Thursday, December 11, 2008

"...As Those Who Have No Hope..."

No, this isn't another reflection on the President-Elect of Death and his campaign mantra of "hope"; I'm sure I'll address that again, eventually. This concerns something a bit more local and immediate, though I'm sure others will be able to relate to at least some of it.

As I mentioned briefly, a few weeks ago, the Catholic school at which I teach suffered a tragic loss, when two students and their father died in a plane crash (while their mother and two brothers were in a car, en route to meet them). A period of shock, followed by grieving, set in (which was good and fitting)... but in the series of talks eulogies, and presentations to (and from) the students (both verbally and in writing, memorial notes, etc.), a theme kept coming up. Maybe you've heard this one:

"They're not gone. They'll always live on in our hearts."

Again, and again: "We'll never forget you! They'll never be gone, so long as we keep their memories alive! You'll always be alive in our hearts!"

I wanted to scream.

Just how pervasive is this? Is this the extent to which we've sunk? In a school which embraces the title of "Catholic" (which is still Christian, last I heard), the only "continued life" it can recommend is "living on in our hearts and minds?" Forgive me (and I truly mean no disrespect to the family, or to those who are having a difficult time with this shocking loss--allowances for human frailty must be made, to be sure), but is this the best that this "Christian" school can offer to those who grieve? To borrow a phrase from Our Lord: "Do not the pagans do as much?" It's horrid enough that such hope-less nonsense is coming from the mouths of our children--it means that catechesis is in a shambles (which we've known anyway, but this is a particularly bitter and poisonous aspect of it), but they're young enough perhaps not to know any better--but this was coming from the mouths of *adults* who were trying to comfort these same children! Is this the best we can offer for comfort? To "grieve as the pagans do, without hope" (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:12)? To act, for all practical purposes, as if there is no life to come, and that "only in our hearts and minds" can our beloved dead "stay alive"?

Let me lay this out clearly, at least for the sake of my own sanity (and, God willing, for alerting others):

1) If you are Christian, you are one who--by definition--believes in every article of the Apostles' Creed... including the bit about "[I believe in] the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. AMEN." It isn't true because we believe it. We believe it because it's true. (Amazing, what difference a small change in word order makes!)

2) To put it as bluntly as I can: if every last person on earth (including you!) were to be stricken with amnesia, so as to forget, utterly, everything about every loved one you ever cherished... if every last person (including you!) were to be stricken with some loathsome spiritual disease by which every last scrap of your "heart's devotion" toward your beloved dead was turned to utter hatred... you know what? Those beloved dead WOULD STILL EXIST. They don't dissolve into nothingness, the instant we stop thinking of them! Remember the "immortality of the soul", and all that "silly theology stuff" (that just happens to be critically relevant--imagine that)?

To highlight that idea: more than a few students, who were dear friends of the boys who died (or who wish they'd been closer, and were feeling guilty), honestly talked and behaved as if they simply weren't *allowed* to stop grieving--as if, by thinking about other things, even for a moment, they were somehow "betraying" the kids (and dad) who died... or worse, that they were somehow "allowing them to disappear from existence, never to get them back". From what I've gathered, this idea--while not exactly epidemic--isn't exactly a "fluke" occurrence, either; a significant number of people honestly think that they're obligated--in some way, shape or form--to grieve forever, so as to "keep the departed from disappearing completely"... a bit like Atlas holding up the world, lest it crash, or a bit like holding a soap-bubble on a soap-wand, lest it touch anything else and "pop".

Don't get me wrong: the idea of "remembering our beloved dead" can be a wonderful thing, if done in the right way, for the right reasons. If your remembrance of them moves you to *pray* for them (Note: I'll write a separate entry about that idea, later!), then yes, this is a good thing. But if your remembrance of them is a sort of "I need to 'keep them alive'!" idea, then I need to issue a very stern rebuke:


God alone holds life and death in the palm of His hand (cf. John 10:28); in God alone are all our beloved dead "alive" (cf. Matthew 22:32). God really doesn't need you to sustain them in existence; He has that quite under control, thank you.

Again, I have no desire to add to the pain of grief, for someone who's lost a loved one and hasn't yet taken these truths to heart. But I refuse to stand by, in the name of misplaced "mercy", and watch the poison arrow of "pagan grief" swallow you alive. By all means, it is good to grieve at the death of a loved one; we honor them and their precious value before God (and to us), when we do so, as Jesus Himself demonstrated when He--the God of creation, the Resurrection and the Life--wept at the death of Lazarus (cf. John 11:35); if He, Who knew full well that He was to restore Lazarus to earthly life in mere minutes, and Who knew that eternal life awaited Lazarus in the years to come, could weep, then we can, as well. But please, I beg of you, know that we can, through the victory of Christ, grieve without losing (true) hope, and even without losing true joy!

As a hat-tip across cyberspace: Sarah, on her excellent blog, recently posted about the fact that the "lifeblood" of Christianity, if you will, is paradox. The Creator took on a created nature, and the Immortal One subjected Himself to death. The Master of Life--who, by human reckoning, should have been chuckling behind His hand in glee in anticipation of His resurrection of Lazarus ("Just you wait and see what *I* have up My sleeve!"), instead wept with heartbroken grief. The All-Holy God, Who would have been all too justified in wiping all of us sinful, rebellious and prideful creatures from the face of the earth, chose instead to let us rip His Sacred Back to shreds with a whip, to tear His Sacred Head with thorns, and to pound 6-inch spikes through His Sacred Hands and Feet, to leave Him to die, naked, of suffocation and shock after hours of agony, surrounded by mockery.

Is it so hard to believe that this same God, in Whose Sacred Image and Likeness we were made, can empower us bothto grieve and, at the very same time (not waiting for later) to cherish the joy found in true (and not counterfeit) HOPE--a hope that no "worldly secular messiah" could ever give? At the very brink of His agony in the Garden, mere hours before He was tortured to death for our sins, and before the spiritual agony of all of Hell was injected into His Sacred Heart on our behalf, He said, "These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and your joy may be filled."

Grieve for the beloved dead, by all means. But know that such grief, when used in complete submission to God's Holy Will (by which everything--no matter how agonizing and dark--will work to good, for those who love Him--Romans 8:28), can live side-by-side with faith, hope, love... and even joy. Only the world's "grief" and the world's "hope" and the world's "joy" cannot coexist; I assure you, God's true versions are far stronger than they.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

A Plea for Truth

You'd probably never know it, to read my posts... but I'm not a confrontational type of guy, by nature; I enjoy lively discussion (so long as it remains friendly and reasonable, or at least civil and respectful), but I really dislike quarrels, sniping, and the like, and I usually try (under most circumstances) to avoid saying or doing anything which would rile anyone else up. However, when I'm confronted with what appears to be a blatant violation of an important truth, I'm caught in a dilemma: do I let the violation slide, or do I fight (with all the pain and unpleasantness that entails)? Well... God has made it increasingly clear to me that my vocation includes a defense of His Truth, as His Paladin (my full name from the Gaelic translates roughly into "virtuous warrior", or "Paladin", interestingly enough!); so I really have no choice but to fight... while holding to as high a standard of chivalric honour that I can, during the fight.

As such, there are times when I have to throw down the gauntlet, versus those who (consciously or unconsciously) stand athwart the Truth of Christ, and most especially versus those who claim the title of "Catholic" while minimizing, ignoring, dismissing, or even openly rejecting the Church's teachings (and on matters of severe importance, at that). The gauntlet does not mean that I hate my opponents; nor does it mean that I hold them to be evil, irredeemable, or anything other than fellow sons and daughters of God who happen to have been deceived (or otherwise "captured") by the Father of Lies. But the gauntlet does mean--regrettably--a battle. I can only offer such opponents, above and beyond my promise (insofar as my fallen nature, supported by the grace of God, allows me) to conduct the battle with honour, an idea from C.S. Lewis, in his excellent book, "Mere Christianity":
"When soldiers came to St. John the Baptist asking what to do, he never remotely suggested that they ought to leave the army: nor did Christ when He met a Roman sergeant-major--what they called a Centurion. The idea of the knight--the Christian in arms for the defence of a good cause--is one of the great Christian ideas. War is a dreadful thing, and I can respect an honest pacifist, though I think he is entirely mistaken. What I cannot understand is this sort of semipacifism you get nowadays which gives people the idea that though you have to fight, you ought to do it with a long face and as if you were ashamed of it. It is that feeling that robs lots of magnificent young Christians in the [armed] Services of something they have a right to, something which is the natural accompaniment of courage--a kind of gaiety and wholeheartedness.

I have often thought to myself how it would have been if, when I served in the first world war, I and some young German had killed each other simultaneously and found ourselves together a moment after death. I cannot imagine that either of us would have felt any resentment or even any embarrassment. I think we might have laughed over it."
(C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Ch.7, pars.8-9)

To fight without rancor, to spar without hate; that, I offer to my opponents. Do not confuse that for any lack of resolve to strike directly and keenly, at need; I will not ravage anyone's emotions out of mere spite; but nor will I soften a necessary blow, simply out of some deference to feelings or (far worse) the "ritualized cowardice" of political correctness.

That being said: I now call upon those Catholics, in particular, who have embraced heterodoxy... who have taken it upon themselves to "follow their own consciences" to places which flatly contradict the spirit and law of the Church in Whom they were baptized... who have become content to invert venial sin with mortal sin, the negotiable with the non-negotiable. I most especially call upon those who trumpet their unyielding defense of any opposition to the death penalty, their hopes for the elimination of involuntary poverty, their unequivocal condemnation of the War on Terror, and all (otherwise good) goals which share an almost uncanny resemblance to the goals of the present-day U.S. Democratic Party. Most of all, I call those of the above whose ferocity in furthering the above goals is matched only by their lack of ferocity in fighting the evils of abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, human cloning, the cultural "normalization" of homosexuality, and the like.

To these, I ask the following simple question:


For the love of all that's holy: do you seriously think that, if you were completely loyal to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, you'd have to abandon ANY of your other good efforts? Why on earth would giving true and clear priority to the fight against the non-negotiable "articles of the Culture of Death" (e.g. abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, homosexual "marriage" [sic], human cloning, etc.) interfere with your other efforts to end poverty, to find practical ways to bring the War in Iraq to a speedy conclusion, to work against the death penalty, and such? Why, in the name of all that's good, would placing your efforts on the rock foundation of Truth endanger those efforts in the slightest, if those efforts are truly good?

Moreover, I warn you against a terrible danger, so subtle as almost to be imperceptible when you're immersed in it (as I well know--having been there for years of my life): when you give yourself permission to "detach" from obedience to the Church, you necessarily set something/someone else (almost always "yourself"!) as the final arbiter of truth... and that "something else" cannot possibly serve in that role successfully. The beginning of this "detachment" is subtle: it often starts with an appeal to the "supremacy of your own conscience" (which a cursory and context-free reading of Church documents will seem to confirm), and it seems so very innocent! After all: if you change from "I assent to the Church's Teaching in all matters of Faith and Morals" to the variant, "I currently happen to agree with all the Church's teachings regarding Faith and Morals", how would anyone else know the difference? If you're of a utilitarian and/or pragmatic mindset, there would seem to be no difference at all! In fact, it might even "feel" better, since--as you could easily tell yourself, using words almost identical to those of the Church: "The Church doesn't want blind obedience [which is true, so far as it goes]--She wants us to use our reason to meet and grapple with these truths, for ourselves!"

Thus is the door opened to the sin of pride... and a good-tasting and addictive poison it is, too. Not many 12-step groups to help you recover from it, either.

The "drift" then continues. Eventually, when you hit the first teaching of the Church which runs against your own feelings (and possibly thoughts)--it's almost always something related to sexual ethics, it seems (e.g. homosexuality, contraception, in-vitro fertilization, etc.)--you'll first experience the effects of being "cut off" from your base. (A tree that's cut completely through won't necessarily fall at first; it might need a breeze to start it tipping.) You'll think, "Hm... that doesn't make sense to me. In fact, I don't think that makes very much sense at all! Especially since my dear friend [x] is [homosexual, contracepting, using IVF, considering an abortion, etc.], and I love them, and they're not a bad person, and since only bad people would violate the Church's teachings, they can't possibly be violating the Church's teachings--or else, the Church's teaching is just plain wrong!"

Then come one of at least four main paths toward heterodoxy (i.e. "wrong belief"):

(1) [the more explicit] "The Church is just wrong about this one!"

(2) [the more implicit] "These teachings must not be real "Church teaching" at all! They're probably just the opinions of some old, celibate men in Rome, and Jesus probably wouldn't have agreed with it, either!"

(3) [even more implicit] "They may be Church teaching, but they're not *infallible* Church teaching! They're just one of those changeable ones, like limbo!"

(4) [one of the most implicit] "The teachings may be true, but other teachings are of far greater importance; love (see here for the real definition of that!), for example, is of a far higher priority than are picky, heady, theological 'rules' about details regarding sexuality."

And then, if you're brutally honest with yourself, you'll have only two authentic options before you: embrace your pet ideas, and formally leave the Church (whereupon even your pet ideas will eventually wither, fragment, and degenerate into putrefied parodies of what your once embraced with a clean heart); or surrender your pet ideas and reconcile yourself to the Church (whereupon all of your pet ideas that were truly good will eventually be given back to you, purified of the dross of error and sin).

I fully admit: when I was of that mind, I wasn't the least bit interested in such honesty; I was into feelings, feelings, and more feelings (which I thought were the basis of all "real" life). I suspect that many of the "heterodox Catholic" camp have that same insidious virus. I wish the prognosis of that disease were better... but it took literally *years* for me even to start facing the "fracture" at the core of my life (living "in" and "out" of the Church, at the same time), and it took many more years--and several life-shattering and painful events--for me to start making the hard choices necessary for moving away from it. I can only tell you that it's possible, and that it's by God's Grace alone, and that having lots of people "never stop praying for you" has a lot to do with chances of recovery (and with the chances of recognizing that it's something from which you need to recover!).

So... here's my challenge to you, if you're a heterodox Catholic (i.e. a Catholic who gives him/herself permission to go against the explicit teachings of the Magisterium of Christ's Church) reading this: I stand ready--with my all-too-human swordsmanship, my fallible shield-work, and my borrowed armour--to try my best to battle the errors that hold you, and I stand ready to pray for you, daily, no matter what. (I already do, in fact.)

The gauntlet is thrown. In the next weeks, months, and years, Catholics (and all Christians, for that matter!) need to unite in Truth, as well as in Spirit; no other kind of "unity" can hope to endure... especially if the near future is even half as dark as it promises to be, for those of Faith. In this present gathering darkness, Christ needs us all on the same side, and not fragmented into hundreds of politically-motivated mini-camps! The stakes are far too high to do anything else. And if taking and giving some hard knocks is what will bring people to shake off their errors and embrace the fullness of truth, then so be it; I can do no less, in the service of my Lord and Master.