Thursday, January 12, 2012

Civilization of Love, and Barfing

Once again am I waylaying part two of my "year in the seminary" postings. This time for a reflection on the moral value of the flu.

Tolstoy has this story, if I remember correctly it is Mayan or something, wherein the ancient truth is told that the evils in the world are meant to direct us to the good, to love, because human beings became progressively worse in their prosperity. It's as true as it sounds quixotic coming from him. I remember going to a talk by the great Jean Vanier who said as much about the great consequence for the world of that those with disabilities produce. Also, JP II's wonderful encyclical, Salvifici Dolores. Not a day goes by when I do not see infants doing the same for me: teaching me how to love.

Boy, though, the flu has a great way of forcing a reexamination of life. Does it for you? It sure does for me. Is that normal? The flu seems less to me a physical trial than an emotional one: I get depressed. Why? I guess because I cannot avail myself of my normal creature and psychological comforts. I cannot silence the voice of my own mortality; I cannot silence my existential angst. It is easy enough to read the words of the Teacher, "All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless." (Eccl. 2:23) It is easy enough to read it, but at home in your recliner, or in the chapel, under the warm light, next to the cozy space heater, do you feel his words?

A reexamination fuelled by God's action, rather than that customary pattern of your own (though, of course, commendable) daily reflection, resets the mind at least temporarily, sometimes even profoundly. Recall how it was for St. Ignatius Loyola being laid-up after his injury. So, it seems, those like me will only be driven to a real reexamination when forced to it by God. For, I can resist ordinary graces; I am quite good at that.

I've said before that Catholics must maintain two things: life is tragic and that it is very good. You can see how leaning on one side to the cost of the other can have bad consequences. It is well known that Christopher West leaned too heavily on the one side; Cornelius Jansensius, perhaps too heavily on the other, or St. Jerome, or St. Augustine, or Tertullian... The tendency today, due to our pro-life efforts, is to accentuate the former. But that is likely good and necessary, since, I believe, abortion and euthanasia, and homosexualism, etc., are all terribly pessimistic doctrines, or rather, are the fruits of deep pessimism. The Catholic doctrine undergirding this doctrine is simply that this life is a gift from God, but it is not sufficient for our true happiness. I don't think I need to prove this doctrinally.

When Isaiah had epilepsy as a young child,
 I took great comfort in this picture,
which combines one of my favourite things,
the Transfiguration, with the story of
the healing of the epileptic.
Some people are bothered by the books of Job and Ecclesiastes; I'd be bothered by their absence. Here are two books that are all about the reality of suffering. I often wonder, I often question the received wisdom, is life really better today than in earlier times? I can read about St. Augustine, who was neither poor nor rich, being laid up for months and months by toothaches and by, yes, hemorrhoids. If I had either, it would be unusual to be inconvenience by either for more than a week at a time. Today is better, then. But why is suicide so common, and becoming more so? One is four Canadians are being treated for depression, or some such outlandish figure. Modern invention promises more, certainly, than it can possibly deliver, and that is one thing from which we must suffer - false promises of a terrestrial utopia - from which Augustine did not. Whatever the case, were you born in 354 or 1954, life still sees an abundance of suffering. The worst kinds I have endured were in the mind, not the body. St. Thomas says that's the case for everyone: for whatever a human being suffers is in the mind - if in the body, the mind bears it too... I would say that for as much as you can try to imagine the physical torture of chemo-therapy, you will not be able to imagine the concomitant mental torture.

If we needed to go a step further. Scripture does not simply countenance the reality of suffering, it seems place it at its heart with the Paschal Mystery. The death of Christ is not something to contemplate while snacking on crumpets, or on nachos - like the person sitting behind me while I watched the Passion of the Christ in the theatre! The death of Christ, like every bit of His coming into the world and His life in it, is the coming-to-be and life of every person. His suffering is not merely solidarity, but it is to be incarnate like us now. I don't like antipassiomarionites for this very reason, but that for a distant other day, I prithee. If Our Lady did not suffer then she has no part in Christ! How can it be otherwise, than that it is in suffering that important truth is found? There are two ways to consider the miracles of healing Jesus performs, as mythological displays of power or as acts of divine compassion. If we are to think along the lines of the former, I'd prefer modern medical science, since it seems more dependable in its wider dispersion (at least in this wealthy West). But I'd never trade all the wealth and comfort  imagined in atheists' dreams for the disgusting poverty of Nazareth, for there in that dank cave, wreaking of animal dung and smoke was love.

In sickness love is the only thing that matters. I beat myself up over my failure to love Anne-Marie and the kids as well as I ought, and I took comfort in hearing their voices through the walls, even in hearing the sounds of their rambunctious behaviour, and I took comfort in the thought of my friends, my many dear and good friends, people who actually care to think of you and be bothered by thge idea of your discomfort.

So if this is the truth revealed, will I live out my life in accordance with it?

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