What must I do?

I’ve just finished reading Veritatis splendor by Pope St. John Paul II (encyclical letter issued in 1993). It’s great. I remember trying to read it when it first came out and finding it hard going. Funny how we change.

Anyway, he writes,

“The dialogue of Jesus with the rich young man, related in the nineteenth chapter of Saint Matthew’s Gospel, can serve as a useful guide for listening once more in a lively and direct way to his moral teaching: “Then someone came to him and said, ‘Teacher, what good must I do to have eternal life?’ And he said to him, ‘Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.’ He said to him, ‘Which ones?’ And Jesus said, ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ The young man said to him, ‘I have kept all these; what do I still lack?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me'” (Mt 19:16-21).

Of course I’ve encountered this passage before, but something new struck me, which is probably obvious to others: The first thing Jesus names which he must do to have eternal life, is keep the commandments: No murder, no adultery, no stealing, etc. It’s only after this, when the young man keeps pressing him, that he says, “Go, sell your possessions and give to the poor.”

It seems to me that Jesus places these things in order: First he says, “If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” Then later, “If you wish to be perfect, sell your possessions and give the money to the poor.” First you enter into life by keeping the commandments, then you seek perfection through works of charity. The commandments come first and are the bare minimum.

If the rich young man hadn’t said, “I’ve kept all these,” I imagine the conversation would have ended right there. Jesus would have said, “Well, go and start keeping them, and when you’ve done that, we’ll talk more.”

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Choosing what to believe

I came across the following, which seemed pertinent to a recent comment thread discussion that I had with Andrew on Irresistible (Dis)grace, regarding whether and to what extent we can choose what to believe:

[I]t’s impossible to argue rationally that people can’t know reality, because any such argument would be self-defeating; it would depend on known truths and would therefore presuppose the proposition it’s trying to disprove. On the other hand, it’s also impossible to argue rationally that we can know reality, because any such argument would be circular; it would depend on known truths and therefore presuppose its conclusion. So there’s nothing for it but to make a choice—either you believe that you can know reality, or not.

leirbag75, “The Myriad Colors Phantom World Fallacy”, Prime Matter blog, May 3, 2018.

I think people who think we can’t know reality generally have some other agenda, some reason why it benefits them psychically or emotionally to believe that. For the vast majority, such an idea never occurs to them.

Song of the Day

Beethoven? Scottish folk songs? Who knew?

Dim, dim is my eye,
As the dew-drop once clear,
Pale, pale is my cheek,
Ever wet with the tear
And heavily heaves
This soft breast, once so gay,
For William, my true love,
My William away!

Sad, sad was the hour,
When he bade me adieu,
While he hung on my bosom,
And vow’d to be true;
My heart it seem’d bursting
On that fatal day,
When the fast less’ning sail
Bore my William away.

For honour my William
Braved danger and toil,
And he fought and he fell
With the Lord of the Nile.
To die for his country
In glory’s bright day,
My valiant sweet William
Count never dismay.

Lament him, ye fair,
And lament him, ye brave,
Though unshrouded he lies,
And the sea is his grave;
For the kind and true hearted,
The gallant and gay,
Lament, for my William’s
For ever away!

Random quotes

I’m reading Fr. George Rutler, He Spoke to Us: Discerning God in People and Events, a book of essays which I’m enjoying very much. From the essay titled “Why We Need Lent”:

Fasting is meant to teach humility: If I cannot do without a few sandwiches, I should speak with reserve about being a soldier of Christ.

From “The Awkwardness of Advent”:

Our culture is enduring a severe test of itself. If Christ does not
govern minds and hearts, mere humans will volunteer to do it, and they
will do it badly. When the Judges of Israel could think about their
own existence only with reference to how other people existed apart
from divine regiment, they wanted a human king. Samuel warned them:
“He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards
and give them to his servants. . . . He will take the tenth of your
flocks,and you shall be his slaves” (I Sam. 8:14, 17). These days, he
will take a lot more than 10 percent.

And one from Chesterton:

Cobbett said about Cranmer that the very thought that such a being had
walked the earth on two legs was enough to make the reeling brain
doubt the existence of God; but that peace and faith flow back again
into the soul when we remember that he was burned alive.

G.K. Chesterton, William Cobbett (1910).

 

The imperfect will be done away with

Charity never fails, whereas prophecies will disappear, and tongues will cease, and knowledge will be destroyed. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when that which is perfect has come, that which is imperfect will be done away with. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I felt as a child, I thought as a child. Now that I have become a man, I have put away the things of a child. We see now through a mirror in an obscure manner, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know even as I have been known. So there abide faith, hope and charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.  (1 Cor. 13:8-13.)

This is another one of those passages that I have read a hundred times, but this past Sunday during Mass its meaning struck me in a new way. What I had never noticed before, was that the reading is a series of contrasts between the perfect and the imperfect (with “perfect” having the connotation of “complete” or “fulfilled”):

When I was a child, I spoke, felt, thought as a child (imperfect); now that I have grown up, I have put away the things of a child (perfect).

We see now through a mirror in an obscure manner (imperfect); but then face to face (perfect).

Now I know in part (imperfect), but then I shall know even as I am known (perfect) (since God knows us perfectly).

We all know about faith, hope, and love, and how the greatest of these is love. But why is it the greatest? Because love is perfect, whereas faith and hope are imperfect. “[W]hen that which is perfect has come, that which is imperfect will be done away with.”

“For we know in part and we prophesy in part” illustrates the imperfection of faith and hope: They are both forms of partial knowledge: “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Heb. 11:1.) It’s what we have when we can’t see the object of faith directly; we know “as through a mirror, in an obscure manner.” Charity is the real deal, right here and now, and will remain so even in eternity; whereas faith and hope will have lost their usefulness.

This is a teaching about love, but it’s also a teaching about eternity, the afterlife, heaven, which will be a state of perfection, again, in the sense of completeness. What we wonder about, hope and strive for, will no longer be matter for hoping and striving since it will all be fulfilled. Everything imperfect will be done away with, including the virtues of faith and hope; but if even faith and hope will be useless, what will be the point of worrying and working and striving?

Thus, heaven will not be a state of striving to achieve, but a state of rest; not a state of imperfection, but a state of perfection; with nothing yet to be achieved, but all things fulfilled.

(This last point is further to my post “Does Mormonism offer more (after death) than mainstream Christianity?“)

Modern, First World problems

From a commercial I’ve seen many times on TV lately:

[A young woman in a job interview, with regard to her problem-solving skills:] “I got through high school without a car, a phone, or a computer.”

I too got through high school without any of those things. In all likelihood, the grey-haired man interviewing her also lacked a phone and a computer in high school. The same could be said of virtually everyone born in the United States before 1970 or so (not even mentioning those from countries less fortunate).