A whole new life

My mom had a stroke. She was in the hospital for a short time, then in a skilled nursing facility, then in acute rehab. Now she’s living with me.

Mentally she’s all there, though impaired in her speech and attention span. Physically she’s bedridden and wheelchair-bound. One leg and arm work normally, the others do not.

Some of her friends and loved ones lament what she’s lost, or rather what they’ve lost in her, and now miss. I for one like the new Mom. She’s softer and gentler and, frankly, cute as a button. She no longer cares about making herself up to look young and pretty, and as a result she’s even prettier, with fluffy grey hair and glowing white skin.

My life is now filled with her life. It used to be important to me to carve out some “Me time” each day, an hour or two for sitting on the couch and watching mindless TV if I wanted to. I thought I needed this unwinding in order to function. Now there’s no Me time. Any extra time I have between work and bedtime and running necessary errands, is spent sitting with Mom, talking with her, adjusting her in bed to be more comfortable; or else making appointments or arrangements of one kind or another on her behalf. I may get 15 or 20 minutes of Me time after work, which seems to suffice nowadays.

Sometimes if she has a visitor I get more free time, since they’re there to tend to her needs; a couple of hours, sometimes three or four, though occasionally interrupted with requests that only I can fulfill, since I know just how she likes to be positioned in bed, or have the blanket wrapped around her legs in the wheelchair. Sometimes I have the burden of entertaining the visitors, who may spend an hour with her and then an hour with me — an hour during which I’m distracted, worried about Mom being neglected, lonely and bored, vegetating in front of the TV by herself in her room, while her “visitor” is out in the living room with me, talking and robbing me of my free time.

But I can still function. It’s a whole new life, one which I never would have thought I could live. But I’m living it, and it’s fine.

Free food

Recently I read the blog of an atheist (to which I’m not linking to avoid its becoming personal), who had the following to say about Christians: They deny that life has meaning to those who aren’t Christian; they deny that one can be moral without being Christian; and they “steal” goodness and humanity from people and lock them up in a vault to which they alone have the key.

I believe he’s referring to the idea that salvation may be found only in Jesus Christ. He also may be thinking of the commonly held Christian idea that we can do no good without grace — therefore (he reasons) non-Christians can do no good. I suspect he takes it a step further and accuses us of believing that we are in possession of the treasury of all graces, such that you can’t access grace without belonging to the Church.

Grace, in this scenario, seems to be rather like gold, and we Christians like the evil miser who says, “You can have some of my gold, but only if you promise to be subject to me.” He doesn’t take the analogy this far but this seems to be his underlying point.

Instead of gold, I would suggest that grace is more like food; and saying that people can’t live without food is not an insult to them, but is just the truth. It may be a hard truth. In a sense it’s like putting a gun to people’s heads and saying, “Eat or die!” Nevertheless, it’s true and we do no one any favors by denying it.

It would not be kind in us to say to a starving man, for the sake of his dignity and self-respect, “Who needs food anyway? Foodless people are as good as anyone else.” He may be as good, but perhaps not as well.

In fact this all may come down to the failure to make the distinction between “good” and “well”.

People generally don’t brag about health. Some do, once in a while. But for the most part, we know that our health is not something we created or earned for ourselves. We know that if we were born with a normal, healthy body, free of major diseases or defects, it was no more our doing than that we were born at all.

Now some people do things that ruin their health: playing dangerous sports or abusing their bodies through eating or drinking or drugs. But they don’t give themselves the health which was there to begin with. In short, we can destroy health but we can’t make it. Even a doctor will admit that the healing art is just a matter of working with the health that is already there.

What Christians are saying, then, is that food is to the health of the body, as grace is to the soul. Whereas food keeps you fit for your bodily existence in the physical world, grace makes you fit for the spiritual. Grace is the food of the spirit.

Christians will admit that grace is given freely, and not earned beforehand. Grace can no more be earned than a body before one’s own birth. But grace, once given, is treasured, as wholesome food to a man who has known nothing but starvation or malnourishment; and who when provided with food wants to share it with those whom he cares for. He loves how wonderful it feels to be healthy, and can’t help thanking and praising those by whom he was fed.

Now imagine our malnourished gentleman calling his family and friends to partake of this bounty: “Come, this is the place to get it, it’s over this way! And it’s free! No, not over there, over here! The big blue truck, not that garbage can!”

It can’t be helped that the food is in one place rather than another. Those who distribute it don’t just scatter it promiscuously over the ground, but do so through their local agents, who have been employed and trained for the purpose. They don’t transport food in every truck that happens to pass down the highway, but only in those that are authorized carriers. This way they coordinate distribution for the greatest benefit.

So if the Church is the place to receive grace, what of it? Surely God has the right to distribute his gifts as he pleases. And as to her being a miser, hoarding his gifts to herself, oh come now. To what nation, tongue or dialect has she not gone in her effort to give them away? Whom does she not welcome? To whom does she not say,

All you who thirst, 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 for what is not bread,
And your wages for what fails to satisfy?
Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good,
And delight yourself in abundance.
Incline your ear and come to Me.
Listen, that you may live;
And I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
According to the faithful mercies shown to David.

Isaiah 55:1-3.

I’m not The Man

“[A]nother of my peeves — and it’s fairly closely related to the myth of libertarian liberalism — is the idea widely held on college campuses that being liberal is ‘rebellious.’ Whenever I go on a college campus these days I try to hammer home this point: Your professors are liberal, your textbooks are liberal, your administrators are liberal, Hollywood is liberal, the music industry is liberal, the publishing business is liberal, the mainstream media is liberal, your high-school teachers were liberal . . . and yet you somehow believe you’re sticking it to the man by being . . . liberal!

“This is, quite easily, the cheapest rebelliousness in human history.”

Jonah Goldberg, The Goldberg File (email newsletter), November 8, 2013.

(The Goldberg File is an email newsletter requiring a subscription. I highly recommend it, it’s always good and often hilarious. You can sign up for it here.)

“The truth of the matter is that progressivism is the mainstream American tradition. This is not to say it hasn’t changed in the last 200 years, or even the last 50: it has. However, if we look at the ideas and ideals taught and studied at Harvard during the life of the country, we see a smooth progression up to now, we do not see any violent reversals or even inflection points, and we end up with good old modern-day progressivism.”

Mencius Moldbug, “An open letter to open-minded progressives“, Unqualified Reservations blog, April 17, 2008.

This is not a political blog. In fact I deliberately avoid following politics since I can’t do anything about it and all I get in return for my time and attention is frustration and worry. Still, I know enough to know that conservative Republicans are not The Man. Face it, liberals/progressives: The Man is you.

Personal experience dissolves doubt

More from Francis J. Hall:

“The idea of God thus derived, and thus formulated is a finite idea and anthropomorphic, but it is a true idea of the infinite and triune God.  Its truth is confirmed by its working value, by the multitude of problems which it solves, and by the mental and spiritual emancipation which is enjoyed by those who adopt it and guide their lives by its light. The personal experience of those who with divine assistance accept and apply the Christian idea of God dissolves doubt and develops belief into knowledge.”

The Being and Attributes of God, Francis J. Hall, D.D., New York:Longmans, 1918, p. 13.

God’s continual donation of being

“… God does not fabricate a self-sustaining universe, but rather brings all things into being and maintains them in existence.  When we’re awestruck by the flower’s bloom or the ant’s relentless determination or a friend’s sly smile, we’re participating in the miracle of existence, God’s continual donation of being.”

R.R. Reno, “The Public Square”, First Things, November 2013, p. 6.

More on justice and mercy

Further to my last post on justice and mercy:

Coincidentally, I read on Bruce Charlton’s blog this morning about Christian churches which are either inordinately “sweet, broad and submissive,” or inordinately “harsh, narrow and tough”; how both are in error and we need to strike a balance between sweetness and harshness. I agree with that: Christian churches need to preach both mercy and justice, and not predominantly the one or the other.

Bruce acknowledges that most modern churches tend to err in the direction of sweetness, albeit with “other parts of Christianity” erring on the side of harshness. Based on my experience, both what I’ve experienced and what I’ve read about, I have to opine that the latter is quite rare.

I also read this morning about a recent homily of the Pope’s, in which he warns Christians not to become “rigid, moralistic, ethical, but without kindness.” This frightens people, he says, and chases them away. He’s right, of course. Preaching morals without also preaching charity is very unappealing. But I find it baffling that he seems to think the predominant problem in the Church today is excessive moralism!

Practically the only time I hear moral issues preached on at all in church, is when I go to the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM). Otherwise it’s pretty much all “sweet, broad and submissive”, to borrow Bruce’s phrase. (I might add that in the case of the TLM I attend, the moral preaching is certainly balanced with charity.)

Now the Pope could be right, there could be an epidemic of moralistic preaching in the Church, without charity, and I have just managed to miss out on it. But if so, I would like to see some once in a great while in my neck of the woods. Even if it is all harsh and no sweet!

My sense is that it’s no longer a situation where people know right from wrong and just refuse to do right; rather, they don’t know right from wrong in the first place, because nobody’s preaching it. Preaching morals without charity may be bad. But is it any worse than preaching charity without morals?

A story of God’s mercy and justice

I assume most readers have heard the biblical story of Naaman the leper (2 Kings 5). For those who aren’t familiar with it offhand, Naaman was a military commander under the king of Aram, a neighboring kingdom of Israel’s, and was a leper. I had heard the story in church, but only the “nice” part of it, where Naaman gets healed. When I came across it in my daily Bible reading, I realized that there is more to the story.

An Israelite girl who had been taken captive to Aram, suggests that Naaman go and see the prophet Elisha in Israel, to be healed of his leprosy. Naaman mentions this to his king, who says “by all means” and sends him off with gifts for the king of Israel.

Eventually Naaman reaches the home of Elisha. Now Naaman had expected Elisha to heal him by standing over him and invoking the Lord in a mighty voice, or in some such dramatic fashion. But Elisha only tells him, “Bathe in the Jordan River seven times and your flesh will be healed.” Naaman says, “I came all this way for this? Don’t we have better rivers at home?” But his servants say, “If he had asked you to do something outlandish you would have done it. How much more that he only wants you to do something simple?”

So Naaman does it, and of course he is healed.

After his healing, Naaman goes back to Elisha and says, “Now I know there is no God but in Israel. Please accept these gifts.” But Elisha refuses the gifts and Naaman goes on his way.

Now for The Rest Of The Story:

Elisha has a servant named Gehazi, who apparently can’t believe that Elisha refused the gifts. Gehazi hatches a plot, and goes running after Naaman, claiming that Elisha has received some unexpected visitors and would like some of the gifts after all, to give to the visitors. Naaman says, “Sure, take what you like.” So Gehazi takes two talents of silver and some clothing, and hides them in the house.

Later Elisha asks him, “Where’ve you been?” Gehazi says, “Oh, nowhere.” But Elisha has seen in a vision what Gehazi has done, and as a result, Gehazi is struck with leprosy.

That’s all. I just offer this as a counterbalance since in my experience Christians hear constantly about God’s love and mercy, and never about his justice. Not that I don’t like hearing about mercy. Where would I be without it? But without justice the Gospel is pointless. There’s no need to repent of sin if all the Gospel means is, “God is really, really nice and he loves you and wants you to be happy.” If that’s all God is, and if that’s all he wants, then everyone’s eternal happiness is absolutely assured, whether they believe the Gospel or not. In which case, what’s with Mark 1:15 (“Repent and believe the good news!”)?

Whether God is the beatitude of the blessed?

I’m not setting myself up as a commentator on the Summa. But I’m plodding through it from beginning to end (hopefully). Generally I read an article each day, and once in a while I find something particularly enlightening. (Actually I finish an article every three days since I find that I need to read each article three times before it starts to sink in. It’s going to take a while to finish, isn’t it?)

Anyway, this article continues the topic of happiness or beatitude. St. Thomas asks “Whether God is the beatitude of each of the blessed?” In other words, is the happiness that we experience in Heaven God himself? Or something besides God?

St. Thomas answers in this way:

“The beatitude of an intellectual nature consists in an act of the intellect. In this we may consider two things, namely, the object of the act, which is the thing understood; and the act itself which is to understand. If, then, beatitude be considered on the side of the object, God is the only beatitude; for everyone is blessed from this sole fact, that he understands God, in accordance with the saying of Augustine (Confess. v, 4): “Blessed is he who knoweth Thee, though he know nought else.” But as regards the act of understanding, beatitude is a created thing in beatified creatures; but in God, even in this way, it is an uncreated thing.”

Our happiness is a created thing. But since God is uncreated, God himself is not our happiness. Therefore our happiness is something besides God.

Well, it is and it isn’t.

“Thus to a miser the end is money, and its acquisition. Accordingly God is indeed the last end of a rational creature, as the thing itself; but created beatitude is the end, as the use, or rather fruition, of the thing.”

Thus God is the object of our happiness. But we are made happy by knowing him and contemplating him; and knowing and contemplating are the acts of created beings. Our happiness then is a created thing, though the end or object of it is uncreated.

Summa Theologica I., Q. 26, A. 3.

God’s happiness

“It belongs as an accident to beatitude or happiness to be the reward of virtue, so far as anyone attains to beatitude; even as to be the term of generation belongs accidentally to a being, so far as it passes from potentiality to act. As, then, God has being, though not begotten; so He has beatitude, although not acquired by merit.”

Summa Theologica I., Q. 26, A. 1

The fact that happiness is sometimes — or in our experience, almost always — the result of good actions, doesn’t mean it is that essentially.

In our experience existence is generally is the result of generation, that is, passing from potentiality to act. Yet we believe God exists without having been generated or having passed from potentiality to act.

Just as God can be without having been generated, so also he can be happy without his happiness being the result of things that he has done. He just is, and he just is happy.

The crucifix is essential

The other day I was talking with a man whose wife died within the past year. She collapsed in January, was eventually diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, and died within six months.

I remarked that it seemed her death had not been a challenge to his faith, as death sometimes is for people, notably C.S. Lewis. He said no, certainly not.

He said that once, his daughter had come home from school upset and angry with God for letting her mom suffer so much without, seemingly, lifting a finger to help. But she later told him that she realized we are here for the purpose of getting to heaven. Why, then, complain when a loved one (as we hope) attains that goal?

He also told me about an old Protestant friend, who for years has been sending reading materials his way, in an effort to get him to reconsider whether his Catholic faith is not just a matter of external actions, of going through the motions without experiencing the power of the Gospel in a real, interior way.

But he said that what Protestants miss, is the crucifix. By this he meant not the ornamental bangle that people wear around their necks, but what it stands for. Christianity, he said, is all about seeing that figure on the cross, and conforming yourself to it.

Life isn’t fair, his daughter had complained. And you know what (he said)? She was right: It’s not fair. And the crucifix is the ultimate illustration of the fact.

Being a Christian is about laying down your life in the face of life’s unfairness, difficulties and sufferings. I’m reminded of this post of Adam Greenwood’s on Junior Ganymede, in which he quotes Dorothy Sayers, speaking of those who “refuse to assent to reality, who rebel against the nature of things and who choose to think that what we at the moment want is the centre of the universe to which everything else ought to accommodate itself”.

This is the opposite of the Cross. These people (and there but for the grace of God…) want reality to be put on the Cross instead of themselves: Let reality suffer and die at the hands of my desires, rather than my desires at the hands of reality. Which is more or less like saying, “Let God be crucified rather than myself.” Adam writes that “This is the ideology of hell….” Precisely so.

The Cross without Christ represents Christianity without suffering. “The suffering has already been done by Christ”, some say. What then does it mean to take up our cross daily? (Mt. 16:24) To die to self and live for Christ (Mk. 8:35; Jn. 12:25), or to be crucified with Christ (Gal. 2:20)?

If we are united with Christ, then we are united in his sufferings as well as his glory (Phil. 3:10), and thus in his salvific offering of himself in sacrifice. If we don’t suffer with him, we may not be glorified with him. (Rom. 8:16-17) This is of the essence.

altare-con-angeli