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

A plea to confused Catholics

Sep 25, 2012 / 00:00 am

Virgil was right: there are things that call for tears (“sunt lacrimae rerum”). This famous quote recently came to my mind when watching Raymond Arroyo’s program “The World Over.”He was interviewing Dr. Stephen Schneck, an associate professor at Catholic University of America and co-chair of Catholics for Obama. The latter told the hearers that he is a sincere and committed Catholic. This is precisely why his decision to vote for Obama – dubbed the most “pro-abortion” president we have ever had – left me dumbfounded.How is it possible that a son of the Church – founded by Someone who declared that He was the Truth, the Way, and the Life – can justify his choice? He personally rejects abortion, gay marriages, embryonic stem cells research (all three strongly endorsed by our present president), and yet is trying to convince us that to vote for him can be justified on moral grounds.What are his arguments and do they have any validity? The key one is that, according to him, Romney intends  to make deep cuts in the Medicaid budget, and that this decision will inevitably lead  to a notable increase in the number of abortions. Therefore to give one’s vote to Obama will in fact benefit the pro-life cause! This is a type of twisted logic that only “intellectuals” can concoct. It would be difficult to convince a peasant that a purely abstract projection (cuts in Medicaid will lead to more abortions) justifies voting for someone who is “pro-choice,”  endorses not only late term abortion, but also the murder of those little ones who survived this “scientific” torture. This is typical intellectual prestidigitation, a sleight of hand of such “cleverness” that it justifies the words of St. Peter Damian: the Devil was the first grammarian: he “taught us to decline god in the plural.” By endorsing Obama, Professor Schneck inevitably gives his place to same sex marriage (which he rejects), assisted suicide, embryonic stem cell research. Indeed, evil engenders evil.That Romney opposes these grave moral aberrations, does not seem to have any weight in Professor Schneck’s mind. Am I wrong in suggesting that when St. Paul writes that there are things that “should not even be mentioned among Christians,” he might had had “same sex marriage” in mind, an inevitable consequence of the endorsement of homosexuality so severely condemned by Plato – a pagan – as being not only against nature, but as being a moral disease of such gravity that it inevitably leads to the downfall of any society. History teaches us a lesson: the great nations of the world now extinct, were victims of the immorality of their customs. Their problem was not economic; it was moral, and inevitably, as a punishment, it affected the economy.Abortion, i.e. murder of innocent human beings,  is intrinsically evil at all time, in all places, under all circumstances. The same applies to embryonic stem cell research; a human being is a human being from the very moment of conception; if it became one only when fully developed, it would be a typical case of magic: namely a change of nature, as we read in fairy tales. The Devil who is a master at deceit, covers the horror of this crime by inserting the term “scientific research,” and the word “scientific“ fills with awe those who believe in “progress.”May I suggest that if abortions were no longer paid by “other people’s taxes” (forced to do), quite a few people would think twice before having one. Money matters in our society, and if this barbarous practice was not covered by insurances, it is likely that fewer would be performed, and  that women would consider carrying the baby to term and give it up for adoption. We know that there  is such a high demand for babies that many are those who have to turn to foreign countries to find one.Upon hearing Professor Schneck’s words, I was not only grieved: I was stunned.  Unwittingly, he assumes that the end justifies the means: that to vote for a pro abortion president, by some mysterious twist, will in the long run, protect life.Like all decadent societies, we have lost sight of the crucial importance of hierarchy in human life. We have in mind not only the ontological hierarchy placing the Creator above creatures, angels above men (except for the Blessed one among women), man over animals (challenged by Peter Singer: a healthy whale ranks higher than a crippled baby), but also of the epistemological hierarchy of revealed truth above all other truths, of veritates aeternae over empirical truths, and last but not least, of the solemn command to abstain from committing murder. This was formulated by St. Augustine. He tells us that man’s first duty is to abstain from moral evil (I.e. sin); the second is to do as much good as possible. By sin, we mean an offense of God – the infinitely Holy one – which also stains the soul of the sinner, endangering his eternal welfare, and in the majority of cases harms his neighbors.It is worth mentioning that Plato’s admirable ethics, clearly endorsing the natural moral law, is limited because having no access to revelation, this noble thinker had no clear conception of God’s nature. Therefore he could not perceive that moral evil is an offense against God, even though he came close to it when he wrote that, “he who honors his mother pleases the gods.” His ethics is  “open” to the  message of New Testament; therefore he had been called: “a preparer of the way to Christ,” something that cannot be said of Aristotle for the plain reason that  the latter having denied any possible relationship between God and man, eliminated the notion of sin from his philosophical horizon.Man’s second  obligation is to do as much good as possible. This calls clarification. For “good” is so rich in meaning and it inevitably opens the door to equivocations. It can clearly refer to “pleasure,” or to what is beneficial to man, or to moral qualities. Whereas it is indeed a duty  to try to benefit mankind by spreading  moral values (mainly by practicing them ourselves), and beneficial goods, there is no moral obligation to intensify “pleasure” either for oneself or for others. It may be laudable, but not obligatory. This is one of the very many pitiful equivocations in Jeremiah Bentham’s so called Ethics: advocating as our duty to produce the greatest possible good for the largest possible number of people. Which good?In our society, “educated” by the news media, a high percentage of people assume erroneously that our concern for “social issues” should be given pride of place. They forget that the first commandment is to “Love the Lord our God.” This is our very first obligation. It is meaningful  that several of  the ten commandments are “negative”: “thou shalt not.” It clearly reminds us that being creatures endowed with free will, we are granted this privilege to freely obey the divine law. It is fashionable to interpret this as a “negative” attitude and to claim that “positive” ethics – the ethics commanding us to do “good” –  should be our primary obligation. As mentioned above, this claim is dangerously misleading.  This type of  “positive” ethics is  favored today. Modern man is sick of “prohibitions” and commands. He has “come of age” (typical claim of all adolescents) and should himself decide what his priorities are.That “to do good” sounds so attractive to modern ears explains why so many Catholics are tempted to endorse the agenda of a president who  claims to be “socially minded.” We live in a society of “doers” who value “accomplishments” and  place “efficiency” above holiness.It is noteworthy that a Joseph II, emperor of Austria in the 18th century closed numerous Carthusian monasteries, while respecting “active” religious organizations. The latter “achieved” something. The others did not benefit society. That the prayers and sacrifices of these holy monks were in fact the spiritual foundation of charitable works, is something that he did not and could not be perceived by a ruler fed on the philosophy of Voltaire, Rousseau and their ilk.Cavour – as anti clerical as he was – was favorable to the work of Don Bosco: his “taming” of wild street boys in Turin, clearly benefited the State. But “contemplative” orders had no right to exist in this upcoming brave new world. The same philosophy motivated Clemenceau in France in the 20th century.This leads me back to my topic: how can devout Catholics favor a man who has shown total disregard for fundamental moral commandments: thou shalt not murder, because he gives full priority to social improvements?In this context, it is worth mentioning that when we abstain from committing evil acts, such as murdering, perverse sexual practices, to mention only two, we have no reason whatever to “feel good about ourselves.” We have just done our duty. (“We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.” Luke 17:10) Never has a man received an award for paying his debts, for telling his truth, for being faithful to his wife: such a man has only done what he ought to have done.But throughout the year, people rightly receive awards for having founded a school, or a hospital, or given huge sums to worthy causes. Inevitably such benefactors, “feel good about themselves,”  “this is my work,” and indeed, the work deserves praise.St. Therese of Lisieux, one of the lights of the 19th century, did not do anything spectacular. Shortly before her death, a sister was concerned about what could possibly be praised when she died: she had done nothing special. Indeed, that was true, but she did what she ought to do with such a love that in Gods eyes, it gained eternal value.It is tempting to accuse me of having no understanding for the greatness and nobility of “social work.”  It is the glory of the Catholic Church that from the very beginning she has founded hospitals, schools, and tried in every possible way to ease the burdens of suffering humanity. But this admirable mission was in fact based on a clear awareness of the hierarchy of our moral obligations. “Seek you first the Kingdom of God and His justice, and all the rest will be added unto.” To adore and love God is our primary duty, and it is also man’s glory. From this it follows that we should obey His commandments, a primary one of which; Thou shalt not murder. Early in Genesis, this abominable crime was condemned.Those who do not perceive this luminous truth suffer from a grave disease: moral blindness. Whereas blind people know that they are blind, the tragic fate of morally blind people is that they do not realize that they are gravely “ill.”It is my wish and hope that when going to the polls in November, all men of good will will say a short prayer echoing the one of the blind man in Jericho. Christ said to him: what do you want. “Lord, that I may see.” His request was granted.Moreover,  it is fashionable to claim that in acting, our key concern should be focused on the consequences of our act. Will it benefit society? Once again, the ambiguity is obvious: benefit in what sense? Morally? Humanly? Financially?  Should we be concerned about “immediate’ benefits, or those in the long run? If our key moral concern should be  the consequences of our action, it would be impossible for man ever to make any valid decision because he can never foretell what  “fruits” his action will bring.Let us imagine the following scenario; a hundred years ago, a man saved a teenager who has fallen in a river, and was close to drowning. Had he known (an impossibility) that the youngster was Adolf Hitler, should he have refused his help? The “call” of the hour was to save a human life. The future is in God’s hands.Ethics is the most “existential” branch of philosophy. It plays a key role in our daily life. There is one thing that all men can and should share: the “natural” law (not confusing it with the laws of nature such as gravity, which applies to all creatures). I am referring to a law inscribed in every human heart the validity of which is independent of time, place, and circumstances. Moral evil injects poison in the society in which we live, because our acts have direct or indirect consequences on others. To take the life of an innocent defenseless person , is a crime that cries to heaven. Anyone who denies this luminous ethical truth suffers from a terrible sickness: moral blindness. Whereas a blind man knows he is blind, many are those who are morally blind – a much graver “disease” – and are totally unaware of it. They do not even question the validity of their moral vision.Moral evil is the cancer of any society and history teaches us that all great nations that have disappeared from the face of the earth, were morally decadent. Money never has and never will save a nation.My husband gave hundred of talks in seventeen countries in four languages. A couple of years before his death, he delivered his very last talk in Orange, California. It was after Roe and Wade (which made him exclaim that “The 'defeated' Hitler won the war” for the Nazi poison (ruthless disrespect for the dignity of human life) had penetrated into the soul of the “conqueror.” This justifies the words of Plato: “… many a victory has been and will be suicidal to the victor …” (Laws, 19)Dietrich von Hildebrand’s very last words uttered with a trembling voice were, “A country that legalizes murder is doomed.” That should give us food for thought. To vote for a President who fully endorses abortion, is to vote for death.Man’s second duty is to do as much good as possible. Modern man is psychologically tempted to give priority to "good and noble causes" over our strict duty to abstain from moral evil. The reason is obvious: by not committing murder, we are just doing our "duty" (see Luke 17:10). We do not deserve praise. How ludicrous it would be if a man “bragged” that he has not murdered his parents. How grotesque would it be to give an award to someone because he has never raped a woman or a child. Who deserves praise for doing what he ought to do? Whereas our concern about the wide range of "social issues"  strikes us as noble and generous deeds that deserve to be commended and honored.  It makes us “feel good” about ourselves.Indeed, it is our strict moral duty to care about our neighbor's needs, but this concern can never justify our breaking a moral law with an absolute veto. There is no conceivable moral justification for endorsing Obama’s position.Let me repeat: there is a hierarchy of truths, and there is a hierarchy of moral obligations. All those who intend to vote for a president who clearly justifies not only abortion, but homosexuality, same sex marriages and self assisted suicide in the name of “social concerns” are gravely “sinning” against this hierarchy established by God Himself.  We should be “socially concerned,” but such concerns are legitimate only to the extend that they respect the natural law.  Moreover, they should never “allow” us to violate a  moral law with an absolute veto. I am not allowed to kill one person in order to save another person’s life.Man is a creature: his primary duty is to obey. The great confusion prevalent today is that many confused people justify an intrinsically evil act, because they “calculate” (consequentialism) that "in the long run," it will bring a decrease of  evil  and therefore a greater good.This reasoning is the Devil’s logic, and he can play the clever logician when convenient.On the other hand, one could also claim that if abortion were not “free” (a gift from the State paid by others’ taxes whether they want to or not), many of them would not be performed. If it had to be paid for, one would be surprised how many women would hesitate to have one. Money matters in our society.  If  walkers were not paid for, it might be that some persons would courageously train themselves to walk with a cane. The great danger of “great government” is that everyone is “promised a free wheel chair,” without paying for it, and thereby are discouraged from going to therapy and “re-conquer” their mobility. I heard about an acrobat who after a terrible accident lost his leg, and re-learned to do tight rope walking with an artificial leg. He wanted to. Moreover “big government” means a monstrous bureaucracy, and inevitably opens the door far and wide to fraud. A friend of mine who worked for the government his whole life long, told me that in government offices, there is nothing which is not stolen unless it is “solidly nailed down.” Some of us might hesitate to rob a neighbor. Who cares to satisfy one’s needs at the expense of an impersonal monster: the state. Tax payers will fill the deficit.After original sin,  men were condemned to earn their bread with the sweat of their brow.  Most of them  have no objection to working, but they do not like the “sweat”, that is the pain, the effort. How tempting to vote for a President who  provides for one’s needs without having to “sweat” to enjoy them. This is the danger menacing us today. People should not be encouraged, nay “tempted” to depend on the impersonal state, a Leviathan which imprisons his victims into his treacherous net and will inevitably rob them of their freedom.There are, of course, cases in which it is fully legitimate to ask and to get help and support.  But we should not forget that the most generous “charities” are in the hands of individuals animated by love of neighbor. It is well known that from the beginning of Christianity, innumerable religious orders have been founded to take care of the poor, the sick, the afflicted.  I am far from denying that the State has no social responsibility, but there is an abyss between personal care or “bureaucratic“ care. Alas, in our society, social help has now becomes a “right” and who is grateful for what we have a right to possess?A French proverb says, “He who wants to kill his dog, will accuse him of having the plague.” It is easy enough to view an innocent baby as an intruder, an unwanted guest, threatening one’s career or promotion,  and  thereby justify extinguishing the life of a human person made to God’s image and likeness. No doubt, this approach to pregnancy leads to innumerable abortions.Let us recall the grief of Jewish women like Rachel, like Hannah, like Elizabeth because  of their infertility. How they suffered; how they prayed and their prayers were heard. Today a baby is  viewed as a “tumor,” a “sickness,” that calls for urgent medical intervention.How deeply regrettable to witness that Catholic education since Vatican II has been so deplorable that many “good” Catholics are plainly ignorant not only of their faith, but also of the basic tenets of the natural law that they share with all men.Social work, admirable and praise-worthy as it is (let us think of what a Mother Teresa of Calcutta has accomplished – she was not a State Employee, thank God) will never solve the tragic problem of poverty: “You shall always have poor among you.” She devoted every moment of her religious life to relieve the poor. Has poverty disappeared? But her deeds of love are jewels now resplendent on her crown. This does not mean that we shouldn’t do everything possible to help those in need,  but not to commit moral evil has priority. Murder is irreversible: a corpse cannot be brought back to life.Catholics  blessed by the Magisterium are doubly culpable for not listening to the voice of our pastors who defend both God’s commandments and the “natural” law.I repeat: to place a strict moral commandment which suffers no exception, on the same level with a vague unwarranted claim that in the long run the abominable moral evil of abortion coupled with “social concerns” will have positive consequences, is a tragic confusion which, alas, has caught many “good” Catholics into its devilish net. Indeed, the Devil is the Master of confusion.Before going to the polls, may I urge all men of good will to say a short prayer echoing  the one of the blind man of Jericho: “Lord, that I may see.”

Spider's web

Sep 10, 2012 / 00:00 am

Swiss people go to the polls more often than any citizen of other countries. They vote for every decision affecting them. But, what is remarkable is that in the majority of cases, they have a personal knowledge of the person they vote for or against. Every single small village has elections. Everyone knows everyone else.           In our society, it hardly ever happens that we “know” the candidate we vote for. We make up our minds according to the information that the news media “deigns” to share with us. The news we get in reading The NY Times is personally selected by a handful of people. They decide what they want us to know and are meticulously silent about what they “wisely” choose to keep to themselves. Every year, on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, thousands of people go down to Washington to protest the legalization of abortion. For obvious reasons, this “great” newspaper does not mention this memorable fact. On the other hand, when they favor a particular candidate, he appears and reappears on their pages and is praised ad nauseam for his accomplishments and qualifications. It is a sort of “brain washing” which is very successful. Father Groeschel once said, “I read The Times to know those one should not vote for.” Television and the Internet are our “educators.” Every channel has its own agenda and promotes one particular person whose philosophy reflects their own. We are totally dependent upon the information they are willing to relay. I recall the words of Chesterton, being asked whether the press should be censored; in his own spontaneous, inimitable manner, he exclaimed; “Censor the press! But we are censored by the press!” This is true. The news media choose for us ... and we follow like sheep unless we happen to be in a privileged position,  and have access to the authentic sources and have valid  information about the candidate “running” for office.One method to “control public opinion and “dominate” the public is “omission.” If any candidate happens to have very serious flaws, moral or others,  and the public is not given this information because he is a “favorite” of the news media,  it will vote for him, and find out much later, that “ … had they known.” But it is too late.Another  extremely successful  method is to use seductive words, which have a universal appeal. When cleverly presented, they are sure to win the assent of innumerable people.  Some the most popular ones are: democratic, change, renewal, freedom and progress.I recall that at the end of World War II, when Stalin - one of the greatest criminals of all times - had become our “ally,” and was given half of Europe as a reward for his “heroic” fight against Nazism (not mentioning of course, that the United States had given the Communist state all airplanes, guns and  ammunition they desperately needed),  there was a “honeymoon” period between the two countries.Harry Truman once declared, “I like Old Joe,” (who, as reported by Solzhenytsin had murdered millions of his fellow citizens). The Communists knew full well that the “trick” called for to win the sympathy of the American Public was “democracy.”  It was no easy job to convince people that an authoritarian state (if ever there was one)  was “democratic.” A political “genius” found the solution: he coined the term “eastern democracy.” The word “democracy” was preserved, and “eastern” was added to throw sand in our eyes. We now know what “eastern democracies” were like.Alas, innumerable people fell in the for big lie, and were sincerely convinced that in the USSR people’s freedom was respected. There is a Spanish proverb that says: La mentira y la torta gorda (Both the cake and the lie should be big). Very big lies alone have a chance of being blindly accepted.The Communists played their hand so cleverly that in l944, when Dietrich von Hildebrand gave a talk at a Midwestern Catholic college, and warned that Soviet Russia was morally as vicious as Nazism, a nun rose in protest, and exclaimed; “How dare you compare these dirty Nazis with this gallant Communists!” He was both grieved and stunned.Democracy is a great word if it means that all men, independently of their ethnic background and individual qualities, are metaphysically equal, being all “God’s children.”But, if from that truth, one draws that conclusion that all men are equally just, equally intelligent, equally talented and equally beautiful, one falls into a very serious error: the dreadful error that everything is relative.Another mistake lurking in the background is to assume that “the majority is always right.” It is quite conceivable that a very evil man is elected by a landslide. His election is “legally” valid, but to give power in the hands of an evil man inevitably leads to disastrous consequences, as history keeps telling us.How right Plato was when he wrote that it is a grievous mistake to assume a question can be determined by number. (Laws, 16)  A majority can  condemn an innocent person; a majority can impose atheism in a country.Let us beware of “eastern democracies” and the like. They might re appear wearing another cap, but they will inevitably be as poisonous.Another word that wins the assent of people is understandably the word “freedom.” It is a magic word, rich in qualities that we all admire: respect for the human person, acknowledgment of his dignity and of his right to make his own decision. It implies a  radical rejection of slavery, authoritarianism,  any sort of psychological brutality. Any political or social system which strips people of their freedom is the door to the Gulags so powerfully sketched by Solzhenitsyn. It is evil.The Devil is very clever  and knows that we are not. He knows but too well that we are attracted by pleasure,  by our personal advantage, by what flatters us,  for what is easy and effortless.  When the U.S. Supreme Court accepted the case of Roe v. Wade, (which they should have thrown out of court),  those who won the majority vote felt “nobly motivated” by their respect for man’s freedom.  America prides itself to be the land of freedom: “let people make up their own mind.” It is their right, and it is certainly backed up by the Constitution.Is it not one of the glories of democracy that the citizens can “choose” their leaders, just as it is typical of totalitarian systems, that they are deprived of this freedom?Indeed, man is “free” in the sense that he can make his own decisions and therefore bears full responsibility for his choices. But one thing is cleverly left unmentioned: namely that the freedom to choose goes hand in hand with the  possibility to misuse this “sacred” freedom. Of course, we are “free” to murder or not to murder, to lie or not to lie, to be honest or to cheat, to commit adultery or to be faithful to husband or wife. We are free to blaspheme or to be reverent. All these choices are “free,” but  this very “freedom” should remind us of our responsibility to make the right choice - and by “right” I do not men what is “more pleasurable” or “more advantageous at first sight,” but what is morally right. The greatness of man is that he can choose what he morally ought to choose. To be forced to be honest deprives a man of the virtue of honesty. Nancy Pelosi - whose formation in the “love of wisdom” is sadly defective - used a “religious” argument to defend abortion. “God had given us freedom, and therefore gives us the right to use it as we see fit.” This is a leaky argument is there ever was one: If I am given a sharp knife to cut my meat, and choose to plunge it in my neighbor’s throat, I am definitely not following the intention of the giver of the knife. God wants us to love Him freely: what is the value of a “forced” love? But as Kierkegaard remarked this divine generosity implied the possibility of our misusing this gift. This is what happening today in our decadent society. This is why when Victor Frankl (who spent the whole war in a concentration camp) first came to New York harbor and saw the statue of Liberty at its entrance, he expressed the wish that in San Francisco another statue be erected: the Statue of Responsibility.  This is wisdom. Alas, it is yet to be built.Appealing words are many. One of those which have a particular attraction for American “energy” is the word “change.” Awareness of the imperfection of the world we are living in seems  to justify this attraction: “It was time for a change”, “things could  not continue on the same path”, “change was long overdue.” But the word change is loaded; for it can refer to the abolishment of things which are evil, do not function properly, are harmful. But in its authentic meaning, it neither means not guarantee “progress.” To assume that every change means “improvement” is, at best, naïve.  The word “progress” also carries the same ambiguity; we speak of the “progress” of an illness. This is not good news for the patient. In and by itself, it is  a “neutral” word which means “ to go forward.” But one can go forward toward a better state of things: we praise a child for the progress he achieves in writing and spelling. But, it can just as well refer to “progress” toward evil and moral decadence. “Change” was the key word used by Barack Obama seeking the American presidency. It worked like magic. The news media had pictured Bush’s presidency as such a disaster that many people were easily convinced that “any change” was desirable. We now have a taste of  what this change has brought about.It is a serious confusion to assume that change and progress mean improvement. If we are driving toward an abyss, it would be wise  to “regress” and turn around.St. Paul tells us that we should test all things and keep what is (morally) good. The wise Plato wrote centuries ago that we should respect “the golden cord of tradition.” For “old” can refer to things which have become useless, which no longer have a meaning, which are “exhausted.” But it would be most unwise to assume that whatever the past has given us, should be labeled as “passe.” Indeed, our technological progress is mind- boggling … but can we say that this progress is matched by our  acquisition of “wisdom?”Alas!Another attractive word is the word “liberal.” It is associated with “generosity”, “open mindedness”, and opposed to “conservative” which does not appeal to most of us being associated with “stiffness” “old fashioned”, allergic to “improvement.” Aristotle praises “liberality” as a virtue. It has a “ring” which is music to many people’s ears.Another very powerful tool used to win over people’s assent are slogans. We shall limit myself to the most fashionable today. Family planning immediately comes to mind. Malthus has succeeded in scaring innumerable people by the deadly “threat” of overpopulation. This goes so far that not long ago when I met the Belgian Ambassador to the United States, and deplored the fact that Belgians had so very few children and have to “import” Muslims in order to make up for the scarcity of Belgian workers, he exclaimed proudly: “We Belgian people, are keenly aware of the danger of overpopulation!” Clearly he was praising the “virtuous” attitude of his fellow citizens; they were “other” concerned, as opposed to people who wildly procreate not caring for the consequences that their irresponsible behavior will have for future generations. To limit the number of children one brings into the world is now “canonized” as a social virtue.Indeed, planning is an important word in the human vocabulary. To neglect  to plan is unwise and can lead to catastrophic consequences. It is praised in the Gospel: before waging war, a King should carefully examine his situation  and plan his defense. Planning is so “reasonable”; it is so sound. No planning is bound to lead to defeat.  But as always, the word is hijacked by the devil: any honest person favoring “family planning” knows full well that it actually means the use of contraception. If the latter fails, it inevitably leads to the murder of a child. In fact, this is already what contraception means, except that being on a “smaller scale,” its immorality is more easily concealed.  Most do not realize (or do not want to realize) that contraceptives produce abortion. Once again, we have the same scenario; a word which is rich in positive meaning is twisted to such an extent that instead of a reasonable and laudable plan of action, it hides its shocking immorality. When contraception fails, the escape route for an unwanted pregnancy is the murder of an innocent human being. The word “murder” is still unpopular in most people’s ears, and therefore must be avoided at all cost. How much more attractive is the word “termination of pregnancy.” In and by itself, the word “terminate” is neutral and has no moral connotation. We terminate a work that is to bring it to completion. In this case, it actually means “we prevent it from coming to its normal end, which is being born.”  But once again, this is cleverly disguised to avoid hurting “old fashioned sensitivities.”In a free country - and we are still one - a woman should be given full freedom to “choose” whether she wants or not to become pregnant, and that when she has failed properly she has the right to choose  a road of escape: to get rid or an unwanted guest.  For an unwanted child is an intruder, a sort of thief that settles in a woman’s body without her free consent. If squatters were to invade my house, I would call the police to force  them to leave. The same applies to an unwanted baby. Moreover, people will tell you that to kill a child in the womb is more “loving” and more “charitable” than to bring it into the world, and destine him to a life of misery and crime.  I once heard a person raise the question; can lawyers go to heaven? If the Evil one has trained them, we can only hope that at the moment of death, their eyes will open and make them repent to have used their “cleverness” to defeat justice. The word “death” makes most people turn pale; indeed the prospect that this body of ours - (an essential component of our human nature to which we have been united since the moment of conception, and that most of us pamper in every possible ways to satisfy its cravings or to improve its appearance)  -will one day die, rot and disintegrate is fearful. For the body without the soul loses its identify and its “oneness.”  Just as the union of body and soul in one human person can be called a divine invention, death is a divine punishment. God knew it when He said to Adam and Eve: “If you eat of the fruit of this tree, you shalt die” what a fearful chastisement it was meant to be. Those who spend their lives in hospitals and live in constant proximity with death are threatened by the great danger: become dehumanized. To quote the Queen in Hamlet; “It is common for men to die.” But, this does not imply that we no longer see it as a terrible punishment. This “brutal wrenching of body and soul is awful and awesome.” Some people have an easy death; others go through agonizing pains. To witness such a sight should mark a person for life: the response is horror.Once again, the Evil one knows that he has a trump card, and suggested to some generous “liberals” that there are types of death which are against and below man’s dignity.  They degrade him. There are agonies that should be spared human persons. “Death with Dignity” was coined by the Evil One, and as expected, was an immediate success. Which one of us would not like to have a dignified death? Which one of us would like to die like a dog in a gutter?What is not mentioned is that to guarantee this “dignity.”As soon as certain ominous symptoms make their appearance a “charitable” doctor or nurse will strongly recommend assisted suicide. It suffices to show patients a film of people having a terrible agony to opt for  a peaceful death which - in fact - “is an act of charity” toward those we love. By choosing a “peaceful death,” I also spare them the terrible sight of a person in fearful pains, whose organs decompose while he is still alive. Is that a life anyway? “Charity and mercy” are words which, alas, have now often hijacked by the Devil.Always again, the Gospels remind us that we are threatened by spiritual somnolence, and fail to see dangers until we are caught in their deadly nets. Fratres, sobrii estote et vigilate (St. Peter, Second Epistle) should be on our lips every single day of our earthly life.With the help of God’s grace, let us be alert  and detect the poison contained in “fashionable slogans.” We should, like the wise virgins, always carry oil in our lamps. How fearful if the Bridegroom were to come when we belatedly realize that soon our lamps would be extinguished, and then hear the fearful words, “I do not know you”?

Compassion, pity, mercy

Aug 2, 2012 / 00:00 am

Today the three words mentioned in the title are often used interchangeably, yet they have different nuances and  meanings that should be distinguished. Since Vatican II, they are in the lime light because John XXIII stressed the importance of compassion toward sinners and heretics.Taken by itself, the word compassion (which comes from the Latin: con patire) means to “suffer with.” How often  do we meet people deeply afflicted – either physically or psychologically – who feel alone and abandoned? There is no one to hold their hand, and make them feel that, even though the compassionate person cannot relieve them, their suffering is spiritually shared. Moreover, the very presence of the compassionate person communicates a loving message: “not only am I suffering with you, but moreover, you should know and feel that my incapacity to relieve your pain is to me a keen source of grief.” Those of us who have tasted the bitterness of suffering, know how consoling it is to have someone whose love is expressed by his or her compassion. The loving message is “you should know that your suffering vibrates in my heart.” This precious gift – namely presence – compensates for one’s helplessness in offering concrete relief. A loving look can give comfort and consolation to the one who is “bleeding.” Loneliness added to suffering is  particularly cruel. This is expressed in the Lamentations of Jeremiah: “…there is none to comfort her…” (1:l7, 21).In our society of “doers,” many are those who assume that if one cannot offer efficient help, presence is meaningless. This is“affective atrophy, a sort of affective heresy.”  Silence can be eloquent. It should be added, however, that if the “compassionate” person could actually offer some concrete help, and neglects to do so, his attitude deserves to be qualified as “affective hypocrisy.” This is powerfully expressed in a play of the Austrian dramatist, Nestroy. A very rich man sees a starving beggar on top of the stairs leading to his palace, and says to his servant, “Throw this beggar down the steps; his misery breaks my heart!”Comments are unnecessary.It is heart breaking to read in the Gospel that when Christ was sweating blood in Gethsemane, his three favored disciples were sound asleep. Yet, earlier in the Gospel of St. John, Christ  referring to his loneliness, added: “Yet I am never alone because I do my Father’s will.” (John, 16:33) The second Person of the Holy Trinity can never be separated from His Father.There is a huge gamut in possible degrees of compassion, depending upon our closeness to the suffering one. A mother’s compassion for her suffering child can make her utter words such as: “How happy would I be if I could take your pain upon myself and by so doing liberate you from it,” or “I would consider it a privilege to suffer in your place.”When we contemplate the Gospel, there is one scene where compassion reaches such a  degree that the compassionate person does not only suffer with, but through the intensity of her love duplicates in herself the sufferings of the loved one. I am thinking of Mary, the Mater Dolorosa. I once read that according to a great saint, her sufferings at Calvary duplicated her beloved Son’s sufferings to such an extent, that it was only through extraordinary graces that she did not die from pain. According to the same author, no human suffering, fearful as it might be, could be compared to what she experienced standing at the foot of the cross. She was totally incapable of doing anything to relieve her Beloved Son’s torture. Her response was to ask for the grace of feeling His suffering as much as a creature could do.Much more complex are cases in which one person has fallen into some grave sin or heresy, and far from realizing how very “sick” he is, ardently propagates either his perversions or errors. If he were told that people are praying for him, and deplore his moral plight, his response would most likely be ironical. “They feel sorry for me. I feel sorry for them because they do not see that I alone am right and that the teaching of the Church is tainted with error.” “They are “dead” to pleasure, enjoyment and fun. The same  tragic blindness applies to many of the greatest success stories in our society. The list is long: powerful politicians, actors, financial geniuses, television anchors, sport champions. Let us recall the football hero O.J Simpson and  the golf “genius” Tiger Woods –   acclaimed as “heroes’ by millions of fans who go wild in their adulation of their amazing performances. To have their signature, shake their hand, or buy their cap, are viewed as precious treasures.More troubling still are success stories of young girls who through their “body language” gained fame overnight; they have no credentials except a type of exhibitionism that wins them  innumerable “admirers.” Whereas athletes  have to undergo years of grueling training to succeed, those that I have just referred to have no credentials whatever, except a “sex appeal” that  never fails to attract the masses. Let us think that some “celebrities”  who because of their good looks or beautiful legs, and their “daring,” make more money in a month that many make in a life time. They can be millionaires in their early  twenties. Alas, their private life is often off track, but  their “social image” is brilliant. Blinded by their success, they feel “fulfilled” and satisfied. “Everybody knows who I am.”The same can apply to famous writers. Let us recall the tragedy of Oscar Wilde. He is not an isolated figure; there always are and always will be Oscar Wildes. History repeats itself: one can go from  blinding success, and then within days, find oneself on the edge of an abyss that leads to destruction. Fame, like strong liquors, goes to a man’s head. Their downfall can be predicted. They radiate a false “joy” that most people envy, not realizing that their wine cup contains poison. Their philosophy is reduced to: “Carpe diem.” “Enjoy life, and grasp every occasion of satisfying your wishes.” “A non-satisfied wish is a defeat.”In a Christian culture, this type of adulation should be reserved solely for God’s heroes: the Saints. “Tell me whom you love; I shall tell you who you are.” This is a basic rule of wisdom.Moreover, shiny stars are often narcissistic and live in illusion.It is conceivable that, deep down, they know that they are lying to themselves, but in order to perceive the pitiful state of their souls, they would need to go into their “depths,” or create a silence in themselves that terrifies them. They fear to face their “nakedness.” But the very word “silence” will inevitably trigger panic in their souls. (Let us think of Father Calloway’s amazing conversion, and the “horror” and fear he experienced the day that, for the first time, he faced the eloquent voice of  “silence.”)A radical atheist  actually “feels sorry” for those who feed themselves on “unscientific myths,” and fail to understand that scientific knowledge alone (observation and induction) can give man certainty. Contemporary atheists feel themselves to be the heroes of “tomorrow” when finally the Christian world will “come out of the Middle Ages.” They have convinced themselves that they are the “victors” because they have unmasked the illusions in which “believers” live. Are they ever concerned about their fate at the inevitable moment of death?Today, innumerable  people “hook-up,” claiming that they have finally liberated themselves from the oppressive shackles of a mediaeval past. They are “free.” Some homosexuals now openly parade their life-style and claim their legal rights to be granted “marriage:” finally they have come out of the dark closet in which prejudices nourished by an undiagnosed  homophobia, had imprisoned them.It seems that in such cases, the word “con patire” is not an adequate one for the plain reason that subjectively such people do not “suffer.” Even though they are “sick,” they are totally unaware of the seriousness of their disease.The word “pity” then seems more appropriate. Pity in this sense differs from compassion because it is one-sided. Compassion is shared suffering. Pity is not reciprocal. It is a clarion call  to do something for the “sick” person. In fact, when John XXIII insisted on the importance of “compassion” toward heretics and sinners, he was, when properly interpreted, reminding us of the famous words of St. Augustine: “interficere errorem; diligere errantem.” Kill the error; love the erring person.” Both are essential, and belong so deeply together that there is no love of the sinner without an anathema on the sin.Alas, too often the condemnation of sin and heresy has not been sufficiently “lined” with  loving concern for the sinner. Yet, this attitude is clearly highlighted in the parable of the shepherd leaving ninety nine sheep searching for the lost one. It is movingly highlighted  in the parable of the Prodigal son. By hastening toward his “lost child,” the father proves that he has never for a single moment, forgotten him. The warmth of his welcome proves it eloquently.That both condemnation of the sin and love for the sinner are required by Christian love is luminous to anyone who has read the Gospel on his knees. (as recommended by Kierkegaard) The difficulty is to live it. Some are so horrified by heresies and sins that they “forget” to show their loving concern for the heresiarch and the sinner.Today the tide seems to be turning in another direction. The “climate” of the time – due in part to indifferentism to the sacred dignity of truth and a tacit endorsement of “dictatorial relativism” – and  also under the influence of  “social sciences” (which offer a “scientific” explanation for every single sin, error and perversion), explains why the word “anathema” has become “anathematized.” This is true whether we are thinking of an open rejection of Catholic dogmas and crucial moral issues such as homosexuality,  pornography, or “gay” marriages. All these grave aberrations have become more and more “acceptable;” this is “requested by charity.” In fact, the secular world has discovered that its mission to teach Christians what Christian charity is.Different is the case when a person – like the good Samaritan – encounters a stranger who,  severely wounded, lies on the side of the road. We do not know whether he is conscious – and therefore suffering – or unconscious. But the Samaritan’s heart is wounded by pity. The other’s plight resounds in him and activates his desire to help the victim. This “foreigner” understands that he is morally called upon to act, that is, to do everything in his power to save the man’s life. He gives him what is today called “first aid,”  brings him to an Inn, telling the Innkeeper to provide for his needs, and promising him to repay on his way back whatever expenses he had incurred. His pity is a response to a moral call to help, and in so doing, he teaches us to imitate him. The wounded man did not ask him for help. All that the kind Samaritan needed was to perceive the gravity of the man’s plight, and the “privilege” offered him to care for an anonymous “brother.”In the Gospel, we are told that while in Naim, Christ encountered a widow whose only son was on his way to burial. The Divine Heart is moved by both compassion and pity: He witnesses her immense grief, and this loving feeling motivates Him to restore the young man to life, and give him back to his mother. She did not know who He was. She did not ask for help, but His divine Heart – fons ardens caritatis – performed a miracle: being Life itself He brought the young man back to life.Different again are the cases of sufferers appealing to Christ’s pity. Let us recall the blind man of Jericho who, hearing noise and tumult, inquired for its cause and was told: Jesus of Nazareth had just arrived. He was granted faith in Christ’s divine power, and cried to attract His attention. He was told to keep quiet, but cried all the louder. The Savior came to him and asked him “What do you want?” The answer was: “Lord, that I may see.” All men, except the Blessed one among women are, since original sin, afflicted by partial  moral blindness while mostly unaware of the gravity of this disease. Blessed are those who realize it, and keep begging Christ “to make them see.” The tragedy is that those physically blind, know that they are affected by a grave deficiency. But how many of us, while morally blind, fail to say to Christ: “Lord, that I may see,” or “I believe; help my unbelief.”Particularly moving is the story of the Roman Centurion  begging Christ to cure his sick servant. When the Savior promises that that he will go to Capharnaum, he uttered the sublime words: “I am not worthy that you should come under my roof. Say only a word and my servant will be healed.” Christ marveled at his faith, and wondered whether such faith was to be found in Israel. The man was a “pagan.”Different again, but often confused, is mercy.The parable of a servant heavily indebted toward his master, and totally insolvent comes to mind. In other words, he finds himself in the weak position of a debtor toward a man who is morally and legally entitled to be paid. The creditor is in the strong position, the debtor in a very weak one. But perceiving his servant’s plight, the Master generously remits his debt. The servant is now debt-free. But he has incurred another debt, (alas, often forgotten): the debt of gratitude toward his benefactor. The merciful man has practiced the noble virtue of generosity. Alas, the servant takes his gift for granted as proven by the fact that soon afterwards, he encountered a fellow servant who has incurred a small debt toward him and treats him ruthlessly, for exactly the full payment of his debt. The man is sent to jail. Deeply grieved upon hearing this, the master now “pays him back with the same coin;” he is now compelled to pay his debt. Which one of us is not shocked by the servant’s attitude? What a lesson for those who call themselves Christians: they know that Christ is Mercy itself, and we assume that in His divine goodness, He will remit their debts – debts that all of us accumulate day after day, while often refusing to remit the debt that another might have contracted toward us.How dangerous it is to take God’s mercy for granted, as cynically expressed by the German writer Heinrich Heine. Certain that God will, of course, forgive him, he wrote: “after all, it is His job to be merciful” (“c’est son metier” – he wrote this in French). This is ungrateful arrogance.One of the most overwhelming cases of divine merciful love is the story of Mary Magdalene: a public sinner who was convinced of Christ’s holiness, pours costly perfume over His divine head, washes his feet, and dries them with her hair. She is humiliated, repentant and loving. The shocking response of the disciples and of the host challenges Christ to utter the divine words: “Much will be forgiven her, for she has loved much.” This is the most poignant illustration of Divine mercy in the Gospel.It is so eloquent that no comments are necessary. The point which deserves stressing is that Mercy is essentially a Divine Virtue, and only secondarily a human one. I do not mean to say that we are not  morally obligated to “remit debts,” even though we are not God. But whereas we can and should forgive any type of harm done to us, we cannot forgive the offender’s sin. For the sin is against God: “…tibi soli peccavi…” as formulated by the Royal Poet. (Psalm 50) This is a crucial truth that the best pagans could not perceive. Socrates and Plato had a deep understanding of moral evil.But as pagans, they could not understand the nature of “sin” because they did not have (and could not have) a notion of a Personal God. This is illustrated in Plato’s “Republic.” Here we face the abyss  separating Christianity from the “world” of a noble pagan. A Christian who lives his faith, knows that he should forgive those who have offended him, even though the offender does not ask for forgiveness. That is to say, the Christian, aware of his personal sinfulness, knows forgiving to be a strict Christian duty. It is the condition set by God to forgive us as stated in the Our Father. (“as we forgive those who offend against us”) Not to forgive is to harm one’s own soul: it is a subtle poison more harmful to the soul than the damage that had been done to us. Plato might have had an inkling of this when he wrote in the “Laws” that man is his own worst enemy. Others can harm us in all sorts of ways: theft, slander, murder etc., but they cannot harm our soul unless indirectly; that is if we let ourselves be poisoned by our refusal to forgive. To care for the good of our soul is true self love. Alas, only the saints truly love themselves.Another key issue is that whereas man should always forgive, recalling that he too is a sinner, God – the all Merciful – can only grant His ever ready mercy if the sinner is repentant and begs for forgiveness. Being Love itself, we can “imagine” that He almost “begs” the sinner to ask for mercy, because He is so eager to be merciful and to remit debts. But a sinner who refuses to do so, seals his own fate. Kierkegaard has seen this in his great work: “Sickness unto death.” Referring to a man threatened by despair and desperately in need of help, knowing that this help is in fact offered to him, he refuses it, preferring to suffer the tortures of hell than to be indebted to his benefactor. C.S. Lewis had a profound insight in mind when he wrote that “the doors of Hell are locked from the inside.”Is this not the  fearful situation of Judas? He knew that Christ was all forgiving. I recall vividly that while in grammar school, the nun brought to the classroom a little pamphlet that she had received from a priest working in the Parisian slums. This priest related to the little ones the fearful betrayal of Judas, and his abominable death. There was a deadly silence, and then a small little boy raised his hand and said: “Father, why did not Judas hang himself on Christ’s neck?” This story which I heard  as a child,  made such an impression upon me that I never forgot it. A small child coming from the slums was teaching us a sublime lesson: the alternative for all of us, sinners, is to hang ourselves on a tree, or on the Divine Savior’s neck. Wisdom is indeed given to the little ones.Human “forgiving” is clearly incapable of cleansing a man from his sin. This is clearly stated in the Gospel: when Christ said to a man: “Thy sins are forgiven thee,” The Pharisees took offense and said rightly: “God alone can forgive sins.” But in their tragic blindness, they failed to understand that by the very fact that Christ did so, He was proving his divinity.Alas, which one of us would dare claim that he fully partakes of Christ’s charity for sinners? The saints alone (“I live, not I, but Christ lives in me”) truly and fully love their neighbors; they alone are willing to suffer for the sinners’ sake, because they alone are real lovers.What is dubbed “secular charity” is only a form of indifferentism to both truth and natural morality. “Let him live the way he chooses, if that is what makes him happy”, is something we hear ad nauseam.While taking to heart the words of Good Pope John, we should realize that the Devil delights in hijacking whatever the Church says, does or recommends. This is grave indeed: when a Catholic prelate is legally prohibited to condemn homosexual practices in the pulpit, it should make us aware that we are on the brink of a moral abyss. When the President of a powerful country declares officially that he favors “gay marriages” in the name of justice and fairness, the moral death knell of a society has sounded.Love is a many faceted Jewel, the beauty of which comes from God who is Love. Compassion is one of its facets, but when it is infected by secularism, it will inevitably degenerate into its caricature.A comparison might shed light on this point. Let us assume that a patient is afflicted with a deadly disease. His doctor is a man with a “golden heart.” He spends hours at his bed side, shows his compassion, love, affection, holds his hands, shares his patient’s tears. But let us assume that in his long career, he has never succeeded in healing a single one of  them. When a patient urgently needs an operation, he refuses to perform it, because the patient is “so dear to him” that he does not want him to “suffer.”  Would we recommend him to others?If a person has endorsed heretical views which he not only defends, but spreads, love (caritas) – while ardently praying for him – would betray its mission if it failed to warn the sheep of how dangerous his teaching is, and failed to warn the heretic of the spiritual dangers he is exposed to. (see St. Francis of Sales' “Introduction to the Devout Life,” Book III, chapter 29) Love is as strong as death, and if “compassion” ignores this factor,  it is bound to degenerate into “sentimentality.”This has been powerfully expressed by Paul Evdokimov in his book on “The Problem of Evil in Dostoievski.” Referring to the lovable figure of Prince Mychkine (this thoroughly “good” man) – the very incarnation of “compassion” – the Russian author shows that because his compassion is a crippled love, this “saintly man” only succeeds in harming those he intended to help; he triggers a series of disasters, and ends by himself falling back into madness. It is a danger confronting us today when love is confused with languid inaction, when action is called for. Not to condemn heresies and perversions is a lack of charity toward the heretic, the perverse, and all those they infect.There are statements which sound so kind, so loving, so charitable, but are dangerously equivocal. The Zeitgeist tells us not to condemn, not to anathematize, not to challenge and refute. We are – in the name of humility and charity – urged to keep in mind that we conquer evil with mercy. Alas, Christ’s divine love did not save Judas from perdition. Yet, Christ died for him, as He did for all men.Human mercy is but a pale copy of God’s mercy – it is limited: to “remit” a debt to an insolvent debtor. God alone can forgive sins. We should therefore be very careful in using the word “mercy.” To be merciful toward sinners is not man’s mission. Only God, the incarnation of Mercy can show his mercy toward sinner. Sin offends God and God alone. Man is called to lovingly pray for heretics and grave sinners, but neither heresy nor sin call for mercy. Mercy cannot be shown toward sin; but God always offers it to the sinner. He alone can remit the terrible debt that the sinner incurs by his sin. That divine mercy can be rejected by heretics and sinners is the mysterium iniquitatis that remains for us human beings, a mystery.When speaking about heresies and moral perversions, mercy is totally inappropriate: there is nothing to be merciful about. The only appropriate word is: anathema sit, a blessed word which we find the New Testament, mostly in St. Paul, but also implicitly in St. John. (the apostle of love) He writes in his second Epistle that we should not even greet heretics. (2:10) The word anathema sit  has been used in all the great ecumenical councils of the Church.True, there are cases when a saint’s love and charity has been the instrument chosen by God to bring a sinner back to Him. I recall  reading the story of a saint who lovingly urged a sinner to abandon his evil ways. The man’s response was to brutally slap him in the face. The saint’s response was: “beat me all you want, but do not offend God.” This was for this sinner the moment of grace and he found his way back to God. The saint was not “merciful” toward the sinner: he was practicing Christian charity.Because “mercy” is essentially divine, it embraces all the perfections of both compassion and pity. When we feel a compassion for one who is suffering, we are not creditors, he is not a debtor. The good Samaritan, in lovingly treating the wounded man, was not “remitting a debt.” He did not know who the wounded man was.Toward God, we are all debtors in various degrees, but knowing God to be immensely merciful we should never hesitate to appeal to His mercy. Simultaneously we should hope that all sinners would do the same. Which one of us would not be happy if we had even a faint guarantee that several political monsters produced in the terrible 20th century, had, at the very last second of their criminal lives, begged God for mercy. The message of Sister Faustina is luminous: “He will never turn down our request for forgiveness, Woe to us – daily beneficiaries of God’s divine mercy – if we refuse to remit the minimal debts that our neighbors have toward us.”How deeply “mercy” transcends both compassion and pity (while including their virtues) is strikingly shown by the fact that whereas both compassion and pity can be shown to mammals, mercy does not and cannot apply to them: for not being persons, they cannot  be in our debt; they cannot sin. This is true not because they are “above” man but because they are below him. Not being persons, they “cannot” sin. But we can and should show compassion and pity toward mammals – the highest animals in the realm of creation.Toward sinful men we should be animated by a holy pity. (as opposed to an hypocritical  condescending one) This holy pity challenges us to go on our knees and ardently pray for their conversion. This is the magnificent meaning of many penitential orders. They are based on the trust that God’s infinite goodness will listen to the prayers of the innocent for their guilty brothers.Christ has delegated the merciful power to forgive sins to His Church. It is clearly a  mark of the true Church.The conclusion we wish to draw is that to identify compassion and pity with mercy is dangerously misleading. May this brief essay shed some light on this grave confusion.

The trickiness of words

Jun 22, 2012 / 00:00 am

Language is a privilege denied to animals, but it is typical of man’s dignity as a person. However, this very dignity – like every single gift – when misused, can lead to grave misunderstandings. Words are used to communicate truths, and alas, can also communicate errors and lies. Moreover, the meaning of words keeps changing: with time, they mysteriously put a new emphasis, a new nuance in their meaning, so that after a while, they can easily mislead us. This is why Dietrich von Hildebrand claimed that the Church needs a “dead language” to keep her Holy Teaching exactly as inherited from the Apostles. Not one iota is to be changed to the divine message.A case in point is the word “discrimination.” The prevalent meaning used to be “to differentiate,” “to set apart as different.” To be called a “discriminating person” was a compliment. But today, the primary meaning of the word has shifted and mostly refers to unfair and unjust judgments and actions. What used to be the primary meaning is now totally obscured. Today the word “discrimination has a “bad reputation.” Woe to the person who “discriminates.” Most likely he will be threatened by a law suit. The new meaning  has“ conquered.”       Thanks to the  magic now attached to this word, innumerable people suddenly woke up to how unfairly they have been treated. If  someone is not promoted, it is obvious that it was because of his ethnic background, the color of his skin, even his “weight.” If someone’s application for a scholarship is turned down, he is the victim of “discrimination.” Someone is fired: discrimination alone can explain this shocking injustice. I suspect that clever lawyers gained many clients by advertising their skill at winning such law suits. They usually do.Is there such a thing as unjust discrimination? Yes, and alas, as much as we try to eliminate injustice in our sinful world, we shall never fully succeed. It is a sheer illusion to assume that laws alone can guarantee perfect justice. Sin has entered into the world, and only cunning politicians can “convince” people that we are heading toward a perfect world. Let me say repeat emphatically: injustice should be opposed with every possible means, but it is sheer utopia to believe that we can, by purely human means, re-create an earthly paradise we have chosen to abandon by disobeying God. We need not waste time explaining why unfair “discriminations” should be opposed. Some are so grotesque that the only appropriate comment is: God has set limits to human intelligence, but none to his stupidity.One of the amazing remarks made by St. Therese of Lisieux is that “In Heaven, there will be perfect justice.” We would expect her to say that there will be universal love. Yet, she opts for the word “justice.” She knew that, deep down, all of us from our very youth, crave justice, and are revolted and grieved by injustice. The natural moral law inscribed in the human heart, tells us that it should not be, yet it is. Heaven is clearly a place where everything is perfectly just. For this same reason jealousy in heaven is unthinkable: we shall all see clearly that the place we occupy is the one that we deserve. Alas, the devil who never sleeps, as Sancho Panza wisely remarks, has now hijacked the word “discrimination” for his own evil purposes. Knowing how limited human intelligence is, and using his diabolical cunning, he has now extended the word “discrimination” to wage war and abolish valid, essential differences which, once denied, will inevitably lead to the social and moral collapse of society. This is one of the gravest problems we are facing today. The grotesque claim that in order to eliminate “discriminations” against women, we should deny that they differ from men, is not only the peak of stupidity, but also a slap in the face of the Creator who declared that He created Man (homo) male and female.That Evil already has scores great victories, (I.e. done much harm) is obvious to anyone who has eyes to see. Not only has he blurred the line separating legitimate from illegitimate discriminations, but moreover, with the collaboration of the news media, always at his beck and call, he has succeeded in convincing some people that classical traditional distinctions such as between true and false, morally good and morally evil, are “discriminatory,” and therefore should be condemned in schools and universities: they are responsible for “divisiveness,” wars and conflicts. Universal peace can only be reached if everyone’s “truth” is respected.  Modern man has finally realized that “True” is what agrees with an individual’s mind; good is what fulfills an individual's cravings. It is up to him to choose what will make him happy. This “dictatorial” relativism has poisoned our educational system. What is “new” today, as just mentioned, is that the word “discrimination” has now been extended to the sexes. To condemn sexual perversions (which Plato called “against nature”) is now labeled homophobic and therefore labeled as an “evil” discrimination that should be punished by law. This goes so far that even when a priest condemns perverse practices from the pulpit, he can become the victim of a law suit.   This “achievement” – which inevitably saps the very foundation of any society – has gained impetus  with such a speed that it makes one dizzy. What has happened to our world?     One possible explanation is that it was in part triggered by radical feminism. Simone de Beauvoir, dubbed the mother of French feminism, loudly claimed that the female sex has, from the very beginning, been the victim of “discrimination.” She refers to women as “the second sex,” and uses her impressive talents to convince females that their very being is marked by discrimination. Women are metaphysically “victimized” by their anatomy. It is high time for them to realize how unfairly they have been treated from the very moment of their creation: they were  clearly made “inferior” to their male counterpart, and were therefore destined to be both men’s servants and objects of  pleasure. The male sex is only making use of the “privileges” granted them by their very maleness. It is their “birthright”.     The moment has come for women to revolt and loudly assert that they will no longer accept this shocking “discrimination.” They should loudly claim their rights to share all male privileges and characteristics. One crucial key is to gain control over their bodies, which up to now, have been the victim of biological laws. They have been “enslaved” by their flesh. The call of the hour is for them to gain control over their biological make up and therefore be able to master their destiny. A key factor is their right to choose whether or nor they want to get pregnant, and if pregnant, whether they wish to keep the “ tissues” growing in their womb. If not freely chosen, they should be eliminated like unwanted guests. Victims of this enslavement, women have up to now “produced nothing” (sic) They have been imprisoned in what the Germans call the three Ks (Kirche, Kuche, Kinder): church, kitchen, children. How is one to produce a Shakespeare when one’s day is spent changing diapers, cooking or washing dishes? Women’s talents have been crushed in the bud. The moment has come to wage war on such shameful injustices and to declare themselves to be men’s equal in all things.In this context, Chesterton has left us a precious piece of wisdom: “There is nothing so certain to lead to inequality as identity.” (Woman and the Philosophers, p. 20.) If we deny that men are men and women are women, we have opted not only for stupidity, but for greater injustices which ultimately will shake the very foundation of our society. This is the point we hope to make.One serious bone of contention made by radical feminists (including nuns who used to be the backbone of authentic Catholic education) is that women have from the beginning of the Church, been denied the dignity of the priesthood. To their rebellious minds, this is revolting: women certainly have all the qualifications required to be priests. As a matter of fact, being usually more intuitive than men, they might have qualities that make them particularly talented to exercise this sacred function.Conveniently they forget the fate of Korah, Dathan and Abiram, who revolted against Moses in claiming that they too were entitled to the priesthood, even though they did not belong to the tribe of Aaron. “All the congregation are holy.” (Numbers, 16:3.) Moses, obeying God’s order, told them “to separate themselves from among the congregation.” (ibid, 20.) The ground opened up and “swallowed them.” (ibid, 31.). That was God’s eloquent response. Their fate was not enviable, but the divine message was clear. It is repeated by St. Paul in his Epistle to the Hebrews: “And one does not take the honor upon himself, but he is called by God just as Aaron was.” (Hebrews, 5:4.) It should be a source of grief to all of us that some nuns have shut their ears (or their hearts) to God’s will. Yet, they loudly insist that it is a shockingly unjust “discrimination,” based on their sex. They are unfairly “humiliated” by being declared unworthy of celebrating mass and giving absolution to sinners. That this has been denied women proves that the Catholic Church is “sexist,” and is dominated by a male, authoritarian clergy. To be a “sexist” should be put on top of the “new” list of capital sins. These women (whether nuns or lay people) are so absolutely confident of the validity of their recrimination that no rational argument will ever register in their minds. They keep clamoring that not only has the Church never ordained a single woman, but, to add insult to injury, has solemnly declared that the female sex cannot be validly ordained. If a “new age” Bishop were to grant one of them the sacrament of  “ordination,” it would ipso facto be only be a satanic farce. This arch belief of the Catholic Church is fully shared by the Orthodox Church. It is now rejected by many Protestant denominations.Is the female sex truly disparaged by a “male Church?” The question deserves a careful examination. Let us turn to the message of Genesis. This sacred book tells us that after creating the magnificent material universe, God decided to create man. (I.e. homo) and made him to His image and likeness. In other words, God, who had already created angels, (purely spiritual persons) chose to create a new type of person, fully sharing personhood with angels, but incarnated in a body personified by its union with an immortal soul. He also chose to create them male and female: equal in dignity, sharing the same destiny, but different, because by their very nature they are complementary. The male has perfections which are typical of his sex, the female has her own. They essentially belong together and are made to enrich one another. The word 'homo' includes both man and woman. (In English, unfortunately, the word  “man” refers to both homo and vir). The Bible certainly does not entitle us to claim that God has made the woman inferior to the male. Further reading might even lead us to question whether the woman, from the very moment of her creation as female, was not the privileged one in more ways than one. For whereas Adam’s body was taken from the slime of the earth – a very modest origin – Eve’s body was taken from the one of a person made to God’s image and likeness. This is definitely a more “aristocratic” origin. Moreover, upon perceiving her, Adam, overwhelmed with joy, exclaims; “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh.” No such enchantment is expressed by Eve, even though I personally am convinced that she too responded with joy and gratitude in perceiving Adam’s male perfections. She knew intuitively that he was to complement and enrich her. Genesis tells us further that Adam gave Eve an incredibly beautiful title: he calls her “the Mother of the Living.” Proclaiming that between woman and life there is bond of such nobility calls for a response of respect and awe. Adam is denied a similar dignity; never in the Bible is he called the father of the living. Moreover, when Eve gave birth to Cain, she joyfully exclaimed: “I have gotten a man with the help of God.” (4:1.)  Adam is not even mentioned. Surprisingly, he does not protest: after all, the father too has a role to play in procreation. The very same scenario is repeated when Eve gives birth to Seth, replacing Abel, who was murdered by his brother. Can we assume that Adam, who certainly had no diploma in biology, knew intuitively that human life begins in the female body: it is only when the father’s sperm has fecundated the mother’s egg that life begins. It is also the awesome moment when God who alone can create souls, puts a new one in this miniscule human body. Therefore there is an immediate contact between God and the woman’s body. To be “touched” by the Creator is once again an amazing privilege, not granted to the male sex.Why does Adam not complain that he is being “discriminated” against? If he did, Moses thought it was not worth reporting. Chesterton was clearly inspired by Genesis when he wrote: “Nothing can ever overcome that one enormous sex superiority, that even the male child is born closer to his mother than to his father. No one staring at that frightful female privilege, can quite believe in the equality of the sexes.” (What is Wrong with the World, Sheed and Ward, p. 192.)Eve was severely punished for her disobedience, (see  Genesis, 3:16.) nevertheless, God was faithful to His original plan to grant the female sex a unique role in the process of redemption. In His own time, He granted Eve a descendant whose name was Anna. She in turn gave birth to a baby girl whose name was Mary – the only creature born without the curse of original sin: from the very moment of Her conception, she was blessed. This young Virgin accepted to be the mother of the Savior. As woman, she was already entitled to be glorious title of being called “mother of the living,” but now, as mother of Christ, she was honored with an infinitely greater title of honor: she became the mother of someone who (having no earthly father) proclaimed that He was Life itself. Not a single founder of the many religions that have flourished on this earth, has ever dared make such a claim. In the light of what we just mentioned, it is legitimate to raise the question whether the female sex is not, in the light of redemption, the privileged one? In the Liturgy, we find this amazing prayer: “O God who has put salvation in the hands of a woman.” In the same Liturgy, women are alluded to as the “pious sex.” This is a compliment indeed. Is not the male sex the one “discriminated” against? Why is it that they do not protest against this injustice?These remarks will help us to re-examine the feminist claim that the Bible has discriminated against them, and that this discrimination is now incorporated in the teaching of the Catholic Church. Let us go back to the French priestess of feminism, Simone de Beauvoir. She reminds us that Freud – a world famous psychiatrist – made the great discovery that little girls inevitably suffer from an inferiority complex. There is something missing in their anatomy. He calls it “penis envy” (sic). It is well known that the greatest stupidities are usually products of “geniuses” when their intellectual pride makes them derail. This is a case in point. His claim is as stupid as to assume that boys suffer from “a womb envy.” Indeed, this most mysterious and precious organ is not inscribed in their anatomy. The feminine organ par excellence happens to be one of incredible dignity for it is “the cradle of life” and became the cradle of the Savior of the world.Moreover, the male organs are “exterior” and therefore visible, whereas the womb is hidden. How right St. Bonaventure was in reminding us that nature is a book that we should learn how to read. Once its message is perceived and understood, it guides the human eye to “look upward” and grasp the divine message communicated by His visible creation. That the womb is “concealed” clearly  transmits a message that feminists are incapable of “reading.” The reason being that having adopted an arrogant posture toward their Creator, they have lost the virtue of “reverence,” which D. von Hildebrand rightly calls 'the mother of all virtues.' Irreverence has a blinding effect. It  kills in us the sense of mystery, sacredness, intimacy, secrecy. Whereas blind people know they are deprived of the sense of sight, morally blind people live in the tragic illusion that they alone enjoy the privilege of perfect vision.Today, many women, poisoned by the rhetoric of feminists, (porte parole of the Evil one) have become so convinced of their metaphysical “inferiority” that they try to ape the male sex. They are so untalented at doing this that all they succeed in doing is to copy some of the most unlovable features of the strong sex, which have also been affected by original sin. Feminists talk themselves into assuming that they are now “liberated.” In fact they have exchanged the sweet bond of love for the shackles of slavery, typical of pride and of Satan’s key words; “non-serviam.” They swallow the arrant nonsense of de Beauvoir who writes, as mentioned above: “women produce nothing.” To her arthritic mind, to give birth to a human person, reminds her of hens with a high level of productivity. This grade of imbecility must be a source of delight to Satan and his agents. To the “mother” of French feminism, female organs are a woman’s enemy: in fact, they are “ashamed” of their bodies.Whereas in the Old Testament, infertility was a curse – modern “feminists” see it as a “sickness” for which they are entitled to medical coverage and advised to take “preventive” remedies. To refuse to grant them this “right” is a grave cases of “discrimination.”      The many women that have fallen victims of this lying rhetoric, have become “female Esaus” who sell their birthright (to be called “mother of the living”) for a bowl of pottage. When I was in grammar school, and told about the inane choice made by Isaac’s first born, I recall that my response was: “how un-intelligent can a human male be! Women would never make such a stupid choice.” I clearly was not affected by the “inborn inferiority” complex that Freud attributes to little girls. But, alas, I was mistaken. Modern feminists definitely trump Esau in “brainlessness!”No sane person can claim that to be a top executive is more noble and more valuable than to bring a child into the world. One among many valid definition of stupidity, is to lose sight of the hierarchy of values: to place the lower over the higher. No one can contest that men have been the great creators in the intellectual and artistic domains, but we should not forget that St. Peter tells us explicitly that at the end of time, the world will be totally destroyed by fire. (Second Epistle, 3 -12.) Everything will be reduced to dust and ashes, but every single child that a woman has brought into the world, having an immortal soul, will live forever. Moreover, let us recall that all male geniuses, were brought into the world by their mothers: Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, Michel Angelo, Leonardo, Bach, Mozart and Beethoven all had a mother who carried them in their womb for nine months, and then suffered labor pains in order to give them to the world.  Feminists, like all bad historians, are very selective in their scholarship. They read the Bible with the deforming glasses of prejudice. Whenever they find critical remarks made about the female sex wounded by original sin, they proudly capitalize on them. When, on the contrary, sublime things are said about them, they are “wisely” left “forgotten.” We have mentioned the privileges that God Himself has granted to the “weak” sex. The moment has come to re-examine one of the key incriminations made by feminists against the Church: why can’t women be ordained? The answer is now pre-given. There is only one Priest – Christ, for all  priests only partake of His dignity. This one Priest has a mother, but no human father. It should become obvious that the magnificent role assigned to the woman by God Himself is to give birth to priests, following the example given us by the Blessed one among women. Priests need a mother, and as no being can be mother and son simultaneously, it should now be luminous why women cannot possibly be ordained. The two magnificent charisms: maternity and the priesthood being complementary, cannot be either interchanged or reduced to one another. We can conclude that to wage war on maternity is to wage war on the priesthood. For God had decided that His Son should have a mother but no human father. No mothers, no priests. The Holy Wisdom of the Church prohibits the ordination of women for She knows that one cannot be a mother and a son simultaneously. It is a sacred Either – Or.    As we saw, from the very beginning, God has established a sacred bond between the woman and life and granted her a key position in the mystery of redemption. This is a dignity that many women have betrayed. For this reason, we do not hesitate to claim that the legalization of abortion is the greatest victory achieved by Satan since original sin. God stated in Genesis “I will establish an enmity between you and the woman…”(3:15.) Satan hates the woman, because being a murderer from the very beginning, his hatred was targeted at “the mother of the living.” She is his arch enemy.Once the “heart” of the family becomes a female Judas, the powerful influence she is privileged to exercise over her male counterpart – instead of helping him – pulled him with her in an abyss of perversions.  Every sin brings with it its own punishment; the feminist revolt creates a domino effect: contraception (preventive medicine) led to abortion, which was followed by co-habitation. This opened the door to a society of innumerable single mothers, that is, a fatherless society. The “miracles” of  modern technology led to the possibility of isolating sex from procreation. The “brave new world” promises that one day children will exclusively be produced in a petri dish; they will become a “product.”It could have been predicted that the next step was an epidemic of homosexuality which, as Plato saw twenty five centuries ago, shakes the very foundation of any society. He writes: “But how can we take precautions against the unnatural loves of either sex, from which innumerable evils have come upon individuals and cities.” (Laws, VIII  836.)Today, we have “progressed” further. Many claim that to oppose sexual perversions is to be “homophobic.” Once the masses have been brainwashed into endorsing the validity of this claim, the time was ripe for clamoring for “same-sex  marriages.” Once homosexuality is legally recognized to be a fully justified “life style,” it follows that they should be given the same legal rights. We now have reached the point of no return. It could be foreseen that “same-sex” marriage was to  be put on the political agenda, and presented as a question of justice – a redressing of a secular discrimination no longer acceptable in the “modern” world.  To deny two males or two females the permission “to get married” was a clear case of “ shocking discrimination.” This led to the “right” of homosexuals to adopt children. We are now told that to have two mothers and two fathers is just as good as to have a father and a mother. The unisex mentality has made men and women “interchangeable.” Recently in England, a woman gave birth to a child, and refused to fill out the form asking 'male or female?' She justified her refusal by saying that it was up to the child to choose its own sex. She had “no right” to interfere with his or her choice.Once the president of a powerful country officially proclaims that he endorses this abomination, any sane person must see that we are close to an abyss leading to a world catastrophe.  Isaiah wrote; “woe to those who call good evil and evil good…” (5:20.) The world was not yet mad enough to inspire him to add: woe to those who claim that it should make no difference whether a person “marries” a person of the same sex or of a different one.A society that no longer “discriminates” between male and female, moral good and moral evil, truth and error, normal and perverse, is doomed. Those who have ears to hear clearly perceive the death knell of annihilation.The conclusion  is “long live classical discrimination.” Let us fight to re-establish moral sanity, and wage a relentless war against those who fight for the “rights” of lying and perverse discriminations. May God make us clear sighted and give us the courage to oppose all the devilish lies sold by the news media. We should tremble at the thought that our Creator, who made man “male and female,” might repeat the fearful words He uttered in Generis: namely that “He regretted that He had created man.”

The mystery of sexuality

Apr 26, 2012 / 00:00 am

Materialism is a never dying temptation. We are born and live in a world  created by God,  perceived through our senses.  We see objects, we hear sounds, we sense, we touch, we smell. Already very small children respond to the glory of the universe in which we have been born; the beauty of a star studded sky, of a glorious sunset, of the radiance of a spring day. Sense knowledge is shared with animals but they too have sensations. But having been denied the dignity of personhood, the sense information they receive  will be very differently “read.”Our bodies are parts of this awesome cosmos. They are visible,  extended in space, have weight, size, color. These again are features that we share with other material creatures.  It should not surprise us that Aristotle defines man as a rational animal. Why animal? Because of the characteristics we share with other animated creatures; why rational? Because man alone among all visible, material creatures is capable of reasoning. Like all living things on this earth, we are born, we grow, we develop, and then slowly our bodies decline, and end in death. The temptation is therefore great to see man as just another animal  with only one specific difference: reason.We claim that valid as it is to underline all the features that a human being shares with  animals, his body being  essentially linked to a soul, all these characteristics will speak a very different language. For the soul is a spiritual substance that  has none of the characteristics of matter:  it is not visible, it is not divisible, it has no color, no shape, no weight, and last but not least,  it is immortal. Therefore man is neither just a body, nor just a soul: he is a human person made to God’s image and likeness, incarnated in a body.This bond between body and soul is so close that inevitably it will radically modify our physical make up. This claim should justify our making the following paradoxical statement: the abyss separating man from higher animals is powerfully expressed in the very thing that seems to unite them, namely, his body. This becomes luminous upon realizing that whereas many animals have much sharper senses than we humans (the sight of eagles , the hearing of dogs, the sense of smell of bears, the speed of predators  etc), they do not perceive beauty. Their senses are guides for survival. They do not carry a spiritual message, pointing upwards.When we refer to man’s body, it is crucial that the word “human” be added. Failure to do so will inevitably lead to fatal misunderstandings.  This is why John Paul II’s message coined “Theology of the Body,” can so easily be misread by people who, since their youth, have been poisoned by the dangerous vapors of materialism.Let me be more specific:  the abyss separating man from animals finds a powerful expression in their sexuality.  To most people the word “sexuality” is exclusively biological. This is a dangerous mistake, and we shall try to shed light on this widespread misunderstanding.Far from denying that sexuality finds a valid expression in the biological sphere (“they shall become one flesh“) and  that this also applies to animals under various forms), it can easily be misread, unless we grasp the radical difference between speaking of male and female in the animal realm, and between the Human male and the human female.  In speaking of masculinity and femininity we clearly refers to differences which essentially also have a religious, spiritual, intellectual, affective, human and social dimension. The spiritual complementariness of the two sexes is evident to anyone willing to see,  that is who is not blinded by his fascination with the biological sphere. To limit one’s horizon to the physical expression of this crucial complementariness, will inevitably lead to a fatal caricature of femininity, being either limited to her crucial role in the preservation of the species, or as a pure object capable of fulfilling the dictatorial demands of a powerful instinct. In our materialistic society, rooted in its disastrous philosophy, all that sex means for many  is that like fast food, it is a short cut to intense physical pleasure. Hence its power over  human beings - fully shared by animals.If sexuality were exclusively biological, the words of Christ telling us that in heaven human beings will neither marry nor be given in marriage  and will be like angels, would  lead to the conclusion that the two sexes will then be abolished. This is a claim from which all of us would immediately reject.   In heaven, one thing is certain: men will remain men; women will remain women, but the biological sphere will be radically transcended.  This transcendence does not imply that its beauty and meaning will  be lost: no, but it will be both fulfilled and enhanced.Man (homo): this “Divine Invention“, is comprised of both male and female, admirably complementary, admirably made to enrich each other. One only needs read the  story of the foundation of religious orders  to see that their founders were  often assisted by a woman; St. Benedict was of one mind and one soul with his sister, Saint Scholastica. St. Francis of Assisi was best understood by St.Clare;  we all know the spiritual affinity which existed between St. Teresa of Avila, and St. John of the Cross and St. Francis of Sales and ST. Jeanne Francoise de Chantal, to mention but a few.This admirable enrichment and complementary is to be found in all domains: not only religious, but also intellectual, affective, human, and social. Let us recall the words of Dante, referring to Beatrice. It is to her that he owed his “Vita Nuova”. She was his muse, his inspiration. The words he dedicated to her after her death, give her the highest possible praise that a man can give to a woman.  She inspired the “Divine Comedy” - this Catholic literary masterpiece par excellence.In a remarkable talk that Edith Stein (now St. Edith Stein) gave in Salzburg in l930, she admirably sketched some of the striking differences between the two sexes. She remarks that women are more person’s centered than men. A new born baby moves their  hearts; men are likely to be more attracted by a new computer. Maternity is something so beautiful that in Holy Scriptures its perfection is attributed to God Himself: we are told in the Old Testament that if a mother were to abandon the fruit of her womb, God will never abandon his children.  In his Epistle to the Galatians, St. Paul tells them that he is going “through the pains of childbirth’”( 4, l9) for their sake. It is a woman‘s mission to awaken in men a greater  sensitivity for what is “human”, for what is “weak”, and thereby to  “humanize” him. This is a point that Chesterton made in “What is Wrong with the World.”Personal beings are infinitely superior to impersonal ones, and yet  the craving to control and to manipulate in so strong in many men that machines will always be tempting for them.  Edith Stein remarks further that women are more concerned with the concrete than with the abstract. This is clearly related to the first difference between them. Edith Stein is pointing for man’s fascination with theories; woman are more concerned about individuals. A man can write a brilliant treatise about education. A mother educates her child, this unique little creature confided to her, so different from other children. She knows that each little one is unique, and not just a “type”. Finally  -- and this is crucial, women are more interested in the living than in the non living.  From the beginning, men have been the great “killers” -- in a way, it was their mission;  they had to protect their family from predators whose physical strength by far exceeded their own. This challenged them to make tools and instruments that compensated for their weakness. A sword can compete with a wild bear‘s claws; man’s nails cannot.From our very youth, most of us are, acquainted with the Bible. We read and re read it, but do we pay sufficient attention to the amazing words uttered by Adam about Eve:  he calls her the mother of the living.  Few qualifications can  equal this one in dignity. The bond between a woman and life is so profound that it sheds light on the serpent’s hatred of the  “weak sex“. Indeed, being a “murderer” from the beginning he inevitably hates life. Hence, his arch enemy is the woman.  This is clearly the reason why the Evil one addressed himself to Eve, and not to Adam. St. Augustine - this luminary of the Church -, mistakenly explains it by saying that the serpent turned to the weaker one, I.e. the one easier to defeat.  In fact, the wily animal addressed himself to the woman, because being exceedingly cunning, he knew how great was the power Eve had over Adam. Once she yielded,  he would follow suit. This is exactly what happened.This sublime bond  between a woman and life received a new glory when Mary accepted to become the Mother of Christ, He who declared solemnly that He was the Way, the Truth and the Life.  Eve was called mother of the living; Mary gave birth to the One who is Life itself. Meditating upon  this makes one shudder with horror  about the legalization of abortion. It is a clear indication that we have entered the Apocalyptic time, when the final and fearful duel between The Woman and the Dragon will take place.The hour is grave: when innumerable women (who are often victims) endorse the murder of the fruit of their womb,  the legion of evil spirits have a big celebration; whereas Angels (if they can weep) sob.It is the call of the hour to wake up to the fact that sexuality is a magnificent divine plan unveiling the mutual fecundation that man brings to woman and vice versa, and to warn people how dangerous it is to limit sexuality to the biological sphere. The Theology of the Body to be properly understood  (and mans talent for misunderstanding is nothing short of remarkable) should be read in  its true meaning: the Theology of the Human body, that is  a physical reality inhabited by a person made to God’s image and likeness. The animal male and the animal female complement reach other biologically. Deprived of personhood,  their complementariness is limited to this domain.  The admirable enrichment found between man and woman is to be found in all domains of human existence, and is also expressed in their biological make up. But whereas the animal male is attracted by the female only when she is in heat (at very specific periods of the year), and has little to do with females outside of these specific  periods, the mutual attraction of a man for a woman and vice versa “never sleeps”, because  they know that love essentially desires union, and this desire should be “super actual“, that is not time bound.This is mysterious expressed in the fact that a loving husband’s interest in his wife is not limited to the periods in which she can conceive. Is not God  telling us thereby that the desire for union between human beings is a typical expression of love characterized by a constant “intentio unionis”.  It is high time that we fully realize that “sexuality” is much richer and much deeper than the biological complementariness  we share with animals.  We only need meditate on the love uniting the Blessed one among Women, with St. Joseph, a union that already realized on this earth what “sexuality” will be in eternity, where “all things will be made new.”

Christians and the World

Apr 16, 2012 / 00:00 am

God has given human beings the amazing privilege of speech. Animals  do communicate by means of sounds and smells but they have been denied the use of words, that is meaningful, articulated sounds.This privilege has its own dangers. The riches of the universe, the incredible variety of experiences, feelings, sensations, by far surpasses the human vocabulary, large as it is. This is so true that when referring to experiences which are particularly deep and sublime, we usually say, “words fail me.” Great music does better! We often wish our vocabulary would be as rich as the sublime notes we find in Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, to mention but a few. Moreover, we often use the same word to refer to experiences which are radically different:  the word “shame” (in English) refers to things that should make us blush, or to things that are mysterious, personal, sacred, sublime, and call for veiling. Let me quote Sirach; “There is a shame which brings sin, and there is a shame which brings glory and favour.” (IV, 21. London, Catholic Truth Society).The word “pride“ in English refers both to a  most poisonous vice, and also a compliment: “I am proud of you.” In French, pride (orgueil) is a negative. We should check carefully  the meaning given to words. Failure to do so can lead to grave equivocations. The word “world” is a case in point.What can we mean by “world?” First, we can refer to the magnificent material universe created by God,  with its awesome beauty, embracing immense  planets, and tiny insects.  When Creation was completed God declared that it was very good. (Gen. 1-31). Great poets have eloquently proclaimed the beauty of the “world.”The psalms keep singing God’s glory as revealed in nature: “…Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command… (Psalm 148).  When God calls His creation “good,” He was referring to its ontological dignity, and not to any moral quality. Only personal beings can be “morally good“ or “morally evil.” This clarification is crucial. There is not a single being coming out of the Creator’s hands which is deprived of ontological value, and therefore is not “good.” But there are many who erroneously assume that this also applies to human actions, and that therefore, everything being good, what we call evil is only a lack of goodness, and that it is a duty of charity to look for the good behind the evil. Moral dis-values entered into the world through sin.Let us compare this praise of the “world,” with the words that Christ used at the Last Supper as related by St. John (Chapter XIII). He tells us that the world “does not know my Father.” This chapter containing the most sublime words ever uttered by the God-man, is also the one proclaiming the most fearful condemnation of “the world,” found in John 17, verse 9: “I do not pray for the world.”He, who is Love incarnate, (there is no greater love than to offer one’s life for one’s friends), utters a conviction of the “world” which is so fearful that every time I read it I shudder. Christ goes further. He tells us that the “world” hates Him – the Holy One – and tells  His disciples that just as the “world” has hated Him, it will hate them too. because they loved Him (verses 15 – 18). What does he mean by these fearful words?  Other passages of the Gospel give us a clue. When referring to the “world,” Christ clearly means the Kingdom of Satan, The Prince of this World, a murderer from the very beginning, the incarnate lie and the arch enemy of the one who said: “I am the Truth.”It is therefore luminous why He refuses to pray for a world which is Lucifer’s kingdom. One cannot save whoever has solemnly rejected salvation. How right C.S. Lewis was when he wrote that the doors of Hell are locked from the inside. Because they do not want redemption, they hate the Redeemer. In his monumental work, “The Liturgical Year,” Dom Gueranger writes: “The fundamental rule of Christian life is, as almost every page of the Gospel tells us, that we should live out of the world, separate ourselves from the world, hate the world. The world is that ungodly land which Abraham, our sublime model, is commanded by God to quit. It is that Babylon of our exile and captivity, where we are beset with dangers. The beloved disciple cries out to us: “Love not the world, nor the things which are in the world. If any man love the world, the charity of the Father is not in him.” (Septuagesima, p. 199).    These words are fearful indeed. Those of us still in this vale of tears, should never lose sight of the fact that we are in a battle field facing the Enemy of mankind who, like a roaring lion looks for a victim to devour. A moment of somnolence, a moment of self assurance, can bring about a grave moral fall. It can ever happen while administering an exorcism: that is a face to face confrontation with the Evil one, while armed with the powerful tools given us by Holy Church. Our deadly enemy never sleeps. He can tempt monks fleeing into the desert (St. Anthony); it can penetrate into religious orders; he can prey on us while in Church. Sobrii estote et vigilate…But the message of Christ is luminous: the world in this sense is the Kingdom of Evil. There is a clear Either Or: The City of God or the City of Satan. There is no “both and,” there is no  “in between,”  just as little as there is a middle ground between the truth and the lie. The “world” as the City of Satan, is our deadly enemy.Finally, we can mean by “world” the society in which we are born and in which we live. Very few of us receive the extraordinary vocation to be anchorites. Their vocation strikes many people as a form of madness.  They will accuse these privileged souls of being cowards, selfish individuals, so self centered that their only concern is their own salvation. These are people “refusing” to contribute to “progress” and the material betterment of human conditions. (Joseph, the l8th century Emperor of Austria, waged war on contemplative orders, while respecting “active” orders who were doing something for humanity). But those blessed with spiritual hearing not only believe but know that silence, contemplation, prayer and penance do more for the world than what “busy-ness can ever achieve. It is often self seeking, garbed with the vestment of “love for humanity.” Behind this façade lurks the pursuit of honor, money and power. It is noisy, but does not create music.Most of us are called to live in society with other human beings coming from a huge variety of backgrounds, cultures and beliefs. If one lives in an apartment building, one inevitably is in daily contact with a surprising variety of views and outlooks. Some people are believers; some are indifferent; some are atheists. Some are kind and helpful. Some are unfriendly and selfish. A single such building is a “small cosmos” and could be an inspiration for any talented writer.   This also applies to one’s professional life. Spending one’s life teaching at a university is a most enriching experience. It is true indeed that one finds both “wheat” and “cockle” wherever we go. It is, however, seriously misleading to write that this also applies to the Church and to the world, without making it clear that by “church” is meant sinful members of the church and not to the Church as Holy Bride of Christ, who is “without blemish and without wrinkles.” I know by experience that non Catholics have no clue as to what is meant by the Holy Catholic Church. It is true that the fields of both “church’ and the world share the same fate: a mixture of good and evil. But the consequence to be drawn is that we should wisely pick up the wheat in both fields while rejecting the tares they share.This claim sounds charitable and fair. To state that we find “weeds” “in the church” (its members)  is sadly true, provided it clearly refers to its sinners who “officially” belong to the Church. Among her members, there are good and bad fish. The Bible, a book authorized by God, tells us that although the Jews were God’s chosen ones and therefore highly  privileged people, there were good and holy ones, and also great sinners.This also applies to the “pagan”’ world. It gave us a Socrates and some very unsavory characters. When Socrates declared that if someone proved him to be wrong, he would consider him to be his greatest benefactor, our response should be one of boundless admiration. It is a superb “existential“ refutation of the Calvinistic claim that original sin has perverted our nature to its very core. Our modern world would do well to learn from The wise man of Greece, (as Kierkegaard always refers to him) and that Plato called “…the wisest and justest (sic) and the best man I have ever known (Phaedo, 118).” Such wise men are rare and desperately needed today in our colleges and universities.  We cannot “flee” from the world in this sense. If God placed us in a concrete situation, this is where He expects us to put our humble talents at His service. Every Catholic, every Christian for that matter, is necessarily “engaged” in the world and is called upon to be a missionary: we have been the beneficiaries of The Good News, and are called upon to share it with others. The radiance of this message of joy can even lead to a conversion in an elevator as I was once privileged to experience ! But we  should not assume that because it is our mission to “engage” in the world, we need not take precautions when entering a “danger zone,” and forget for a single moment that Satan never sleeps. No man is permitted to practice medicine, if he does not have a valid medical diploma. No one can teach at a university if he does not have the proper credentials. If one does not practice his faith,  does not pray,  forgets that “without God he can do nothing,” and thereby “engages” in our so called culture, and our decadent world, he is like a person visiting a patient afflicted by a infectious disease without wearing protective garments.  One cannot give what one does not have. (Nemo dat quod non habet). The endemic ignorance of their faith which characterized most Catholics in the aftermath of Vatican II,  has not equipped them to do “missionary” work. He who has accepted the popular view that everything is relative, and that everybody has a right to his own opinion (why should your opinion be better than mine?) not only cannot help others, but moreover, is likely to catch their disease. Worse yet are those infected by the spirit of the time, who “believe” that the Church has changed on all fundamental issues, has finally came out of the ghetto of the Middle ages, and are eloquent at propagating heresies, whether they realize it or not.There are also those armed with a shallow optimism who assume that everybody is good, or at least seeks the good, and are totally unaware of the difficulty of evangelization. The danger is great for the evangelizer who goes about his “mission” totally unprepared for the arduous task lying in front of him, remains unaware that our society is afflicted with some deadly disease,  and refuses to take the  indispensable precautions to protect himself from catching the contagious disease of dictatorial relativism. Before “engaging” with the world, prayer, the sacraments, sacrifice are essentially required. Alas, many sicknesses are contagious; health is not. Those of us who have had the doubtful privilege of staying long in rehab, and became acquainted with the layout of these places of penance – my name for hospitals – know that there is a special section for infectious diseases. No one is permitted to enter except those who have received the assignment of serving  the sick. But before entering  this forbidden space, doctors and nurses cover themselves with special gowns, wear masks, never touch the patient directly, and upon leaving the room, once again, go through a whole procedure to make sure that they have not caught deadly germs. Are these precautions taken by those Catholics who “engage with the world,” but they expose themselves to grave moral dangers? There are “red zones” including certain types of bars, movies, dark places where most people should never enter. What of those poor creatures enslaved in such places of harm? Should they be abandoned to their fate? Far from it; we all have the strict duty to pray and sacrifice  for those of our brothers who are “sick unto death.” Moreover, there are extraordinary cases in which God calls some of his children  to penetrate into places of horror because he had given them a special mission. For them it had become “the theme of Christ.” St. Raymond of Pennaford and  St. Peter Nolasco received the  mission to go to the dreadful jails in North Africa where innumerable Christians were held captives by Muslims in the most awful moral, physical and psychological conditions.They did a great work because they were  spiritually armed and never forgot that without God, they could do nothing. Those called upon to actively “engage” in the world and its decadent culture, need a long novitiate. It is easy to harm our neighbor; it is only with God’s grace that we can truly help him.

Confusion: The Devil's delight

Mar 13, 2012 / 00:00 am

There are some unsettling words in the Gospel, words that remind us that we should live in “fear and trembling.” We are told that at the end of time (every moment brings us closer to it) there will be such confusion as to seduce even the elect.It is upsetting indeed to be told that the best among us can become the prey of grave confusions. The genius of both Church scholars Origen and Tertullian did not prevent them from erring. The call of the hour is to become aware of the domains in which confusion is most widespread.One of them is the most lovable word “compassion.” It is an arch-Christian word – representing the good shepherd who leaves all his sheep to look for the one that has gone astray. Christ died to redeem sinners that are, through their sins, cut off from God. Pharisaism, one possible response to sin, is a perennial temptation for believers; the ruthless condemnation of the sinner because of his sin. (Alas, there are diseases, whether intellectual or moral, that are chronic, and even though they seem to be eliminated, they usually remain dormant, until the next epidemic catches us unprepared.)   Yet on the other hand – and in reaction to Pharisaism – the later half of the 20th century will go down in history as a period when even some elect fell into confusion. The word “compassion” became the alfa et omega of authentic Christianity. Condemnation under any form was condemned as harsh and unloving. The anathema was anathematized.But thanks to the “baptized genius” of St. Augustine – one of the great treasures of Christianity – we are given a key that helps us to combine an ardent love for God’s truth and a loving attitude toward heretics who reject dogmas and sinners who  are affected by deadly moral diseases. The saint wrote “Interficere errorem; diligere errantem” which means, “kill the error; love the one who errs.” Kill is not an equivocal word. It cannot possibly be misread: it means war until the enemy is dead.How dangerous it is to be mild on  both heresy and sin because of a distorted “compassion” for the heresiarch and the sinner. To reject and trample upon revealed truth is something so grave that, from the very beginning of the Church, the word “anathema sit” has been repeatedly used. A heresy is a slap in the face of Christ who declared Himself to be The Truth. To wallow in grave sins is so grave that apart from the offense of God, it is also the deadliest enemy of the sinner. The intensity and purity of our love for the latter, can be measured by our abomination of his sin. I recall that years ago, Professor Jerome Lejeune told me, with a fierce expression on his face: “You cannot imagine how I hate disease.” His passionate love for his patients was powerfully expressed in these words.    It is because every Christian has a strict duty of charity to love the sinner, that he should abhor the sin. Rape, sadism, pornography, heresy are odious, and to look for some good “behind them” is to fall prey to a very serious intellectual confusion. Why did Christ say about those “who scandalize little ones” that it would be better for them to have a millstone put around their neck, and thrown into the sea?Because  the gravity of this sin is such that it calls for the fearful condemnation that Christ gives. He certainly did not look for the “good behind the evil,” because there is none to be found. What was the “good” hidden behind Judas' betrayal? No word in the New Testament is as fearful as the words of Christ: “it would have been better for him had he not been born.” Every time we read those words I tremble. Existence is such a great good, but Christ tells us that there are cases when not to exist is preferable.  Those who “charitably” assume that we must look for the good behind the evil, probably wish to say that in spite of the horrendous crime committed by the sinner, the latter still is a child of God made to His image and likeness, that as long as he lives, he has a chance of finding his way back through repentance. Never should a sinner be identified with his sin. He is not sin. Even though his sinning has abominably stained his immortal soul, he is not beyond redemption, filthy as his sin may be. As long as he lives, healing is possible. To identify the sinner with his sin is typical of revolting Pharisaism. But to be soft on the sin because of one's concern for the sinner, is a subtle way of sinning against charity. Christian love of neighbors commands us to pray for sinners. More than that, we should be  willing to sacrifice and suffer for them. One of the admirable expressions of Christian love (which we often forget) is that day and night there are religious both males and females in monasteries who spend their lives in penance and suffering for those whose lives threatens their eternal welfare. How many will be saved at the moment of death, thanks to the sufferings of a totally unknown little nun who  offered her sacrifices  and sorrows for him, even though not knowing him. This is the glorious beauty of the love that Christ came on earth to teach us.Two more remarks are called for. Those of us who have parents or relatives or friends who have committed odious crimes, will inevitably look for some redeeming features in their character. I recall that when I read that Hitler cried when his mother died, it gave me some degree of comfort. May this expression of authentic love have helped him at the moment of death to beg for mercy. It should also be mentioned that God, who is Love itself, can in His loving omnipotence, use evil to lead to some good. In other words, there is such a thing as a FELIX CULPA sung on Good Friday: “Happy fault that has given us such a Redeemer.” But it would be the climax of arrogant perversion to commit a grave sin, while saying to God, that it was His Business to transform it into something beneficial.This is a very serious topic. May these brief remarks shed some modest light on a dangerous confusion.*This essay is based on Dietrich von Hildebrand’s book, Situation Ethics, Chapter IX: The Christian Attitude Toward Sinners.

The discrimination complex

Jan 16, 2012 / 00:00 am

That the "weak sex" has been discriminated against has been the key theme of feminists. They claim that from the very beginning, women have been looked down upon as less intelligent and less talented, (no female Dante, no female Shakespeare, no female Bach, Mozart or Beethoven). History is the history of the great deeds of the male sex. Females are a sort of appendix, to satisfy men's needs, serve them and produce children. There are a few exceptions but the exception confirms the rule. I have often addressed this topic and challenged some of its outrageous claims, but in all fairness, it is now tempting to look at another side of the picture, and examine whether the “strong sex”  has legitimate reasons for adding its name to the long list of metaphysical plaintiffs. In other words, haven't they too have been the innocent victims of “discrimination?”     Let us begin with Genesis. This sacred book tells us explicitly that Adam’s body was made from the slime of the earth: (II. 7), then God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. To have one’s body made of dust does not denote a very aristocratic origin. Then God said: “It is not good for man to be alone,” and He decided to give him a companion worthy of him.  Any close bond between animals and Adam would have been a metaphysical mesalliance - None of them were made to God’s image and likeness. In contrast to Adam, the woman's body was taken from the body of a human person and made to God’s image and likeness. Eve is therefore created “knighted.” Why is this never mentioned by the feminists?       Simone de Beauvoir, the Queen of French feminists, tells us that the woman was only a “second thought,” condemned to be number two from the very beginning. She is there to satisfy the needs of the human male who needed a companion. She is denied whatever is great and noble - namely to put her hand “at the wheel of human progress.” Instead, she “only” produces children, something that a fertile hen does faster and better.      Be it remarked in passing that to be created last can just as well be interpreted as a sign of superiority. The rough draft comes before the final copy.  But let us proceed with biblical teaching.    When Adam, woke up from his sleep and saw Eve, his response was enchantment: “bone of my bone; flesh of my flesh.” He truly saw her as a worthy companion, endowed with equal dignity and nobility. Moses does not tell us what Eve said when she first faced Adam. Being a woman, I know that she too gave a response of joy for his “maleness.” She immediately intuited that he was meant to be her protector; she admired his nobility, his strength,  his chivalrous character. She knew that they were complementary and made for each another. Metaphysically, they are equal. Complementariness does not mean inequality, as some feminists might interpret it.         Then Adam honors Eve with a glorious title. He declares her to be “The Mother of the Living.” Can one imagine a more beautiful and more noble title, hinting at a bond between God and the woman, for God is Life.When Eve gave birth to Cain she exclaimed: “I have gotten a man with the help of God.” What is striking is that Adam is not even mentioned. After all, he was the father of this male child. But Eve gives all the credit to God. This should give us food for thought. The father’s role is crucial, but cannot be compared in importance with the mother’s. This has been strikingly formulated by Chesterton. He writes: “Nothing can ever overcome that one enormous sex superiority, that even the male child is born closer to his mother than to his father. No one staring at that frightful female privilege can quite believe in the equality of the sexes.” (“What is Wrong with the World,” Sheed and Ward, p. 198). Why does Eve not mention Adam? A possible explanation is that, unbeknown to herself, she was born a budding theologian and is mysteriously alluding to the theological truth unveiled in the New Testament, that God, and God alone creates the soul of the child, and that it is in Eve’s body that this “fecundation” - the crucial  one, takes place and  produces a human person made to God’s image and likeness. Let us repeat: Adam is very much in the background. Are human males not entitled to screaming that they are “discriminated” against, and this in the Bible accused of favoring men from the beginning. Is it not high time for men to raise their voice in protest? That the evil one addresses himself to Eve and not to her husband has a deep meaning. For once, I dare challenge the views of my revered St. Augustine who wrote that the serpent addressed himself to Eve because she was the weaker one, and therefore easier to defeat. This is bad psychology. Being very astute, the devil knew that Eve had an enormous influence over her husband, and that the “strong sex” would follow suit in whatever decision she made. This is exactly what happened. He offers no objection; he does not remind her of God’s prohibition. He ate the fruit that she was giving him.   Nietzsche made the deep remark that since the French revolution, women have more power and less influence. The latter is more important than the former. Through power, one can “force” people to act in a certain way, influence is much more subtle and deeper: it affects not only a person’s actions but the person himself. The apostolate of “being” (as coined by Dietrich von Hildebrand) is the best way of drawing sinners into God’s holy net. One cannot “force” others to accept truth, but one can irradiate peace and joy and thereby “tempt“ our neighbors to marvel about “our secret.”In contemporary life (now that some women do make the lime light), they have much  less influence on husband, children and society at large than before. This is one of the very grave problems we are facing. Following in the footsteps of Esau, feminists have sold their birth right for a mess of pottage. Many female Esaus, who today play a key role in politics, neglect husband and children, and contribute to the breakdown of the family - the very heart of any healthy society. Before the feminist poison had spread like wildfire, Dickens sketched a perfect caricature of a grotesque female, Mrs. Jellyby, who neglected husband and children being totally absorbed by her mission to improve the conditions of an unknown African tribe. (Bleak House).     Simone de Beauvoir is right in stating that men have been the great creators in philosophy, science, technology, fine arts. But she wisely conceals her scholarly dishonesty by refraining from mentioning the second Epistle of St. Peter in which the Prince of the Apostles states explicitly that the world will be destroyed by fire. No human creation will survive this universal disaster. The invention of “the bomb” makes this prediction terribly real. A powerful atomic bomb can, within seconds, reduce the world to ashes. Apparently cockroaches alone would survive. What should be mentioned is that every single child to whom a woman has given life, having an immortal soul, will escape this universal cataclysm. A bomb can destroy matter, not the soul. Are not males once again, being discriminated again? Their accomplishments are essentially time bound. All their “works” will perish. There will then be a new heaven and new earth, and a much better one.It is typical of prejudice on principle (as exemplified in Simone de Beauvoir) that she is an expert at finding biblical quotations that are very critical of women. Let me mention  only two: “I would rather dwell with a lion and a dragon than dwell with an evil wife” (Sirach,  25-26) and further: “from a woman sin has its beginning and because of her we all die” (ibid 24.)  But why omit the very beautiful quotations found in the Holy Book: “Do not deprive yourself of a good and wise wife for her charm is more than gold.” (vii, l9). They are many more. Selective scholarship is a subtle form of intellectual dishonesty.     Men who have caught the “discrimination complex” have more reasons for grievances. Being the “strong sex,” why is it that the great duel is between Eve and the serpent: “… I will put enmity between you and the woman ...”(Gen III, l5). The same theme is echoed in the Apocalypse when the dragon and the woman are confronting each other. The male sex is supposed to be the strong sex, “the fighting sex;” yet in the drama of redemption, the “weak” sex is in the foreground. That Satan’s head will be crushed and that the woman crowned with 12 stars will play a crucial role in this final victory, once again, the woman is assigned a key role. How are we to explain why they do not object to the fact that they are clearly denied the key role?     All these “grievances” dwarf when it comes to the New Testament. St. Luke tells us that an Angel of the Lord appeared to a young virgin, whose name was Mary, and in God’s name, offers her to become the mother of the Savior, the God-man. She questions him “how can this be? I know not man.” Gabriel assures her that in the human male will lay no role whatever in the miracle which will take place in her as soon as she gives her consent. The Liturgy is explicit: “Templum Dei factus est uterus nesciens virum" (vir in Latin refers exclusively to the male sex). The male sex is excluded. The Liturgy is explicit: “becoming Man without man’s (male) aid.” (Gueranger, p. 376; “Antiphon of the Circumcision”). Once again, the primary role assigned to the woman is strikingly formulated by the Liturgy; “O God who placed salvation in the hands of a Woman.”Where is the human male in this supreme moment? St. Joseph is not present, and is not even informed of the earth-shaking event that has just taken place in his betrothed‘s body.This is indeed ground for feeling discriminated against. Moreover, this young virgin is the only creature since the Fall born without the stain of Original Sin. She is Tota Pulchra; she is the creature God loves most, she will be declared the Queen of Angels, upsetting the hierarchy placing these pure spirits above all human persons. She is the one in whose body God, through the Incarnation, is reconciled with man, for her blessed child is both God and man; she is the one in whom body and soul - at war since the Fall - sing the same song of gratitude; she is the one whose love for St. Joseph  as reconciled man and woman, whose common sin had profoundly harmed the peaceful love that God had originally created between them.The feminists who do not enjoy being defeated will retort: What about the priesthood?  This seems to be a formidable trump in the feminist camp. A few remarks are called for. All women without exception are meant to be “mothers” (whether married, widowed, not married, consecrated virgins).  There is a metaphysical bond between woman and life established by God himself and this why any law allowing abortion (i.e. a woman‘s right over her body) is the greatest Satanic victory that has taken place since original sin. A very small percentage of men are called to be priesthood. God gives this honor to those whom He handpicked for this unfathomable privilege. St. Paul writes: “But one does not take the honor upon himself, but he is called by God just as Aaron was.” (Epistle to the Hebrews, V, 4). When one reads these inspired words, one cannot help but marvel at some nuns who do not hesitate to declare that they feel worthy to be ordained. To say: “I am not worthy” is a much safer road to God than to make the arrogant claim that, of course, one is worthy.  Mary being born without sin, is the one creature whose very existence is not only a constant source of  joy to God, but whose body and soul are sacred. Receiving the awesome sacrament of the priesthood, does not make the priest holy, even though it challenges him to become holy. Nothing short of holiness is required. Alas, how many today are conscious of this call? When the priest pronounces the words of Consecration: This is my body; this is my blood” he is acting in persona Christi. It is no longer Father Brown; it is Christ himself who operates the miracle of the transubstantiation. Man can forgive an offense done to him personally; he cannot forgive sins. Hence the “scandal” of the Pharisees when Christ said; “Thy sins are forgiven thee.”  But priests who have received this ineffable dignity, should pray daily that they might become holy, for the striving for holiness is required of priests in a very special way. Mary does not have to strive for holiness. She is holy.Moreover, every priest needs a mother; this is so true that Christ, the priest par excellence has a mother, but no human father. Priesthood and maternity are so complementary that they cannot be united in one and the same person. May these few thoughts open the eyes of Esau females, who feel that they have been discriminated against, and raise their fist against heaven which has “only” given them the honor to give life - a life which, alas some of them, now feel entitled to extinguish. May God have mercy on a sex which so favored, despises the divine gift, and opts for a mess of pottage. 

Revelation and curiosity

Nov 29, 2010 / 00:00 am

Editor's note: Dr. Alice von Hildebrand adds to the debate with Christopher West over Theology of the Body. She addresses his words that Mary ejected a bloody placenta after she gave birth to Jesus.Recently I had the privilege of spending a full hour with Francis, Cardinal Arinze. In the course of our talk, he shared with me a thought of such value that I wish to communicate it to truth-hungry Catholics and other Christians. This is almost a quote: "God, in His loving wisdom, has revealed to us what we need know for our salvation. But He said nothing to satisfy our curiosity."Obviously, the cardinal was not referring to the laudable "curiosity" of scientists eager, through their God-given reason, to penetrate more deeply into the natural mysteries of the material universe, a universe of such beauty and greatness that, if properly read, it should lead to the Creator of all this glory. This awesome beauty has nevertheless all the marks of metaphysical fragility; it cannot explain or justify its existence, as St. Augustine writes in his "Confessions" (X 6). Overwhelmed by the beauty of the universe, he questioned various creatures, the moon and the stars: they all answered. "Seek further" and they joyfully confessed: "He made us."The magnificence of the material universe - awesome as it is - is ear-marked by impermanence, contingency, metaphysical frailty, and mortality. This is confirmed by St. Peter who writes: "...the earth and  the works that are upon it will be burned up" (Second Epistle3-10). There is, however, one exception; the souls of all the human creatures that women have brought into the world. Cardinal Arinze was clearly referring to the temptation of many contemporaries to turn their attention mostly to questions which cannot be answered on this earth, and moreover need not be answered. This craving to pry into mysteries that the human mind is incapable of penetrating can have a double danger: the first being that one spends so much time and energy upon offering interesting speculations, that too little time is left for the contemplation of what has been revealed and should be our daily food. It took St. Teresa of Avila a full hour to meditate on the Our Father. Sometimes as a reward, God grants privileged souls a mystical grace that for a brief moment, lifts the veil and reveals "the secrets of the King." These graces are rarely granted. When referring to these supernatural experiences these privileged souls will tell us that no human word can adequately express what they have been deigned to perceive. It is not by accident that the greatest theologians are also great saints. This "harmless" and understandable curiosity rampant today (after all, is one not entitled to ask questions?) can have another serious consequence. Revelation being silent on certain issues, the impatient questioner, eager to find an answer at all cost, might, unwittingly, be tempted to become "creative" and will fall from the supernatural to the purely natural. Living in a society that has apostatized, it is particularly dangerous to forget the abyss separating the supernatural from nature. We are told that after Christ’s miraculous birth, Mary ejected a bleeding placenta. Referring to a similar remark about what happened in Bethlehem, Father Groeschel once interrupted the speaker and asked: WERE YOU THERE? We cannot know whether or not this happened. We need not know it. That a virgin could give birth and remain a virgin would never have crossed man’s mind. It is a fact inaccessible to human reason. It has a divine seal: it is mysterious, miraculous, can only be known by revelation, accepted on faith. It calls for trembling adoration, the only adequate response.In man’s craving to penetrate behind the "veil" and know what is in no way necessary for our salvation, many are tempted - unwittingly - to cross the abyss separating the supernatural from the purely natural. Admirable as a birth is, as awesome as is the order and beauty of the universe, a "star studded sky," planets, animals, flowers, sunsets etc, this can just as well be perceived by an atheist like Dawkins. The greatness of the material universe evokes in us such a sense of wonder and awe that it explains the never dying temptation to deify the world.But there is nothing supernatural about a placenta; there is nothing miraculous, there is nothing inaccessible to reason. There is no need of revelation; there is no need for faith. Any scientist, any medical doctor, any atheist knows that a woman after giving birth, ejects a placenta. This is true of all female mammals as well as human mothers. Any pagan knows this. We certainly do not need a supernatural revelation to be aware of this fact. Any great scientist is rightly awed by the beauty of nature. And he should be. But this is a domain accessible to reason. We need neither faith nor revelation to gain this knowledge. A bleeding placenta does not call for silent adoration. Assuming that I am shocked by the word "bleeding," some critics remind me "that there also was blood on Calvary. What is so shocking about this?" But they leave out the essential: The greatest crime in the history of mankind, Christ’s crucifixion, is certainly not miraculous. We do not need faith to be informed of this historical fact. A man scourged, and crucified inevitably bleeds. What would be miraculous is that there would be no bleeding. Without any transition, we are brought down from the supernatural to the purely natural. That the supernatural is under siege is greatly due to the works of the famous Jesuit paleontologist, Father Teilhard de Chardin. In l949, he gave a talk at Fordham University. Father Gagnon, S.J. was president. After the talk, Father Gagnon thanked the speaker and added; "I have noticed that during your speech, Professor (Dietrich) von Hildebrand was fidgeting in his seat. I assume that he would like to make a comment." There ensued a very lively debate. At one point the famous Jesuit exclaimed: "You are clearly a disciple of St. Augustine: the great culprit who introduced the fatal distinction between nature and super nature."That a son of St. Ignatius should implicitly deny that there is a chasm between what can be known only through revelation, and accepted on faith, and what human reason can discover by man’s mind, is worrisome. Years ago, my husband said to me that one of the greatest dangers menacing Christians today, is either to deny the supernatural altogether, or to reduce it to nature. The diagnosis was correct.