Monday, October 14, 2013

A Dialogue Concerning the Good

'L' is our learner.  'C' is our catechist.  I'm still seeking the best "names" for these characters.

L: Since God has created all things 'good' and 'very good' (Gen. 1), why does our Lord Christ command us to "renounce all things" (Lk. 14:33) to become His disciple?

C: Ah, a difficult teaching of our Lord, yes?  First, answer me this: who shall inherit the earth?

L: The meek (Mt. 5:5).

C: And who are the meek?

L: Well, the word means the 'humble.'  But, forgive me, I don't know what this has to do with my question.

C: Patience, patience.  To be meek, surely, is to be humble.  But to be humble, in this case, is to be like Christ, as all the beatitudes speak of Him, the Blessed One (Mt. 21:9).  What do we know about the humility of Christ?

L: The Apostle Paul speaks of it in Philippians 2:5-8 -- "Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross!"

C: And did He inherit the earth?

L: Certainly!  The Apostle continues to speak of His exaltation, which is an echo of our Lord's own words, "All authority in heaven and on earth have been given to me" (Matt. 28:18).

C: What is our relationship to His humility?

L: We are to make ourselves humble, as His command states.  So, are you suggesting that by being meek, we are to renounce all good things that we might have access, through our Lord Christ, to the Greatest Good, the Father?

C: You are exactly right.  There is, undoubtedly, a hierarchy of the 'goods' that comprise this world.  Some goods we seek after in certain contexts, some are external, some are internal, etc.  All are good, since they are created as such by God.  However, that means that they retain their goodness only in the proper creational context, which has been distorted by the entrance of sin and death in the world.  'Goods' are still good, but only when they are redeemed through the death of Christ; otherwise they can quickly become 'goods' that lead us away from the Good One.  Here is the paradox at the heart of our faith: if we choose these lesser goods as ultimate or satisfactory, we lose all goods.  Instead, we must forsake all earthly goods for the Eternal Good, through which we inherit all good things.  In uniting to His humility, His death -- which we must die every day -- He unites us to His exaltation, His powerfully proclaimed sonship, and His inheritance.

Friday, October 04, 2013

On the end of American Christendom

It is always interesting to me when big partisan political events happen here in America.  Not because of the political implications (which are, regardless, important), but the reactions of Christians.  The same people (and I'm not excluding myself) who a week before say, "God is love.  No sinner is outside of His grace, etc." will now say, "Obama/Republicans/Democrats/etc. are evil/idiotic/unworthy of political office, etc.".  There is a disconnect between our fake Jesus talk and what we really believe: God loves those who we think He should.  Anyone who battles against our own emotivist sub-worlds is obviously wrong.  We forget the complexities of these interminable debates, opting for simplistic rationales that vaunt our own supposed wisdom; we forget that these men and women (conservative or liberal) are just in as much of grace as we are, rather, according to St. Paul, we need more grace than they: "The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost" (1 Tim. 1:15).  Lest we think that Paul is just talking about himself, the whole phrase has been used since the beginning as a liturgical phrase spoken by each individual before they received the Eucharist.

What is our response to the political hubbub of the day to be?  St. Paul also instructs us in this, in a myriad of places:

"Remind them [Christians] to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work [like, I don't know, tending the health of the poor, the widow, the orphan, the leper, the lame, the blind...whatever Obamacare may or may not be, it is surely a sign that the Church has abjected failed in her mission -- I'm not speaking of it merely as an "institution" here either: we have all failed and will have to answer for it, as Matthew 25 so starkly tells us], to speak evil of no one, to be gentle, to show perfect courtesy toward all people..." (Titus 3:1-2)


"First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.  This is good and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desire all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth..." (1 Tim. 2:1-4)

And so on.

What to do, then?  First of all, pray.  If you don't pray for your public leaders in your weekly public assembly, ask your pastor/elders/priests to do so.  If you already have these prayers in your liturgy, don't just breeze through them.  I love liturgical worship -- it gives me a grammar that I inherently lack: but I've been to enough of them where the prayers are intoned with no conviction.  When we are praying, we are invoking the name of God, Father, Son, and Spirit.  To pray flippantly is to "bear the Name in vain" as spoken of in the Ten Commandments.

Secondly, if you want change, you must first purify yourself.  What do you receive from the government?  Start providing it for yourself and your neighbors.  Is the health care regulation a concern to you?  Then start living a healthy, ascetic life.  Help your neighbors out of the slavery of too much food, too little food, eating disorders, junk food, loneliness, alienation from family, and so on.  If we were a healthier nation, by which I mean a neighborly nation, we wouldn't need federal health care -- these things would be taken care of at the lower levels of society.  But we don't know our neighbors, we don't pray for them, and so we die, poor, alone, and lost.

Is this a cure all?  No.  But it will go a long way and do a lot more good than complaining about the inherent problems of democracy.  Remember, God called you to love Him and your neighbor; He didn't call you to be a Republican, a Democrat, or an autonomous individualist.  The Enlightenment style of society we've inherited isn't the Gospel.  The love of Jesus Christ that calls us to put ourselves to death for the life of our neighbors, however, is.

To My Wife (poem)

To My Wife

How shall I begin?
It is easy to speak about
    some phantastical delight
    of a nightingale, or the sun
    on dew-drenched grass.
Much harder to call to the pen
    the familiar.  For what is marriage
    but the essence of the mundane?
The work of a myriad myriads of
    generations: the feeding,
    the sheltering, the nurturing
    and the cajoling.
The tender affection and private
    play, mixed but unadulterated
    with the senseless infliction
    of pain, too keenly sensed.

I read the other day, a news report
    of mens' despondency when
    their wives make money.
How easy to forget it is no longer
    my work or your reward
    my pride or your comfort.
On that day, I ceased to be
    and you left all old realities
    becoming, til time's end, we.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

The Resting Place (poem)

And what does it mean to know
that all our heroes and our gods will fail us?
When sharing bread has become no more than a meal;
and who we are is solisp ideal?

I look at my child newly born
Sleeping in my resting arm.
I have brought her into this terror world
I do not know whether to feel guilt or fear;
but feel I must.

And when she rests me in my tomb
--for dust am I and to dust must I return--
and looks on me no more, it will not be
guilt and fear that stay,
nor will they follow me. But pain.

Here is where I'm tempted to despair:
Pain borne alone is only death.
It is in commune that we not merely live--
This necessity finds its home there.
And in this place can grief and sorrow exhausted lay
while sweet maternal lullabies stir the air.