What It Is And Is Not

If anyone says, "I love God," but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. This is the commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
--1 John 4:20-21

Hard cheese in a time of polarization and atomization, especially for those who've decided to render unto Caesar what is God's. Then again, as the late philosopher, Fr. James V. Schall, asserted, "We are living in a time where the logic of disorder is at work, rejecting systematically the logic of being a human being." Father Schall was also well-known for asserting that it is important for a philosopher "to say of what is, that it is, and of what is not, that it is not." John, the "beloved apostle," declares what Christian love is and what it is not. If you don't like that, fine. Just don't call yourself a "Christian," because you're not.

As I write this, I'm gazing in a mirror, not as Narcissus would, but as St. Paul might have. 

"The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried."
--G.K. Chesterton

The Black Dog Held At Bay

We Christians, like all other children of planet earth, are born into a reality that will necessarily incorporate grief and lamentation. We accept this actuality and reject any explanation that says our sorrowing is a waste or based on illusion. To unlock the meaning of our ordeals, we climb a hill where God-become-human dies in agony. After that culminating event, everything else in the world's history has a new illumination--a light born out of the darkness of Calvary. We see the awesome spectacle of a God in utmost need, struggling in our pain. St. Therese [of Lisieux] describes the face of Jesus as "luminous...in the midst of wounds and tears" (Letters, Lt 95, p.580).       

The primal sin was accepting the serpent's promise, "You will be like gods, knowing good and evil" (Gen 3:5). And from that human decision came suffering and death. Who would have conceived of a divine response to this original betrayal whereby God would embrace the very penalty imposed upon sin: suffering and death? The Psalms of the Hebrew Bible sing over and over of God's abundant kindness, of God's steadfast love. Yet we Christians sing of a mercy that not only pours out compassion but enters into the experience of our desolation. We have an infinite God who has willed to feel our limitations, even our small ones.

Jesus does not explain human existence from afar. He allowed Himself to be restrained by the boundaries of the humanity He shares with us. But in so doing, He transforms those very limitations and endows them with power.

He looks at us in whatever lameness is holding us back from moving forward with Him. His words sound in our ears. "Get up and walk" (Mt 9:5). With His power energizing us, we know the path before us this very day-yes, with all its difficulties--leads to eternal life.

---Sister Margaret Dorgan DCM, "The Message of Jesus About Human Pain"

If a non-believer prefers a more secular perspective, perhaps the following passage by Harvard psychologist Gordon Allport, from the preface to Viktor Frankl's book, "Man's Search for Meaning," will help him or her.

[T]o live is to suffer, to survive is to find meaning in the suffering. If there is a purpose in life at all, there must be a purpose in the suffering and the dying. But no man can tell another what this purpose is. Each must find out for himself, and must accept the responsibility that his answer prescribes. If he succeeds he will continue to grow in spite of all indignities.

Cold comfort to many of us. To the rest, a warm hearth on a bitterly cold night.

Too Many Different Needs To Satisfy

I Knew A Woman
---by Theodore Roethke

I knew a woman, lovely in her bones,
When small birds sighed, she would sigh back at them;   
Ah, when she moved, she moved more ways than one:   
The shapes a bright container can contain!
Of her choice virtues only gods should speak,
Or English poets who grew up on Greek
(I’d have them sing in chorus, cheek to cheek).

How well her wishes went! She stroked my chin,   
She taught me Turn, and Counter-turn, and Stand;   
She taught me Touch, that undulant white skin;   
I nibbled meekly from her proffered hand;   
She was the sickle; I, poor I, the rake,
Coming behind her for her pretty sake
(But what prodigious mowing we did make).

Love likes a gander, and adores a goose:
Her full lips pursed, the errant note to seize;
She played it quick, she played it light and loose;   
My eyes, they dazzled at her flowing knees;   
Her several parts could keep a pure repose,   
Or one hip quiver with a mobile nose
(She moved in circles, and those circles moved).

Let seed be grass, and grass turn into hay:   
I’m martyr to a motion not my own;
What’s freedom for? To know eternity.
I swear she cast a shadow white as stone.   
But who would count eternity in days?
These old bones live to learn her wanton ways:   
(I measure time by how a body sways).

Waiting For A Shouting Light

AVE MARIA, gratia plena, Dominus tecum. Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Iesus. Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc, et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen.

Winter's Night
--Thomas Merton

When, in the dark, the frost cracks on the window
The children awaken, and whisper.
One says the moonlight grated like a skate
Across the freezing river.
Another hears the starlight breaking like a knifeblade
Upon the silent, steelbright pond.
They say the trees are stiller than the frozen water
From waiting for a shouting light, a heavenly message.

Yet it is far from Christmas, when a star
Sang in the pane, as brittle as their innocence!
For now the light of early Lent
Glitters upon the icy step -
"We have wept letters to our patron saints,
(The children say) yet slept before they ended."

Oh, is there in this night no sound of strings, of singers!
None coming from the wedding, no, nor
Bridegroom's messenger?
(The sleepy virgins stir, and trim their lamps.)

The moonlight rings upon the ice as sudden as a
Starlight clinks upon the dooryard stone, too like a
And the children are again, awake,
and all call out in whispers to their guardian angels.