Life in a small town

Render Unto Caesar …

Aki, Inner Thoughts, Rodrigo Rodriguez

So the last few posts since the elections I have been moaning about the world going to hell and how do I make sense of “The World”, the world that is clearly not turning out the way I thought it should. A combination of scripture and meditations and stepping back from my own opinions and desires lets me see things better, always keeping in mind that eternity matters, this world does not. Often my readings for daily meditations allude to the will of God being made manifest in the actions and orders of our “superiors”.

Alberta NDP Education Minister David Eggen (since deposed).

In religious life, within an order of religious in a monastery or in the priesthood it resembles the military in that it is not a democracy, vows of obedience include obeying orders and decisions which we may personally disagree with.

Outside of such societies we have come to feel that our own opinion is more important than anyone else’s but we still have our “superiors”, our bosses, executives of corporations, politicians, bureaucrats who wield much power, all in an ever increasing range or scope of authority the further up the food-chain a person gets.

Of course within the ever increasing “scope” of government authority we also suffer from inevitable “scope creep” as those who find themselves in positions of power struggle and push to increase their power in their various “silos” of responsibility … some would call this corruption but is an every day commonplace in our culture and much worse in other countries. The question I have is do those these persons make manifest the will of God in our lives?

“The Tribute Money” 1612-1614, painting by Peter Paul Rubens.

“19And the chief priests and the scribes sought to lay hands on him the same hour: but they feared the people, for they knew that he spoke this parable to them. 20And being upon the watch, they sent spies, who should feign themselves just, that they might take hold of him in his words, that they might deliver him up to the authority and power of the governor.

21And they asked him, saying: Master, we know that thou speakest and teachest rightly: and thou dost not respect any person, but teachest the way of God in truth. 22Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or no?

23But he, considering their guile, said to them: Why tempt you me? 24Shew me a penny. Whose image and inscription hath it? They answering, said to him: Caesar’s. 25And he said to them: Render therefore to Caesar the things, that are Caesar’s: and to God the things that are God’s.

26And they could not reprehend his word before the people: and wondering at his answer, they held their peace.” (Luke 20: 19-26)

So the Gospel outlines clearly the position of the Christian toward civil authority. “Render therefore to Caesar the things, that are Caesar’s: and to God the things that are God’s” (cf Luke 20, 25). There is no opposition between the rights of political power and the rights of God, since “there would be no power unless it were given from above” (cf John 19, 11): political authority, legitimately constituted, comes from God and must be respected as a reflection of the divine authority.

This is precisely the reason why every Christian is bound to fulfill all the duties of a good citizen, and, consequently, must obey political authority, unless its orders are opposed to the law of God.  In that case it would no longer represent divine authority, because God cannot will anything bad or evil being the supreme Good. As St. Peter says, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5, 29). In telling us to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, Jesus teaches us to give to the State all that falls under its jurisdiction, that is everything concerning the temporal order and the public good.

But He does not stop there, He says also “Give to God what is God’s”. If the coin which bears the  image of Caesar should be restored to Caesar, then there is much greater reason to restore our soul to God since our soul bears the image of God. This is to say that we owe Him everything, because we received everything from Him. And this carries further, it is the duty and purpose of every human being to restore our souls to God since He is the creator of all of us and everything in the world. We restore our soul to God by putting our will in the service of His will.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks with the media in the foyer of the House of Commons following the release of an ethics report (on his conduct). December 20, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld ORG XMIT: ajw105

But if we find ourselves in a political system (as so many of us do) whose orders are opposed to the law of God then that civil authority would no longer represent divine authority, because God cannot will anything bad or evil being the supreme Good. Such a political system would manifestly not be concerned with temporal order and the public good but rather the well-being of its “friends” at the expense of its citizens. What does one do in that case, well … obviously, as St. Peter says, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5, 29).

What does that look like in real life in our modern polite Canadian society?  We read in Luke 17: “1And He said to his disciples: It is impossible that scandals should not come. But woe to him through whom they come! 2It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck and he cast into the sea, than that he should scandalize one of these little ones”.

And then we have The Book of Wisdom in the Catholic Bible, which has this to say about that:

1 Listen therefore, O kings, and understand; learn, O judges of the ends of the earth. 2 Give ear,you that rule over multitudes, and boast of many nations. 3 For your dominion was given you from the Lord, and your sovereignty from the Most High; he will search out your works and inquire into your plans. 4 Because as servants of his kingdom you did not rule rightly, or keep the law, or walk according to the purpose of God, 5 he will come upon you terribly and swiftly, because severe judgment falls on those in high places.

6 For the lowliest may be pardoned in mercy, but the mighty will be mightily tested. 7 For the Lord of all will not stand in awe of anyone, or show deference to greatness; because he himself made both small and great, and he takes thought for all alike. 8 But a strict inquiry is in store for the mighty.

Pope Francis and the Amazon Synod controversy …

9 To you then, O monarchs, my words are directed, so that you may learn wisdom and not transgress. 10 For they will be made holy who observe holy things in holiness, and those who have been taught them will find a defense. 11 Therefore set your desire on my words; long for them, and you will be instructed. (Wisdom 6. 1-11)

So, mercy for the lowly, “For the lowliest may be pardoned in mercy” but dark days ahead for the mighty … and the realization that there is nothing that we, in our lowliness, can do about the great tides of misfortune in our time nor for the most part is there anything we can do about even the little misfortunes and sufferings of life.

It seems that as we age and become more aware of the inadequacy of our efforts to hold back the wheel of time, to prevail as the body and the mind and our energies decline, it seems that it becomes easier and easier to understand that we are miserable and powerless on our own. A moment’s inattention can lead to a world of hurt and as we age the odds are more and more stacked against us.

We are less and less able to make a material change in our lives for the better and certainly we come to appreciate how little we can affect the “polite society” all around us and the decisions and events which once we though we knew better about. Letting go of everything outside our “circle of control” is hugely liberating. Realizing just how small that circle of control really is is bracing and at the same time can be hugely depressing.

And in this new place of depression and perhaps despair, it becomes easier to understand the sufferings of life as the Will of God designed to purify us and strip us of everything we thought we loved about ourselves, thus making room for love of God to enter into our lives which, up to now, were so filled up with love of self. This progression is the “Dark night of the soul” written about by mystics like John of the Cross, but written  for “Every-man”. The more successful we are the easier it is to think highly of ourselves, to “take credit” for everything in our lives which is actually just a gift. The lowlier we are the easier it is to appreciate what a screw-up we are, how miserable we are, and how much we are in need of God’s Love and God’s help.

So, in our total inadequacy, far from taking the initiative, as Father Gabriel says “… we are reduced to accepting with love, to enduring with patience and humility all that God disposes for us. God generally purifies souls through the ordinary circumstances of life. In the life of every Christian there is always a measure of suffering sufficient to effect the purification of the soul. These are the sufferings which God himself chooses and disposes in the way best suited to the different needs of souls; but, unfortunately, few profit by them because few know how to recognize in the sorrows of life the hand of God who wishes to purify them. 

Illness, bereavement, estrangement, separation from dear ones, misunderstandings, struggles, difficulties proceeding sometimes from the very ones who should have been able to give help and support , failure of works that were cherished and sustained at the price of great labor, abandonment by friends, physical and spiritual solitude, — these are some of the sufferings which are met with more or less in the life of every man, and which we will find in ours” if we live long enough.

We have to accept and understand that all these things are willed or permitted by God, in his plan to purify us to the inmost fiber of our being.  Additionally we must not stoop to blaming others, to blaming the malice of man, or examine the justice of events, but see only the hand of God working to chisel us into a closer resemblance to himself through these trials. We have to accept with patience and constancy, especially constancy, all these trials and tribulations which God sends us from within or without, spiritual or corporeal, great or small.

Sometimes we find it easier to accept heavy trials which obviously come directly from God, such as illness and bereavement, than the myriad daily lighter trials where other people enter into and for which we feel much greater revulsion. The immediate actions of our fellow humans, especially if their malice factors in, makes it more difficult for us to recognize the divine hand in our lives. And in our self love it is very easy to fall into sin by attributing all kinds of malicious motives to folks who have no clue that we even exist except in a general statistical way. How could they possibly do that … they must be screwing with us intentionally, right? Whole categories are malicious enemies, right? Republicans, right?  Democrats, right? Liberals, right? Socialists, right? Gays, right? Bureaucrats, right? You get my drift?

Saint John of the Cross says: “Thou must know that those are no more than workers whom God has placed there only that they might work upon and chisel at thee by mortifying thee. and some will cut at thee through words … others in deed … others by their thoughts, neither esteeming nor feeling love for thee … and thou must be subject to them in all things, even as an image is subject to him that fashions it and to him that paints it, and to him that guilds it.”

Our challenge, the challenge to our faith, is to see in every person a messenger from our Lord Jesus, charged by our Lord to exercise our soul in virtue, particularly in what we lack most. Remember those 10 mile runs in boot? Designed to build strength, and perseverance, both traits that recruits are usually particularly lacking in. This is just another 10 mile run … all these trials and tribulations are just another series of exercises to build up our soul in what we are most lacking.

Instead of rebelling and becoming angry  because of lack of consideration or even injustice we have to bow our heads humbly and accept it all as suitable treatment for our faults and bad inclinations. After decades of talk, this is where “the rubber meets the road”, it is with this realization that “death of self” truly begins. Peace and understanding is truly only found in humble acceptance, to understand in our heart that “this world” truly doesn’t matter. All that matters is God’s will.

Cheers

Joe

As we used to say … “Embrace the suck!”

 

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