This post was supposed to come out the day after New Years Day but took much longer to write than I anticipated. Sometimes one spends more time thinking about how to say what one is thinking about than in the actual writing of it. Can’t be helped.
The gateway to Belief is flanked and supported by the two pillars of reality, the Incarnation and the Resurrection supporting the lintel of Faith … how can one express such a reality to any person confined to, imprisoned in, secular material reality? “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy”. ( Hamlet (1.5.167-8), Hamlet to Horatio). But how are we to describe color to the blind or music to the deaf?
Much of what we learn in life, what makes up our daily lives and the manner in which we conduct ourselves, at home, at work and in public and private is learned by following the examples and instructions of others. Parents, friends, teachers, people in positions of authority, people we respect as worthy authorities, and even, without much thought, we believe and trust relatively unknown people, characters on social media, and the news are all sources and examples, because “all right minded people know this” but have these sources of our learning acceptable behavior and thinking brought us to joy and happiness or led us into ever deepening wells of despair and distress? Do these examples spark joy?
So what about those “examples” and joy? Or is it more about “examples” and envy? Most of our society, at least here in the West, what was once known as “Christendom”, is deep in the throes of an era of self worship and infatuation with self. Our lives, and the lives of our “examples” are certainly not the lives of saints nor anything remotely resembling saints. And daily our society tells us and reinforces the mantra that man is the measure of all things, and this is OK. Joy is found in a new trip, a new car, a new girlfriend or boyfriend, a faster computer, a new dress or suit, a new house or a new husband … a nice coffee and a couple of donuts? Really? Joy?
It’s OK to be “bad”, even fun to be “bad”, to “reward” ourselves with bouts and binges of “bad” behavior for sticking to some middling good behavior for some arbitrarily short period of time, some New Year’s resolution which lasted for a week, maybe, if we really, really, tried hard. “Bad” in this context refers to behavior lacking in “virtue” and in a cultural twist, the 7 deadly sins have been “rehabilitated” into acceptable and perhaps in some cases even desirable behaviors in a self gratification centered life style. Most lately we see Narcissism being raised to the exalted state of a “secular virtue”. And where did Love, as in self sacrificing Love go in this blizzard of self worship?
We were created and called to strive to be good, “as our heavenly Father is good”. We do know what is good and what is not in the same way we know what is quality and what is not. It is written in our DNA, some call it “Natural Law”. Yes, the God deniers are legion and yet none would exist absent God the Creator calling them into existence with love and keeping them in existence with an even greater love, imprinting us with the Natural Law at conception and calling us endlessly home to Him.
These days we are all like riders on a train thinking that reality is contained in the vista dome car of our little lives, looking out through the windows of our screens at whatever Potemkin Village our “Examples” care to show us, with no awareness of the rest of the train, nor where it came from nor where it is headed and how it all ends. And who are our “examples”? Justin? Donald? The beautiful people of “The 5”, of the Golden Globe awards? Whichever celeb has risen to the top of the Social Media pond this week?
At the very pinnacle of the man-centered universe are our real examples, right? The intellectual giants of modern academia, the self declared “Brights”, whose wisdom we are expected to accept and implement in our daily lives. We are talking about the academics, authors, journalists, and media stars who are arguably the shapers of what matters to modern enlightened society, our attempt at “culture”.
We have been obediently marching down this road at least since the French Revolution, a watershed event in modern European history that began in 1789 and ended in the late 1790’s with the ascent of Napoleon Bonaparte. And that road, that “road to perdition” has led us inexorably to what we have today. Looking around you, can anyone believe that this is the best of all worlds, the realized daily experience of our society following the wisdom of the “Brights” for the last 200 or so years?
This road, this man centered “road to perdition” has lead us into 200 years of more savage death than all of previous human history combined. In a mere 2 centuries we have flipped over our whole system of beliefs, from a culture of life, focused on the seasons, on growing, on harvest, on children as necessary and even desirable, on large nuclear families and religions folks believed in, had true faith in, faith in the divine, in God, now flipped over to a culture of death and destruction ever more deeply buried in euphemism and baffle-gab but clearly death focused in a most horrifying way and we have much more faith in government and our alleged leaders and their civil servants than medieval man ever had in the church. And we think the Medievals were gullible superstitious peasants … what does that make us?
Our New Society, our “Enlightened” modern culture, with man at the center, at the pinnacle, finds itself enslaved to our self gratifying passions. Are we not enslaved by anxiety, sadness and obsessions, by hatred, fornication, and envy, enslaved by thoughts of jealousy, rage, and death? We have gotten so desperate that we turn to thoughts of suicide and abortion, for distraction we turn to many forms of sinful sexuality, we are oppressed and enslaved by divisions in our families, and by harmful friendships, and in our despair we turn to every sort of emotional fantasy, and spells, and rituals, and strange beliefs in primitive pre-Christian paganism and even to witchcraft, and the occult masquerading as New Age Gnosticism, and pride ourselves in being “spiritual”.
I recently read a list of the 50 top atheists at the “Best Schools” web site. The BS site is all about the best of the best in academia and one gets the impression that the writers consider “atheism” to be one of the hallmarks of an intelligent human being, in fact it seems at first blush that philosophical academia and journalism is peopled exclusively with atheists and anyone who is not an atheist is somewhat primitive and “unsophisticated”. And yet, we see in these “Elysian Fields” nothing but the promotion of death.
Now, Elysium, also called Elysian Fields or Elysian Plain, in Greek mythology, was originally the paradise to which heroes on whom the gods conferred immortality were sent. It has come to refer to any promised desirable future to which we are being steered by our “betters”. But all we have seen in reality is death and death and more death, death industrialized and raised to a higher order of efficiency with “modern tools and technologies. And while there has been a soundly demonstrated efficiency at killing and destruction in our secular humanist culture, not one of these elite thinkers have ever created life, except by the usual human procreative way of the last hundred millennia or so … 1 man and 1 woman intimately exchanging fluid. None can claim any positive knowledge or origins and virtually everything they claim is as unprovable as the claims of any of the billions of believers.
The “no god” theory is simply another hypothesis upon which many academics, authors and journalists have built prestigious and lucrative careers, another sterling example of BS baffles. No ordinary person can hope to have even a minor meaningful conversation with these “Brights”, we are “not in their league”. And in human terms they are certainly charter members of the cultural elite, and it is interesting to note that “in human terms” it is certainly difficult, perhaps even impossible, to fruitfully imagine how “a god” might work.
And certainly none of these opinion leaders can even begin to offer any reasonable certainty beyond the very same certainty that is on offer throughout the Social Media universe. “All right thinking persons know this to be true”, right? The difference between them and us is the difference between a Tweet and real blog post … anyone can Tweet but it takes sheer genius to write thousands of words on subjects and in ways of writing that only another genius can understand. And they all seem to inhabit a “swamp of sorrows” with no joy and no future after a brief flickering life. What’s the point?
So then, what example are we to take to heart, what example are we to follow to gain peace and happiness, surely one of the primary desires of all human beings, even atheists. Well, let’s look at some people first who even the “no god” crowd would certainly agree led good lives. Let’s look at some saints. Are their lives a good example to take to heart when deciding how to live our own lives.
I believe that the study of inspired writings, that is in Scripture, and the accounts of the lives of blessed men and women, that we find a living breathing example of how to live godly lives. If we devote ourselves to trying to imitate the lives of these saintly people then no matter which virtue we seem to be lacking we can find it in Scripture and the lives of the saints, like finding the particular medicine in God’s own clinic for the particular ailment that is troubling us at that moment.
St. Joseph, my name saint, teaches chastity and firm self discipline, Job teaches endurance, so absolutely necessary to persevere on the godly path in this world of distraction and diversion, St. Augustine teaches repentance and humility, and insight into the perennial human condition, even of the highly intelligent. I have found over the last 25 years or so that St. Augustine’s “Confessions” continues to speak to me like a personal letter from a much respected older brother … someone whose example is truly worthy of following and emulating. What did Saint Augustine have to say about GOD?
“For who is Lord but the Lord? Or who is God save our God? Most high, most excellent, most mighty, most omnipotent; most merciful, and most just; most hidden, and most near; most beautiful, and most strong, constant, yet incomprehensible; unchangeable, yet changing all things; never new, never old; renewing all things, yet bringing old age upon the proud, without their realizing it; ever working, yet ever at rest; gathering, yet needing nothing; supporting, filling, and protecting; creating, nourishing, and perfecting; still seeking, though you lack nothing.
Thou lovest, but without agitation; art jealous, yet free from anxiety; repentest, yet grievest not; art angry, yet serene; changest Thy works, but not Thy purpose; embrace what Thou findest, yet didst never truly lose; never in need, yet rejoicing in gains; never covetous, yet demanding a profit. (Men give to you more than required and) Thou receivest over and above, that Thou mayest owe (hoping to put you in their debt) ; and who hath aught that is not Thine? (all is your gift)
Thou payest (those) debts, yet owest us nothing; remittest (forgive) debts, losing nothing. And what had I now said, my God, my life, my holy joy? Or what saith any man when he speaks of Thee? (Is all this that I have said enough? Can anyone who speaks of you ever say enough?)
Saint Augustine. “The Confessions of St. Augustine” ( 1 pp. 2-3 ).
And where did Love, as in self sacrificing Love, go in this blizzard of self worship? I have been reading St. Augustine off and on for 25 years, he has much to say about Love. And again, I have been reading meditations daily from a very special book for three years now. Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, O.C.D. wrote a book “Divine Intimacy, Meditations on the interior life for every day of the liturgical year”. Where is Love? This is what Fr. Gabriel has to say about the reality of the Incarnation:
God is Love; everything He does, both in Himself and outside of Himself, is a work of love. Being the infinite good, He cannot love anything outside of Himself from the desire of increasing His happiness, as is the case with us; in Himself He possesses all. Therefore, in God, to love, and hence to will creatures, is simply to extend, outside of Himself, His infinite good, His perfections, and to communicate to others His own Being and felicity.
Bonum diffusivum sui, St. Thomas says. Thus God loved man with an eternal love and, loving him, called him into existence, giving him both natural and supernatural life. through love, God not only brought man out of nothing, but chose him and elevated him to the state of divine sonship, destining him to participate in His own intimate life, in His eternal beatitude. This was the first plan of the immense charity of God with regard to man.
But when man fell into sin, God, who had created him by an act of love, willed to redeem him by an even greater act of love. See then how the mystery of the Incarnation presents itself to us as the supreme manifestation of God’s exceeding charity towards man. “By this hath the charity of God appeared toward us, because God hath sent His only-begotten Son into the world, that we may live by Him. In this charity … He hath first loved us, and sent His Son to be a propitiation for our sins” (1 Jn 4-9.10).
After having given man natural life, after having destined him for the supernatural life, what more could He give him than to give Himself, His Word made flesh, for his salvation.
God is Love. It is not surprising, therefore, that the story of His benevolent action on behalf of man is all a poem of love, and of merciful love. The first stanza of this poem was our eternal predestination to the vision and to the fruition of the intimate life of God. The second stanza relates, in an even more touching way, the sublimity of His mercy: the mystery of the Incarnation.
The sin of our first parents had destroyed God’s original plan for our elevation to a supernatural state; we had forfeited our claim, and could never atone for the sin. God could have pardoned all, but it was becoming to His holiness and infinite justice to exact an adequate satisfaction; man was absolutely incapable of providing this. Then the most sublime work of God’s mercy was accomplished: one Person of the Blessed Trinity, the second, came to do for us what we could not do for ourselves. Behold the Word, God’s only-begotten Son, “who for us men and for our salvation, descended from heaven and became incarnate” (Credo).
The merciful love of God thus attains its highest manifestation: if there is no ingratitude and misery greater than sin, there can be no love greater than that of Him who inclines over so much ingratitude and abjection to restore it to its primal splendor. God did this, not by the intervention of a prophet or the most sublime of the angels; He did it personally: all three Persons of THE Blessed Trinity acted in the Incarnation, the end of which was to unite a human nature with the Person of Word. In this mystery, the immensity of the love and mercy of God for man appears and shines forth.
So we find in Scripture, specifically in Malachi 3, The Coming Day of Judgment:
1 Behold I send my angel, and he shall prepare the way before my face. And presently the Lord, whom you seek, and the angel of the testament, whom you desire, shall come to his temple. Behold, he cometh, saith the Lord of hosts. 2 And who shall be able to think of the day of his coming? and who shall stand to see him? for he is like a refining fire, and like the fuller’s herb: 3 And he shall sit refining and cleansing the silver, and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and shall refine them as gold, and as silver, and they shall offer sacrifices to the Lord in justice. 4 And the sacrifice of Juda and of Jerusalem shall please the Lord, as in the days of old, and in the ancient years. 5 And I will come to you in judgment, and will be a speedy witness against sorcerers, and adulterers, and false swearers, and them that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widows, and the fatherless: and oppress the stranger, and have not feared me, saith the Lord of hosts.
And the thought, the belief that we can deny God … that if we say so then it must be so … is just insane … as C.S. Lewis said: ““A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell.” ― C.S. Lewis, “The Problem of Pain”. Our culture, our enlightened society has bought into the lie that by denying God we can get away with robbing Him.
6 For I am the Lord, and I change not: and you the sons of Jacob are not consumed. 7 For from the days of your fathers you have departed from my ordinances, and have not kept them: Return to me, and I will return to you, saith the Lord of hosts. And you have said: Wherein shall we return? 8 Shall a man afflict God, for you afflict me. And you have said: Wherein do we afflict thee? in tithes and in first fruits. 9 And you are cursed with want, and you afflict me, even the whole nation of you. 10 Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in my house, and try me in this, saith the Lord: if I open not unto you the flood-gates of heaven, and pour you out a blessing even to abundance. 11 And I will rebuke for your sakes the devourer, and he shall not spoil the fruit of your land: neither shall the vine in the field be barren, saith the Lord of hosts. 12 And all nations shall call you blessed: for you shall be a delightful land, saith the Lord of hosts.
13 Your words have been unsufferable to me, saith the Lord. 14 And you have said: What have we spoken against thee? You have said: He laboureth in vain that serveth God, and what profit is it that we have kept his ordinances, and that we have walked sorrowful before the Lord of hosts? 15 Wherefore now we call the proud people happy, for they that work wickedness are built up, and they have tempted God and are preserved.
But all will be remembered, nothing is forgotten, not one little jot … all is inscribed in The Book of Remembrance:
16 Then they that feared the Lord, spoke every one with his neighbour: and the Lord gave ear, and heard it: and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that fear the Lord, and think on his name. 17 And they shall be my special possession, saith the Lord of hosts, in the day that I do judgment: and I will spare them, as a man spareth his son that serveth him. 18 And you shall return, and shall see the difference between the just and the wicked: and between him that serveth God, and him that serveth him not.
So we come to the end of part 1 … next post maybe I will touch on the Resurrection, or maybe not until Easter … if the Resurrection is not all true then Christianity is an evil lie, the Cross without redemption, and the god deniers are right about everything and this really is the best of all worlds possible under the rule of man as the measure of all things.
Enough for now.
The Angelus, JEAN FRANÇOIS MILLET (Museo_de_Orsay, 1857-1859)