Photo by Robert Phelps
So . . . Where Are We Headed Now ?
Willy And The Little Ones: Reminders Of Gratitude
Toxic Masculinity: An Elder Ponders
Why I Am A Catholic: A Brief Reflection
You’re A Poet, But You Don’t Know It...
14 December 2022
Memories Of Father
My parish church (the Basilica of San Juan Capistrano) is - ideally - a place of communal worship and individual prayer, a place of shared celebration and essential isolation with God and His People. When we enter the Basilica, we (ideally) hope to leave behind the distractions and cares of our everyday lives, to find (ideally) peace of soul and solace of heart, however briefly achieved and quickly challenged by the waiting world.
Clearly, then, going to church is not (ideally) a place for crowd-watching or long-delayed socializing or gawking at neighbors.
Ideally, that is. However …..
I admit my adherence to this ideal too often pales when I am drawn to notice the behavior of others, especially children, whose spontaneity is unquenchable, whose innocence is ever-evident, whose impulses are uncensored and whose emotions are writ plainly across their faces in living color.
Father And Son
So, in that semi-pious vein, I recently noted a smallish but (to me) remarkable exchange at Mass last Sunday; an exchange between a youngster of, perhaps, eight years, and his Father.
Together, they chose a pew in front of me. Father gestured for the lad to enter, but the Boy stood back. Whispering, he indicated that he wanted Father to go first. Father did; the Boy followed.
Throughout Mass, the Boy was remarkably attentive, especially for a youngster. He did not fidget nor wiggle nor look around. He paid close attention, as did his Father. And then I realized that Father and Son were in remarkable sync, their eyes unwavering as they attended to the words of the priest and the rituals of the liturgy.
Then it hit me: the Boy was imitating his Father, watching out of the corner of his eyes, doing as his Father did. I was impressed with the subtle, but pervasive, connection between Father and Son; impressed by the mutual respect between them, the aura of gentle respect they shared, without a word spoken.
At Last . . .
When Mass ended, the Boy was finally moved by a child-burst of unrestrained enthusiasm which energized him to quickly leave his place and step with springy gait into the center aisle. But then he looked back for his Father, who had not moved from their pew.
The Boy knew instantly he had moved too soon. He then dropped his head, almost shame-facedly, and returned to the pew where his Father was still sitting in silent prayer. And, as the Boy returned and sat next to his Father, the older man wordlessly put his arm around his son’s shoulder and drew the child closer to him . . . and the Boy put his head gently against his Father’s chest in a way which was most touching to me . . . most touching.
They sat quietly together before the Lord. Together, lovingly, silently . . . together before God as Father and Son. And their mutual love for one another - Father and Son - was revealed in their behavior with each other, stunning in its unadorned simplicity in this grandly shared moment, made sacred by their bond.
As I watched this gently revealing scene, I was brought to ponder the role and dignity of fathers in the lives and formation of their children. And, once again, I remembered my own Father - gone these many years - and his impact on me.
My Father . . . And His Father
In my fondest memories of him, my own Father was a most loving man -- BUT -- he took decades to get that way. In the process of maturing as a parent, he pulled no punches. He did not hesitate to confront error and mistakes. As a result, I received both criticisms and knocks (scars, if you will) -- along with properly-won recognition when I rightly deserved it.
However, despite the tough times, I knew (perhaps with the child’s naïve wisdom bestowed in a secure, loving home) that my Father’s motives were always of the highest. I knew his critique of my behavior was always for my good, even if his confrontive style was, at times, heavy-handed and hard for a kid to accept.
As I grew up, I learned my Father had been “scarred” by his own Father’s ways. His Father, a tough, aggressive Irish immigrant who became a feisty business legend among his peers, knew little about being an even-tempered parent with his several sons.
For Better . . .
Now, a lifetime later, I am quite clear in mind and heart that my difficult – and loving - encounters with my Father were/are part of who I am. I also know full well that I am better for them; better for learning to live with them and move on in life.
What’s more, it is eminently healthy for all people to realize that forgiving those who seem to offend us in this life is part of the great Mystery of Forgiving Love which defines (or should define) our Christian selves.
I also have come to realize that when we belabor our “scars” and anoint ourselves with the vulgar label of “victim,” we add to our sense of “Poor Me.” We nurture the corrosive fixation by feeling sorry for our “poor victimized self.”
Such self-pity inflicts the worst scars of all.
Because we do it to ourselves. When we blame and complain, we wallow in victimized self-pity. We self-righteously celebrate our self-imposed helplessness, relish our misery and place our victim-status upon a crude, distorted pedestal of self-worship.
The Value Of Patience
I also remember my Father as a man of his word, an uncompromising, principled man whose intellectual clarity was often startling, whose mind was keen and laden with appreciation of God, whose judgments were always reasoned and reasonable, based on logical thinking and common sense. And his innate math skills were astonishing.
He was not a religious fanatic, but my Father was also a man of Faith and facts, of insight and history’s often harsh lessons. For example, he foresaw decades ahead the negative consequences of misguided largesse in subsidizing illegitimacy and encouraging abortion. He perceived the necessity of moral restraint in cultural and political decisions. He warned that a nation without a moral compass would become a nation in which excesses of “freedom” would, sooner or later, veer profoundly off-course.
In many dreadful ways, as our world indicates, he was correct. For example:
- Adults now sponsor drag queen story hours for our tiniest tots in churches and public libraries and schools.
- Boys frequent girls’ bathrooms with adult approval.
- Adults support and perform transgender surgeries (sometimes without parental knowledge or consent) which mutilate children for their lifetimes.
- Christian citizens are now sued and punished for “hate speech” when they exercise the tenets of their faith.
- Our First Amendment rights of free speech and religious liberty are repeatedly under attack.
- Our borders crumble and our right to bear arms as our safety may dictate is under attack.
- Even our President now invites drag queens to the White House: WHY INVITE A DRAG QUEEN TO THE WHITE HOUSE?
Worst of all, millions of defenseless, innocent babies, born and being-born are today under direct assault by our government’s leaders who honor the fallacious script of “rights.”
We are often told to “follow the science.” But science declares unequivocally that the unborn are human beings, are persons who have every moral and Constitutional right to our nation’s protection and reverence. If you doubt this, see this link for unbiased evidence. 20210729162737297_19-1392 BRIEF OF BIOLOGISTS AS AMICI CURIAE IN SUPPORT OF NEITHER PARTY.pdf (supremecourt.gov)
I mentioned that my Father matured in his parenting. In essence, this means he matured in his expressions of love, as only a stable family allows.
In our cultural parlance today, the word "love" does not have much meaning. We use it entirely too lightly, toss it around far too casually, with empty reference and greeting card ubiquity. Our careless usage deprives love’s reality of relevance and authentic content.
In its true sense, "love" of necessity involves trust. To love someone, we must first trust them and believe in their selfless dedication to our best interests. Trust involves personal change and self-sacrifice; it takes years to solidify. Even in some marriages, trust is often neglected, avoided, never discussed, in favor of tolerable ambiguity and the hovering possibility of grave disappointment.
Genuine trust must survive trials and misunderstandings. But doubts are best faced with benign candor, and this may be harsh to one’s ego and costly to one’s customary defenses. But that is precisely the point: trust requires defenseless vulnerability which is the authentic foundation of loving and of being loved.
Genuine trust, once mutually earned and mutually given, augments our maturity and deepens our capacity as committed lovers. Contrary to our modern idiom which so often (and incorrectly) equates love with sex, we cannot truly love someone whom we do not first trust. But this kind of trust is rare in a culture which glorifies rampant individualism, demeans self-sacrifice and disdains thoughtful regard for others.
Genuine trust will endure even when “feelings” of affection are temporarily absent or in abeyance -- as when spouses quarrel or parents discipline their errant offspring. Yet, in a stable family or a strong marriage, trust is the path to love and the attendant virtues which love willingly extends to the Beloved -- without hesitation or recompense.
It is selfless generosity which gives trust is credibility.
The Pain Of Loving
In our “quickie culture,” many people confuse “love” with infatuation’s erotic rush, or with fleeting “feelings” of shallow attraction. Some people equate “love” with the selfish codes of consenting seduction, or with the sweet sound of violins paving the way to a forgettable one-night stand. Further, some people think emotional compatibility is enough, even without the cost of tenacious fidelity. These notions have little to do with love’s true commitment to others and with the personal sacrifices which define authentic lovers.
In fact, “love” has meaning and relevance only within a very limited definition. Truly loving someone involves pain and sacrifice and giving of self. It’s a costly endeavor which, in reality, is rarely embellished with romantic imagery. Loving is hard work.
Indeed, truly loving others is often achieved only through a measure of anguish and painful confusion. In fact, psychic damage may even result to one or both lovers. And, for those who suffer psychic damage (for example, through painful parting or loss), recovery may take years; “closure” (at best, a misleading term) may be impossible.
It is, therefore, crucial to recognize that the inevitable scars we receive from painfully loving events are not always misfortunes, to be sure. And, we must remember that our “scars” bestow (if we are humble) a needed measure of maturity and insight; they add to our character and become significant factors in our adult identity.
Indeed, we are stronger, we are better and we are more humane persons for bearing the cost of kindness and the pain of loving others.
Thus, unduly blaming others (who may themselves have been far more deeply wounded) for hurting us opens the door to blaming anyone who may have hurt us, including our parents. And, for anyone to spend years in uselessly belaboring the past is to deprive the heart of maturity and character.
Finally . . .
After my dear Mother’s untimely death, my Father lived alone. By then, I was well into the work of my years. But on the week-end before I moved to a far distant city, I spent several days with him before parting - just the two of us. We reminisced about the past, of course, and we laughed and (to be honest) we shared goodly tears as we recalled certain memories.
My time came to depart for the airport. A few hours later, I telephoned my Father before boarding my plane. I knew I would not see him again for unknown months, so I called him to let him know - once more - that I had so very much enjoyed our time together and that I would keep in touch with him as the days and weeks passed us by. And, gratefully, I told my Father that I loved him and I thanked him for being my Father, for being the man he was, for all that he had given me in my thirty years as his Son . . . much of which I am still learning today, much of which still elicits my gratitude to this grand and dear man, my Father.
And the last words I said to my Father were these words: “I love you, Dad….” Next morning, I received a call from a family member who told me my Father had died.
Decades later, I still remember my Father every day; remember him with much love and much gratitude. And I am ever grateful to God that the very last words my Father heard me say to him were these: “I love you, Dad…”
And, when I remember my Father, I know that in this life I have indeed been blessed.
3 December 2022
The Incomplete Life
I will soon enter another decade of my life. However, with modest restraint, I’ll not mention which decade.
I am (as the popular phrase puts it) “retired.” But I hasten to add that the term “retirement” is risibly off-target for elders whose minds are as nimble as ever; elders who know history and honor its lessons; elders who have gained immeasurably from life’s often painful lessons.
In fact, many perceptive elders possess an abundance of human wisdom. They’re blessed with insights they’ve earned through decades of experience and healthy survival. To them, the idea of “retirement” is a trite, untidy dismissal which just doesn’t cut it with them – not by a long shot.
Think About It
The truth is that we are all aging; each moment moves us toward elderhood. And, as we age, most elders naturally begin to see the world differently. As we age, our values are inevitably influenced by the past, so we elders notice when our country’s traditions change – and not always for the better.
As persons and citizens, we’ve been formed by our nation’s history and by America’s stable traditions. Our identity and our values have been molded by family, Faith and patriotism.
Thus, we are acutely aware of our nation’s waning moral stability, as our founding beliefs are rejected and our traditional institutions assaulted by vociferous, unstable prophets. And we are aware that history warns us to beware of such people who peddle false freedoms and promote excessive individualism taken to violent extremes.
Of course, as we age, we elders change. For example, we’re quickly wearied by idle chatter and useless prattle, far less concerned with empty rituals of cocktail party sociability. Being “popular” now seems unappealing, even shallow to mind and heart.
We also age physically. Our stride is assuredly less springy than in earlier years, our steps less rapid up the stairs (thank God for railings). Our reservoir of peppy energy and snappy recovery wanes, and our pace on the treadmill is, admittedly, a tad more labored and plodding as we walk that ever-longer mile at the gym.
The Bright Side
But … on the up-side, many of us elders are more patient and tolerant of human error. At the same time, we’re more aware of errant, aggravating persons whom we must patiently tolerate.
We also understand more clearly the endless needs and petty urges which often drive human behavior. We’re more aware of the egocentric foibles and huffy dictates and arrogant puffery to which flesh is too often heir.
We’re more attuned to the myriad excuses and dodges, to the vanity and self-righteousness which controls so many people; excuses and dodges which, for decades, we used ourselves.
And, in our elder’s time, we’ve become thankfully aware of the stream of virtues and the centrality of kindly gratitude which ease the human condition and guide the soul toward transcendent ideals for which our wounded nature is meant to strive.
When we reach out to old friends from past decades, we often find (not surprisingly) that our few intimates have died . . . and we are moved to wonderment about life’s brief span. As Hamlet muses, we see family and friends leave this Earth for “the undiscovered country from which no traveler returns…”
What’s Next ?
For some people - elders, too – it can be a discomforting moment when Death becomes an up-close reality, reminding us of our innate frailty and essential vulnerability.
Death also reminds us that we do not live on our own terms. Rather, we exist within the unpredictable mystery of God’s Creation.
Like it or not, Death is a universal experience. But it’s not merely Death which troubles us. It’s the logical next question: “…and then what…?”
Despite our avoidance of, or distaste for, the subject, Death is not a complete stranger to any of us. Even if we try to banish Death from our small sphere of awareness, we have all lost someone dear to our hearts, someone whom we loved, and love still. Perhaps it’s a parent, spouse or other friend whom we learned to trust and admire for his/her tenacity, resilience, fidelity and courage.
Whoever it may be, we have all lost someone who was constant in kindness, who loved us as we are; someone who gave us that rarest of all life’s gifts - the gift of self.
The loss of loved ones always leaves much unsaid, much sharing unfinished, much love undeclared. Our small world seems smaller, emptier, our hearts strained and saddened.
We may fervently wish we had more time to express to our loved ones our deepest affection and most cherished secrets. But time is always too short, as every elder invariably learns.
But Now . . . Forward..
While Death may separate us from our loved ones, it cannot stifle our love within, nor can it cancel the unsullied goodness which the Beloved imparts - goodness to be honored and gently recalled.
Therefore, the abiding lesson for us all, even as we mourn the loss of our Beloved, is this:
We are capable of loving and of being loved. This is a life-lesson for us all which we must never forget nor downplay.
BUT … we must also ask: What do we choose to do with that knowledge? How does loving and being loved influence our future attitudes and our behavior as we go forward in life?
Our ability to love and to be loved is the essence of life, our raison d’etre for living. Loving and being loved is the central human act in every life. To love and to be loved is why we exist…
This is true even if some people find love an intolerable or empty, meaningless act; even if some people seek dignity in distractions; even if embittered individuals do their best to prove themselves unlovable and spend years encapsulated, even from themselves.
The Value Of Grieving
Some people grieve silently and withdraw. Others express grief with woeful ululation, loudly proclaimed. Yet, we all survive.
As our lives go on, our challenge then becomes:
How do I choose to live and manage the inevitable cost of my sorrow? Shall I choose to grow emotionally and spiritually, or shall I succumb to sorrow and live as a “victim.”
Grief surely tests us with its overwhelming intensity and its tenacious hold on our thoughts and emotions. But it also reveals us to ourselves in stark, yet utterly invaluable, terms … as it draws us into a period of personal choice about our future.
It is most unfortunate if we do not recognize grief as an opportunity to befriend ourselves as well as a time to mourn our loss. Loss is painful, but pain is never without purpose or choice.
For many people, this period of choice is a determining moment in the formation of their adult character and their maturity (or lack thereof), of their beliefs about life’s meaning (or lack thereof), of how they treat others henceforth.
While our pain is profoundly real, it is not reality. Nor is pain the determining factor in our lives. Our choice of how we shall now direct our lives influences the kind of person we choose to be.
It is our choice which determines our attitudes and our values, our words and our behavior, our vision of how we shall spend our years. It is here that our emotions must be prudently governed by reason and reality, both of which hold out a choice to us.
And, when all is said and done, the ultimate truth is that the person we become in this life is the person we choose to be. We are responsible for who we are and what we do.
Lessons To Ponder
So, no matter how we mourn, there are always lessons to be gained from Death . . . lessons which move us to a Considered Life of gratitude and generosity – or to embittered encapsulation.
What lessons can we learn? Here’s a few to ponder:
- For starters, it’s obvious that we control very few aspects of life. We can control some of our own behavior, but we have very little control over the beliefs and behavior of others. Influence, yes; control, no.
- So, despite the seductive allure and puffery of elitism and illusions of power, we rarely control anyone in this world, not even those close to us (indeed, why would we ever wish to do so?).
- The future is enfolded in mystery and unpredictability. Even if we possess colossal confidence, perceptive insight and a little brief authority, the future remains unknown to us all.
- We are wise, therefore, to recognize the laws and limits God imposes, including our own limits. We are wise to admit the existence of laws far greater than any human power imaginable.
- We are wise to accept what we should do and should not do, even if the word “should” raises the ire of “liberated” psyches who fallaciously claim absolute freedom from any restraints.
- We are wise to put aside our mental dodges, our closely-cuddled victimhood, our subservience to vanity, and then express our gratitude to the Giver of Life - even as the inevitable limitations of body become naggingly evident (as they do for all of us).
- We are wise to admit that self-restraint and humility are essential if we are ever to attain a dash of prudence and earthly wisdom.
- We are wise to trust and love our God, our Creator, the Right Someone who is worthy of becoming our trusted Beloved.
- We are even wiser to realize that a kind and gentle spirit is far more apropos to human nature’s needs than uppity arrogance or jaded forbearance or haughty indifference.
- Despite the fervor of sincere atheists or the nihilism of persuasive agnostics - over the length of all our years, one truth abides: We are - in the last analysis - alone with God as His children. It is up to us to be His trusting friends, guided by the fact that He awaits – ever so patiently, He awaits.
The Necessity Of Gratitude
Even in loss and uncertainty, Wisdom still urges us to express our gratitude for life and for the endless blessings which surround us.
As Philosopher Roger Scruton said, just prior to his own demise: “Coming close to death, you begin to know what life means – and what it means is gratitude…”
For some ungracious persons, gratitude to our Creator comes hard. They will say that God inflicts travail on the innocent and helpless. Therefore, they say, He cannot be trusted nor loved. To reject God, they say, is logical, given His disdain for mankind. His love is, they say, a fiction.
Such attitudes, I have found, emerge most often from wounding events which leave painful scars. In the mind of the wounded person, denial, resentment and victimization (however muted or disguised) are justified … or so they say.
Self-righteousness nurtures a cynical vision of Creation. And, as Psalm 81 tells us, cynics refuse to listen to God, preferring to honor only “their stubborn selves, doing whatever they please…”
Obviously, we do not know the divine logic by which God runs Creation. We’re not privy to how He plans to even things out with people who deliberately choose to harm others or who flip God off with insouciant regularity.
Ambiguity and Mystery are God’s style; that’s the way Creation is. It’s ridiculous to rage at God’s often bewildering silences.
However, we should also recognize that knowing is not opposed to Mystery. Indeed, our desire to know is a dynamic, itchy and sometimes unruly urge given to us by God. It’s also healthy.
Because our desire to know (within the boundaries set by God) can be a noble instinct when we honor our human limits and, thus, allow our desire for knowledge to become the foundation of our Faith, our Hope and our Love.
Others may find a putative form of "certitude" in rejecting and denying a Godly Power greater than themselves (even as they watch a glorious sunset). But they cannot deny that Death gives us all a universal message.
Death reminds us of our essential frailty and of time’s arbitrary finality. Death reminds us that we are born to accept the reality of this world in which we live and breathe and have our being.
. . . For The Searching Heart
Moreover, Death teaches us that knowledge is limited; certitude is not the stuff of human cognition. Without the aid of Revealed knowledge, life devolves into linguistic jousts and intellectual arm-wrestling and self-centered estrangement from our Creator.
We have abundant evidence to conclude that when human nature divorces itself from the mandates and consolations of Faith, the “certitude” which results is, in fact, an uncertain, precarious state which stifles humility, self-restraint and wisdom - and betakes us into violence and indifference, humanity’s darkest traits.
Prayerful acceptance of our absolute need for divine assistance assumes sincerity and simplicity, virtues which do not fit preening egos nor further excessive ambition.
It is eminently wise of us, therefore, to be grateful that we are part of the Mystery of Creation, subject to limitations and boundaries which are not of our making.
Our best sources for understanding our role in life are 1) Judeo-Christian Revelation, and 2) the virtuous, self-effacing moral traditions within that Revelation which inevitably lead us into an ever-deeper relationship of gratitude and generosity to our loving, watchful, awaiting Creator.
And indeed He does await us ….. Ever-patiently, He awaits…..
21 November 2022
A Small, Resounding Moment
I often visit my local parish church, the Mission Basilica of San Juan Capistrano. The parish has an extraordinary history, extending back to the 1700s. The present Basilica has a detailed, high-domed interior and a wall of glistening reredos behind the altar which are a marvel of rococo design (it is on the web, if you are interested).
I visit often because we elder Catholics were initiated quite early in our lives into a Faith which goes far beyond the minimal Sunday obligation. We consider our Faith and its beliefs to be a lifestyle, a life’s commitment to God through our Church.
So, stopping by my local parish to greet the Creator emerges naturally from a life-long tradition of education, abetted by the self-insight which personal failures have afforded. But our failures, when repented and forgiven, remind us of our universal vulnerability, and also inspire our appreciation for the procession of blessings which elicit our abiding gratitude. And it is our gratitude which we willingly express as often as possible. So, we visit….
Today, Sunday, I happened to visit just a family was assembling before the altar for the Baptism of their newborn twins. The twins, little girls only a few weeks old, were clad in white Baptismal gowns. Both babies were wide-eyed as their family members and friends showered them with unfeigned, spontaneous affection. This outpouring of attention seemed to startle the little ones, who turned cautiously, wide-eyed, seemingly awed at the bustle of loving words and smiles which the adults poured upon them.
One by one, family and friends held the little babies, as photos were taken over and over in front of the altar. Finally, the mother held both babies, one in each of her arms and posed for a dozen cameras. Then, the father held both twins in his arms. And he looked at each of them with such gentleness that everyone was silenced for a moment. Then, he looked into the cameras with a smile – and the twins stared up at him, as if they knew this man was serious … that he did indeed love them fully, beyond himself.
When the photos were done, the twins once again were showered with kisses and loving embraces and the endless unguarded attentions of the adults who, for these moments – for these blessed moments – gave these little babies the purest sort of approval one could ever hope to receive.
It was, of course, a moving moment - a brief but actual grace - to witness all this, to be reminded that the gift of love is sometimes fresh and unguarded in its origin and profoundly innocent in its expression. It was – and it is – deeply reassuring to witness the human heart’s noblest, most loving instinct come purely forth, without expectation of return, for the unadorned delight of loving another, simply because the gift of loving that other person is unavoidable, undeniable, unquenchable, true.
It is an article of my Faith that we are all loved by God, forgiven of our deliberate offenses by virtue of Christ’s saving intervention, personally welcomed into that divine stream of loving by Baptism. As I watched (at a brief distance) the family vividly express this truth, I was again brought to gratitude for the Faith which moved this family to love these babies so dearly, so unreservedly.
And I was also brought to gratitude that I had stopped by my parish to say hello to our Creator who was, I imagined, irrepressibly smiling as much as I was at this grand moment.
28 October 2022
It’s A Wonder-Filled Life
If you listen to the conversations of some of today’s youngsters, you’ll notice how often they repeat certain words. For example, the terms “cool” and “like” are often used – but with no ostensible logic. One might imaginatively surmise that they’re used to affirm the speaker’s content in some mind-melding manner, known only by (and available only to) the linguistically-sophisticated sub-culture of the young and carefree.
Another recurring term is “awesome,” inevitably followed by “Dude.” The phrase “Awesome, Dude” aggravatingly underscores how imprecise (and benumbed) some people become about the power of words to express ideas and thoughts, values and hopes.
However, if we switch gears a bit and think about it, our ability to experience of true “awe” (I mean Genuine Awe in its authentic sense, not in jargonized, careless street lingo) is actually a divine gift, a grace bestowed upon the human heart and mind, soul and spirit; a gift meant to properly stir our emotions and challenge our moral vision as we comprehend Truth, Goodness and Beauty in endless forms, both human and divine.
The Real Thing
Genuine Awe arises from our intellectual perception and our emotional appreciation of a person’s exceptional accomplishment or from an extraordinary event which exceeds human expectation. It is experience of the admirable, the inspiring; an experience which stops us in our tracks by the wonder of its exceptional reality.
Genuine Awe differs from common, everyday surprise, anxiety or curiosity, which we may casually (or carelessly) refer to as “awesome.”
Genuine Awe has many sources, some natural, others divine. It is intended to take us beyond our busied distractions into a personal zone of reflection and contemplation – into an area of the human mind and heart which some people rarely enter.
Some moments of Genuine Awe move us to healthy introspection of our values, as we face our sometimes-dysfunctional behavior. It prompts us to listen to the quiet dictates of conscience, to honor our natural urge to pursue Goodness, to admit our need for assistance beyond our own resources, to honestly confront and change what must be changed within our minds and hearts.
Such moments of Genuine Awe are meant to uplift the mind and heart for the betterment of soul and spirit; meant to inspire and motivate us to strive for more effective moral behavior and greater virtue in our attitudes and actions.
Genuine Awe generates wonder and gratitude, humility and truth-telling, which clarify our ideals. It moves us to accept the fact that the extraordinary does happen; to re-discover our innate human limits; to encounter, again and again, our inherent dependence as created beings; to appreciate with awe – Genuine Awe – the state of our own lives and the value of Hope.
Some people experience Genuine Awe as a personal, often miraculous conversion from a discordant, dysfunctional, self-destructive life style. Examples of such extraordinary events and persons are plentiful:
- ask any recovering alcoholic or ex-drug abuser who has turned his life around;
- read the plethora of medically-inexplicable events at Fatima or Lourdes;
- listen to a reformed gang member who has held his newborn baby and been moved by the resurrecting power of loving parenthood.
In truth, opportunities to witness Genuine Awe-evoking mysteries and miracles are everywhere around and within us. Examples:
- the rhythmic beating of our own heart;
- our ability to see countless leaves adorning trees which spring from the soil;
- our Earth, suspended in space, upheld by God’s unseen Force;
- the sound of a child’s delighted laughter;
- the embrace of a loved one when we’re sad and lonely;
- the birth and growth of a child;
- the life-long mutual love which a solid family engenders.
Billions Of Miracles
But we do forget.
Despite abundant evidence, we all need frequent nudges to remember that Creation itself is our most obvious reminder. Creation - including our own lives - shouts at us: “Pay attention. Recognize the obvious. Respect the God-given reality all around you and within you. Don’t take Creation for granted.”
We humans do our best to understand what Creation is all about. Dutifully, we search heaven for meaning. There, we discover mysteries abounding, all of which raise larger questions and further underscore the rationale for Genuine Awe and an appreciation for Mystery.
To see what’s out there, beyond our Earth, we build instruments such as the Hubble Space Telescope. The Hubble reveals (among many startling realities) colossal mountains of gas and cosmic dust in the Eagle Nebula, a most prolific progenitor of stars in our own Milky Way galaxy. But (awe-some to say) the Milky Way galaxy is only one - one - of billions of galaxies.
Then, last Christmas, the James Webb Space Telescope was launched. The Webb peers into space and back into time far beyond Hubble with clarity no human eyes have seen before.
The Webb offers previously-unimagined views of Creation, such as stars formed only - only - a few hundred million years (or so) after the so-called Big Bang (assuming the Big Bang did indeed bang as science thinks it did) nearly fourteen billion years ago.
The Webb offers us stunning photos of Creation at unimaginable distances in space and time, as it peers into the seasons of planetary life and death which all Creation follows.
Awesome “Dark” Stuff Out There
Then there’s Dark Matter and Dark Energy which, astronomers tell us, make up at least 95% of the universe's energy and matter. These “Dark” components of Creation can’t be directly observed, so astronomers infer the existence of Dark Energy and Dark Matter. They apply the term “Dark” because it seems a fitting tag for whatever that mysterious force may be.
Dark Matter does not interact with light; it’s not visible to sight, so it’s detected indirectly by its gravitational influence. Astronomers say the gravity of Dark Matter prevents galaxies from flying apart as they rotate, while the Universe expands.
And, they add, the Universe has been expanding (for more than a billion years) … and still is, at an accelerating rate.
Expanding? Expanding? What, you may ask, is propelling the Universe to expand?
Astronomers call it Dark Energy. Frankly, they do not know what it is … nor can they directly observe that energy source, either. But it’s working. Our Universe expands at speeds too enormous to express here. But I wonder: if space is expanding, does it create new space or does it expand into already-existing space? If you’re curious about all this, check the Hubble Constant for data ...
Talk About Light
Oh, yes, let us not overlook supernovas, those stellar explosions which are so bright that the light from their explosion lasts billions of years and speeds through space all that while.
At some point, we humans see the light from those explosions as it travels through space, and we measure it in all sorts of ways. In fact, a new study examined more than 1,500 supernova explosions. Each explosion was brighter than the light output from every star in its particular galaxy combined.
To add an additional awe-some detail, astronomers have recently spotted a supernova explosion which occurred 10 billion light-years away; yes, ten billion light years away from Earth. If you are not familiar with the distance in a single light-year, be assured that it’s quite far. Ten billion light years is a very great deal farther.
And a new phenomenon occurred this month. Astronomers were stunned to see the explosion from a gamma-ray burst, as a dying star with a mass 30 times that of our sun collapsed upon itself.
Some call this explosion the most powerful space explosion since the Big Bang, and identify it as the most powerful cosmic explosion ever detected. It resulted as that dying star ran out of “fuel” (as astronomers say) and collapsed into a black hole, triggering this tremendous supernova explosion. They have named that explosion "the B.O.A.T," the brightest of all time.
Oh, here’s another quandary: how do we explain black holes, of which there are many? And how about the biggest star out there, and the smallest, and on and on - into the endless mysteries of Creation. Here is one sample:
What is the largest known star in the universe? (What about the smallest?) | Live Science
So . . . Now What ?
Enough of this stellar stuff. Why do I mention all of this?
I mention all this to remind us that we are created beings, just like the rest of astonishing Creation.
I mention all this to remind us that the created Universe is the outward sign of realities which exceed our comprehension and control. Does not all of this attest to the simple, yet essential, logic of Faith as our grateful response to our own humbled reality?
I mention all of this because we all need a nudge to remember we are creatures of a Designer Who is Mystery Itself.
And I mention it because I see unmistakable evidence today that many people forget or, worse, knowingly reject Divine Mystery and the Reality of Creation; reject our inherent human limits; reject our Creator and, therefore, one another as we descend into the dreadful state of moral ignorance and cultural relativism.
When we “progress” away from our nation’s finest traditions and decide that we alone have the answers to life’s quandaries:
- we ignore the obvious limits to our human freedom;
- as history repeatedly tell us, we thereby court disaster;
- we reject truths which Creation extends to us – especially the truth that we are dependent beings, subject to laws from which we foolishly exempt ourselves;
- we exert only our “rights” without accepting our prior responsibilities;
- we deprive even our defenseless children of their God-given right to life by using grandly-phrased excuses such as “bodily autonomy” or “the right to choose.”
It is most unwise to knowingly reject the mysteries of life and the miraculous events constantly around us and within us; mysteries which remind us of our created nature, of who we truly are, to Whom we belong.
It is a significant loss to our culture that we avoid Genuine Awe, that we are no longer moved to gratitude for the mystery of our lives, that we disrespect the limits of our nature.
Some people do not choose to see our place in Creation this way. They are offput by the suggestion that Faith - with its corollaries and calls to virtue - is crucial to the survival of our Republic. Faith is, in fact, distasteful to these folk, easy to denounce as repugnant, as a useless superstition or an outdated myth.
Furthermore, some nihilists want no part of Mystery. The Universe is, they claim, an empty entity unto itself, devoid of meaning other than what we assign to it. We are, they say, programmed to act accordingly. This dreary outlook validates their desire for power, their belief in moral relativism and the chaotic individualism which gains erosive credence and reckless influence.
The Bottom Line
The abiding truth is that our rights and freedoms are delimited by the laws of our Nature. As individuals and as a nation, we are best guided by God-given virtues such as Empathy and Justice, Prudence and Fortitude, Self-Restraint and Kindness, and (if we can accept the cost) Wisdom.
We are created beings. We live in a Universe established by the Will of our Creator, Whose laws and decisions for us are clearly available to reason and known by intellect through Scripture and Tradition, through history and just laws, through our awareness of right and wrong and morally educated conscience, through love and loyalty of good family life, through logic and common sense.
In simplest form, Divine laws and decisions are summed up in one benign admonition: “To love God and our neighbor.”
Loving properly and well is a difficult human enterprise. It takes much time and experience to master the nuances of appropriate love wisely given. The art of loving wisely does not happen by chance; it is a matter of hard-won knowledge and free choice to rise above the universal pitfalls to which human nature is heir.
Truth Hurts – So What
To some persons, these thoughts are discomforting or sound off-key. Why? For starters, consider these few factors;
- we live with increasing lawlessness and random violence; strangers are assaulted, children kill their peers and criminals are allowed to stray at will;
- we banish God and basic morality from our public schools;
- our public discourse is customarily harsh and disdainful;
- rarely are kindly words spoken in public;
- Even our military seems more concerned with preferred pronouns than maintaining sufficient defensive manpower;
- Our culture is so polarized that we publicly debate the “right” to take the lives of children for weeks after birth.
One wonders what sort of nation we have become, that these logically inane factors predominate in our daily lives.
The ways in which we may fulfill the Divine admonition to love God and one another are as varied as the lives of those who choose to do so -- but the arsenal of Christian virtues is our best guide to living well and loving wisely.
We are assured - despite our frailties and doubts - that God will choose, in His Mysterious ways, to bring us to Himself, to His Heart, to His embrace --- if we choose to listen and hear.
Let us listen - and hear - gladly and willingly … with heart and mind.
12 October 2022
So . . . Where Are We Headed Now ?
A recent Marist poll reports seventy-two percent of American citizens say our country's moral compass is headed in the wrong direction. A similar Gallup poll affirms that a record fifty percent rated American moral values "poor." An additional thirty-seven percent said "only fair." Seventy-eight percent say America’s morals are getting worse.
Moreover, these polls report that only eighty-one percent of citizens now believe in God, an alarming decrease of seventeen percent in only one decade.
Major symptoms mentioned include “…absence of consideration of others, racism, lack of faith, lack of morals, sense of entitlement and lack of family structure...”
History teaches that traditional family values and religious beliefs are the foundations of stable societies. American history attests that Judeo-Christian beliefs and traditional families are indispensable to our national identity and our survival as a nation. However, in recent years, we have jettisoned those values and opted for excessive liberalism and out-of-control individualism which disregard history, tradition and the common good.
As we pursue false “freedoms” and specious “rights,” our excesses have become ends in themselves, without the leaven of personal or social restraints. When individualism is rampant, morality dismissed and law disregarded, what agency exists to moderate inevitable excesses and maintain cultural stability?
Is it not yet clear that as we blithely ignore moral and civil laws, we abet the collapse of our nation from within.
“Radical” Means Excessive Individualism
America’s disregard of moral, religious and legal traditions (and their historic influence on national sanity and cultural stability) indicates that radical secularization is on the ascendence.
“Radical secularization” means that our Judeo-Christian beliefs and traditions (the core of our culture) are being eroded by the woefully-misguided notion that individual urges must now be supported, with no interference from churches, schools, police, corporate and military authority, courts of law … and parents.
In fact, the God-given, natural rights of parents over the moral and intellectual lives of their children are increasingly dishonored by educational unions, many school administrators and classroom teachers. Previously unimaginable behavior is encouraged even among children. Freedom from all moral tradition is the fashion.
The Judeo-Christian moral view (which has been the beating heart of American identity and unity) is progressively attacked. Unrestrained, unlimited individualism is now our cultural mantra. Anyone professing traditional morality is denigrated, prosecuted, fired, canceled by government, corporation, military and media.
History and current events clearly reveal this destructive course to be a sure path to mounting disaster.
What Is A Person ?
These problems relate to two questions: 1) What is a human being, and 2) What - if any – boundaries exist to human behavior.
Let’s look at only one challenging example: the abortion issue.
Today’s battles over abortion are not merely about the definition of “freedom” or “women’s rights.” They’re really about whether 1) we choose to dignify human existence by accepting our innate limits and honoring life, or 2) we choose to annihilate the unborn and thereby deny the transcendent realities which govern us.
Let’s be clear: Abortion is not simply a political hot potato. Before any consideration, abortion is a moral issue involving the taking of a human life. Abortion is, before all else, a moral concern, even if some people see it only as a political issue.
Many people are slow to admit that abortion actually takes the life of a human bring. I have spoken with a number of women who endured abortion and who later (when they listened to their hearts) experienced deep regret, which changed their lives.
For many women, their regret is a turning point which opens a doorway to Faith and grants them a measure of insight and spirituality, qualities which are indeed rare and courageous. But staunch abortion supporters see abortion only through the lens of a “right” to kill unborn children.
With contempt for scientific facts about the life of unborn children, proponents define abortion as a “right” of every woman to cancel her child’s existence. They frame their pro-abortion position as a righteous stance against outside control: “My body, my choice.”
The dreadful result is over 60 million (and counting) children aborted in this nation alone.
Emphasis on woman’s “right” rather than on the right of the child, deliberately obscures the real issues of 1) the intrinsic value of every God-given life, 2) our colossal responsibility as pro-creative beings, and 3) the true nature and limits of human choice.
In addition, the shallow rhetoric of women’s “rights” completely avoids responsibility for the future of our nation. Why? Because the abortion culture ignores the doleful demographic facts which indicate definite decreases in populations among Western nations. For evidence, see this link:
Abortion activists villainize pro-life groups who 1) uphold moral traditions, and 2) who emphasize human dignity which demands self-restraint and observance of laws which transcend human agency or initiative.
Abortion militants pound the message that abortion is necessary for every woman’s “freedom.” They preach sexual freedom for anyone (including children), regardless of consequences, thereby encouraging irresponsible behavior without regard for the natural outcomes and moral responsibility of such behavior.
Thus, the abortion culture does not support self-restraint, personal accountability or social responsibility for innocent lives taken or for the harm done to our society. By canonizing the “self” at the expense of dependent human life, abortion celebrates the death of innocent beings and speeds the erosion of American character.
It’s Just A Blob
Abortion adherents vehemently deny the “humanity” of unborn children, who are portrayed as clumps of cells or unwelcome invaders. But no rational person can deny abortion ends a life.
Common sense and an abundance of scientific data state that unborn life is truly a human person in an early stage of formation. All persons continue to unfold throughout life by means of our inherited genetic program, a program which is totally independent of an enwombed child’s mother.
In fact, all life follows distinct patterns and goes through a variety of life-stages which are uniquely assigned in each individual’s DNA and specifically dictated by nature.
In fact, life consists of stages; that’s what human development is all about. Yet (with reason handily abandoned) deniers insist: “It’s not human; it’s just a clump of cells…"
Those of us who are blessed to live for lengthy decades weave through various stages in our lives - and some of us elders are still at it. We know changes happen all the time. Life evolves over our lifetimes, empowered by our “soul,” which guides our development as long as we live (and beyond).
Follow Real Science
Moreover, science tells us that from the instant of our conception, we start to grow and change as a human person. We are locked into developmental stages over which we have no control. We are guided by our specific, God-given energy source - our soul - as we travel the exquisitely detailed, infinitely complex, sequenced unfolding of our unique DNA.
An abundance of facts from biology, genetics, medical science abetted by common sense, experience, logic and right reason overwhelmingly attest that human life does not start at some indeterminate point when our heartbeat is first heard or our fingernails start to grow or, God forbid, only when we’re born and utter a healthy howl.
We now know that from the instant of conception, life begins … and we are alive. This is no longer debatable. It is a fact.
The presence of human life from conception forward poses moral challenges for us all. From conception, then, we must ask: Is killing this human person morally acceptable … for any reason?
In addition, if the tiny, enwombed child is truly a human person (even if he/she seems still unformed or misshapen or less than perfect - like so many of us elders often seem), is that child of lesser dignity? Does that unborn child merit extinction?
If so, then does it not follow that at the other end of life’s aging spectrum - when our elder’s bodies seem un-pretty, used up, and we are no longer socially scintillating (as happens to us all) - are we elders thereby disposable entities, too?
In other words --- at what stage of human life do we finally merit acknowledgement that we are all human persons deserving of life and love, care and kindness?
Losing The Ability To Love
Excessive individualism (e.g., selfish pride or haughty narcissism) promotes personal irresponsibility, erodes maturity, undermines moral responsibility and endangers effective parental example. It sullies our search for meaning, which is explicated in exquisite detail through biblical anthropology and through our proper use of the gifts of reason, thought and the ability to learn.
Excessive individualism also belies the fact that we are created, dependent beings, accountable to God and one another (not merely to ourselves) for what we do – and what we fail to do.
Furthermore, of all injuries abortion and extreme individualism inflict upon people and society, perhaps the greatest is the loss of authentic love which sustains traditional marriage and family. Mutual accountability is essential for effective relationships, but extreme individualism threatens accountability especially in traditional marriage and family, which are the foundations of society’s regeneration and survival.
Authentic love demands mutual responsibility from both parents as they create and sustain new life. This calls for single-minded fidelity and self-restraint, trust and accountability, generosity and giving of oneself to others … and inevitable suffering.
To prove ourselves worthy of someone’s trust, we must be accountable for our behavior according to transcendent norms.
Transcendent norms are not defined by individual needs or feelings. Nor are transcendent norms simply the result of religious education, social custom or family idiosyncrasy.
They are, first of all, inherent in human nature; they’re born into us. Then, they’re honed for years by moral education and the good example of elders to form a rightly-educated conscience.
Later, these norms are reinforced by legitimate authorities in church and state – authorities who actually derive their validity from divinely-created human nature, and then from the consent of the governed for the common good. Transcendent norms inspire generous giving of one’s self to-and-for others -- beginning with the enwombed child, that unique human person who would not exist except for our prior choice.
How About Guilt ?
Every moral choice – especially the choice of abortion – always involves the possibility of guilt … but guilt is a “No-no” in the vocabulary of individualism. So, what to do?
The abortion culture says: "Be free of guilt, especially guilt based on fidelity to God and the Ten Commandments. There’s no guilt in abortion. We gotta exercise our right, gotta be guilt-free to follow our own path. Guilt be gone!”
Of course, it’s true that the wrong kind of guilt is useless and debilitating when it’s excessive, irrational and off-target. But reasonable guilt - based on transcendent values and moral reality - underscores goodness and reminds us of our moral nature.
Reasonable guilt is the voice of conscience. It’s our link to moral reality which seeks to remind us of our responsibilities, nudging us back onto the path of fidelity and upright behavior.
The truth is that placing abortion in the context of "sexual rights" or “medical necessity” elevates convenience over transcendent principles. This profoundly undermines traditional moral teaching and the Constitution’s right to life.
The reality is that once legitimate moral authority of church and/or state is weakened, chaos results, creating social and personal voids, undermining moral and social safeguards. Chaos then unleashes the belief that the only remaining “authorities” are each person’s feelings and urges; irrational action emerges.
This chaos leads to uncritical, often irrational, self-righteous “group-think” which quickly cycles into reckless “mob mentality," devoid of any moral touchstone.
Mob power then erupts from repressed feelings, which are usually erratic and distorted. A form of “irrational collectivism” and “mass transformation” creates anti-social, self-righteous aggression and lawlessness, untethered to reason, without legitimate moral or cultural validity. Hostility invades the culture.
The result is totalitarianism, soft or otherwise, as history so clearly reveals. If we are alert, we’ll recognize worrisome symptoms of totalitarianism already on daily display in America.
What About Authority ?
Thoughtful persons may, of course, reasonably disagree with legitimate authority, as long as good will and decency are maintained.
BUT (unless legitimate authority deviates from the principles which define its validity) it is wise to remember that legitimate authority derives from many sources, including:
- Biblical anthropology,
- The Commandments and Revelation,
- Moral Traditions and Right Reason,
- Logical principles,
- Philosophical and historical sources,
- The legitimate needs of various communities,
- Laws which serve the common good, and (not to be overlooked) …
- Trial and error, wisdom and common sense, of families and parents throughout the ages.
So, given our created human condition, let us keep in mind that authentic, transcendent moral norms are of human and divine origin. No stable community exists without both elements, like both sides of the same hand. In addition, no legitimate “right” exists without an existing, prior responsibility.
Obeying law often demands self-restraint. But when legitimate law works for the best interests of the community, it speaks to the very heart of human dignity and reflects the Law of Love which acknowledges the dignity and dependency of all persons.
So, to preserve our nation, thinking Americans will recognize the dignity of every individual, especially children in the womb.
We need historical and religious perspectives (and self-restraint) to recognize that our human journey is an ongoing experience, with transcendent moral guidelines. Yet we are also open to reasoned change when enlightening facts emerge.
Until recently, America has been based on a belief about humanity’s moral nature and a view of the world which is uniquely Judeo-Christian, with stable public regard for tradition and authority, both divine and human. How long this may safely be said about America, however, has now become a nagging wonderment to many citizens.
As I said earlier, I have known women who endured abortion, then suffered deep, life-altering regret which endowed them with insight and courage. I would often remind these women that their child now possesses the gift of angelic vision which inspires that child to pray with loving perseverance for her mother’s well-being.
Abortion adherents often dismiss such transformative experiences as guilty, intrusive remnants of vestigial religiosity. They discount the import - even the possibility - of a transcendent experience which changes the heart and soul, mind and behavior, of those who finally listen … and hear.
Indeed, we are all called to seek and find child-like vision; urged to “become as little children.” We are assured that the Kingdom of Heaven is of those who have sought simplicity of heart and the guileless openness of an innocent, trusting child.
May we all - sooner or later - listen … and hear … be so blessed.
28 September 2022
What Scares You ?
When I was teaching at a university years ago, my cronies and I would occasionally flee to the sheltered precincts of the University Club. We’d assuage our tender egos with benign untruths about our research and swap occasional tidbits about departmental politics. Our collective musings (fueled by pitchers of cold lager) afforded us comforting, if brief, camaraderie.
One particular day, as we squabbled about some obscure theory, I noticed a colleague’s customary ebullience was absent, his normally acerbic wit muted. He was, I sensed, quite troubled.
A few minutes later, he signaled me to meet him in the lobby. Shortly thereafter, we sat in a quiet corner. He admitted a nagging anxiety had taken hold and would not let go.
I was surprised because, on the surface, he “had it made.” He had a loyal, no-nonsense wife (who, some said, was smarter than he), several healthy youngsters, a mortgage-free home close to campus. He even wore the tweed-jacket-with-leather-elbow-patches, the putative symbol of “the serious academic.”
In addition, he had recently been granted tenure. In those days, tenure was heady acknowledgement by one’s academic peers that one’s scholarship was worth retention. Tenure meant lifetime job security - and great family insurance coverage.
Next day, a thorough exam by his physician (whom he had avoided for years) uncovered symptoms which were duly treated. In less than two weeks, he was back to his ebullient self - but he was also quietly chastened … and grateful.
And, seeing him smile again, I was moved to wish all our fears could be so easily overcome and so brightly resolved.
Fear comes at us in different shapes and sizes. Some fear is reasonable, even essential for survival when it protects us from real harm. Other fear (dysfunctional fear, which serves no purpose, such as my friend’s “free-floating anxiety”) is the result of distorted perceptions and a multiplex of “what ifs” by which we introduce the possibilities of catastrophe and collapse.
So, fear can be logical, rational, even life-saving - or it can be irrational, based on imagination or compulsion (e.g., avoiding sidewalk cracks to prevent outer-space debris from crashing down upon you).
Even petty fears may trigger aggravating behavior, as when your dinner guest studiously wipes the tines of his fork with his napkin to eradicate those teeny germs you’ve allowed to accumulate.
Fear - real or imagined, healthy or dysfunctional - is persistent, intrusive, sometimes paralyzing, even toxic. But realistic fear can overwhelm individuals and cripple entire nations. For example, consider the life-threatening conditions in Haiti.
The Price We Pay
Most fears are acquired. Children learn from the example of elders. As we age, we move on, but we do compartmentalize childhood’s lessons which can emerge later in life. Thus, many adult fears originate in childhood. Years later, a fear may erupt within us. It may make no logical sense or serve any useful purpose - but we feel its power in body, mind and spirit.
Some people remain vulnerable to early experiences for decades, even for a lifetime, and never realize the source.
Some fears spark childish reactions. For example, social-climbers fear not being accepted by the “right people,” so they compensate by deception. They play games, fawn and curry favor, create an artificial façade which is often transparent, self-defeating and embarrassing to watch.
The list of fears is extensive, but every fear - from brief anxiety to lingering fright to a full-on panic attack - has physical components. The cause may be imaginary, but the effect is real, even paralyzing, to body and mind.
When fear takes over, it’s difficult to think straight or exercise control. Fear exposes vulnerabilities and sparks compensatory behaviors, such as irrationality, denial, loss of logic, disregard for facts. Respect for truth is often obscured by individuals and by entire nations, as history - and media - sadly report.
The Ultimate Fear
The ultimate fear is fear of the unknown and the dangers it may bring. We fear we’ll be deprived of power and control, and be at the whim of some heartless agent. Thus, this principle:
The anticipation of a fearful event is worse, both in severity and duration, than the event itself.
Why does the unknown hold such power? Because of our “what ifs,” and our tendency to catastrophize. Nature equips us to control life’s uncertainties and ambiguities, then pushes us to be our own master. Deprived of our sense of power and control, we are capable of thinking and doing practically anything, or nothing.
Power and control represent safety and security. Human nature naturally strives for intellectual prowess which dissipates mental and spiritual darkness and bestows a sense of power and control, safety and security. Thus, we naturally strive for mastery over our lives, over unforeseen circumstances, over people and events.
But some people seek power and control mainly to assert their self-styled superiority and further their autolatry (self-worship). They act as if they (and they alone) are the source of their various gifts and are, therefore, entitled to “special treatment” and the adulation of “lesser” folk.
Contrarily, at some point in every life, wisdom struggles to reveal too us that the highest form of power is kindness, the highest form of control self-control. Wisdom insists we’re unwise to covet power and control. Without wise self-restraint and a humbled ego, power and control will not enrich the soul nor ennoble the spirit nor strengthen character.
Until we attend to wisdom’s revelations and achieve a measure of maturity, we are burdened by dense intellects and fragile egos, unaware of life’s simplest, yet most transcendent, message.
Fear Of The Unknown
Fear of the unknown naturally creates hovering mystery. But the ultimate unknown - the Ultimate Mystery - is God. But who (some soul-weary folks wonder) can control or please God?
Some people perceive God as an impersonal being inhabiting a cold, mechanical cosmos; a mysterious, distant deity who barely tolerates humans and is hard to get along with; a divinely dyspeptic curmudgeon, with an arbitrary, punitive agenda, an unpredictable temperament and a chronically sour disposition.
These folks know God possesses an awful lot of power and control which, they believe, He uses to confuse us, to upset our logic, to mess with our heads and up-end our fondest hopes.
Given these dreadful images, who wouldn’t fear this kind of God? This intimidating image of a callous, pitiless God prompts these folks to conclude, “I can’t win. What’s the point?” So, they maintain estranged distance, rebellious indifference or cynical dismissal. In time, they also tend to erect walls against persons whose Faith sustains them in times of loss and confusion.
Experience says that people who hold such disdainful views are, most often, responding to emotionally painful events and resulting bewilderment. They believe their pain justifies their dark vision. As one person told me many years ago, “God hurts – and He intends to hurt . . . That’s all there is to it.”
Context And Perspective
People who reject God are often contemptuous of those who live by Faith. They may even ridicule believers or snort at virtues such as self-restraint, kindness, forgiveness, fortitude – habits which are inherent in, required by, and fortified through Faith.
We choose our outlook on life, our values, beliefs and attitudes. Our choice determines what sort of person we are. But every person’s values, beliefs and attitudes also have direct bearing on behavior. So, it’s entirely fair and, at times, necessary that we:
- identify the values, beliefs and attitudes which deniers harbor in their minds and hearts.
- recognize the values which inspire their words and deeds;
- face, not excuse, the consequences of their behavior on individuals and in the community;
- challenge and, when feasible, counteract the harmful consequences of their behavior.
Authentic Faith in God also has consequences. For example, Faith does not tolerate disdain nor condemn anyone, nor does it seek to polarize people against one another. Authentic Faith never tolerates random acts of violence, verbal or physical.
Faith demands respect for people, accountability for the consequences of our actions, concern for the impact of our words and deeds, concern for what we do - and what we fail to do.
Faith never excuses evil or harm to others, nor does it deny their dignity as God’s creatures. Faith cannot condone moral wrongs committed in its name, no matter what the intention or the excuse.
Setting It Straight
So, let’s get it straight ---
Fear of God - in its rightly-defined context - is not merely about punishment and spiritual darkness. It’s about our gratitude for God’s relationship with us and our freedom to respond.
It is not intended to provoke despairing trepidation or self-righteous rejection. It is, rather, reason for awe and reverence and our loving response to the Mystery of it all.
At the core of human life is our inherent mandate to find our Beloved, to trust and love (not fear) that Person; to strive mightily to attend to our Beloved with our mind, heart and strength, and do so with-and-for other persons who share the same mandate.
If we understand human nature (which means understanding ourselves), we realize the gift of life itself is our first sign that we are born to be loved and cherished; born to love God with the same trust and gratitude we lavish on our Beloved, on the one we love, the one who trusts and loves us.
Rightly understood, then, mature Fear of God means we fear not loving enough. We fear our unpredictability and unworthiness will disqualify us, that we may not be loved - by anyone.
So, mature Fear of God inspires gratitude for the gift of life and all that follows, including comforting events and distressing events, and the price we inevitably pay for loving and being loved.
Life’s hard knocks soon teach us where our weaknesses reside. Even as kids, we cover them up - but we know our vulnerabilities. As we grow up, we come to fear that maybe our indifference or our arrogance might ruin our attempts to please our Beloved. At some point in life, we all worry that we may be rejected or may not uphold our end of a grand relationship . . . or even find one.
Faith incorporates our fears and vulnerabilities. Through Faith we learn that our fears are the natural beginning of self-knowledge and insight. Eventually, Faith spawns the gift of wisdom which neutralizes fear’s dreadful wonderment. Faith reveals that God desires much more for us than fear, wishes much more for us than feckless wonderment or unsavory resentment.
To be sure, God possesses power beyond imagining; that’s just Who God is. Is this a fearsome bit of knowledge? Yes, indeedy! God is Mystery, and Mystery can be a fearsome reality, unknown, omnipotent and so on and so forth. But we always have a choice to resolve our fear by accepting the gift of God’s relationship with gratitude, rather than refusing disdainfully, or going it alone.
So, when it comes to Fear of God, the deeper meaning is not that He will reject us, but that we may reject Him; that because we may lack patience or humility or trust in His wisdom, we may miss life’s most encouraging message.
It is our own weakness, not God’s meanness, which makes us doubt His loving heart and reject our choice to trust Him and lay our worry at His feet.
It’s easier to find fault with God (as we perceive Him) than to admit fault within ourselves, to take responsibility for our failings and accept our vulnerabilities as our true needs.
Our pain and vulnerabilities should prompt us not - not - to reject God but to flee to Him . . . and, in doing so, to find God waiting for us, understanding our pain, acknowledging our needs for solace and a gentle heart to embrace us and forgive our wayward vision, time after time after time . . . unto His eternal kindness and wisdom finally get through to us.
Love Of Others
In proper context, then, our Fear of God is enfolded within our strivings to love God – enfolded within the “Law of Love.”
The Law of Love dictates:
- that we develop mature love for ourselves and for our neighbor (with emphases on mature love, not the undisciplined, commercially-tawdry form of “love” which litters our culture);
- that we obey the terms God has revealed to us through endless sources, and then subordinate our fear to trust;
- that we do not over-react to painful events which inevitably afflict us all.
The Law of Love is meant to inspire us to respond to the needs of others within proper boundaries set by Scripture, Revelation, Tradition, history and common sense - for starters.
The Law of Love requires us to observe the admonitions and restraints of these established sources, not to follow the bizarre fads and ephemeral fluff adrift in our morally-dazed culture.
Ultimately, then, Fear of God is really an invitation to love and to be loved by God and others. The “Fear” part refers not merely to God’s wrath, but our apprehensions that we might falter in generosity, gratitude, Faith, Hope and true Charity.
That’s why civility, care and consideration for one another are crucial behaviors for each of us. Loving one another -- in the proper manner, which often demands self-restraint, wisdom and a rejection of populist fads -- facilitates our willingness to love God on His terms, not our terms. And where mature love abides, fear is unwelcome.
Our capacity to express mature love takes time -- but it is our goal and our most spiritual quality. Our capacity to trust and love the Beloved, however imperfectly, is the crowning gift God bestows.
To be a mature person means to use that quality as God intends.
In The Real World
Loving is a choice - but even in the smallest ways, it makes a difference in this world. That’s why acts of kindness, civility and courtesy are so important. Even a brief "thank you” is a gift of attention given, a choice for goodness.
In fact, no task or chore need be neutral in this life if we choose to do it as an act of love within the parameters God has given us. Within God’s given boundaries, it is not the act itself which ennobles us. It’s our intention that ennobles the act – and ennobles us, as well.
We cannot make anyone love us or trust us. We can only struggle with ourselves to attain character and integrity without which there is no lasting trust – and without trust, love cannot abide.
We struggle to be worthy of trust and love - even if others do not applaud or respond. And, while our best efforts are always subject to error, God awaits. God awaits with the fidelity and understanding of a Beloved Who is not dismayed by our vulnerabilities.
God awaits. He awaits patiently . . . but the choice to love God on His terms must be our choice - even if, for years, we have scoffed at the possibility.
Whatever we choose, He awaits…
With infinite patience, He awaits……
25 August 2022
Willy And The Little Ones: Reminders Of Gratitude
Two events transpired this week which stay in my mind; events I am driven to share with you in the words that follow. These events will not alter history nor shake nations nor move mountains. They are small, passing moments involving persons you and I may see at a distance . . . or even know.
Daily events often smother us with their ordinariness. But the ordinary events of life are really not ordinary at all, not to be taken for granted, not without point or purpose. Indeed, no event in our lives is meaningless, without profit to heart and mind. Human affairs always offer us messages of Hope, but they are so often discreetly enfolded in routine or, at times, wrapped in suffering and doubt. Yet, those messages of Hope are ever there for us to glean, if we put our egos aside and seize the moments of transcendence which life constantly affords.
This is especially true for those of sturdy heart and trusting soul who seek Hope with determination . . . and are willing to pay its often-taxing price. They recognize that Hope is always to be found in our daily events, constantly hovering within the untimely nooks and discomforting crannies of our self-absorbed routines.
It is in our tedious little chores and in the persistent distractions of the ordinary that the transcendent values of life are ever found, patiently awaiting our notice … if, that is, we have the sense and the foresight to peer beyond the obvious; if, that is, we are wise enough to recognize the veiled goodness and virtue which inhabit the lives of each and all of us – goodness and virtue which always push us to transcend our frail, needy selves.
Event #1 occurred near my home, in the adjacent shopping area, replete with many stores. It extends for blocks and includes every sort emporium imaginable: clothing stores and sushi restaurants, laundromats and barber shops, bakeries and a dentist’s office – everything one might need – and more.
Recently, as I was leaving the dry cleaners, an elderly man passed by the entrance. He shuffled laboriously, slowly dragging his feet, his head sagging low, his eyes downcast. He moved with obvious effort as he trudged painfully past the cleaner’s doorway where I stood.
This elderly man had an unkempt beard and was attired in tattered, filthy clothes which were far too large for him. He wore a torn-and-battered straw hat, and his ragged shoes were wrapped in cloth, probably to ease the wages of walking.
He was pushing a cart; a dozen plastic bags containing his possessions hung from the cart’s handles. And he shuffled ever-so-slowly. Each footstep was laboriously achieved, so agonizingly slowly did he walk, so precariously gained seemed each step he took.
I watched this old man (perhaps a man my age, I thought) as he passed the door of the cleaner’s establishment and proceeded up the colonnade. Then I went to my car … but I could not get in.
I was touched by the sight of this old man, patiently pushing his belongings ahead of him with obvious and painful exertion. I turned and watched him shuffle up the street with agonizing hesitant pace, his body bent over his cart, as if he were approaching the limit of his strength, as if exhaustion would betake him any instant, and lay him low upon the sidewalk.
It was more than curiosity which then moved me to follow him – at a distance, to be sure. But I did follow him, because I feared for this old man; I feared that this old man might fall to the pavement before my eyes and never rise again.
l feared for this elder who clearly lived on the streets and in the alleys, alone. I feared for this elder who wearily pushed his small cart, with all the possessions of his lifetime stuffed into plastic bags dangling from rusty handlebars.
I feared for the health and safety of this stranger - disheveled, unwashed, barely able to push his belongings up a curb as he crossed the street and slouched away with dreadful weariness.
I worried for this man, for this brother of mine, whose name I did not know. I worried that he might somehow hurt himself, that he might hurt himself badly … and no one would see him fall … no one would miss him … and no one would care, or would ever again lovingly say his name, or ever know how he struggled to conquer that last curb, so he could carry on with whatever measure of life still remained to him in his soul.
Finally, as I watched from a distance, he settled heavily in a chair at a sidewalk donut shop. A patron at a nearby table looked askance at him, then moved to a different table, her back to him. I hesitated . . . but finally approached him and, with regard for his right to my respect, I hesitantly introduced myself.
To my relief, I found that he (let’s call him “Willy”) was quite talkative, even buoyant to meet a new person. We chatted, Willy and I, for a few minutes --- and, as he leaned his chin on his white-tipped cane, I suddenly realized that he was - he is - blind.
Event #2 occurred last Sunday when I went to Mass at my parish church. As I walked to my usual place, I noticed a middle-aged couple already sitting right behind me.
They had two small children with them. One child was a tiny girl with oriental features, a child of, perhaps, seven years. The other child was a tiny black lad, sitting - or, more precisely, squirming - in his stroller in the aisle. From his stroller, the child looked at me with a wide-eyed stare which would surely melt an iceberg. He was barely two, I’d say, but he was clearly a demanding and vocal handful. The parents, both white, had (as wise parents do) separated the little ones. But the child in the stroller was not easily to be silenced.
And then, the truth of this small scene hit me …..
This white couple had brought these children – their children – to Mass with them, to worship with them, so that the four of them would worship as a family. And it struck me how I had nearly missed the reality of stunning generosity of this couple who are giving life to their children. With quiet, yet incalculable goodness, and at unrecognized sacrifice, this man and this woman are creating memories, giving Hope, building a loving family for their children and, most of all, letting the little boy and his sister know they are truly loved.
I am sometimes advised by readers of this blog to avoid words such as “moral” and “virtue.” These words are taboo these days; they sound officious and superior, off-putting to the modernist’s ear. They reek of righteous judgmentalism and conjure up visions of intrusive scrupulosity, I am told. They aggravate some readers and fitfully remind them of religious authority which our secular world has banished.
But Willy and The Children remind me that our world is an uneven and often confusing place. Suffering and bewilderment exist around us and, often, within us. But, for mysterious reasons, God still allows hapless folk to create dire circumstances for themselves and for others by ignoring the restraints which solid moral traditions have built for centuries. Life’s mysteries surely do include many unknowns, including the seemingly uneven will of God and the dilemma of human freedom.
Yet, despite our humanity’s predictable errors and our constant insistence on defining ourselves without proper restraints, our lives are still given to us as gifts, generous gifts, gifts we could never earn nor merit by our own efforts.
Each of us does what seems most fitting with our gift of life, given our particular circumstances - even though others may find our choices morally wretched or rudely distasteful. But we are alive -- and the abundant mysteries of life are often overwhelming, quite beyond our limited comprehension. Eventually, however, accountability will occur and the boundaries of our nature will be the assertive standard to which we are held. That’s why, eventually, human nature always reminds us that we are, first and foremost, needy children of God.
It is wise of us, therefore, to see that Willy and The Children challenge us all - and give us pause to remember that God’s Justice is infused with His Wisdom. And it is in His Wisdom that God knows the heart of each one of us. It is by His Wisdom that God peers with clear vision into the soul of every person and knows the secrets we hold therein, and gazes at us with a measure of Divine Mercy which we shall never grasp.
While I cannot - will not - stifle my concern for Willy, I am also oddly comforted for him, knowing that God sees far beyond what I see when Willy (his white cane tapping the sidewalk) shuffles weakly into view and, with his thoroughly disarming smile, once more opens himself to me with astonishing simplicity.
I am also confident God watches The Children … and is greatly pleased to behold such selfless giving, as when their parents extend the grandest gift to them which we human beings can offer one another, a loving and stable family.
It is, perhaps, presumptuous of me to say these words, to think of God and His creatures in seemingly simplistic terms, as if God were possessed of the traits we humans hope to find when we encounter Him . . . as we all shall, some unknown day.
But – given the abundance of evidence which God provides for us about Himself – I believe we would be guilty of great ingratitude if we do not think of Him as infinitely perceptive and infinitely caring in ways which are far beyond all boundaries that we know of.
If Wisdom serves us rightly, then all other emotions fade and our most fitting response is our simple gratitude to God; gratitude, with its leveling impulses and its humbling revelation that we must give thanks for good people, such as Willy and The Children and their loving parents. And, from the depth of our gratitude comes our prayer for them – and for ourselves:
Who are you, Wise and Patient God
Who fill us, now and ever, with Hope,
And brighten all the doubt and darkness of our hearts.
You guide us forward in our lives,
Holding us firmly like a loving Parent.
And should you let us go,
We could not take a single step alone.
You are the Space in which we live,
Embracing all our being, hidden in our hearts,
Yet alive in our every breath and in our heart’s every beat.
You are nearer to us than we are to ourselves,
Closer to us in Your patience and Your loving readiness
To forgive us - and then to soothe our weary minds.
You are our Father, our Friend, our Holy Spirit.
Your fidelity is infinite, as is your Love for us.
We can but thank you in deepest gratitude
For all that we receive from you,
For even when we are in pain, we are never alone.
We are always and everywhere tightly embraced in your arms,
Our God, our Goodness, our One and Lasting Hope,
First and forever.
19 August 2022
Two Walls And A Friend
On my desk I have a remnant (about the size of child’s fist) of the Berlin Wall. It is a constant reminder to me of the Cold War and of Communism which threatened the world.
Regrettably - for want of age or lack of will - many Americans do not remember the Cold War which occasioned the Berlin Wall. Regrettably, many Americans do not remember the savagery of atheistic Communism’s countless crimes against innocent people - people like you and me and our families.
Regrettably, many Americans also do not recall the Gulag Archipelago, i.e., the dozens of Soviet prisons stretched across thousands of miles of Siberian wasteland. Nor do many recognize the names of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Elena Bonner, Andrei Sakharov, Stefan Wyszynski or Jerzy Popieluszko.
Many Americans have never heard of the “Black Book of Communism,” a chronicle (900 pages of staggering detail) of the inhumanity of Marxist Socialism, hidden behind updated versions of Lenin’s deadly phrase, “proletarian democracy.”
Each time I look at my tiny chunk of the Berlin Wall - this small remnant of yesterday’s sad history - I am also moved to recall my visit to another wall, or what’s left of this other wall.
The Second Wall
This second wall is in Warsaw, Poland. This Warsaw Wall was built by Nazi occupiers of Poland in 1940 as a Jewish Ghetto to isolate and annihilate Poland’s Jewish population.
Nearly 400,000 human beings - people like you and me and our families - were confined in the Warsaw Ghetto for only one reason: they were Jewish and, therefore, targets of the Holocaust. Jewish identity was sufficient to label even tiny children “Enemies of the State,” that insane indictment under which Nazis murdered millions, and even exterminated little children, some of whose photos hang on the walls of Auschwitz.
Of the nearly 400,000 persons - including babies – entombed behind The Warsaw Wall, less than 11,000 survived. The heart-wrenching history of people in the Warsaw Ghetto is on the internet. I suggest you read – and be grateful.
Today, only a small portion of the Warsaw Wall still stands, but its heritage allows no illusions, not only about National Socialism or atheistic Marxism but, most tellingly, about human nature.
The Berlin Wall and the Warsaw Wall both attest that good people are always targets which evil seeks with calculated brutality or casual indifference. This truth should keep us always aware (if we pay attention) that evil is a constant force in human history - and in our own nature. The potential for evil runs through the heart of every person, as Solzhenitsyn wisely points out.
A Child’s Survival
I have written before about the weeks I spent in Communist-occupied Poland. Now, let me speak about my friend at whose invitation I visited Poland. His name was Samuel Oliner.
Sam was born in 1930 in Zyndranowa, a farming community in Eastern Poland. When his mother died, his father later re-married, and Sam’s family lived on his grandparents' farm in Bobowa.
Sam was nine years old when the Nazis invaded Poland. Jews were immediate targets of Nazi brutality. Every Jewish person was stripped of his/her rights and property, and compelled to wear the yellow Star of David stamped with “Jude” in the center:
Jewish Badge: During the Nazi Era
The Nazi’s immediately forced all Jews into sealed-off ghettos, even in small towns such as Bobowa. The Bobowa Ghetto was jammed, rife with vermin and disease. Sanitation was primitive, food sparse, medical attention nil. Starvation and disease were common. Young Sam had to sneak from the Ghetto to find food for his starving family.
On August 14, 1942, the Nazis began the purge of Jews in the Bobowa Ghetto. All Jewish people - including children - were herded into nearby woods … to be slaughtered. The bodies of the living were tossed into a wide ditch with the dead.
When the Nazi round-up started, Sam’s step-mother hurriedly (and wisely) forced him to flee. She demanded that he run, so that he might live. Sam clamored onto the roof of a shed close-by, and watched as his family - and every Jewish family - were brutally corralled. That night, Sam escaped into the countryside.
Sam was twelve years old.
A Harrowing Journey
Sam walked for several days. Finally, a woman named Balwina, who knew his family, gave him refuge. At the risk of her own life, Balwina fed and hid him. She also taught Sam the rudiments of Catholic catechism so he could pass for a non-Jew.
Sam soon found work on a farm previously-owned by Jews, now rented from the Nazis by city-bred Poles who knew nothing about rural life. Sam spent three years assisting on that farm, in constant danger of discovery, passing as a Catholic teenager.
With the aid of Balwina and her son - even though discovery meant death to all of them - Sam survived.
Finally, in March of 1945, Russian troops arrived. Sam came out of hiding … to learn that his entire family had been murdered in the Bobowa woods.
Sam was fifteen.
In 1946, Sam made his way to England. In 1950, he arrived in America. Sam eventually saw military action in the Korean War, then attended Brooklyn College, where he met Pearl Merkur. They wed in 1956 and, for the next 65 years, they shared their lives and their academic careers together.
Together, Pearl and Sam each earned a PhD from the University of California at Berkeley.
Together, joined the faculty of Humboldt State University in Arcata, California.
Together, they founded the Altruistic Personality and Prosocial Behavior Institute at Humboldt State.
In 1990, they received the University’s Scholar of the Year prize, together.
Pearl died last year (2021). Sam followed her nine months later.
If you are interested to watch Sam and Pearl speak of their lives, the following link contains a video conversation in which they elaborate on their dedication to the study of altruism and caring.
About | The Altruistic Behavior Institute
A Humane Legacy
Sam’s survival of the Holocaust and, later, his decades of teaching, writing and research centered on 1) dimensions of altruism and its core quality, the simple act of caring about others, even strangers, and 2) why caring people sometimes even risk their own lives to help others.
One biographer wrote of Sam “A central theme that runs throughout his scholarship is the importance of kindness and courageousness, even in the darkest times…”
From Sam’s decades of teaching, writing and research, several factors stand out in vivid clarity – facts about human nature which inspire the willing heart (if we pay attention). Among noteworthy findings Sam reveals to us are these:
- The desire to assist others and to give of oneself – the quality of caring – is not determined by circumstances but is, rather, a personal quality possessed by the caring individual.
- Biology alone cannot account for altruistic behavior. The qualities associated with altruism – caring, generosity of spirit, concern for others, risk-taking for the sake of others – are learned qualities; we can all develop these qualities.
- A person’s religiosity - by itself - is no guarantee that person will be a caring, altruistic individual. It is not our religious education, but how we integrate religion’s emphasis on our common humanity and common needs shared by all people.
- Parental values play a distinct role in the character formation and ethical learning of the caring person. The values of altruism and generous care are intellectually and emotionally implanted well before the challenge to care arises.
- In addition, these values remain as permanent qualities of the individual. They are integrated into the altruistic person’s mind and heart.
- But even when the risk is absent, caring is (in Sam’s words) “do-able by every human being.” We can all care about one another - even in small ways, such as a kind word or simple recognition. To care about one another is a “do-able human act,” a choice we can all make, usually at no cost to us - but with incalculable goodness to others.
Sam and Pearl explained that the ethical values of the altruistic person reveal the key dimensions of their personality. These values are part of their willingness to risk even their own lives to do good for others. These values show how the altruistic person characteristically relates to other people, based on their sense of commitment to others, even to strangers.
These caring aspects of altruism may seem irrelevant to many people who use - or abuse - apparent generosity as a means for self-aggrandizement and the adulation of others.
So, when I look at my chunk of the Berlin Wall or recall those moments when I touched the Warsaw Wall and prayed for those who suffered, I think of Sam.
The costly messages of the Berlin Wall and the Warsaw Wall are now faded chapters of history for a lot of people, dim and indistinct to many. But if we forget their messages, or if we look away from history’s revelations … we do so at our own peril.
Historian Dr. Wilfred McClay recently received the 2022 Bradley Prize. In his acceptance speech, Dr. McClay warned that we must guard against drifting away from the lessons of our past. (If you are unfamiliar with the Bradley Prize, here is an overview:)
Dr. McClay acknowledges that tension will exist between the old and new, but we must not lose our sense of continuity between the two. Surely, false dogmas of the past should be discarded, but we must always remember the origins and the terms of our freedom and keep them fresh in our memories.
According to Dr. McClay, as the past slips from the American consciousness, the influence of our ancestors weakens. We do not heed history’s guidance. He warns that Americans have lost the practice of honoring the origins of our freedom. We must be clear, he says, that our freedom is at stake, our liberty at risk. Our beliefs are changing, our customs fading, our regard for religion receding. Commerce decays, families are shrinking, institutions fading, debt rising, our nation polarizing. We are, he says, all witnesses to the fierce convulsions of our exhausted nation.
He adds that our fidelity to America is lost. Reverence for our nation is rarely heard in public. Elders are not seen as persons of wisdom but as anachronisms, as relics from an age soon to pass. We must remember our history, McClay insists. History extends her hand to us in our youth and leads us along the path to virtue. History makes clear the many sins of the past, but she also attends to our nation’s triumphs. To dismiss our past and to ignore our history is not progress. It leaves us without a map, preventing us from becoming men and women with humanity.
What Do We Do ?
Given Dr. McClay’s observations, it is clear that we must honor history and heed its messages … not to reinstate the past, but to learn from its wisdom. History insists that we remember our nation’s first principles, including religious Faith, which has been indispensable to our American enterprise.
This means that we once again honor the ethics of civility and the common virtues which motivated our Founders and established American identity from the outset of our nation’s story.
In practical, down-to-earth terms, this means: 1) we honor the promptings of altruism, 2) we express care for others (even for strangers), 3) we do not - do not - normalize angry forms of inclusion and tolerance which, at the same instant, “cancel” our neighbors and polarize our communities.
History forcefully illustrates the fact that America’s religious Faith has sustained us in wars and in peace, sustained us through periods of estranged wonderment and confusing need.
History forcefully illustrates the fact that religious Faith has worked for America because it is both a reservoir of personal conviction and a cultural binding force which exerts positive influence on the common good of all citizens.
Samuel and Pearl Oliner’s work and lives testify to 1) the power and goodness of caring which transcend human nature, and 2) the forces for evil which lurk tirelessly.
History tells us that individuals and communities benefit from the transcendent values which Faith imparts. Transcendent values can restore stability to our shattered culture, resurrect us from the slough of despond in which selfishness enmeshes us, and enliven the caring spirit of altruism by which the human heart is enriched.
Caring is - as Sam ever-gently reminded us - “do-able by every one of us” . . . by every one of us . . . without exception.
8 August 2022
How Long Can We Wait ?
As an elder, I recall a time in America when shared values predominated. Family life was stable. We took responsibility for our behavior, and were accountable for what we said and did. Disrespectful children were corrected not only by their parents, but by neighbors and teachers. Police were respected, law upheld. Street drugs and gangs (children killing children) were unheard of. Violence was rare, vandalism rarer. People dressed neatly for church, not as if going to the beach or the gym. It was a time in America when:
- Moral self-restraint in word and deed was expected;
- People were never ashamed or hesitant to mention God;
- Patriotism and pride in our country were universal; military service was honored in every community;
- Parents (male and female) taught children that virtue and sin, right and wrong, were norms in family and community;
- Our leaders spoke openly about God’s hand in our Republic;
- Schools never extolled divisive racial ideas; teachers never exposed students to explicit sexual material (see below);
- We pledged unified allegiance to “one nation under God”;
- And a lot more . . . but you get the idea!
The Power Of Babble
This list probably sounds strange to today’s “enlightened” critics who accept and propagate ideas, such as:
- America is an evil culture;
- Religious beliefs are really Christian oppression;
- Traditional versions of American history are hypocritical;
- Those who resist “diversity, inclusion and equity” and changes in sex, race and gender must be “canceled”;
- We should defund police and ignore existing laws;
- Heteronormativity and belief in only two sexes are archaic;
- There are endless genders - and pronouns to match;
- Parents have no rights over their children;
- Man-woman marriage promotes male domination;
- Traditional family and fatherhood are oppressors’ tools;
- And so on ...
Our Struggle For Virtue
Is America evil? History tells us that some Americans have made grave mistakes (as humans do). Our nation’s record is not perfect, especially in light of the high moral principles of our Founders, some of whom strayed from the letter and spirit of their own idealism.
But there are vast differences between human error publicly corrected and deliberately repressive tyranny of regimes.
Human weakness and arrogance, cruelty and selfishness are recurring human traits – as are kindness, generosity, prudence, self-sacrifice, foresight and other virtues in our society.
Every person (and nation) is capable of great harm and great goodness. As Andrei Solzhenitsyn wisely says, the dividing line between good and evil runs through every human heart. Whether good or evil prevails depends on the character and intentions of people, individually and collectively. We always have choices.
History also tells us that no nation has faced its errors and striven to correct its errors as America has. Today’s distorted tirades against America deliberately perpetuate and maliciously exaggerate the worst in our American story.
These distortions are reprehensible cheap shots, yet they’ve caught on, and are deeply rooted in our culture. But they erode our moral infrastructure and our families, corrupt our children (see below) and erase the foundations of American life. They threaten America’s very identity.
Emphasis On Moral Traditions
I use the word “moral” with good reason. Why? Because life itself is - before all else - a moral reality, a moral experience. This means our choices have moral consequences for good or evil.
Let me explain how this truth applies to today’s dangerous changes.
We don’t usually think about it, but we live in a universe of moral choices and consequences - no matter how minuscule or distant these consequences seem to us.
The consequences of our words and deeds may be subtle or blatant, remote or immediate. We may persuade ourselves that what we say and do is fine. If others are offended, tough!
No matter how insignificant the consequences may seem or how vigorously we discount our responsibility for our behavior, the cumulative effect of our words and deeds on us as well as on other persons should not be minimized.
Our words and deeds influence others and ourselves. They both form and reveal our character. They affect our relationships in ways we may not realize, especially in family life, which is the center of moral learning.
Furthermore, by the very nature of human relationships, moral links and limits are always involved.
Relationships are moral connections because they always have moral consequences for better or for worse, for good or for evil.
The Moral Life
So, morality means we are responsible to God and to each other for what we say and what we do. That fact is a “given” in human nature; it establishes us as moral agents.
Our moral sensibilities, our character and the acuity (or dullness) of our conscience (i.e., our moral voice within) determine the quality of our relationships and the influence we have on others.
Our moral education begins in our relationships with family members. The consequences of what we say and do extend into various communities and influence our relationships in home, school, work, church, everywhere we go.
Even when we deny our moral responsibility, our lives still remain a moral reality. Our moral nature is defined by objective responsibilities, standards and limits, not by personal (subjective) urges or feelings nor by self-righteous impulses nor by glibly-marketed “causes.”
Life Is Not Neutral
Life is a gift - but some people find it difficult to acknowledge that we are created beings and are, therefore, dependent on God for our gift of life.
Since life is a gift, it should move us to gratitude over grievance, to humility over arrogance, patience over anger. Yet, some still bristle at admitting dependence on God. Perhaps they resist because God’s gift of life comes with objective moral standards and limits already built-in. Maybe these people do not like to admit they are not really in charge of everything (some people are like that, you know).
Nevertheless, it is true that when people come together (however briefly), their relationship (however superficial) already has built-in moral responsibilities and rights, freedoms and limits. These moral standards originate with our Creator, not with us!
Sure, we codify some of these standards in various ways (e.g., laws and customs, ethics and manners) but we do not make up these standards, we inherit them. Their vitality and utility become evident in due time. Eventually, they exert influence and dictate expectations and behavior (however subtly) in very community.
While some people resist acknowledging God, other people see their lives as sterile, empty, boring, indifferent, without purpose. They may look outside themselves (to work or to other people) for validation and meaning. This is a mistake.
It's not merely our activities which give our lives meaning and dignity. It’s our spirit of gratitude for life, our desire to be of generous service, our inner motive to extend kindness, our desire to seek Goodness, which change dull routine (even grief) into invitations to virtue and opportunities for meaning.
No life is useless - unless we choose it so. Life has a goal, a purpose. Nothing we do need be meaningless. Even our mistakes are sources of learning and change, hope and (best of all) trust.
Our private motivations, thoughts, attitudes, habits and actions contribute to our way of living, to our character, to the person we choose to be, to the habitual virtues we embrace in the silence of our hearts - wherein our hopes and ideals reside.
Thus, to refuse God due gratitude; to think of one’s life as meaningless; to think of oneself as a victim of fickle misfortune; to believe one’s existence is without consequence . . . is to enter the precincts of nihilism. That’s a dead end, leading to depression of soul, futility of heart and a bleak, humorless spirit.
So, what’s our best option?
To pursue moral maturity. And what does that entail?
Moral maturity comes as we attend to our responsibilities to God, to our own well-being (not selfishly but intelligently) and to the best interests of others … and we do this with gratitude.
Moral maturity seeks an answer to this question, “How might I be of benefit to others, even in the stillness of my routines?”
This question is the antithesis of self-consuming narcissism, an antidote to arrogance and vanity. To pursue generosity of soul and kindness of heart (however slight) is to choose altruism over selfishness, selfless generosity over bloated conceit.
Moral maturity grants true, authentic freedom - not counterfeit freedom which excuses abuse and revels in distortion.
True freedom is freedom from undue coercion, along with moral self-restraint. True freedom really means we have the right to follow the prompts of virtue - not vice nor error - without interference from the State or the unmerited intrusions of others – but within limits.
True freedom does not mean:
- Unrestricted license to do anything we want (popular today);
- We may attack America’s solid traditions (popular today);
- We are "free” to declare ourselves superior to deplorables whom we wish to cancel (also popular today).
Moral maturity occurs when we exercise our rights, honor our responsibilities and respect our limits. They are all in balance, as we aim at Goodness.
So, true freedom facilitates responsible behavior. It does not allow bizarre variants, does not support insulting, inane “causes” nor does it destroy long-established moral traditions.
- exists to achieve the objective goal of the common good;
- is not meant to be used to erase moral limits or to diminish self-restraint for the sake of a “social cause;”
- demands adherence to truth in our words, actions, and in our accountability to others;
- does not justify anger nor overthrow sound law or tradition;
- cannot be separated from our responsibilities to God, and our accountability to the community.
Moral maturity is the foundation of healthy family and community. A morally mature community does not seek to harm its members. We pass laws (speed limits) to safeguard citizens. This makes sense for individual welfare and for the common good.
BUT … we pass other laws to assure the right to kill defenseless unborn citizens, and call it “health care” or a “civil right?” This makes no sense; it contributes to cynical nihilism.
Clearly, our laws (and some thinking which inspires them) can be contradictory and confusing. Today, laws are disregarded even by lawmakers and by those sworn to uphold those laws.
The lesson for America is this:
We cannot rely solely on human laws to hold our culture together, to bring about moral maturity and to provide civic sanity. Laws can even radically polarize us, as we see vividly in America today.
So, some force stronger than law is also needed for the common good and for a morally cohesive culture – not to replace law but to add moral clarity to law’s limited suasion.
Our Founders knew this, but many Americans today forget . . . and this forgetfulness is perilous.
Law And Morality
In addition to law, then, we also need the objective standards and the vision provided by moral maturity, which is beyond human law and complementary to it.
If we are to achieve a just community, we need the insightful ground rules of moral virtue as we search for personal meaning and for the common good of all - including the unborn.
Without the added wisdom of moral virtue to guide us when human law fails, communities are destined to self-implode. Without moral restraint, people die and nations are devastated.
The interplay and balance of law and virtue in human community is uniquely expressed in our Declaration of Independence and in our Bill of Rights. This is (or has been, until recently) the basic message and abiding greatness of America.
And this message is now in serious jeopardy.
Cultural decay is evident in the ascendence of moral relativism, which leads to acceptance of toxic ideas and programs which are clearly corrupting, even to children, and in direct conflict with history.
If you doubt this, then look at the grammar school curricula in countless public schools (below). Children are now exposed to toxic information about our nation, each other and themselves.
v For example, the San Diego Unified school district has adopted principles of queer theory into its K-12 pedagogy. The intention is to destroy “heteronormativity” and teach new sexual identities, including “genderqueer,” “non-binary,” “pansexual,” and “two-spirit.” This curriculum begins in kindergarten - kindergarten.
In Illinois, poor student performance in public schools prompts a prominent businessman to write this recent critique:
“The future of America and the businesses so vital to our country are not going to be able to depend on an army of woke, Marxist-leaning, poorly educated people to achieve great ends. We need godly, well-educated, wise people who love liberty and this country. This is not what Illinois public schools are producing. Tragically, government schools don’t even strive to produce these kinds of students. It is time to exit Illinois public schools and pursue a growing number of vastly better options.”
In Portland, Oregon, the public school system now teaches its youngest children about “white colonizers” and exposes kindergarten children to “the infinite gender spectrum,” teaching tiny children that one’s sex is arbitrary. Tiny tots are given explicit illustrations of male and female genitalia. The word “boy” is now a “person with a penis.” “Girl” is now a “person with a vulva.”
The Portland curriculum gets far more graphic and extends all the way through grammar school. I shan’t go into further detail, but I suggest you read these articles.
Public School Pushes Graphic Sexual Agenda on Kinrgartners
In Portland, the Sexual Revolution Starts in Kindergarten
LA school district encourages teachers to reject gender 'binary'
It Is Time to Exit Illinois Public Schools: A Businessman’s Perspective
Words have power. In our culture today, emotionally-laden words are exaggerated to manipulate and popularize grave distortions about sex and gender, race and victimhood, history and science, parental rights and family, religion and America’s finest traditions.
Forces hostile to America now “weaponize” words such as “gender” over “sex.” Until recently, “gender” referred to grammar; now it’s a loaded word which denies the fact that there are two - and only two - sexes. This is propaganda, meant to corrupt traditional usage and achieve a deadly agenda which is, in fact, scientifically absurd and morally corrupt. But, somehow, many Americans still buy it.
This propaganda distorts truth and elicits emotional reactions rather than reasoned, logical responses attuned to facts, customs, science, faith, tradition and history.
Look at these evasive terms used to justify abortion and transgender surgery: “health care,” “civil rights,” “reproductive and gender justice.” These terms intentionally obscure the truth that abortion kills infants; transgender surgeries - often performed on confused children without question - are dangerous, irreversible, with lifetime consequences.
This is profound corruption, linguistic manipulation aimed at changing the hearts, minds, opinions and behavior of listeners, while deliberately demonizing those of us who defend the lives of the unborn and who warn of the dangers of transgenderism.
Public discourse today is littered with language which belittles, demeans and “cancels” opponents who value medical evidence. BUT when legislative, corporate, entertainment and educational “leaders” get on-board, vulnerable minds are targeted at all levels, even kids.
Those who oppose can be fined, even imprisoned. Physicians who object to abortion or trans-surgery for religious reasons may be forced to comply, in violation of their Constitutional rights.
Finally . . .
Associate Justice Samuel Alito recently spoke of “growing hostility” toward religion in the West. It is not merely indifference or ignorance; it is hostility to traditional religious beliefs which are not in sync with the new “moral code” in some sectors of America.
In the United States, he reminds us, religious liberty goes hand-in-hand with many other rights. This “growing hostility” towards religion threatens the protection of this sacred right across the country - along with a range of other fundamental rights.
Justice Alito says:
“The exercise of religion very often involves speech, a spoken or written prayer, the recitation of Scripture, a homily, a religious book or article. These are all forms of speech, also forms of religious exercise. If this sort of speech can be suppressed or punished, what is to stop the state from crushing other forms of expression?”
He also reminds us of the relationship between freedom of speech and freedom of assembly:
“Religious service in a church, synagogue, mosque, or temple is a form of assembly. If a government can ban those assemblies, will it hesitate to outlaw others? On the other hand, if religious liberty is allowed, it will be harder for the state to restrict other speech and other assemblies.”
Justice Alito adds:
“As I think back, I also think ahead, and I wonder what historians may say centuries from now about the contribution of the United States to world civilization…One thing I hope they will say is that our country, after a lot of fits and starts, and ups and downs, eventually showed the world that it is possible to have a stable and successful society in which people of diverse faiths live and work together harmoniously and productively while still retaining their own beliefs,”
Let us pray we do not abandon these God-given, Constitutionally-affirmed moral and legal rights because of ignorance, passivity and indifference of some citizens.
Let us pray we do not relinquish our responsibilities and limits, our rights and true freedoms which - under God - define us as citizens and heirs of America’s Exceptionalism.
19 July 2022
An Elder’s Ode To Mystery
The first photos from the James Webb Space Telescope are now available. The Webb sits nearly a million miles from Earth, where the tug of gravity is less. Webb peers back nearly 13 billion years, almost to the Big Bang, the assumed origin of the Universe.
Let’s put the Universe in brief perspective:
- Our sun (a star) is at the center of our solar system. Earth and other planets revolve around our sun.
- Our sense of time, reality and life itself are measured by 1) Earth’s revolutions around the sun in seconds, hours, days, years, millennia; 2) gravity’s relentless effects, and 3) the inescapable limits of individual DNA.
- Our sun is only one star (of several billion stars) in the Milky Way galaxy. But the Milky Way also contains several billion (yes, billion) other stars.
- And (get this) the Milky Way galaxy (with its several billion stars) is one of billions of galaxies in the Universe.
Now, the Webb reveals stunning new information about the material from which the Universe - and us humans - are made. As Carl Sagan used to say, “we are truly made of star stuff.”
Here is a link to the Webb and truths it reveals about Creation:
James Webb Space Telescope - Latest News | NASA
Mystery, The Bottom Line
The Universe, some say, is a cosmic accident. Accident? Not likely. Webb reaffirms the exquisite symmetry in the Universe. Fr. Robert Spitzer explains that “the universe did not evolve haphazardly. In its first few minutes, it moved through a series of highly ordered transitions that were so precisely, mathematically and physically, ordered that it makes multistage rocket propulsion look like child’s play. The major transitions constituted whole new epochs with different kinds of physics - from a quantum gravity epoch to a space-time epoch to an inflationary epoch to an electroweak epoch to a Higgs epoch to a quark-baryon-hadron epoch to a lepton epoch to a nucleosynthesis epoch and ultimately to the epoch of large-scale structures.”
For the layperson, it’s sufficient to say that Creation (including you and me) is a wonderous Mystery. No matter how we explain it or think we’ve conquered it, or just ignore it, the Universe is not chaotic or random, but orderly in its mysterious complexity.
- Mystery is, by definition, obscure to our limited ways of knowing, thinking, judging and choosing.
- Our human intelligence (a God-given gift) craves logical explanations which, we think, give us some control.
- Thus, by our nature, we crave to comprehend the staggering Mystery of Creation and the Universe. We want life to make sense, so we seek control and try to separate hard fact from naïve fantasy (hoping our ability to reason correctly is not tainted by quirks of nature or skewed by intransigent denial).
- Despite our efforts, Mystery still prevails, reminding us that intelligence doesn’t have all the answers, by any means.
- So, despite many accomplishments, we humans are limited beings. Even “genius” is limited by human nature.
- Obviously, intelligence alone takes us only so far in our understanding of what life and Creation are all about.
- Thus, we are brought face-to-face with the necessity and utility of Faith’s insights, which finally makes sense.
Sooner or later, Faith makes sense even to skeptics. Why? Because we may deny God’s existence, but we still crave clarity, especially when Mystery trumps our limited human intelligence.
First Things First
What’s the point? Good question. First, let’s look at a bit of background information.
Philosophers (e.g., Aristotle and Aquinas) speak of “intelligence” (i.e., comprehension, understanding) as an intellectual virtue, an inner strength, a power of mind, given to us as a gift at birth.
One essential function of our intelligence is that we apprehend (i.e., we “see,” grab onto, without question or boring explanation) certain obvious universal truths, called “first principles.”
- “First principles” possess lucidity, validity and veracity.
- There are no prior truths, no premises more fundamental, no knowledge more basic, than these “first principles.”
- Our gift of intelligence knows these “first principles” are true.
- Moreover, right reason accords with “first principles,” which shape our values and, ideally, serve the common good.
- “First principles” are clear and obvious in themselves; no quibble, argument, resistance or the need for demonstration.
Example of a “first principle”: Good is to be pursued and evil is to be shunned. How we define “good” and “evil” involves the formation of individual conscience and moral acuity.
There’s Always Someone . . .
However, it’s apparent that “intelligence” is no guarantee of wisdom or common sense, morality or balanced self-control, openness to inquiry or benign confrontation, even basic decency.
In fact, a so-called “intelligent” person may turn out to be far more lacking in moral common sense than his peers. A few reasons:
- The “intelligent” person may be too clever or too scheming, puffed up, misguided, filled with egocentric self-importance.
- He - or she - may think himself superior to other, less sophisticated persons whom he sees as deplorables.
- He - or she - may live in a state of selective denial which readily dismisses inconvenient facts and bothersome truths.
- He may be primed by his - or her - achievements to reject “first principles” and their practical guidelines.
- He - or she - may, for example, dismiss facts from biology which prove Nature has created two (and only two) sexes.
- He - or she - may, for example, find it troubling that men do not get pregnant, no matter what surgical tinkering is done.
Here (skip the ad) is an example of such intelligence in action:
Our human condition may offend some people. But, as my Sainted Mother used to advise me when I pouted over disappointments, “Tough. Get over it and grow up.”
A Few Personal Ponders
Here’s my point:
When I consider facts of Creation and the Universe, the Mysteries around-and-within us, and the limitations of human nature, I am inevitably compelled to consider what more (beyond my own “smarts”) I need for peace of soul and a trusting heart.
I find that when “intelligence” needs help, only Faith makes any sense and serves my need to understand. Of course, many people disagree. They say Creation is a cosmic accident, or religious Faith is a simplistic fairy tale, or the Universe “always was,” or what we believe doesn’t really matter. A few even say religious belief is childish. However, most have no answer when I ask: “What do you believe in? Whom do you most admire?”
After decades of wonder, I choose to believe that Creation is the result of God’s deliberate design. Who else, pray tell, could come up with such a stunning reality as the Universe, and pull it off so effectively, even when I am inconvenienced or must pay a price?
However, the gift of Faith has come slowly - and with care:
- Only as I distance myself from my urge for certainty and my puerile demands for willful control on my terms;
- Only as I accept Faith as a gift which requires my attention to duty and my obedience to Goodness;
- Only as I admire the myriad ways in which the Mystery of God’s Presence amongst us is plainly revealed all the time.
Furthermore, I have come to the conclusion that our need to believe in God is in total sync with human nature’s universal hope for Mercy, Love and Redemption, which are at the heart of the Christian message.
These hopes are inherent ingredients of our human nature. We may try to stifle or disguise them, but we cannot deny them.
The Virtue Of Ambiguity
I have also learned to appreciate the Virtue of Ambiguity, present in the fact that God is (and remains) a Mystery to us.
Think about it: we live with mystery all the time. That’s why the Mystery of God’s presence is not, I believe, an odd nor foreign experience. Do we not remain mysteries to one another, even to ourselves? Do we not exist in a cosmos of mysteries abounding?
Ambiguity does not mean ignorance or deprivation. Rather, it invites us onward, into a relationship with God awaiting; a relationship wherein Mystery inspires us to seek ways to be close to our Beloved, Whose pledge of fidelity we already possess.
I believe our uncertainty and ambiguity are greatly eased 1) by cumulative evidence of God’s presence everywhere in Creation, and 2) by the actions of the virtues which Faith inescapably promulgates. Faith reveals clearly what we need to do.
The Universe constantly announces to us that God is that very Mystery we ponder. Creation constantly reveals God around and within us. It is the Mystery of our Godly relationship which, by the needs of our nature, we pursue.
And we do find answers.
The Allure Of Simplicity
So, as I settle into my elderhood, I happily realize that Faith in God does not have to be a complex endeavor. Indeed, I am now drawn to a simpler version of Faith than in my earlier years, when the study of Theology and other disciplines wooed me.
Theology and Philosophy get complex because theologians and philosophers thrive on complexity – and necessarily so. After all, intellectual precision and control require a host of distinctions, as Aquinas and Aristotle exhaustingly demonstrate.
Nonetheless, I do not believe Faith in God and in His Presence are difficult to grasp, unless we insist on doubting or finding fault over personal issues or aggravating encounters.
Faith springs from the first of all “first principles,” namely, that we all seek Good. Faith seeks the First and Final Good, God. God’s love for us dispels the quandary of Mystery, clarifies ambiguity, and eases our wonder as our trust in God becomes a habit.
It’s crucial to add that Faith is not passive. Faith demands action and inspires us to virtue and goodness. Faith brings us to new awareness of one another, to be prudent and patient when we speak, to be self-restrained and not hard-hearted or cruel, to act with kindness toward others, to accept forgiveness for ourselves.
Some people think Faith must be a “feeling” experience: we must “feel” spiritual fervor or get an “emotional high” to prove our sincerity or to the validate of our belief or to show God’s favor.
They mistake “feelings” for commitment.
Feelings may sometimes play a minor role. But feelings can also be an excuse for unwise action or immoral behavior. They may even whisper to us that our search for God is futile.
Those who think Faith requires “emotional uppers” should ponder Mother Teresa’s admission that - for forty years - she persevered in her Faith without any consoling emotional messages or a glimmer of emotional support. Her response was a resolute "Yes" to Jesus, with the assurance that His "Yes" had already been given, and that He was trustworthy through it all.
Mother Teresa reminds us that His “Yes” means the promise of His constant love and acceptance, goodness and understanding. He offers us everything we could wish from a lasting relationship in this life – if, that is, we also say “Yes” to that relationship.
Thus, Faith is rarely a frothy, “feel-good” experience. Rather, Faith is a commitment of quiet courage, even when things are tough; even when prayer is stale and lifeless for years; even when doubt hovers; even when the umbra of loneliness haunts; even when God is perplexingly silent. Still, Faith’s commitment abides.
Faith In Action
So, Faith is not elusive or esoteric. Simply put, Faith is tenacious perseverance in loving belief which urges us to act with quietly virtuous behavior. It is a response in gratitude for the Mystery of our personal Redemption.
And when we act, we have more-than-sufficient knowledge about what God wants of us - especially when we encounter one another. There is no ambiguity there.
We know God’s “first principles” include Goodness and Justice and Kindness and other virtues (e.g., Self-restraint, Temperance, Charity, Hope). There’s no ambiguity there, either.
If we accept Faith with an open mind, we find a colossal amount of practical, day-to-day guidance in Scripture and Revelation and centuries of Tradition. There’s no ambiguity about those issues.
Centuries of insight reveal the guidelines which Faith provides for peace of mind and heart, soul and spirit, and in our daily dealings with one another. These guidelines come alive 1) in the needs of our neighbor, and 2) in the hopes and yearnings which enliven our own souls. Once again, there is no ambiguity.
God may be Mystery, but His practical guidelines are everywhere evident, eminently practical, daily applicable, without ambiguity.
Of course, Faith doesn’t banish doubt or temptation or weariness. But even when we walk in darkness, even when we are without respite or health or emotional consolation, Faith still tells us that all is well in our lives. Christ has gone before us and, even now, is with us, going through it with us once more - always with us. Always. No ambiguity there, either.
Finally . . .
Faith’s “first principles” tell us Mystery is of the essence of all life and all living beings, of Creation and our own existence. Faith is as reasonable as anything we do. In fact, we rely on some forms of Faith all the time. Often enough, Faith makes more sense than our own injudicious judgments or “intelligent” errors.
Faith in God tells us to gratefully accept that God's eyes are upon us with loving care and patience, in endless hope that we will listen to His messages of Goodness, then respond to one another with mercy and generosity and a giving heart.
We respond in gratitude when: 1) we admit and honor our debt to our Creator, and 2) we express kindness to others, even those who (for some reason) may not be very fond of us. Faith tells us that kindness must start with us - even if it is one-way.
Now, the Webb Telescope reaffirms the power of God in billions of stars and galaxies, in time and gravity, in matter and energy - in all the inexplicable Mysteries of Creation. Guy Conculmagno, the Vatican Observatory director, says that the Webb “is our attempt to use our God-given intelligence to understand the logic of the universe. The universe wouldn’t work if it weren’t logical. But as these images show, the universe is not only logical, it is also beautiful. This is God’s creation being revealed to us, and in it we can see both His astonishing power and his love of beauty.”
And here we are – you and I – beloved dearly by Him Who created it all. T’is a wonder for us to behold . . . and to believe.
In light of all this, Faith impels our grateful “Thank you” lovingly expressed to God, generously shared with one another, patiently, faithfully, kindly, humbly.
No ambiguity there . . . and it is, surely, not difficult.
4 July 2022
An Elder Ponders Dobbs
Look at the stars some dark night, or watch a hummingbird in your yard, or simply look in the mirror - and be moved to wonder.
Creation is stunning, vast and incomprehensible, yet each of us is singular and irreplaceable. We live in a miraculous state of gifted existence, but we understand very little about Creation . . . and about ourselves.
Still, we survive and thrive in the midst of constant mystery and undeniable wonder. And the mysteries around us, especially the mystery of our own existence, attest to our need for logic and sanity, lest we forget the dignity and the miracle of being alive.
Of all beings in our sphere of Creation, are there any who are more deserving of our awe and our protection, any who are more compelling to mind and heart and soul, than the innocent unborn child and the child’s mother, the woman blest to carry that child with gratitude to the Creator for the gift of life within?
In America today, a sizeable number of dissenting citizens claim to be “victims” of systemic abuse involving varying forms of “hate speech” and “micro-aggressions.” At the core of America’s culture of dissent, no issue has created longer, deeper or more divisive conflicts in America than women’s legalized “right” to abortion.
The abortion culture expresses its anger through these self-proclaimed “victims” who rail against traps set by oppressors. These traps include traditional man-women marriage and family, pregnancy, child-rearing and, most of all, the natural right of unborn children to live. We’ve all heard it: “My Body, My Choice.” The abortion culture is based on the belief that every woman has a legal “right” to destroy her unborn and being-born child, a belief grimly revealed in the deaths of more than fifty-four million babies in the last half-century, children extinguished by legal fiat.
Despite the Supreme Court’s nullification of the putative “right” to abort the unborn, the abortion culture now moves to the various States. Abortion still gains daily support from media, corporations, educators, enthusiastic celebrities, political officials and countless voters. These supporters accept the idea that women still have a “right” to abort their children, lest they - the supporters - appear insensitive to victimized women (but not to unborn children).
During the last five decades, the image of pregnant women as “victims” has radically changed our society’s respect for human life and polarized our nation as never before in my lengthy lifetime. The result is widespread rejection of both objective moral principles and the rule of law - beliefs enshrined in the Ten Commandments, in the U. S. Constitution and in America’s fading Judeo-Christian heritage.
If we take a serious look at abortion’s first principles, we realize that abortion proponents do not follow science nor excel in factual discourse. Their claim to a “legal right” to kill babies distorts truth, violates justice, ignores history, twists language, offends common sense, trashes morality, emphasizes extremes, enshrines violence against children and undermines the family, for starters.
Vigorous, frothy arguments are mounted in favor of abortion on demand. The usual reasons include woman’s “health,” rape, right to privacy, incest, the mother’s psychological inability, economic hardship, the child’s possible birth defects, freedom from the “disease” of pregnancy, pitfalls of unwed motherhood, etc.
To shame opponents, abortion supporters customarily evoke a heart-wrenching image of a pregnant woman abandoned, or the plight of a friendless pre-teen girl abused by her drunken step-father, or a fanatical Christian forcing unfortunate women to full-term pregnancy - as if these images represent the vast majority of abortion cases. They do not.
Put bluntly, the affirmation of a legal “right” to kill a child (for any reason) lacks logical merit, fundamental humanity, persuasive gravity or discernible empathy for the life of the defenseless child. But abortion advocates rarely rely on rational persuasion. They prefer to intimidate with angry demonstrations and shrill rhetoric, rather than to honor biological and medical evidence.
No one would deny that unexpected pregnancy can be a profound shock and a deeply distressing threat to some women or to truly victimized girls. Indeed, it may seem insensitive to say that legalized killing of the unborn is still morally wrong, no matter the circumstances. We may express our sympathy with the plight of an authentic victim, but we must still wonder how a civilized society convinces itself that a “right” to kill a child can possibly be legally sanctioned and seen as “normal” by unnumbered citizens.
Abortion rights advocates do demonstrate a preponderance of feelings for a woman’s “right” to abort. An emotional response may certainly offer kindly solace to a needy, abused woman or girl who is unprepared or dreadfully fearful of delivering a baby. But, at the same moment, let us be clear: “emotional reasoning” has no bearing on the hard facts - facts - which underscore every child’s sacred right to life.
Emotional regard and feelings of sympathy for a woman’s plight must not be taken as an excuse for over-riding the child’s God-given right to life. Despite difficulties which pregnancy may create for an unready mother, we cannot ignore the child’s natural right to live. Deliberately killing a child is not a solution to any problem.
To be sure, there are rare medical conditions in which pregnancy may create authentic threat to the life of the mother (e.g., ectopic pregnancy). In this instance, surgery intends to save her life, even if a secondary outcome is the termination of pregnancy.
But beyond quite rare medical conditions where abortion is not the intended outcome, nothing legitimizes a woman’s “right” to eradicate an innocent child, especially when abundant support systems, social services and adoption agencies are available.
v It may seem harsh to point out that constant focus on a woman’s “right” obscures her responsibilities to the child she carries - as if she had not already chosen behavior which is intended by God and Nature to create life; as if the unborn child is a real danger to the woman’s survival; as if pregnancy is a terminal condition, requiring critical care.
So, given the preponderance of evidence, it is neither harsh nor incorrect to conclude that the abortion culture places no value on the lives of babies. Nor does the abortion culture celebrate the intrinsic dignity of the unborn, or even grant that the child may be a “real” human being - a person, not a parasite.
Follow The Science . . .
Many abortion devotees vehemently deny that the enwombed child is really a human being from the instant of conception, or even up to, or after, birth. But research with children in the womb reveals astonishing facts about every child’s development from conception onward.
From the moment of conception, every child follows a unique, specific genetic sequence of human growth, change and development, just as we all do. The child is a human being, a tiny but growing human being, a person, as are we all. These are facts - and facts have consequences.
Our outward physical appearances obviously change during our lifetimes, especially in our early years, when growth spurts are common and hormones erupt. But the God-given essence of every human being’s personhood and inherent humanity is constant for us all from the instant of our conception to the moment of death. This is true for us all, born and unborn…
Despite these facts, some polls report a majority of Americans still support abortion on demand at various times including, for example, the first trimester. But every 15-week-old child already possesses all major organs, including a rapidly developing human brain and a beating human heart - the same brain and heart the child will have for as long as he lives. These facts should compel us to admit that the unborn child is a tiny, but real, human being.
Here is a link to a few developments already attained by a 15-week-old child - developments which begin at conception:
15 Facts at 15 Weeks - Charlotte Lozier Institute
Incredibly, this evidence makes no headway with women who proclaim, “My Body, My Choice.” This slogan presumes the enwombed child is a totally dependent, even parasitical, part of the mother’s body. But overwhelming research and “in vitro” procedures prove that when the “fetal” child is removed from the mother, he continues to grow and develop independently, according to his own unique DNA.
Conclusion? “My Body, My Choice” is a shrill, irrational premise which defends abortion at the price of innocent lives. So, if we “follow the science” without ideology blinding us to facts, we must acknowledge that abortion eradicates a human life.
The “God Thing”
Clearly, then, one does not have to believe in God to realize that abortion takes a human life. But for religious believers, it’s additionally pertinent to recognize that the abortion culture dismisses God altogether. No God, no problem.
The abortion culture is based on the belief that God (if God exists) has no role over the giving or taking of life. This anti-Christian belief is now deeply woven into large segments of American life. Some States are even extending the “legal” right to kill a child for weeks after - after - the child is born; no questions asked.
Scientific facts, medical truths and religious faith carry far less weight with some people than does abortion’s resolute push to terminate the child and treat the woman’s “disease of pregnancy.”
Occasionally, the disgust of some opponents is abundantly clear, as in this essay and the attached videos:
Pregnancy As Oppression
How could this incredible, yet legally-sanctioned, disdain for the lives of children actually come about?
Six decades ago, the Civil Rights Movement correctly identified ways in which the rights of certain citizens were grossly violated. The Movement, originally motivated by religious belief, identified the struggle for equal justice as an authentic and historic moral conflict, not merely a political issue. The Movement appealed to goodness and virtue (the “better angels of our nature”) embedded in the human Spirit; to empathy and altruism at the spiritual heart of the Judeo-Christian tradition and the Western legal heritage.
However, angry dissidents soon realized they, too, could influence, even manipulate, the System by exaggerated claims against the “Establishment” for a variety of other specious “rights.”
Angry actors then initiated widespread activism with increasingly turgid, hysterical rants advocating violent revolution and riots as “political theater,” even to the gates of the White House.
Social critic Lance Morrow adds that “victories” were achieved mainly “by performance politics, by dissent, disobedience and protest, rather than by the conventional instruments of constitutional process...” But our culture was smitten with guilt and tainted by apologetic angst. Dissidents became impatient with legislative lethargy, swayed by distorted forms of “victory.” The national mood became receptive to activist dissent, even when “causes” were based on irrational goals rather than on true need, factual conflict or actual abuse.
Over decades, disruptive tactics took hold. Eventually, as we now see, the rule of law and the primacy of legislative debate eroded to include name-calling and polarizing rhetoric among leaders.
Today, dissident groups realize that if they exaggerate their self-righteous “causes” with hysterical excess rather than historical accuracy, then supporters in media, corporations and educators, politicians and voters will fall in line, anxious to appear politically correct, eager to be in tidy step with trendy, if deceptive, issues.
Today’s dissidents (including Socialists who seek America’s demise) continue to use the rhetoric of “victimhood” to persuade gullible Americans that abortion is a “right” which relieves victimized women from oppressive bonds of pregnancy.
Thus, over many decades, abortion has undermined (among other attributes) our nation’s respect for innocence. We have lost our moral balance, our sense of historical tradition, our respect for law and for the legislative process. Even common sense has been abnegated, it seems, in many corners of society.
Rights Without Family Responsibilities
The Center for Disease Control reports that the majority of women who have abortions (86% in 2019) are single. Thus, abortion separates sex from traditional marriage and children. This fits the scenario of “victimized” dissidents who say marriage not only oppresses women but also victimizes men.
Marriage and family life in America were once infused with the commitments of men and women as loving husbands and wives, fathers and mothers. But in recent decades, countless men have voided their fatherhood role and denied responsibility as co-leader in the traditional family.
Too many men now beget children but avoid commitment to family life, thus stifling their role as loving husbands, avoiding their moral responsibility as fathers, smothering the transforming gifts of paternal insight and mutually-achieved maturity.
The traditional family of man-and-woman has historically been the natural origin of human love and support, of home and heart, of life-long moral values, of personal identity and community, of the nation itself. The absence of strong, principled males from family life is a major loss in America’s moral foundation.
The breakdown of family life, hastened by abortion, abolishes the traditional family as the center of character formation for children, and even portrays dutiful parents as villains. For example, some “enlightened” educators believe a child must be “free” to procure an abortion without knowledge or consent of either parent, and without the creaky, oppressive doctrines of abstinence and self-restraint proposed by religious fanatics and Christian homes.
“Freedom” has been so badly distorted that some people believe sexual activity and porn should be risk-free for everyone, even children. If burdensome pregnancy results, abortion awaits.
Thus, abortion culture and its adherents go forcefully ahead, gaining acceptance throughout the nation. Politicians, corporate types, teachers and celebrities rally round abortion, with no thought to God and no regard for the child. But these abortion advocates further the destruction of public virtue and the moral vision which once unified this country.
The Wave Effect
This downgrade of human dignity has incalculable impact on American culture and contributes significantly, if subtly, to other social weaknesses we encounter. Change to moral acuity now occurs not in ripples but in waves.
Recent research indicates that morality and religious faith in America continue to diminish every year. Without moral awareness as a cultural norm, anything goes. For example, an essential public service such as law enforcement (fundamental to the common good) is disparaged even by elected officials who have sworn by oath - often taken in God’s name - to enforce it.
Another example: the Dobbs Decision states: “We hold that Roe and Casey must be overturned. The Constitution makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision.” That’s certainly clear, but some elected legislators, with incredible disdain for their sworn duty, call for the overthrow of the Judiciary, and petulantly urge abortion adherents to take their frustration to the streets.
An Elder’s View
These concerning developments have occurred in my lifetime. As an elder, I’ve seen the ascendence of a different America and witnessed our nation’s heritage change in ways many citizens do not recognize. So, I offer a few brief observations on all this…..
For starters, I believe in American Exceptionalism and hope that God will continue to shed His grace on America. So, it is essential that - as a nation - we again publicly acknowledge God as our Creator and as the Giver of all life, as our Founders said.
I believe God oversees our lives in ways which are mysterious yet eminently simple and, with Faith, greatly relieving at heart. That is another reason why I believe it is essential that we publicly acknowledge God as our Creator, and behave accordingly, as many Founders affirmed.
I believe God’s mandates are summarized, simply and bluntly, in Christ’s command to care for one another. That is, of course, not an easy task nor a popular view among some people who resist giving or receiving care and affection; people whose trust has been shattered or who care only for themselves. They wall themselves off from others, even loved ones, and strive to be unapproachable and distant.
But the message of caring for-and-about one another is what Christ still urges upon each of us. His message consists of mutual generosity and kindness, of goodness and empathy, of altruistic self-giving even when we’re rebuffed (as He often was), of self-restraint and obedience to those “better angels” who yearn to inhabit our souls.
The Christian message insists we are all beloved children of one Father. We are - all of us - valued by our Creator in ways which (if we knew them) would paralyze us with gratitude and awe.
The demanding simplicity of Christ's message compels me to believe His care is ever-present in our world and in our lives, as He urges us to follow Him, even when His Presence is hidden from our clouded eyes, even when we choose evil over love.
I believe He is ever-present amongst us, especially in the hearts of pregnant women and in the souls of their babies upon whom these mothers bestow love and care and sacrifice beyond the ability of any man to imagine. The courage to be a mother should bring every man to humbled admiration for the women - those mothers and wives and daughters - who give him life and caring and who so generously reveal to him the sacred, saving grace of being loved.
Finally, I believe we are at our most truly human when, with gratitude and humility, we allow God to enfold each of us into the exquisite Mystery of this life – each of us, especially the unborn; those precious, irreplaceable babies, whose lives so many Americans are willing to permanently stifle, as if those children never existed.
22 June 2022
Oddments Of Elderhood
Perhaps I am slow to “get it,” but lately I find the aging process tiptoeing up on me, sometimes having its way with me.
It’s no surprise that aging brings changes, some subtle, some overt, some physical, some psychological. Some are quite beneficial while others - not so much. But there is good news!!
Recent medical research indicates that our brains develop all our lives. Changes associated with aging are very often mentally, emotionally and spiritually beneficial. Mature, attentive elders give meaning to the belief that elderhood, more than any period of life, is the era of human “wisdom.”
However, we also know that the passing of years does not assure that every elder becomes a mature adult, aware that “feelings” are not the measure by which we should live or conduct ourselves.
Responses To The Inevitable
Elders who mature soon appreciate the unhurried leisure to pursue hobbies or, perhaps, play more golf (if at a slower pace). To deter aging’s occasional twinges, they stand straight, dress with care and (thank heavens) avoid tedious monologues about their aches and pains and doctor visits.
Contrarily, a few elders are overwhelmed by aging. As their memory lags and their resilience flounders, they acquiesce with dispirited resignation. They slouch wearily on shopping carts, shuffle laboriously from aisle to aisle, evoking solicitude from passing strangers.
And some elders – those of angry, cynical disposition - find advancing years further justification for their view that life is an empty, rudderless endeavor. They exude emotional futility and derive no meaning even from family or faith.
Research also tells us that attentive elders profit from insights which are often avoided by the ambitious and restless; insights such as belief in a personal God, heightened empathy, respect for tradition and moral clarity, appreciation of history past and present, a patient, altruistic heart and enhanced wisdom which can dilute decades of selfishness.
Attentive elders are aware of time’s relentless passing. We realize that peace and consolation are not handed to us, but depend on the choices we make. Accordingly, we often revive benign priorities which we’ve overlooked for decades, such as the age-old question, “What’s life - my life - really all about?”
In response, many elders shepherd their souls more thoughtfully than before, even re-igniting dormant faith as they face life’s Final Realities with dignity and concern for the needs of loved ones.
Unless we’re addicted to cellphone-itis or chronic grumpiness, attentive elders are disgusted by the reckless tactics of today’s mean-spirited ideologues who wish America ill. That’s why we elders will not relinquish certain hard-won insights which the wisdom of our decades has produced. For example:
- In our lifetimes, we have seen arrogant ideologues substitute power for influence, deceptive rhetoric for solid reasoning, undisciplined emotion for historical truth.
- That’s why we elders are deeply distressed by senseless accusations and popular “causes” which polarize Americans.
- We’re wise to virtue-signaling mantras, to duplicitous sloganeering and the chicanery of today’s social pathologies.
- We know the difference between fact and fiction, between worthy endeavors and scams which litter our nation.
- We realize (as did our Founders) that freedom depends on self-restraint, respect for law, moral tradition, institutions which serve the common good, and shared responsibilities and rights, as our Constitution declares.
- Thus, we’re not blind to today’s moral absurdities which pretend to represent “racial equality” or “sexual freedom.” We know it’s crucial to look beyond words to substance.
- We know a baby in the womb of his mother (not “birthing person”) is “ensouled” at the moment of conception and is a true human being, a real person who deserves to live.
- We respect Nature’s choice to create two – and only two – sexes (male and female, as Genesis says).
- We find current lists of ridiculous pronouns and frivolous genders offensive to medicine, genetics, biology, morality, science, history, tradition, language and common sense.
- We know that people who define their identity by their sexual preferences pervert what it is to be a human being.
- We are concerned that increasing numbers of citizens have lost faith in God, which bodes ill for our nation’s survival.
Some Guiding Principles
We elders hold these (and other) truths to be self-evident for reasons beyond parochial or political beliefs. Our reasons rest on common sense and moral logic, on Nature’s principles, on rational cause-and-effect, on the history of America, on Revelation and the fact that only God is the Creator; we are not.
- We elders have seen the barbaric lengths to which individuals and nations go. Our early years were lived in the throes of a World War, then Vietnam, then decades of Cold War, then the Middle East, then Marxism and the corrupt dictates of Socialism.
- We know the human tendency to forget the past, so we repeat needless brutality and, in doing so, we taint our nation to its roots.
- We know that the evil ideas which inspires such events abound in our media and corporations, our schools, even our churches.
- Sadly, we elders witness many of our institutions fall beneath the weight of ideologies hostile to our Constitution, our Republic and our fragile traditions of Justice under law.
- So, we know well the costs of human weakness and bad ideas.
- We understand the practical value of self-restraint and truth.
- We know the harm prejudice and denial inflict on each and all.
- We know the odious outcome of power abused and voter naivete.
- We know everyone pays a price as we age. Loss and deprivation befall all people at some point. Nature sees to it.
- We know the real goal of living is not to avoid paying a price. The goal of living is to embrace and befriend our sense of wonder, then to express our gratitude for the gifts which the Giver of Life gives us, even the gifts of ambiguity and suffering.
Wonder and gratitude then become the beginning of wisdom for us elders. And what does wisdom teach us elders through the decades?
Wonder And Wisdom
- We elders learn that if we continue to reject God, belittle our finest traditions and discard history’s lessons, we destroy our common foundations for lasting truth, justice and moral clarity.
- We elders learn that, without shared accountability, law is soon turned against us, our Constitutional guarantees are eroded, and centuries of tradition and religion are stifled. We then sink into moral nihilism where nothing matters, not even the minds and hearts of our children, as is daily more evident.
- Today’s upsurge in violence (physical and psychological) and insane distortions of Nature’s psycho-sexual limits reflect moral chaos and render grave distortions to the common good. These social pathologies spring from radical secularism, a personal and cultural infection which gains support each day.
- We elders realize that a country which forbids prayer amongst its youth and deprives them of objective moral ideals thereby breeds citizens to whom harmful behavior means nothing.
- We elders have seen our nation secularize our educational institutions, remove God's authority from our national dialogue, legitimize the killing of babies, destroy the sacred nature of sex, gender and family, and violate Nature's limits in countless ways.
- We are not, therefore, surprised when brutality emerges within our historically blind, morally reckless culture.
- We elders have learned that the pursuit of unrestrained "freedoms" and unfettered individual "rights" has turned us into a nation willing to legislate for a totally individualistic, morally vacant culture without God – God, Who the source of all authentic morality.
- We elders know that these distorted “freedoms” create bizarre variants of human nature which celebrate narcissism and speed decay of our national conscience.
History reveals that as a nation rejects its heritage, it breeds anarchy, and disregards the wisdom of elders. It fuels national suicide, as most empires in history have done before us.
As we said, a major benefit of aging for most elders is that it exposes us to our own vulnerability and renders us liable to truths which we may have avoided for a long time. For example, many elders (not all, of course) recognize the fallacies which many people entertain. In response, aging’s appeal to wisdom says to all of us:
- Stop the egocentric games we play with one another.
- Drop the needless defenses we erect against one another.
- Face foolish pride and self-defeating inclinations.
- Stop living in denial. Confront self-delusion and hidden agendas.
- Quell the desire to be trendy and beyond reproach.
- Recognize that we are all called to moral maturity, that we are designed to honor the limits of our Created nature.
- Thank God for our lives and our ability to think and choose.
- Realize that human behavior has consequences which may be immediate or delayed. But everything we do is, first and foremost, a matter of morality, of right and wrong.
The Practical Outcome
As we all know by now, these comments are not just for us elders. These are universal truths which apply to all of us.
We are all part of this reality, no matter how old we are. The consequences of our choices are more apparent each day.
These truths emphasize clearly that we cannot avoid the Divine call to virtue and self-restraint without abetting the chaos of false “freedoms” and furthering our nations’ internal decline.
Finally, the particular wisdom and vision of elderhood insists that a profoundly moral choice faces each of us, a choice we must all make . . for we are all affected.
13 June 2022
Toxic Masculinity: An Elder Ponders
I hear a lot of angry rhetoric these days about men-as-oppressors, men as poisonous to humanity, victimizers, irredeemable miscreants. The general heading for these accusations is “toxic masculinity.”
Along with “white privilege” and other condemnatory mantras, a barrage of insulting phrases underscores the dispiriting existence of us guys. We’re “toxic” because we’re male. Toxicity is in our DNA.
We’re accused of all sorts of things: racism and slavery and oppression of women, gays, transgendered people and re-gendered persons with grammatically-confusing pronouns.
I have never thought of myself as a “toxic” kinda guy. That’s a strong word: “toxic.” It derives from a Greek source which describes poison at the tip of an arrow. The word “toxicity” has a number of meanings referring to lethality. None describe the sort of chap you’d comfortably bring home to meet the folks over supper or someone you’d invite to an ice cream social.
“Toxic masculinity” defines all men as poisonous - all of us, not merely white guys. White guys are the worst, but other men are toxic, too (does this include transgendered males?).
When I hear that phrase “toxic masculinity,” I wonder what happened to the person saying it (usually a woman, or someone along those lines)? What sort of sour encounters with men has the speaker had? What did those “toxic males” do which led her to conclude that all men are categorically poison?
The Male Guy
I am not opposed to men at all. Indeed, I especially appreciate the qualities of older men (possibly because I am one). In fact, as I age, I feel much empathy for the ups-and-downs of our lives as men, old and young.
Over the years, I’ve developed a gentler and more empathic view of my male counterparts, whether I am in the company of my physician or with a homeless military veteran and his puppy, whom I met as they begged for food outside my local grocery.
I know many men who possess fascinating talents and admirable virtues, qualities they do not flaunt nor boast of. So, younger folks may not perceive the goodness of these men, or even want to inquire about it.
Surely, we men have occupied central roles in American history, and our prominence makes us easy targets for credit or blame. Assigning blame these days is more acceptable than giving credit, even when credit is due. Blaming someone for your problems, especially when voiced with self-righteous vigor and vehemence, elicits chic, petty approval. And declaring oneself a victim carries popular cachet, even if accusations are crudely wrought, wildly untrue and widely off-target.
Most men I know have worked all their lives, as I have. We know the value of a dollar. We’ve saved wisely and invested carefully, which makes us financially stable and hardly profligate. As a result, many of us own things, such as homes and cars and clean shirts. Some of us even shine our own shoes regularly.
We’re not prone to moral paucity, nor to an unrelenting pursuit of fame. We shy away from recognition of our good deeds and from public acknowledgment of our private largess. And we can tell real need from greedy want, because there have been times when our own needs were exquisitely painful to us.
Many of us men are well educated but we are not boastful about it. We can foresee the unintended consequences in the actions of less-focused people, but we do not snort in derision at their short-sightedness nor delight in their distress. We try to be kind and patient because we know the scars which unkindness leaves on the vulnerable heart. We are ready to help strangers, but we also know when to mind our own business if it seems right to do so.
Times Of Trial
Many of us must eventually face grief, isolation and loneliness in our lives. In time, we may also seek the quietude and reverie which prayer brings, even if we know our prayers will not be dramatically answered in our lifetimes. But we do not doubt that our prayers make us better men.
We realize the changes we seek may actually be deep within ourselves, in our own hearts and souls. And, despite the ambiguities we face, we do not lose heart nor diminish our trust, nor treat God with disrespect.
Sometimes we men struggle with our emotions, but we usually soothe ourselves and keep our own counsel when pain and loneliness are upon us. We hold back because we resist admitting our needs and we shun what we see as “weakness.”
But, in this area, we are vulnerable to error because, too often, we make the mistake of withholding our valid needs and not expressing our legitimate feelings. We forget there are others in this world whose goodness awaits us - people of kindness who are here to assist us in our need, if we would only let them do so.
We men are believers in the truth. We know the futility of lies and we strive to maintain our dignity and our credibility by keeping our word. We do not take foolish risks but, like a silly teenager, we sometimes do wonder if we might outrace the Porsche idling nest to us at a stop light.
And if we would admit it, we do retain a depth of child-like wonder and, truth be told, hopeful innocence, even if we rarely show it. In our heart-of-hearts, we hope someone will see that part of us one day, and will love us for it. We hope that person will let us love them, too, as we reveal our truer, deeper, longing selves in ways that are loving, revealing, unguarded, innocent.
We men tend to take our health for granted – perhaps too much so. Some of us get a bit macho, especially in our youth or in competitive situations when our male hormones are sometimes difficult to stifle. But we enjoy our health without needing to pose in a Speedo or without greasing our hair with gunk which sparkles and glistens like artificial snow. And, as we age, we’re far less inclined to be swept away by injudicious practical jokes.
We certainly want to leave a proud and memorable legacy for our loved ones who have stood with us as we have built our credibility over the decades. We hope our legacy of honest toil attests that no one need be a victim - unless they choose to be.
We know who deserves our respect, when to give it and why. We know a phony when we see one and we value the necessity of justice and ethics, even in small matters.
We resist the urge to hurt anyone, even if we felt the desire to do so. Conversely, our country has asked many of us to be warriors, to learn to hurt and to kill, to change our moral innards and coldly regard other men as our enemy.
Many of us have accepted that challenge and gone to war and made the greatest sacrifice anyone can make for others. And some of us have come home broken inside, deeply changed, lonely to the point of wondering what more confusion and betrayal will life demand of us.
As we age, we have few illusions about what is true and what is fantasy. We know that, as our years pass, death shall be upon us, and we do our best to be manly in the face of the Unknown.
We trust God, our Father and we hold quietly to our faith and our hope. And we choose to live our last years with a hardy and grateful sense that God is ever-closer to us, knowing that when all else is said and done, peace in our souls and the grace of God’s smile upon us are always at hand, always near to us. Always.
So, as I think about the men I have known and have come to revere and to love (such as my Father, my colleagues over the decades, and the few men I now call “friend”), I am moved to gratitude for their affection which is often muted but never absent.
Finally, I am brought back to my original question about those who would refer to us men as “toxic males.” How, I wonder, have you come to such a conclusion? I wish you had known the men of whom I speak -- these men of goodness and godly virtue and courage, many of whom who are all around us; the good and faithful men with whom this world is blessedly filled.
29 May 2022
To Madeline - With My Thanks
Madeline, my neighbor across the street died this week. Her husband had died months before, and Madeline had been abed for some time, growing frailer. Her grief, understandably, was intense and, she languished, slowly losing a very great deal of weight. Finally, a few days ago, her inner resources were depleted, and she died quietly.
I had known Madeline only a number of months. At another neighbor’s behest, I began to visit her and bring her muffins from a local bakery to encourage her to regain strength. Soon, she started calling me “The “Muffin Man,” and she’d talk about taking me to lunch when she was stronger - her way of expressing her appreciation.
I encouraged her to use her walker and take short trips around her home. Gradually, however, her strength continued to wane; physical exercise became more difficult. But she was ever gracious and receptive, and we would chatter, exchanging bits of background information and occasional droplets of gossipy stuff, always with smiles shared and, in God’s good time, with that emergent bond of confidence with one another; a bond which arises between people who especially value their Catholic Faith and who realize they both rely on the same sources of Hope.
Madeline was (only) in her early 80’s which, to many of us elders, is a quite reasonable age. She was fortunate to have the daily ministrations of attentive live-in caregivers, whose kindnesses made her days ever so much more peaceful.
Eventually, each of us comes to our moment of exhaustion when we have no more energy to sustain ourselves. Perhaps that moment is hastened by grief which many of us experience when our Beloved dies. We simply do not know the price which grieving extracts from the body and soul of those who remain. But, our body-soul unity makes it entirely possible that the soul’s sense of loss erodes, even reduces, the body’s allotted quota of given days. In such matters, certainty is foreign to us and mystery ever abides. However, we know that life and death are intertwined in ways which make Faith and Hope the most reasonable of options.
I am aware that I am a better person for the times Madeline and I spent with one another. I am better for the quiet conversations we had, for the small, but genuine, exchanges we gave one another; for the opportunities we afforded each other to enjoy one of life’s few irreplaceable joys, i.e., the unselfish presence of another who wants only to be with us, to smile with us and to share kindness with us . . . and in the sharing, be brought to the awareness that this moment, this brief but irreplaceable moment with another in genuine human caring – this is what life is for.
It is such moments that make one aware of the impact of kindness and the centrality of virtue in the hearts and souls of human beings. Perhaps this seems a small thing to some, but caring with unselfishness is to be alive, to thereby know that God has given us this other person, someone with whom are genuinely blessed. And, thus, I thank God and Madeline for those mutual moments of simple awareness.
The last words Madeline said to me were, “Pray for me…” This I shall do, as long as I am given life, as long as I am given the days in which to do so.
24 May 2022
Why I Am A Catholic: A Brief Reflection
In The Beginning
A “friend” recently reminded me that we’ve been acquainted for a long time, but we’re so different in our thinking. “For example,” he chided, “why are you still a Catholic?”
Good question, so I offer a brief - but heartfelt - response (without great detail).
Human learning begins early in life, long before we think about consequences. When we’re children, we do what we’re told. We don’t ponder motivation or responsibility. We just accept what adults say, especially when they control our lives and season their admonitions with affection.
So it was that my entrée to Catholicism began with my dutiful parents. Their example was sturdy, their expectations stern, their attitudes consistently loving.
My next exposure to the Catholic universe (“Catholic” means “universal”) came in grammar school under the strict tutelage of The Good Nuns, those eagle-eyed, tough-as-nails women who made classroom “discipline” a lifestyle.
Later, in an all-boys high school, I endured the no-nonsense regimen of eagle-eyed, tough-as-nails priest-teachers. Their approach was a further dose of academic acuity and classroom rigor, reinforced with threats of detention, compounded by the shame of getting caught.
Those were early days of childhood piety and credal naivete, populated by dedicated adults who the molded receptive minds and willing hearts of impressionable Catholic youngsters.
What Came Next
Childhood’s lessons are not solid bases for adult commitment. Childhood fades; our critical senses kick in. We start thinking for ourselves, often contrarily. We flex our independence, challenge authority, push limits, make our own decisions (often bad ones) and, by our mistakes, learn that behavior has consequences. We pay for our immaturity.
As we age, we (hopefully) start to think clearly, to respect facts, to value logic, reason and legitimate authority. We discover that Christian fidelity is often difficult, not merely because of doctrinal complexities but - more to the point - because we humans are subject to the seductive allure of secularity’s carefree nihilism.
As Christians, we are tasked to exemplify truth in the midst of moral chaos; to rise above wayward vices and immature vagaries which flourish around us. Hopefully, we persevere, develop mature convictions, seek the moral life and struggle to make right choices based on beliefs we find credible and life-changing. But it’s still not easy being a faithful Christian or Catholic, especially in a rabidly secular culture which dismisses traditional spirituality and disparages, even punishes, religious expression.
The Need For Tradition
Everyone (not just Catholics) has responsibilities to God, self and other people. The First Law of Charity is “to love God and our neighbor as ourselves.” It’s fundamental to Christian life. But, by itself, this mandate is subject to fashionable distortion and abuse under the guise of righteous, falsified ideology.
That’s where the wisdom of Catholicism makes the difference for me. Slowly, Catholicism revealed to me what is really involved:
- A life commitment based on an intelligently thought-out Sacramental system of Christ-centered doctrines and specific beliefs;
- A behavioral path featuring the Theological Virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity;
- A path strengthened by the Moral Virtues of Prudence, Justice, Fortitude and Temperance as they apply to all of us;
- A commitment based on Scripture (the revealed word of God) and centuries of Tradition, i.e., principles and practices which bolster our relationship with our transcendent God;
- A way of life centered around the Eucharistic.
These truths (and more) comprise the Catholic Intellectual Tradition.
Faults In The System
Are there faults within the Catholic Church? Of course. Today, the Faith has been assaulted from within by abhorrent behavior of certain clergy and laity. Deeply offensive events have occurred, revealing the moral fallibility of those offending Catholics.
Critics cite these examples to discredit Catholicism. The fact is that Catholics exists on the human level as well as the Divine level. We exist in the grip of time, yet we are ever-poised on the edge of Eternity. And it is this human, fallible side of the Church which creates scandal and evil, and brings shame upon us.
Yes, Catholicism is a profoundly (sometimes aggravatingly) human community engaged in the universal struggle for fidelity and goodness.
Yes, the human condition does ofttimes create serious dilemmas for Catholics . . . on personal and institutional levels.
Yes, human weakness sometimes beclouds the Divine origin and purpose of Catholicism. At the same instant, we still strive mightily to preserve and pursue our Christian ideals in our daily lives.
Yes, failures occur in our struggle to achieve Goodness, but the weaknesses of our flailing humanity also attest to the necessity of Faith and Hope, which are renewed by God’s repeated invitation to conversion and by His promise to honor our repentance.
So, yes, Catholic life is ofttimes edgy and nettled, sometimes without consolation or clarity, occasionally burdened with the grace of ambiguity – but we are always enlightened and refreshed by Christ’s promise of His fidelity to each of us, and reminded that the Catholic Intellectual Tradition upholds us all.
The Task At Hand
The primary goal of the Catholic Church is to teach us how to properly and freely fulfill the Great Commandment to love God, ourselves and one another . . . by following our well-educated conscience, enlightened by Natural Law, Scripture and Tradition.
To this end, Catholics are taught to attune our attitudes and our behavior to a clear moral compass, and to integrate the various Virtues into our lives – Virtues which have been developed over centuries by a host of very wise persons.
Some skeptics demean our Catholic moral worldview as judgmental, as doctrinaire intransigence, as systematic dismissal of other viewpoints, as a claim to rampant infallibility, as spiritual enslavement, colonialism and white privilege, etc., etc. But no person of good will can possibly deny that human behavior has an inherent, historic propensity to error, distortion and other self-defeating tendencies.
Endless wars, our polarized culture and our own failings bear witness to the necessity of a consistent moral beacon which seeks universal Justice, Kindness and Care, and which is devoid of duplicity and selfishness.
Obviously, we need a spiritual and intellectual guide to help us figure out what the good life is all about.
That’s the whole point of the Catholic Intellectual Tradition: To explain to us (with the aid and inspiration of the Holy Spirit) what’s morally and historically best for us individually and collectively.
The Catholic Intellectual Tradition is definitely not about blind, inflexible fidelity. It is not a whirlwind of ideas or myths, not a home for the hostile and arrogant, not an oasis for haughty, cynical sycophants or self-serving populists who favor quickie-fads and chic trends.
Catholicism encourages intellectual inquiry, logical clarity and rational thought, inductive and deductive reasoning, use of our critical senses, fact-based inference, the need for precise distinctions, the art of nuance, respect for the proper use of language and meaning, history, science, custom, art and morality.
Catholicism asks believers 1) to think and speak truthfully, 2) to behave generously with self-restraint, 3) to accept responsibility before claiming rights, 4) always to be grateful for the gifts we receive, and 5) to regard the Divine Mystery of Creation and the Incarnate Christ as the foundations of our lives.
More Than Expected
Catholicism rests on Scripture and Revelation which recount historical events which reveal the Divine Mystery of Redemption at the core of our existence.
In fact, Catholicism explains that Mysteries are everywhere. Mystery is really a normal, ever-present reality in our daily lives, sometimes frustrating, sometimes frightening, pushing us into Hope, pulling us closer to our relationship with Christ, a relationship in which Trust in Him is essential, unavoidable, inescapable.
Critics who disparage Mystery also demean doctrines such as the Incarnation or the Eucharist as too far-fetched for belief. They speak as if the Universe (with billions of galaxies at incalculable distances) were not an astonishing Mystery of infinite proportion.
Bottom line: Catholicism offers Hope, mercy, transcendent meaning and a Loving Creator God, all of which counter the dreadful isolation and cynicism into which our angry culture is increasingly drawn by distressingly wayward energies.
The Church: A Personal Friend
For these (and many other) reasons, the Catholic Church remains the best guide I have found for making sense of my life, for seeing beyond churlish, abrasive encounters which chafe my ego and intrude upon my serenity, for forgiving others - and even myself.
The Church is my best source for making sense of life, for believing that God’s forgiveness and affection for me outshine my doubts, and for chasing tiresome shadows from my soul.
The Church makes sense to me, even when it does not make sense, even when some teachings seem hard, or its ministers let me down, or my “friends” fade. Even when my Hope is battered and contradictions abound and my sense of loss remains, and aging reminds me of my fallibility, still the Church abides.
Catholicism does not protect me from my own foibles or from the errancy of others, from loss and grieving, from wonder and loneliness. But Catholicism does make it clear to me that these events - along with the love I give and receive, and the joy of being alive - are exactly what life is all about, and why I have been given the gift of life . . . and the promise of life to come.
Sometimes, my avoidable missteps suggest to me that God does have a sense of humor. Who else could love us - even die for us - despite what we do to one another, and to the wonders of His Creation?
Some critics contend that the suffering of innocent persons “proves” that the Church’s doctrines and moral demands are specious myths. They say God ignores our prayers. If He exists, He is indifferent, at best.
These critics miss the point. Prayer is not a bargain or a bribe. Prayer is our personal way of linking up with God; of retaining stability and balance within ourselves; of avoiding the abyss of despond which awaits those who live in cynical denial.
How we respond to life (prayerfully or cynically) determines how we live and think, what sort of person we choose to be, what sort of soul (generous or wizened) we choose to cultivate.
Decades of experience have taught me that the most persuasive path to stability and insight, to Faith and Hope, to a share of wisdom, is the path of suffering, eventual loss and deprivation, and ambiguity which spawns our perseverance (as Mother Teresa prayerfully demonstrated). These experiences can (if we listen) dissolve our hubris, expose our fears, emphasize our need for humility and reveal to us the folly of faithlessness and the dreadful aftermath of indifference.
There is strength and truth in admitting that, without God, we really know nothing about the "why" or the "what" of our present, or our future, lives.
There are revelatory moments -- perhaps decades in the making -- when our need for Faith and our struggle for Hope finally make sense. At such moments, the gift of humility (i.e., admitting our frailty and need) paves the way for the realization that our gifts of true freedom and informed choice are inseparable from self-restraint and obedience to our Creator and His mandates.
Little by little, wisdom reveals the extent of our responsibilities to one another and why loving God means loving one another in attitude and behavior. This insight is vital to our relationship with God and our neighbor (who may be a total stranger or, as Solzhenitsyn discovered, another lonely soul, familiar with suffering). Kindness to others is a form of Godly Charity. Where Charity exists, there we find God.
Nevertheless, some people snort at an opportunity to be kind. Some demean the constant epiphanies which reveal God’s presence around us and within us. Some routinely resist Virtue and belittle Goodness, deny Love and Kindness to others, and concede their lives to excessive pride.
Catholicism calls us to lives of Faith and Hope and Goodness. Sometimes we respond. Sometimes we refuse to respond to simple, yet virtuous, opportunities when they arise. In time, the deprivation of Goodness becomes a sorrowful habit.
Ultimately, then, the question we all must ask comes down to what sort of person we choose - freely choose - to be. We control decisions about the sort of person we are right now, about the Virtues we will (or won’t) practice, about the person we eventually become.
The Catholic Intellectual Tradition reminds us that:
- we (even elders) need moral exemplars as well as intelligent teachers to help us mature in heart and mind, soul and spirit;
- we must stifle our arrogance and seek a life of Virtue;
- we must strive for the factors which guide our intellectual and spiritual path, Creation, Context, Continuity and Consequences;
- we are designed for loving relationships based on generous giving of ourselves, even when not asked;
- our most enduring relationship is (and will always be) with God Who accepts our apologies and forgives our offenses against His Loving Kindness.
Finally . . .
So, why am I Catholic? Let me sum up a few reasons:
- The Gift of Faith;
- The persuasive logic of the Catholic Intellectual Tradition;
- Catholicism’s salvific vision of life;
- The Catholic Sacramental system (i.e., the Eucharist, the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the other five Sacraments);
- The Church’s vision of the Virtues and the spiritual life;
- Relationship to the Incarnational Christ;
- Church contributions to art, culture, education, history, etc.;
- Catholicism’s grasp of the mysteries of the Universe;
- A lifetime of gratitude for graces received and errors forgiven … to mention but a few of my reasons.
Through many decades, my path still unfolds - sometimes laboriously, sometimes with my foibles embarrassingly evident. But the “aha” moments still occur with regularity, and everyday revelations brighten my soul and still surprise my grateful heart.
Now, in my elderhood, Catholicism more-than-ever offers my soul an anchor which eases my doubts and calms my anxieties. No other philosophy of life makes more sense to me than Catholicism. I find nothing more convincing, nothing more in tune with my human condition, nothing more humane, yet realistically demanding of what I can still offer, than my Catholic Faith.
There is so much more to say, but - for starters - these are a few reasons which I shall share with my “friend” when, next time, he asks why I believe “all that Catholic stuff.”
And I shall ask him (in a kindly way, of course): “What, pray tell, do you believe in? What truths do you hold close to your heart?”
I hope all this makes sense to him – and, perhaps, to you, too?
10 May 2022
Roe v Children
The public reaction to the anticipated Supreme Court decision on abortion prompts me to offer several observations.
My first thought is that my family is blessed with twin grandchildren. One is a beautiful young woman (I can no longer say “girl”), the other a handsome young man (how could they be otherwise?). Both are wonderfully healthy, intelligent, filled with the delight of living; lively and athletic; loving young persons, soon to graduate from high school, then off to college … and who knows what thereafter.
When our twins were conceived nineteen years ago, my wife and I joined their parents each week to view ultrasound photos of the tiny, wondrous creatures growing within our daughter’s body. And we knew these babies were alive, undeniably alive, growing visibly, declaring their individuality.
For months, we watched our twins grow within their mother’s womb, marveling at their steady development and at the mystery of life they exuded. We charted their astonishing growth as they became stunning little human beings -- and, at last, we held them in our arms a few seconds after their birth, their flesh red with the exhaustion of their delivery, their tiny hands clutching the welcoming air as they wailed gloriously with unleashed energy and angelic gusto.
All the while, their innocence was an epiphany for us, and all those months we knew they were, thank God, vigorously, undeniably alive.
Now, years later, I continue to thank God our twins are grandly alive, undeniably alive. I know our world is a better world for their lives in it, and I am grateful that I know them and love them … grateful that my Beloved Nancy and I had the privilege of accompanying them as their grandparents from their conception onward, as they slowly grew and became the distinct persons we now revere.
I am grateful we held them at their birth, greeted them and welcomed them. I relish the days we played with them and fed them and laid them to their naps with still-abiding wonder at the miracle of their lives, a mystery which envelops us all, a miracle in which we all participate.
And, as I held our newborn children, I was again reminded that life is such a miraculous reality . . . and that miracles do indeed exist.
Persons Of Note
Week by week, our twins grew and changed and thrived within their mother’s womb, before our eyes.
Of course, it never occurred to us to wonder whether they were “persons.” Of course, they were (and are) persons. The question was foolish, absurd. They were robustly alive, growing from conception, loved by their parents and us, blessed with abundant gifts which life affords.
Some people wonder: “When does human life begin?”
Signs of life include self-movement, steady growth, development of organs and specific functions. Despite the presence of these indicators from the instant of conception onward, skeptics say life begins only at birth, or when parents decide to keep us, or when doctors say so.
Science settles the question. Medical and biological research establish that, from the moment of conception, the human embryo (a cold, clinical term for “child”) shows instant self-organizing properties which follow genetic coding. In fact, the embryonic child’s inherent ability to grow and develop on its own is released at conception even when the embryo is removed from his natural home, his mother’s womb.
This means that from the instant of conception, the embryonic child possesses independent, inherent power to grow and develop and change on his own, without reliance on his mother’s commands or control. The embryonic child grows under his own power, even when he is removed from his mother’s body.
Researchers state the embryo’s ability at “self-organizing is embryo-autonomous, highlighting the remarkable and unanticipated self-organizing properties of human embryos.”
Facts About The Child
Dr. Ben Carson is a world-renown surgeon and Chairman of the American Cornerstone Institute. He writes:
“Our society has been infected by an anti-life ideology, treating its most vulnerable members as disposable objects. Abortion that was once thought of as a last resort in a medical emergency has become the new normal.
Medicine tells us that life begins at the moment of conception. It also tells us when an unborn baby develops a heartbeat, brainwaves, and nervous system. Yet, despite all of this, the unborn are not treated as though they are alive or even human.
As a surgeon I have operated on infants pre-birth. I can assure you that they are very much alive.”
Dr. Carson adds: “Life is a precious gift that has been given to us from our Creator. No person is disposable, and every life is precious according to Him.”
Research contradicts critics who say that the embryo/fetus is a merely an intrusive clump of parasitic cells with no life - no soul - of its own, therefore, no human rights. And embryos don’t look fully human, either (what does “fully human” look like?).
But we all know that when the embryo/fetus (i.e., the living child) finally emerges, he/she continues for years to develop as a human being, as a person of dignity and worth -- who has rights.
Some people deny research facts, but no one can dismiss the fact that the embryonic child is, from conception, a living human being.
Even so, massive denial of these facts is widespread in America. But no denial, no matter how shrill or violent, can possibly cancel Nature’s reality, moral truth and the facts of science.
But, some skeptics add, is that child really a “person?” They also argue that “personhood” is necessary before human rights apply.
They hold that only when a child is a “person” does that child have any rights. Only with the arrival of “personhood” does the child have human rights, beginning with the right to life.
Before “personhood,” the child may be discarded. After all, mothers have the “right” to eliminate their unborn, being-born and/or newborn children, who are legally “non-persons.”
So, let’s ask: “What is personhood? Who is a person?”
Am I A Person ?
Is “personhood” defined by mental awareness of pain and pleasure? Are we “persons” when we sleep or are ill? Can “personhood” be measured? If so, how? Is someone with Downs Syndrome, or a manic-depressive, or an alcoholic a “non-person?”
Does “personhood” come at a certain age?” If so, what age? Are we “persons” at seven or forty-seven? Some adults have problems with reason and logic. Are they “semi-persons?”
How about us elders? Is there an age-limit to our “personhood?” When our svelte elegance grumpily capitulates to gravity’s incessant tug, and our panther-like physiques noticeably droop thither and yon, does our “personhood” also waft inevitably away? If our memory slips or our vision dims, does this mean our “personhood” diminishes? Do we elders become “canceled persons?”
How about the newly-conceived child (the “embryo” or “fetus”)? Is that child merely that disposable clump of parasitic cells, draining the life of its host (i.e., “mother”)? Does that child have any claim to “personhood,” any claim to human rights of life, liberty and the rest?
When are we fully “persons?” Or is that question merely a linguistic dodge, a game played by abortion fanatics to circumvent reality?
What Do “Experts” Say
Perhaps the persons at the California Future of Abortion Council (CFAC) can tell us. They and their government allies seem assured.
The CFAC represents dozens of “sexual and reproductive health care (note: “health care”) providers, reproductive rights and reproductive justice advocacy organizations, legal and policy experts, researchers, and advocates, and supporting politicians.” The CFAC and its allies ardently seek to rid the world of the unborn, being born and newborn children of America.
The Council defends the right to abortion for “patients” seeking a cure for the illness of pregnancy and assists these “patients” to be cured from the disease of birthing a child.
The Council issues forty-five ways to make California a national center for “patients” suffering from the medical burden of children in utero. They want California to be an abortion sanctuary state which pays expenses for the terminally-pregnant “birthing person.” The Council makes care widely and equitably available,” and assures that California is a “Reproductive Freedom State.”
Governor Gavin Newsom and the California legislature share the Council’s enthusiasm for abortion as a “human right” and a “medical necessity.” But . . . there’s more.
In addition, dozens of California legislators now promote the “freedom” of women to kill their children beyond nine months of pregnancy. These lawmakers now push for children to be killed for many weeks after birth. Their bill – AB 2223 – also protects anyone who assists a pregnant woman to exercises her “right” to be rid of her newborn child … for whatever reason.
We also hear pro-abortion women shouting, “My Body, My Choice.” It would be more truthful if they said, “Our Body, But Only I Choose - And You Lose…”
Medical and biological facts are easily available, but many abortion adherents aggressively ignore the facts and shrilly seek women’s “right” to kill as a crucial American freedom.
Why are so many adult persons so militantly intent upon taking the lives of the innocent, so intent on snuffing out so many defenseless little persons, so committed to the right to kill children?
Abortion’s militant, sometimes violent, defenders believe that taking the life of a defenseless child is a “civil right.”
They defend abortion as a “medical” right, as if pregnancy were an illness or a disease requiring medical intervention.
They say abortion is OK because it involves a “right to privacy.”
They believe the State may override the moral beliefs of tax-paying citizens and invest tax money in furthering abortion.
They believe civil law displaces morality, and the restraints of conscience have no role in our Republic.
In effect, they place no limits on what “freedom” allows.
But …… in America alone, more than 60 million defenseless human beings - unborn and being-born - have been deprived of their lives … for what? A career? Convenience? To save a mother’s life? Privacy?
Whatever the reason, abortion militants decry the possibility of losing their legal “right” to take another life. For decades, women have had the power to do precisely this. And in our culture, power, not conscience or public virtue, is now the final arbiter of behavior.
For some severely-distressed women, abortion is unquestionably an excruciating decision, causing deep remorse. For them, it becomes a spur to Godly forgiveness and change of life.
There are also instances of rape or incest, heart-tugging events involving an abused woman or girl, and her “right” to extinguish the unwanted life within her.
On the other hand, some women actually celebrate abortion as “freedom” to be rid of the tiny person within. Whoopi Goldberg, for example, says she had six abortions, maybe seven; she lost count.
Whatever arguments are raised, the truth about abortion is that the life of a defenseless, innocent child is taken, no matter what the circumstances of his conception.
That is the inconvenient, universal truth – and must be faced.
So, what does all this say about America’s penchant for abortion?
It says our nation’s courts have dismissed the civil rights - as well as the innocence - of enwombed children.
It says that we have so badly abused our Constitutional “freedoms” that we now legitimize the deliberate killing of children.
It says our sense of individual and social responsibility to care for defenseless children has been overcome by desire to be rid of them.
It says we’re eager for our “rights” but we refuse to accept our God-given responsibilities to honor the children of life. We prefer a twisted notion of “freedom” over the lives of babes. And in excess of 60 million aborted children bear witness to our mindless folly.
It also says that once we abandon God, denigrate His Creation, de-value other persons and deny the dignity of human life, we are at the mercy of humanity’s worst instincts - with more to come.
I am a lifelong Catholic. My Church is increasingly the target of bitter criticisms and unconscionable violence because Catholicism has, for centuries, taught that we are, all of us, human persons from conception, and that we all possess inherent dignity and worth in the eyes of God, Who created us. As created beings, virtue and self-restraint are necessary for us, available to us.
Our nation has forgotten that all human endeavors (politics, education, governance, marriage, sexual behavior, family life, indeed every human endeavor) are, first and foremost, moral enterprises with consequences. Consequently, the moral aspects of abortion are badly befogged by political rhetoric and atheistic ideology. But let us realize that, first and foremost, abortion is a moral issue.
In our pursuit of excessive liberalism and exaggerated freedom, we must not - not - continue to dismiss science as well as morality or we will continue to betray our own human nature.
Before all else, we are created as moral persons, called by God to obey His Commands and to revere one another, especially the innocent, even at personal cost.
All else flows from that First Principle of reverence for human life. Without that principle, nothing is sacred.
It is Catholic belief (shared by many faiths) that, from the first moment of conception, every human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person, first of which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life, even if the cost is great.
Abortion is one of several issues which highlight our nation’s disregard of Nature’s limits and our moral responsibilities. We are addicted to widespread denial (e.g., the absurdity that men can become women). We deny history’s often-grim lessons. We belittle Christian wisdom. We abuse our Constitutional foundations in our pursuit of our national fetish for false freedoms.
Solutions are possible only if 1) we recover our belief in God and honor the moral limits of humanity which inspired our Founders, and 2) we respect the valid rights and dignity of others, especially of our children unborn and newborn.
So, we shall soon see what the Supreme Court says about abortion’s deadly status. And, God help us, we shall also see how America handles the aftermath of this dreadful, toxic legacy.
26 April 2022
Dearest Nancy Remembered
May 1st is the fourth anniversary of the death of my Beloved spouse Nancy.
Everyone loses a loved one at some time in life. For most of us, our loss is comforted - for a time - by kindly memories which soothe the heart and calm the mind. Nonetheless, the loss of a Beloved intrudes into the deepest reservoirs of emotion. Our universal vulnerability makes us all subject to unavoidable grief when our Beloved is taken from us.
Grief’s weighty price may, for a while, be eased, but grieving is never lost to memory or to the heart. Grief immerses us in wonderment and ambiguity but, for some, 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.
Learning Toward Maturity
As my years pass, I often recall the decades Nancy and I spent together. I am ever-grateful for Nancy’s goodness and her wit, her playful energy, her boundless love and her precious, loving legacy which remains.
One endearing lesson our marriage taught me is how rare it is when any of us takes the risk to love and to be loved in return. I say “risk” because our culture is flippant about words such as “love,” about its cost and its true meaning.
Nancy and I learned how to love one another, but it took years of patience with each other . . . until we understood that trust is central to true loving, and that real trust demands unguarded vulnerability and a new comprehension of uncompromising generosity and self-giving.
We had to learn – together – to move beyond our ego’s wariness and our game-playing. Gradually, we learned to seek and accept painful truths from one another; hurtful truths which benign confrontations always unleash; truths which revealed fearful, yet needless, defenses which we’d practiced for a lifetime; truths which, heretofore, we had instinctively shunned because their veracity was painfully precise.
Gradually it became clear that there is so much more to marriage than simply “making it work.” We came to realize that marriage is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity which holds the potential for extraordinary intimacy of mind and soul; potential for a loving, lasting connection based on mutual trust, constant candor and soul-searing openness with one another; a potential for a once-in-a-lifetime relationship of the rarest sort; a relationship of “us” and “we” over “mine” and “me;” a loving relationship which we find nowhere else in our lives, with no one else in our lives …. but always at a price.
The hard fact is that we cannot truly love someone whom we do not first trust. First and always, there must be trust. We can sustain a measure of affection (which is not the same as love) and family fidelity (which is not the same as love) for a time. But the power of trust is beyond time.
True trust, once earned and given, takes the soul beyond the fears which paralyze many of us; beyond the puerile excuses we customarily use to rationalize the evasions and deceptions of our fragile egos.
A Livable Vision
So, we spent years learning to trust one another, to listen with our hearts and our eyes, as well as with our ears. We learned to rid ourselves of defensive categories, such as “win” or “lose.” We learned to embrace, rather than defend, our differences, to keep false pride and childish fears in check.
We trusted one another more and more … and true love did indeed take hold.
And, as our years lengthened, loving one another became our central reality -- and we were truly blessed, one with the other.
The Courage To Be Nancy
As our years passed, Nancy pursued her calling as an artist (in her honor, I maintain her website at nancyparke.com). Illness slowly drained her energy and restrained her creative vitality. But Nancy’s tenacious Spirit brought patience and extraordinary calm into our lives, along with moments of gentle wisdom which were, to me, astonishing.
Despite her ills, Nancy would smile with gracious Faith, then close her eyes in prayerful reverie and squeeze my hand in a statement of both her love for me and her uncomplaining readiness to accept what God had decreed for her.
Faith And Purpose
We all seek solace from grief and struggle for meaning in the death of our Beloved. We soon realize that clarity is fleeting and solace rare … unless our Faith in God sustains and upholds.
Some folks insist that Faith in God is always a waste of time, a fable compounded by countless mishaps, all of which make cynicism the logical choice. But it is clear to me that the way we choose to think defines and shapes the sort of person we become. By choosing our outlook, we choose our outcome.
The cumulative evidence that there is meaning and purpose in our lives (even in the loss of our Beloved) is overwhelming. Surely, life is not always a pleasurable, comfortable experience, but to resist Creation’s absolving clarity, or to belittle our deepest human urge for meaning and purpose and love, is to deny the reality of one’s own existence.
So, when Faith and Hope are as well-learned and as insistent and as true for us as Love has finally become, then there is indeed much meaning to be found in loss, much value in suffering, much insight to be gained from the gifts of Faith and Hope; much, too, to learn from the example of Christ, Who came this way long before we were asked to carry our burden.
Even if, at first, these gifts of Faith and Hope are hidden by grief, buried beneath the yoke of trauma which death always brings, the message is still 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 which remains from loving Nancy is the realization that we are - all of us - truly capable of loving so deeply, of giving so much, of caring so fully and so ardently … if only we choose to be that kind of person, as she did.
Being a person who is committed to loving and to being loved is a choice we are all called upon to make.
It is the Good News, the defining choice of our lives. It is what life is truly for …
Therefore, a further vision is always at our disposal, always to be found. It is a vision of loving and being loved beyond life, a vision which one’s Faith ignites and nourishes. It is a choice we are blessed to be given, along with our years to see it through.
And when our Faith is active and our Hope is enduring and abiding - even when pain intrudes - then we are (sooner or later) in the light of life’s grand reality that the Love of God, mirrored in the goodness and love of my Beloved and in married life itself, 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 such love, once accepted, does indeed survive and thrive -- and redeem all else.
My Beloved Nancy 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.”
May we all realize -and choose to accept with lifelong gratitude - the simple truth that love does have a purpose, that life does have meaning.
May it be so for those of us who live, those of us who yet have the choice and the time to love and to be loved, just as Nancy did, so eternally well.
May it be so. May it ever be so.
1 April 2022
What Have We Learned ?
We are made to learn. Learning is inseparable from living. The mind stores knowledge which the body transmits. Even confirmed cynics learn that flames are hot and ice is cold. Even fervent nihilists admit the universe is awfully big.
Book learning is formal, but we learn life’s real lessons most effectively when we make mistakes and then pay a personal price. Mistakes are embarrassing but potentially beneficial. Mistakes can be a doorway to maturity, since it takes courage to admit that our urges and feelings require virtuous self-restraint.
If we’re humble enough to learn from mistakes (instead of denying them) we’ll see the value of prudence and insight, which help us transcend arrogance. So, as our years pass, we’re fortunate if we learn the hard way. Now that I’m in my elderhood, as I winnow through my databank of mistakes and hard knocks, I ask myself: What lessons have I learned over my many decades?
Virtue And Vice
Here are a few hard-earned insights I retain about human nature, freedom, and the point of it all; truths I firmly believe.
- Every human endeavor is, at its core, a moral act, characterized by freedom of choice. Everything we do - family, school, church, politics, business - expresses our moral nature, our freedom to choose.
- Human choice is moral choice even when we don’t think about it or when we grumble about it. By nature, we are free moral agents, not neutral beings. Our choices, ideas, attitudes and actions all have consequences, intended or unintended.
- To be a free person is to exist in a moral universe where our goal is to choose goodness over evil, right over wrong, virtue over vice, to accept our responsibilities before claiming our rights.
- Freedom is a personal gift for the Common Good of all human beings, not merely for each individual.
- Honoring the Common Good is our obligation in every community and in every relationship. Our job is to discern the moral path (which begins with empathy, courtesy and civility), then freely choose what’s right for ourselves and others … even for persons we do not know.
- The voices of Reason (i.e., common sense) tells us we did not invent the moral universe. We are created as dependent agents, bound by laws and limits which define our human nature.
- Therefore, our freedom is limited by nature. Our responsibilities and rights are defined for us. It’s unreasonable to think we can act without honoring the natural laws and limits which should govern our free-but-limited choices.
- From our earliest years, we possess moral awareness (i.e., our sense of right and wrong, of goodness and virtue, and their opposites). Even children possess innate moral sensibilities.
- This early awareness matures into conscience, which is supposed to expand our knowledge, enlighten our freedom of choice, and inspire us to become morally-responsible persons.
- Morality is universal, not merely personal. It is a crucial ingredient in every stable community and family. Whether we admit it or not, morality is the foundation of every civilized culture and person, as is evident in just laws, customs, history, heritage and traditions of families - and of nations.
- Every family, community, culture and nation are at grave risk when their leaders do not possess moral stability or intellectual depth or historical insight.
- Since morality is a constant given in life, it’s clear that morality originates with our Creator, not with us. Without respect for God and obedience to His moral code, what options are left to us?
Without regard for God’s moral mind, who defines the path of virtue? Are freedom and goodness defined solely by legalities, social whims and cultural fads, determined only by power and violence?
Without God as our moral origin, where are we?
Bad Ideas Have Power
Reasonable answers are difficult in our so-called “free” (but godless and polarized) society in which moral tradition is replaced by emotion and whim. How can we possibly find stable moral paths in a society where bad ideas and “false freedoms” hold militant, widespread popularity?
Here are a few more principles I’ve learned.
- History reveals that bad ideas abound. Toxic ideologies (e.g., Marxism, Fascism, slavery, Putinesque nationalism, moral relativism, “Woke” mantras, etc.) contradict rationality, destroy the Common Good and violate humanity.
- Nonetheless, many bad ideas and evil consequences elicit widespread adherence. Some bad ideas insult Reason and contradict scientific evidence (e.g., men who say they’re women and people who buy into such nonsense), But bad ideas still exert perverse power to muster countless disciples.
Even when bad ideas normalize extreme behavior, or result in violence against the innocent (e.g., abortion), they still - somehow - elicit militant support.
- Nobel author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wisely pointed out that the line between good and evil passes right through every human heart. That line between virtue and vice is inside each of us.
- Thus, Scripture and history, Reason and Common Sense teach that virtue and vice are in constant struggle within every human heart. The tug-of-war between good and evil, between reason and irrationality, is humanity’s universal heritage, our heritage.
- This tug-of-war accounts for what sort of person we are, what values (virtues or vices) we honor, how we live our lives.
- History also tells us that our God-given gift of “true freedom” is often distorted into “false freedom,” with lethal results. As a consequence, we witness endless abuses of “false freedom” by individuals and nations.
Tyranny Of False Freedoms
- People who labor under the banners of “False Freedoms” demand their rights without accepting their responsibilities to self or others, to tradition or history . . . or God.
- When False Freedoms reject moral accountability to God and others, moral relativism emerges. Then, the only “moral” criterion is what I want, what I feel, what I choose. All else is irrelevant.
- True Freedom of choice is a gift from God, but it always comes with restrictions and restraints. True Freedom emphasizes responsibilities to God, self and other persons - before rights.
- Our responsibilities are framed in the language of imperatives, of right or wrong, of virtues or sin, of “shoulds” and “shall nots.”
- Some people find these terms coercive, offensive, intrusive of their “individuality.” They say they must be “free” from such cold, impersonal judgmentalism, “free” from such pushy ideas, “free” to live any way they desire.
- But our responsibilities are not cold, impersonal taboos, leveled arbitrarily by an impersonal God. Our responsibilities are always in the context of a Relationship which exists between each one of us with God and with one another, even with strangers.
- No authentic Relationship is free of imperatives, restrictions, or the need for self-restraint. Loving always involves sacrifice.
- Why? Because Relationships are spiritual realities of soul and body. Every authentic Relationship is a spiritual link which transcends our wants and urges, and requires self-restraint and sacrifice, empathy and self-giving, instead of disregard of the other’s needs and wants, weaknesses and priorities.
- The specifics of our responsibilities to God and to one another begin with the Ten Commandments, which are designed for the Common Good as well as individual clarity.
- The Common Good does not stop there. It leads us on to virtues, such as Faith, Hope, Charity, Prudence, Justice, Fortitude and Temperance (for starters). These virtues further enlighten us to the nuances of the Common Good and our own spiritual health.
- Thus, true freedom involves a personal and cultural struggle to choose between virtue or vice, wisdom or greed, reverence or lust, enlightened self-restraint or colossal selfishness.
- True freedom always comes at a cost to ourselves.
The Woke Mystique
- We are daily engaged in this struggle between good and evil, between toxic individualism and the Common Good … a struggle as old as mankind.
- Today, this struggle appears in the “Woke” culture, and has many faces (e.g., Black Lives Matter, the 1619 Project, attempts to destroy traditional marriage and family, denial of parental rights by some school districts, transgender-as-normal . . . on and on).
- In today’s Woke environs, it’s “micro-aggressive” to say that virtue and vice, good and evil, are in conflict within nations, organizations, even within our families – and ourselves.
- Today, if we defend traditional moral beliefs about human nature’s limits, or if we stand for the Constitution’s references to our Creator, we risk the wrath of many critics, including punitive legal consequences.
- Today, it’s dangerous to say that lies are now accepted social dogma, or that censorship increases in America, or that free speech is at great risk.
- Today, it’s unwise to point out that biology and genetics are now “canceled” by Woke adherents, or that irrationality controls parts of our government and our corporations, or that falsehoods are taught by educators and embraced by vast numbers of voters.
- Today, we hear that racist, sexist, Christian oppressors are intolerant of “freedom.” They dare uphold traditional moral beliefs about marriage, family and the dictates of Natural Law (all of which exist, of course, for the Common Good).
- Today, our American heritage, our fundamental Christian traditions, and plain-old common sense are profoundly threatened by a plethora of bad ideas and angry persons who promote false freedoms and godless nonsense which is daily normalized.
The Great Myth
False freedoms perpetuate the Great Myth that the traditional struggle between virtue and vice no longer exists.
- It does not matter what I am or what I do; traditional virtue and vice are passe. New Morality is what I choose to do. Vice is when you mess with my “freedom” to do it – no matter what it is.
- The Great Myth disconnects us from God in every aspect of life. Traditional forms of morality, goodness and virtue are dead, and so is God’s presence in human affairs.
- In the absence of God’s dominion, moral relativism ascends. The New Morality allows each person “false freedom” to decide for him/herself. Evil is interfering with this phony “freedom.”
- When problems occur, the State now becomes the deciding moral agent (as in totalitarian states), exerting public pressure, legal precedent, financial, psychological and/or physical violence or even imprisonment (as now happens to people who, for religious reasons, refuse to bake cakes for gay weddings).
- Persons who adhere to traditional, now-outmoded ideas of morality are “racist oppressors.” They hide behind their “white privilege” and its archaic façades of patriotism, religion and Judeo-Christian moral traditions. They are “true believers” who must now be rooted out, made to confess, then canceled.
But . . . What If . . .
Even if we admit virtue and vice exist, they seem in an uneven struggle. To this point, Solzhenitsyn expressed his sense of irony, borne from years of painfully-earned insight. He wrote, “… We have been fortunate to live in a time when virtue, though it does not triumph, is nonetheless not always tormented by attack dogs. Beaten down, sickly, virtue has now been allowed to enter in all its tatters and sit in the corner, as long as it doesn’t raise its voice. However,” he quickly adds, “no one dares say a word about vice.”
So, why are we silent about evil? We know the facts from history, Revelation and Constitutional tradition.
Why are we silent about vice? Why are we prone to accept the moral corrosion of our culture? Why do we embrace false freedoms and bad ideas?
- Because bad ideas are often supported people of apparent good will; people who only want to help a loved one – or so it seems.
- Bad ideas often lurk behind benign emotions. Bad ideas abuse good intentions to camouflage toxic outcomes.
- Bad ideas are often sold by angry militants who play the victim role, and who gladly manipulate people under the righteous banners of “social justice.”
- Disciples of bad ideas intimidate opponents with irrational unpredictability. They exert heartless control and dismissive indifference - tools which virtue will never pursue or allow.
- Bad ideas take deep hold on human affairs, especially when power and profit are involved, Gullible, mis-informed followers are easily duped by cheap slogans which conceal lethal beliefs.
- Bad ideas seem comfortably ensconced in the hearts of many naïve people who are blind to history’s lessons and easily swayed by the false flag of tainted human respect and the unmet need to look good.
Lessons For Us
- Recognize the lies which the Great Myth preaches.
- The excesses of the “Woke” generation emphasize how critical to our age the lessons of history’s truly are: When we deny God’s moral authority and decide for ourselves what’s right and what’s not, the result is chaotic erosion of true freedom and disaster to our nation.
- True freedom is not merely about what we should do. It’s also about what we should “be” as human beings. When we dismiss our best traditions, reject self-restraint, and worship ourselves, we betray human nature, ourselves and one another.
- Life’s challenges are demanding; we falter with frustrating frequency. But our weaknesses are also our human bond, our rightful claim to God’s guidance and wisdom.
- As George Weigel has written, the cultural crisis we face will be resolved only by renewal of faith in the biblical vision of humanity’s dignity, origins and destiny. This is a vision far wiser than anything in the destructive inanities of “Woke-dom.”
- Our nation’s need for virtuous men and women is clear, as is the hunger within each of us to give and to receive truth and kindness, rather than lies and condemnatory discourse.
- Pray God we may abandon the Great Myth . . .
- that we may realize how morally and culturally destructive these bad ideas really are;
- that we may reject “False Freedoms” and believe we are indeed God’s creatures;
- that we may honor the best traditions of our astonishing nation and start each day with gratitude to God for the blessings we have received …...
10 March 2022
It Can Happen Here
The Ukrainian Genocide is fueled by wretched ideas which have devastating consequences. What ideas? Here’s a brief summary:
There are no absolute truths, no binding moral principles. All truth - all moral reality - is relative. I define for myself what is morally true and what is false. Truth is only what I believe. Everything else is interpretation. More than that: facts are not factual, not real, not objective. Facts are only interpretation. There is no objective reality, no objective truth, no transcendent values, no God. Even if God existed, He’d still be irrelevant to human affairs.
These are the fundamentals of moral relativism, the basics tenets of the Woke Generation which seeks “freedom” from traditional categories of right-and-wrong. Truth is defined as anything I believe it to be, even if it contradicts history and reality. There’s no Ten Commandments, no traditions, no limits, no restraints. There are only the fatuous “freedoms” which I define for myself. If you doubt what I say, watch this BBC interview with Alexander Dugin, one of Putin’s closest advisors … and be aware of how deeply moral relativism infects our world:
'We have our special Russian truth' - BBC Newsnight - Bing video
The Ascendance Of Moral Relativism
Moral relativism preaches indifference to God and other human persons. It is fallacious “freedom” to pursue my desires and urges, my wants and wishes, by any means I choose. I am accountable and responsible to no one, including God.
What it comes down to is unfettered license to do as I wish (sometimes with shrewd foresight), with no moral accountability nagging at me, with arrogant disregard of all moral boundaries.
Moral indifference is not an either-or proposition. It exists on a continuum starting with seemingly slight incivilities and flippant discourtesies toward people we casually dismiss. Indifference gradually escalates over time, from habits of insouciant rudeness to, finally, indifference so extreme that the annihilation of others (physically or psychologically) is normal.
Moral indifference says, “Do whatever it takes, from de-personalizing someone to annihilating him.” At a certain point, as Plato observed, it’s easier to hurt a person than to help.
Moral relativism energizes indifference (in varying degrees) to other human beings … from insensitive, dismissive disregard for others to profound indifference toward human life. Ultimately, moral indifference “justifies” the murder of innocent persons, as the Ukraine Genocide attests.
Moral relativism dismisses moral absolutes and other pesky traditions which are revealed to us by Nature and Nature’s Creator for the common good. After all, if God is irrelevant, then belief in His transcendent moral reality is silly.
The Ukraine Genocide is one outcome of this thinking, taken to its extreme. The Ukraine Tragedy demonstrates that without moral absolutes to set limits and remind us of our shared humanity, we are vulnerable to astonishing evil, deliberately perpetuated.
But history reveals that even with principled restraints of moral absolutes, some persons still pursue unbridled power. Power in irresponsible hands says, “One way or another, I shall prevail. I shall impose my beliefs on you with dismissive disdain or icy indifference or punitive rejection … or unimaginable violence.”
So, moral indifference first infiltrates the human heart in small, seemingly minor ways (read about Putin’s early years). It then escalates, and gradually erases good manners and common courtesy. Then, accountability and normal decency fade. Soon, civility and empathy, altruism and kindness disappear. Moral sensibilities are dulled in favor of egocentric indulgence. Then, legal restraints and regard for objective truths are eclipsed.
In time, power and control are everything, as moral awareness is eclipsed by arrogant encapsulation. Moral indifference becomes the norm. At a certain point, uncaring behavior hardens the heart and taints the soul with mordant cynicism.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the Russian author, suffered extremes of ruthless, nihilistic indifference. He wrote: “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either -- but right through every human heart -- and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years….”
It Is Happening Here
Like Solzhenitsyn, many persevere in the moral path, even though we “hesitate and bob back and forth between good and evil all our lives.” And, as we struggle for goodness, we also slip, fall back and clamber up again. But we repent and courageously face life’s moral challenges once more.
As we struggle valiantly with our failings, our faith is blessedly sustained by our transcendent God. Deep-down, we know our efforts are not in vain ... and we remain within the precincts of hope. Our fidelity and trust in God’s ever-merciful gaze upholds us … and we persevere and struggle and pursue Wisdom.
As we struggle for goodness, we abhor moral indifference. We patiently attend to God’s moral absolutes, even when we encounter the array of godless excesses which litter our culture today. But … we look around our nation, and we are not blind to the fact that moral indifference has deep roots in America.
The denial of moral absolutes is the reigning cultural ethos of our day. It is readily accepted by politicians and educators, by corporations and media --- even to the extent of slaughtering innocents by the millions and calling it a “right -- or pretending men can become women – or that traditional marriage is obsolete – or that family life means anything we want it to mean -- or that pornography is normal and sexual self-control is the repressive tool of uptight prigs -- or that religion is no longer worth our time.
Thus, when society rejects moral absolutes, some people usurp false “freedoms” to justify anything they wish. They deny God’s moral sovereignty and enshrine their errant feelings and urges. They elevate intellectual fallacies and frothily promulgate scientific absurdities … and they honor colossal lies as social norms.
There is no doubt that moral relativism is widely accepted in our nation, even in our military (which now insists officers use gender-correct pronouns). And there are far, far worse examples …
As Solzhenitsyn points out, evil is a reality, hovering for a lifetime in the human heart. And, he adds, there is a threshold of evil which most do not cross – but some do … and they do not return. It is most reassuring that objective truths and scientific limits to human conduct actually do exist.
So, sin exists. Moral evil exists. They are facts of life. We are all vulnerable to evil’s perverse allure. That’s why every stable human community (from family to nation) requires moral imperatives and self-restraint. Only then does true freedom show us the path to peace of mind and the necessity of public virtue for our nation, as America’s Founders so often re-iterated. Thus, whether we admit it or not, moral good and moral evil, virtue and goodness are determined by God, not by us. Without God’s objective moral norms, we are on our own, morally adrift, subject to whomever has power to coerce or dominate … or kill.
Moreover, when moral indifference becomes the norm, freedom of religion erodes. The mention of God disappears from public discourse. Words such as “sin,” “evil,” “should” and “ought” are no longer heard in public conversation … banned as violations of the atheist’s “freedom” to reject God and His providence in what has proven to be a significant legal and cultural error. Our society now embraces moral indifference and opposes those who criticize the illusion of godless “freedom.” People who favor moral restraint or who speak with moral intent are increasingly censored, sued or silenced as offensive to mainstream values.
Today, even some long-established churches and ministers are abandoning America’s Judeo-Christian moral heritage, softening the demands of self-restraint, tolerating the seduction of children, avoiding confrontations with evil. As William Donahue writes, this flight from moral truth is at the heart of the crisis of Christianity in the West. It’s also a recipe for our nation’s self-destruction. Why? Because denial of objective moral truths and the ascendance of moral relativism guarantee:
- the increase of moral indifference, even among children;
- greater erosion of private and public conscience;
- increased arrogance arising from the illusion of inerrancy;
- entrenched GroupThink, with its myth of invulnerability and its feckless support of error;
- that psychological intimidation and raw power will continue to exert social control and silence critics;
- the historical probability of violence toward moral authority;
- continuing erosion of our nation’s moral foundations stated in our Declaration of Independence and in our Bill of Rights.
We see the erosion of our American identity as the “shining city on a hill.” Moral indifference will eventually cut the heart out of our historic attempts to correct our blunders and pursue justice as a nation known for its dedication to Justice.
Through time and history, through eras and regimes, through the rise and fall of kingdoms and fiefdoms and societies and cultures, objective moral reality shouts at us that good and evil do exist, that right and wrong are objective moral standards, that our behavior - individually and collectively - does indeed matter, and that there are consequences (sometimes irreversible) to what we do as individuals and as a nation.
Finally . . .
History reminds us that no ruling empire or regnant nation or dominant culture survives its disregard of the moral limits to freedom which are imposed by Nature and Nature’s Creator.
If -- as is happening in America -- we continue to worship ourselves and reject moral restraints … and if we continue to embrace moral relativism and moral indifference … and if we continue to dismiss the reality of our fallen nature … we will pay an even greater price. And, one day we may ask, “Who will save us from ourselves?”
As John Steinbeck once said, there is only one question at life’s end: Was mine a life of goodness?
25 February 2022
Which Way Shall We Go
The Gallup Organization just released its "Mood of the Nation” survey results. Significant decreases in public satisfaction since January 2020 are noteworthy:
- Just 33% of Americans are satisfied with our economy, a decrease of 35 points from 2020.
- Only 24% are satisfied with policies on crime, a decrease of 23 points from 2020.
- Only 27% are satisfied with our energy policies and gas prices, a decrease of 17 points from 2020.
- Satisfaction with our military strength decreased 20 points.
- Our sense of security from terrorism decreased 21 points.
- Satisfaction with quality of life decreased 15 points.
- Only 20% of Americans are satisfied with the moral and ethical climate of the country, a decrease of 12 points from 2020.
This last item bolsters research indicating the steady downward spiral of religious affiliation in America. The danger of this decline is obvious. America was founded by men and women with religious convictions. In fact, the centrality of religious faith is the first item in the First Amendment to our Constitution. The historic value and stabilizing force of religious faith and morality in America are unquestionable.
Religious faith (particularly our Judeo-Christian roots) has been the foundation of American character, the font of our historic idealism, the source of moral energy by which our nation has sought to remedy injustice.
Human Nature’s Vagaries
We know human nature is weak and often misguided. Despite our idealism, we make serious, sometimes tragic, mistakes as individuals and as a nation. History repeatedly reveals that human nature does not well-manage moral accountability. Sacrifice, respect, generosity, empathy, mature judgment, quiet courage, heeding corrective (if painful) comments – these qualities do not come easily.
We’re inclined to willfulness. We resist self-restraint. Without great effort, we’re not long-suffering, patient persons, not readily persuaded to virtuous action, even by Divine mandate.
Thus, when we dissociate ourselves from religious influence, morality diminishes; the nation suffers.
But our inherent yearning for moral clarity will not be stifled. So, we inevitably seek pseudo-morality by substituting hot-button “causes” or humanistic “spirituality” of psychology. However, these are shallow, ineffective band-aids, not lasting solutions. They never suffice.
Without the transcendent framework of objective morality to anchor ourselves and our nation in a stable code of moral accountability, we do not effectively recognize what is truly moral and truly just. Without a moral code, our struggle for goodness and justice is precarious.
Finding Our Way
A popular, but false, substitute for objective morality are wayward feelings, i.e., the “therapeutic self” which mistakenly emphasizes sentiments and emotions over principled moral learning. When disconnected from objective moral principles, “therapeutic morality” becomes merely personal preference, what feels good, untethered from morality’s traditional sacred origins.
Such feelings and sentiments are actually benighted bases for decisions, notoriously unreliable guides to action. We need moral clarity which prudence, self-restraint, justice, sacrifice, right reason, wisdom, facts and history supply.
Feelings become especially dangerous when they’re aggressively marketed by eager disciples of errant “social causes.” Self-righteous feelings quickly become fertile soil for contagious social pathology and closed-minded absolutism.
Social pathology cloaks itself in faultless inflexibility and harshly judgmental rant. It feeds herd-energy, tramples truth, logic and common sense. It muffles criticism and confrontation in favor of the “party line.” Today, we find it in the punitive “cancel culture” of Black Lives Matter, Radical Leftism, Political Correctness, the 1619 Project, so-called Democratic Socialism, Critical Race Theory, Atheistic Neo-Marxism, propagandizing journalists, irrational corporate decisions – in other words, in the cumulative, deleterious influence of Woke-ism.
It’s impossible not to realize Woke goals have deeply polarized and diminished America religiously, economically, morally, culturally, educationally. Distorted, science-denying notions of sex, gender, class and race are changing our way of thinking and being. The absurd is now the standard.
The Woke’s basic messages are clear:
- America is (and always has been) an evil oppressor of minorities, including non-whites and multi-gendered persons.
- Anyone who disagrees is thereby proven guilty.
- “White guilt” is a cultural hammer to intimidate opposition.
- America maintains heartless dominion over victimized minorities by traditional structures, such as the Constitution, law enforcement agencies, Christian intolerance, traditional marriage and family, belief in only two sexes, schools, etc.
- All white people (especially intolerant Christians) are, by birth, privileged oppressors, including white children, who enslave racial and sexual minorities merely by their color.
- Truth has no meaning other than what I assign to it. History is what I say it is.
- Religious belief is a cover for intolerance and despotism.
- Patriotism is a white device to keep victimized minorities in line.
- Objective norms deserve rejection. Only emotions are valid.
- All morality is relative, including the value of human life.
- Tradition and pious notions are white traps to limit freedom and stifle independence.
- Contrary to history, traditional family is not the binding force in society. Family is whatever we want it to be … and so forth, and so on.
Isn’t It Obvious ?
We would think the absurdly bizarre nature of Woke doctrine is obvious to any thoughtful adult. Adults are intelligent enough to recognize Woke’s reckless tactics and accusations. Right?
Woke doctrine is embedded at the highest levels of governance, management and education. The devious mantras of Diversity, Inclusion, Equity and “white guilt” are common. A baseless flight from “white guilt” ensues. The irrational is normal. Some major corporations lead (sometimes with astonishing duplicity) more by fear than trust in the competence and good will of their people.
Many people who support Woke “causes” are hooked by the superficial slogans of groups such as Black Lives Matter. Followers are often sincere but gullible - and have no idea how insidious the Woke agenda is.
Outcomes Of Woke
Here are some results of Woke activity:
- Defunding police results in vastly increased criminality.
- The U. S. Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy has hired Sam Brinton, a drag queen/LGBTQ+ activist who gives college lectures on kinky sex (animals, too) and fetish roleplay. Brinton was recently appointed Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Department of Energy. He/she also goes by the name of “Sister Ray Dee O’Active.” Brinton advises elected lawmakers in the U. S. Capital in his spangles and high heels.
- The Government’s budget has eliminated the word “mother” and replaced it with “birthing person”;
- The House of Representatives has Rules which recently removed the terms “father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister, uncle, aunt, nephew, niece, husband, wife, father-in-law, mother-in-law, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, stepfather, stepmother, stepson, stepdaughter, stepbrother, stepsister, half-brother, half-sister, grandson, or granddaughter.” The words “himself” and “herself” have been replaced with “themself” … itself an oxymoron.
- As of Feb. 9, more than 30 House members endorsed a bill which declares “unconditional war on racism and invidious discrimination” and establishes a Cabinet-level Department of Reconciliation charged with “eliminating racism and invidious discrimination.” This bill claims institutionalized racism “remains pervasive in our country.” It says “systemic and institutionalized racism and invidious discrimination exist in virtually all areas of American life, including policing, criminal justice, housing, banking, voting, employment, education, the environment, and health care…” How will this Department of Reconciliation monitor free speech and First Amendment rights?
- Woke-ism now promotes gay and transgendered ideologies in countless schools across America.
- Parents who object to Woke curricula are deemed “terrorists” by the Department of Justice and the FBI.
- The words “mother” and “father” are “offensive and inappropriate” in USAID international programs.
- Children as young as three are now exposed to flamboyantly cross-dressing men reading “stories” to tots in public libraries. After all, a man’s choice to be a “woman” and push his agenda on children is “gender” freedom.”
Now, The Good News !!
The Good News is that many Americans are not persuaded by Woke rhetoric, not seduced to their cause … nor do we find logic or truth, justice or virtue in Woke reasoning.
- Some of us believe in the moral principles and traditions of American Exceptionalism and its Judeo-Christian roots.
- We do not believe a man is, or can become, a woman. This promotes moral violations of biology and is a genetic absurdity.
- We do not believe non-citizens should be allowed to vote. Voting is a privilege afforded only to citizens. To give away that right is to denigrate citizenship itself. If non-citizens vote, what does citizenship mean? Giving away the voting privilege betrays public trust. It’s a moral distortion of social order.
- We believe it is morally wrong to send thousands of our troops to defend foreign borders and foreign citizens while our own borders and citizens remain at immediate risk.
- We believe it is morally wrong to ignore just laws which protect the lives and safety of Americans. Disregarding just laws is a breach of trust with untold harm to individuals and the nation.
- We believe it is immoral to take the life of an innocent human being, especially a child enwombed or being born. No excuse justifies the abortion of a child. Later regret begets sincere repentance, which is always the wisest option.
Let us be clear about fundamentals:
We are born into a moral universe. Our freedoms and rights come from God, and must be evaluated and restrained.
Every human endeavor occurs within a moral context. This distinguishes us from the rest of creation.
Politics, education, family life are, first and foremost, moral endeavors, as is every truly human act.
We are accountable to God, ourselves and other persons. Our behavior has moral consequences. Disrespect for human and divine laws erodes America.
We have codes of behavior we must follow. Religious and social limits focus our choices for the common good. Moral virtues guide us to what we should say and do.
Many choices may seem fleeting and irrelevant: shopping, driving, sleeping, chatting. Even these revolve around moral responsibility. Our thoughts, attitudes, choices and behavior become explicit moral issues when consequences involve our responsibilities to self, to others and to God.
So, all human behavior involves 1) our God-given responsibility for what we choose to think and do, 2) our accountability to God, self and others for the consequences of our choices and actions, and 3) a body of traditional moral knowledge and civility by which we should live our lives and make our decisions.
Morality is the foundation of our relationships with God, ourselves and one another. Relationships are moral encounters, even when fleeting or superficial. Each relationship (even alone) involves moral responsibility and accountability. But our relationship with our Creator is the first and most abiding relationship in our lives.
Our hopes for goodness and justice rest in each of us as informed Americans, as militant individuals and, collectively, as a proud nation seeking justice. Our best hopes urge us all to:
- Do our homework; read history, study the facts. Recognize that, despite our faults, America is history’s best example of humanity’s never-ended struggle to right its wrongs and repair its mistakes;
- Responsibly exercise moral virtue … individual and collective virtue, civic and religious virtue, public and private virtue
- Be not ashamed to speak of virtue and goodness, just as our nation’s Founders insisted (they, who risked all to forge a virtuous America and who spoke openly of virtue’s necessity);
- Publicly honor just laws; openly revere our finest traditions; act as moral exemplars in our wounded culture; be not intimidated by those who find faults in our past and who foolishly disparage our nation in the present; know your facts;
- Express determined optimism and patriotic adherence to the belief that America is a truly, a blessedly exceptional nation.
Let us fervently pray these steps will again become the norm even among the gullible and timid, who fecklessly reject America and demean our historic struggle to remain “one nation under God, with liberty and justice for all…”
2 February 2022
“You’re A Poet, But You Don’t Know It ….”
Those were the first words of a nasty schoolyard “poem” we made up as kids, long-long ago. We’d struggle to outsmart one another with raunchy rhymes … laughing all the while, as silly children do. Later, when I was introduced to Shakespeare, I found his words heavy and baffling … until I learned to listen with proper timing; to hear his inner rhythms and ponder his themes; to “see” his characters and share their perceptions as if they were my own; to pursue true meaning, which is always beyond words.
To Read Or Not To Read
For many Americans, Shakespeare’s works are still difficult to comprehend, laced with archaic language, references to historic events we know not of, with plots which elude technologically-conditioned ears, with dialogues which strain electronically-reliant minds.
In the same vein, it seems these days we rarely ponder too deeply what we hear or read. Our culture seems to thrive on abbreviated communication and less-than-benign encounters. We seem estranged from the lyricism of self-expressive creativity, from the humane habit of good reading. We favor cell-phone brevity and sound-bite versions of history. Public conversations become abrupt and, at times, unworthy of us. We seem to forget how to listen to one another, how to hear meaning beyond the words.
We seem to be losing our appreciation of the marvel of words and the dignity of the speaker. Technology makes it easy to deny one another the liberating sense of being listened to with patience and concern. Current research also tells us that our culture’s religious identity and traditional moral values (which served as the foundation of American stability) are increasingly denigrated … even by our children’s educators.
As a result, our respect for American traditions (and our links to our own human nature) are excessively strained, our isolation from one another heightened, our regard for religious values waning with worrisome regularity.
It’s apparent that today’s version of social “progress” is not as benign or as healthy for America as we’re asked to believe.
To Speak Or Not To Speak
Communication is intended to clarify the engagement of people with one another and, of necessity, with oneself. Thinking, choosing our words and communicating our inner selves in various communities (no matter how clumsily we do so) define us as human beings.
Any degradation in our use of rhetoric or any deliberate distortions of truth violates nature’s intent and obscures the fact that every person possesses a divine spark of self-expressive individuality. Our inherent drive for self-expression is central to our body-mind-spirit inheritance.
Our self-expressive urge is a universal quality of human nature. Moreover, communicating with one another is an essentially creative activity. Our creative urge leads us to express ourselves with originality. We reveal our individuality in our words and in our work, in our crafts and our artistic endeavors, in our humor, even in the variety of sports we so relish.
Our urge to self-expression often emerges in spontaneous and irrepressible ways through endless creative outlets: poetics, painting, literature, carpentry, dance, mechanics, architecture, music, sculpture, sales, parenting, sewing, golf, politics … even blogging.
Self-expression is endlessly creative and, at its roots, endlessly artistic - even when it’s designed to deceive. Even the struggle to deflect or hide from others is an expression of self. Even the tall tales children weave reveal their creative artistry in impressive detail.
We all possess this God-given urge, this spark of divine creativity, this inherent desire for self-expression. We are born to communicate. We cannot not communicate.
Expressive creativity often prompts poetic imagery, some of which graces our common usage. For example, we have heard of “ships that pass in the night,” or “footprints in the sand” or “the patter of little feet” or “when she was good, she was very, very good...”
These memorable phrases by Longfellow remain in our culture’s collective memory, not merely because they’re familiar and usefully descriptive. They endure because they “speak” to our inner experience, beyond distractions and vulnerabilities and avoidant ploys.
Indeed, some poetic references become cliches precisely because they possess universal appeal, because of the truths they express. Intuitively - in our hearts, beyond the words – we “know” what such phrases mean. Our inherent poetic sensibility instinctively discerns meaning. We need no rational explanation. We “know” because the words reflect and stimulate our own inner, heartfelt experience.
For example, everyone is energized by particular “trigger” words or by a certain melody, or when we behold a sight which touches our sense of awe or beauty or nostalgia or wishful reverie. We all possess this “in-sight” - a private world of dreams and hopes, a responsive point of transcendence which betakes us from customary reality to our inner place of quiet introspection.
We all harbor that deeply personal arena of imagery and fantasy; our private world of unspoiled musing wherein the heart’s vulnerable innocence still abides.
It's part of every soul - that secret place wherein our dreams and remembrances await gentle attention; a place of contemplation which we share with few persons lest, in our sharing, we might be embarrassed by our own candor, or misjudged … or, perhaps, truly understood, even loved.
Poetics: An Example Of Creativity
Let us look at one avenue of creative self-expression – the voice of poetry.
Some people think poems must rhyme. This is not so. It is not the rhythmic ring of rhyming verses which defines our poetic sensibilities, which speak more to the heart than to our intellect or critical senses. For some people, poetics is the language of the soul’s power of true intuition.
Here, for example, is a poem in blank verse, written by Irish poet John O’Donohue:
May your work assume
A proper space in your life,
Instead of owning or using you;
May it challenge and refine you,
Bringing you every day further
Into the wonder of your heart.
And here is an example of rhyme … this (my favorite) from Shakespeare’s many glorious sonnets:
When in disgrace with Fortune and men's eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself, and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man's art and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the Lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at Heaven's gate;
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings,
That then I scorn to change my state with Kings.
Or we find wry humor in Theologian Henry Aldrich’s arch, centuries-old observation:
If all be true that I do think,
There are five reasons we should drink:
Good friends, good wine, or being dry,
Or lest we should be by and by,
Or any other reason why.
Varieties Of Poetic Expression
To be sure, self-expressive creativity is not confined to poetry or to the traditional arts. Self-expression involves our intellectual life, our spiritual/religious resources, our power to choose, our sense of wonder, our courage and stamina, our dreams, memories and fantasies, our imagination and intuition and (a surprise to some folks) our life of prayer.
In fact, our draw to religion (personal and cultural) is a further expression of our creative energy. Why? Because life itself generates wonder and mystery, worship and awe … the foundations of stable human cultures. And, as history makes clear, our striving for “culture” will not be stifled.
In fact, the meaning of “culture” comes from the Latin word “cultus,” i.e., our innate instinct to worship, informed and molded over time by religious doctrine and moral codes. And prayer is the universal expression of our needs for clarity, transcendence and religious affiliation.
The link between creative self-expression and religious belief is exemplified in the Old Testament’s poetic Book of Psalms. The Psalms are really songs - poetic hymns - expressing a variety of emotions about the intervention of God in human affairs. The Psalms celebrate God’s rule over this world - and over us, no matter what happens.
Whether it’s a song of hope, a plea for security, a cry for relief from pain and confusion, or a paean of simple adoration in awe and delight, the Psalms poetically express our universal dependence on God, Whose creatures we are … and always shall be.
So, as we note above, self-expression finds endless avenues throughout history. From the Altamira Cave paintings of 40,000 years ago to Warhol’s renditions of soup cans; from the Swabian bone-flutes of 45,000 years ago to the dubious celebrity of Billie Eilish, human creativity will not be stifled.
But … since creativity is universal, we also find creative expression in the bewildering complexities of auto assembly lines, in the fine-tuning of a talented mechanic, in the work of careful gardeners who tend the beauty of nature, in the fluent dexterity of a cab driver in traffic.
Everywhere around us, we are immersed in human - and divine - creativity. Creative self-expression is everywhere to be found, sometimes even in behavior which is morally off-putting to some of us (the brutal “sport” of prize fighting comes to mind) or in behavior which is harmful to many, as in pornography and abortion.
Thus, the varieties of creative acts can be tastefully accomplished or they may seem to many people tasteless, puerile, dreadfully gauche. Furthermore, what passes for “creativity” may also be morally offensive and degrading to God and to human beings.
The point is that 1) people and cultures do not uniformly adhere to objective norms of good taste, nor 2) do we observe the same standards of objective moral decency.
The Educated Conscience
Our choices become moral issues when they involve our responsibility and accountability to God, self and others in the community. Why? Because self-expression involves ideas and subsequent behaviors which can be beneficial or harmful to the common good and to individuals near and far, known and unknown, young and old.
Thus, every deliberate, conscious choice is a human act when it involves moral consequences because we exist in a moral universe not of our own making.
We are born with an innate sense of good and evil, with God-given moral instincts. Initially, our moral awareness is a primitive, uneducated sense of right or wrong. But … our uneducated instincts are, by themselves, insufficient to bring us to higher moral awareness required for right reason and the common good.
By themselves, our moral instincts are insufficient to illuminate the laws and corollaries, limits and nuances, of responsibility and accountability required of a mature, educated conscience.
So, like any innate but untrained talent, our moral instincts and our various skills – including creativity, right reason and proper use of will power – must be educated, deepened, honed for the goal of moral maturity.
The purpose of family, religion and moral education in our lives and in society is to awaken us to our responsibilities to God, to self and to the community. That’s why family is central to social sanity. That’s why religion is beneficial to cultural stability.
Morality Makes Us Humane
Moral learning which stresses our love of God and of our neighbor leads to a properly educated conscience. The educated conscience rises above subjective, self-centered criteria. It honors objective, universal virtuous guidelines, such as prudence and altruism in our attitudes, choices and actions.
These guidelines direct our behavior into acceptable moral pathways. But … they arise only from objective, revealed standards by which we are taught to act for the benefit of the community and, consequently, for our own best interests. Instinct and feelings are never enough!
These guidelines also stress 1) proper moral education of our children, and 2) the stability of traditional family. These objective standards are (despite contrary claims) the historic foundations of every stable society which values moral restraint and enlightened civility among its citizens, as America’s Founders often emphasized.
The American Experience
The struggle for enlightened self-expression is central to the history of our nation, as we find, for example, in our Declaration of Independence and in the words of Adams and Jefferson, Paine and Madison and so many others.
Indeed, throughout our history, America has invariably sought to honor “the better angels of our nature,” as Lincoln poetically described America’s historic reach for justice and moral goodness.
So, let us make no mistake --- the truths of American Exceptionalism are not found in our history’s regrettable abuses … as today’s “woke” adherents preach.
America’s ideals are the finest examples of mankind’s fervent, often-flawed but consistent attempts to express and codify human nature’s absolute reliance on the Rule of Law – both divine law and human law.
American Exceptionalism embodies our race’s finest efforts to correct human abuses, not to perpetuate them; to redeem our errors, not to repeat them; to consistently refocus and unify us (“E pluribus, unum”) as a nation of laws, justice and mutual respect based on the content of one’s character, in Martin Luther King’s remarkable words.
America is about our human struggle to do our best – even though some Americans have abused other persons and degraded the freedoms which faith and idealism must suffer.
Let us never doubt that America is a blessing among nations, a revered place where we are most fortunate to live; a culture we must cherish; a nation based on ideals we must preserve and pass on to our children.
To Remember Our Ideals
Americans today are polarized about the truth of our nation’s history and our motives as citizens. If we wish to get back to basics, we should read and dearly ponder again the following words (written by Katherine Lee Bates) which speak to the moral - and poetic - soul of our nation.
O Beautiful For Spacious Skies,
For Amber Waves Of Grain,
For Purple Mountain Majesties
Above The Fruited Plain!
God Shed His Grace On Thee,
And Crown Thy Good With Brotherhood,
From Sea To Shining Sea!
O Beautiful For Pilgrim Feet,
Whose Stern Impassioned Stress
A Thoroughfare For Freedom Beat
Across The Wilderness!
God Mend Thine Every Flaw,
Confirm Thy Soul In Self-Control,
Thy Liberty In Law!
O Beautiful For Heroes Proved
In Liberating Strife,
Who More Than Self Their Country Loved,
And Mercy More Than Life!
May God Thy Gold Refine,
Till All Success Be Nobleness,
And Every Gain Divine!
O Beautiful For Patriot Dream
That Sees Beyond The Years
Thine Alabaster Cities Gleam
Undimmed By Human Tears!
God Shed His Grace On Thee,
And Crown Thy Good With Brotherhood,
From Sea To Shining Sea!
3 January 2022
To Touch The Face Of God
The James Webb Space Telescope (the Webb) was launched Christmas Day from French Guiana. It is now at its assigned location nearly one million miles from Earth. From there, the Webb will peer into endless space, looking back in time as it explores the Universe in exquisite detail.
The Webb is the largest telescope ever sent into space - larger than a tennis court and three stories high at full extension. It’s also the most powerful, estimated to be 100 times more powerful than its 30-year-old predecessor, the Hubble.
The Webb will probe the still-expanding universe, capturing light from the “Big Bang” which, astronomers estimate, occurred fourteen billion years ago. The Webb will focus on galaxies which emerged from the Big Bang -- galaxies which are countless trillions of miles distant and billions of years older than Earth.
As the Webb searches for stars new and ancient, it will also probe the cosmos for signs of life in stellar systems so incredibly remote in age and distance as to boggle the wildest imaginings. Even the fundamental equation of “light-years” fades as Webb reveals further mysteries about the Creation of the Universe – and the Creative Mind which sustains it all.
Here, for your information, is a link (of many now available):
James Webb Space Telescope: Hubble's Cosmic Successor | Space
How Far Is “Far”
The eponymous James Webb was head of National Aeronautics and Space Administration from 1961 to 1968. He retired prior to Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s moon walk. Under his leadership, NASA launched nearly 80 missions which studied the sun, myriad galaxies and Earth’s environment.
The Webb’s revelations are expected to last five to ten years, as it’s gold-plated mirrors explore immeasurable numbers of stars, planets, nebulae and galaxies, seeking information about how the Universe began, where it is heading, what Creation is all about, and where we fit into this stunning, miraculous reality.
Webb now sits at “L2,” its assigned location in space. “L2” refers to the second “Lagrange Point,” of which there are five in our solar system. As NASA explains, Lagrange Points are "a wonderful accident of gravity and orbital mechanics" where the gravitational pull of Earth and sun balance the pull of smaller orbiting bodies. The L2 zone of stability allows NASA to "park" the Webb in a fixed position with relative security.
Webb’s Lagrange Point lies in the opposite direction from the sun, aiding Webb’s search for dim, extremely distant objects. Its fixed location also allows an array of giant radio antennae aligned around the Earth to maintain contact as Earth rotates.
The downside of Webb’s distance is that no repairs are possible. Hubble, a mere 350 miles above the Earth, was serviced by five repair missions between 1993 and 2009. Such care is not possible with Webb. L2’s distance necessitated years of exhaustive pre-launch preparations; details are staggering.
It will take six months of sensitive alignments - as engineers adjust instruments - until Nasa finally receives Webb’s first observations. We can only imagine the results then to come, the revelations we shall behold, further facts about the Universe we shall learn, the myriad mysteries we shall confront, the wondrous truths unveiled which reflect the Mind of our Creator.
How Shall We Respond
Webb’s complexity reveals the wondrous ability of the human intellect and the astonishing attainments of science. In fact, the word “science” is derived from the Latin word for knowledge, “scientia.” BUT, our store of acquired knowledge is not an end in itself. Simply knowing a lot of complex head-stuff does not mean we possess understanding or insight which bestow prudence or wisdom or the abundant virtues which Revelation proposes.
So, while scientific technology prods the intellect with the “What” of creation, it does not resolve the heart’s yearning to know “Who” and “Why?”
A further yearning to “know” exists beyond science. We possess a deeper human need to understand the mysteries behind science, a need to comprehend Creation’s origin and purpose – and ours.
Our search for this depth of understanding invariably compels us to accept - or to reject - the fact that we are dependent creatures with limited abilities. We study Creation, but we are not its Creators. We are limited as to what we can comprehend by ourselves. Invariably, we are called to accept our limits - and appreciate the practical necessity of faith in our everyday life.
Why Faith ?
Many skeptics balk at the mention of faith, and some hard-core cynics snort and stifle a chuckle, as if faith were a sign of a failing mind or the realm of a child’s fairy tale. Indeed, some folks prefer to put their faith in government rather than in God.
But … when we look closely at life’s realities, we recognize that faith is an essential, everyday habit of mind and heart. Everyday faith makes it possible for us to live a normal life without constant stress, deadening anxiety and the anticipation of disaster.
The truth is that we make constant acts of faith many times each day … when we put our trust in people and events and institutions and systems over which we have no knowledge or control.
The exercise of faith is as normal - and as necessary - as breathing. It’s so normal that it quickly becomes an unconscious habit which is fundamental in everyday life. It’s also handy, because we do not want to sweat the small stuff. Faith becomes an ordinary act of belief, hope and trust in persons unknown. In family, work, on the freeway, in stores, especially with the Webb, repetitive acts of faith are constant factors in our sanity, our survival and our astounding human achievements.
Acts of faith weave in-and-out of our lives each day, operating on a continuum from simple things to complex decisions. But all involve trust (implicit or explicit) as our way of dealing with life’s mysteries and ambiguities.
Faith also moves our minds from a “hope-and-a-hunch” to an “Aha!” It works on a different level than the intellect, which looks for clockwork certainty and logical clarity and “getting it in writing.”
Mystery Is The Norm
When we make acts of faith, we implicitly accept life’s mystery with our hearts as well as our minds. We acknowledge mystery’s persistent, but ineffable, presence - not simply with the intellect but also with a practiced sense of intuition and acceptance which bestow clarity-beyond-logic; clarity which is independent of the intellect’s need for explanations about events and relationships.
It makes eminent sense, then, that our faith in the Divine Reality of God involves far more than scientific knowledge (which, in perverse and captious manner, is ofttimes invoked to deny God).
Science provides us with the evidence of a Creative Mind -- but science does not thereby bestow upon us understanding or comprehension, insight or wisdom, clarity or virtue.
Furthermore, science and technology do not grant us that intuitive “Aha!” which faith grants. Science does not instill the transcendent sense of poetic awe which the music of a glorious sunsets begets.
Invariably, faith pushes us to a confrontation with the Divine origin of Creation, which includes our own existence. Sooner or later, we are called upon to recognize – or, as some do, to deny - the logical necessity of believing in God, our Creator.
Some militant anti-God folk resist any acts of faith in God. But how else can we rationally or intuitively explain the staggering mystery of Creation around us and within us? How else make sense of the conundrum that strength resides in weakness?
To be sure, as we persevere in faith, we always encounter normal bouts of self-doubt and episodes of recurring, fitful fallibility. But we will also realize that faith in God is - despite our distractions and failings - a most logical choice, a well-reasoned response to the mystery of Creation, including our own existence.
We will also realize that Creation makes rational sense when we accept the transcendent authority of our Creator, and honor the responsibilities inherent in our belief, hope, trust - and fidelity. And we will eventually understand the benefits and benevolence in the terms of our relationship which our Creator sets.
Person And Relationship
Faith in God means we have a two-way relationship with Him. Faith in God does not exist in a vacuum, static and snugly smug, unmoved or unmoving. It always leads to behavior, to action, to doing, to the risks of living virtuously, prudently, lovingly.
Faith also informs us that our relationship with God means we’re responsible to His authority, subject to His moral dictates … accountable to the “laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” as our Declaration of Independence states.
Our relationship affirms that we are not autonomous individuals; we are not free to follow our whims or impulsive feelings. We are not given bloated, free-floating “freedom” to do as we please. The terms of our freedom are not relative, are not determined by each individual. The terms of human freedom are universal to all.
We are tasked to live by the moral limits which come with our freedoms; limits set by God. Our thoughts, choices and actions come with responsibilities and obligations to God, to one another ... and to ourselves.
Thus, moral responsibility and mutual accountability are the cost of our freedom. Consequences attach to what we say and do, to what we think and choose. We are accountable to God and to one another according to universal standards and objective laws intended to govern our choices and actions.
These standards take the form of laws (the Commandments and their corollaries) and virtues (i.e., the Theological and Cardinal virtues of faith, hope, charity, prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance). These standards are not “cosmic accidents.” They are guideposts from God which tell us we are responsible for our choices and accountable for their outcomes.
Responsibility is, therefore, at the heart of morality.
No matter how strenuously we reject these standards, no matter how long we deny them, no matter how often we violate them or how vigorously we ignore them, these standards still exist.
Yes, we can choose how we will live, but we must accept the consequences of our choices. We are always accountable.
Life Beyond Creation
But what has all this to do with the Webb?
Years ago, the astronomer Carl Sagan said that “…an essential element in our human future lies far beyond the Earth...” The Webb will help us recognize that our human future is not millennia away in time, nor at a distant point in the far-off cosmos, a point which Webb will at last reveal.
No, our human future is here and now, this moment, ever-present within us. Why? Because what we will one day be, we are now becoming. Inevitably we become the children of our own fidelity.
Yes, we are eventually fulfilled far beyond this Earth - but it is only upon this Earth that our fulfillment is decided.
Our future is the timeless present, in the Eternal Now. To the believer, it is so … and Faith urges us to gratefully accept what will ultimately be revealed -- that we belong to God alone. As Augustine says, it is for God that we yearn, and only in God shall our hearts be ever at rest.
The Webb will enthrall and enlighten us in dramatic detail, as it reveals more of Creation’s wondrous mystery – a mystery in which, our faith tells us, we are the most fortunate of participants.