Tag Archives: freedom

Lady Liberty and The Statue of Responsibility

Man’s Search for Meaning

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl would have to be classed among the most profound works of the twentieth century. A survivor of both Auschwitz and two concentration camps affiliated with Dachau, Frankl — a Jewish Austrian psychiatrist — reflects on his holocaust experience and in the face of it responds to life and its meaning.

Frankl lays bare the human condition at its lightest and darkest, best and worst. Boldly speaking about the imperative of life to find meaning, even and especially, in the face of suffering. His experience gives him license to speak rawly about universal and personal truths, lending it something of the prophetic. Despite his own sufferings and ability to maintain a sense of moral integrity during those testing years, he writes honestly, but without resentment against his oppressors, and without taking the moral high ground against those who compromised themselves under the weight of the Nazi jackboot. His sharing challenges our modern sensibilities—pointing out not the demands we should make of life, as we are taught to, but the demand that life makes of us.

There is so much one can take from this work, of what is really an introduction to Frankl’s Logotherapy. For a Christian, a Christian reading of the text is inevitable. The mystery of the Logos, the Word, and the Cross, seeps through the words on every page.

The Cross as Reality

Through Frankl, the Holy Spirit can help us recapture the true meaning of the Cross in our postmodern landscape where that meaning is all too often deconstructed, institutionalised, privatised and novelised. For the Christian today, faced with the crossless standard of secularism, the Cross runs the risk of becoming nothing more than an identity-concept, an intellectual corner stone, a symbol to muse upon and defend—a point of difference, instead of a reality and mystery to be lived and breathed and believed in.

It’s an imperative for every generation and age to rediscover the truths of our faith, particularly the Cross, which always has and forever will run against the grain of the status quo. The Cross will never be cool, and if in certain pockets it ever does become trendy, it could only be a kitsch version of it. It’s a mystery far too great and gritty to be reduced to something bite-sized or to something that merely flashes on a billboard or dangles upon a neck. It will always be more.

The Wisdom of the Cross speaks uniquely in every age to those with ears to listen (Mt 11:15), but the message remains the same—a call to discover the meaning of life in Christ by shouldering his yoke of love and burden of responsibility.

Liberty & Responsibility

In Part II of Man’s Search for Meaning Frankl says the following:

Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth… Freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness. That is why I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.[i]

With such a simple proposition Frankl says many things…

Freedom without responsibility is arbitrary, aimlessly egocentric and condemned to meaninglessness. It’s a license for a self-autonomy void of consideration for the other. It’s the kind of freedom that allows an S.S. soldier to push a woman into a gas chamber. Sure, he might find meaning in doing so, but such subjective meaning is arbitrary, false and without substance. One of the many reasons it is exposed as such is because of its inability to register with universally held human values.

Yet what is freedom with responsibility? It is a yielding to the summons of life to be responsible, to take responsibility in the here and now, in fulfillment of one’s vocation.[ii] It demands one’s search for meaning, and one’s execution of their responsibility necessarily supplies it. It is the kind of liberty that rendered the woman being pushed into the gas chamber—St. Edith Stein—free to lay down her life of her own accord (Jn 10:18) despite being forced to die. Sent to the gas chamber but going freely, in her words, “For my people.” It is the kind of freedom that discovers and begets meaning even in situations intended by forces of tyranny to be vacuums of meaninglessness for its victims.

In an opposite strain, the fact that there is only a Statue of Liberty speaks loudly and immaturely of rights, and little of responsibility. It’s indicative of the attitude of the modern western man who first and foremost asks himself, not “What are my responsibilities?” but “What are my rights?”

There’s certainly a place for Lady Liberty but without Lady Responsibility she is like that personification of folly in the Book of Proverbs, who without the wisdom of responsibility leads men astray after the fancies of their own will, for “her steps follow the path to Sheol, she does not take heed to the path of life; her ways wander aimlessly” or we might say—meaninglessly (Prov 5:5-6).

What is this Statue of Responsibility?

We all know well what the Statue of Liberty looks like. Yet what might the Statue of Responsibility look like? There can be no doubt about it. The Cross. History has supplied us with the image, and God with its unexpected force of meaning brought about by the Crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, who shouldered to the peak of Calvary the responsibility humankind owed to God and to itself. And where humanity failed to shoulder its dual responsibility, the humanity of God Incarnate succeeded.

Yet such success was not carried out to deliver us from our responsibilities, but it was carried out to enable us to fulfill them in He who has gone before us—by His strength, His grace and His love.

This is not because God is a Father who demands we earn our salvation by the sweat of our brow, but because to exercise our freedom to live responsibly is the only way to enter into this salvation. A salvation from sin, which is our inability to be perfectly responsible on our own, so that we might be enabled free to love—which is freedom to be responsible, to find meaning, purpose and dignity, not just now and in the face of the grave, but hereafter and beyond the grave.

The Statue of Responsibility is the Cross, and specifically, it is the Crucifix with Jesus nailed to it. Here a flaming torch is not held in the hand, but rather a heart burning with love, consumed by responsibility. The voice from this statue does not declare His rights, but rather invites each Mary and John, each woman and man: “Come to me all you who are weary and overburdened, and I will give you rest. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light. Pick up your daily cross and follow me.”[iii]

Here the promised rest is not a false comfort secured by the abandonment of personal responsibility. It is that peace of heart and mind the world cannot give—infused by Jesus into one’s soul, and which begets a meaning no nail of suffering can destroy. It is the symptom of embracing one’s cross. The vertical beam representing one’s responsibility to God, and the horizontal, one’s responsibility to one’s neighbor. It’s not a cross without both these beams, and Jesus invites—commands even, that we shoulder it.

Easy and light? Ridiculous it’d seem. Offensive even. But isn’t that the strange miraculous power of love, that it really is madness to the rational observer, yet pure sense to the one afflicted by it… the one liberated by it? That after all is love—not emotion, but embraced responsibility.

The Ultimatum of Life

In the context of considering the divergent extremes human nature can take in the face of the worst kind of suffering, Frankl writes:

The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity – even under the most difficult circumstances – to add a deeper meaning to his life. It may remain brave, dignified and unselfish. Or in the bitter fight for self-preservation he may forget his human dignity and become no more than an animal. Here lies the chance for a man either to make use of or to forgo the opportunities of attaining the moral values that a difficult situation may afford him. And this decides whether he is worthy of his sufferings or not.[iv]

He is not saying we deserve or don’t deserve the sufferings we get, but from the Christian angle—the Cross is there, looming large in the midst of our lives—we cannot escape it. Most of the time it makes its presence felt through little things. Yet sometimes the experience of the Cross is deeply felt, and at times it can be experienced as unspeakably terrible, a result of human evil or sickness, in such a way that its reverberations never leave us. Yet whatever form the Cross takes in our lives, it can either be something that crushes and corrupts us with the bitterness of resentment, leading us to lash out at the world with hatred; or a rare and testing opportunity to grow in depth—to be drawn deeper into meaning, into our humanity, and deeper into the Mystery of God who is our Holiness.

In other words, the Cross is surely forced on our backs by circumstances we can’t control, but we can decide whether it is an occasion that will crush us and break us, or an opportunity to carry it with Jesus for love of God and man.

It’s an ultimatum posed to us by human life itself, and Jesus the Life takes it and eternalises its meaningfulness beyond the human sphere. An ultimatum to choose to be crushed by the cross or to carry it, and our response is up to ourselves as individuals. “Let him deny himself and take up his cross” (Mt 16:24): it’s all in the singular because the proposition is profoundly personal. We cannot judge our neighbours, nor probe their motives, nor are we even capable of discerning the difference between being crushed by the cross and carrying it, for these things can look identical to outward appearance. No, it’s a matter for ourselves to consider, and at most, to invite others into an awareness of this summons. Thus our place is to use our often shoddy discernment not to judge, but to discern how to act as a Simon of Cyrene, instead of a shouting, flagellatory Roman soldier who only makes the crosses of others heavier.

One person may be paralysed and haunted by the profundity of their cross, and it may involve the severest kinds of trauma; or one may be able to meander along under its heaviness, and no doubt life will involve moments of both. Yet whoever we are, whatever our cross, the underlying truth is that to be able to bear and carry the Cross we needn’t be professionals who can run circuits with our cross, but we must simply accept it, even if it takes a while, in the faith that God can use this suffering–big or small–to make us better people, to teach us how to love, to give Him glory, and to help save souls.

The option is there, to either suffer meaninglessly in vain or to suffer meaningfully with purpose. To invoke the Name of Jesus is enough to inject our pain with infinite and eternal value.

“May Raise Him”

Frankl then elaborates:

Do not think that these considerations are unworldly and too far removed from real life. It is true that only a few people are capable of reaching such high moral standards. Of the prisoners only a few kept their full inner liberty and obtained those values which their suffering afforded, but even one such example is sufficient proof that man’s inner strength may raise him above his outward fate.[v]

“Man’s inner strength may raise him” indeed. Perhaps in our strength we cannot all rise above our outward fate—prisoners as we are of our own weaknesses. Then on the matter of sin—there is no way anyone can rise above that by their own strength. Just as well. God can achieve all these things, and in Christ Jesus, He has already raised us higher than “man’s inner strength may raise him”. The reality of this resurrection awaits us in our cross: those two beams of responsibility which are far from abstract. For already they weigh upon us and demand our response in the very moment we occupy. We need not search for meaning nor liberty elsewhere. In this respect our Statue of Liberty and Statue of Responsibility are really the same thing, it’s the Cross, through which God in Christ mediates the gift of the liberty of grace through our embrace of responsibility.

The Virgin Mary is a testament to this truth. She is the eminent member of our race raised into immaculacy from the moment of Her conception; sanctified, liberated into union with God, from the get-go. She only rose higher with leaps and bounds into this sanctity through Her profound union with Her Son – realised through Her responsibility to God and man, a responsiveness to Him the God-Man. A union made manifest and typified by Her standing by Him at the foot of the Cross—the True Statue of Liberty and Responsibly.

Lady Liberty & Lady Responsibility

Our Lady can thus rightly be called Lady Liberty and Lady Responsibly. For other than Jesus, who else knows better the twin-beams that make up the Cross? That dual responsibility to God and neighbour which crushed Her Heart in a pain worse than death? She was with Jesus in the face of His Cross, and we need Mary in the face of our own. She can teach us how to carry these beams, and calling upon the Name of Mary–confident in, and obedient to the fact that Jesus has given us to Mary, and Mary to us—is enough to realise Her maternal presence and aid already at our disposal.

As Lady Responsibly She will help to hold on to the splintery wood of the Cross, in the face of every kind of interior and exterior hardship. As Lady Liberty She will help us to do so with love, peace and even joy.

The United States has its own Statue of Liberty, its own Lady Liberty—without a signifier of Responsibility—a gift from the French, and all as a sign of national independence. Through faith, may we allow the Holy Spirit to erect in the land of our soul the real and everlasting Statue of Liberty and Responsibility, the Blessed Cross, and its accompanying Lady, a dual gift of God, and a testament to our freedom as pilgrims whose life and citizenship in Jesus, through Mary, is not of this “mortal coil” on earth but in that “undiscovere’d country” where angels smile,

To rest forever after earthly strife.
In the calm light of everlasting life.[vi]

[i] Victor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning, Part II, 154-155, full text available from archive.org.

[ii] Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning, Part II, 130.

[iii] A loose synthesis drawing from Mt 11:28-30; Lk 9:23.

[iv] Ibid., Part I, 87.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] John Henry Newman, Lead, Kindly Light (1833).
Other references, Hamlet, and Phil 3:20.

Prison Societies

By guest writer Steve Kellmeyer.

It is usually said that Western democracies are the most free societies on earth. But is that true? This video provides a rather different way of deciding what societies constitute prison societies.

If the information presented above is accurate, and there is no reason to think it is not, then an excellent way to judge how free every country’s citizens actually perceive themselves to be is very straightforward: just measure the addiction rates in each country.

There are two or three major classes of addiction, depending on how you count. Alcohol is such a prevalent drug that it generally gets its own category. Opiates and every other drug are grouped together as a separate class. Sex, especially homosexual addiction, is the last major class. So, how do countries fare on the addiction scale?

Alcohol is the preferred addictive drug in Eastern Europe, which leads the world in alcohol addiction.
New Zealand, Iran and the United States lead the world in opiate addiction.
China has the highest proportion of homosexual addiction, followed closely by industrialized societies like Canada, Germany, and the United States. And, yes, there are cultures that really have no homosexuality or other sex addictions.

Notice that third-world areas, like South America and Africa, simply don’t have the addiction problems that industrialized nations do. These areas struggle with famine, disease and poverty, but they don’t have addiction problems to anywhere near the extent of the “advanced” countries.

Now, this is not to say that living in physical poverty is a walk in the park. Obviously, it is not. But, if the addiction-cage theory is correct, we cannot say industrialized nations are well-off. Industrialized nations simply suffer a different kind of poverty, a poverty of freedom. According to the addiction studies, the industrialized world is simply a series of prison societies.

Which is exactly what the Catholic Church has been saying for the last century.
It’s almost like science is finally starting to catch up to theology.

___Steve Kellmeyer

Steve Kellmeyer is a Catholic husband and father with undergraduate degrees in medical lab technology and computer science and graduate degrees in European history, theology and catechetics, the teaching of the Faith. His work can be found at https://scripturalcatholicism.blogspot.com/ and https://www.bestcatholicposters.com/

The Conscience of the Modern Man

By guest writer Kachi Ngai.

“Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself, but which he must obey, its voice ever calling him to love and do what is good and to avoid evil… For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God… There he is alone with God, Whose voice echoes in his depths.”
— Article 1776, Catechism of the Catholic Church

We no longer live in an age where truth and reason guide our principles. The mood of the current age is one of emotionalism, where a person’s feelings now become the inviolable truth for that person, and God forbid if someone else should dare to question it. The objective truth has given way to the subjective truth, provided that someone feels strongly enough about it. Take a look at how love is considered these days. The concept of agape (the supernatural, and certainly superior, sacrificial form of love) has been overthrown in favor of eros, the natural and more receptive form of love.

Variations on catchy slogans such as “love is love” and “love wins” are thrown around to somehow suggest that we as a society have thrown off the shackles of discrimination, and that only by “following what’s inside our hearts” will we find inner fulfillment and freedom. Arguments in favor of the protection of the family unit and society are pitted against the supposed personal fulfillment of the individual. If someone “follows their heart”, then they cannot stray.

I accept that I am taking liberties by assuming that the objective truth is a given, mainly because whether truth is objective is not the focus of this. I will discuss objective truth and how it is tied to human dignity in a later article. For now I will focus only upon the actual nature of the conscience, something on which Cardinal John Henry Newman spoke at great length, and how it applies to our Catholic Faith and the spiritual journey.

Newman was 15 when he experienced his first conversion which brought him into the Protestant faith. It was not until much later that he converted to the Roman Catholic Church, which he describes in his Apologia as largely due to the acting of his conscience.

Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman saw the conscience as the connecting principle between the creature and his Creator. He went as far as to describe it as the aboriginal Vicar of Christ (Newman, 1885). In the secular world, a certain primacy is given to the conscience, almost as if it is some infallible judge. This is a far cry from the notions Newman had.

Our concept of conscience is misconstrued these days, whereby if our conscience dictates that we can act upon our whims even if they be contrary to Mother Church’s teachings, this would be permitted provided that we are at peace with it. Newman argued that this disparity between the internal conscience and the teachings of the Church did not give us free rein to reject the Church’s teaching. When the conscience no longer points towards the external (the Church’s teachings), but instead towards the internal, instead of directing us towards God and a life of virtue through obedience and discipline, it is turned towards the selfish and interior. Instead of God being our Lord and Master, it will be as Henley once poetically described in his famous poem Invictus:

“I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.” (Henley, 1875)

A lovely-sounding sentiment of the triumph of the human soul over suffering, but it encapsulates the current idea that the personal conscience is the final judge.

Newman argues that conscience advocates for the truth, and that the conscience is much cruder and almost ruthless. The conscience is the compass for non-believers by which God re-directs us towards Him. The voice of conscience has nothing gentle, nothing to do with mercy in its tone. It is severe and stern. It does not speak of forgiveness, but of punishment” (Newman). This is why the redemption by Our Lord Jesus Christ is The Good News. It provides the relief for the condemnation offered by the accusing conscience. The conscience is to direct us towards where there is a particular deficiency or uncertainty in our judgement and spiritual life, and the conscience is the starting point for a particular conversion in our life.

The conscience is the call for conversion and a sign of humility. This is counter-cultural to the secular understanding of conscience as a sign of personal freedom, especially the freedom to reject the objective truth when it makes one uncomfortable (Pell, 2005). As a result of free will, man can choose to reject the prickles of their conscience, but the conscience is the beginning of the exploration and conversion through prayer and discernment, it is not some infallible judge. In Veritatis Splendour, Pope St. John Paul II describes the formation of the Catholic Conscience as a dignifying and liberating experience (Pp. St. JPII, 1993), which is why as Catholics we have a moral responsibility to develop an informed conscience (CCC 1780).

By divorcing the Catholic Faith from reason, reason becomes effectively neutered because we fail to see the impact of moral predispositions in reasoning. Simply put, the conscience can easily be fooled by our own inclinations and desires whether subconscious or otherwise, and can lead us down the path of lining up our reasoning in view of a desired result (Armstrong, 2015). This is the danger of reducing the conscience to a mere moral sense. Natural religion is based upon the sense of sin; it recognizes the disease, but cannot find the remedy (Armstrong, 2015). To emphasize the earlier point, this is where the call to conversion is required, and through this we can start to appreciate the necessity of Christ’s redemptive act.

The conscience points towards the need for constant discernment, prayer, and the turning of the heart towards the objective authority of Christ through His Church. To follow one’s conscience is not to do as one pleases, but to earnestly seek what is true and good, and to hold fast to this, as repulsive as it may appear. Only then can we truly and honestly say to our Lord: Speak Lord, your servant is listening (1 Sam 3:10).

_________

References:

Armstrong, David (2015). “Newman’s Conversion of Conscience and the Resolution of the Crisis of Modernity.”

Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Douay-Rheims Catholic Bible.

Henley, William (1875). Invictus. England.

Newman, John Henry (1885). “Letter to the Duke of Norfolk,” V, in Certain Difficulties felt by Anglicans in Catholic Teaching II (London: Longmans Green, 1885), 248.

Pell, George (2005). “The Inconvenient Conscience.”

The New Evangelization: What’s new, why now?

Evangelization: Why is the Gospel good news?

The word “evangelization” comes from the Greek “Euangelion” meaning the announcing of good news. St Paul and the apostles were excited about the person and message of Jesus. They had encountered Jesus as a Savior, who by His cross and resurrection, has triumphed over sin and death, and who has sent His Holy Spirit to accompany His followers in all things. The command by Jesus to “go teach all nations” was not felt as a burden imposed upon them, but as a joyful obligation. They had experienced true freedom in the Gospel “for freedom Christ has set us free”, and they wanted to proclaim this to the world, that God has made adoption as His children possible in Christ.

Through the preaching of the apostles, those who became Christian in the early Church felt the same freedom. St. Justin Martyr felt that Christ was the fulfillment of his vocation as a philosopher. St. Agatha felt herself to be a spouse of Jesus. To preserve her vow of virginity, she refused marriage to a pagan noble and suffered martyrdom as a result. St. Augustine, after living a chaotic life, famously declared after his baptism, “You have made us for ourselves O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” The ancient world was stirred by Christ and His message. The human person has a royal dignity and a direct link with the Creator. God in Jesus Christ is the friend of the human person. And the countless Powers—gods, spirits, demons—weighing upon the soul with all their terrors, now crumbled into dust.

Why a “new” evangelization?

If evangelization is the announcing of good news, why the need for a new evangelization? John Paul II, who first coined the phrase “new evangelization”, clarified that the message of the Gospel has certainly not changed. What has changed however was the fact that

i. A growing number of Christians, in traditionally Christian countries, no longer experience Christianity, especially its moral teaching, as liberation but as a burden. They practice their religion “as if they have just returned from a funeral.”

ii. Increasingly educated and exposed to science and reason, the doctrines of Christianity were also experienced as somehow pre-scientific and having no rational basis.

Two convenient options

Faced with these two challenges, a Catholic can take the “soft” option. He can (at least in his own mind) “water down” the Church’s moral teaching, especially its difficult and inconvenient ones. Faced with accusations that he is being “pre-scientific”, he could also discard the seemingly incomprehensible “supernatural” doctrines of Christianity (the resurrection or the virgin birth, for example) and focus on what seems to be “reasonable.”

He can also take the “hard” option. In the face of a hostile world, he can retreat into his private Catholic space, with other like-minded Catholics, viewing the “hard” teachings as a necessary burden to attain heaven in the next life and diagnosing Catholics who have difficulties in believing as somehow lacking in faith. “If only they pray more and have more faith and don’t question too much.”

The teaching of the New Evangelization proposes a third option. John Paul II declares that the new Evangelization must be new “in ardor, methods and expression.” Let’s look at these in turn.

New in Ardor

Ardor refers primarily to enthusiasm and excitement. This is something that cannot be “faked”. It has to be real. It has to flow from an encounter, or a re-encounter with the person of Jesus Christ. Hence, Singapore Archbishop William Goh’s emphasis on the “conversion experience”, where one recognizes that he is a sinner in need of grace. Jesus Christ is experienced no longer as simply a great moral teacher but one’s personal savior. To continue fanning the flame of conversion, the Archbishop insists on the cultivating of an intense prayer life and on-going formation so that the converted disciple can better share the Gospel with others.

New in Method

There is a move away from teaching Catechism as simply “doctrines to be learnt” or “moral teachings to be followed.” Rather, at the heart of Catechesis is to facilitate for the child an encounter with the person of Christ. Doctrines and the Church’s moral teaching flow from that encounter. They liberate the person to live a new life in Christ. They point to Him. They are not ends in themselves. The catechist is not “the teacher” but a “facilitator.” Christ is the Teacher. The catechist is there to facilitate the encounter. He is not “God’s lawyer.” Rather, he is a co-pilgrim with his students in the journey of life. He has nevertheless found Christ in his pilgrimage of life and is thus there to share this with his students.

I remembered one incident that might illustrate this new approach. I bumped into my student who was hanging outside church and not attending Mass. In my earlier years as a Catechist, I would actually have focused straight away on his non-attendance at Mass and tell him that what he is doing is very wrong and that he should go for confession and then for Mass the next time. This time, I did something different. I said hello and asked him if he would like to chat a while as he seemed to have things on his mind. What followed was a 30 minute conversation where he shared about how he felt that Church teaching is restricting his freedom and that his family situation is unhappy. I acknowledged his feelings as very real and shared with him how, in my own experience, I too had these feelings but had gradually found Christ to be a source of freedom. I did not focus on what he “did not do.” A year later, while preparing another batch of students for confirmation, he waved at me and said that he too has decided to get confirmed. He too had experienced the love of Christ for him and found in the Catholic faith a source of true freedom. While I would never dare to take any credit for his conversion, I nevertheless shudder to think what might have happened if I had “scolded” him for not attending Mass during our first encounter, out of a sense of misguided zeal.

New in Expression.

Icon written by Br. Claude Lane, OSB, Mount Angel Abbey, Saint Benedict, OR, USA

It is easy to simply reduce the phrase “new in expression” to the need for Catholics to be “up to date”, especially in the use of social media (Facebook etc). While social media is certainly an important means of evangelization, the call for a “new expression” is deeper than that. It is a call to re-present the person and message of Christ in a manner that is comprehensible, challenging and compelling to a new generation. It would be no use for instance to say “Jesus Christ saves you from sin” when the culture has lost a sense of sin. Rather, a patient dialogue about the nature of right and wrong would be an important first step in precisely recovering such a sense, and then showing how Christ saves us from the burden of an overwhelming guilt. The art of learning how to understand the cultural situation in the light of Christ would require formation. But the acquiring of such knowledge is not simply “book knowledge” but flows from the fervor to make Christ known to others.

Conclusion: Mary, the Star of the New Evangelization

On 27th Sept 2014, Archbishop William Goh consecrated Singapore to Mary, the Star of the New Evangelisation. In this, we ask not only for our blessed Mother’s powerful intercession, but also through the studying of her life, we will know how to go about our tasks of evangelizing. As the Archbishop declared in his pastoral letter, it is from Mary that we learn i) that the New Evangelization is urgent. That it is ii) principally a witness of love. That it must iii) begin from a contemplation of the Word of God and that iv) it must possess a spirit of poverty and the recognition of the primacy of grace.

____

Image: Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour

Sin, Slavery, and Identity

Abuse (and the trauma that results from it) causes not only the anxiety of meaninglessness and the anxiety of guilt, but also the anxiety of non-being.
…mind-control is the perfect metaphor for emotional abuse. Maybe it’s because the human will is so core to what it means to be, that if you take it away—whether through physical, emotional, spiritual, mental, social or financial coercion—you violate a person’s humanity on an elemental level. You take away that person’s ability to say
I am.”
Maylin Tu, “Jessica Jones, Abuse, and ‘The Courage to Be’”, Christ & Pop Culture

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
1 John 4:18

Abuse makes the victim feel as if she is dirt, worse than dirt – just something to be used, abused and discarded. It violates her sense of self and her identity as a person made in the image of Love.

In my experience, abusive people have grown up with over-controlling parents, or absent parents. When they have not received love from the people who brought them into being, children are in danger of growing up thinking that there is something fundamentally wrong with them. They internalise the idea that they were not worthy of being loved unconditionally. If they do not heal, they are prone to inflicting pain on others in a misdirected search for justice and reparation. We are meant to be loved.

Patterns of Sin

Give your children these two things: roots and wings.”

Over-controlling people are dominated by fear – fear of the world, fear of the unknown. When they demand that their children conform completely to their narrow vision, it pinions the growing wings of the child, suffocating him and sending him the message that he’s not good enough as he is, but has to become something else in order to appease his parents and be loved. Fearful parents are in danger of bringing up children malformed by fear, unable to strike out on their own paths and swinging from one end of the pendulum to the other – fearfully appeasing people when they ought to say no, or controlling other people whom they deem weaker than themselves.

Absent parents deny their children an identity rooted in nourishing love. How often do you hear friends gushing over a baby to a parent, “She’s just like you!” We are stamped with the features and mannerisms of our parents; “we are of our parents before we are of ourselves.”1 I have watched people with absent parents look for love and attention in all the wrong places,2 hungering for the nourishment denied them in their earliest years. They become desperate for a resolution, something which can fill the aching void in the core of their being.

St. Paul reminded the Romans: “For you have not received the spirit of bondage again in fear; but you have received the spirit of adoption of sons, whereby we cry: Abba (Father).” (Romans 8:15). When you have an identity rooted firmly in Christ, confident in the loving providence of God and His steadfast abiding presence no matter where you go in life, you are able to break free of any crippling chains handed down from your imperfect parents. It is true, you may have to struggle with the vestiges of generational sin throughout your life – but Christ is there with you in the struggle, purifying you and using your weaknesses as openings for grace.

Love is the Rule that Gives Freedom

Your family and your love must be cultivated like a garden. Time, effort, and imagination must be summoned constantly to keep any relationship flourishing and growing.
Jim Rohn

Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalen as a Gardener
Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalen as a Gardener (1507), Jacob Cornelisz van Oostsanen.

True love respects the free will of the person. The gardener may prune the plant now and then, but he allows it to develop naturally in its own time, fertilising it and watering it with dedication while it transforms energy from the sun into its own food, glucose. Likewise, God the most loving of parents may permit us afflictions to prune us of unhealthy attachments or attitudes – He may allow us to go through a trial, even a trial that seems to wrest us from Him, only in the end to bring us back safely, after which we realise that half the suffering could have been avoided if we had just trusted more in Him.

Like a gardener practising companion planting,3 God sends us good friends who help us flourish. He fertilises our souls with the nourishment of the scriptures at every Mass, and He waters them with showers of blessings – it is a blessing to even be alive and breathing! But like a gardener, God allows us to develop according to our nature, through which He too is quietly working. What is our nature? It is to produce the sweet food, the life-sustaining glucose, of Love.

“Whoever wants to eliminate love is preparing to eliminate man as such.”
Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est

“Man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate in it intimately.”
Pope John Paul II

“To the extent that we fail to grasp what love really is, it is impossible for us to give adequate philosophical consideration to what man is. Love alone brings a human being into full awareness of personal existence. For it is in love alone that man finds room enough to be what he is.”
Dietrich von Hildebrand

You asked for a loving God: you have one… not a senile benevolence that drowsily wishes you to be happy in your own way, not the cold philanthropy of a conscientious magistrate, but the consuming fire Himself, the Love that made the worlds, persistent as the artist’s love for his work, provident and venerable as a father’s love for a child, jealous, inexorable, exacting as love between the sexes.
When we fall in love with a woman, do we cease to care whether she is clean or dirty, fair or foul? Do we not rather then first begin to care? Does any woman regard it as a sign of love in a man that he neither knows nor cares how she is looking? Love may, indeed, love the beloved when her beauty is lost: but not because it is lost. Love may forgive all infirmities and love still in spite of them: but Love cannot cease to will their removal. Love is more sensitive than hatred itself to every blemish in the beloved. Of all powers he forgives most, but he condones least: he is pleased with little, but demands all.

C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

Sin Leads to Non-being

Me miserable! Which way shall I fly
Infinite wrath and infinite despair?
Which way I fly is hell; myself am hell;
And in the lowest deep a lower deep,
Still threat’ning to devour me, opens wide,
To which the hell I suffer seems a heaven.

John Milton, Paradise Lost

Sin “wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as ‘an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law.’” (CCC #1849) Evil warps or destroys what is good. As pests consume crops and blight a garden, sin corrupts a person’s soul, dividing it from God, the source of all life and love.

Fr. Chris Ryan MGL writes:

“God’s unfailing offer to all human beings is the gift of Himself, which is the gift of His unconditional and unfathomable love. However, God utterly respects our freedom, which means that we can reject this love. This rejection can continue in and through further actions that deny or reject love to the point that such a choice, such a rejection, becomes fixed, irrevocable. Hell is thus not a punishment imposed upon the human person but is rather, the definitive outworking of the human person’s decision to define themselves in isolation from God and others. Hell is self-exclusion from Heaven.

Hell, moreover, is not a place. Rather, it is non-relationship. Hell is “where” the possibility of all relationship is ended… Heaven is other people – people living in a rich and vibrant communion with each other and with God. Hell is actually definitive loneliness.”4

When I was fourteen, my father brought home a pamphlet from church about abortion. I had already watched a video on abortion when I was eleven, in school (my non-Catholic schoolmates are against abortion to this day). But suddenly, the horrendous enormity of not existing struck me full in the gut, and I began to weep inconsolably in front of my parents, sobbing, “What if I had never been born?”

Sin divides us within ourselves and sunders us from God and neighbor. It destroys both harmony within the soul and harmony between persons. In the end, it can kill us – forever.

Professor Eric Johnston writes:

“We live in a world of cheap grace. In a way, the amoralism of our culture is a kind of deformed Christianity. On some level, our culture believes that all sin is forgiven, that God is merciful. But our culture’s understanding of this forgiveness is impersonal. Our culture’s understanding of God’s forgiveness is just that God doesn’t care about what we do, so we needn’t even ask forgiveness. God is a very distant father.

To the contrary, to ask forgiveness is a personal encounter. Pope Francis talks about the caress of God’s mercy on our sin. We are meant, not to ignore God and our sin, since our sin doesn’t matter, but to bring God into contact with our sin, by asking forgiveness.”5

Marc Barnes wrote: “If [God] is outside of time, if He is suffering right now, then, and this is really the crux, our sins directly increase His suffering that day on Calvary, His constant suffering.”6

God the eternal Logos, Who is Reason itself, has created an intelligible universe with rules of physics, mathematics – and morals. These rules, like traffic rules, allow us the freedom to travel along the paths of life. But when we stuff up, we are bound by the consequences. Also, the repercussions of our sins emit shockwaves throughout the world, into the lives of others, even those we may never meet. Broken relationships leave wounds that are passed down through generations. Just look at Romeo and Juliet.

Rembrandt van Rijn, The Return of the Prodigal Son, c. 1661–1669.
The Return of the Prodigal Son (c. 1661–1669), Rembrandt van Rijn.

How do we repair this damage? God has granted us the insurance of His mercy. By participating in the Sacrament of Confession, we receive the sacramental grace not to sin again. By performing penance, we offer God our puny loaves and fish to be multiplied by His grace into nourishing food for thousands – the food which is eternal redemption, that is, God Himself, the source of Life. When we stuff up, we do what we can to make amends, to right our wrongs, and trust in God to bring healing and reconciliation in His time.

In a game of chess you can make certain arbitrary concessions to your opponent, which stand to the ordinary rules of the game as miracles stand to the laws of nature. You can deprive yourself of a castle, or allow the other man sometimes to take back a move made inadvertently. But if you conceded everything that at any moment happened to suit him — if all his moves were revocable and if all your pieces disappeared whenever their position on the board was not to his liking — then you could not have a game at all. So it is with the life of souls in a world: fixed laws, consequences unfolding by causal necessity, the whole natural order, are at once limits within which their common life is confined and also the sole condition under which any such life is possible. Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free wills involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself.”
C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain7

The Good News: We are Not Our Sin

Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane said in his keynote address at the 2016 Spirit in the City conference: “The pagan world is just, but merciless, with retribution. You are no more than your crime or your sin. The woman caught in adultery must be destroyed.

“Mercy is the more, seeing with the eye of God. The pagan eye always sees less.”

christ-as-gardener
Christ the New Adam, Gardener of Our Souls

God became sin for us so that we may become justified in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21). Christ took on the sinful, unlovable identity of mankind so that we could take on His Divine image, the image shattered by Adam and Eve when they turned away from God, mistrusting His loving providence. Through Christ, we may enter into the life of the Holy Trinity, becoming fully alive, transformed by Love into beings who can give pure love to all the world.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
John 10:10

Gloria Dei est vivens homo; vita hominis visio Dei:
The glory of God is man fully alive; the life of man is the vision of God.
St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Adversus Haereses, Book 4 Ch. 20.

Images: Wikicommons (1, 2, 3).

_

1 Eric M. Johnston, “The Sins of Fathers and the Hope of Fatherhood”, The Catholic Spiritual Life.

2 cf. James Parker, “Coming Out”, Family Voice Australia.

3 Jennifer Gonzalez, “Find Your Marigold: The One Essential Rule for New Teachers”, Cult of Pedagogy.

5 Eric M. Johnston, “Forgive Us Our Trespasses: Confession”, The Catholic Spiritual Life.

6 Marc Barnes, “Holiness, For Christ’s Sake!”, Bad Catholic.

Being in Relationship with God

Holy Mass at the Carmel in Mayerling.

An Anglican friend told me that she does not bother to cultivate deep friendships with non-Christians—although she certainly treats them civilly and shares the Gospel with them when they are curious—because she knows she won’t see them in Heaven, unlike her Christian friends like me, with whom she anticipates eternal friendship.

This is a logical conclusion of the illogical and unscriptural premise “once saved, always saved.”

Conversion is not a once-off experience. Conversion is falling in love and staying in love. Like any relationship, our relationship with God may be sparked by a defining moment, an encounter that transforms reality as we know it. However, like any relationship, we have to work at it. St. Paul says, “Wherefore, my dearly beloved, with fear and trembling work out your salvation” (Philippians 2:12).

Catholics say, “We have been saved, we are being saved, and we shall be saved.” Salvation was brought about by the perfect sacrifice of Christ on the cross, but God respects our free will in each and every moment of our lives. He wants us to cooperate with Him in the work of restoring ourselves and our fallen world according to His divine plan, but He will not force us to stay in His grace. That is true love, to be able to shower untold gifts on someone—precious gifts which bring him into relationship with oneself, especially the ultimate gift of self—but to allow that person the freedom to reject these gifts and yourself. Love does not force a return of love; it cannot be forced, but must be a willing response.

People stay in marriage when they choose day after day to remain faithful to their vows and their spouse. People stay friends when they keep in contact, forgive trespasses, and help each other grow. People stay Christian when they choose to remain faithful to their baptismal vows and their identity as children of God. Redemption is a lifelong commitment to live in the grace of God. Satan, who gave up the gift of communion with God, strives ever to wrest this priceless gift from our hands; we must practice constant vigilance and maintain a firm hope in God, avoiding both the sins of despair and presumption.

All the way to heaven is heaven, because Jesus said, I am the way.
—St Catherine of Siena

Image: Fr. Edmund Waldstein, O.Cist., Holy Mass at the Carmel in Mayerling, Austria. (via Outward Signs)

Lent and Love

What is the point of the Lenten sacrifices [1]? Why do we fast on some days, abstain from meat on others, and then also give up something which we enjoy for forty days? These are surely questions which are asked by everyone who has struggled to keep their Lenten fasts, whether they ended up succeeding or succumbing to these struggles.

Chesterton-Christian-Ideal1In his book What’s Wrong with the World, GK. Chesterton tells us that, “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.” What he meant here is that most things actually worth doing require some effort, and some level of skill or know-how which must be acquired through practice, and indeed through failure. The expert concert pianist has misplayed more notes than I have, because he has spent far more time playing the piano than I ever will. In the process of becoming an expert pianist who is able to play well, he was first a novice pianist who played but poorly. Becoming an expert pianist has been his life’s work to that point—and of course, he must continue to work at it if he is to remain an excellent pianist.

Each of us has some unique vocation in life: but what we all have in common here is the calling to pursue holiness, to be virtuous. Above all, we are all called to love. Indeed, we will find that it is easier to love if we are virtuous, and easier to be virtuous if we are pursuing holiness, and easier to pursue holiness if we do it for the sake of being more loving.

freedom-william-wallaceThere is a sort of prerequisite condition to becoming more virtuous, loving, or even holy: that is that we must be free. By this, I mean not that we must have political freedom—which is a good thing in general, but which does not guarantee that we can or cannot love, of be virtuous, or holy. Nor am I referring to freedom of the will as distinct from determinism, for this we are given as our birthright, though freedom of the will is necessary for love [2], or to choose virtue (or anything else for that matter). Rather, being free here means that we are not slaves of our passions or our appetites and other immediate desires, that we are able to resist temptation to sin or even mere distractions.

There is a sense in which the most important virtue is the lowest, that is, temperance. All of the other virtues (save perhaps prudence) require some amount of sacrifice on our part: and indeed, there is a sense in which the greatest of all virtues, love, especially requires sacrifice. Concerning this, we are told that “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Sacrifice is the greatest of all acts of love, and while this particular form of sacrifice hinges on the virtue of fortitude, it is the practice of smaller sacrifices through temperance that lead us to more easily make the big sacrifices which need fortitude [3].

It’s the little things in life… Image source.

While opportunities for these small sacrifices resent themselves to us in everyday life, we would not likely seek them out on our own. I may give up beer or sweets or fatty meats for a time for the sake of losing weight; or I may turn down the extra helping for the sake of allowing someone else at the table the chance to get their fill. But never would I likely have picked an innocuous minor good to give up for a time for the simple sake of making a sacrifice.

This is where the genius of the Church comes into play [4], with her custom of observing Lent by making a variety of small if at times difficult sacrifices. These small sacrifices do make it easier, in time, to make bigger sacrifices, and by developing first the virtue of temperance, we can next develop the other virtues. By saying “no” to some of our minor appetites and temptations, we get better at saying “no” to the bigger temptations, and perhaps even to our passions. This leaves us all the freer to say “yes” to the virtues, to God’s call to holiness. Indeed, by learning to sacrifice, we learn next how to love. Lent thus is an unsought aide to living the truly good life. It is worth saying again that if life is worth doing well, then Lent is worth doing badly.

—-Notes—-
[1] Recently there have been a couple of other good columns on this topic elsewhere on Ignitum Today. Neither was actually the inspiration for this particular post. I think I should credit both Schall on Chesterton and the study I’ve been doing of Love and Responsibility and Edward Sri’s practical commentary on the same for that. However, both Mr. Ryan Kraeger and Miss Liesl B. make many similar points in their columns to what I am saying here.

[2] Love is among other things an act of the will.

First Comes Love Scott Hahn[3] In his book First Comes Love, Dr. Scott Hahn notes that there is more to the story of the Fall than what we can get from reading the translation in English. The “subtle serpent was more akin to a terrifying dragon, yet there is still some small subtlety in the text: when he tells Eve (and Adam, who was likely nearby) that she (and hence he) would not die if he ate of the fruit of knowledge, the unspoken implication was that the serpent would see to it that they would die if they refused. The first act of disobedience thus came from a failure of fortitude on the parts of Adam and Eve. I would speculate here that there is more to it that this—since he was gifted with temperance and thus did not need to earn it first through trial and sacrifice, it is possible that Adam did not build up to fortitude through the smaller sacrifices of temperance.

[4] Another place where the genius f the Church comes into play is in the moderation of the sacrifices we undergo. We fast, but don’t starve ourselves. We give up goo things, but not necessary things. We discipline ourselves rather than punishing, torturing, or otherwise arming ourselves. That is, however, for another day.

Three True Freedoms

In my previous column, I mentioned that there are three senses in which we have real freedom, and one sense in which we have false freedom. I then discussed some of the problems of this false freedom. Today, I would like to continue by way of contrast: what are the three real types of freedom?

Sometimes it’s best not to break free from the tings which bind us. Source.

The fool’s freedom—the freedom to do whatever he may want whenever he feels like doing it—ultimately leads to his enslavement to the passions. It also threatens to strangle the real types of freedom, at least to some extent.

The first real type of freedom, which must ultimately underly any other type of freedom, is the freedom of the will. The philosopher Mortimer J. Adler describes this form of freedom as being the one “natural freedom, neither affected by circumstance nor dependent on acquired developments”(Ten Philosophical Mistakes). He continues by stating that

“This natural freedom is the freedom of the will in its acts of choice. Freedom of choice consists in always being able to choose otherwise, no matter what one has chosen in any particular instance. As contrasted with a freedom that consists in being able to do whatever one wishes, it might be described as freedom to will as one wishes.”

Russell Hittinger calls the Natural Law and its resulting natural moral compass (conscience) our first grace. If this is so, then freedom of the will as the ability to always choose otherwise is the gift which enables this grace. It means that no matter how far we as individuals have fallen, and how poorly we have chosen, we may yet turn back, choose rightly, leave the self-destructive cycle of evil. This also implies that we are morally culpable for our actions—blameworthy in the case of sin and vice, or praiseworthy in the case of virtue [1].

The passions can be tamed. Source.

The other two forms of freedom require first that we have freedom of the will. One is primarily internal, the other primarily external in nature. The internal form of freedom, which is sometimes called “moral” freedom, is the right ordering of the whole person so that he is predisposed to virtue and against vice, so that his mind has control of his passions, and above all, so that he is free to resist temptation. To return to Professor Adler:

“Only through acquired moral virtue and practical wisdom does anyone come to possess such freedom. It is a freedom form the passions and the sensuous desires that leads us to do what we ought not to do, or not to do what we ought to do. When, in the conflict between reason and the passions, reason dominates, then we are able to will as we ought in conformity to the moral law, or to normative rules of conduct” (Ten Philosophical Mistakes).

While freedom of the will leaves us always able to choose differently, repeated choices in favor of virtue or in favor of vice can make us more pre-disposed to one or the other. Temptation becomes harder to resist, or it becomes easier to resist, based on our choices. It is much easier to commit a sin for the second time than for the first, especially if we rationalize (let alone internalize) that sin. Virtue or vice can become a sort of “second nature.” What was unnatural to us becomes connatural, as Prof. J Budziszewski explains:

“One of the strangest and most intriguing things about human nature is its openness to what Plato and subsequent philosophers have called ‘second nature.’ We are designed in such a way that things which are not a part of our design can become so habitual, so ingrained, that they seem as though they are. Another old-fashioned term for this is “connaturality.” Consider the grace of a classically trained ballerina. Human beings do not spontaneously move like that; she must learn that exquisite poise, that heartrending beauty in movement. To that end, she retrains every nerve, muscle, and reflex until clumsiness would take effort, artlessness would take art, and her very walking looks like dancing. It isn’t that grace become effortless for her even then, although she makes it look as though it is. But her limbs have internalized the aesthetic of the dance; beautiful movement, or at least beautiful movement of that kind, has become connatural. It is second nature to her….

[In a sense], every acquired discipline, including moral discipline, goes against our natural inclinations. Consider the ballerina again. The young dancer persists in unpleasant practice for the sake of an end which is so fascinating delightful, and vitalizing that the boredom, pain, and exhaustion of the means are worth enduring. That is just how it is with the virtues. Initially, it is difficult to be good, to be brave, to be true—difficult, and most unpleasant. Yet, if with the help of grace, one persists in this unpleasant discipline, then one can see a day coming from afar when it will be more difficult and unpleasant to not be good, honest, and true than to be that way. On that day, the actions that virtue requires will be second nature” (The Line Through the Heart).

The third kind of freedom, which is an external sort of freedom, requires not only the first kind to make sense, but also needs the second to be reasonably widespread in order to flourish. This third type of freedom is sometimes called “political freedom” or “social freedom,” and it was summarized by Lord Acton as being “not the power of doing what we like, but the right of being able to do what we ought.” Pope St. John Paul the Great re-stated this point, in the context of the challenge of finding freedom in Truth. In his Homily in Camden Yards, he said that “Today, the challenge facing America is to find freedom’s fulfillment in the truth….Every generation of Americans needs to know that freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.”

It should be evident that political freedom, at least, is ultimately in some conflict with the false freedom to do whatever we want (and when we want). To be sure, the two are intertwined to the extent that severe political restrictions against the one can result in (or be the result of) an attempt to restrict the other. If you are a virtuous person, that is, if you enjoy moral freedom and have developed a desire to good and eschew evil, then a law requiring you to participate in an evil act or prohibiting you from doing a good one is also a law against letting you do something which you want to do.

Medieval communityPolitical freedom, like moral freedom, is a type of ordered-freedom, in that it requires and acknowledges an ordering of rights along with responsibilities. This order is disrupted by demands that we each be given the right to do whatever we want, whenever we want to do it, however we want, and with whomever we want. If I have an absolute right to something, then somebody else now has the duty to provide it to me, regardless of their own desires. As David Warren explains,

The idea of the autonomous “prince” is modern. The mediaeval idea of hierarchy precluded it. The man at the top was lynchpin for a regime consisting of persons in various ranks of nobility, but in a curiously invertible pyramid, for though each in his place is servant to a master above him, he is also servant to the servants of those below him in station, pledged to their defence. The idea of “public service” survives today, but with a much different flavour. This is because the individual has ceased to be defined as a soul, a “being,” with duties. He has been redefined as a cypher or “function” with “rights.” Where to the old Christian view, rights followed from duties in the same man, to our post-Christian view the arbitrary rights of one man translate to duties for unaccounted others. (My right to a free lunch translates to your duty to pay for it, &c.) In this sense, all modern political thinking is in its nature totalitarian.

The right to do whatever I want, or to be treated however I’d like, ultimately imposes a set of often capricious duties upon those around me. All men may be equal under the law, or the law can attempt (and fail) to make them all socially equal, but not both. As Mr. Warren notes, “‘free and equal’ [is] a direct contradiction of terms, and therefore [the two are] never imposed without hypocrisy.” The fool’s freedom leads to the destruction of our political freedom, and then to the discouragement of our moral freedom.

As for moral freedom—this can be discouraged, but it is difficult to eradicate entirely from all members of a populace. The well-ordered social and political freedom which we enjoy relies at least in part of the well-ordering of the individual souls in a society, that is, on moral freedom. Therefore, social-political freedom should help to encourage and inculcate moral freedom, even if it cannot actually instill the virtues in a given individual.

saint-basil-the-great11-copy-copy1And likewise, a fool’s freedom leads to tyranny, which in turn practically requires that at least some of the virtues be stamped out, that moral freedom be discouraged. The reason for this is aptly demonstrated in an exchange between St. Basil, Bishop of Caesarea (Cappadocia, Asia Minor) and former monk, and Imperial Prefect Modestus [2], who was sent to demand that the saint adhere to the Arian creed formulated at Rimini. Saint Basil refused to embrace this heresy, leading to this exchange:

MODESTUS: What, do you not fear my power?

BASIL: What could happen to me? What might I suffer?

MODESTUS: Any one of the numerous torments which are in my power.

BASIL: What are these? Tell me about them.

MODESTUS: Confiscation, exile, torture, death.

BASIL: If ou have any other, you can threaten me with it, for there is nothing here which affects me.

MODESTUS: Why, what do you mean?

BASIL: Well, in truth confiscation means nothing to a man who has nothing, unless you covet these wretched rags and a few books: that is all I possess. As to exile, that means nothing to me, for I am attached to no particular place. That wherein I live is not mine, and I shall feel at home in any place to which I am sent. Or rather, I regard the whole earth as belonging to God, and I consider myself as a stranger or sojourner wherever I may be. As for torture how will you apply this? I have not a body capable of bearing it, unless you are thinking of the first blow that you give, for that will be the only one in your power. As for death, this will be a benefit to me, for it will take me the sooner to the God for Whom I live, for Whom I act, and for Whom I am more than half dead, and Whom I have desired long since.

If we live in a society which, in the name of promoting the fool’s freedom and equality, is increasingly oppressing political freedom, then we must strive all the more to gain moral freedom. This is a difficult task under the conditions of a society which at best is indifferent to moral freedom. Still, even such a society produces a few men who are heroic witnesses to the possibility of freedom in truth, to that freedom which cannot be totally eradicated by political action.

Thank God for the witness of the saints.

 

—-Footnotes—-

[1] Praiseworthy, in the sense that a virtuous person should be held in higher esteem as a model for emulation than an unvirtuous person. On the other hand, “far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14).

[2] Found in Warren H. Carroll’s A Hisory of Christendom vol. II: The Building of Christendom. Prof, Carroll quoted this from Palanque’s Christian Roman Empire, History of the Church II, 63, and added the names for clarity. He further notes that after the exchange,”The prefect—and later, Eastern Emperor Valens himself—retired abashed.” Such is the power of moral freedom, virtue, and a bit of grace.

A Fool’s Freedom

What makes us free? There are, on the whole, three true types of freedom and one false one. Among the three true types, one is beyond our control, one is ultimately determined by conditions in the larger society, and one is largely under our own control.

The beginnings of a backyard garden.

The false type of freedom, what might be called a fool’s freedom, is largely mistaken as the real meaning of freedom. It is freedom, of a sort, and as the philosopher Mortimer J. Adler notes, we all possess it to some extent: it is the freedom to do (or attempt to do) whatever we want. Note that I have qualified this notion of freedom—we all possess it to some extent. There are, of course, some limits to it. After all, I want to be able to fly, but am limited to not doing this without machine assistance. Or I may want to dig a large garden in my backyard over the weekend, but am limited by my strength and stamina and the tools which I have available (e.g. a pickaxe and a how and a rake) and the prevailing conditions.

Nor is this type of freedom a freedom from consequences [1]. I can enjoy fine dining, but it will cost most of my earnings if I make that my nightly meal. I can enjoy a pint or two with friends, but if I drink too much or too quickly, I can expect to feel tipsy (or worse!). I can leap into the air with hopes of flying, but I must be prepared for the disappointment of a quick landing. This false freedom can be enjoyed if it is rightly ordered—more on this later—but if not rightly ordered it can quickly master and enslave us.

In which was published the novelette "The Ideal Machine."The author John C. Wright briefly summarizes the problems of this kind of freedom in his story The Ideal Machine. In this story, an alien makes first contact with humanity via an elderly priest, Fr. Nicodemus John Jude Rossignol, and leaves him with a gift: the ideal machine, which is capable of transforming matter into its ideal form. Thus, for example, the machine can create material wealth or transform a body into its perfected (resurrected) form [2]. Fr. Nicodemus encounters two navy pilots, Lts. Hynkel and Tyler, to whom he attempts to give the machine. He asks them, “Absolute power, Gentlemen! What would you do if you had it?” To this question, Tyler responds:

“I’d wish for a perfect body, endless life and eternal youth, and that I would be invited to live at the Playboy mansion, complete with hot- and cold-running booze, and hot- and hotter-running girls, and the age of consent would be lowered by two years in case one of them was sixteen, and any drugs I could name would be made legal, and McDonald’s would open for business again, selling any drinks of any size they damn well please.

“I wouldn’t ask for the cure for cancer, or AIDS, or terminal stupidity, or anything like that. All I would wish for would be to live and let live.

“And I’d end up like a total pig, surrounded by empty beer cans and empty Big Mac wrappers and empty-headed babes with big boobs, and I would probably wind up killing myself out of boredom.” [3]

I do not mean here that the freedom to do whatever we want is always bad, but rather that it can lead to bad philosophy of life—hedonism and its attendant philosophical errors—which in turn leads to a bad end. The freedom to do whatever we want leads to the consequence of being enslaved by our passions—these passions together are a cruel mistress.

Saint Augustine by Philippe de Champaigne

The Platonist Apuleius taught that demons were subject to “every faucet of human emotion,” and that since they lacked self control and any other virtues, they were “tossed about on the stormy seas of their imaginations.” Saint Augustine takes up this theme in his City of God, writing that Aupuleius was arguing that the demons lacked the condition necessary for happiness, but that they were wretched, because

“Their mind…far from being steeped in virtue and thus protected against any surrender to irrational passions of the soul, was itself in some measure liable to disturbances, agitations, and storms of passion, the normal condition of foolish minds…

“It is not any of the lower part of the souls of demons that Aupuleius describes as agitated as if by raging seas and storms of passion; it is their mind, the faculty that makes them rational beings. And therefore they are not worthy of comparison with wise men who, even under the conditions of their present life, offer the resistance of an undisturbed mind to those disturbances of the soul from which human weakness cannot be exempt… It is the foolish and lawless among mortals that these demons resemble, not in their bodies but in their characters” (City of God IX.3).

His is a fitting description of those who pursue this false freedom of “doing whatever I want,” namely, that such men are “foolish and lawless.” Worse, by pursuing the desires of the moment, they find wretchedness rather than satisfaction and misery rather than felicity—and that’s in this life. They are like the demons, slaves to their passions. Of the demons, and thus of the hedonistic men who follow them, Saint Augustine concludes that “their mind is subdued under the oppressive tyranny of vicious passions, and employs for seduction and deception all the rational power that it has by nature” [4]. The freedom which inexorably leads to such oppression is a fool’s freedom indeed.

This then can be contrasted with the three real kinds of freedom. But that is the subject of my next column.

 

—-Footnotes—-

[1] Freedom from consequences is an even more foolish form of false freedom than “the ability to do whatever I want.”

[2] See the discussion of the characteristics of the resurrected body in the Catholic Encyclopedia. The resurrected body posses impassibility, brightness/glory, agility, and subtility.

[3] From John C. Wright’s “The Ideal Machine,” published in Sci Phi Journal no 1., and also in The Book of Feasts and Seasons (a collection of short stories which I highly recommend). Later in that story, the character Tyler realizes that the Ideal Machine, which is destroyed by Hynkel’s poor use of it, was capable of creating a starship. His reaction is a further summary of what is wrong with the fool’s freedom, which is that he didn’t even know what he actually wanted. “You mean I could have wished for a starship? And I wished for a goddam whorehouse instead!”

[4] City of God IX.6. Saint Augustine also writes that “Demons are at the mercy of the passions…the mind of demons in in subjection to the passions of desire, of fear, of anger, and the rest,” and that no part of their mind is left for wisdom, or virtue.

The Slavery of Secular Freedom

Introduction

America was an experiment whose formation defied most of the current political systems at the time of her founding. A group of former colonists found themselves with opportunities and fundamental rights that they otherwise could never have imagined under the strict social class system of Great Britain. For example, the right to vote was formerly held only by those who owned land and considerable amounts of money, but in the newly formed America, land was readily available. That alone turned the political system into one in which many voices were heard, instead of only a privileged few. The founding principle at the very bedrock of American society, held more important than these new rights and opportunities, was the concept of a free people, a people who could govern themselves as they saw fit, insofar as to overthrow the precepts of a tyrannical government, if necessary.  Freedom was the foundation of the American dream, and that dream was accessible to everyone.

The religious paradigm of America was largely Anglican at the time, with other deists and Protestant denominations mixed in. Catholics were few and far between, and faced various persecutions. The American concept of freedom was strongly tied to one’s ability to worship as deemed fit, a strong sense of duty to participate in the political process, and engagement in activities designed to strengthen the common good. An active citizenship who heavily participated in politics and made their voices heard was uncommon, so therefore freedom was rooted in two things: a strong understanding of the concept of God’s law, and a strong sense of civic duty. It is important to note the heavy influence of Protestantism/Anglicanism in the religious thinking of the time and how that paradigm affected the concept of freedom in America.

We can acknowledge the struggles and triumphs of our nation as it grew into a very rich world power, fought wars, and gradually led to where we are today. The purpose of this article is to examine the concept of freedom according to the teachings of the Catholic Church and to apply those principles to the now over-regulated, secularized concept of freedom that prevails in modern America. For indeed, once the concept of freedom becomes secularized, having removed God from a functioning, free society, a desperate form of slavery is created, one that is difficult even for those enslaved to recognize.

Freedom in the Beginning

In order to discuss the degradation of freedom in modern America, it is first necessary to establish its essence in the way it was first bestowed upon humanity by the Creator. When God created the Heavens and the Earth, He created Adam and then Eve as the pinnacles of His creation. He gave them the Garden of Eden to care for, as well as dominion over all the animals. The essence of their human freedom being unawareness of the knowledge of good and evil, the two humans’ existence was freedom in its purest sense, completely connected with God, the Source of all love and life. They were blissfully ignorant of existence outside of God’s perfect law, and the grief over the loss of that bliss has reverberated throughout the history of mankind. Unashamed of even their own nakedness, Adam and Eve lived completely connected to the Source of their very existence without any improper desires, pride, or even knowledge of anything outside of the love of God. It must be noted that even though the two were unaware of the knowledge of good and evil, God did not take away their free will. The tree with the forbidden fruit still grew in the garden.

Adam and Eve forfeited their freedom due to the deception of the serpent, who lay cunningly in wait in the garden. Gaining the knowledge of good and evil did not, in fact, liberate them more, but gave them the false sense that they too could be like God. The knowledge of evil presented them with all its seductive allure, and twisted their own natural desires for true goodness into desire for apparent goodness.  The perfect connection with God was severed as they hid themselves from Him as He walked in the garden. They discovered the shame of their own nakedness, covering up what God had fashioned and called good. Eating of the fruit resulted in God proclaiming that mankind would work hard for food and eventually die, for eating of this fruit tainted their very bodies with mortality. The essence of freedom was lost.

After briefly analyzing the freedom that was first experienced by the parents of humanity, it is important to note that freedom, in its truest sense, comes from a close connection with God. He gives us the freedom to choose to do good or evil, but as can be plainly seen by the actions of the first humans, the choice of acting outside God’s Law results not in an improved existence, or even more happiness, but in a loss of self and a bondage to the actions of evil. The definition of evil at this point is the desire or committal of actions that do not align themselves with God’s Natural or Spiritual Law. Slavery to our sin develops as we persist more frequently in it, until we are no longer even able to distinguish good from evil. Adam and Eve chose this path when they decided to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, and thus subjected humanity to an existence much in need of Redemption, an existence in which humanity must fight against the slavery of its own sin.

Monarchical Slavery

Throughout the centuries of humanity’s existence, various forms of governments were set up to create and preserve order. Before the founding of America, most governments were monarchies, often believed to have been ordained by God Himself to rule, or concentrated power in various chieftains or families. Freedom, therefore, slowly became not a right inherent to all people by the grace of God, but a privilege granted and taken based on the whims of a single person. Some monarchs were good and served well throughout history, but others wrought terrible suffering upon the people they ruled. Power was held in highly concentrated measures, by very few people; consequently, the masses had no say whatsoever over their rulinggovernment.

Depending on what part of history we examine, we can find many instances in which the common people powerless in government, especially regarding the decision of which religion they practiced. Many a monarch declared a specific denomination to follow, or even declared themselves as divine and worthy of worship. We can apply the term “hard slavery” to this existence, as we recognize that people were controlled and used for the pleasures of those who ruled over them. There are more than enough examples from world history to support the theory of hard slavery, and we can examine them for a lifetime.

This pattern was disrupted when something new and unexpected happened in 1776. A group of colonists in a far off land decided to do something drastically different from the pattern of government thus far. They wrote a Declaration and changed the course of government from that point forward. The British subjects living in their colonies decided to break away from the historically all too familiar monarchy and start something completely different. They had an entire continent at their disposal and finally had the opportunity to govern themselves as they saw fit without the dictates of a man an entire ocean away. They set up a government that was directly responsible to the people it governed and spread the power of government among three different branches that checked and balanced each other. No one person or small group of people would hold immeasurable power over the many. Because of the small size of the fledgling nation, people were able to participate greatly in the running of their government by voting, a new concept to so many, and by actively seeking the advancement of the common good.

The Land of Opportunity

America was a country based on the concept of freedom, where the people could practice the religion of their choosing, pursue the careers of their dreams, build businesses, and conduct themselves as they wished. Many nationalities immigrated to America, but the American identity was rooted in freedom, a freedom that was alluring to people from all over the world. It is important to note that while American history is not perfect by any means, many injustices and deeds having marred the developing country, the basic idea of freedom, the idea of a people who could govern themselves, was always a guiding principle.

America’s religious identity was always Christian in nature, but never Catholic. We can course through the emergence of the W.A.S.P. (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant), the preachers of fire and brimstone, the severe nature of America’s Protestantism at times, but we must keep in mind that America was never Catholic. That strong Christian identity was deeply embedded in the people and also, at least on the surface, in those who were elected to office. An understanding of God as the Source of freedom was held by most of the American people throughout the history of the nation, and abiding by the teachings of Christ in the Bible was important to the national culture. Obviously we can course through the ebb and flow of active Christian beliefs in America and find numerous instances of less than ideal adherence to those beliefs, but for the purpose of this article, the point is that Christianity was the overall religious ideal of the people.

It is in the twentieth century, especially in the late twentieth century, that we can find the anchor of Christianity starting to slip from the national scene. Vocal secularist groups emerged and made a lot of noise over the so-called “separation of Church and state”, and through that constant hounding, Christianity was edged more and more from the political scene. A divide emerged in the country between a still large majority of Christians and those who wished to remove Christian teachings and morals not only from the law, but from public discourse. The constant barrage from these noisemakers is what led to a different understanding of freedom in America. This new concept of freedom was purely secular and removed God as the Source of freedom. As we discussed previously, the removal of God as the Source of freedom is the sure path to slavery.

Do What Feels Good

The modern, secular understanding of freedom in America today, the one that is repeated the most often, is the idea that we can do whatever we want as long as it doesn’t “hurt anyone.” This is a dangerous concept indeed, as it is hard to define what actions actually hurt others. This “anything-goes” attitude towards freedom has shaken America to its foundation and left us in a dire situation. A juvenile, instant gratification attitude towards freedom turns a mature citizenry into one akin to a group of children who want to eat too much candy even though it will give them a tummy ache. No longer is the ideal to serve the common good and participate in government as an informed populace. We are distracted by Hollywood celebrities and their lifestyles, and by what free things we can get from the government. Elected officials have become the real elite ruling class, using taxpayer money to live extravagant lives of luxury and vice, all at the taxpayers’ expense. The “do whatever you want as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone” concept of freedom has taken very deep root in the American mind.

Many of our selfish actions seem harmless to others, but let us take a moment to analyze some things a little closer. Our actions can affect others and society in ways we may not be able to imagine. Take food, for example. We have, in the U.S., such a plethora and variety of foods, of which we can eat as much as we wish. That’s freedom, right? But eating too much of the wrong thing can lead to many health problems, including severe obesity. If we experience severe health problems due to our “freedom” to eat whatever we want, we impose a heavy cost burden to our families as we fight these health problems. Our medical bills inflate, along with our waistlines, and we require special equipment that costs more because we are too large for the regular equipment. Even a funeral for an obese person can cost more, as an expensive, specially fitted casket is required. Our choice to eat whatever we want can affect our families greatly. How could it affect society if a great number of people chose to exercise their self-declared freedom in this manner? What other actions do we take which lead to severe consequences that directly affect our loved ones?

Take the heroin addict who overdoses in his mid-twenties and renders himself unable to care for himself the rest of his life. His family is then burdened with the responsibility of caring for this loved one who decided to selfishly abuse a non-existent freedom. What about those who are promiscuous and have sex with whomever they wish? Not only do they risk contracting and then spreading sexually transmitted diseases, but they also risk bringing children into a world where they may or not be cared for by the two parents, and have a much higher likelihood of living in poverty and engaging in risky behavior later on in life. The manner in which we conduct our lives, and the choices we make, are not always as inconsequential to others as we may want to think. The responsibilities we have to our families and society cannot be ignored, lest we all suffer.

Engineered Slavery

America became the richest nation in the world, where most people live lifestyles with amenities and comforts that can only be dreamed about in other parts of the world. Even those considered to be poor in America live a lifestyle that is practically luxurious compared to the poor of the rest of the world. They typically have some kind of housing, televisions, cell phones, as well as a vehicle. Granted, these circumstances may change, however this is an overall analysis. The United States Government developed many programs to help the so-called poor, but instead of helping them out of poverty, it has created an alternate form of dependency akin to slavery.

As Christians, we can certainly appreciate the responsibility we have to take care of the poor, but what we have allowed to happen in America is something quite different. It is good to have a certain system in place to help those who fall upon hard times or are disabled, but we have created a dependency culture that lives off of the scraps thrown to them by the government.They are living a lifestyle that is not one of freedom, but of abject slavery. There are all too many examples of people who abuse the American welfare system and find as many waysas they can to get the most money out of the government for the least amount of work. It is possible to buy frozen lattes, certain subs, chips, candy, soda, and iced mochas, to name a few things, while receiving food stamps. It is also possible to use the cash assistance portion of the food stamp program to buy cigarettes, or simply withdraw the cash from the ATM in order to buy lottery and alcohol. The government has subjugated these people in assistance programs for the sole purpose of ensuring a voter block who will only vote to maintain their standard of living.

Even the poor in America can live extravagantly off of the work of others. Slavery engineered by the government has an especially evil quality about it in its disregard for the dignity of the human individual and their right to a life of true freedom. Large groups of people are held down when all they do is live off of the government dole, blindly scrambling for the scraps thrown to them. They go on like this day after day, year after year, not realizing that a better life is possible, not even informed enough to realize what exactly is happening to them. The insidiousness of the government officials responsible for this servile state is truly reprehensible. Let it be noted at this point that the author is not condemning anyone who finds themselves in need of assistance, or who currently receives,  or has received benefits. The points raised about government welfare relate more to those who abuse it and to the government officials who use it to manipulate the people into voting for them.

The Slavery of Desire

When God is removed as the Source of freedom and the very concept of freedom is reduced to a puerile, self-serving, secularized motif, a deep slavery settles in that originates in the hearts of individuals and spreads like a virus throughout society. What is this slavery of which we speak? Who are the slaves and who is the master? When God is out of the picture, we become slaves to ourselves, specifically our fallen nature and all its vices and wayward tendencies. When we don’t have God, we create our own, and the god we create is most commonly rooted in that which our sinful side tells us is right and proper to indulge. The slavery of secular freedom resonates with the selfish ego, inwardly seeking the satisfaction of all our desires in the most disordered manner possible.

As we move along this path of wanton impulsivity, our desires devolve into a more progressively evil routine. We can never eat enough food, have enough sex, earn enough money, etc, in order to satisfy our inner fallen selves. When God has been removed from consideration, we try to fill the void with that which can never truly satisfy. The slavery created by our own desires focuses on ourselves and renders it much more difficult to be able to care for the good of another. If an entire society is filled with a majority of such people, inwardly focused and blinded to the needs of others, that society as a whole is set on a collision course with its own collapse. As we can never satisfy our own desires through this material world, society functions in the same way. The overall group conscience of society becomes poisoned with selfishness, and seeks that which is evil in the name of good.

Conclusion

We established in the beginning of this piece the fact that God is the Center and Source of true freedom. Humanity was initially created in the essence of this freedom but through their own sin, gave it up to an existence that battles with the possibility of slavery. Humanity, in its fallen nature, can still live in a sense of freedom as long as God is honored as its Source. The fact that we, as humans, have sinful tendencies gives us a particular vulnerability to giving over our lives in slavery to our fallen desires. America was the first nation that established freedom as one of its founding principles. Never before had the system of government that the United States created been seen, and her founding resounded throughout history. America prospered through the years for many reasons, but one of the primary reasons was that God was seen as the Source of freedom and prosperity. It is the secularization of freedom in America that has led to the formation of a people in bondage to their own desires, living in slavery to themselves and in some ways to the government. It is only through the reemergence of God as the Source of freedom that America as a nation can be saved.

The Hidden Rebellion

The Hidden Rebellion
Why would a successful producer with 16 years of high-level experience and an offer to become the lead production manager for one of the most prominent major global media outlets suddenly give his notice?

It’s the same reason an award-winning director with a number of projects (and–even more time-consuming–a number of kids) would pick up and travel to France and volunteer his time, talent and treasure: For the cause of liberté.

Now, to be clear, this is in fact the current day and these two veteran filmmakers are not physically fighting. But they are fighting for hearts and minds just as so many faithful Christians fought so valiantly during the French Revolution through the filming of a powerful new docudrama to air on EWTN.

The project exposes the real–and previously hidden–story behind the French Revolution. The story is not one of populists against a tyrannical king as the narrative has played out, but more accurately represents a fight for the very soul of France: one that saw heinous religious persecution and a 117,000 person massacre. But not before a well-trained military ceded substantial ground to a loosely organized bunch of farmers and ‘wolf hunters’.

The oppressors, who eventually proved victorious, didn’t count on the steadfast faith of the Vendéans who refused to allow their priests to be exterminated through brute force. These simple peasants are our common ancestry in the Universal Church and they would never give up on religious liberty. Can we truly argue the same?

Indeed, much like the Cristeros in 1920’s Mexico and perhaps the United States of the future if we are not cautious, the Vendéans’ valiance is a story that must be told. This is not simply a cautionary tale, but one that can fuel global change if sufficient support can encourage the United Nations to recognize the massacre as a genocide.

This is critically important to us and for us as Catholics, as Christians and simply as people of good will. The French Revolution’s slaying of over 117,000 innocents served as the blueprint for Lenin, Pol Pot and other genocidal architects. Our response will serve as the blueprint for our children: What will that be?

As a reader, you have a choice: Do nothing and forget (as the French government has long tried to encourage). Or: Support the campaign to bring this docudrama to a reality and share this information with your Facebook network. You can contribute as little as $10 today by visiting http://igg.me/p/502381.

A vous de choisir – It’s up to you.

Freedom of Choice

I’ve been mulling over the idea of mercy killing and euthanasia for three days now, wondering what to write about, wondering what I thought about it all, watching terrible 70’s dystopian movies in the hopes that inspiration would strike, and generally just spinning my wheels. When I converted to Catholicism I got a crash-course in Catholic doctrine, focusing mostly on the things I would need to know immediately, like Theology of the Body and Humanae Vitae. Mercy killing and euthanasia were, I’m sure, included in the sections that covered human dignity, but they weren’t on my radar at the time. They haven’t been since then, to be honest, until the Ignitum editors started floating the idea of this symposium. All along, I’ve been trying to come up with something to write about mercy killing, because that seemed the clearer injustice of the two. It seemed to me to be the bigger danger, the bigger threat, the threat we already see being played out when 90% of Down’s Syndrome babies are aborted and 73% of Canadians defended a father’s right to kill his own daughter. Mercy killing isn’t a theory, it’s a reality. It’s happening. Surely, I thought, surely euthanasia pales in comparison to the horror of mercy killing.


But as I tried to figure out which angle to come at, which argument to make about mercy killing, I began to realize that there is literally nothing I can say about mercy killing that everyone reading these words doesn’t know. Killing people is wrong. It’s wrong if they’re small, tiny, in-utero people, it’s wrong if they’re 5 day old people, it’s wrong if they’re 25 year old people with cerebral palsy, it’s wrong if they’re 68 year old people with Down’s Syndrome. It’s wrong no matter what the motive is. Yes, individual cases can be enormously complicated and every person involved should be shown compassion and pity, but I don’t have any personal experience with such a thing. There is no light I can shed on the subject of mercy killing. There’s nothing I can say that hasn’t been said infinitely better by loads of theologians and scholars.


So I turned my attention, rather reluctantly, to euthanasia. Most specifically, to voluntary euthanasia or assisted suicide.


I really didn’t want to write about assisted suicide. I still don’t. I don’t like thinking about assisted suicide, or suicide in general. Long before I converted, the Catholic position on suicide horrified me. I saw a suicidal person as a person to be pitied above all, and the idea that a person who committed suicide would be sent to hell and denied a Christian burial seemed to me a cruelty beyond words.


There were a few other things about Catholic teaching that nearly hindered my conversion. The prohibition on birth control was a big one, the fact that missing Mass is a mortal sin another. The sheer size of the Catechism made me doubt my own sanity in even considering converting.  So many rules! So much to remember! How would I ever even keep straight what was and wasn’t a mortal sin, let alone remember not to commit them?


It took me many years after my conversion to realize what my real problem was with Catholic teaching on suicide, birth control, and even missing Mass. My problem with all these rules was that they reminded me that I am not free. I do not rule myself. I do not have sole autonomy over my life, my reproduction, or even one single, solitary Sunday. And that makes me angry sometimes. Sometimes it makes me feel trapped and bitter. Sometimes it comforts me and brings me peace. But it always sets me apart from secular culture.


I asked some of my friends on facebook what they thought about euthanasia, and one of them responded with the following:


“I’ve heard the argument that euthanasia in case of pain is unacceptable because the suffering can be united to the suffering of Jesus. Excuse me for thinking this is fanatical and disturbing. If you want to unite your suffering to Jesus, that is laudable. Don’t force someone else to who wants it to end. I do think (heretically) that people have the choice over their own lives, but I think every effort should be made to address the underlying issues before saying “ok, here ya go! Hope you really meant it!” Would we give mercy killings to depressed teenagers? Why would we give mercy killings to depressed old people? Address the cause of the depression. And yet, the choice to live or die is a fundamental human choice.”


I read that and thought, yes, that makes sense to me. I’m a faithful Catholic, and as such I understand that this is the wrong perspective to have. I understand, and believe, what the Catechism says about freedom: “The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to the ‘slavery of sin’ (CCC 1733).” Yet still I find my friend’s perspective nearly impossible to argue with. It’s the voice of our culture. Autonomy, personal freedom of choice, has become our most sacred right. The major problem with this, of course, is that no man is an island. Our own choices affect others. A woman’s autonomy over her own body can easily become autonomy over a second body living inside hers. The woman’s freedom to choose can and does result in the death of another person. But what do we say when freedom of choice seemingly has no effect on the world around the one choosing? How do we convince a culture whose milk and meat is personal freedom that an elderly, ailing, dying person, alone in the world and in pain, does not have the personal freedom to choose a release from their pain? How do you convince someone who might not even believe in God that to end their suffering by choosing death would be an offense against God? What does a person with little or no faith, in the face of unbearable agony with no immediate end, care about “slavery of sin?” And how can we even begin to bring such an argument to a culture which has lost its faith in God? If there were no God, we would indeed be the sole arbiters of our destiny, including the destiny to live or die. Freedom would mean just exactly what our culture thinks it does.


Voluntary euthanasia is an almost impossible concept to argue against in today’s world. In many ways it’s more difficult than abortion, because there is no victim we can point to. There is only a suffering, miserable human and a compassionate doctor who wants to help. It isn’t about murder or malice even despair, although I’m sure those things have played into such cases in the past. It is quite simply the most fundamental question of freedom that a human can face: do we have autonomy over our own lives? I can’t see any way to convince the culture at large that voluntary euthanasia is intrinsically wrong without first taking down the god of freedom of choice, and the only way to take down the god of freedom of choice is to resurrect the true God in the public sphere.


[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.ignitumtoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/calah-and-girls-e1313149120343.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Calah Alexander was born and raised Evangelical Christian and converted to Catholicism in August of 2007. She is a married mother of three whose husband is finishing his doctorate in English Literature at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, while she is homeschooling, writing, changing diapers and remembering to turn the oven off. Her website is Barefoot and Pregnant.[/author_info] [/author]

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