It’s said that the three marks of the divine–that which is transcendent–is beauty, goodness, and truth. That which is beautiful, good, or truthful points towards God. This is why Catholic churches have traditionally been built with rich artwork and soaring architecture.
Modern society is at battle with these marks of transcendence. Not only is popular culture seeking to make goodness and truth relative, it also seeks to destroy beauty in favor of efficiency. We see examples of this with the literal destruction of beauty in Catholic churches across the country: high altars ripped down, intricate altar rails thrown away, detailed stained glass imagery replaced by abstract colors, beautiful vestments replaced by schlocky polyester sheets, and many more examples. Secular life has many examples too; most modern buildings favor high-efficiency materials to produce cookie-cutter strip malls dotting our roads, deep and meaningful music, artwork, and literature exists but seems to be harder and harder to find. Gone are the days when someone who cherished authentic beauty in society is to be regarded civilized.
The soul’s longing for beauty may be hard to easily satisfy in today’s world but those who seek to live a counter-cultural, authentic, better and joyful life need to try. One must ask of everything surrounding their life, “does this reflect goodness, truth, or beauty”? It’s not the most efficient way of living, but it does produce better results. This point is reflected over and over by Rod Dreher in his book Crunchy Cons, “beauty is more important than efficiency”:
Appreciation of aesthetic quality–that is, beauty–is not a luxury, but key to the good life
In my now-heightened awareness of the lack of beauty plaguing both our churches and culture, I found the recent article by Paul Krause particularly edifying. He more eloquently states the same point while citing ancient thinkers such as Cicero and Platinus and their impact on classic Christian philosophy. These notions were once obvious to Christians. This unfortunately is no longer.
What’s hopeful, however, is the recent “re-renovations” of previously destroyed churches, the formation of architectural firms specializing in traditional beauty, and priests interested in offering reverent Masses (especially the TLM).
There are many serious problems facing moderns, but one of the most troubling—and worrying—is the loss and degradation of beauty, not just in the arts, but in society as a whole. Classical Greek philosophy, to which Catholic philosophy largely inherited and preserved, maintained that beauty and morality were intertwined with one another. When Christianity began to spread, the Christian encounter with Greek philosophy was largely positive. However, over the last two centuries, the widening chasm between aesthetics and virtue, and the postmodern assertion that aesthetics is oppressive (and therefore needing deconstruction), has brought immeasurable harm to culture and society.
Culture means life. And for life to be truly flourishing in a teleological sense, Greek, Roman, traditional Jewish and Christian philosophy, always affirmed beauty as an integral aspect of the good life. In his masterpiece, Enneads, Plotinus opened his most famous section—on beauty—by writing, “Beauty addresses itself chiefly to sight; but there is a beauty for the hearing too, as in certain combinations of words and in all kinds of music, for melodies and cadences are beautiful; and minds that lift themselves above the realm of sense to a higher order are aware of beauty in the conduct of life, in actions, in character, in the pursuits of the intellect; and there is the beauty of the virtues. What loftier beauty there may be, yet, our argument will bring to light.”
[Plotinus stated] “Then again, all the virtues are a beauty of the soul, a beauty authentic beyond any of these others.”… As Plotinus explains, the ugly lacks a proper cultivation of reason, torn by lust and discord, lashes out and destroys beauty in the process—which also destroys harmony. It is interesting to note that Plotinus associated the ugly soul with the person preoccupied with only material things.
Catholics, best of all, understand the importance of the union of aesthetics with arête. Beauty, itself, demands a value judgement. There is nothing harsh or unfair with proclaiming this truth. That which is beautiful is good, and that which is ugly, as Plotinus recognized, is neither beautiful nor good. There are natural gradations of beauty. As Augustine explained, the gradations of beauty lift one up closer to Heaven and the Supreme Beauty that is God. This follows the insights of both Plato and Plotinus who recognized that the experience of even low beauty awakens an innate desire for greater beauty that drives one to greater excellence in search for beauty.
Cicero equally noted that people in their folly, are prone to destroy things beautiful and admirable. Nihilism is the end result of anti-intellectualism and relativism, not just the mere absence of values but the abject negation—destruction—of beauty and values.
The quote above is great. Relativism of beauty, truth, and goodness has an end result of not just the simple absence of each mark but a destruction of each. What did we see bishops and priests do in the 70’s? They didn’t just simply start making ugly new churches, they quite literally destroyed the beauty of old churches. The “art” that replaced traditional sacred art in many suburban parishes are kitschy felt banners and horrendously cheesy guitar music. Gross.
It is the inheritance of the classical marriage of aesthetics and moral excellence that had historically been a cornerstone of not just Catholic philosophy, but Western philosophy more generally—inspiring all aspects of culture: art, music, engineering, and literature, to reflect the highest excellence demanded of beauty itself. And in that beauty there exists an irresistible draw for the virtuous to defend all that is beautiful. The compulsion to defend the beautiful, itself, reflects the moral excellence of the person.
…in Confessions, Augustine stated that reading Virgil and Cicero had brought him to belief in God. Beauty is the brilliance of truth, and as Augustine said, “All truth belongs to God.” And we know where that road ultimately ends.
We all should start discerning what is beautiful in our homes and lives. Then we should slowly start surrounding our minds, bodies, and souls not only with what is truthful and good but also is beautiful. ☩
“A judge who likes every outcome he reaches is very likely a bad judge.”
During the presidential election, many conservatives who were unsettled by the prospect of Donald Trump becoming president felt the only way they could justify voting for the brash billionaire was to “save the court” by filling the empty Supreme Court seat left open by the passing of Antonin Scalia. Mr. Trump promised to nominate a justice that would be “in the mold” of the late intelligent and Catholic constitutionalist–someone who would interpret the constitution as it was originally intended without the filter of recent events or modernism.
Last night President Trump announced he would be picking 10th Circuit judge Neil Gorsuch. Gorsuch, if confirmed, would be yet another win for the Culture of Life™ in Washington DC and would also be a win for constitutionalism. Gorsuch, a Christian, while not writing expressly on abortion, has written extensively on his positions on issues relating to euthanasia and has defended Little Sisters of the Poor and Hobby Lobby against the Obamacare mandates that they pay for contraception and abortifacients.
Gorsuch, who wrote a full book on assisted suicide and euthanasia that, while fairly recapping both sides, came down decisively against legalizing the practice. In the book, Gorsuch offers a detailed critique of Peter Singer’s influential utilitarian argument for allowing euthanasia and of a similar one from fellow Circuit Court Judge Richard Posner, as well as critiques of autonomy-based arguments from philosophers like Ronald Dworkin.
Gorsuch argues for the position that “human life is fundamentally and inherently valuable, and that the intentional taking of human life by private persons is always wrong.” He insists this is a secular principle that one need not be religious to embrace. It’s not hard to infer what this implies for Gorsuch’s attitudes on abortion, despite his never stating clearly his views on Roe v. Wade and the like in the book.
Gorsuch’s thoughtful approach on the issue of assisted suicide is extremely important in a time when more states are pushing to allow doctors to aide their patients in killing themselves. It’s a terrifying time when a government starts rationalizing the killing of citizens in the name of mercy and this helps block the efforts of the pro-death culture that has, until now, been prevailing in DC. Continuing from the Vox article:
Gorsuch takes a very broad view of religious freedom, and in two separate cases (one of which was the famous Hobby Lobby case) backed religious challenges to the Affordable Care Act. “No one before us disputes that the mandate compels Hobby Lobby and Mardel to underwrite payments for drugs or devices that can have the effect of destroying a fertilized human egg,” he wrote in a concurrence. “No one disputes that the Greens’ religion teaches them that the use of such drugs or devices is gravely wrong.” Under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Gorsuch argued, the government must give broad deference to religious groups’ explanations of what their beliefs entail, even if those explanations seem inconsistent or unscientific.
Given how controversial Hobby Lobby remains among reproductive rights activists, expect Democratic senators to raise that issue repeatedly during Gorsuch’s confirmation hearings. In fairness to Gorsuch, he also ruled in favor of a Native American prisoner in another religious liberty case, indicating his views on this aren’t limited to Christians.
In a trioofcases, Gorsuch has argued for the constitutionality of religious expression in public spaces, including in cases where only one religious tradition is represented (as in the display of a donated Ten Commandments monument). He has argued against the “reasonable observer” test for determining if religious displays are unconstitutional, writing that the test too often results in the rejection of religious displays that were not intended to signal that the government is endorsing one religion or another.
Beyond the Culture of Life™ issues faithful Catholics will be happy to hear about, Gorsuch also would serve as an anchor of objectivity on the bench. The Constitution is the most keen analogy America has to objective Natural Law and it is important that the Constitution remains an immovable buoy regardless of the passing fads and fashions of our generation. As the Roman Catholic Church anchors the world by interpreting unchanging Natural Law, the United States Supreme Court should anchor our country by properly interpreting the unchanging constitution. Whether it be Christ’s Church or a country, nothing can stand if built on always-shifting sands of relativism. As such, this is why Christianity is built upon its “rock”, Peter, and America is built upon its rock, the constitution. This is the way it seems Neil Gorsuch views the Constitution. He, too, is like Scalia in this regard and the Vox article goes on to discuss this:
…what sets Gorsuch apart from other Supreme Court hopefuls is the high intellectual esteem in which he’s held by fellow judges and legal academics. That raises hopes among conservatives that whatever his jurisprudential overlap with Scalia, he would bring the same literary flair and intellectual firepower to the Court that Scalia’s admirers believe he did. And for liberals, that will likely provoke fears that he could wield similar influence to Scalia on the right bloc of the Court, and on conservatives in lower courts.
Beyond its personal encomia devoted to Scalia, [Gorsuch has a] fundamental approach to interpreting law and the Constitution, which is very similar to the late justice’s. Both are textualists, concerned primarily in the literal text of laws and less in their legislative history or social context of passage.
There’s also an argument that Gorsuch may have some influence with Justice Kennedy who sometimes sides with the progressive side of the bench:
…he would be the first justice ever to serve alongside a justice for whom he clerked, namely Anthony Kennedy. That gives conservatives some hope that Gorsuch will be able to sway Kennedy on crucial cases, solidifying the conservative bloc and ensuring a 5-4 conservative majority on key issues.
In normal times, Gorsuch should be a safe pick for confirmation as he was easily confirmed after President George W. Bush appointed him to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals by both Republicans and Democrats. However, we don’t live in normal times anymore and Democrats vow to battle and block anyone Trump nominates.
Also worth noting is that he is a Colorado native, a man of the ‘flyover states’ unlike the rest of the bench (even though he was educated at Columbia and Harvard). At 49, Neil could also be on the bench for over thirty years which terrifies the left who wishes the court to be as progressive as possible. Gorsuch will need many prayers to get past the inevitable confirmation battle and to, hopefully, get 60 votes (which would be ideal).
Saint Thomas More, pray for Gorsuch and America’s courts. ☩
In the recent political era, we have seen the normalization of Catholic politicians (typically Democrat) embrace policies that violently crash against the stubborn, rocky shores of Natural Law as proclaimed by the Church they are part of. It seems especially common since the self-proclaimed Catholic John Kerry ran for president in 2004. This led to Cardinal Burke (then the archbishop of St. Louis) issuing a public statement forbidding the pro-abortion senator from receiving Communion while in the area. Quick examples of politicians who claim to be faithful Catholics while at the same time pushing for legislation contrary the faith they are quick to remind people about might be Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden, Martin O’Malley…and Tim Kaine.
Tim Kaine is the current senator and former governor of Virginia. He’s also Hillary Clinton’s newly minted running mate. As the Internet flooded with articles about Senator Kaine following the breaking news, one is worth commenting on here–not only because of the content but also the source. The National Schismatic Catholic Reporter rushed out an article about the junior senator called 5 faith facts about Dem. VP pick Tim Kaine, a Jesuit-educated Catholic. It’s fun to read how he reconciles his actions with his faith…equally funny is it that NCR seemingly gobbles it up and would even write a piece attempting to tout his “faith”. Here’s the TSP Cliffs Notes:
1. He was taught by Jesuits.
Kaine was raised Catholic in Missouri. His parents were so devout, Kaine told C-SPAN, that “if we got back from a vacation on a Sunday night at 7:30 p.m., they would know the one church in Kansas City that had an 8 p.m. Mass that we can make.”
So is the leadoff point supposed to prove he’s Catholic or is it attempting to foreshadow the incredibly twisted view of Catholicism the article soon reveals. I also love how a supposedly Catholic writer describes people who go to a Sunday obligation Mass at a slightly inconvenient time as being “so devout“. Shall we start his parents’ canonization process, or… (forgive the snark).
2. Kaine says he separates the personal from the political.
This has become a popular mantra among America’s liberal politicians as it’s becoming increasingly difficult to be elected as a democrat that actually lives and advocates policy that is in line with classic Christian philosophy.
Kaine is personally against abortion and the death penalty and has sometimes spoken against same-sex marriage and gay adoption, all of which aligns with Catholic teaching. But he has taken different stances in his political life. He has upheld Roe v. Wade and told Chuck Todd of “Meet the Press”: “I have taken the position, which is quite common among Catholics — I have got a personal feeling about abortion, but the right rule for government is to let women make their own decisions.”
This argument is so hilarious if properly understood–obviously he does not see the unborn baby as an innocent third party, otherwise it would be like saying “well, I’m personally against homicide, but I think the government should leave it to the person to decide. Or I’m personally against child trafficking, but the government should stay out of peoples’ lives.
As Virginia’s governor, he oversaw 11 state executions. “I have a moral position against the death penalty,” he said in 2012. “But I took an oath of office to uphold it. Following an oath of office is also a moral obligation.”
This is lame. A Catholic opposed to the death penalty in his position could have pushed to change the law or even pardon death row inmates as Gov. Ryan of Illinois did in 2003. He doesn’t care about this. If you care about something you do something.
3. He favors allowing women to become priests.
Well of course. Maybe he should just be a Methodist like Hillary.
4. Kaine is a fan of Pope Francis’ “Laudato Si’.”
Not all Catholics thought the pontiff should write an encyclical on a secular issue such as global warming, but Kaine agrees with Francis’ framing of the issue as one of faith.
Too bad he keeps the personal separate from political though, right?
5. Kaine speaks openly about his faith.
In a recent C-SPAN interview he said: “I do what I do for spiritual reasons. I’m always thinking about the momentary reality but also how it connects with bigger matters of what’s important in life.”
Um, what exactly does he do for spiritual reasons?
Despite the cynicism and humor of this post, we must remember that the senator, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Mike Pence, and our country still need our prayers flooding heaven.
Ecumenicism: the promotion of cooperation and understanding among different Christian denominations
Ecumenicism has been a focus of the Church since Vatican II. The Catholic Church obviously needs to engage in a certain dialog and understanding with our protestant brothers and sisters, it does no good ignoring that protestant denominations exist. However, the original intent of ecumenicism was to reach out to other Christians to help bring them into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. The purpose was never to just get along with other Christian denominations, as if we are all the same only with different flavors depending on what floats an individual’s proverbial boat. However, as many bishops and priests continue to loosely interpret [“the spirit of”] Vatican II, the faithful are hearing a very confusing message. It’s a message I heard very clearly at Mass last Sunday.
On a typical Sunday we make a half-hour jaunt to a parish that takes liturgy, the Eucharist, Tradition, beauty, and spiritual nourishment seriously. But last Sunday my family attended the nearby parish because of our schedule. It’s a parish that is well-meaning but all too often offers a Mass that is watered-down and human-centered…all while in a round, carpeted rec-room. Let’s just say that I’ve seen them show videos during the homily, cheering sometimes breaks out following the closing hymn, and distributing Communion to the ‘Eucharistic ministers’ on the altar takes nearly as long as it takes to distribute to the rest of the congregation (literally). Of course, this would all be nonconstructive criticism if their pews were overflowing with young adults and large families with children, but they’re not. The congregation is aging…fast. The people that should be filling the pews into the future like me are taking the time to drive downtown to other parishes for Mass and other authentically Catholic events like Cor Jesu.
On this particular Sunday, the pastor attempted to tie in the Gospel reading about the Church being the body of Christ, made up of different parts, to all Christian denominations being the different parts of Christ/His Church. Interesting theory. But actually, when we reference the “Church”, we mean the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church (CCC 813-835). Saint Paul wasn’t saying all Christian denominations (which didn’t exist back then) are different parts to His body that we call the Church. The thought of that is absolutely preposterous, wrong, and destructive. I thought to myself, so are people sitting here to believe the implication of this homily or the Nicene Creed that we recite immediately following it. Think of the confusion.
And the story isn’t finished. Also during the homily we were reminded that later that day there would be an opportunity to meet with three bishops. That sounds pretty cool, right? It would be Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki–so far so good–and then an Evangelical Lutheran ‘bishop’ and an Episcopal ‘bishop’. What!? Again, there’s nothing wrong with communicating with members and leaders of protestant denominations but to have a forum in a Catholic parish where all are presented as being on the same level from co-equal Christian backgrounds is outrageous (to give full benefit of the doubt, I was not at the actual event). Even in the bulletin after Mass, we saw the list of ‘bishops’ with the logos of the various denominations next to the papal keys–as if Roman Catholics are just one of many, as if we forgot the meaning of Saint Peter’s keys.
Do clergy understand the effects of this? What this does is confuse the parishioners who rely exclusively on their pastor for spiritual direction (which is the majority). “What? I thought you needed to be Catholic to be a bishop. I guess not. Isn’t there a difference?”, they ponder. Priests are telling their own congregation that we are no different from any other denomination–talk about shooting yourself in the foot. They are not explaining the difference between the Mass and some other “worship service”. When people feel like what they are doing is not unique, useful, or different from anything else, they rightly assume there is no reason to take time out of their weekend or money out of their pockets for it. Watering down the sacrifice of the Mass and integrity of the Roman Catholic Church doesn’t invite more people to come into the fold, it just turns off current Catholics who are wavering in their faith. Ecumenicism-at-all-costs leads many to think, “well, if all Christian denominations are pretty much the same and people can decide what’s right depending on what suits them best, doesn’t that make Christians hypocrites? What’s the point of Christianity if people just decide to associate with a denomination that suits their lifestyle best.”
Anyway, parishes that are afraid to proclaim the four pillars of the Faith will continue losing parishioners and money. And the parishes and dioceses that proudly proclaim what it means to be one, holy, catholic, and apostolic will continue thriving, growing and making a true difference in the world. Luckily, help is on the way with the current crop of excellent priests. We are on the upswing.
I must admit that I am fed up with the level of human brokenness we as a society seem to be okay with. I am saddened by the the levels we are willing to sink to rationalize, justify, and sometimes celebrate the brokenness and despair around us. Oh, and before anyone reading this smugly nods in agreement at those first two sentences, know that no one is perfectly innocent from adding to or enabling the damage of souls around us. Sin causes brokenness. Brokenness causes despair. Satan rejoices in the despair of humanity. He rejoices in us being divided against one another and even against our own selves. We can fight this and we must fight this before more people are harmed. Brokenness can be a variety of issues and it can be self-inflicted or inflicted by others. It can be as extreme as a person feeling constant shame from emotional, physical, or sexual abuse they endured as a child but can also be less obvious like the person who feels loneliness after a series of failed relationships. Modern society’s brokenness is commonly put on display (and sometimes embraced) in torn families, poverty, anxiety, the “hookup culture”, feelings of unwelcomeness in the Church, war, poverty, and the entire narrative of moral relativism equaling true tolerance and love. Brokenness is the damage done to our spirit and, in turn, society by the unrepentant and unchecked sins of ourselves or others. It often results in a greater desire to sin by blinding us to the weight of our own vices. Someone that grows up in a broken inner city is likely to repeat the behavior that made their neighborhoods broken. Someone who is overcome with a culture telling them babies are disposable is more likely to accept abortion as an option. Someone who sees people around them taking marriage casually is more likely to break their own vows. Someone broken by selfishness of those around him will likely commit their own sins out of selfishness. Sin breaks us and unless we fix what’s broken we will continue blindly plunging society deeper into problems. It’s no secret that Original Sin is what created the broken state of affairs we now live with. Our hardwired temptation to delegate the criteria for what is right and wrong to ourselves is what Original Sin has done to us (aka moral relativism). We all do in either small or large ways; some rationalize gossiping around the water cooler while some are able to rationalize something like stealing money. It all depends on how hardened your heart has become to despair.
I beg you to become fed up with the current state of affairs. You might think you have no brokenness in your life but we all do. Yours might be more manageable than someone else’s and yours might not have led to symptoms yet (at least for yourself), but it’s there. Try to think about where it exists in your life or in the life of someone you love. Isolate what is broken and think about who and what it’s harming around you. Sometimes you cannot repair it on your own because often there’s other people involved but you can at least do things that help avoid the despair that might infect you or your loved ones.
What can we do?
To start, we need to ignore modern relativism and stop being afraid to talk about sin. Many people think the notion of “sin” is antiquated and irrelevant in today’s ‘enlightened’ society. Unfortunately many Bible-thumping Evangelists have caused people to shudder at the mention of sin (or, SIIIIINNNNNNN! as they would say). This trans-denominational group of protestants have really done a number on Christianity in America because they are always making extravagant proclamations which are often misguided or wrong. The news cameras like to focus on them because it makes for better TV so that’s the image of Christianity many are left with. So it’s important to properly understand what sin really is before we can be more open to talking about it and understanding it.
When we purposely choose to go against the Natural Law in the universe we are making a disordered choice. Just as there are consequences for attempting to break the physical law (like what would happen if we tried to jump off a building) there are consequences for breaking the unseen Natural Law that keeps order in the universe. Natural Law is God’s Will for us and, because He loves us, He has given us the free will to choose if we would rather conform to His (perfect) Will or not (WWJD, am I right??). The consequences of breaking Natural Law might not be as immediate and obvious as the snap of your legs from attempting to break the law of gravity in the jumping-off-the-building example, but we will surely suffer somehow by turning our backs to God because it throws off the entire balance and order of nature. There are no “victim-less sins” because, if anything, we will have to answer for them somehow ourselves–whether it’s by brokenness in our life, Purgatory, or the confessional (the sin bin).
Once we know what sin is (simply: any time we turn our backs on God for what’s easy or preferable to us) we can begin attacking it at its roots. Just like if you want to get all the dandelions out of your yard (hun, I’m gonna do it this weekend, seriously), you can’t just mow over them to hide the symptoms, you need to pull them out by the root (I bet I’m the first one to use that analogy, right?).
The first step is to repent and ask for forgiveness. The graces you’ll obtain in the confessional will help you fight your battle moving forward to resist temptation again. People forget (or don’t know) that Confession is a Sacrament. The Sacraments are the quickest way to channel the Graces of God into our lives. After receiving absolution through penance, we should receive the Eucharist as soon as possible. Then we want to start our journey in changing any destructive habits. It is normal to fail–a lot. The temptations you have weaknesses for will be stubborn but, as you return to Confession and the Eucharist, the temptation will fade and your resolve will strengthen. Some people are embarrassed that they are so often confessing the same sins but I ask them, would they rather be confessing new sins every time?! We all have unique weaknesses for “pet” sins. One person might be more likely to lie to people while another might have more trouble with being open to life in their marriage. We all have different battles to fight and the Sacraments are some of the strongest weapons we have in our holsters. Since temptation and human weakness is unrelenting, we, too, must be unrelenting in our defense. Along with the Sacraments, the intercessions from the Mother of God and the angels and saints will also aide us tremendously–sometimes we just need to humble ourselves and ask for help. So once we are able to stop the brokenness of the situations surrounding us from getting worse, we can start mending the brokenness and waging a war on the any despair it might have caused. We must even fight to alleviate our enemies from despair, no matter how difficult.
Forgiveness and Mercy
Striving to end our sinful dispositions isn’t enough. Even though we might no longer contribute to or enable brokenness around us, we must now be vigilant in helping those hurt by past circumstances–even for those we have or want nothing to do with. Because of our selfishness, so many people live lives of anger, fear, anxiety, indifference, and distrust. People have been hurt by the actions of others in fights, lies, divorces, scandals, and more. People build up walls around themselves or around other people thinking that ignoring the problem will suffice. Some people refuse to forgive people for painful wounds from the past. The problem is, withholding forgiveness from those who have deeply hurt us is often more damaging to us than it is to them. When we internalize our wounds, they corrupt and infest other parts of our lives just as a cut on our finger, left untreated, would eventually infect our whole body. The infection of wounds can manifest in different ways: We may say disparaging things about the person to others. We might show an indifference to anyone that reminds us of them. We might take opportunities to boast that we were, in fact, the righteous one in the past situation in backhanded or passive-aggressive ways. Or maybe our internalized pain blocks us from granting others second chances.
“Blessed is the man who fears the Lord always; but he who hardens his heart will fall into calamity”
When we don’t forgive people (even those who don’t ask for forgiveness), we are “hardening our hearts”. Hardened hearts are incapable of mercy. As one becomes more convicted in seeking the truth in Christianity, one’s heart becomes softened to the needs of those around us. Far more touched and moved is the man who understands the deep dignity bestowed on each human being from a Father whose love is perfect. I think it’s important to point out that having a “conversion of intellect” is far different than having a conversion of the will to the Catholic faith (as Thomas Merton points out in his monumental autobiography of conversion, The Seven Storey Mountain. More on that book another time).
Indeed, first we must be intellectually converted to Christ’s Church–this lays the groundwork from which full conversion can build. Once our intellect understands Catholicism wholly contains the truth of life, we must then build off this conversion of our mind to a conversion of our actions by striving to submit to the Will of our Father in heaven. Once the latter conversion takes place, the heart softens to the despair plaguing our world; at the same time, the heart is also softened to the often-unrecognized goodness and beauty in the world. So, a softened heart is necessary to feel true compassion and, in turn, show true mercy. Just in case having the ability to be more merciful isn’t benefit enough, you will also undoubtedly revel in life’s joys far more–a selfishness I’m okay with enjoying. Even with a full conversion of faith, our actions will not always match up to what God wants from us (mine almost never do), but we at least will be on the right path to fixing the world because we grasp what is right and what is wrong. We are only able to progress if we are on solid spiritual footing and not on the quicksand of relativism.
“Love is the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being”
-Catechism of the Catholic Church 2392
Because love is the vocation of all human beings, we must actually practice love. Since true love is selfless sacrifice for others, we need to resist urges to only love the people who haven’t personally hurt us because, by definition, it’s not about us (selfless). Now, the skeptic will worry that this is akin to being a pushover, that we will not be able to properly defend ourselves from those who seek to do us harm. I’d submit to them that “love” does not mean tolerance of wrongful acts, lifestyles, or offenses. We “love the sinner, hate the sin”. Unfortunately many people have a completely twisted view of what “love”, in fact, is (just like we do about “sin”). Love can be as simple as understanding that every person has wounds, troubles, and despair in need of mercy. Love can be acknowledging that even though this person might bear offensive passions and is difficult to embrace, they were still created in our Father’s image and deserve dignity. Love can be recognizing we don’t always know the spiritual battles others are fighting internally or the circumstances they come from before we seek to judge who they are. Love can also be warning someone they are living a destructive life just as a loving sibling would have no qualms over telling their brother or sister they are doing something that is damaging to themselves or others. Of course, this does not mean we have no obligation to defend ourselves from any physical, emotional, or spiritual advances from foes. We have a responsibility to preserve the mind, body, and soul of ourselves and those around us from anyone or anything seeking to do us harm. The true Christian is not a pushover because they stand up for what is right and just according to God.
“To love means loving the unlovable. To forgive means pardoning the unpardonable. Faith means believing the unbelievable. Hope means hoping when everything seems hopeless.”
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.
The skeptic will next claim the notion of loving all is irrational. IT IS! But what virtues are love or forgiveness lest we are able to “love the unlovable” or “pardon the unpardonable”? If we only accept the righteous, how cowardly we are! Aside from that being exactly the opposite of Jesus’ teachings, where would that get us in society? That, too, is a form of moral relativism, as if we are bestowed with the power to decide who is worthy of love and forgiveness. We are not gatekeepers of these virtues, virtues which are only given to us as a gift from The Lord. Love and forgiveness are not ours to withhold because we are instruments of God through which we must allow His Will to flow. Quoting the popular morning prayer, “Jesus, I give you my hands to do your work, my feet to go your way, my eyes to see as you do, my tongue to speak your words, my mind that you may think in me, my heart that you may love in me, your Father, and all mankind…”
“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
We are the branches and Jesus is the vine. The fruit we bear are His fulfilled virtues. The Church is Christ’s Body on Earth which we make up. We ponder this too little…we are representatives of Him! Are we proud of how we’re acting as the Body of Christ, or are we profaning His Body through selfish sin?
We need to break down the walls we use to separate us from others. We need to fight despair by forgiving our enemies–either by telling them or forgiving them through prayer to God (if we cannot easily talk to them). Let us not stand a second more for any rottenness around us…and boy can it be hard.
All this sounds so good on paper (or computer screen), doesn’t it? We all know we need to practice mercy but how well do we do it? We all have difficult and painful situations with certain people that we rationalize by thinking “well this is a bit different for me and my situation”. Think of the last person you’d ever want to think about, see, talk to, or help. Maybe that person is someone you work with, maybe they are an old friend, maybe they are a family member you had a falling out with, they could be anyone. Now ask yourself what would it take to truly forgive them? Assuming this person is no longer seeking to do you or loved ones harm, are you able to forgive this person at least in prayer? Would you be able to tell that person that you forgive them if they asked? Would you be able to let the virtue of forgiveness come to fruition in how you act towards them in the future?
A lot of times someone isn’t even seeking forgiveness from us. Perhaps they were not aware of wounds they caused or they want to prove they are justified in the situation, perhaps they are still holding a grudge. None of that matters. Life is indeed too short to be harmed by harboring resentment. Life is too short to let your family members and those who look up to you to be affected by the resentment you hold for someone else. Like we discussed above, just because we do not see the consequences of our sinful behavior (such as the inability to forgive), that doesn’t mean there’s no consequences. Maybe your children can feel the tension when you’re in the room with someone they love, the person you cannot forgive; maybe your spouse feels like they can never live down a mistake they made because you never let them know you forgive them; maybe your coworkers have to plan events and meetings differently knowing that you are incompatible with someone at the office, or maybe you’re just making your Blessed Mother weep as she watches her children live with resentment towards one another.
The One Who Divides
“We can see how much the Devil fears those who pray, since there’s not a moment of the day when he tempts us more than when we’re at prayer. He does everything possible to prevent us from praying. When the Devil wants to make someone lose his soul, he starts out by inspiring a profound distaste for prayer.”
-St. John Vianney
I know, this is all much easier said than done. Loving the unlovable and pardoning the unpardonable is one of the most difficult things we can do…but we must. It might help to understand who Satan is. Just like our misconceptions about “sin” and “love”, there’s many misconceptions about who “Satan” is and there’s also an embarrassment to talk about him since the idea of Satan has become so sensationalized and fictionalized over the years. Satan has been personified, cartoonified, and humorized to the point where we just see him as a silly figment of of human creativity. That’s all fine as long as it doesn’t allow us lose our understanding of who he is and what he seeks. Satan isn’t literally some red creature with horns that sits on our shoulders. Just like God isn’t a physical being with human-like features, Satan isn’t a physical creature either. Satan is a fallen angel and, like all angels, has no bodily form–they are immaterial and purely spiritual. Satan is a dark force that seeks to undermine God’s Will for us by trying to tempt our free wills. Satan, or “The Devil” comes from the Greek word “diábolos” which means “slanderer” or “accuser”…also meaning “the one who divides“. When something is “diabolical” it seeks to divide. The division sought is often humans from one another or humanity and God. Wherever we see unity, as in a family or a Church, we know that is a work of God. God brings things together, he makes things whole (which is what “holy” comes from). Satan relishes the times we are divided among ourselves because it’s not what God wills.
We must fight the chaos and ruin we have contributed to and enabled. Every moment we are withholding the virtues our heavenly Father has blessed us with, we are harming the souls of ourselves and of others. Along with the Sacraments, we should turn to prayer for help. Ask Jesus for the ability to better understand your wrongdoings if you have trouble understanding the harm. Ask the Blessed Mother to intercede for your spiritual strength and virtuous fortitude; pray the Rosary often. Find your patron saint and pray to them. As Catholics, we must understand we are part of a “universal” family. Your brothers and sisters are your fellow Christians on Earth and those who have gone before us into eternal life. The saints are our brothers and sisters in heaven that have been fully transfigured in Christ and we must ask our big siblings for their help and prayers with God, our Father, to help us defeat our own vices. We mustn’t make excuses because we have more tools, weapons, and helpers than we can count…we just need to humble ourselves and begin looking.
Why are we waiting to make life better? Why are we waiting to become better Christians? If more Catholics would become more fully converted to a life of Christ, the entire world as we know it would begin to change. Hopelessness, pain, and sorrow would retreat. So, I ask again, what are you waiting for?