Photo by Robert Phelps
16 December 2019
The Promptings Of Love
The Fundamentals Of Human Nature
Let’s spend a few minutes looking at love. Yes, “love” – that universal urge which so confounds and enthralls and disappoints and elates us human beings over and over again.
To some dismissive folks who weary of finding a lasting relationship, the word “love” may now sound like a disappointing cliché. To say that giving and receiving love is the innate rationale -- the means and the end -- of every person’s life may sound simplistic or trite. And to elaborate on love’s essential partners, caring and selflessness, may seem a fool’s task.
Maybe so. It is, nonetheless, true that love’s enduring power sooner or later becomes evident to us all … even to those of us who spend years in skeptical denial or who find self-righteousness so warm and cuddly.
Domestic conflict and foreign wars and perpetual friction are the perennial stuff of media coverage. But these sad chronicles of human failings do not negate the fact that we human beings are really born for union with others, for communication with others, for kindness received and kindness given, for human closeness and intimacy, for the freedom to love and care for our families and our neighbors – even at serious cost to ourselves.
These innate yearnings are the unshakable basics of human nature. Our hearts and souls and bodies and minds require love for our physical well-being, our psychological balance, our medical and moral stability. In short, to love and to be loved is why we are given life upon this earth.
Despite the wretched violence in word and behavior which suffuses our culture, we are not born to demean or belittle one another, not born to ignore or ridicule or mistreat others, not born to degrade others nor be degraded by our own errant attitudes and selfish actions.
Evil in its myriad forms - large and small - often exudes a confounding magnetism. For some people, it is perversely gratifying to pull a power-trip on a hapless waiter or to dismiss or ignore the countless folks who attend to our needs every day. Such discourtesies may not seem major offenses, but the underlying rationale and intention are often not far from self-adulation which habitually discounts the dignity and worth of others. Once we are in that mental groove of off-kilter, morally twisted self-love, anything can happen.
Still, much of our culture celebrates reckless behavior and mindless inhumanity. Sadly, our society’s embrace of violence for its own sake obscures our deepest human capacities and our noblest yearnings for love given and love received.
The Transcendent Command
Certainly, the word “love” is a loaded word which barely hints at love’s complex and layered realities. Some people attach to it the most simplistic impulses and distorted emotions. But wiser souls realize that “love” in its fullness is the most profound and endearing mystery in all of life – and beyond.
The heart’s unmistakable command to love and care for others originates not with us. Our ability to love and our desire to be loved are not of human origin. Love emanates from a Transcendent Creator, a source Who is not merely spiritual but Divine. Thus, true love is a Divine call to a higher level of knowledge, choice and action, awareness and life itself – and beyond.
The desire to love and to be loved is infused into our bones. It is a priority given as a gift to our created human nature. This is true even for those who deliberately choose evil and promote violence. Even they, as St. Augustine says, are inevitably drawn to love and care and goodness … despite their own distorted version and perverted vision of what goodness means, what care involves, what love – true love -- demands.
The Universality Of Caring
How extensive and deep are these Divine gifts of love and caring?
A striking, just-published global research project reports that most people around the world cite caring for family members as their top priority.
Forty-seven researchers from more than 30 institutions worldwide participated in the study, which was supported by the National Science Foundation. An international team of researchers surveyed 7,000 people from 27 countries about what matters most to them. The study included people from countries ranging from Australia and Bulgaria to Thailand and Uganda, and covered all continents except Antarctica.
The respondents consistently rated family care and long-term relationships as the most important motivations in their lives.
The scientists noted that people’s pursuit of “romantic and sexual partners” was the least important factor in the lives of the respondents. People who rated family care and long-term relationships as the most important features of their lives also reported the highest sense of well-being.
Dr. Douglas Kenrick, the senior author of this study, commented: “People might think they will be happy with numerous sexual partners, but really they are happiest taking care of the people they already have.”
Caring for and supporting family members ranked as the strongest motivations even among young adults and singles. Kenrick added, “Everybody cares about their family and loved ones the most.”
These findings reveal much about the values to be found in the deeper reaches of our nature and the riches which await us within.
Misuse Of Words
But how do we put our loving traits into action on a daily basis?
All too often these days, the words we once took for granted – such as the word “love” – are now used as tools for accusatory estrangement, for distancing ourselves from one another, for disconnecting from others.
All too often, language is no longer a source of clarity or reverent connection between people. Much public rhetoric is intentionally belittling, recklessly impugning motives which demeans the soul. For example:
- In a bizarre manner, some communication is now “weaponized,” i.e., used to destroy the reputation and dignity of others;
- Our culture increasingly employs a hostile vocabulary of obfuscating contradictions;
- We speak of “inclusion” and “white privilege” by excluding - with harsh condemnation - those who disagree with politically correct dicta;
- We condemn those who make moral judgments as “haters” and punish them for religious fidelity (e.g., the Little Sisters of the Poor);
- We go so far as to banish the realities of “husband” and “wife” from marriage licenses;
- In a demonstration of sheer nonsense, we use “they” to mean “I;”
- We nod with official approbation at the absurdity of males who claim to be females and, thus, demolish centuries of common sense;
- We twist the meaning of “civil rights” and frivolously expunge Nature’s fundamental biological and genetic distinctions between “man” and “woman;”
- We define children in the womb as “parasites,” and legislate the right of physicians to kill patients without permission at any age;
- We devise more than 50 pseudo-sexual designer labels meant to legitimize any daft, odious extreme.
The Price We Pay
As a result of our deliberate mis-use of language and betrayal of meaning, our culture gravely distorts scientific facts of biology and genetics. We succumb to today’s tragic ideology that nothing remains sacred. Traditional standards, cultural sensibilities, religious beliefs, scientific evidence and, worst of all, moral relevance become arbitrary. Reality is determined solely by the cavalier whims and fraudulent “rights” of individuals who “feel” called to stake any sort of claim on our chaotic cultural landscape.
When we deprive words of their meaning, reality itself – including standards of right and wrong – means nothing. The mind and soul are deprived of their roots. With loss of meaning comes loss of dignity and mutual respect, as we now witness. We become a nation in self-initiated decline, and the loss of objective standards has profound effects.
This dismissal of reality inevitably produces chaos, conflict and a separation from our Transcendent Creator. Respect for our mutual human vulnerability is diminished. Our moral clarity is increasingly obscured and, in time, obliterated. New standards of unreasoned “reality” ascend and nothing is any longer sacred to us – including ourselves. The struggle for power at any price is all that remains……………….
In this wasteland of distorted individualism, we precipitate our own cultural and moral demise. We risk – often intentionally – the elimination of love’s Divine impulses which are given to our nature and our nation, including the call to sacrifice lovingly for others. We extinguish our noblest instincts of altruism and empathy, as we pursue an uncivil, utterly unachievable goal, namely, the satisfactory gratification of our own isolated righteousness.
The Indispensable Need For Clarity
So, let us be clear about what “love” really means.
When I speak of “love,” I speak not of false forms of “pseudo-love” such as exploitive self-adulation, nor the narcissistic posturing of pretenders. I do not refer to the anonymous pandering of the “hook-up” culture, nor the fleeting passions of “romantic love” which rise and fall with the seasons.
These are shallow reflections of the real thing, i.e., the Divinely-given, generous, even sacrificial, inner force which is at the very core of true love and caring and goodness for which we are created.
The love of which I speak is the love which is rightly called “the love of wishing others well and seeking their well-being … then doing what this may require.”
This love is not merely an act of giving to others with a cavalier, impersonal attitude, as if donating to some distant charity. No, it is an attitude, an inner spirit of giving of one’s self even for the sake of strangers a world away. It is the “amor benevolentiae,” the unselfish love of giving to-and-for others with a generous soul and a willing heart … even at cost to oneself.
This standard of selfless, generous benevolent love is not an arbitrary norm. It is not subject to the whims of mood, the vagaries of emotion or the bedevilment of sexual whimsy. And its simplest, most engaging beginning is the commonplace but crucial act of listening -- truly listening (without side glances at a cell phone) -- to another person, giving that person your courteous attention and, thereby, giving of yourself to that person … and choosing to do so as an act of love.
As Philosopher Simone Weil put it years ago, “…attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.”
The Necessity Of A Transcendent Standard
The ideal of love and loving is a Transcendent gift from God to humanity. It is a Divine gift, revealed in Judeo-Christian traditions, encoded in the various virtues, abetted by common sense and uncommon wisdom. It is not the self-absorbed grasping of “eros,” but the love of humanity which “agape” -- true selflessness for the benefit of others -- bestows.
Tradition, human insight, Divine wisdom and the testimony of history all tell us that love’s giving spirit is learned and achieved only slowly, over time, usually through suffering and, often, with great sacrifice which involves personal challenge and the humility to change.
Becoming a loving person means, first of all, facing our ego’s defenses, challenging our inner fears, grudges and resentments, coming to grips with our insecurities, realizing that we have an impact on those we claim to love.
It means courageously examining whether our words and actions are effective or contradictory. It means admitting that love always – always – demands that we change our ways to serve the very best human and Divine ideals … for the benefit of the other – and for our own betterment, because acting with courtesy and civility is good for us !!
Becoming a loving person means we can be trusted to do what is best for others, and are willing to change our attitudes and behavior as each relationship demands – but always in accord with Divine Wisdom at the core of Creation; Divine Wisdom which we can indeed learn and express in our relationships.
It means we finally realize that loving adequately involves communicating so the other can see and hear and, hopefully, believe us – then listening, over and over again, changing as we need to change … and doing this with courage and fidelity and perseverance, because love always involves truth.
It means we become aware that love is a practical virtue, an everyday attitude. It is not an esoteric, gossamer notion, hidden in some arcane books in remote mountains, guarded by gonging monks in saffron robes.
Love’s presence is as normal to daily life as breathing and eating. It is always defined by our relationships with God and people. Love always has an impact in real-life settings -- starting with the way we love ourselves in proper balance and care, not narcissistically but realistically, with guidance and grace and the humbling realization that (as Solzhenitsyn pointed out) the thin line between good and evil runs through every human heart – and love makes the difference.
What Love Accomplishes For Us
So, our striving to love – to love truly -- always starts with humbly facing our hidden vulnerabilities and ego-defenses which prevent us from giving of ourselves and changing what we should. We may say we “love” someone but it is our behavior -- based our obedience to God-given ideals -- not simply our words, which reveal our authenticity.
It is what we do, not merely what we say, that in the long run, defines our ability and our willingness to love. Our behavior reveals the depth and sincerity of our choice to love and to be loved … and to pay the price.
Love is the all-embracing, Divinely-given force of soul which arms us for courageous self-sacrifice, yet dis-arms us for humility and trust. Even the simplest act, lovingly performed, bestows credibility and dignity to the actor, infuses the action with incalculable value and touches the heart of the receiver – and indeed can have beneficial medical outcomes, sometimes with stunning results.
For example: The simple act of holding the hand of one’s beloved can reduce that loved one’s pain. The grasp of a loved one’s hand actually synchronizes the partners’ brains, mitigating the feeling of pain in the sufferer. Holding the hand of a stranger doesn’t do it.
Research studies reveal extraordinary reactions which the sense of touch accomplishes between loving persons. In fact, the simple touch of hands between a loving couple creates a connection between the brains of both lovers and, thus, creates a link which measurably reduces the physical pain of the suffering beloved.
A connection between the two brains is actually created. They then work together as one unit. And when the two brains are synchronized, the sense of connectedness between them actually reduces the pain.
Love’s Insistent Nudge
Finally, a personal reflection:
One of the countless reasons why I came to deeply respect my Beloved Spouse in the blessed decades of our marriage was her insistence that I say what I mean and mean what I say.
Sometimes we would chuckle at the casual force of her directive, but sometimes we would find that its true meaning ushered us into a land in which subterfuge and denial, avoidance and hyperbole were pitfalls which our growing love would never abide nor our mutual commitment allow.
The pain of letting-go of our defenses and of being truthful with one another also brought to us a deepening of our love in ways which a lifetime cannot fully explain. We could only embrace the truth with gratitude and with an unshakable regard for the cleansing mystery which rests in the hearts of all who seek to love selflessly – and then could we be still… and know.
The hard, costly truths, the touching revelations and mutual vulnerabilities which unfolded between us were the truest blessings of my lifetime. We learned that loving and being loved are ceaseless, for even death does not exhaust love for the Beloved … which is why an Eternity of Love awaits.
It is the work of a lifetime to become a person of one’s word; to be trustworthy enough to be taken at one’s word; to keep one’s word with predictability and fidelity and loving zeal; to prove by one’s behavior that truly loving someone is always a Divinely-guided two-way street; that “love” has salvific outcomes in daily living; that becoming a faithful, loving person is a costly -- but deeply sacred -- endeavor.
And therein rests love’s eternal merit, its final reality and its deepest meaning -- on the human level and the Divine level … and ever beyond.
True love always costs us – and its price is priceless !!
24 November 2019
Sentio, Ergo Sum:
Maturity’s Elusive Path
When I was a youngster many years ago, I attended a parish school conducted by the Good Nuns. The Nuns were no-nonsense teachers, strict, dedicated, emphatic about discipline … and to proper purpose: the original meaning of discipline is “learning,” not punishment.
The Nuns stressed the fact that life is, above all else, a moral enterprise. We are born accountable and responsible to God and to one another. Nothing changes that fact, not driving ambition nor secular achievement nor the fractious rhetoric of humanism gone astray.
We are born with intellect and free will. We have a definite goal in this world: to learn to think clearly, then to choose with knowledge and integrity. Thus do we fulfill our highest potential as mature citizens and as children of God, ever subject to His standards.
1. So, first of all, we use our gift of Reason to comprehend our obligations and responsibilities to God, to ourselves and to our neighbors. Only then can we claim our rights.
The belief that our responsibilities come before our rights seems odd in our culture which has legitimized every “human right” imaginable, including profoundly destructive ones. Have we not reached the cultural crisis point at which we must finally emphasize “human responsibilities”?
2. Next, we should use the power of our will to make informed choices and prudential judgments for ourselves and for our nation (in those days, patriotism and respect for one’s neighbor were virtues universally honored).
The Good Nuns had a simple, yet penetrating, mantra which rings in my memory to this moment: “Think, Child! Think!!”
The Dark Side
Once, in fourth grade, I did not study for an upcoming exam. I fretted all night. Finally, when my parents arose, I feigned that feckless-kid-excuse of “sickness.” I suddenly contracted a cluster of symptoms: sore stomach, sniffles, a splitting headache -- all in hopes my parents would be moved to sympathy and confine me to bed, poor dear (nothing like an over-protective parent to justify escapism).
Of course, my effort was (as I knew it would be) useless. My father, the least gullible of men, was noted for his candor. Accordingly, he started to pull me out of bed by my ankles. But my mother, no less firm but a tad more nuanced, merely stood over me, arms akimbo, murmuring her disgust at my artifice: “Tsk…..tsk…”
The weight of her silent disapproval ignited my youthful guilt and exposed me to my fallacious pretense. Up I got … to face my self-imposed academic catastrophe, the anticipation of which was worse -- far worse -- than the actual event itself.
What’s The Point?
My childish attempt to deceive (my parents, my teachers, my self) was obviously motivated by a cluster of negative feelings to which I gave enormous power: fear of failure, anxiety about being unprepared, irresponsibility, lack of accountability, apprehension about adult rejection, shame at disappointing my parents, the wrath of the Good Nuns … On and on: fear, guilt, shame, anger …
So … here’s the point:
The power of our feelings -- both positive and negative feelings -- creates inescapable energy within us, a dynamic, internal energy seeking expression in our words and behavior.
That internal energy kicks in before we think about it, before we are aware … It is powerful -- and it expresses itself in our behavior, our choices, our attitudes, our values, how we act, what we say. It moves us to act nobly or behave foolishly.
Carried to extremes, even for good cause, excessive feelings of any kind always cloud our reason and compromise our clarity. For example:
- Positive feelings, such as uplifting gratitude or generous impulse, if taken to extremes, can devolve into maudlin sentimentality or saccharine attachment or clinging dependence.
- Negative feelings of antagonistic hostility or narcissistic self-adulation or perceived insult can lead to needless conflict and disdain for others.
Our maturity as human beings is determined by the degree to which we exert insight and self-restraint over the excesses which wayward feelings can ignite.
Origin Of Feelings
By their nature, feelings (positive and negative) are, first of all, instinctive and spontaneous, often primitive, biochemical and psychological reactions to how we perceive and interpret experience. Feelings precede thought and analysis, even before we ask ourselves, “Are my feelings in sync with reality?”
As a rule, our negative feelings emerge from unexamined perceptions of threat to what we value. We “see” a threat, and we’re instantly roused either 1) to defend ourselves, our world-view, our ego, or 2) to flee, to find a “safe place” in which to assuage our anxieties. This happens even before we ask ourselves, “Is my reaction appropriate to the trigger event? Am I over-reacting? Do I have other choices?”
Similarly, our positive feelings are sparked by our perception of compatibility and agreement, satisfaction, praise and even power. But the mere fact that we experience positive feelings is no assurance that they’re aligned with objective reality or morality, that they’re really appropriate to the situation.
That’s why feelings must be moderated by knowledge of standards beyond ourselves and why we need self-control.
That’s why regard for religious tradition, the rule of law, civility and courtesy, decency and moral norms of behavior are crucial for individual maturity and cultural cohesion. Otherwise we are controlled by the tyranny of our feelings in our private lives and in our culture.
And that’s why the Good Nuns insisted: “Think, Child. Think!!”
The Unexamined Life
Some people make the mistake of accepting unexamined feelings as the standard for their behavior. They create for themselves a state of irrational enslavement and perpetual immaturity. They live the “unexamined life” about which Socrates speaks. They never seem to “get it.”
The truth is that we cannot divorce ourselves from facts of science and history, traditional norms of morality such as the Ten Commandments, the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, the virtues, the tested wisdom of our elders -- and candid, open discourse about the impact of our behavior on others.
When we disconnect from these sources, we beget travail and, at times, cultural insanity. We isolate ourselves from truths about ourselves which we must face if we are ever to know ourselves and not live in the shadow of denial as a lifestyle.
Indeed, we need only look around us to witness our culture’s dismissal of civic virtue, moral tradition and scientific evidence which facilitate medical, moral and cultural disaster.
What Is Missing ?
How do we achieve balance in this mixture? What’s missing?
What is missing, of course, is our intelligent evaluation of the threats we think we see. How real are they? What other choices do we have? How do our mis-perceptions lead us to speak and behave in ways harmful to ourselves and others? What are we doing to evade truth and delude ourselves?
What is missing, of course, is the intervention of Reason and judgment which bring clarity to our minds. Reason means rational thinking based on proven social and moral standards by which we evaluate and judge our feelings to find effective outlets for our energy. Reason introduces the discriminating power of logic which defuses our potential for excess.
What is missing, of course, is personal honesty to admit our propensity for errors in judgment about events and about ourselves. We need humility, self-restraint and moral principles to distinguish narcissism from fact, self-indulgence from civility, true need from selfish want.
What is missing, of course, is the moral and psychological balance provided by 1) knowing what’s right, and 2) choosing it.
Knowledge and choice. Obstacles exist, but the process is clear.
Feelings which we nourish and reinforce over time become deeply internalized emotional states and belief systems … for better or worse, for right or wrong.
These emotional states are, to be sure, quite different from quickly-ignited, short-lived “feelings.” And, as we grant validity to these emotions, they become habitual perceptions, stable dispositions, settled beliefs.
Even when these wayward beliefs are contrary to God’s laws or offend civility or are disproved by evidence, some people still grant them the status of personal and cultural “truth.” These wayward, errant beliefs, even though they’re rooted in lies and distortions, can still become permanent states of mind in individuals and societies. They have power to overshadow Reason and logic, to spark excessive, even evil, behavior. Racial prejudice is an example of feelings and beliefs gone awry.
When our beliefs are out of sync with human nature’s higher ideals, when they contradict moral principles and stifle empathy, we inevitably create consternation and distrust for people around us. Families crumble, marriages fail, friendships falter …. and it is all so utterly needless and avoidable.
Thus, it should be clear that for our own best interests, we need -- and should honor – religious belief, the clarity of logic, the persuasions of Reason, the guiding standards of morality, the corrective voice of elders and the graces afforded by empathy, altruism, self-restraint and humility.
These treasures of human and Divine wisdom are available to all of us …. to guide us on the path to maturity, mutual respect, trust and love of God and one another.
Maturity at any age is not possible without the corrective influence of men and women who us offer confrontive guidance in their role as Moral Exemplars.
Moral Exemplars are solid role models – usually our parents, teachers, authentic (not superficial) friends, coaches, religious leaders -- who give us virtuous example by their principles, their traits and attitudes and their behavior.
Moral Exemplars exemplify common sense, moral learning, candor and, often, moral courage. Their impact often lasts a lifetime. They influence the sort of persons we choose to become, the measure of wisdom we attain, the depth of virtue and integrity which inspires our behavior and character.
Without a moral center which Moral Exemplars model for us, our hearts and minds may wither under the yoke of an angry, dispirited ego in our struggle to overcome fear, narcissism and excessive self-indulgence.
Consequently, Moral Exemplars invariably help us achieve the right values, solid character and a reservoir of personal wisdom.
But, as we age, we are also called to be Moral Exemplars to younger folk in family and society. And the question then becomes: “What sort of example do I provide for those who are young, who watch me and silently judge? What do I teach them by my words and my actions and my attitudes? Are they better human beings for my influence in their lives?”
In Search Of Wisdom
In the last analysis, personal wisdom results from the perennial struggle of moral principles over the selfish instincts of our unfettered feelings.
Wisdom always involves personal sacrifice and painful confrontations before it grants insight into the gritty practicality of moral action, especially humility (i.e., facing the truth) and self-restraint.
So, if we seek personal wisdom, then we must take the risk to be honest with ourselves … and this risk is never easy.
That’s why wisdom’s first requirement is humility, i.e., the willingness to listen to others as they and reveal to us the truth about ourselves … and this is never easy.
Sooner or later in life, we are all called to face our vulnerabilities. We are all confronted at some point with the price of our wayward feelings and self-righteous beliefs and dismissive attitudes which we use to justify ourselves … and this experience is never easy.
Wisdom reveals that moral goodness is the objective standard which Reason proposes. Reason insists we live by rules and limits as individuals and as a culture. This is true even at the cost of self-denial, even at the cost of subordinating our egos to a higher principle than self-satisfaction or the inevitable delusions of false rectitude … and admitting this is never easy.
Wisdom bestows upon us a mature, stable state of mind and heart. But only with humility and candor does wisdom grant us uncommon discernment about not only what is pragmatic and useful, but what is truly good for the soul, what is truly enriching for the human condition, what virtues are truly valuable for their efficacy in human affairs.
And, through it all, wisdom gradually reveals to us the “better angels” of our nature and the objective standards which delineate the best course of human action.
Gradually, we begin to realize what the Good Nuns truly meant when they said, “Think, Child. Think!!”
Living Beyond The Self
To sum up all this ---- wisdom tells us that our feelings can be valid and valuable:
- -- when we monitor their message and focus their power;
- -- when we direct them into thoughtful words and actions;
- -- when we do not isolate ourselves from feedback, self-critique and self-restraint;
- -- when we consider unintended consequences to others;
- -- when we are not seduced, even briefly, by ego-centric spurts of preening pettiness;
- -- when we do not over-react to perceived criticism of our faults and foibles which we needlessly defend;
- -- when we do not harbor resentments for offenses real or imagined;
- -- when we do not dismissively discount the dignity of others, even those who test our patience.
So, our feelings can be useful when we are in sync with the daily realities of life, the standards of self-respect and self-restraint, and when we are accountable to God and one another.
Our feelings can be useful when they are prudently managed and do not spark punitive retaliation or exploitation of others.
But inordinate feelings lead us astray. Indulging such feelings without considering the consequences stifles rational control of behavior, overflows the reasonable limits of any relationship, and obliterates the boundaries which wisdom, courtesy, maturity, emotional stability and moral clarity demand.
Finally . . .
Thus, errant, unchecked feelings which we allow to run wild will distort reality and obscure the fact that life is not intended to be a soothing enterprise.
When our feelings do lead us astray and we do not get our way (or even when we do), we may reveal ourselves to be pouty adults, still prone to tantrums of angry, foot-stomping immaturity -- even as we count our greying hairs and sip our Geritol-on-the-rocks.
So …. let us always remember: Reason and knowledge infused with respect for the laws of God, prudent judgment, logic and candor, moral clarity and the gift of accepting the truth about ourselves -- these are essential steps in our search for maturity.
Yes, of course, there’s more to it --- but this should suffice… for starters.
28 October 2019
Our Human Bonds:
The Man By The Side The Road
Not long ago, I donated a pile of belongings to the Salvation Army: some books (I am an avid hoarder of books), a few trinkets and an array of old clothing, including a faded jacket which long-ago out-lived its once-modish appeal.
Some days later, as I approached a stop sign, I saw a man standing by the side of the road, wearing that same faded jacket. It was too large for him: he had the sleeves rolled up, and the garment hung on his thin frame like a loose blanket. But he wore it, all the same.
As I recognized my old discarded jacket, it came to me that this thin man standing by the side the road and I had both benefitted from the labor of countless others. The labor of many people eventually put that jacket on the frail frame of this thin man, this stranger beside the road, this man with whom I now share a fragile connection. It is a link so fragile that many people may think it irrelevant. But it is not.
Indeed, it is not, by any means, irrelevant.
Truth In Front Of Our Eyes
That fleeting link between me and this frail man by the side of the road still hovers in my mind. I still think of him, standing by the side of the road, a thin, lonely presence. I wonder how he is. Is he well? Does my worn jacket give him warmth when cold weather comes? How, I wonder, did his life bring him to the side of that particular road as I passed?
As I recall that frail stranger beside the road, I realize all of us live in a web of people-connections. We are inextricably linked to other human beings. Some are close and familiar to us; others are distant strangers. Yet, somehow, they are all our kin, as is this touching man by the side the road, this lonely man seeking the aid of random passers-by.
That thought stays with me: the realization that we are all linked in a vast collective with many other human beings. For example, many persons have willingly given of themselves so that I might be warm or fed or clothed or educated or somehow made safer and more secure; so that I might be buffered from the slights of the uncaring; so that I might not have to stand alone by the side some road, beseeching the aid of strangers.
Furthermore, my reverie compels me to realize and accept that I am indeed dependent on so many uncounted others, indebted to the kindness of so many persons, known and unknown. And the fact is that we are -- each and all of us -- bettered in our lives by the work and care and attentions of other people, some of whom God help us, we take for granted … as if we deserve their fealty, as if we are somehow specially graced by the Fates, and they are not.
And I wondered what I might do for this man, this stranger by the side the road, this brother of my soul … how can I help?
Others Around Us
Some people are able to clearly recognize this man’s needs for food and warmth and a kindly smile, someone to care. In fact, the Little Sisters of the Poor and Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity perceive in these wayside wanderers the very image of the Suffering Christ. They have a vision which sees beyond the obvious, a special sense of humanity’s universally vulnerable nature.
On the other hand, cynics will tell me that the thin man by the side the road thinks only of himself – as does everybody else in this world. The waiter whose name we do not know, the physician who busies himself with healing, the bus driver who delivers us safely home, the corporate CEO whose decisions affect the market –all of them are out only for themselves. Everyone works and lives only for their own self-interest; period. Any other vision of humankind is a romanticized fantasy, a childish view of life’s harsh and hostile reality. Life is competition; only the winners matter. Losers lose; that’s it.
But even if that dyspeptic view of human nature were true, our lives have, nonetheless, been made better by the labor of an army of people whose names we shall never know; persons of generosity and good will whom we will never meet. They are the unnumbered persons who will never hear us say, “Thank you. For all you have given us, we thank you. For the good you have done for us and for so many others, we thank you. We are truly grateful.”
What Are Our Options
To be sure, we have all had encounters with indifferent, rude, thoughtless, self-important persons. We have all encountered people of odious temperament and intemperate ambition who readily deceive and distort, demean and humiliate without hesitation or regret.
We see these behaviors every day in people whose moral compass isn’t functioning; persons who have lost their moral balance and maturity in the maelstrom of conflict which they create around themselves.
However …… beyond the dysfunctionality to which we are all potential heirs, human nature also possesses the potential for kindness as well as meanness. We are fully capable of self-restraint as well as self-indulgence. We may seek virtue as well as narcissism. We are born for love as well as jealousy, able to pursue generosity as well as power, created for truth and virtue as well as for puffery and self-promotion.
Within each of us, there exists a reservoir of potential goodness and humane generosity awaiting. Above all else, we are richer in heart and mind and soul and spirit when we acknowledge that much goodness does surely exist in this world. It is within this stream of goodness and forgiveness, of patience and giving of self … within this stream of light and life and gratitude and quiet inner wisdom and an abundance of patience and candor that we may choose to live and breathe and express our being.
There is so much goodness to behold around us. There are so many examples of kindness and kind people to note, so many unseen acts of thoughtful care and caring others to behold, so many spontaneous expressions of gentle, often unknown-and-gracious behavior which attest to life’s endless flow of grace and to the brightest points of virtue in human nature.
There are so many good people who exemplify our human potential for virtue …. if we will only see what is to be seen around us … and choose to do likewise.
But For The Grace . . . .
As I watched the thin man in my jacket - my unmet brother by the side of this road - I rolled down my window and handed him a $5 bill and smiled and said hello. He nodded, gave me a toothless half-smile, then moved on to the car behind me – and he was gone.
It is true that he might use my five dollars to buy alcohol or drugs and thereby dig himself deeper into indignity and loneliness. That would be his choice … just as I am able to make my choice. But he remains in my mind and in my prayerful memory for (if I am honest with myself) I know all too well that I could have been standing next to him, wearing a torn, discarded jacket, lost in a cold and foggy world which soon forgets the needy and the friendless.
And I wonder still --- does anyone miss him? Does anyone ask about him or have his photo sitting, with loving concern, on a dresser somewhere? Is he a parent, perhaps, or a man of many talents who hit a dark patch and never recovered?
Does anyone yearn to know if he is even alive? Was he once happily in love with a grand woman (as I was so dearly blessed for so many grand years), a woman who loves him to this day and, even now, mourns his loss as she wonders (as do I) about his health and his very survival?
To What End?
There are many souls who stand by the sides of many roads, and our reactions to them are never neutral. Some people are moved to wonder and concern. Others see them as intruders, and treat them with antagonism. Some people disdainfully avoid looking at them; ignore them … they will leave you alone. And some people grip their steering wheel in anxiety, lest the man by the side of the road catches their eye and elicits nagging guilt and troublesome empathy.
As I ponder all of this, I am ever more grateful to God -- and to a legion of good people in my life -- for the endless graces I have received during my many years of life. There is a litany of good people to whom I would -- I do -- say, “For being in my life and for being part of me, for your generous giving of your self and for your endless care and your living kindnesses, I thank you…. With all my heart, I thank you.”
We human beings possess the power to freely choose our behavior and our attitudes and our dispositions and our wants, our words and our way of living. We have the power to choose empathy and altruism, kindness and fidelity, truth-telling and humility, courtesy and attentiveness. We can choose to be grateful for the goodness of others on our behalf and for the endless gifts of Creation.
And among those many gifts of Creation, it is other persons who are -- in my judgment -- the most admirable and intriguing and revealing and rewarding of all Creation’s Godly gifts. This is a lesson all of us can learn: to value one another and be grateful for what we give and what we receive. It is a lesson we call can learn, but it is a lesson which only some will accept.
In the clear light of my lifetime, it is other persons who define for me - and with me - what my life is truly all about. By the same logic, it is also my choices and my behavior and my kindness and my giving from my mind and my heart which add meaning and depth and which contribute to a better reality for the lives of many others. We all have the gracious power to make a better life for one another…………………………
Given these elder’s grateful thoughts which I gladly reveal to you, I hope my choices -- and yours -- may be truly wise and duly seasoned with the realization that giving of one’s self is the way – the only way -- to grace and character and peace and a contented heart.
This do I pray for you and for me. This do I pray for us all.
29 July 2019
An Elder’s Concern For Culture Corrupted
Our culture’s fractious political rhetoric and our crude public discourse give abundant evidence that America is deeply wounded by our blithe dismissal of courtesy and our disdain for truth and civility.
We no longer use language merely to transmit logical ideas, to stimulate reasoned discussion or to clarify a befuddling situation. Words are now “weaponized” to demean and humiliate, to dredge unintended insult out of a casual dialogue, to label people as “haters” or “homophobes” or “hide-bound traditionalists.”
Even the simplest facts are now fraught with accusatory inuendo. Incredibly, law suits result from the use of a politically incorrect word, even from a statement of one’s religious beliefs.
Character assassination, assigning mean-spirited motives to others, verbal exaggeration and falsification, slander and calumny, and deliberate lies overflow from state and church. A credible public figure is hard to find, even in the once-hallowed precincts of political, educational and ecclesial governance.
The aggressive de-construction of our shared language and the malicious re-definition of words have swept America into a national morass of moral polarization, hastening the demise of common sense, respect for legal precedent -- and sanity.
Underlying all of this in our culture are many concerning developments. Let us look at two: 1) the ascendance of untruth and deception as cultural norms, and 2) the profound distortion and misuse of human freedom; misuse which taints our nation to its roots.
First of all, it is almost trite to say that truth and facts have become expendable. Our culture plays a fast-and-loose game with words and meanings. Even foundational words such as “man” and “woman,” “husband” and “wife,” are now banned by countless agencies, lest someone’s new-found sensibilities be hurt. Centuries-old traditions and their sacred origins are dismissed … because someone’s feelings might be hurt?
Let the impact of that statement sink in for a moment.
The realities of male and female are now splintered into countless incoherent terms and jingoistic categories, including ominously-befogged references to cis-gender, skolio-sexuality and dozens of linguistically-excruciating sub-categories which obscure life’s simplest facts. Our culture’s present flirtation with gender-over-sex-identity (the idea that a man is really a woman simply if he wishes) leads us into profound moral chaos.
Worst of all is the grisly lie called “reassignment surgery,” the result of which is an ongoing experiment with youth and a suicide rate twenty times higher than average.
Nature’s truths are dismissed with pathological ease. Our culture’s finer traditions are twisted beyond recognition … and for what …?
The Dismissal Of True Culture
The root meaning of “culture” is the Latin word “cultus,” i.e., a spirit of awe and worship springing from our inherent sense of the sacred and the mystery of life itself.
Culture once meant regard for, and preservation of, the finer, more ennobling traditions and accomplishments of our race. It involved handing down to our children the best of our achievements and beliefs, wrested from error and arrogance throughout our history.
In America, our culture was originally based on our God-given freedom to meet our responsibilities as human beings without outside intrusion or force. This meant freedom to respect human and divine laws, to honor the nation’s ideals, to summon the moral energy to improve our injustices, to afford each person opportunities for economic and personal security.
The history of America’s traditions is actually the story of human nature seeking to achieve justice and goodness as the nation’s motivating norms. It’s all spelled out in the documents which define America’s authentic, historic exceptionalism … despite our past-President’s public denial of our nation’s true greatness and the growing movement to destroy America’s identity and mission from within.
Today, our nation’s traditions are readily trashed, our flag banned, our anthem despised. The sacred bases of true culture are denigrated in the bizarre whirl of America’s suicidal tryst with politically correct nihilism.
We have created a fetid spiritual and psychological wasteland for our children. We hand them lies as our legacy. We create a grimly violent, sexually saturated, humanly distorted, factually dismissive, self-indulgent, abortion-loving, God-denying “pop culture” in which even the sacred lives of our children are irrelevant … and anything – anything – goes.
Freedom Is Not The Right To Corrupt
Second, abuses of true freedom are rampant. True freedom means the unobstructed right to meet my responsibilities without interference. It is not unbounded selfishness to do and say whatever strikes my hormonal fancy.
The most evident - and corrupt - symptoms of distorted freedom are found in the extremes of politically correct madness which tatter the conscience of America.
One sickening example is our betrayal of our children in the face of politically correct pressures which reduce many adults to a state of moral abnegation and legal impotence. For example, attend to the growing tendency for members of the cross-dressing and transgendered communities to hold “readings” and “shows” for our very youngest children in public libraries … with the assistance of librarians. Succinctly put, these “readings” are nothing more than an attempt to awaken and exploit in our youngest children their openness to extreme, reckless sexuality and to normalize human nature at its worst. Is this not obvious to every so-called “adult”?
What’s more, we also witness pre-teen boys, wigged and made up as women, sashaying on stage in dresses, posing seductively before a wildly applauding saloon audience. Patrons throw money at the children, who strut and pout in pathetic imitation of stripper-sexuality. The crowd energetically approves .. and parents applaud.
What sort of person would possibly abet, let alone allow, such sad, sickening, morally wretched scenes as these?
Given these examples of contemptable adult behavior and society’s moral and legal self-paralysis, one cannot but recall the words which warn him who offends the souls of these little ones that it is better a millstone be tied around his neck and he be thrown into the depths of the sea.
Schools Promoting Falsehood
But there’s still more.
We also witness the New York City Department of Education promulgating city-wide guidelines to “Support Transgender and Gender Expansive (Gender Expansive?) Students.”
These guidelines state that New York City schools will now facilitate “formal gender transition” for students, Students – students, i.e., children -- will henceforth tell their teachers what pronouns to use when addressing them. Teachers will be forced to adopt pro-transgender terminology. Male and female sports teams will be forced to accept players according to their “gender identity asserted at school.” Restrooms, locker rooms, and changing rooms assigned to girls must now be open to boys who “identify” as girls.
Utter madness ….. Moral and psychological madness have fallen upon our nation, and educated adults lead the charge. Adult madness abounds under the false flag of “human rights.”
Thus do we facilitate the death of our culture and perpetuate the validity of lies and the reign of terror which we call political correctness ………
But one must again ask: To what end?
The Truth About The Role Of Culture
True culture honors the fact that people are endowed with certain unalienable rights and responsibilities, with certain limits in word and action, with expectations of common decency and civic virtue … all of which originate beyond themselves.
Our rights and freedoms are not unlimited. Every human right comes with a corresponding personal responsibility which dictates distinct moral and behavioral limits.
This truth is deliberately and consistently ignored today. Nevertheless, our responsibilities to one another, to God, to ourselves and to our children are grave and binding.
True culture embodies these self-evident truths.
Our rights and responsibilities are granted to us individually by our Creator Who, in turn, deserves our obedience and our adoration. The role of the state is then to guarantee that these God-given rights and responsibilities are both granted and observed.
This was obvious to the founders of our nation who stated clearly that our human rights are God-given, not man-made. Our human rights do not originate with-or-in the state, contrary to what many errant political figures and empty-headed celebrities contend.
Our God-given rights and responsibilities naturally create moral limits, as our Constitution also affirms. Morality determines proper – and improper – ways people treat one another in word and deed. That’s why every human community – family, business, school, military -- is a moral entity.
Our Creator endows each one of us with a moral conscience and an intellect, and the freedom of choice to honor these gifts – gifts freely given to human nature, gifts given to each and all.
Without moral awareness and commonly-upheld limits, culture become chaotic – as we now behold. Even the unsullied eyes and innocent ears and pure minds and forming consciences of children – some as young as two and three – are fair game for deliberate corruption by those who deny their responsibilities to God and humankind.
Indeed, there are people amongst us whose public immorality flourishes behind the maliciously twisted mantra of “human rights.” These people represent the polluted maxims of political correctness at its very worst. Their names are before us daily. Their deeds are too often accepted as the “new normal.”
Human Nature Distorted
Once God is denied and the sacred dimensions of human life are banished from public awareness, morality’s crucial role is vanquished in the rush to unrestrained excess. Moral sanity and the clear and present need for virtue are quickly discarded.
The devolution of culture then proceeds like this:
- When we deny or ignore God, we dismiss morality and deny right from wrong, good from evil.
- When we dismiss morality, we create a massive void at the heart of human nature and deprive culture of meaning.
- The void in our hearts yearns to be filled.
- Without God to reveal the path to us, we appoint ourselves as our own god-like guides and society’s moralists.
- Every base tendency - no matter how extreme and ugly and illogical - then becomes as valid as the next.
- The likelihood of error mounts as human folly is unleashed and any urge is allowed.
- With everyone possessing moral authority, no binding moral authority exists.
- The result is, as we now see, moral and social chaos which floods the culture and infects us at our core.
- There are no ethical standards, no morally accountable guidelines, no godly authority, no legal limits, no enforcement of fundamental decency, no mutual responsibilities to anyone other than ourselves.
- Relativism shreds reality.
- And we call this Progress ……………………
A Chilling Future
Are we not foolish (as individuals and as a nation) to deny that principles of God-given morality must define us and limit us as created beings?
Even an atheist or a confirmed-but-honest skeptic can see the wisdom of belief.
Even the scoffer can recognize the need for standards beyond our errant selves.
Is it not evident that our very existence depends on respect for divine inspiration and human virtue to sustain us as human beings who must live together upon this Earth?
The evidence is darkeningly clear that our nation is alienating itself from reason, logic and facts and faith. We stray dangerously far from the Godly Spirit which decrees virtue over vice, kindness over violence, sacrifice for our children over self-indulgence, truth and humility over the arrogance of the militant, vastly selfish relativist.
For The Children
Conserving the best of our heritage means protecting our children’s virtue and guarding their moral legacy. If we – and they -- are to survive in decency and peace, then we must follow the path of true freedom and make the proper choices. We must base our lives and decisions on the facts of history and the moral clarity of our finer traditions. We must uphold our regard for just laws and faith in God as our First Lawgiver.
We must not -- not -- continue to succumb to the shameful allure of today’s exploitive excesses, camouflaged behind the fallacious labels of political correctness and the garish mascara of evil.
God help us to come to our senses.
May it be so ……..
13 July 2019
Reflections On The Death Of A Friend
In my years passing, I have witnessed much suffering and, as we all have, experienced the loss of many loved ones and have grieved with many others. I know all too well that the death of those we love and cherish brings persistent sorrow and inflicts upon us much heavy emotional weight.
Grief is deeply embedded in each person, extremely riveting in its focus. It can paralyze us as it takes over our thinking and self-control. It is like a massive tsunami, sweeping over us with crushing weight, overwhelming our willpower and our emotional balance. It's energy and force are entirely centripetal, pushing us inward toward our own center. With the loss of a loved one, we are rendered empty and helpless, barren and bewildered. We are often without the power to extricate ourselves from the grip of our sadness.
Our loved ones are now beyond all that, of course, so we try to remind ourselves that if we are not cautious, our grieving can, in time, become so relentless that we might render ourselves less able to bear our loss and sustain ourselves and find meaning in our lives.
The truth is that grieving is not about those who have left us in death. It is about us, the living, and about how we will accept these periods of loss and the emotions of grief and the futile wonderment which stuns us. It is about how we respect our need to grieve and yet still strive to achieve some balance between what is painfully real, i.e., our grief, and what is even more real, our obligation to allow grief to rise, to express itself and then to take its proper. if painful, place within the flow of our continuing life.
This is a hard and difficult truth to put into practice, to be sure, but like so much in life that is hard, it is also essential to our living effectively in faith and in heath and in the future….. for how we shall live and whom we shall choose to be is still -- still – a responsibility which we must embrace in heart and soul.
Grief is strong because it is emotional, physical and spiritual. Its grip is immense because its meaning is so deeply and utterly personal. Thus, our grief must always be expressed in some deeply personal ways. It is best that we express it in private ways, with those very few people who merit our trust and inclusion into our most private selves. It is best with people who know us well and love us enough to share grief with us appropriately, in tears and in silence and in quiet prayers of hope, in shared words of acceptance and in the clarifying light of that sustaining love which unites us in the first place.
But grief must then be gradually perceived for what it also offers us, i.e., a contribution to our entire character, a heavy but fundamental building block in our soul's maturity, a period of intertwining grace and loss, a time of growing in virtue in which much can be gained for our soul, even if our heart is, for a time, made empty.
But grieving is not a source of strength unless we are able to include it and still move with it and, eventually, beyond its debilitating weight. Grief must be given due and proper time to be expressed … but it must also inspire us to move beyond its confines, so that we may find meaning beyond grief, hope beyond sorrow, clarity beyond sorrow -- for this is the point and the meaning of the Resurrection.
So, the focus of our grief is the loved one who has died, the loved one who gave so much meaning to our life, the loved one who offered much richness to our individuality. But death's real message and meaning are for us, the living, for those who live on, for those who must soon bring themselves to the recognition that this painful path of loss is the only path which befits those who choose to love wisely and well in the days of life ahead.
The Value Of Vulnerability
True love always includes personal vulnerability, i.e., our ability to be wounded and our willingness to risk it. Thus, love in this life is never without some measure of pain, especially when death intrudes. This is true except in our relationship with God Who can restore us and uphold us beyond ourselves.
As we proceed in life, we are never without painful reminders of our loss. We will always bear painful scars of loss in heart and soul. We will always carry the emotions and the memories of loss which will forever serve as our life's wounds.
These wounds will always remain within our soul because we have loved -- and because we will choose, again and again, to persist in loving. We do so, not despite the cost of loving but because we choose to keep loving, no matter the cost. And in our grieving, we also honor and give tribute to those whom we loved – and still love -- so well.
But let us always be aware that our pain is not without purpose or insight. We go forward. We have a choice to make, and the best choice in life is to love despite grief.
We choose to pursue the mystery of love and the risk of loving. We choose to love … because doing so is who we wish to be, who we are. It is our soul's best choice, a reflection of our character and our spiritual maturity in the ways of God, Who values the humbled and giving soul.
The Cost Of Loving
Were it not for those whom we have loved, we might never understand the authentic cost or depths of loving which loss reveals. Furthermore, we might also miss the invitation to live more wisely and to choose the difficult path of God's own Son -- but to do so with gratitude and generosity, even when we feel otherwise.
Without the loss of a loved one and our ensuing struggle to recover and go on with dignity and wisdom, we might never know how to love even more deeply and clearly. We might not otherwise rise above the benumbing limits of avoidance and denial and pettiness which so often mislead our nature’s search for simplicity and goodness.
Without the grief of losing our Beloved, we might never become persons of true and abiding character, persons who travel the hard road of selfless virtue and self-restraint, who rise above the petty dictates of self-pity and anger … because we choose to. We might never be exposed to the enormous grace of empathy and the irreplaceable value of humility’s stark candor.
Without grief’s humbling finality, we might never become persons of deepening goodness and conviction, persons with a soul strong enough and insightful enough to love over and over again --- and regret none of it.
It is, then, only through personal suffering and the ensuing choice to love again that we can be at our very best in the life we have yet to live, in the love we have yet to give, in the words we have yet to utter, in the endless moments when our kindness awaits expression, in the time which God kindly grants, in the days of our life ahead.
2 July 2019
The Right To Choose ….. What?
The Right To Choose ….. What?
Last week, a newborn baby girl - umbilical still attached - was stuffed into a plastic shopping bag, then abandoned in a Georgia forest. Miraculously, this newborn child was rescued by police.
If you missed this story, here is the LINK:
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A recent study in the Journal of Medical Ethics (note that source: the Journal of Medical Ethics) states that “… (1) both fetuses and newborns do not have the same moral status as actual persons, (2) the fact that both are potential persons is morally irrelevant and (3) adoption is not always in the best interest of actual people…”
The authors (whose names I will not mention) argue that “… what we call ‘after-birth abortion’ (i.e., killing a newborn baby) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is unsuccessful, including cases where the newborn is not disabled …”
Democrat Presidential candidates now support the killing of newborn and unborn children … even babies who are delivered and fully capable of living on their own, as many preborn-and-unborn babies are capable of doing.
The expanding mentality of Roe v Wade now makes death for babies a routine matter of maternal choice. Mothers are now even freer to exterminate their children.
This tide of infanticide grows. The likelihood of certain death for America’s little ones is today greatly heightened far beyond even Roe v Wade.
No matter how our culture seeks to prettify or deny or distract or otherwise rationalize this brutal truth, the truth is that killing babies is public policy, protected by law at State and Federal levels.
One is staggered to realize that 1) we Americans so brutally reject the gift of life for our babies and so reject their dignity, 2) we readily dispose of our little ones, and 3) we codify this practice in law, then celebrate the killing of the most innocent among us … and dare call it “health care.”
A Most Perplexing Belief
Decades ago, the author and Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn described our Western view of life as “the tilt of freedom toward evil.” A hard saying, indeed, but by our dreadful disrespect for life, our society has arrived at that point where our vision of freedom has paralyzed our moral consciences and obliterated our noblest human instincts.
A pro-abortion advocate accused me of not understanding the difficulties some pregnant women face, even married women burned-out with child-rearing, who cannot bear to care for another child.
Of course, no human being can fully understand the mind of another. But when we look into the face of a newborn child, or when we gaze at the progressively revealing ultrasound photos of the small human being growing and maturing within the body of his/her mother, how can we then choose the destruction of that child as a reasonable option -- or as a Constitutional right?
How? Pray tell? How?
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Much of our culture (including Democrat Party Presidential hopefuls) facilitates, rather than grieves, the death of children by emphasizing the “freedom of choice” which American law allows. Hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars flow to the Abortion-Industrial Complex, which cloaks abortion in the cosmetic language of intentional obfuscation.
In fact, abortion proponents gingerly side-step the procedural realities of abortion. They employ verbal camouflage, lest the truth of their grisly practices shocks even the hardest of hearts. They deny the “fetus” human status, deny that every child’s life is a miracle of God’s creative will … and the numbers of abortions mounts each hour, adding to Roe v Wade’s total of the 53 million dead children.
The word "fetus" is hygienically preferable to “child” or “baby.” Abortion proponents never speak of the child or the baby’s life and care as grave responsibilities. Instead, the “fetus” is a disposable commodity, an inconvenience.
The truth is this: abortion means a woman chooses to take a human life, an innocent human life; a life totally dependent on her good will in every way; a life linked to her body, for nothing in creation rivals the dependency, intimacy and nurturance between that still-forming human being and her mother.
Nonetheless, abortion-supporters exhibit no concern whatever for the sacred right of every child to be born and to grow and to love and to be loved.
We have normalized killing our children. The inhuman tragedy of such thinking stifles the soul.
The Absurdity of Sacrifice ?
Surely, one can sympathize with the confusion and panic which may overwhelm an uninformed and lonely, abused woman facing pregnancy. Surely, giving birth may be a most difficult moment in the life of any woman unready to be a mother; a woman unstable in her own mind, unable to face demands and sacrifices in conception and birth and motherhood. Adoption is the obvious option, of course. Yet the Abortion-Industrial Complex has but one ready response: Kill the child.
Raising a child is surely demanding. Personal sacrifice is essential and inevitable. Doubts ensue; anxiety arises: “Am I capable of handling the challenge? Am I up to the task? Do I have what it takes to be a parent?”
Sacrifice? Of course … but who in this world is ever truly prepared to face the challenges we are all called upon to face in our lives, let alone the challenges we bring upon ourselves? Indeed, what life is without sacrifice?
Sacrifice? Of course… but who of us is so lacking in courage that, to protect ourselves, we are justified to take the life of another human being for our own relief or for the surcease of our doubt and our stress?
What is missing in these discussions is the reality that every so-called "fetus" is in fact a human being, a baby, a growing and maturing child of woman; a person who is entitled to the right to be born and to live and to love and to be loved and educated and revered.
Sacrifice, Sanity’s Path
Defenders of abortion say that giving birth and raising their own child is too great a sacrifice for women. Why should any woman be asked to give birth and raise a child she does not want? Or maybe that child is deformed or has some illness or a mental condition ... like some adults?
Of course … loving always demands sacrifice.
Of course … it is always a challenge or give of oneself for others.
But to destroy a living child for want of the courage to accept responsibility for what one conceives? Such a "choice" is no choice …. but it happens every day, by the thousands. This fact is beyond sadness for many of us:
- for those who have held their children and their grandchildren, and have seen life develop in the womb and outside of it;
- for those who generously pay the human price of giving life and love and family to a child, and who then sustain that child through the years of her life;
- for those who have realized that no greater honor can ensue in our adult years than to be a loving parent whose sacrifice ennobles us all;
- for those who have stood the tests and challenges of doubt and ambiguity and have sometimes failed in their attempts at patience and understanding -- and have yet struggled to be good parents;
- for those who see their children grow and blossom beyond all previous fears and doubts and are gradually amazed at the beauty of the person emerging;
- for those parents who have said to themselves and to one another: “I am fearful of my weaknesses, yet I shall persevere in love and hope -- and I will make the sacrifices I must make … the sacrifices WE must make, because WE are responsible to-and-for this child of ours. WE are responsible and WE thank God for this child who is now our Beloved.”
Sacrifice? Of course … but what is life for, if not to be given and shared – together, in giving to one another?
What is the purpose of life, if not to give of ourselves and embrace the sacrifices we all must face? What does sacrifice entail at its core but the generous giving of one’s self to-and-for others?
Responsibility And Dignity
Conception highlights the unique dignity and life-giving power of women. To bring life upon this earth is the unique and responsible calling of women.
But, in addition, consider this:
Abortion is much more than simply a woman's "choice." It involves at least two other human beings; 1) the child, who is given no choice whatever; and 2) the child’s father, the forgotten --- but still responsible -- partner in the act of creating a new life; the forgotten giver of life and, hopefully, the source of lifelong love for his child.
Who, pray tell, speaks for the father?
My Perspective As An Elder
As I wend my years through my elderhood, I look back at six decades of work with human beings in countless situations when they would bring to me their needs and pains and confusions and share with me their litany of mistakes and befuddlements. All of this often roused deep guilt and recurring remorse in many hearts as they revealed to me the errors of their past and the pain of the present. Many reminded me of an image from W. B. Yeats, as they described lives resembling “roofless ruins.”
But the fact is that all of us recall periods of shame and hurt and wonderment, moments when we knew we had made a great mistake, had offended another human being or been deeply hurt ourselves. And, not infrequently, we continue to ponder our past errors … errors which haunt many of us for a lifetime.
Yet (and this is central to Faith and Hope and Love and Respect for Life) all of this is meant to bring us across a void of wonderment and insecurity, to the realization that we are yet Beloved of God and are always able to be forgiven when we seek forgiveness.
And, so have I learned that we all are terribly human. We all are needy, all subject to human nature’s oft-confusing and self-defeating tugs and urges. We are, each and all, members of a fallen, fallible race.
But -- if humility be our choice -- it is our fallibility which becomes the font of our painfully-earned wisdom and insight and discernment; the font of our maturity, for then does our shared weakness become our strength, as we are now linked to one another in heart and spirit.
….. IF, that is, we are honest enough and humble enough to face our deeper selves in search of our moral common sense, our life-affirming consciences; if we reach beyond our facile defenses, our futile facades of pretense and self-worship and the puffery of inflated egos, all of which drive us away from truth and deceive us into believing that the destruction of our children is in accord with the tenets of right reason and humane culture.
So, foremost among the truths I have learned is the fact that God does assuredly reveal Himself to us most efficiently and most gently in the birth and life of a child who, nurtured in love and sacrifice, becomes for us Joy Incarnate.
Finally ……A Lonely Child …….
I have also learned that if true innocence is ever to be found upon this earth, it is in the face and in the smile and the tears and the laughter and in the embrace of every child …. for we are all a child to someone, especially to God, Whose Beloved we shall always be.
Thus do I speak for the child – and, in Hope, for our better selves.
Thus do I also wish I could speak for those whose hearts are still cold and yet unmoved by the touch of a baby’s hand; for all whose hearts have yet to be enlivened by love and reverence for the grace of childhood’s innocence; for all who would still discard the miracle of … a baby.
Thus do I wish every man and every woman would find meaning in sacrificing our all for our babies.
And I think now of that mother who stuffed her newborn baby girl into a plastic shopping bag and abandoned that child in a Georgia forest -- because killing our most innocent and helpless children is surely, undoubtedly, the saddest idea we human beings have ever wrought in our brief time upon this earth.
30 May 2019
Through Decades Past
When we are young, time is timeless, the passage of years meaningless, the future endless as life enviably awaits. Somewhere along that rosy continuum as years tick by, a limit gradually arises and the shadowed future comes upon us with hovering presence. Then does one’s focus re-align; priorities evolve, and the uncluttered past becomes the present, precious reality.
At some moment, we are brought to realize that we are subject to the vagaries of time and the ebb of aging … that we are not immune to the quirks of Nature’s relentless nudge.
Hopefully, the inevitable accumulation of our elder years teaches us a smidgen of Wisdom which reveals to us how endearing life can be, how blessed each day truly is, how irreplaceable each moment becomes.
If, as we age, we are honest with ourselves, our elder’s Wisdom (which is really a gift from God) will relish the simplest delights of life … the sunrise, the feel of rain, the silence of night, the smell of flowers, the giggles of giddy children, the grace of love given and love received, the amazing sounds of birds, the sigh of a freshening wind, the taste of warm bread and butter, the embrace of sleep to the weary soul, the redeeming touch of the Beloved’s hand in times of glee and grief.
Life’s Meandering Ways
Each day, our elder’s Wisdom leads us to relish anew all that life offers and all that Creation so generously provides … even as we quietly cope with the precarious edges of Nature’s unpredictable moods.
Our elder’s Wisdom often brings consoling insight, and ushers us into a place of Humility as we accept the fact that we have no idea what God has in store for us ... and we also smile as we admit that ambiguity has always been the underlying reality of our lifetimes all along.
However, without the gifts of Wisdom and Humility and Faith and Hope, the passage of one’s latter years can be intimidating – especially when one’s elder days and nights are shadowed with the caustic residue of stubborn nihilism and grudging denial. Then does self-pity infect that portion of our souls wherein simple Faith and Humility and Hope should now abide.
Indeed, Wisdom now says to us elders that Humility and Faith and Hope are the logical paths onto which our length of days should lead us. And Wisdom infuses us with confidence that all is surely well, for we have always – from the beginning of life -- been headed here, to be sure.
The Most Important Question
A precocious - and inquisitive - child asked me recently what I have learned in my lifetime. After my decades of countless mistakes and revisions, that question opens many doors for me. What do I believe about life and people? What First Principles have I learned which guide my thoughts and actions? What values do I hold?
As I ponder, I am moved to share some -- some -- of what I have learned and what I believe. Some people will disagree with me, I am sure. If so, I welcome critique -- but here, I seek only clarity, not agreement.
To Seek Truth
1) First of all, I believe the human mind seeks to know truth with clarity -- and the heart seeks communication and union with the Other. It is for these two goals that we are given the gift of life, and it is these goals which define our human nature. All else rests on these two natural ends.
Unfortunately, our culture is o’erladen with the deliberate abuse of language and the calculated obfuscation of reality, with fallacious double-speak and verbal cosmetics intended to deprive us of truth and clarity, of common sense and awareness that self-restraint is essential for true freedom.
2) Human beings are born into a moral context. Right and wrong do exist; moral good and moral evil do exist – and we are capable of both because human nature is flawed and prone to error. We are -- all of us -- flawed human beings, driven to satisfy and defend ourselves. We become confused and we confuse others, so we must struggle for truth and clarity. That is why we have the power to choose, the gift of free will and the innate desire to know.
3) When we become confused and off-track, we forget that freedom does not mean we can do as we please. True freedom means we have the right and the obligation to pursue truth freely, without intrusion or coercion, without obstruction or interference of outside agents, such as government or persecutors or those who manipulate language to deny us clarity. We are free to seek and do goodness, not to promote evil or wrongdoing.
4) Because of our inherent flaws, we need a source of truth beyond ourselves. Knowledge of truth and unity, goodness and love, flow from a source above and beyond us, beyond our limited, subjective humanity. That’s where God, our Creator, is our first and best resource.
5) Most people (but not all) are born with the gifts of altruism and empathy. But these redeeming qualities, like all positive qualities, must be nurtured all our lives. Their absence (either by Nature or by choice) is the foundation of pathology. And these qualities are best realized within the traditional family of one man and one woman who, together, supply mental, emotional and moral balance with truth and clarity … as God and Nature intend.
Parents, Maturity and Learning
6) Parents are the primary educators of their children. Parents set the intellectual and moral standards for behavior and belief. Parents model the rules of character and self-restraint, of truth and clarity … with maturity and constancy. They provide the right kind of love, even when difficult … for loving is a lifetime work of art.
7) Maturity requires A] a moral compass based on objective standards, not individual whims or popular fads, and B] an intellectual framework or cognitive map by which we direct our lives, accept responsibility, maintain mutual accountability, refine our moral character, make just and prudent decisions in light of the impact on others, and humbly admit when we are wrong.
8) "Moral" in this context means that human interactions are not neutral or without some impact.
Many people see morality as hindrance and restriction of their freedom and liberty. But, in fact, moral principles (i.e., the virtues) are actually guidelines for behavior in the family and the community.
Morality and virtue are essential for human freedom and flourishing. They are mutual protections against the anarchy of radical individualism which floods our culture, resulting in the denial of life itself and the destruction of our culture’s noblest traditions.
9) “Moral” means our behavior has consequences on self and others for good or for evil, for right or for wrong, depending on what choices we make. Much of what we say and do may seem unimportant, but we influence the thoughts, emotions, reactions, perceptions and standards of other persons, especially in family and in educational settings. And the virtues (prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance, for starters) are behavioral markers along the path of moral goodness and community stability.
Everyone can exert influence for good … but we must guard against indifference, arrogance and cynicism which are so sadly evident in our world today.
10) Painful experiences are essential if we are to learn the harmful outcomes of doing wrong and the necessity to seek truth and clarity – and, thus, do what is right. Pain is the best route to understanding ourselves. Pain is the most persuasive teacher when we confront our weaknesses and accept our responsibilities.
The Gift Of Wisdom
11) Wisdom is radically different from all other forms of knowledge, including academic, technical and intuitive street-smarts. A person can be an academic or a financial achiever and still be unwise in his choices and immature in his personal life and behavior.
12) Wisdom gives insight into the nuances and subtleties of human nature’s motives and temptations, foibles and folly, and the impact we have on one another.
13) Wisdom has no illusions about how human beings delude themselves when we are imprudent, self-serving, crassly selfish and thoughtless. Wisdom perceives the truth in unvarnished clarity, and foresees outcomes which may be ignored by choice or obscured by inexperience.
14) Wisdom is best learned when we face hard realities, confront our errors and are stripped (voluntarily or not) of our ego’s excessive defenses and puffed-up pretenses.
15) Thus, Wisdom reveals truths which one attempts (sometimes for a lifetime) to hide from self and others to preserve, protect and defend one's rickety ego.
To Thine Own Self Be True . . .
Like it or not, life is meant for sacrifice and generosity. No truth or clarity can be found in this life without personal sacrifice. It is a hard saying, but pleasure is not the goal of living, nor is happiness the high point. Giving one’s self to others and for others is the goal, the grandest of all paths we can pursue.
We live in a zone of choice between the possibility of evil and the bright promise of goodness. It is a zone made precarious by our weaknesses and flaws. Avoidance and denial, narcissism and aggrieved victimhood, resentment and hubris are hurdles to truth and clarity, to sacrifice and loving generosity, to humility and candor, all of which are Wisdom’s pre-requisites and rewards.
Our self-protective cocoons of denial and self-delusion are rooted in distortions we have about ourselves. Facing candid truth about one’s self is always painful and requires the assistance of others. But truth and clarity are the healthiest routes to sanity, stability - and Wisdom.
Finding others who are trustworthy and who possess fidelity and loyalty is difficult. Such persons are true friends --- and they are truly rare.
Our Need For Friendship
A true friend - especially the friend we marry - learns how to love us selflessly, how to risk our rejection, how to gain our trust by telling us the truth, sometimes painfully so.
Such loving friendship is characterized by sacrifice and the struggle for truth and clarity. Without truth, there is no friendship. A true friend does not collaborate in our subterfuge nor abet the cozy, ego-easing lies we may tell ourselves.
Such a friend sees us clearly and does not back away when our defenses rise or our ego flees. That friend perseveres in seeking our best interests … even if doing so is exquisitely painful for us both … for truth is a costly sacrifice which the love of friendship willingly endures.
A Source Of Truth And Clarity
Here’s a big question: Where do we find the truths and the clarity -- the working principles -- which bring us to Wisdom’s threshold? What is the best source of truth and clarity – at least as far as we can know them in this life?
For me, that path has been – and remains -- the Catholic world-view, the Catholic Intellectual Tradition, the life of Faith which (as Dr. Jordan Peterson says) “…is as sane as it gets...”
Why the Catholic path?
Because it makes more sense than any other path. The First Principles of Catholic thought and their grasp of human nature most clearly define the problems of our existence and offer a pathway through the errors of which we are capable as individuals and as a race.
Its teachings -- when courageously and rightly lived -- offer no gimmicks or excuses or avoidant techniques, no cosmetic cover-ups or pockets of comfy deception, no accommodation to the flight from truth and denials of clarity in which our culture indulges.
The fact that some of its practitioners are evildoers does not detract from the clarity or truth that goodness is a personal choice, as is evil. The ageless principles are clearly explained …. and the individual is the responsible agent of choice.
Finally . . .
These few principles above are merely a beginning, but they seem (at least to me) to offer the best explanation of:
- what our lives are all about,
- what path to take to get where we are heading,
- to what goals we should apply ourselves,
- for what purpose we are brought into family and community and friendship,
- toward what higher goals we should mightily strive,
- how best to weather the travail and misfortunes we surely encounter,
- where to find the solace and gumption for all this….
… in short, why God has put us here in the first place and what to do with our lives.
And let us make no mistake: God is behind all of this. God is here. God is God – and we are not.
Clarity? Truth? One has only to step into the night and look up into the darkened sky filled with a billion universes … or have one’s finger held tightly in the grasp of a newborn baby … and then be still -- and know.
17 May 2019
Beyond Cliché … A Man For All Seasons
Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche – The Ark – died recently in Paris. He was 90. His life and enduring work offer reassurances that our weary world still fosters heroic, even saintly, persons. His generosity of heart with the mentally disabled stands as witness to Hope and Goodness, and to the immeasurable value of simply giving one’s caring attention to others.
Vanier’s selfless accomplishments rest on the simplest of principles: give your self and your attention generously to others – not only the disabled, but to all others … for, in some ways, we are all disabled; we are all, in some ways, vulnerable and needy persons.
Vanier and his colleagues understand that our shared human infirmities are universal. They also recognize that many misguided paths exist in our morally-adrift culture where lawless individualism and twisted notions of “liberty” benumb many hearts and corrode many souls.
Jean Vanier was born in Geneva, Switzerland in 1928. His father, Georges, was a Canadian diplomat, later Governor General of Canada. The Vanier family traveled extensively in France and England, and in 1942, during the Second World War, when he was 13, Vanier entered the Royal Navy College. He spent eight years in both the British and Canadian navies.
When war ended in 1945, he was (as he reports in his illuminating book, “Becoming Human”) so committed to his naval career that he had “…impoverished other parts of my being – my heart and intelligence, which remained undeveloped...” So, in 1950, he resigned from the Canadian Navy to follow his spiritual yearning, inspired by the question every human being sometimes asks: “What is my mission in life, the reason I was born?”
During those searching years, he sought to live the Gospel more fully. He earned a Doctorate in Philosophy in 1962. He read deeply in Theology, and he joined a community called Eau Vive -- Living Waters -- a center for Catholic theological and spiritual formation for lay people.
Eau Vive was headed by Father Thomas Philippe. Vanier wrote fondly of Father Thomas as “…a man of heart. He loved people and helped many to discover their true selves … he was truly free and he, in turn, freed others...”
Truly free … In what does true freedom consist? We shall return to this question shortly.
The Need For Human Connection
In 1963, Father Thomas was appointed chaplain of Val Fleuri, a small institution north of Paris, which cared for thirty men who suffered profound intellectual disabilities. At this point, Vanier returned to Canada to teach at the University of Toronto, but he was soon drawn back to Val Fleuri to study the human cost of intellectual disabilities and to experience the problems of the disabled.
He examined living conditions at Saint-Jean-les-Deux-Jumeaux, a psychiatric hospital just south of Paris. Jean was overwhelmed by the atmosphere of sadness within the concrete walls, where men walked aimlessly in circles. And there he met Raphaël Simi et Philippe Seux, whose suffering moved him profoundly.
His need to help inspired him to buy small, rundown house near the Val Fleuri and to invite Raphaël and Philippe to be his living companions. Jean explained: “Essentially, they (Raphael and Philippe) wanted a friend. They were not very interested in my knowledge or my ability to do things, but rather they needed my heart and my being.”
During months of trial and error, predictable conflicts and unimaginable frustrations arose. But these three men persevered and created an extraordinary bond as they tenaciously formed a family and made a home with one another … and for one another.
Their struggles to form a shared family evolved into the model of caring community life which became -- and still is -- L’Arche (rhymes with “marsh”), the Ark, a Godly place of safety and refuge for the intellectually disabled who are further wounded by life’s overwhelming challenges.
L’Arche grew slowly but steadily in France. Then, in 1968, Jean gave a retreat in Canada. The result was a new residence in Toronto -- L’Arche Daybreak, which opened in October 1969.
In 1970, L’Arche was born in India. Jean continued to offer retreats, and his example inspired new communities in North America. In 1972, L’Arche began in Erie, Pennsylvania, the first community in the United States. Two years later, L’Arche Mobile, Alabama and L’Arche Clinton, Iowa opened. L’Arche came to Cleveland in 1975.
Today, L’Arche has 154 communities (18 in the United States) spread over 5 continents, with 10,000 members, mentally disabled members and their “assistants.”
The cost and accomplishments of L’Arche are obvious, the struggles constant, but the outcomes are life-changing. And, as Vanier said in his always gentle, unassuming way, “…L’Arche is not a utopia … it is a hope...”
Hope and Family and Home
For the intellectually disabled, L’Arche is a place to live independently, a family household shared with others, or a source of daytime work programs. But it always rests upon a system of human support which is responsive to the needs of each individual.
For employees and volunteers, the “assistants” (many of whom reside full-time with the disabled) are fully focused on supporting the intellectually disabled as friends and family.
While L’Arche arose within the auspices of the Catholic Church, it is now an ecumenical organization. It welcomes disabled men and women of different religions and none. But, emphatically, it is the spiritual dimension, the collective striving for growth in faith and holiness, which makes L’Arche unique.
Were it not for its emphasis on the spirituality of each person, L’Arche would be merely another group home. All members, regardless of religious status, are encouraged to follow their spiritual journeys. Persons with no religious tradition are welcomed; freedom of conscience is respected.
To watch Jean Vanier explain his ideals about becoming human, see this link:
What Can We Learn ?
As we study the principles which motivated this extraordinary man and which still inspire his dedicated followers, two themes consistently emerge.
The first theme is our universal human vulnerability. The fact is that the mentally, intellectually and psychologically disabled reflect our universal human disabilities, our fallibility, our human weaknesses. The fact is that every human being is vulnerable, i.e., able to be wounded physically, mentally, morally, intellectually, psychologically.
We resist admitting that, in some ways, we, too, are weak, disabled and fearful about our hidden sensitivities. We all create defensive strategies and erect protective barriers against an impersonal, uncaring, often hostile world which we perceive as a threat … or as simply indifferent to our well-being, even unconcerned about our very existence.
What first binds us to one another from birth is our innocence, our essentially fallible nature, our catalog of obvious imperfections which we eventually reveal … even when we do not know it.
It is not merely our strengths which define us but, contrarily, how we befriend our weaknesses, how we manage our urges, how we monitor our broken selves, how we invest our lives with dignity and control our behavior with honor, how we revere the gift of life itself.
The second theme is the human need to connect with other people, to be included and revered, to be regarded with affection and respect, which is, of course, the primary role of the family.
Even people who convey aloof disdain, who covet haughty influence, who indulge the perks of wealth and revel in the tics of power are not immune to their heart’s need for attentive kindness, for the sincerity and acceptance of a truly loving Other … and for the clarity of soul and the cleansing effects of truth which only humility affords.
No lonely soul is immune from the need for assurance; for consoling intimacy and unpretentious regard which only authentic love provides. Even those who reject affection still long for the heartfelt embrace of the Beloved.
Fundamentals Of Living
Jean Vanier’s fundamental message -- indeed, the first and final message of Life Itself -- is to accept our imperfections as intrinsic to our nature and our existence. We do not stop there, but we do begin there.
As one studies Vanier’s interactions with others, especially the intellectually disabled, one cannot but recognize the transforming qualities of simple love, visibly expressed. One becomes witness to the transformative effects of shared vulnerability and understanding. One sees the power of mutual support in relationships which are “therapeutic” in the deepest sense of that word, i.e., “caring for the soul.”
Only love sustains this kind of generosity. Such altruism is the font of true liberty, true freedom. It liberates us from the enslaving confines of culture’s narcissistic, misguided notions of what constitutes human dignity and worth. It reveals that liberty is not having or doing or accumulating or possessing, but giving of one’s heart freely to others and being present freely for others -- and not counting the cost to self.
Accepting our human imperfections is not -- not -- moral capitulation nor an excuse to cease one’s efforts to grow in virtue and deepen one’s spirituality. Accepting our mutual human foibles is a beginning, not an end.
Our imperfections present us with the opportunity and with the choice to live beyond our ego’s safety zone and our culture’s restrictive limits of haughtiness, aggression and selfish, dismissive arrogance.
Our weaknesses are opportunities to pursue humility and simplicity and to nurture an empathic heart; opportunities to move beyond the point at which human “weakness” is exploited, and disdain is the norm; opportunities to pursue the challenge of becoming truly human.
A Closing Thought, A Lasting Vision
We learn early in life to seek privilege, to covet comfort and safety, to satisfy personal ego, to be valued and applauded, to follow the dictates of “Me First.”
We learn early in life to erect protective barriers between ourselves and those whom we perceive as different from us, especially if their difference is devalued or stigmatized.
We learn early in life to avoid, and even degrade, the unpopular, the strange, the outsider, the unattractive, the odd, the nerds, the uncool. We become facile at avoiding the “desirables” in our midst.
Critics of Vanier’s principles deny our common humanity. They deny that the healthiest vision we can possess is to see others as our brothers and sisters in our shared humanity.
Cynics deny that we are most human when we accept others as they are, with their different gifts and capacities for loving and being loved in ways we do not comprehend.
But we also learn to deny that these traits apply to us, for we are not weak, nor are we disabled nor sullied by nature’s vagaries … nor are we likely ever to be wrong! You? Maybe … but me? No way!
The truth is that each human person possesses a vulnerable heart and a list of hopes and needs which we all share. Vanier’s experience of living with - and for - people with profound impairment dispels pretense and reveals the fraudulent, yet, common ideas that 1) our vulnerabilities must be denied, and 2) that love cannot be expressed in a million different ways.
And Now ??
When all is said and done, two simple points remain:
1) the power of humility when we admit that we are all somehow disadvantaged, weak and vulnerable to error, subject to the ambiguities and vagaries of Creation;
2) the incalculable value of our caring presence to others, the value of giving our attention to the dignity and beauty to be found in the ordinariness of humanity, and the value of showing our loving attention and affection to others -- especially to our family.
Finally, then, let us well remember Jean Vanier and all we may learn from him. As the Catholic prayer says:
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
30 April 2019
Nancy: Goodness Remembered
May 1st is the first anniversary of my Beloved Nancy’s death. One year. These months have been a time of grieving for those who love her still, who miss her profoundly. As C. S. Lewis insists, grieving takes its own time. How true.
Not surprisingly, I am - day and night – reminded of my wife’s goodness, of her special goodness which, for nearly forty years, I was blessed to share and to learn from in so many ways beyond the counting.
Live And Remember … And Learn
Our early years were a prolonged honeymoon. We moved from the parched Arizona desert to a seaside village where we walked the beach each morning and spent leisurely hours at a sidewalk coffee shop overlooking the sea.
Slowly, ever so slowly, did we ease into the life-long process of learning how, finally, to love with unguarded vulnerability which ego’s wariness and eager ambition instinctively shun.
Little by little, it became clear to us that there is surely more to this marriage than simply “making it work.” There is, we gradually realized, the possibility for extraordinary intimacy of mind and soul in this relationship, a potential for a loving connection based on mutual trust and openness with one another. We saw the promise of a relationship which we would find nowhere else, with no one else.
Finding “Us” In Trust
For starters, we learned -- slowly at first -- to think in terms of “we” rather than simply of “me” and “my needs” and “my wants.” We learned that a greater reality exists: “us.”
We then had to recognize a hard fact of married life: it is not possible to love -- to truly and unreservedly love -- someone whom we cannot first trust. First and always, there must be trust. We can sustain a measure of affection and family fidelity for a time … but the power of trust is beyond time, as is the love of committed benevolence which trust can ultimately produce. But married love will not survive in a spiritual or emotional vacuum. Above all: there must be trust.
A Livable Vision
And so we spent some years developing a vision of what our lives could be together, as we learned to trust one another, to listen and to argue with restraint. We learned to embrace our differences and not to exploit them, as we trusted one another more and more. And love did indeed follow our hopeful vision and reward our efforts.
As years lengthened, loving one another became our central reality -- and we were truly blessed, one with the other, and our vision flourished.
The Courage To Be
But as our years passed, various maladies gradually drained my Beloved’s health. Her pain -- so courageously borne -- became our constant reminder of our shared frailty.
Inevitably, illness and age sapped her energy and her vitality. But as my Beloved weakened, her tenacious inner spirit emerged, and her quiet acceptance brought patience and extraordinary calmness to our lives, along with moments of gentle wisdom which were, to me, astonishing.
I knew how much she suffered each day, but she would smile with gracious Faith … and would then close her eyes in prayerful reverie, and squeeze my hand in a statement of her love for me … and of her readiness to accept what God had decreed for her.
After years of bearing such burdens, her resources were finally taken by sickness. We brought her home from the hospital. She received the Sacraments and final blessings of our Catholic Faith and, with her loved ones attending her, she died in peace on the first of May.
Life And Loving Continue
To this day, so many unshared memories still linger, so many embraces ungiven, so many loving words unspoken, so many moments of admiration and gratitude unexpressed, so many grand emotions still enshrined in the privacy of one’s heart. And even as these endless days pass ever so slowly, I realize there still remains much to be learned from our marriage, from the example of my Beloved, a grand and blessed woman.
Lessons For All Lovers
We both learned -- sometimes the hard way -- that in a marriage of substance and fidelity, the early, well-intended promises to “love and honor” are merely the threshold to coming years of necessary changes for both persons: changes in thought and attitude and behavior and character.
Such changes are costly. We do not quickly relinquish our ego’s defenses, nor abandon our habits of security and avoidance. Nor do we lightly surrender our pretenses, nor risk rejection nor easily embrace the precarious challenge of giving our trust.
Romance Is Merely Prelude
To many persons, romantic attraction comes easily, even recklessly. But romantic emotionality is not authentic love. True love involves the lengthy process of granting trust to that special person while also earning trust.
The gift of trust is quite a challenge for both persons. It’s risky because we learn early in life to trust sparingly and to protect ourselves from truths which sting … mainly because they are often so accurate.
When the gift of trust is earned and given, trust then opens the heart’s door to true intimacy. True intimacy is far more than merely sharing secrets or gossipy tidbits. It is the unveiling of heart and mind and soul to that rare person who has become our friend-beyond-friendship. True intimacy is one of the lasting rewards of a trusting marriage.
But some marriages remain precarious; the persons are habitually hesitant to trust one another. In such instances, trust is edged out. Hesitancy then leads to cordial superficiality which cloaks deeper avoidance. An edgy, abrasive stand-off is often the dreary result.
The Cost Of Trust
Over our years, my Beloved and I learned that the pursuit of trust and openness and intimacy in marriage is a journey of arduous self-sacrifice and confrontation which demands humility and a whole lot of truthful candor – all for the best interests of the other as our mutual priority.
This marital journey of self-abnegation is indeed costly to one’s ego. It may take years and much courage to “get it.” As a result, many people are late to recognize their partner’s value, late to comprehend and admit their need for true intimacy, late to the uncommon peace which reconciliation affords.
The choice to selflessly love each other asks a very great deal of both persons. But shared commitments also offer the benefits of mutual vulnerability and a loving relationship wherein we are, at long last, safe – and we know it.
The Upside of Choosing
When we accept our mutual vulnerability, we also accept each other’s faults and foibles and picayune missteps which often befog and curdle the early years of some marriages. Wisely, then, do we avoid needless friction where unity and affection should reign. Wisely do we banish suspicion where trust should abound. And wisely do we thank God for that person whom we choose to revere above all others.
And in God’s good time, love’s goodness brings light and life to us all ... and we are evermore grateful to God for the wisdom which teaches us these truths and for the years to appreciate and honor our Beloved.
The Price Of Loving
In time, love will eventually impose a price to be paid. The loss of one’s Beloved will then tap into the deepest reservoirs of emotion we possess. Love’s undisguised vulnerability makes us subject to unavoidable grief when our Beloved is taken from us.
Grief’s weighty price will, we are told, inevitably fade … but its passing is not quick in the hearts and memories of those to whom the Beloved meant so very much, for love’s power is never lost to memory or to the heart.
For a time, love must bear grief’s burden as we are immersed in wonderment and ambiguity … but our Faith tempers that cost with reverence and hope and unflagging gratitude for time’s richest gift, the gift of loving and being loved, the gift of the Beloved.
Faith And Purpose
Therefore, if one seeks solace for grief or looks for meaning in the death of the Beloved, one soon realizes that clarity is fleeting --- unless one’s Faith in God sustains and upholds.
When Faith and Hope are as true as Love has been, then there is indeed much meaning in loss, much value in suffering, much insight to be gained from the gifts of Faith and Hope.
Even if, at first, these gifts are hidden by grief, buried beneath the yoke of trauma which death always brings, the message is insistent and always at hand: God’s messages are always present to us and cannot be denied; avoided, yes; denied, never.
Love’s Enduring Power
Perhaps the most generous insight of all is the realization that one is truly capable of loving so deeply and so ardently. To know one’s depth of feeling -- and of Faith -- is truly a grace.
There is, thus, a further vision to be found, a vision of loving beyond life, a vision which one’s Faith allows and nourishes. And, with Faith and Hope abiding, one faces the reality that the Love of God, mirrored in the goodness of married life and the love of the Beloved, is vastly greater than the pain of loss.
The love of God, which marriage pre-figures, informs our choice to love one another with meaning and fidelity, beyond time and mind and heart.
Such love as God affords in marriage calms the pain of loss and reminds us that love does indeed survive all else.
My Beloved had a favorite poem:
Tranquility is a little child asleep,
A clear, calm sky, the softly falling snow,
The space between all heartbeats,
In which love reminds the anxious heart,
“Be still and know.”
In her final years, my Beloved Nancy would quietly sit in her armchair next to a full-length window and look into the small patio garden which I had filled with the greenery of succulents and flowering plants. And, as her ailments took their toll, she taped a verse from Psalm 46 on the window pane, in a place where she would read it many times each day. It says simply: “Be still, and know…”
May it be so for those of us who yet live and have the choice to love and to be loved.
May it ever be so.
14 April 2019
Belief And Its Contrarians:
Walking Out Of Darkness
Not long ago, I planted a small, twig-like stem of scraggly roots. With dutiful regularity I watered and nourished my roots, then watched as they slowly formed freshened leaves. To my delight, delicate buds slowly appeared. Now, six months later, by some intrinsic, miraculous process of Nature, my roots have flowered and graciously reward me with gorgeous white roses.
Occasionally, a neighbor comments appreciatively on the array of loveliness my plants provide. I smile, of course, and thank them for their kindly observations -- but in my heart I know I can claim no credit for such beauty unfolding.
I am (as are we all) merely a participant in many such beguiling events each moment. We are daily witnesses to a myriad of astonishing happenings which are elegant in design, baffling in complexity, predictable in regularity, divine in origin.
A Universe Of Wonders
My roses are but one of the inexplicable ways in which Nature fills our lives every instant: the light of the sun which saturates, the whispered touch of the wind which refreshes, the distant twinkling of a billion galaxies above and billions more unseen, the rhythmic beating of our hearts within, the unexpected kindness of a stranger, the disarming laughter of children at play, the unforgettable, lingering embrace of the Beloved.
Creation’s miraculous processes are the essence of life. In fact, Creation rests on the exquisite balance of a number of universal factors such as Newton’s gravitational constant, the mass and charge of the electron, the weak and strong nuclear forces, the mathematics of motion and acceleration, to name a very few.
Creation’s mysteries include the gift of one’s own life, a gift which should ignite in us awe and gratitude to our Creator. Science seeks to explain the “when” and “where” and “what” of Creation, but science falters at the question, “Who” is the cause of it all?
The “Who” of Creation is, of course, God. But these days, God is often shunted aside as an intrusion into our national conversation. God is an obstacle to the litany of “human rights” and grotesque “freedoms” which inevitably surface when mankind dismisses the fact that Creation has a Creator.
Nonetheless, reason and logic persist: God creates. Evidence and history and common sense urge us to acknowledge that God creates all, including us. We participate but only God creates. And our acceptance -- or denial -- of God as our Creator has profound consequences for each of us … and for the future of our society.
Evidence abounds … yet many resist belief in God. Why?
Our Struggles With Reason
For starters, belief in God compels us to admit His sovereignty over Creation, over us. We have to admit we are dependent creatures, immersed in the mystery of His Creation. Someone greater than ourselves can tell us what we should do … but “should” is an aggravating trigger to folks who resent calls to obedience and intellectual humility.
Since God’s laws often restrict behavior and carry consequences we’d rather ignore, admitting our dependence is to admit that we are vulnerable to error and wrong-headedness, that we often choose self-serving rationalizations. Moreover, by admitting our dependence, we acknowledge that Godly norms do indeed exist in the form of virtues, such as justice and prudence, fortitude and temperance, faith, hope and charity, chastity and patience, modesty and humility – all those moral realities about which we hear very little these days.
It suits our culture to deny guilt, keep God out of it, stifle the echoes of our errant consciences rather than wrestle with responsibilities which restrict our skewed notions of “human rights.”
A Culture Adrift
As we obscure God’s role in personal, political and cultural life, we also deny our responsibilities to one another. Furthermore, to deny our dependence on God exposes our culture’s distortions of morality … especially when unborn-and-newborn babies are involved; children whose right to life is violated every minute of every day by Leftist orthodoxy in the name of “human rights.”
Without God, nothing restrains human excess. The lives of the young, the elderly and ill, the depressed and suicidal, even the bored, become disposable. Nihilism ascends.
Reckless, politically correct mantras replace law, virtue, history and tradition. Even settled facts of science are dismissed. Our national conversations overflow with petty, calculated enmity, with moral relativism and vitriolic discourse and baseless accusations. We shrug at evils unimaginable a generation ago.
Humanism Without Humanity
At the core of this malaise is anti-theist humanism writ large. It is the result of militant secularism which fuels Leftist intolerance and political correctness. It generates absurdly stereotyped villains: white-privileged, racist, alpha-males who are hate-speaking, nationalistic, knuckle-dragging, deplorables; conspiratorial Conservatives, most of whom are gun-toting, Bible-clutching, closed-border, omni-phobic (…..wait for it…….) Christians!
Professor Daniel J. Mahoney (The Idol of Our Age: How the Religion of Humanity Subverts Christianity) argues that this utterly secular creed is a “religion of humanity” and is replacing Judeo-Christian values in much of Western society. Humanitarian instincts seem fine - on the surface. But without the restraints of pubic virtue, exaggerated victimhood and moral vacuity become the norms. Emotional righteousness overcome reason. Every new “freedom” is allowed, no matter how bizarre or perverse.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who evolved from Soviet atheism into fearless Christian witness, warned America that without divine warrant and acknowledgement of God’s laws, humanitarianism invariably becomes tyranny and negates true politics (i.e., the betterment of people). After years of imprisonment and abuse in the Soviet gulag, Solzhenitsyn finally wrote:
“…How easy it is to live with you, O Lord,
how easy to believe in you.
When my spirit is overwhelmed within me,
when even the keenest eyes see no further than the night
and know not what to do tomorrow,
You bestow on me the certitude
that You exist
and are mindful of me,
that all the paths of virtue
are not barred…
that I, too, may reflect Your radiance upon mankind…”
History is clear: without God, societies embark upon that “walk into darkness” which Elie Wiesel writes about in his “Memoirs.” Historian Christopher Dawson told us that the modern project, having cut itself off from God, triumphantly pursued a “career of explaining nature and man to itself by its own unaided power, and ended in a kind of rational suicide by explaining itself away.”
The Conclusion Is Obvious
Every human experience (work, friendship, love, marriage, education, family life) involves a measure of everyday faith in others, moments when we trust an unseen power or an unknown authority beyond ourselves. Natural faith is a common necessity, a reasonable and logical choice we all make many times daily. But for our spiritual maturity and survival as a society, our lives demand Faith of a higher form, namely, Faith in God and attention to His wishes as they are revealed to us through time and history.
Faith in God does not eliminate worry or doubt. By definition, it includes certainty and uncertainty, the known and the unknown. Faith in God does not banish life’s misfortunes. But Faith does reassure us that we are always upheld by God’s greater Reality. His Reality grants us the life we possess, the mind with which we reason, the heart with which we seek to do right, the animating soul which, as St. Augustine says, is ever-restless without God.
Faith in God says that while we do not know everything, we do not need to know everything. Faith illuminates what we know and what we do not know, sometimes in light, sometimes in deep shadow.
And even when all is indeed darkness (as it was for Mother Teresa for forty years), Faith inspires us with the courage to persevere toward the Light without risking that “walk into darkness” about which Elie Wiesel poignantly warns.
Walking Into Light
Moreover, Faith in God enlivens Hope. Together, Faith and Hope reveal to us that true Charity – i.e., loving God and His people -- is the highest expression of our created selves.
True Charity (i.e., Caritas, true love of benevolence, not merely almsgiving) is the intentional gift of our selves, generously and freely, as an incarnate expression of our regard for others, without seeking reward or expecting applause.
Giving freely of ourselves from our heart’s willing reservoir, responding to the vulnerabilities of others, seizing any of the thousand opportunities for courtesy and civility each day -- even to passing strangers or even to those persons whose arrogance blinds them to love’s simplicity -- these are the gifts of Faith and Hope enlivened by Charity which honor our Creator, Who walks among us still, Who is present to us still.
Sometimes, when we give our love, it is not returned -- but the ingratitude and coldness and rudeness of others does not lessen the value or the beauty of our giving.
In our lives, we become what our choices to love others make of us. We also become what our rejection and dismissal of others do to us, as our hearts and souls wither and grow sere and dusty.
But as we become aware of love’s innate beauty, we are inspired to bear the costs of loving. Love is the soil in which, like my roses, our souls are meant to bloom. Even when love costs us a very great deal in loneliness and need, in illness and loss, we are still moved under its inspiration and its clarity to willingly bear the costs of being loving persons, for then life truly does make sense.
The Transcendent Goal
For these reasons have we been born … and given time and life:
- That we develop our loving selves and enliven our loving hearts over our length of days before us;
- That we recognize Creation’s laws and limits … and honor them in the time ahead;
- That we make kindness and gratitude our guiding motives, refreshed and deepened by the virtues which love instills in us; virtues such as wisdom, patience and humility and an ever-generous heart which love nourishes.
Uncertainty is always part of human experience, and all things are not open to us. But this is precisely why Faith and Hope and Charity are so crucial -- and so clearly the path into Light and Life.
As my latter years now swiftly pass and distractions fade, I am so often struck by the timeless realization of what a grand gift such Love truly is, of how fine it is to be with loving persons, of how grand it is to be mindful of others, of how essential are small acts of kindness. How else can we benefit our universal humanity, express our desire to care and bring kindness where it is wanting?
May we be inspired to seek Faith and Hope and Charity, not only in God, but with one another. Is there a better reason to live?
May it be so. May it ever be so……….
4 March 2019
The Green New Deal: Myths and Migraines
The Green New Deal is the Democrat Party’s latest version of the American Dream. The GND is a lengthy list of radical proposals for total transformation of our culture, our economy, our health care and educational systems, our environmental conditions, on and on.
The GND expands government incomprehensively. For starters: no more carbon-spewing airplanes. High-speed rail will take us everywhere. Government-administered universal health care for all – but no private insurance (so wait your turn). Not to worry: the bureaucracy will care for us, will put our children in government daycare, will see to our pesky grandparents. The government will cover everything. No worries!
We need no longer fret about farm animals emitting their befouling digestive vapors into our soon-to-be pristine atmosphere. Some astute planners suggest that even toilet paper (scourge of civilized nations) will be passé. This will undoubtedly be a relief to truly progressive Progressives, but one still wonders what sort of green technology will possibly take its place?
Democrat Socialists also assure us of equal pay for everyone, no matter what job we do (or avoid). There will be subsidized options for the energetically-deflated who can thence stay home and compose music, as Mrs. Pelosi idealized.
There’s more. Safe, adequate housing for everybody, economic security from cradle to grave, clean water, clean air, healthy and affordable food, access to nature for all of us. Democrats already demand open borders and no more guns in private hands (only the crooks will be armed)… and free government abortions for woman who weary of Nature’s gift of Motherhood … and newborn babies will be left to die if child-rearing and responsible parenting are deemed just too burdensome.
Brave New World Of Democrat Socialism Beckons
Democrat Socialism’s Green New Deal highlights the socio-economic perspicacity of Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, abetted by dozens of Democrat elders. Indeed, many Congresspersons (who should know better) line up behind her, in pathetic testament to the vacuity of their vision for America, with dubious “true faith and allegiance to the Constitution,” as their Oath of Office dictates.
Democrat Presidential candidates also espouse this Green New Deal. Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Amy Klobuchar and lesser-known hopefuls believe – or pretend to – that Bigger Government and the Socialist agenda are the future of America.
The Green New Deal (a reminder of Franklin Roosevelt’s massive expansion of government in 1933) raises endless questions. The GND’s budget-boggling programs demand overwhelming centralized Federal control. The cost: more trillions of dollars than the total wealth of nations on the planet.
Purveyors of the Green New Deal call it “Democratic Socialism.”
But no two words in political discourse are more opposed than “Democracy” and “Socialism.” Adults with knowledge of history and an ear for political chicanery immediately recognize this as a cynical attempt to hide Socialism’s dreary realities.
Adults with knowledge of history and reverence for truth also remember the abhorrent legacies of Germany’s National Socialism, of Lenin’s enormous, brutally centralized Soviet Socialist System, of Maoist Marxism in China, of Castro’s devastated Cuba, of the total wreckage in Socialist Venezuela, of the lingering futility in Laos and Cambodia.
Even seemingly benign Scandinavian variants demand a flattening of individual creativity. The Nordic Socialist model blocks the growth and free expansion of private enterprise, enforcing a dead-end for entrepreneurs, for the private creation of jobs and for the potential to generate economic prosperity and personal wealth.
No matter what label attaches, all forms of Socialism produce an oppressive Big Government which engenders an increasingly faltering society in which systems of production, distribution, pricing, supply and demand, quantity and quality are arbitrarily imposed and enforced (sometimes with brutal efficiency).
The Human Measures
Socialism creates a centralized bureaucracy which denies individuality, stifles creativity, punishes personal initiative, demands collective sameness, elevates intrusive governmental oversight, disparages entrepreneurship, deprives citizens of their inherent responsibility for their own lives, and makes moral decisions which properly belong to the individual.
Socialism’s worst outcomes involve 1) stifling individualism, private ownership and personal incentive, and 2) the subtle, soul-sapping poison of faux security-for-freedom: give up your fundamental human rights and your creativity. The State will grant free medical care, free education, free retirement, free everything. Just don’t rock the boat or get feisty.
No matter how fervently Presidential candidates praise Democratic Socialism (especially Candidate Sanders, who raves about the Cuban and Nordic models), no matter how much deceptive rhetoric flows from lock-step Democrats, the historic patterns of Socialism’s dehumanizing principles cannot – and should not -- be denied.
Freebies From Cradle To Grave !!
Some uninformed voters respond to the facile, fractious rhetoric of Sanders, Warren, Ocasio-Cortez, Booker and Harris. Naïve voters are especially vulnerable when pandering promises are made for free education, free housing, equal pay for all, free medical care, free abortions and an endless array of no-cost benefits, to be doled out from birth to death in Scandinavian style by an ever-more benign government which expects (wait for it!!) nothing in return except uniformity in performance, income, living style, energy – but at the cost of one’s individualism.
Some people value personal responsibility and relish the freedom to choose their work and life style, to freely select their own medical care, to freely pursue their own education, to freely make as much money as possible, to freely express their own talents, to freely build their own family and honor their responsibilities.
The idea of being “taken care of” for a lifetime by governmental agencies and hovering bureaucratic overseers is insipid. Why surrender one’s talents, individuality and potential to a smothering system which muffles creativity and represses self-expression in favor of uniformity and compelled equality.
In a 1945 speech in the House of Commons, Winston Churchill said, “… the inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings. The inherent virtue of Socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.” Capitalism has faults, to be sure, but history offers abundant testament to the demeaning limits and debilitating outcomes of Socialism.
In 1989, I visited Communist Poland. I witnessed the long-term outcomes of Socialism. Let me recall several experiences during that period.
A Nation Betrayed
In Poland I saw “Democratic Socialism” in action. I visited friends and colleagues in Warsaw and Krakow, met politically-active members of the Politburo, spent days with a number of academics from Warsaw University and visited with several resident journalists. I talked with many Poles (including Communist Party members), studied their behavior and discussed their values, listened to their fears (spoken openly and whispered privately) about the quality of life and the moral milieu under Socialist ideology writ large in Polish history over six decades.
First, a bit of history.
In September 1939, Poland was invaded, first by the Nazis, then by the Soviet Union… i.e., the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Stalin’s form of atheistic Communism (formulated by Marx, later violently implemented in 1917 by Lenin).
The Soviet invasion of Poland was the result of a non-aggression pact signed with Hitler’s Nazi government. The terms of this pact (the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, for history buffs) released Nazis and Communists to invade Poland from East and West. Persecution of the Polish people quickly ensued. Auschwitz, the Nazi death center, was built and eventually took the lives of several million human beings, mainly Jews. (The Pact was later broken when the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union).
After the Nazi defeat, the Communist occupiers of Poland held a fraudulent post-war election in 1947. The Communists and their Polish Socialist Party allies manufactured the term “Democratic Socialism” (today’s refrain) to create the vicious fiction of free and open elections. The results overwhelmingly favored these so-called “Democratic Socialists” who were, of course, Communists allied with their Polish Socialist satraps.
This election was a tragic, deceptive illusion, exposed in later years by historians as a massive fraud.
Forty year later, I experienced what Socialism had wrought. Let me relate only one example of what I witnessed about the facts of Socialism in real life -- and its cost to human beings.
Fruit Of A Poisonous Credo
One day in Krakow, my guide (a stoic woman with no regard for the rulers of her nation) took me to the city center where stores and shops clustered. In front of one department store, we spotted a long line stretching up the street and around the corner. My guide grew excited; she knew exactly what this long line of quiet citizens really meant.
She pulled me to the front of the line. I stood mutely as she explained that I was an American, visiting on a government visa. She wanted me to see what their Communist economy had produced.
The people at the front of the line listened, then looked at me and smiled as they stood back so I could enter the department store.
In a healthy economy, the department store could have been similar to Marshall Field or Macys or (in the old days) a well-stocked Sears. But the store shelves were completely empty; nothing on them whatever. Nothing to buy. Clothes racks, empty; nothing to buy. Glass display cases, empty. Nothing. The store was, in fact, a ghost, barren of goods; dark, musty, settling into its own dust.
I looked back at the line of people, some of whom nodded at me, as if to say “See…. See how we live…”
And only then did I realize that this two-block-long line of people were waiting to buy toilet paper, stacked just inside the door where an official sat at a folding card table, watching me glumly.
Each person was allowed to buy two (only two) rolls of toilet paper, after hours of waiting. One elderly woman came up to me and tore open the roll she had just received. She handed me a sheet, spoke to me in Polish, her voice quavering with anger. Her meaning was clear: "Feel this!!" I felt the piece of toilet paper she held forth to me: its texture was of sand paper.
The Cost Of Naivete
There are many more poignant, crucial details I could tell:
- - of countless autos which littered every street of every city, abandoned for lack of replacement auto parts;
- - of the countless broken windows in apartment buildings, unrepaired for want of replacement glass;
- - of countless unfinished construction projects sitting idle month after month because of unavailable building materials;
- - of a centralized distribution system so poorly planned that food rotted in the fields while people hungered in the cities;
- - of countless unemployed men, sitting in rows along curbs with heads bowed in despair, silently smoking stale cigarettes, exchanging not a single word;
- - of pollution so thick on city streets that smog swirled like London fog around one’s ankles;
- - of the ever-present State Security agents, unsmiling men, coldly watching their own citizens with suspicious gaze;
- - of serious teen-aged Army soldiers dressed in thick grey uniforms; prematurely grim youngsters, groomed in the official tenets of atheist rhetoric;
- - and, most memorably, of the frightened young desk clerk at my hotel. When I was checking out, she handed back my passport and, at the same moment, glanced warily across the lobby at the State Security agent, clad entirely in black, sitting, watching. She leaned closer to me and whispered, “… America must be a wonderful country. In America, you do not have to be afraid…”
Socialism’s Message To Us All
To this day, the lasting message of my visit still remains quite clear to me:
- Socialism inevitably demands (however gradually) a surrender of initiative and creativity.
- It is a primitive system based on a perverted vision of human nature and belief in the infallibility of bureaucratic power.
- It militates against human ingenuity and dictates the expression of artistic and creative talent.
- It abhors civic virtues of industry and inventiveness, of motivation, drive and inspiration, of the simple desire to get ahead and make money. These civic virtues fuel a free Capitalist economy which rewards risk-taking and propels fiscal achievement. Under Socialism, however, these virtues are held back by the bureaucratic mandate of Socialist “equality” at the cost of fundamental human freedom.
Socialism invariably creates repression of dissent and degrees of increasing violence. Repression begins 1) with name-calling and the accusatory dictates of political correctness (which we already behold in America in abundance). Repressive tactics often escalate 2) to psychological intimidation (which we also behold in America), 3) then to legal sanctions, 4) physical violence and episodic brutality and, eventually, even to 5) control by political terror and disregard for human rights.
At worst, the power of the Socialist State becomes absolute. All sources of production and distribution are controlled by the bureaucracy. Control soon extends into every aspect of human activity, to businesses and cultural infrastructures, to schools and farms, into the arts, television and media, even (as in China) to religion, to family size and state-imposed abortions. Morality and law are decided by power. God is an intrusive myth.
What Do We Do Now?
Some Americans are blind to the revelations of history, in denial about the reality of these issues. They say, “…It could not happen here…” But the facts are clear: Socialism is already well established within our political elite.
Socialism is a doorway to moral decay and economic chaos, a doorway to cultural suicide. Socialism brings misery to the people over whom it inevitably exercises coercion and repression, even brutality. This is history’s lesson, verified in every nation where Socialism has been implemented and/or now exists.
Socialism always elevates the power of the collective State over individual dignity. Malignant outcomes are inevitable. Yet Socialist messages are being preached every day by our elected political celebrities who are either 1) ignorant of the human costs or, worse, are 2) fully aware of that Socialism will surely destroy our Republic.
What we do next -- how we vote -- will make all the difference….
18 February 2019
Aging Is Not For The Faint-Hearted
I go to a gym regularly -- three times weekly, sometimes more – if, that is, I can muster the sheer willpower to move. I readily admit it is always a chore to get up and suit up and man-up and face the moment.
There are times when I am seriously inclined to find an excuse to lounge, an alibi to nap or a “pressing” need to delay. Indeed, I have no problem chumming up a litany of weaselly reasons for avoiding the whole thing.
BUT … somehow, that ever-hovering Better Angel of my weary nature shames me into action and – reluctantly -- I drag my aging bones to the gym and jump in.
And when I finally banish my lingering inertia and get to it, I use the treadmill for a while, slyly watching the dials tick off, with maddening sluggishness, exactly how far I have come … and have yet to go.
When that’s done, I mosey over to the weight machines and pump some iron. This takes time because I do these exercises slowly, to get full benefit from the routines. I do not lift heavy weights; repetition is my aim, slow, repetitive movements, lots of burn and some acceptable ouch which produces moments of “What am I doing here, anyhow.”
I tell myself it is all for my health and well-being and cardio-fitness and such. “Just stop whining and get on with it,” I insist ….. and, somehow, I do (which, for skeptics, might serve as a proof for the existence of God).
As I rest between repetitions, I sometimes look around the gym. For courtesy’s sake, I try not to be caught gawking … but certain scenes – actually, certain persons – stick unavoidably in memory. Sometimes, as I peek, I am bemused by a preening scenario -- but sometimes I am also unexpectedly moved by what goes on before me.
A few distracting examples: there’s the minor drama of that young power-lifter who occasionally saunters in, gloved and grim, his tight undershirt (white, of course) straining to contain his pecs and lats and all the rest of him. His upper body -- bulging arms and a chest the size of my stove -- reminds me of a barrel resting upon a Parker House roll (unbuttered).
He follows a predictable rubric of preparation. Gradually, his breathing becomes more audible as he selects various weight and puts them on the crossbar. Next, he powders his hands with elaborate finesse, and slowly lays down on the bench in a gesture of ritual precision. Then, with a series of primitive grunts and calculated groans, he finally hoists the bar as high as he can for a series of mighty repetitions.
Each lift gives rise to fevered exhalations (a sort of tribal yell, really) which, on a clear day, might be heard in distant Joliet. He then replaces the bar, springs up from the bench, slaps his hands and paces in circles, muttering psycho-mantras calculated to energize his juices for his next dramatic expose’.
I find it all a bit bizarre but, admittedly, I am still an alien in his land of Musculariana, with my puny reps and weary dedication.
As my gaze wanders, I also spot the Gym Diva: she who comes attired in a form-fitting Givenchy nylon outfit designed not for the sweaty work of treadmills and weights, but for the silent appreciation of distracted elders with wandering gaze.
But beyond the obvious, there are persons who trigger quiet admiration and genuine respect. I am moved, for example, by the aging gentleman who walks ever-so-slowly with an obviously painful limp; the white-haired woman who moves from machine to machine with a badly stooped back; the rail-thin elder who must use a walker to move even a few feet; the elderly couple who support one another as they stretch with wary, cautious movements.
Although much effort and, very often, much pain is required, these elders still move and walk … and choose to persevere.
Often am I struck by the simple courage of so many of these elders who come to the gym with evident tenacity and the unflinching desire to chase life, to cling to health, to do all they can to seek and preserve the greatest gift of well-being our Creator bestows. They are there … and, with dignity and clarity, they persevere.
These good people, this multitude of elders, are undeterred by the accumulating drag and the inevitable cost of their years, still unfazed by the clear-and-present challenges of fighting for time and motivation and flexibility and purpose – still persevering, even as the inevitabilities of their aging make a flight of stairs as painfully daunting as a craggy tor.
They seek no pity nor play no sad songs for themselves. They set about their routines with slow, sometimes agonizing, attention to the smallest details. They do not flinch in the doing. Indeed, they often seem animated and lively, attuned to the underlying dignity of their actions and also, it often seems, to the gentle humor hidden at the core of all their pursuits. They know that time will not be outlived by any of us, and yet their smile of contentment perseveres in the shadow of their -- our -- universal frailty; smiles of quiet nobility which I often detect on the faces of these good folk; the elders’ steady smile which seems to say, “I know, I know … yet I choose to persevere.”
I do not know their names, nor I do I ask. I do my own routines as I, too, chase my health and feed my hopes for longer life, as I seek the maturity and dignity of my years. But I am also graced merely by being in the presence… the quiet presence … of so many courageous elders who have come a very long way in this life -- and who still choose to persevere.
And I am grateful to be with these good people, these elders who know, all too well, how grand this life can be, how fully blessed we are – all of us -- to live and to love and to spend our length of years upon this good earth, upon God’s own good earth.
9 February 2019
--- PART ONE ---
To Love Our Children
When my wife and I first held our newborn twin grandchildren moments after their arrival, they seemed exquisitely designed to fit into our enfolding arms. Their crinkled, unseeing eyes stared at us, their tiny, dimpled fists opened and closed as they savored life’s first liberating breaths.
For months, my family had monitored the miraculous growth of our twins. We watched their sonograms with astonished delight as they grew each week into distinctly formed little human beings, hearts beating visibly in sync with Nature’s steady, inexplicable rhythms. And now, finally, here they were, in our arms, to be loved for the lifetimes ahead of us.
Their complete vulnerability, their utter innocence and their total dependency were stunning. We were awakened as never before to the gifts of life and hope which these children brought to us. And, as I held them moments after their birth, a door of gratitude and wonder opened wide in my heart in ways I can yet neither explain nor resist. But you who have held a newborn know exactly what I mean: to embrace a baby is to hold the wonder of Creation close to one’s own heart.
For a decade and a half, we have filled several shoeboxes with photos charting their lives, sometimes playfully, sometimes seriously, some with smiles, some with tears. With the grace of God and the guidance of Nature, they continue to grow in health and intelligence and, some day, I pray, in wisdom and insight, as well.
My hopes for them endure as years pass, for no matter how old we become or how much travail we endure, our love for our children is every loving adult’s steadfast priority …
… or so it used to be.
Now Comes “Reproductive Health”
On January 22, 2019, to the delight of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Democrat Party, the New York State legislature passed the “Reproductive Health Act” (RHA). The RHA allows unrestricted, late-term abortions up to the very day of a baby’s birth.
Not coincidentally, the RHA was passed on the anniversary of Roe v Wade by a 32-24 majority of New York’s Democrat-controlled Senate. The Democrat State Assembly passed it 92-47. It was then signed, with enthusiastic élan, by Gov. Cuomo, who ordered state buildings be lit in pink to celebrate RHA’s passage.
The RHA -- and the merciless mentality behind it -- allows termination of a pregnancy through term. It also says that non-physicians (midwives, optometrists, chiropractors, dentists, podiatrists) may perform abortions. Unborn children are no longer recognized as second victims in New York when an expectant mother is murdered (as already happened Feb. 8, 2019). This is a reversal of recognition given to the six children murdered in their mother’s wombs on 9/11.
The RHA goes even further by guaranteeing that a repeal of Roe v. Wade will have no effect … abortion will never be banned in New York. Abortion up to birth is now the legal norm, defended and celebrated -- celebrated -- by Democrats who promote the killing of healthy, living babies under the specious, brutal rubric of “reproductive health.” This is the legal norm. But the moral norm? That is no longer a consideration.
Let’s be clear: RHA now allows abortion up to the very day of birth. Make no mistake – the child to be aborted is a fully formed human person. She, this child, is fully able to live on her own, fully equipped to begin her life outside her mother (as she has been for months). She is a real person, a human being, a citizen of the United States.
But all of that makes no difference. RHA states that this fully-alive human being -- this person -- can be “legally” killed even up to the day of her birth. The law of New York and, in fact, seven other states (the newest is New Mexico) says, “Fine by me; no problem. Let the child be put to death.”
In the same lethal vein, Vermont Democrat Kathy Tran proposed legislation legalizing abortion even after birth, an idea backed by Virginia’s Gov. Northan. In Rhode Island, Democrat Gov. Gina Raimondo promised to sign legislation legalizing abortion even after the child is viable, and Democrats in Massachusetts have also passed such a law.
The State of New Mexico just passed a law which repeats the grisly provisions of RHA -- but also allows abortion for minor children without parental knowledge or consent. Physicians are also compelled to perform abortions or risk the loss of their medical licenses. No faith protections for physicians are allowed.
Furthermore, Congressional Democrats have -- three times so far -- thwarted attempts by Republicans to vote on a bill that would at the very least provide medical care and treatment for babies who survive failed abortions. Democrats refuse to allow such a vote. The message is this: even if the child is capable of living, ignore her cries and let the child die. That is the result of the Democrat’s response.
The culture of death unleashed by Roe v Wade has borne America the shameful legacy of 61 million (and counting) dead children. Such is the moral vision of the Progressive Left.
It is clear (as it has been for years) the Democrat Party is the party of abortion-on-demand for any reason -- or no reason. Love and compassion for children unborn and born, and respect for the dignity of parenthood are of no merit.
The only goal is unobstructed “freedom” to abort and the ludicrous notion that abortion is part of “comprehensive health care” for women.
The words of Isaiah resound loud and clear to our nation: They have no mercy for the infant in the womb, no pity in their eyes for children.”
A Mother’s “Right” To Kill Her Child
We have all heard the rallying cry of abortion supporters: “My body, my choice.” Beyond the angry demonstrations for “women’s reproductive health care” and the deliberately obfuscating verbiage of the Left’s inventive vocabulary, the blunt truth is this:
In America, it’s a woman’s legal right to kill (a harsh word, a harsher reality) her child for any reason at all. It is that simple. Raw emotion and propaganda aside, the law supports a mother’s right to kill her child.
No matter what attempts are made to defend, deny, distort, twist, spin, re-define, re-interpret, lie or simply ignore the legal, medical and moral facts, we are now a nation in which a major political party and millions of our adult citizenry (including some ministers) choose to deny legal facts, medical truths and moral traditions to support the destruction of our children.
Many people ululate about the climate dangers to polar bears and trispot darter fish … but the most endangered species in America is now the unborn and being-born child.
--- PART TWO ---
Elephants And Ice Cream
My wife and I would often babysit our new grandchildren in their earliest years. Gladly did we spend many days feeding and changing them, and laughing with our twins. We took them to their favorite park for swings and jungle-jim, and we went on brief safaris into the underbrush in search of roving elephants.
We picked them up at kindergarten and karate. We subsidized the local Baskin and Robbins and made hungry forays into the Chinese restaurant where greasy, succulent egg rolls awaited.
We watched our twins grow stronger and taller and take on the world and ask challenging questions. They became our friends … and with each visit, that door to our hearts opened ever-wider, where it still stands today, open and loving and hopeful, ever-grateful to God they are alive.
The Demise Of Public Compassion
Support for abortion hinges on the false contention that babies are not human beings (one wonders when any of us becomes “human”). Celebrated abortion spokespersons – Princeton’s Peter Singer, for example - believe parents should have a period of, say, thirty days (some want longer) to decide if they wish to keep or kill their child, especially if the child is ill or retarded or somehow not “normal.”
Such thinking bestows upon parents a fallacious “right” to decide if their child should live or die. After weeks of life, the survival of living children -- who are still not considered human persons -- would be a matter of parental choice.
In all of this, the reality of God is, of course, irrelevant, the Ten Commandments discarded, the Constitutional right to life rejected. Parental responsibility is twisted beyond recognition. We become gods. “Morality” (such as it is) now rests solely on power and on the idea that putting a child to death may sometimes be humane.
The logic of the abortion community fills some of us with horror, especially those of us who value human life from conception to natural death -- and in-between. We are astonished by the culture of abortion which promotes the death of innocent human beings for reasons which trivialize the boundaries of morality, reason and simple honesty.
This is moral madness. And our nation’s readiness to propose the death penalty when convenient is of special concern to elders and dependent persons, i.e., those who are no longer members of the “productive proletariat,” some of whom are already being put to death without their knowledge or will.
Advocates of assisted suicide have also proposed wider latitude for the eradication of elderly persons, of children with Downs Syndrome (all of whom are now routinely aborted in Iceland) and of an assortment of our less-than-fully-human citizenry.
Thus, these questions must be asked:
- At what point in our lives do any of us become fully, acceptably human?
- Where will this culture of death take America?
- How many more innocent people will die?
- What category of unacceptable persons is next?
- Where, pray tell, where will it all end?
Abortion’s Grisly Processes
What specific actions does an abortion involve? For years, I have avoided writing or speaking about the next few paragraphs, but the abortion issue is now fundamental to our status as a civilized nation. Acceptance of abortion is now spreading rapidly across our country. So, I continue reluctantly … but I add a caution to those who find the truth of these procedures distressing or, in my view, heart-breaking.
Let us look only at the dilation and extraction method (D&E, referred to as “dismemberment” abortion for reasons which are obvious).
D&E is customary for an abortion in the second trimester. The intruding “fetus” -- i. e., the child -- is rotated. Forceps grasp and pull the child’s legs, shoulders, and arms through the birth canal. Various body parts (kidney, liver, brain matter, etc.) have pecuniary worth, and are sometimes saved for sale to centers of animal-human experimentation.
A small incision is then made at the base of the child’s skull to allow a suction catheter inside. The catheter removes the “cerebral material” until the child’s skull collapses. The remains of the child are removed.
At this point in every pregnancy, the baby (or “fetus,” as some prefer) has a beating heart and measurable brain waves. The baby’s gender is now identifiable. Her mother will begin to feel the baby move within her. The child produces urine, even practices breathing. Her bones are now clearly forming. She can hear and swallow and suck. Her hair and fingernails and even her unique fingerprints are forming … and she begins to respond to her mother’s now-familiar voice.
These universal biological processes of human growth and development raise so many fundamental issues (all of them moral, as well as bio-medical, issues) about 1) every child’s ability to feel pain, and 2) the indispensable role of every mother in the life and survival of her baby (to list only two) that one hesitates even to pose them.
Our Moral And Legal Imperatives
Given the overwhelming scientific data, the existence of a human person - and not merely a “clump of fetal tissue” - is crystal-clear.
But here is the crucial point: is the “fetus” factually a person?
Judge Andrew Napolitano puts the legality of the issue clearly and bluntly. He says that “… the freedom to kill innocents violates all norms of civilized society. It violates the natural law. It wasn’t even condoned in the state of nature, before governments existed. It violates the 13th and 14th Amendments. Yet, the Supreme Court and numerous congresses have refused to interfere with it. It is a grave and profound evil. It is legalized murder. Is the fetus in the womb a person? Since the fetus has human parents and all the needed human genome to develop into postnatal life, of course the fetus is a person.”
Nevertheless, abortion’s supporters tell us that all such legal facts, bio-medical data and moral concerns are irrelevant when the “human and civil right” of the mother to destroy her child is invoked. After all, they say, the mother is probably suffering, too. They insist the mother’s “comprehensive health care” demands “reproductive freedom,” i.e., the “right” to be rid of this “fetus” (a cold, cosmetic term for the word “baby”).
Proponents -- such as Senator Kamala Harris and her Democrat colleagues -- incorrectly claim abortion is an “embedded” Constitutional right. Harris is an experienced attorney. She knows full-well that abortion is not a Constitutional right. It is a wretched decision, a fiction of an errant Supreme Court; the same Court which guarantees access to abortion throughout pregnancy in its Doe v. Bolton ruling.
True, the Supreme Court did allow the states to set legal restrictions on abortion … BUT for decades these restrictions have been ignored whenever a physician says the mother’s “health” is in danger, whatever that means.
This “woman’s health” provision has been profoundly and repeatedly distorted to allow millions of medically needless abortions, often solely for convenience. “Women’s health” provision is a fallacious key to a profoundly brutal practice.
Abortion defenders further object: What of the rape victim or the victim of incest, unwillingly made pregnant by violence? It is cruel and unjust for her to have to give birth.
Rape is traumatic … yet the victim lives. Abortion is an even greater tragedy in which the death of an innocent child is the chosen outcome. The second act -- violent abortion -- cannot, and will never, rectify nor offset the first violent act.
Rape is surely dreadful but it is survivable -- as is the inevitable and painful death of a beloved, as are all of life’s unwanted sorrows, unexpected traumas and lingering emotional scars which we all bear. We all experience pain and anguish and doubt. But abortion? Abortion is death; there is no recovery.
Should we compound the trauma of rape with an even greater tragedy, the willed death of an innocent?
Should we punish the innocent to assuage the offended? Should one victim choose a second victim -- this time a vulnerable child -- to be sacrificed? To what end? Vengeance? What is thereby accomplished? Certainly not Justice, certainly not compassion or equity or the courage to choose life. What is the point of abortion, when life is still a choice?
Perpetuating pain and inflicting death upon the innocent will never, in any way, relieve or resolve our own suffering.
--- PART THREE ---
Where Are We Heading?
Further issues about abortion continue to plague us. A few examples:
- Body parts severed during abortions are sold for inter-species experimentation; killing babies is profitable, yet those who reveal this fact are being prosecuted;
- An investigative report in 2017 revealed that among 97 Planned Parenthood clinics contacted nationwide, 92 said they would not provide services to pregnant women unless they sought an abortion;
- Last year, Planned Parenthood (which is still subsidized by hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars) performed 332,757 abortions, an increase of 11,373 abortions over the previous year;
- Planned Parenthood clinics perform 118 abortions for every single adoption referral.
Abortion is profoundly evil -- yet it is staunchly defended by many Americans, spearheaded by Democrats, celebrated by politicians, applauded by some entertainers, normalized by media. Even some religionists who claim to live by the Christian ethic to love their neighbor make exception for the helpless child who is to be aborted.
Abortion denies Nature, law, divine tradition, science and morality. So, as rational, intelligent and honest human beings, we simply must ask:
- Is there a greater good to which are we sacrificing millions of babies? If so, what - or who - is it?
- To whose advantage is abortion made legal?
- Where did we get the idea that motherhood must include the choice – the “right” -- to destroy our children?
In his reflective book, "Moments of Reprieve," Primo Levi, a survivor of the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz, speaks of the "unassuageable sadness that grows on the ruins of lost civilizations." Our civilization – our America -- is losing its sanity. We are crushing our moral identity by our utter disregard for innocent, vulnerable lives. We are committing national suicide.
What sort of country are we preparing for our progeny? Have we have become so morally numb as a nation, so lacking in compassionate generosity and respect for life, that we are unwilling to give of ourselves and honor our most needy and innocent citizens? Is this who we have become as a people?
We are destroying the traditional moral bases of our once-extraordinary nation; a nation handed to us by Our Founders and, before them, by Almighty God, whom our Founders honored.
Will history say of America that we (as other cultures before us) have enshrined calculated inhumanity as our misguided national vision?
31 January 2019
Be patient, she said to me.
Your time will come, she said to me.
And when it does, do not then tarry ….
But, in the meanwhile, do not hasten.
Be patient, she said to me,
and smiled in the saying,
for length of years and times of quiet reverie
in pain and unknowing and reason’s flight,
to wonder through dark nights and hopeful days.
Do not tarry when your time comes, she said to me,
smiling, her hand held forth.
I shall be here to greet you, she said, so do not hasten,
for I shall wait ……..
But do not tarry, either.
24 January 2019
My Father’s Blessed Shadow
My father (God bless him) was a man of conviction, strong and deep, a man of his word. He held to a strict ethical creed which he followed with unwavering fidelity … and he expected the same from others. His word was his solemn promise, given and honored. His favorite, oft-repeated phrase was, “A dicker is a dicker,” his way of affirming that a deal is a deal. You give your word, you keep your word.
By training, my father was an engineer but he possessed a natural gift of stunning mathematical acumen and a computer-like fluency with numbers. Coupled with a flawless memory, an aggravatingly logical mind and a sense of wicked humor, playing bridge against him was an incessantly losing proposition.
As a child, I watched him closely … more than he knew ... and I learned. And as the years passed, I saw him change in ways few people witnessed. His sternness eased; his love for his family rose evermore to the surface and, to my benefit, his affection for me was, at last, free and always at hand.
His expressions of love for us became evermore evident and unguarded. He delighted in the company of family and neighbors. Even my college friends were mesmerized by his intelligence. Several of them (math majors, to be sure) would spend hours exploring with him the intricacies of formulae and the arcana of prime numbers. As I watched, I was quietly proud of him, proud of my father.
Decades later, many of my father’s lessons linger still. For example, my father taught me that as we ease into our adult years, age is no guarantor of maturity. In our youth, our beliefs are flimsy and whimsical, fluffy and flighty and easily jettisoned as we struggle for identity and self-respect. But as we grow older, we have the benefit of experience, mistakes, judgments good and foolish.
We adjust. We rebound … and common sense says we should change for the better, become more insightful, humbler about what we do not know. But while you are growing up, my father advised, be very slow to preen or gloat or exaggerate. “Listen first,” he cautioned, “always listen first … before your foot collides with your mouth…”
We all increase in years, but maturity may still elude us. Even greying elders may lack the stable moral values and insights which only maturity bestows; values and insights which eventually reveal the depth of our character and the height of our credibility … or their absence.
The Nature Of Conviction
Our defining values and insights become our convictions. They mold us as persons and guide us as moral agents. Our convictions inspire behavior which announces who we are, what degree of wisdom and insight we possess, how credible we finally become. And, as my father said, age is not the gauge by which such qualities of character can be measured.
By definition, our convictions are tenaciously held because they are the result of personal mistakes, painful experiences and gritty lessons hopefully learned. They become our personal code of thought and action, central to our identity. They guide our intellectual lives, determine the moral probity of our decisions. They influence how we see ourselves, what we think of ourselves, how we present ourselves to other people.
Our convictions determine what political views we accept, how we critique cultural norms, how we handle social pressure, what we believe about birth and death – and life in between.
Indeed, as history tell us, some people will die for their convictions.
A Parental Model
My father was not perfect – who is? In his earlier years, he was a mercurial man, subject to temper and occasional mood swings and the many faces of stress. As he grew older, he matured and came to recognize that our rightly-formed moral convictions must outweigh our foibles and impulses. He realized that our rightly-formed moral convictions do indeed reveal (to self and others) who, at long last, we truly are.
I am still moved by my father’s struggles with own humanity; moved even more by his quiet victories … and his admirable reticence. Now, in my later years -- reinforced by his example and a lifetime of my own experience -- I believe that we must all hold our rightly-formed convictions not out of stubborn hubris or self-serving pride, but because history (both secular and sacred), divine Revelation and centuries of tradition tell us that certain transcendent truths really do exist; truths which are essential for the health and survival of individuals and societies.
My father’s search for transcendent truths opened an even more intimate door to his mind and soul. Simply put, he acknowledged, without fanfare or display, his relationship with our transcendent Creator Who, he believed, has given us definite moral boundaries and ideals, codified in the Christian faith, most fully incarnated in the Catholic Intellectual Tradition.
For him, the moral life meant speaking truthfully, loving his family and working always for our benefit, respecting facts, honoring tradition, learning from history, often swallowing his ego, monitoring the constant self-serving pull of misguided pride, quelling his anger -- and worshiping our Creator.
He learned to choose patience over intemperance, true charity for others over bloated self-interest, humility over self-adulation. He learned to listen and learn from others, to love with equanimity and humor. And his Catholic faith upheld and sustained him throughout the years of our abiding friendship.
An Elder’s Benefit
As I witnessed my father’s metanoia and the fulfillment of his manhood, his example taught me that there are laws and limits to human behavior; limits to which we should always adhere, laws we should not dare to change or challenge.
Many people today reject these beliefs and, with astonishing immaturity, eagerly embrace counterfeit “freedoms” and non-existent “human rights” which actually abuse the largess of Nature and gravely undermine the best interests of the human community.
Today, the fitful shallowness of politically correct victimhood and the faddish rants of rootless emotionalism dominate our public discourse, distort law with deliberate disdain and badly weaken our nation. The nihilistic dictates of moral relativism aggressively turn every social complaint – no matter how ludicrous – into a political cause. Specious claims of white privilege beget excuses for invoking “human rights.”
What was morally unthinkable and culturally indefensible a decade ago is now embraced -- with astonishing disregard for truth -- by professionals in law and education, media and entertainment, religion and politics -- with no regard for the boundaries of decency or self-restraint -- or facts.
The Tug Of Hope
Clearly, we are flawed human beings in a flawed culture. We’re prone to selfishness and fears and a plethora of faults to which our humanity is universal heir. But we are also born with an innate sense of altruism and empathy, of right and wrong, of good and evil; all born with the potential for goodness and virtue.
This potential for virtue -- choosing what is morally right and shunning evil -- is built into our natural ability to reason and to learn, to think and to judge. But … virtue and goodness must be nurtured through balanced family life and parental guidance, through moral learning and proper education, correction and clarity, discipline and self-restraint, law and community – all under the influence of mature elders who realize that we humans are not – are not – laws sufficient unto ourselves, nor do we possess sufficient moral insight by ourselves. We are not free to do whatever we want. We must develop rightly-formed minds and hearts.
In fact, the word “education” means to “bring forth,” to “lead out of.” Education – truly humane education – involves bringing forth goodness not only for the rightly-formed mind -- but also for the soul, always for the soul, as well.
True education acknowledges our need for a moral compass as well as a rightly-formed intellectual framework. We need a mature conscience to direct our lives, to mold our character, to monitor the role of our emotions, to make prudent choices, to guide our behavior into those moral pathways designed by our Creator which lead us to authentic maturity and its inseparable companion, wisdom.
The Gift Of Wisdom
Maturity bestows the gift of wisdom and is identified with it, as two sides of the same hand. But wisdom differs from all other forms of knowledge, including academic, technical and instinctive knowledge. As my father said, a person can be an accomplished academic or a financial genius or a technical whiz and still be unwise, immature, foolish in his choices and in his behavior and, thus, lacking wisdom of mind and soul.
Wisdom sees the connections (even the obscure and irrational connections) between means-and-ends, between behavior and outcome, between motives and means.
Wisdom sees – sometimes intuitively -- the subtle intricacies in relationships, the vagaries of personality, the power of temperament, the nuances of ideologies and the impact we have on one another. And wisdom often grasps all this without logical explanation or overt evidence. It is knowing beyond knowledge.
Wisdom has no illusions about people’s capacities for good and for ill. It is not surprised at how we delude others and ourselves, how imprudent we can be, how self-serving or harmful we can become. Wisdom recognizes the contradictions and pitfalls of trying to reason with bruised feelings or grudges gone astray.
And even though wisdom sees these hard truths with clarity, it still encourages us to make virtuous choices, to extend kindness and patience over bitterness and self-righteous pride. Wisdom urges us to unite rather than divide, to forgive rather than to avenge, to bless and elevate rather than to demean and retaliate, to rouse the better selves within our souls.
A Better Way
Finally, as we grow in wisdom and maturity, the purpose of our rightly-formed, hard-earned moral convictions becomes clearer and more lucid – and far more reasonable.
As we contemplate the beauty and dignity -- and fragility -- of life itself, we are made evermore aware that hard-earned moral convictions, rightly-formed, offer the most humane and redemptive options we have in our all-so-brief lifetime.
And, as my father finally learned for himself and taught me, we cannot allow the errors and bad judgments of others to be the standard we use to determine our decisions. We cannot let the bitterness and anger of others control our behavior. We do not return evil for evil, nor insult for insult, nor do we render hurt for hurt. This mutually-provocative form of enslavement is not -- is not -- the path to which wisdom beckons us and our Creator calls us. This is not the path of maturity, nor is it the path of rightly-formed convictions.
We are alive, so we can still seek the better way, still express our gratitude to our Creator, still share kindness and patience with others around us, even if they do not thank us as we might desire or praise us as we might wish.
The hard, yet delightful reality is that we can still learn to love rightly and freely. We can still give of ourselves in small, yet indelible, ways. Such choices are still available to us, still at hand for us --- because we are alive.
We are alive – indeed, we are still alive to the possibility of sharing goodness rather than putting life on hold.
How long shall we wait? For what do we wait? If goodness is to be done, let us do it. Let us choose goodness, no matter how small or unrecognized our actions. Let us choose virtue, kindness and patience and forgiveness -- in gratitude and forbearance.
This is true freedom. This is why we are alive. There is no better reason.
4 January 2019
For The Sake Of Our Children
When decades pass and we adults are memories to our children; when they are the nation’s elders and they look back at these astonishing days of moral confusion and cultural uncertainty, what will they say of us?
What memories of us will they recall? What values will they hold? What moral standards will we have taught them? How will they judge the moral legacy we bequeathed? What kind of persons will they say we were? What will they say of us?
* * * *
We all express our opinions and judgments -- perhaps not always judiciously or prudently, but we do not let our world pass us by without making comments and judgments and decisions. There’s a lot more to it, of course. But as we grow in age and wisdom as adults, we face truly serious challenges. So, as adults, we ought naturally to grow in our ability to make informed comments, mature judgments, morally sound decisions. But this doesn’t always happen, does it?
Let’s be clear: making wise, informed moral judgments is central to the natural order of adult life, as well as to the survival of our free society. Our children can err, make mistakes, mess things up. But we are their elders. We are supposed to be the decision makers, the wise ones, the moral exemplars.
We are the adults. We are supposed to make sound moral judgments and intelligent decisions. We are supposed to be decent, stable role models for our children. That’s why we’re here ….. isn’t it?
Without sound moral judgments, there are no clear differences. Without differences, there is no discussion or debate, no way to strain out intellectual blather and moral corruption from emergent truth and its essential corollaries. So, making morally sound, if difficult, decisions is central to our adult role in the lives of our young.
In fact, there are times when it is our profound moral obligation to judge other persons and events, then to make unpopular, difficult decisions to protect the moral character and physical safety of our children, the stability of our family, and the future of our community and our nation.That’s what adults do, isn’t it?
The Tyranny Of “Feelings”
These days, however, there is a grave problem.
Many people’s good judgment is fatally clouded by the tyranny of feelings over principles. Many people are in thrall to the seductive pitfall of “Feel-good-ism,” i.e., the politically correct, self-righteous sense of false virtue which obliterates logic, reality, moral clarity, basic courtesy, rational intelligence, social responsibility, mutual dialogue, fundamental science, revered tradition, facts of history, objective truth, authentic virtue -- and simple common sense.
Today, as a result of moral relativism, political correctness and a parade of false “freedoms,” many people meander into self-deluding extremes such as celebrating -- celebrating – abortion, exploiting transgendered youth, beating a broken drum for gender neutrality, on and on… and on.
If you wish an example of the wretched extremes to which our country has fallen, look at the pathetic, conscience-wrenching exploits of eleven-year-old Desmond Napoles, his parents and his fan base which appear on the internet.
Once again, we must ask ourselves: What values are we imparting to our children when our culture proposes such a reckless panoply of so-called “civil rights” and so readily and openly debases the innocence of our children -- in the name of freedom?
When we duck or deny our responsibility to judge maturely and wisely – with moral clarity and determination -- the result is coercive adherence to intolerant, often indecent, ideologies brutally imposed.
Sad to say, this occurs daily in our culture. It is evident, for starters, in the condemnatory rhetoric of politically correct adherents, or in government efforts to force the Little Sisters of the Poor to provide abortions.
Morality Defines Humanity
Every time we deal with another person -- even in the briefest encounter -- there’s always a moral component involved, always judgments of right and wrong behavior to be made, always issues of justice and prudence, of charity and integrity for which we are responsible and accountable … especially when the moral formation of our children is involved.
Sometimes, when we deal with children, we forget they are entitled to as much respect as adults. Parents, teachers and other adults may hold power and control over children, but this does not negate the right of all children to our respect.
True respect flows both ways. We cannot ask a child to respect us if we do not first exemplify by our behavior what respect is all about.If our children are ever to learn respect and moral probity, we must be their first teachers. Such learning is a lifetime endeavor and the war against moral probity is a lifetime struggle.
Respect for authority -- especially in the eyes of our children -- is tarnished by reckless, fact-less judgments. A moment of harsh, unmerited correction of a child by an impatient parent or a weary teacher can turn into a lesson in injustice and an abuse of power. Rashly judging a child’s behavior or motivation may deprive that youngster of friendship with someone who actually wishes to be a caring, trusted adult.
If we judge children rashly or substitute power for involvement or candid dialogue, we introduce them to needless adversity in which they stand defenseless. We teach them not to trust us but, instead, to develop strategies of precocious avoidance. A wordless war of wills often ensues, waged in silent hostility. Adult authority then loses moral authenticity; youthful cynicism is too often the result. Power is no substitute for influence.
Some children are resilient and can fluff it off -- but some youngsters are not so resilient. Too often, they do not forget. They remember -- to the disadvantage of us all.
Points To Ponder
- Most of the time, adults express opinions which are merely casual, superficial half-thoughts, off-the-cuff bon mots, throw-away observations, with no harm intended. Even so, it often happens that our children are listening … and their opinions and values are being formed.
- Cavalier comments, flippant and fleeting though they be, still contain a degree of meaning. Indeed, such comments often mirror our real concerns.
But when a child makes off-hand comments, these are often coded messages to us, conveying deeper questions, uncertainties and needs, such as the desire to be taken seriously, to be listened to, to be consulted -- to be treated with respect, to open both our hearts with candor and trust in one another, to express the love which binds us, one to the other.
- Human beings are vulnerable by nature, fickle by disposition and immature by instinct. Proof? We have all said and done things which are precipitous, harsh, uncivil, foolish. We have all expressed judgments which are hurtful and reckless. We are all capable of rudeness in word and deed. Even a loving marriage has its abrasive, regretful, episodes.
Adults can repair some of these mistakes ….. but of all the mistakes we may make, the most damaging are our rash judgments by which we hurt our children, by which we humiliate a child’s still-innocent spirit … or bring confusion and shame to the still-forming mind of a young person … or instill disillusionment in the heart of an innocent, if rambunctious, youngster … or send the message that intemperance and insensitivity are the rightful attributes of their elders.
- So, given our universal human vulnerabilities, all of us (some with reddened face and queasy stomach) have to admit that sometimes (not often, of course, but sometimes) we, too, have made unfounded, impulsive, prejudicial, unfair judgments about strangers, friends, even family and, yes, in-laws.
Thus, we adults do indeed share a host of human frailties and foibles --- but our greatest self-nourished blind-spot is our avoidance and denial of this fact.
Yet, despite our insensitivities, our failures and our glaring weaknesses, we are forgivably human, thanks to the endearing generosity of our Creator. However, the patience of our God is no excuse for insensitivity to the children amongst us.
It is the humble, wise adult who knows when to listen – and how to listen with eyes as well as ears; when to ask for clarity, when to be silent and listen again … and again … and yet again. We may have the answers … but, for a young person, simply asking us the question is often of far greater value.
The Challenges of Living
Finally, once again, we must ask: what are we teaching our children? Our society now fosters a precarious culture of death as never before in my lengthy lifetime. Our moral perspective has been badly – ever so badly -- distorted.
- Man-woman marriage and the value of life itself have all been obliterated under the rubric of “choice.”
- Aberrations of gender are enforced as “civil rights.”
- The traditional family is crushed beneath the weight of moral relativism and astonishing disregard for the centrality of the child.
- Children as young as ten are publicly celebrated as preening trans-sexual performers … and those who object are accused of “hate speech.”
- Rude, accusatory rhetoric floods America's public discourse as self-restraint evaporates.
- Character assassination, personal attacks and violent confrontations are now common.
- Pornography is now easily available to every child.
- And there is more we might mention …. but this is enough.
Despite all this, we adults still share God-given responsibility to be mature moral exemplars for our children. Nothing changes that obligation. In fact, it was for this very reason that Christ told His Apostles to let the children come unto Him. The Kingdom of Heaven, He said, is made of such spontaneous innocence, such utter lovability … and He foretold of a dreadful outcome for anyone who would harm a child.
It is the wise adult who understands that wisdom originates in the innocence and simplicity of a child’s unsullied soul. So, when our daily business is at last done and our soul becomes at rest, and we are in a spirit of gentle reverie, then may we calmly smile as we recall the antics and silliness of the children we have known and loved: the uncontrolled giggling of a ticklish child … the unbounded glee of a birthday youngster … the warm hugs and wet kisses and runny noses which bedtime brings … the utter helplessness of a newborn wriggling into Life and blessing us with our heart’s renewal …
… all these precious, grace-filled moments of unguarded love and spontaneous grandeur we share with our children; those extraordinary moments which bring us closer to Eternal Joy than life otherwise allows.
Then might we humbly ask Our Creator to guide us and enlighten us, that we may patiently protect our children from all evil … that we may guide and enlighten our children through this world, a world we have wrought for them …. and that we may always treasure all God’s beloved children whom He forever treasures and ever calls unto Himself -- including each and all of us.