The old written code, part 2

For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one; and he will justify the circumcised on the ground of their faith and the uncircumcised through their faith.

Romans 3:28-30

It’s evident that when Paul says, “We hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the law,” he’s referring to the Law of Moses, not the moral law. This is clear from the next sentence: “Or is God the God of Jews only?”

His argument is this:

If a man is justified by works of the law, then God is the God of Jews only, since only Jews have the law.
But God is God not only of the Jews, but of the Gentiles also.
Therefore a man is not justified by works of the law.

If “the law” referred to the moral law, then the premise underlying Paul’s argument, that “only the Jews have the law,” would be false.

The old written code

“While we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.”

Romans 7:5-6

From this passage it’s evident that when Paul says our passions were aroused by the law, but that now we are discharged from the law, he means the Law of Moses. What else could “the old written code” in verse 6 refer to? It can’t refer to law in general, that is, the moral law, because of the word “old.” Not because the moral law isn’t old, but because “old” in this context implies “superseded.” And further, because of the word “written.” We don’t refer to the moral law as a written law. Not that parts of it aren’t written down, they often are. But in specifying that the law he’s referring to is a written law, Paul indicates that it’s primarily a written law; which the moral law is not.

Sweet sadness

My dad died several years ago; my mom more recently. As mentioned here previously, she had a stroke and couldn’t care for herself. While in the hospital and rehabilitation facility she suffered a urinary tract infection which set back her rehab. The government was about to cut off benefits for further rehab since her time had expired. We, her family, pushed for further coverage for rehab since she had been held back by her UTI, through no fault of her own. Her doctor was ready to appeal to MediCare for continued benefits, but my mom really wanted to go home. It’s not that she didn’t want rehab, but she was tired of being in hospitals, at the mercy of strangers. At one point she pleaded with me, “Please, take me home.”

Take me home? What does that mean specifically? It was obvious she couldn’t go to her own home and resume life as she knew it before. It seemed to me she was asking me to take her to my home. And how could I say no? Her eyes were pleading with me.

The night I first heard the news of the stroke, I had a premonition that it was the beginning of a long period of hardship. I told my boss about it, and she said the same thing had happened with her mother. She had lived for two years in her home before passing away. It was tough but she was glad she did it.

I didn’t want to do it but I had to. How could I say no? How could I live with myself? We talked all the time about how we loved each other, my mom and my sister and my mom’s boyfriend of 20-plus years. What was all this talk of love if we wouldn’t let her into our homes in her time of dire need?

As it turned out, the boyfriend (platonic) and me split time having her in our homes. This of course involved arranging for caregivers, but since her money wouldn’t last forever, we tried to minimize the amount we paid to caregivers, by caring for her ourselves. So I learned to change her diaper, fed her and sat for endless hours in front of the TV with her. There were some very good times during this period. I had learned before that human beings can adjust to anything. You think you can’t stand something but when it happens to you, you find that you can.

It wasn’t the life she wanted, or was used to, but it was the life she had, and there were times when she took pleasure and felt gratitude for the simplest of comforts. Like the bed being adjusted just so, and the blankets and pillows like she wanted them, and some food that she enjoyed, and something interesting or entertaining on the TV, and a fresh diaper on.

She passed away about six months ago, and as one can imagine, it was both bitter and sweet. Good in that the long ordeal was over, both for her and for me, and for the boyfriend, who by the way was a friend in the truest sense. He showed that he really loved her when he claimed that he did; it wasn’t just words. But very, very sad. A point came where she declared herself “ready to die,” and it absolutely broke my heart, in a way that surprised me. She had said many times, prior to the stroke, that she was ready to die, since there was nothing in this world that she wanted more than to be with her Lord, Jesus Christ, in whom she believed fervently and joyfully.

But when she spoke those words, “I’m ready to die,” I broke into tears. Life was really so hard to bear that she was ready to surrender it. What could be sadder?

Since her passing I’ve looked at life differently. My wife and I are going to die, she sooner than I in all likelihood, since she’s a decade older than I am. God, how precious is each moment with her now! Praise God she’s well, strong and healthy, but I don’t know how long it will last. I don’t know how long I’ll last. Either of us might find himself the victim of a stroke, paralyzed, unable to care for ourselves, having trouble expressing ourselves, finding ourselves living a different mental life, not quite ourselves, not seeing others the way we used to, through no fault of our own.

I’m absolutely, fully ready to care for my wife for as long as it takes, fulfilling whatever she needs from me. It’s the absolute least that I owe her. But God, it hurts to think about it. Either I’ll lose her or she’ll lose me. Tears upon tears, sorrow of sorrows. But God, it’s a good sorrow, sorrow arising from love. It’s the tenderest, sweetest sorrow I can imagine. I thank God for showing me that I can do it. I didn’t want to do it for my mom, it was hard as hell sometimes; she wasn’t herself, and wasn’t always grateful. But God! I did it. I can’t believe it. We didn’t abandon her to a nursing home but let her die among friends and loved ones. Now I know I can do it for one who is dearer to me even than a mother.

Oh the mystery! To keep your life is to lose it, but to surrender it is to gain it. The mercy! To have my mother, so dear to me, pass away, and to have no regrets. I’m no hero, I simply knew that to say no would be worse. I couldn’t have lived with myself. I took on one suffering to avoid a worse. But how did I know it? How did I have such a conscience? That’s the grace, the thing I could never have given myself. Catholic guilt? God damn right.

Can one lose faith?

If any one does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his own family, he has disowned the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

1 Tim. 5:8

“Disowning,” obviously, connotes first owning something and then abandoning or repudiating it. So it’s implied that the person in question had faith and then lost it.

Some versions translate the word as “denied.” One could argue that this might apply to someone who never had faith. But in context, it’s clear Paul is writing to a community of believers, a church. He’s telling Timothy what the rules should be within the church.

And then, he’s “worse” than an unbeliever. This too implies that he was a believer before denying or disowning the faith. One who never believed can’t be worse than an unbeliever; he’s just an unbeliever. Only one who first believed and then stopped believing can be worse than an unbeliever. See also 2 Pet. 2:20.

What’s also interesting is that an action is the cause of the loss of faith. By not providing for his family, he denies the faith.

Faith, Works and Whited Sepulchres

Circumcise your hearts. (Jer. 4:4.)
A true Jew is one inwardly. (Rom. 2:29.)
Accursed you whited sepulchres, clean on the outside but on the

inside filled with filth and dead men’s bones! (Mt. 23:27.)

An observant Jew could be saved by faith (Rom. 3:30). Works of the law aren’t bad. But works of the law don’t make you righteous when done apart from faith. That’s a whited sepulchre — righteous on the outside only. That’s works of the flesh and not of the spirit.

This is Paul’s argument throughout Romans, and it’s his point when he says, the law shines a light on your sins, but can do nothing to save you from them (Rom. 3:20) — because works of the law without faith are works of flesh. Thus, “There is a law at war in my members …” (Rom. 7:23) — concupiscence, which the law can do nothing about, other than point out your sins. But when we walk in the spirit, we can put to death the deeds of the flesh (Rom. 8:13).

Walking in the spirit is having faith, as opposed to doing works of the flesh, whether sinful deeds, or works of the law done only for outward show.

Ultimately what faith comes down to is loving God. If you do works of the law out of love for God you are counted righteous, not because of the works themselves but because of the love from which you do them — that is, by faith, not by works. But love that doesn’t show itself in works is dead, a mere worthless emotion.

You can’t prove yourself righteous by works alone, such as to make God owe you forgiveness of your sins. But through love for God you can overcome your sins and be righteous.

* * *

Psalm 36 (37) – Salvation by Faith in a Nutshell

If you trust in the Lord and do good,
Then you will live in the land and be secure.
If your heart’s desire is eternal life with God,
then God will grant you eternal life with him.

You will live in the land and be secure — isn’t this salvation? And how to you get it? by trusting in the Lord and doing good.

Commit your life to the Lord,
Trust in him and he will act,
So that your justice breaks forth like the light,
Your cause like the noonday sun.

Trust in him — have faith — and he will act so that your justice breaks forth for all to see. 

This is justification:  Trusting God so that you get to live in the land and be secure, and that he will cause you to act with justice. 

There is a dispute whether “justification” in Paul’s letters refers to making you just, or merely crediting justice to you. But I never heard of God crediting justice to someone, on an ongoing basis, who was in fact unjust on an ongoing basis. You don’t see the unrighteous Israelite kings having righteousness credited to them on the basis of their faith in God; since the main thing that made them unrighteous was their lack of faith in God, that is, their unfaithfulness to God in the form of worshipping false gods. Faith in God, in the Bible, always goes along with actual righteousness. Faith in God, in fact, is righteousness. 

Now granted, often people’s past sins are overlooked by God; but only when those sins are repented of in the present. Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness — because it’s a righteous thing to believe God. If you’ve lived a sinful, faithless life before now, but have now come to believe in God, then yes, he’ll count your faith as righteousness, and henceforth consider you a righteous man, in spite of your past sins. But not in spite of present and continuing sins.

Swim against the tide

We’re nothing. That is, we come from nothing. We’re made of the stuff the universe is made of, which itself was made from nothing.

We become something by swimming against the tide. We remain nothing by drifting along with the tide. Sticks and dead leaves follow the current; stones are passively shaped by it. The current itself is pulled along by gravity and other forces acting on water.

The stuff of which our bodies are made is not us. It’s inanimate stuff that does what it does by nature. A cell is generated, it dies, we shed it; whether hair, or nails, or dead skin. This isn’t to say our bodies are not ourselves; they are part of ourselves. But the stuff of which we’re made is only “our body” insofar as it’s matter informed by our souls; that is, only insofar as it’s alive.

To live, we must swim against the current of our nature, our desires, cravings, pleasures — not mindlessly obey the laws of nature, but mindfully obey the laws that are above nature.

Christ was alive in that he subordinated himself to his parents, when they should have been subordinated to him. He was alive in that he fasted for forty days and, when tempted, declined honors and riches and bread. He was alive in that he never sinned, and never sought to preserve his bodily life. He wasn’t a molecule passively obeying the laws of physics, or an animal his bodily instincts. He acted against instinct and self-preservation, comfort and pleasure, embracing suffering, injury and death — because in his mind there was something higher.

He subjected the physical good to the spiritual good.

This is what we’re instructed to do during Lent, but it’s only a more intense application of a principle we should live by all the time: The body is to be subject to the spirit, not the other way around. For the mind to be subject to the body is easy, it’s effortless. It’s nothing more than a dog does when it barks or scratches itself. But to resist the body and its cravings and demands is to rise above the body, and to put the body in its place, in subjection to the spirit.

There are times for giving the body what it needs and wants, but it’s for the spirit to decide when those times are. Prudence, temperance and fortitude are spiritual, not physical.

Father of Mine

There’s a windstorm tonight, specifically Santa Ana winds, and they’re blowing furiously over and around our house. It started about the time it got dark, and although I was able to fall asleep around midnight, it’s now 3:00 a.m. and they’re still gusting. Our potted plants are tipped over, the branches of our palm tree are thrashing about, and heaven knows what we’ll discover in the morning has been upended or blown away.

Aside from the wind noise there’s an alarm of some kind, house or car, I don’t know, set off by the wind. I think I could sleep if not for that. The sound of the wind isn’t really disturbing, as powerful and dangerous as it may be. I trust the house to withstand it, it’s not a hurricane, but that damned irrational screaming grates on me. Once in a while it stops and you hear blessed silence. Which of course is not silence at all, it’s a howling wind, but I can sleep to a howling wind.

For several years I had a habit of waking up in the middle of the night, unable to sleep and suddenly aware of how horrible something was in my life, which somehow I was never able to realize in the daytime. Largely it was about my kids … God, how you worry about your kids. I never had a notion, when I was growing up, how much my mom must have worried about me. But tonight I woke up worrying about my dad.

He’s dead, killed himself with pills about — ten years ago? I was at work, received a phone call, a woman’s voice: “Hi, I’m with the Salt Lake County coroner’s office. I’m sorry to bother you but we’ve had the body almost thirty days and our policy is …” I realized with dread who she must be talking about, although she hadn’t said his name. I said, with a parched throat (that’s how I imagine it now anyway): “I didn’t even know he was dead.”

Silence for a few beats. “Oh … I’m sorry, I didn’t realize you didn’t know. I’m really very sorry.” “Please, don’t worry about it.” Just tell me what’s going on so I can figure out what to do.

My dad had been in and out of my life as long as I could remember. For the past several years I would get a phone call from him once every couple of months. They were excruciating. He would talk and talk and talk and talk, and every word about himself and his schemes and his projects, but mostly about his purchases. “Well, I got me a 1972 Gran Torino!” “No kidding!” I replied, feigning enthusiasm. Knowing him it was a piece of junk that you would be embarrassed to ride in. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, people buy junk cars and fix them up and get a lot of enjoyment out of them. But my dad bought junk cars and let them sit in his driveway till the tires went flat, while he spent his days telling anyone who would listen what he planned to do with it, in excruciating detail. Over and over.

My mom said he was a good guy. She told a story of her and him early in their marriage, poor as churchmice and with a couple of babies (my older sisters). A man came up to him at a gas station and asked for money for gas, or to buy a new tire, or something. Not homeless or anything, just a motorist in a tight spot, apparently. He promised to pay him back through the mail by a certain date. My dad was suspicious, he always was; but he gave the guy $20, which was worth more than it is now of course, and wrote down his address. Later in the car he told my mom, “We can kiss that money goodbye.”

Darned if the money didn’t show up in the mail a couple weeks later. But my mom’s point was, yeah he was a loser and a bad father, but he had a good heart. She told me this after we found out he had killed himself, and I was worried about the state of his soul. She was sure he must have done other, similar acts of charity in his life, but if so I never saw them.

He left her and his kids, including his only boy, the youngest, who was about four years old at the time. It started out as a separation, and he was going to come visit us on weekends. Before long he had a girlfriend, and another and another, over time. (He was a good looking guy.) Finally he married a woman from Utah and decided to pack up and move there with her and her young daughter. I remember him coming to our house in the evening to say goodbye. That’s when I really felt it, what a hole he was going to leave in my life. The bastard.

My mom struggled valiantly to raise us four kids on her own, and eventually met another guy, who eventually moved in and became our stepdad. He was a great guy and, really, more of a dad than my dad; but not really a dad, which I realized when I had my own kids. He definitely never woke up with a cold knot in the pit of his stomach, worrying about my welfare.

So we grew up relatively poor, in a Southern California neighborhood that was gang-infested, and became more so over time. Later I would hear the Everclear song “Father of Mine” and take it as my personal anthem: “It wasn’t easy being a scared white boy in a black neighborhood.” Except it was a Latino neighborhood. “My daddy gave me a name! And then he walked away!”

I hated life. Started smoking pot in the summer between 7th and 8th grade. Smoked cigarettes throughout high school and until my mid-20s. Low self-esteem, no one to mentor me, no plans for the future, no idea how I would support myself. The idea of a job scared me. I would have to somehow snap out of my pot-induced stupor and make a respectable presentation in an interview, show myself to be articulate and smart in my unkempt hair, unshaven face and worn-out clothes.

I couldn’t face that. Actually I could, it would just take some courage, but no one told me anything about courage and what you need it for, or how to get it. And it’s hard to figure out such things for yourself, especially when your brain is drug-addled.

I’m a conservative now but I have a lot of sympathy for kids who grow up poor. It’s not about race, it’s about culture. My dad was descended from poor people in rural Kentucky, presumably farmers of some kind. Before he was born his family moved to Gary, Indiana, a suburb, or rather sort of a continuation of Chicago, not the nice part, but the industrial part. His dad was killed when he was about two years old. No one could tell me how exactly, there were various rumors and theories involving drinking and falling out of a hospital bed after surgery. His mom remarried and her new husband beat him throughout his childhood and teenage years.

He married my mom, who was also being abused in a different way and was desperate to get out of the house, and used my dad to accomplish that by getting pregnant at the age of 17. It’s a wonder I wasn’t abused myself, an absolute miracle and a wonder. Which of course saved my kids from abuse, since that stuff tends to perpetuate itself; though they’ve suffered from my other defects, no doubt.

So I woke up at 3:00 a.m. tonight with the wind howling and my neighbor’s electronic alarm screeching and whining, and suddenly I saw clearly how my dad saw his own life just before he killed himself. How could I have been so oblivious to it at the time? Caught up in my own life, of course, and not feeling a terribly strong obligation to one who felt so little obligation to me as a kid.

He had bought a house, and 20 years later or so sold it, mainly to cash out the equity. He bought a cheaper house with part of the equity as a down payment. Then he spent the rest on restoring a 1936 Plymouth coupe. He had told me about this Plymouth on one of my rare visits to Utah, showed me the rusted out hulk that was the frame and body. Just another project, blah blah blah. But darned if he didn’t actually do it this time, as I found out over the next several months during our occasional phone calls.

Actually he didn’t do it, he paid people to do it. But to his mind it was the same since it was all his idea, and his money. I suppose he realized he was never going to finish one of these things doing the work himself. He was a very handy guy, just undisciplined and prone to self-indulgence. (I know the type very well.)

He got it done and mailed me pictures. Then he mailed me a calendar he had had made, with a different photo of the car for each month. Then a picture frame with a photo of the car on one side and a clock on the other. A few months later we went to visit him and he took us to a car show that he had entered. He had been in shows previously and won a couple of awards. Dream come true.

But when he killed himself he left a note on his computer monitor: “I’m an old man and I’m out of money.” He was 71 and had no retirement savings. He had managed to build up one valuable asset in his life, his house, but he sold it and blew the money on his car. The car cost him about $60,000. After owning it and showing it off for a couple of years he sold it, but could only get $20,000 for it (which of course is typical as anyone could tell you who knows about these things; you do it for enjoyment, not to make a profit). He blew the $20,000 on tools and musical instruments which he rarely used, and suddenly found himself broke. Then he started selling and pawning the things he had bought. His Social Security was just enough to make the house payment. But worse, he had no money with which to buy things. What is life when you can’t buy things?

He might have realized, if you asked him, that buying things was a salve for his loneliness; that the way to be happy was to have people around you who care about you, and whom you care about. But he didn’t have that. I cared about him, sure. But not enough to put myself out. And in any case, he didn’t know how to care about others. He would call and spend an hour and a half talking about his new tools and his projects and his memories, and never ask how my kids were doing in school.

So he ended up alone, addicted to buying things but no longer able to feed the habit, about to slide into a life of bare subsistence, and decided to end it. No one had taught him about courage either.

After he died, and I found out in a roundabout way from the coroner’s office, and after my wife and I had driven to Utah to see what belongings of his we could sell to pay for his burial, and the arrangements had been made and a little time had passed, I found out from my mom that separating from my dad was her idea. This was surprising, but it brought back to my mind something he had said years earlier: That she was the one who wanted to separate, because she wanted to “find herself.” He said the words bitterly: “‘Find herself’! She had to go ‘find herself’! What the f*ck does that even mean?!” I paid little heed at the time, it was the kind of self-serving, judgmental thing he would say. Plus it made no sense to me: My mom preferred to raise us kids by herself?

But yes, said my mom, that was true. She had gone straight from her parents’ home into the arms of my father, and they started their family, but she had never been on her own before. The “zeitgeist” of the time was to decide for yourself who and what you wanted to be, not fall into a dull, boring routine, but to explore life and go “find yourself.” To her at the time, having abandoned the faith and having no other source of meaning in life, it was convincing.

Years later, when she saw the effect it had on me and my sisters (all of whom had kids out of wedlock), the heartbreak we suffered and the deficits to family life that inevitably accrue from divorce, she knew it was a huge mistake and regretted it terribly. But her I could forgive, because in “finding herself” she didn’t find it necessary to abandon us kids. And she turned out to be a wonderful mother, very much interested in us and our families, and integral to some of us coming to the faith, after returning to it herself a decade or so after the divorce (when she finally did find herself).

Lord, we’re all so feeble and silly and stupid in our natural state. Modern Catholics talk a lot about the dignity of the individual person. I find it true, I think, in a different way than is usually meant. The faith lends dignity, it confers dignity on the individual. It’s a thing none of us could find on our own. But once you have a firm grasp on it, you’re equipped for life. It helps you overcome your fear, it gives you hope. It tells you what virtue is and how to get it; and when you’re virtuous you can get through life without needing to salve your unhappiness with hollow pleasures and worthless possessions.

When lived rightly it keeps families together, and they raise children that know how to work and persevere and are conscientious and decent. None of which I could have experienced without the faith. The faith saved me even before it saved me. The faith is about eternal salvation, but that’s attained as a result of the life you live here, a life of order, and patience, and fortitude, and longsuffering, and trust and love for God. All of these are graciously conferred on us and make our lives, at times, like heaven on earth.

The hell I found myself sunk into as a young man, with no plans and no hope and no courage, and a clouded, intoxicated mind, quite likely this is the hell my dad found himself in, but never found the way out of on this earth. With all his obvious faults, nevertheless he was proud for some reason, and didn’t think he needed the faith to tell him how to live his life, or God’s grace to make himself better; even when the way he had lived brought him to the brink of suicide: “I’m an old man and I’m out of money.” No money, no life. And no dignity.

“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?” (Is. 55:1-2.)

Time and money

I took today off work. Not yesterday and not tomorrow, just today, Wednesday, December 29. This was because everyone on my team can’t be out all at once, and other people had claimed the days adjacent to Christmas and New Year’s. But it worked out beautifully. I worked two days, I’m taking one day off, tomorrow I’ll get off work early, and Friday is another off day, followed by the weekend. It’s an embarrassment of riches, and for the first time in months I’ve got time on my hands with nothing I need to be doing. I went to bed feeling no time pressure, and this morning woke up late and didn’t care. My wife and I took a leisurely walk in a lovely neighborhood here in town, then had a leisurely breakfast, then watched a leisurely Christmas movie.

Then we got dressed and went out to “paint the town,” as my wife likes to say, by which she means that we’re going shopping and we’re gonna buy stuff.

A few weeks ago I got word that I was getting a raise, which wasn’t unexpected; but I also learned that my salary was being adjusted in compensation for not having gotten a raise last year, in the midst of the pandemic. It ended up being a good year for the firm after all, so I got a healthy bump in pay. For the first time in our married lives, my wife and I can go out and buy pretty much whatever we want, without worrying about straining our budget.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean we’re rich. When I say “whatever we want,” it should be understood that we have modest tastes in “stuff.” But even modest stuff would strain our budget for most of our lives.

So we went out shopping, and I realized that I was more relaxed than I’ve been in maybe 30 years or more. We spent over an hour in the first store and I never felt the need to look at the time, nor at the price tags of the things she was buying.

She’s a gem and a jewel, and I’ve always felt sorry that we couldn’t afford nice things for her sake. She’s not high-maintenance by any stretch, but she likes to serve good food on nice dishes in a nice setting. We’ve somehow managed to do that, partly by racking up debt and partly by shopping in thrift and antique stores. We’d see something nice and imagine how it would look in our dining room the next time we celebrated someone’s birthday; and we might buy it, but not without qualms, a feeling that we were being irresponsible, that we’d never get out of debt at that rate, and so on.

She retired last year, a year earlier than expected. We both thought it would be a struggle once she retired; almost certainly we’d have to sell our house. Yet somehow — I’m not good enough at accounting to quite understand it — our money has been going farther than it did before. We hardly curbed our spending at all, yet like the Widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17), when our checkbook was balanced we found that it never ran dry.

She’s never said it but when we got married, I think she had high expectations for me. She thought I was exceptionally smart and could be anything, a lawyer, an accountant, a business executive, whatever, even though I was just a clerical worker in an office at the time. And I thought I would do better too. It was a challenge figuring out how I would manage college since I was already working full-time to support myself, but I imagined some solution would present itself. But it didn’t. I could go to school at night, and I did for a while. But I had no goal, I didn’t know what I was working towards other than just “getting a degree.” Meanwhile we got married and had our first child, and at some point I dropped out.

She supported that decision. Classes took so much time on top of working hours, plus homework, that life was just a blur of working and commuting to and from work and classes. I might have endured it had I known what I was working toward, but I had no idea whether it would bear fruit in the end or not.

So we got by on what I made in my clerical job, and once the kids reached school age she started working at their school, and we muddled through financially, paying private school tuition for both our kids from K through 12, and doing what we could to get them through college, mostly by borrowing money from relatives.

This afternoon while we were out shopping our older son called. He had been told that his company would be adjusting everyone’s salary to “market rates,” and he just found out what his adjustment would be: He received a raise of nearly 15%. Just recently he had been worrying that the skill set he was acquiring in his job might not be worth much on the open market; something about them doing things differently from other places, and his job title not fitting what other companies meant by the term. But evidently his firm thinks his skills have value in the market, since they felt the need to raise his pay or risk losing him. He’s not yet 30, but makes almost as much as I did when I was 50 (about five years ago).

Life is good sometimes, and this is one of those times. I feel like my life has been a long chain of worries and regrets. Though my marriage is undoubtedly happier than most (thanks be to God), I’ve regretted not being a better provider. Though my sons are good men, trustworthy and faithful (TBTG), I failed them in so many ways, and have never felt that I’d earned their respect.

In the car heading home a Pearl Jam song came on, a lovely ballad called “Just Breathe.” The first verse talks about the inevitability of death, and how he felt blessed to count the people he loved on both hands. Some people have only one such person (he said), others none. I quickly counted up two hands’ worth of people whom I loved and who loved me. Tears came to my eyes as I thought of my wife, sitting there next to me. While we were dating, I knew she was a jewel. She was pretty of course, with a big, radiant smile, but much more than that. She was the kindest and best friend I ever had, and it wasn’t long before I proposed.

She’s still the kindest and best friend I’ve had, and it’s impossible to express how glad I am that I chose her for my wife, and that she accepted me. And she’s still here, and at last we’ve attained happiness. Our sons are grown, we have a lovely home, and we’re free of worries about money. I’m calm inside.

If this were a movie we could put “THE END” on the screen and call it a happy ending. But life is real, and there’s suffering yet to come. She’ll die, or I will — I pray that she goes first since I don’t want to think of her grieving my death. (I’ve seen her grieve; she does it without shame or reserve and it’s heart-rending. Someone so kind and sympathetic really feels it when people suffer.) Our sons or our grandchildren may have problems, or there may be accidents or illness. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. But let tomorrow worry about itself (Mt. 6:34); for today, I’ll rest in the present. We’ve carried our crosses and borne our burdens, and now we’re reaping our rewards. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Merry Christmas.

They rule with cruelty and violence

It is characteristic of the way that arrogant people teach, that they do not know how to convey their knowledge humbly and cannot express straightforward truths straightforwardly. When they teach, it is clear from their words that they are placing themselves on a pinnacle and looking down on their pupils somewhere in the depths – pupils unworthy to be informed and scarcely even worth the bother of dominating.   

The Lord rightly admonished such people through the mouth of the prophet Ezekiel, saying You have ruled your flock cruelly and with violence. For they rule with cruelty and violence when they do not try to correct those under them with rational arguments but try to dominate them and crush them.

St. Gregory the Great, Moral Reflections on Job (ca. 591 A.D.)

Why Jesus Died on the Cross

Thomistic Philosophy Page

Every Good Friday, the question is raised again, “Why did Jesus have to die?”

A common answer, though not really the Catholic answer, says that Jesus is a substitute victim, an innocent, and infinitely holy person, the Son of God, who suffers the punishment which sinners deserve in their place, and thereby frees them from this just punishment they deserve. He thus allows them to receive a reward of eternal life they do not deserve. God the Father, being infinitely just, demands a sacrifice for sin, but also being infinitely merciful, sends His Son, Jesus, to offer the only sacrifice that could pay that infinite debt.

To many people skeptical of the Christian gospel, this makes no sense, and seems to show that God is cruel and arbitrary in dealing with offenses against himself, as well as being abusive toward His Son. It is reasonably asked, could not God just…

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