24 December 2010

Gloria in Profundis

- by G. K. Chesterton

There has fallen on earth for a token
A god too great for the sky.
He has burst out of all things and broken
The bounds of eternity:
Into time and the terminal land
He has strayed like a thief or a lover,
For the wine of the world brims over,
Its splendour is spilt on the sand.

Who is proud when the heavens are humble,
Who mounts if the mountains fall,
If the fixed stars topple and tumble
And a deluge of love drowns all –
Who rears up his head for a crown,
Who holds up his will for a warrant,
Who strives with the starry torrent,
When all that is good goes down?

For in dread of such falling and failing
The fallen angels fell
Inverted in insolence, scaling
The hanging mountain of hell:
But unmeasured of plummet and rod
Too deep for their sight to scan,
Outrushing the fall of man
Is the height of the fall of God.

Glory to God in the Lowest
The spout of the stars in spate –
Where thunderbolt thinks to be slowest
And the lightning fears to be late:
As men dive for sunken gem
Pursuing, we hunt and hound it,
The fallen star has found it
In the cavern of Bethlehem.

"The Heavenly & Earthly Trinities" by Bartolome Esteban Murillo, 1617-82

04 December 2010

Perpetual Escape, Perpetual Activity

by Edwin Faust

. . . I recalled a story I had recently read: a dark yet beautifully resonant tale by George Eliot entitled, THE LIFTED VEIL:

The principal figure – one would hesitate to call him a hero – is Latimer, the frail and sensitive second son of a wealthy banker who owns a large country estate and has in his first son, Alfred, a proper heir: robust, handsome, commanding – all that most men admire. But Alfred represents to Latimer all that fills him with despair and repugnance. He sees in Alfred the shallowness, vanity, complacency and, at times, cruelty of that attitude of mind and heart that protects one from the vulnerability of genuine love and brings instead the egoism that finds its fulfillment in worldly success. Latimer’s sensitivity, his preoccupation with natural beauty and poetry, is regarded by his father and brother as the sign of an enfeebled body and weak mind. His father has tried to reform Latimer by providing him with an education in scientific disciplines, but the experiment has failed and, in the last round of his formal instruction in Geneva, Latimer discovers, not the realm of work and solid accomplishment, but a strange ability: he is given at times a vision of scenes that will occur in his later life, and, added to this, he discovers that he can read the thoughts of others and see into their hearts. This latter capacity is not subject to his will, but thrust upon him by the proximity of another person. It becomes Latimer’s curse.

There is one exception to his powers: his brother’s fiancé, Bertha, whom Latimer loves. His brother’s untimely death delivers Bertha to him as his wife, along with the social responsibilities that should have devolved on Alfred, who would have relished them. For Latimer, however, to be in society is a torment. His irresistible reading of minds and hearts makes the grand dinners and parties he is required to attend occasions of dread. He even comes to penetrate Bertha’s inmost being and discovers there, not the hidden depths he had imagined, but a prosaic, unimaginative world of petty vanities. He becomes more reclusive, more derided by those around him as an inept husband and an eccentric.

As I thought about this story that night in the newsroom, it struck me that Latimer’s curse has become a general condition. We do not possess his power of penetration as an aberrant mental faculty, however, but rather come by it with the aid of ever more omnipresent and obtrusive media. And whereas Latimer could not escape this awareness, we pursue it.

As I write this article in the peace of my home, legions of people are rushing about madly in all the corners of the Earth, from the great capitols to the remotest villages, looking for news, looking for something to report, hoping for the sensational, the spectacular, the glorious, the grotesque, the odd and improbable – for anything that might excite the eyes and ears of their readers or listeners. The results of their relentless ferreting come to us in many ways: through newspapers and magazines and televisions and radio and the Internet and the now ubiquitous handheld devices. It is endlessly discussed and commented upon, by everyone from the media savants to the people in the checkout line at the supermarket. There is almost no escaping it, short of sealing oneself up in a cave. Latimer’s curse has become our curse, but few of us regard it with the loathing and regret that he felt for his strange power. Some even see their jobs of providing this endless stream of information as a sacred trust, and those who assiduously follow the news often think that in staying informed they are fulfilling some presumed duty incumbent upon them as citizens of the republic or men of the world.

And following the news in all its form and gradations becomes an addiction. From a cabinet meeting in Kabul to the latest Hollywood divorce, the desire to know is fed and grows and becomes insatiable. But this knowledge has little or no value. For most, it is a substitute for, indeed an escape from, true knowledge. Most knowledge these days is of this superficial kind: purely nominal.  Yet, most men are as avid for this sort of surface knowledge as they are averse to deeper meaning. Why?

27 October 2010

Emperor Karl von Habsburg: The Peacemaker

By Br. Nathan Cochran, O.S.B.
Source: http://www.emperorcharles.org/index.html

Resting in the arms of his beloved wife, his breathing labored, he prays: “My Jesus, Thy Will be done—Jesus.” With these words he takes his last breath, and gently meets his Lord and Savior. His lingering illness and suffering is over. The torment of betrayal and rejection is over.

It is shortly after noon, on Saturday, April 1, 1922. His name is Karl, a humble, mortal man facing the end of his life with dignity. To his fellow countrymen, he is . . . .  

His Majesty, Karl, Emperor of Austria and Apostolic King of Hungary

Childhood & Early Adulthood
c. 1903
On August 17, 1887, a son is born to Archduke Otto and Archduchess Maria Josefa in their family home in Persenbeug, Austria. He is named Karl Franz Josef Ludwig Hubert Georg Otto Maria. He is the couple’s firstborn, and he is greeted with joy and thanksgiving. The Imperial House of Austria rejoices in the birth of Emperor Franz Josef’s grandnephew, but the rest of the empire barely takes notice—as the newest archduke is far down the line of succession. It is not yet known that a series of tragedies and events will alter his destiny, and that of the empire.

Karl’s childhood is simple and wholesome. He is tutored and attends school at the Schottengymnasium in Vienna. He is taught the Catholic faith, and loves to practice it. He becomes known as a kind and compassionate child, who performs various chores and tasks in an effort to raise money to give to the poor and buy gifts for those around him.

As he grows, it becomes apparent that he will follow in his father’s footsteps and become a military man. At the age of 16 Karl is commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Imperial Army. He is known as an intelligent and thoughtful young man, someone who is totally loyal and dependable. He is an inspiration to his fellow soldiers and works his way up the ranks, earning various promotions. He is consciously groomed for his future role in the empire, but it is thought that he will not succeed to the throne until after his uncle and father have both reigned—perhaps thirty or forty years in the future.

04 October 2010

Of Animals & Angels

HUMAN NATURE is the only essence which shares commonality with all other beings. With the inanimate, we share physical existence; with plants, the abilities of propagation and vegetation; with animals, the capacities of appetites and emotions as well as the ability to sense and to move; and with Divine and angelic beings, the powers to think with our intellect and to act with our will.

Those lower parts of our nature, which we have in common with living creatures on earth, are directed to the natural good of man, and each has its own particular end or goal being striven after. But the higher parts of our soul, which we have in common with God and make us into His image and likeness, yield a supernatural capacity and activity.

Our reason and volition give us the abilities to participate in the life of God. If used incorrectly, the intellect will become darkened and the will weakened, and the emotions and passions will usurp the authority of the higher powers. If used correctly, however, the superior powers dominate what is beneath them, and, consequently, command the life of man to a life of virtue.

Thus, the natural life of man is ordered to the furtherance of the supernatural life of the soul, and this is also called placing our life under right reason. Only with God’s continual assistance are we able to make proper use of the intellect and will, and under His inspiration and guidance, our everyday finite actions are transformed into that which has an infinite value and merit.

So important are the intellect and will that without them, man would not be a rational being. He would be reduced to the level of animals which do not have the capacity of reasoning but act according to instinct. We implicitly understand this when a man does not think before acting and just does what he feels like. Such a man is oftentimes called an “animal” or a “beast,” for he acts in the likeness of an animal instead of the likeness of God.

Yet, by using the intellect and will wisely and according to the dictates of their Creator, a human person can be likened to the angels who continually see the face of God and perpetually do His will. Being made a little lower than the angels who do not have a body, we have the potential of being likened to them by placing the lower nature under right reason. The effect is that we then rise up above the natural level of our existence, closer to the level of the angels and apart from the level of the animals.

22 September 2010

NATURE: Old-School / New-School

. . . .Among the Sierra Nevada - Albert Bierstadt, 1868. . .
     Ever since the publication of Machiavelli’s Prince in the sixteenth century, modern society has been predicated on a technological war against nature in order to increase man’s dominion and power. Nature was no longer a lady to be wooed (as she had been for the Greeks, Romans, and medieval Christians); she was now to be raped, beaten into submission through evermore impressive technological advances that would render mankind, in Freud’s chilling words , “a prosthetic god.”

While there were some strong reactions against this new attitude, the modern hostility to the God-given only expanded as time went on, growing from a war on nature to a war on human nature. Our current preoccupations with genetic engineering, sex “changes,” and same-sex “marriage”- all of which are attempts to redefine or reconfigure the natural – are examples of this ongoing escalation.

16 September 2010

Men vs. Women: Accepting Reality

- by Dr. Anne W. Carroll
First of all, biological differences, far from being insignificant, are crucial to an understanding of men and women. Men tend to be larger than women. On average they have more muscle as a percentage of total body weight than fat, more upper body strength, and larger hearts. Women, on the other hand, are better protected against viruses and bacteria, and – during child-bearing years – less subject to heart disease and heart attack. A woman’s physical advantages help her to bear and nurture and care for her children; a man’s help him to protect and provide for his family.

There are also emotional and intellectual differences between the average man and the average woman. Men are more rule-bound, less sensitive to changes in situations, more single-minded, less narrowly focused, more persevering, more mathematical, more aggressive. Women are more sensitive to touch, odor and sound, have better fine motor coordination and finger dexterity, are more sensitive to context, are better at picking up peripheral information and reading the emotional content of faces, process information faster, can draw conclusions more quickly on the basis of less evidence (so-called “women’s intuition”), are more verbally oriented.

09 August 2010

Human Toll for "Made In China" Price

Productivity tops safety laws

Tens of thousands of Chinese workers are killed in workplace accidents each year because the communist nation relies on local authorities to enforce national safety guidelines, which companies and local governments routinely ignore for the sake of production.

"They've been very casual toward life," said Richard Cooper, an international economics professor at Harvard University, noting that Chinese workers can always be replaced. "To [the businesses], life is cheap."

For instance, 5,000 of China's 5 million coal miners are killed on the job each year, a death rate of one in 1,000 on average. By comparison, an average of nine of the 83,000 miners in the U.S. die each year, a death rate of one in 10,000.

Chinese construction sites and factories also have high numbers of fatal accidents, such as the explosion in Nanjing last week that killed at least 13 workers.

As China prepares to overtake the United States as the world's top manufacturer, the safety conditions of its 600 million-strong work force could give a short-term competitive edge over the U.S. and other developed economies.

"It's a labor cost borne by the workers," said Steven Lewis, a research fellow at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University.

Mr. Lewis noted, though, that the competitive advantage is slight, given China's low wages.

04 August 2010

4) Mohammedism: The Future

Taken from Hilaire Belloc's "The Great and Enduring Heresy of Mohammed," written in 1936

.  .Today we are accustomed to think of the Mohammedan world as something backward and stagnant, in all material affairs at least. But not so very long ago, less than a hundred years before the Declaration of Independence, the Mohammedan Government centred at Constantinople had better artillery and better army equipment of every kind than had we Christians in the West. Vienna, as we saw, was almost taken and only saved by the Christian army under the command of the King of Poland on a date that ought to be among the most famous in history – September 11th, 1683.

Young militia fighter advances with RPG.
Oruzgan District, AF.
by Jack Gruber
The Mohammedan power began to break down on the material side. The Mohammedans lost the power of competing successfully in the making of those instruments whereby is assured; armament, methods of communication and all the rest of it. Their artillery became much worse than ours. While our use of the sea vastly increased, theirs sank away till they had no first-class ships with which to fight naval battles. When that vast revolution in human affairs introduced by the invention of modern machinery began in England and spread slowly throughout Europe, the Mohammedan world proved itself quite incapable of taking advantage thereof.

To what was due this collapse? There was no moral disintegration from within, there was no intellectual breakdown. But of every dozen Mohammedans in the world today, eleven are actually or virtually subjects of an Occidental power. It would seem as though the great duel was now decided.

29 July 2010

3) Mohammedism: Strength & Conviction

Taken from Hilaire Belloc's “The Great and Enduring Heresy of Mohammed," written March 1936

Now that we have understood why Islam, the most formidable of the heresies, achieved its strength and astounding success we must try to understand why, alone of all the heresies, it has survived in full strength and even continues (after a fashion) to expand to this day. This is a point of decisive importance to the understanding not only of our subject but of the history of the world in general. To that point of its future menace I shall return in the last of these pages on Mohammedanism.

The Ottoman Siege of Vienna: September 11th, 1683
Islam grew from strength to strength acquiring more and more territory, converting more and more followers, until it had established itself as a quite separate civilization and seemed so like a new religion that most people came to forget its origin as a heresy. Islam increased not only in numbers and in the conviction of its followers but in territory and in actual political and armed power until close on the eighteenth century. Less than 100 years before the American War of Independence a Mohammedan army was threatening to overrun and destroy Christian civilization, and would have done so if the Catholic King of Poland had not destroyed that army outside Vienna on September 11th, 1683.

Since then the armed power of Mohammedanism has declined, but neither its numbers nor the conviction of its followers have appreciably declined; and as to the territory annexed by it, though it has lost places in which it ruled over subject Christian majorities, it has gained new adherents – to some extent in Asia, and largely in Africa.

22 July 2010

2) Mohammedism: East vs. West

Taken from Hilaire Belloc's “The Great and Enduring Heresy of Mohammed”

.  We now have seen what was the main cause of Islam’s extraordinarily rapid spread: a complicated and fatigued society, and one burdened with the institution of slavery; one, moreover, in which millions of peasants in Egypt, Syria and all the East, crushed with usury and heavy taxation, were offered immediate relief by the new creed, or rather, the new heresy. Its note was simplicity and therefore it was suited to the popular mind in a society where hitherto a restricted class had pursued its quarrels on theology and government.

That is the main fact which accounts for the sudden spread of Islam after its first armed victory over the armies rather than the people of the Greek-speaking Eastern Empire. But this alone would not account for two other equally striking triumphs. The first was the power the new heresy showed of absorbing the Asiatic people of the Near East, Mesopotamia and the mountain land between it and India. The second was the wealth and splendor of the Caliphate (that is, of the central Mohammedan monarchy) in the generations coming immediately after the first sweep of victory.

20 July 2010

1) Mohammedism: Nature & Origins

Taken from Hilaire Belloc's “The Great and Enduring Heresy of Mohammed”

.  Mohammedanism was a heresy: that is the essential point to grasp before going any further. It began as a heresy, not as a new religion. It was not a pagan contrast with the Church; it was not an alien enemy. It was a perversion of Christian doctrine. Its vitality and endurance soon gave it the appearance of a new religion, but those who were contemporary with its rise saw it for what it was – not a denial, but an adaptation and a misuse, of a Christian thing. It differed from most (not from all) heresies in this, that it did not arise within the bounds of the Christian Church. The chief heresiarch, Mohammed himself, was not, like most heresiarchs, a man of Catholic birth and doctrine to begin with. He sprang from pagans. But that which he taught was, in the main, Catholic doctrine oversimplified. It was the great Catholic world – on the frontiers of which he lived, whose influence was all around him and whose territories he had known by travel – which inspired his convictions. He came of, and mixed with, the degraded idolaters of the Arabian wilderness, the conquest of which had never seemed worth the Romans’ while.

He took over very few of those old pagan ideas which might have been native to him from his descent. On the contrary, he preached and insisted upon a whole group of ideas which were peculiar to the Catholic Church and distinguished it from the paganism which it had conquered in the Greek and Roman civilization. Thus the very foundation of his teaching was that prime Catholic doctrine: the unity and omnipotence of God. The attributes of God he also took over in the main from Catholic doctrine: the personal nature, the all-goodness, the timelessness, the providence of God, His creative power as the origin of all things, and His sustenance of all things by His power alone. The world of good spirits and angels and of evil spirits in rebellion against God was part of the teaching, with a chief evil spirit, such as Christendom had recognized. Mohammed preached with insistence that prime Catholic doctrine, on the human side – the immortality of the soul and its responsibility for actions in this life, coupled with the consequent doctrine of punishment and reward after death.

15 July 2010

Sources of the Koran

From the writings of Gabriel Oussani, circa 1911

The Koran contains dogma, legends, history, fiction, religion and superstition, social and family laws, prayers, threats, liturgy, fanciful descriptions of heaven, hell, the judgment day, resurrection, etc. – a combination of fact and fancy often devoid of force and originality. The most creditable portions are those in which Jewish and Christian influences are clearly discernible. . . .

The sources of the Koran can be reduced to six:

1) The Old Testament (canonical and apocryphal) and the hybrid Judaism of the late rabbinical schools. During Mohammed’s time the Jews were numerous in many parts of Arabia, especially around Medina. Familiarity with them is undoubtly responsible for many Old Testament stories alluded to in the Koran. Later Judaism and Rabbinism are equally well represented.

2) The New Testament (canonical and apocryphal) and various heretical Christian doctrines. On his journeys between Syria, Hijaz, and Yemen, Mohammed had every opportunity to come in close touch with Yemenite, Abyssinian, Ghassanide, and Syrian Christians, especially heretic. Hence, while the influence of orthodox Christianity upon the Koran has been slight, apocryphal and heretical Christian legends, on the other hand, are one of the original sources of Koranic faith.

3) Sabaism. Sabaism was a combination of Judaism, Manicheism, and old disfigured Babylonian heathenism.

4) Zoroastrianism. On account of Persia’s political influence in the north-eastern part of Arabia, it is natural to find Zoroastrian elements in the Koran

5) Hanifism. The adherents of which, called Hanifs, must have been considerable in number and influence, as it is known from contemporary Arabian sources that twelve of Mohammed’s followers were members of this sect.

6) Native ancient and contemporary Arabian heathen beliefs and practices. Wellhausen collects in his “Reste des arabischen Heidentums” (Berlin, 1897) all that is known of pre-Islamic Arabian heathen belief, traditions, customs, and superstitions, many of which are either alluded to or accepted and incorporated in the Koran. From the various sects and creeds, and Abul-Fida, the well-known historian and geographer of the twelfth century, it is clear that religious beliefs and practices of the Arabs of Mohammed’s day form one of the many sources of Islam. From this heathen source Islam derived the practices of polygamy and slavery, which Mohammed sanctioned by adopting them.

“That in the ethics of islam there is a great deal to admire and to approve, is beyond dispute; but of originality or superiority, there is none. What is really good in Mohammedan ethics is either commonplace or borrowed from some other religions, whereas what is characteristic is nearly always imperfect or wicked.”

02 July 2010

Looking For The Light

“Looking for the Light”

- by Edwin Faust

. . . In the early a.m. of what had been a sweltering day ending in a thunderstorm, I drove home with steam rising from the roads and the world enwrapped in a warm fog. As I pulled into my driveway, I saw rising from the swirling mist in the beam of my headlights a human figure. This startling wraith wobbled slightly, as though it were a new creature unused to its legs, then steadied itself by placing its hands on the hood of my car. It was a young man, very young, no more than 20, I guessed, about the age of my eldest son. He had been drinking and had stumbled into my driveway and fallen onto the pavement, where he had remained until roused by my headlights and the approach of my tires. This he confessed to my brokenly, with repeated apologies. “I’m sorry, sir. I’m so sorry,” he said, then burst into tears, his whole frame shaking uncontrollably. Instinct overcame caution and I placed my arm around his shoulders and led him to the curb where I gently lowered him into a sitting position.

“Where do you live?” I asked.

“With my dad.”

“Why don’t we call him to come get you?”

He looked up with alarm, with a sudden flash of sobriety, then shook his head violently.

“We don’t get along,” he said, and took to sobbing again.

Patient interrogation finally discovered a sympathetic cousin who lived nearby. He handed me his cell phone and I found and dialed the cousin’s number. He promised to come immediately. Meanwhile, I sat beside the unfortunate soul and asked him whether he was simply drunk or had taken any drugs.

“Just drunk,” he said. “But I do drugs. That’s why my dad doesn’t like me.”

“Maybe you should stop doing drugs,” I suggested.

“I can’t. I want to. But I can’t. I don’t want to be like this. I’m sorry.”

And with his latest apology, he hung his head and cried quietly until his cousin arrived and I eased him into the front seat.

The incident haunted my thoughts for the next few days, and when at work I would read in the police blotter reports of young men arrested for possessing drugs or being drunk and disorderly, his face would rise in my memory as it rose from the mist that night.

Within a week of this encounter came a second one much like it but in significantly different circumstances. There is a parish in my neighborhood that has maintained perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament for almost 12 years. I have been one of the regular adorers, doing a two-hour shift between 1 and 3 a.m. every Thursday. The pastor tries to arrange to have two people present around the clock, but the night hours are difficult to fill. For the past seven years, I have been alone during my vigil. Shortly before 3 a.m. on this occasion, I heard the door of the church open and thought it was my relief arrived early, but I could soon tell by the sound of the footsteps this was someone else. My relief is an old man who walks with a cane. I turned and saw a young man approaching me. He carried a plastic cup in his hand and wore a sleeveless T-shirt. His ears were pierced and his arms tattooed. I imagined, because of the cup and his appearance, that he had just left a bar and had wanted into the church. Such things happen from time to time. He walked straight toward me and then stopped, looking directly at me with a woeful and plaintive expression.

“Are you religious, sir?” he asked.

I could now discern that he had not just left a bar, for he was far too young; as it turned out, only 16; nor did he appear to be drunk.

“Yes,” I said.

“Can I talk to you?”

I explained that I had to remain in silence in front of the exposed Sacrament until my relief arrived, after which I would be free and willing to talk. I invited him to wait. He walked to the back of the church and slumped into a pew. When I heard the cane tapping its way up the aisle, I collected my spiritual reading and motioned for the boy to follow me outside. We sat on the church steps. He had the look of a lost child.

“Things not going well, are they?” I asked.

“No. I got kicked out of rehab for the second time.”


“Cocaine. Crack and marijuana.”

I ascertained that he was sober; that it was desperation that had driven him to church in the middle of the night. He had been raised Catholic, he said. In fact, he lived not a block from the church.

“How do you get along with your parents?” I asked.

“Not good. They’re separated. My mom lives in Florida and my dad and I don’t get along. He doesn’t like me much.”

“Why did you come to church tonight?”

“Cause I don’t want to be like this anymore.”

It was a phrase that resonated.

He then asked me if my prayers “come true.” I tried to explain that prayers aren’t quite like wishes made upon a star or a Christmas list sent to the North Pole; that true prayer is to ask to do what God wills, not to ask God to do what we will; but that I was certain God willed him to break his habit and that such a prayer would surely be answered.

“I try to break it, but I can’t,” he said. “I know what I should do, but I can’t do it.”

“Of course you can’t,” I said. “None of us can do much on our own. That’s why we have to pray all the time.”

We talked more. I offered him some advice and encouragement; he shook my hand, thanked me, said he would return to rehab in the morning, then wandered off into the night.

I went home but could not sleep, and so I prayed for the boy and for the other young man; and I wondered about the sum of human suffering that exists in this seemingly pleasant and prosperous little town in which I live. How many broken homes? How many unloved children? How much addiction? I also felt the anguish of impotence. What could I do to help these poor creatures whom God had sent to me? It is all I can do at times to keep myself on the straight and narrow. I could pray, of course, and perhaps that is the best recourse; and I could counsel the distressed to pray, and certainly that is their only hope. But we are all, the sober and the besotted, creatures of and epoch that demands immediate results through direct action. And that is probably why we fail so miserably to help those among us who so urgently need help, for the truly big problems are spiritual in nature and require spiritual remedies that unfold in God’s good time.

The night of my encounter in church I had been reading the Desert Fathers. Among the regrettable results of the Orthodox schism is a tendency in the West to forget the luminous writings of these saints of the early Church. The Orthodox may claim them, but the Desert Fathers lived centuries before the schism, which I am sure they would have deplored as an act of inexcusable pride and rebellion.

I have been keeping company with some of these holy men for some years now. We commune mostly in the small hours of the morning, when a brief respite is to be had from the maelstrom of modern life. I had that night been contemplating a few sayings by a fifth century Abbot, Saint Diodochos. In fact, I had been trying to understand and to connect two things: the illusion of evil and the singleness of perception.

Diadochos writes:

“Evil does not exist by nature, nor is any man naturally evil, for God made nothing that was not good. When in the desire of his heart someone conceives and gives form to what in reality has no existence, then what he desires begins to exist.”

I thought about this for some time. How can we commit evil if it has no existence? And how can we bring into existence that which does not exist by nature? As I pondered and my mind became still, I was given some light in the matter. Evil is an illusory good. For instance, we conceive the idea of getting drunk, and we begin to imagine that getting drunk will make us happy. And so we proceed to act upon our idea. And what do we then discover? Getting drunk does not make us happy. It makes us foolish and, later, sick and ashamed. So drunkenness as happiness is an evil that does not exist by nature. It has no substance, no reality. Yet, we try to bring it into reality. We try to become God, to create our own world, one shaped by our misbegotten notions of good. We set up, in the words of the great Catholic novelist Evelyn Waugh, a rival good to God’s. And to the extent that we persist in this endeavor, we become farther removed from reality and more deeply mired in illusion. If insanity is defined as an inability to recognize what is real, then every sin is an insane act. Evil, ultimately, is madness.

One thing I tried in my bumbling way to tell the boy who came to me that night in church is that what he thinks will make him happy is a lie. Happiness through drugs does not exist. The way to break the habit is to see through the illusion when it presents itself, and this, I told him, is only possible through prayer; through being constantly rooted in God’s reality. We talked about the chain of thoughts that usually preceded his drug use and how to stop that regression before it gained momentum. The Desert Fathers describe a condition called prolipsis, which is a tendency to sin fostered by long habit. We can see the way the process works, yet we are largely unable or unwilling to arrest its operation.

It’s astounding, when we consider it, how stupid we are, how easily fooled; and not just fooled once, but again and again. Take the case of a man addicted to anger, for there are all manner of addictions. God’s reality presents him with the sound notion that happiness is reached through charity grounded in humility and patience. The illusion of evil tells him that happiness resides in pride and resentment and abuse of others. Now, he will have been angry many times and experienced the pain to himself and others that his rages have caused, yet, he continues to believe that indulging his anger is desirable, is god. And, like a man who has fallen into the same ditch on the same road a thousand times, he will make the fatal step once again.

It is as though we were repeatedly mesmerized and induced to perform an absurd action.

The Desert Fathers are the master psychologists of the spiritual life and much of the writing is an attempt to help us wake up; to break the spell. We fall prey to the illusion of evil, Diadochos tells us, because our perception is not single, but divided. He writes:

"Divine knowledge, once it is awakened in us, teaches us that the perceptive faculty natural to our soul is single, but that it is split into two distinct modes of operation as a result of Adam’s disobedience."

When the Desert Fathers speak of nature, they usually mean nature as God created it in all its purity and goodness, not as fallen and deformed. Man, wounded by original sin, lives in an unnatural way. His ideal beauty, conceived by God at his creation, is marred. And each capitulation to the illusion of evil further obscures from man his real face. He looks into the mirror and sees, not himself, but an imposture, a mask fashioned by his own waywardness assisted by demonic artifice. And he takes what he sees for reality. How, he wonders, could God love this horrible creature? But the Desert Fathers tell us that what God sees when He looks at us is the perfect child He made in His image and likeness; He wishes to restore us to this primal beauty of soul; He has given us His Son for this purpose, and His Son has given His last drop of blood to wash away the impurities that hide from us our true nature.

This nature, we are told, can be rediscovered when we regain the singleness of perception that the Holy Ghost has implanted in our soul; when we begin to see everything, as the phrase has it, “sub specie aeternitatis.To see things under the aspect of eternity is to see things truly, for there is not an atom in existence that does not depend upon God for its being. The illusion of evil is only possible when our vision becomes dual and disjointed. We forget that creation has a Creator and, consequently, come to think of it as operating independently. We come to imagine that God exercises only a limited dominion; that He is to be taken into account in some circumstances and not in others, where we think ourselves free to determine our own course. Ultimately, we adopt a secular mentality in our practical affairs and relegate religion to ritual, which occupies only a very small portion of our time and does not penetrate our thoughts and actions.

But no man can serve two masters, nor maintain two competing visions of reality. Sooner or later, one becomes dominant and the other subservient to the point of insignificance. But while the tension between competing visions continues, there is hope. So long as we feel keenly the pull of opposing forces in our soul, there remains for us the possibility of resolving this tension by adopting the singleness of perception that is nothing other than the guidance of the Holy Ghost.

Those poor young men whom Our Lord placed in my path during those dark hours were engaged in a terrible combat. They were deeply wounded, ripped in two by this dual vision. “I don’t want to be this way anymore,” both of them said. Indeed, it is a cry of the heart that most of us could make.

We are all, in some way, to some extent, addicts. We have our preferred drugs: anger, vanity, lust, gluttony, etc. Our vices become almost second nature to us, so that we become less conscious of their presence and effect. It is only when we try to free ourselves from the thralldom of these unnatural influences that we become aware of how deeply they have taken hold of us. The Desert Fathers tell us that the demons attack us most furiously when we try to escape from them; otherwise, they lie quietly, complacently, so that we hardly notice them.

The drug addict or the alcoholic at least has the advantage of open combat. He sees the enemy clearly and he knows that compromise is not possible. It will be victory or death. So it is for all of us. The Desert Fathers tell us the only way to victory is by constant remembrance of God. They urge frequent repetition of the name of Jesus and the cultivation of a stillness of intellect that will allow us to see the approach of the enemy when he comes at us with some enticing image, attempting once again to hypnotize us by the suggestion of an illusory good.

This stillness of intellect requires that we spend some time sitting quietly, not chasing after every image that presents itself to us, but dissolving them with the remembrance of Jesus. With practice, with persistence, we are assured, we can come to perceive the ineffable beauty of our soul as it reflects the mind of our Maker.

This perception is what Diadochos calls spiritual knowledge. Most of us lack it or have only a very obscure and partial vision of it. Like those poor, lost children I met, we mostly wander in the dark, drugged or made drunk by our assorted illusion, seldom in any vital relation to reality. But we have, through grace, the power to sober up, to escape from the dark. Our Lord promises us: “If they eye be single, they whole body shall be full of light.” To live in the light is to see what is real, and to see what is real we must never stop praying, never stop hoping, never stop trusting in the One Who fashioned our soul in love and redeemed it in His blood.

- Edwin Faust

12 May 2010


taken from The Gift Of Fear by Gavin de Becker

Whether or not men can relate to it or believe it or accept it, women, particularly in big cities, live with a constant wariness. Their lives are literally on the line in ways men just don’t experience. Ask some man you know, “When is the last time you were concerned or afraid that another person would harm you?” Many men cannot recall an incident within years. Ask a woman the same question and most will give you a recent example or say, “Last night,” “Today,” or even “Every day.” It is understandable that the perspectives of men and women on safety are so different – men and women live in different worlds. At core, men are afraid women will laugh at them, meanwhile, at core, women are afraid men will harm them.

We want to believe that people are infinitely complex, with millions of motivations and varieties of behavior. It is not so. We want to believe that with all the possible combinations of human beings and human feelings, predicting violence is as difficult as picking the winning lottery ticket, yet it usually isn’t difficult at all. We want to believe that violence is somehow beyond our understanding, because as long as it remains a mystery, we have no duty to avoid it, explore it, or anticipate it. We need feel no responsibility for failing to read signals if there are none to read. We can tell ourselves that violence just happens without warning, and usually to others, but in service of these comfortable myths, victims suffer and criminals prosper.

The truth is that every thought is preceded by a perception, every impulse is preceded by a thought, every action is preceded by an impulse, and man is not so private a being that his behavior is unseen, his patterns undetectable.

Our intuition separates the merely unusual from the significantly unusual. It weighs the time of day, day of the week, loudness of the sound, quickness of the movement, flavor of the scent, smoothness of the surface, the entire mosaic of each moment. It discards the irrelevant and values the meaningful. It recognizes the survival signals we don’t even (consciously) know are signals.

Many experts lose the creativity and imagination of the less informed. They are so intimately familiar with known patterns that they may fail to recognize or respect the importance of the new wrinkle. Intuition heeded is far more valuable than simple knowledge. Intuition is a gift we all have, whereas retention of knowledge is a skill. Rare is the expert who combines an informed opinion with a strong respect for his own intuition and curiosity. Curiosity is, after all, the way we answer when intuition whispers, “There’s something there.”

Intuition is a process more extraordinary and ultimately more logical in the natural order than the most fantastic computer calculation. It is our most complex cognitive process and at the same time the simplest. Intuition connects us to the natural world and to our nature. Freed from the bonds of judgment, married only to perception, it carries us to predictions we will later marvel at: “Somehow I knew. . . .”

Because you know all about what it’s like to be a human being, you CAN imagine every human feeling (though some say they cannot). And it is that ability of your imagination that makes you an expert at predicting what others will do. There is no mystery of human behavior that cannot be solved inside your head or your heart. Violence and aggression occur in all cultures, the resource of violence is in everyone. All that changes is our view of the justification.

When it comes to danger, intuition is always right in at least two important ways: 1) It is always in response to something. 2) It always has your best interest at heart. Intuition is always learning, and everything it communicates to you is meaningful. Our interpretation of intuition is not always right. Clearly, not everything we predict will come to pass, but since intuition is always in response to something, rather than making a fast effort to explain it away or deny the possible hazard, we are wiser if we make an effort to identify the hazard, if it exists. If there’s no hazard, we have added a new distinction to our intuition, so that it might not sound the alarm again in the same situation.

Instead of being grateful to have a powerful internal resource, grateful for the self-care, instead of entertaining the possibility that our minds might actually be working for us and not just playing tricks on us, we rush to ridicule the impulse. We, in contrast to every other creature in nature, choose not to explore – and even to ignore – survival signals. The mental energy we use searching for the innocent explanation to everything could more constructively be applied to evaluating the environment for important information.

The strange way people evaluate risk sheds some light on why we often choose not to avoid danger. We tend to give our full attention to risks that are beyond our control (airplane crashes, nuclear disasters) while ignoring those we feel in charge of (car accidents, dying from poor diet), even though the latter are far more likely to harm us. While we knowingly volunteer for some risks, we object to those imposed on us by others. We will tolerate familiar risks over strange ones. We deny because we’re built to see what we want to see.

It is the brain which sees, not the eye. Reality is in the brain before it is experienced, or else the signals we get from the eye would make no sense. So, then, why do we worship hindsight and yet distrust foresight, which actually might make a difference in our lives? Why does America have thousands of suicide prevention centers and not one homicide prevention center? This truth underscores the value of having the pieces of the violence puzzle in our heads before we need them, for only then can we recognize survival signals.

Intuition might send any of several messengers to get your attention, and because they differ according to urgency, it is good to know the ranking. The one with the greatest urgency and should always be listened to is fear. Second to fear is apprehension. Below that is suspicion. At the fourth level are hesitation, doubt, gut feelings, hunches and curiosity. Generally speaking, the least urgent are nagging feelings, persistent thoughts, physical sensations, wonder, and anxiety.
Common PREDICTABLE Strategies:

  • FORCED TEAMING. Forced teaming is an effective way to establish premature trust because a we’re-in-the-same-boat attitude is hard to rebuff without feeling rude. Sharing a predicament will understandably move people around social boundaries. But forced teaming is not about coincidence; it is intentional and directed, and it is one of the most sophisticated manipulations. The detectable signal of forced teaming is the projection of a shared purpose or experience where none exists. It is not about partnership or coincidence – it is about establishing rapport, and that may or may not be all right, depending on why someone seeks rapport.
  • CHARM AND NICENESS. Charm is almost always a directed instrument, which, like rapport building, has motive. To charm is to compel, to control by allure or attraction. One way to charm is with the smile, which is the most important signal of intent and also the typical disguise used to mask the emotions. Niceness does not equal goodness. It is a decision, a strategy of social interaction. Like rapport building, charm, and the deceptive smile, unsolicited niceness often has a discoverable motive. People seeking to control others almost always present the image of a nice person.
  • TOO MANY DETAILS. When people are telling the truth, they don’t feel doubted, so they don’t feel the need for additional support in the form of details. When people lie, however, even if what they say sounds credible to you, it doesn’t sound credible to them, so they keep talking. The defense to ‘too many details’ is to remain consciously aware of the context in which details are offered. Context is always apparent at the start of an interaction and usually apparent at the end of one, but too many details can make us lose sight of it. The person who recognizes the strategy of Too Many Details sees the forest while simultaneously being able to see the few trees that really matter. A good exercise is to occasionally remind yourself of where you are and what your relationship is to the people around you.
  • TYPECASTING. Typecasting can be used when someone labels another in some slightly critical way, hoping the other will feel compelled to prove that his opinion is not accurate. Type casting always involves a slight insult that is easy to refute. But it is the response itself that the typecaster seeks, so the best defense is silence, acting as if the words weren’t even spoken. The typecaster doesn’t even believe what he says is true. He just believes that it will work.
  • LOAN SHARKING. At its worst, loan sharking exploits a victim’s sense of obligation and fairness. The predator generously offers counterfeit charity but is always calculating the debt in his ledger. It can usually be paid off quite easily, just a little talk will do it, but he wants much more. The defense is to bring two rarely remembered facts into consciousness: He approached me, and I didn’t ask for any help. Then, watch for other signals to determine the motive for his offering assistance.
  • THE UNSOLICITED PROMISE. The unsolicited promise is one of the most reliable signals because it is nearly always of questionable motive. Promises are not guarantees. They are the most hollow of instruments of speech, showing nothing more than the speaker’s desire to convince you of something. The reason a person promises something, the reason he needs to convince you, is that he can see that you are not convinced. You have doubt, likely because there is reason to doubt. The speaker tells you so himself!
  • DISCOUNTING THE WORD “NO.” Perhaps the most universally significant signal of all is a man’s ignoring or discounting the concept of no. Declining to hear “no” is a signal that someone is either seeking control or refusing to relinquish it. Actions are far more eloquent and credible than words, particularly a short and undervalued word like “no,” and particularly when it’s offered tentatively or without conviction. “No” is a word that must never be negotiated, it is by itself a complete sentence. When someone ignores that word, ask yourself: Why is this person seeking to control me? What does he want?

St. Michael by Guido Reni

17 April 2010


by Stephen Petersen, J.D.

. . . In order to obtain a true understanding of the Sacrifice of the Mass itself, we must grasp what is implied by Transcendence. Its root meaning involves “moving up and beyond” something. Whereas the term may be used legitimately in other fields, e.g. psychology and the fine arts, it is most frequently and precisely used in religious studies to denote that characteristic of God which requires that He willingly reveal Himself to man in order that Man might know Him. A transcendent deity is one unknowable and unreachable except insofar as he chooses to be known or reached Such a deity – and such is that God to Whom Our Lord referred to as His Father – exists in a state that cannot be accessed by human senses or reason. His nature goes beyond man’s - It transcends it.

Jesus, by nature God and Man, transcends man. There remain in Christ many mysteries and supernatural realities that are, like God Himself, inaccessible to human powers. Such questions are not of a nature to be answered by progress in science. Science (in the common, modern sense of the term) and Faith treat of distinct realms. Quantity, matter and time are earthly. They do not exist as such in the Triune God, but are, rather, sustained by His loving will for the good of creation.

At Mass, God re-creates the occasion of transcendence by appearing visibly and tangibly under the forms of bread and wine. We must cultivate our readiness to be witnesses to this transcendence. Not only is such readiness the core of that due to God from us because of the created, contingent nature of our being, but it is the foundation of social stability and happiness. As important as Eucharistic interaction with the transcendent is, we are in danger of letting it go by in favor of Esau’s portion of ordinary human comforts. Russell Kirk, paraphrasing T. S. Eliot, has stated that “no cultured person should remain indifferent to erosion of apprehension of the transcendent.” The madness and anaomie of our culture and society today has arisen from just this indifference.

The transcendent includes the human, but goes immeasurably beyond the human. Thus the opposite of the transcendent is that which is only human: our wishes and reasons that do not spring from God’s grace. Human actions are subject to explanation and even prediction by science. Biology explains our bodies, anthropology our culture, and psychology our sinfulness, and each science claims it will eventually fix what’s wrong with them. Science lacks the intention and power to explain the debt of worship owed to our Creator or the grace He has given us to render it. When we begin to minister to ourselves at Mass, we turn from being Catholics to becoming scientists.

Fortunately, the Church is beginning to see that the easy-going camaraderie of the laicized and Protestantized Mass has not led to a new springtime. Most Reverend Michael F. Burbidge, Bishop of Raleigh, for one, has newly issued general norms for the celebration of Mass in the Ordinary Form. A few of these are summarized below. Consider how each of them might encourage the faithful to keep their minds focused on the supernatural and away from the ephemeral and the self:
  •  Sacred silence observed prior to Mass
  •  Faithful encouraged to dress appropriately
  •  Vessels made of noble materials
  •  Sacred vessels purified only by a cleric
  •  Gregorian chant given pride of place
  •  Incense used during Sunday Mass
  •  Bells recommended during Mass
  •  Holding hands as the Our Father is prayed not encouraged.

13 March 2010


D. Q. McInerny, Ph.D.
Professor of Philosophy
Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary
The word “dialogue” would seem to have now become one of the favorite buzz-words of our times. We are all invited, even urged, to attach great importance to the peculiar form of human interchange to which the term refers. In fact, some would seem prepared to attribute an almost preternatural potency to dialogue. They regard dialogue as the great panacea, a quasi-magical means by which all conundrums will be wonderfully unraveled, all problems perfectly and permanently solved.

Just what are we dealing with here? The first and common meaning of “dialogue” is simply a conversation, a discussion. Given this basic understanding of the term, one could be said to dialogue, that is, to have a conversation, about any subject whatever, from the sublime to the most mundane – the Blessed Trinity, this year’s soy bean crop, college football. But we have to make an important distinction regarding this matter of dialogue – between undirected dialogue and directed dialogue.

Undirected dialogue has no finality to it; it is not, to speak more precisely, animated by a final cause. What we have here, then, is conversation or discussion which rambles on with no particular end in mind. It is not ordered toward resolving a particular issue, not aimed at reaching any definite determination regarding whatever might be the subject matter under discussion. Undirected dialogue could be aptly described as an exercise whose sole purpose, in the words of the philosopher Richard Rorty, is “to keep the conversation going,” even though, or perhaps we should say, especially because, the conversation is not going anywhere anyway.

With directed dialogue the situation is altogether different. This kind of dialogue has much in common with formal debate. What this implies is that when two people enter into serious dialogue, (a) each has a point of view to which they are deeply committed, (b) those points of view are at variance with one another, and (c) there is a good-will intention on the part of both parties to seek resolution of problematic issues. Directed dialogue, in marked contrast to undirected dialogue, is meant “to get somewhere”; it has a distinct purpose. That purpose, specifically, is, again, to resolve the issues under discussion. On a more fundamental level, the purpose of directed dialogue is to arrive at the truth. That is what it is essentially all about.

Directed dialogue would be a sham, a total waste of time, if those engaged in it were not sincerely and deeply committed to their respective points of view, if they did not see the attainment of truth as the foundational rationale behind the dialogue. If it were to happen that the parties involved in the dialogue should begin to see it as nothing more than a vehicle for reconciling differences between themselves, at the expense of truth, then the dialogue, as dialogue, becomes meaningless. Its very reason for being is undermined.

Genuine success in dialogue can mean only one thing – the attainment and/or the preservation of the truth. There are some people who are avid advocates of dialogue, who promote it incessantly and will enter into it at every possible opportunity, but who do not see its principal purpose to be the attainment of truth. For them, “dialoguing” represents a convenient means of doing no more than bringing the other side over to their side, of gaining victory, not for the truth, but for their point of view, a point of view which often enough is frankly erroneous. It is well that we are aware that there are people who have that attitude toward dialogue, in order to protect ourselves against the naïve assumption that they are acting in good faith, when in fact they are not. Entering into that kind of “dialogue” would be like stepping into a bear trap.

There is another attitude toward dialogue which is fairly prominent today and therefore deserves having special attention called to it. I refer to an attitude on the part of those people who effectively employ dialogue as a kind of escape mechanism, as a means of evading responsibility. I have in mind people who have a definite, and often official, obligation to promulgate, promote, and protect the truth, but who, for whatever variety of reasons, do not live up to that obligation. Instead of boldly and bravely standing up for the truth, in season and out of season, they are constantly “entering into dialogue,” in which activity they show themselves to be positive experts at waffling and weaseling, with the result that the truth they should be defending ends up being seriously compromised. What is happening in such cases, in terms of our distinction between undirected dialogue and directed dialogue, is that though these people are presumably engaged in directed dialogue, it is really undirected dialogue in which their energies are being expended. Their activities therefore become purposeless with respect to the basic rationale of directed dialogue. The only point of the exercise for them would seem to be to engage in amicable chatter, to talk for the sake of talking, while the truth becomes almost incidental, if not downright bothersome.

“Dialoguing” as a means of avoiding one’s responsibilities with regard t the truth is, needless to say, a serious problem, but it becomes a serious problem to the point of tragedy – and beyond – if the truth in question is the truth of our faith. If dialogue degenerates into a vehicle for compromising the truth, when the truth in question is revealed truth, then dialogue becomes something which is positively dangerous.

No one would want to deny that there is an important place in human affairs generally, and in the affairs of the Church in particular, for directed dialogue, as properly understood and ingenuously engaged in. But fruitful and effective as it sometimes can be, it is no substitute for the active, energetic, uncompromising, and unceasing preaching of the Gospel. The truth which we possess through the gift of faith is, at bottom, God’s own truth. It is “ours” only in the sense that it has been placed in our care, not simply so that we ourselves can be nourished by it, but, most importantly, so that we might carefully preserve it and pass it on, integral and whole, to others. I am not aware of any passages in the Gospels where Our Lord enjoins His disciples to engage in an activity which today we call dialoguing. But He does enjoin them, clearly and forcefully, to go forth and proclaim to all men the supreme truth which He brought to this world, the truth which gives light to confused and darkened minds, the truth which sets men free.

05 February 2010

. . . you'll be a Man my son!

by Rudyard Kipling

  If you can keep your head when all about you 
  Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;

  If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
  But make allowance for their doubting too;

  If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
  Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
  Or, being hated, don't give way to hating,
  And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;

  If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
  If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;

  If you can meet with triumph and disaster
  And treat those two imposters just the same;

  If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
  Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

  Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
  And stoop and build 'em up with wornout tools;
  If you can make one heap of all your winnings
  And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
  And lose, and start again at your beginnings
  And never breath a word about your loss;

  If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
  To serve your turn long after they are gone,
  And so hold on when there is nothing in you
  Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on";

  If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
  Or walk with kings - nor lose the common touch;

  If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
  If all men count with you, but none too much;

  If you can fill the unforgiving minute
  With sixty seconds' worth of distance run   -

  Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,

  And - which is more - you'll be a Man my son!

18 January 2010


We seem to be living in a society where more and more people are showing less and less willingness to act as grown-ups. I’m talking about adults. The human psyche is a supple thing, and one can choose to fix oneself in what is essentially an adolescent frame of mind long after chronological adolescence has been left behind, and someone in his sixth decade can choose to think and act habitually as if he were still in his third decade. All in all, this reluctance to act one’s age on the part of so many people is a very strange phenomenon, and, needless to say, not at all a healthy one.

Perhaps the most prominent characteristic of immaturity is the studied disinclination to accept, when it is altogether appropriate, even imperative, to do so, responsibility for one’s freely chosen acts. We may not deny outright that we actually did X, but we nonetheless do not want to be held accountable for the act. One ploy which has become quite popular these days is to seek refuge in the comfortable status of victimhood. There are, as the good Lord knows, many real victims in this world. But there are many artificial victims as well, self-styled victims, people who claim victimhood as an evasive tactic, a convenient way of escaping personal responsibility. Such attempts are of course completely futile. We can deny our responsibilities all we want, but if they represent real obligations which we have a solemn duty to meet, they are not going to go away.

The almost obsessive concern for rights which is so pervasive today is, I think, another sign of our immaturity. There is something remarkably puerile about being so preoccupied with what is owing to me – be it real or imagined – that I become virtually oblivious to what I owe to others, not to speak of what I owe, on a larger scale, to the common good. And now we have reached the point where, not content with what may in fact be legitimate rights, we have decided to start manufacturing entirely fictional ones, and sometimes of a peculiarly perverse kind, such as, for example, the “right” of two men to marry. A sure indication of a deeply entrenched immaturity is the inability to recognize absurdity as absurdity.

As for the causes of the immaturity that seems to be a dominant feature of our society, doubtless there are many, but a major one, in my opinion, is the decade of the 1960’s, a decade which has left a deep and severely damaging imprint on our culture. This was the decade in which irresponsible, juvenile behavior, on the part of people who were old enough to know better, was given almost universal sanction, and even held up as a norm worthy of emulation. “Don’t trust anyone over thirty!” it was then loudly proclaimed, and many of those doing the proclaiming seemed to believe that they themselves were never going to reach that age. In fact, many of them never did, in terms of ever becoming full-fledged adults in their thinking. The Sixties are now a matter of history, but the spirit of that disoriented decade lives on, vigorously, thanks to the extensive influence of the flower children of yore who now occupy prominent and powerful positions throughout our society – in the universities, in the media, in politics, and, yes, even in religion.

If wide-spread immaturity is the problem, what is the solution? Well, that’s easy enough to answer. It’s simply maturity, true maturity. And what might that be? What are the signs of a truly mature person? Again in this case, there are any number of things that could be cited, but among them three things are of central importance:

Firstly, if a systematic shirking of reponsibility is one of the salient marks of immaturity, the ability to accept responsibility, to embrace it even, is what chiefly characterizes true maturity. But here some important distinctions have to be made. One must avoid being distortingly selective in meeting one’s reponsibilities. Not all of our responsibilities are on the same level. Some are inherently more weighty than others, and therefore have a more imperative claim on us. There would be no virtue in meeting a lesser responsibility, say, dutifully paying your monthly electric bill, while habitually neglecting your wife and five children. And just as we can manufacture fictional rights, we can do the same with reponsibilities. Manufacturing fiectional responsibilbites, and then putting a lot of time and energy into meeting them, only deters us from meeting our real responsibilties, and has the effect of throwing our whole life out of kilter.

Secondly, the truly mature person has the abilbty to suffer. That might sound very odd, to make the abilty to suffer a signal mark of maturity. All of us have to suffer. It is simply part of life. We have no choice in the matter. This is true. But we do have a choice in how we are going to suffer, in the attitude we will assume toward suffering. A mature person suffers efficaciously. Someone might be able to bear up under pain, in whatever form it may take, physical or psychological, with a kind of stoic endurance, and yet be lacing in true maturity. The person who can suffer efficaciously, the truly mature person, is someone who has a lively sense of the positive aspects of suffering. The muture person penetrates to the depths of suffering, can see in it the most dynamic kind of affirmation, where others see only pure negation. In a word, the mature person grasps the whole redemptive dimension of suffering.

Thirdly, the truly mature person perseveres, never igves up, never abandons the effort to pursue virtue and to eschew vice. He never despairs of the triumph of the truth.

We can see that in the final analysis true maturity is essentially a spiritual matter. An immature person is at bottom a spiritually impoverished person, someone who, though perhaps chronologically well advanced in years, has never managed to grow up to God. The truly mature person, on the other hand, albeit pherhaps chronologically quite young, has arrived at spiritual adulthood. St Thérèse, one recalls, was, even as a girl, astonishingly mature.

D. Q. McInerny, Ph.D.
Professor of Philosophy
Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary

03 January 2010

Free Will & God's Will

D. Q. McInerny, Ph.D.
Professor of Philosophy
Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary

It is an act of the will to deny free will, and those who insist upon doing so deserve to accept the fact that the earth is a sphere. As Catholics, we of course take free will for granted, as well we should, for it was granted to us as a free gift. Besides, it would not contribute much to good mental or spiritual health to deny the obvious. There is no questioning the sheer factualness of free will, but that does not mean that serious questions concerning the nature of free will cannot be raised, as well as questions about how free will is to be properly understood with respect to our relation with the omniscient and all-powerful God.

On question which is often raised regarding the matter of free will is this: How is it reconciled with God’s foreknowledge? Let us begin by stating the problem clearly. God, both faith and reason tell us, is omniscient. He knows every aspect of our lives, down to the tiniest detail. Furthermore, He knows what St. Thomas calls future contingencies. What this means, in plain terms, is that God knows exactly what you will freely choose to do tomorrow afternoon, or next Tuesday morning. But does not God’s foreknowledge then determine what you will do tomorrow afternoon or next Tuesday morning, so that you will not be acting freely after all? The basic idea is this: because God knows what you will do in the future, what you will do has already been settled, and though you may think you are acting freely, you really are not. God’s knowledge has programed you, so to speak, to act in a certain way, and you are destined to act in precisely that way no matter what.

Is that an accurate account of what actually happens? No, it is not. God’s foreknowledge of our free acts in no way impedes, much less cancels out, the freedom with which we perform those acts. By way of offering an imperfect but nonetheless helpful explanation for this, I invite you to consider how it is the case, even on a purely human level, that foreknowledge does not determine free acts.

Is it not true that sometimes we can be pretty sure, perhaps almost positively sure, how certain people, people whom we know very well, are going to act in certain situations? Given the person, given the situation, we can confidently predect what is going to happen. Take the case of my cousin Cassandra. If you bring up subjet X with Cassandra, I can guarantee that she is going to respond in Y way. I’m willing to bet on it. Cassandra will be here in five minutes or so. I ask you, when she arrives, to bring up subject X with her. Cassandra arrives. You bring up subject X, and, sure enough, she responds just in the Y way I said she would. Now, here’s the point: Did Cassandra act freely when she responded in the Y way to subject X? Yes, she did. Did the fact that I knew beforehand how she was going to respond make her act a bit less free? No, it did not. That explanation is far from perfect, for there is no comparison between God’s foreknowledge and our own, for His knowledge is infinite and absolutely infallible. I can be wrong about what Cassandra will do in certain circumstances, in fact, in most circumstances; God is never wrong about what we will do in any circumstances.

A footnote to the above. We speak of God’s “foreknowlege,” but that is actually a misnomer, a concession to our limited, time-bound intellects. The term suggests that God looks into the future, but there is no future for God, nor any past. He lives in an eternal Now, and He sees what is for us past or future by a vision which is forever of the Present.

Another question regarding free will has to do with how it is to be reconciled with the fact that everything, literally everything, we do is ultimately explained by the sustaining and enabling power of God’s will. It is fitting that we recall here Our Lord’s arresting words: “Without me you can do nothing.” We are incapable, without the enabling power of God, of performing any act at all, even a sinful act. (And that, by the way, is what makes sin so supreme an insult to the Divine Majesty.) But does not that then mean that it is God who is doing everything, and that we are not really free agents? Is it not He who acts, not us?

In times past there have been certain well-meaning but misguided philosopher and theologians who argued that God is in fact the direct, one and only cause of everything that happens in the universe. What this erroneous line of thinking does is remove the critical distinction between primary and secondary causation. God is indeed the First Cause, the ultimate explanation, of everything that is, and everything that happens. But in His divine wisdom He has created a whole array of secondary causes, causes which, though they act in subordination to and in absolute dependence upon His primary causality, are nonetheless real causes, acting with the kind and the degree of autonomy He has given to them. You and I, as free agents, are secondary causes. Albeit not without the enabling power of God, we are the true efficient causes of any number of things that happen in our lives, a fact which none of us have any doubts about. Because we are truly free agents, we are responsible for what we bring about through our free agency. But think how it would be if what the above-mentioned philosophers and theologians taught was true. If God were, as they say, in fact the one and only cause of everything, that would mean that He is also the cause of sin, and that, of course, is blasphemy. “In no way,” proclaims St. Thomas, “is God the cause of sin.”

But back to our question: If we are incapable of doing anything without God’s enabling power, how can we be said to be truly free agents? As is the case with God’s omniscience, in this case too there is no incompatibility between God’s omnipotence and our free will. Here is the key to the issue. God enables us to act precisely as creatures who are possessed of free will, just as He enables all of the non-free agents in the universe to act according to their proper natures, in strict obedience to the laws He has established for them. God’s power is the explanation for the action of non-free agents, as non-free agents; and His power is the explanation for the actions of free agents, as free agents. The fact that we can do nothing without God does not cancel out our freedom; it in fact makes it possible, for what He enables us to do is to act as free agents. God wills that we should act just as the creatures He created us to be, that is, as intellectual beings who are themselves the originating sources of the choices they make.

It is God’s power that explains the necessity behind the apple falling from the tree to the ground. It is God’s power that explains the freedom of the man beneath the tree who bends down and picks up the apple. “Without me you can do nothing.” Yes, but what we do, as rational creatures, we do freely.