Life is a great mystery. If you were God would you have made it this way? I guess if you were God you would see that, in some sense, it had to be this way. Life is full of the greatest joys and the worst sufferings. When one experiences the former, the latter doesn't exist for him; the latter, no former. Life is funny. From the glory of sunsets over Algonquin and of first love, to the misery of the poor, the depressed, the lost, all in one place: Earth. What is the story of man, tragedy or comedy? I know those guys said it had to be one or the other. I don't think it was Aristotle, I think it was that guy from U of T - Northrop Frye, wasn't it?
In Christ, what is it? Bad guys loose it's a comedy; bad guys win it's a tragedy. But what about the good guys? Christ wins - what is that? Am I to take a clue from Dante - and yet understand all this as a Comedy. Obviously I need to research my terms.
Yet my point isn't terminological; it's reflection on life on this planet. Back to Thomas (Aquinas, that is). He has these really peculiar observations. On the one hand, he says that this is the greatest of all possible worlds, and, that were one particular thing to be improved, like say, I didn't get sick this week, that the overall good would be diminished, like, say I would not have spent so much quality time with my kids, been humbled, etc. On the other hand, he says that 'the overall' could be improved, but it wouldn't be this world, it would be, by definition, another world. Perhaps when I get to those questions in a few weeks with my Thomistic Thought students, I can give a more accurate exegesis of his thought.
Voltaire didn't know Thomas
One of the most profound moments in the great Thomist's, Gilson's, intellectual development was his realization that Modern Philosophy had little idea about Medieval Christian Philosophy, and yet how many of the perennial philosophical problems were dealt with then in very profound ways. The 'forgetting' of Christian Philosophy - whether one wants to call that thing Medieval Philosophy, Scholastic, or Christian, I don't care, and it doesn't matter - was almost instantaneous. We see Descartes failing to credit his source - Augustine - for the cogito, and that was emblematic of the entire process. That is why, when Voltaire goes to write his most well-known literary work, Candide, he targets a modern exponent of the idea that this is the best of all possible worlds - Spinoza, and not the rather more authoritative, Aquinas. I guess he forgot about that guy.
Back to the Original Topic - What is this World?
It is good and right to call this world good. It is also true that it is a place of great evil. How clearly these two display themselves in family life. The love of husband and wife is such a great good, but the discord of jealousy, resentment, loss of trust, are amongst the world's greatest evils, and ones that simply would not exist were there no marriage. But neither then would the goods of love, trust, the joy of sexual sharing, hopes shared... The way of heretics is to cut out all for sake of removing the evil. The Catholic way is to keep all for sake of the good. So the evil remains, and must be dealt with every day. Let me offer the example of contraception. Contraception eradicates the evil of unwarranted, unprepared for pregnancies, and yet at what great cost! On the other hand, those open to life must endure the hardly insignificant problems of opening-up the heart, home and wallet to new life. By opening themselves up to love in all its dimensions, the Catholic couple must take-on its crosses; they cannot run away from them. Love and life are God's greatest blessings, and yet they are hard. There is no joy without sacrifice since our wills are deformed, and we yearn for reintegration.
I never knew the hardships of jealousy, sickness of babies, financial worry, resentment of spouse until I got married. Neither did I really know love and trust, and, of course, the joy of being loved as a father and as a husband. Put these things in the scales.
In the scales, a bad marriage reads one way, a good one the other. And this has nothing to do with God's intentions. "In the beginning it was not like this..."
My marriage has seen both sides. Who doesn't think of Tolstoy's opening line from Anna Karenina at times like these.
So, marriage is a metaphor for life. What a surprise, a sacrament with real-world utility!
Marriage is a mirror. I never saw my ugliness, my poverty, until I encountered a mirror I could not run away from. It's great going through life thinking you are a great basketball player, living as you do on a desserted island. It's safe and comfortable never having your conceits challenged. Most of us are like ballers who walk through the park, ball in hand, willing to take on all-comers, all incompetent, short, infant-comers. This isn't reality.
The world is hard, but beautiful. It is very hard, yet the best of all possible world, because Christ is here. You can go through life turning away from your own reflection, but when that is how you live, you'll never know the joy of truth - really loving, really being loved, for those things are beset with the chaos of loss, death, disease, suffering, anxiety, deep things, that can never erase God's gifts, but can really make you work for them, and, in that condign sense, deserve them.