Saturday, October 10, 2009

Thoughts after a day of slacking

Have you ever taken a day and just been a slacker? I did yesterday. It is not very satisfying. Balance in life is difficult for me to achieve, there are just too many things to do and once in awhile I just shut down. It is good to know that doing nothing is not a viable alternative. I spent a lot of time on-line and watching baseball. There were two things of note on Facebook, one of which is actually from this morning.

The first one comes from a high school friend, Randy, who wrote (undoubtedly based on an experience he had): "Being happy for others seems to be something we only remember from days gone. We seem only to be happy for ourselves without sharing. Sad! Let's celebrate with others their accomplishments and make this world a better place!" To which I can only say, "Amen". Since this is the month of the rosary, it bears noting that each mystery of the rosary has a fruit, that is a virtue we pray to attain through Mary's intercession. The second joyful mystery is Mary's visit to her cousin Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptizer. The fruit of this mystery is love of neighbor, which certainly includes what Randy is advocating: being happy for another person without being jealous or bitter. I think not coveting is also covered here, just in a positive way.

The second very positive thing was posted by my friend Brian, a dear friend from church, who now lives in Ohio. He quotes a line from Boston Legal: "That’s what troubles me. This notion that we have to take sides in this country now, you’re either with us or against us, Republican or Democrat, red state or blue state...No one looks at an issue and struggles over the right position to take... anymore. And yet, our ability to reason is what makes us human"

One of the results of our refusal to grapple with issues is that, along with severing believing from knowing and freedom from truth, we have forgotten how to argue intelligently. Intelligent argument, far from being uncivil, requires us not only to recognize that there is another side of every issue and to be open to what people who hold that position have to say, but to know what we are talking about and arrive at our own judgments on the basis of reason rooted in truth, not emotion, or taking the course of least resistance. In other words, by what criteria do I judge a matter, which is nothing other than making a value judgment? Only in this way can we prevent arguments from deteriorating into two ignoramuses emotionally reacting to what is mutually seen as mean-spirited antagonism in a radically relativistic way. We have become so polarized that even to argue a point is very often seen as impolite. This is what philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre saw as the inevitable result of what he identified as emotivism. To be clear, I am saying that losing our ability to have intelligent arguments makes our society less civil, not more so. There are too many political sacred cows: human rights, marriage, abortion, sexuality, etc!

Another FB observation of note was a comment made by my friend Eric on my post expressing surprise and disturbance at Pres. Obama being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Eric surmised that he may have been given the award because he was not Pres. Bush. If so, it only demonstrates that the phenomenon I am trying to describe is operative at even the highest international levels.

It is precisely here where the two observations connect. Contrary to John Donne's observation, we increasingly believe and live as if each person is an island. We have abstracted community to the point that it either has no meaning, or it is a euphemism for those who share a political agenda. How about real communities, like the one in which I live, or the one at my parish? In other words, a concrete community comprised of real people who know each other and live a life together, with all the joy and misery inherent in such a truly human endeavor. Such a community is naturally diverse, at least to a degree. Natural diversity stands in stark contrast to deliberate efforts at diversity that are rooted in statistics. Somehow, I think the tectonics of our societal and cultural drift will ultimately create a human archipelago, which, while not as physically brutal as the gulag archipelago about which the late Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote so disturbingly, will be no less dehumanizing. No person is an island unto her/himself and one person is no person.

I want to take note of what the Holy Father wrote in an address he was to give at La Sapienza University in Rome in January 2008. I urge everyone to take time and read what he was going to say, it is important. Strangely, but no less predictably, Pope Benedict was unable to deliver this speech in person at the university due precisely to the kind of intolerance the secularists accuse the church of, not often, but always. I call this illiberal liberalism. In his masterful treatment of the relationship of knowledge to truth, the Holy Father observes:
"Man desires to know – he wants truth. Truth in the first instance is something discerned through seeing, understanding, what Greek tradition calls theoría. Yet truth is never purely theoretical. In drawing a parallel between the Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount and the gifts of the Spirit listed in Isaiah 11, Saint Augustine argued that there is a reciprocity between scientia and tristitia: knowledge on its own, he said, causes sadness. And it is true to say that those who merely see and apprehend all that happens in the world end up being saddened. Yet truth means more than knowledge: the purpose of knowing the truth is to know the good. This is also the meaning of Socratic enquiry: What is the good which makes us true? The truth makes us good and the good is true: this is the optimism that shapes the Christian faith, because this faith has been granted the vision of the Logos, of creative Reason which, in God’s incarnation, revealed itself as the Good, as Goodness itself."
Pope Benedict then goes on to point out that "[t]he danger for the western world – to speak only of this – is that today, precisely because of the greatness of his knowledge and power, man will fail to face up to the question of the truth." In other words, the meaning of your life will not be found looking through an electron microscope, or a high-power telescope, though questions of meaning will emerge from such endeavors.

The crisis of love, the crisis of politics, is first of all a crisis of humanity. If common life is not rooted in a true understanding of the human person, it becomes newspeak for the opposite of community- isolation. This is precisely what I tried to articulate in my last homily. Our current situation is often exacerbated by our inordinate desire for cultural, societal, and political approval, as Kenneth Whitehead points out over On the Square in a post entitled Do the Catholic Bishops Really Mean What They Say? In the spirit of intelligent argument, not ugly divisiveness, I would love to read a response to Whitehead's article by Archbishop Sheehan, or any bishop who belongs to the majority Sheehan posits.

Well, with those observations, I am off to get some things done today. While watching my youngest daughter's soccer game this morning, I prayed fifteen decades of the rosary for just these intentions, reserving the Glorious mysteries for tomorrow. I repeat again the cry of the Abitene martyrs, which I make mine in the hope that I, too, through my weaknesses and need more than through my strengths, become a martyr, that is, a witness to Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life, who is risen and seated at the Father's right hand: "Sine Dominico non possumus!" "For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God" (1 John 5:4-5)?

Veni Sancti Spiritus, veni per Mariam.

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