”[2]

The general mass of people that I might behold looking out at the congregation is not entirely real for me until each one begins to reveal himself or herself. And so it is in community that the truth of things is revealed, and the truth revealed is that these are not things, but persons with a depth of meaning that always exceeds what I am able to know at any one time. 

We live in a fallen world. This means that the community of humanity is broken, and if it is broken, we don’t really come to an understanding of the truth of who we are in and through this community. We, like everything else, have been objectified. We have become less than real in the eyes of others. This or that person standing in line for a coffee is a non-entity to me, I am a non-entity to him, and we tend to forget that an hour or two in conversation will bring into greater focus the existential and subjective density of this person. We know ourselves to be “subjects”, that is, persons of intrinsic worth, but the assurance of that knowledge does not settle upon us until it is reflected back to us through the eyes of others. The “objectification” that impedes this is in many ways the source of a great deal of personal anger and feelings of alienation in people; for anger is a response to a perceived injustice, and “objectification” of the human person is a terrible injustice; in fact, it is the most fundamental injustice. 

Years ago I recall showing my “Right to Life” Club the Silent Scream, narrated by Dr. Bernard N. Nathanson. It is a short, half hour film that shows, via ultrasound, what takes place in the womb during a suction abortion. After the film was over, much to my dismay, a young girl in the class burst out in tears. She was clearly overcome by the sadness of witnessing the cold destruction of a real human subject, engaged in a futile struggle to live as the suction tube probed the womb in search of the child’s body. Her tears were deep with emotion, and her sadness expressed our own and perhaps even intensified it.

But I’ve often wondered what it is that happens to some of these girls, as they go off to university, either to medical school or to university nursing programs, that changes them from their earlier pro life position to their current pro-choice stance. There is no doubt in my mind that much of it has to do with peer pressure. Many people simply don’t have the strength of character to stand alone against the larger crowd. Perhaps it is rooted in a lack of conviction regarding the status of their own personhood; after all, that awareness of our own spiritual center, our own subjectivity, is rooted in community, and perhaps the only way I can maintain that sense of my own status as subject is through the approval of the group. And so I capitulate, for the sake of my own personhood, for fear of the alienation that results from objectification, that is, being regarded as a thing, an opponent, an enemy of the state or enemy of the group. There is tremendous irony in this: in order to salvage my own personhood, I join in the objectification of other human persons (i.e., the unborn), refusing to see them as human persons created in the image and likeness of God. The unborn as “person” becomes an obstacle in the way of my right to a life in community.

Notes

1. Nicolas Berdyaev. The Beginning and the End. Translated by R. M. French. San Rafael, CA. Semantron Press, 2009. P. 53.

2. Ibid., p. 58. Berdyaev also writes:  “There is a tendency in the reason to turn everything into an object from which existentiality disappears. The thing-in-itself is not an object or “non-I”, it is a subject, or ‘Thou’. The subject is not, as in Fichte, the absolute or the deity. The subject, the human ‘I’ and ‘Thou’ are turned into objects and things as a result of a fall in the relations between us.” Ibid., p. 59. Further on he writes: “Objectification is above all exteriorization, the alienation of spirit from itself. And exteriorization gives rise to necessity, to determination from without. The horror which Pascal felt when confronted by the endless expanse of space is the horror of objectification, the horror of strangeness.” Ibid., p. 63

Theotokos: God-Bearer

Dcn D. McManaman

And Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.

            This is a very revealing line of the gospel, and it tells us something of Mary’s inner life. She treasured all these things, all that the Shepherds said regarding the message told to them by the angel who appeared, and she pondered them, treasured them. Jesus said in the gospel of Matthew: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”. Where is Mary’s treasure? It’s in the gospel message of her son, and her heart was, from the very beginning and to the very end of her life, entirely focused on her son, Jesus.

        Mary is Theotokos, which means “God-bearer”. She carried Christ in her womb for nine months, and after that, she carried him in her heart, by pondering the mystery that he is. And Mary was “full of grace”. That was the title used by Gabriel to address Mary. The angel did not address her by name; but rather: “Hail, full of grace”. That is the only place in the entire Scriptures where an angel addresses anyone by a title. She was full of grace right from the beginning, in the womb, because if a container is full vertically, it is also full horizontally. If Mary was full of grace as a young teenager, worthy to be addressed by a title, then she was full of grace extensively as well, right from the womb of her mother, St. Anne. And, of course, this has been the faith of the Church since the beginning: the Immaculate Conception.

        If Mary was full of grace, then she was completely empty of all inordinate love of self. And thus, her prayer life was perfect, completely focused on her son, the eternal Son of God, the savior of the world. That is our purpose in this life: to become a Theotokos, a God-bearer, and John the Baptist expresses in words just what that means: “He must increase; I must decrease” (Jn 3, 30). Mary does not use that expression, because she is perfectly decreased. She said it herself in her Magnificat: “The Lord has looked with favor upon the nothingness of his handmaiden.” She saw her creaturely nothingness, embraced it totally, and so there was complete room in her soul for the fullness of divine grace to be poured into it. The rest of us, on the other hand, have to struggle to actually see and embrace our nothingness, to decrease, so that he, Christ, may increase within us. But that is something that we will never finally achieve in this life. 

        I remember reading from the writings of the early Greek Desert Fathers, from the 4th, 5th, and 6th centuries, and I have to be honest, I’ve never encountered such profound instruction on the inner life, on prayer and the need for constant watchfulness. As I was reading this one day, the thought occurred to me; I said to myself: “I don’t think I pray very well.” I’ve been at this for many years now, totally focused on theology and spirituality, and I turned 60 this year, and I can say at this point that “I don’t think I pray well.”

        And then I remembered something. My good friend, Monsignor Tom Wells of the Archdiocese of Washington D. C, about 24 years ago, told me the very same thing. He said: “I’m beginning to realize that I don’t pray well”. He was in his mid-50s at the time, and I didn’t understand what he was talking about back then. It didn’t make sense to me; he was a very dedicated priest, did a holy hour every day, was loved by countless people, is a martyr of the Church, there is a large golf tournament in his name every year in Washington, there are about 20 priests in the Archdiocese of Washington whose vocations were inspired by this great priest, and he’s telling me that he is beginning to realize that he doesn’t pray very well.

        I recall another very holy and influential priest, in his 70s, asking me to pray for him, because, he said: “the Lord is revealing to me things about myself that I’m finding very difficult to face, my superficiality, my pride, etc.…so pray for me, please, as I leave the country to see my spiritual director”. I was astounded at this; 70 years old, and this man is so far ahead of me on the spiritual life. In short, when it comes to the spiritual life, we never arrive; we are always en route.

        But we must keep moving, because although we might think we’re far advanced along the way, if we have the courage to ask God to let us know just how far along we are or what is it we need to become aware of in ourselves, He will slowly, gradually, piecemeal, reveal it. It has to be piecemeal, because we couldn’t take the full truth about ourselves, we’d probably despair. But it seems to me, from listening to these two great priests and the wisdom of the Desert Fathers, we’re always very far from our goal, so far that we just might despair if it were fully revealed to us.

        The good news is that there is work to do, and our life can only become more joyful, because the more we decrease, the more He increases, and as He increases in us, our lives become more joyful, and our souls become more beautiful.

        Years ago, I remember being in the sacristy of a Church in the U.S, and I heard this small choir of a few young university students singing for a Mass. These were not professional singers, just amateurs. But the thought came to me as I heard them: “God must be really good to be sung to like that”. Their voices immediately directed my attention to God’s goodness. Again, they were not professional singers, just students on summer break and who were part of the regular choir during the year. And it wasn’t the type of music they were singing either; they were singing standard contemporary Church choir music. But there was something about their voices that turned my attention to God’s goodness.

        Let me contrast this with a Christmas special I saw years ago, featuring Andre Bocelli, singing traditional Catholic hymns. And of course, his voice is powerful, and he’s very handsome, but I found that he was not all that inspiring. The reason is that I was too focused on the power and distinct quality of his voice, unlike those university students. But after the commercial break, a bunch of monks were on stage–not real monks, I’m guessing–, and they were dressed in what looked like traditional Benedictine monastic habits, with the hoods up. And they sounded very good. I immediately turned up the volume and thought, wonderful, I’m beginning to feel the inspiration. And then the monks started moving around in a circle, and this one monk comes to the center. And I thought: “Oh, no, please, don’t let it be”. He pulls off the hood, and it’s Andre Bocelli, and he starts belting it out.

        Well, I have to be honest, the inspiration was gone. You see, now the focus was entirely upon him, and yet these hymns were written to praise and glorify God, and the hoods of the monastic habits had the effect of eclipsing the self, of decreasing, so that He may increase. Even the voice of the monk is not to be distinctive and outstanding. But Bocelli pulls off his hood. Why? Well, because it’s really about him, not God. And I think that’s an example of how beauty works; it emerges with the decrease of the self, but is eclipsed as the self increases.

        Even in iconography, you are not supposed to sign the icon. As you know, in western art, the artist signs his painting at the bottom right, but the iconographer is not to do that. The writer of the icon is nothing but an insignificant instrument. But iconographers in the west have begun to sign their icons at the back, and it’s something like “written through the humble hands of so and so”. Well, that’s not supposed to be. And if those hands are so humble, then disappear and say nothing. Icons are not supposed to be entirely original either. You learn the trade from a master, and stay within the tradition, but some people have a very hard time observing that self-cancellation, and so they sign their icons.

        We must decrease, He must increase. The more we decrease, the more beautiful we become, because the more room we make in ourselves for Christ, and he is supremely beautiful. It’s really about becoming Theotokos, pondering the mysteries, treasuring the Person of the Son and his words and actions, and keeping watch over our own tendency to distraction during prayer, not allowing any thought that gives rise to disordered passion. It’s about bringing stillness to the heart and focusing on the real treasure that is there waiting for us. The Lord delights when we pay so much attention to him, but our attention is often very short, thanks to a wandering thought that makes its way in. The secret to that splendor, the secret to real joy, is to become more and more like our Blessed Mother, Theotokos, God-bearer, still in the silent night of this life, pondering the miracle of Christ. Amen.

A Thought for the Feast of St. John the Apostle

Deacon D. McManaman

Today is the feast of St. John, Apostle and evangelist. He is “the other” disciple mentioned in the gospel:

“Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first”. 

What is interesting about the gospel reading is that although John runs ahead and gets to the tomb first, he does not enter, but allows Peter to enter first. An Irish philosopher of the 9th century, John Scotus Erigena, has an interesting interpretation of this passage. He interprets the tomb as representing sacred scripture, while Peter represents faith, and John represents contemplative understanding. Thus, according to the narrative, John waits for Peter to arrive at the tomb and allows him to enter first, and then John follows. The meaning is that in order to understand Scripture, faith must come first, and then understanding follows. St. Augustine often made the same point: “Believe in order to understand”. In other words, do not wait to understand before giving your assent of faith, rather, believe first, and understanding will follow in due time. So there is a risk involved, and understanding is the reward given to those who are willing to risk looking like fools by choosing to believe.

What did John find when he followed Peter into the tomb? He saw the linen wrappings. In other words, he saw that Christ had risen. He did not find a dead Christ, but an empty tomb. And those who enter into the mysteries of the Scriptures with faith, will come away with an experience of the risen Christ. They will know that Christ is risen. This knowledge is a genuine knowledge rooted in faith. We know through faith, that is, we have an interior sense, like a sensus divinitatis, that Christ is risen. We have looked for the dead Christ as an object to behold and we have not found him, because he isn’t dead. He is alive and he is behind us, looking at us, and we are aware of this. It’s very much like the experience of someone who says “I feel like someone is watching me”. That is the experience; an awareness that I am known. 

To those without faith, Scripture is a dead letter. It’s just a historical text, but with faith, it is experienced as the word of the One who knows us, who is watching us from behind us, so to speak. And it is that gaze of his that guides our interpretation of Scripture. This is sort of like looking out at the objects before us which we can see because the sun that is behind us provides the light, making it possible to see the objects before us. But we cannot behold the sun directly. Wherever we turn, the sun is behind us, never in front of us as an object of our gaze, very much like the experience of the “I”. At this point, the sun is too bright for us to behold directly anyways, but one day we will be able to stare directly at the sun, so to speak. The more we grow in an awareness of his presence behind us, that interior and spiritual presence, the more we will understand the deeper meanings of Scripture.  

A Few Thoughts for the Feast of the Holy Family

Dcn D. McManaman (Chaplain of the CTG, Toronto)

This year our pastor in Aurora assigned the pastoral team to visit the schools within the parish boundaries, and we’ve each been assigned a specific number of classes to visit, to read a scripture with the kids, and discuss it, and we do that once a month. This year we are reading and discussing one miracle a month. One thing that always impresses me about the students I visit in grade 4, 5, and 6, is the amount of faith they have, as well as the amount of understanding of what it is we have just read. That testifies to two things: the light of faith, which is a light that is rooted in the gift of faith which they received in Baptism, and it also testifies to the good work of the parents–not to mention some teachers.

In the gospel today, the teachers of the Law were astounded at Jesus’ understanding and his wisdom. Where did Jesus get his understanding? Well, there are two sources. First, there’s no doubt from this gospel that he had an understanding of his divine sonship. He said to Mary and Joseph: “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Mary didn’t quite understand what he meant, but he did. He had an understanding of his divine sonship, which is why he refers to God as ‘my Father’, which was unique in the history of Israel.

But Jesus is fully human as well. When and in what way did the divine mind of the Son intersect with Jesus’ human mind? We don’t really know the answer to that question. But if he was like us in all things but sin, then it follows that he must have experienced human constraints and limits and to some degree needed the guidance of others, like his parents. And so, the other source of his understanding and wisdom would have come from Mary and Joseph. The primary duty of the father of a Jewish household was to pass down the teachings of the Torah to his children. Jesus also got his learning from his mother, because the mother of a Jewish household has a significant role as teacher, as it says in Proverbs, chapters 1 and 6. 

And what were they doing in Jerusalem? Like a faithful Jewish family, they were there for the feast of Passover, and the gospel tells us that they would go every year. The reason that Jews celebrate feasts is that history exists in the memories of people, and memories fade, unless we work to keep them alive. That is why the Lord commanded Israel to celebrate feasts throughout the year, feasts that commemorate God’s action in history. If they remember God’s action in history, they will remain grateful. If they forget, they will lose gratitude and become an irreligious people–the virtue of religion is always rooted in gratitude. All the requirements of the Torah, the rituals in all their detail, exist for the sake of reminding, keeping history alive in the memories of the Jews. The parents’ primary duty was to pass down the teachings of the Torah to their children. Everything else was secondary. Mary and Joseph fulfilled what was their primary duty, and the reaction of the teachers of the law clearly shows this. 

And, of course, Catholicism comes out of Judaism, and we too have a liturgical year dotted with feasts and solemnities, and it is all geared to remembering and re-living, and entering into the mystery of Christ’s life. It is rich in content. One of the things that Father Arthur Lee began doing for weekday Mass was to provide a brief homily on the life of the particular saint whose feast it is that day. And it is always very inspiring to hear, and others have said that as well. I think the reason it is inspiring is that the saints are our older siblings, and when we hear about them, we are learning about our own family, our own family history. We get a better sense that we really do belong to a larger family that extends all the way back centuries, and we belong to a historical tradition that is much larger than our current situation in the world. 

I remember the weekend I visited my friend Father Don Sanvido–which I would do quite often, to give him a break from preaching. One Saturday morning I woke up early, about 5 a.m, and so I went to his living room and prayed the breviary, and when I was done, I looked up and across the living room at the far end was a bookshelf, and I noticed the four volume set of Butler’s Lives of the saints. So I got up and walked over to it, closed my eyes, reached out and grabbed a volume, opened it up and put my finger on the page, and where my finger landed, I would read the life of that saint. I’d randomly picked a 3rd century saint that I’d never heard of before, and just read the page and a half of her life. And I remember, after reading it, feeling so inspired, built up as if I had just consumed something nutritious. I put the volume back and did it again, closed my eyes and randomly selected a volume and a page, and I got some 5th century unknown saint, and his life was so different from the previous, such a different personality, but I remember again feeling so exhilarated by his life. 

If it is true that we only really know ourselves in community, especially and above all in the first and smaller community of the family, then we really do come to a deeper understanding of ourselves when we come to know the lives of the saints, because we come to a deeper understanding of our own larger family, our own siblings. 

And this brings me to a final point. The students I had over the years were always interested in the diabolical, and they had all sorts of questions about exorcism, possession, the demonic, and in many ways that’s a problem. They bought into the lie of Hollywood, a lie that many in this world have bought into. The lie is that evil is interesting, but goodness is boring. Newspapers function on that lie, which is why they won’t publish stories about a school raising over 50 thousand food items for the poor at Christmas, for example, but they will publish a story about a stabbing that took place in a school. The truth is the complete reverse: goodness is profoundly interesting and inspiring, but evil is ultimately boring. Goodness has depth; evil is nauseatingly empty. But many people typically think otherwise. There’s an exorcist in the US who sometimes gives talks at universities. The lecture halls are always jam packed, not even standing room. Why? Students think evil is intriguing. If someone was there giving a talk on Scripture or the lives of some saints, the lecture hall would be virtually empty. But there’s no depth to evil, and in the end, it disappoints. Only goodness has the capacity to inspire, and when we are in touch with that historical tradition of ours that goes all the way back to the Old Testament, through the New Testament and through the centuries with the lives of the saints, we are enriched, and when we pass that on to our children, they too are enriched. 

Young people love the faith, they love it when the Scriptures are explained to them without draining them of their mystery, and they love the stories of the lives of great saints. And that’s the great dignity of parenting. It’s the most important work. I used to ask students what’s the most important work, and they’d give me all sorts of answers from politician, medical doctor, police officer, court judge, etc., but of course the answer is parenting. That they don’t know that is revealing. But parenting is the most important work. And if you think about it, everything we do in the Church, from daily Mass to baptism prep, confirmation prep, marriage prep, baptisms, Confirmation, first communion, and marriages, funerals, etc., it is all ordered to the service of the family. 

Thoughts on the Magnificat

The readings today are joyful. They announce good news.  The gospel today is the magnificat; Mary’s magnification of the Lord.  

After reading the magnificat, one could ask the question: “When did God scatter the proud, and when did he bring down the powerful from their thrones and lift up the lowly? When did he send the rich away empty?”  These are joyful words, for they speak of victory, but when in history did this ever happen? He certainly didn’t do that in the first century. Herod slaughtered the innocents, and the first 300 years of the Church’s existence was trial and persecution by ruthless emperors. The lowly were being killed; the mighty and the powerful remained where they were.

In many ways, this magnificat is like the first story of creation in Genesis. At the end of the creation story, after the creation of the world, God saw all that He had made and it was very good. But what did God see? I think the best interpretation of this text is that God beholds the entire order of creation, including time and history, not simply a portion at the beginning of time. And so we know that history will end in a way that is pleasing to God. He will be victorious over darkness, which entered the picture on the first day of creation, if you recall that account–God said ‘let there be light’… and he separated light from darkness.

In this magnificat of Mary, she rejoices at the coming of the Messiah, the son of David. He is king. He came to establish his kingdom, and his kingdom will have no end. He will be victorious, according to Scripture. This magnificat takes in the entire picture, it sees the completion of the Messianic age. If the Messiah has come, if she carries the Messiah in her womb, then victory is assured. But this victory is to be worked out in history. The kingdom of God has been established, and Christ reigns in the lives of the faithful. But he does not reign in the hearts of everyone. His kingdom grows not by coercion and force, but by the free assent of the individual person to allow Christ to reign, to have dominion over their lives. And we know from the parables that the kingdom of God grows gradually, larger and larger, throughout history. That kingdom is victorious, but the victory unfolds gradually, through time. In the end, God saw that it was very good. The proud of this world who govern according to their own principles will in the end be on the losing side. And so our task is to continue in the knowledge, through faith, that Christ is victorious, and not to despair, but to do our small part, and in doing so we become part of that victory in the end, and Mary’s joy that we discern in this gospel will be a reflection of our own, just as the song of Hannah in the first reading is a mirror of this joyful song of Mary in the gospel. 

We Have God’s Undivided Attention

(to be published in Shalom Tidings, 2022)

Deacon Doug McManaman

On one of my pastoral visits to a local elementary school, a young grade 5 girl said to me that she was told by an adult in her life that, with respect to this pandemic, “God is taking a vacation”. Although there is something hopeful in the claim–insofar as vacations come to an end and the vacationer returns and takes care of outstanding business–, I certainly wouldn’t frame it like that. It is a rather dangerous claim to make, for God does not leave us alone even for an instant. In fact, we have God’s undivided attention at every instant of our existence, and children above all need to understand that. It is not possible for a limited human being to give undivided attention to more than one person at the same time, but God can give everyone His undivided attention simultaneously, because God is unlimited. 

It is remarkable to consider what it means that we have God’s undivided attention at every instant of our existence; for it means He loves each one of us as if there is only one of us, that is, as if you are the only one for Him to love. It is as if everything in the universe was created ultimately for you alone, that all this exists to sustain and serve you, i.e, the atmosphere of the planet, the law of gravity and all the other laws of physics, the cycles and the order of nature, etc. In fact, if you or I really knew how much God loves us, we would die of joy. And this life is precisely about learning to be loved like that. That means allowing ourselves to be loved like that, for we tend not to allow that for ourselves because we have a very uncompromising and narrow sense of justice for ourselves and thus don’t see ourselves as deserving of that love, so we choose not to open ourselves to it. But His love for us is not a matter of justice; of course, no one deserves to be loved like that; for one cannot earn the right to be brought into being if one does not exist. And so although His love for me is not a matter of justice, it is a matter of pure gift. After all, God’s justice has been revealed, in the Person of Christ, as absolute mercy.

There is a relationship between that divine love and how we understand ourselves. A person only really knows himself to the degree that he knows how much he is loved by God, and so the more we allow ourselves to “be loved like that” (as if there is only one of us), the deeper will be our own self-understanding; for we will begin to see ourselves as He sees us. If we don’t see ourselves through His eyes, that is, as He sees us, then we are left to see ourselves as we are seen by others. The problem with this, however, is that others rarely if ever see us as we really are–especially if those in our lives do not look at us through God’s eyes–, and if they don’t see us as we really are, they do not love us as we ought to be loved. When the world looks at you, it does not see an inexhaustible mystery; rather, it sees an object, something to be valued according to its utility. But there is nothing mysterious about tools. On the other hand, when God sees you, He sees a genuine mystery, because each human person has been created in the image and likeness of God, and God is the unutterable mystery. Hence, each human person is an inexhaustible mystery whose secret lies hidden within the depths of the inexhaustible mystery of God. 

We have two interiors: 1) a physical interior, and a 2) spiritual interior. A surgeon has access to our physical interior, but he does not thereby have access to our spiritual interior. No one has access to that interior except you and God. In fact, God dwells always in the deepest region of that interior. The way to begin to come to an awareness that you are known by God is to enter into that “universe within”. That is what it means to place ourselves in the presence of God. Few words are necessary within that space; it is enough to simply repeat over and over: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”. The more time we spend within that space, without distraction, the more we will come to sense that we are being watched, that we have someone’s attention. That is a very positive and enlightening experience; for we begin to see ourselves as someone worthy of attention. We begin to see ourselves as persons, rather than mere individuals. But it begins with entering into the “universe within”, and that experience makes all the difference in the world, because most of us for most of our lives have been reduced to objects, but we know ourselves to be “subjects”–persons of intrinsic worth. This “objectification” is in many ways the source of a great deal of personal anger and feelings of alienation, but as we spend more time within that interior where the Lord awaits us, the less alienated we will begin to feel and the more peaceful our life becomes. 

Looking Forward

Homily for the 1st Sunday of Advent. St. Anthony of Padua Church, Brampton, ON
(to be published at Lifeissues.net)

Deacon Doug McManaman

            The gospel today is not easy to interpret, but I think it is correct to say that it is and was relevant to everyone who has read it and will read it. This means that it does not just refer to events of the 1st century, such as the destruction of Jerusalem–otherwise it is not relevant to us–, nor does it only refer to the period that marks the end of the world–which means it would not have been relevant for those in the first, second, third, fourth centuries, etc. This gospel says: “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap. For that day will assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth.”

            What is this mysterious “day” that he speaks of here? It is the “day” of eternity. Eternity is a single day that is forever; it is the “day” when eternity breaks into history and history breaks into eternity. And so, it refers to a number of things. It refers to Christmas, in which the eternal Son of God entered into history; it refers to Easter when the eternal Son of God rose from the dead, and it refers to the Parousia, the Second Coming of Christ, and of course it refers to the end of our own individual lives. 

            Christianity is forward looking. The Kingdom of God has been established by Christ in this world, and it began as a tiny seed, but it continues to develop and grow throughout history as individual human beings permit Christ to reign over their lives. Christ’s kingdom entered this world at Christmas, when he joined a human nature to himself, that is, when he became flesh. A king is born, and if he is a king, he has a kingdom. A king also goes to war to firmly establish that kingdom, and Christ came in order to defeat in battle the one enemy that no earthly king could defeat, namely death, and the paschal mystery is that defeat (Good Friday and Easter Sunday). He entered into death in order to inject it with his divine life, and his resurrection is his victory over death. And so, Christmas looks forward towards Easter; for Christmas takes place during the darkest and coldest days of the year. We have to endure the darkness and cold of late December, as well as the cold of January and February, but light and heat always follow the darkness and cold. December 25th is precisely the day when it is possible to notice that the days are beginning to get longer, gradually getting lighter and warmer as we move towards Easter. 

            But just as Christmas looks towards the victory of Easter, at the same time we today look towards the victory of Christ’s Second Coming, when time will come to an end and he will usher in the fullness of the kingdom of God. It’s precisely that end that gives meaning to human history. If time were not to come to an end, history would have no meaning; for it is always the ending of a novel that gives the story its ultimate meaning, which is why we’re anxious to get to the end when we are reading a good book. I find nothing more frustrating than those Netflix series that just continue on and on, without any hint of a resolution–I feel I’m being strung along and manipulated in order to keep me watching. If I sense that this is just an artificial prolongation, I’ll stop watching. It’s the end that gives meaning to all that goes before, and without an end, it is all meaningless. 

            The meaning of human existence is precisely that Second Coming of Christ, the day that Christ ushers in the kingdom of God in its fullness. And so, Christ commands us to be vigilant, to stay awake, to pray, to beware that our hearts do not become drowsy from being so focused on the goods of this world that we no longer look forward, that we no longer look ahead, and thus lose awareness of the shortness and brevity of our existence. Because life is short. Every day is really 24 hours closer to the grave than the day before. And when we become aware of our own death, life becomes less burdensome and more enjoyable. My final 20 years of teaching were at a high school in which the chapel was on the 2nd floor, just at the top of the main staircase, and at the bottom of the same staircase going down from the 3rd to the 2nd floor. And on both walls beside the chapel doors are the pictures of those students who died while they were students at the school. There are about 10 students there, each one looking at all of us as we climb or descend the staircase. I used to tell my students that when you see them, smiling at you from the other side, just remember that they’re saying: “You might be next”. I used to get quite a reaction out of my students when I said that; they are just not used to thinking about their own death; they find that repugnant.

            But the irony is that when we come to terms with the fact that we are going to die, that our life here is brief and fleeting, we begin to experience a joy that we would otherwise miss. Our eyes are opened to the richness and beauty of the present moment. The result is we stop wasting our present moments. The more detached we become from the world, the more we are able to enjoy the world around us. If we covet the goods of this world, if we become anxious to acquire more and more, we lose our own peace of mind and life becomes burdensome. 

            So let us continue to look forward to Christ’s Second Coming. We have no idea when the end of history will be, but we do know our own end is relatively near. Whatever sacrifices we make in this life for the sake of eternal life will be returned to us in the end anyways, and it will be returned one hundredfold, so there is no need to be anxious. People are anxious when they are afraid that their lives or their livelihood will be taken away. Well, the fact is we are going to lose everything we have; everything will be taken away. It has to be. We cannot rise to eternal life unless we die to this world. And the sooner we begin dying to this world in the hope of the fullness of the kingdom of God, the sooner will the joy of heaven begin now. 

Adele and some fundamentals about love

(to be published at Lifeissues.net)
Douglas P. McManaman

On the 14th of November of this year (2021), Adele put on a One Night Only special concert at the Griffith Observatory in Hollywood, which earned more than 10 million viewers. There were some interesting ironies in this; for all of Hollywood’s talk of inclusivity and its aversion to anything that smacks of exclusivity, this outdoor concert was only for the invited, which included the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Selena Gomez, Drake, Ellen DeGeneres, Gordon Ramsay, Seth Rogen, Tyler Perry, Lizzo, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Nicole Richie, etc. I tried to see if the uninvited “plebeians” were at least permitted onto the trails behind and around the Observatory to listen, but the trails appeared to be empty. Nonetheless, it was her interview with Oprah that was aired intermittently during the televised concert that was particularly distressing. In that interview, she spoke of her “unhappiness” and of her divorce from Simon Konecki. She had made the point earlier in her interviews with British and American Vogue that neither of them did anything wrong, that neither of them hurt one another,[1] and she pointed out to Oprah that she still loves Simon very much; but, she said, she is no longer “in love”. 

Why is this disconcerting? There are certain very basic truths that young people need to understand well, one of the most important of which is that love is not a feeling; rather, love is an act of the will. Emotion and will are two essentially different kinds of appetites. Because the human person is a “rational animal”, there are two kinds of love in the human person that correspond to the two distinct appetites: 1) love on the level of the emotions, and 2) love on the level of the will. The former we have in common with animals, and this involves loving something or, God forbid, someone, primarily for what it/him/her does for me; i.e., I love chocolate, not for the good of the chocolate, but for what it does for me–makes me feel good. But the specifically human kind of love, which the Greeks knew as agape, involves “willing the good of another for the other’s sake”. Romantic love, or eros, is fundamentally emotional; it is the passionate attraction between two people–hence, the origin of the word ‘erotic’. Conjugal or married love, on the other hand, is a type of agape. What establishes a marriage are not “feelings”, but a freely given consent or act of the will–it is a decision to give oneself entirely to another exclusively and totally, that is, in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad, until death severs the union. The implication here is that there are periods in married life when one does not “feel” like continuing in the relationship. A person’s love is challenged when his or her spouse is sick, perhaps sick with cancer and has lost hair or possibly more, or when both are getting on in age and do not look as attractive as they might have in their younger days, or when the couple is going through very difficult and trying situations that put a tremendous strain on the relationship, etc. Romantic love is not strong enough to act as the foundation for such a total commitment, because romantic love is temporary. One of the best chapters ever written on the nature of romantic love comes from M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Travelled. He writes: 

Of all the misconceptions about love the most powerful and pervasive is the belief that “falling in love” is love or at least one of the manifestations of love. It is a potent misconception, because falling in love is subjectively experienced in a very powerful fashion as an experience of love. When a person falls in love what he or she certainly feels is “I love him” or “I love her.” But two problems are immediately apparent. The first is that the experience of falling in love is specifically a sex-linked erotic experience. We do not fall in love with our children even though we may love them very deeply. We do not fall in love with our friends of the same sex—unless we are homosexually oriented—even though we may care for them greatly. We fall in love only when we are consciously or unconsciously sexually motivated. The second problem is that the experience of falling in love is invariably temporary. No matter whom we fall in love with, we sooner or later fall out of love if the relationship continues long enough. This is not to say that we invariably cease loving the person with whom we fell in love. But it is to say that the feeling of ecstatic lovingness that characterizes the experience of falling in love always passes. The honeymoon always ends. The bloom of romance always fades.[2]

It is typical of adolescence to expect romantic love to last forever, but if we reflect on our own emotional experiences, we notice that the various emotional loves that we experience in our lives are always fleeting and eventually “get old”. Only agape love is enduring and humanly-divinely meaningful, for it is freely chosen–we do not choose to “fall in love”–, and agape is sacrificial and fundamentally selfless. There is nothing heroic about “falling in love” with someone, but to will the good of another and work to achieve that good, regardless of how one feels, all throughout a life that has its share of difficult and trying moments, is truly heroic. If young people graduate from high school without a firm grasp of these basic truths and are allowed to remain under the illusion that married love is essentially “romantic” (erotic, emotional) in nature, we should expect to see a continued decline in marriage with all its social repercussions, which in all likelihood directly impact teachers much more than those of any other profession.  

Another important revelation for young people that came out of Adele’s interview with Oprah was her admission that she was unhappy. This is a woman who is universally admired as one of the best voices of all time, a woman who has more money than the vast majority of us will ever see in our lifetime, who can purchase almost anything that money can buy, and who is practically treated as a goddess wherever she goes, etc. The obvious implication is that happiness does not consist in money, wealth, financial security, comforts, pleasures, fame and honors, etc. Adele seems to understand that happiness has something to do with love, but she conflates authentic love with the experience of “falling in love” and expects romantic love to endure. 

Once again, however, a very basic principle of the moral life is that happiness is virtue, not pleasure, honors, fame and power. Moreover, genuine love is channelled through virtue; for it is the virtues that dispose the emotions to follow the demands of reason, and the emotions have an innate need to be guided by reason. When the emotions are so governed, they become more fully what they are intended to be, and the result is that the virtuous person is much more passionate than he or she otherwise would be. It is for this reason that happiness is difficult to achieve–because virtue is difficult. If happiness were as easy as falling in love, and if romantic love were permanent as young people tend to believe it to be, we’d be living in heaven on earth. But happiness is work, it is an achievement, a moral achievement, one that is rooted ultimately in the will, not the emotions. When a married person is no longer ‘in love’, that’s when the difficult work of genuine love begins–unless of course one turns one’s back on one’s spouse in the pursuit of adolescent excitement. 

Genuine love, and thus real joy, demands an “exit of self”. Consider that the word ecstasy is derived from the Greek word ekstasis, which means ‘to stand outside of oneself’. That is why those who are inordinately preoccupied with themselves, that is, with their body image, with how they are feeling at every moment of every day, with their own personal state of happiness, etc., are always unhappy. But the more a person exits the self in a self-forgetting posture of genuine agape love of others, the more that person finds himself, or herself, and marriage is precisely that context in which the conditions for a continuous exit of self are established. If the highest and most noble kind of love were romantic love, marriage would be the last place to secure the conditions of its continuance. That is why when love was identified with eros in the period of the late 60s and 70s, marriage went on the decline, and rapidly so. Adele says she’s been on a journey to find her true happiness ever since, but hopefully the majority of those ten million viewers understand that we only really find our true happiness when we no longer search for it, but forget about it, and focus on willing, despite our feelings, the true good of others, first and foremost our own spouse. 

Notes

1. Christina Montford. “Adele Reveals the Real Reason She Got Divorced”. <https://www.cheatsheet.com/entertainment/adele-reveals-real-reason-got-divorced.html/> Showbiz Cheatsheet. Oct 8th, 2021. 

2. He writes: “Falling in love is not an act of will. It is not a conscious choice. No matter how open to or eager for it we may be, the experience may still elude us. Contrarily, the experience may capture us at times when we are definitely not seeking it, when it is inconvenient and undesirable. We are as likely to fall in love with someone with whom we are obviously ill matched as with someone more suitable. Indeed, we may not even like or admire the object of our passion, yet, try as we might, we may not be able to fall in love with a person whom we deeply respect and with whom a deep relationship would be in all ways desirable. This is not to say that the experience of falling in love is immune to discipline. Psychiatrists, for instance, frequently fall in love with their patients, just as their patients fall in love with them, yet out of duty to the patient and their role they are usually able to abort the collapse of their ego boundaries and give up the patient as a romantic object. The struggle and suffering of the discipline involved may be enormous. But discipline and will can only control the experience; they cannot create it. We can choose how to respond to the experience of falling in love, but we cannot choose the experience itself.

Falling in love is not an extension of one’s limits or boundaries; it is a partial and temporary collapse of them. The extension of one’s limits requires effort; falling in love is effortless. Lazy and undisciplined individuals are as likely to fall in love as energetic and dedicated ones. Once the precious moment of falling in love has passed and the boundaries have snapped back into place, the individual may be disillusioned, but is usually none the larger for the experience. When limits are extended or stretched, however, they tend to stay stretched. Real love is a permanently self-enlarging experience. Falling in love is not. 

Falling in love has little to do with purposively nurturing one’s spiritual development. If we have any purpose in mind when we fall in love it is to terminate our own loneliness and perhaps insure this result through marriage. Certainly we are not thinking of spiritual development. Indeed, after we have fallen in love and before we have fallen out of love again we feel that we have arrived, that the heights have been attained, that there is both no need and no possibility of going higher. We do not feel ourselves to be in any need of development; we are totally content to be where we are. Our spirit is at peace. Nor do we perceive our beloved as being in need of spiritual development. To the contrary, we perceive him or her as perfect, as having been perfected. If we see any faults in our beloved, we perceive them as insignificant—little quirks or darling eccentricities that only add color and charm.

If falling in love is not love, then what is it other than a temporary and partial collapse of ego boundaries? I do not know. But the sexual specificity of the phenomenon leads me to suspect that it is a genetically determined instinctual component of mating behavior. In other words, the temporary collapse of ego boundaries that constitutes falling in love is a stereotypic response of human beings to a configuration of internal sexual drives and external sexual stimuli, which serves to increase the probability of sexual pairing and bonding so as to enhance the survival of the species. Or to put it in another, rather crass way, falling in love is a trick that our genes pull on our otherwise perceptive mind to hoodwink or trap us into marriage. Frequently the trick goes awry one way or another, as when the sexual drives and stimuli are homosexual or when other forces—parental interference, mental illness, conflicting responsibilities or mature self-discipline— supervene to prevent the bonding. On the other hand, without this trick, this illusory and inevitably temporary (it would not be practical were it not temporary) regression to infantile merging and omnipotence, many of us who are happily or unhappily married today would have retreated in wholehearted terror from the realism of the marriage vows.” The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth. M.D.Touchstone Books. 1978. p. 84-90.

The Faith of Bartimaeus

Homily for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

https://www.lifeissues.net/writers/mcm/mcm_360homily10.24.2021ordinarytime30.html

Deacon D. McManaman

            What always strikes me when I read this miracle story is Jesus’ question to the blind man, Bartimaeus. He repeatedly calls out: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me”, and he’s rebuked for doing so, and they try to silence him, which turned out to be counterproductive. And of course, Jesus heard him, because he tells them: “Call him”. The blind man leaves his cloak behind, which was personally valuable, so much so that by law a lender could not take possession of a person’s cloak as collateral, only his tunic. Bartimaeus leaves that behind and goes to Jesus. Furthermore, the blind man refers to Jesus as “Son of David”, in other words, Messiah. Also, he would not have witnessed any of Jesus’ miracles with his own eyes; he would only have heard about them. And that was enough for him. He believed that he was the son of David, the King of Israel, and he believed in the power of the son of David to heal him. That shows tremendous faith.

            But note the question Jesus asks: “What do you want me to do for you?”  Isn’t it obvious? Do we really think Jesus wasn’t sure what the blind man wanted? It was patently obvious. So why would Jesus ask? To make him say it. Come out and say it. And he was healed immediately when he did so. 

            This is a tremendous lesson on the power of faith. We would see many more miracles in our lives if we had the faith of this blind man. Most people today do not see miracles, because they don’t ask for them, and they don’t ask for them because they don’t really believe that God pays too much attention to them, that God really wants to permeate their lives with His joy, and so they don’t believe He would answer their prayer if they turned to Him. But all we have to do is believe that he has the power and will to heal our lives, and have the humility to ask Him, to beg for His mercy, like Bartimaeus.

            A fellow parishioner years ago had a serious stroke which landed him in the hospital, and I remember him telling me that when he was in a coma, he experienced a tremendous love surrounding him, an otherworldly love; he described it as being loved like the dearest brother, the most intense love for him that he’s ever felt directed to him. There is a rather thick veil that separates us from experiencing that love from the other side, from God and from the communion of saints. That love has been there from the first moment of our existence; for that love is the source and origin of our existence. But all we really know here in this broken world is the imperfect love of others, and it really is an imperfect and defective love, and it is the experience of this defective, inconsistent, and rather impure love that gives rise to that thick veil that blocks the radiance of this deep and divine love behind the veil. This life is about learning to be loved like that, that is, allowing ourselves to be embraced by the Father. It’s a very difficult thing to do, but the more we spend time with the Lord, the more we listen to Him in silence, the thinner that veil becomes, and the light of His love begins to seep through it. We begin to see what St. Catherine of Siena was able to see, that God loves each one of us as if there is only one of us, in the sense that we are the only one who exists for God to love. That is supposed to be what we experience from God; for although He does not have our undivided attention, we have God’s undivided attention at every instant of our existence. But as we spend more and more time with the Lord in silent prayer, the more we begin to see that we really do have his undivided attention, and thus God knows about the apparently insignificant matters of our lives, and they matter to Him as they matter to us, and so, we ought to take the liberty to ask Him to address these matters as well, confident that He will; for “nothing displeases Him more than cold reserve” (Father John Nicholas Grou, S.J.). 

            But when we pray a prayer of petition, we have to then leave it up to God. What some people do is they ask, but their asking is a test: “I will ask and see what happens”. Deep down underneath that sentiment is a faith that will depend on how God answers: “If He does not answer, I’m done with prayer”. But God knows the human heart, He knows what’s in the deepest regions of our own heart, more than we do. In fact, that deep region is often closed to us–we don’t really know ourselves at that level, but God does, and He will not answer prayer that is conditional. He waits, holds back, and when we then decide to rely on another source–because God did not act on our terms–, He allows us to go our own say. The result is we no longer rely on God for everything, which is why we see so few miracles in our lives. 

            What has to happen is that we resolve to trust and follow Him regardless of the outcome. God knows whether the answer to our prayer will bless us or curse us. Very often we pray for things that will, in the long run, destroy us by actually turning us away from God. And so, we have to pray with absolute trust, aware that God’s knowledge is not limited: “For as the heavens are exalted above the earth, so are my ways exalted above your ways, and my thoughts above your thoughts” (Is 55, 9). If God does not answer our prayer on our terms, it is because He knows better. His decision is always rooted in the very same love for you that was the very origin of your existence and the source that is sustaining you in existence at this very moment. This life is about coming to know that love, allowing ourselves to be loved as God wants to love us, and of course eventually channeling that love to others. 

Disordered Passion

(Homily for the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time)

https://www.lifeissues.net/writers/mcm/mcm_353homily9.17.2021ordinarytime25.html


Douglas P. McManaman

Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from? Is it not from your passions that make war within your members? (Jas 4, 1)

This world we live in is very complex. In fact, it is inexhaustibly complex, and knowledge is very difficult to achieve precisely because of that complexity. But at the risk of oversimplifying reality, I will say that at the root of almost all our social problems today–and I emphasize almost–is really the inability or refusal to control passion, that is, to submit passion to the governance of reason. One of the wounds of Original Sin is disordered passion, and although baptism does away with Original Sin, it does not do away with its effects. 

If we just look around and consider what we see: tragic vehicle accidents, marriage breakups, war, starvation, racism, etc., their causes involve so many factors that they are usually difficult to explain, but at the very root of these things is, very often, disordered passion. Consider a traffic jam that makes you late for an appointment; often it is a serious car accident that is the cause. Notice how recklessly people drive on beautiful sunny days. You’d think they would slow down and enjoy the view, but no, they are so desperate to get to where they need to go that they are willing to put other lives at risk, pass on a solid line, run stop signs, drive well over the speed limit, etc., and think of the number of pedestrians that have been killed recently in the city of Toronto—in 2020 there were 22 in total. Of course, how many failed marriages are a result of infidelity, or even just boredom and the need for excitement? How many of them are the result of couples that think to themselves: “I don’t feel fulfilled”, as if marriage is about my fulfillment, and not the love of the other for the other’s sake? Consider insurance fraud and the economic costs on all of us. What’s at the root of that other than a disordered love of money? And of course, even human ignorance is rooted in a disordered love of complacency; for there is so much we now have at our disposal, at the click of a computer mouse, so much information, history, articles explaining important things like the existence of God or basic moral principles and their application, but most people remain woefully ignorant because they refuse to seek truth, that is, refuse to do serious research for fear of what they might find. Most people are more comfortable in their ignorance, especially when it comes to moral matters. 

Disordered passion also gives rise to disordered thinking. Take the passion of fear: behind so much unjustified suspicion, gossip, scheming, mistrust of others, etc., is disordered fear, and fear affects how we perceive the world around us. If it is a disordered fear, our perception is distorted. And fear begets anger, and anger certainly affects how a person perceives the world and those in it. And that’s what is so difficult to become aware of; we have certain ideas and we readily believe they are an accurate assessment of how things really are in the world, but very often they are the product of disordered passion, in particular the passion of fear, anger, and the passion of disordered love of self, which can take the form of pride or disordered self-esteem, and of course pride begets stubbornness and the refusal to change one’s mind. The gospel today illustrates this disordered love of self among Jesus’ own disciples, arguing among themselves about who is the greatest.

The fact of the matter is that the goods of this world pass away. The pleasures that some people are willing to deceive and lie for, steal for, or kill for, will all pass away. One day these pleasures will be nothing more than a vague memory having less reality than a puff of cigar smoke. We were not created for pleasure, we were created for joy. As Trappist Monk Thomas Merton once wrote: “Never seek rest in pleasure, for you were not created for pleasure; you were created for joy, and if you do not know the difference between pleasure and joy, you have not yet begun to live.” Many people have hardly begun to live, because they don’t know the difference between the two, and they don’t know the difference because they cannot “let go”; they hang on. They are enslaved. We are all born slaves. We are born free politically, but not morally and spiritually. We are slaves to sin and disordered passion. Christ is our deliverer; his grace alone frees us from the slavery of the passions. A slave cannot free himself, and it is our disordered love of the pleasures of this world that bind us–unless we are freed by Christ. Christ died to this world, and in him alone can we die to this world. But to die to this world is to be born to another world, a world in which joy is the principal experience, not pleasure. 

The purpose of this life is to learn to release our grip on this world and leave it behind, and when we do, we recover all that we have given up in the glorified life of the risen Christ. And to the degree that we release our grip on this world now, to that degree will the joy of that risen life begin for us now in this world. God is Love. He does not have love, He is Love—that’s His entire Being. So too, God is Joy. He does not have Joy; He is Joy. To grow closer to God is to increase both in love and in joy, and when we grow closer to God, we begin to see reality differently, we begin to see human beings differently. In other words, we see everything in relation to God. This means we begin to see human beings not in relation to ourselves, but in relation to God, and we begin to love human beings not so much for what they do for us, but simply because they belong to God. Genuine conversion to God results from knowing from within that we are loved by God, and when we come to know that, our life acquires a new center. Of course, God is that center, and our fundamental desire is to love God in return, and the most immediate way to do that is to love what God loves, to love all that belongs to God, namely human persons. That’s how we can tell how genuine our conversion to God really is–by how much our life is motivated by the desire to love other human beings for their sake and for God’s sake, rather than for the sake of what they do for us. 

The more we leave the world of sin behind and cling to God, the more the true beauty of this world will be revealed to us. And that’s what is rather interesting about the second reading today when it says: “You covet but do not possess. You kill and envy but you cannot obtain” (Jas 4, 2). That verse speaks of the endless frustration that results from trying to build our kingdom of God here on earth through the fulfillment of our own plans and dreams. We only really possess what we are looking for when we no longer covet, no longer envy, and no longer desperately seek our own rest and peace of mind but seek His will first and foremost. Only when we are possessed by the love of God, moved by that love, and when we desire to return that love completely, only then does the beauty of this world in all its rich meaning come into view. It becomes a world permeated with the divine beauty, a world whose beauty does not compete with God for our attention and love but brings us to His feet.

Theology of Apology

Deacon Doug McManaman

https://www.lifeissues.net/writers/mcm/mcm_346theologyofapology.html

I had to ask myself recently whether it is fitting for Pope Francis to apologize for the role the Church played in Canada’s 19th and 20th century Residential Schools. From a theological point of view, I believe the answer is rather easy. Yes, it is indeed fitting. What follows is my attempt at an explanation. 

The first principle I would like to lay down is that Christ’s redemption of the human race is really an apology. Christ, who is the Second Person of the Trinity who joined a human nature to himself, came to reconcile man to God, and he accomplishes this by offering himself as a sacrifice of reparation for the sins of all human persons. Christ is entirely innocent, but he takes upon himself the sins of the world and brings them to the altar of the cross. He acts on our behalf to offer this sacrifice of reparation, and his sacrifice can achieve what we simply cannot, precisely because he is both divine and human. As a son of man, he can step in on our behalf; but as God the Son, the value of his sacrifice is infinite, and it has to be, because sin against God is of infinite gravity; for it brings about an infinite gulf that man cannot cross if he is to stand before God. It is an apology to the Father on our behalf for sins from which we cannot deliver ourselves. 

The next point I’d like to make is that Catholicism is not about us. This is one point that those who leave the Church persistently fail to grasp, obviously. Catholicism is not about Catholics; it is about Christ. What this means is that it is not about our love for him: “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins” (1 Jn 4, 10). As for us, essentially we’re just a bunch of “shleps”, and the first condition for belonging to Christ is to see this and acknowledge it. Two scripture verses are enough to show this: first, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, the kingdom of heaven is theirs” (Mt 5, 1), and “If we say, ‘We have not sinned,’ we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 Jn 1, 10). Consider this both from the level of the group and the individual level. I remember a pastor of a parish in Brampton asked me to give a talk on Church history to his RCIA class. I spent a week preparing for this, but I asked him: “Are you sure you want me to do this? This might scandalize them; they may not want to be Catholics after this”. The history of the Church is, from one angle, not all that pretty. There’s quite a bit of sin and stupidity that fills our history. And this is true on an individual level as well. I don’t like seeing myself in the past, either on an old VHS cassette or in old photos that open up a series of memories of my life at the time. I often shake my head: “I can’t believe I said that to him”, or “What an idiot I was for doing that”, etc. I don’t shake my head now, because I am blind, but I have no doubt that I will years down the road when I am given an opportunity to glance at myself as I am currently. 

The next point in the building of my case for an apology is that the Church that Christ established is his Mystical Body. God is humble, so humble that he chooses to communicate himself, his word, his grace, and his very body and blood, through the instrumentality of unworthy hands throughout history until his Second Coming. There is no way around this. We are unworthy, flawed, limited, and blinded by our own sinfulness, but he chose to bestow upon us the tremendous dignity of being his instruments. However, every day we pray: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who have trespassed against us”. If one is a deacon, priest, or bishop, one prays this line at least twice a day through the Liturgy of the Hours, and once again in the Mass if one is a priest. Our sins hurt others indirectly. However, what if I hurt someone directly? Then I am to reconcile myself to that person before bringing my gift to the altar: “Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Mt 5, 23-24). But what if I have no access to my brother, whom I have hurt? That is precisely what the sacrament of reconciliation is about: sin is not a private affair between me and God; rather, sin is essentially public because we are a Mystical Body; my sin affects the entire body of Christ, just as a thumb tack in my heel affects my entire self (I as a single whole feel the pain, not merely my foot). Absolution reconciles me simultaneously to both the Mystical Body, the Church, and to God–that is why we ought to go to Confession frequently. 

But how do I reconcile with my brother, whom I have hurt through my own sin, if I am dead? If I die in a state of grace, my sins have been forgiven, but I may still have to pay the debt incurred by my sins (purgatory). It is my hope that Masses will be said for the repose of my soul. But the Mass is the celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection; it is the very same sacrifice as that of Calvary, mysteriously made present in the here and now, but applied to me. In other words, it is Christ’s apology offered by the Church for me. In purgatory, I see the far reaching effects of my sins in ways closed to me now, and I will grieve and mourn in sorrow, and I will yearn to make reparation and be reconciled to those I have hurt. Someone will have to become my voice and stand in for me.  

As for today, I am alive, but since I am a living part of that living Mystical Body that came to be on Good Friday as blood and water flowed from his side, I can apologize on behalf of my brother or sister who has since died and who grieves for the damage his or her sins have caused others. I may be innocent of his sin, but I am deeply connected to him nevertheless. As St. Paul says: “If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy” (1 Cor 12, 26). The sorrow that I feel that this or that person has been hurt by the Church is the sorrow of the Church. I found myself spontaneously apologizing to a woman whose mother tried on a number of occasions to have her baptised–this was in Scotland in the 50s. She was repeatedly refused because she married a Protestant outside the Church. No doubt I was aware of the very real possibility that the story may not be entirely accurate, but it is not unreasonable for me to assume that at least some of this story involved sins of an overly rigid clergy lacking in compassion and mercy. If this is true, then they would, with the rest of us today, shake their heads at themselves and offer her a heartfelt apology; but they are dead, they have no voice. So I became their voice at that moment and offered that apology on their behalf–after all, someday I just may need someone to apologize on my behalf when I am unable to do so.

Did the Residential schools have “cultural genocide” as their principal purpose? That would require a lot more evidence than what we’ve been given by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, however it is not at all difficult to believe that the Church in general–not to mention the entire western world–failed to appreciate the value of Indigenous heritage, their right to hold onto and develop it. After all, just look how many centuries it took the Catholic Church to speak positively about the truths found in the great religions of the world, such as Hinduism and Islam (Cf. Nostra Aetate). By no means has such a development come to completion–there is still a great deal more to unravel in this area. Although the Church has been given the charism of infallibility, which protects the deposit of faith until the final coming of Christ, Jesus clearly says that the Holy Spirit will “lead you to the complete truth” (Jn 16, 13). She possesses the truth completely insofar as She possesses Christ; for she is his Mystical Body, but she does not possess the complete articulation of what that possession implies in all its theological detail. That unfolds gradually as a result of new questions that arise out of ever new circumstances. The Church develops through history like a tiny mustard seed that becomes the largest of garden plants (Mt 13, 31-32). 

And so it is perfectly fitting, from a theological point of view, for Pope Francis to apologize to the Indigenous peoples of Canada, on behalf of those who fell short in running the schools. If there is a tinge of victimhood thinking in the repeated calls for an apology, these calls may not stop with the papacy of Francis. Nevertheless, to apologize for the sins of our forebears is as sound as someone having Mass said for the repose of our own souls, which is the application of Christ’s Good Friday apology for us. 

Ideological Thinking and Catholic Education

https://www.lifeissues.net/writers/mcm/mcm_345catholiceducation.html

Douglas P. McManaman

I don’t watch a lot of television, but for the past few years, the shows that I do enjoy watching are investigative in nature, shows that follow the trajectory of a real-life investigation of a murder or robbery, etc. The most interesting investigations are those that show a gradual accumulation of data and the resulting shift in the plausibility index of potential suspects. For example, the initial set of data might reveal a number of possible suspects; more data then narrows the focus to a most plausible suspect, along with one or two less plausible suspects. However, further data, as a result of new leads, has at times eliminated that suspect who was previously the most plausible candidate only to raise another suspect, formerly less plausible, to the maximally plausible rung on the ladder. Sometimes the most recent piece of new data eliminates all previous suspects and points to an entirely new one. 

These are important cases, because they reveal a critical lesson about knowledge that we as a culture have yet to fully appropriate–although those in the hard sciences seem to have a firm grasp of it, at least when they reason within the context of a scientific inquiry. I’m referring to the precarious nature of human knowledge. A large set of evidential data may point to a person who is entirely innocent. A simple example: a middle-aged man with long brown hair, wearing light-colored blue jeans and a green windbreaker was seen fleeing a horrific scene in which a woman was sexually assaulted and killed. There was no sign of forced entry, and no money or jewelry were missing. Hence, we formulate a highly plausible conditional statement: If x committed the assault and murder, then x will be a middle-aged man with long hair and who owns a light-colored pair of blue jeans and a green windbreaker. However, it does not follow that the long-haired man over yonder walking his dog and who is wearing a green windbreaker jacket and light-colored blue jeans is our killer. It is possible, but the conclusion that he is the killer must be tested–further evidence is needed. The reason for this is that the conclusion (“he is our man”) does not necessarily follow from the data. It is possible that he is the killer, but it is possible that he just happens to be wearing two pieces of clothing that are similar to what the killer was seen wearing. The hypothesis must be tested and tested again against an ever-expanding set of information. Hence, the experimental nature of the sciences, and the investigative nature of inductive reasoning. 

But ideologies do not work that way. Ideological thinking begins in the realm of ideas and stays there. An ideology is a kind of grand hypothesis, a worldview, that is meant to explain a vast array of empirical data, for example, the world we live in with all its inequalities, crimes, injustices, poverty, oppressions, murder rates, suicide and divorce rates, drop-out rates, etc. It then proceeds to formulate a conditional statement, which is essentially a grand idea: “If x is an essentially oppressive, racist and discriminatory system (or nation), then x will give rise to oppression, inequality, racism–not to mention other evils”. And since it is not difficult to find instances of oppression, racism and inequality, the hypothesis is easily corroborated (x is an essentially–not incidentally–oppressive, racist and discriminatory system, or nation).

Corroboration, however, does not prove a hypothesis. The requirement to test a hypothesis remains, because the conclusion does not necessarily follow. The difficulty is that such a hypothesis cannot be tested in a laboratory. At this point we need to look for disconfirmatory evidence, that is, facts in evidence that falsify the conclusion, as an investigator ought to do with respect to the murder case above. For example, the long-haired man over yonder walking his dog, wearing blue jeans and a green windbreaker, has no criminal record, is not middle-aged, is blond, and his green windbreaker is a darker shade of green than the one reported to have been worn by the fleeing suspect, and most importantly, he has an alibi–he was 10 hours away when the murder and assault took place. The same kind of testing must take place with respect to “grand ideas” that seek to make sense out of this world. The problem with such grand hypotheses/ideas is that they are attractive, for they are emotionally satisfying insofar as they simplify a highly complex reality, and they are easy to corroborate (i.e., render us susceptible to confirmation bias). However, if such an idea is wrong, it can be falsified. But falsification requires some research, specifically data that is inconsistent with the grand hypothesis that essentially constitutes the ideology (i.e., America is an essentially racist country; all minorities are oppressed; Israel and everything Israel does is bad; corporations are essentially greedy and immoral, etc.). And so, there is tremendous incentive, especially when we are young, to hang on to such a grand idea and pay no attention to evidence that falsifies it–falsification only complicates matters.

Recently I had a discussion with an atheist friend of mine who has tremendous respect for the scientific method, which of course is thoroughly empirical. What surprised me was my friend’s complete disregard for the importance of history. “No need to look back”, he insists. “The context, problems and solutions back then were completely different from today. The old masters knew nothing about modern times. They are irrelevant. I’m perfectly capable of understanding modern problems, ideas, and solutions without making reference to anyone in the past.” Astoundingly ahistorical for someone who stands by the logic of empiriometric science, which is thoroughly developmental and historical. But one need not be explicitly aware of history in order to be completely under the spell of a current mode of thinking that has its roots in history. It is impossible to escape the influence, positive or negative, of historical trends of thought; it is possible, however, to rise above them. Ignorance of history only condemns us to repeat it, but if we understand where certain ideas come from, it is possible not to get hoodwinked.

The ideological thinking that has gained significant ground today is of course applied postmodernism, or Critical Theory and all its ever-diversifying branches (postcolonial theory, queer theory, critical race theory, critical whiteness theory, critical disability theory, gender ideology, etc.). Postmodernism has its roots in the philosophy of G. W. F Hegel, Friedrich Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger.[1] A basic principle of postmodern thought is that knowledge in any objective sense is impossible, and so it is characterized by four basic themes: 1) the blurring of boundaries, 2) the power of language, 3) relativism (both cultural and moral), and 4) the loss of the individual and the universal.[2]  

For someone like Nietzsche, a father of postmodernism, objective knowledge is impossible. The reason is that the universe is unknowable and unintelligible. Why? Because there are no fixed natures. Both philosophy and science have traditionally been regarded as the study of the natures of things (i.e., human nature, the nature of organic or non-organic substances, the nature of time, space, etc.), but there are no “natures”; nothing is stable in the world outside the mind; there is only “becoming”, pure flux, and thus there is no “being” or “beings” to study or know. In order to know, there must be a stable intelligible structure (an essence) that the mind can wrap its head around and penetrate more and more deeply, but there isn’t, according to Nietzsche. Definitions, which have as their purpose the expression of what something is essentially, are just constructs that delimit what in reality has no boundaries (such as the male/female binary). It is language (the sound) which provides the illusion of stability or permanency, or the illusion of “being” and distinction. Language constitutes being, constructs it, thus giving the appearance that reality is made up of stable entities or things.

Science is thereby reduced to a fiction, nothing more than a highly complex linguistic construct. The mind is not measured by reality, rather, reality is measured by the mind. Moreover, science rests on first principles, such as the principle of identity, which is that “Each being is what it is”, as well as the principle of non-contradiction, which runs “Nothing can both be and not be at the same time and in the same respect” (or its logical formulation: “Nothing can be both true and not true at the same time and in the same respect”). But these principles are mere constructs, according to Nietzsche. Hence, nothing has any objective and intrinsic identity; rather, identities are imposed on reality through language. That is why contradictories can be “true” at one and the same time–for there is no “truth” in any objective sense of the word; the principle of non-contradiction is just another western construct. All we have in reality are various centers of power that are constantly in flux, encroaching upon other centers of power. Thus, language is about power, and if science is nothing more than a product of language, then science is fundamentally about power, not knowledge per se. Morality has no objective grounding, for it too is nothing more than a linguistic system that is fundamentally oppressive, a tool of the majority crafted to oppress the minority (one center of power encroaching upon a smaller center).[3] 

Within this postmodern framework, the logic of science with its basic requirement to test hypotheses is simply a part of this oppressive power system. Hence, to insist on evidence for one’s claims is to reveal a western oppressive colonial bias that assumes the objectivity and universal nature of the rules of logic. Hence, demanding evidence is a perpetuation of oppression. Reasoning cannot therefore be the way to overcome an impasse, because the rules of reasoning are again white European constructs; the only option that remains is power and struggle. 

In the end, all that exists are constructed narratives. There is no “truth” per se, only our narrative and their narrative, each one an expression of a will to power. In the postmodern world, there is always someone or something to demonize and a narrative to deconstruct, because there is always an oppressor and always an oppressed (a majority and minorities). There cannot be peace in such a cynical world, only dialectic and conflict. 

When postmodernism is traced back to its roots, it is obvious how utterly and “radically” irrational it is. Unfortunately, to the postmodernist “irrational” is not a derogatory term, for reality is in itself absurd, and intelligibility is constructed, not discovered. To those who believe in reason, its tenets are unsupportable and entirely self-refuting. Most people, however, don’t take the time to examine ideological trends at that level–they don’t have the time, or the patience, or the interest. This is a problem, because on the surface, postmodernism in its applied form will often appear to dovetail with some very basic religious tenets. But they are not, for that reason, compatible with religion, especially the Judeo-Christian religion. Follow the trajectory of the two projections as they lead away from the joint in the dovetail and we see that the two modes of thinking are irreconcilable and diametrically opposed. Both speak of equity, liberation, justice, and inclusion, and thus condemn inequity, oppression, injustice and exclusion, but to conclude that the two are thereby consistent, much less essentially the same or interchangeable, could not be more mistaken. For Catholics, one must show evidence that a behavior, a system, culture or nation, etc., is unjust or oppressive using rational data and universal moral principles, something that postmodernism rejects outright. 

Catholicism is not an ideology, but a religion, and religion is first and foremost a “relationship”. It is a revealed religion that has its roots in Judaism. Contrary to postmodernism, God, who is Being Itself (I Am Who Am), created all that is visible and invisible, and so the universe is a cosmos, not an unintelligible chaos; science is not a fiction. Material things are beings, and a being is a composite of essence and existence. Material things do change, but for every change, there is always something that remains unchanged, namely matter. The human person is created in the image and likeness of God, that is, in the image of mind and heart. To know is, among other things, to apprehend to some degree the natures of things, their intelligible structure. In this light, reality is intelligible and is the measure of the mind, not vice versa. A person is a per/sona, a “through sound”, that is, a communicator. To communicate is to enter into a kind of communion, a union of minds. Language does not distort the real, but unveils it, albeit limitedly. The only word that constructs being is the divine Word (Logos): “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him, nothing came to be” (Jn 1, 1-3). That Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. He came to liberate, to free us from a kind of oppression, namely the oppression and slavery of sin and death, but he did this through his sacrificial death on the cross and subsequent resurrection. Male and female are indeed binary, for as such they represent the fundamental binary into which reality is divided, namely “Creator and creation”, that is, God who is preeminently Father, and creation who is mother–as well as Yahweh, the Bridegroom of Israel, and Israel his bride, and finally Christ the Bridegroom and the Church who is his Bride. Marriage is a two in one flesh union in which a third, namely a child, is loved into existence as the fruit and living testimony of that one flesh union–a distant image of the Trinity. Not all power is unjust and oppressive; at its best, authority exists for the good of those subject to it, such as children to parents, or the law abiding to law grounded in reason; and so not all rejection of authority amounts to liberation from oppression–rejection of legitimate authority usually ends in oppression.

Catholic education must begin at the roots, not at the surface, that is, not with issues that are on trend, and which happen in some way to dovetail with certain elements of the Catholic faith. It must begin with the mystery of Christ as the permanent and inexhaustible reservoir out of which our understanding of the world, its history, and the nature of man arise. It must ever more deeply penetrate the mysteries of the Incarnation, the Trinity, the Paschal mystery and the supernatural life of divine grace, and from this foundation draw out the moral and spiritual implications of living one’s life as a new creation in the Person of Christ, for example, the requirements to a greater prudence, discernment, honesty, affability, purity, modesty, humility, courage, perseverance, magnanimity, natural piety, devotion to the common good and above all a single minded devotion to the kingdom of God.  

Social justice, oppression, and racism mean entirely different things for the postmodernist than for the Catholic. It is very important that Catholic educators get a firm grasp on this point: for the applied postmodernist, the very norms of Catholicism are oppressive at their roots and must be thoroughly deconstructed. We, on the contrary, would argue that any injustice, including racism, is impossible unless there is a stable and underlying human nature in light of which we apprehend that all men, despite accidental differences, are essentially the same and thus essentially equal. Postmodernism does not have what it takes to cry out in any definitive way against racism, colonial oppression, exploitation, etc., because postmodernism denies universals, such as “humanity”, human nature, universal rights and moral obligations, and it maintains that all knowledge, including moral knowledge, is nothing more than a construct. On what basis then are inequity or exclusion or discrimination to be condemned? For there are no universal moral norms in light of which the postmodernist can assert that any action is absolutely unjust and morally repugnant. 

For postmodernism, reality is essentially conflict, which can never be resolved or come to an end; for in a postmodern mind-frame, change is not a movement from the imperfect to the perfection of full realization and completeness, for that implies existing natures, beings that are composites of essence and existence and which are open to the fulfillment of their own natures. Rather, change is pure and total, without an underlying substrate or stable essence, and so it is always a matter of power, dominance, and loss–at least for one party. Philosophy becomes a matter of deconstructing language and the power structures they conceal, and not a study of the ultimate nature of things. But to insist that power structures and hierarchies are unjust is inconsistent and arbitrary, at least for those who believe in reason; but to insist that postmodernist claims are inconsistent and arbitrary is, in their minds, the perpetuation of colonial oppression. 

When Catholic education is reduced to postmodern activism under the appearance of being inclusive and equitable, students are in the end deprived of the wisdom to distinguish those elements that are ultimately destructive of Catholic education from its essential constituents. Inclusivity and equity are indeed good words; for the very word “Catholic” is from the Greek kataholos, which means “on the whole” or universal: Catholic is inclusive of all nations, which is why Christ sent his disciples out to all nations. Moreover, for centuries equity was understood to be a part of the virtue of justice, which involves the application of principles of justice to contingencies in which the letter of the law falls short. But for the postmodernist, whatever is outside the “norm” is non-inclusive, and so Catholic moral norms in particular must be deconstructed and liquidated. The Catholic understanding of marriage, for instance, as a two in one flesh union and the moral implication that sexual acts outside of marriage are morally deficient are seen as “heteronormative” and thus oppressive, giving rise to homophobia and “straight” privilege.

Catholic educators must be more shrewd and wary of ideological trends that eventually die out, only to be replaced by newer but nonetheless temporary fads. If we teach the mysteries of the faith in which our students have been baptized, with genuine evangelical zeal and understanding, relate to those students with a living faith, actually pray with them and expose them to the rich spiritual and theological heritage that is ours in the Church, it is not a stretch to suggest that social justice will take care of itself; a glance back at those saints who are the true face of the Church strongly suggests as much: i.e., St. John Bosco, Venerable Nelson Baker, Blessed Michael McGivney, St. Vincent de Paul, St. Jean Baptiste de LaSalle, St. Catherine Drexel, St. Mother Teresa, the monks of those monasteries that were the first hospitals, etc. If students are going to receive the specifically Catholic education to which their baptism gives them a right, then parents, teachers, administrators and trustees must be grounded in the mystery of Christ as revealed in Scripture and expounded ever more deeply throughout the history of the Church, the mystery from which springs the entire moral and spiritual heritage of the Church. 

Notes

  1. F. F. Centore. Being and Becoming: A Critique of Post-Modernism. Greenwood Press: Westport, Connecticut, 1991, pp. 21-69.
  2. For an excellent treatment of postmodernism in its applied form, see Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay, Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity―and Why This Harms Everybody. Pitchstone Publishing: Durham, North Carolina, 2020. 
  3. See F. W. Nietzsche. The Will to Power. Trans. W. Kaufmann and R. J. Hollingdale. New York: Vintage, 1968.

A Few Thoughts on the Current Residential School Narrative

D. McManaman 

Every time I read something about residential schools, my thoughts always return to two things. The first has to do with the Ontario School System. Because we are members of the OCT (Ontario College of Teachers), we receive 4 issues of Professionally Speaking every year. I don’t know one teacher who reads anything other than its infamous blue pages found at the back of the magazine and which highlight the most recent hearings and disciplinary action involving teachers of various boards around the province. It does not make for pleasant reading. It is hard to believe that there are such people in the teaching profession today, teachers who are willing to have a sexual relationship with their students, who would text students nude photographs of themselves, groom them, kiss them, touch them, abuse them, swear at them, insult them, assault them, etc. Now let’s try a thought experiment: take all the issues published since 1997 and spend a full day reading the blue pages straight through. Or, imagine doing that 25 years from now with about 200 issues in front of you. Without any doubt, if one is not careful–and most people are not careful–, one can easily walk away with the impression that the Ontario School system is horribly deficient, abusive, and broken. The problem with such an impression is that it arises out of a very large but unrepresentative sample, namely the blue pages. Although the facts are indisputable, the impression is simply not true to the facts; for the vast majority of our students would have gone through their 12 years in school without ever encountering such teachers or hearing about them. I’ve spent 32 years in Ontario schools and have only come across one colleague who was written up in those pages. 

The second idea has to do with the clerical sex abuse scandals. One of my favourite lines from the 2015 film Spotlight, a film about the Boston Globe’s uncovering of the massive clerical sex abuse scandal and cover up within the Archdiocese of Boston, is from a discussion that takes place in a Cafe between a reporter and a lawyer who represents some of the abuse victims. The lawyer says to the reporter: “If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse a child”. And this is one point that struck me as I was making my way through Sacrilege, a 500 page tome that examines the clergy sex abuse crisis, by Leon Podles. It was astounding to realize just how many parents refused to believe their child and who would in some cases severely punish the child for daring to suggest “father” could do anything like that; or, those parents who did believe their child, but would be shunned by other parents of the parish or neighborhood for daring to suggest that “father” could do such a thing. And this extended beyond parents to district court judges, prosecutors, newspaper editors (who refused to publish), police chiefs and police officers (who refused to investigate), etc., let alone certain bishops. The participation in the cover ups was mind-bogglingly widespread. There is no doubt that “villages” destroyed the lives of so many children. 

The Prime Minister has called on the Catholic Church to step up and take responsibility for the residential schools. Aside from the issue of what conditions must be in place for justified ascription of collective responsibility, it can easily be pointed out that if the Church must apologize, then Canada as a whole must apologize, for it happened in this country. In an article entitled “Myth versus Evidence: Your Choice” (2018), Mark DeWolf writes: 

A close examination of recorded fact, along with a bias-free examination of those studies that have attempted to measure the long-term effects of the residential experience on former students, turns up telling evidence that the IRS system is far from the greatest villain in this story. Far more significant factors have created — and perpetuate — the many problems faced by First Nations people today, and those include the underfunding of native education generally, the government’s repeated failure to observe treaty obligations, and a variety of other misguided federal policies. These last include the failure to consult meaningfully with native groups regarding issues that affect them significantly, the 67-year ban on such important gatherings as the Sun Dance and the potlatch, and the rush to place native children in provincial schools in the 1950s. And the finger-pointing should not just be directed at Ottawa. The rapid spread of non-Indigenous culture through technology has likely done more to erode First Nations culture and community life than any efforts by Christian missionaries.

Once again, it takes a village, or in this case, an entire nation. This brings me to the question of sound representation. I say this because a number of friends of mine who have had much greater interaction with First Nations people than I have, for example on the Manitoulin and in the Brantford area of Ontario, have been told by a number of them that they loved their residential schools and couldn’t wait to get back to them after the holidays. They were fed, looked after, and saw none of the abuse that others had seen. In an article by William Gairdner entitled “Balancing the Biased “Genocide” Story About Residential Schools” (2018) are included a number of testimonies that have to make us wonder about the representative nature of the current narrative regarding the residential schools. For example: 

I worked with Chipewyan people as an employee of the Catholic Church from 1991 to 2001 …. I heard many positive comments by native people who had attended residential school in Fort Resolution…. One woman, a Chief of her community for some years, said, ‘I couldn’t wait to go back to residential school.  You were clean and you had good food.’ I knew another family, eight children. The Dad was a trapper who spent the winter on the barren lands. His wife contracted TB and was placed in the isolation hospital in Ft. Res. The children were taken by the Dad each year to the school to keep them safe. It was very hard for the youngest who was only 4 yrs at the time – traumatic even to be separated from parents and older sibs. However, the child survived where otherwise he may not have. The schools must be viewed in the context of the social and economic circumstances at the time.

Gairdner also writes:  

Hodgson-McCauley, the first female chief of one of the 23 bands in the Northwest Territories. She also wrote a popular weekly column for Northern News Service right up until one week before she died of cancer at the age of 95 on March 12, 2018. Hodgson-McCauley, the recipient of a 2017 Indspire Award for her achievements and contributions in politics, reported that many former students were coming forward “with their good and positive side of their residential school experiences.” Elders had phoned her to express concern that only the negative side of the residential schools was being publicized. “They are planning to start a committee of elders to make public the positive side of the residential school.  They all agree that Canadians must be made aware of the positive stories,” she wrote. Surely one of the most impressive positive stories is by the famous Tomson Highway, which can be found here: https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2015/12/15/tomson-highway-residential-schools_n_8787638.html

He states: “There are many very successful people today that went to those schools and have brilliant careers and are very functional people, very happy people like myself.

One begins to suspect that Rubenstein and Clifton are right. In an article from the National Post entitled “Truth and Reconciliation report tells a ‘skewed and partial story’ of residential schools” (2015), they write: 

The mandate of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was to “reveal to Canadians the complex truth about the history and the ongoing legacy of the church-run residential schools, in a manner that fully documents the individual and collective harms perpetuated against Aboriginal peoples.” By indigenous cultural standards of evidence gathering and truth telling, perhaps it did. By contemporary Western juridical and objective social science standards, however, the report is badly flawed, notably in its indifference to robust evidence gathering, comparative or contextual data, and cause-effect relationships. The result is that it tells a skewed and partial story of what actually occurred at the residential schools and how this affected its students. Among the report’s many shortcomings are: implying without evidence that most of the children who attended the schools were grievously damaged by the experience; asserting as self-evident that the legacy of the residential schools consists of a host of negative post-traumatic consequences transmitted like some genetic disorder from one generation to the next; conflating so-called “Survivors” (always capitalized and always applied to every former student) with the 70 per cent of aboriginals who never attended these schools, thereby exaggerating the cumulative harm they caused; ignoring the residential school studies done by generations of competent and compassionate anthropologists; arguing that “cultural genocide” was fostered by these schools while claiming that aboriginal cultures are alive and well; refusing to cast a wide net to capture the school experience of a random sample of attendees, despite a $60 million budget, which would have allowed the commission to do so; accepting at face value the stories of a self-selected group of 6,000 former students — who appeared before the commission without cross-examination, corroboration or substantiation — as representing the overall school experience.

Apologies are always good, but they are more authentic when they are accompanied by a deeper reflection on the roots of our sins. For Catholics, forgiveness is both vertical and horizontal, like a cross. The reason is that sins are both vertical and horizontal–sins against God are not private, for they affect everyone, by virtue of our social nature and the deep solidarity that it establishes between us. Apologies, in order to be thoroughly meaningful, must be genuine acts of repentance, which involve a change of heart, metanoia, that is, a turning away from sin and selfishness towards the worship of God, which should in turn involve an honest reflection on what it is we are doing today that will call for an apology 100 or so years from now, such as our national indifference to the lives of the 105,000 unborn who are aborted every year in Canada–that’s two full SkyDomes snuffed out each year. That’s going to be a lot of shoes to lay out. 

The Simplicity and Complexities of Love

A Reflection on Pastoral Sensitivity and the Importance of Teaching

(to be published in Lifeissues.net)

Douglas P. McManaman

Those who are well versed in the sciences readily understand that although we are surrounded by ordinary and simple things, such as flowers, a cool breeze, oak leaves, water, bread to eat, etc., on another level these ordinary things are anything but simple. The biomolecular complexities of cell multiplication, photosynthesis, and metabolism took centuries to understand–and much of it is still not fully understood. These inexhaustible complexities are not incompatible with the simplicity and beauty of those very things of which they are constituent parts; rather, they are the conditions without which these simple and beautiful things could not exist–without photosynthesis and the complex biochemistry of nutrition, a simple flower could not exist. 

Love is very much like that. On one level, it is simple and beautiful; on another level, it is highly complex. Pope Gregory the Great suggests as much in his Moral Reflections on Job:  

How must we interpret this law of God? How, if not by love? The love that stamps the precepts of right-living on the mind and bids us put them into practice. Listen to Truth speaking of this law: This is my commandment, that you love one another. Listen to Paul: The whole law, he declares, is summed up in love; and again: Help one another in your troubles, and you will fulfill the law of Christ. The law of Christ—does anything other than love more fittingly describe it? Truly we are keeping this law when, out of love, we go to the help of a brother in trouble.

The simplicity is beautiful; for one would be hard pressed to find anyone who would take issue with his words. However, people have been disagreeing about moral issues and questions from the very beginning. The reason is that on a deeper level love becomes much more complex. Pope Gregory understood this. He continues: 

But we are told that this law is manifold. Why? Because love’s lively concern for others is reflected in all the virtues. It begins with two commands, but it soon embraces many more (emphasis mine). Paul gives a good summary of its various aspects. Love is patient, he says, and kind; it is never jealous or conceited; its conduct is blameless; it is not ambitious, not selfish, not quick to take offense; it harbors no evil thoughts, does not gloat over other people’s sins, but is gladdened by an upright life.

The more general the level of discourse, the easier it is to achieve certainty, and with certainty comes universal agreement. But as we descend to a more concrete level of discourse, matters become muddier and so agreement is much harder to achieve. Hence, the reason mathematical discourse enjoys universal agreement, whereas scientific matters, such as the cause of cancer or precisely how we go from sound waves in the environment to the perception of sound, are much less certain and result in best estimates that are tentative. 

The science of ethics exhibits the same pattern. Universal moral principles are rather simple: i.e., good is to be done, evil is to be avoided; one ought not to harm others; do not do to another what you yourself would not want done to you; one ought not to act individualistically, etc. But the science of ethics becomes far more complicated as we descend towards the concrete level of human action in the here and now, which demands more specific moral principles to properly address the richer and more variegated situations that life brings us. Few would disagree with the aforementioned principles, for they are nothing more than the most general outlines of what love implies (willing another’s good). But try suggesting that aborting a fetus, or euthanizing an elderly person, or having sex with a person you are not married to, artificial insemination, etc., are immoral acts and you will have an argument on your hands, perhaps a vicious one. The specific demands of love, their detailed implications in the here and now, are just far more difficult to uncover, and the reason is that human nature as well as human existence in the concrete are rather complicated. 

Moral permissiveness fails to appreciate the complexities of moral science, and yet most people understand that permissiveness is inconsistent with parental love. The rules of good parents are rooted in the love they have for their children, which is why no parent who genuinely loves their child will permit them to eat whatever they want, whenever they want, or stay out all hours of the night, come home when they want, etc. Such permissiveness is reckless; for love wills what is genuinely good for the other, which does not always coincide with what the child wants. But when it comes to the Church’s perennial moral teaching, especially in matters of sexuality, marriage, and the life issues (i.e., contraception, abortion, euthanasia, cohabitation, etc.), many people have a difficult time seeing that permissiveness does not necessarily equate to love, but is very often just as reckless. 

Another tension that poses difficulties for both pastors and teachers is that which arises between a pastoral approach to ministering to an individual student or member of the Church on the one hand, and the requirement to teach the class (or the congregation) as a whole. The pastoral approach to ministering to a person requires a great deal of experience as well as a firm grasp of moral and spiritual principles, from the most universal to the intermediate and to the most specific. It requires a mental attunement to contingencies, an understanding of human beings that only comes with experience, as well as circumspection, foresight, memory, docility, and a reasonably moderate degree of empathy. Moral philosophy does not carry such a burden; hence, it is much neater and somewhat easier. However, empathy can be inordinate, and inordinate empathy, like disordered passion, blinds the mind. It is hard to detect, because it feels like a superabundance of charity, mercy, and understanding. I can become so empathetic and sensitive to how my words might affect individual students or members of a congregation that I begin to teach or preach at a level that is so general that my message becomes obvious, completely innocuous, and unchallenging, leaving the faithful/students as a whole entirely ignorant of the basic demands of the moral law, both natural and divine. 

This is a very difficult apparatus to balance, to be sure, and persistent opposition can wear a person down (such as a pastor or teacher), especially if he does not have the support of the local ordinary or the administration. But the result of relinquishing one’s prophetic office at that level is inevitably a generation who are surprised to discover, for example, that in vitro fertilization, or artificial insemination, or leaving one’s spouse to live with another, or having sex with oneself, or pornography, etc., are morally wrong. Nature abhors a vacuum, and so this lacuna is eventually filled by popular culture. If the Church is unwilling to teach the difficult truths of personal morality, the world will oblige, and the result, among other things, is young engaged couples whose understanding of the nature of their own marriage is as nebulous as that of current popular culture. What is advantageous about a bold and challenging approach, more akin to St. Paul (“pray that speech may be given to me to open my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel”), is that it very often spawns personal encounters, which may begin acrimoniously, but will often become doorways that lead the individual to a more profound and meaningful life of faith. 

The greatest evil, according to ancient Greek wisdom, is the corruption of youth; for it was a capital offense–of which Socrates was falsely accused. The harshest thing Jesus ever said in the New Testament was that anyone who is a source of scandal to children (“causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin”), it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea: “Woe to the world because of things that cause sin! Such things must come, but woe to the one through whom they come!” (Mt 18, 6-7). Those lines are worth thinking about. There is no doubt that hanging back, keeping silent, even on the grounds of “pastoral sensitivity”, is conduct that, in Scripture, merits condemnation; for the Lord said to Ezekiel: “If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die’—and you do not warn them or speak out to dissuade the wicked from their evil conduct in order to save their lives—then they shall die for their sin, but I will hold you responsible for their blood. If, however, you warn the wicked and they still do not turn from their wickedness and evil conduct, they shall die for their sin, but you shall save your life” (Ezek 3, 18-19).

The more we love something, the more pain we experience at the sight of its neglect, abuse or destruction–I remember how incensed I felt when I learned that my mother had slipped on an icy sidewalk in downtown Toronto; all she saw as she looked up were the legs of pedestrians stepping over her–no one stopped to help. The second Beatitude is “Blessed are those who mourn; they shall be comforted”. We mourn because of the proliferation of sin throughout the world and its corrupting influence on the young; for the more we love God and all who belong to God, the more incensed we become at sin and the world’s indifference. The increased light of faith allows one to discern what really is sin and what isn’t, but more importantly, with an increased consciousness of sin comes a greater awareness of the profound mercy of God; for without an acute sense of sin, we lack a meaningful sense of that mercy. The most obvious reason for general irreligiousness is a lack of a sense or consciousness of sin, which in turn is the reason for a lack of awareness of the boundless mercy of God which moves a soul to gratitude and to love God in return. Moreover, God is drawn to poverty. F. X. Durrwell writes: “Not only the mercy, but the power of God is drawn to the weakness of sinful man, for when it is dealing with weakness, God’s power is mercy.” From this angle, a light and frivolous kerygma that consistently refuses to broach the subject of sin and issues of personal morality is really a kind of spiritual contraception that deliberately keeps God at bay, preventing His approach towards souls who have yet to realize their poverty of spirit–the irony is that such an approach is believed to be more fruitful. 

The complex science of morality is nothing other than the drawing out of the specific implications of the demands of love. To love another is to will his or her good. Intelligible human goods (i.e., human life, truth, leisure, sociability, marriage, religion and integrity) are incalculably superior to sensible goods (pleasure, complacency, relaxation, feeling good, enjoyment, etc.), and moral maturity is achieved when a person is able to sacrifice the latter for the former. Not everyone wants to grow up, but a significant number certainly do, and the Church has the conditions to make that possible, and one important condition for those who are open consists in a humble and charitable presentation of the moral heritage that belongs to us in the Church. Inordinate sensitivity only keeps people in the dark.

Introduction to Plausible Reasoning

I find it very disconcerting (notice I did not say “concerning”) that so many people lack a sense of the complexity of reality and the difficulty of achieving knowledge. Our conclusions are tentative; they depend on the overall plausibility of our data, our perceptions are precarious and limited by the limits of our data set, and new information can and often does change the overall plausibility of our conclusions. We have to be very careful of our first impressions. The Innocence Project is a tremendous blessing. People need to look into the reasoning errors that result in false convictions that cause so much suffering. But that takes work. Unfortunately most people prefer narratives. That’s why I wrote this book. It tries to make difficult thought easy, but “easy” is relative.

Click here