Plato’s name has been mentioned more than once in these pages. He deserves to be mentioned once again. Hopefully, you are acquainted with his great work, The Republic. In case you have not, may I urge you to read it, especially Book VII, which has inspired what I am about to tell you. Plato’s thesis in that book can be summarized as follows: Human beings can be compared to prisoners born and raised in a dark cave. They are chained and are forced to face a wall right in front of them. Shadows of all sorts of objects are projected on this will; but they cannot perceive the objects producing these shadows. These prisoners are truly in a sorry state: being chained they are incapable of turning around and will necessarily assume that the shadows they perceive are real objects. For a shadow is always the shadow of something else, and when this something else cannot be perceived, the viewer will inevitably assume that it possesses the independence which is the prerogative of real objects. But one man – we shall call him the philosopher – manages to liberate himself from his bonds, and reaches the exit of the dark cave in which he was born and has lived all his life. The moment he comes outside of his prison, the brightness of the sun’s light will blind him. Being used to darkness, his eyes are incapable of standing daylight. The poor prisoner will necessarily assume that his situation has worsened: for before he could see something; now he sees nothing. But slowly his pupils will adjust to his new environment, and for the first time in his life, he will perceive real objects – at first only those within his reach. This perception will open the eyes of his mind to a terrible and for him revolutionary truth: up to now, he has confused shadows with reality. A Copernican revolution takes place in his life! To become aware that he has lived in error since his very youth is an earth-shaking discovery. But by now our hero’s pupils are capable of looking upwards, and the last thing which he will be able to behold – because of its luminous brightness – is the sun, the source of all light. Plato points to the fact that the more sublime a thing is, the more difficult will it be for weak-sighted human beings to perceive it, even though it is most real and luminous, being the very source of everything else, just as the sun is the source of light. The philosopher can now draw the conclusion that man can be blinded both by darkness, (because of lack of light), and by light when the very luminosity of an object is too strong for his weak eye sight to contemplate. He now recalls the sad fate of his fellow prisoners, and instead of enjoying the beauty which he has perceived, he decides to go back to the cave, and inform them of their error. Plato here clearly hints at the fact that truth is “ours” and should not remain the “property” of a single individual who has been blessed with discovering it. Out of loving concern for the welfare of the unfortunate prisoners, the philosopher decides to re-enter his place of birth. But upon doing so, he finds himself plunged into darkness. Once again, his sight fails him, but this time, for the opposite reason: there is too little light. Nevertheless, gropingly he finds his way back to his old place. The prisoners – as usual – kill time trying to identify the shadows appearing on the wall; the first one who succeeds is, of course, the smartest. The philosopher who used to be good at the game, is now totally helpless; having seen real objects, shadows strike him as so unsubstantial that he can no longer victoriously compete with his companions. As a result, the latter come to the conclusion that anyone who leaves the café should be punished by death, for by so doing, he comes back without his eyes. (An obvious reference to the fate that Socrates suffered because he tried to make men “see”). It is worth noticing that the prisoners show no interest whatever in questioning the philosopher. They are so used to their conventions, their prejudices and their petty concerns, that they have no longing whatever to transcend the narrowness of their views. They are used to their dark cave and feel comfortable in it. (Kierkegaard expressed the same truth by pointing out that many men actually choose to live in the cellar of their house.) We are back to our pet theme: blindness can be caused by an excess of light, or by a defect of light. But in both cases, the result is identical – we cannot see. May I assume that by now your spirit of discernment has been so refined that you immediately see how catastrophic it would be to confuse the two cases: blindness caused by too much light, and blindness caused by too little light? In one case blindness results from our own weakness; in the other case, by a deficiency on the object side. You must have observed that when people see badly, the usually lay the blame on the object, very much as when people are getting hard of hearing they will accuse others of not speaking clearly. The point I am trying to make is that there are plenty of things which the human mind cannot fully penetrate: let us call them “the mysteries of being” (following Gabriel Marcel’s terminology). We cannot fully know them not because they are obscure, but because our intellectual eye-sight is too weak. In such cases, we should humbly acknowledge our deficiency, and not lay the blame on the luminous object whose light is too strong for our weakness. On the other hand, some objects are truly opaque, and for this reason our mind cannot penetrate into them. You see that the two cases are, once again, at antipodes, and yet how tempting to confuse them and assume that the cause in both cases is identical. I wonder whether the middle ages (which produced a Saint Anselm, a Giotto, a Dante, a Saint Thomas Aquinas, a Saint Bonaventure, a Duns Scotus, etc.) have been called the “dark ages” because their light was so strong that is blinded those looking at it. It is certainly amusing that the XVIII century called itself, “the age of enlightenment,” if we keep in mind that it has produced a Voltaire, a Rousseau, a Hume, a Diderot, etc. who – it seems to me – are dwarfs compared to their medieval counterparts. But this is off our topic. I have just yielded to the temptation to share this thought with you. How important it is for all of us in human life to determine whether we are blinded by too much light, or whether we cannot see because we are surrounded by darkness. Once again, wisdom will be necessary, and I assume that you have decided to strive for it with every fiber of your being.
I am sure that, like most people, you have often been tempted to confuse the prudence practiced by “children of the world,” and the type of prudence advocated in the gospel: “Be prudent like the serpent.” In both cases, a person carefully steers clear of what is rash, unwise, and impulsive; every decision is carefully gauges, and examined from every angle. Therefore, the similarity is striking. But there is a chasm separating the first from the second, still the first can copy the second so well that we need to sharpen our attention in order to be able to distinguish between them. The gentle Saint Francis of Sales used to say that he had scant sympathy for the virtue of prudence, “this poor virtue which he had such difficulty loving,” and when he managed to love it, “It was out of pure necessity” (L’espirt de St. Francis of Sales, Msgr. Camus, p. 246). Commenting upon the gospel urging us to be prudent like serpents and simple like doves, he remarked that the proportion between “the serpent” and the “dove” should be ten to one. To keep them in equal balance is bound to have a harmful consequence, namely that the serpent will devour the dove; the dove on the other hand, cannot be a threat to the serpent. This gentle saint was clearly referring to the fact that the virtue of prudence can easily degenerate into “worldly prudence” (which he detested); we must therefore be constantly on the watch to avoid this dangerous pitfall. He relates that after the success enjoyed by his introduction to the devout life, his “prudent’ friends advised him never to write another book: “It would be difficult for the sequel to match your masterpiece, and consequently any further publication would tarnish your now well-established reputation as an outstanding writer!” Saint Francis of Sales’ answer was that if his first book had been acclaimed because it had pleased God that it should gain recognition, he saw no reason why his majesty could not do the same for the second work. His treatise on the love of God turned out to be another masterpiece. What is worldly prudence? While claiming to be “a virtue,” it is in fact nothing but disguised self-interest; it is a clever gauging of one’s own advantage, so that whichever way the tide goes, one will be on the winning side. In every situation, the “prudent” man calculates whether a particular action, or spoken word, will cater to his interest, both immediate and future. The one thing that he is concerned with is to avoid anything which might have adverse consequences for him. The man who navigates by the laws of worldly prudence seems to have a radar warning him whether an event might run counter to his personal safety. He then steers clear of it with a remarkable adroitness and alacrity. Politicians major in worldly prudence, for to win in the political arena, (Or even to remain alive); one must learn to survive under any foreseeable or unforeseeable contingency. They often practice to perfection the principles on which any successful insurance company is based: whatever happens, it will remain the winner. Clever politicians will carefully cater to the powers that be, while keeping in mind that this power might not last; consequently, they should draw as much advantage from this present situation as possible while carefully avoiding compromising themselves, should the wind change direction. They can be compared to hounds whose instinct unfailingly leads them to the prey they want to catch. These people know when to speak and when to remain silent; when to seem to approve, when to seem to disapprove, when to be frank and when to equivocate, but in such a fashion that if the situation changed, they could never be accused of having been on the wrong side of the fence. Some politicians practice this art to perfection; this is why we see that many ex-communists in the eastern bloc, are now heads of state in several of the countries liberated from the communistic yoke; they only needed to change their outfits; now they wear the democratic vest; but basically they remain the very same individuals whose only concern is their personal interest. Because man is a fallen creature, he can easily lie to himself and persuade himself that he is in fact supernaturally prudent, while in fact the subtle poison of worldly prudence is corroding his actions. Supernatural prudence is, of course, at the antipodes of these calculating maneuvers. But it is a virtue which is very difficult to attain because of man’s craftiness; to be truly supernatural it must be free from any worldly alloy. Holy prudence is basically both a mistrust of our own fallen nature, coupled with a wise and recollected concern with God’s glory. The truly prudent man puts all his talents at God’s service: using his mind and his heart to discover how the divine master is best served. His leitmotif is how best to be instrumental in serving God’s glory: either by word, by action, by patient waiting, or by silence and prayer. This inner attitude eliminates temperamental haste, impatience, impure motives; it is essentially receptive to the rhythm. The prudent man will always be on his guard, fully aware how tricky his nature is, and how easily man can lie to himself. Holy prudence means essentially to hold fast to God’s hand, and never rely on one’s own strength. Footnote: We do not thereby deny that there are cases in “prudence” which is not supernaturally motivated, and legitimate: for example, when a father prudently provides for his children’s education.
To love another person is to respond to his beauty and value (whether it is his ontological value as a child of God or whether it is a personal value as an enchanting human being). When we love, we necessarily wish to do good to the loved one: This is strikingly expressed in the Italian language: “Ti voglio bene” (I wish you well). This desire embraces all types of goods: from the most modest ones (such as a good meal) to the most important one: a person’s eternal salvation. The greater the love, the more spheres of goods will it embrace while respecting the hierarchy of these goods. To strive to give another person a lower good, while actually damaging his higher good, betrays a very poor love. Moreover, love desires union with the beloved, and must necessarily wish this union to last forever; love longs for eternity. The wise men of yore (e.g., Plato) have often remarked that man tends to be his own worst enemy. Surprisingly enough, there is something in man that chooses to militate against his own true good. The innumerable men that are hooked on alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling, or ambition, are ultimately destroying themselves. It is not easy “to love oneself;” as a matter of fact, it is so difficult that, as St. Augustine remarked, only those who love God above all things learn to truly love themselves. All vices are man’s deadly foes; they all thwart that good in him and choke the noble seeds that might blossom in his soul. A friend who sees that the one he cares for is harming himself and heading toward his ruin, must, out of true love, not only warn him, but do everything in his power to pull him out of the rut in which he has fallen. No lover would dream of giving drugs to his loved one who is a drug-addict, or liquor to someone who is an alcoholic etc. What would you think of someone who seeing that his friend is about to fall into an abyss would not lovingly warn him and stretch his hand to save him? St. Francis of Sales tells us that it is laudable to be compassionate toward sinners, but that compassion should express itself in the sincere intention to pull them out of the quagmire into which they have fallen. It is a perverse type of mercifulness, he adds, to see one’s neighbor enslaved by sin and fail to date to stretch out one’s hand to pull him out of this mud hole (Spirit of St. Francis of Sales: Msgr. Camus, p. 205). It is typical of decadent societies that love is identified with whatever makes another person “feel good.” If he enjoys eating fattening foods when he is obese, we should refrain from warning him and even offer it to him because “he likes it;” if he enjoys watching pornographic movies, we should give him some for his birthday: “he is having such a good time.” What would we think of a mother who fails to give her sick child the antibiotics prescribed by a doctor, “Because he does not enjoy taking pills?” This is the philosophy rampant in our society; and it explains why contemporary men rebuke and deprecate the Roman Catholic Church for teaching authoritatively in matters of dogmas and moral, clearly unconcerned whether or not her sheep “enjoy” the content of her teaching. If it is thought that the church is unloving and harsh, it must be remembered that her great, overwhelming concern is the eternal welfare of her children and this is the best proof that she is a loving mother warning them to keep clear of actions which endanger their great beneficial good: their eternal union with God. This has been strikingly formulated by St. Augustine when he wrote in a letter: “severity that springs from love is preferable to deceitful gentleness” (quoted in Gueranger, The Liturgical Year, V, p. 98). St. Francis of Sales also warns us not to identify love with sentimental softness. While fully deserving the reputation of being most gentle and benign, he could be severe when severity was called for (Camus, p. 184). C.S. Lewis remarked: “…for about a hundred hears we have so concentrated on one of the virtues – “kindness” or mercy – that most of us do not feel anything except kindness to be really good….” (The Problem of Pain, Human Wickedness, p. 43-44). Let us beware of this wishy-washy softness which is nothing but indifference to the true good of others.
My Dear Friend: I am sure you have sometimes found yourself sitting next to an unknown person at a dinner party; you try to engage in a conversation and the person’s response is monosyllabic. You then turn to another topic, and the response you get is a grunt. You try your luck a third time with an identical result. You then come to the inevitable conclusion that you have nothing to say to your dinner partner; there seems to be no common ground between the two of you; you and your companion seem to be living in two different planets. There ensues an unpleasant silence: let us call it the “silence of poverty.” It is a dreadful experience for the plain reason that there is a painful contrast between the physical proximity of two people, and their spiritual remoteness. Being next to this person, you feel hopelessly alone, and to feel “alone” with another person next to you, is true lonesomeness indeed. As a matter of fact, in such cases, we all long for being physically alone, so that we can breathe freely – something impossible when a human body, which does not seem to be animated by a soul, is in our immediate proximity. At the antipodes of this fearful emptiness, we find another type of silence (and how I wish that you have or will soon experience it): the silence of plenitude, or the silence of riches. Two persons who love each other can be so deeply moved by the depth of their reciprocal feelings that no word could adequately express the sublimity of their common experience. In such cases, they will remain silent because words would be dumb; they prove then to be so inadequate, so pale compared to the wealth of emotions that overwhelm the two lovers’ hearts that silence alone is called for. But this silence is so eloquent that this mysterious interchange produces a music whose echo seems to be reaching the stars. St. Augustine has expressed this strikingly: “…words cannot communicate the song of the heart.” (Commentary on the Psalms, Second Discourse, Psalm 32; Newman Press, p. 112). Most of the greatest and deepest human experiences are expressed in and by silence: whether it is adoration (the silent prayer par excellence), or veneration, or the loving contemplation of another person, or of beauty: in all these cases, the subject says nothing; every sound would disturb the sublime music which is resounding in his soul. It was not by accident that in the celebration of a tridentate mass, the words of consecration were uttered silently: this pointed to the greatness of the mystery that was taking place. In the first case we have alluded to, words cannot be used as vehicles of thoughts and feelings, because being given the disposition of the other, the attempt to communicate fails. In the second case, the cascade of thoughts and emotions is so overwhelming that words prove to be a very poor vehicle of communication. They are then replaced by a more eloquent one: silence. It is related that when St. Louis of France met St. Bonaventure, they never said a word, but looked deeply in each other’s eyes and in this look; they said everything they wanted to say. The human eye – the mirror of the soul as Plato calls it – can speak volumes, and no sound is uttered. We are back to our antipodes! Silence can therefore indicate that there is an abyss separating two human beings; they find themselves in a spiritual desert. It can also indicate that their closeness is such that words become unnecessary: for human sounds would detract from the depth of their mutual love which has the savor of eternity. Truly the topic we are discussing is inexhaustible!
When I entered grammar school aged five, one of the great names that I was soon acquainted with were Plato and Aristotle. Clearly both of them conquered time, and are acknowledged to be two of the greatest minds that the human race has produced. Yet, we must acknowledge that talented as they were they were not protected from error. The human mind is great and noble, clearly capable of finding truths; skepticism refutes its own arguments because if they were valid, it would prove that the human mind is capable of reasoning flawlessly. Our task is to acknowledge its capacity to reach truth, while warning us that we should always remain aware of its limits and imperfections. Not only are there truths inaccessible to the human mind such as supernatural truths which need to be revealed (i.e. that God is a Trinity) but also in the domain accessible to us we should never forget that self-assurance, pride, intellectual “arrogance” can lead us into error. Socrates also reminds us that much as we know or believe to know, what we do not know is infinitely larger. This is why this noble and great thinker knew that “he knew not.” When a truth is clearly perceived, the response should be gratitude; indeed the human mind should be grateful that it has been given the capacity of reaching certainty. Alas, many a thinker instead of giving this uplifting response, is often tempted to “inflate” itself by the idea that, with time, he will know all things. This was the arrogant claim of Feuerbach, a German thinker of the 19 century, that led him to the conviction that man, having reached maturity, and liberated himself from the diapers in which the dark mediaeval mind had imprisoned itself in is now legitimately entitled to call himself god. But if this were true, it is surprising indeed that this god feels the need to proclaim it – to be god should be sufficient, to do so sounds as if he needed to reassure himself! This leads me back to Aristotle, a gift of Greece to humanity. Yet this great mind made some serious errors which have been inherited by his disciples, rightly impressed by his genius. He tells us that the human male is superior to the human female – a prejudice gleefully endorsed by the machismo attitude – because he is active and she is only passive. Activity being clearly superior to passivity, this claim has been inherited by his disciples and admirers and has led to the masculine superiority complex. When God created male and female, He in no way created one superior to the other: they were clearly complementary, enriching one another. The fullness of the human person is to be found in both of them together. Yet it is worth remarking that whereas Adam’s body was made from the slime of the earth, the one of Eve was taken from a human person – a fact which gives the female body a special dignity. Who would not prefer to have a body made from a human person, and not from the slime of the earth? What was Aristotle’s serious mistake? He failed to distinguish between two very different things because they are both opposed to a third – namely activity. Both receptivity and passivity are opposed to activity, but, whereas passivity is “to be subject to” being “defenseless,” receptivity is to be opened to fecundation. Indeed, what is there that man has not received, and receptivity is therefore deeply linked to gratitude. In one case, the one being acted upon is “defenseless.” Passivity is a sign of inferiority. The piece of wood used by a carpenter to make a table has nothing to say in the matter. It is the slave of the carpenter who does with it what he pleases. Alas, human beings can also abuse of other human beings by brutally forcing them to yield to their strength. An illustration of this is “rape,” in contrast to the joyful donation of a wife to her husband. Man being a creature is essentially receptive. The most perfect of all human beings is the Holy Virgin, and the grade of her holiness is expressed in her words: “I am the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to Thy word.” This leads me to a topic of capital importance in metaphysics: the abyss separating passivity from receptivity, a truth powerfully expressed in the Bible, particularly in the New Testament, that makes this gloriously evident. Mary, a Jewish girl, whose heart from its conception was God centered, is greeted by an Angel, a being metaphysically superior to human beings, as being “full of grace.” The humble virgin is surprised by this greeting. Are angels not metaphysically superior to human persons? She is a virgin and yet informed that she will be fecundated by God, and be given the privilege of carrying the Savior in her womb. Her response should be the object of our daily meditation: “I am the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word.” First, she joyfully acknowledge that she is God’s handmaid; she knows that to be God’s servant is a glorious title of honor and adds: "be it done to me according to thy word.” The glory of any creature is to pray: “be it done to me.” She joyfully accepted to be receptive, and this very receptivity makes her to be the Queen of Angels. Not activity, but receptivity gives us a golden key to holiness. It combines humility, an awareness that one is poverty, for we are weak and miserable, accompanied by faith: with God’s grace, “I shall scale mountains.” This deep truth, sheds light on Saul’s conversion on his way to Damascus which transformed a rapacious lion into a lamb. He was going to Damascus with a murderous mission to bring back Christians to Jerusalem to have them put to their death; he is active. He became “receptive” to God’s grace and became Paul the Apostle of the Gentiles, from murderous activity to radiant receptivity. He reflected the words of the young Samuel in the temple: “Speak, o Lord, Thy servant listens.” Living in a world where activity is acclaimed and receptivity easily confused with passivity, this passage of the New Testament should be a clarion call to reexamine our lives, and ask ourselves whether we have not forgotten to joyfully declare ourselves to be servants of the Lord, and daily repeat the word “be it done to me according to thy word.”
The word bankruptcy is a nightmare to finance people. Literature is eloquent on this topic. Consider Charles Dickens’ Little Dorrit, among many other books: to be bankrupt is to be disgraced, to be an irredeemable failure, to be a good-for-nothing everyone has a right to look down upon. From time to time the headlines inform us that a titan of finance and known to the world for their command over billions has gone bankrupt, due to unwise and rash speculations, due to too great a self-assurance: “I cannot err in financial matters. I have a perfect mastery of this field.” Quite often, crushed by their defeat, they take their own life. This brief essay is also devoted to bankruptcy, but a very different type of bankruptcy: the joyful discovery that we are totally bankrupt toward God. Indeed, is there anything that we have not received? But it is joined with the joyful awareness that our debtor is an infinitely loving Father, who opens his arms wide to his repentant children, whose eyes have finally been opened to their misery and who throw themselves into his arms. Indeed, there is more joy in heaven over a repentant sinner than over a just man who is not (or believes himself not to be) in need of repentance. The greatest victory is to be defeated by God’s grace. This has been wonderfully expressed by St. Augustine in his Confessions, one of the most admirable books ever written, and one which is addressed to God. Book VII expresses poignantly the work of grace in the soul of a man richly endowed and who for many years had chosen what Dante describes as “la via smarrita” (losing the straight path). His rich gifts, not baptized by humility, were in fact one of the great obstacles to his conversion; brilliantly talented he relied on himself, and needed many years to realize that he was bankrupt. Thank God, he gratefully acknowledged defeat and burst into tears, tears of repentance and gratitude. Indeed, one of the great sources of joy is to realize that one is defeated by God’s love and then to shed tears of gratitude. How beautiful is it to be aware that “without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5), followed by the words of St. Paul, “I can do all things in him that strengthens me” (Phil 4:13), which clearly imply that God expects our full collaboration. It is a theme that often comes up in this great saint: “I rejoice in my weakness so that the grace of God can triumph in me” (2 Cor 12). The lives of saints are eloquent on this theme. Let me just mention the Little Flower, who writes that “I have never been able to do anything by myself” and rejoiced in her weakness. She always turned to God for help, and this sheds light on her admirable life in which every single step sings God’s glory. To be a self-made man – while not denying its merits – can be a source of temptation: “I owe my success all to myself. I am not indebted to any one; hard work and perseverance are keys to my success.” Many millionaires owe their wealth to themselves. It should however be mentioned, that to inherit a fortune also has its dangers. Man should always be on the alert because pride is not the only moral danger threatening us. Every situation has its own dangers, and the wise man is always on the alert, following the words of St. Peter: “Fratres, sobrii estote et vigilate” (“Be sober and watch,” 1 Peter 5:8-9). Sadly enough, life teaches one that many of us prefer to be “self-made” than to be indebted to others because they are allergic to gratitude, and tempted to demean the gifts received in order to escape from the burden of this virtue rarely mentioned. If the gift is financial and has saved a person from bankruptcy, a beneficiary might tell us: “it was no great matter; my benefactor is so rich that it is truly not a generous act.” Some will tell you that he had done the benefactor so many favors, that the gift is really only a repayment of long overdue debts. Others will tell you that the donor did it because it gave him a feeling of nobility, when in fact he was “flattering” his own ego, adding another feather to his hat. Or perhaps the benefactor highly advertised his generosity, whereas the truly generous person will keep this noble act to himself following the advice of the Gospel. One of the most cynical proverbs I have read is a Hindu one: “Why do you persecute me? I have never done you any good.” It is heartbreaking and yet, life confirms it. But the most cynical remark justifying ingratitude I know is the one of the talented Heinrich Heine, expressing his certitude that God will forgive him: “After all, it is his job” (“Bien sûr, il me pardonnera; c'est son métier.”) Many are those who resent being indebted to others. It gives them a feeling of inferiority unbearable to their pride. They do not want to acknowledge defeat; they want to be in control and their own master. This reminds me of something my dear husband said, which made a deep impression upon me. Having escaped from Hitler’s clutches at the very last minute, he and his wife left Vienna with a minimum of luggage hastily put in two suitcases and arrived free but as beggars in Switzerland. They were totally dependent upon the charity of Swiss Catholics. I recall asking my husband whether, having lived in a great villa for many years and now finding himself a beggar, he did not suffer. He looked at me with astonishment and said, “for nothing in the world would I have missed this opportunity of tasting the sweetness of Christian charity!” I do not know which moral theologian first drew up the list of the seven capital sins. But late in my life, it surprises me that ingratitude is not mentioned, a sin that goes back to our first parents, and, alas, plays a great role in our poor human lives. Ingratitude. It is certainly one of the very ugly sins, but how many of us are aware of it, and mention it when we confess our sins? May these few remarks be a clarion call to all of us to pray: “give me a grateful heart, O Lord,” that I may join the angels whose song is gratitude to God’s gift of being.
There is a Latin proverb worth meditating upon: “si tacuises philosophus manssises.” It eloquently tells us that our tongue can easily betray our lack of wisdom and our ignorance. All of us have ample reasons to think that had we remained silent, we would have been the beneficiary. Relatively few of us have reasons to say: I should have raised my voice and did not do it: when we should have defended an innocent person viciously attacked, when a dangerous error or heresy was being propagated. But on the whole, I believe that too much talking is the source of very grave harms done to others and to ourselves. Plato was right when he warned us that man is his own worst enemy. Before briefly examining the many harmful uses of our tongue (a very small organ that as St. James remarks in his Epistle) which can cause so much harm, let us recall Iago, whose tongue poisons Othello and leads him to murder. Some remarks are called for. Man is a creature, a weak and imperfect being much in need of help and who easily forgets why we have been given a tongue: “go and teach all nations.” Alas, how many of us recall this when we open our mouths. How wise are those who, before speaking, reflect, be it only for a moment, whether what they are going to say will benefit others (to communicate important information) or will enrich the hearers: sharing our knowledge of crucial truths, when a friendly interchange is the theme, or whether it is empty chatter which almost inevitably will spread scandals, harm the reputation of others, and distract us and others from what truly matters. Saint Teresa of Avila writes in her autobiography that when she was present, the reputation of the absent was never damaged: when we have nothing good to say about a particular person, silence is called for. I am far from denying that there are many cases in which speaking is “the thema Christi”. It is the mission of preachers, of teachers, and of parents. There are things which we are duty bound to share: warning others of dangers whether spiritual or physical; but alas, rare are those who, before speaking, think for one moment whether the words which crave to flow out of their mouths will in fact benefit and enrich them. This is something that the great Saint Bruno, the founder of the Carthusian order in the eleventh century, understood so deeply. Is it by accident that the order he founded is the only one in the Church, so I have been told, that has never been reformed because it never was deformed, which, alas, happened to others? Silence can be an eloquent teacher. But we might ask the legitimate question: why has God given us a tongue? Obviously because it has a meaning in our lives; but alas, we often fail to understand its meaning, as the Evil one always encourages us to misuse our tongue for empty chatter or slander. Our tongue is given us to spread truth, to say words of love to others, to inform them of facts and things which are important for them to know. How wise it would be if when getting up in the morning, we would make a brief prayer begging God to give us the grace of using our tongue for his glory. A lovely episode is related in the life of St. Louis of France, the greatest king of this great nation. He had invited several guests for dinner; among them was St. Thomas Aquinas, one of his great contemporaries in a century that has given us a rich harvest of saints. The conversation was lively but there was one person who never uttered a word: the “dumb ox,” as St. Thomas Aquinas was called. After the meal, King Louis gently remarked to him that when people are gathered together, the theme of Christ is a kind interchange of words. Laudable as silence is, there are cases when it can be a subtle lack of charity. King St. Louis understood this. On the other hand, when he visited Italy and came to the monastery of the Franciscans, where St. Bonaventure was the superior, he found the latter doing the dishes for his brothers. The two saints met, looked at each other for a time, and then King Louis left without having said a word, and yet they had a rich interchange: their common ardent love of God and of His Church. May we be given the grace of knowing when He wants us to speak and when silence is most pleasing to Him. This is an art that the saints have learned. There are very different types of silence. There is the eloquence of silence when the heart is too full to find adequate words. This applies when one received a great grace which overwhelms one to such an extent that words are totally inadequate. It can also be when one receives a declaration of love from a person that one deeply loves: that this gift is given to one. It is the fulfillment of one’s deepest human desires and renders one dumb – but the eloquent dumbness of gratitude. The human vocabulary, in spite of the genius of great literary writers, is gravely anemic. I recall witnessing a sunset in Sedona, Arizona of such overwhelming beauty that both my husband and myself stood at the window so moved that tears came to your eyes. This splendor which lasts only a few minutes is both a message and a calling. It is so glorious that it promises eternity while lasting only for a very short time, reminding us that we are still on this earth, the prisoners of time, and challenging us to use every moment of this ever vanishing time to prepare ourselves for eternity, when the beauty perceived will last forever. This is a long chapter and I am quite conscious that I cannot treat it adequately. I will just allude to the veiled testimony of those who have received extraordinary graces. But on a purely natural level, many of us, hopefully most of us, have also experienced moments when we are so overwhelmed by an event, by a communication, that we are speechless. It can be a declaration of love; it can be to hear about the heroism of some people, it can be by being informed that God has performed a miracle – the healing of a very dear person whose death seemed imminent and who was healed in the twinkling of an eye, acknowledged by doctors that his or her healing cannot be explained by natural causes, and deserves to be called a “miracle.” A caveat is called for: experts in this domain constantly warn us that to be called a miracle we need the approval of the Church, for there are very many unexplainable natural phenomena which are not supernaturally caused. This is a domain in which being incompetent I leave to “experts.” There is the silence of poverty: there are, alas, some persons whose spiritual horizon is so poor that it is strictly limited to basic human needs and cravings. But soon the topic is inevitably exhausted. There is nothing to be said. There is the silence of shyness: I leave it to psychologists to speak about this interesting topic, for clearly there are very different types of shyness, but in all cases one hesitates about talking because one feels either that silence is more eloquent, or because the person facing one has the talent to render us dumb. St. Therese of Lisieux was very shy but this reserve was a rich message. Secrets of the king should be kept “secret.” The silence of shyness can have several causes: insecurity, consciousness of one’s immaturity, displeasure about the questions, finding them indiscreet, being ill at ease when facing a total stranger, or finding the person addressing oneself as indiscreet or directly unattractive or pushy. Worth meditating upon is the silence of Christ when questioned by Pilate. Once again, I prefer to refer to spiritual writers who certainly had words of wisdom to share with us. Yet, when asked whether He was the Son of God, He did answer: for truth was at stake. There is, alas, the icy silence of hatred: one considers that the other person is not worth responding to because one despises him, and there may be cases in which he deserves to be looked down upon. There are also cases when silence is an expression of disdain, contempt, and clearly means to offend: you are too “low” in my esteem; to speak to you would be to honor someone whom I despise. Another domain which also calls for silence is when a message is communicated to us as a secret, and this information should be kept unknown until the right moment has come to unveil it. This has happened frequently in the history of the Church, and has a deep meaning. God knows when is the tempus acceptabile. Lucia of Fatima did receive communications from Heaven that she kept to herself because she was told to. There are also people placed in highly sensitive posts in a state and whose silence is a strict obligation, for revealing their knowledge could be the cause of much harm. Let me repeat: how wise is the Latin proverb quoted above. Let me also mention briefly professional secrets, such as those known by medical doctors. St. James told us that our tongue should be guided by loving wisdom. We should pray daily that God to guide our tongue before we speak. Christ’s words that we shall be held responsible for every single word that we have uttered should be the theme of homilies, yet I do not recall ever hearing one that reminded us of this strict obligation. There is the silence of secrecy: let me limit myself to secrets – very personal information – that a friend shares with us with the urgent request that it would be communicated to absolutely no one else. A cynic is likely to inform us that this very request is most unwise: these “secrets” are those which are the most tempting to share with others; it is often made in a subtle, indirect way, but, alas, is in fact a betrayal. From the sins of the tongue, deliver me, my Lord. How very different and how meaningful that the one person closest to the Holy Virgin, Saint Joseph, never uttered a word; that is, St. Luke never mentioned a single one: his heart was so full that words were clearly inadequate. We know practically nothing about him except that the angels informed him that what was in the Holy Virgin’s womb was the fruit of the Holy Spirit. He is informed that he should save the Holy Virgin and her Son from the murderous hands of Herod and bring her to Egypt. He is informed, once again in dreams, that Herod was dead and he could go back to the Holy Land, but also told he should move to Nazareth. We know he was a carpenter. Clearly he was dead when Christ began his public mission, but we know nothing about his death. There are no adequate words in the human vocabulary to reveal the greatness of the role assigned to him. Silence alone is adequate, but in eternity we shall be given a deep insight into the greatness and sublimity of this most silent of all saints. Christ refuses to respond to one question of Pilate, who, irritated, reminds him that he has the power to free him or to condemn him. Then Christ reminds him that this power was not his own but given to him, telling him clearly that he was responsible for his decisions and morally commanded to use it justly. The eloquence of silence: for it is only in listening that we can open our hearts and our minds to God. This is something eloquently expressly by the loving child Samuel in the temple when he uttered the golden words: Speak, O Lord, your servant listens. At the end of the day how many of us can say: I have listened to His voice, and then followed His commands. There is one thing that I am convinced of: the Evil one has concluded an alliance with modern technology to wage war on silence. When I was a child and entered a store there was no radio blasting what is now called “music.” Today when you call a number and are put on hold and immediately our ears are blasted by what once again is called “music.” How right was Plato when he wrote 24 centuries ago that moral decadence begins with music. How typical of decadence to call “noise” music: brutal sounds that systematically prevent us from “listening” and “thinking.” Am I wrong in saying that saints have been great listeners to God’s words, as little Samuel taught us? For if there is a physical law of gravity, there is a more dangerous one, and one occasioning many more “falls”: the spiritual law of gravity. This sheds light on the role that prayer should play in our lives, for it is “listening to God’s voice.”
There is a type of love which is possible only between man and woman and usually leads to marriage – a relationship characterized by the fact that both the intentio unionis and the intentio benevolentiae are fully actualized. “Thou art mine; I am yours.” There is a similar climax of union between man and woman in holy friendships not leading to marriage, both partners being bound by a vow of either virginity or celibacy. One can then speak of a “marriage of souls.” But my theme is to shed some light on the beautiful type of union called friendship. It obviously differs from the one mentioned above because it can be actualized between two men, between two women, between men and women, and between old and young. Such relationships, which are precious gifts, are characterized by their emphasis on the intentio benevolentiae. Moreover whereas in relationships between man and woman leading to marriage, this love is fully centered on this one person at the exclusion of all others, “che sola a me par donna” – to quote the beautiful words of Petrarca. The fact one can have a multiplicity of friends, each one of them experienced as a gift, does not exclude a hierarchy among them. This multiplicity of positive, beautiful relationships deserves our special attention, this will be the theme of this brief essay. We find the most sublime friendships illuminated in the lives of many saints. I shall limit myself to two: St. Augustine, referring to the depth of his affection for Nebridius (“dulcis amicus meus” book 9, ch. 3 of the “Confessions”) invites us to compare this sublime bond with the one that the teenaged Augustine experienced with a young friend in his home town, and which was brutally ruptured by the latter’s death. It made Augustine’s heart “black with grief.” (“Confessions” book 4, ch. 4) His grief was so deep that no words could adequately express his despair: he missed one single person and the world was in total darkness. This experience was never forgotten by Augustine and helped him perceive the madness of loving creatures, forgetting that they are but creatures. “O dementiam nescientem diligere homines humaniter.” (book 4, ch. 7) This taste of an inappropriate attachment, as always in Augustine, was going to bear fruits and enrich his understanding the nature of true friendship. It is typical of saints that whatever they have experienced, good or evil, is baptized and enriches their lives. How tragic that many of us willingly deprived themselves of the most beautiful experiences because we refuse to learn to truly love. Yet the madness that Augustine experienced potentially threatens all of us. The pagan cure offered by Buddha is, to my mind a very sad one: not to give one’s heart to anybody. “He who has one hundred loves, has one hundred sorrows; he who has fifty loves, has fifty sorrows; he who has one love, has one sorrow. He who does not love is free from sorrow.” What a very sad, truly tragic solution: not to love anybody or anything – that is to eliminate the heart and totally depersonalize the human person. As always, my experiences in the classroom have taught me so much that I cannot help but wish that my teaching had been as enriching to my students as their errors have enriched my mind. I recall one student, while taking my course on ethics, proudly declared herself to be both an atheist and a relativist, made a point of objecting loudly to anything I said. She was clearly allergic to the notion of conscience, this mysterious voice chiding us when we did something wrong. She was one of these students who enters the classroom with the firm intention of teaching the course herself and whose presence gives their teachers a taste of purgatory, and possibly teaches them patience. One day after class, she rushed to my office, and started sobbing. When she calmed down a bit she told me that she was fighting against despair: her little dog had died. How typically tragic: she who had systematically opposed the existence of anything intrinsically good and true had, through her love for an animal, tacitly acknowledged that there are things worth loving. I forgot what I told her, but obviously I seized this opportunity in invite her to re-examine her philosophy. I once heard an elderly woman proclaiming that she never loved anybody in her life except her dog; “The only one who had been faithful to me!” Alas, all that a dog can offer, and does offer is “a dog’s love.” How tragic is the human condition; often refusing to seek or to accept God and the rich array of objective values, and then starving, turns to anything which guarantees some immediate satisfaction. In her "Interior Castle", St. Teresa of Avila makes it clear that whereas she does not favor private friendships in the Carmel, she beautifully illumines the nature of true friendship: the partaking of Christ’s love for the friend—a transfigured love, a foretaste of what we shall experience in heaven. It should be obvious that this type of friendship is the most perfect, but on this earth it should not exclude a wide variety of bonds between creatures that are enriching: a common love for truth, a common love for beauty, for great works of art, a common admiration for noble personalities. But in all cases, the bond of friendship must be based and nourished by some value. I personally would deny the name of friendship for people sharing a common passion for bridge, for fun games, for rock and roll, for anything that does not give us wings, anything that is “creeping” and, while entertaining, does not elevate and enrich the so called friends. How beautiful it is when two friends after having a real talk, leave one another better persons. Those whose life has been blessed with many friendships realize that while all of them are gifts, there is nevertheless a huge hierarchy among them; all should be gratefully welcome, but one will inevitably perceive that whereas all flowers are loved by a gardener, there is a huge difference between a lily and a daisy; this is not to deny that any tiny little ones should not be gratefully greeted, but the notion of hierarchy—so easily or even purposely ignored today in the name of “democracy”—should never be forgotten in human existence. St. Teresa of Avila in her great book, “Interior Castle” tells us that in heaven no two persons will have the same degree of glory. Looking back at my own life, I see it blessed by a rich array of flowers of all types, of all colors, each having its own perfume, and yet widely different. This thought can also be expressed differently. The parable of the talents in the Gospel shed more light on this question. We could say that each friendship symbolizes a certain number of talents: ranging from one to ten. It is crucial that this is perceived in our relationship with others, for there is a tendency in most of us to demand more than our friend has received and therefore can give. It is made clear in the Gospel that when the Master comes back, and exacts accounts from his servants, he will not ask the one who has received only one talent to give him back two. But he will rightfully be very displeased if the one who has received ten give him back only nine. Maybe some friendships break up because one friend, failing to perceive the number of talents his friend has, demands more than what he can give. How unfair to expect the perfume of a lily from a daisy: and yet, the daisy should be appreciated and viewed as a gift of God. Maybe the same thought can also be expressed by saying that some friendships are “static.” We meet someone, share all the key values whether religious, philosophical or political questions but this is clearly as far as the friendship can go. It will last for many years, but at the end of one’s life there will be no striking between the first day of acquaintance and the final goodbye. We can detect from the beginning that it is going to be a “static” friendship, offering no potentialities of growth, always friendly but further blossoming is excluded (“nemo dat quod non habet”) as opposed to other friendships, rich in promises and characterized by the fact that, to our joy, they keep growing new blossoms. Once again, life is a rich teacher. I knew two brothers who both loved their mother. When the latter suffered a stroke and was mentally incapacitated, the older brother visited her daily even if briefly, hoping that, even for a second, she would realize that he was there, he would lovingly hold her hand, thanking her and hoping that in some faint way, she would feel it. Whereas the younger brother—very business like—paid her a visit once, and came out convinced that it was a waste of time for she most probably did not realize that he was present. No doubt the older one was the greater lover for he understood that presence is a gift—whether perceived or not. “I am there at your side, even though you are incapacitated it is my way of proving that I love you in this crippled state.” Was the younger brother a bad son? No, but his love was not as deep as the one of his sibling. The holy women stayed at the tomb, and Mary Magdalen came early in the morning, assuming that Christ was still there and fully realizing that a corpse as corpse could not feel her loving presence. She loved more. One crucial characteristic of friendship is the wish to share: whatever is mine is yours; it could be defined as an “uncalculating exchange of gifts.” How is one to measure whether an enriching religious or spiritual exchange coming from one person is more or less than a most generous and kind help given to an old lady? Not only is it against the genius of friendship to calculate, but moreover our fallen nature always tempts us to misread a situation to our advantage. “I am the greater giver.” This attitude alone shows that his friendship is flawed. When in Beethoven’s great opera, Fidelio, we come to the moving scene of Florestan’s liberation from jail by the love of his wife. When he thanks her, her response is classical: she downplays her heroism, and views it as very little measured against what she wished to have done for her beloved husband. A person who praises his own generosity is not generous. This desire to share finds its climax in spousal love in which one makes a gift of oneself and gives everything, including their names. But the depth of a friendship can be measured by the extent of this sharing. Once again, one should keep in mind the number of talents that this friendship offers; what is considered generous in a one talent friendship would be unsatisfactory for one, or five, or ten talents. No doubt some friendships find a sad ending because one discoverers that one friend was a “business friend”; another because one felt entitled in the name of friendship to make constant and illegitimate demands on the other, way above the frame of this friendship could afford. Once again, do not expect from a daisy what you can rightly expect from a lily. Some people favor the idea that a friend is someone to whom one can say: “Whatever is yours is mine. But do not trespass upon my property!” This does not deserve the noble name of friendship. Another interesting experience that life has taught me is that people whose position in society (whether social or financial or whatever) made them to be generous donors, never missing a chance to benefit others. This also has its drawbacks: first of all, such people who have “very many friends” are most likely to doubt that they are loved for themselves or for their money. It makes many of them distrustful that a friendship is truly genuine. “He cares for me because of my gifts.” Moreover, such people can find it very difficult to ask for help small as it might be: they are not used to saying “Thank you.” It does not come easily to some of them. To be the giver is a pleasant feeling; to ask is an act of humility. Another key trait of friendship is the trust one has for the friend: to “believe” even when one does not see, or when circumstances, allusions by others, or innate mistrust make one doubt of the other’s love or faithfulness. Shakespeare has based some of his very many tragedies on this awareness that the danger of mistrusting is deeply incrusted in our fallen nature. Since original sin, we are all potentially jealous beings. The most prominent one is Othello: his vicious jealousy is unchained by the poisonous words of Iago—one of the most detestable characters in his rich array of scoundrels. We know the tragic end of this drama. But it is far from being the only one: we find a variation in other plays. The one which comes to mind is Cymbeline; Imogen, the lovely daughter of this king wisely refuses to marry the son of her detestable step mother Cloten and marries Posthumus – because she loves him. The latter separated by circumstances from his beloved wife, made a most unwise and to my mind insane bet that nobody, absolutely nobody could possibly rob him of her love by unfaithfulness. A very shady character takes up the challenge and, humiliated by a radical defeat of all his advances, devises a diabolical plan; to hide in her bedroom and once she is asleep be given a chance to see her breast marked by a birthmark. He brings this “trump card” to the husband who, lacking trust, believes him. Fortunately this drama does not end tragically. Imogen won. The idea of “giving the loved one credit,” is powerfully developed in my husband’s book, “The Nature of Love.” Needless to say, this trusting is also crucial in religious life, in moments of darkness, of feeling abandoned by God, of temptation should be combated with the words: “I do not see, O Lord, but I trust in your love; this very darkness carries a loving message; teach me to read it.” There is such a thing as “the dark night of the soul.” Hard as it is, it is inevitable in spiritual life, and aims at purifying our love: “I do not see, but it is because I am blind. I do not hear but it is due to my deafness. I do not feel anything but the cause is to be found in my own imperfection.” To truly love is to give oneself unconditionally, but not because of the benefits that accrue from my self donation. That man, this frail creature of an hour, cannot do it on his own should be obvious: our constant prayer should be: “hasten to my help; without you, I am lost.” But this prayer should not be the fruit of “depression” —a certain resentment that one is so helpless and weak, but rather the acknowledgement that joyfully acknowledging that our own nothingness throws us into the arms of an all powerful and loving God: and exclaim with St. Paul, “I can do all things in HIM that strengthens me.” Friendship is one of the lights in our earthly existence and gives us a faint foretaste of the Kingdom of Heaven where love will reign supreme.
When one reaches a certain age, one becomes increasingly dependent on the help and kindness of others, whether family, friends or neighbors. Asking for help and receiving it, have taught me a few lessons which I wish to share. The art of helping is poignantly expressed in the life of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. She relates that in her convent there was a crippled elderly nun who needed help after Mass to go the refectory. Like most elderly people, she lived in a constant state of fear of falling, and was very critical of the services she received from the nuns. Nobody seemed quite capable of living up to her demands. Thérèse lovingly offered her services fully aware that it would be a difficult and demanding task. She writes in her autobiography that this small deed of charity was a real sacrifice, but she never “said no to Jesus.” She started performing this task of love, and as expected, was constantly criticized for not doing it properly: the sister knew in advance that Thérèse was “too young” to do it well. But St. Thérèse not only doubled her efforts to satisfy Mother St. Pierre, but made a point upon arriving at the refectory to regale her with “her most loving smile.” Never could the elderly nun have suspected that this smle was the supernatural fruit of a sacrifice loving performed. These are the small deeds of love which weave the beautiful tapestry of holiness. This moving story is a clarion call to shed some light on a most important theme: the art of helping others. The following distinctions are called for. There are some people – thank God a minority – who seem to consider it to be insulting to be asked for help: “How dare you? I have no obligation toward you; please, do not disturb me.” Then there are those who when asked for help will accept to give it, making it clear however, that such requests are burdensome, and should not be repeated: it is a "one time deal” when in dire need, but another similar request will not be welcome. The person in need will accept such help, and say “thank you”, but must inevitably swallow a certain amount of vinegar. It is humbling to ask for help and bitter to be told that one’s request is not welcome. This explains why I have known a couple of people in my life who would rather starve than to ask help from such “Samaritans”! I have also encountered very many people always willing to help others, and who even have the kindness to volunteer their help. They are good natured, kind people; for them, it is “no big deal”; it is the sort of things to be expected in this life. I recall saying thank you to one of them. He looked at me with surprise, and said, ”You bet.” Such people while grateful when receiving a thank you, do not expect one; some are even surprised to be thanked. But one wonders whether such kind and friendly people fully perceive the huge difference between performing a daily chore and an act of charity which brings us closer to God. At any rate, the help of such people should be deeply appreciated and call for gratitude, a gratitude responding to the beauty of kindness. It is also worth remarking that there are some people who hate to be asked, while from time to time, will volunteer their services. A very wise friend once shed light on the psychology of such “friends”; when one “offers” to do another a favor, one feels noble and generous. In responding to a request, one’s ego is not boosted. “had such and such not asked me for a favor, I would have gladly offered to do it, but what I do not like is that he “forced” me to help him: it takes away from the generosity of my act.” In such cases it is clear that the “good feeling” of being generous takes precedence over the call of God: "love your neighbor as yourself”, and the gratitude one should feel for being given a chance to glorify God. The real Christian – the one living in the consciousness that it is a privilege to help our brothers – understands that to be asked for help grants us an opportunity of showing our love for Christ, and is also a grace enabling us to pay our own debt toward him: indeed we are all bankrupt, and we should welcome as a grace every single opportunity to pay some of our debt. My husband relates in his memoirs that he knew a young girl – brought up in a totally secular milieu – even though she was officially protestant – who from her youth on was well known for her readiness, at times heroic, to help others. One day, she was given the unfathomable grace of finding the church and continued devoting herself to others. Someone happened to remark that her life proved that to be charitable and generous one does not need to be a devoted Christian. She just “continued to do what she had always done since her youth.” When she heard this remark she exclaimed: "You are greatly mistaken: while a non-believer I was glad to help my neighbor, but now that I am ardent Catholic, I have discovered to my delight, that in lovingly serving my neighbor, I was even then serving my Lord and Savior”: ‘Whatever you have done to any of these little ones, you have done to me.’ Now I am fully aware that previously in the depth of my soul, I was longing to serve him; now I know his name.” There is also the interesting case of friends who, wrongly assume that it is friendship that prohibits them from sharing their problems, whatever their nature – with their closest friends. The symptom is usually a long period and silence, and when we get worried and ask them for its cause, they will tell you that “they have gone through a dark tunnel, and did not want their friends to worry.” This fundamentally wrong attitude was condemned by a Frenchman of the name of Jean de Rotrou. He tells us that the friend who chooses to suffer alone, is in fact offending his friend. This is a beautiful thought which deserves to be meditated on. True, there is one mysterious chamber in the very center of one’s soul to which God alone has the key; but then, according to our ardor of our affection for creatures, each one has access to a particular chamber in our soul – and in the case of a beautiful marriage, it is either the husband or the wife, and there are analogies in other human situations. All friends are loved, but each one has its particular niche. Finally, it should be mentioned that God, in his goodness, does give some of us the grace of meeting people whose heart is so baptized by Christ that they will thank us for the gift of being asked for our help. Such people are saints, and they should be our model. The beloved St. Francis de Sales – this admirable teacher of virtue – has written some beautiful words on this topic found in his spiritual gem, Introduction to the Devout Life. To give joyously, to give gracefully is the Christian way of giving. Not only is the lover of God fully aware that he too is in need of God’s grace and deeply indebted toward his Creator and Savior, and that whatever occasion God sends him to pay his debt toward him should be welcome as a grace. Moreover, when for some objective reason, rendering a service is de facto impossible, much as one wishes to do it, this beloved saint writes that “a loving no” is also a gift of love, and that a “loving no” is infinitely more loving than a sour “yes.” Our debt to this saint, and to the Little Flower, is great indeed: they teach us how we should help our neighbor. May we all gratefully learn from their example the art of helping others. Image: Evan Kirby via Unsplash.com.
Our Holy Father has appointed a commission to examine whether or not women should be granted the diaconate. The question I raise is: Is it truly necessary? Should we not be guided by Genesis and the tradition of the Church? The first Biblical book gives us all the information we need: God created Adam first, his body being made from the slime of the earth; but man being a person is made for communion and none of the animals created could fulfill this mission. God therefore decided to create another person who fully shared Adam’s dignity and like him, was made in His image and likeness. Her body, however, is taken from the body of a person, therefore giving it a special dignity. When Adam woke up from the sleep that God had put on him and saw Eve for the first time, his response was enchantment: he immediately perceived that she fully shared his dignity and that she was created to complement him and therefore enrich him: “male and female He made them.” Let us think for an instant about the word: complement. It clearly indicates that there was something missing in the person complemented. Masculinity with all its virtues and beauty, was in need of another being, possessing the same identical metaphysical dignity both being persons—and one cannot be more or less person—but having certain perfections meant to bring to full fruition the noble qualities that his masculinity had given him. Human nature is not Adam without Eve, and not Eve without Adam; both are necessary for they essentially belong together. This is what Adam immediately perceived. Metaphysical equality, however, does not mean identity—a confusion easily made today in an age of confusion. Man is not meant to be a woman; women are not meant to be males. But, both together sing a noble duet celebrating the greatness of their Creator. This is luminous and metaphysically convincing. The divine message was clear: being different, they had different roles to play and there was an implicit warning that to try to exchange these roles, would have very grave consequences. Man is clearly meant to be a protector and called to action; woman is more mysterious, more secret, and for this reason is called to veiling herself. The male was to sing the bass; the female, the soprano: the arbitrary exchange of tones would inevitably create a cacophony. The role of Adam was to be manly; the one of Eve to live the beautiful mission of femininity. Then came the tragedy of original sin: the gravity of which was such that it ruptured not only the beautiful harmony existing between God and his creatures, but also the harmonious music played by our first parents before the fault. The beautiful role played by Eve was now—thanks to diabolical chemistry—changed into the one of a temptress. Respectful enchantment on the male side degenerated into the “irresistible” attraction of an overwhelming pleasure. Lust, until then unknown to Adam, was from this tragic moment, transformed into deadly trap into which most males, with alas, few exceptions, were going to fall. Tolstoy, who often fell victim of this temptation, accused the peasant girl that he had abused to have seduced him. Of course, he claimed, he was her victim. Following Adam who made Eve responsible for his fall, this famous writer duplicated the first’s excuse. She was made responsible for his sins, and it was therefore legitimate that from this moment on she was looked down upon as a threat, a danger, and therefore as “inferior.” This conviction is the psychological excuse that many males will use to justify their “superiority” which to them is so obvious that it does not need be proven. Love had been transformed into lust. This moral “inferiority” of the fair sex was inevitably going to lead of a metaphysical inferiority – exploited by Simone de Beauvoir in her brilliantly perverse book, “The Second Sex.” Those who fall into the traps of this book will draw the conclusion that in order for women to equal men that is, with the strong and “nobly productive” sex, they must wage war on the cause of this degradation namely: maternity. It is high time that women should liberate themselves from the unbearable burden put on the female body with its menstrual periods, the threat of pregnancy, the pains of childbirth and the time consuming act of breast feeding. They should be given full control over their body and have a holy right to decide whether or not they will choose pregnancy: any means enabling them to favor this free decision, should be welcome, including abortion. To give birth which, from the beginning, has been recognized to be a blessing is, according to the great friend of Jean Paul Sartre, done better and more efficiently by rabbits and hens. Only willingly blind men can fail to perceive that if the Serpent achieved a victory over Eve—whom he chose as his target, knowing her powerful influence upon the so-called strong sex—he is now repeating the same tactic: he aims his arrows at Eve because there is a war between him and the woman: “I shall put an antagonism between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel (Gen. 3:15) Having achieved victory once, he hopes to defeat her once again by his attacks on life and on motherhood. He was a murderer from the beginning, and hating life, his hatred is inevitably directed toward “the mother of the living” as Adam called Eve when he saw her. But God, who never abandons his sinful creatures, had given the world a Woman, tota pulchra – who humbly accepted the incredible dignity offered her: to be the mother of the Savior, and by her fiat guaranteed the ultimate victory of the woman over the evil one. How right is St. Bernard in telling us how the Serpent centers his hatred on Mary and in some mysterious way fears her more than God himself (see Gueranger (osb) - liturgical year, time after Pentecost, Book V p. 205). How humiliating it is for him to be defeated by “the second sex.” Now we are in the right metaphysical position to face the question raised at the beginning of this essay: should women be granted the diaconate? It is only by contemplating Mary that we shall find the “Catholic” answer. What is her message? Her humility manifested when she was greeted as full of grace, overwhelmed and trembling with reverence: a magnificent expression of one of the key perfections of femininity: receptivity to the Angel Gabriel’s message which overwhelmed her. She will conceive a son…She is amazed; “how can it be? I know not man.” But then comes God messenger’s reassuring answer that she will be covered by the Holy Spirit. Her sublime answer will give us a key to understanding the mission of women in the Church I am the Handmaid of the Lord; be it done unto me according to thy Word.” The blessed one joyfully acknowledges that to serve is to reign; these golden words are immediately followed by the words that we should all utter every day: be it done to me according to thy word. It is not doing that should be given priority: it is the grateful acceptance to be fecundated. Great as Aristotle was, he tacitly made a dreadful confusion in claiming that the male is superior to the female because he is active; she is only passive. Granting that activity is “superior” to passivity, what he overlooks is that there is an abyss between passivity and receptivity: openness to fecundation. This is the glory of woman: holy receptivity. In the light of faith, it is clearly “superior” to activity because acknowledging that we are poor creatures, totally dependent upon the Creator, are called to joyfully welcome, this receptivity which is a key to holiness. Why is it that women are called the “pious sex,” if not because it is much easier for them to beg for help and accept to receive it with a joyful thank you? Why do nurses tell one that female patients are easier than male patients, often raging that they have for some time lost their independence? “I can do it by myself; I do not need help.” Once we perceive this luminous (and for this reason, blinding) truth we find an answer to our original question: should women partake of the diaconate given to men? A positive response is, I believe, based on the erroneous premise that “doing”; “acting”; “producing”; “being in the lime light”; are more important than silence and contemplation. This craving is given additional attraction today because of television: to be seen on the big screen is, to some people, the greatest of their wishes. A witty French cynic might be tempted to write today: “Descartes wrote: ‘I think therefore I am.’ Today he would wisely replace these famous words with: ‘I am on television: therefore I am.’” Some might be tempted to sell themselves to be seen by millions of people. Personally I find it difficult to understand the craving that many women have to be lectors or altar girls. One should go to Church to adore and to be receptive to the unfathomable gift of the Holy Sacrifice. Why should “acting” bring us closer to God that silent adoration? Would a St. Therese of Lisieux regret the fact that her life in a little-known convent in a small French town, prevented her from being “known the world over?” Now she is, but certainly never aimed at being famous. The worst Popes—and some of them were plainly unworthy—were those playing political games to have a tiara on their heads. The greatest—let us think of Pius X—are those who accept the crushing burden of the Papacy sub cruce. One of the grave problems affecting our society is that we have lost the sense for the hierarchy of values: we place action over contemplation, we place authority over obedience, we place accomplishments over loving submission. We should do the reverse: place obedience over commanding; contemplation over action; obscurity over fame. How beautiful in St. Benedict’s holy rule that he keeps reminding the Abbot that one day when he appears before the throne of God, he will be asked whether he has truly used the authority as a service to the souls of his spiritual sons. Has he been more concerned to be loved than to command? Has he viewed being Abbot a burden which is so heavy that he needs God’s help to carry? Reading these words, how could possibly a monk worthy of this name, wish to be elected Abbot? It is high time for women to awake from the dangerous spiritual slumber that secularistic ideas, like a dangerous drug, has made them lose view of the beauty and greatness of their mission so crucial to the Church. Let us recall the words of Christ to Martha: “thou are troubled with many things. One thing alone is necessary, Mary has chosen the better part and will not be taken away from her.” God has made it clear from the beginning that the roles He assigned to men and women were different and for this very reason were complementary. One of the tricks that the Evil one has now devised is to convince some women that they are looked down upon because they only perform low rank female duties. The “great things” have been accomplished by males; from the beginning, they have been the leaders, the creators, the great thinkers, the great scientists, the great architects, the great military leaders. They have contributed to what Simone de Beauvoir the “wheel of progress.” But de Beauvoir fails to mention her “excuse” being that having left the church as a teenager, she chose blindness, and inevitably not only rejects God’s holy teaching, but fights against it. She chooses to forget that one day the world will be annihilated: all male accomplishments, admirable as some were, will be reduced to dust and ashes… but every single child to whom a woman has given birth, having been given an immortal soul, will live for ever. It is worth remarking that some “great” thinkers whose thoughts have done an incalculable amount of harm can, when absent minded, make very pertinent points. It was Nietzsche – no friend of mine – who wrote that before the French revolution women had much less authority than now, but had a lot more influence. How profound to perceive that authority can command actions; but influence can transform persons. This is a crushing superiority Always again, we should meditate upon the fact that Mary—the most perfect of all creatures including Angels whose queen she is—gave birth to the Savior. This is the greatest, the most overwhelming honor ever granted to a human being, and this Savior is the one and only Priest. For all priests when entering the sanctuary should remember with a trembling heart that they act in persona Christi. This is why when they utter the words of consecration, “their hands should tremble. ” Mary—a woman—has the glorious title of mother of the only priest. The woman’s greatest dignity is not to be a deacon, but to be a mother to a priest. In the light of this, why should she battle to become a deacon? We should beware of any decision made which aims at blurring the line separating masculinity from femininity. This caveat should be written in golden letters. Let me repeat, emphatically; the war going on today is a devilish war against motherhood: This is best proven by the fact that women are challenged to become more like men. Men do not duplicate by wishing to be more like women: to give birth does not appeal to them. Mary, in accepting to be fecundated by the Holy Spirit and conceive the Savior, was in this moment, fully accepting to partake of his passion. No creature has shared the cross of her Son as much as she has. She duplicated in her heart the agonizing pains of her beloved Son; she fully accepted to pay the price for the honor to become the mother of the only priest: Christ. To accept to be the mother of a priest necessarily excludes the possibility of being a priest oneself. This is why the Church does not allow women to receive this magnificent sacrament. One thing cannot be denied; a full, joyful acceptance of the gender God has chosen for us brings with it an amazing reward; it gives us a key to the mystery of the other sex. This is why Mary was the blessed one who understood St. Joseph best, and vice versa. This explains the sublime friendships which have blossomed through the centuries between great saints. I have shed some humble light on this in my book: “Man & Woman: A Divine Invention.” May these few words be received as a holy wake up call, and make the weak sex realize “that it is a privilege to be a woman.” Image credit: Woman by Ian Schneider via Unsplash.com.
Dedicated by the author to Bob Luddy. In our culture, the word “democracy” has been granted a dignity that rivals the one that used to be granted to gospel truths. To be “undemocratic” is the sin par excellence, but unfortunately this canonization will inevitably tempt many of us to misunderstand its authentic meaning. One crucial metaphysical truth which, alas, has often been trampled upon is a recognition of the equality of all human beings, whether black or white, whether male or female, whether old or young. All of them share the same noble human nature; all of them are made to God’s image and likeness; all of them have an immortal soul and are called upon to serve Him in this life, and enjoy Him forever in Heaven. Since original sin our human mind, granted us to seek truth and to live according to its dictates, has been poisoned by pride, and has led many of us to grave errors, one of which I will briefly concentrate upon: Men are not equal. Some are definitely superior to others and therefore entitled to dominate over them. The healthy ones are superior to weak and unhealthy ones; the intelligent are superior not only to the untalented ones but also to those that are just average. The handsome ones are crushingly superior to those whose appearance has not been favored by nature. Males are clearly superior to females, white people are definitely superior to black ones. Slavery is a law of nature and this law should be respected. The caste system in India still incorporates this conviction, though discrimination based on one’s caste is now technically illegal. There are four castes, the superior one being the Brahmins, priests and teachers, followed by the Kshatriyas, the rulers’ class, then the Vaishyas, merchants, and then the lowest class, the Sudras destined to serve. Not only do they proclaim the crushing superiority of the highest over the others, but moreover, the superiority of the second over the third, and of the third over the fourth one. Then come the Untouchables, or Dalits, which are not even worthy to belong to a caste. Their metaphysical rank is so low that no word can adequately qualify their unworthiness. They are paying a debt for some mysterious unknown sin, the nature of which is not specified. Their very shadow is poisonous. This is so deeply rooted in the Hindu culture that “progress” in the technological sense of this word is impossible. I was told by a friend who lived in India for several years that a rich Swiss industrial had opened a factory in that country. It was strongly built, and the danger of fires was practically eliminated by the most powerful extinguishers. One day very early in the morning, he was awakened and informed that his factory was in flames. He rushed to the place and found out that none of the extinguishers had been activated. The workers were watching the fire … doing nothing. Beside himself with rage, he screamed, “Why did you not use them?” The answer was univocal: "Because none of us belongs to a caste allowing us to do menial work.” I was told (relata refero) that if members of a higher caste were sharing a sumptuous meal and an Untouchable passed by, his very shadow on the food poisoned it and had to be thrown into the fire. In fact, it could probably have fed a whole village for a week or longer. These are facts that fly in the face of the most elementary common sense. But these traditions are “sacred” and so deeply rooted in their culture, that attempts to abolish them have been interpreted by some as a grave betrayal of the very soul of their country. How did it all begin? Who is the father of this tradition? Having no historical record is for them is a plus: “IT ALWAYS WAS SO” is their key argument. To a Hindu historical dates with their accuracy and precision are viewed as restrictive and narrow, whereas to say: “it is so from time immemorial” gives them a note of sacredness and mystery which definitely appeals to the Hindu mentality and is neither perceived nor appreciated by western nations fettered by their calendars. Pantheism is tempting because god and eternity are clearly related, and man, being part of the godhead should therefore partake of eternity. Aristotle called man a rational animal but one can question how often he makes use of this precious gift. A French cynic might be tempted to say, “Yes, man is indeed a rational animal whose great concern is to use this gift as little as possible.” How is one to eliminate poverty in a culture that has become a religion? To a European mind, this philosophy—if we can call it such—is an outrage against reason, but to a Hindu it is a sacred tradition that should be respected whatever the circumstances are. Nothing is more difficult than to eradicate a tradition that goes back to a beginning that has no beginning. Alas, very many cultures are affected by the same metaphysical blindness: the craving to be “higher” than others, to be an “aristocrat” (aristo means the best), to be in the upper echelon of the society is, since original sin, deeply rooted in our fallen nature. In the light of this sad fact, one can understand why Christianity created a revolution, not only by proclaiming that God became incarnated to save us, and accepted the death of a slave in order to reopen to his poor sinful creatures the gates of heaven, but also by its claim that all human beings, whatever their biological make up, share the same dignity; that all of them are children of God and are loved by Him, that all of them should be offered the blessed food of Truth. Christianity is the also condemnation of elitism, of secret societies whose mysteries are to be revealed only to the elect, and radically denied to the hoi polloi, the unworthy ones. This promise explains how easy it is to recruit people to join any of these sects, and being thereby guaranteed to belong to the superior race. It is also easy to conceive why the victory of the Christian doctrine was, humanly speaking, inconceivable and could only be achieved by grace. Whoever is convinced of his crushing superiority over his fellow men and has suddenly been told that a lower class, uneducated servant has the same dignity as a human being, is also a child of God, certainly was not easy to be accepted by the “superior ones”—as it wages war on his human pride. Yet, it is clearly said in the Magnificat, “deposuit potentes de sede et exaltavit humiles.” How pleasant it is to assume that because one came from a nobler background, has famous ancestors, is more intelligent, more talented….in one word: superior to others and therefore entitled to be their masters. Not so long ago I heard about a British Lady—a high class Anglican—informed that an acquaintance of hers had become a Catholic, exclaimed in horror: “How can he possibly share a religion practiced by my Irish maids?” This craving for “being superior” and better than others is so ingrained in us since original sin that to uproot can only be explained as a miracle of God’s grace. How is one to convince a proud Brahmin that he is not superior to other castes? It is even difficult to totally uproot in so called Catholic cultures. It is related that the talented French author Louis Veuillot once had a lively argument with an aristocrat. At one point the latter feeling that he was being refuted, said to Veuillot: “Do not forget that I DESCEND from the Crusaders,” to which, without losing a beat, Veuillot replied: “Oh! You ‘DESCEND’ from the Crusaders; I ‘ASCEND’ from a shoe maker.” Let us hope the aristocrat got the point. This tendency also works in the downward line: I had a very pretty cousin, but she was not born to be a scholar. In Belgian schools, each individual student was given a number according to her performance, no. 1 being the best. My lovely cousin usually was the last one on the list. Once she came home radiant. Her mother questioned her, “Did you do well today?” “No, Mother, but there was another student worse than I.” It speaks volumes. Original sin was a sin of pride, and this is so ingrained in us that it is the most difficult virtue to acquire is humility. I often wondered how the saints could be humble being saints? Yet, the answer is obvious: because holiness precisely means an incarnation of humility. It is not by accident that many of the first Christians were slaves and that the conversions of big shots such as Constantine and Clovis was the work of grace. Our Savior redeemed us in accepting to take the form of a slave. As I just said, to acquire humility can only be the work of grace; whereas, it is conceivable that someone declares, “I have never willingly or knowingly told an lie.” It is impossible to say; the virtue of humility is so very difficult to acquire that the very moment you believe you have it, your lose it. Thank God I have it (French humor). I was told that a young man wished to enter a Benedictine convent in Belgium. He was accepted, but while having an interchange with his master of novice, he unabashedly declared, “Father, humility is my key virtue.” He did not stay very long. To rejoice because one is “nothing” and has received everything is a proof that, to quote Christ, all things are possible with God. Nevertheless the idea of the metaphysical equality of all human beings did conquer in Christian countries, and this gave birth to “democracy”: the solemn proclamation that all men share the same noble human nature, and one cannot be more or less of a human person. But as the Devil never sleeps, and moreover, to quote the remark of a wise and witty speaker: “God has set limits to human intelligence, but none to his stupidity,” this noble truth was going to be exposed to subtle attacks. Many are those in our advanced society who have been led to assume that because we all have the same dignity as human beings, we are entitled to draw the conclusion that all “hierarchies” should be abolished because they are anti-democratic. I recall vividly a student of mine sitting in the first row, and who, when I praised Plato’s intelligence, made a wry, sour face. Noticing his displeasure, I questioned him: “What is your objection?” His reply: “I strongly object to this intellectual canonization. Who is to tell? Others have different opinions that should be respected and I see no valid reason for your making this assertion.” I got the point: being modestly talented, he resented being denied the possibility that he was an unrecognized genius. To praise Plato’s genius offended his sense of “democracy.” In his Ethics, Dietrich von Hildebrand made distinctions which will help us to shed light on this topic. I shall use them to prove how disastrous this war on hierarchy is and alas how fast it is spreading more and more in our society. He distinguishes between two very different types of value: ontological values and qualitative values. Whereas one possesses the former or does not possess them, that is, one is either a human being, or one is not, qualitative values, such as moral goodness, degree of intelligence, variety of talents, degrees of beauty and of ugliness are possessed in very different measures. One can be more or less just, more or less intelligent, more or less sensitive to art and beauty. But as I just hinted above, there is a tendency in our society to aim at egalitarianism – claiming that any sort of hierarchy is a sin against democracy: we are all equal. At times, I wish my students learned as much in my classes as I learned by breathing for years the “fresh” democratic air that has penetrated into places of higher learning. Let me repeat emphatically: one cannot be more or less of an angel; either one has an angelic nature or one has not. We cannot be more or less of human person: but there is a huge hierarchy between us as far as moral, intellectual, artistic talents are concerned. St. Teresa of Avila wrote that in heaven not two human beings will have exactly the same degree of glory. No one will ever challenge the place they are given in heaven knowing that God, being the very incarnation of Justice, will give us exactly the place we deserve. It is of crucial importance today to make people realize that this war (maybe resentment) against any hierarchy can have disastrous consequences for democracy itself. It is also important to mention that there is also a great hierarchy not only among qualitative values—moral values are superior to intellectual values, the latter being superior to artistic talent—but moreover, that there is a hierarchy within one the same family of values: e.g. humility is a greater virtue than honesty. On his death bed, one is bound to realize that one’s kindness and generosity are more important that brilliance and wit, and that one’s loving pursuit of truth is more important than to create buildings of remarkable beauty. In heaven we shall not be asked whether we made the headlines by our productivity and “genius” but whether we have loved God and our neighbor. It is more important for a person to know the truth about God and the meaning of human life, than to be a great astronomer, or to have a deep appreciation of artistic values, important as these are, because in some subtle way, they also point “upwards.” The most important ones, those that we should most eagerly strive to acquire, are moral values and they are moreover the only values that we are responsible for. Apart from the fact that we cannot will genius, we are responsible for our moral health: a liar is freely staining himself by lying. No one is born a liar; one becomes ones by calculating that it is advantageous to give truth a slap in the face. We are not responsible for our degree of intelligence, but we are responsible for putting it at the service of truth. He who is given ten talents will be requested to give ten more. The one who has but one talent will not be required to give two back. Am I wrong in claiming that in our society efficiency is alas, more highly valued than holiness? A man of modest accomplishments will easily be looked down upon even though he is kind, generous, forgiving. Whereas a “self-made man,” that is someone who through his talents and hard work “succeeded,” is likely to be praised and acclaimed. Not wishing to deny the value of hard work and courage in overcoming great obstacles to success, in the light of eternity, humility and charity rank higher. By the way, I do not deny that a very successful man can also possess these key moral values, I know several of them—but he knows full well that his generosity had infinitely more value than the virtues he needed to succeed. The aristocratic place that should be given to moral values over other values is being more and more challenged in our society. This has been illumined in von Hildebrand’s books so that I only need refer the reader to them. This dethronement of truth will inevitably give birth to a “new hierarchy” where efficiency is more valued than holiness. (See his article in the New Tower of Babel, Kennedy l954) To be hard working, to achieve (which inevitably implies certain moral values such as discipline, perseverance and courage), tend to be more valued than humility, kindness selflessness, love of neighbor. This strongly marked tendency is worrisome. And is to be explained by the wrong philosophy prevalent in schools and universities: namely relativism. When a top notch professor in a well known university declared that the purpose of education is to guarantee that its graduates will earn a good living, we are forced to realize that our society is gravely morally decadent. Tell me the type of “education” children receive, and I will tell you how this society is to be rated. I am not sure we are doing well. From grammar school on, children are repeatedly told that “certainty” can only be achieved in sciences based on experimentation. All other domains are matter of opinion and it is arrogant to claim that one’s opinion is better than the ones defended by others. Moreover, they are warned that the claim that certain ideas are untrue, and therefore dangerous, is arrogant and, in fact, is a subtle attack on democracy. This was expressed by a student of mine who entering my classroom told me, ‘Why should your ideas be better than mine?” When to his amazement I replied: “There is no reason whatever, except if my ideas are true, and therefore should also be endorsed by you because truth is offered to all men, and should be accepted by them all.” He looked at me with amazement: “Who is to tell?” I cannot be eloquent enough on this: relativism when carried to its consequences, is in fact a subtle denial of the equality of human beings. If this is only the opinion of some people, others deny it emphatically and no one has a right to impose his ideas on another person. How is one to convince a Hindu that a Dalit is just as much of a human person as he is? This is “his” point of view, and should be respected. That this poison has now penetrated into Catholic colleges was proven by the fact when Mother Betty McCormack who graduated with me from Manhattanville college, declared upon accept this honor: “From now on all ideas are accepted in this college.” In other words, they should not be rated as true or untrue … it is all depends upon one’s perspective. Narrowness is an intellectual sin that should be uprooted at all cost. Not long afterwards she left the Order of the Mothers of the Sacred Heart, worked for the Rockefeller Foundation, and married a Jewish man. The obvious conclusion is that the equality of all men is a view prevalent in our society, we have no right to impose it on others: they too have a right to their own opinion, for it is all a matter of opinion. They too have a right to pick up and choose what they happen to like and consider to be is valid for U.S. citizens and for some European nations, but has no validity for oriental people: it is “the American way of life.” But this expression is rich in ambiguities. It would be ridiculous to make a law commanding all people to eat goulash because it is the favorite menu of Hungarians, as it would be to tell other nations that they should elect their president in a “democratic” fashion: that is let the majority to decide. But more than one wise man has questioned whether the majority is by the fact that a particular view is endorsed by more people is guaranteed to be the right and wise one. I do not recall who said that the majority is always wrong, implying that most people are not well informed and then feed themselves on the junk food offered by most newspapers. Kierkegaard formulated this strikingly in his devastating criticism of newspapers—the only intellectual food of most people. In many countries the tradition was that political power was “inherited”: the king left it to his older son. In the USA, the president is chosen by the majority—assuming erroneously that all of us are equally well equipped to judge what is actually best for the country. In fact, the number of people who, fairly ignorant of politics, will give their vote to the candidate who dominates the news media is very high. And having the gift of gab, succeed by whatever means to convince the people that they will be a marvelous leader, correcting the mistakes made by their predecessor, and guaranteeing that the U.S. will remain the richest and most powerful country in the world. Looking at all the men who became presidents of the United States since Washington, one is entitled to raise the question: how many of them deserve to be called “great?” Looking at the long list of monarchs who have ruled Europe for centuries, one cannot say that the percentage of weak, insignificant, or bad ones, is greater. Few indeed are those who deserve the title, “Great” and this is true in all domains. At any rate, one is tempted to endorse the view of Samuel Johnson that the ugliness of competition is such that it is wise to avoid it. Few are those among us who can long stand watching the ugly and nasty punches that one candidate gives others: elementary courtesy seems to be forgotten in the months preceding a presidential election. At times, one blushes at the thought that these people will possibly have the greatest political power in the world. The point that I truly wish to emphasize is that the philosophy of relativism is a poison which, carried to its consequences, will in the long run be the death of democracy taken in the authentic meaning of the word: a recognition of the metaphysical equality of all men, while not denying that they are very different in their degree of possessing qualitative values. If empirical proofs alone give us certainty, then we cannot possibly claim that all men are metaphysically equal. That might be the “American way of life”, but they have no right whatever, to claim that it is universally valid, and in fact, justifies the caste system which happens to be what the Hindus favor. Relativism also has to endorse the claim of the famous Yoga master Suzuki, that two plus two is four is one possible view, but that open mindedness requires us to acknowledge that it is only one point of view and that others, such as two plus two is three or five, should also be respected. (Father H van Straelen. Le Zen Demystifie, p 94) Once elementary logic is put on trial, any discussion becomes totally meaningless. That Logic is the arch enemy of this type of philosophy should be luminous and is therefore the arch enemy of yogism. There are plenty of domains open to opinions—politics being one of them, or the rating of great writers and great artists. But there are domains in which to speak of opinions defies common sense: whether there is a God or whether atheism is the valid attitude that intelligent people should endorse, is not a matter of opinion. It is a clear either or – the same applies whether God is or is not a Trinity, whether or not Christ is God and Man, or only a superior human being, whether our soul is immortal or perishes with our body, etc. A pantheist or a theist cannot both be right; Muslims and Christians clash on their view of God. The crucial question is who is right or who is wrong. Either or is crucial in many intellectuals discussions and to say that both positions are to be endorsed in the name of broad mindedness is nonsense. It is worth mentioning that in domains opened to various views where mathematical certainty cannot be obtained, people often argue with an obstinacy made fun of by the gifted French philosopher, Gabriel Marcel. He remarks that in such domains someone is likely to say: “I do not claim to have any competence in this domain, but you want to know my opinion….” and then defend it with tooth and nail as if he alone had the key to this complex question. It is also worth remarking that these are domains where very many of us discuss endlessly without ever coming closer to an agreement. Let me repeat: it is crucial to distinguish between domain where certainty can be obtained – relating to question of either or – and domains in which we do have this possibility. This leads me to view our concern from a slightly different point of view. Once again, one of the taboos in universities which are severely condemned is “narrow mindedness.” In fact what does it mean, and why does evoke in many of us a feeling of intellectual “choking?” I tend to believe that its attraction is its very vagueness. The word “narrow” usually has a negative note: a narrow road can be dangerous. Broad on the other hand has a good reputation. But when applied to our problem, things become a bit more complex. There is only one health and innumerable sicknesses. Yet, to reject all sicknesses is not a sign of narrowness but a sign of sanity. There are good many ways of misspelling a word, but only one correct one. Is one narrow minded by aiming at using the right one? There are innumerable errors that can be made in mathematics but only one true answer. Is one “narrow minded” by aiming at the blessed narrowness of truth? I suspect that I read this in Chesterton. Reading the history of philosophy one will be struck by the fact that it has been rich in false and erroneous philosophies, but only one true one. This is why it is so easy to become famous: all one needs to do is to become the protagonist of an error that has yet not been formulated, whereas if one formulates a truth – which by its very essence is one – he might give to some weak headed persons, a feeling of “restriction” and narrowness.” To make things clearer: it would be fully justified if someone declared that Bach and Bach alone deserves to be declared a great musician, (some might say today, Rock and Roll) or Shakespeare the only literary giant, thereby denying any value to great French, German, Italian, Spanish and Russian writers. But we are then entering a totally different domain where the question of truth versus error is not applicable. It is nonsensical to say: “Bach is true; Mozart is false.” A decadent society might be dubbed one in which nonsense has become popular and endorsed as finally bringing some variety. The conclusion I wish to draw is that it is high time that we realize that relativism is a poison that has deeply infected our so called culture, and that if carried to its logical consequence would inevitably lead to war on democracy: the recognition of the equality of all human beings viewed as just “an American way of life” that we have no right to impose on other nations.
One of the many ethical gems that Plato has left us is to be found in his last work: "The Laws" – a work alas often neglected by scholars. Born in the 5th century B.C.—the glorious century of Greece—Plato died in 348 when Athens was on a declining slope. Deeply sorrowed from witnessing this decadence, and referring to the glorious century of Pericles, and Socrates, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Plato wrote the following words: “… reverence was then our queen and mistress.” These golden words give us a key to moral decadence: lack of reverence. He seems to be addressing the 21st century: “Irreverence will be your downfall.” These words alone fully justify the fathers of the Church in honoring him with the words: “a preparer of the ways of Christ.” They also fully justify the role that he played in the thought of St. Augustine. Plato perceived with matchless clarity that respect for the natural moral law is the thermometer that will determine the future of a country. This should give us food for thought. Alas, one of the laws of history is that we never learn from the eloquent lessons it gives us. Plato saw clearly that reverence is a key virtue. Dietrich von Hildebrand calls it, “the mother of all virtues,” because none of them can possibly blossom without being animated by a feeling of awe for the greatness of creation—a creation that clearly points to a creator. Reverence is the virtue reminding us constantly that we are “creatures”—that everything is a gift calling for gratitude toward the Gift-Giver. Reverence opens our eyes to the mystery of being, of life, of beauty. In his own unique style, Chesterton tells us about his enchantment as a child over the fact that he existed, and once for the mysterious beauty of the world surrounding him … but to his regret—not being at that time religiously awakened—he deplored the fact that he did not know to whom he should address his gratitude. A gift calls for a gift-giver. How tragically poor is the life of those who choke on the words, “thank you.” Such people are metaphysical beggars—and do not know it. The young child is born with a sense of “marveling,” be it the discovery of its own toes. Each day opens up a window that make him grow wings. The Greeks were right indeed: “Philosophy begins in wondering.” How incredibly sad to be living in a world which no longer “wonders” and chokes on the words, “thank you,” a world in which we are told that thanks to “science” there is nothing that modern man cannot unravel, and “explain” away. How true is the French saying: “a little science separates us from God; true science brings us back to Him.” How desirable it is for all of us to go back to spiritual childhood and wake up every morning, with a heart open to marveling. I recall that as a tiny little girl, I once went to the kitchen, watched the cook cut an onion and marveled with enchantment all its admirable layers. To this very day, I have a special relationship with it. I also recall taking an egg in my hand, and once again being overwhelmed by its beauty. This enchantment still increased when the cook cut it open and I witnessed this admirable combination of yellow and white—the papal colors—which I still experience today. Another awakening to “wondering” was my first conscious perception to the enchantment of springtime. We lived one hundred yards from the Parc du Cinquantenaire in Brussels, where I took my first steps. My mother took us there daily to play. Upon entering the park, it must have been in late March, I noticed that the earth that was dark the day before, had broken open to permit the entrance of a crocus. I was so overwhelmed that I bent down and kissed it. To this very day, I have not lost my special relationship with this modest flower. I realized that grateful wondering and happiness are deeply connected. The curse of modern men, is that so many of them have lost their sense for wondering and gratitude. Boredom is a punishment for irreverence. Alas, our mind-boggling technological progress has brought with it the curse of taking things for granted and assuming with blind stupidity that there is nothing we cannot know, nothing that he cannot master. Having a small gadget in his hand, one feels that he is the master of the universe. He can click on a button and have the world at his fingertips. Regretfully we never hear homilists say a word about the sin of being “blasé.” It is a sin because it is a consequence of ingratitude, because it is fruit of pride and metaphysical arrogance. Every sin brings with it its own punishment. Alas the spiritual climate of our scientific age has killed our sense of wondering. We have become so convinced that thanks to the mind-boggling development of science, especially in the course of the 20th century that has invented the atomic bomb, we no longer need to “marvel.” There is no mystery that we cannot not only unravel, but control. In fact, nothing deserves our “wonderment.” Being blasé is a 20th century sickness. Why are so many of us “bored” and unhappy? To have too much money is a curse; we can have anything without effort, just by paying the bill. I have reasons to assume that the children of peasants are never bored; nature keeps fascinating them. But I know children of the very rich that are always complaining of being bored; having everything, they enjoy nothing. A very rich financier who had one hundred ties in his closet, passing Brooks on Madison Avenue, he might be tempted to get another one: of course, he will buy it, but hardly ever wear it, if at all. Those of us who have worked hard to get a nice outfit, once we wear it, enjoy it and are grateful. There are children whom their parents take to Florida for Christmas, to California for Easter, and spend the summer in Europe traveling from country to country: they saw every thing; “Of course, I saw the Parthenon—what about it? Of course I saw Santa Sophia, of course one short weekend I saw the Pyramids.” They do not know how to contemplate: the key concern is to brag about it to their “friends” at school: “I know it all. Nothing impresses me.” In a different context, this has been admirably sketched by Anthony Esolen in his book showing how “imagination” can be and has been killed in children. I am tempted to say because of our having lost our sense of marveling, we are feverishly looking for substitutes such as drugs which give one a “high”; rock and roll, the brutal sounds of which awaken in us—to quote Socrates—the monster that lies dormant in every one of us. Whereas the Passion, according to St. Matthew, brings tears to our eyes and teaches us how to pray. Violent, deafening sounds act like a narcotic on the human soul and paralyze it spiritually. How right Plato was once again when he wrote that decadence starts with music (or rather brutal noise now called music and prevent us from being “recollected”). Modern man assumes that he has a key to the universe, he is the master and should only marvel at himself; “wie herrlich weit wir es gebracht haben” (Goethe – Faustus Wagner). We live in a mendacious world which promises that “technology” gives us a key to the universe, and that, being given time, man can solve all problems, and conquer death. Indeed, man can become sicut dii (like God). The punishment is that we constantly need more fun, more noise to make us forget – at least for a while – how bored we are. These palliatives are addictive: the more we take them, the more we need them. This has produced the Drug Culture. Drug it is indeed, but “culture”? It should be called anti-culture. We have lost the art of marveling because there is nothing worth marveling at. Man is a bored “creator” and has totally and possibly willingly forgotten that he is a creature who should recall daily that there is nothing that he has not received. The sacredness of receptivity has been destroyed because the latter calls for gratitude. Every sin—and metaphysical arrogance is a major one—brings with it its own punishment: modern man can no longer “marvel” and has lost the art of rejoicing over the blinding fact that there are things greater than we are. Boredom is a modern plague. Now it should be obvious that there is a deep bond between gratitude—a key to happiness—and reverence. What a beautiful topic for a Ph.D dissertation. As far as I know, it has not yet been done. Assuming that because we have the world at our finger tips (thanks to modern gadgets) and only need click on a key to “be in China” and also find answers to all questions, we are condemned to eternal boredom, and often turn to perversions to have some fun—something that makes us forget, be it only for a few hours how boring life is. This fact explains the scary epidemic of devilish practices, and of every conceivable perverse invention. What is “reverence?” It is an uplifting and joyful feeling of awe, a response that man is called upon to give to God’s creation which clearly points to the Creator, it is an ever renewed and grateful discovery of the mysteries of being, it is an overcoming of one’s moral blindness preventing us perceiving the glories of the universe that we live in. It is a joy to perceive how marvelous it is “to be” and consequently, should make us respond with horror at abortion, willingly and brutally denying existence to others (for I doubt that abortionists would have chosen to be aborted themselves had they had a chance of doing it). They deny life to others; not to themselves. We all should tremble with respect at perceiving a little creature making its dramatic entrance into our world. This increasing lack of reverence is, alas, strikingly expressed in our churches since Vatican II. No one will ever convince me that in destroying the communion rails—many of which were artistic masterpieces, increased our reverence for the Blessed Sacrament. And this apart from the scandalous expenses that this iconoclasm involved. The question we should raise is why was it done? It is not only pitiful but shameful that people in authoritative positions did not say clearly and loudly; we do not want this act of irreverent iconoclasm. Alas, their silence was deafening. Man is made up of body and soul, and it is dignum et justum that the body in harmony with the soul should express its trembling reverence toward the Body of Christ present in the Eucharist. If any one of us were blessed with a divine apparition, the first thing we would do would be to kneel in trembling adoration. How right Chesterton was when he wrote that modern man forgets “how tall he is on his knees.” But one “profanation” leads to the next. Now only were communion rails destroyed, but others changes—singing the same discordant music of irreverence was introduced one by one. Why is it that people no longer beat their breasts while reciting the Confiteor? Mea Culpa calls for the beautiful duet sung by the soul, with the accompaniment of the body. Why is it that when reciting the Credo, people no longer bow while uttering the words; et incarnatus est? The glorious words of Christian revelation. Why is it that in a modern Belgian church, the benches are so close to one another that it is physically impossible to kneel when the words of Consecration are uttered? In the same church, people no longer get up for the reading of the Gospel, and when the words of Consecration are uttered, they get up mechanically for a minute, and then sit down again. Why is it that since Vatican II many are those who come to Sunday mass with their beach attire? Something they would not dream of doing if invited to the White House by Barack Obama. Would that be such an honor? Religion should have a sacred language: a language which being limited to the cult is inoculated against slang and vulgarity. How tragic is the loss of Latin, uniting all Catholic all over the world, but the precious bond of a sacred language. The construction of the Tower of Babel brought about its own punishment: the difficulty now for men to communicate. Now by abandoning Latin in the liturgy, we have chosen the punishment. Let me repeat vulgarities are inconceivable in a sacred language. When one hears a visiting priest giving the homily at the Sunday mass and referring to God as “the nice guy upstairs” I know that if Angels could weep, they would sob. It is nothing short of shameful. The answer is tragically obvious: we have lost our sense of reverence—the trembling reverence that animated Moses when he was told to take off his shoes…for this place is sacred. How can the Muslims possibly be convinced that we Catholics believe in the Real Presence while witnessing the posture of very many Catholics coming to Sunday Mass? Sunt lacrimae rerum. Any religious revival should begin with a re awakening our sense of wondering, awe, trembling reverence for the sacred and whatever is greater than we are. He who walks on arrogant stilts faces the danger of breaking his neck. Again no one would convince me that to give communion in the hand has increased our faith. Ever since I was a child, I heard the words: “Do not touch. This is precious.” If there is one thing which is not only precious, but sacred, it is the Body of Christ. Why are the hands of priests consecrated? Because this consecration allowed them to touch the body of our Savior. Apart from the fact that this dangerously unfortunate decision has decreased our sense of the sacred, it is also weakened the difference between priest and lay people, a Lutheran victory. All are called to holiness but the fact remains that someone who can pronounce the words: “this is my body; this is my blood” is granted a special dignity which today while not being officially not abolished, has decreased our reverence for the priesthood. We should not forget that there are many ways to holiness: all claim our being transformed in Christ, but the vocation to the priesthood differs greatly to the vocation to marriage and parenthood. There are holy priests; there are holy fathers and mothers. A holy father, by his holiness, is much closer to a holy priest than the latter is to a mediocre one. Let me add: Allowing the faithful to receive under the two species, while done in the past, was permitted at the time when “reverence was our queen and mistress.” Today it has in fact decreased our reverence not only for the Holy Eucharist, but also for the priesthood: it in fact has abolished the difference between consecrated and non-consecrated hands. How difficult it is for young Catholic children today to have this sense of mystery, sacredness and trembling reverence when their parents no longer have it? I will only make a brief allusion to the way people dress coming to mass on Sunday. Once again, years ago, out of reverence for the Eucharist, people covered themselves respectfully. Today many are those who come to church as to popular restaurants; “come as you are”—how can protestants and non-Catholics possibly believe that we believe that Christ is physically present? Inevitably this lack of respect will impact our reverence not only for our own body but also on the relationship between man and woman; how is a male to respect a woman who has no more sense for the mystery of her femininity and never thinks that she is privileged to have a body identical in “architecture” to the body of the Holiest one among human creatures? One thing is certain: old age is no longer respected. When I was a child in Belgium, in public transportation was the rule, and when at “rush hour” the trolley car or the bus was full, men would immediately give their seat to an elderly person or to a mother with young children. It was a matter of course. In a materialistic society like ours, youth is glorified, and old age is looked down upon as no longer productive or efficient. When one reads stories of Indian tribes, it was a matter of course that when they were facing a threatening situation, they turned for advice to the elderly because having lived longer they had more experience, and were better acquainted with human problems and suffering. It is saddening indeed when young children in grammar school age address elderly persons with, “Hi, Joe.” It would have been inconceivable in my youth, not to address them as “Mr. or Mrs.” If were to tell them that it is not the properly way of addressing the elderly, they would be baffled. “Why? We are all equal.” This lack of respect is also manifested in the silly conviction that thanks to our amazing technology we are infinitely superior to people of the past be it Homer, Dante, Cervantes, Shakespeare or Dostoyevski. A student of mine had the arrogance to declare in front of the whole class that he did not think that Shakespeare was a great writer. Horrified, I could only mutter: “Poor Shakespeare. Mr. X of the Bronx would, at best, give you a C-minus!” One thing is certain; none of these famous men was a computer expert! It is pathetic when a grammar school child looks down upon his grandmother because she had difficulty handling a computer. But one thing is certain: many are grown up today who cannot write properly. Recently, I received the letter of a “big shot.” Looking at his signature I would have sworn that he was in the first grade. Technology has no respect for nature: we have incredibly efficient and comfortable airplanes (let us think of Air Force I) but we are no longer capable of producing beautiful means of transportation: elegance and comfort have replaced beauty. I am tempted to say that one of the reasons why the British monarchy survived “modernity” is because of their sense of tradition; when the Queen goes to the Parliament, she is driven in a horse-drawn, beautiful carriage. How grotesque would it be if, to be modern, she rode there on a bicycle! How disappointed we would be if we were told by the Vatican that the Swiss Guards uniforms would soon be replaced by waiters attires, in a spirit of poverty. These beautiful clothes are too expensive to make. A Franciscan monastery of the 12th century had neither electricity nor running water, but it was beautiful. It is still is. Can machines and tools ever be entitled to be called beautiful? We build up incredibly fast, knowing full well that in the near future, it will be demolished to replace it by something more efficient, more comfortable, more modern. We ruthlessly destroy nature. Understandably because of population growth, certain pieces of land must be available for new buildings, but I am far from certain that profit making, does not “trump” a practical need. While reading this brief essay, it is most likely that I will be dubbed a Cassandra. Alas, she was right.
How easily do we forget! How easily do heroes who should be our role model for today are classified in historical documents which we file and then fail to turn to for help. The dramatic situation in which Catholics find themselves today, particularly in the Middle East, should be a clarion call for us to remember a hero who seems to be widely forgotten today: Joseph Cardinal Mindszenty. It is high time that we recall his heroism, animated by his ardent faith, and that his life – he was a “dry martyr” – gives strength and courage to those facing similar trials today. May the Church soon give him the honor of the altars, for indeed, he was a saint. When Nazism was defeated in 1945 many were those who acclaimed peace, while closing their eyes to the fact that monsters often have two heads, and that rejoicing the fact that the one of Nazism had been cut off, did not allow us to forget that there was another one – still more dangerous because injecting its poison more cleverly. Few were those like Dietrich von Hildebrand who, having receiving the gift of clear sightedness, went public and declared the non-aggression pact between Stalin and Hitler in 1939 to be the “hour of truth,” hoping thereby to open the public’s eyes to the fact that these two vicious dictators were partners in crime. In 1945, Hitler’s death was acclaimed as a promise of universal peace, totally over looking that the two headed monster of Nazism and communism there still had one left – and the more dangerous one. For the philosophy of racism based on the glorification of the “blond beast” was so incredibly stupid that one was tempted to question the intellectual sanity of those endorsing it. Moreover, it was bound to be defeated because the majority of human beings do not qualify having brown, black and even red hair. Communism was much more subtle and more dangerous: opening people’s eyes to the shocking abyss separating the rich sometime living in insane luxury (the minority) from the poor (the majority) and therefore inviting the noble hearted to join their flanks and achieve the noble goal of a “paradise” for the worker. It was a sort of willful blindness to the danger of communism. One of the never ending temptation of mankind is to endorse the view that the state can solve all problems and, by means of laws and social reforms, reestablish an earthly paradise. In fact, it is the Gospel and the Gospel alone that has a golden key to many of man’s problems and sufferings, and this is something that “modern man” is closing his eyes to, for the Gospel teaches us that before changing the world man should change himself. We could describe revolutionaries as men who want to reform the world, but refuse to change themselves. The Golden Calf will never lose its attraction and I fear that if many people—by some magic—would become billionaires overnight, they would be as ruthlessly selfish as some (not far from all) are today. For money is the door not only to comfort, but also to power, fame, success and… “earthly happiness.” How right Father Groeschel was to claim that money never has and will never make people happy, but “it does make their lives more comfortable.” The honeymoon with Communist Russia which was prevalent in 1945 had opened the door to the illusion that the future of the world was “rosy”: guaranteeing peace, and prosperity. Very few were those who dared face the truth refusing to see that animated by a most clever communist propaganda in schools in the news media and in Hollywood, communism had made deep inroads in the United States. Stalin was its “great friend” and an ally of the USA. Truman declared publicly “I like old Joe” – should one laugh or weep? In the spring of 1944, Dietrich von Hildebrand gave a talk in a Catholic college in the Midwest. Thanks to the clarity of vision that God had given him, he mentioned that evil as Nazism was, it was matched by communism. After his talk a nun raised her voice in protest. She said, I quote, “How dare you compare Nazism to the gallant communists?” That the latter had widely penetrated into American politics and American education was totally overlooked. By all counts Stalin trumped Hitler in the number of millions whom these two diabolical heads of state murdered. Archbishop Sheen deserves our praise. He told Bella Dodd that she was “converted” to communism at Hunter College (she was soon followed by another Hunter student, Joyce Davidson, later to become Mrs. C.S. Lewis, who also embraced communism for many years). She came to him, heart broken finally realizing the terrible irreparable harm she had done by faithfully and efficiently following an order of Stalin, namely to recruit men having neither faith nor morals, and to “infiltrate Catholic seminaries and religious orders.” Being given her talents, her eloquence, her charisma, she was successful beyond expectation and when her eyes opened she was tortured by guilt that only God’s infinite mercy could assuage. This undeniable fact—infiltration in Catholic seminaries had gone back for many years—sheds some light on the abominable priestly scandal that has plagued the Church in the course of the last years. Horrified by what she had so successfully done, Bella told Bishop Sheen that she wanted to enter the most severe penitential order in the Church to try, in some modest way, to pay her crushing debt. She was told by this venerable prelate, that her mission was to remain in the world and open the eyes of blind U.S. citizens to the horror of communism. She obeyed and, from the early ‘50s until her death in 1969, she crisscrossed the country giving talks to shake her co-citizens and open the Americans’s sleepy eyes to the horror of atheistic communism. By doing so Bella, now labeled “a traitor”, knew that she was endangering her life. But, animated by her ardent faith and her deep contrition, she tried to pay her debt and put her rich talents: her intelligence, clarity of thought, charisma and selfless dedication, at the service of the truth. She truly deserves our thanks and loving admiration. The climate prevalent in many universities is that “all ideas should be welcome” and that “freedom of thought” is the ABCs of a “democratic” education. One idea, however, is taboo and should be radically ostracized: namely, that there is such thing as truth and objective moral values that should be not only accepted, but lived, by all men. This is violently objected to on the ground that it militates against freedom, confused with “license.” The thought is, “No one is to tell me how I should behave…” To open our eyes, Bella Dodd wrote a book, “School of Darkness”, which should be a must-read in all U.S. schools together with the masterpiece of Whittaker Chambers, “Witness”. It is a fearful book but, if probably understood will be the greatest safeguard against the destructive forces which today threaten the very foundation of the USA: a nation under God. What I am writing on infiltration is not meant to deny that some bishops, some heads of religious orders, some priests have not fallen into the very grave sin of either closing their eyes to the horrible sins committed by people under their authority – but to make aware of the fact that a key factor hardly ever mentioned or mentioned at all, is that many of the worst culprits were not Catholic priests who had fallen prey to “unbridled lust” but infiltrators who had obtained false baptismal certificates and were plainly agents of communism. I heard from Bella Dodd that these evil men had even infiltrated the Vatican – for the Catholic Church is the arch enemy of Communism: and they know it. What are faithful Catholics – aware of the gravity of the situation – to do? The answer is the one the Church has given us from the beginning: prayer, sacrifice, and the glorious conviction that the Forces of Evil shall not prevail. May I also suggest that we revive the glorious life of Cardinal Mindszenty and beg for his help.
Which one of us would not agree with Schiller who, in his Ode to Joy, writes that he who leaves this earth without ever having had a real friend, should leave crying. One of the glorious lights in a universe often darkened by sin, treason, and lies is friendship. My husband referred to love as “a remnant of the earthly paradise”. He is right, but I suggest that this should be extended to include friendship. Yet it is a sad fact that we all know people who never have had a friend. One possible explanation to this tragic deprivation is a cynical one: the world being evil, true friendship is impossible But the cynic should not forget to include himself in the long list of potential traitors. Moreover, one cannot but have the feeling that he savors an evil joy in his condemnation of true friendship. Another possibility is to acknowledge that those who have never tasted the sweetness of real friendship are responsible for this severe lack because their approach to others is essentially “calculating:” “how can I make sure that I will get more out of this relationship than what I myself shall invest into it”? Pragmatism is poison to friendship and kills it in the bud. Tragically while always calculating, the pragmatist is caught in his own game and is the victim of his “mathematics”. His down to earth, crawling approach inevitably blinds him to the beauty of generosity. A clever approach to finances is poison in human relationships. Any real friendship is an “uncalculating exchange of gifts”; each one of us has his own talents, and true as it is that in friendship there is an exchange of gifts, they cannot, no they should not be measured. The word “uncalculating” is crucial because what one friend gives to the other will inevitably be widely different from what he receives from his friend. My husband was one of the most generous of men in giving his time to others, never turning down a request for advice or intellectual help. But no one who had any knowledge of his personality would have dreamt to ask him to make a package and bring it to the post office. He would have accepted, but there is every chance that he would have forgotten it, or absolutely certain that the post office would have turned down the package because of its being sloppily packed. A friend might have a greater wisdom, another a sharper mind, another again, be keener in legal and financial matters. The list is long: one cannot compare the gift of a wise advice with a financial loan. One should not compare them: any type of calculation is to introduce a deadly germ in friendship. It is worth remarking that if we ask a carpenter to make a table, it is a matter of course that he expects remuneration the amount of which is set in advance. But how many friends, having given much of their time to listen to the human problems that a friend is facing, and giving him a sound advice, would send a bill: “I gave you two hours of my time”. This is the difference between a psychiatrist and a friend. When a person praises himself because of his generosity toward a friend, we might fear that the friendship is sharply on the decline. This does not exclude the possibility that some, alas, are “business” friends and that one day we will inevitably become aware that they are about to drop up as soon as they found another “who performs better” and is therefore a “better deal”. Aristotle mentions “business friendships”. I personally would deny such relationships the noble name of friendship. Understandably one will shift from one dry cleaner to another if experience teaches that the latter is more efficient and cheaper. Much has been written about friendship and understandably so: it should play a key role in human life ; if one were to make an anthology of the beautiful things that have devoted to this topic, we would have an impressive volume. This applies to all languages and all cultures. The first thing that comes to mind is to distinguish between love and friendship. The first refers exclusively to the love that can exist between one man and one woman, and is by its very essence impossible between two persons of the same sex. It finds its fulfillment in marriage. This type of love is the most complete, the most “perfect” possible. This is why when a girl consecrates her virginity to Christ, we can speak of a spiritual “marriage”; that is, a total self donation, a total “revelation” expressed by the word : “I know her; I know him” Dietrich von Hildebrand has labeled this type of relationship: I -THOU; eye to eye; face to face. One could rightly object that God alone TRULY knows us in this total sense of the word – this explains why Augustine, shortly after his conversion, was asked the things that now truly concerned him: his answer was “NOVERIM ME NOVERIM TE” implying that to know God will shed light on the mystery that man is. Without God, and in spite of all the help of Freud, man will to a great extent, remains a mystery to himself and to others. This was a first stage in Augustine’s conversion. As his religious life matured, he made beautiful contributions to love and friendship having meditated on the sublime meaning of Christian love. To truly love God, gives us a golden key to human loves - they are loved in God. Of course, our friends also “know” us: for friendship is based on the perception of the beautiful traits that one has discovered in an individual but, as mentioned, man is multi-faceted and it is quite possible that we know certain features of a friend, even though our knowledge is only very partial, and if the friendship growths and develop as a friendship should, the friend’s beauty will become more and more visible. If knowing is “unveiling” the latter is humanly fulfilled only in the privilege case of an ideal marriage, and up to a degree in every noble and sublime friendship. Not only is spousal love possible except between a man and woman based on a complementariness but this completion is already powerfully expressed in the very structure of the male and the female body. Moreover, by its very nature this love is exclusive, that is to say it eliminates the very possibility that it is duplicated with another person of the other sex. Friendship on the contrary is possible with not only between persons of the same sex, but also with persons of the other sex: there are great and noble friendships between two men, and between two women, but they are possible between a man and a woman, even though it does not have the marks of spousal love. Moreover, we can have great friendships simultaneously: each one of them truly has the character of friend, but this does not prevent us from having a multiplicity of them, each has its own beauty, its own perfection. A botanical garden cultivates very many flowers which are very different: but all of them have their own beauty; all of them are a gift, even though there is a hierarchy of beauty among them: a lily is more beautiful than a daisy. There can be great friendships mostly based on a common love of God and his Church; there can be one based on a common love of philosophy, of music, of art. Friends share the same loves and as St. Augustine puts it, in their common love of God, they warm their soul at each other’ s flame. This is why any true friendship will inevitably bring us closer to God – the source of Love. The bond is a common interest is found in some value: the higher the latter, the more noble the friendship. The question can be raised: what about people who share the same love for sports, for legitimate “fun” - musicals, entertainments, amusing plays which trigger a legitimate laughter. I personally would prefer to use a word like comradeship than friendship, but if some insist that they relationships also deserve to be called friendship, let it be. But it should be obvious that the higher the sphere of values that unites friends, the nobler and deeper is the friendship. (It should be noted that anything bordering on immorality is a radical obstacle to friendship – two vicious men, two perverse, two haters of God cannot possibly be friends. They fight on the same front, but not only cannot love each other, but moreover, deep down they inevitably hate each other). Many of us are blessed with several friendships which, far from being antagonistic, can even enrich one another. Conflicts can arise only if a friend always gives priority to the time spent with a friend who shares his passion for dramatic and exciting literature , over a friend who shares his spiritual and intellectual pursuits. Whereas it is inconceivable that a great love between man and woman aiming at marriage is coupled with several similar attachments. Even though it is possible when one of the conjoins has left this world, that his or her place has thereby been vacated even though we all know cases in which love has been so profound that it excludes the possibility of having a substitute. Now that we have hopefully succeeded in showing the divide between friendship and spousal love, let us try to analyze its main features. As a parenthesis, it is worth remarking that Aristotle dedicates two books of his Ethics to friendship. At first, it might be surprising, but we are indebted to him for having drawn our attention to the fact that any true friendship inevitably calls for key moral qualities. True friendship by its very essence excludes unfaithfulness, selfishness, treason, to mention some of the most obnoxious. This is clearly the reason why Aristotle gives friendship such a prominent place in his Ethics. It is also worth remarking as David Ross does in his book on Aristotle, that we find words in these two books that challenge Aristotle’s basic claim that the “good” being what we all desire, and that we all inevitably desire happiness, “eudemonia” should be declared to be the highest good; whatever we do if we are intelligently motivated, is to pursue our happiness. Quite apart from the fact that the word “happiness” like the word “good” is ambiguous (how many people would agree on what they consider to be a key to happiness?) But then Aristotle faces a difficulty: should not a friend be loved “for his own sake”, and not only because of the very many benefits that are essentially linked to friendship? How is one to explain the selflessness of Antonio toward his friend Bassanio? For obviously his decision to lend him a huge sum of money, and his accepting to lose a pound of flesh if he fails to repay it on time, is an act of generosity which will strike an outsider as sheer madness. Yet, it is not the only case found in life or in literature in which a man sacrifices himself for his friend, for “there is no greater love than to sacrifice oneself for one’s friend”. But if a person loses his life to save his friend, can’t it be said that he loves his friend more than himself? It should also be obvious that friendship implies” sharing” this embraces a very wide field: not only as Antonio to share his wealth, but to share whatever matters to one’s friends: this implies his joys and his sorrows. A French cynic has remarked that whereas friends easily share the other’s griefs, they can, at time, fail to share his joys as warmly: for alas, if a friend received a benefit denied me, to rejoice for him might be accompanied with; “I never have such blessings; he is the one always getting them”. Concerning sorrow, griefs and trials, the friend finds himself wounded and in a weak position: and then it is “easy” to be compassionate. It is however worth while to quote the Frenchman Jean de Rotrou who wrote: L’ami qui souffre seul fait une injure a l’autre”. (The friend who suffers alone is in fact insulting his friend). There are some friends who believe - to my mind erroneously - that to share their sorrows is to put an unfair burden on their friends. True as it is that some sufferings are very intimate, very personal (usually spiritual - the dark night of the soul - of sufferings caused by betrayals and relating them would seriously implicate others) it belongs to the very nature of love and friendship that one wishes to share. “What burdens you, grieves me”. Even if one cannot help, one can show one’s sympathy and pray. Aristotle’s treatise on friendship is an interesting case in which a great thinker corrects his “philosophy” thanks to the wealth and beauty of personal experiences. The basic direction of Aristotle’s philosophy is clearly intellectual; let us recall that he declares the intellect to be the supreme human faculty; even though he pays some attention to the will, but he leaves little room for the heart, and affective responses. In this he widely differs from Plato who calls love “the greatest of heaven’s blessings”. (Phaedrus) Can’t we infer that Aristotle having tasted the sweetness of a great friendship, and because friendship implies selflessness, realized that there was a serious discrepancy between his philosophy and deep human experiences and tried in some indirect fashion to correct it? He must have realized to a certain extent that his eudemonism was not doing justice to some very crucial facets of human experiences. If happiness is indeed the greatest good, it inevitably means that whatever relates to my personal advantage should be given top priority. He who truly loves knows that it is not the case. Love is sharing: he who refuses to share disqualifies himself as a friend. This is expressed in Spanish proverbs: “esta es tu casa” are the words uttered when a friend pays one a visit. And another, is equally expressive: “El amigo que no presta y el cuchillo que no corta, que se pierdan, poco importa”. He who lends lovingly rejoices in doing so conscious that it is a privilege to be given a chance of proving that one truly loves one’s friend. That some abuse of other’s people kindness is to their own loss. Assuming that they have “made a deal” they are actually depriving themselves of the sweet debt of gratitude. Blessed are the grateful should be added to the list of the beatitudes. This leads me to a key perfection that characterizes both love and friendship: trust. This word is a gem and sheds light on the deepest human experiences. “ I believe” is an act of trust. No human relationship, be it love or friendship, can survive if the “trust” that one had given to another person, is sapped and ultimately destroyed. Great literature give us rich examples of both “treason” and admirable acts of the victory of trust over the “temptation” to mistrust another person. How could one of the greatest literary genius of all times, Shakespeare, omit to dedicate some of his great tragedies to this crucial question in human relationships. In the narrow frame of this article, I shall only briefly refer to two of his tragedies: Othello and Cymbeline. In both of them, a husband is sorely tried, because he is the victim of vicious intrigues aiming that destroying him by making him doubt of the faithfulness of wife. The better known is Othello which begins by giving us insights into his deep and reciprocated love to Desdemona. But alas, his genuine love for this lovely female creature is not safely doubled by trust: that is to say, for whatever reason, he is accessible to calumnies. It is difficult for us to “forgive” him because the intimations that the vicious Iago brings against her (her pleading for Cassio’s forgiveness) and the handkerchief is found in his quarters, taken in and by themselves are not “proofs” of her unfaithfulness. She on her side is naïve: it does not occur to her wildest imagination that her pleading might be interpreted as motivated to her love for Cassio, and that the fact that a shawl is found is, once again in no way a “proof”. The faults is to be found in Othello; he is the guilty one because of his lack of trust. How many of us, alas, lose faith in God because of some trial that he sends us. On the supernatural plane, we hear some people say: “How can one believe in the goodness of someone who permits that we have to carry a cross?” Once his trust in her truthfulness and purity is cracked, inevitably one thought will lead to another, until he reaches a stage of rage that leads him to accuse the innocent and lovely Desdemona to be a slut and worse. We know the tragic end. It is difficult for the reader to “forgive” him. A similar situation arises in Cymbeline: once again the we have a similar scenario; a great love. A tragic situations separates husband and wife, who, heartbroken, promise one another faithfulness unto death. Once again, we have the scenario of a vicious and despicable character aiming that breaking the heart of the husband, by giving him “proofs” of the treason of his wife. But in this case, Iacomo – a match for Iago in viciousness – sets a more refined trap: not only does he manage to steal Imogen’s bracelet – a gage of his love for her from which she has solemnly promised never to part, and moreover, having managed to hide in her bedroom, he is given a chance, when she slightly uncovers herself in her sleep, that she has a small mark on her breast. Iacomo’s proofs are truly “convincing” : what else is needed to prove that he has slept with her? How many husbands under such circumstances would still refuse to mistrust the faithfulness of their wife? Alas, Posthumus is human and believes that his sweet Imogen has betrayed him. We are relieved that the end does not duplicate the one just alluded to in Othello. But these two tragedies challenge us to try to shed more light on the crucial element of trust in love and in friendship. If a friend starts doubting a friendship without the slightest proof, but does so on mere appearances that the friend has not even been informed of, this is a sad indication that the doubting friend is sinning against the genius of friendship. In other words, if one suspects a friend, and someone with whom the bonds of friendship has deep roots in the past, who have acted or made decisions that are not understood, surprising or wounding to his friend, the first step that friendship dictates him to give him a face to face explanation: He should be told lovingly: “You have done so and so, you have said so and so, you have failed to do so and so, this has upset me deeply, because it seems to be an offense against the precious gift of our friendship. Do me the favor to explain a conduct which, to me, is incomprehensible, and strikes me as incompatible with our friendship. I give you the credit that there is a misunderstanding, and beg me to enlighten me.” This being done, the friend is given an opportunity of shedding light on a particular decision that he has made, and grant him a chance to prove that neither is this decision an offense against this precious friendship, nor even a reason to doubt it. Not to give the friend this chance, will, I fear, strike us as a serious offense against friendship: it is shutting a door, without even listening to the plea of the one who is knocking. There are cases in which friends disagree when facing a sensitive and delicate human situation; but we should always keep in mind that in human life is complex. It is conceivable that two very wise spiritual directors give different advice to someone going to them for help and advice. When a pope makes a prudential judgment, history tells us that sometimes it is wise, sometimes it is unfortunate. In such cases the future will enlighten us, but unless we have reasons to believe that this particularly successor of Peter is, alas, someone betraying his mission, we should give him credit that his intentions were well meant even if unfortunate or imprudent. In his great book on love which my husband considered to be his opus magnum together with Transformation in Christ, one of his most beautiful contributions is to my mind what he calls repeatedly “credit of love”, that is a lover or a true friend will give the other credit, even though his acts or decisions clash with our own. Alas, there are cases in human life when one can duplicate the words of the Gospel; “You of little faith”. Aristotle was right; friendship should be included in an ethics, for it implies TRUST, forgiving, repentance, and humility. Friendship is a precious gift that should be kept in a jewelry box.
“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil Who put darkness for light And light for darkness …” Isaiah 5:20 These words of the greatest prophet of the Old Testament should be the object of our daily meditation: Not only are they deadly serious, for the word “woe” is a very grave warning, but they are daily needed. Am I wrong in saying that living, as we do, in a world of lies, we are constantly tempted to follow the “crowd” for whom the word “truth”’ is anathema? One of the very valuable messages of Kierkegaard is that we should read the greatest of all books, namely the Bible, on our knees, otherwise the danger is great that we shall interpret it wearing the distorted glasses of pride and arrogance. That there are so many “sects” all claiming to be Christian, is a serious warning: which one is fully faithful to Christ’s message? Moreover, in our society, the word truth is very un-popular, viewed as being by its very essence “narrow-minded”, and “un-democratic”. This was well expressed by one of my colleagues at Hunter: when I suggested that a key topic in teaching introduction to philosophy should be “what is truth”, he immediately interrupted me with the words: “Whose truth are you referring to?” One of the dogmas in academia is that, apart from mathematics and empirical sciences, everything else is up for grabs. In any “advanced” society each one is free to choose what is best adapted to his individual taste and lifestyle. Who is to tell me how I should live? We should also keep in mind that, admirable as the human vocabulary is, it is rich in potential equivocations. Let us take the word “good”. Aristotle, whom St. Thomas calls “The Philosopher”, tells us that it is “what all men desire”. This sounds reasonable enough, but the difficulty is to determine whether what they desire is by that very fact, essentially good. Whatever pleases us is called good, but does the fact that something satisfies us is necessarily beneficial to the one desiring it? Is the possession of gold truly “good” for the avaricious person? Or is hard liquor good for the alcoholic? Or success good for the proud man? In other words, is good a “univocal” term? In his Ethics, Dietrich von Hildebrand has shed light on this crucial question. He tells us that by “good”, we can mean whatever gives us subjective satisfaction: we desire it for this very reason, but elementary wisdom teaches us that the fulfillment of such desires can be man’s downfall. Plato has seen this when he calls man his own worst enemy. We can also call good what truly benefits us: either materially or physically or intellectually, or spiritually. There is clearly a hierarchy among “beneficial” goods for the person, and the wise man is the one who is aware of this hierarchy and respects it. Moreover a huge field opens up for what is “beneficial” for one person which might be harmful for another. Each single individual should develop his own talents and these talents differ from person to person; one medicine can be good for one patient, and deadly for another. There is, however, one domain where “good” is desirable for all persons , that which is good by its very essence, and for this reason it is necessarily good for all men. In Christian terms, it is to achieve union with God. This makes no sense whatsoever for atheists: what they would call “good” is to have their name remembered in history, or that they have achieved “self fulfillment” – whatever that means. How many of us truly grasp what it means to be a “human person” – for alas, in their view man is just a more developed animal. Let me repeat: it is only for those who are ardent lovers of truth (as Socrates said; I want nothing but the truth) and those read the Bible on their knees that a new, magnificent horizon opens up. When Isaiah refers to “Truth” and “Goodness”, he clearly has in mind an objective reality, independent of the human mind, which calls for reverent endorsement. Truth should be loved; goodness should be pursued. Such goods are good not because they benefit us but they benefit us because of their very goodness. Woe indeed to those who purposely call truth error and error truth and woe to the person who refuse to “discriminate” between them. Failure to do so is not only intellectually stupid, but morally wrong. This is what Isaiah is telling us, and we should listen to his message. However, there are many domains where to make distinction is inevitable: between intelligent and stupid, between good looking and … not so good looking, between tall and short, between fat and thin, between black and white, between oriental and occidental, between graceful and clumsy. I limit myself to a few, but their name is “legion”. Obviously it is “better” to be intelligent rather than stupid, more desirable to be good looking that ugly, graceful than clumsy, etc. We inevitably “discriminate” but this does not allow us to pass any moral judgment on this basis. To be accepted as a ballet dancer one must be thin; if a person is overweight, it is ridiculous to apply for the job. But thin people should not be called “good” and fat people “wicked”. Our “talent” for making confusion is to use a word that usually implies a moral or intellectual judgment to differences which have no bearing whatever in these spheres. This is the cause of many prejudices and to pre-judge is a sign of stupidity. To turn down someone highly qualified for a job because of his race or the color of his skin, is not only stupid, but also immoral. That unjust discriminations have taken place in our society – and I fear, will always take place under subtle forms (because they are now laws prohibiting them), is a sad fact and it is sheer wishful thinking to assume that by multiplying laws we can, in the long run, create a perfect society. There are cases which are more subtle: let us take the case of music. That there is a huge scale of perfection in the most sublime of all arts, cannot be challenged. When we think of the masterpieces of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven to mention some of the most prominent, should we throw out of court those which do not achieve such a degree of perfection? The answer is definitely NO. Not every writer can claim to be a Shakespeare or a Dante, but there are very many, very talented writers who deserve our praise. Strauss’s Rosenkavalier, does not have the sublimity of Beethoven’s Fidelio, but nevertheless deserves the success that it has enjoyed since it was produced. But here we face a crucial question: should any “sound” produced by instruments or by the human voice be qualified as “music”? Should we not pay attention to Plato’s warning in Book IV of The Republic that moral decadence begins with music? Can we call “poetry” any written word? Socrates – the wisest man of Greece that Plato calls “the best man he ever met” – warns us (Phaedrus) that there is a monster sleeping in us, and that there are sounds and rhythms, which definitely wake it up which once awakened are difficult to tame. Am I wrong in claiming that any youth whose soul has been fed on Rock and Roll will inevitably be unprotected from certain moral temptations? Blessed are those who drink Gregorian chant or Mozart’s sublime music with their mother’s milk! The answer to the question just raised is definitely NO. There is a type of “music” (should it be called music?) and a so-called literature which is nothing but “filth”. That such perverse productions should be prohibited, or at least, called by their right name, is the strict obligation of any person in a position of authority, just as one prohibits poison, or puts a label of skull and bones on certain products, one should prohibit whatever will inevitably bring a society to utter moral decay. This is the noble and incredibly difficult mission of educators: evil must be opposed but should be opposed wisely – and this is not an easy task. Historians will tell us that the tragic decadence of powerful states, i.e.(those that have become very rich) is usually triggered by moral decay. Let us never forget that “the enemy is within”. The great educator is the one who, with God’s grace, has educated himself. Why does someone value Rock and Roll more than Mozart? Some psychologists will tell you that it is precisely because this vulgarity and coarseness echo their own inner life. “Tell me what you love; I will tell you who you are” are deeply meaningful words. We are here not dealing with a “lack of artistic taste and sensitivity” but, alas, an affinity with this world which appeals to what is in all of us, namely original sin, and can only be defeated by grace. One of the great dangers today is to forget it has marked all of us except the Holy Virgin, and that – to quote St. Francis of Sales – pride dies fifteen minutes after our demise. Up to recent times, the word “discriminate” was mostly used as a compliment: to call a person “discriminating” was meant as a praise, to someone who made “intelligent distinctions” as opposed to the flat-footed person who puts everything on the same level, and claims that it is “un-democratic” to assume that there is such a thing as a hierarchy of values and disvalues. Who is to tell? It must be said, however, that human beings being inclined as they are to error and confusion, now often use discrimination in a totally unwarranted and illegitimate way and this is the clear expression of a mind that has derailed. A couple of examples should make this clear: the distinction between black and white people. Obviously when a person comes into the room, we shall immediately notice the color of his skin. It is easy to tell whether a person comes from a Nordic country, or whether he is a southerner, or whether he is European or Chinese. The differences between races is obvious, but to make prejudicial judgments on this basis is plainly stupid – the word is not too strong. This is the very nature of anti-Semitism to Hitler: to be Jewish meant to “be evil, a deadly enemy of the great German state. Down with the Jews”; “once this vermin is eliminated, the earth will breathe fresh air”. The idiocy of such a position does not even deserve a refutation; there is no race on earth deprived of good and bad qualities. Mediocrity is a universal sickness and alas, it is contagious. In other words, this type of discrimination should be opposed with every possible means, even though having lived long, I became convinced – to quote Schilller – that it is hopeless battle for “ Against stupidity, even the gods contend in vain”. What we have said so far might be summarized as follows. There are clearly cases in which to discriminate is a strict moral obligation between truth and error, between morally good and morally evil; there are cases in which to discriminate is desirable; between beauty, mediocrity, ugliness, grace, coarseness, etc. but we are not thereby entitled to condemn those who lack these talents, or these sensitivities if they have no responsibility for these “blind spots”. There are cases when to “discriminate” is inevitable: black or white, tall or short heavy or slender: for it is immediately perceptible, but it would be nonsensical to pass judgment on people on this basis: “I refuse to rent an apartment to fat people’” or to Irish people, or to black people. Would it not be wiser in such cases, to avoid confusion, to use the word differentiate or distinguish instead? But our concern in this article to is draw attention to a phenomenon which has developed in the course of the last fifty years which should be a source of great concern to all of us because in a very subtle way, the word is now used to condemn as “evil discriminations”, lifestyle and behaviors, which by their very essence, call for rejection and condemnation. Let me repeat emphatically: we should make a distinction between moral and immoral, between true and false, between just and unjust between pure and impure. Let us add: we should make a distinction between “natural” and “unnatural”. This used to be taken for granted, but we are living in a world where moral decadence is no longer viewed as a grave going “morally downhill”, but rather as a “liberation” from old taboos and old fashioned ideas which are not compatible with our “brave new world”. The question is: what do we mean by nature? Answering this question is of crucial importance in a society which willfully confuses these two radically different concepts. When we refer to nature, we clearly mean things as they were “meant to be” – an “incarnation” of their “real” being. It is natural for human beings to walk on two legs. Even though they could possibly manage to walk on all fours, if badly disabled, it would be unnatural. It is natural for human beings to speak, that is, to form articulated sounds that have meaning. Men can imitate the barking of dogs but to do so is against their nature. It is natural for human beings to bring food to their mouth, as opposed to dogs and cats that bend down to gulp down their food. It is natural for men and women when embracing each other to be face to face, eye to eye. It is worth noting that liars and guilty people carefully avoid a face to face confrontation with their accuser. When Adam and Eve sinned they hid themselves (Genesis 3:8). They dreaded a confrontation with God. This “eye to eye”, “face to face” is of crucial importance as expression of the dignity of persons. Any other posture sins against this dignity. “Noblesse oblige”. In other words, it is crucial to keep in mind that even though human beings are the only persons that have a body, it is precisely their human mission to “elevate” this body so that it becomes an adequate physical expression of his nobility as person. Their body language reveals the abyss that separates them from animals. What is crucial in our context is reproduction which in academia is a proof of the identical nature of man and mammal. I recall that years ago, after a talk that I gave in Oregon, I was interviewed on television. The anchor who was present at my talk challenged me for having said that there was a radical difference between man and animals. His question to me was “Could you name one essential difference between them?” With French speed, I answered: “yes, the sexual sphere”. The anchor was speechless. Clearly, he has never heard anything like that. I had the feeling that he was challenging my sanity. But soon after their creation Adam and Eve were commanded to be fruitful and “reproduce” themselves. Animals were not given this order, but following the laws of their nature, they instinctively did so. Why is man “told” to have a progeny? Because it is precisely a domain in which man’s dignity as a person expresses itself. Hints might suffice to make my point: animals are driven by an instinct that is so powerful that they do not hesitate to risk their lives in the process. They are slaves of their biological nature. Human beings being persons are commanded to reproduce themselves because as persons they are invited by the Creator Himself to increase the number of the human race. But two crucial things must be mentioned: in human persons, reproduction, as meant by God, cannot be separated from the divine action – a close collaboration between God and man for He alone can create the soul. Moreover, according to the divine intention, the frontal embrace between human persons should be an expression of their intentio unionis, for love desires union and is by its very nature fruitful. Hence the face to face encounter of two persons embracing the beloved, gratefully conscious that a new human person might be the fruit of this union. To put it plainly, the powerful sexual instinct must be baptized and therefore worthy of persons. Moreover whereas both animals and human being must eat, drink and have a minimum of sleep in order to survive (with the very rare exceptions of some mystics) reproduction is in no way necessary for survival. Let us imagine how ludicrous it would be if an apparently very healthy man, would suddenly drop dead. According to law, an autopsy is required. How ridiculous if would be if the doctor came out of his office declaring “virginity” to be the case of his demise. A high percentage of human beings do not have a “sex life”: widows, widowers, badly disabled people, very many sick people, those that are paralyzed, those who while wishing to get married never found someone willing to marry them, such people – and their name is legion – can lead a beautiful and holy life. I am sure that millions and millions of people are in this category. Alas, we live in a society in which “sex” and self-fulfillment are identified. Let us think of the millions of people who devote themselves to others, do an enormous amount of good for humanity and are unmarried or have chosen a consecrated life. Only morally decadent societies view “having sex”’ as a necessity. Am I wrong in claiming that this Weltanschauung makes it impossible for such a society to have the proper understanding of the beautiful words of God “be fruitful and multiply”. This leads me back to the meaning of “nature”. Plato whom the Fathers of the Church, called “a preparer of Christianity”, was much concerned with ethical questions. In his last work, Laws – often shockingly overlooked in text books, he refers to homosexuality in Books I, III and VIII. He tells us that it is triggered by “unbridled lust”, (Laws 636) that it is a threat to the welfare of any nation, that it should be opposed in every possible way for it is “against nature” (ibid), i.e. as things are “meant” to be. But Plato is conscious that a total uprooting of this vice is not possible, but urges the state to strongly recommend that it should be kept secret. He lived in the 4th and 5th century before Christ, but obedient to the natural moral law, he perceived the perversion which is linked to this unfortunate tendency. In other words, contra naturam means what is clearly against the very dignity of human persons. No details are necessary but one thing is luminous: it is not as “things were meant to be”, and not only because of its inevitable sterility but by its very structure. The last I heard from a medical doctor – a friend of mine is that thanks to scientists, now working on this “noble” project sooner or later, homosexuals will be able to reproduce themselves. The glorious future of humanity is that one day, sexual fulfillment should be radically severed from procreation: this domain being confided to scientific progress. It is a very grave moral question that should concern all educators and moralists. Detestable as homosexual acts are, we should, following St. Augustine, love the erring person while detesting the error – its own worst enemy. This is a noble task and as always, desperately needs God’s grace and assistance. Granted that practicing homosexuals have often not been given the love owed to all human beings, that they have been rejected, while not offered the help to which they were entitled. This is a most regrettable error that is now being corrected by the admirable organization started by Father Harvey called Courage. This noble apostolate is now being taken over by his successor Father Paul Check. Saints alone, because they are “transformed in Christ” are true lovers of the sinners, but this severe lack in many of us does not justify the new grave error which is gaining currency in our society: namely to justify the practice of homosexuality, as being now recognized to be “perfectly normal” – being another legitimate lifestyle, and deserving the same recognition as what up to now was limited to heterosexuality. “It was high time to see what in fact an obvious truth, obscured until now by mediaeval taboos. Thank to “advanced social sciences”, we know now that it is just as acceptable as the traditional way. Clearly, only a developed society like ours perceives this truth, up to now veiled by “old taboos and prejudice”. This “conviction” explains why gay people now proudly advertise their lifestyle. They publicize it as Father Charamsa did recently; one should “proudly” endorse this tendency that God himself has placed in some people’s nature. Last but not least, the Catholic Church should publicly apologize for the suffering that she has, over the ages, inflicted upon people whose way to God was homosexuality. This is probably the greatest moral revolution that has ever taken place in human society and in the Catholic church: the canonization of a perversion. This is the world in which we now live. The Church has always been attacked. She has always had sinners in her bosom, but it is probably true that never has the situation been so threatening: we have entered apocalyptic time: as announced by St. Matthew (ch. 24) and also St Luke (ch. 20). Never before is it more urgent to recall the blessed words of Christ: “the gates of hell shall not prevail” and take refuge in the blessed magisterium of the Church. Let us close our ears to the eloquence of false prophets, and as St. Paul recommends in his Epistle to the Thessalonians, “pray without ceasing”. Let us pray the rosary and turn to our Mother – the blessed one so hated by Satan because she gave life to the one who proclaims to be LIFE itself.
Alas, rare are those among us that have never been offended by our fellow men. The most fortunate are usually those who are in the background and keep a very low profile. They do not challenge anyone and are thereby fairly protected from nasty and offensive remarks, many of which are triggered either by “rivalry”, or by “jealousy” or by a radical incompatibility of temperament. Whatever the reason may be, remarks, whether cynical, or unkind, or wounding, or aiming at ridiculing another person, are rightly experienced as painful and “offensive”. In our complex human life, there are events and situations that can be differently interpreted; but there are also Weltanschauungen that radically clash. In the narrow context of this article, I will concentrate exclusively on the fact that certain words aim at wounding the adversary, and are not directly related to the disagreement at stake. They clearly aim at shooting arrows at one’s adversary with the definite intention of “wounding” him. I recall someone telling me that “thanks to my sensitivity, I know exactly where others are most vulnerable, and therefore know where to direct my arrows”. The attitude of those who pride themselves of having this “talent”, is definitely immoral for it is loaded with poison. One thing is to disagree with another’s views – something inevitable on this earth – another is to intend to “offend”. The gamut of possibility is very large: one can ridicule another person’s physical appearance, one can ridicule his background and parentage, one can ridicule his so-called talents or lack of talents. Whatever has a poisonous note is radically incompatible with love of neighbor and should be condemned. As briefly mentioned above, there are, however, radically different kinds of disagreements: many of them refer to prudential judgments such as those related to financial, military, economic or purely political decisions. It is conceivable that each position has some merit, and it is wise to choose the most prudent one. Some people are wiser, more far sighted, or are better informed than others. One should beware however to be motivated by one’s “unbaptized” emotions and irrational reactions. These cases should be sharply distinguished from those clearly related to moral issues and in such cases, the views we should defend are those dictated by the moral law – of universal validity – or for Catholics, by the Magisterium of the Holy Church. How many Catholics, alas, forget that they and they alone are blessed by a Magisterium – that is being guided by God’s authority they are guaranteed that they possess the truth. This certainty is an unfathomable gift. Anyone who defends a position which tramples upon the natural law, must be opposed with every possible means. Any candidate to the Presidency who officially endorses abortion – the murder of the innocents – or sees homosexuality as simply another “lifestyle”, and for this “reason” defends the rights of homosexuals to get married, is to be thrown out of court, without further discussion for he is in fact sapping the very foundation of any sound society. But whatever problem we face, there is always a danger that, in the course of a discussion one of the opponents – often time the one defending the illegitimate position – turns to insults, hoping thereby to throw his opponent off his horse. What is of crucial interest for us is to examine the responses given by saints to offenses and learn from them. They joyfully follow their Master, a man of sorrow, who was rejected, offended, insulted, slapped in the face, and crucified. Only those quietly hiding in unknown monasteries, are usually protected from such treatments, even though it is naïve to assume that the Evil one who hates these places consecrated to God, does not try to find a back entrance. To have a religious vocation does not mean that one is a saint; it only means that he sincerely intends to strive for holiness. The first question that we should raise is the following: Should one “let” oneself be offended? That is, allow the wounding words to truly affect us, and make us lose our peace? Or should we wear a “holy protective armor” which immediately deflects the arrows, and turns one’s attention away from oneself to the moral stain that the offender brings on his own soul? Are saints “insensitive” just as there are people who have very thick skin and therefore do not feel offenses? The answer is a radical “no”. Holiness certainly does not make one insensitive, on the contrary, but cures us from self-pity and self-centeredness. The saint or the one sincerely striving for holiness will, as soon as the poisonous arrow has wounded his heart, “baptize it by charity”, and will turn his attention to the grave offense of God which every poisonous word necessarily implies. Moreover, he should be grieved for the offender who is animated by hatred and a spirit of revenge. This attitude protects one from letting the offense wound his soul. The offender, on the other hand, has stained his and unless he begs both God and his neighbor for forgiveness, he is the one that Angels pity. It cannot be repeated enough: man is his own worst enemy. No other human being – vicious as his actions may be – can harm one as gravely as one can harm oneself. The inner gesture of deflecting a painful blow received into an act of charity is one of the great lessons that saints teach us. I once was told the story of a saint, who following the example of St. John the Baptist, kept warning a sinner that he was harming his soul. As in this case, the sinner was not a powerful man, he could not possibly order that this man’s head be chopped up. Instead he gave him a brutal slap in the face. The latter’s response was: “hit me as much as you please, but stop offending God and harming your own beloved soul”. The latter touched by grace, asked him for forgiveness, and changed what is today called his “lifestyle”. Love of neighbor had conquered – a love which possible only if one makes a holy detour through our Savior, a man of sorrow. That men often disagree is necessarily linked to our earthly situation. Some human situations are so complex that they inevitably lead to conflict of opinion. Without claiming any competence on this topic, let us mention one : immigration. The very moment the word is mentioned, people’s blood pressure will immediately rise. One can concentrate on the dangers involved: for example that opening borders is to in invite undesirable characters invade the U.S whether drug dealers or criminals. The problem is already a serious threat to the country. That this has happened, is a threat and a legitimate concern. Others are conscious of the fact that there are laws which brutally tear families apart: father in one country, mother in another: children not knowing there they belong. In many cases, one must choose the lesser evil. Alas, this is often the case when the citizens of a free country go to the polls. There are obviously clear cases when making a decision is dictate by moral factors: any person with any moral sense and intelligence could not possibly vote for a Hitler, even if the other candidate is far from being satisfactory. There are clear cases: when a candidate endorses abortion, homosexuality or homosexual marriages, one’s choice is morally dictated: “No” is the only proper response, for the endorsement of immorality is a poison of such danger that it menaces the very survival of a country. But in such cases, it is alas, often the case that the real issue is clouded by arguments that “sound” convincing, such as “a woman has a right to decide what she will do with her own body”, as if one’s body – a gift – was a piece of property acquired through one’s own labor, or any “love” is legitimate and should be protected, failing to mention that the word “love” implies a sincere concern about the welfare of another and this is why any homosexual practice, in fact, denies the dignity of the human person in endorsing attitudes which while “normal” on the animals level, sin against the dignity of persons. Let me go back to my theme: it should be stated emphatically that certain disagreements are not only legitimate and even morally obligatory, but this does not justify shifting from an intellectual debate to personal insults. Disagreements about ideas are one thing. But how often does it degenerate into personal attacks? The issue is then blurred by a note of rancor which totally obscures the real question. More than once this occurs when one of the two parties is being clearly defeated and then turns to insults.
Hell is the place where love is banished. Understandably, the Evil one not only loathes the very word, but moreover, animated by his deadly hatred, is always on the alert as soon as he suspects that love might be blossoming between two human beings. He immediately starts scheming how to inject poison that will destroy this budding friendship. One cannot go wrong in suspecting that the loving bond uniting David and Jonathan, as related in the Old Testament, caused him grave concern. How was he to poison and pervert noble friendships between persons of the same sex? Alas, the Evil one never sleeps and found no peace until he managed to persuade some “male friends” that in their own way, they were entitled to duplicate the sacred union existing between husband and wife in marriage. Why should the sexual union – this ultimate degree of intimacy – be denied to two men or two women deeply attached to each other? They too should claim that they have an equal right – a magic word in our society – to become one flesh. The union of husband and wife culminates in ecstasy; this experience should be duplicated in male friendships, in order to grant the two friends an equal degree of “fulfillment”. This solution delighted Lucifer: male friends should be encouraged to copy – in their own way – the marital union. Homosexuality is a perversion, a diabolical caricature of the nobility of the union of the spouses in marriage. Not only does it tacitly glorify sterility but it also wages war on nature – the beautiful design that God had when, as we are told in Genesis, God created man, male and female: two beings of equal dignity, admirably complementary and therefore meant to enrich each other. To willfully caricature this union by homosexuality is, in fact, a physical expression of the words of Lucifer: non serviam – defying the intentions of the Creator. In the 4th century before Christ, Plato diagnosed sexual perversion as motivated by “unbridled lust”. (Laws, Book VIII). It is obvious that two male bodies – identical in their biological structure – cannot possibly have the complementarity that characterizes the noble union of husband and wife. Italian peasants’ savvy wisdom would put it plainly: “ if a lock and a key are identical, they could never open a door”. The door to a new life can only be the fruit of a chaste love. Dietrich von Hildebrand has shed beautiful light on the essence of love that he characterizes as an “intentio benevolentiae” and an “intentio unionis”. Any lover worthy of this name intends, wants, pursues the true good of the loved one, from modest concerns such as food, to hoping to contribute to the development of all his talents, but most and foremost, to be modestly instrumental in bringing him closer to his Creator. He who truly loves another person wishes with every fiber of his heart that the loved one will be united to God in eternity. This has been clearly perceived by St. Augustine when he wrote that the friends bring each other closer to God by warming each other at the flame of their love for their Creator. One of the many tragic consequences of original sin has been that, as a punishment for our first parents’ disobedience, Adam and Eve were not only cut off from their Creator, and condemned to die, but moreover, that it inevitably disrupted the harmony that previously existed between them. The war of the sexes began the very day that they sinned together, for sin inevitably separates the sinners. This is how the ill treatment and abuse of the weaker and “guilty” sex by selfish and brutal men began its long and very ugly history. A happy marriage is one in which husband and wife help each other to come closer to God. The very idea that their “so-called” love separates them from God should, in the eyes of any true lover, be a nightmare. “May our union glorify you, O Lord”, should be their daily prayer. This is something beautifully illustrated in the lives of married saints. St. Elizabeth of Hungary’s tender love for her husband, manifested itself when, in the middle of the night, she knelt at the foot of their nuptial bed to pray, while holding the hand of her beloved husband. Alas, original sin has devastated not only the relationship between man and woman, but also has disrupted the harmony that previously existed between body and soul. That man is made of a union of a physical, material body and a spiritual, immortal soul, makes him a human person. Angels have no body; animals have no soul: man is a union of both. Dualism, that is the denial that it is the case, is to be mercilessly thrown out of court. But this should not blind us to the fact that the soul’s existence is not affected by the death of the body. This creates a special type of “dualism” that should also be kept in mind. It is only at the end of time that the spiritualized body will be re united to the soul. But while body and soul are closely united on this earth, there is a battle going on between them, that sheds light on the fact that not a single saint failed to practice asceticism – a holy practice mostly forgotten today, or highly unpopular or at any rate – hardly ever mentioned in contemporary Catholic education. Asceticism is indispensable to keep the body in “chains” that is to prevent it to gain control over the soul. A material entity is by its very nature metaphysically inferior to a spiritual soul. It was therefore justified that it should obey the command of the latter. Since original sin, duplicating the revolt of the human soul against God, the body now infected by concupiscence which never sleeps, started claiming its independence, asserting its right to sensual pleasures. I do not know a more powerful presentation of this drama than in one sketched in one of the greatest books ever written: Augustine’s Confessions. In Book VIII of this great work, he describes in poignant terms, the drama that took place in his soul, in the garden in Milan: the duel between concupiscence – for by repeated sins, Augustine had lost his moral freedom – and the call coming from his soul touched by grace, and inviting him, with God’s help, to become “free”. He writes that he was hesitant to live unto life and to die unto death. (Confessions, viii, 8) Grace triumphed, and Augustine tells us eloquently the joy experienced by one whose chains had been broken, that is who has experienced the matchless joy of being “defeated by grace”. We should have no illusion; these chains are terribly strong; we need humility to acknowledge that we are “slaves” and humbly beg God for help. “Come o Lord; without your grace I perish”. How is it that our body can enslave our souls? The answer is easy to find: through physical pleasure, a pleasure guaranteed by eating certain foods or drinking certain liquids, or by performing certain acts that “keep their promise” of granting immediate satisfaction. There are therefore very different from the “vague” promise that by leading a virtuous life, we shall receive a rich reward in eternity. Physical pleasure, on the contrary, guarantees immediate satisfaction, linked to yielding to powerful instincts. Fast food, fast pleasure. We want pleasure now; it is a craving we share with animals. They too want pleasure, and dread pain. But man is a person, that is someone whose relation to pleasure should be put to the test: for there are legitimate pleasures, there are illegitimate pleasures; there are perverse pleasures. There are also vicious and diabolical pleasures. To abuse, torture and then kill a child cries to heaven. Rape is an abomination partly motivated by a brutal satisfaction perversely increased by the screams of the victim – which add a spicy condiment to this moral horror. Whether in Auschwitz or in Gulags, where human persons have been intentionally and “scientifically” tortured, Satan was clearly the “conductor” of the orchestra of viciousness. One of the trials in the formation of priests is the necessity of making them acquainted of the sad litany of sins that men are capable of committing. Grace, linked to the Sacrament they received, protects them. For knowledge of evil deeds can trigger temptations. My grandfather formulated this well, when he said to my father: “ There are things I do not know, and do not want to know”. One of the great dangers today is the difficulty of protecting young children from vicious information. When I was a child there was no television, and no “miracle” telephones which today a child can have access to by simply clicking on a button. Curiosity and sensationalism are two pitfalls that constantly threaten innocent little ones. “Woe to those who scandalize one of these little ones” … These words should be mentioned and re-mentioned in our decadent society where many of us no longer distinguish between truth and error, moral good and moral evil. Woe of them, Isaiah wrote. (5:20) We know that God – the all merciful – will forgive every single abomination that has been committed since original sin, but contrition is required to open the sluices of God’s infinite mercy. But we should never lose sight of the fact that pleasure is one of the most powerful tools that Lucifer uses to separate us from God. To avoid misunderstanding, I shall use the vocabulary used in Dietrich von Hildebrand’s Ethics. “Good” is one of the most ambiguous words of the human vocabulary and this explains why certain books entitled “ethics” are, in fact teachers of immorality, and therefore deeply harmful to their readers. Aristippus of Cyrene was bound to attract many disciples by his glorification of pleasure which he identifies with “good”, while cleverly teaching us the “art” of selecting them: we should choose the most intense, the longer lasting, the one costing the least effort, and the one that has no unpleasant consequences! He is “wise” who masters this art. This teaching has never lost and will never lose its popularity. Good in this sense clearly refers to what is “merely subjectively satisfying”, that is something the importance of which depends exclusively on whether it is enjoyed. It should be clear that it is a domain where subjectivism is king: for what pleases one person does not necessarily please another. There are different tastes; to discuss them is a waste of time, because if a person happens to dislike one particular food, no argument can possibly make him change his mind. The individual subject is the ultimate judge. But a crucial distinction should here be made between pleasures which, although satisfying, are harmful to the person enjoying them This clearly applies to food and drink. Any doctor will tell you that many of their patients are responsible for their ailments by overeating, or by eating unhealthy food which pleases their palate, or by abusing alcoholic drinks. There are also natural pleasures (good food) and artificial pleasures such as smoking, for no one is born with a craving to smoke artificially-created and made attractive by the clever advertisements of tobacco companies convincing their viewers that it is “smart”, “elegant”, up to date”, “relaxing”. There are also pleasures that are against nature; we shall call them “perversions”. The latter should be mercilessly condemned because implicitly they are a revolt against the order and harmony established by God Himself, the Maker of nature. A perversion is a distorted use of organs and faculties. Any such distortion would never be either attempted or practiced if it failed to keep its promise to give immediate “satisfaction”. Pleasure is always pleasant, but this undeniable fact does not entitle us to claim that they are legitimate. God has linked pleasures to certain activities but if these are abused or used in a fashion that defies God’s intention in giving them to us, they should be condemned first and foremost because they are sins, but also, as an inevitable consequence, because they harm not only our soul, but also harms others often involved in these sins. Whereas animals are bound to obey their particular nature, man can alas, willfully choose to violate its laws and he is tempted to do so because he expects satisfaction from his disobedience. Pleasure is a very ambiguous term. Even though all pleasures are subjectively satisfying, – some of them not only offend God, but also wage war against a greater good of the person: the good of his soul. That certain actions and activities are linked to pleasure is something that God has placed in them. But this does not entitle us to draw the conclusion that any satisfaction is legitimate. Pleasure becomes illegitimate, nay immoral, when it is either abused –over eating– the sin of gluttony – or perverted. It is legitimate to enjoy going to a good restaurant, but it is immoral to steal money in order to afford this passing satisfaction and does become a grave sin when stolen from a poor man – (I happen to know such a case) – to satisfy this craving. There are detestable pleasures; there are hateful and revolting pleasures; there are diabolical pleasures, such as enjoyed by men abusing children for “fun”. The Christian attitude toward pleasures is beautiful expressed in the Benedictine prayer before meals: Benedic Domine nos et haec tua dona quae de tua largitate sumus sumpturi, per Christum Dominum Nostrum.… Any legitimate pleasure should trigger in us gratitude, and this gratitude “baptizes” it and by this holy chemistry, makes it pleasing to God for it transforms something “merely subjectively satisfying” into an objective good for the person. For a saint, therefore the merely subjectively satisfying is totally eliminating from the screen of his consciousness and replaced by a song of gratitude. The dying St. Francis gratefully accepted a delicacy that a lady friend had brought him for she knew that he liked it. Yet the same saint, shortly before his death, apologized to his Brother Ass “for having treated him so badly”. But Christian saints never lose sight of the fact that – because of original sin – pleasure can potentially always be morally dangerous. How deeply meaningful that St. Thomas More – a married man – as a matter of fact when his first wife died, having four young children, he remarried shortly afterwards – wore a hair shirt. He wanted both to “tame” and to “baptize” pleasure, for any person striving for holiness never forgets for a moment that we are fragile creatures, wounded by sin. Obviously any abuse of a gift, and a fortiori, any perverse pleasure can neither be baptized, nor contribute to the true good of the person. It is its enemy. How wise was Plato when he wrote that man is his own worst enemy. Now we are in a position to see why the ecstasy linked to the noble union of husband and wife should never be the primary motivation of the spouses. Their noble and legitimate desire to become “one flesh” would be poisoned as soon as the ecstasy superabundantly linked to it, that is organically flowing over from it, would have primacy. If someone viewed adoring God as a sheer means for attaining beatitude, – by the same token this person proves that he has no inkling what “adoration” truly means. We ought to adore HIM for the plain reason that He is who He is: love itself: “... quoniam tu solus sanctus, tu solus Dominum…” It is crucial to repeat this in a society where the “business attitude” – that is pragmatism – is prevalent: man is not a machine that should produce good deeds. This flat-footed pragmatism is so prevalent that “education” is viewed as a means of “making a good money” (as I heard from a professor of a university). The word “truth” had no room in her vocabulary. The happy marriage of wit and wisdom so typical of Pascal, offers a superb refutation of this tragically distorted view; he tells us that he was not a pragmatist…because he went much further without it…”seek you first the Kingdom of heaven, and the rest will be added unto you”. Aristotle was right indeed in mentioning that there are things done for the sake of something else, i.e., they are “means”, and a means is used only as long as it is “useful” i.e., performs well. If this is no longer the case, it is discarded and replaced by a more efficient one. This approach is fully justified when applied to the mechanical and technical sphere: whatever is not needed is eliminated. But it is disastrous if extended to the lives of persons. For their dignity is such that they should never be used as a sheer means to an end. One of the abominable features of totalitarianism is precisely to view human beings as mere cogs in the huge impersonal monster called the State. This leads me back to the relationship between husband and wife in marriage. If a husband embraces his wife for the sake of satisfying a powerful craving – not caring whether or not she is “receptive” to his gift and therefore is not fully capable of full reciprocity (it can be due to physical discomfort, or extreme fatigue), and consequently by gentle hints that she is not at her best, and if then his response it to feel deprived of his “right” as a husband, we are entitled to suspect that his main motivation was pleasure for its own sake. This fact can be duplicated in the wife-husband relationship. If she realizes that because he is recovering from a grave operation, or is exhausted because of a terribly stressful career, and uses her charm to attract him – in a very subtle way, she is sinning against love that always claims that priority of the loved one. Out of love, she should then refrain from making advances, which far from being selfless, are in fact self-seeking. One of the beautiful sides of marriage – rarely mentioned – is that it offers plenty of opportunities for sacrifices. This is an important fact that should be mentioned in marriage preparation courses. Marriage does not give one a license to follow inclinations which outside of marriage are severely prohibited. I cannot insist enough upon the notion of “superabundance” – which is far from any form of puritanism, condemning pleasure as being evil, puts “ecstasy” in its proper place. Omnis homo mendax. How easily do we lie to ourselves in assuming that we are doing a good action in order to glorify God, and to respond to the call of a moral value, while in fact we calculate that in the long run, it will pay “dividends” and is therefore “a good placement”. We should not fear acknowledging that this temptation is in us. One again this fact it open to misinterpretations: it would be wrong indeed from abstaining from doing a charitable deed because one is conscious of the fact that our intentions are “mixed”. We are entitled to receive absolution in the sacrament of confession even though the confessor is conscious of the fact that the contrition of the penitent is imperfect. But he should be encouraged to keep begging God for the grace to conquer the proper motivation. For any acknowledgement of our weakness and meanness is in fact a call to turn to God for help: “this is what I am without your help. Hasten to heal me, O my Savior”. Indeed, he tells us plainly: “he knew what was in man”. None of our weaknesses are unknown to Him or surprise Him. Great spiritual directors often warn their spiritual children that they should not pray to taste the sweetness that it often granted them, particularly at the beginning of our spiritual life, but as a value response to HIM who deserves our adoration and our praise. Saints have all gone through periods of total aridity, dark moments when singing God’s greatness becomes a “duty”. St. John of the Cross has spoken eloquently about the dark night of the soul, when the “wings” of the praying person are cut; he is crawling, and yet, should persevere in faith, trusting that these moments are in fact graces bringing closer to God teaching us to “love selflessly” – for love is never a “business deal.” The noble intentio benevolentiae is threaten to degenerate as soon as it does not respect the hierarchy of values, for example when it places worldly success of the loved one above his spiritual growth. The intentio unionis – as we just saw – can also be poisoned as soon as “enjoyment” is given priority. These are frequent cases when we lie to ourselves, claiming that we long for union with the beloved, while in fact, we crave for the satisfaction that organically flows from it. Marital unfaithfulness is, alas, often triggered by the fact that a husband is not satisfied with his wife’s “performance” (what a horrible word) and then looks for another partner who lives up to the mark. Marriage if properly understood and lived, offer rich occasions of “dying to oneself” and learning the “art of loving”. Once again, the lives of saints is eloquent: they gratefully followed Christ to Golgotha, whereas many of us try to escape from the via dolorosa, while most willing to enjoy the glory of Easter Sunday. This leads me back to my theme: homosexuality and the inspiring story of a true love between two men having strong homosexual tendencies and who lived together for several years. If the two male friend who truly loved each other (a possibility which I do not deny), realized that they are harming each other morally, and gravely offend God, they would immediately give up their sexual exchanges: for true love loathes the very thought of harming the loved one. This is a fact that I am aware of having been blessed with a friendship with a man who for several years lived in sin with his friend who was a fallen away Catholic. One day through God’s grace, the latter found his way back to the Church and not only perceived with luminous clarity the perversion of homosexual practices, but also – and this is crucial, that in such relationships he was harming both his friend and himself: for the intentio unionis was given priority over the intentio benevolentiae: that is, his craving for a sexual satisfaction was militated against the objective good of the friend in staining his soul. His true good was sacrificed for the sake of pleasure. Any satisfaction which in fact militates against the objective good of another person, should be condemned by anybody who claims to be a friend. As soon as he perceived this clearly he placed his friend in front of the following alternative. He told him, “I truly love you and am deeply attached to you. But through God’s grace, my eyes opened, and I realized that by living with you I was not only gravely off, but I also perceived clearly that I was hurting your soul and mine. Now the situation is clear: either we part ways or we continue to live together chastely bond by sweetness of a friendship copying the one that linked Augustine to both Alypius and Nebridius.” Clearly this noble friendship brought them closer to God. His friend’s response was unequivocal: “I also love you and am so deeply attached to you that I accept to live with you chastely”. This is what they did for many years. Then one of the friends became deadly ill and was taken care of by his true and faithful friend and the revert had the joy of seeing his dear friend also find his way to the Catholic Church. Since then he has become an ardent Roman Catholic. This is a glorious story of how love triumphed over lust. That the sensual ecstasy should not be the primary motivation of the husband and wife, calls for clarification. There are actions that are performed for the sake of a particular end: they are means for this end. The relationship between them is prominent in Aristotle’s philosophy. While fully valid and justified, we should carefully avoid to overextend it, and assume that any human act is a sheer means to achieve an end. The dignity and greatness of personhood teaches us that there are very many actions that should be performed for their own sake, because they are valuable in and by themselves. He who feeds the hungry should do so because they are his brothers, and deserve our love and not because the benefactor will be rewarded for this in heaven. If one fed a starving person exclusively as a means of acquiring merits, it would be a caricature of true charity. It should be done because a brother deserves our loving concern. That a virtuous act is also “beneficial’ to the doer is true indeed, but if it is performed exclusively for this reason, an essential element of a loving deed is lacking. Alas, they are people who perform “virtuous deeds” because they see them as a good “investment” while their heart remains cold. A new word was needed to distinguish clearly between actions performed as a sheer means to an end, and those whose inner value prohibits us from seeing them as mere instruments. D. von Hildebrand has coined the word’” superabundance”, a felicitous term to show the abyss separating the business means- end relationship from the warm richness of a loving act. Man is not a “machine to produce virtuous deeds”; he is a person called upon to love his neighbor as himself and for himself. That an act of charity benefits its doer is superabundant but should not be the primary motivation. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His justice; the rest will BE ADDED UNTO YOU”. This is a perfect biblical formulation for superabundance that most probably inspired Dietrich von Hildebrand. There is a world of difference between a “business” friendship when two men are bonded by common interests, and a friendship where the friends love each other “for their own sake”, and not for the advantages that the friendship will give them. When the craving for ecstasy is the key motivation of so-called lovers, it will inevitably be linked to the endless search for new partners whose “performance” is more gratifying. This is the essence of promiscuity and, alas, it is not only limited to homosexuality. It also sheds light on marital unfaithfulness. Then a noble experience will inevitably degenerate into something merely subjectively satisfying, betraying the very nature of love. The very word “pleasure” should always alert those who wish to serve God, that to go through its door, can be deadly. For there are pleasures that are the arch enemies of the person addicted to them. They should be ostracized from the lives of those who hear the call: haec est voluntas Dei: sanctificatio vestra. Those who have achieved this glorious victory will tell you that the previous “ecstasy” they taste was poisoned by the consciousness that they were acting against the dignity of the human person made to God’s image and likeness. It is high time that we sing the beauty of great noble male friendships, at a tragic time like ours, when perverse practices have become not only acceptable but given the same dignity as the one granted to marriage between man and women, from Genesis. This is what is offered to those who feel an attraction for persons of the same sex. It can be baptized. God’s placet is necessary in order for any form of human love to deserve to be called love. Indeed, as the New Testament tells us; all things are possible with God.
Dedicated to his Eminence, Raymond Cardinal Burke Any reverent reading of Genesis sheds abundant light on the key role played by woman in the economy of redemption. She was created last – the apex of creation – and her body was the only material creature taken from the flesh of a person. Whereas Adam’s body was taken from the slime of the earth – an un-aristocratic beginning – her body was taken from the one of Adam honored by having an immortal soul. Worth mentioning is also Adam’s joy when waking up from his sleep and seeing her for the first time: he exclaimed: “blood of my blood, flesh of my flesh” acknowledging thereby that she was worthy to his companion. Then he declared her to the “mother of the living” – proclaiming that she has received the unfathomable privilege of giving life. However he himself is not called “the father of the living”. God also states that man is to leave father and mother and adhere to his wife. Between woman and man there is a unique bond, but they had to differ from each other for their reciprocal mission is to complement each other. The fullness of human nature is to be found in their union. When Eve gave birth to Cain, she joyfully exclaimed: “with the help of God I have brought a man into the world”. Adam is not mentioned. I can picture him in the background, sheepishly muttering: “I too had a role in the becoming of my son”. Why this omission? The reason is obvious: Eve proves to be a budding theologian: for what Adam gave her was his semen generously put by God in his body and over which, once given to his wife, he has no control whatsoever. He can do nothing to guarantee that it will fertilize her egg. Crucial is to recall that the very moment a new living substance comes into existence, an amazing thing takes place: God simultaneously places a new soul into this new animal body which, through the divine action, becomes the body of a person. The latter has an immortal soul which can be produced neither by father nor mother. All they can do is to give a chance to what God Himself has placed in their bodies, to produce a new physical organism. Animals too have living bodies but are denied personhood. It is only when God Himself who at the very moment of fertilization, places a totally new soul which He alone could create and places into the woman’s body that a new human person comes into existence. The newly conceived person has a dignity that no other material being possesses. This divine intervention sheds light on the horror called “abortion”. Hence, Eve was fully justified in giving God credit. Let us also not forget, that whatever has been touched by God has a note of sacredness. This is why Eve’s body is blessed. This divine contact gives her body a dignity that calls for awe and veiling; it is in this light that we should understand the command of St. Paul that women should be veiled in church. It is sign of their privileged dignity. How it is to be hoped that a Christian husband, worthy of this name remembers this when he embraces his wife. But today, alas, the secularists have persuaded feminist numbskulls that the very make-up of the female body is a sign of her metaphysical inferiority. The reading of a fact will depend on the mind’s approach to this fact. It will inevitably be differently interpreted by a “liberal” mind and one blessed with humility, that is the only adequate posture for reading God’s message: on one’s knees. The validity of Biblical scholarship depends upon the metaphysical position adopted by the scholar: this explains why his work leads to either a deepening of one’s faith or to a “liberal” interpretation, inevitable when one reads this sacred book with the deforming lenses of human pride. Liberal scholars have arthritic knees. Such a scholar’s mind is set upon refusing to be “baptized”. Feminists have fallen victims to the spirit of the time which is definitely not the Holy Spirit. The way the female body is “read” gives us a key to the moral status of a society. Alas, this carries with it a condemnation of our contemporary world where not only is the female body shamelessly “unveiled”, but as a result it is more and more seen as an object of pleasure – thereby objectively denying her dignity. We only need go to a mall or looking at a fashion magazine to see how low we have fallen. The key virtue of reverence, that – to quote Dietrich von Hildebrand – might be called the mother of all virtues, has definitely been “buried”. How clever the Evil one was in convincing our decadent society that wearing a veil indicates some sort of inferiority: purposely ignoring that we paradoxically veil both what is sacred, and what is filthy (it is said in the Bible; “I shall cover their nakedness”) but obviously for radically different reasons. To some, veiling plainly indicates that what is covered is “filthy”, and indeed this is the deplorable puritanical view. God had given permission to our first parents to eat the fruit of any tree found in the beautiful garden of Eden, except from for one. Then the serpent comes in: he is astute, he is sharp, and devises a very clever way of bringing Eve to disobey the divine order. He is too clever to challenge it: he “only” raises a question. Can’t persons raise questions? Is it not typical of their dignity that they can raise them? Animals do not raise questions. But there is a wide gamut of possible questions: some are plainly stupid: “Why can’t two plus two be five?” There are meaningless questions, there are coarse and vulgar questions (why can’t I spit in your face?) There are intelligent questions, and there are questions which, by the very fact that they are raised, condemn the person raising them. Here I would like to write in large letters: CAVEAT. Alas, it is tragically typical of our “time” precisely to raise questions that it is shameful to raise. Teaching has taught me that we can judge a student’s intelligence and moral integrity by the questions that he raises. The serpent cleverly asked Eve why she was not permitted to eat of the fruit of one particularly tree inviting her to question God’s ‘right” to give commands. The answer is clear and prompt: because if we do, we shall die. Then the Serpent – the father of lies – practices his “trade”: he tells her a huge lie. It is confirmed by the Spanish proverb: the cake and the lie should be big (“la torta y la mentira, gorda”). He arrogantly asserts: No, you shall not die; you shall become “like God”. This could be the object of a long chapter. To challenge an order given by a legitimate authority should be condemned because it denies his right to give orders. God being God is fully entitled to prohibit certain things: to question this right is already to step into forbidden territory. Eve falls into the trap, and engages in a conversation with the Evil one, when in fact, she should have said: “Vade retro, Satana”. The drama will pursue its course. The perennial temptation of rebellions for creatures is to resent their being “only” creatures. Therefore Lucifer declared proudly: “non serviam”. Much of modern philosophy – let us recall Feuerbach and Nietzsche – makes is clear that God’s existence is not welcome. Nietzsche tells us “honestly” in his book, “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” that he does not want God to exist: it would limit his “self-glory”. Once Eve has tasted the sweetness of the forbidden food, she gives it to Adam who does not make any objection and thereby shares in her disobedience and guilt. Suddenly their eyes were opened, and they realized they were naked: that is, stripped of the beauty that God had given them. For it is God Himself that gives us “wedding gowns” without which we are unworthy to attend the Wedding of His son and partake of his divine meal. The punishment is immediate and fearful: death, that is, not only the brutal separation from their Creator but also the separation of the human body from its soul. Moreover, man is condemned to earn his bread with the sweat of his brow (something that some men try desperately to escape from), and a curse that Eve shares with him. She, being the main culprit, is severely punished in the sphere that was her glory: to give life. Indeed, “a woman in labor” means being in excruciating pains. There is a deep symbolism in this “curse”. She has eaten the fruit of death, and pays the price by suffering in giving life. God then tells us that there will be an enmity between Satan and the woman, and that one day his head will be crushed. In the course of time – after centuries of darkness during which the majority of women were abominably used and abused by men – God created a female child, born without the curse of original sin, tota pulchra, blessed by God from the moment of her conception; her name was Mary who by declaring herself to be the handmaid of the Lord, received the unfathomable privilege of being fecundated (fertilized) by the Holy Spirit. Christianity was born in her womb, and changed the world. The birth of this blessed a creature – a female – must have been puzzling and upsetting to the Evil one. He had achieved a great victory in defeating Eve. How will he face this new challenge? One trump is to try to stain Mary’s honor. Could the child she has conceived be the fruit of sin? But an angel protects her and informs Joseph in a dream, that she is all pure and has been fecundated by the Holy Spirit. From this moment on, the very existence of Mary will baffle the Serpent. He realizes that the enmity between him and the Woman has now taken a totally new turn: Eve was defeated. Mary will conquer by declaring herself to be the Servant of the Lord. Through her fiat, the Evil one will suffer a crushing defeat. The Middle Ages – called the “dark ages” by those blinded by the light of faith – is a glorious period in the course of which the devotion to the Blessed One Among Women will blossom and, give birth to the noble male virtue called “chivalry”. It will be a constant source of inspiration to great saints, great writers, and great artists. St. Bernard sings her praise in words that have the perfume of the supernatural. Dante’s love for Beatrice reminds women of the beauty of their mission. St. Dominic has a special devotion for the blessed one. Jacopone da Todi adds his voice to the choir of those honoring her through his sublime Stabat Mater Dolorosa. The Middle Ages is indeed Satan’s dark ages. But he refuses to accept defeat. The Renaissance gives him an opportunity of spreading the germs of secularism, and the so-called Reformation will be marked by a radical decrease of the loving devotion that Mary had enjoyed during the Middle Ages. He spread the lie that Catholics adored the Holy Virgin – thereby offending her Son. Many ill - informed Protestants assume that Mary is deified and thereby justify their abandoning any sort of devotion to the mother of the Savior. Let us recall Joyce Davidson’s book “Smoke over the Mountain” (later she became Mrs. C.S. Lewis) in which she writes that a Catholic priest, praying the rosary along the St. Laurent’s river, was severely chided by Christ himself reminding them that “you have only one Master”. The priest gets the message; the devotion to Mary is offensive to her son. It is not by accident that feminism was born in Protestant countries. Once the Blessed One Among Women is denied her rightful place in the drama of redemption, women will be the victims. The abuse of the “weak” sex always threatens a society where Mary is ignored. The time was ripe for launching feminism; a very talented writer, Henry Ibsen, wrote a play entitled “The Doll’s House” which, inevitably, was to spread the disease in Scandinavian country. For, the most powerful tools for spreading ideas are plays, movies, TV shows, and even songs. This play was going to trigger a female revolt which must have delighted the Evil One. Feminism was now fully justified. Following its course (most diseases are contagious, health is not) it will spread like wildfire, and in the course of time, invaded Catholic countries where the cult of cult given to Mary (hyperdulia) was still flourishing. All Satan needed do was to enlist the help of a famous and talented woman. He found one in Simone de Beauvoir – already famous because of her friendship with J.P. Sartre – whose philosophy was conquering a country devastated by a Second World War in less than 26 years. She wrote a book that following in the footsteps of Saul Alinski, she should have dedicated to Satan, entitled “The Second Sex”. It is a masterful combination of errors and lies. The purpose is clearly to convince women that their “mediocrity”, their social and political insignificance, are to be traced back to their biology. Let us listen to her message: whereas Man, the male, is a human being; she is “only” a “female”. She dares tell us that a woman is not a complete reality but rather a “becoming”. She suffers from a castration complex, conscious that there is something missing in her anatomy. It matches in stupidity the remark that ‘a young niece of mine aged six, the oldest of three girls who seeing a little boy for the first time at a doctor’s office, diagnosed him as having a tumor’. No valid excuse can be found for her! According to her, the woman is purely passive, whereas the male is active. Here she falls victim to the famous mistaken claim of Aristotle that man is superior to woman because he is “active”; she is only “passive”. Granted that activity is superior to passivity, The Philosopher, as St. Thomas calls him, makes a very grave confusion between passivity and receptivity – the latter being one of the noblest human attitudes. For in fact is there anything in our lives that we have not received? The female feels “alienated”; whereas the man is “transcendent” – one of the many ambiguous words in our vocabulary. She writes further that “women are disgusted by their own body”. Granted that men and women share in the humiliation of ejecting their excrements – to bleed or giving one’s blood has always been viewed as heroic: Christ has shed his blood to save us; martyrs gave their blood for their faith; heroes give blood for their country. It would be shocking indeed if one said: “So and so has sacrificed his urine and his excrements for his country!” This is a coarse remark indeed, but sheds light on the stupidity of her claim. Moreover De Beauvoir has the right to speak for herself, I deny her the right to speak in the name of other women, blessed by the consciousness of the greatness and mystery of their body. Any woman deserving to be called one, has an innate feeling of reverence toward her own body. But any lie, when cleverly presented, will be used as a trump card by the Evil One and alas, many numbskull females will buy this diabolical merchandise. Feminists are the greatest enemies of femininity, and their punishment is that they have succeeded in murdering chivalry – so prevalent in the Middle Ages and so deeply Catholic. Today one is pleasantly shocked when meeting a male who still understands that chivalry is one of their noble missions toward the other sex. It is a necessary fruit of their awareness through faith that women have the very same body as the Mother of our Redeemer who has a mother and no earthly father. This is no longer possible in a society where men and women are “rivals”; they compete on the human theatre where earthy fame, money, power, control are the cherished prizes. Her poisonous eloquence tells us further that “women produce nothing” (sic) for to give birth to a child does not deserve praise: after all, it is done better by animals. The prison of women is their despicable body. A woman should therefore liberate herself from the bonds of maternity. She once wrote the phrase: “I hate babies”. When a woman wrote such words, the sun sets. Marriage should be abolished altogether: “it diminishes men; annihilates women”. It is obscene to make a duty of something that should be the fulfillment of a spontaneous urge. Attack on the family follows suit. Children – when and if they are wanted – should be taken care of by the state: for such educators will inevitably be better than mothers who tend to be irritable being by personally involved, and thereby hurt their progeny. In other words, Socialism (at one point she definitely refers to the great Soviet Union) should give hope to women – a country that liberates them from the mediocre duties of house hold duties and enables them to enter the work force thereby contributing to the glorious “wheel of progress”. From what we have said, we can draw the sad conclusion that the contemporary world is at a cross road and prey to a deadly disease. We need courage to acknowledge it and diagnose it. From what I have said, it seems luminous that the devilish attack on marriage and the family is the main cause of a disaster that will destroy not only our nation, but the world. Once the bond that God has established between man and woman, – poisoned by the mendacious propaganda of the news media – is accepted a propagate in so called education; once the woman loses sight of her glorious mission, and opts for death, the world is, humanly speaking, doomed. Once truth and error are no longer distinguished, moral good and moral evil are willfully confused, the serpent has achieved his greatest victory since he convinced Eve to eat of the forbidden news. Should we opt for despair? No, indeed, for God will have the last word but a new army of martyrs is called for. What is crucial is to identify among all the dangers facing us and the one that should be challenged first. The future of our society will depend upon our willingness to SEE that no society can survive if our vision of what a human life should be, is lost sight of. Our educational system has betrayed its children: relativism, opening the door to all sorts of moral and intellectual distortions, has dominated our schools and university for many years; the awesomeness of the natural moral law has been ridiculed and viewed as an attack on our “freedom of choice”. The diabolical attack on maternity should be our first concern because once accepted as legitimate, and justified by “freedom of choice”, the very foundation of human life will be shaken to its very roots: religious, moral, intellectual, social and political. We are driving toward an abyss and should open our eyes and see the danger. Neither political power, nor money, nor the amazing technology that “we” have has conquered it. Far from solving the problem, it has made it worse because without a sound philosophy, it will be misused and inevitably lead to suicide. We can now glorify ourselves that if we cannot as yet create the world by a fiat, we can destroy it by using the same word. The future of any society, nay of the world, depends upon the soundness of its “heart”, that is, its relationship to God, and his awareness of the moral law, the dignity of the word “truth”, and the key role that women have been called upon to play from the very beginning of creation. May God have mercy on apostates and apostasy which is much worse that the most decadent paganism. It is a betrayal.
Dedicated to Bob LuddyIf anyone came to me with the following request: what is the book on spiritual life that you would recommend not only for beginners, but also for people who have already taken their first steps? Without a moment’s hesitation, I would say; Saint Francis of Sales’ Introduction to the Devout Life, a book published in the XVII century which, I believe, never was out of print. There is a profound reason for it: not only is it classical, (above time and fashion), but it has a value for people of the most varied backgrounds. It is like bread: it will never be outdated. This great saint’s message is couched in such gracious terms that he combines depth of thought, and gentle charm.One typical temptation of beginners in spiritual life, is to feed their soul on mystical literature, such as the Dark Night of the Soul of St. John of the Cross. Its very title attracts a large number of beginners convinced that they know by personal experience what this great saint and mystic is referring to. Being spiritually immature, they easily fall prey to an exaltation that favors dangerous illusions. St. Francis of Sales’ book combines profound spiritual wisdom, with what I shall term “holy sobriety”. Such spiritual food prevents one from falling into the very many illusions which are traps set by the devil to make many people endorse spiritual fallacies and leave the safe road of humility.All I intend to do in this brief essay is to meditate on one chapter in Book 3, which, in my personal life, I have found to be a gold mine of insights. It refers to our attitude toward the faults and sins of others -- a topic of crucial importance because all of us have to deal with it, and very few are aware of the only valid Christian response. Any sin calls for tears because first and foremost, it is an offense of God. Had men not sinned, Christ would not have been crucified. This should be our primary concern. Moreover, every sin harms the sinner, and may, when grave, endanger his eternal welfare. This is another reason to “grieve”, for sorrow is the response God expects us to give. But many of us might be tempted to exclaim: “Such a deed is so abominable that never, absolutely never, would it have tempted me”. The ABCs of humility reminds us that we are capable of the most horrible crimes were it not for the fact that God’s grace has protected us either in not allowing the Devil to tempt us, or in giving us the grace to defeat his diabolical attack. Peter was sincere when, at the Last Supper he declared himself ready to give his life for Christ. Alas, he lacked humility and soon afterwards, scared by the remark of a maid, he denied that he knew Him. There are sins that some of us have not committed: let us humbly thank God for having given us the grace we needed.What is the Christian attitude toward the sins of others? We should make a crucial difference between the sin and the sinner. Sin is always detestable for the reasons mentioned above. St Benedict writes in his Holy Rule that the Abbot should “oderit vitia, diligat fratres…” (Chapter 64). In his dealing with his sons, he should always remember that the sinner is God’s child – badly stained by sin, but redeemable as long as he lives. If he responded to God’s grace which is never refused, and repented, there will be greater joy in heaven than for someone who is not (or rather does not seem) in need of mercy. Sin cannot be rehabilitated. This is made clear by St. Paul in his Epistle to the Romans: murderers, adulterers, thieves, blasphemers cannot enter the Kingdom of God. No one should be accused of being “homophobic” for condemning the practice of any form of sexual perversion. Years ago I had the privilege of meeting Jerome Lejeune - the famous French doctor - a most ardent defender of life. It was at a conference organized by Human Life International in Miami. My niece, Marie Peeters, had been his assistant for some thirteen years, and a friendly contact was soon established. In the course of the conversation, he referred to young parents who had brought him their little girl, aged six, who looked like a child of two. His great concern was to comfort them and to help the child. He had a noble, attractive French face, and then suddenly, his expression changed to one of anger, edging on rage: “If you only knew how I hate disease”. This perfectly expresses the attitude called for toward sinners; the ardor of our love for them should be proportionate to our hatred of their sin - their worst enemy. Sin by its very nature is hateful and should be condemned. This admits of no exception. But, alas, this rightful indignation is now given a distorted interpretation as expressing a “lack of compassion”. It is cleverly hijacked by the devil who sets a trap into which many fall. Today, we are repeatedly told that it is the duty of Christians to look for what is positive and good in homosexual relationships. Yet it should be called the cancer attacking a bond which in some case could have developed into a noble male friendship. It is a tragic derailment. Not to condemn sin is a grave lack of charity.Alas, more than once in the course of my long life, I have come across some people who “feel called” to be God’s detectives. They are convinced that it is their mission to unearth sins of others, and are triumphant when their suspicions are proven to be valid. “Did I not tell you that so and so was an adulterer. I ‘knew’ it; it is a domain in which I am infallible”. How profoundly charitable is the advice of St. Francis of Sales to prohibit our “advertising” the sins of others, adding spicy details, and enjoying discussing them publicly, instead of earnestly seeking excuses that may shed a milder light not on the sin but on the sinner. Moreover, if someone tells us confidentially about his or her moral aberrations, it would indeed be a very grave sin to share this information with others. It is a serious sin called defamation differing from slander which spreads lies, and also fully deserves to be severely censured. In fact both are cousin sins: in one case we spread lies; in the other we spread sad facts which most people need not, should not know. Both are serious offenses against charity. The sins and faults of others should never be a topic of conversation; alas, some people major in it: it is entertaining, it is a superb topic for cynics who enjoy proclaiming that between virtue and vice, there is only a very minor difference. As a French cynic remarked: conversion easily languishes when the guests run out of things to criticize. How many of us need beat their breast in this domain? How deeply meaningful that St. Teresa of Avila writes in her biography that “the absent” were safe when she was present at a conversation.Granted that “charity” toward sin can never be justified, one’s attitude toward sinners should be radically different. Sin is the arch enemy of the sinner; let me repeat: the practice of homosexuality is the cancer menacing some potentially very beautiful friendships between either two men or two women. Let us recall the beautiful words of St. Augustine bound by a deep affection with Nebridius and the moving words he uses referring to his friend’s death. The Bishop of Hippo gave us a golden key that we should always carry with us; Interficere errorem; diligere errantem. (kill the error; love the erring person). How many great sinners became great saints. Let us recall Mary Magdalena who had been possessed by seven demons, and when converted, followed Christ to Golgotha. She was the one who first received the glorious news of Christ’s resurrection.Detestable as the sinner’s sin might be, we should hope that his intentions were not as bad as they might appear to be. We should refrain from judging him, even though we should mercilessly condemn the sin. St. Augustine is, in fact, formulating the arch Christian principle taught us by the Savior who did not condemn the adulterous woman, but condemned adultery He told her: “sin no more”.Alas, the history of the world teaches two sad facts; how often have sinners been brutally rejected because of their sin (let us recall the Scarlet Letter), or, and this is rampant today, sins are “not that bad” they might have some positive sides; in fact the practice of sodomy expresses the deep love the two men have for each other. Our “Brave New World” is definitely sympathetic to “amorality –a child of relativism – this “new Gospel” which is finally authentic “good news”, has liberated us from the horror of Pharisaism. “Fortunately” modern man freed to the taboo of the Dark ages, has “finally” understood the authentic Christian message which is “compassion”. Any radical condemnation of sin is now viewed as a very grave lack of “love for the sinner, redolent of the harshness of the Dark ages”. The Inquisition, Anathema, the Crusades: all rotten fruits of a so-called orthodoxy. Why should adultery be condemned? There are so many reasons that seem to justify it. Moreover, as a French cynic remarked, to limit one’s “love” (meaning sex) to one single people is to deprive others of their right to pursue happiness. Why should people object to gay marriage? Circumstance Ethics has eloquently shown that it all depends upon time, place and circumstances which vary from person to person and from epoch to epoch. Advertisements such as “sinfully attractive” are gaining currency. Sin is in fact “lovable”. What is to be thrown into the deepest pits of hell (if there is one) is pharisaic behavior. Puritanism is the sin par excellence, and is responsible for many grave psychological problems.This is the framework in which we shall address a baffling question: the disappointment we should experience when people that we look up to, love and admire, do or say things which conflict with their previous views. Unfortunately these cases are not infrequent and are troubling. How can one and the same person make contributions of great depth and value, and all of a sudden, communicate gravely misleading messages.As I said, it does happen. In the framework of this brief article, I shall limit myself to very few. But it might be valuable to dedicate a whole book to this topic. No one can deny that Origen was a great and noble thinker whose message has been enriching and beautiful. Yet, he has been accused of erring in making statements which seem to indicate that he believed in universal salvation: that is, at the end of time, Christ will victoriously guarantee the salvation of all men. This is being echoed today in several noble and famous Catholic thinkers. Jacques Maritain wrote an article published posthumously in which he suggests that, once again, at the end of time, all men, all devils will be freed from hell, thanks to the love and merits of Christ. One by one, they will be drawn out of this place of hatred and despair, and be accepted in Limbo – the place where unbaptized children are now to be found. Lucifer will be the last one to be pulled out…but the physical fire of hell will continue to burn forever, even though hell will now be empty. Any economist would object to the amazing waste of fuel! Be it remarked that Maritain – a most faithful son of the Church – does not say that it will be so, but only that He who can change bread into his body at the words of consecration, could also by means of a miracle change the will of those who are condemned by their own sins. (Idees Eschatologiques, p. 26. Published dans Approches sans entraves). Hans Urs von Balthasar has been similarly interpreted by some in his book: Dare We Hope That All Men Will Be Saved? In this context, two things should be mentioned: there is a fundamental difference by making suggestions which can be seriously questioned for not being in conformity with the traditional teaching of the Church, and making a claim that a position is true, even though in disagreement with the Magisterium. This applies to the two thinkers I have just mentioned. They would definitely submit to the Church’s judgment. One of the many great blessings of Catholicism is that it has a magisterium - blessed by infallibility. Another great mind to whom we are very indebted is Tertullian. Alas, he too at the end of his life was accused to falling into Montanism.No human mind, great and noble as it is infallible. Humility is the greatest protection against error. Great thinkers should, like St. Augustine, write a retractions.Worth mentioning is a remarkable spiritual writer, Karl Adam who, in 1924 wrote a book: The Spirit of Catholicism which was immediately praised as a Catholic classic. I believe it never was out of print. But to Dietrich von Hildebrand’s profound grief he was told that, shortly after Hitler came to power in l933, Karl Adam referring to the traditional claim of the Church that grace does not destroy nature, but presupposes it (Gratia supponit naturam), he is supposed to have added the word: NATURAM GERMANICAM. Such aberrations call for tears. How is it possible that such a noble and orthodox thinker can all of sudden, after the ascension of a criminal to the Chancellorship of Germany, seem to endorse his anti- Christian racism? I do not have an answer to that question, but it should be a concern for all “intellectuals”, who, possibly because of their reputation and the accolade they keep receiving, suddenly forget that humility is the golden key indispensable when addressing supernatural question or any “sensitive” question for that matter. Whereas this most unfortunate formulation should grieve us and be rejected, this does not allow us to forget the beauty of the message he has transmitted us in his previous work.A similar case of the one of Otto von Habsburg, the eldest son of the last the saintly Emperor of Austria. Some ten years again he told a friend of mine who visited him in Rome, that recently he was in Barcelona and upon entering a Church, possibly the Cathedral, he saw “to his great satisfaction” that there were three pictures over the altar: one of the Cross, the second the Star of David, and the third, the Crescent. “This is a hopeful sign for the future” Otto said. Alas, ecumenism easily degenerates into what my husband called “ecumenitis” that is a distorted desire to create a harmony of all religions by viewing each one of them as a segment of the truth: in fact, “we need them all to have the fullness of truth”. This is to sacrifice the word of Christ, “I am the truth” on the altar of wishy- washy relativism.If such aberrations can take place with good and noble thinkers, what should be said about detestable philosophies and psychologies which have pervaded our colleges and universities? Because of their “brilliance’ or because they were “new” or because they appeal to our fallen nature, have gained currency and formed the mentality of millions of young people, responsible for the confusion dominating the world today. Let us think of the brilliant Nietzsche or of the eloquent Marx, or the clever Darwin, of the seducing Freud…followed by a whole army of disciples. One of the many stupidities one hears in Universities is that ideas can do no harm (except the true ones). Actions alone can be dangerous. But such claim has no basis in history; there is no revolution that had not been preceded by vicious philosophies. Let me just mention Communism, and Nazism that have done a tremendous amount of harm by cleverly injecting poison into schools and universities. The intellectual confusion prevailing today is the fruit of their “evil efficiency”. Anyone wishing to destroy a society only need aim at destroying the family and education. Once this is done, these evil doers can “rest”. In such cases, let us once again, quote St. Francis of Sales He writes: “Of the enemies of God and His Church we must speak openly, since in charity we are bound to give the alarm whenever the wolf is found among the sheep”. (Chapter XXIX) Silence would be interpreted as an endorsement of such heretical statements. Once again, St. Francis of Sales give us the only Catholic response: open condemnation.Ecumenism, in the sense of a loving search for any truth found in other religions, while deploring those that are not perceived, is certainly to be welcome. Moreover it should be welcome as an opportunity to correct the totally false conceptions that other religions have of Catholicism, such as that Catholics adore the Holy Virgin, or that any statement of the pope is Ex cathedra, or that Catholicism denigrates the “intimate sphere” because it places celibacy above it. In fact, it is only consecrated virginity that is highly praised. Never has the Church showed a particular regard for bachelors and old maids. Unfortunately, how easily does it degenerate into what DvH called “ecumenitis”, that is a systematic “dethronement of truth”, a victory of dictatorial relativism, that arrogantly declares that there is no objective truth, and that everyone is entitled to his own religious views, but none can claim to be “the truth”.Bishop Fulton Sheen (whose life and writing are being examined for a possible canonization) has also, while Bishop of Rochester, made decisions which are troubling. I need not add my praise to the one of innumerable people who have known him, admired him, benefited from his talks and books, who looked up to him as a remarkable thinker and a very holy man, who never missed for one single day a full hour of adoration in front of the Blessed Sacrament.But while Bishop of Rochester, he made two decisions which, should be deplored. One of them is that he gave his placet not only to introduce sex education in all Catholic schools in his diocese, but moreover, I was told, endorsed the choice of a Sex Education Program known to be one of the most “daring” offered at the time. Dietrich von Hildebrand was the first (possibly not the only first) to vociferously raise his voice again these innovations. One key reason being was that there was very little “education” and detailed “information” totally inappropriate for grammar school children. The reasons which he expounded in articles and a small booklet (with Dr. William Marra) called Sex Education: The Basic Issues (The Wanderer Press) are that the mysterious and intimate sphere of “sex” should never be an object of public discussion. The intimate parts of our body are “our secret” and should never be publicly unveiled. In God’s marvelous plan, this “unveiling” is only to be shared and unveiled in the Holy Sacrament of Matrimony when, with God’s permission the Spouse gives to her husband a key to this mysterious domain, trusting that he will approach it with trembling reverence and as an expression of spousal love. For sex is not and cannot be understood apart from the love between husband and wife. Moreover, and this is also crucial, “sex information” (e.g. detailed biological information of the marriage act, abortion, sexual aberrations) should not be communicated to young, immature innocent children, not yet concerned about these questions. The key thought of Dietrich von Hildebrand is that sex education begins in the cradle, by teaching the key virtue of reverence which he calls “the mother of all virtues”. This reverence should dictate our attitude primarily toward God, what is Sacred, parents, tradition, what is true, good and beautiful. Information should not be given to young children not yet ready to face these serious and grave questions. It will come at the time of puberty, which differs from child to child. If a child has been trained to be reverent, he will receive these facts in trembling reverence, and will grasp both the beauty of God’s plan by making homo male and female, but also - and this is often denied today - that when abused this sphere open the door to moral filth incomparably worse than the horror of alcoholism, and drug abuse. It is precisely because this sphere is mysterious and deep that its abuse is so gravely staining the soul. All this reflects the information Rhoda Lorand, professor of education at Long Island University. She studied the sex education program endorsed by Bishop Sheen and eloquently shows how harmful sex information is when dished to small and immature children. Not because this sphere is “dirty” as many people have unfortunately claimed, but because to be properly understood a certain degree of maturity is required that children in grammar school do not have. Moreover, DvH objected to a public discussion of things which, by their very nature, and intimate and personal.It is also to be regretted that Bishop Sheen gave the works of Teilhard de Chardin to his seminarians. The latter was definitely making the headlines at the time, and it was tempting to be “open minded” and up to date, but it is worth listening to Etienne Gilson’s warning that what he offers us is a “theology fiction” based on his unbaptized scientific enthusiasm.It is alarming and most regrettable to see how people are attracted by novelty and blinding brilliance or by philosophies which justify their lifestyle. Close to this death, when my beloved husband solemnly confided his literary bequest to me, he uttered the following words which gave me great joy: If you ever find in my works a single sentence which is not in full harmony with the teaching of the Church, do not hesitate: burn it. This is the attitude that all Catholic thinkers who deserve this noble title, should adopt.
That pleasure – that is physical satisfaction – plays an enormous role in our lives, is already strongly manifested in small children. Give a toddler – whose vocabulary is very limited – a delicious candy, he will utter the word: “More”. On the other hand, parents know but too well that if the child must be given a bitter medicine ordered by the doctor, they are heading for a fight: for he will refuse to take it; he is “shocked” and horrified that his “loving” parents should force him to take something he strongly dislikes. Even though tiny, he will defend himself against this unfair “attack” with a strength totally disproportionate with his age. Pain is hateful; it is man’s arch enemy. Period.It was Plato who in one of his great works, The Republic, addressed this problem. It is a well-known fact that most of us are likely to be defeated by pain. Physical courage is, for this reason, one of the natural virtues that most attracts our admiration. In many cultures, when a boy reaches a certain age, he was exposed to a “rite of passage”, i.e. was inflicted pain by his elders watching his response to this crucial test. His performance decided whether or not he was “worthy” to be “promoted”, and deserves to be called a “man”, a Macho. Surprisingly enough in this context, it is never mentioned that a high percentage of young women have passed this test by giving birth. When the Bible refers to severe physical sufferings, the words used are “like a woman in labor”.That resistance to pain triggers our admiration and respect is not surprising. Let us recall the heroism of the first Christians whose blood made the faith blossom. Alas, martyrdom is not a horror of the past. Millions of people were murdered by Stalin and Hitler, and are being murdered today in Syria and Nigeria. Potentially it could happen in any country.Our horror of pain is so deeply rooted in our nature that it even extends to our violent dislike of any effort or sacrifice required to overcome obstacles and difficulties. Let us recall the story of Gideon in the Old Testament who called Jews to fight the Madianites. Thirty two thousand immediately responded to his call, but after being tested only three hundred remained and achieved victory. Effort and pain are not welcome. Pleasure always is. Key words for success in our society are: fast food, fast fun, and fast money. It was again Plato’s wisdom that reminded us that we should fear to be “defeated by pleasure”. (Laws, Book I, 634) This can be illustrated by an amazing historical story. Hannibal – this deadly enemy of Rome - with a daring that is nothing short of remarkable, decided to invade Italy from the north. This implied going over the Alps. Let us not forget that he came from Africa. He did so with an army of elephants, and once in Italy went from triumph to triumph. But Plato warned us that a victory can often be a door to defeat. (Laws, Book I) Hannibal’s solders finally landed in a beautiful city south of Rome –Capua- : sex and pleasure from which the triumphant soldiers had been deprived for so long, were now richly offered to them. As expected they gorged themselves with the whole gamut of pleasures available, and soon were so weakened by physical delights that the Romans easily defeated them. Hannibal’s brilliant military feat ended in a crushing defeat. What a lesson for us!One of the most important tasks of a man worthy to be called an “educator” is to teach a child to arm himself against this “tempting” enemy. When he succeeds he deserves our respect and admiration for, as Plato remarks, children are not eager to improve themselves. (Laws) For many of them, the teacher is the “enemy” and some even pride themselves of making his task as arduous as possible.Pleasure presents itself as a friend, but is, in fact, an enemy in disguise. That it is linked to certain bodily activities such as drinking when thirsty, or eating when hungry or resting when exhausted, is natural. A starving man will not be choosy about the menu. His main concern will be to appease his hunger but soon the craving for pleasure will make its voice heard. Water can quench our thirst better than wine, but it is not as satisfying; this noble product of nature cultivated by man, produced an exquisite liquid – wine -, which can easily become an addiction. In his Holy Rule, (Chapter 40) St. Benedict reluctantly allows his monks to drink a limited amount of wine, remarking that it is “concession to their weakness”. Alcoholism is a curse plaguing many countries. Let us recall the tragic case of Marmeladov (“Crime and Punishment” by Dostoyevsky) who lets his wife and children starve because his salary is spent at a bar. All of us have witnessed their revolting language and behavior when drunk. Is wine the culprit? No, it is the lack of self-control of the drinker. To fall victim to an addiction means to lose one’s moral freedom – while keeping one’s responsibility (ontological freedom). It dehumanizes the drinker. The same applies to food; accordingly to statistics, one third of the population of the USA is obese; this is a condemnation of “the greatest country in the world”. Overeating is a curse affecting rich countries. The same can be said of candies: both Switzerland and Belgium rival in their claim to be the best chocolatiers in the world, and they might well be. But to eat one praline the content of which is a delicious liquor, will inevitably make one crave to eat a second, and then a third – obeying the purpose of the makers of these aristocratic candies: to make them “sinfully good”. In fact it is much easier to turn down an offer to eat one than to overcome the temptation of eating many of them once tasted.I will briefly allude to the “intimate sphere” which houses the most powerful of all instincts, and is, for innumerable men and also women, a “trap” that can lead to total moral degradation. I need not be more eloquent on this tragic topic. What is particularly abominable and revolting is when some find their pleasures in inflicting pains on others: this is above all the case in rape and human trafficking – the horror of horror. In such cases, it is luminous that the Father of Darkness, Lucifer himself, is the “inventor” and the “conductor”.Alas, I must also mention – although I will be brief – un-natural pleasures, that is those which do not derive from nature, but are artificially induced by revolting practices. I am referring to the sentence of St. Paul that “certain things should not even be mentioned among Christians”, i.e. the practice of homosexuality which, as Plato tells us, is a curse threatening society, and is triggered by “unbridled lust”. (Laws, VIII) It is once again, a moral cancer which endangers the family – the heart of a nation.Alas, in a world dominated by technology, these moral abominations that, for a long time, were “under the counter”, are now publicly advertised and inevitably make parents tremble for their children who, by a mishap, might be informed of their existence. Educators know but too well that children are curious and love to “experiment”.But this is not the end of the story. Mention must also be made of artificial urges, which while having no origin in man’s body, can once become habitual, and are just as addictive as food, drink and “sex”. I will limit myself to smoking. No one is born with a craving to smoke. Monkeys do not smoke. He who is blessed by being born in a society where cigarettes are not available cannot possibly feel deprived for not having them. But the problem is that those living in country where they are not only available, but moreover heavily advertised, are likely to be enticed to “try them”, because it is either fashionable, or elegant, or because it promises to be relaxing and “bon gout”. To teenagers, to smoke is a sign of maturity: both being behind the wheel or having a cigarette in one’s mouth indicates that one is “grown up” and now freed from the tutelage of one’s parents.There is a Pinocchio in all of us. The victims of smoking go by the millions, and has finally convinced the State to make laws ordering the big companies to indicate that it is a health hazard, and also write laws protecting the non-smokers from second hand smoking.It makes one sad when one meets a priest so addicted to smoke that he must hastily have a cigarette in his mouth before entering the sanctuary, and rushing back to the sacristy as soon the Holy Sacrifice is over, to appease his craving. We have lost more than one outstanding thinker or leader whose death was caused by their being slaves to tobacco. It should make the Angels cry. Alas, since original sin, our body that essentially belongs to our human personhood, should be constantly reminded to be obedient to our soul which, in turn, should be obedient to God. Now Brother Ass is a potential rebel and explains why St. Francis of Assisi treated it so severely, to the point apologizing to him on his death bed. But the same saint, gratefully accepted a Roman dainty brought him by a lady – a devoted disciple of his, dubbed Brother Jacoba. This is typical of the “freedom” enjoyed by God’s children.As soon as we become the victim of bodily cravings, life can become so miserable for the soul, that alas, in the majority of cases, the latter will accept defeat “for the sake of peace”. Each defeat, however, is a password for the next one.This is why the great educator that Plato was, tells us that educator, starting with the parents, should be much concerned about arming the child with moral tools that will teach him how to keep his freedom. Whether we think of drunkenness, gluttony or lust: all of them refer to the same threat: defeated by pleasure.A seasoned educator (let us think of F.W. Foerster: his great book “School and Character”) know that young people are also moved by nobility, sacrifice, courage, generosity and he can skillfully use great literature to illustrate cases in which someone deserves to be called a hero. But rare are those who are born heroes: heroism presupposes sacrifice, self-control and prayer. It presupposes a formation of our soul and that such a formation implies domination over our lower nature: who should want to be dominated by our cats and dogs? We should beware of letting biological cravings throw nets upon our freedom, and make us servants of bodily cravings. This was most eloquently and most poignantly expressed in St. Augustine’s Confessions, Books VII and VIII - a must read for anyone grabbling with addictions and not only for them; these are gems of Catholic literature.From his late teens, Augustine had fallen victim to his lust. He now had come to the point that he had to acknowledge defeat: he could not live without these powerful physical satisfactions. The very thought of having to live without them terrified him: he seems to hear their voices: “do you truly mean to abandon us? How can you possibly live without us”? Images tormented his mind: indeed, he was a slave. But through God’s grace, he now acknowledged it and craved for help. How poignant to read his prayer: “Give me continence, O Lord, but not yet…” Let us now turn to wrong responses to pleasure. One is dictated by Stoic philosophy. Even though there is a whole scale of Stoics, I will limit myself to quoting Horace. The following words incarnate the very essence of stoicism – that is pride. He wrote: If the whole world would collapse, the stoic would contemplate the ruins totally unmoved and totally fearless (free translation). But is a Stoic worthy to be called “human”?The other extreme is radical Puritanism which, on principle, views every type of pleasure as leading to hell. The question that comes to mind: is it not God Himself who has linked certain activities with pleasure? He is not therefore the guilty one? This Pharisaical approach is a perfect match for Stoicism. But today, any one going to a mall must be aware that pornography is our greatest moral foe. True as it is that all errors are first cousins, wisdom teaches one to detect the danger which is the greater one at the present moment. Today a blind man could see that it is pornography and not puritanism.A look at fashion magazines should convince us of this fact.What is the Christian attitude toward pleasure? The answer this question we should ask the saints, that is those of us who have succeeded with God’s grace, to become “new creatures” in taking Christ as their model.One thing is obvious: all saints have a holy hatred for all perverse and immoral pleasures. They immediately identify them as “devilish” temptations and fight them with heroic courage. Let us recall the tempest of temptations that assailed St. Anthony living in the desert. These attacks were vicious and constant, and yet he never was conquered because he put all his trust in God who gave the graces he needed to rebut Satan with the words: “Vade retro”. These attacks were constant but were defeated by God’s grace and a most severe asceticism.One thing has struck me: the word just mentioned - which I heard so often throughout my very Catholic education, has now practically disappeared from our vocabulary. Penance – that is abstaining from legitimate pleasures – is not popular in the “modern” world. Today children are no longer told to eat what has been put on their plates. They are now entitled to make their own menu and throw into the garbage can whatever is not to their taste. “I do not like it” is a sort of anathema. The day I heard that in a Jesuit College, a cocktail hour was introduced to satisfy a need for “relaxation”, I thought of the tears that their great founder would have shed had he known about this betrayal of his great legacy.If this is true of food, what could be said about “positive” penance, such as wearing a hair shirt, of an iron belt, or taking the discipline? I recall talking to a lovely French girl who had joined one of the very many new religious organizations of people living in the world. I happened to mention that word the word “hair shirt” or “taking the discipline”. She looked at me in amazement and said; “what is that?” Let us recall the Little Flower obeying this practice imposed by the rule, who while taking the discipline, felt such pains that it brought tears to her eyes.Today, this is for most Catholics either discredited or totally unknown or dubbed “sadism” inspired by Simone de Beauvoir. This talented woman – a fallen away Catholic – has alas, put her talent at the service of some very grave errors. Her calling asceticism (taking the discipline) sadistic is a case in point. Reading the lives of the saints eloquently proves that pain and suffering have a meaning, and essentially belong to our sanctification. “He who would be my disciple, let him carry his cross and follow me.” St. Gregory the great who wrote the life of St. Benedict, relates that when this saintly man who from his youth, aimed at holiness, was one day assailed by violent sexual temptations, and threw himself into a thorny bush. The sharpness of the pain distracted him from this devilish attack and “strangled” this temptation. The very same story is related in the life of St. Francis of Assisi. Both saints never forgot that “the devil like a roaring lion, is always on the look out to see whom he can devour”. To defeat men through sexual temptations is probably the one requiring least efforts on the part of the tempter, hence is likely to be the task Screwtape (made famous by C.S. Lewis) assigns to “lazy” devils.Which one of us would dare declare that he is “sinless”? This is why the wisest among us gladly welcome pain and suffering to be freed from a long stay in Purgatory, where our debt will have to be paid to the very last penny. To confuse sadism and asceticism strikes me as the classical punishment inflicted upon talented minds afflicted by a fearful intellectual sickness: willful blindness.There are religious orders whose rule is extremely severe and welcomes suffering to atone for the un- repented sins of those for whom the meaning of life is self- satisfaction.Moreover, he who loves wants to share the sufferings of the loved one: “con patire”. Who would choose to go to an exciting movie to escape from having to witness the agonizing pains of a loved one? He who loves wants to “share” the loved one’s sufferings. Let us not forget that women followed Christ to Calvary animated by their love of Christ. St. John came back, but we do not know how soon.Not only did they want to suffer with HIM, but how gladly would they have been to suffer for Him. Mary stood at the foot of the Cross. She – the most perfect of all creatures – was crucified with her son. Indeed, there is no greater love than to give one’s life for one’s friends. These words alone should suffice to convince us of Christ’s divinity.It is a fact “that the most convincing lies are those which ape truth. In his great book, “Introduction to the Devout Life,” (Book 3) St. Francis of Sales does not hesitate to advice the society ladies under his guidance, to take the discipline twice a week. I wonder how many spiritual directors today still recommend the same “medicine”. Leaving aside inflicting pains upon oneself, daily life offers us many opportunities to “die to ourselves.” For example, when one is invited to a restaurant during Lent, one can purposely choose a menu that one does not care for, and turning down one that appeals to one’s taste. One can choose to stop eating as soon as one’s hunger is satisfied instead of taking a second helping because it is so “sinfully good” as the expression goes. One can limit the hours of sleep to what is indispensable to function well, while refusing, to use a French expression, to flirt with one’s pillow. In other words, with a bit of ascetic inventiveness, daily life offers us many opportunities of making sacrifices. Yet it cannot be denied that the modern world has produced saints and continues to do so. Let us think of a Maximilian Kolbe who sacrificed himself by willingly taking the place of the father of a family condemned by the Nazis to die of starvation. He is now canonized. But I believe it would be an error to believe that this heroic act was not preceded by many small acts of renunciation and sacrifice. The same is true of St. Edith Stein: the very day she entered the Holy Ark of the Roman Catholic Church, she followed the example of the saints and led a life of prayer and sacrifice. I do not exclude the possibility that an “average” Catholic in a dramatic moment, could sacrifice himself joyfully even though up to that day, nothing in his daily life and conduct could have predicted this heroism. All things are possible with God, but the classical way leading to holiness is made up of small sacrifices which – taken by themselves seem insignificant, but when artfully combined make a beautiful tapestry This is clearly the “little way” lived by St. Therese of Lisieux.When a saint is offered a delicious meal, it is immediately “baptized” with gratitude – this forgotten virtue – that transforms a “merely subjectively satisfying” pleasure into an objective good for the grateful person. It is the privilege of persons to say “thank you.” Hence the importance of prayer before and after meals. It is related in the “Life of St. Francis of Assisi” (J. Jorgensen p.330) that when this most lovable saint was close to death, one of his most devoted spiritual children, a noble lady dubbed “Brother Jacoba”, came to his bed side and brought him a Roman dainty he liked. The saint – whose life had been so severely ascetic accepted it gratefully – in so doing not only did he glorify God, but also gave joy to the donor.When a young woman tells one: “why should I be grateful; I paid for this meal?” the proper response is grief. Living in a culture (Dietrich von Hildebrand called it: an “anti-culture”) where the hero is the “self-made man”, is to live in a world where the word “thank you” has lost its meaning. Yet with “forgive me” and “I love you”, it is one of the golden words in our vocabulary. May these three words be the last we utter.The art of the saints is to relate everything to God: this is why it has been said that the most perfect of all creatures, Mary the Mother of the Savior, while sleeping, glorified God more than a saint passing his whole night in front of the Blessed Sacrament. How blessed Catholics are, that they have been given living models of holiness. St. Augustine, speaking about them wrote: “sic illi et isti, cur non ego”. These are words we should treasure: cur non ego.