Tag Archives: evil

30 September: Fortitude VII, More Endurance.

 

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This idea of endurance is worth lingering over. When I taught this subject as a class, a student once asked, “Isn’t it better to fight for what is right, rather than just put up with something that is evil? Shouldn’t we utilize anger and aggression against an evil which threatens?” St. Thomas allows this, in fact. Moreover, he nowhere says that we should ‘put up with evil’ in a passive way. He says that in resisting evil, all the emotions of the soul can be employed by the virtuous person if they are modified according to the dictate of reason. But as for anger and aggression, they are effective only sometimes. At best, “moderate anger”, as he calls it, can be useful because it is both “moved by the commands of reason and it renders an action more prompt.” Moderate anger, then, is not a tantrum, a rage, a show of personal power. It is intelligent, it speaks without shouting, it has a rational basis for its concerns. That is what Thomas means by being “moved by the commands of reason.” Moreover, an angry person doesn’t delay and stall about doing what needs to be done: an angry person acts quickly. This can be a very good and useful thing.

Then, if the anger is under control, if one has a reasonable set of objections and can communicate them in a rational way, and without dragging one’s feet, then this would be St. Thomas’s idea of the virtuous way to utilize the emotion of anger and grow in fortitude. It might be effective if the difficulty is the type than can be resolved by reasonable argument. Some are.

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The Iron Bridge is a symbol of endurance: Abram Darby III’s endurance against scoffers, and nearly 240 years of Shropshire weather and the vagaries of the river Severn.

But, sadly, not all difficulties can be resolved in this way. For Thomas, the bottom line still seems to be that we must accept that most serious problems take a long time to resolve. This is why endurance, in his teaching, is more effective than anger – even moderate anger. Endurance isn’t merely a passive virtue, for ‘do-nothings’. Rather, endurance actively stands firm on the side of what is truly valuable and good when trials come. It does not capitulate to pressure. It keeps hold of the ethical reasons for taking the stance we take. This, as anyone knows who has ever tried it, is not easy. That is why fortitude is a virtue.

I would like to end these reflections with what The Catechism of the Catholic Church says about fortitude.

Fortitude is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. It strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life. The virtue of fortitude enables one to conquer fear, even fear of death, and to face trials and persecutions. It disposes one even to renounce and sacrifice one’s life in defence of a just cause (no. 1809).

For further study:

The Catechism of the Catholic Church ,Geoffrey Chapman, London, 1994

The Four Cardinal Virtues, Joseph Pieper, University of Notre Dame Press

http://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/aquinas/summa/

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2 May: Prudence IX, Hmmm.

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Circumspection. 

Foresight looks ahead.  Circumspection looks around.  It is to do with how the many circumstances in one’s life may combine at this particular point in time in the effort to attain one’s end prudently.  It takes cognisance of the complexity of existence.

Jack and his bookshop might be getting along fine now and he may decide to expand his business.  But then he prudently decides to wait a bit because of, say, illness in the family.  He doesn’t want to be preoccupied with business when the family may need him to be more available at home.  Circumspection strives to evaluate how everything will or will not work together.  It will try to leave room for the unexpected, for the unforeseeable.  Which leads us to: 

Caution 

Isn’t prudence about caution?  Having said so much do we really need to consider caution, too?  After foresight and circumspection, aren’t we sufficiently protected from evil?  Not really.  Thomas says that the things with which prudence is concerned are ‘contingent matters of action.’  Put in more modern words, we cannot control everything, or see into the depths of every action.  The ‘false is found with the true,’ he warns, and ‘evil is mingled with good on account of the great variety’ of life and events and personalities.

‘Good is often hindered by evil, and evil has the appearance of good.  Wherefore prudence needs caution.’ 

SJC.

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23 February: Detective Stories for a Post-Truth Age

We are told that we are living in a ‘post-truth age’. The President of the United States has his staff put out alternative facts – or lies – when the verifiable truth is uncomfortable. Climate change is a conspiracy theory. The Muslims (en masse) are out to get us. A referendum is held, lies are told, 37% of people vote to leave the EU – but the people have spoken, although those living overseas could not vote, any more than Scots living in England were able to vote in the Scottish Independence Referendum.

1968, Czechoslovakia. The half-million strong, Russian-led Warsaw pact armies invaded to put down the Prague Spring. 18 months ago we briefly remembered that event and the Velvet Revolution that followed, before 1968 was forgotten, bringing freedom to millions. Click on  Wenceslas .

1968 – 1989 was an era of post-truth in Czechoslovakia following the “Entry of the Fraternal Armies Rendering Brotherly Help to the Czechs and Slovaks”. Jews are Zionists who want to turn the clock back and have no regard for the historical role of the working class. It is a crime to leave the country: if you do so, your family will suffer. A professor may find himself swinging a pickaxe for revisionist crimes. Others might be executed as political criminals. A policeman almost imperceptibly sinks into the grey, sad world of a class warfare he has never really believed in. Crimes his team have solved go unpunished because they are committed by people with connections.

I had never read any of Josef Skvorecky’s books till I picked up The End of Lieutenant Boruvka in a charity shop. I will be seeking out more of them. The short stories flow gently on, leading us into ever greater collusion with evil, crises of conscience sliding past as dear ones are protected, blackmail is applied.

Is there redemption? It often looks bleak for Lieutenant Boruvka, who is often hemmed in, with little choice over what to do with the results of his investigations. Find this book and read it, and pray for perseverance in seeking out and telling the truth, and in forming and following your conscience.

MMB.

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September 3: Algeria VII: Testament of Dom Christian

This is a long post, but I could not see how to shorten the Last Testament of Christian de Cherge, the martyred Prior of Notre Dame d’Atlas. Every word counts. Islam is not islamism. Muslims are God’s children, our sisters and brothers.

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Window at Llanthony, Brecon, Wales. 

When an “A-Dieu” takes on a face.

If it should happen one day—and it could be today—

that I become a victim of the terrorism which now seems ready to engulf

all the foreigners living in Algeria,

I would like my community, my Church, my family,

to remember that my life was given to God and to this country.

I ask them to accept that the Sole Master of all life

was not a stranger to this brutal departure.

I ask them to pray for me—

for how could I be found worthy of such an offering?

I ask them to be able to link this death with the many other deaths which were just as violent, but forgotten through indifference and anonymity.

My life has no more value than any other.

Nor any less value.

In any case it has not the innocence of childhood.

I have lived long enough to know that I am an accomplice in the evil

which seems, alas, to prevail in the world,

even in that which would strike me blindly.

I should like, when the time comes, to have the moment of lucidity

which would allow me to beg forgiveness of God

and of my fellow human beings,

and at the same time to forgive with all my heart the one who would strike me down.

I could not desire such a death.

It seems to me important to state this.

I do not see, in fact, how I could rejoice

if the people I love were to be accused indiscriminately of my murder.

To owe it to an Algerian, whoever he may be,

would be too high a price to pay for what will, perhaps, be called, the “grace of martyrdom,”

especially if he says he is acting in fidelity to what he believes to be Islam.

I am aware of the scorn which can be heaped on Algerians indiscriminately.

I am also aware of the caricatures of Islam which a certain islamism encourages.

It is too easy to salve one’s conscience

by identifying this religious way with the fundamentalist ideologies of the extremists.

For me, Algeria and Islam are something different: they are a body and a soul.

I have proclaimed this often enough, I believe, in the sure knowledge of what I have received from it,

finding there so often that true strand of the Gospel,

learnt at my mother’s knee, my very first Church,

already in Algeria itself, in the respect of believing Muslims.

My death, clearly, will appear to justify

those who hastily judged me naive, or idealistic:

“Let him tell us now what he thinks of it!”

But these people must realise that my avid curiosity will then be satisfied.

This is what I shall be able to do, if God wills—

immerse my gaze in that of the Father,

and contemplate with him his children of Islam just as he sees them,

all shining with the glory of Christ,

the fruit of His Passion, and filled with the Gift of the Spirit,

whose secret joy will always be to establish communion

and to refashion the likeness, playfully delighting in the differences.

For this life lost, totally mine and totally theirs,

I thank God who seems to have willed it entirely

for the sake of that joy in everything and in spite of everything.

In this thank you, which sums up my whole life to this moment,

I certainly include you, friends of yesterday and today,

and you, my friends of this place,

along with my mother and father, my sisters and brothers and their families,

the hundredfold granted as was promised!

And also you, the friend of my final moment, who would not be aware of what you were doing.

Yes, I also say this Thank You and this A-Dieu to you, in whom I see the face of God.

And may we find each other, happy good thieves, in Paradise, if it pleases God, the Father of us both. Amen. (In sha ‘Allah).

Algiers, December 1, 1993—Tibhirine, January 1, 1994.

Christian.

Testament of Dom Christian

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22 August. Reflections on Living Together, II: Shakespeare Broadens the Mind.

 

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Travel is said to broaden the mind. It certainly offers some delicious paradoxes and pairings that challenge presumptions and prejudices that I never knew I had.

On the U-bahn in Berlin I noticed a pale-skinned, brown-eyed German man joking with a Turkish-looking friend, who had dark skin and piercing blue eyes. What amused them I know not, but the pair belonged in Shakespeare! I was shown life through a different lens for a brief moment.

Shakespeare loves odd couples for whom the course of true love does not run smooth. The girls in A Midsummer Night’s Dream are quite unlike each other (one tall, one short; one dark, one fair) yet until Puck interferes in their lives, they and their fiancés are the best of friends. Confusion and insecurity, sown by Puck, lead from bewilderment to the trading of insults between them all and Lysander telling Hermia, his beloved:

Be certain, nothing truer; ’tis no jest
That I do hate thee and love Helena.

And soon, Oberon observes:

These lovers seek a place to fight.

He has Puck provide respite and resolution by undoing his first mischief and allowing the young people to relax and fall asleep together, waking to a new day, and all’s well that ends well with the mortals blessed by the fairies.

Those who would destroy fraternity among us touch our eyes with worse than fairy dust.

Let us pray that we may see God more clearly, and love him more dearly in our sisters and brothers. And that we may see through and renounce all the evil one’s empty promises.

MMB.

 

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August 2: The Psalms as Personal Prayer III.

 

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John Cassian

The monastic writer, John Cassian, writes in the fifth century that when we pray the psalms over time, it will be like this:

[The one praying will] take in to himself all the thoughts of the Psalms and will begin to sing them in such a way that he will utter them with the deepest emotion of heart [emphasis mine] not as if they were the compositions of the Psalmist, but rather as if they were his own utterances, and his very own prayer…. [c.f. Conference X:11].

How does this happen?  Is the every-day experience something that always involves the “deepest emotion of heart”?  Well, of course, there are good days and bad days, as is always the case with any human endeavour.  But, on a deeper level, it may be important to say that the concept of the heart for the ancients had connotations that we don’t automatically think of today.  The heart, for Cassian’s original audience, has very little to do with the mushy, over-emotional concept we may associate with the term today.  For Cassian, the heart is the most important part of the inner being.  It includes the mind, but it is also to do with the will, the place of deepest inner truth, of self-dedication, firm decision, profound responsibility.   So when Cassian talks about the deepest emotion of the heart we need to understand something that has more permanence and stability than we usually attribute to the emotions, maybe akin to a kind of “groundedness” in truth.  In a fast-changing world, and an often chaotic life-style, this description of the heart’s inner strength and capacity for self-dedication can be highly appealing.  The psalms can help us to realise this state in our own lives.

Many of the psalms are composed in the first person.  This allows a species of “transference” to take place, because when we pray things like “O God whom I praise, do not be silent, for the mouths of deceit and wickedness are opened against me” (108:1), or “When I think I have lost my foothold, your mercy Lord, holds me up” (93:18), or “I am beset with evils…” (39:13) and so on, the “I” in any given psalm can become our “I” when we’re praying, no matter what our mood might be at that particular time.  In this way, the psalms become not only a mode of praying, but they help free us from the tyranny of our own emotions, and become a means of self-transcendence, and of empathy.  The psalms enable us to say to humanity, “I am praying not merely for you, but as you”.  We can pray the psalms from within the very consciousness of the one represented by any given psalm.  This allows us to put our own “stuff” to the side, and really listen to and pray from the perspective of different “stuff.”

SJC

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11 June, Year of Mercy:

mercylogoJesus was asked by what authority he forgave sins – and his opponents were right when they said only God forgives sin. As human beings we can help others live with their guilt. But we cannot forgive it. Forgiveness is a creative, new beginning that cannot be derived from our world. By forgiving ourselves we do something that we cannot make happen to us and must be bestowed as gift. In the gift of reconciliation in which communal life is granted anew we are experiencing something that transcends us. In reconciliation we bestow something we do not have – we are in fact clutching for grace – we are reaching out for God’s mercy.

Neither the demand for justice nor for the mercy that is ready to pardon, can happen in this world. Perfect justice can only happen through a violent system which itself would be evil. Whoever wants to create heaven on earth in fact installs hell on earth – something true in both church and state. The excesses of reformists and of the Inquisition should serve as warnings. But this is not an argument for doing nothing. We must curb evil and injustice as far as humanly possible – we must help justice and mercy breakthrough.

In our world there are not only pitiless injustices and unrelenting perfectionists, there is also an unrelenting this-worldliness. We want perfect justice and full mercy now – everything must happen now – which simply makes everything faster, demanding and overwhelming. We demand that another’s love should give us heaven on earth and in the process overwhelm the other without mercy. All that remains in the end is an appeal to God’s mercy. This alone ensures that evil does not triumph over good. It is hope for justice and reconciliation at the resurrection of the dead that makes life in this world truly liveable.

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In the face of imminent despair, nothing else remains but to see the world and life in the light of hope. The cry Lord, have mercy will never be silenced but will grow ever louder – it is the cry proper to the human race – for mercy and peace with justice – to be heard and answered when life is lived to the full and God is praised by our, at last, being fully alive.

We need Christians who make God’s mercy and tenderness for every creature visible to today’s people. We know that the crisis of modern man is not superficial but profound; which is why the New Evangelisation, while it calls us to have the courage to swim against the tide and to be converted from idols to the true God, cannot but use the language of mercy, expressed in gestures and attitudes even before words – Pope Francis.

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April 11th – Reflections on Freedom and Responsibility IX

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Light and dark on the Devil’s chair, Shropshire. MMB.

St Irenaeus, in the second century, writes this on the relationship between our capacity for freedom and for evil:

The light does not force itself on any man against his will; nor does God constrain a man, if he refuses to accept God’s working.  Therefore, all who revolt from the Father’s light, and who transgress the law of liberty, have removed themselves through their own fault, since they were created free and self-determining [Against Heresies ].

Origen, around the third century, says similarly: ‘It is laid down in the doctrine of the Church that every rational soul is possessed of free choice and will; and that it has to struggle against the devil.’

There is simply no way around it: we cannot possess our freedom by giving free reign to our every desire, no matter how selfish.  Pope Emeritus Benedict has written,

[The human person] is called to greatness, but his freedom can allow the contrary temptation, that of wanting to be great over against God….  Sometimes we feel like saying to God, If you had made man a little less great, then he wouldn’t be so dangerous.  If you hadn’t given him his freedom, then he should not be able to fall so far.  And yet, we don’t quite dare to say it in the end, because at the same time we are grateful that God did put greatness into man.’

 SJC

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Wednesday 23 March: Sad and Squalid Sin

mercylogoJudas so clearly embodies the pitiful nature of sin. However much sin might try to large it up, the reality is always sad and squalid; a symptom of alienation, of being akosmios, ‘outside the cosmos’. It deserves of our compassion.

The greatest of the Greek philosophers understood this. The greatest of the Greek philosophers understood this. The root meaning of the Greek verb, harmatanō, which in biblical contexts means ‘to sin’, is ‘to miss the mark’, as when an archer misses a target.

For Plato, humans naturally desire the good, and so all wrongdoing is due to ignorance and as such an expression of deficiency. To commit evil is to wound and deform our soul, the most important part of us. It is always better to suffer wrong than to do wrong. The Stoic philosopher Epictetus teaches:

‘“Ought not this brigand, then, and this adulterer to be put to death?” you ask. Not at all, but you should ask rather, “Ought not this man to be put to death who is in a state of error and delusion about the greatest matters, and is in a state of blindness, not, indeed, in the vision which distinguishes between white and black, but in the judgement which distinguishes between the good and the evil?” And if you put it this way, you will realise how inhuman a sentiment it is you are uttering, and that it is just as if you should say, “Ought not this blind man, then, or this deaf man to be put to death?”’

MLT.

Illustrations from Strasbourg Cathedral: Judas the pitiful is shown: at supper; hanging on the tree; giving the treacherous kiss. The artist has shown Jesus restoring the servant’s ear in the garden even as he is arrested, but even more mercifully, the Lamb of God is undoing the scarf that Judas used to kill himself, ready to rescue him from Hell’s Mouth.

MMB.

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