“I Am In thy Hands, O Mary”, Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, Doctor Scott Piper, Sir Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz, OP & Sr. Maria Miguel Wright, OP; from the album “Mater Eucharistiae”, (2013)
Living in this world it is astoundingly difficult to avoid becoming attached to the things of this world, not the least because we are almost completely unaware of those attachments unless things start going against what we want, in terms of outcomes and tastes and opinions and the physical realities of enjoyment, food listening, seeing, entertainment, sex and so on and so forth.
Had a nice get together this weekend for a fish fry with friends and acquaintances, all more or less my age, all retired service members and or their spouses as have survived the vicissitudes of time and we share many views and opinions, no surprise there. What hammers home as we all age together is that death is no respecter of political or economic or moral views.
How so very many are no longer with us for these get togethers, a mere half dozen from the 100 plus who entered boot back in 71, and in spite of the many claimed by misadventure, these days Cancer seems to be the weapon of choice of the Reaper. We have been completely losing that war for well over 60 years now, billions and billions spent, and billions in profits to all the usual academic and commercial interests, and the gravy train keep on rolling and no victory in sight and something like 95% casualty rate among the sufferers. Why is it so hard to admit that the current model is not working? Anyway …
Death claims the virtuous and the deviant, the affluent and the poor, the liberal socialist and the conservative capitalist, the religious and the secular, the parent and the child … death comes for us all … often when we are really not ready to depart. The only thing that seems to stand out is that those who believe in eternity and live accordingly have Hope. The rest do not, just a grim journey down into despair, and all the “stuff” we spent our lives for has no saving grace at all. Puts one in a reflective headspace to consider all this.
I have recently posted a couple of articles reflecting on what I am faced with in the aftermath of our recent federal election and also the aftermath of our recent Amazonian Synod in Rome. Both events, and the surrounding actions and reactions surrounding these events, have left me, in the present, deeply depressed and trying to see a path forward in the gloom … looking for some glimmer of light to look forward to. I think Christ has an answer … of course … both to how to view the worldly antics of our secular and religious leadership and how to go forward dealing with the daily depression.
In Romans 8, 12-17 (old missal) St. Paul compares the two lives which always struggle within us, are at war within us. The Old Man and the New Man always struggle to control the man (or woman). The Old Man, is a slave to passion and pleasure, the things of this world, a slave to self indulgence, a slave to sin, from which come the fruits of death. The New Man, is the servant of, or even better, the child of God, producing the fruits of life, fighting for the right, without question or pause, willing to march into hell for a heavenly cause, and our smart polite secular society is truly hellish when one thinks about all those practices which used to be anathema and are now common place … no longer even commented upon, truly truly, Old Man to the core.
To paraphrase Paul, “If you live according to the Old Man, according to the flesh, you shall die. But if you live by the Spirit, if, by the New Man, you mortify the flesh, you shall live”. One of my favorite, perhaps my most favorite of authors, Rudyard Kipling touched upon this truth (the battle between the flesh and the spirit) in his poem “If”. For those of you who never heard of Kipling here is a bit of bio on the man who is perhaps one of the greatest non-Catholic Christian writers in our recent history.
Joseph Rudyard Kipling was born December 30, 1865, in Bombay, India, to a British family. When he was five years old, he was taken to England to begin his education, where he suffered deep feelings of abandonment and confusion after living a pampered lifestyle as a colonial.
He returned to India at the age of seventeen to work as a journalist and editor for the Civil and Military Gazette in Lahore. Kipling published his first collection of verse, Departmental Ditties and Other Verses, in 1886 and his first collection of stories, Plain Tales from the Hills, in 1888.
In the early 1890s some of his poems were published in William Ernest Henley’s National Observer and later collected into Barrack-Room Ballads (1892), an immensely popular collection which contained “Gunga Din” and “Mandalay.” In 1892 Kipling married and moved to Vermont, where he published the two Jungle Books and began work on Kim.
He returned to England with his family in 1896 and published another novel, Captains Courageous. Kipling visited South Africa during the Boer War, editing a newspaper there and writing the Just-So Stories.
Kim, Kipling’s most successful novel (and his last), appeared in 1901. The Kipling family moved to Sussex permanently in 1902, and he devoted the rest of his life to writing poetry and short stories, including his most famous poem, “If—“. He died on January 18, 1936 at the young age of 70 years; his ashes are buried in Westminster Abbey. Kipling’s complete works are available as an e-book on Kindle for a pittance. The literary production values are poor (not flashy) but the works are original, pure, and beautiful.
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build ‘em up with wornout tools;
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on”;
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings—nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run—
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
by Rudyard Kipling, in A Choice of Kipling’s Verse (1943)
“Ladies in Lavender”, Joshua Bell, from the album “the Essential Joshua Bell”, (2005)
If you mortify the deeds of the flesh you will live … Baptism has begotten us to the life of the spirit, but it has not suppressed the life of the flesh in us. The New Man must always struggle against the Old Man, the spiritual must always struggle against the corporeal.
Grace does not excuse us from this battle, but gives us the power to sustain it: “If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew To serve your turn long after they are gone, And so hold on when there is nothing in you Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on”;
Grace gives us the power to “Hold on”, Grace gives the New Man the power to hold on and continue the struggle against the Old Man when things go in the pot and it looks like all is lost … “If you can keep your head when all about you Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don’t give way to hating, And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;
We must detach ourselves, from all these earthly things and creatures: “If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, Or walk with kings—nor lose the common touch; If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you; If all men count with you, but none too much;” in order to keep all worldly things in their proper priority of place.
As David Warren remarks: “Where Kipling goes wrong, predictably because he is not a Catholic, I think, is by omitting the one thing I could reliably do, to make the world a better place; however indirectly. It is to become Holy. This, truly, is “to advance one’s own cause” — in the highest sense, selfish.
It is the selfishness that is distantly reflected, as it were in mudwater at the bottom of a pit, in The Fable of the Bees. (In that, the ideology of Capitalism was foreseen: “private vices, publick benefits.” The author, Bernard Mandeville, was our English Machiavelli. He preferred selfish vices, to “virtue signalling.”)”
We are commanded “…to be Holy as your Father in heaven is Holy” … to “live in the Divine will”. God must reign over all. There will always be attachments in the human heart, but they must be subordinate to God and to His will so that they can never usurp His place as the mainspring of our actions. The spiritual life, the life of the New Man, is a love affair with Jesus. Remember, as a small child, holding on tightly and trustingly to your father’s little finger and you walked out for the first time … remember trusting your father … we are called to Trust our Divine Father totally because he loves with an everlasting love that transcends the love of every human father who ever loved his little boy or girl.
We must be utterly convinced of the need to “Hold on …” so that we will not get self satisfied, or puffed up about our virtue, or perhaps discouraged when old sins come back to haunt us over and over again, even many years after we had thought them dead and gone. “The life of man upon earth is a warfare” (Job 7,1) and “the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence” (Mat 11,12).
But this never ending struggle should not discourage or frighten us. We are children of God and can call upon his paternal help without fear of being ignored or hung out to dry. St. Paul says “You have not received the spirit of bondage again in fear, but you have received the spirit of adoption of sons, whereby we cry Abba, Father.”
This world never tires of selling us that which is not important. None of our daily serving of important worldly news and information matters even one wit or is worth the time to digest it. When we are busy admiring our beautiful front lawn we are missing the exquisite treasures sitting there in plain view for those who can stop worshiping the beautiful lawn. Nothing so fertilizes the field of despair as buying what this world is selling us, all the beautiful little ponies, all the little golden calves.
Sell everything and go for the eternal treasures with every power and ability that is in you. GO FOR IT! We should be putting at least as much effort and work and struggle into acquiring the things of the eternal reality as the children of this world put into acquiring the things of this passing world.
Nothing darkens our gaze on God, nothing weakens our striving to reach God, to live in God’s Will, as much as a single strong attachment to anything of this world, a single attachment to the Old Man. That is the great source of all the trouble and trials in our lives, and I have absolutely nothing to be upset or depressed about since absolutely nothing of this world really matters … it all winds down to dusty death and passes away no matter what we do … any of us.
Ave Christus Rex! Viva Christo Rey! Hail Christ the King! Ave Christus Rex!