Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Care: the recognition that turns redemption into justification

I don't really know how to begin this post because I really try to avoid scoring cheap points, especially by taking advantage of tragedy. But today I came across a news story in the Daily Mail about the suicide of a couple who together hosted a monthly radio program on New York's WBAI-FM called "The Pursuit of Happiness." Prior to reading this story I had never in my life heard of Lynne Rosen or John Littig. Apparently Rosen was a psychotherapist and Littig a motivational speaker and drummer. Their work was counseling and teaching people how to be happy; the Daily Mail described them as "happiness gurus."

What makes their demise even more sad is that they apparently killed themselves a week ago and their bodies were only discovered today after they had begun to decompose. The means they used to kill themselves were described by an article in the New York Daily News as "exit bags." According to the same article, which quotes a New York Fire Department website,"exit bags" are "fast becoming one of the most prescribed forms of Euthanasia worldwide.” The bags, the article continued "are said to provide a fast, peaceful, undetectable death to those wishing to commit suicide."

Maybe the article reporting the deaths of Littig and Rosen caught my attention because just last night I started to read Walker Percy's book Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book, which he begins by reflecting on how much we can easily learn and know about many things external to ourselves and about how little we know about ourselves. At one point in his book Percy observed- "You live in a deranged age - more deranged than usual, because despite great scientific and technological advances, man has not the faintest idea of who he is or what he is doing."

I have to be honest, I thought about using the distinction made by Percy between a "non-suicide" and an "ex-suicide." Between these two is the person who commits suicide. At least for Percy, what distinguishes a non-suicide from an ex-suicide is care. As far as I can tell, an ex-suicide doesn't care, a non-suicide recognizes that she is cared for, and a suicide, at least most often, cares too much, but does not recognize he is cared for, or at least how much he is cared for.

Since I turned to Heidegger last Saturday when I brought up the issue of boredom, I'll turn to him again as my entry way into briefly discussing care. For Heidegger "care" (in German Sorge) is caring about something, or, more straightforwardly, being interested in something. As a Christian I have to go with recognizing that I am cared for, even when it seems that nobody cares for me, which is a feeling I experience more often than I should and reveals a great selfishness on my own part because I am cared for by so many wonderful people. Above all, God cares for me infinitely, just as God infinitely cares for Lynne Rosen and John Littig, who sought happiness, it seems, in a way that too many today seek it, through the deception of self-fullfillment. I experience God's infinite care each time I go to confession and when I receive Holy Communion. Amor, ergo sum: I am loved, therefore I am, or, in light of Percy's distinction, I am loved, therefore I can choose to live.

To really live is to empty myself out in love. It pleases me once again to direct my readers to another article by Francis Phillips that makes my point much better than I do: "The example of Edith Cavell proves a woman can sacrifice herself and be proud of it." Along these same lines is the witness of a man about to be beatified, Odoardo Focherini.

I am convinced that it is this recognition- that I am infinitely cared for - that enables me to take the leap from being redeemed to being justified, which is why Pope Francis, in his provocative homily, preached about the need (Yes, the need) we have to serve others. He called meeting in the places where "we do good to others" the place of encounter with each other, which creates a place where it is possible to encounter yet Another.

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