Alice von Hildebrand

Alice von Hildebrand

Alice von Hildebrand was a philosopher, lecturer, and an author, whose works included: The Privilege of Being a Woman (Ignatius Press, 2002), The Soul of a Lion: The Life of Dietrich von Hildebrand (Ignatius Press, 2000), a biography of her late husband, Man and Woman: A Divine Invention (Ignatius Press, 2010), and Memoirs of a Happy Failure, with John Henry Crosby (Saint Benedict Press, 2014). In 2004, Von Hildebrand started the Von Hildebrand Project with the disciples of her husband, dedicated to making the witness and thought of her husband known. She was made a Dame Grand Cross of the Equestrian Order of St. Gregory by Pope Francis in 2013. Her life and works made important contributions to the understanding of the feminine genius, the role of the laity, and the vocation of marriage. She died on January 14, 2022.

Articles by Alice von Hildebrand

The Mysterious Word: Mine

Apr 9, 2015 / 00:00 am

The word “mine” is so rich in meanings that inevitably, it is opened to equivocations. Ambiguity is one of the main sources of error, if not downright heresies. There is an inevitable discrepancy between the immense variety of objects and “subjects” in the cosmos that call for our attention, and our limited human vocabulary. As a result, we often use the same word for things that are vastly different: for example, we use the word “love” to refer to God and to chocolate! Any wise man – i.e. any truth lover – must constantly be on the lookout from fear of falling into the numerous traps set by equivocations. In another context, I already have pointed to the fact that the word “good, if not properly defined, can be gravely misleading.When we say “mine”, the first meaning likely to come to mind is  “possession”, that is anything over which I have control, that I have the “right” to dispose of as I please. But anyone philosophically alert, will immediately realize that this meaning threatens to be extended to domains where it is not only gravely inappropriate, but moreover can open the door to terrible abuses with serious moral consequences. It makes sense to say: “this is my pocket book”: I own it; it is my property, it is the fruit of my labor. I can dispose of it as I please. To take it from me is theft”. This also applies to my piece of land, my house, my furniture, art objects in my possession, my silverware. All the objects mentioned are inanimate, material, visible. But it is crucial to realize that the relationship between myself and my property is a ‘one way street’. Whereas I am legally entitled to do with it as I please, it would be nonsensical to claim that it has any “right” over me. This becomes doubly luminous if we turn to other relationships where the word ‘mine” is fully adequate, but has a totally different meaning. When I say: “my parents”, it necessarily implies a reciprocal relationship between us because I am “their child”. Parents cannot be severed from child and vice versa: it necessarily refers to a very deep bond.How tragic is the trial faced today by the ever increasing number of children who do not know who their parents are, or still more often who their father is. It is inevitably experienced as a “betrayal” which, in many cases, it is. Woe to those who escape from a sacred duty. Am I wrong in fearing that one of the grave threats menacing our society today is the loss of the sense of  sacredness. This has been clearly perceived by Gabriel Marcel. My parents are those to whom I owe my physical life, those God has chosen as instruments to bring me into existence. Hence my duty of reverence and gratitude toward them as formulated in the Ten Commandments.  “You shall honor your father and mother”. Both G.K and Dietrich von Hildebrand, in their respective Memoirs, have found moving words to express their gratitude toward their respective father and mother. But the duty is reciprocal: parents have a moral obligation to love their children and to provide for them. When I refer to someone as “my brother”, it inevitably follows that I am “his brother or his sister”. When a person declares that John is “her” husband, we know that she is his “wife”. My “husband” does not mean my “possession”, but refers to the one I love, to whom, with God’s permission, I have given myself. The same is true of “my wife”. “My teacher” indicates that I am his or her student. As soon as perceive this very obvious truth, it becomes evident that “possession”, in the sense of “ownership” - was fully justified when referring to inanimate objects - is nonsensical and gravely “immoral” when extended to persons. No one has the right to claim “possession” over other human beings. The abominable word “slavery” (alas, often practiced and still is) is a very black mark on the sad history of the world. Whoever is “weak”, that is the poor, the sick, the elderly, women or children have been — and still are in certain societies— treated as chattel. It is one of the tragic cases in which something has often been deemed “legal” and is shockingly immoral. Woe to the society that legalizes crime and immoral behavior. It is inevitably digging its own grave. One of the objections that can be raised against democracy is that a “majority” is often made up of ignorant, amoral and immoral people, spoon fed on the poisonous food offered by the news media, twenty four hours a day.Five centuries before Christ, Socrates solemnly proclaimed that “we should obey God rather than men”. (Apology) His spiritual son, Plato, following in his steps, has rightly been dubbed “a preparer of the ways of Christ”: indeed, it also a basic tenet of Christianity. We are morally obliged to oppose any “law” which tramples on the natural moral law, accessible to all men of good will. The legalization of abortion is a case in point. It is plainly naïve to assume that the “majority” is always right and that its decisions are therefore “morally justified”. It only tells us that a particular ruling was endorsed by a larger number of votes.  The legalization of abortion on January 22nd 1972, was determined by a handful of Supreme Court members by a simple: “in favor.” By uttering these two words, they have cold bloodedly condemned to death millions and millions of innocents, and they did it “with a good conscience.” In any society that wishes to survive, “immoral” and “legal” should never be identified. Woe to the nation that denies this luminous truth. Justice—the foundation of any society—is a virtue which, alas, has often been trampled upon. How many parents have treated their children as their “possession”, claiming the right to determine “who they are”, what they should do etc. Alas, the same thing is true of “wives.” How many ruthlessly brutal and selfish husbands have viewed them as their “thing”, and not as human persons of equal dignity: “after all, she is my wife,” i.e. “I can deal with her as I please.”The history of the world is to a large extent, the history of crying injustices. It is luminous that we should all aim at correcting them. But alas, many are those who believe that the world could be made  perfect  if the state took over, and through human engineering and laws guarantee the creation of a “paradise for the workers.” This has given birth to the Gulags Archipelago.It is also worth noting that when I say, “so and so is my father”, that by this very fact, I exclude his being the father of innumerable other children. But, it definitely does not exclude his being the father of my siblings. It is the sad fate of the single child to exclude the word “our” when referring to his father. It should be experienced as a deprivation; how enriching it is to say: my father and our father.Another case that calls for our attention is when one speaks of God. It is inconceivable that someone saying: “My God” refers to any sort of possession. It should mean my “Creator”, the one to whom I owe everything, the one who calls for “adoration” which is the only adequate metaphysical posture toward Him. To view Him as my “possession”  would be the peak of insanity.        But what do the words “my God” refer to? Why is it that “my” in this case necessarily implies “our”? The reason is obvious: because there can  be only one God, and it necessarily follows that this one God has a relationship to all His creatures, independently of whether they know it or not, accept it or not. In other words: truth is catholic, ie, universal. It is offered to all men; but woe to those who reject it  willingly because “it limits their sovereignty”.  This is the tragic position of Nietzsche.To claim with the Gnostics and similar sects, that “truth” is the exclusive property of the “elect”, is not only nonsensical but is a moral abomination. If something is true, and apprehended as such, it is by this very token “ours”. This is the cancerous error of relativism: to say, “This is true for me, not for you” defies reason. This is a primitive confusion between the statement which matches the fact to which it refers, and the particularly person to whom this fact applies to.      Alas, when a marriage breaks down, it does happen that an unworthy father will say to his wife,“It is your duty to take care of your child. You know that I did not want it; it is your fault.” This refers to a similar drama that Gabriel Marcel has enlighten in one of his plays: a husband says to his wife “your child”, referring to a miscarriage that she recently had. Bitterly she replies: “Indeed, by saying ‘your child,’ you hint at the chasm that has opened between us.” A child is always and necessarily “our” child.Even when the father of the child is totally unknown (in the case of rape), the fact remains that this non-identifiable person has a bond with the newly conceived child, whether he acknowledges it or not. The first without the second is a betrayal. (Of course, I exclude the case of a father dying before the birth of his child). When the widowed mother remarries, the “step father”— through what Gabriel Marcel calls “the creative vow as essence of paternity” (Homo Viator)— is called upon to become a “real” father. That is, to achieve “the triumph of love over biology.”Alas, the consciousness of having fathered a child and the moral obligation that derives from it, has, in our “advanced” society, been systematically undermined through an educational system hijacked by the devil. Children are now taught that sex and the conception of a child should be radically severed. To claim that sex is linked to procreation—an inheritance from the dark ages—puts an unbearable burden upon the “legitimate enjoyment” of the first. This refusal to be fathers is a condemnation of our society where a top notch priority is to respect the “rights of sex.” The de facto father is deaf to the cry of the newly conceived baby begging him to call him “Father, Abba.” If we were willing to listen to the lessons of history, we would realize that a society in which the family collapses, is an agonizing society. The most disastrous fact that has occurred today is that this “betrayal” is now duplicated by women who – female Judases to their most sacred mission – consider degrading to give birth – a major obstacle to a brilliant career which would be theirs is they could liberate themselves from “the slavery of the female body.” Simone de Beauvoir (The Second Sex) does not hesitate to declare “women hate their own bodies.” She is free to hate her own, but I claim my right to loudly disagree and proclaim that all women should have a feeling of awe for a body which once, was the cradle of the Savior of the world. A woman who writes that “she hates babies” is “un-sexed” to quote Shakespeare. (Macbeth) It gives us a pre-taste of hell. Was it not Nietzsche who said that women are better or worse than men? It definitely applies to this case. Esau sold his birthright for a mess of pottage and he was foolish. Feminists definitely trump him: they sell their “privilege” to give life (which Simone tells us animals do better and more efficiently) in order to have their names in the New York Times or to appear on television or to have her name on the list of potential presidents of the USA.  One is tempted to claim that if Descartes had published today his famous Discourse of the Method, he would have replaced the words “I think, therefore I am” with “I am on television, therefore I am”!It is written, “Even if your mother abandoned you, I will never abandon you” said the Lord. (Isaiah 49- 15) Why is it that the word “mother” is used and not the word “father”? Why is it that Eve is called “mother of the living” and Adam is not called “father of the living”? This teaches us an important lesson. It clearly tells us that the bond between mother and child is a much closer one than the one between father and child which – in some way – must be “conquered.”Let us repeat: physical possessions actually refers to things that cannot accompany me in my casket. This radical deprivation – all my possessions are taken from me – which takes place at the moment of death, also applies to “my” body which, within hours, is a corpse; a handful of dust. We should daily remember that “we are dust and in dust we shall return.” The only thing left are my sins: not a very desirable possession. But death does not mean non-existence. For our soul, being immortal, cannot die. Death – a word that makes us turn pale – means that body and soul are brutally severed from one another until the awesome day of the resurrection of “Brother Ass”, as St. Francis calls it. It is a fearful punishment because man is both body and soul. To my mind, the dogma of the resurrection of the body – which seems to be very close to a re-creation – is one of the most awesome one of our faith, and is solemnly proclaimed in the Credo recited at Mass. Dualism – a denial that man is made up of body and soul – is to be thrown out of court, but the fact remains that death severs their union. It is a fearful punishment that destroys our body – not our soul – and in fact creates a type of “dualism” which justifies the exclamation of St. Augustine: “I, I the soul.” All of us have suffered the cruel loss of dearly loved ones: it would be unbearable to think that they no longer exist. We think of them; we talk to them; we tell them that we love them. This is a fact that cannot be denied and yet this separation of soul and body is a fearful fact. We cannot speak to a corpse; but we can only speak to a person.It might be a wise from time to time to picture oneself lying in a casket, just covered with a sheet and then draw the metaphysical consequences. May we be “ready” when this awesome hours comes.It is noteworthy that upon taking one’s final vows in religious orders, the candidate makes a vow of “poverty”, that is a willing renouncing of all earthly possessions. In his Holy Rule, St. Benedict emphatically tells his monks that once they enter the monastery, their “poverty” should be so radical that even their “very body” is no longer “their possession.”  These are hard words, and one needs grace to understand them, and still more to live them. Referring to possessions, he writes that this vice especially is to be “radically rooted out”. (Chapter 33) The word “mine” is replaced by the word “our”. It clearly indicates that “possession” is fraught with moral dangers: it is probably true that most human conflicts are related to them. One of my students’ brother, a lawyer, once said to her: “In my testament, I shall not leave a single penny to my children. My law practice has taught me that siblings whose relationships have been harmonious, often break up any contact fighting over their inheritance. For this reason I have given all my children a very good education, enabling them to provide for themselves, but I will leave them nothing in my will; I do not want them to start fighting over money.”One thing is certain: earthly possessions are, for all of us, a very real danger. They are attractive; they are tempting…but for this very reason, they are a threat to our spiritual welfare. But while lying in my casket, my bond with father, mother, siblings and husband and friends remains fully valid and defies death.   We live in a morally decadent society that is a society where the sacred bonds between husband and wife, father and child, brother and sister are gravely threatened. Years ago, it would have been inconceivable to even mention homosexual marriages. It was universally acknowledged that physical union between two males or two females was “against nature, repulsive” and, as Plato saw it, endangering the very fabric of society. (Laws, 836) St. Paul writes that “there are things that should not even be mentioned among you.” Homosexuality is definitely on the list. But alas in a society like ours where the news media are a sort of Leviathan aiming at controlling our minds, much of society is fed on lies – and a good lie is one that sounds true. Noble words such as “compassion”, “justice”, “broad mindedness” have been hijacked by the Evil one who knows exactly what “berceuse” will put our conscience to sleep. The “never sleeping” devil is behind the scenes, the dynamic “conductor” of many television channels, perversely aiming at controlling education and convincing those of us that are immature and gullible, that anything is legitimate as long as it satisfies our urges and leads to self- fulfillment. Let us think about the human “mess” created by this diabolical legalization. How is one man to refer to the other? Obviously he cannot call him “my husband”, and in the case of lesbians, “my wife”. The only option left them is to call the other “my partner” – a word meaningful valid in business and in sports, but is horribly jarring when applied to deep human relationships.Homosexuals, condemned never to have the privilege of being parents, now claim another right granted to heterosexuals: to adopt children, and “become” parents. The situation in which these poor adopted children are placed is nothing short of abominable. How are they to refer to those who have adopted them? Father number one and father number two? The noble word “father” is dishonored and degraded. This creates a human chaos indicative that we have entered apocalyptic times: that is when confusion will be such as to seduce even the elect if this were possible.What is fearful is that for years, small – apparently harmless – steps were taken which clearly indicated the direction that the ship was taking: endless repetition of slogans and fashionable words which in fact were aiming at putting our conscience to sleep and prevent us from realizing that the wolf was at the door. Always again, we should meditate on the words of Isaiah: “Woe to those who call good evil and evil good.” (5:20)If homosexual “marriages” (a horribly jarring “music”) have gained legality, one could cynically raise the question: “if anything goes”, is it not time to reintroduce polygamy and polyandry which have been practiced in several cultures? They are efficient ways of solving certain social problems. Polygamy is the best solution to fight “under population” (when a society has been decimated by a devastating plague) and polyandry will be enthusiastically endorsed in a society where there is an overpopulation of males, and under population of females (something bound to happen in China where many more baby girls are murdered than baby boys). Why should the word “our wife” or “our husband” be still ostracized? Have not the “noble” social sciences (which Edith Stein calls “science in baby shoes”) taught us that it was practiced in many societies with positive results? By excluding it, are we not a bit “narrow minded”? Why not open five stars restaurant whose main menu are steaks of exquisite tenderness, using the flesh of recently aborted babies? Why waste these precious proteins? Gourmets are likely to appreciate this dish. This leads me to the heart of this article: abortion. The various distinctions mentioned above might be helpful in discussing the very sensitive and crucial question of one’s relation to one’s body. The key argument used by abortionists is that each one of us has a right to make decisions over his or her own body: “if anything can truly be called “mine: it is my body. Ergo, nobody, absolutely nobody, has a right to tell me what I should do or not do with it. To set limits to this “fundamental right” is the peak of immorality and every immoral law should be abolished. This is “progress”. Hence, Roe v. Wade was a victory guaranteeing the legal protection of a “right” that for a longtime, has been shamefully trampled upon by prejudices inherited from the “dark ages.”Be it remarked however that there are two main causes preventing us from “seeing”: lack of light, and excess of light. This has been eloquently illuminated in Plato’s Republic (Book VII, 518). When the “philosopher” leaves the dark den and enters into the “real” world, he is “blinded” by the sun, and his first response is: “I am worse off than before.” Today, the age of faith is always referred to as the “dark ages”. It is legitimate to ask the following question: is this “blindness” triggered by lack of light, or by the brightness of the sun of revelation? Who would dare claim that the age that produced a St. Thomas Aquinas, a St. Bonaventure, a Dante was dark? Let us compared them to a Voltaire, a Rousseau, a Diderot, etc. if we dare. The French Encyclopedists prided themselves in claiming that they have “finally” brought the world out of the dark den of ignorance and prejudice created by religious myths, and now a glorious future opens up for us: “reason” will finally be recognized to be our exclusive guide. Has history justified their claim? The 20th century might go down as one of the bloodiest of all centuries, for our glorious technology has taught us to kill more people, faster and more efficiently than before. What should be said of today? It is tempting to suggest that those living in the dark night of “unbelief”, relativism,  subjectivism  have lionized those who lit a candle in a cellar, and are now acclaimed as heroes? There is such a thing as what I dubbed “pseudo obvious” (see Wahrheit, Wert und Sein) that is a catch sentence that “sounds” so convincing that it is accepted at prima vista as self- evident, and intellectually paralyses us, preventing us from putting it under the lenses of a healthy critical approach. It is treated as an “epistemological diplomatic passport” passing custom without check-up. The conviction that “my” body is my full personal possession is a case in point: it sounds overwhelmingly convincing. Upon careful examination, this claims is totally unwarranted, unless we clarify the meaning of the word “mine”. In the light of what we said previously, it should be clear that the word is ambiguous. Which one applies in the present case.  It definitely cannot be called “possession” in the sense that I possess an inanimate object outside of me. If this were its only meaning, it would justify abortion. But my body is not an object outside of myself: it is not something I “have”; I “am” my body, a body closely united with a soul,  i.e. I am a “human” person. A body does not belong to the essence of “personhood”: neither God nor Angels have bodies, but it essentially belongs to human persons. Animals have a body but are not persons.That my body is “mine”, meaning the material, physical “house” in which my soul inhabits at present, cannot be denied. This implies that I and I alone “know” it: I feel it and register the slightest disturbance which occurs in it. I “feel” that I have a stomach when it is upset. I feel that I have legs when I suffer from cramps. I feel that I have eyes when they are inflamed. I feel that I have ears when I have an ear infection. This is true of all my organs; in this sense I can say that I like my body best when it is “silent”. But the case is very different when we deal with pleasant sensations. Then a Falstaff wakes up in all of us and makes us feel constantly craving to duplicate them. But the problem is that precisely because they are so subjectively satisfying, once we know them, we shall crave for more of them, and will soon discover that we “cannot do without them”. This is the very nature of addiction. A body that keeps screaming for them is a very uncomfortable “Brother Ass”. Most of us, instead of holding the bridle of a rebellious horse, will find it “easier” to yield to its demands, which, in time, will become more and more dictatorial. Anyone or anything standing in the way of these cravings, will be deemed our enemy. The soul becomes the slave of the body. That this is the situation of innumerable persons and gives us a key to all sorts of vices. Bad habits “justify” many immoral actions. “I could not do without it.” Hence the role of asceticism in any authentic religious life.?When I drink a delicious vine, I and I alone, feel the pleasure that this noble liquid triggers in me. Let us imagine the grotesque case of a ruthlessly selfish husband who would say to his wife: “You told me that my pleasures are yours. For this reason, I won’t share with you the delicious Bordeaux that I just received. My drinking it will take care of your own satisfaction.” When a beloved person suffers excruciating pains, and I stand by his bed side, and say to him: “I suffer with you” (con patire) this shared “suffer with” does not mean that I feel exactly what the beloved one suffers, but that to see him suffer resounds so profoundly in me that the word “con patire” is fully adequate. In such cases, it is also fully understandable that one says to the loved one: “How grateful I would be if I could take your sufferings upon me and by so doing, liberate you”. These are words when I heard from my mother, while aged five I was close to death. Too weak to say “thank you” I recall saying to myself: “Don’t you ever forget these words.”  While standing at the foot of the cross, Mary was actually “crucified” with her beloved son, even though they were no nails in her hands and feet, and her holy body was not hanging on a cross.But this leads me to another question: is my body the “fruit” of my labor? Obviously my body is not “mine” in the sense in which Michelangelo can claim that the Pieta was his work – in fact the fruit of blood, sweat and tears. Had he not existed, this great work of art would not exist. This is true of all physical, artistic or intellectual work, always preceded by long and painful labor pains. Whether we think of the Cathedral of Chartres, Saint Peter Basilica in Rome, King Lear of Shakespeare, The Last Supper of Leonardo da Vinci, the St. Matthew Passion of Bach, the ninth symphony of Beethoven, Don Giovanni of Mozart, we should realize that they are the fruits of months of agonizing work. God gave these artists great talents – and they should thank Him for the gift – but the hard work, the pain, the effort are nevertheless required of the artists. The severity of these labor pain are known only to those who have suffered them. But “my body”, that is, the material organism in which I am living, which I can see, hear, feel, weigh – the “house” in which I reside – was not and could not have been the fruit of my own  labor. Not only it is impossible and self-contradictory to claim that “I have made myself” for it would imply that I pre-existed my own existence. The question: who is the giver of this amazing gift? (a  question that preoccupied the young Chesterton who, conscious of the awesome gift of life, did not know at that time who was the person he should thank). For what purpose was it given to me? That my father and mother played a biological role is not to be denied, but both the semen and the eggs were pre-given, and placed in their bodies without any collaboration on their part: they were a precious gift. It was not their doing; they too received it. Finally they were both incapable of guaranteeing that the tiny, practically invisible semen, would reach the egg. The father is totally out of the game; so is the mother even though the “drama” of conception will unfold in her body.  Once the egg is fecundated, we are facing a human person. I recall one of my students, deeply upset because of my condemnation of abortion in all its forms. Her argument was that the tissues that are now in a pregnant female womb were neither chosen by her nor welcome. Therefore it is both her “right” and her “duty” toward herself to get rid of an uninvited guest. I told her that had I had the privilege of conceiving a child – for it is a privilege indeed – I would have conceived a human person – tiny as it, inevitably is in its first stage of development. An acorn contains all the glorious beauty of an oak tree. A bud is an invisible lily. If she could convince me that what she had conceived a rat, I would be the first to advise her to have it “surgically removed”. True as it is that this tiny little person has not accomplished anything, its metaphysical dignity is equal to the one of a genius. One has it or does not have it; it cannot be acquired by “growth” and actions. I declare emphatically that the mysterious organism which is now hidden in its mother’s womb cannot in any way be called “hers”: for we cannot possibly possess another’s life. We have already hinted at the fact that even our own life is not “our possession”: it was a gift for which we will have to give an account to the Giver. Indeed, “what do we have that we have not received”? (1 Cor. 4- 7)Let me repeat: material objects can be “possessed”. But it is a moral abomination to claim that “persons” can ever be someone’s possession. ?Why do women abort or let themselves be convinced that they should get rid of an “unwanted” guest? There are very different reasons. There are tragic cases: an innocent teenaged girl is brutally raped, and finds herself pregnant from a man who disgusts her. If she keeps the baby, the consequences are going to impact her for life. Moreover, if the innocent baby discovers one day that he is the fruit of rape, he will inevitably have the feeling that “he should not have existed”.In our “immoral” society where religious and moral education is either totally neglected, or non-existent, it is loudly denied that killing a baby is murder. It is easy to convince this young woman that there is an easy  solution to a troublesome problem, namely abortion: a fast and harmless procedure. There are millions of young girls who have neither the means nor the maturity to take care of babies, and are grateful that there is an escape route to this troublesome problem. “No one has the right to claim that this unwanted growth deserves legal protection.” Some young girls are actually thrown on the street if they refuse “help” (i.e. abortion). There are also cases in which a family lives in utter poverty and feels that they have no right to bring another starving child into the world. There are, alas, cases in which parents carry a gene which inevitably will give birth to crippled children. Do they have the “right” to bring another “victim into the world”? Don’t we have the duty of eliminating suffering? What is often purposely not mentioned is that there are many charitable organizations always ready to offer help to such tragic cases. Good Counsel founded by Father Benedict Groeschel and Christopher Bell come to mind.But in our society innumerable abortions are performed as a matter of course, killing children who happen to be conceived at an “inconvenient” moment, ruining the prospect of an exciting safari, or a possible promotion in one’s job. Moreover, a child is costly: to have a baby means to deprive oneself of many enriching experiences to which is “entitled.” “After all, one lives only once, and I have the right to decide the course that I want my life to take.”I repeat: the moment that the news media have convinced the masses that my body is exclusively mine, the door became wide open to numberless murders of defenseless innocents. In the light of what we have mentioned, is it true that my body is my property as my pocket book is – the fruit of my labor? One thing is obvious: I did not give my body to myself; I have no “merit” whatever in having brought it into existence. I have received it. When I receive a gift, I am morally obliged to ask what was the intention of the giver?  One thing is certain: no one will ever see what he does not want to see. In discussing what I have dubbed “sensitive” questions, i.e. those related to our personal existence, we should honestly ask ourselves the question:  do we wish the answer to conform to what we perceive as “advantageous” to us? By raising this question by “more convenient”, do we mean “more subjectively satisfying”? Those fighting tooth and nail for the legality of abortion should honestly ask themselves whether their “eloquence” is not dictated by subjective personal interest. It is tragic to think that what is “subjectively” advantageous today trumps what is “right”. Moreover, in the long run turn out that an immediate advantage, might turn out to be gravely harmful to my soul. Plato must have had something similar in mind when he wrote that man is his own worst enemy. Those fighting against abortion are not self-seeking: they are fighting for is what is morally right. This is their one and exclusive concern. Can the same be said about abortionists?   There is a sentence in St. John’s Gospel which sheds magnificent light on our topic Christ questioned by the Pharisees about the validity of his teaching, responded: “…if any man’s will is is to do His will’, he will know whether the teaching is from God.” (VII, 7) This sentence is so profound that it calls for our special attention. Logically, it is obvious that the intellect precedes the will: the latter needs information coming from the former in order to make decisions. But Christ knows the trickiness of our fallen nature, and draws our attention to the fact that if we do not want to do something (for subjective reasons) this decision will block our intellectual vision, and then we can claim “honestly” that “we do not see”. A blind person wishes to see; a person whose choices are dictated by personal advantages, chooses blindness, and we all know that we shall never see what we do not want to see. Anyone wanting abortion to be morally legitimate, will never, absolutely never, perceive the luminous validity of the arguments presented by those fighting for life. Little Samuel, in the temple said: “speak, O Lord; thy servant listens”. The abortionists’ prayer is “do not speak; I am not listening”.

Lying Selflessness

Mar 15, 2015 / 00:00 am

More than once in the course of my long life, I have come across women who, under the noble title of “motherly love”, hide a ruthless selfishness. They mendaciously label as “love” what is, in fact, plain possessiveness. They fall victims to an equivocation which today is highly favored by the devil: the ambiguity of the word “mine.”Even though father and mother give their child an equal number of chromosomes, the role played by each of the conjoint is abysmally different. The father’s relationship to his child is, in some way “external, that is the bond between them is essentially through his wife. His role is to fecundate his spouse’s egg and from this moment, he is excluded from the drama developing in the mystery of her body. She, on the contrary, is unbelievably blessed by having been “touched” by God Himself, the Creator of the immortal soul He places in the fecundated egg. This being “blessed” by God gives the female body a note of sacredness symbolized by the veil, lost sight of after Vatican II. Mother and child are now tied by a bond that has no match in any other human relationship. She will feed him with her flesh and blood, until the dramatic moment of birth. After nine months of unmatchable intimacy with its mother, the child is now ready to enter the cold world. It is the mother’s mission to push him out of her body. To give birth is physically agonizing (“like a woman in labor” is the biblical expression when referring to severe pains), but it is also the end of a physical bond which is nothing short of amazing. Mother and child have now physically parted forever, but more than one mother might be tempted to feel that her child, being bonded with her in a unique way, still “belongs”’ to her.This exterior “rejection”, necessary for giving birth, is a pattern that will repeat itself under different forms, for the rest of her life Having for months fed her baby at her breast, she must, one day, out of love, sever him that is deny him her precious milk. The moment has come to give him more nutritious food. She is the one who must encourage him to take his first steps, and once again, oppose the child’s laziness crying to be carried. She must again and again put him down and “force” him to leave his mother’s arms and stand on his own feet. Nevertheless, the closeness of the bond between mother and son is so strong that when the child falls and hurts himself, he will instinctively run to his mother. It is well known that soldiers dying on the battle field often call for their mother’s help. The same scenario keeps repeating itself under various forms, until the son reaches a particularly dramatic moment: when he “falls in love. In many cases the young man has had only a very short acquaintance with the one he now calls his fiancée – possibly only a few months: she comes out of the blue, from a different family, a different background, yet now seems to be given pride of place in his heart. This must strike his mother as “unjust”, against “nature”. How can this “stranger” who knows so little about her son, all of a sudden intrude into his life, and make the tacit claim to be the queen of his heart. This fact inspired Max Scheler to claim that “mother” and “law” are irreconcilable concepts. It often happens that a mother dislikes her daughter in law to be, who is rarely “good enough” for her son, and that this antipathy is often fully reciprocated. We are facing a classic case of family conflict. A mother might feel “dethroned”, robbed of her birth-right to be number one in her son’s life. She will recall the innumerable loving acts that she has performed toward him, often at the at the cost of great sacrifices, selflessly serving her child‘s good. Now all of a sudden, she will feel robbed of her reward. There are many mothers, however, who through prayer and repeated acts of selflessness fully understand and accept that maternal love is essentially sacrificial love, and having prepared their souls for this difficult moment, generously open their heart to the one who has conquered their son’s affection. My concern is about those mothers who mendaciously believe that in opposing and challenging in every possible subtle way, their son’s choice, they are truly selflessly seeking his true good: this sheds some light on the fearful words of the Psalm: “omnis homo mendax.” Such a mother has “sincerely” convinced herself that she is totally selfless and only wishes what is best for her son. In fact, the underlying motivation is a craving for possession. The word: “my son”, instead of meaning that he is a gift of God, is interpreted as “belonging to me”. It gives one the right to, which dominate him, on the mendacious conviction that she alone knows what is truly good best for him. The tragic thing is that such mothers have convinced themselves that they are totally sincere.   They will make subtle plans to either prevent him from finding a bride, or ruthlessly criticize his choice and thereby sapping the very foundation of this budding relationship, while convincing herself “honestly” that she does so exclusively for “his happiness” and welfare. Some mothers have so artfully nurtured this mother-son relationship that it is bound to be an obstacle to a husband’s wife’s love: the sweet bond of mother-son love has degenerated into a heavy chain.  Let me relate some of the sad and, at times, dramatic experiences that have crossed my path I know of a marriage that was very rocky from the start, because the husband deified his mother, constantly comparing her with his wife, and making her understand that she should try to be just like her mother in law. She duplicated by making him feel that her father was her ideal of manhood: a brilliant man, very successful in business, and that he should try to emulate him. Needless to say that the marriage was not a peaceful one. I also recall the story of one of my husband’s students in Munich. Shortly Dietrich von Hildebrand left Germany, (-refusing to live in a country “ruled by a criminal” (sic) - this young man, named Paul, got engaged to a young woman whom he loved and who fully reciprocated this love.Fifteen years later, that is in l948, when Dietrich von Hildebrand, - to his joy, was finally granted a permit to re-enter Germany and go back to a town that had played such a role in his life, his family, his numerous friends and his ex-students organized a celebration that was attended by a young assistant pastor of the name of Josef Ratzinger.As expected Paul attended. After the talk, he rushed over to greet his ex-professor. Dietrich von Hildebrand immediately recognized him, greeted him warmly and inquired about his wife and asked him whether he had children. To his shock and amazement Paul answered sheepishly, “Dear Professor, I am not yet married but I am still engaged.” Dietrich von Hildebrand, dubbed Dr. Amoris, was dumb founded: his Italian background had marked him deeply, and he practically pinned Paul to the wall, exclaiming: “This is inadmissible. You MUST GET MARRIED IMMEDIATELY”. Paul then told him sheepishly that knowing his mother’s love for him – a love he fully reciprocated – he knew that her heart would break if he got married and left her alone – a widow, and now getting elderly. Paul finally made up his mind, but to his distress and the one of his, yet no longer “young” wife, they were denied the joy of having children. It is one of the tragic cases in which a mother betrays her “mission”: that is self-sacrifice. I do not imply that Paul’s mother explicitly told him that he was not “morally” entitled to leave her alone. There are, however, very subtle ways, typical of gentle women – as opposed to viragos – who communicate a clear message without uttering a single word. I personally know two similar and yet different scenarios. I met both mothers and immediately detected that they were incredibly strong and domineering women: typical amazons. They had never let their son out of his “playpen”, had never given him a chance to make up his own mind: the all-powerful “mammy” “took care of everything”.  One of them came uninvited to our apartment – with her son in tow – (he too was my husband’s students). She brought with her a bottle of wine – clearly aiming at polishing the apple - (this was badly needed for her son was not made of the stuff that philosophers are made of). I assume that she had convinced him to get a degree in the field dedicated to wisdom. In the course of the conversation, my husband asked him whether he did not wish to get married. Mammy’s boy who seemed to be on a leash, mumbled sheepishly as if reciting a lesson learned by heart: “I would have liked to, but mammy is so right: today, it is no longer possible to find a girl who guarantees to be a loving and selfless wife and mother; they are all careerists and will inevitably deprive husband and children of the love she owes them.” Having through mamma, made the experience of what woman should be like, I came to the conclusion that marriage is out of the question. He never got married. No comments are necessary. The other case is almost a duplicate: but this time, I was well acquainted with the son as circumstances brought us in frequent contact. One day his mother invited me to dinner. The scenario was nothing short of amazing: Mammy was the one deciding what he should eat and not eat. I had the feeling that he was six years old; “yes, mammy; no mammy; as you will”. Needless to say; he never got married. He died in his sixties, and his strong, robust mother buried him. He died a “martyr” of this type of motherly love.The most tragic case I experienced is the one of a young man, coming from a deeply Catholic background: we studied together; he was then a seminarian. He entered a religious order, and because of his remarkable piety and intellectual talents, he quickly was given a key position. Then his mother died. Sometime before her demise, he had made the acquaintance of a woman who following what was then the fashion of the time, got fascinated by oriental spirituality. She dabbled with Buddhism, Taoism, and Hinduism. The Koran was next on her list of spiritual experimentation, and she became fascinated by Mohammed. When she had her fill of it, she turned to Greek orthodoxy. Finally enriched by her spiritual pilgrimage and all these challenging detours, she came back to Catholicism. She got married but soon obtained an annulment, claiming that that the “marriage” was never consummated. I do not recall how she made the acquaintance of the high ranking priest I mentioned above, but it was noticeable that she was becoming became increasingly friendly with him, roaming close to his office and offering her services. But as soon as his mother died, and to everyone amazement, he asked to be relieved from his vows. He was by then in his forties.The rumor was that his mother, to whom he was deeply attached, had told him ever since he was a child that her most ardent wish was to have a son who received the holy orders. It is likely that every Catholic mother, deeply rooted in her faith, entertains a similar hope. Having a deep love for his mother, and not wishing to disappoint her, he followed her wishes.Wittingly or unwittingly, she had chosen his vocation. I have no reason to assume that she “forced” him to become a priest, but the words of Ovid come to mind: “Gutta cavat lapidem, non vi sed saepe cadendo”. A drop hollows a stone: not by its strength but by repeatedly falling”. When God called her, he suddenly became aware that he was morally obligated to leave his order: he had been psychologically forced to become a priest. He had no vocation. His doing so would have been inconceivable as long as his mother was alive: she was understandably proud of his having risen so fast and so high in the hierarchy of this great order, and had he left while she was still alive, she would have dropped dead on the spot, giving him a bad conscience for the rest of his life. He had to wait until she was buried. Now he was free. To make a sad story short, as soon as he was released from his vows and been laicized, he married his new friend. One can fear, however, that he had gone from Scylla to Charybdis. I assume that his mother was a strong woman; his “wife” was stronger. To my profound grief and dismay, I was told that, after a while, they both left the Church, and she convinced him to become the pastor of a protestant sect. May God have mercy on them both.This story is almost duplicated by the one of a Spanish priest, who became quite prominent and was a close friend of Jacques Maritain, and who, upon the death of his domineering mother, realized that he never had a vocation. He left the priesthood, but thank God, after being laicized, he got married, and served the Church as a devout husband and father.   May God have mercy on such mothers; may He have mercy on their sons suffocated by their mother’s love.Another amazing case which still puzzles me is the one of German Jews: mother with two sons from different marriages. Whereas she was not close to the older one, the younger one was the joy of her life. Having fled Nazi Germany, they landed in Belgium, and through the generosity and at times, heroism of some Belgian citizens, they survived the war and managed to come to the USA where her brother resided. He too – had fled Nazi Germany – and managed to come to the USA via Siberia. He was a MD. It was through him that I made their acquaintance. Whereas I met the older son but once, I saw the younger one and his mother several times. Their relationship was a very tender one. When invited at a party, they always sat next to each other, often holding hands like young fiancés. It was strange indeed, but upon my being told that mother and son shared a double bed to the very end of her life, I truly became puzzled. The idea of incest never crossed my mind, but the whole situation was so “strange” that it caused all those who knew them some concern. I assume that their very deep bond could be explained by the fact that this mother-son relationship was all that they had not lost. Once again, we must leave it to God’s mercy. He alone knows the mystery called the human heart and how easily normal and abnormal, good and evil, can be intermingled.

Classical intellectual pitfalls

Feb 11, 2015 / 00:00 am

Genesis informs us that God brought millions of creatures into existence by uttering a single word: “Be.” Having accomplished His creative work, He rested and saw that what He had created was “very good.”There is an immense hierarchy among all the fruits of His Creation, and each one of them reflects, in its own imperfect way, the glory of God. This applies to the overwhelming beauty of the sun, the moon, the stars, planets, galaxies, but also to the tiniest little insect creeping on the earth. “Everything was very good” is a solemn declaration and expresses one of the most fundamental metaphysical truths: exemplarism. It is to Plato’s glory to have seen it, even though, inevitably limited by his ante lucem view, his perception of this key truth was incomplete and imperfect.St. Augustine - and those following his wisdom - has shed abundant light on this. St. Bonaventure makes a crucial distinction between ‘vestigia’ (traces) of God (the whole impersonal creation) and ‘imago’: the creatures who are persons.  Aristotle makes his own important contribution by distinguishing between objects and subjects. The subject knows himself to be a “subject,” he is aware of his existence, and this enables him to know “objects” outside of himself and distinct from himself. A being which is a pure object – a tree – does not know that it is one: it just “is” and can neither know itself nor any other objects. The great Greek thinker makes it clear that subjects rank metaphysically much higher than objects, for not only are they able to know the latter, but they can also know themselves to be “subjects,” that is, to be granted the metaphysical privilege to say: “I.” The subject has a metaphysical dignity denied to pure objects and yet is itself an object to other subjects.  One of the many paradoxes of human existence is that the higher a being ranks in the metaphysical hierarchy, the lower will it fall if it chooses to “betray” the perfections given to it. The Latin words: “corruptio optimi pessima” powerfully express this truth. An animal cannot “betray” its nature: it is enslaved by it. He is exactly what it is meant to be. A tiger can be called cruel by analogy, but this cruelty is not chosen: it is rooted in its “tiger nature.” But the cruelty that men are capable of (let us think of the horrors of concentration camps), is infinitely worse, not only in its creative “refinement,” but also because it is consciously intended: finding “satisfaction” in seeing others suffer. Anyone being given the choice between facing a ravenous lion in the Colosseum or a vicious Nazi or communist would not hesitate. It is the doubtful privilege of the male sex that, being physically stronger, men can “rape “the weak sex.” Women cannot reciprocate. It has always struck me that when males are particularly mediocre, they highly praise the size of their biceps. The tyrant Quintianus, enraged by St. Agatha’s refusal to sacrifice her virginity to his lust, punished her by having her breasts cut off. This is a type of refinement in viciousness that animals are “incapable” of. They are endowed with remarkable instincts: zoologists will righty sing the praise of how cleverly they pursue their prey, protect themselves from danger or secure their food. These instincts, however, have strict limits and this is why man’s inventiveness will always have the last word. Once aware of the perimeter of these instincts, it is easy for men to “defeat” them. Lions cannot cage men.Men have the gift of intelligence which together with free will, and the capacity to “love,” make them to be infinitely superior to animals, but once they “betray” these gifts, proudly choosing to trample upon them resenting their being “gifts,” –and therefore calling for gratitude – are capable of a degree of wickedness often leading to a well deserve punishment – namely – stupidity which would make monkeys laugh themselves into stitches if they could perceive it.     This leads me once again to the distinction between subject and object. To be aware that one is a subject is linked to an awareness of one’s metaphysical dignity; to be able to “know” objects is once again an impressive gift. But a subject who, for whatever reason, betrays his noble nature, will inevitably become “subjective,” which is a sort of epistemological jail man creates by choosing to wear deforming glasses, preventing one from seeing things as they are. Subjectivism is an intellectual cancer – a punishment for abusing one’s dignity as subject: through pride, one’s capacity to know others will be distorted and perverted. Once the “subject,” instead of listening reverently to the message given him by “objects,” decides what these objects should be, he will be the victim of heresies, errors, and every conceivable nonsense. This epistemological distortion can be directed toward objects but also toward subjects viewed as pure objects. It is also a key obstacle to self knowledge. This distortion is unlikely when turning to “neutral” objects for the plain reason that being incapable of arousing our feelings, they cannot tempt us to view them “subjectively,” and decide that we would like them to be.  For this reason a physicist is less likely to make mistakes than a philosopher whose field is questions affecting our personal existence.  How often “geniuses” are blind toward is another genius’ talents!  A very beautiful woman is not likely to praise the charm of her “rival.” (let us recall Snow White) while wearing magnifying glasses to detect the smallest imperfection in her rival’s appearance. Mothers tend to overestimate the talents and virtues of husbands and children, while denying the qualities of others – obvious as these might be. How many people will praise “their” country as being the greatest one in the world  for the plain reason that they happen to be born on its soil.The greatest danger faces us in the appraisal of oneself; how tempting it is for our fallen nature to blind ourselves toward our faults, while shedding a bright light on our virtues, or imagined virtues. This is why self knowledge is so difficult to acquire and is the reward of humility – a virtue that calls for grace. Most amazing is the “allergic” reluctance of some thinkers to acknowledge God’s existence. Nietzsche had the “honesty” to state this in his famous book: thus spoke Zarathustra. In this work, he writes that if God existed, how could he endure not to be God Himself? Hence he feels justified in endorsing atheism: it is a choice. Period. It is a sheer waste of time and saliva to try to convince a person who has already made up his mind on a particular topic. No wise person should ever try to convince another of a truth that this person has decided to reject. “Causa finita est.” This sad fact has already been mentioned by St. Augustine: The City of God, II, 1. Indeed man’s nobility as a person - when poisoned by pride and accompanying stupidity as a well deserved punishment - will inevitably lead to errors that cannot be corrected for the plain reason that their initiator refuses to see. The obvious conclusion is that subjects alone can be “subjective,” just as only living beings can be sick. A stone cannot catch cancer. But this does not entitle us to claim that subjects are BOUND to be subjective, and that Descartes’ falls into subjectivism in basing his Discourse on the Method on “I think (subject) there I am.” To be a “subject” is a metaphysical honor. To be subjective is an epistemological disease.To go back to Descartes: Obviously existence must precede my knowing that I exist, but the point he wishes to make is that even though I can often be deceived by sense perceptions (nightmares, dreams, hallucinations), I cannot possibly be mistaken in thinking that I am thinking, because to be mistaken one must think. For this reason, a flower cannot flunk a test. That a subject can attain objective knowledge has been strikingly formulated by St. Augustine in his famous statement: “Si fallor, sum.” This is his remarkable refutation of radical skepticism and nihilism. He proves that “epistemological subjectivism” is a trap that can be avoided, and he gives us the joyful certainty that we can attain Truth. That Jacques and Raissa Maritain, fed on relativism taught at the Sorbonne and convinced that truth could never be found, drew the conclusion: “if there is no truth, or man can never find it, life is not worth living,” is all to their honor. They contemplated suicide. Thank God, He heard their anguished cry and placed Leon Bloy on their path. Once they found truth, they devoted the rest of their lives defending it. Clearly this “Augustinian defense” of Descartes should not be interpreted to mean that the latter’s philosophy is flawless, which, obviously it is not. The conclusion that can be drawn is for us is that self knowledge is extremely difficulty to attain because numerous are the epistemological hurdles  barring our way, the most obvious of them being that a true knowledge of self cannot possibly be attained without humility, a virtue that keeps escaping us because he who believes he has it, loses it by this very claim. It can only be obtained by grace that is divine help and will only be fully secure in eternity. Self knowledge is the triumph of truth over subjectivism or put in other words: the perfect defeat of subjectivism. Who would dare claim that when God proclaimed that “I am who I am” (Exodus III, 14) clearly referring to his metaphysical perfection, he was falling into subjectivism?Indeed when a subject truly knows himself, he attains perfect objectivity.Another typical source of confusion for which Aristotle is indirectly responsible, is the one between “passivity” and “receptivity.” “Activity” is clearly superior to “passivity,” coming from the Latin word “Patire,” to suffer. When a forester cuts off the branch of tree, the latter is purely passive: it “suffers” being cut. It is a “victim”; it is “defeated.” But Aristotle commits a very grave philosophical error in applying this truth to the relationship between the sexes. He declares the superiority of the male over the female because in the act of procreating man is “active,” whereas the woman is only “passive.” Whereas he is right in placing activity over passivity – in acting we are in control; in passivity –“patire,” we are under another’s control, I strongly challenge his claim that this applies to the difference between man and woman. Let us recall that Aristotle – in contrast to Plato -, had a passionate interest in natural sciences – all of which are concerned with matter. He wrote a treatise on the Generation of animals which is worth reading. However, comparing him with Plato, we will be struck by the fact that whereas the latter tells us explicitly that the higher is the “causa exemplaris” of the lower which is only a “copy,” this luminous truth is definitely not prominent in his “disciple” and this has serious consequences with regard to our topic:  male and female; man and woman.  In stating that in the act of procreation, the male is the “doer,” the female is just “acted upon,” he proclaims the superiority of the male sex. He is misled by his knowledge of zoology. The male pursues the female because he is driven by a powerful instinct over which he has no control, and will pursue her until his urge has been satisfied, that is, he has succeeded in catching her and covering her. She is “caught” and because of the male physical superiority, she cannot resist. But then what prevents us from calling procreation a form of rape? I leave it to zoologists to inform us whether the female resents being caught or whether there is a craving in her to be fecundated. At any rate, the “aspect” given us is the male pursuing her, and covering her and conquering her. The question then is legitimate: how do rape and procreation differ?. In fact do they differ? What is typical in the latter is the brutal conquest of the female dominated for the sake of the pleasure that this contact guarantees.It is well known that little boys are born with a feeling of superiority over little girls because their reproductive organ is visible, obviously forgetting that what is precious is usually “hidden” or veiled.  I will now passionately defend the thesis that if it is true that the male superiority is valid in the animal realm, it is radically wrong when applied to “persons.” For Aristotle - this Greek “genius” (and I believe that he deserves the title) - fails to distinguish between “passivity” and “receptivity” – two concepts separated by an abyss. Yet, this distinction is crucial for our understanding of personhood. When a loving wife “unveils” herself and gives herself to her husband, she is acting freely and gives expression to her love – a desire to give oneself to the loved one, and is therefore at the antipodes of passivity. She joyously accepts the gift of his body, and reciprocates by giving him her own. It leads me to the conclusion that one of the most fundamental differences between human persons and animals is the sexual sphere. What characterizes the latter is precisely that one partner is “violated”, has nothing to say, is paralyzed by the other’s superior strength. Rape is nothing but theft, that is at the very opposite of any self donation. This is why this crime – for it deserves to be called such - is universally labelled as heinous and abominable. The day that an “advanced” society would declare rape to be perfectly acceptable is when it deserves to be blotted out of existence. Years ago I was giving a talk in Portland, Oregon. My theme was the relationship between man and woman. After my talk, I was interviewed on Television and the anchor who was present at my talk said to me: you seem to claim that human beings are radically superior to animals. Many are those who claim that they only differ in so far as human beings have a more developed brain. How can you justify your position? Could you give me one single instance in which their fundamental difference is clearly defined? With lighting speed I said: “The sexual sphere”. The man’s amazement was amusing to observe; clearly he was convinced that he was interviewing someone who was not in her right mind, for to him, it was “obvious” that this sphere was precisely the one domain in which animals and human persons are most similar.If a woman is “passive” - and this is widely accepted - the male sex is the superior one. I repeat: I believe it is true that boys are born with a feeling of superiority over girls and, alas, this has led to the justification of all sorts of injustices and ill treatments. In order to gain momentum the feminist movement – which has shattered our society – had to base its claims upon real facts, very much as Marxism had to justify itself by revolting injustices, but this rightful claim was only a cover up for a vicious philosophy which in fact, is a brutal attack on the beauty and nobility of femininity. Eve’s glory was to be declared “the mother of the living”. The poison of the feminist movement is to wage war on motherhood, to rupture the bond between “woman” and “life.” Hence it had to proclaim the legitimacy of contraception and if unsuccessful, abortion. If you want to kill a person, aim at his heart. If you want to destroy society and the family, aim at motherhood.To see women as “passive” can only be endorsed by numbskulls who overlook the essential and concentrate on the accidental. She is receptive. The whole of Christianity is in fact a hymn glorifying this virtue, for it is one. It declares solemnly that the highest of all creatures – including Angels – is a woman, Mary, who became mother of the Savior by joyfully calling herself the Handmaid of the Lord, and pronouncing the words: “be it “DONE to me according to thy word.”To attain holiness is to allow God’s grace to chisel one according to His plan: in other words to be totally “receptive” to His grace. “What do we possess what we have not received?” Everything we have is a gift, and the grateful acceptance of this gift is the way to holiness.  A feminist is, to my mind, someone who hates being a woman, who has stupidly accepted the “gospel” of Simone de Beauvoir, namely that woman is only a “becoming”; she is mere “immanence,” she is a slave; she is pure passivity; she does “nothing” (sic). To give birth is done better and more efficiently by animals. In fact maternity is slavery. As long as women are chained by this burden, they will never truly “be.” The road to liberation is socialism. Like all talented people poisoned by revolt and pride, she is totally blind to the beauty of receptivity – a metaphysical attitude which gives birth to gratitude: a key virtue so often forgotten in decadent societies.  Teaching is in fact learning, and my long career has taught me that the very raising of certain questions condemns the very person raising them: if someone were to tell us: “Why is rape viewed as an abominable crime?” The very raising of the question is a “judgment” upon the person who has raised it and proves him to be the victim of a very grave moral sickness. Alas, years ago the question “why can’t two men get married,” would have triggered cries of horror from the masses. What is so worrisome about our society is that “any” question is now considered “worthy” to be raised. Why not? Indeed, “abyssus vocat abyssum” one stupidity opens the door to the next. “Give me an argument against homosexual marriages.” If one were to say: the question is repulsive and should not be raised at all, it is most likely that we shall get the following answer: “You have not been able to disprove it”: “To despise is not to disprove.” Let me repeat: “Why not?” can be a vicious trap; once we fall into it, the door is open to any moral aberration such as copulation with any mammals, torture of the innocent, and the whole gamut of abominations that “force” God to regret that he has created man. More needs not be said.     My key concern in this context is re habilitate receptivity, and show how crucial its role is in human life. In a gravely sick society like ours when moral bastions are collapsing, it might be urgent to rediscover the role that receptivity should play in human life. In fact, it should be given pride of place, but whatever human beings have achieved is to be traced back to the gifts that have enabled them to be “creative.”Woe to those who no longer distinguish between good and evil, true and false. Isaiah warned us that a society which has blurred this distinction is doomed. (V -20)  In some way, one could also plead for the superiority of receptivity over activity because all the great “creative” accomplishments of men – be it in the intellectual sphere or in the artistic one, based on receptivity. Michel Angelo expressed this in the words: when I do “nothing” I am most creative. It is most luminous in the religious sphere where contemplation if placed above action: all great saints were totally receptive to God’s message: “Speak, O Lord, thy servant listens.”  The point I will try to make is that it is my deep set conviction that the vicious attacks made on femininity – alas coming from traitors called feminists – indicates plainly the key role that women play in the economy of redemption. The greatest victory of Satan today is to have convinced this privileged sex that in fact it is not only underprivileged but shamefully denied the role they are perfectly capable of fulfilling: to become priests. This arrogant and ridiculous claim – challenging the Divine Plan in creating two sexes – with distinct roles, reminds me of something I heard in high school while studying Roman History. Nero – one of the great historical monsters – a role model for both Stalin and Hitler, was clearly megalomaniac and one day “discovered” that to give birth was a very remarkable accomplishment. Being a male, he clearly had to acknowledge that this privilege had been denied him. In an impotent metaphysical revolt, he decided to fake giving birth. He put a cushion in his pajamas, went to bed, and started uttering pitiful cries, imitating a woman in labor. Needless to say, this vulgar comedy produced nothing…except air bubbles. When I heard that “women have been ordained as bishops and priests,” this image immediately comes to my mind. Indeed, the day that men can give birth, let women become priests…but the conclusion is obvious: a society in which the roles of man and woman are blurred is doomed. May God have mercy.  

Willful blindness

Feb 2, 2015 / 00:00 am

One of the episodes in the Gospel that always moved me particularly is the story of the blind man of Jericho: upon hearing that Christ had just arrived in town, he cried loudly: ‘Lord have pity on me.’ He was told to keep quiet, but he cried all the louder. Christ came to him, and asked him what he wanted: the answer was clear; "that I may see." He was healed. A blind man knows that he is blind; he is aware that he has a serious deficiency. Those who dedicate their lives to helping the blind will tell you how soon they become aware that they are victims of a severe shortcoming. At first, the blind finds his way by hearing and touching: it is amazing how guided by these two senses, they manage to gain some independence. These two senses will become particularly sharp and acute. But inevitably one day they will realize that blindness not only is an obstacle to safe motion but that moreover there is a whole world of beauty not available to them. If someone exclaims: “look at this magnificent sunset” neither hearing nor touching can give them any information. The world of colors is closed to them. Because the blind person is aware that the incredible gift of sight has been denied him justifies the poignant cry of the man of Jericho: “ Lord. that I may see.” No blind man wishes to remain blind and no blind man will accuse those who praise the beauty of a sunset of “hallucinating.” Radically different are people who suffer from "blindness" while totally unaware of it, or those who choose blindness and then “honestly” deny that there is something to be seen. Let us briefly examine the following cases. We all know wives whose husbands are unfaithful: it is common knowledge, but the one person who “does not know” is the betrayed wife. I am thinking of a particular case of a marriage that started as a great love-marriage: marital faithfulness was a "given," but alas, in the course of time, it was sullied by unfaithfulness. The husband, for whatever reason (flattered by the attention of a very young girl, or wishing to “rejuvenate” himself) broke the solemn promise that he made on his marriage day. Women are perceptive, and the person I am referring to suspected danger. But fearing the terrible pain that her husband’s betrayal would cause her, she decided to close her eyes and found ways and means of interpreting “symptoms” in a positive light: "better not know that face a reality that would break my heart."How many loving parents refuse to acknowledge that their son is a pervert, and had fallen into the nasty snares threatening teenagers? They refuse to believe because they dread to know the sad truth. By contrast we have the admirable example of Saint Monica who had the loving courage to “see,” and therefore prayed ardently for "the son causing her so many tears," her beloved Augustine. Her prayers were heard. Similar is the case of a loving mother whose beloved child is afflicted by some serious defect. Gabriel Marcel – endowed with an amazing sensitivity for others’ sufferings - refers to the story of such a mother whose child is not normal, and who spent her whole life convincing herself that she is in fact perfectly healthy; it is only wicked and ignorant doctors, nasty people, who dare challenge it: they are all liars. We will all sympathize with her willful blindness. While Hitler was gaining more and more power in Germany, many citizens could have suspected that he was an evil man whose philosophy was totalitarian and atheistic, and therefore a threat to the welfare of the country. But while struggling to recover from the economic disaster following their defeat in 1918, they chose to close their eyes. To “protect” themselves, they declared that those accusing him of being an evil man were Cassandras, bad patriots: had not Hitler promised to restore the greatness of the German Reich? Deutschland ueber alles.” But one day they had to face the terrible fact that he was in full control of the country, and as could have been predicted, he immediately introduced a reign of terror. Now the alternative was to prudently keep a low profile or to fight. But to fight meant to face torture and death, not only for oneself, but also for one’s loved ones. The virtue called “prudence”– the one virtue canonized by cowards - taught them to keep quiet and wait patiently until the tempest had run its course. Dietrich von Hildebrand, animated by his love of truth and his hatred of evil, chose to fight, fully aware that he risked persecution, poverty and possibly death. HE DARED SEE, when "seeing" necessarily implied a moral obligation to risk everything in order to fight evil. Emulated by Gregory VII, like him born in Tuscany, sharing with him the name: Hildebrand, he chose to fight. This great pope died in exile with the words: "I have loved justice and hated iniquity: therefore I die in exile." So did Dietrich von Hildebrand. The willingness to “see” and with it the fearful moral obligation to ACT, is so dangerous that many are those - including members of the clergy - who chose to close their eyes and their ears, and thereby justify their cowardice. This is the history of the world: it was true in the past; it was true in Germany in the twenties and is true of the USA today: Evil breeds evil. Roe versus Wade should have sounded the alarm; it should have rallied all men of good will to go on the bastions and proclaim loudly: NO. Once the sluice protecting us from a devastating flood was opened, it was inevitable that it would be followed in close succession with a justification of homosexuality (already strongly condemned by Plato in the IV century BC) and then by the “moral destruction” of marriage as being the union of one man and one woman and the legalization of a diabolical invention called “homo sexual marriages.” How many are those in position of authority who identify “holy prudence” with “worldly safety." The blind leading the blind is and yet ever a young story. Names might change: but today as before, we must choose between the swastika and the cross. Which one of us can be sure that, of course, he would embrace the latter? We are all potential heroes when there is no danger. The words “principiis obsta” are crucial: to diagnose an illness from the start gives one a fair chance of healing it. Once in an advanced stage, it is too late. This is why when one goes to a wise Doctor he will ask : how long ago did you notice this change? One of the great dangers which menaces of us is the refusal to see. This fear is pervasive throughout our human life and this applies very particularly to the domain of self knowledge where blindness is endemic. Our vision is directed outward, and this is one of the reasons why we are so sharp sighted toward the physical and moral flaws of others and so “blind” toward our own, but it is not the main one. To have a clear perception of our imperfections is almost impossible without humility – a virtue definitely not needed to perceive the sins of others. Pride in fact makes us particularly sharp sighted toward their faults: but it is so “unpleasant” to see one’s own that we much prefer not to look closely: as a matter of fact, in many cases, it is almost impossible to see one’s sins and grave flaws unless one has begged God for the grace of humility, and how much we are in need of redemption. This is why self knowledge is so difficult to attain. Only saints have it, and this explains why they are so humble. Purgatory is the place where we shall be given a chance to see who we truly are. Once this purifying knowledge is given us, we will be ripe for heaven. When we perceive how tarnished our soul is, we shall inevitably hear the call:  "you ought change, we must be reborn." This was the message of Christ to Nicodemus, which the latter took literally. But the awareness that one is seriously stained and to perceive that we must change is neither easy nor pleasant. All the more remarkable are the words that Plato ascribes to Socrates who said to his interlocutor: “If you can prove me to be wrong, I will call you the greatest of my benefactors.” (Gorgias) How many of our “scholars” would gladly accept to be refuted? Vanity often oozes out of the pores of many "big shots." Some fifty years ago, a famous physicist gave a talk. A friend of mine was attending. She told me that when he stepped on the podium he said to the audience: Ladies and Gentlemen: from now, until the end of my talk you need not do any thinking: I shall do all the thinking for you.” Had someone told him that his hearers were not impressed by his humility, he most probably would have been shocked and surprised. One learns much from one’s students. I recall one who challenged every argument I brought in defense of “sensitive” truths such as the existence of God, and the objectivity of moral values.” At one point he said arrogantly: "You have not succeeded in convincing me." With Latin speed, I replied: “You misunderstood me: I never tried to convince you. I just tried to give you convincing arguments. You must judge for yourself if it wise to reject them because you do not like the conclusion.” I recall another one clearly upset by my defense of the immortality of the soul. At one point, he exclaimed: “The worst thing that could happen to me would be if you could convince me that I have an immortal soul. Then one day I will be held responsible for my life style.” It was tragically honest. When one dreads a truth, inevitably one will fight tooth and nail against it. How many of us pray: "Lord, grant me the grace to overcome my fear to see?" We desperately need divine help. How tempting it is to choose not to see rather than face the spiritual work that lays ahead of us, and cannot be achieved without grace. How meaningful that seven times a day, Benedictine monks pray: “Come to my help O Lord; hasten to succor me.” Like the man in Jericho who knew that he was blind, we should realize that all of us are blind in various degrees and cry: “Lord, that I may see.” It is a fact that our enemies (if unfortunately we have some) are remarkably sharp sighted toward our faults, mistakes and sins. When they feel driven to tell us to our faces what they think about us, they will probably hit the bull’s eye, but unfortunately these critiques being poisoned by "hatred" will be discarded for this very reason, and far from being a help, will strike us as gravely staining the soul of the sharp shooter. Any criticism should be an expression of real, loving concern for the person criticized and whenever the good of the person challenged is not even considered, this very censure will stain the soul of the person satisfying the urge to spit venom in his enemy’s face. They do so with malice and animated by a clear drive by to wound. Their unloving motivation is all that we shall register: the rightness of their criticism will escape us for this very reason. Those who truly love us are those who – while keeping fully alive the beauty that God has put in every single one of His creatures at the moment of their creation - also see that, alas, this beauty has been sullied and tarnished by our innumerable "sins, offenses and negligences" lovingly warn us are our friends indeed. May God put such friends on our path and may we daily beg for the grace of sight: "Lord, that I may see." 

Wine into Water

Jan 23, 2015 / 00:00 am

One of the gems that Kierkegaard has left us is to remind us that the Bible should be read on our knees - thereby condemning secular Biblical  scholars who approach  it “critically,” aiming at “debunking myths." They pride themselves that they are “scientifically minded” and that science alone can give us valid knowledge.  Christmas is one of the most joyous days of the year. The overwhelming news given to Mary by Gabriel at Nazareth, now finds its fulfillment in a humble cave at Bethlehem. What is most striking in this face to face holy dialogue between the Angel and the young virgin is its sparseness of words. His greeting, however, is eloquent: he calls her “full of grace,” and shares with her the divine message. She is deeply troubled by his words, and raises a question: “how can this be?” He puts her mind at peace, and then, the Blessed one utters words that should resound in our hearts every day of our lives: “I am the handmaid of the Lord:  be it done to me according to Thy words.” He then departs.  For the next nine months, the Son of the most High will grow, hidden in the sacred temple of Mary's womb. This unfathomable mystery will, however, be revealed in a dream to her holy spouse (Matt 1- 20). Joseph is never granted a face to face dialogue. Finally on the 25th of December, in the cave of a small village, the Blessed One among women, gives birth to the Savior of the world.       Whereas we are deigned to know the words spoken by Gabriel and Mary’s reply, here there is only deafening silence. Mary gave birth to a son, wrapped him in swaddling clothes and put Him in a manger.How tempting for modern man, infected by the poison of an unhealthy curiosity triggered by television, to assume that some concrete detail about this divine birth will make it more savory, more “convincing,” more likely to be accepted by “modern man.” This is why it has been suggested that, following Jesus’ birth, the blessed one among women, like all mothers, ejected a placenta. I recall touching upon this theme with Cardinal Arinze. His Eminence’s comment was: God has revealed what we need to know for our redemption, but He said nothing to satisfy our curiosity. Such suggestions, however well meant, must make the angels cry: for the supernatural is inevitably desecrated by being dragged down on a purely natural level.  This is the temptation menacing many “biblical scholars” – with the  tragic  consequences that faith is inevitably undermined.In fact, what are we entitled to know? Our blessed faith tells us that Mary was a virgin prius ac posterius, that is both when she conceived our Savior and when she gave him birth: To be a mother and  remain a virgin, to give birth and remain a virgin, never entered a man’s head:  the supernatural must be received on our knees, in fear and trembling. How inspired G.K Chesterton was when he wrote that man should not forget "how tall he is on his knees." The birth of Christ, like his conception, is an unfathomable mystery. St. Joseph alone was present. This most privileged human male, several times mentioned in the Gospel, is one of the most mysterious in the New Testament. He never utters a single word, and moreover, all the messages he received are given to him in dreams. It was by means of a dream that he was informed that his holy wife - visibly pregnant - had been fecundated by the Holy Spirit. He believed. It is also in a dream that he is ordered to take the child and his mother to Egypt to escape from the murderous intentions of Herod (Matt. 2- 13). He does not question or object: he obeys. Once again it is this mysterious means of communication which tells him to take the Mother and her Child to Nazareth where they settled; he obeys (Matt. 2- 19). We also know that he was a carpenter, providing by means of his trade the needs of the Holy Family. He never says a word, but his deafening silence teaches us a most precious lesson - namely, that trembling reverence and reverent trembling are the only adequate responses when facing a mystery. Joseph listens and obeys. What a lesson for us: this most silent of all saints is in some way the most eloquent precisely because – to those who have ears to hear – the willingness to listen in silence grants us insights into the "Mysteries of the great King," compared with which long perorations are only a  mere flatus vocis. Many are those who do not hear because they do not want to. To purposely close our ears  explains “the hardness of the human heart” mentioned by Christ – a hardness that can only be softened by humility. The condition sine qua non for hearing a divine message is the willingness to obey it once perceived.  Deafness goes hand in hand with the unwillingness to obey. A deaf person knowing that he is deaf  will desperately try to perceive others’ voices, often has recourse to a hearing aid to be receptive to its information or command. The very opposite takes place in this case. Many are those, alas, who willingly blocks their ears, and then can “honestly”say : “I did not hear.”One of the many dangers menacing us today is noise: we are deafened by it wherever we go; moreover we are bombarded by a deluge of visual sensations. One wonders whether it does not damage the human brain, incapable of registering such a torrent of images. To place a small child in front of television, so that mammy “can have peace” is, I fear, a very risky solution. Psychologists will tell you how many children are restless and already at an early age, manifest psychological problems. Common sense tells us that stability and quiet are crucial for infants, and not only for them. I know young children age one or two who have  already  traveled  thousands  and  thousands of miles. Their parents are so restless that any excuse is good to go away from home. It is not by accident that in his holy rule, St. Benedict underlines the crucial importance of stability and silence  in spiritual life. As a matter of fact, a monk is not permitted to speak until questioned, and is told never open his mouth except to relay necessary  information or share words of loving wisdom. (Holy Rule: Chapter VI)The Gospel tells us that when we shall face our Creator, we shall be held responsible for every unnecessary word we have uttered. How many of us, when making our examination of conscience at night, ask ourselves: how often in the course of the day "have I disobeyed this wise advice, nay this command?" It is, however, related that once the greatest King of France, St.Louis IX  invited St. Thomas Aquinas to dinner. Apparently the Silent Ox never opened his mouth. The King gently hinted at the fact that when sharing a meal, it is lovingly charitable to exchange ideas.  May I suggest that there is still another reason for veiling what happened in the course of the Christmas night. The Bible informs us that the King has secrets, and in this vale of tears, very few are granted to have insights into some of them. We should realize that “we are not worthy” to know them. In eternity, when everything “will be made new,” we shall grow new organs, that will enable us to have some insight into divine mysteries. The degree of ‘intimacy’ with these divine secrets will depend upon the degree of holiness that, with God’s grace, we have attained. It was St. Teresa who  wrote that not two persons in heaven will have exactly the same degree of closeness to God. But whether small or great, all the blessed ones will all joyfully join the choir of angels singing 'Holy Holy Holy.'Indeed we should read the Gospels on our knees.

Moral Courage

Jan 2, 2015 / 00:00 am

Which one of us would fail to respond enthusiastically to the courage of heroes, who in moments of grave danger, risk their lives to help their fellow men. When they survive, they are honored. When their generosity leads to their demise, their spouse or family get recognition.There are boys who already as toddlers are attracted by danger, and often meaninglessly risk their lives to prove that they are “machos." My brother was one such: more than once, he flirted with death by canoeing in the raging North sea…and survived. But when he died in a car accident, I recall saying to myself: it would not have been appropriate for him to die in bed.But there are also some boys - usual a minority - who conscious that life is a precious gift, never take unnecessary risks. They are usually ridiculed as being “sissies” or “girlish” and are looked down upon as cowards.But history teaches us that some of the greatest heroes were not machos: at times they were timid young girls. Let us recall the heroism of a St. Agnes - a teen ager who defied tyrants and did not hesitate to accept torture and death rather than to betray the One she loved.In our own time, Joan Andrews, an unusually shy girl who dreaded to be sent to the store to get some item for her mother, showed heroic moral courage in defying the promoters of abortion. She was jailed for months. She is a heroin of the prolife movement. All Saints shared this moral courage, - so very different from physical courage, even though they do not exclude one another.My theme is moral courage but a few words about physical courage are appropriate. One striking thing about this virtue is that it often implies fighting the vagaries of nature: devastating fires, flood, hurricanes, storms, earthquakes. All of them are life threatening, and make us shake from fear. In some cases, the “enemy” can also be other human beings. This is the tragic case in wars: many of them were waged for the sake of power and domination and were, I fear, illegitimate. Some of them were justified, for example in case of self- defense: a country unjustly attacked has a right to defend itself, and those who risk their lives for a just cause deserve our admiration and are rightly called heroes. Charles Peguy has sung their praise: "happy are those who died provided it was in a just war."In physical courage, there can, however, be a potential moral danger namely that the courageous person is partly motivated by brashness: a desire to prove oneself to be "above fear," a dangerous self- assurance, which makes one assume that one is a “superman” who achieves victory by his bravery.Moral courage does not challenge the forces of nature: the enemy is much more dangerous for it does not threaten our body, but our soul. Christ has warned us that this is the one danger we should fear most.I am referring to poisonous errors and moral evil, such as heresies and moral perversions. The first endangers our faith, and so do venomous philosophies that aim at corrupting a society. Chesterton, in his own inimitable fashion, has condemned them in the following words: “We say that the dangerous criminal is the educated criminal .We say that the most dangerous criminal now is the entirely lawless philosopher. Compared to him burglars and bigamists are essentially moral men. My heart goes out to them”. (The Man who was Thursday. P. 43).What a condemnation of many of our colleges and universities!One of the many stupidities one hears in them is that ideas are harmless: action alone is dangerous. Freedom of thought and speech is a “dogma,” except however, for those who defend the objectivity of truth and moral values. But elementary common sense teaches us that some of the most disastrous events that have taken place in history, - either the French revolution, the Communist revolution  and Nazism -, all started with the dangerous sword called a pen. Whether we think of the writings of Voltaire and his disciples, or those of Karl Marx’s Das Kapital, or Nietzsche, to mention but a few, we realize that millions and millions of deaths were the evil fruits of their vicious ideas, born of the pride of “geniuses” convinced that they are “potential” saviors of the world and if followed, will make of this earth an earthly paradise.Another popular “intellectual” dogma is that certainty is attainable only in domains devoted to what I dub “neutral’ truths”, that is all truths related empirical sciences and mathematics which do not interfere with our “life style.” All “sensitive” truths are at  best “opinions” and it should be left to the individual to pick and choose.       Our enthusiasm for moral heroes is likely to make us assume that – like them-, we shall courageously risk our lives in order to fight error and vice. In fact, there is a coward lying dormant in all of us. At the last supper. Peter, speaking in the names of the Apostles, said solemnly that “he was willing to die for Christ”, but a few hours later, the same Peter said: “I know not that man.” Tragically when he said that he would gladly give his life for the one he had acknowledged to be “the Messiah, the son of the living God,” he was sincere. Subjectively he had convinced himself that his love guaranteed his courage, but had to make the humiliating discovery that, like all of us, he was a coward.In his great dialogue, Phaedrus, Plato wrote the following sentence: ”…we should dare to speak the truth, when truth is our theme.” (247) What  is amazing is the word “dare.” It definitely implies that some danger is involved. Why should it be dangerous to utter a truth? It is a crucial word in the human vocabulary and yet Plato is giving us a warning: we need courage to speak the truth. Obviously he is not referring to what I dubbed “neutral” truths. If I say that the distance between New York and Philadelphia is 94miles, I am not taking any risk. But they are truths of such nature that to proclaim them is “dangerous,” because they challenge us and by their very nature are implicit commands: when someone declares Christ to be God, these very words order us to recognize that He deserves our adoration and our obedience. When someone declares: “the murder of innocent babies in the womb is an abominable crime,” he antagonizes the powerful movement called family planning; if echoing Plato, (Laws, Book VIII, 836), he proclaims that homosexual acts are against nature and a threat to the welfare of any society, he will become an enemy of those who, first underground and then openly, have convinced the public at large that actions condemned in Genesis are now  - that we have liberated ourselves of old taboos, - perfectly legitimate. We are entitled by birth right, to choose the life style that gives us “self- fulfillment.” This perverse view has been carefully prepared by a so called “education,” aiming at convincing us that there are no absolute moral truths: they are all relative and depend upon the time and the culture that one happens to live it. It was declared to be “high time” to liberate ourselves from paralyzing taboos which have kept us in bondage. This view also justifies “same sex marriage” - a moral abomination that threatens the very fabric of society and that a no- nonsense Italian peasant would condemn on the ground that “no door can be opened if lock and key are identical.” From time immemorial - starting with Genesis - marriage has been declared to be the union of a man and a woman – whose spiritual, intellectual, affective and biological structures are so admirably complementary. Today in our morally decadent world, it is neither prudent nor politically correct to proclaim clearly and loudly that the natural moral law is as valid today as it was when given to Moses on Mount Sinai. It is a risky affair to proclaim the objectivity of truth and of moral values in our society seeped in “dictatorial relativism.”One needed moral courage in Germany to go on roof tops and denounce Nazism, proclaiming loudly and clearly the diabolical character of its philosophy: atheistic, totalitarian, immoral, racist, trampling on the dignity of the human person .We cherish to live in illusion and refuse to see “unpleasant truths” challenging us to abandon our comfortable cocoons, and giving up the pleasures that we are “entitled” to. A comfortable and safe life has a powerful attraction to all of us. We do not like Cassandras who disturb our slumbers. Let us recall the words attributed to Archimedes when soldiers interrupted his geometrical work; … “do not disturb my circles.”  He was murdered. We are all like him, and yet, from time to time, God sends us heroes: those willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of fighting Evil par excellence: moral evil. In his Memoirs, My Battle against Hitler, Dietrich von Hildebrand deplored the “the political prudence” of German bishops, who were clearly called upon to denounce the “Fuehrer.” It was clearly their mission to denounce this diabolical philosophy, so clearly in contrast with the teaching of Holy Church which they had the mission to defend.  Had they, from day one, been united in declaring: non possumus, as it was their duty to do as pastors of their flock, there might have been a slight chance that the attraction of this modern anti Christ would have been weakened. In 1933, most of them were “prudent.” Thank God, later when they were forced to open their eyes, several of them lived up to their mission. These are moments when one recalls the fearful words of the Apocalypse:  “because you are neither hot nor cold, I will spew you out of my mouth.”(III-16)History repeats itself: how desirable it would have been for our spiritual leaders today to go on the streets and loudly oppose the legalization of abortion followed by the legal placet given to homo sexual marriages - views which years ago would have triggered screams of horror. But “prudence” (a euphemism for cowardice) is not the only virtue that the Evil one has hi jacked to spread confusion. His new victory was achieved when – with diabolical cleverness - he tried to convince a sleepy public that the Church – in her radical condemnation of sins against nature, is “lacking compassion.” It should be clear that “true charity” is incompatible with “anathema sit.” It is “high time” to realize that a condemning Church is not and cannot be a “Church of love” as she claims to be. The word “compassion” (to suffer with) is indeed a beautiful word prominent in the Gospel bound to win our assent as soon as we hear it. But Lucifer – the father of lies - has now cleverly whispered into the ears of sleeping Catholics that the Church has clearly betrayed her “mission” and while claiming on paper that She is a Church of love is in fact a ruthless judge sending millions of her so- called children to hell. Satan now has the noble mission of reminding the Church of what her “authentic”’ teaching is; he presents himself of an apostle, he who truly understand Christ’s message which is MERCY.“Infiltration” is a much more effective way to conquer a citadel that a frontal attack – powerful as the latter might be. Once the enemy is “within,” victory is guaranteed. This is the one chance given Lucifer to defeat or at least to weaken the Rock of Peter that he fears more than anything else: the Roman Catholic Church, built by Christ, and who through Peter, has the key leading to the Kingdom. From the very beginning, She has been the butt of his vicious frontal attacks, but today his technique is to use “holy words” while perverting their meaning: the word remains the same; what it communicates is radically different.Compassion is today the Devil’s preferred tool: it sounds so “catholic.” Is not the Gospel replete with examples of compassion: the father of the prodigal son hastening toward him; Christ showings compassion toward the woman caught in adultery.  Our Savior is the good Pastor, leaving 99 sheep to look for the lost one. This is, according to Satan, the authentic message of the Gospel which in our time has been distorted due to “paralytic morality rules” which are perfectly meaningless in the modern world. The time has come to proclaim on roof tops: true love of the sinner inevitably means a loving understanding for his sin: for they essentially belong together. The homo sexual loves homosexuality; a practice that gives him so much satisfaction that he “cannot live without." Up to now we have totally overlooked what is “positive” in homosexuality by ruthlessly condemning it. The call of the hour is to do justice to what is positive in this type of relationship. Once again, Plato gave us an answer to that question: why is this sin against nature so attractive?His answer is that it is “triggered by “unbridled lust” (Laws, I, 626). But that was a long time ago; should not modern man benefiting from the discoveries of “social sciences” honestly raise the following question: “it not God himself who has linked certain activities with pleasure? is not pleasure to be viewed as a gift that we are invited to enjoy? Is it not sheer ingratitude not to make the best of what is our nature? We both enjoy it; what could be wrong with it?"An analogy with surgery might be of help: if a patient is afflicted with a cancerous tumor close to his heart, he has no choice but find an outstanding surgeon who will remove these tissues which happen to be deeply incrusted in his body. This can only be done by means of a scalpel – an instrument of extreme sharpness – just to look at it makes one shudders. The patient understandably dreading such a grave operation will look at the surgeon with fear and horror. He is a “butcher” and has no understanding for the fact that the tumor is so ensconced in his body that to remove it will inevitably not only cause terrible sufferings but will leave deep scars on him. He is now the enemy.The same applies to heresies and moral perversions: the initiator of these devilish lies has an easy time convincing gullible masses that any condemnation of them is inevitably harsh and uncharitable toward their perpetrators. Lutheranism is Luther’s child, and to condemn it is to wound its father with a mortal wound. Is it not more “compassionate” to look for positive traits in this doctrine? I shall dub this approach “a eunuch charity.” For Luther’s greatest enemy is Lutheranism, and in refuting it and fighting it, we prove ourselves to be the loving friend of the “great” (tragic) reformer. The words that we should meditate on today are those of St. Paul to the Galatians: “have I become your enemy because I spoke the truth?” (Galatians, 4 - 16)How right Kierkegaard was when he wrote: “we are all more or less afraid of the truth," because to know it means to live it and to live it necessarily implies suffering and persecution in a world in which the very word is hated or at times ridiculed, as by Nietzsche who wrote: truth is the type of error that some people cannot do without. We live in a fearful “world," a world for which Christ refuses to pray. But through his death on the cross, He has given us the tools to achieve victory for He has vanquished the “world."   

War on Poverty

Dec 8, 2014 / 00:00 am

Which one of us would fail to respond enthusiastically to Pope Francis’ call to wage war on poverty? In a world dominated by technology, no one can ignore the abysmal misery and sub human conditions in which millions of people live. By contrast, some “privileged” people bathe in revolting luxury. No Christian (no human being) can be excused for not trying to alleviate this horrible situation. Tua res agitur. When our brothers are starving, it is our strict duty to feed them. The question is: how can I, in the frame work of my daily life, in some modest way respond to this call, without joining the order of Mother Teresa of Calcutta? How can each and every one of us become actively engaged in this war? The first step is to make an examination of conscience and ask oneself honestly: what is the role that luxury plays in my personal life? What is luxury? By it, we can refer to the meaningless accumulation of one and the same object. Monks, friars and nuns have one or possibly two pairs of shoes. But how many people in our rich society, have an army of them with the inevitable consequence that, unless they change shoes several times a day, their purchase was meaningless luxury. Before yielding to the temptation to buy another pair (for the fashion purposely keeps changing), it might be lovingly wise to picture that the money involved could feed a starving family, living in a pig sty. Granted that people who make the headlines, and are constantly in the news, need more clothing and more shoes than the average person, there is always a danger to become addicted to possession as such. This is something that priests ought to remind us of in their homilies. Yet, how often is the word “luxury” — the devil’s make up — mentioned in churches? Even those of us who live “modestly” (and this is a very relative concept) can beat their breast: one only needs open a closet and ask oneself honestly: was this necessary? The excuses are many: it was on sale; my professional work requires change; I might need it next year. We are all talented at self justification: potentially we are all very clever lawyers.Luxury can also refer to things which are totally meaningless, and are bought because they make us forget for a brief moment the metaphysical boredom affecting millions of people.None of us has chosen his physical appearance, and rare of those pleased with what they see when facing a mirror. There is a Narcissus lying dormant in most of us: what a marvelous feeling it must be to be enchanted with one’s appearance with the inevitable temptation of admiringly spending much time in front of a mirror. Now the miracle “science” called “cosmetics” promises that “beauty” is available to all of us, if only we become its faithful disciples. Anyone entering a department store, or looking at a flyer from CVS, will be informed about the new “miracle” products which guarantee that we shall become the beauty that we are entitled to be.Legitimate as it is to care properly for one’s physical appearance, (sloppiness is not a virtue), this should be not confused with addiction to beauty products. It is, alas, a fact, that the amount of money spent on these very expensive items could feed a starving family for weeks or even months. Even though I might be accused of cynicism, I am convinced that it is pure illusion to assume that more makeup, more black, more red, will in fact improve one’s appearance. Pain killers, sleeping pills, drugs are addictive, but so are “cosmetics”: in order to obtain the same result, one must keep increasing the dose originally given, the final result being that a face becomes a mask. Geishas are the endless duplication of a “type”. St. Francis of Sales urges his spiritual children “ be always properly attired , but without show or affectation”. (Introduction to the Devout Life, Part III, 25) It is a subtle form of charity. Which one of us would like to share a meal with someone whose nails are “in mourning”, whose hair is greasy, whose hands are dirty, whose clothing is stained, with someone who, like cats, shuns water.Granted that it is legitimate to correct a defect such as crooked teeth, but in our decadent society, we are brain washed into believing that to spend much time and money on improving our appearance is a social duty. Cosmetic surgery is a billion dollar business, and is “not yet” covered by medicare. Who knows: a truly socialistic state might one day provide this service. For socialism promises an earthly paradise, and this includes that we are pleased with our bodily appearance.Granted that this “duty” is onerous and takes a lot of our time, it is justified by the “stunning” results that can be achieved by those who have mastered this art.A morally decadent society is one in which cosmetics reigns supreme and luxury has become a necessity. An ex student of mine—a refugee from Cuba—told me that, cut off from her family for many years, and fearing rightly that they might be close to starvation, as soon as contact was re-established, asked her sister what were the items she needed most: cereals, can food, clothing, medicines? The prompt answer was that what she most wanted were beauty products!There is another curse in rich societies; to succumb to a law of gravity that identifies new with beautiful. The main concern for “modern man” is that it reflects the spirit of the time, is exciting, attracts attention. Novelty is glorified.Plato remarked that in education, it is crucially important to expose a child to true beauty. It will prove to be a powerful protection against the cult of ugliness: for a child so formed will instinctively reject whatever is coarse and vulgar, but alas, in our society children already as toddlers are exposed to this “disease”. I am referring to modern cartoons to teach them their faith: many of them are so grotesquely ugly that is inconceivable that a child could believe them to be representing Christ, or His Holy Mother, of any of the saints. God is Beauty, just as He is Truth and Goodness, this is why beauty is so crucial in religious ceremonies—something more and more forgotten today even by prelates who should know better: they should be beautiful—so should religious vestments—because they glorify God, not the person wearing them.More and more inane fashions have now penetrated our society: one of them being the insane idea of painting one’s nails green or dark blue. Not only is it an offense against the beauty of God’s creation, but it is revoltingly garish and vulgar. Yet, it is gaining currency. Some mothers even paint the nails of their toddlers. Anyone tempted to buy such nonsense would do well to think for a few seconds that the money spent on such idiocies could feed a whole family for weeks and would then reject with horror this stupid temptation.Any society is to be judged according to its priorities. We know a great deal about a person if we know what his hierarchy of values is, that is whether he distinguishes between what is essential and non-essential, between an authentic value, what is beneficial and what is merely subjectively satisfying. A society in which self fulfillment, immediate satisfaction, yielding to any craving, are viewed as a “right”, is a society that has dug its own grave. A rich society is, alas, often a society in which money, power, fame, success are the standards of greatness. We are far from the age in which holiness was viewed as a person’s supreme achievement, that is the recognition that to love and serve God is the “Unum necessarium”.We are not responsible for the face we are born with, but our love of God and neighbor (guaranteeing true self love) will determine the face we shall have in eternity. Saints invite us too use holy cosmetics: charity, generosity, selflessness, concern for others are the best means of making oneself beautiful for eternity.Man is made for immortality and it is only against the background of eternity that he can understand his calling to live as a person and not as an animal for which the satisfaction of instincts and cravings is a top priority.This leads me to the heart of this article. How many of us are reminded in homilies,in the class room, that one of the main causes of poverty is vice. In our “brave new world“, co habitation has become a matter of course. It actually means sexual satisfaction without either responsibility or commitment. When done in the past, it was done “under cover”, but today not only is it advertised as “normal”, but moreover, as fully legitimate. Instincts have their “rights”, but if it is financially wiser to postpone committing oneself, these rights have to be respected.Let us face it: war against poverty is a losing battle unless we fight one of its main causes. Professor Jerome Lejeune devoted his life to trying to help those afflicted by grave diseases which condemned them to live in misery and suffering, but his love for the afflicted taught him that one crucial concern should be to fight the causes of disease: to alleviate the pains and sufferings of our neighbors is, as mentioned, is a strict moral duty; but this might make some of us forget to fight the enemy frontally and attack the causes of very many of these miseries. How many people are infected with AIDS infect others because of their “lifestyle”. How many people have contagious sexual diseases; a wide variety of sexual partners is a very risky business; alcoholism inevitably leads to human and financial disaster; the same is true of any addiction. Homosexuality being “against nature”—as already mentioned by Plato twenty five centuries ago—is a moral cancer that destroys society for it inevitably kills its heart: the family. That some children have two fathers, and no mother, or two mothers and no father, cries to heaven and is a diabolical invention and to our shame has been legalized. Let us face this truth: a society that legalized the murder of the innocents and gives its place to perversions, is committing suicide.Schools and universities infected by subjectivism and relativism have gravely failed to perform their noble mission to “educate”; to help young people understand the nobility of personhood and the duty to live according to its demands: noblesse oblige. Those of us who have taught in contemporary colleges and universities, must sadly acknowledge that the “spirit of the time”—the conviction that we have a right to satisfy any craving—has become their dogma. Having betrayed their mission to teach truth, they are in fact “traitors”.Any society that denies the dignity of marriage, a commitment for life of one man to one woman as proclaimed by God Himself in Genesis, is doomed. Today, there are millions and millions of single mothers—often condemned to live in poverty and misery: fathers have disappeared. A permissive society is a society driving toward an abyss while purposely closing its eyes to the danger.To eliminate a high percentage of suffering, let us fight the perverse philosophy that is now the warp and woof of our decadent society. How right Mother Teresa of Calcutta was when she claimed that physical poverty is not the worse type of poverty. St. Paul wrote that there are things which should not even be mentioned among us: one of them is “self sex marriage” the sound of which is so shockingly discordant that it must enchant the choir of Screwtape’s disciples. The paradoxical duty of Catholics—nay of every Christian, of every man of good will—is to fight this abomination while showing loving concern to those who have caught this deadly moral disease. It is one of these remarkable Christian paradoxes:  hate the sin, love the sinner.Vice, perversion, immorality, are expressions of man’s refusal to serve God and obey his commands echoing: Lucifer’s words: non serviam.Inevitably every single second brings us closer to the end of the world. The Evil One, conscious that he is running out of time, doubles his vicious attacks in his last desperate effort to wage war on God. To create confusion is today one of his most efficient tools: to call good evil and evil good. (Isaiah 5-20) To make us believe that to show authentic “Christian” compassion, to those addicted to a vice against nature, we must show our understanding for homosexuality, and spread the lying rumor that just as years ago, the Civil Rights movement opened people’s eyes to the idiocy of racism, so today the clarion call is to convince people that to oppose same sex marriage is another shocking injustice that must be corrected. This claim is to purposely create a diabolical confusion: but whereas no one is responsible for the color of his skin, the same is not true for acts that are against nature. I leave it to experts to determine whether or not this tendency is innate or acquired, this is not the question: what matters is to realize that it is morally relevant, and therefore linked to personal responsibility. A society endorsing moral perversions is a doomed society: the only solution is “revertere ad Dominum”. We are running out of time: May He have mercy on us.

Subjectivism opens the door to relativism

Nov 18, 2014 / 00:00 am

The older I get, the more dissatisfied I am with the labels that historians of philosophy paste on thinkers’ back. Granted that it greatly facilitates their work, it can, however, be very misleading: a philosopher can be called an existentialist, and be put in the same category as another “existentialist” with whom he thoroughly disagrees on all essential questions. To illustrate my point: the great French philosopher, Gabriel Marcel, was once asked: “Are you an existentialist?”  With the lighting speed typical of the Latin mind, he replied: “If Sartre calls himself one, I am definitely not one.”Many years ago, Dietrich von Hildebrand gave a talk in Frankfurt. After his speech, a man came to him to comment on his lecture. To the speaker’s utter amazement, he said to him, “You are clearly a disciple of Spinoza.” This talented Jewish philosopher happened to be one of my husband’s philosophical betes noires. Recovering from the shock this remark triggered in him, he said to his interlocutor: “What can you possibly mean?” The man replied: “... in the course of your talk, you used the words 'sub specie aeternitatis', which, as is well known, are dear to Spinoza.” Comments are unnecessary.There are moments that one cannot but help recalling the famous words: “Against stupidity, the gods contend in vain.” Clearly this man wanted to impress the speaker by his “scholarship”, and in so doing made a fool of himself.Dietrich von Hildebrand did not fare much better when later, he once again lectured in the same town.  After his talk, Paul Tillich a famous Protestant theologian, came to him and accused him of “dishonesty” for, he added, “more than once, you used the word God in the context of your talk; it did not belong there.” Apparently to refer to God in a philosophical talk deserved to be censured.  It would have been a pure waste of saliva to remind him that he would be hard put to find a single philosopher, starting with the Greeks, who did not use it.  Those whose name appears in print should be ready for that sort of attack.  When Dietrich von Hildebrand’s religious classic Transformation in Christ was translated in English, Thought Magazine (at Fordham University) published a book review. This great book was moderately praised, but the author remained speechless, upon reading that his book had “Kantian overtones.” This “great” German thinker – not the only “genius” poisoned by his un-baptized intelligence – claimed that the human mind’s knowledge was limited to the “phenomenon.” That is, reality as interpreted by his mind, and was therefore denied knowledge of the “Ding an Sich,” – did not fare much better than Spinoza in Dietrich von Hildebrand’s estimation.  He valued thinkers not according to their “genius” or fame or originality but according to whether or not their works unveiled a truth that had not been perceived in the past. Apparently the reviewer justified his claim because the author had used the word “categorical”, often to be found in the Kantian vocabulary! Unfortunately the word is also to be found in any dictionary.In his valuable work, The History of Phenomenology, Spiegelberg briefly mentions Dietrich von Hildebrand’s name (even though Edith Stein refers to him explicitly as belonging to the Koryphees of the early Husserl’s student). Possibly the author had heard Husserl’s remark upon being told that one of his favorite students had become Catholic. He exclaimed: “Alas, a great philosophical talent is lost. Dietrich von Hildebrand became a Roman Catholic.” Granted that the latter wrote several religious books, this certainly did not justify Spiegelberg’s omission of his many important “philosophical” contributions.Once a person is labeled as “catholic”, he is ipso facto denied the noble title of philosopher!  He is, at best, “only” a religious thinker.Late in his life, Dietrich von Hildebrand published “Das Wesen der Liebe” (The Nature of Love.) It was the fruit of a lifelong loving dedication to a topic which, already as a budding philosopher, he considered to be of crucial importance.Before Hitler came to power in January 1933, Dietrich von Hildebrand was highly appreciated in Germany, and frequently invited to give talks all over the country. But from 1933 on, his name and works were “anathematized.” For this reason the Swiss publisher, Benziger, refused to publish Transformation in Christ, unless Dietrich von Hildebrand agreed to use a nom de plume: Peter Ott. It was set as a conditio sine qua non for the book published for under the author’s name, it would inevitably have been prohibited in Germany where most of Benziger’s clients resided.After Hitler’s defeat, von Hildebrand did not regain favor with the German public: the climate of the time was definitely not favorable to someone obstinately defending the objectivity of truth. He was, as throughout his life, going against the Zeitgeist. Today he is still little known in that country and still less appreciated if one is to judge by the mini royalties collected for The Nature of Love. No one is a prophet in his own country.Surprisingly however, Das Wesen der Liebe was reviewed but the reviewer wrote that this work did not deserve to be read: for in a book dedicated to love, Freud’s name was mentioned only twice (as a matter of fact it was mentioned only once). How can one forgive such a shocking omission! Indeed, the reviewer was right: there is an impassable abyss between a “thinker” convinced that sex is a key to love, and one deeply convinced that it is love and love alone that can shed light on the mystery and beauty of the intimate sphere.Any seasoned professor will tell you that is it not always easy to sustain students’ attention when speaking about substance and accident, potency and act, being and becoming, but if the magic word “sex” is mentioned, somnolent students suddenly wake up and are all ears. McDonald’s is fast food; sex is fast fun. This can at times explain the popularity of some speakers: this magic word must be included in the title of the book or of the lecture.But to go back to some book reviewers: there are times, when one wishes to add to the list of litany: “from some book reviewers, deliver us, O Lord.” Their main concern is to impress the reader by their scholarship and at times very little light is shed on the content of the work being reviewed. Although it is fully legitimate for a book reviewer to praise certain thoughts, and to challenge those which are misleading and erroneous, he should refrain from going off track for the sake of drawing attraction to himself.What I have written should not interpreted to mean that “labels” should be discarded altogether. It does make sense to call Protagoras a “subjectivist.”  “Man is the measure of all things: things that are that they are; and things that are not that they are not.”  Subjectivism opens the door to relativism.It does make sense to call Hume an empiricist, even though this philosophical disease takes different forms.  Kant is an “idealist” but it is worth remarking that Fichte, while claiming to be his disciple, was disavowed by the “master.”  This scenario was repeated shortly afterwards when Schelling – viewed as Fichte’s favorite disciple – was radically rejected by him: “Schelling never understood my philosophy.” (Gilson: The Unity of Philosophical Experience, p. 243)Marx certainly deserves to be called a materialist, but do all materialists agree on the nature of matter. The question deserves a deeper analysis that the one I can offer in this context. Are all the Catholic philosophers who claim that St. Thomas is the Catholic philosopher par excellence of one mind while proclaiming his crushing superiority over the Augustinians? Do they all agree on how to interpret the thought of this great Dominican? The true disciples of St. Augustine reject emphatically Luther’s claim that he was inspired by the great Bishop of Hippo. How beautiful that in Dante’s Paradiso, St. Bonaventure, a Franciscan, praises St. Dominic, and that St. Thomas, a Dominican, is the one who sings the praise of St. Francis.  This is truly catholic in the deepest sense of the term: what unites and should unite all men is truth, for truth is “universal” and therefore offered to all men and should be shared by all men. The key question should always be: “Is it true?” and not “Who said it?” There is one exception: the official teaching of the Holy Catholic Church, coming all the way down from Christ and given to His Apostles. In this case we can joyously say: Roma locuta est; causa finita est.We should be wary of people who call themselves disciples of (obviously) a famous man.  This applies particularly when the “master” is no longer alive, and consequently is not given a chance of endorsing or disavowing this “disciple’s claim. But by calling oneself a disciple of a great man, one benefits from his fame. One becomes “somebody.”  I am far from denying that there is such a thing as true discipleship, but it is always desirable to have the endorsement of the “master.” Jonathan Swift’s masterpiece Gulliver’s Travels generously shares with us the treasure of his wit by shedding light on this tricky question.In book three, Gulliver lands in the country of amazing mathematicians – people of such genius that thanks to subtle mathematical calculations, they can recall people back to life. Gulliver, deeply impressed, requests that both Homer and Aristotle be called back to life and make their appearance at the head of their commentators. The latter were so numerous that not all of them could enter the room and had to stay outside. A ghost whispered to Gulliver that in the lower world, these scholars were so ashamed of having misrepresented these two great men that they wisely kept as far away from them as possible.This superb marriage of wit and cynicism should give us food for thought. Is it easy to be a true disciple? To generously quote another author, and to praise him abundantly, does not guarantee as yet that one has truly understood his thought and deserves to be called his faithful disciple. Words are very mysterious: they can have different meanings and nuances opened to very different interpretations.I am touching on a huge topic, and wisely will refrain from passing a final judgment on what discipleship truly means.  In this context, however, it is worth quoting the witty Kierkegaard who claimed that a disciple “is the greatest of all calamities.” (Walter Lowrie, Kierkegaard, II, p. 381)This leads me to the core of this brief article. Millions and millions of people accept the Bible as a holy book. But when it comes to interpreting this sacred treasure, it must be sadly acknowledged that the disagreements between theologians and scholars are huge. Limiting myself to the case of Luther: early in the 16th century, he broke away from the Church and became the father of “Protestantism” – i.e. those who protest and reject the teaching and authority of the Holy Catholic Church. Being responsible for this radical break, this tragic figure witnessed in his life time that his “reform” led to more reforms, his “protest” to more protests. He was followed by Calvin who, while also protesting, introduced new changes; Zwingly followed suit. And now protestant sects since the 16th century amount to thousands. One dies and is promptly replaced by another one.One of the interesting culture-shocks I experienced when I first came to the USA was the huge variety of denominations which I found in New England when I spent a summer shortly after my arrival. On the one hand, I could not help but feel that the USA was definitely a very religious country, but I was both puzzled and troubled by the variety of “religious menus” offered to the public. Coming from a Catholic country where all churches (with the exception of one built for the convenience of the British enjoying Belgian luxury hotels thanks to the strength of the British Pound and the weakness of the Belgian Franc) were united by one and the same faith. Protestants are united by “protesting”: apart from that, each sect is going its own separate way. This was inevitably the consequence of their “free” interpretation of the Bible recognized as the only source of valid information: sola scriptura. It also struck me that when Protestants moved from one town to another, they often shifted from one denomination to another usually because the pastor of this other church was a better speaker or had a warmer and more attractive personality.The dogmatic content is definitely not prominent.This discovery brought me great  spiritual “benefits”: first and  foremost, it gave me  a deeper appreciation and a greater gratitude for belonging to the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church whose divine teaching goes back all the way to Christ Himself through His Apostles.At the end of my life, I wonder how many sons and daughters of the Church fully realize the blessing to have a Magisterium – that is, an authority coming from Christ Himself and given by Him to the Holy Catholic Church. Thanks to the Magisterium, the faithful are granted absolute certainty concerning the most crucial questions of human existence.How many of us get up in the morning thanking God for this unfathomable gift?  May He, on my death bed, give me the grace to say to Him: “Thank you, O Lord, for the magisterium.”

Long live barreness

Nov 3, 2014 / 00:00 am

The trial Jewish women dreaded most was barrenness. Not to be able to conceive was considered not only tragic but also shameful.  Let us recall the case of Sarah, Abraham’s wife. God had solemnly promised to give him a large progeny (Gen. 15:5) but his wife was barren, and had reached an age when a woman’s body is “defeated”.  Biologically speaking, she could no longer become a mother. Profoundly grieved, Sarah, decided to “lend” her slave maid, Hagar, to her husband, so that she might become mother by “proxy”.  Indeed, the latter gave birth to a son called Ismael. Better a child from a maid that no child at all.  After all, she would be indirectly involved because her own husband was the father of that baby. Motherhood by proxy was the only choice left her.God, in His goodness, then promised Abraham to give him a son. His response was laughter (17:17): he was close to a hundred years; Sarah was in her nineties. While in her tent, she overheard God’s repeating this promise to Abraham, she too “laughed” (18:12) – a fact that she promptly denied. Indeed, was that the proper response to a divine promise?  The noble desire to have a child is an expression of the deep set conviction that love, by its very essence, should be fruitful.  Sterility is experienced as a proof that “love has failed.”  The New Testament, while not only fully endorsing the essential bond existing between love and fruitfulness, broadens and deepens it by showing that fruitfulness is not limited to the biological sphere. Beautiful as the latter is, there is such a thing as spiritual fruitfulness -  the beauty of which is not only highly valued but joyfully chosen and embraced by those who “have become eunuchs for the Kingdom of God“. Let us but think of all the innumerable children that God gave to St. Francis of Assisi and to St. Teresa of Avila.  But it must be said emphatically that this spiritual fruitfulness in no way derogates the gift and beauty of biological fruitfulness.  However not only is the latter “earth- and time bound”, (for in heaven “neque nubent, neque nubentur”), but moreover, once the human body has risen from death and been spiritualized, the overwhelming superiority of spiritual fruitfulness will be revealed in all its glory. Looking at our “culture” (that Dietrich von Hildebrand dubbed anti-culture), we immediately realize that by “freely” choosing to cut off “love” from procreation inevitably means to opt for death. Any type of “love” between a husband and a wife that cold- bloodedly refuses to become parents, has sealed its own doom.The roots of these aberrations is to be found in wrong philosophies that give expression to man’s revolt against his creature hood. For to be a creature is, among many other features, to be the recipient of an amazing gift: TO BE, a gift that no one could ever have given to himself. He who is not is doomed to non-being, unless he is given existence. God and God alone being eternal, did not need to be given existence. Human Existence is a pure gift. To receive such a precious gift calls for gratitude – a word the perfume of which is often lost in our “advanced” society. But a gift as experienced by thinkers poisoned by pride, is an imposition – something that puts the creature in the humiliating position of “being indebted”, and carries with it the “unbearable” burden of “saying thank you.” Chesterton tells us that he always realized that to be was an unfathomable gift. His problem, as a teenager, was: “who is the one that should be thanked?” Later he realized that it was God.Among his juvenile verses, he wrote one about “The Baby Unborn” “which imagined the uncreated creature crying out for existence and promising every virtue if he might only have the experience of life.” (Autobiography, p. 91)The problem with being “only” a Creature is that not only this tremendous gift calls for an immense gratitude toward the “giver”, but moreover brings with it the “unbearable duty” to have to obey the Creator’s commands. This is the hitch. Why should one be grateful for a gift that one has not freely chosen? “I did not choose to exist,” some might even say; “I did not want to exist.” Existence should be “freely chosen”; otherwise it is a subtle form of “slavery.” The obvious difficulty is how is one to choose existence when one does not exist? Yet some free thinkers insist that “To be or not to be” should be a free choice. Who wants to be a slave, at the beck and call of a master that one has not “elected” in a democratic process?  The resentment that some experience because their existence has not been freely chosen and which, moreover, when given, binds them to bow to the giver, finds its tragic expression in Lucifer’s words: “non serviam.” To resent that one could not have given existence to oneself, leads to the temptation of revenging oneself. Indeed, “it is true that I could not give existence to myself, but I have the freedom to end my existence.” This at least is something that my “maker” cannot take from me: I can commit suicide. This is a privilege that I claim as my “birth right,” something that “no god can deprive me of.” Let us recall the meditations of Kirilov in The Possessed by Dostoyevsky, who chooses suicide – and in so doing proves that he is free. By making this “brave” decision, he convinced himself that he will become god. This example is now followed by thousands and thousands of people who proudly choose the moment of their demise. In our morally moribund society, it finds its expression in the legalization of “assisted suicide.” In my home country, Belgium, this “right” is now legally extended to children, aged six. To choose to end one’s life is very tempting for a child who is promised to go to a place where there will be plenty of toys, and no one to command you to go to bed!Many are those today who assume a priori that what is lawful is ipso facto “morally legitimate.”  The doctor conforming to the wish of his patient, and giving him a lethal injection, is therefore not a murderer. He is a modern “Good Samaritan.” We have progressed indeed: the Good Samaritan referred to in the Gospel is saving a life. The modern Good Samaritan is the one has the “kindness of killing.” The Clever One has now fully succeeded in creating an admirable confusion in our vocabulary: what was called “pervert” is now attributed to those who fight perversion: those, who following the Bible, condemn the practice of homosexuality are dubbed homophobic. To succeed in passing a law giving these practices the same “legal” validity as the God-created bond between a male and a female, is claimed as a victory over the ruthlessness of Dark Ages.   The “perverts” are those who condemn it. Centuries ago, Isaiah warned us: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil.” (5:20) We desperately need to recall these prophetic words. Christ has warned us that at the end of time, (and inevitably we are coming closer and closer to it), there will be such confusion as to seduce, if possible, even the elect. Confusion is the characteristic of our contemporary world, and alas, has even penetrated into the thought of some members of the Church, who should know better because they have the Magisterium.In the 19th century, Feuerbach, a German philosopher (claiming to be a lover of wisdom, but most unwise) – impressed by the mind-boggling advances that science had made in the course of the last centuries, came to the conclusion that modern man should finally become aware that the admirable qualities that he, for centuries, had projected into an imaginary being, namely God, belong to him by birth-right. Put bluntly, man is now justified in assuming that he is god – a god that keeps “growing” with the march of time. The 19th century was heavily indebted to Hegel – this intellectual “giant” – who in his flamboyant enthusiasm, has shown that the “World Spirit” keeps manifesting itself more and more convincingly in history. Man will inevitably go from discovery to discovery. Indeed, granted that until now, man cannot yet say: “be” and bring a new creature into existence from nothing, but thanks to the new “bombs”, he certainly is now capable of extinguishing life altogether. Alas, murder goes back a long way in man’s history; Cain took the life of his brother Abel. But now, thanks to scientific discoveries, it can be done more efficiently and on a much larger scale. To click on one button can guarantee the immediate and total destruction of Manhattan. Apparently only cockroaches will survive – not a very cheerful prospect! In other words, man’s supreme victory is his capacity to now reduce to dust and ashes a universe that he has incapable of bringing into existence.  But this diabolical awareness is coupled with his claim that he now can make a paradise of this earth. Once man is truly in command, poverty will be eliminated by getting rid of poor people: as they do not contribute to the advances of humanity, why should they live? The same applies to those that are crippled, and helpless. Their care not only costs immense amount of money, but prevents the very many people assisting them to do more productive work for the advancement of humanity.Sickness will be overcome by assisted suicide. Only those “worthy” to live will be kept in existence. Several talented writers, The Lord of the World, (Benson); l984 (by George Orwell); Brave New World, (Aldous Huxley) have already sketched powerfully what life will be like under Big Brother – this lover of “humanity” – who will be the Lord of the universe, enjoying unlimited power, controlling not only the bodies of men, but also their “souls”, for advances in medicine will make this possible. Man can now legitimately claim that one day he will become the master of life and death. Then he will not only be a god in potency. He will be God in actu.  Finally the doors of the earthly paradise will be re-opened.Humanitarian laws will abolish the corset called the moral law: prohibiting the killing of the unborn, condemning so called “perverse” human relationships, modern man now perceives clearly that whatever satisfies a man’s craving should never be called perverse.  The individual, and the individual alone can decide what gives him “fulfillment.” Why should an unwanted child be brought into the world? It is sheer cruelty to expose him to rejection and suffering. Why should homosexuality be condemned as being against nature? The word should be redefined: nature is whatever benefits and gives man satisfaction. To anathematize the sexual embrace of two males is nothing but pharisaic and hypocritical. That man has been created free, if properly interpreted, is to give him an absolute and unlimited right to make up his own mind, and decide that is good and what is evil. No one has ever objected to a person preferring salty foods to sweet one, or to favor fish over meat, or Coca-Cola over French wines. The same freedom of choice should be granted to what used to be called “ethics.” Man’s personal enjoyment should be the “measure of all things.”If a person gets a greater satisfaction in activities which up to now have been called “contra naturam”, it simply indicates that the word “good” has been artificially hijacked by abstract theories about “moral and immoral.” The Ten Commandments given to a very small tribe, the Jews, on Mount Sinai, might have had its sociological value at the time, but should now be totally rejected, because not palatable to modern man who now rightly claims freedom to be his birthright. This belongs to his dignity as a person.  To view abortion as murder of the innocent, is to sin against man’s freedom to decide what a person is to do with her body. My body being “MY” body eloquently tells us that I can dispose of my property as I deem best.  In this developing drama, woman is now center stage. The Bible gives us most valuable information on this topic. After the Fall, God declared that “I will put enmity between you and the women, between your seed and her seed. He shall bruise your head, and he shall bruise his heel.” (Gen. 3:15)In the Apocalypse, once again the woman is center stage; a woman is with child, and the Dragon wants to kill it.Why it is that it is the so-called “weak sex” that Lucifer keeps pursuing and not the strong one, the male? The answer is once again in the Bible. It is Eve who is proclaimed the mother of the living; Adam is not given this admirable title. It is a woman – the most perfect of all creatures including angels – who gives birth to the one who declared Himself to be Life. It was, I believe, St. Bernard who did not hesitate to write that Satan fears Mary more than he fears God Himself, the reason being that in his devilish pride, he is much more humiliated by being defeated by a woman – the gloriously weak sex – than by God himself.It should be luminous that there a bond between woman and life, and that he who was a murderer from the beginning should wage war against her. I do not hesitate to say that the legal recognition of abortion is the greatest victory that Satan has achieved since original sin. Feminism has convinced many women that maternity is the great obstacle preventing them to contributing to the “wheel of progress.”When reading Simone de Beauvoir we should shed tears when she declares that “she hates babies,” and views giving birth as something done better and more efficiently by bitches.We should realize, with fear and trembling, that we have entered apocalyptic times. The great duel is between life and death, between The Woman and Satan. May God have mercy on us.

Human demotion, supernatural promotion

Oct 14, 2014 / 00:00 am

Deeply grieved by the death of a great and most lovable spiritual leader, Father Benedict Groeschel, we should not forget that he has not left us “orphans.” In this context, I am exclusively referring to the very many books that he has written, and which, now that he is gone, continue to transmit his message and faith, hope and charity. The one that comes to my mind is “Arise from Darkness.” This book will never lose its value or its interest, because in it, he depicts vividly our earthly situation: the constant battle between “faith” and “darkness” – another word for despair.Not only is this book a personal testimony of the way God leads some of his particularly beloved children, but it is a powerful medicine for all of us who, as soon as we encounter darkness in our spiritual life, lose hope of reaching the top of the mountain. Well known, alas, is the human temptation of making reproaches to God for “ill-treating his friends” – in contrast to Satan who favors his “children” in every possible way… until they die. Power, success, fame, riches: these are the gifts that the Evil one generously distributes to those who have sold their soul “for a mess of pottage.” Not so for those whose heart has been wounded by the “man of sorrows”, acquainted with grief… who was despised and rejected. (Isaiah 53) Those who have heard God’s call and generously respond cannot and should not expect a better fate than the one of their Savior Himself. The lover wants to share the sufferings of the loved one; he who loves Christ wants to follow Him all the way to Calvary for, on this earth, love cannot be separated from suffering. However, the gamut of possibilities is great indeed. For some, it is excruciating physical pains (which do not exclude spiritual sufferings); for others, it is persecution and martyrdom – something which they expect and even welcome. But the most baffling, and maybe the most dolorous form of grief, is to be abandoned and betrayed by those whose mission was to encourage, protect and shelter the faithful disciples of the Lord, those who selflessly work in the divine vineyard, and do so exclusively for God’s glory.Father Groeschel’s book gives us some valuable insights on this very baffling topic: it is precisely when we feel abandoned by God or are the victim of crying injustices – that is, when the road is in total darkness – that He invites us to see human events in the light of eternity. The darker the road is, the greater should be our joyful conviction that “all things lead to the good of those who love Him.”In the life of St. Catherine of Siena, it is related that she was once exposed to terrible temptations; she fought the good fight, but this darkness was nevertheless deeply upsetting to her.  When peace reentered in her heart, she said to Christ “Lord, where were you during this terrible storm?” The answer was prompt and unequivocal: “In your heart, Catarina.” Faith and darkness are companions. But the saints firmly believe that our “blindness” is actually caused by God’s glorious light. Of the seven words of Our Savior on the cross, the most heart-breaking one is: “My God, why hast thou forsaken me?”The examples I will now briefly mention, while taken at random, could be endlessly duplicated. One witty (and daring) remark of the beloved Saint Teresa of Avila comes to mind. Her reform of the Carmel inevitably forced her to do a great deal of traveling. One day her carriage tumbled while crossing a small river. Her spontaneous response was: “Dear Lord, if this is how you treat your friends, should you wonder that you have so very few of them?” Her closeness to her Savior was such that she knew He would allow her to make this daring remark.But many are the trials worse than tumbling into a rivulet: I am referring not only to “the dark night of the soul” in which one experiences total “abandonment”, but also to the cases (which are not infrequent) when a faithful disciple is shamefully treated by those who have authority and whose mission is clearly to protect and support those working in the Lord’s Vineyard.Divine inventiveness can, for our myopic eyes, be very baffling. I recall that when I became a Benedictine oblate and read the Holy Rule for the first time, a passage in Chapter 7 disturbed me greatly.  It reads: “the fourth degree of humility is that … meeting in this obedience with difficulties and contradictions and even injustice he should with a quiet mind hold fast to patience.” (emphasis mine)  That St. Benedict warns us that there can be “injustice” in a place dedicated to the love and service of God, is more than baffling: it is deeply upsetting. Many are those who will tell you that they did flee into a monastery to escape from the crying injustices that reign in our world. But to be told by the founder of Western Monasticism that they too can be found in these “divine oases” is a fearful reminder that original sin will accompany us wherever we go. St. Benedict tells that we should accept them with a “quiet” mind, and thereby come closer to Christ – who Himself was the victim of terrible injustices. To be unjustly treated while selflessly performing God’s work done for God’s glory, a work that clearly benefits all those related to it, is – I repeat – a form of spiritual trial can only faith can solve. Indeed, God’s ways are not our ways.  Catholic spirituality is paradoxical: we are called upon to relieve those who suffer, and yet, it is also our mission to teach them that suffering has a deep meaning: it is by Christ’s cross that the world has been redeemed. We should glory in our being God’s children, and yet never lose sight of the fact that we are sinners, desperately in need of His Mercy.  We are expected to do great things for our God, and yet never lose sight of the fact that, “without me you can do nothing.” We know Him to be perfect Justice, and yet accept that He does not prevent shocking injustices from taking place. We have to obey those in a position of authority, even though we may be aware that their prudential judgment can be based on gravely erroneous information. To obey in domains when a person has legitimate authority, does not mean to approve his decisions. What good many people forget or choose to forget is that Papal infallibility is strictly limited to faith and morals.   To be more concrete: many are the saints who devoted all their lives and energy to work for the Kingdom, and achieved great things for His Glory, and yet God allowed that their work was either destroyed, or “stolen from them.” The one case that comes to mind is Jeanne Jugan, this humble girl from Brittany who devoted her life to helping the poor, her loving work attracted many young girls who followed her example. As could be foreseen, it soon led to the foundation of a congregation, when this work of love was crowned with success, it was hi-jacked by one of its members, and Jeanne Jugan was “robbed” of her achievements. She humbly and joyfully went back to her modest work and became a saint.Hard as it is for us “men of little faith” to keep sight of this truth, we should firmly believe that God knows how a piece of marble is to be chiseled to perfection in order to fully reflect the genius of the Divine artist. To accept a crying injustice, which humanly seen has nefarious consequences, and to do so as a proof of one’s Love of God is heroic: this is precisely what God demands of his saints.Anyone reading the moving life of St. Bernadette, would not like to share the trials that she was exposed to – a price she had to pay for the amazing grace of seeing the Blessed one. Fame when not baptized by tears is most dangerous for all of us. The way she was treated by some of her nuns in the convent, once again, gave the final divine touch to her holiness.To go further back in history, St. Marguerite Marie Alacoque who received the sublime mission of spreading the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, had to pay for this amazing privilege by being viewed by her “sisters” at the convent of the Visitation, as disturbed. To comfort her God, in his Goodness, sent her Father de la Colombiere who, convinced of the validity of her message, encouraged her to hold fast in peace to the mission that God had confided to her. In recent times, let us recall how Saint Padre Pio was maligned, accused of faking his stigmata, and that this calumny was believed and endorsed by the highest authority in the Church.It is most baffling that God allows a work that He himself encouraged and directed, to be destroyed, and even permits secular trends to invade His vineyard.I am fumbling to find an answer. Maybe the most dramatic Catholic paradox is precisely here to be found. God chooses one particularly person to work at his service. This person responds generously, and puts both his mind and heart in the mission confided to him.  Indeed, woe to the man invited to work for the Lord, and chooses to go back to his “business.” But he who faithfully responds is told while lovingly doing his work, that “he is useless servant” (Lk, XVII) and moreover is reminded that God – while requiring his service – does not need it: for He and He alone is the one who makes his Vineyard produce rich grapes.A human demotion (a crown of thorns) is a supernatural promotion, perceived by Angels as a "crown of gold."“I believe, O Lord; help my unbelief.”

Classical Catholic Food

Oct 13, 2014 / 00:00 am

If anyone asked me: “what is the book on spiritual life that you would recommend not only to beginners, but also to 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 17th century which, I believe, has never been 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. Unlike bread, it will never become stale. Moreover, this most lovable saint has the talent of couching his message 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 fall into 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 leave the safe road of humility.My main purpose in this brief essay is to refer to one chapter in Book III, which I have found to be a gold mine of insights. Before turning to my main concern – our attitude toward the faults and sins of our neighbors – let me quote him concerning heretical views, books, and statements.  St. Francis of Sales gives us the classical Catholic response. He writes:  “Of the enemies of God and His Church we must needs speak openly since in charity we are bound to give the alarm whenever the wolf is found amongst the sheep” (P. 208, Chapter 29). Very different should be 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 how treacherous the ground is. Any sin calls for tears because it offends 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, if grave, endanger his eternal welfare. This is another reason to “grieve” for sorrow is the proper response that God expects from us. But we should be aware of a serious danger: this grief should not be tainted with a pharisaical note (“thank God, I am not like him”). We should violently reject any temptation to assume that “we are superior”, that “we would never do such and such”, and while rightly condemning the sin, fail to show loving compassion for the sinner. Yet our love for the sinner is best measured by our hatred of his sin, and our hatred of his sin should only increase our love for the sinner.  Alas, some people feel justified in hating the sinner because they rightly hate his sin. This has happened in the history of the world, and the danger is always present.Sin cannot be re-habilitated. This is made clear by St. Paul in his Epistle to the Romans: murderers, adulterers, thieves, blasphemers cannot enter the Kingdom because of their sins. No one can be accused of being uncharitable for condemning sodomy and hating this perversion. Years ago I had the privilege of meeting Jerome Lejeune – the famous Nobel Prize winner and 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 just brought him their little girl aged six, who looked like a child of two. His great concern was to comfort them and to help her. 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 expressed perfectly the attitude we should adopt toward sin. Let me repeat: the ardor of our love for sinners should be proportionate to our hatred of their sin – their deadly enemy. Sin, because of its very nature, should be hated and condemned. This admits of no exception. “Perfectum odio…” But, alas, this rightful indignation is often hijacked by Lucifer – this diabolical “engineer and psychologist” – who sets a trap into which many fall: heartless condemnation of the sinner.Let me make a short detour: we all know people who are convinced that God has given them the mission to be his “detectives.” They are always on the look out to ferret sins committed by their neighbors, and are triumphant when their suspicions are vindicated: “Did I not tell you that such and such was an adulterer? I ‘knew’ it; it is a domain in which I can claim infallibility!”By contrast, how beautiful, because charitable, is the advice of St. Francis of Sales who severely prohibits our “advertising” the sins of others, often adding spicy details, and enjoying discussing them publicly; alas, such interchanges are never “dull.” By contrast a French cynic wrote that a conversation centered on another virtues is likely to be short lived. (Delaclos) St. Francis of Sales warns us that never should we yield to this temptation. The one who truly wishes to come closer to God, not only should avoid carefully to gloat over others’ sins, but will look earnestly for attenuating circumstances that may shed a milder light on an immoral act. Moreover, if someone tells us confidentially about his or her moral aberrations, it would indeed be a very serious sin to share this information with others. To spread it is a very grave offense against charity. Alas, how many of us should beat their breast!To be “charitable” toward sin is as inane as to have sympathy for leprosy. Much as we should detest sin, the sinner is a child of God, made to His image and likeness who, as long as he lives, can, like the prodigal son find his way back to his father.  St. Augustine gave us a golden key that we should always carry with us. He wrote: Interficere errorem; diligere errantem. (Hate the error; love the erring person).  Detestable as his sin is, – interficere:  to kill is a strong word – never can we be “excused” from loving the sinner as a child of God. 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 met with sympathy out of “love” for the sinner. Our “Brave New World” not only anathematizes any condemnation of moral evil but presents the latter as something calling for compassionate understanding, “long overdue.” Modern psychology has shed precious light to justify sinning. We are now facing the following paradox: the fully justified condemnation of Pharisees has given birth to a new form of the same disease: to adopt a pharisaic attitude toward Pharisees. Justified as it was to condemn Pharisees (“I am not like other men…”) it is now fashionable to duplicate the attitude of these hateful judges in condemning mercilessly those who revile sin – accusing them of being redolent of the harshness of the “Dark ages.” To present sin in rosy colors out of a hatred for Pharisees is very much like singing the praise of cancer because of one’s hatred of Lou Gehrig disease.  Both are hateful and to sympathize with one because of one‘s hatred of the other, is an aristocratic stupidity typical of “intellectuals.”I recall that, as a teenager, I read the following story:  A very pious Catholic mother, wisely tried to teach the faith to her little boy by acquainting him with beautiful paintings representing events of our faith. One day she showed him a picture of Christians in the Coliseum given as pasture to the lions. She was eloquently praising these martyr’s love of God and willingness to sacrifice their lives for His sake.All of a sudden, the little one started sobbing uncontrollably. His mother fearing that her presentation had been too dramatic for a young child, gently tried to console him. But to her shock and amazement, the boy exclaimed: “Look Mamma, there is a little lion on the left corner of the painting that has nothing to eat.”Today, there is so much sympathy for sinners that their sin is not only presented in bright colors, but carefully abstains from mentioning that any sin inevitably makes victims – not only the sinner, but also by harming those associated with him. Today, we are today brain-washed into believing that one cannot possibly love an adulterer without having loving sympathy for adultery. In fact, modern social sciences can give us several reasons to justify it. One could reason, as cynics are likely to do, that to “limit one’s love to one single person” is to deprive others of their right to “pursue happiness”; it is, in fact, a very subtle form of selfishness! Why should people object to gay marriage if it is that make some people happy? 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.In praising a new product, advertisers have now coined the expression: “sinfully attractive.” When looked at with eyes “freed from Middle Ages prejudices,” sin is in fact “lovable”; this is precisely why it has such a powerful attraction. What is to be condemned to the deepest pit of hell (if there is one) is pharisaism and its offspring: Puritanism is clearly responsible for all sorts of psychological disorders.This is the frame work in which I shall add an appendix of minor importance: the disappointment we sometimes experience when people that we look up to, love and admire, do or say things which conflict with their fundamental views. These cases are not un frequent and are baffling. How can one and the same person make contributions of such depth and value, and all of a sudden, communicate a misleading message?Alas, it does happen. I shall limit myself to very few but it might be a topic worth examining carefully.   I am thinking of a remarkable spiritual writer, Karl Adam, who, in 1924 wrote a great book: The Spirit of Catholicism, rightly praised as a Catholic classic. I was told it never was out of print. But to Dietrich von Hildebrand’s profound grief, shortly after Hitler came to power in l933, Karl Adam said (or wrote?) the following words. Referring to the traditional claim of the Church that “grace does not destroy nature, but presupposes it” (Gratia supponit naturam), he wrote: GRATIA SUPPONIT NATURAM GERMANICAM. He was, thereby giving the impression that he was endorsing one of the most idiotic stupidity of the detestable Nazi philosophy: racism.Such aberrations call for tears. How is it possible that such a noble and orthodox thinker can, after the ascension of a criminal to the Chancellorship of Germany, give the impression that he in some way endorses 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 they should always carry when addressing crucial questions. No one would dream of calling a great and noble thinker, such as Karl Adam, an enemy of the Church, but nevertheless this one unfortunate sentence should be condemned, for silence would be interpreted as a tacit endorsement. While deploring this lapse, we should not forget the gift that he gave the Church in 1924.Alas, the great Origen has made some formulations open to misinterpretations; the same can be said of Tertullian. Karl Rahner, after having made some valuable contributions in his early years, misled several intellectuals when speaking about “anonymous Christianity.” Clearly it is opened to very serious misinterpretations.More recently the following remark was brought to my attention and it grieved me deeply. We all know the name of Karl of Austria, who has recently been declared venerable. He was a very holy man and fully deserved this honor. His oldest son, Otto, who seemed destined to be Emperor of Austria when he was born in 1912, was raised as a devout Catholic, and no doubt, was faithfully practicing his faith. He died recently and many are those who praised him, and rightly so. But to my deep regret, a friend of mine who saw him in Rome in September 2004, told me that Otto had said to him: “Recently I was in Spain, and upon entering the Cathedral in Barcelona, was pleasantly surprised to see on the altar the crucifix in the center of the altar, with the Star of David on one side, and the Crescent on the other side.” And he added: “This is a positive sign for the future of Europe.” What would his saintly father say about this remark? We should eagerly give Otto credit for “his good intentions”, but one fears that as he was heading the European Parliament constantly in close contact with every possible view, he yielded to the temptation to make a “political” statement about a topic which is above politics. But no faithful Catholic can acclaim the fact that the Star of David, the Crucifix and the Crescent be given a place in a Catholic Church.Ecumenism, in the sense of a loving search for all the partial truths found in other religions, while deploring those that are either not perceived or denied, is to be welcome. Unfortunately, how easily does it degenerate into what Dietrich von Hildebrand 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, while none can claim to be “the truth.”May “modern man” so easily confused by the Zeitgeist, pray to St. Augustine to share his passionate love of the word “wisdom” and truth (Confessions, III.iv). For Truth alone can unite men. Error is another word for division: indeed, Satan himself acknowledged that “our name is many.” Let us pray ardently that all men might open their heart to this luminous truth which alone can bring peace to our sick world.

The poison of cynicism

Sep 29, 2014 / 00:00 am

It is hardly conceivable that one, having lived in this imperfect world of ours, could say of his death bed: “In my whole life, I have never heard a remark that was either unkind or offensive.”Alas, most of us will acknowledge that they have often been wounded by nasty and unkind words, thrown at their face, at times, for no reason at all. It would be sheer naiveté ever to forget that we are living in a world of sinners (with the one exception of the Holy Virgin), and that inevitably people having an “unbaptized” tongue will say things that afflict others.  St. James has warned us: “If anyone thinks that he is religious and does not bridle his tongue…this man’s religion is vain.” (James 1:26)How is one to respond to these aggravations, sometimes viciously aiming at wounding us?  Let me briefly mention the classical response given by saints – not forgetting that holiness does not make one “insensitive,” but does shield these beloved children of God from giving the “wrong” response which most of us are tempted to give: such as “tooth for tooth” which often degenerates to “teeth for tooth.” How tempting is the sweet taste of revenge! Many are those who claim that to love the offender is not only against “nature,” but also against the elementary laws of justice. Was it not Confucius who said: “If you love your enemies, what is left for your friends?”The saint will not only forgive the person who shot these poisonous “arrows” at him, but will “love his enemy, and pray for those who persecute him.” He will also look for excuses to decrease the culpability of the offender. One thing is certain: a saint will neither nurse a grudge nor “bite back”; moreover he will not, with God’s grace, feel “dispensed” from loving his neighbor.Not only is it not easy to become a saint.  It is plainly impossible without divine help. “Without me, you can do nothing” is something that those striving for holiness should daily meditate on.Let us now briefly mention the responses that the “average” man (that is most of us) is likely to give.  How tempting to label as “wicked” or “evil” those who wound up and declare the offender to be unworthy of either forgiveness, let alone love. Someone betrayed by a “friend” will probably cynically redefine friendship as a bond “valid” as long as the so-called friend may use you as a tool for his personal advantage. But once he no longer “needs” you, having squeezed the lemon, he will discard the rind. Moreover, how many people wish to be burdened with friend who is bankrupt and desperately in need of financial help? It is tragically true that the “defeated” person is “usually” abandoned by all. This was tragically formulated by Horace. “Donec eris felix…multos numerabis amicos….Tempora si fuerunt nubile, solus eris” – Whereas a successful man has innumerable friends, most of them being sycophants, a man in distress is, alas, often a lonesome man.   A disappointed man might tell you that true friendship might be found in some pieces of literature, but never in real life. On the other hand, those of us blessed with true friends – for they do exist – ought to wake up in the morning and go to bed at night with the word “thank you” on their lips.  But those who have been disappointed or wounded are likely to fall into the temptation of assuming: “No one is worthy of love, not a single one; only simpletons can fall into the trap of trusting others. They are either near sighted or plainly stupid.” A cynic is liberated once and for all from the “burden” of admiring anyone, or looking up to anyone as a model!   Nevertheless among these “defeatists”, there is a gamut of possibilities. Some of them, acknowledging defeat, will withdraw from a world of illusion, lies and betrayals and will escape into the “desert”. This was the choice made by Moliere’s hero: Alceste in the Misanthrope.  The girl he loved having refused to join him in this seclusion, gives the final blow to his already wounded soul.Others choose to remain in this evil world, convinced that they have the mission to open people’s eyes to its viciousness. Their favored tool is the wounding knife of cynicism. “Oh! Sweet revenge.”What is striking about their attitude is that they definitely seem to enjoy their role as “seers,” that is, superior people blessed with a sharp eye sight, people who can smell evil from far away. In other words, they are the clever ones; they pride themselves of their talents as “detectives of evil,” and enjoy their superior intellectual vision. They will, on principle, reject any argument or even proof that their “wisdom” is flawed and poisoned by an unhealthy self-assurance. “I am always right; I see what I see.”         Literature generously gives us priceless information on this topic. Not surprisingly, the richest field for cynical remarks are women, love, marriage, faithfulness, religion.  Let us not forget, however that bad marriages often make the headlines; very happy ones “treasure” their happiness in the secrecy of their home.Marriage is an ideal field because many enter into it assuming that, like all fairy tales, it will end with the words: “they were happy forever after.” Let us not forget, however, that some of the greatest poets (Dante comes to mind) have found admirable words to sing the praise of their “dame.” Petrarch dedicated a sublime canto to the encomium of Laura who – alone in his eyes – deserved to be called a Woman: “che sola a me par donna.” That is, incarnating as she does, the plenitude of all female virtues, she alone is worthy to be called “lady.” But many are the writers who – disappointed in marriage – revel in opening our eyes to its false promises and its dangerous appeal. There is such a thing as “literary revenge.”French writers are particularly talented at making cynical remarks: the sharp Latin mind is quick at detecting flaws in others.A couple of examples will illustrate this. According to Alexis Piron marriage has only two good days: the entrance and the exit (this is not a quote – p. 172. Most of the cynical remarks that I use are taken from French Quotations by Norbert Guterman, Double Day – sometimes using my own translation).The following one is just as cynical. A husband visits the tomb of his deceased wife, and meditates on the fact that “there she lies” reveling in her peace and in mine. (Jacques de Lorens, p. 68)Vauvenargues’ words are loaded with cynicism. He writes: “We feel nothing more sharply than the loss of the woman we love, nor for a shorter time.” (N.G.) He is trying to convince us that “faithfulness” is nothing but an appearance soon denied by facts. How refreshing by comparison to recall the words of Kierkegaard that the test of true faithfulness is our relation to the dead.In this light of these remarks, we can measure the harm that can be done by cynical literature; and how a young person feeding on it can enter life already “blasé” and disappointed. Yet one great true love should suffice to re-open for us the gates of hope. Is this “light of hope” often offered in contemporary education and contemporary literature? Are we not living in a decadent society where many of us have lost what Dante beautifully calls: “la speranza dell’altezza.” How many of our contemporaries having given up the bright light of faith, live like moles in a dark den, convinced that this earth is to be “enjoyed” in any way one pleases, and then when the game is over, gratefully greet assisted suicide.  Montaigne clearly deserves a special place in our list of famous cynics. Speaking about marriage, he compares it to an aviary:  the birds inside the cage desperately wishing to get out; those outside, desperately wishing to get in. (p 50)  In other words, once you have “tasted” how bitter-sweet the marriage bond is, understandably your one great wish is to regain your freedom. As these cynical arrows being mostly shot by men, it is inevitable that they aim at flagellating the female sex. It is always tempting – starting from Genesis – to put the fault on the “other”, be it a serpent or Eve. But if all the cynical remarks uttered by women’s tongues had been recorded, I am far from certain that they would not deserve the first prize of eloquence. Understandably, the male sex, being physically the stronger one, is easily tempted to equate superiority with strength.  This is wittily expressed by Alexander Dumas (fils) who tells us that, according to the Bible, the woman was created last. It must have been on Saturday night. There are clear signs of fatigue. (326) But a witty tongue could remind him that “last” often means better: the final copy comes after the rough draft!The same author is also makes the venomous remark that “the chains of wedlock are so heavy to carry that one needs to be two…and often three.” (ibid)Every gift of God – and the creation of Eve was one for Adam who gave expression to his joy upon perceiving her – if not “baptized” turns to a terrible caricature.  This found its expression in the following words of Paul Valery: “God created man and finding him not sufficiently alone, gave him a female companion to make him feel doubly lonesomeness.”  (382) Alas, this is acknowledged to be a real possibility by the very talented French philosopher, Gabriel Marcel, (see his play: Le Coeur des Autres), it can and does happen that two people linked by the bonds of matrimony, have nothing to say to one another. This sheds light on many cases of matrimonial infidelity. How tempting it is for a cynical tongue to lash at “virtues.”“Few virtuous women do not weary of being so.” (N.G.)  Once again, we owe this nasty remark to La Rochefoucault. My translation “Few are the virtuous women who do not get tired of their ‘trade.’” (p. 92) The message is clear: some women who have little appeal for the other sex, take refuge in “virtue,” but as soon as there is a flicker of hope the pride of being “virtuous” loses its appeal and collapse. Once virtue is “vilified”, virginity is bound to follow suit. Not surprisingly we are “indebted” to Voltaire for this gem: “One of the superstitions of the human mind is to suppose that virginity could be a virtue.” (N.G. p. 187)Should one be surprised that someone who dared write the blasphemous words: “ecrasez l’infame”  which have been interpreted by some as being directed to Christ, should shed subtle ridicule one of the most sublime flowers of Christian love? Various interpretations could be given to these diabolical words; but being given the fact that he was a radical atheist and viewed religion as an evil, it seems legitimate gives credence to this negative interpretation. It is not difficult to detect the venom hidden in these “witty” words. Similarly it is well known that those afflicted by sexual impotency are likely to denigrate this sphere as dragging man down on a purely animal level. I heard one afflicted by this grave flaw, saying: “this is a domain where animals are man’s role model.”It is clearly redolent of the witty fable of La Fontaine; a fox unable to reach juicy grapes, proclaimed them to be “unripe.” These words are a cover-up for poorly disguised bitterness and resentment. Inevitably, God and religion are preferred butts of atheists. Once again Voltaire deserves a “special” place whose poisonous pen in 18th century France has done much harm not only to the Church but also to French society. In such cases, the word “enlightenment” actually mean that having rejected the blinding light of faith, and like moles chosen to enter into a dark den, proudly lighten the candle of rationalism. The following remark looks “innocent” but is, in fact, loaded with venom. He writes; “If God did not exist, he should be invented.” (p. 180) Clearly man thrives on illusions and should not be deprived of this pleasure!Baudelaire, however, manages to trump this nasty remark when he writes: “God is the only being who, in order to reign need not even exist.” (N.G. p. 313) Comments are unnecessary. How very many of us forget that whatever gift God has given us – and being a talented writer is one – should be put at His service. Clearly the Evil one aims at having these gifts put at his service through by pride, ambition, and hunger for fast fame.How often do educators tell children that whatever gift they have should be put at God’s service?  This should give them food for thought.

Training, information, education: treacherous labels

Sep 24, 2014 / 00:00 am

Our indebtedness to Plato is great for having left us magnificent insights as to the meaning and purpose of education. A worthy son and disciple of Socrates, this great and noble Greek thinker tells us that it should aim at “creating a type of human character that heaven can approve.”  (Republic, 209) No pagan could possibly come closer to Christian teaching: to aim at being transformed in Christ. He fully deserves to be dubbed “a preparer of the way of Christ.”     Let us compare Plato’s words with our contemporary “educational” system. I recall a remark made by one of the top notch “educators” at Hunter College: “education aims at equipping students to earn a good living,” i.e. to be successful in their career.  Whereas Plato is clearly concerned about what “we should become,” this very successful professor put the emphasis on what we should aim at accomplishing. That the two views are light years apart should be obvious.  Should “doing” have priority over “being”? Some might call the modern approach “progress.” I personally would challenge this view.This abyss between the two should become clearer if we compare “education” with “instruction.”  To “educate” a child means to guide him (decree) patiently and lovingly to live up to his amazing dignity as a human person – i.e. In Christian terms to be made to God’s image and likeness. Whereas efficiency and productivity are achieved by information and training – an ever broader knowledge of facts – the educator has the delicate mission of forming the soul of the child. That the modern world mistakenly believes that an ever great amount of “information” will guarantee our living in a “better” world, clearly conflicts with the teaching of great educators of the past who rightly claimed that our great concern should be the “moral” education of those confided to their care. Let us recall Dickens’ caricaturizing a gravely mistaken approach to education. I quote:  “NOW what I want is facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant only facts and root out everything else.” (Hard Times)  Clearly technical training and scholarship have conquered our institutions of learning! Where is the love of wisdom?Man’s capacity to acquire greater technical skills and to learn more facts declines with age, and this leads to the glorification of youth and the denigration of old age. We are far from ancient wisdom teaching us to respect those whose head is crowned with white hair. (Leviticus 19:32;   Proverbs 16:31)There comes a moment when a person’s body reminds him daily that “we are dust and in dust we shall return.” If old age is meaningless, then assisted suicide seems a humane solution: what is the sense of living if one is no longer productive and no longer enjoys many physical pleasures? It is for the good of both the elderly whose life has lost its meaning and a blessing for the younger generation freed from the burden of providing for those who are helpless. In other words: To be “socially-minded” today means to realize that the moment has come for some of us to “exit from the stage,” our role having been played out.  This was practiced in certain Eskimo tribes: an elderly person would, at a given point, leave his or tent, and retire, unprotected, in the wilderness where speedy death was guaranteed by freezing temperatures.  This world view is based on materialism and utilitarianism - two popular “philosophies” of our “great” age of progress. It is now a wide spread belief that these views alone will enable us to move toward a “brave new world,” where man will finally succeed in conquering the universe, and ultimately become God.My purpose here is very limited: to show how radically “information” differs from “education.” A person can master an impressive number of “facts” and yet be “uneducated,” that is totally ignorant as to the true meaning of human existence. We should beware of “treacherous labels” which cheat people into believing that a college degree guarantees that one is Educated, while in fact, it only guarantees that the proud possessor of a B.A. has mastered a certain amount of information. But the price paid can be high: namely that the very same student who entered college believing in God, leaves it “liberated” from mediaeval legends.  On the other hand, we all know people who have no “degree” but have mastered the “art of living.”Let us recall the wise words of Montaigne: “mieux vaut un tete bien faite que bien pleine” (better a well-made head than a full one). Wisdom should be given priority over scholarship.Let us apply this to a highly popular subject, namely “sex education” which has conquered the classroom, and has often been enthusiastically endorsed by several Catholic bishops who “trusting” their secretaries are often totally unaware that what is being taught has nothing to do with “educating” a child. Alas, the content of the course is mostly biological “information”, and for good measure also tells the child what are the different forms of birth control, (an important protection against unwanted pregnancies) and how to shelter oneself against sexual diseases. Certain programs even offer information about different sexual perversions. But the essential is usually left out: the dignity of this sphere in which man is given the privilege of collaborating with God in the creation of a new human person. Moreover, this type of “information” is most likely to trigger the child’s curiosity and invite him to “experiment.” Every educator should be aware that both sensationalism and unhealthy curiosity are two very grave temptations which, when yielded to, can greatly harm the moral and psychological development of the child. There is indeed a noble curiosity, that is a desire to be taught key truths about human existence, but there is also a harmful curiosity which is, as mentioned, akin to sensationalism – a fast cure to boredom threatening those whose only food are “facts.”Do such courses “educate” the child to have the proper, reverent attitude toward a sphere which is mysterious and clearly related to God? Statistics will tell you that far from offering a “cure” to classical temptations, they have proven to be a total failure: there are fewer and fewer “marriages“, more and more co-habitation (shack up for a while), an ever increasing number of single mothers, and ironically more and more “same sex marriages” – this diabolical caricature of the noble union that man and woman are called upon to realize.  It is my firm conviction that this sphere, when “taught” without mentioning the Creator of life, is misleading and therefore dangerous.  It is of primary importance to realize that a domain in which there SEEMS to be a striking similarity between man and mammals, is precisely one in which the abyss separating person from non person, best comes to light.  I will try to validate this thesis. Intimacy is radically foreign to animals; they totally lack the sense of “secrecy” – so crucial in human relationships. Animals do not “hide” anything because veiling is meaningless to them. Moreover, an all-important sign of human dignity is not only man’s upright posture, but also the importance of a face to face encountering with others. To adopt an animal posture for any human activity is to sin against the dignity of the person, and gives a slap in the face of God who made us to His image and likeness. How deeply meaningful that when Adam and Eve sinned, they hid themselves. A person while lying, will instinctively avoid looking at the other person’s eyes.Napoleon is supposed to have said that the education of the child begins with the education of his mother. In fact, “sex education” should begin when the child is a toddler; he should be gently taught by the example of its parents that there are things that call for respect and, therefore should trigger in us a feeling of awe – the adequate response to a mystery. Reverence is, as Dietrich von Hildebrand rightly wrote “the mother of all virtues.” (The Art of Living) This queen virtue teaches us that this virtue alone is the adequate approach toward God, toward what is good, beautiful and true. It teaches us to respect our parents, the elderly, and tradition, whatever has a value. It teaches us that fear and trembling is the proper attitude when we enter a Catholic Church where Christ is physically present. “O quam metuendus est locus iste; vere non est hic aliud nisi domus Dei, et porta coeli.” It should teach us to wage war on the purely materialistic view that old age is “useless,” while in fact elderly persons call for respect because their experience and acquaintance with suffering have much to teach us. Let us recall the role played by old people in Indian tribes: when facing grave decisions, the Elders were those turned to for help and advice. Today a grammar school child is often foolishly tempted to look down upon his grandmother who sits helplessly in front of a computer, or any of the “miraculous” new gadgets which are produced daily.When still a toddler, the child should be taught to realize that life is rich in mysteries that should be approached with respect. Today, we should realize that living as we do in a morally decadent society, in which the word reverence is practically eliminated from sacred places, the main work of true educator is to “re-teach” reverence.  It is a fact that only in museums silence is respected and that we see the sign: “DO NOT TOUCH.” Indeed, there are “guardians” commissioned to prevent visitors from even coming close to a painting! It is heart- breaking to witness that a work of art (even a Picasso!) is shown more “respect” than to the Sacred Host received in one’s hands.The magnificent mission of “stay at home mothers” is that they are constantly offered opportunities of “educating” their child – the treasure confided to their care. When taking a walk at spring time, she should draw her child’s attention to the beauty of a bud and at the same time, make him realize that if he plucked it, and opened it, he would kill it. Similarly to pluck an unripe pear and bite it would leave a bitter taste in one’s mouth. He then will learn that there are very many beautiful things that are, when young, beyond their reach. The parents should never miss a chance of making the child aware that there are things which can be properly be appreciated only in tempore opportuno. “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under the heaven”. (Ecclesiastes 3:1)In most houses there are “precious” objects: it can be a porcelain vase of great value. It is then placed in a special piece of furniture with a glass window enabling us to see the beauty, while being inaccessible to our touch. If handled carelessly, it will break, and once broken, even if artfully glued together, it has lost its value.  While the child’s attention should be drawn to its artistic beauty, he should be taught to understand that it is be too admired, and not to be played with. It is no toy.This awareness is crucial to have the proper approach to the sexual sphere. It is something beautiful and mysterious. It is not to be played with and should not be approached until God gives His blessing to the betrotheds who having received the sacrament of matrimony can, with trembling reverence, enter into this secret chamber.At the proper time (usually when the child start asking questions) he should be given elementary information about this domain carefully wrapped in the tissue paper of reverence and be made aware that this mysterious sphere is marked by a note of sacredness: it is a “reserved” domain which is so intimate that it calls for veiling. What a noble mission to teach the child that to love someone is not only to be enchanted by his beauty but also to wish to be very close to him, to be united to him, to share everything with him. Love desires union with the beloved but this union is also their “secret.” This is why public discussion of very personal matters should be avoided at all cost. It has a note of exhibitionism that “bored” people enjoy because they are bored. But it inevitably scratches the “enamel” of the soul. That it is highly popular should not surprise us: in a society like ours, the longing for the joys of heaven has been substituted by the craving for “the fast food of sex.” To endorse such an approach will inevitably strip this mysterious sphere of its beauty and sacredness. The veil is a beautiful symbol whose message since Vatican II has been lost. Feminists are blind to the fact that wearing a veil in Church is a sign of female dignity. There are things one does not see, not because they are not there to be perceived, but because one chooses not to see them.How often are students taught that the sexual sphere is precisely one in which man is closest to mammals.It should be proclaimed on roof tops that it is precisely in this sphere that the abyss separating the human person from monkey is so strikingly manifested. It should be emphatically said that the union of husband and wife differs radically from the copulation between a dog and bitch in which case there is neither self-donation nor grateful acceptance of a gift – both of which are essential to the greatness of marriage. If we were animals, we would be justified in living like them. In fact it should not surprise us that in our materialistic society many are those who “resent” the challenge put upon them to live up to their dignity to be made to God’s image and likeness. To do so implies a constant fight against the “law of gravity” which deeply affects our fallen nature. Noblesse oblige is not popular today. God, man’s creator, has designed the human body – (male and female He made them) in such a fashion  that not only does it make it capable of realizing a unique type of union between husband and wife, but moreover, in His infinite generosity,  He has made this union to be “fruitful” by bringing a new person into existence. Here again the abyss separating man from mammals comes strikingly to be fore. The latter – in copulating – is regulated by instinct and is, as everything in the universe, under divine governance. No particular intervention of God is required.  But in the case of human procreation, something amazing takes place: something that, I fear today, is usually “forgotten or possibly purposely omitted” and yet it is something so sublime, so beautiful that it calls for additional reverence.When the husband’s semen has fecundated the wife’s egg, in this precise moment, God himself “touches her body” and gives the tiny little fecundated egg an immortal soul made to His image and likeness. This is creation; not copulation. Neither father nor mother have anything to do with the creation of the soul. Both semen and egg are “pre given” and placed by God in the male and female body, but the soul is totally new.  This is so overwhelming that it sheds a frightful light on the horror called abortion: to murder a person that just came out of God’s hands.  It is in fact waging war on God Himself.  If abortionists realized this, would they dare perform this murderous act?  Whereas the role of the parents is required, the role of God is the crucial one: for He alone can create, bring something out of nothing. He created the world without anyone’s help. In His infinite generosity, the creation of a human person calls for the   collaboration (however modest) of two human persons.May these few remarks challenge us to meditate on the words of Christ: scires donum Dei (John 4:10)

War on intimacy

Aug 11, 2014 / 00:00 am

The changes that have taken place in the 20th century are mind boggling. The elderly among us were born in a world where relatively few people had a phone, which rarely rang. It took me time to realize that, for years, I had to overcome a certain “fear of the phone” because, when a small child, a couple pieces of dramatic family news were communicated by it. Only very rich people had a car. When I was in grammar school, all of us children, while playing in the courtyard, looked up with awe at the sky when we heard an airplane. Ill-functioning radios were just being put on the market; televisions were unknown. Today elderly people are totally helpless when given new gadgets which to young kids, are a “fun toy.”In this context, I am referring not only to scientific discoveries, (landing on the moon, heart transplant, electronic devices which are real encyclopedias), but also to a Weltanschauung that clashes radically with the spiritual climate of the pre-World War I and II. Maybe the word “spiritual” is inappropriate for secular materialism – allergic to any form of spirituality – has made deep inroads into the very core of our society.The accelerating rhythm of technological discoveries is such that a computer is “outmoded” after a few months; soon they will “wage war” on television. New cars are equipped with more and more amazing gadgets that put to shame models of the past. To be “up to date,” some people I know “owe it to themselves” to buy a new car every single year. It belongs to their “self-image.”Many are those who identify “change” with “improvement” and assume that every novelty should be acclaimed as a victory over the past. Now man glorifies himself that “he no longer has to step twice into the same river.” Heraclitus is the hero of the day. Clearly man is replacing or will soon be replacing God. Feuerbach was a prophet indeed: he “saw” that the concept God – creator of all things – was in fact a label wrongly attributed to “a product of man’s imagination,” namely God who, for centuries, had dethroned man. The moment has come to correct this grave error preventing him from being fully aware of his genius and, as a result, incapable of bringing to fruition his limitless potentialities. Now, finally freed from these self-made chains man can proudly proclaims that “all things are possible for him.”Today, his self-image is radically different from the one advocated in the “dark ages.” Now he is fully entitled to call himself “the master of the universe.” Nothing can impede the full realization of all his potentialities: a glorious future lays ahead him: he is the master over life and death.One of the very first “lessons” my veteran students “taught” me when lecturing at Hunter Uptown in the late forties, was that in the very near future, thanks to science, man would conquer death. The question was whether the student making this proud assertion would still make it on time!My key concern in this article is to concentrate on another “change”, not unrelated to the first, and worth mentioning. Bella Dodd who came from a modest Calabrian background, told me that, when she was a child, living in a poor village, there was no one, even the poorest, who did not have his own “house”, probably a mere shack: having neither electricity nor running water (women went to the well to provide for it), but nevertheless they had a home they called their own.  This is now being threatened by a new Weltanschauung. I recall that, in the thirties, one of my friends told me, to my amazement, that her parents were selling their house and moving to an apartment building – one of the very first built in Brussels.  She invited me to visit her, and even though the apartment was spacious, I marveled at the fact that it had no garden, and that it was bordering on other apartments.  But the ceilings were high, and the walls thick. In the meantime, things have “improved” once again: to save space (i.e. money) the ceilings have “come down” considerably, creating a problem for people over 6 foot 5.  Moreover, the construction material now used is cheaper and cheaper. As a result, if the bedroom of one apartment is only separated by a thin wall from the next apartment, one’s privacy will be threatened: alas, bedrooms can be battlefields. Serious disagreements between spouses are bound to be heard by those on the other side of the wall. Neighbors will be privy to things which are not meant to be public knowledge.Lucky are those who have peaceful neighbors because to live close to vindictive people (as I know by experience) can make daily life very trying.   Let me retrace my steps: the mind-boggling development of technique has now proven to be a grave threat to our personal life. This has been powerfully illustrated in George Orwell’s book: l984.For, if Big Brother – for whatever reason – considers one of us to be an “enemy of the state“,  “he” can, today, thanks to technology,  get detailed information about the “enemy’s personal life – something that was inconceivable in the past. It is pure illusion to assume that the messages we send on our computer are “safe.” Any expert can, without much effort, steal the information stored in it, and “techies” can even revive messages that have been deleted. Christians of old firmly believed that God’s angels saw whatever we did, and faithfully reported to Him all our thoughts and actions. (What an uplifting thought). Now these holy friends – viewed as mediaeval inventions – have been replaced by Big Brother’s agents. The impersonal monster – the State – is the one who now has a right to spy upon every single one of ours and claims to be entitled to control every single facet of our lives. We are no longer God’s creatures and God’s children: we are slaves of the Leviathan.To make my point clearer, a further distinction might be enlightening, the one between “privacy” and “intimacy”. My bank statement, my tax report, my medical records are “private.” They are my own affair, and no one, unless closely related to me by blood or marriage, is entitled to read these documents. Today, we all know how dangerous it is if our social security card or credit card is stolen: it can have catastrophic consequences even when promptly reported. Our “privacy” is constantly threatened.  But still more serious is that not only “official” documents can be stolen and used illegally,  but what I shall term, our “intimate” life can be intruded upon and rob us of what should be precious to all of us: our “secrets.” There are, however, very different types of secrets:  we hide certain things because they are shameful, filthy, disgusting, humiliating – either physically or psychologically or morally.  I shall call them “dark” secrets. But, and this is the key point I wish to make, there are also “luminous secrets” which refer to experiences which stem from the very depth of our being: these too are today threatened to be violated. How deeply meaningful that the Bible tells us that the “the secrets of the King” should be respected. It can refer to the mysterious dialogue taking place between Gods and the soul, – sometimes manifested in ecstasies. Those privileged by such extraordinary experiences have one burning desire: that they should not be witnessed by others. Very much against her own wishes,  and obeying the order of her spiritual director, the great saint and mystic, St Teresa of Avila wrote her autobiography and revealed the extraordinary graces God showered upon her. This revelation must have cost her much suffering.  The Little Flower – miraculously healed from a grave illness by a vision of the Holy Virgin – wanted to keep this secret to herself. It was only yielding to the pressing and loving request of her oldest sister, Marie, that she told the latter how blessed she had been. Her sister then begged her to allow her to share this secret with the Carmelites. (Pauline, the second oldest sister, had entered the order). The story of the miracle spread among the nuns, and the next time  that Therese, now healed, paid a visit to the convent, a couple of nuns started asking her questions such as “Was the Holy Virgin carrying the child Jesus?’ Was there much light?” Therese, baffled by these questions, could not answer them; all she could utter was, “She was very beautiful.” But upon leaving the Carmel, she was seized by scruples: had she been lying? For the next two years, this “temptation” made her suffer much.  It is only when, on her way to Rome, she visited the Rue du Bac in Paris, that she regained her peace.  It is certainly not by accident that in the Story of a Soul, she mentioned that one should keep “the secrets of the King.”Why was Ham cursed by his father if not for violating the secret of his nudity?Similarly, sweet exchanges between husband and wife, in moment of sublime and tender intimacy, are not meant to be publicized. Today, “honesty” is canonized as a capital virtue, and makes people assume that everything – whether positive or negative – belongs de facto to the public domain. A concrete example might shed light on this. To my distress, the following story has been published. Apparently Benedict XVI once, late at night, dressed in “black,” and accompanied by his “handsome” secretary, left the Vatican, and repaired to his old haunt close to St. Peter.One thing is to publicize this information; quite another is to hint that this nightly trip should awaken our suspicions.By adding the word “handsome”, the author clearly aims at awakening distrust in the reader’s mind, intimating that this unofficial “nightly trip” was motivated by mutual sexual attraction. Otherwise, why was the “trip” not officially announced? The answer seems to be obvious to most reader always “scandal hungry.”How right St. Francis of Sales was when he severely condemns throwing suspicion on any fact opened to many different interpretations. In the case just referred to, we have no clue whatever about the purpose of this night trip. The person relating this fact, however, makes it clear to her readers how it should be interpreted. The author has succeeded in poisoning his mind and it will inevitably assume that the disguise of the Pope, dressed in black, matches the darkness of his purpose. This is a subtle concoction of calumny and defamation. The author of this information, moreover makes the arrogant claim that the sheep have a right to be informed about every single move of their shepherd. I leave it to people more competent than I am, to pass judgment upon this categorical assertion. Nevertheless, it should be mentioned that in the lives of several saints, it is related, more than once, that they performed heroic deeds of charity in the darkness of the night. (St. Elizabeth of Hungary bringing food to the poor). Apart from the fact that she knew that some people would object to her “wasteful generosity”, she always remembered that holy deeds of charity should be done in secret, as clearly stated in the Gospel: “… when you give alms do not sound a trumpet… (Matt. 6:4)  By contrast, we all know how desirous the Pharisees were to parade their good deeds. Let me repeat: we have no right to assume that a deed done in secret must ipso facto, be sinful. I wish that the theme of “illegitimate” curiosity was sometime mentioned in homilies. Never in my long life, have I heard this theme alluded to. Yet, tongue-wagging can be a serious sin. Let us recall the words of St. James, Ch. 3: “the tongue is a fire …” Is the sin of defamation ever mentioned in the Confessional? No religiously-minded person should feel himself entitled to intrude into the private life of others, and a fortiori, of  a Pope who deserves what Dietrich von Hildebrand called “the credit of love” – that is always attribute the most laudable motives to actions whose motivation is unknown to us.  One of the many heavy crosses of the Papacy is that from the moment a cardinal steps into Peter’s shoes, he knows that every single one of his move, every word he utters, every remark he makes will, within minutes, be communicated to the world.  He is actually being “spied” upon every single moment of the day.  Let us imagine that it becomes public knowledge that a Pope has mystical experiences and at times levitates. Hundreds of fame-hungry photographers would be willing to risk their lives to take a photo of these sublime moments – even though to do so implied real physical danger, such as climbing over a steep roof.Many of us might have written or received very personal letters which are not meant for the public. In order to properly understand such documents, the reader should be armed with reverence. The very same papers read by a loving friend, or by an “enemy”, will be differently interpreted. A colleague of mine, referring to the episode in Genesis when God ordered Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, exclaimed in front of the whole class: “If that is the case, to hell with God.” A devout Jew or Christian will read them with trembling reverence, acknowledging that God is the master of life (for He gives it) and death. They also know that “sacrifice” is very different from murder. In our contemporary world, “dark” secrets – which were understandably hidden from public view – (such as sex perversions) have now come out of the “closet,” and the spirit of the time praises them for their “honesty” and “courage.” Silence is “the mother of hypocrisy.” The problem, however, is that far from being ashamed of these very grave flaws, and seeking help and advice, some of these “courageous” people proclaim clearly and loudly that their “life style” is just as valid as the traditional view, which was encumbered by old “mediaeval” prejudices.  I repeat: they not only openly reveal this unfortunate tendency, but now brag by asserting that they are advocates of progress and freedom. According to them, people’s tragic ignorance of the precious findings of social sciences (sociology, psychology, psychiatry) prevented them from realizing that the word “normal” had, up to now, been illegitimately hijacked by narrow-minded puritans, who interpreted sex as “shameful”, although necessary for reproduction.  In other words, they are “the apostles of freedom“, whose mission is to make people realize that they are affected by blindness. For the good of humanity, it is high time to condemn puritanical hypocrisy, typical of Pharisees. Up to now, the myopic eyes of the “children of dark ages“, prevented them from perceiving that they are the victims of a deadly disease: homophobia.One might however raise the question: If the practice of homosexuality is legitimate because it gives its apostles a feeling of legitimate “self-fulfillment”, could not the same be said of child-abuse and rape? If the pursuit of pleasure is a key aim of human existence, who has to right to distinguish between “kosher” and non-kosher ones? It is sadly true that people afflicted by the unfortunate tendencies just referred to, have rarely received the loving help to which every man is entitled. However only those have sought help who realized they were struggling with a problem that they could not solve by themselves. Alcoholics Anonymous will tell you that only those who acknowledge “defeat” (I am an alcoholic; I cannot help myself), will join this organization which is doing so much good.  But what is so worrisome in our society is that flagrantly immoral acts, i.e. against the natural moral law, are now morally justified (e.g. “artificial contraception” and abortion as a “noble concern to curb the threat of overpopulation”). Needless to add that homosexuality is indeed, an efficient means of curbing this “social peril.” Having deprived themselves of the real sources of joy, many of our contemporaries suffer from a disease called “boredom.” The tempting solution is sensationalism: one even wonders if some crimes are not triggered by this psychological craving. Violent video games, with lots of shooting, noise, perversions, have s diabolical attraction for those who desperately need to escape from themselves. Addiction to such violent shows is, I fear, a disease caught by millions of our contemporaries.A similar unjustifiable tendency is also to be found in people who – possibly with the best intentions – try to win others to the faith by “lowering the bar,” and thereby hoping to win them to Christ by making the mysteries of our faith more “accessible” to our contemporary mentality.A striking example comes to mind:  a very popular writer while commenting on the Nativity of our Lord in Bethlehem informs us that The Holy Virgin- like the writer’s wife,   ejected a placenta after delivering Christ.  A fact, that applies to all female mammals. This information should make this “mystery of mystery” more” accessible” to modern man, more “real”, more convincing.Let us compare this presentation with the Gospel of St. Luke, and the teaching of our Holy Church. She teaches us that the Blessed One was a Virgin, prius ac posterius: in other words, that both conception and delivery were miraculous – i.e. cannot be explained by science. Those of us who have been blessed by reading beautiful books or hearing homilies dedicated to this sublime topic, will testify that they were moved to tears; the topic was presented with trembling reverence: all that we know is that Mary delivered a male child, wrapped him in swaddling clothes and placed him in a manger.  St. Joseph is not even mentioned, but we can imagine that this blessed man was in a state of trembling adoration. Holy Silence, deafening silence, is typical of things that “eyes cannot see; ear cannot hear.”Alas, today, many are those, however well intentioned, who believe that by drawing the supernatural down to the natural level, the divine message will become more acceptable to modern man. Instead of elevating nature, we drag down the supernatural to the natural level assuming that thereby the divine message will become palatable to modern man.Another example might illumine my point.  After Vatican II, there was a real deluge of new catechisms, claiming that they were communicating the precious message the Council had imparted. One of them was written by a nun who, commenting on Christ’s visit to Bethany replied to Martha, complaining that her sister was not helping her: “Martha, Martha: you are concerned about many things. One thing alone is necessary.  Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken away from her.” These sublime words – that should be received on our knees – were “translated” as follow: “Christ, then said to Martha: ‘Dear, just do your best.’” To quote Kierkegaard, this is indeed “changing wine into water.” The brutal contrast between sublime supernatural food, and the down to earth, flat- footed “translation” now offered to children, should make the Angels weep.  No commentary is necessary.How mistaken are the psychologists assuming that to make supernatural things accessible to the little ones, we should adopt baby talk. That small children, baptized, coming out of God’s hands are fully capable of understanding the Gospel’s message, is something that I was given a chance of understanding in grammar school. I was in first grade and the nun instructing us about our faith entered the classroom with a bulletin in her hands. She told us that she had received it in the mail, coming from a Parisian priest teaching little children in the slums of that great city. He had told the little ones about Judas’ betrayal of Jesus. Judas who for three years had benefited from living close to Christ; Judas who had been given so many chances of tasting the goodness of the Savior!  Upon realizing the immensity of his crime, Judas, threw in the temple the thirty pieces of money he had “earned” for selling Christ, and hanged himself on a tree. The little ones were thunder struck: there was a deadly silence. Suddenly a little boy aged six, raised his voice, and said; “Father, why did not Judas hang himself on Christ’s neck.”I was five years old when I heard that story. I never forgot it and it convinced me that “these little ones” are so open to the supernatural message that they are plainly betrayed by receiving “McDonald substitute menu.” Indeed, unless we become like little children, we shall not enter the Kingdom of God.  All of us, except the Holy Virgin have to choose between hanging ourselves on a tree in despair, or hanging ourselves on the neck of our beloved Savior begging for mercy. For centuries, it was the nuns’ glory to educate little Catholic children, both boys and girls, and to give them a taste of supernatural food as found in the Gospel. Today, alas, many have betrayed their noble calling. Should we wonder that the number of religious vocations has plummeted since Vatican II? Maybe we should call it “the treason of the nuns” matching the betrayal of the Clerks as mentioned by the prophet. But God never abandons His Church. Dark as the horizon is, we know that He will have the last word.

Nakedness or Nudity

Jun 9, 2014 / 00:00 am

When God completed the six days of creation, He saw that “it was very good.” Indeed, everything coming out of the Divine Hand reflects, however modestly, the perfections of the Creator. From sun and stars to the smallest insect, all His works sing His glory. This “goodness” clearly refers to the ontological perfection of existence, and not to moral perfection, for the plain reason that matter is matter is neither morally good nor morally evil. This should be kept in mind, for confusing ontological goodness with moral goodness is a trap into which some thinkers have fallen.The most perfect among all the creatures mentioned in Genesis, is man, (homo) for he is made to God’s image and likeness. There is an endless hierarchy among creatures, but those that are “images” (imago) of God are greatly superior to those who are just traces (vestigium) of His power.  Man is a person - a perfection he shares with angels - and therefore is able to sing God’s praise in tones that the most magnificent star cannot match.But by the very fact that he has this gift, he can, alas, revolt against His Creator - envying His metaphysical glory - by refusing to serve Him. Whereas all impersonal creatures, by their very existence, will inevitably play the modest instrument assigned to them in the immense orchestra of creation, man can - in his foolishness - refuse to join this glorious choir and echo the satanic words: non serviam. Adam and Eve were created beautiful. I am not only referring to the ontological beauty of creatures made to God’s image and likeness, but also “artistically” beautiful. The body of a human person is a masterpiece. Magnificent as animals are and can be, none of them has the dignity and nobility of a human body.Artistic masterpieces testify to this beauty: painters and sculptors have been inspired by the awesome dignity of the human body as coming out of God’s hands. Let us think of the dying slave of Michelangelo in the Louvre in Paris. When I saw it for the first time, I was awe-struck by its nobility: every single part of its body reflects the loving genius of the Creator. Its dignity is so overwhelming that one has the feeling that it just came out of the hands of the Divine Artist. Indeed, Adam and Eve were created nude. It awakens in us a feeling of reverence not only for the other sex, but also for one’s own body: it is noble, it calls for respect.Then came the tragedy of original sin; our first parents, instead of gratefully spending their lives praising their Creator and singing His greatness, let themselves be tempted by the Evil one, whose diabolical joy is to persuade other persons to join him in proclaiming his revolt.Every sin brings about its own punishment. Having ruptured their loving relationship with their Creator, our first parents immediately suffered the penalty. Having stripped themselves on the white garment of innocence symbolized by their nudity, they discovered to their dismay that they were “naked” and were ashamed. The sweet bond existing between them was tarnished: Adam had given Eve the glorious title of “mother of the living.” Now she was perceived by him in a different light. She, so intimately linked to “life”,   was instrumental in bringing death into the world, by listening to the lying promise of our Arch Enemy: Lucifer. Adam’s vision of Eve’s beauty, which reflected God, was blurred and he now perceived her as a temptress who attracted him by promising him the gratification of a feeling until now unknown to him: lust. This explains why Adam put the blame on Eve - not a very gentlemanly conduct! They both realized they were “naked”, - an illegitimate uncovering of one’s body awakening in the other sex a violent craving for sexual satisfaction.  Adam no longer saw Eve as his sweet wife, a person united to him by the bonds of spousal love: she had become a temptress. Now they realized they were stripped of the white garment of innocence, and perceiving their misery, they were rightfully ashamed. In our contemporary “anti-culture” (as Dietrich von Hildebrand dubbed it) where pornography and sexual perversions have made deep inroads, it is crucial that we should perceive the essential difference between nudity and nakedness.As mentioned above, the noble and loving relationship existing between Adam and Eve now degenerated into a “sex game”, in which each partner seeks his own satisfaction. The fearful battle between the sexes had begun - the damages of which have come down through the ages and tell a sad saga of brutality, selfishness, impurity, abuses and crimes. The words of Genesis:  “they shall become one flesh”  - sublime expression of a mutual self-donation - now threatened to be reduced to the fulfillment of a powerful urge -  the satisfaction of a craving that at times is so violent that it leaves the soul no peace until the latter acknowledges defeat and by yielding opens the door to the next defeat. Lust dislodges love from the human heart.  Sins against the sixth commandment are probably those which confessors hear most often mentioned in the confessional.Unless constantly sustained by grace and the help offered by the sacraments, it is a sad fact that innumerable men are likely to fall into the filthy pit of impurity. Indeed, sexual sins should be stigmatized as “dirty.” How often does the Bible refer to our need to be cleansed from the crust of dirt covering our souls! They are not the only sins defiling us, but they tend to be prominent in many of us.This constant danger sheds light on the rigorous asceticism practiced by saints throughout the centuries, an asceticism ridiculed by Luther, viewed as a form of sadism by Simone de Beauvoir, and today labeled as a typical mediaeval exaggeration - totally meaningless for modern man.  It is declared to be unnecessary in our advanced society. Today the very word is not only become unpopular but is practically eliminated from religious vocabulary. I once mentioned “hair shirts” to a pious young girl. She looked at me with astonishment: “What is that?” she exclaimed. Conscious that their body is potentially a constant source of temptation, those seriously aiming at holiness put these violent cravings on a leash and severely punish any disobedience to the commands of the soul.  Why is it crucial to distinguish between “nudity” and “nakedness? Today some are blind to the abyss separating them.  The former refers to the beauty of the human body as coming out of God’s hands and combining beauty and purity. The second is the caricature of the same body wounded by lust. My brother in law - the well-known sculptor Theodor Georgii - was once asked by a colleague to look at a status he had just completed. “Do me the favor to look at my little Eve”.  Georgii - a man who had the guilelessness of a child - came to the latter’s studio. He contemplated the work for a while, and then gently said to him: “Clearly, you intended to depict Eve after the fall”! She was clearly “naked.” There is such a thing as Body language: the way a person “feels” in his or her body: that is whether he approached it with the reverence due to a mystery -  for the intimate sphere, being closely related to God in the procreative act, is marked by sacredness - or whether it is experienced mostly by males (not excluding females) as a  domain that offers inebriating pleasures without much fatigue, (fast fun), and to women the dangerous awareness that they possess a powerful tool to attract men - who alas, often fail to live up to their reputation of being the “strong sex.” Samson - a giant of physical strength - was defeated by Delilah!Failure to distinguish between “nudity” and “nakedness” has led some well-intended thinkers, wishing to repair the damages done by “Puritanism”, to go from Scylla to Charybdis assuming erroneously that we should overcome the unhealthy puritan shame of being stripped of our vestments, by “getting used” to nakedness, that is by daily contemplating our naked body in front of a mirror - something that should be challenged.A parallel between man and animal might be illuminating. In the animal world the distinction between “nudity” and “nakedness” is meaningless. Why is it that animals do not wear clothes? There is a deep reason for it. I recall my amazement when aged four or five, my mother took me to the circus and I saw a monkey dressed up as a soldier. I thought it was terribly funny. Mammals know neither impurity nor intimacy. Their instincts regulate their relationship to the other sex, totally dominated by their biological clock; the female attracts the male only when she is in heat, which is when she is open to reproduction.Not being affected by original sin (even though theologians will rightly tell us that man being the king of creation, his revolt against God had repercussions in the whole of nature) - they are not “guilty.” It is not by accident that a famous Greek cynic, Diogenes of Sinope, called himself “a dog”, (from which the Greek word “cynic” derives). He prided himself to imitate dogs, by doing in public what is not meant to be a show. A confusion between nude and naked easily arises because we cover both what is intimate and what is disgusting, but for radically different reasons. Dogs and cats reproduce themselves on streets. The husband who wishes to embrace his legitimate spouse, knows that the mutual embrace - an exchange of secrets - calls for veiling. People poisoned by Puritanism will interpret this “secrecy” as a proof that the sexual sphere is “dirty”, failing to make a crucial distinction between what is hidden because “it is repulsive and disgusting” or what is hidden because it is precious and intimate.Animals need no clothes because they have neither a mystery to veil, nor filth to hide. To speak of the virtue of purity, (the key of which is reverence toward this sphere) is meaningless when referring to animals. The concept of nakedness I tried to sketch above is linked to a perverse attitude toward one’s body.The Bible often refers to this moral sickness. More than once, God promises that He will “cover our nakedness”, clearly referring to something shameful that should therefore be hidden and covered. Those conscious of the mystery of the intimate sphere know intuitively feel that “nudity” expresses a mystery, refers to a “secret” and that by their very essence, “mysteries” call for veiling.The same reverent awareness makes the pure person realize that “nakedness” (shameless advertising so popular in our anti-culture) is an offense to the dignity of a child of God, referring as it does to a provocative display of the human body, wounded by original sin. Today wherever we go, we are greeted by pictures of women paid for adopting positions that inevitably will trigger animal sensuality in the male viewer. Men are experts at knowing what will best trigger in them illegitimate cravings.  It is not by accident that the most famous fashion designers are men. It is purposely that on many television shows   women’s legs are prominently displayed, often making it difficult for male viewers fascinated by what they perceive, to concentrate on the message of the female anchor.  It is worth mentioned that beautiful male legs (for legs have no sex) are not displayed. My French sense of humor tempts me to picture the amazement of viewers if, one day, without any warning, a male anchor’s legs were prominently displayed, while women’s legs were hidden under the table. Lewd and salacious pictures do not exist in the animal kingdom. Animals having no free will cannot be immoral. To create moral filth is the sad “privilege” of revolted creatures inspired by the Evil one who not only wallows in filth, but delights in it insofar as demons can delight in anything.Nudity calls for covering because of its mystery, and this mystery should be unveiled only in the privileged moments when God allows the spouses to reveal themselves to each other in the sacrament of matrimony. This “unveiling” should remain “extraordinary” to guarantee that mysteries do not lose their “patina.” Let us think of the attitude of a St. Elizabeth of Hungary who tenderly and passionately loved her husband, when she gave herself to him: what trembling reverence, what “holy shyness”, what sweet blushing tenderness! In order for this attitude to become “super actual”, it is crucial not to lose sight of the fact that such great moments are short-lived and are meant to be so.  To artificially prolong them is to poison them (alas, this modern perversion is also gaining currency by means of drugs). One of the great dangers in human life - to use a comparison - is to want to celebrate Christmas every day of the year. To try to do so is to strip it of its mystery. A gift should be gratefully received, and then reverently kept in the secret of our heart.   We can only hope , that every time a priest,  truly worthy of his vocation, enters the sanctuary,  he feels the same trembling awe that he felt when he  first celebrates mass on the blessed day of his ordination. How I wish and hope that every single one of them never forgets for a single moment that when he utters the sacred words of consecration, he is acting in persona Christi. This trembling reverence was characteristic of a St. Cure d’Ars.  It is told that when he was carrying the Blessed Sacrament in a procession, he was given the grace of being so keenly aware that He was carrying The Savior of the world that he seemed to be collapsing under this Holy Burden.  Let us pray for the grace of never getting used to unveiling what is sacred. It is my firm conviction that when spouses striving for holiness, give themselves to each other, their trembling reverence duplicates what they felt on their wedding day. “Domine, non sum dignus.” It should always remain “extraordinary”, and never a matter of “routine”, for it is meant to be “so ancient and ever so new”, to mention St. Augustine.

Faith: key to mystery

May 19, 2014 / 00:00 am

Dedicated to Ed and Alice Ann GraysonWhen aged eleven, I read Pascal’s Pensees for the first time, I was particularly struck by one sentence – among many others – in which this noble thinker declares man to be the most wonderful object in nature. God’s creation is indeed incredibly rich and mysterious, but why should Pascal claim that man is the most amazing of them all?  Life has taught me how right he was.I shall make a modest effort to shed some light on this claim. Genesis tells us that man is the only creature mentioned in this sacred book that is made to God’s image and likeness. The admirable variety of animals, beautiful as they are, have not received this privilege. But the mystery that is man is clearly referred to when God tells us that he formed Adam’s body from the slime of the earth – a very modest material – but then gave him an immortal soul, a purely spiritual substance that has none of the characteristics of matter.  It has no color, no weight, does not occupy space, to mention some of the most prominent. In other words, man is made up of two radically different substances which, nevertheless, are so closely united in him that they are one: to be a human being is to have a soul animating a body.When we compare man with the most perfect animals – namely mammals – we immediately perceive that similar as they seem to be, this very similarity hides abysmal differences which lazy philosophers (i.e. materialists) deny for the sake of convenience. Clearly attracted by the law “of the least intellectual effort”, they reduce every phenomenon to matter. Materialism claims that whatever exists is essentially measurable and related to space. Thought is a product of the brain; as a matter of fact, its relationship to the brain can be likened to the relation between urine and the kidneys (Max Stirner). What we call intelligence is only a more subtle form of instinct, and as Falstaff stated emphatically, “Instinct is a great thing.” A consequence of this “philosophy” is that death is the terminal end of human existence. To die is “to cease to be” as John Keats poignantly feared in one of his poems.  On the other hand, materialists, convinced as they are that science and science alone can solved all questions, tell us that sooner or later, it will solve all the problems of man’s existence. They give their disciples some glimmer of hope that one day, man will be able prolong life indefinitely. Science will conquer death. Materialists emphatically deny the immortality of the soul while prophesying the possible “immortality” of matter. One thing is certain: science has already taught us how to destroy the world.  If man cannot as yet say “be” and bring new beings into existence, it now definitely can say: “be not” and reduce our material world to dust and ashes.That very many men, quite independently of any religious belief, were convinced of the immortality of the soul, is a fact that cannot be denied. But the question they face is not easy to answer.If man’s soul is not affected by the death of the body which, soon after its demise, is reduced to a handful of dust, how can we claim that man is a person made up of body of soul? The body, then at best, should be viewed as an uncomfortable shack in which we live for a while, and for which we are, one day, gleefully liberated. It was St. Paul who exclaimed: “Who will rescue me from this body which is subject to death?” (Romans 7:24). In her admirable auto biography, the heroic St. Teresa of Avila speaks eloquently of the burden that her body was for most of her life. Except for moment of extraordinary graces, she makes it clear that it was her daily enemy. Those who have experienced excruciating pains testify that they can lay such a burden on their soul that suicide is very tempting. We fear death, and yet there are many, as proven by the popularity of assisted suicide, who now view it as a lesser evil. “Modern” man is convinced that it is his divine right to freely choose the moment of his death. For if he cannot choose the day of his conception and of his birth, he has now discovered that he has the right to choose the day of his demise.That the soul is immortal has not only be defended by great thinkers such as Plato (Phaedo), but is also taught by our faith, in the amazing dogma of the resurrection (one is almost tempted to say: “re- creation”) of the body. But before this amazing event takes place, the fact remains that there are billions of souls whose body is reduced to ashes, but who still ARE. Let us think of those bodies “pulverized” by the atomic bomb at Hiroshima. Where are their ashes? That one day, body and soul will be reunited after thousands of years of radical separation, is an abysmal mystery; some “readjustment” seems to be called for.Not only is the existence of the soul not affected by the death of the body to which she was so closely linked for many years, but at the very moment of death, she is judged by God, and is either saved or condemned for ever. Let us assume that a St. Therese of Lisieux, having achieved a high degree of holiness, went straight to Heaven, without spending a single minute in Purgatory, she immediately received her reward: to contemplate God for ever. Tasting the ineffable blessing of enjoying eternal beatitude, how can she possibly miss her body? The immortality of the soul raises the following question: granted that to claim that man is only a soul, temporarily imprisoned in a body – the key thesis of Gnosticism – should be  thrown out of court as a grave error called “dualism” (Descartes is viewed as one of the main culprits),  the fact remains that body and soul can be separated for thousands and thousands of years (let us think of Adam and Eve) and that during these long years, the soul is unaffected in its existence, this fact challenges us to raise the question whether there is another meaning to the word “dualism” which is not a denial of  man’s nature, but a “mystery.”The deepest and greatest wish of every human being should be to be united to God forever, to contemplate His Infinite perfection and beauty, and to sing His praise: “Thou hast made us for Thyself and our hearts are restless till they rest in Thee.” (St. Augustine, Confessions, 1:1) But if this union can be achieved before the resurrection of the body how can the soul “miss” her earthy companion?  If she does miss it, her “beatitude” cannot as yet be called beatitude. But she does not, how can one claim that man is essentially made up of body and soul while claiming that the soul can be totally happy separated from her body? I once wrote that when the body dies, the soul is “widowed.” But any loving widow keeps longing for the blessed moment when she will be reunited with the one who was her great human love.Now we see why “dualism” can be an intellectual temptation. Let me repeat:  if the soul can enjoy beatitude while her body is reduced to dust, can one claim that man is essentially both body and soul? If the soul cannot be fully happy as long as her body (from which she has possibly be separated for thousands of years) is no longer a human body, then how can one claim that at the moment of death, she shall be judged and either be united to God in a way that was not possible on earth, or condemned to the darkness of hell?Is it not daring to try to find a satisfactory answer to this question? One thing I do know: one of the great dangers of “intellectuals” is to assume that with time, there is no question that the human mind cannot solve, thanks to “research.”But those whose intelligence has been watered by humility, will have no difficulty acknowledging that there is such a thing as “mysteries” and faith is rich in mysteries. How very right Kierkegaard was when he claims that one should read the Bible “on one’s knees.” In the Divine Comedy (Purgatorio) Dante wisely hints at the fact that there are questions that human beings cannot answer to their satisfaction. (Purgatorio, III:37-39). The age of faith was blessed for it taught men how to come out of the dark den of ignorance and prejudice. The “Enlightenment”, on the other hand, sings the praise of those who having chosen to go back to the dark den, light a candle, and are acclaimed as liberators. The tragic lack of wisdom of rationalists is to flatly deny the existence of what their crippled understanding cannot understand.We need the help of the supernatural, the very backbone of faith. Intellectual humility is the door to wisdom. Pride has a blinding effect on our limited human mind. Humility opens our eyes to mystery, and to accept the reality of mysteries alone can clear our human vision affected by intellectual cataracts.We should hold fast to two truths which arrogant rationalism cannot combine: the essential union of body and soul, and the fact that the soul survives the death of the body.Faith is the science of mystery and one of the most mysterious one, is “I believe in the resurrection of the body.” But one thing is certain, the resurrected body of those that are saved, will no longer be enslaved by matter. I will be “spiritualized,” and will rise from death with luminous brightness, impassibility that is it will  no longer subject to suffering, will be  characterized by agility, enabling it to traverse space in the twinkle of an eye, and  by “subtlety”  that is totally unimpeded in its course by the thickness of matter.It was, I believe, St. Teresa of Avila who during one of her ecstasies, was given such an insight into the mystery of the Holy Trinity that its divine reality became luminous to her, even though no human word could communicate what she had been favored to see. Faith and humility are intimately connected, and he who is blessed by having responded to God’s grace will grow new organs:  new eyes, new ears, and a sensitivity to perfumes that only holiness is given to enjoy. Indeed, it is said in the book of Revelation 21:5, "I am making all things new."

Multa tuli

May 6, 2014 / 00:00 am

This article is dedicated to Bob Luddy.Having devoted my professional life to teaching philosophy, I came the conclusion that this field has a “dramatic” side. The professor who, following Socrates, is interested “in nothing but the truth” and is convinced of its objectivity, has the onerous and “dangerous” task of convincing students that “they know not.” Having admirably fulfilled this mission, “the wise old man of Greece” (as Kierkegaard called him) was rewarded by losing his life.The “love of wisdom” is radically different from most academic fields. In other branches of knowledge, the student enters the classroom convinced that the professor has a factual knowledge much superior to his own, and that, “knowledge being power” (Francis Bacon), he will greatly benefit by taking his course, and thereby be better equipped to make “good money,” which, according to one of the “top notch” professors at Hunter College of CUNY, is the one purpose of “education.” Today the most attractive and promising fields are computer sciences and electronics. Greatly different is the student’s approach toward a course of Introduction to Philosophy. As “the love of wisdom” is concerned with questions that every human being is bound to raise, by the time he enters college, he has pretty much made up his mind on questions such as the existence of God, the immortality of the soul, truth, moral values, and the purpose of human existence. He assumes that he knows the ideas he has adopted might have been inoculated in him by his education, his background, the culture in which he was born, or by the books which accidentally fell into his hands. At any rate, he will enter the classroom convinced that the only thing a philosophy teacher ought to do is to teach him the history of philosophy, emphasizing the rich multiplicity of views that famous thinkers have had on all key questions, and making it clear that each one is decide for himself what is best adapted to his life style. The gamut of possibilities goes from radical skepticism, to relativism, to the various forms of empiricism, idealism to pragmatism, to analytic philosophy with special emphasis put on “modern” philosophers who best reflect the “needs” of modern man. One thing to be avoided at all cost is to claim that there is a truth, valid for all men, and that all should endorse. This is dangerous because, in fact, it deprives thinkers of their “freedom of thought” and leads to intellectual totalitarianism – the philosophical bete noire of most modern thinkers.If the professor teaching the course happens to be interested in “nothing except the truth,” he will inevitably challenge his students’ ideas on key issues by confronting them with the awesome test of truth.They will most likely resent it for the obvious reason that, starting in grammar school, they have been told that all philosophical questions are up for grasp, for they are not based on “scientific proofs,” and are therefore a matter of opinion. It is up to the individual to decide for himself what are the ideas which best fit his life style, his culture, his craving for “self-fulfillment.” Nobody has the right to dictate what he should think, and how he should live. To do so is nothing short of arrogance, and inevitably will lead to abominations such as the Inquisition.That this is a fact was one of the first things that my students “taught” me at the very beginning of my career, when I was teaching Veterans in the Hunter Bronx Buildings. One of them entered my classroom dragging his feet and obviously resentful that Introduction to Philosophy was on the core curriculum. He looked so despondent that I could not help but remark: “You do not seem very pleased to have to take this course.” His answer was: “Why should your ideas be better than mine?” A very pertinent remark indeed if the question of truth is eliminated. As I told him that the value of an idea depends upon its agreement with truth, he looked at me in utter amazement.         Science offers us factual information about the material universe, the world revealed to us through our senses. Granted that every truth is to be respected there is, however, a crucial hierarchy among them. Many need not be known (the reproductive system of fleas, for example) unless there is a professional reason for studying the particular field. Some of them are practically important: to ignore them can be life-threatening. It is common knowledge that a high percentage of accidents take place within the home. Ignorance can be responsible for fires and explosions.But the field of what can be known is so huge that any great scholar or scientist must acknowledge on his death bed that he has only scratched the surface. The dying man might also raise the question: “Has the information I have painfully acquired through my life helped me answer the one question that I am now raising; what will happen to me after death? Is there such a thing as immortality? Is there a God that I shall see face to face when I take my last breath?” In other words, there are truths we should be concerned with. They are valuable not for pragmatic reasons, but because they are concerned with what matters most.To overlook their crucial importance in a truly human life, is nothing but foolishness, but scholars can be very foolish. There are truths which give meaning to life; granted that the knowledge accumulated by great scientists is impressive, this knowledge does not shed light on the most important questions of human existence. This has been highlighted in Victor Frankl’s, “Man’s Search for Meaning.” This book deserved its huge success, for it raised the right questions. No intelligent human being should remain unconcerned about them. To neglect to raise them not only betrays a grave lack of intelligence but moreover, a tragic disregard for what it means to be a personal being.  As mentioned, the popular view is that each individual should answer these vital questions for himself. Being highly “personal” opinions, they have validity only for the person endorsing them. The very word “truth” is thrown out of court, because it is meaningless when applied to non-material reality, which cannot be subject to the “objective” test of scientific experimentation.    To claim that there is a philosophical truth which has universal validity is nothing but “intellectual totalitarianism.” It is not only arrogant, and “anti-democratic,” but is purely arbitrary.The phenomenal development of empirical sciences “gloriously” proves the validity of scientific knowledge. This is why they keep progressing, whereas philosophy does not get anywhere.After some twenty six centuries, it keeps raising the same questions proving the inanity of the problems raised. Freedom of thought should reign supreme. In other words, what can a philosophy teacher give his students who have already answered all these questions to their satisfaction? All that he is supposed to do is therefore to give them information about the incredible variety of answers philosophers have given through the centuries. The huge variety of outlooks should prove that it is a field in which there is no “truth.”This new “dogma” – for modern man has “wisely” discarded the “old” mediaeval dogmas which inevitably led to the Inquisition – places anyone who, like Socrates, is interested in “nothing but the truth,” in a highly vulnerable position.How is a modern “disciple” of Socrates to challenge the popular conviction that experimentation alone can grant certitude to the human mind?The obvious weakness of this claim is that this has never been (and never can be) experimentally proven. It is a purely “dogmatic” claim without any foundation. Experimentation is limited to the huge world of material objects, but obviously cannot be applied to objects which do not belong to the physical universe. This obvious truth should shake the foundation of radical empiricism.Moreover, there are questions which condemn the intellectual sanity of the person raising them.  Chesterton’s admirers will not be surprised to find out what “the king” of wit has made luminous. In his hands, it was an intellectual sword that waged war on stupidity.What would we say, he tells us, of someone aiming at shooting a hole through our memory of last Monday? “This will trigger laughter. It is plainly stupid.” In the same line of thought, what would we say if a wife claimed that her very authoritarian husband has a will weighting two hundred pounds, whereas she, his submissive wife’s will is hardly ten pounds? Convinced of the crushing superiority of Plato’s mind over Hume’s, no sane person would claim that it is probably some 500 miles longer.The empirical method, valid as it is when applied to matter, is meaningless when applied to spiritual realities.Once the experienced teacher has succeeded in making his students listen to his refutation, (this call for “the art of teaching”: catch students’ attention) one big step is already taken. But more is needed.  Students should now be led to realize that they have fallen victims to what I shall dub “trompe l’oeil” philosophers. These “thinkers” are characterized by their flamboyance, their eloquence – qualities highly appreciated by the masses which prefer brilliancy to truth. He who has the “gift of gab” is more likely to convince the hoi polloi than the arguments offered by a truth-loving thinker who is less eloquent. If the teacher succeeds in convincing his students to honestly ask themselves whether they have not been caught into the subtle nets of “sophists,” another important step has been taken.   Analogy with physical eye sight can also challenge students to learn to be “critical” in the positive of this term: it is does not mean to be “negative” but to learn to wisely weigh evidence, as opposed to theories.A high percentage of human beings do not enjoy perfect eye sight. They need corrective glasses to make up for this deficiency. What about our intellectual vision?  How many of us would dare claim that they have never erred in their lives? They would become the butt of laughter. That “errare umanum est” is a universally recognized truth. He who is conscious that his intellectual faculties are limited, is much less likely to fall into error than the person cursed by the conviction that he never errs. The student must be led to acknowledge that there is such a thing as “intellectual and moral blindness.”There are things that we do not see. We need help to overcome and correct this serious deficiency. That we all suffer from some form of intellectual and moral blindness is an eye-opener that will enable us to perceive many truths that we had not perceived; thereby they will come a step closer to “the love of wisdom.”But the truth-lover’s task is not yet over: another crucial truth should be highlighted. Everybody accepts a scientific truth because it is based on “proofs.” But if something needs to be proven, it indicates that its “truth” is not evident. The obvious conclusion is that if everything needed to be proven, nothing could be proven: each proof would rely on another proof…and infinitum…There are things which are so luminous that it is not only stupid but, radically impossible to request a proof for accepting their validity. That two contradictory propositions cannot be true simultaneously, is luminous. He who challenges this truth proves thereby that his intellectual faculty is seriously impaired. Because the validity of the proof rests upon the fact that it’s contradictory would be false. It is the task of the philosopher to make his students aware that this is not the only reason for challenging the possibility of reaching truth in non-scientific questions. It might not even be the main reason.No one studying any science approaches it with intellectual wishful thinking: “I ardently hope that the number of angles of a triangle should be equal to three right angles,” and then fall into depression upon studying Euclid. Such a person urgently needs psychiatric help. Students must be led to realize that there are “neutral” truths and “sensitive” truths. Let me explain: all truths call for respect. But very many of them have no bearing on our personal lives, that is, of how we should live.The student must acquire the intellectual and moral courage of asking himself why he has endorsed certain views, and strongly reject their contradictory. I recall my raising the question of the immortality of the soul – a classical philosophical question that Plato already discussed in his famous dialogue Phaedo.  A student was clearly upset by my arguments in defending it, and at one point declared in front of the whole class:  “the worst thing that could happen to me would be if you could convince me that I have an immortal soul: then one day I will be held responsible for my actions.” This tragic honesty is deeply revealing. It is plainly not possible to convince someone of a fact the consequences of which would be subjectively disastrous for him.  It is impossible to convince anybody who fears to see a truth, that it is true, and that therefore, it should be gratefully accepted. It is often impossible to convince anybody that he has behaved immorally and should not only acknowledge it, but regret it and ask for forgiveness.Our knowledge related to empirical sciences and mathematics is “neutral” knowledge.  This is definitely not the case with key philosophical questions as my student’s remark proves eloquently. I shall call them “sensitive truths” and have a “commanding character.” “Thou shalt not…” All such truths are unpalatable to man’s fallen nature. We “instinctively” tend to obscure our vision and then “honestly” deny them. If there is a God, creator of heaven and earth, a Person of infinite perfection, our response should be adoration and obedience. These two words are poison to man’s pride as proven by Nietzsche who wrote that if there were gods, how could he stand not to be god himself?  Ergo, God does not exist.“Non serviam” was Lucifer’s tragically eloquent response to His Creator.Logic, because of its closeness to mathematics, is the easiest course to teach. The topics which are the thorniest are metaphysics, when it raises questions about the existence of God and the immortality of the soul and ethics which is a bloody battlefield It is hopelessly difficult to convince a disciple of Aristippus, for whom “good” is identified with pleasure, (mostly pleasures of the flesh) that some of them are morally evil. It is hopelessly difficult to convince a woman not to abort her child, when she claims passionately that she alone is to decide what she will do with her own body. How wise Plato was when he underlined that one of the main aims of education is to teach a child “to achieve victory” over pleasure. May I suggest that the martyrs who have “conquered” the most excruciating pains, have never in the course of their lives, been defeated by pleasure?Indeed, some activities are linked to pleasure: food, drink, to mention those already experienced by a child. There is such a thing as pleasure of the palate. But one thing is to enjoy food (and thank God for his gift), another is to “major” in this field and go from this enjoyment to gluttony, and once being on this slippery slope to make a “god of one’s belly” as mentioned by St. Paul. The victims of this addiction have lost their moral freedom, and for the sake of satisfying their craving, will justify cheating a poor man of his hard-earned money for the sake of having dinner in a five stars restaurant. Alas, this has happened.Once a person is no longer capable to control his greed, the door is open to all sorts of perversions, mostly in the sexual domain where one profanity easily leads to another. How is one to convince a rapist that his actions are an abomination? He clearly enjoys his revolting desecration of another’s secret. His trump card is: “I enjoy doing it.”How is one to convince a professional liar (who is so good at this trade that he has never been caught) that truth calls for respect? How is one to convince a talented swindler that he is harming his neighbor and his own soul? He will have the ready-made argument that by cheating another person, he is in fact re-establishing justice, for his victim has made his own money by robbing someone else.If the student who – deep down longs for truth – perceives that precious philosophical truths will inevitably remain invisible to those who dread to perceive them, he might, with God’s grace, re-examine his “lifestyle” and realize that he who chooses to live in lie and illusion, is his own worst enemy as already mentioned by Plato. A truth-loving philosopher has superb intellectual tools at his disposal. Whether these tools will convince those that are morally blind depends on God’s grace, and their willingness to be joyfully defeated. Is one willing to see? Hearing that Christ had entered Jericho, a blind man kept calling him. The Savior came to him and said: “What do you want?” He answered: “That I may see,” and Christ opened his eyes. May I suggest that this blind man’s ardent desire to “see” should be our model in our intellectual life? It is my firm conviction that this prayer, when sincerely uttered, is never left unanswered.

Lucifer is a sadist

Apr 14, 2014 / 00:00 am

There are facts that cannot be denied, and yet, are likely to shock some of us as “unfair.” Why is it so easy for Satan to make us trip and fall? Man (homo) has been given intelligence; alas, he keeps forgetting that not only is his intelligence limited, but that moreover, it has been affected by original sin. As soon as he loses sight of these two undeniable facts, he is likely to become an easy prey to Screwtape, whose intelligence is so superior to ours and whose keenest diabolical satisfaction is to set traps on the path of human Pinocchios.Even though all of us – except the Blessed one – have been wounded by original sin, we do not all have the same weaknesses. One thing is certain: if there are sins we have never committed, it is certainly because we have never been tempted.Satan is a keen observer. Already in small children, he will notice that one is inclined to anger; another one to gluttony, another one is, from his very cradle, tempted by jealousy. In his Confessions, St. Augustine writes “…it was not yet able to speak, but was pale and bitter in face as it looked at another child nursing at the same breast.” (I, 7) Alas, there are children who enjoy being cruel. It is heart-breaking to know that some boys enjoy torturing helpless animals. Some are incredibly heartless toward their peer, mercilessly making fun of any defect they detect in others’ faces. Some children pick up the “art” of lying at a very young age. Vanity seems to be born with us: there are very young little girls who get upset when another child’s beauty or grace is praised. Some boys turn green from rage when defeated at a game or in a fist fight.Once the Evil one has properly diagnosed our particular weakness, he delights in placing us in situations (real or sometimes even imaginary) which will lead us to defeat.I have mentioned the green eye of envy. One thing is certain, for some of us, jealousy is a chronic form of torture. The envious person is, by definition, miserable.He who is cursed by this serious flaw will, instinctively, never miss a chance of  feeling that he (or she) is less loved, less appreciated, unfairly treated, overlooked, neglected. All sorts of “nobodies” are always given preference. Once the poison has entered into their soul, the Evil one needs not do much work: the envious person will keep “scratching” his wound that inevitably will become more and more infected until the “patient” becomes very sick indeed. Everything in his life turns to gall.Such a person is incapable ever to give a “response to value”; he is so self-centered that everything is related to himself. If a member of his family, or a friend, or a colleague receives a promotion or is honored, one can only hope for his sake, that he will not be informed of it. His day will inevitably turn into a dark night. Let us assume that this award is fully deserved. Instead of rejoicing, his response will be one of bitterness: “Why not me? I deserve it much more.” “Why is it that nobody truly appreciates my merits?  Why is it that others are always preferred to me?” What should trigger joy, is by the subtle chemistry of jealousy, changed into gall.The victim of jealousy upon hearing that someone has benefited from a generous inheritance will respond with irritation and anger. “He does not need that money; I need it much more than he does. I am also a blood relation of the giver. Why am I always overlooked? I can only explain this crying injustice because my relative always was a clever politician. It is clear that he has been ‘apple polishing’ our relation, which I would never do because it is below my dignity. He is reaping the fruits of his flattery. I would never abase myself to do such a thing.” Another “valid” reason for being miserable.This deplorable disposition also another consequence: it renders him incapable of ever being grateful for the very many gifts that he has received: a secure financial situation, a lovable wife, talented children, and the gift of faith. What he has received is denigrated; whatever he has not received is magnified, and Satan has achieved a major victory with very little effort.To “feel joy” about another person’s misery is typical diabolical. Satan desperately wishes to catch us in his nets, but, and this is worth stressing, being damned he does not benefit by it. The torments of hell, being hellish cannot be alleviated.  A thief benefits by his theft; a liar escapes from punishment. But Lucifer, being the very incarnation of evil, gets no profit when he succeeds in making us sin: he enjoys evil because it is evil. This is truly diabolical.This depressing sketch could easily be duplicated with the other capital sins. Once Satan has diagnosed our weakness, he is like a talented chess player. And we, foolish creatures, fail to see that we not only offend God, the Giver of all gifts, we also hurt our immortal soul, we make wife, children, family and friends, miserable, and we give diabolical satisfaction to the Evil one. Such a person is deeply unhappy and is fully responsible for his misery. He is his own worst enemy. Caveat: let us daily be our guard, and learn to diagnose the snares laid the Enemy of God, before they have a chance to catch us in their poisonous nets.How lovingly wise St. Peter was when he wrote: Fratres, sobrii estote et vigilate… These words have been repeated since the sixth century by all Benedictine monks all over the words when they pray Compline, the last prayer of their daily liturgy. We should all join this great order and before going to sleep beg God to protect us from noctium phantasmata: “defend our eyes from deadly fears and fantasies….”

The trickiness of words

Feb 20, 2014 / 00:00 am

Man is the only creature mentioned in Genesis that was made to God’s image and likeness. He is an imago Dei. All other material creatures are only “traces” (vestigia) of their Creator. (St. Bonaventure. Itinerarium mentis in Deum) Man is a person, someone who can speak, someone who is deigned to dialogue with God. We should realize the incredible honor we have received in being addressed by our Creator (“Adam, where art thou?”) and that we are capable of responding. Language is something awesome which radically differs from the noises made by animals to communicate.But, inevitably, there is a striking discrepancy between the limits of the human vocabulary and the number of objects that can be referred to. The invention of computers forced us to “invent” totally news words to refer to all the finesses of technology. New dictionaries are therefore constantly needed. When we turn to things spiritual, intellectual, affective or artistic, the poverty of our vocabulary becomes painfully evident. Daily we must acknowledge the anemia of the words at our disposal when trying to express adequately what is taking place in our souls. We must acknowledge defeat. When deeply moved by affective experiences, such a great love or profound gratitude or the perception of beauty, or when touched by grace, we will inevitably have to say: “Words fail me. Alas, I cannot express what I have experienced.” Silence is then more eloquent than words.This applies to all “great” experiences. Mystics will constantly tell us that they cannot share with us what they have seen, heard or experienced.  St. Paul, when caught up into Paradise, does not even know “whether in the body or out of the body.” (2Cor. 12:3)  How is he to speak adequately about it? The human vocabulary is at best a “stammering.”Moreover, each language has expressions and words which do not have their equivalents in other tongues. Some of them have a much richer vocabulary than others; the more primitive a language is, the more anemic it will be. Only those who have dabbled at translation work know the difficulty of adequately rendering the thought of an author in another language. Purely technical works are the easiest, one reason being that the language of technology is getting to be more and more international.When we turn to spiritual, philosophical, mystical writings, the “hopelessness” of achieving perfection is painfully experienced. This explains why great literary works have been translated and re-translated innumerable times. No one who has tried his hand at translating La Divina Commedia would ever dare say, “My work is so perfect; it would be meaningless to try to improve upon it.” The Italian language puts is well: Traduttore, traditore (“Translator, traitor”). There are words that simply have no equivalent in another tongue. At times, a translator will need a whole sentence to communicate what in the original language is expressed in a single word. Indeed, God knew what He was doing in punishing the arrogance of the “engineers” of the tower of Babel. “Come, let us go down and confuse their language.” (Gen. 11:5) Languages: the door is now open far and wide to misunderstanding. Great linguists are often tempted to “betray” their mother tongue by borrowing words from a foreign language that better express what they wish to communicate, the drawback being that others will not understand their meaning.    But words are still more mysterious: for one of the same word is often used for objects or ideas that are very different, even though they might have some superficial kinship. Unless clarified, this can lead to very serious equivocations.One example is called for: Aristotle, the philosopher Dante calls “il maestro di collor che sanno” tells us that “the good is what all things desire.” Apart from the fact that non-living things cannot desire anything, this claim is likely to win universal assent. It sounds convincing; it sounds self-evident. The word “good” definitely refers to what is desirable as opposed to evil which triggers in us a response of rejection. But as soon as we adopt a careful philosophical approach, Aristotle’s claim is bound to raise the following question: do all men agree as to what is desirable? There will inevitably be a huge variety of responses. Very many people, following the lead of Aristippus, will identify good with “pleasure.” Whatever gives one satisfaction – be it sensual or psychic – will be qualified as “good” or worthy of being desired. The rapist is always on the lookout for victims for the very plain reason that to violate a woman gives him intense pleasure. The brutality of his action is no concern of his: all he wants is the physical sensation that forcing himself upon an unwilling victim gives him. Her anguish might possibly make it still more “spicy.” The gamut of possible self- satisfying experiences is so large that it is practically unlimited. Each one is free to consider his preferences to be justified. How is one to convince a person that he should enjoy Coca Cola if he happens to dislike it? The French language hinted at this when it asserted that it is meaningless to discuss tastes: “Des gouts et des couleurs, on ne discute pas” – it is meaningless to discuss tastes and colors.The American Constitution states that we are entitled to pursue happiness. But we shall be hard put to find out how many people agree as to what will make them happy. For one it is power; for another, money; for another fame; for another self-fulfillment; for another love; for another love of God alone was satisfy the longing of the human soul. This would sound totally meaningless to an atheist.When reading St. John’s Last Supper, we are struck by the fact that the word “world” is constantly repeated. When combined with the other Evangelists, it is mentioned twenty-six times. This is surprising indeed. Obviously, Christ’s use of the word must be clarified in order to understand His message. I shall try to shed some modest light on this crucial question. Let us first turn to the very beginning of his Gospel. “The disciple Jesus loved” writes the following words: “He was in the world and the world was made through him, and the world knew him not.” (1:10 – emphasis mine) These words sound ominous: how can a world made by Him be rejected by those who benefited from the gift of existence? This gives a somber background to our task.At the Last Supper, Christ tells us, “I came into the world.” The meaning is clear. He is referring to the Incarnation: God became flesh. This is the mystery of mystery of Christianity: a scandal for the Jews, madness for the Gentiles. He came to save us by giving His life for God’s rebellious creatures who have rejected His invitation to “follow him to Glory.” (Rule of St. Benedict, Ch. 1) Indeed, there is no greater love than to give one’s life for one’s friends.Alas, from the very moment of the fall, man seems to be reluctant to being redeemed, like a sick patient who refuses to take the medicine that a loving doctor offers him. Wishing to become gods without God, man has become his own worst enemy, and the “enemy now being within,” he is difficult to expel:  a savior was desperately needed.  Gueranger writes: “… we have all to triumph over self, and self is the harshest of tyrants”. (Liturgical Year, Christmas II, p. 386)Shortly afterwards, Christ tells us that He is about to “leave this world.” He is now announcing his imminent death and hinting at his resurrection, and ascension. His mission of love being accomplished; He will go back to the Father, with whom “he is one” and then send us The Holy Spirit – the Spirit of truth which will teach us all things.The “visible world” in which we are born is beautiful: the awesomeness of a star-studded sky, a glorious sunset, the joy of spring, should trigger in us admiration and gratitude toward the Creator. Upon completing creation, God “saw that it was very good.” (Gen. 1:31)  Yet this world has all the marks of metaphysical fragility; it was created in time, and will end in time. Its days are counted. The universe will, one day, be reduced to ashes. It is therefore most unwise to strike our roots in this fleeting reality, which, metaphysically speaking, is only a place of “transit,” for “we are made for immortality.” (Wis. 3:23). But further in the sacred text, Christ uses the same word in a radically different sense. He tells his disciples, that the “world will hate you as it has hated me.” This is fearful news indeed. If there is one thing that we fear it is “to be hated.” Obviously our savior is not referring to the physical universe which cannot hate, but to persons who, alas, not only can hate, but even seem to thrive on their hatred. “Hatred” is a very strong word; it actually expresses one’s wish to hurt or even to annihilate the hated one: “Thou shalt NOT be.” The very existence of that other triggers in the hater the desire to blot him out of existence. Yet, this is the word our Savior uses to warn us of the ultimate seriousness of our earthly situation. His message is grave indeed, and warns us of the perilous situation in which we find ourselves while “in the world.” That the Holy One, the Son of the Father who sacrificed Himself out of Love to teach us again to Love, should be “hated,” is nothing short of appalling. Hatred should be a response only to what is detestable, i.e. worthy of hate. How can Holiness and Love be hated? This has been called the mystery of iniquity. It is fearful and sheds some light on the drama of a world constantly assailed by evil. Christ is referring to the Kingdom of Lucifer, the Prince of this world, who having waged war on God in uttering the words “non serviam”, has tried ever since, to recruit “disciples” who will join him in waging war on truth, goodness, holiness and beauty. This world is headed by the Evil one and his “cohort” of slaves, and is perversely waging war on Him who incarnates Love and Goodness. This revelation is troubling indeed: we find ourselves in a “world” which – until time is no more – is the Enemy’s territory, for Satan is “the Prince of this world.” He was a “murderer from the very beginning” and a professional liar. But he is so proficient in this field that it does not cost him much effort to win over weak human beings whose intelligence is not only much inferior to his own, but moreover, has been darkened by original sin. Lucifer – the Prince of Darkness – is the very incarnation of moral evil. Fully conscious of the precariousness of our earthly situation, our Savior nevertheless says to His Father: “I do not ask you to take them out of this world, but to preserve them from evil.” We are in a threatening world, but Christ makes it clear that – at least for a while – we are to live in it. Alas, being constantly threatened by somnolence, we are like the three privileged Apostles at Gethsemane who left Christ alone while he was agonizing.  A glass of wine too many can make us trip and fall. Even administering an exorcism can be used by our enemy to bring to a fall the priest performing this noble but dangerous mission. However, our Savior also tells his Father: “I have taken them out of this world.” Through his sacrifice on the cross, he has gained merits of infinite value generously offered to those who beg for his constant help. He will give them the grace necessary to be in the “world” and yet not “of the world.”Faith should not be just a “word,” but a living reality, a “breathing” to God, that will enable us to face evil while fully realizing  our weakness and yet never forgetting for a single moment that help is always available. Christ told us plainly, “without Me you can do nothing” and yet, this is paradoxical, we should firmly believe that “we can do all things in Him that strengthened us.” (2Cor. 11) As soon as we trust in our own strength, we are bound to suffer dreadful defeats. Never should we forget to put on the helmet of faith and the breastplate of humility. When achieving victory, we should always remember that it is thanks to His loving help. How beautiful are the words of St. Augustine: “Many and great are those infirmities of mine … but more potent is your medicine.” (Confessions, 10, 43) In his holy rule, when speaking about the “tools of good work.” St. Benedict tells his monks that the first command is to love God with one’s whole heart, and then one’s neighbor as ourselves. This is also commanded to everyone one of us. But then to our amazement, he adds speaking to his monks, that they should abstain from murder and adultery! When I read this for the first time, it took away my breath: can one conceive that someone responding to a religious vocation should be told that he should abstain from these heinous sins? It is nothing short of amazing. But St Benedict – holy and wise – knew that never, absolutely never, should we assume that we have reached a degree of perfection which safeguards us from grave sins. Indeed, the walls of the monastery protect the monks from certain temptations provided that they do not for a single moment leave “the sacred enclosure” that protects them. Humility should remind us daily that there are sins that we have not committed because we have not been tempted. It is sheer illusion to assume because we sincerely wish to follow God, we are by this very fact, “beyond danger.” Temptations such as jealousy, rivalry, pride, egoism, hard heartedness can even creep into Carthusian monasteries where the monks, living in isolation, have practically no contact with one another. This is why, paradoxical as it seems, while we beg monks and nuns to pray for us, we should not forget to pray for them. Furthermore, St. Benedict commands his sons to turn to God seven times a day: “Lord, come to my aid; hasten to help me,” telling them in plain language that they constantly need divine help. When praying Compline, the monks are told to beware of “noctium phantasmata”.  Once again, as St. Augustine remarks in his Confessions (Book 10, 30), the Evil One can make us relive our sexual aberrations while dreaming and thereby try to re kindle their attraction.  He constantly reminds them and himself that humility is the best safeguard against deadly spiritual diseases. Yet, he also firmly believed that Christ has “overcome the world.” God will never refuse his help when asked for, and ultimately will help us achieve victory.We should not forget that in the meantime, we are living “behind the enemy’s lines” and that having reached a certain degree of perfection does not immune us against spiritual falls. To borrow a thought from St. Francis of Sales, pride (and concupiscence) dies fifteen minutes after we do. We only need read the lives of saints to see that they never, absolutely never, lost sight of the fact that, affected by original sin, Brother Ass can be a dangerous companion. This alone justifies the fearful asceticism that they practiced: not only by reducing food, drink, sleep to an absolute minimum  but moreover, subjecting their body to pain and discomfort, be it by taking the discipline, wearing hair shirts, and refusing to yield to the body’s whining for being so badly treated.  The dying St. Francis apologized to Brother Ass for having treated him so rashly. St.  Thomas More (a married man) did not abandon his ascetic practices after having received the sacrament of matrimony: he still wore a hair shirt. What a lesson for “modern man” so concerned about “maximizing” pleasure. The word “asceticism” is today practically eliminated from the religious vocabulary.Having sketched our perilous situation “in the world,” the moment has come to address the advice of Vatican II to be opened to the world: apertura al mondo.Like every single word of the Gospel, this message can be properly read or gravely misunderstood. The Council is clearly reminding us that the Good News is to be shared with all nations, without exception. We are called upon to teach the Holy Doctrine that Christ has given us through his apostles, and realize that Catholicism is not a sect, not a “secret society” reserved for the few “elect,” who alone worthy to receive its cryptic doctrine, a “divine message” which they are severely prohibited to share with the hoi polloi. All sects, without exception, are characterized by this “secrecy.” Truth by its very essence is Catholic, that is, universal: offered to all people, of all ages, without distinction of sex, or talent. This missionary vocation of the Church was one of its prominent marks from the very beginning. “Go and teach all nations, baptizing them.” It follows from this divine command, that “apertura al mondo” and Catholicism are intimately linked. May I suggest that the noble emphasis that Vatican II put on this mission, is not to be interpreted as something new, but rather as a truth which, through our spiritual somnolence, has been obscured and even forgotten. Like the conductors of a divine orchestra, our spiritual leaders have the mission opportune, importune, to wake us up. Without the conductor’s constant guidance, the musicians will inevitably “slow down” and ruin the performance. Apertura al mondo proclaimed by the Council reminds one of the sublime words of St. Augustine in his Confessions, referring to God as “this beauty so ancient and so new.” (10, 27) The message of the Gospel must constantly be “re-discovered.” The plenitude of revelation ended with the death of St. John. Its message was complete, but because of man’s culpable forgetfulness, we constantly need to be reminded of it. Inevitably through spiritual laziness, its beauty “fades.” This is why from time to time, even great religious orders need to be reformed. This is also why the successor of Peter must repeat the words of St. Peter vigilate. The divine message is therefore both “new” and “ancient.”The “new evangelization” could be called “a new spring time” of a forgotten message. This reawakening is bound to trigger enthusiasm in those who “hear it for the first time,” but its beauty should not make us forget for a single moment that the “world” is also the kingdom of Lucifer.  St. John’s message is luminously clear; “do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (First Epistle, 2:15) Missionary work cannot bear fruits if an enthusiastic “new born” missionary forgets for a single moment how “treacherous” the world is, how we constantly need God’s help. If he optimistically assumes that his fervor for the great work of winning souls to God guarantees that he is “safe” when going into the lion’s den and striking friendships with those who, alas, are God’s enemies (that is, citizens of the “city of the Devil”). Why does St. John, write in his second Epistle (4-10) that we should neither receive a heretic into our house, nor even greet him? What would he say about our striking a “friendship” with him in the name of “Christian charity?” Once again we are facing one of the “holy paradoxes” of our faith, so magnificently expressed in the words of St. Cyril of Alexandria who waged a merciless war against Nestorius while claiming “I will yield to none in my love of Nestorius“. (Gueranger, p. 383, Septuagesima).Let me conclude with the amazing proclamation of Pius XI, declaring St. Therese of Lisieux, “patron of the missions.” That someone who, aged fifteen, entered a little known Carmelite monastery, and never left it, should be given this noble title, is nothing short of amazing. Yet the message of the Pontiff is luminous. It is by spiritual means that most souls are conquered for God: faith, love, prayer, sacrifice, kissing of the cross, humility, abnegation. One of the overwhelmingly joys of eternity will be to see that little known, humble servants of God (whether male or female) have been the greatest missionaries, and that those saved by their sacrifices and love, will be given the joy  of encountering them face to face, and  given a chance to say: “thank you.”

The Holy Rule of St. Benedict

Jan 15, 2014 / 00:00 am

St. Benedict’s MonasticRule is a spiritual gem acknowledged by one of the luminaries of theCatholic Church, St. Gregory the Great. It has spiritually guidedthousands and thousands of men and women striving for holiness, andis still doing so after some fifteen centuries. One can read it andre-read it, and each time discover a precious insight that helpssouls open to its message and to come closer to God.But inevitably, we shallalso find passages, which, at first sight, will baffle us. A monasticvocation is a response to a call coming from God and implies anardent desire to give oneself totally to Him. But, given our fallennature, it is inevitable that the way to heaven will be narrow, andits very narrowness will discourage many of us from proceedingfurther on the fast road to heaven. At the end of his Holy Rule, St.Benedict tells us, to our amazement, that he is only sharing with usthe “rudiments of monastic observance.” (Ch. 73) It is a “rulefor beginners.”Those of us who have readit attentively will be dumbfounded by this claim that he is offeringus only the ABC's of spiritual life, for our response to his teachingwill at times be, “this is too hard a road to travel on. I amdefinitely not called upon to become a Benedictine.” “This way isso steep that only some privileged souls, who have receivedextraordinary graces, can possibly follow this path.”How many of us will not beturned off upon reading the following words: “And if any brother,for however trifling a reason, be corrected in any way by the abbotor any of his seniors, or if he perceive that any senior, in howeversmall a degree, is displeased or angry with him, let him at oncewithout delay cast himself on the ground at his feet, and lie theremaking reparation, until that displeasure is appeased and he blesshim.” (Ch 71) Is there not a shocking discrepancy between theoffense (“a trifling reason”) and the humiliation required inorder to be forgiven? Should not be punishment be proportionate tothe “crime”? St. Benedict informs us ofthe many trials that young men wishing to join his order, will besubjected to. One is particularly surprising: the test of a truevocation is whether the applicant is “zealous for humiliations.”(Ch 58) I am convinced that very many of us would prefer severephysical punishments rather than “humiliations” – the onething we dread most? How can one be “zealous for humiliations?”That a candidate should “accept” to be humiliated is somethingthat is very convincing: a school of holiness is not supposed to be abed or roses, but to be “zealous for humiliations” (opprobria)seems to justify Simone de Beauvoir’s claim that Catholicism inclearly infected by spiritual masochism. Yet this theme is furtherdeveloped in the Holy Rule: we are told how a candidate aspiring tobecome a monk should respond with “a quiet heart” to the trialsthat he will systematically be exposed to (such as contradictions andany kind of injustice). He should be “enduring all without growingweary…” (Ch 58)Do not many “leave theworld” precisely because it is saturated with injustice, betrayal,fickleness and for this reason, take refuge in a place where peoplelove God, seek him, and strive for holiness. That there should be“injustices” in such a place is upsetting indeed. These aretroubling words. We all need supernatural help to have someunderstanding of their meaning.Religious orders aresupposed to be “schools of holiness.” One is entitled to assumethat all their members, therefore, will aim day after day, to comecloser to Christ. But the wisdom of St. Benedict has taught us thatthose who choose the narrow path are not, ipso facto, freed fromoriginal sin. This is a sad fact that is easily forgotten. The Devil,who never sleeps, will certainly try to gain entrance into these –for him – dangerous fortresses where God is adored day and night.We should not be surprised to find “sinners” not only amongmembers of the Church, but also among members of religious orders,among the clergy, bishops, cardinals and Popes, because they are men,and therefore, frail and fallible.Let us recall the behaviorof the twelve apostles who were hand-picked by Christ Himself: onewas a traitor; one denied him three times, all of them fled inGethsemane; one came back, but we do not know how soon. Yet, all ofus know people who leave the Church because of the shocking conductof some priests: be it sex scandals that have made the headlines, beit because some members of the clergy have no charity, or becausethey are sadly secularized.But let us go back to theHoly Rule: to inform a candidate that it is likely that he will betreated unjustly is, I repeat, upsetting.The craving for justice(already strongly marked in little children) is so deeply engraved inour souls, that the spontaneous response to injustice is revolt. Thatwe should expect to find injustice in the Church – and even inreligious orders – should not surprise those of us, who have insome modest way, striven to follow the narrow path leading toholiness.These injustices can betraced back to many causes. A Benedictine Abbot can make hasty andimpulsive decisions, not based on a sufficient knowledge of asituation; it is conceivable that he has bad advisers, or that he“favors” some of his monks for very subjective reasons, such asthe family background of a particular monk which, having connectionsin high places, can be advantageous to the monastery. To go back to the HolyRule, this is the reason why, the wise St. Benedict repeatedlyreminds the abbot of any Monastery that on the fearfulday of judgment, he will be held accountable for every single one ofhis decisions and for the obedience of his sons. To be a holy abbotmeans to live in fear and trembling. At any rate, injustice issomething that in all of us triggers a feeling of “revolt.” Itshould not be so.Whereas in the worldinjustice often leads to “wars” between siblings, oracquaintances, the monk is taught to view this “evil”supernaturally. He should remember that by entering a monastery, hehas freely accepted to follow Christ: He who was “despised andrejected”; a man of sorrow, acquainted with grief. (Isaiah, 53:3)Our Savior was spat upon, insulted, tortured, and condemned to the most ignominious death,treated as a criminal. Yet “he did not open his mouth; like a lambled to the slaughter house.” Who are we, poor sinners, to “deserve”to be treated with kid gloves? A monk striving for holiness willinterpret the injustice done to him as a “grace” and a call tocome closer to the One he loves.The history of the Churchis rich in examples of saints that were not only unjustly, butshamelessly treated by those who were supposed to further their workand their mission. There are quite a few of them, and there arebooks documenting this point. But the very same books would testifyto the supernatural humility with which they accepted the cross, nay,they kissed it. It does happen that some very holy people playing animportant role in the Church are replaced by others that are not onlyless for the role now assigned to them, not as well informed, not asclear-sighted about the most threatening dangers of the time and areless supernaturally motivated. The response of most of us is “shock”,but when we witness the humility of the one demoted, we becomesupernaturally convinced that his joyful acceptance of this cross,will benefit the Church more than if he had remained in office. ForGod is glorified by his humility. Moreover, the one demoted comescloser to His Savior by kissing his cross, and our Savior, being allpowerful, can and will through what I call “supernaturalchemistry,” allow that this unwise or even unjust decision willturn to be for the benefit of His Church. This is the victory of thesupernatural over any “human” interpretation of History. St. Paulhas formulated this powerfully: “everything comes to the benefit ofthose who love God.” (Rom. 8:28)I would like to concludethese brief remarks with a caveat: indeed, God can through Hisinfinite power and love, draw good out of evil, but today, the Evilone who, once again, never sleeps, can whisper into stupid humanears, that we should not have a panicky fear of falling into sinbecause it gives God a chance of manifesting how infinite is HisMercy. This was foreseen by theGreat St. Paul, when he wrote in his Epistle to the Romans: “ …why not do evil that good come?” Even though these words are usedin a different context, they are most pertinent today for the“spirit of the time” that puts so much emphasis on God’s mercythat it certainly does not discourage sinners from sinning. Godshould be given rich opportunities to show that He is Infinitelymerciful! As always, St. Augustine has perfectly stated danger: “letus not make of God’s mercy a safe-conduct to sin.”What is forgotten today isthat God is also infinitely just. The Little Flower saw this when shewrote, “Heaven is the place where there is perfect Justice.”