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Thursday, May 31, 2018

Gratitude: The Theme For The Month

I went to Mass yesterday, as I customarily do. Father is leaving, so he preached a bit longer, and with more emotion. He said that the key to the life of holiness is gratitude. That is true. Often when you hear this, though, the tendency is to say something like, "I will be thankful for ALL THE THINGS! I'm going to pray 12 hours of every 24, the Rosary, Chaplet, etc."

And that's fine, if you can. Most of us will fail, though, and were we to dwell on it, we would question the very gift of our faith. God does not want this.

I went through the Mass, and I know it is becoming normal again when I know what the celebrant will say. I am hearing the words, praying them in my soul. If they vary too much, we become disoriented. Perhaps the essence of being Catholic is doing the same good things over and over again.

We're conditioned to believe that doing things by rote is bad, that it is exactly the sameness that destroys Catholicism. On the contrary; the things we want and need are things which we do not yet possess in full measure. If you know you need peace, holiness, and obedience to God's will, there is little point in asking for other things.

I received the Blessed Sacrament, and as much as some people might like to talk to Jesus about whatever they have, I like to let Him sit there with me. He just sits there, and somehow I know that I am known and loved in a way that no one else can. He has this weighty presence that other people just don't have. Sometimes, I silently mention a person or two, but this is not news for either of us. When I turned to leave, I felt the gratitude like a great wave. I felt the tears well up. At times, it's the only language that makes any sense.

I'm still a man, and even sensitive men don't like to show much emotion in front of other men. It was the kind of day where tears could pass for sweat or allergies, and no one has to know. So God knows my gratitude, and now so do you, but I don't have to endure a big fuss and production.

All that is to say, we don't need to be ostentatiously doing everything. We just have to be the sort of people for whom peace, forgiveness, and reconciliation is normal. And if God chooses to make us aware of how glorious and majestic the whole matter really is, we accept the tears and the awestruck joy, and we offer it back.

About Patriotism

You know, I can't be a "rights" absolutist as a Christian. Christian freedom, properly speaking, is only to do that which is good. To confess virtue as praiseworthy, and vice as blameworthy is in effect to say that freedom is limited in precisely this way. Such is the nature of the error of voluntarism: that a thing is good because it is willed, not willed because it is good.

These considerations lead without too much effort to the argument that if the good is not arbitrary, and patriotism is the love of country, then true patriotism is the love of that which is good about one's country. The error of nationalism is precisely opposite: What my country does or wills, so to speak, is good because she wills it. "My country, right or wrong," but even worse.

If I were to agree entirely with that possible misattribution to Voltaire, "I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it," I would make the mistake of saying that any possible thing a person could say is neutral or good, when this is clearly not the case. On the other hand, free inquiry and dialogue might require that the State restrain itself from silencing every possible error or odious opinion.

In the service of finding a middle or mean, we could say that there could be and should be room for legitimate disagreement, even among people who agree that particular things are right or wrong, respectively. I would have to agree that there could be ideas with which I do not agree, but which nevertheless are not vicious in themselves. Those ideas therefore have no legitimate cause to be censured or silenced by the State. That is not to say that we Americans would be amenable to that, anyway, since we have--haphazardly, anyway--accepted the idea that the government shouldn't censor anything at all, or so many claim. In the end, no one believes this fully, as we'll see, if we don't already.

Surely some will claim--especially knowing what provokes this writing--that the government isn't silencing anyone at all. People are free to say whatever they like when they are not at work. Realize what you are actually saying: "Feel free to put the world in order, to call it like you see it, when you are not engaged in making money for someone else." In those stark terms, I know I raise the hackles. You say, "Capitalism is the most cooperative and mutually beneficial system ever devised!" Even if I could grant this assertion of dogma against all evidence to the contrary, it's beside the point: The argument put forward is that freedom itself is subject to dollars and cents. Value is value only in economic terms.

As a side note, we have the most powerful official in the government arrogating to himself the right to decide what is "acceptable" speech. Even a personal opinion in this context could be chilling, and wholly undesirable. Some people just don't know when--for the sake of everyone--to shut up.

As another aside, our classically liberal tradition exalts individual choice above every other good, so I must not only tolerate difference that is not vicious, I must accept and even celebrate difference for its own sake, without regard to its goodness or not, as such. It's no wonder that money is power and "goodness," because economic arrangements are the only thing we've allowed the State absolutely to facilitate. Libertarians (classical liberals) are fond of saying they're not anarchists. But the Darwinian anarchy of economic power is as close to Hell on Earth as you'll find, perhaps with the exception of the socialist gulags. And it all circles back on itself: they both agree that the person exists at the whim of someone else.

As for me, I have a duty, I believe, to not participate in the NFL, and its inhuman machinations. I'll miss all the great players and teams. I'll miss the speed and artistry. I'll miss my team. But I think people have the right to stand up--or kneel--for what they believe in, even at work. I certainly don't think patriotism should be sold to the highest bidder, either way. (You could easily say that the health of players shouldn't have a price, either, and I respect that. It didn't seem to me that the league was culpably at fault, at least not entirely. I digress.)

I can sacrifice some small pleasure for solidarity, and I intend to. It takes a great love of country to say that one's country could and should be better. Better because ideals are not imaginary; they are as real as those over the decades whose dignity has been denied, whose full personhood is under threat even today. It's not the only threat out there, but that's not of itself relevant.


Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The Sin Christians Ignore: Fornication

I saw one of those listicles the other day. Maybe it had 8 things. And the things listed were definitely sins. But you know what wasn't there? Fornication. That's sex between a man and woman who aren't married. I know it's common. I know that most people don't even see it as wrong. They think we're weird even holding the traditional view. Fornication is still wrong.

When there is a baby, I think we're just relieved when they decide not to kill the baby. I can understand that. That special murder is so normal and so grave, our relief makes a certain sense. Fornication is still wrong.

There is often that couple who promises to have a "church wedding" later. Look, if you're a baptized Catholic, your civil marriage doesn't count. You can't licitly have sex until you get married in the Church.

I'm not saying you can't be forgiven; I am saying you need to be, if you fornicate. Confess it, and don't do it again.