Reaching the Entire Person: The Role of Emotions (Two Articles)

 

Presupposition (1): The Christian Anthropology of Gaudium et Spes #24: “Man finds (becomes) himself by the sincere gift of himself.”

This anthropology is not Greek but grounded in Christology where the divine Person is the Trinitarian Relation “Son.” It applies to man insofar as man is created as  image and likeness of God

Presuppositiono (2): The Christian understanding of “good:” Gift of Self. When the rich young man of Mark 10, 18 calls Christ, “Good Master,” Christ rejoins with “Why do you call me good?”: “No one is good but God alone.” 

 

The two articles can be understood as the Christian anthropological account of St. Josemaria Escriva’s “Passionately Loving the Word”

 

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(I)

 

Reaching the Entire Person: Role of the Emotions

In the Christian life, the intellect, will and emotions need to grow together, helping one another to advance. Hence the importance of guiding our feelings. First of a two-part article.

 

 

Certainly, Jesus Christ is the love of our life: not the greatest among others, but the one who gives meaning to all our other loves, and to the interests, dreams, ambitions, jobs and initiatives that fill our days and our heart. Hence in our spiritual life we need to preserve the centrality of the Person of Jesus Christ.[1] He is the path to enter into communion with the Father in the Holy Spirit. In Him is revealed the mystery of “who man is”[2] and what we are called to. To walk with Christ means to grow in self-knowledge, and to enter more deeply into our own personal mystery. To allow Jesus to be the centre of our life leads, among other things, to rediscovering with new light the anthropological and Christian value of the various ascetical means; reaching the person in all of his or her integrity: intellect, will, heart, relations with others.[3]

The person we have to reach is first of all our own self, and then all those with whom we come in contact through our friendship and apostolate. The formation that we receive and that we impart should reach the intellect, the will and the emotions, with none of these elements being neglected or simply “subordinated” to the others.

Here we will concentrate primarily on forming each person’s emotional life, taking as given the need for solid intellectual formation as the foundation. The consideration of the importance of integral formation will allow us to “rediscover” the great truth contained in St Josemaría’s identification of “fidelity” with “happiness.”[4]

Being formed in accord with Christ’s heart

Some people, when they think of formation, tend to consider it as knowledge. Thus a person who has received good doctrinal, ascetical and professional information is considered to have good formation. But more than that is required. To reach the person in all of his or her integrity requires viewing formation as a way of being. Good professionals knowthe body of information and techniques required by their profession, but they have acquired something else as well. They have developed habits – ways of being – that enable them to apply that knowledge and those techniques successfully: habits of attention to others, concentration in work, punctuality, coping with successes and failures, perseverance, etc.

Similarly, being a good Christian doesn’t simply mean knowing – at a level appropriate to one’s situation in the Church and in society – the Church’s teaching on the sacraments or on prayer, or on general and professional moral norms. The goal is much higher: immersing ourselves in the mystery of Christ so as to grasp it in all its breadth and depth (cf. Eph3:18), letting his Life enter into ours, and being able to say with St Paul, it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me (Gal 2:20). Thus it means being “alter Christus, ipse Christus,”[5] allowing grace to transform us gradually so as to configure us to Him.

Letting grace act is not something merely passive; it doesn’t mean simply not placing obstacles in the way, since the Holy Spirit doesn’t transform us into Christ without our free, voluntary cooperation. But neither is that enough. To give ourselves to our Lord, to give Him our life, is not simply to give Him our decisions, our actions; it is also to give Him our heart, our feelings, our spontaneity. To do so, we need to have a good intellectual and doctrinal formation that shapes our mind and influences our decisions, but this doctrine also has to sink in deeply and reach our heart. And this requires struggle, it requires time. In other words, it requires acquiring virtues, which is precisely what formation consists in.

It is not uncommon to meet people who fear that insisting on the virtues may end up leading to “voluntarism,” to giving primacy to a person’s will-power. Nothing could be further from the truth. Perhaps at the root of that confusion is an erroneous idea of virtue, which is seen as simply a supplement to will-power, enabling the person who possesses it to fulfil the moral law even when it goes against their own inclination. This is quite a widespread idea, and does in fact stem from voluntarism. Virtue is thus regarded as the capacity to go against the flow of one’s own inclinations when the moral law so requires.

There is of course some truth in this. But it is an incomplete vision, in which virtues are turned into cold qualities that would lead to rejecting in practice one’s own inclinations, interests and affections, and that would inevitably result in turning indifference into an ideal: as though the interior life and self-giving consisted in reaching the point where one doesn’t feel attracted by anything that might impede one’s own future decisions.

To regard formation in that way would make it impossible to reach the person in his or her integrity. The intellect, will and emotions would not be growing together, helping one another to advance. Rather one of these faculties would dominate and stifle the others. The correct development of the interior life, in contrast, requires integration, and certainly doesn’t lead to a diminishing or loss of our interests and emotions. Its aim is not that we aren’t affected by what happens, that we shouldn’t care about what is important, that we shouldn’t be hurt by what is hurtful, that we shouldn’t be concerned about what is concerning, that we shouldn’t be attracted by what is attractive. Quite the opposite. The interior life expands the heart and fills it with a great love, enabling us to view our emotions in a broader context that provides the means for tackling feelings that give rise to difficulties, and helps capture the positive and transcendent meaning of those that are pleasant.

The Gospels show us our Lord’s sincere concern for his disciples’ rest. And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while” (Mk 6:31). We also see how his heart reacts before the suffering of his friends, like Martha and Mary (cf. Jn 11:1-44). We cannot suppose that in those moments Jesus was simply “acting,” as though deep down, because of his union with his Father, whatever happened around him was a matter of indifference to him. Saint Josemaría often spoke about loving the world passionately.[6] He encouraged people to place their heart in God and, through Him, in others, in the work we are engaged in, in our efforts in the apostolate. “Our Lord does not want us to be dry and rigid, like inert matter.”[7]

Availability, for example, is not the disposition of a person who is indifferent to doing this or that because he has succeeded in losing interest in everything, perhaps in order to avoid suffering when something is asked of him which he doesn’t like. Rather it is the noble disposition of one who is able at a particular moment to do without something that is good and attractive, in order to concentrate on something else in which God is awaiting us, because living for God is our deepest desire. Such a person has a great heart, filled with interests and good ambitions that can be set aside whenever necessary, not because we reject them or try to avoid being affected by them, but because our interest in loving and serving God is much greater still. And not only is it greater; it is – it has been transformed into – what gives meaning to and embraces all other interests.

Rejoicing in practicing the virtues

Formation in the virtues requires struggle, overcoming one’s own inclination when this is opposed to good acts. This is the part of truth that is contained in the reductionist, “voluntaristic” concept of virtue referred to earlier. But virtue doesn’t consist in the capacity to oppose inclinations, but rather in the formation of our inclinations. The goal, then, is not that we should be capable of habitually setting our feelings aside so as to let ourselves be guided by an external rule, but rather to form those feelings in such a way that we are capable of rejoicing in the good achieved. Virtue consists precisely in this rejoicing in the good, in the formation, we might say, of “good taste”: [Blessed is the man whose] delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night (Ps 1:2). Thus virtue entails the formation of our feelings, and not the habit of systematically opposing them.

As long as virtue is unformed, our feelings and emotions can offer resistance to a good act, which needs to be overcome. But the aim is not simply to overcome the resistance, but rather to develop a “taste” for acting virtuously. When one possesses virtue, the good act may still be difficult, but it is performed with joy. Let us offer an example. To get up on time in the morning – “the heroic minute”[8] – will probably always be difficult; perhaps the day will never come when, on hearing the alarm, we don’t feel inclined to spend a little more time in bed. But if we habitually strive to overcome laziness out of love for God, a moment comes when to do so brings us joy, while to give in to comfort displeases us and leaves a bad taste in our mouth. Likewise, for someone who is honest, to take a product from the supermarket without paying for it is not only something prohibited; it is also ugly and disagreeable, opposed to that person’s dispositions, to their heart. This shaping of our feelings so that we experience joy at the good and displeasure at evil is not a collateral consequence of virtue, but rather an essential component. Hence virtue enables us to enjoy the good.

This is not a merely theoretical idea. It is of great practical importance for us to know, when we struggle, that we are not simply getting accustomed to putting up with annoyances, but we are learning to enjoy the good, even if for the moment it means we have to go against the grain.

Forming virtues makes the faculties and affections learn to focus on what truly satisfies our deepest aspirations, while attributing secondary importance – always subordinate to what is most important – to those things that are simply means to an end. In the final analysis, to be formed in the virtues is to learn how to be happy, to rejoice at and with what is truly great; it is, in short, to prepare for Heaven.

If being formed means growing in virtues, and the virtues consist in a certain order in our affectivity, in our feelings and emotions, we can conclude that all formation is the formation of affectivity. On reading this, someone may raise the objection that, in one’s effort to acquire virtues, the aim is operative rather than affective, perhaps even adding that we apply the name of virtues precisely to operative habits. This is true. But if the virtues help us to do good, it is because they help us to feel correctly. The human being always moves towards the good. The moral problem is, ultimately, why it is that what is not good appears to us – it presents itself to our eyes – as good, in a specific situation. That this happens is due to the disorder in our tendencies, which leads us to exaggerate the value of the good towards which one of those tendencies is directed, so that this good is considered more desirable in the particular situation than another good with which it is conflict, but which in fact has greater objective value because it corresponds to the person’s overall good.

For example: in a given situation we may find ourselves torn between telling the truth or not. The natural tendency we have towards the truth presents it to us as a good. But we also have a natural tendency to want the esteem of others, which in this particular case, if we think the truth is going to end up making us look bad, will present lying as appropriate. These two tendencies enter into conflict. Which of them will prevail? It will depend on which of the two goods is more important for us, and in this assessment our affectivity plays a decisive role. If it is well ordered, it will help the reason to see that the truth is very precious and that the esteem of others is not desirable if it makes us forsake the truth. This love for the truth over other goods that also attract us is precisely what we call sincerity. But if the desire to look good is stronger than the attraction of truth, it is easy for the reason to be deceived, and even though it knows that it isn’t good, it judges that it is appropriate to lie. Although we know perfectly well that it is wrong to lie, we consider that in this specific situation it is appropriate to do so.

A well-ordered emotional life helps us do good because it helps us to grasp it as good beforehand. Hence the importance of forming our emotions correctly. How can this be done? We will try to set out a few ideas in the next article, but here we will simply point out something it is good to be aware of before tackling this topic.

The will and our feelings

We have just stated that a well-ordered affectivity helps us to act well. The reverse is also true: to act well helps us to put order in our affectivity.

We know from experience (and it is good not to forget it if we want to avoid easily falling into frustration and discouragement) that we cannot directly control our feelings. If we fall prey to discouragement, we cannot resolve the problem simply by deciding to feel happy. The same applies if at a given moment we want to feel more daring, or less timid, or if we don’t want to feel afraid or ashamed, or to feel the sensible attraction of something we judge to be disordered. At other times, we would like to get along easily with someone we find off-putting for reasons that we recognise are trivial but that we don’t manage to overcome, and we realise that simply trying to treat that person in a natural way doesn’t resolve the difficulty.

In short, a voluntary decision to make our feelings correspond to our desires is not enough. However, the fact that the will doesn’t directly control our feelings doesn’t mean that it has no influence over them.

In ethics, the control that the will can exercise over the feelings is called “political,” because it is similar to that which a ruler has over his subjects; he cannot control them directly, since they are free. But he can take certain measures – for example, reducing taxes – in the hope that these will produce specific results – for example, increased consumption or investment – through the free will of the citizens. We too can perform certain acts which we hope will give rise to specific feelings. For example, we can stop to consider the good that will be done by an apostolic undertaking for which we are seeking help, as a way of feeling more daring when asking for a donation to help get that undertaking started. We can consider our divine filiation in the hope that a professional setback will have less of an impact on us at the level of our feelings. Again, we know that to imbibe a certain amount of alcohol can provoke a transitory state of euphoria; and that if we deliberately let our minds dwell on some bad treatment we may have received, we will provoke reactions of anger. These are a few examples of the influence – in each case indirect – that the will can exercise in the short term over our feelings.

Much more important, however, is the long-term influence that the will exercises over our affectivity, since this influence is precisely what allows it to give it form, to form it. As we reflect on this process we see clearly the unity of the human person, and that formation only achieves its goal if it reaches the intellect, the will and the emotions. We will deal with this in the second part of this article.

 

[1] Fernando Ocáriz, Pastoral Letter, 14 February 2017, 8.

[2] Cf. Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes (7 December 1965), 22.

[3] Fernando Ocáriz, Pastoral Letter, 14 February 2017, 8.

[4] In Spanish: “fidelidad” and “felicidad.” Cf. Saint Josemaria, Furrow, 84: “Your steadfastness in faith, purity and the way God has marked out for you is the measure of your happiness on earth.” Cf. also, for example, Instruction, May1935/14 September 1950, 60; Instruction 8 December 1941, 61; Saint Josemaria, Friends of God, 189.

[5] Saint Josemaria, Christ is Passing By, 96.

[6] Suffice it to mention, by way of example, the title of the homily Passionately Loving the World, in Conversations, 113-123.

[7] Friends of God, 183.

[8] Saint Josemaria, The Way, 206.

 

(II)

 

Reaching the Entire Person: Role of the Emotions

The struggle to acquires virtues involves more than just carrying out good acts: it means developing a “good heart.” Second part of a two-part article.

A CHRISTIAN PERSONALITY

Put on the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 13:14). To make this desire of Saint Paul a reality means much more than simply putting on a new suit. It entails a conversion of the heart, a transformation of the entire person in response to the action of grace. It implies casting off the works of darkness and putting on the armor of light (cf. Rom 13:12). In other words, it requires a deep and integral formation.

In the preceding article we reflected on the fact that “reaching the person in all of his or her integrity” requires a formation that guides not only the intellect and will but also the emotions.[1] We also saw that forming the emotions—learning to enjoy what is truly good—requires the intervention of the will and consequently also of the intellect. Nevertheless, the will has only an indirect, “political” control over our feelings, and at times this control is exercised by trying to provoke a specific emotion.

But there is also another type of influence that is more long-term, and that comes about even without the person seeking it. This influence has greater importance for our considerations here. It results from the fact that voluntary acts can cause changes not only in the world around us, but also and above all within us. These acts help produce a connatural affective affinity with the good that the will seeks. Explaining exactly how this comes about is beyond the scope of these articles, but here we want to highlight two key points.

Wanting the good

The first is to note that the good towards which the will inclines—and by which this connatural affinity is produced—can be very different from what is perceived from the outside. Two people who carry out the same assignment can be doing two very different things. One may be totally absorbed in not appearing bad in the eyes of the person who has given him that assignment, while the other really wants to serve. This second person is forming a virtue while the first isn’t, since the good sought is ultimately that of not looking bad before someone with authority. It is true that this action can be a better step than simply refusing to do the task. But as long as it isn’t followed by a series of further steps, that person would not be growing in virtue no matter how many times the action is repeated. Hence it is very important to rectify, to constantly purify our intention in order to little by little embrace the reasons for which it is really worthwhile doing something, and thus to shape our emotions with them.

We all have our own experience or that of others on how limiting oneself to respecting certain rules easily ends up becoming a burden. The example of the older son in the parable warns us of this danger (cf. Lk15:29-30). While in contrast, sincerely seeking the good that these rules are meant to foster brings freedom and joy. Ultimately, we could say that we need to shape not so much our doing as our wanting. Not only what I do is important, but also what I want when I do it.[2] Freedom, thus, is the decisive factor. It is not sufficient to do something; we have to want to do it. We have to do it “because we want to, which is the most supernatural reason,”[3] because only thus we are growing in virtue, that is, we are learning to enjoy what is truly good. A mere fulfillment that leads to cumplo y miento, to fulfilling and lying,[4] doesn’t lead to freedom, nor to love and joy. But when we understand why this way of acting is truly great and worthwhile, and let ourselves be guided by these reasons in our actions, then we foster our freedom, and strengthen our love and joy.

Long-term formation

The second point to consider is that attaining connatural affinity with the good in our emotions is often a slow process. If virtue consisted merely in the capacity to overcome the resistance in our feelings to doing what is right, we could acquire it in a much shorter time. But we know that a virtue has not yet been solidly formed as long as the good being sought doesn’t have a positive echo in our emotions.[5] Hence we need to be patient in our struggle because it may take a long time, even years, to achieve certain worthwhile goals. The difficulty we may experience in pursuing the good during this time shouldn’t be interpreted as a failure or as a sign that our struggle is not sincere or decisive enough. We are dealing here with a progression in which every step may be so small that it isn’t easy to realize that progress is being made. Only after time has gone by can we look back and realize that we have travelled further than we had thought.

If, for example, we want to overcome our angry reactions, we will begin by making the effort to limit the external manifestations. Perhaps at first it may seem that we are not getting anywhere. But if we persist, the times when we control ourselves—perhaps very few at the beginning—will become more and more frequent, and after some time—perhaps a long time—we will gain habitual self-control. Still this is not enough, since our goal is not to repress the external manifestations but to shape our internal reaction, to become more gentle and peaceful. And then this calmer reaction will become engrained in our way of being. The struggle therefore may be longer, but who can deny that it will be more attractive, more liberating and more exciting? Its goal is to attain interior peace in seeking and doing God’s will, and not merely to “violently” suppress emotional reactions.

Pope Francis in explaining his principle that time is greater than space,[6]points out that “giving priority to time means being concerned about initiating processes rather than possessing spaces.[7] In the interior life it is worthwhile to start realistic and generous processes. And we need to be ready to wait as long as required for them to produce fruit. “This principle enables us to work slowly but surely, without being obsessed with immediate results. It helps us patiently to endure difficult and adverse situations, or inevitable changes in our plans. It invites us to accept the tension between fullness and limitation.”[8] We need to try to ensure that the awareness of our limitations doesn’t paralyze our desire to reach the fullness God offers us. Just as we want to prevent this noble ambition from naively making us forget that we are limited.

To aim high in our formation, to strive not only to carry out good acts, but to be good, to have a good heart, will enable us to distinguish a virtuous act from what we might call an act that conforms to a virtue. The latter would be an act that corresponds to a virtue and contributes step by step to attaining it, but that since it does not yet stem from a mature habit, often still requires overcoming feelings that pull in the opposite direction. In contrast, a virtuous act is one that brings joy in accomplishing the good even when this requires effort. That is the goal.

An integral formation that shapes our emotional reactions is a slow process. Those who seek it won’t fall into the naive attempt to submit one’s feelings to the will, suppressing emotions one doesn’t like or trying to stir up those one wants to have. We come to understand that our struggle should be centered rather on the free decisions by which, in striving to fulfill God’s will, we respond to these feelings, accepting or rejecting the behavior they suggest to us. For it is these decisions that—indirectly and in the long run—lead to forming the intimate world within us from which these feelings stem.

An interior world

As we grow in virtue, we not only carry out a good act with greater naturalness and joy, but we also become better able to identify what this good act is. “In order to ‘prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect’ (Rom 12:2), knowledge of God’s law in general is certainly necessary, but it is not sufficient. What is essential is a sort of ‘connaturality’ between man and the true good (cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, II-II, q. 45, a. 2). Such a connaturality is rooted in and develops through the virtuous attitudes of the individual himself.”[9]

This is due in large part to the fact that our emotional response is the first voice we hear when evaluating the suitability of a particular way of acting. Even before our reason considers whether it is right or not to do something pleasurable, we have already sensed its appeal. Virtue, by making the good attractive to our feelings, endows the voice of our affective response with a certain moral evaluation (that is, a reference to the person’s overall good) of this act. Thus, for example, even though we are attracted by the possibility of looking good in another person’s eyes, we grasp how unpleasant it is to lie.

In an implicit but clear way, we find this expressed in a very brief point of The Way: “Why should you look around you, if you carry ‘your world’ within you?”[10] Saint Josemaria is contrasting looking at the exterior world with a person’s interior world. And it is this relationship that determines the value of the external look, which will be seen as appropriate or not according to one’s interior world. There is no need then to suppress as inappropriate this external look, since right from the start the interior world“my world”—rejects it. Saint Josemaria is telling us that if our interior world is rich, we will not only avoid what can do us harm, but it won’t even be a danger because we will find it repugnant. We will see it not only as bad, but also—and even beforehand—as ugly, unappealing, unfitting, out of place… Of course, it may be attractive in some way, but it is easy to reject that attraction because it destroys the beauty and harmony of our interior world. In contrast, if we don’t “carry our world within us,” avoiding that exterior look will entail considerable effort.

Realism

All this shows how growth in the virtues makes us ever more realistic in our approach to life. Some people have the idea—normally not expressed—that living according to the virtues implies closing one’s eyes to reality. And this for a very noble reason, because by acting in this way we turn our back on part of this world hoping for a reward in the next. On the contrary, living as Christ did, imitating his virtues, opens us to the real world and prevents our feelings from deceiving us when evaluating and deciding how to respond to it.

For example, poverty doesn’t mean failing to appreciate the value of material goods in light of eternal life. Rather only a person who lives with detachment truly appreciates material goods in the proper way. They aren’t seen as evil, nor are they given an importance they don’t have. On the other hand, a person who makes no effort to live this way will end up giving them a greater value than what they really have, and this will affect that person’s decisions. He will not be a realist even though he may appear to others as an authentic man of the world, who knows how to behave in wordly settings. A temperate person knows how to enjoy a good meal; while a person who lacks this virtue will give this pleasure an importance it objectively lacks. Something similar could be said about any other virtue. As Jesus told Nicodemus: He who does what is true comes to the light (Jn 3:21).

A “virtuous” circle

In the end, guiding our feelings by developing the virtues leads to purifying our sight. It is like taking our glasses and cleaning off the stains that original sin and our personal sins have left on them and that make it difficult for us to see the world as it really is. “Let us say it plainly: the unredeemed state of the world consists precisely in the failure to understand the meaning of creation, in the failure to recognize truth; as a result, the rule of pragmatism is imposed, by which the strong arm of the powerful becomes the god of this world.”[11]

A well-ordered affectivity helps our reason to understand creation, to recognize the truth, to identify what is truly good for us. Correct judgement on the part of our reason facilitates free choice. The good act that results from this choice helps to “connaturalize” us with the good we seek, and consequently to put order into our emotional responses. This produces an authentic “virtuous circle” that leads us to realize that we are progressively freer, masters of our own acts and hence able to truly give ourselves to God, since only a person who possesses himself can give himself.

Formation is integral only when it reaches all these levels. In other words, there is only true formation when the various faculties that intervene in human acts—reason, will, emotions—are integrated. These faculties shouldn’t fight with one another but rather work together. If we fail to properly mold our feelings, that is, if the virtues are understood as only an added force for our will that enables it to override our feelings, the moral norms and the struggle to try to live them will be repressive and will fail to lead to an authentic unity of life. For we would always feel within us powerful forces that try to pull us in the opposite direction and produce instability. We are well acquainted with this instability, since it is where we start from. But we are able to overcome it little by little, as we guide these forces progressively towards harmony. Then the moment will come when “because I want to,” which is the “most supernatural reason,” comes to mean because I like it, because it attracts me, because it accords with my way of being, because it fits with the interior world that I have formed for myself. And ultimately, because I have learned to make my own the sentiments of Christ Jesus.

Thus we make progress towards the attractive and exalted goal that Saint Paul sets out for us: Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus (Phil 2:5). And we realize that thus we are putting on the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Rom 13:14). “Christ’s life is our life … a Christian should live as Christ lived, making the affections of Christ his own, so that he can exclaim with Saint Paul: non vivo ego, vivit vero in me Christus (Gal 2:10), it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.[12] Fidelity consists precisely in this, in living, wanting, and feeling in accord with Christ—not because we “disguise ourselves” as Christ, but because this becomes our own way of being. Then in following God’s will, in being faithful, we are deeply free, because we do what we want, what we like, what we “feel like” doing. Deeply free and deeply faithful. Deeply faithful and deeply happy.

 

[1] Cf. Fernando Ocáriz, Pastoral Letter, 14 February 2017, 8.

[2] In reality, from a moral standpoint, what I do is precisely what I want when I do it. But for our purposes here there is no need to pause to explain why this is so.

[3] Saint Josemaria, Christ is Passing By, 17.

[4] Cf. Don Alvaro, Letter, September 1995, in Family Letters I, 8.

[5] It should be clear from the previous article that this doesn’t mean that the good requires no effort or, what amounts to the same, that evil no longer holds any attraction.

[6] Cf. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelium gaudium, 222-225.

[7] Ibid., 223. Italics in the original.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Saint John Paul II, Encyclical Veritatis Splendor, 6 August 1993, 64.

[10] Saint Josemaria, The Way, 184.

[11] Joseph Ratzinger – Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, Vol. II, 7, 3.

[12] Christ is Passing By, 103.

 

“I Used to be a Human Being”

andrew-sullivan_ny-mag A common, recurring theme of the Distraction podcast is host Dr. Ned Hallowell’s belief that “screen-sucking,” our obsession with smartphones and computer screens, is draining the life out of us and making it harder to experience the joys of true relationships and connections. Last month, New York Magazine ran a cover story entitled “I Used to be a Human Being,” in which the author (Andrew Sullivan) explains how the internet broke him and led him down a path of chronic distraction. Here are some of Dr. Hallowell’s thoughts after reading the article.Andrew Sullivan’s Sept. 16 New York Magazine article, “I Used to be a Human Being,” blasts a social warning as urgent as the environmental warning of climate change. The latter could cost us our planet; the former our souls.As a psychiatrist who specializes in attention deficit disorder (and has A.D.D. himself), I’ve seen a dramatic change over the past decade. We’ve ushered in what I call The Age of Distraction, a world in which just about everyone acts and feels as if they have true ADD when, in fact, only a small fraction actually do.When a new patient comes to see me suspecting he or she might have ADD, the most common differential diagnosis I entertain is between actual ADD and what I call “a severe case of modern life.”  Modern life is ADD-o-genic.  If you wake up without ADD, you feel as if you’ve come down with a fulminant case of it by the time you go to bed.What began as a joke, the “CrackBerry” and the like, has mushroomed into anything but a joke. Electronic devices have triggered our newest addiction, as potentially destructive as all addictions can be.The issue is complicated by the fact that the standard remedy for an addiction–abstinence–does not apply here.  For most people, electronic devices are necessary in everyday life.  The most apt comparison is to food. No one can abstain from food.  Each of us must struggle to learn the skill of moderation around food and now around electronic devices.

Unlike global warming, solving this problem does not depend upon sweeping governmental policies.  But it does depend upon sweeping personal policies and policies in families, businesses, and all other organizations.

T.I.O.  Turn it off.  Learn moderation before you lose the qualities that elevate life beyond mere data-processing, before you lose your soul and your ability to notice what you’ve lost.

(Blogger comment): I can’t download Sullivan’s article, but, you can find it easily and I suggest that you read it with the following caveat: Sullivan is  publically professed in a gay marriage which I do not underwrite in any way, and he is a Catholic who picks and chooses doctrines. I recommend none ofthat. But apart  from that, the article has large redeeming values. The immense redeeming value is the warning of damage to the self and soul by the the habitual turn to the self and remaining ensconced in the self  that evaporates its metaphysic of person as relation (the ontological effect of imaging the Triune God). To persistently, 24/7, view reality through the prism of the smart phone, is not to see the real thing but an objectified image of the real thing, and whether you realize it or not, you are the man taking the photo of the brilliant land-scape, who is missing the point of experiencing the real subjective brilliance before him preferring the de-realized/unreal objective cypher inthe screen. It is only by going out of yourself for another that you experience the reality of yourself. And this because of the imaging of the Trinity of Persons. Experience of the real takes place in the exercise of personal freedom to serve another.
    “Doestoevsky, in his story ‘The Dream of a Ridiculous Man’ describes a man who has so withdrawn into himself that he has left himself no apparent option except suicide. He is on his way home, resolved to sit down and shoot himself when a small girl crying in the street tugs at his sleeve. At first the man brushes her off and attempts to go on his way, but the girl stubbornly clings to his clothes. Eventually the man gives her some help; finally, she is comforted and he is able to get away from her. He makes his way into his house, still resolved to kill himself. He sits down at the table, takes out his revolver, and prepares to shoot himself…. but he cannot. That little girl had broken into his closed consciousness in such a way that now he cannot simply turn his back on reality. The story goes on to recount the dream of human brotherhood the ‘ridiculous man has,            but none of it would have been possible without the little girl. She is the one who drew him out of himself, put him in contact with the common humanity they share, and showed him that this is a reality far beyond his own petty self-absorption” [David Walsh, “Guarded by Mystery” CUA 1999) 3-4]

Ratzinger on the Meaning of Advent: The Lord Comes (Advent) By Our Progressively Becoming the Lord

 

“Advent tells us that the presence of the Lord has already begun but also that it has only begun. This means that the Christian looks not only to the past and what has been but also to what is coming. Amid all the catastrophes of this world he has a transcendent certainty that the seed of the light is growing in secret, until some day the good achieves a definitive victory and all else is made subject to it. On that day Christ will come again. The Christian knows that the presence of God which has now only begun will someday be a full and complete presence. This knowledge sets him free and gives him basic security (Dogma and Preaching. Franciscan Herald Press [1985] 72-73].

For brevity, let me summarize Ratzinger’s clarification:

  1. John the Baptist had proclaimed the Messiah’s coming as the ultimate clarification as to the existence of God and the meaning of reality would be clarified.
  2. But when he did arrive as John had forcefully announced to the Jews of his  time,  the reality of God and the meaning of life continued as muddled as before. God’s presence had begun, but no fire fell from heaven to consume sinners and bear definitive witness to the just. In fact, nothing changed at all in the present world. Jesus went about preaching and doing good in the land, but  the ambiguity remained. Human life continued to be a dark mystery to which people had to entrust themselves with faith and hope amid the world’s darkness.
  3. When John is in Herod’s prison, he sends messengers to Jesus to ask: “Are you he who is to come or shall we look for another?” Jesus answers: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the  dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them and blessed is he who takes no offense at me” (Matt. 11, 2-6). In a word, “are you really he, the Redeemer of the world?”
  4. “In answer, Jesus reminds John’s messengers of what the prophet Isaiah had said in foretelling precisely this kind of peaceful, merciful Messiah who will not cry or lift up his voice, preaching and doing good. And Jesus adds the significant words, “Blessed is he who takes no offense at me.”
  5. Ratzinger adds clarifying: “This means that it is in fact possible for men to take offense at him…. Blessed is he who ceases to ask for signs and absolute certainty.”
  6. This is the crux of the matter, the meaning of Advent and the key to the new evangelization. The knowledge of Jesus Christ, Creator and Redeemer-become-man cannot come by way of empirical sensation rational-analytic knowing. “In point of fact, we cannot see him as we see an apple tree of a neon sign, that is, in a purely external way that requires no interior commitment. We can see him only by becoming like him, by reaching the level of reality on which God exists; in other words, by being liberated from what is anti-divine: the quest for pleasure, enjoyment, possessions, gain, or, in a word, from ourselves. We can see God only if we turn around, stop looking for him as we might look for street signs and dollar bills and begin looking away from the visible to the invisible.” To say it more radically, The only person I personally experience is myself in determining the use of my freedom. If I determine myself to go out of myself in service to others, the person I experience (myself) is slowly and little by little becoming the Son of God who I image from the act of creation. This going out to others is conversion away from self, but it gives me a consciousness of God in me – or  who I am becoming. This is the meaning of Advent!! What is already here becomes more and more present and more and more evident by the asceticism of service and thoughtfulness of others.

A World Split Apart — Commencement Address Delivered At Harvard University, June 8, 1978 Alexander I. Solzhenitsyn

    Solzhenitsyn’s warning of Western decline is as relevant today as it was twenty-five years ago.

    I  am sincerely happy to be here with you on the occasion of the 327th commencement of this old and illustrious university. My congratulations and best wishes to all of today’s graduates.

    Alexander Solzhenitsyn at Harvard

    Harvard’s motto is “VERITAS.” Many of you have already found out and others will find out in the course of their lives that truth eludes us as soon as our concentration begins to flag, all the while leaving the illusion that we are continuing to pursue it. This is the source of much discord. Also, truth seldom is sweet; it is almost invariably bitter. A measure of truth is included in my speech today, but I offer it as a friend, not as an adversary.

    Three years ago in the United States I said certain things that were rejected and appeared unacceptable. Today, however, many people agree with what I said . . .

    The split in today’s world is perceptible even to a hasty glance. Any of our contemporaries readily identifies two world powers, each of them already capable of destroying each other. However, the understanding of the split too often is limited to this political conception: the illusion according to which danger may be abolished through successful diplomatic negotiations or by achieving a balance of armed forces. The truth is that the split is both more profound and more alienating, that the rifts are more numerous than one can see at first glance. These deep manifold splits bear the danger of equally manifold disaster for all of us, in accordance with the ancient truth that a kingdom — in this case, our Earth — divided against itself cannot stand.

    There is the concept of the Third World: thus, we already have three worlds. Undoubtedly, however, the number is even greater; we are just too far away to see. Every ancient and deeply rooted self-contained culture, especially if it is spread over a wide part of the earth’s surface, constitutes a self-contained world, full of riddles and surprises to Western thinking. As a minimum, we must include in this China, India, the Muslim world, and Africa, if indeed we accept the approximation of viewing the latter two as uniform.

    For one thousand years Russia belonged to such a category, although Western thinking systematically committed the mistake of denying its special character and therefore never understood it, just as today the West does not understand Russia in Communist captivity. And while it may be that in past years Japan has increasingly become, in effect, a Far West, drawing ever closer to Western ways (I am no judge here), Israel, I think, should not be reckoned as part of the West, if only because of the decisive circumstance that its state system is fundamentally linked to its religion.

    How short a time ago, relatively, the small world of modern Europe was easily seizing colonies all over the globe, not only without anticipating any real resistance, but usually with contempt for any possible values in the conquered people’s approach to life. It all seemed an overwhelming success, with no geographic limits. Western society expanded in a triumph of human independence and power. And all of a sudden the twentieth century brought the clear realization of this society’s fragility.

    We now see that the conquests proved to be short lived and precarious (and this, in turn, points to defects in the Western view of the world which led to these conquests). Relations with the former colonial world now have switched to the opposite extreme and the Western world often exhibits an excess of obsequiousness, but it is difficult yet to estimate the size of the bill which former colonial countries will present to the West and it is difficult to predict whether the surrender not only of its last colonies, but of everything it owns, will be sufficient for the West to clear this account.

    But the persisting blindness of superiority continues to hold the belief that all the vast regions of our planet should develop and mature to the level of contemporary Western systems, the best in theory and the most attractive in practice; that all those other worlds are but temporarily prevented (by wicked leaders or by severe crises or by their own barbarity and incomprehension) from pursuing Western pluralistic democracy and adopting the Western way of life. Countries are judged on the merit of their progress in that direction. But in fact such a conception is a fruit of Western incomprehension of the essence of other worlds, a result of mistakenly measuring them all with a Western yardstick. The real picture of our planet’s development bears little resemblance to all this.

    The anguish of a divided world gave birth to the theory of convergence between the leading Western countries and the Soviet Union. It is a soothing theory which overlooks the fact that these worlds are not evolving toward each other and that neither one can be transformed into the other without violence. Besides, convergence inevitably means acceptance of the other side’s defects, too. and this can hardly suit anyone.

    If I were today addressing an audience in my country, in my examination of the overall pattern of the world’s rifts I would have concentrated on the calamities of the East. But since my forced exile in the West has now lasted four years and since my audience is a Western one, I think it may be of greater interest to concentrate on certain aspects of the contemporary West, such as I see them.

    A decline in courage may be the most striking feature that an outside observer notices in the West today. The Western world has lost its civic courage, both as a whole and separately, in each country, in each government, in each political party, and, of course, in the United Nations. Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling and intellectual elites, causing an impression of a loss of courage by the entire society. There are many courageous individuals, but they have no determining influence on public life.

    Political and intellectual functionaries exhibit this depression, passivity, and perplexity in their actions and in their statements, and even more so in their self-serving rationales as to how realistic, reasonable, and intellectually and even morally justified it is to base state policies on weakness and cowardice. And the decline in courage, at times attaining what could be termed a lack of manhood, is ironically emphasized by occasional outbursts and inflexibility on the part of those same functionaries when dealing with weak governments and with countries that lack support, or with doomed currents which clearly cannot offer resistance. But they get tongue-tied and paralyzed when they deal with powerful governments and threatening forces, with aggressors and international terrorists.

    Must one point out that from ancient times a decline in courage has been considered the first symptom of the end?

    When the modern Western states were being formed, it was proclaimed as a principle that governments are meant to serve man and that man lives in order to be free and pursue happiness. (See, for example, the American Declaration of Independence.) Now at last during past decades technical and social progress has permitted the realization of such aspirations: the welfare state.

    Every citizen has been granted the desired freedom and material goods in such quantity and in such quality as to guarantee in theory the achievement of happiness, in the debased sense of the word which has come into being during those same decades. (In the process, however, one psychological detail has been overlooked: the constant desire to have still more things and a still better life and the struggle to this end imprint many Western faces with worry and even depression, though it is customary to carefully conceal such feelings. This active and tense competition comes to dominate all human thought and does not in the least open a way to free spiritual development.)

    The individual’s independence from many types of state pressure has been guaranteed; the majority of the people have been granted well-being to an extent their fathers and grandfathers could not even dream about; it has become possible to raise young people according to these ideals, preparing them for and summoning them toward physical bloom, happiness, and leisure, the possession of material goods, money, and leisure, toward an almost unlimited freedom in the choice of pleasures. So who should now renounce all this, why and for the sake of what should one risk one’s precious life in defense of the common good and particularly in the nebulous case when the security of one’s nation must be defended in an as yet distant land?

    Even biology tells us that a high degree of habitual well-being is not advantageous to a living organism. Today, well-being in the life of Western society has begun to take off its pernicious mask.

    Western society has chosen for itself the organization best suited to its purposes and one I might call legalistic. The limits of human rights and rightness are determined by a system of laws; such limits are very broad. People in the West have acquired considerable skill in using, interpreting, and manipulating law (though laws tend to be too complicated for an average person to understand without the help of an expert). Every conflict is solved according to the letter of the law and this is considered to be the ultimate solution.

    If one is risen from a legal point of view, nothing more is required, nobody may mention that one could still not be right, and urge self-restraint or a renunciation of these rights, call for sacrifice and selfless risk: this would simply sound absurd. Voluntary self-restraint is almost unheard of: everybody strives toward further expansion to the extreme limit of the legal frames. (An oil company is legally blameless when it buys up an invention of a new type of energy in order to prevent its use. A food product manufacturer is legally blameless when he poisons his produce to make it last longer: after all, people are free not to purchase it.)

    I have spent all my life under a Communist regime and I will tell you that a society without any objective legal scale is a terrible one indeed. But a society based on the letter of the law and never reaching any higher fails to take full advantage of the full range of human possibilities. The letter of the law is too cold and formal to have a beneficial influence on society. Whenever the tissue of life is woven of legalistic relationships, this creates an atmosphere of spiritual mediocrity that paralyzes man’s noblest impulses.

    And it will be simply impossible to bear up to the trials of this threatening century with nothing but the supports of a legalistic structure.

    Today’s Western society has revealed the inequality between the freedom for good deeds and the freedom for evil deeds. A statesman who wants to achieve something highly constructive for his country has to move cautiously and even timidly; thousands of hasty (and irresponsible) critics cling to him at all times; he is constantly rebuffed by parliament and the press. He has to prove that his every step is well founded and absolutely flawless. Indeed, an outstanding, truly great person who has unusual and unexpected initiatives in mind does not get any chance to assert himself; dozens of traps will be set for him from the beginning. Thus mediocrity triumphs under the guise of democratic restraints.

    It is feasible and easy everywhere to undermine administrative power and it has in fact been drastically weakened in all Western countries. The defense of individual rights has reached such extremes as to make society as a whole defenseless against certain individuals. It is time, in the West, to defend not so much human rights as human obligations.

    On the other hand, destructive and irresponsible freedom has been granted boundless space. Society has turned out to have scarce defense against the abyss of human decadence, for example against the misuse of liberty for moral violence against young people, such as motion pictures full of pornography, crime, and horror. This is all considered to be part of freedom and to be counterbalanced, in theory, by the young people’s right not to look and not to accept. Life organized legalistically has thus shown its inability to defend itself against the corrosion of evil.

    And what shall we say about the dark realms of overt criminality? Legal limits (especially in the United States) are broad enough to encourage not only individual freedom but also some misuse of such freedom. The culprit can go unpunished or obtain undeserved leniency — all with the support of thousands of defenders in the society. When a government earnestly undertakes to root out terrorism, public opinion immediately accuses it of violating the terrorist’s civil rights. There is quite a number of such cases.

    This tilt of freedom toward evil has come about gradually, but it evidently stems from a humanistic and benevolent concept according to which man — the master of the world — does not bear any evil within himself, and all the defects of life are caused by misguided social systems, which must therefore be corrected. Yet strangely enough, though the best social conditions have been achieved in the West, there still remains a great deal of crime; there even is considerably more of it than in the destitute and lawless Soviet society. (There is a multitude of prisoners in our camps who are termed criminals, but most of them never committed any crime; they merely tried to defend themselves against a lawless state by resorting to means outside the legal framework.)

    The press, too, of course, enjoys the widest freedom. (I shall be using the word “press” to include all the media.) But what use does it make of it?

    Here again, the overriding concern is not to infringe the letter of the law. There is no true moral responsibility for distortion or disproportion. What sort of responsibility does a journalist or a newspaper have to the readership or to history? If they have misled public opinion by inaccurate information or wrong conclusions, even if they have contributed to mistakes on a state level, do we know of any case of open regret voiced by the same journalist or the same newspaper? No; this would damage sales. A nation may be the worse for such a mistake, but the journalist always gets away with it. It is most likely that he will start writing the exact opposite to his previous statements with renewed aplomb.

    Because instant and credible information is required, it becomes necessary to resort to guesswork, rumors, and suppositions to fill in the voids, and none of them will ever be refuted; they settle into the readers’ memory. How many hasty, immature, superficial, and misleading judgments are expressed everyday, confusing readers, and then left hanging?

    The press can act the role of public opinion or miseducate it. Thus we may see terrorists heroized, or secret matters pertaining to the nation’s defense publicly revealed, or we may witness shameless intrusion into the privacy of well-known people according to the slogan “Everyone is entitled to know everything.” (But this is a false slogan of a false era; far greater in value is the forfeited right of people not to know, not to have their divine souls stuffed with gossip, nonsense, vain talk. A person who works and leads a meaningful life has no need for this excessive and burdening flow of information.)

    Hastiness and superficiality — these are the psychic diseases of the twentieth century and more than anywhere else this is manifested in the press. In-depth analysis of a problem is anathema to the press; it is contrary to its nature. The press merely picks out sensational formulas.

    Such as it is, however, the press has become the greatest power within Western countries, exceeding that of the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary. Yet one would like to ask: According to what law has it been elected and to whom is it responsible? In the Communist East, a journalist is frankly appointed as a state official. But who has voted Western journalists into their positions of power, for how long a time, and with what prerogatives?

    There is yet another surprise for someone coming from the totalitarian East with its rigorously unified press: One discovers a common trend of preferences within the Western press as a whole (the spirit of the time), generally accepted patterns of judgment, and maybe common corporate interests, the sum effect being not competition but unification. Unrestrained freedom exists for the press, but not for readership, because newspapers mostly transmit in a forceful and emphatic way those opinions which do not too openly contradict their own and that general trend.

    Without any censorship in the West, fashionable trends of thought and ideas are fastidiously separated from those that are not fashionable, and the latter, without ever being forbidden have little chance of finding their way into periodicals or books or being heard in colleges. Your scholars are free in the legal sense, but they are hemmed in by the idols of the prevailing fad. There is no open violence, as in the East; however, a selection dictated by fashion and the need to accommodate mass standards frequently prevents the most independent-minded persons from contributing to public life and gives rise to dangerous herd instincts that block dangerous herd development.

    In America, I have received letters from highly intelligent persons — maybe a teacher in a faraway small college who could do much for the renewal and salvation of his country, but the country cannot hear him because the media will not provide him with a forum. This gives birth to strong mass prejudices, to a blindness which is perilous in our dynamic era. An example is the self-deluding interpretation of the state of affairs in the contemporary world that functions as a sort of petrified armor around people’s minds, to such a degree that human voices from seventeen countries of Eastern Europe and Eastern Asia cannot pierce it. It will be broken only by the inexorable crowbar of events.

    I have mentioned a few traits of Western life which surprise and shock a new arrival to this world . The purpose and scope of this speech will not allow me to continue such a survey, in particular to look into the impact of these characteristics on important aspects of a nation’s life, such as elementary education, advanced education in the humanities, and art.

    It is almost universally recognized that the West shows all the world the way to successful economic development, even though in past years it has been sharply offset by chaotic inflation. However, many people living in the West are dissatisfied with their own society. They despise it or accuse it of no longer being up to the level of maturity by mankind. And this causes many to sway toward socialism, which is a false and dangerous current.

    I hope that no one present will suspect me of expressing my partial criticism of the Western system in order to suggest socialism as an alternative. No; with the experience of a country where socialism has been realized, I shall not speak for such an alternative. The mathematician Igor Shafarevich, a member of the Soviet Academy of Science, has written a brilliantly argued book entitled Socialism; this is a penetrating historical analysis demonstrating that socialism of any type and shade leads to a total destruction of the human spirit and to a leveling of mankind into death. Shafarevich’s book was published in France almost two years ago and so far no one has been found to refute it. It will shortly be published in English in the U.S.

    But should I be asked, instead, whether I would propose the West, such as it is today, as a model to my country, I would frankly have to answer negatively. No, I could not recommend your society as an ideal for the transformation of ours. Through deep suffering, people in our own country have now achieved a spiritual development of such intensity that the Western system in its present state of spiritual exhaustion does not look attractive. Even those characteristics of your life which I have just enumerated are extremely saddening.

    A fact which cannot be disputed is the weakening of human personality in the West while in the East it has become firmer and stronger. Six decades for our people and three decades for the people of Eastern Europe; during that time we have been through a spiritual training far in advance of Western experience. The complex and deadly crush of life has produced stronger, deeper, and more interesting personalities than those generated by standardized Western well-being. Therefore, if our society were to be transformed into yours, it would mean an improvement in certain aspects, but also a change for the worse on some particularly significant points.

    Of course, a society cannot remain in an abyss of lawlessness, as is the case in our country. But it is also demeaning for it to stay on such a soulless and smooth plane of legalism, as is the case in yours. After the suffering of decades of violence and oppression, the human soul longs for things higher, warmer, and purer than those offered by today’s mass living habits, introduced as by a calling card by the revolting invasion of commercial advertising, by TV stupor, and by intolerable music.

    All this is visible to numerous observers from all the worlds of our planet. The Western way of life is less and less likely to become the leading model.

    There are telltale symptoms by which history gives warning to a threatened or perishing society. Such are, for instance, a decline of the arts or a lack of great statesmen. Indeed, sometimes the warnings are quite explicit and concrete. The center of your democracy and of your culture is left without electric power for a few hours only, and all of a sudden crowds of American citizens start looting and creating havoc. The smooth surface film must be very thin, then, the social system quite unstable and unhealthy.

    But the fight for our planet, physical and spiritual, a fight of cosmic proportions, is not a vague matter of the future; it has already started. The forces of Evil have begun their decisive offensive. You can feel their pressure, yet your screens and publications are full of prescribed smiles and raised glasses. What is the joy about?

    How has this unfavorable relation of forces come about? How did the West decline from its triumphal march to its present debility? Have there been fatal turns and losses of direction in its development? It does not seem so. The West kept advancing steadily in accordance with its proclaimed social intentions, hand in hand with a dazzling progress in technology. And all of a sudden it found itself in its present state of weakness.

    This means that the mistake must be at the root, at the very foundation of thought in modern times. I refer to the prevailing Western view of the world in modern times. I refer to the prevailing Western view of the world which was born in the Renaissance and has found political expression since the Age of Enlightenment. It became the basis for political and social doctrine and could be called rationalistic humanism or humanistic autonomy: the pro-claimed and practiced autonomy of man from any higher force above him. It could also be called anthropocentricity, with man seen as the center of all.

    The turn introduced by the Renaissance was probably inevitable historically: the Middle Ages had come to a natural end by exhaustion, having become an intolerable despotic repression of man’s physical nature in favor of the spiritual one. But then we recoiled from the spirit and embraced all that is material, excessively and incommensurately. The humanistic way of thinking, which had proclaimed itself our guide, did not admit the existence of intrinsic evil in man, nor did it see any task higher than the attainment of happiness on earth. It started modern Western civilization on the dangerous trend of worshiping man and his material needs.

    Everything beyond physical well-being and the accumulation of material goods, all other human requirements and characteristics of a subtle and higher nature, were left outside the area of attention of state and social systems, as if human life did not have any higher meaning. Thus gaps were left open for evil, and its drafts blow freely today. Mere freedom per se does not in the least solve all the problems of human life and even adds a number of new ones.

    And yet in early democracies, as in American democracy at the time of its birth, all individual human rights were granted on the ground that man is God’s creature. That is, freedom was given to the individual conditionally, in the assumption of his constant religious responsibility. Such was the heritage of the preceding one thousand years. Two hundred or even fifty years ago, it would have seemed quite impossible, in America, that an individual be granted boundless freedom with no purpose, simply for the satisfaction of his whims.

    Subsequently, however, all such limitations were eroded everywhere in the West; a total emancipation occurred from the moral heritage of Christian centuries with their great reserves of mercy and sacrifice. State systems were becoming ever more materialistic. The West has finally achieved the rights of man, and even excess, but man’s sense of responsibility to God and society has grown dimmer and dimmer. In the past decades, the legalistic selfishness of the Western approach to the world has reached its peak and the world has found itself in a harsh spiritual crisis and a political impasse. All the celebrated technological achievements of progress, including the conquest of outer space, do not redeem the twentieth century’s moral poverty, which no one could have imagined even as late as the nineteenth century.

    As humanism in its development was becoming more and more materialistic, it also increasingly allowed concepts to be used first by socialism and then by communism, so that Karl Marx was able to say, in 1844, that “communism is naturalized humanism.”

    This statement has proved to be not entirely unreasonable. One does not see the same stones in the foundations of an eroded humanism and of any type of socialism: boundless materialism; freedom from religion and religious responsibility (which under Communist regimes attains the stage of antireligious dictatorship); concentration on social structures with an allegedly scientific approach. (This last is typical of both the Age of Enlightenment and of Marxism.) It is no accident that all of communism’s rhetorical vows revolve around Man (with a capital M) and his earthly happiness. At first glance it seems an ugly parallel: common traits in the thinking and way of life of today’s West and today’s East? But such is the logic of materialistic development.

    The interrelationship is such, moreover, that the current of materialism which is farthest to the left, and is hence the most consistent, always proves to be stronger, more attractive, and victorious. Humanism which has lost its Christian heritage cannot prevail in this competition. Thus during the past centuries and especially in recent decades, as the process became more acute, the alignment of forces was as follows: Liberalism was inevitably pushed aside by radicalism, radicalism had to surrender to socialism, and socialism could not stand up to communism.

    The communist regime in the East could endure and grow due to the enthusiastic support from an enormous number of Western intellectuals who (feeling the kinship!) refused to see communism’s crimes, and when they no longer could do so, they tried to justify these crimes. The problem persists: In our Eastern countries, communism has suffered a complete ideological defeat; it is zero and less than zero. And yet Western intellectuals still look at it with considerable interest and empathy, and this is precisely what makes it so immensely difficult for the West to withstand the East.

    I am not examining the case of a disaster brought on by a world war and the changes which it would produce in society. But as long as we wake up every morning under a peaceful sun, we must lead an everyday life. Yet there is a disaster which is already very much with us. I am referring to the calamity of an autonomous, irreligious humanistic consciousness.

    It has made man the measure of all things on earth — imperfect man, who is never free of pride, self-interest, envy, vanity, and dozens of other defects. We are now paying for the mistakes which were not properly appraised at the beginning of the journey. On the way from the Renaissance to our days we have enriched our experience, but we have lost the concept of a Supreme Complete Entity which used to restrain our passions and our irresponsibility.

    We have placed too much hope in politics and social reforms, only to find out that we were being deprived of our most precious possession: our spiritual life. It is trampled by the party mob in the East, by the commercial one in the West. This is the essence of the crisis: the split in the world is less terrifying than the similarity of the disease afflicting its main sections.

    If, as claimed by humanism, man were born only to be happy, he would not be born to die. Since his body is doomed to death, his task on earth evidently must be more spiritual: not a total engrossment in everyday life, not the search for the best ways to obtain material goods and then their carefree consumption. It has to be the fulfillment of a permanent, earnest duty so that one’s life journey may become above all an experience of moral growth: to leave life a better human being than one started it.

    It is imperative to reappraise the scale of the usual human values; its present incorrectness is astounding. It is not possible that assessment of the President’s performance should be reduced to the question of how much money one makes or to the availability of gasoline. Only by the voluntary nurturing in ourselves of freely accepted and serene self-restraint can mankind rise above the world stream of materialism.

    Today it would be retrogressive to hold on to the ossified formulas of the Enlightenment. Such social dogmatism leaves us helpless before the trials of our times.

    Even if we are spared destruction by war, life will have to change in order not to perish on its own. We cannot avoid reassessing the fundamental definitions of human life and society. Is it true that man is above everything? Is there no Superior Spirit above him? Is it right that man’s life and society’s activities should be ruled by material expansion above all? Is it permissible to promote such expansion to the detriment of our integral spiritual life?

    If the world has not approached its end, it has reached a major watershed in history, equal in importance to the turn from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. It will demand from us a spiritual blaze; we shall have to rise to a new height of vision, to a new level of life, where our physical nature will not be cursed, as in the Middle Ages, but even more importantly, our spiritual being will not be trampled upon, as in the Modern Era.

    The ascension is similar to climbing onto the next anthropological stage. No one on earth has any other way left but — upward.


    The Prelature Opus Dei, A “Little bit of the Church” and a Glimpse of Her Developed Physiognomy: One Vocation to be Christ and Secularity.

    Thumbnail Sketch of Opus Dei as Prelature

    Rev. Robert A. Connor, 11/28/2006

    Characteristics:

    1. One vocation for lay faithful, be they married or celibate, and ministerial priests. All share sacramentally in the one priesthood of Christ, be it the sacrament of Baptism or Orders. Priesthood means “mediation,” which consists in the gift of self. Each becomes “priest of his own existence” by subduing self, getting possession of self so as to be able to make the gift of the self now possessed. All make the gift of their “I” to Jesus Christ either in service to their family and the world by the exercise of their secular work, or the ministers by their service in persona Christi to the layfaithful.

    Hence, there is a “radical equality” of all as being “other Christs” (as priests with “priestly soul”) with the “functional diversity” of exercising the gift of self in a plurality of objective ways. A key concept is to understand the equality on the level of the subject, and the diversity on the level of the object. Sanctity as subject can be exercised in a universality of objective states and ways.

    2. Communio: This is the social reality – the ontological unum – of the constitutive relation between laity and priests whereby one cannot be who each is without the other. As “a little bit of the Church,”[1] Opus Dei is the “aboriginal relationship obtaining in the Church between christifideles – called to live out the requirements and implications of their baptism – and sacred ministers, who bring in, besides, the `ministerial’ consequences of the sacrament of Order.”[2]

    3. The Father. The self gift in a communio such as family or Church is impossible without the dynamizing force of being loved. Benedict XVI said: “Of ourselves, we cannot come to terms with ourselves. Our `I’ becomes acceptable to us only if it has first become acceptable to another `I.’ We can love ourselves only if we have first been loved by someone else. The life a mother gives to her child is not just physical life; she gives total life when she takes the child’s tears and turns them into smiles.”[3]

    The task of dynamizing the gift of self in Opus Dei falls to the Prelate who has been known and called from the beginning (1928), “Father.” Rodriguez remarked: “We ought to say that in Opus Dei’s institutional life and in its members’ relations with their prelate, what is decisive is neither his `jurisdiction’ nor their obedience. Rather, what truly defines Opus Dei’s prelate is his `fatherhood,’ his role as a pastor who is a father to all the prelature’s faithful. That is why in Opus Dei he is usually called, `Father.’ The prelate’s role in the life of Opus Dei deeply configures the prelature. Therefore it is important to consider it when determining the ecclesial profile of the social arrangement lived therein.”[4]

    4. Secularity. “Pope Paul VI said the Church `has an authentic secular dimension, inherent to her inner nature and mission, which is deeply rooted in the mystery of the Word Incarnate, and which is realized in different forms through her members.”

    The meaning of secularity is taken from the relation of the human will of Jesus Christ to His Divine Person. Then-Joseph Ratzinger remarked in his 1985 retreat to John Paul II: “The Council of Constantinople has analyzed concretely the problem of the two natures and one person in Christ in view of the problem of the will of Jesus. We are reminded firmly that there exists a specific will of the man Jesus that is not absorbed into the divine will. But this human will follows the divine will and thus becomes a single will with it, not, however, in a forced way but by way of freedom. The metaphysical duplicity of a human will and a divine will is not eliminated, but in the personal sphere, the area of freedom there is accomplished a fusion of the two, so that this becomes not one single natural will but one personal will. This free union – a mode of union created by love – is a union higher and more intimate than a purely natural union. It corresponds to the highest union which can exist, the union of the Trinity… The Council explains this union by a saying of the Lord given in the Gospel of John: `I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of the Father who sent me’ (Jn. 6, 38). Here the divine Logos is speaking, and speaking of the human will of Jesus in the mode by which he calls his will the will of the Logos. With this exegesis of John 6, 38, the Council proves the unity of the subject: In Jesus there are not two `I,’ but only one. The Logos speaks of the will and human thought of Jesus using the `I;’ this has become his `I,’ has been assumed into his `I,’ because the human will has become fully one with the will of the Logos, and with it has become pure assent to the will of the Father.”[5]

    The concluding point is that the human will of Jesus Christ has the Being and the autonomy of the divine Person of the Logos. It continues to be human, yet with the freedom of God to be total self-gift. Here, remember that the prototype of the human person is the divine Person of Jesus Christ (Gaudium et spes #22). Christ is the meaning of man. There is no adequate anthropology that is not Christological. We were created in view of Jesus Christ (Eph. 1, 4: “He chose us in him before the constitution of the world”). It is this freedom of self-determination given to us in view of Christ that we are able to achieve an autonomy that is not absolute, but, as they say, “theonomy” (see Veritatis Splendor #41) as relative to the relationality of being loved by God. This attitude of autonomy that is rooted in the metaphysics of an “I” that can master self, own self and give self is “secularity.”

    The secularity that is “dimension” for the entire Church (including clerics and religious) is “characteristic” for the laity because it is precisely their involvement in secular work and family life that is the occasion and locus for the this gift of self that is “secularity” as well as – as we saw above – the priesthood of all the faithful (See christifideles laici #15)

    For this reason, St. Josemaria Escriva always referred to “priestly soul” and “lay mentality” as the distinguishing characteristic of the spirit of Opus Dei.

    [1] Pedro Rodriguez, “The Place of Opus Dei in the Church,” Opus Dei in the Church Scepter (1995) 1

    [2] Ibid. 38.

    [3] J. Ratzinger, “Principles of Catholic Theology,” Scepter (1987) 79-80.

    [4] Pedro Rodriguez, op. cit. 56.

    [5] J. Ratzinger, “Journey Towards Easter,” Crossroad, (1987) 88-89.

    Who’s To Say Richard Rohr Isn’t Right?

    Image credit: Zaatari Refugee Camp, Jordan (detail), Foreign and Commonwealth Office, 2013.

    Week Forty-eight

    Joy and Hope

    Generosity of Spirit
    Thursday, November 29, 2018

    For a week in April 2015, Archbishop Desmond Tutu visited His Holiness the Dalai Lama at his residence in exile in India. Their dialogue and interactions, facilitated by Douglas Abrams, became The Book of Joy. I’d like to share some of their hard-won wisdom with you today.

    Suffering is inevitable, they said, but how we respond to that suffering is our choice. Not even oppression or occupation can take away this freedom to choose our response.

    As our dialogue progressed, we converged on eight pillars of joy. Four were qualities of the mind: perspective, humility, humor, and acceptance. Four were qualities of the heart: forgiveness, gratitude, compassion, and generosity.

    [Archbishop Tutu said:] “Our human nature has been distorted, . . . I mean, we are actually quite remarkable creatures. In our religions I am created in the image of God. I am a God carrier. It’s fantastic. I have to be growing in godlikeness, in caring for the other. I know that each time I have acted compassionately, I have experienced a joy in me that I find in nothing else.”

    When we practice a generosity of spirit, we are in many ways practicing all the other pillars of joy. In generosity, there is a wider perspective [italics mine], in which we see our connection to all others. There is a humility that recognizes our place in the world and acknowledges that at another time we could be the one in need, whether that need is material, emotional, or spiritual. There is a sense of humor and an ability to laugh at ourselves so that we do not take ourselves too seriously. There is an acceptance of life, in which we do not force life to be other than what it is. There is a forgiveness of others and a release of what otherwise might have been. There is a gratitude for all that we have been given. Finally, we see others with a deep compassion and a desire to help those who are in need. And from this comes a generosity that is “wise selfish,” a generosity that recognizes helping others as helping ourselves. As the Dalai Lama put it, “In fact, taking care of others, helping others, ultimately is the way to discover your own joy and to have a happy life.”

    [Near the end of their time together, Archbishop Tutu offered this blessing:]

    “Dear Child of God, you are loved with a love that nothing can shake, a love that loved you long before you were created, a love that will be there long after everything has disappeared. You are precious, with a preciousness that is totally quite immeasurable. And God wants you to be like God. Filled with life and goodness and laughter—and joy.

    “God, who is forever pouring out God’s whole being from all eternity, wants you to flourish. God wants you to be filled with joy and excitement and ever longing to be able to find what is so beautiful in God’s creation: the compassion of so many, the caring, the sharing. And God says, Please, my child, help me. Help me to spread love and laughter and joy and compassion. And you know what, my child? As you do this—hey, presto—you discover joy. Joy, which you had not sought, comes as the gift, as almost the reward for this non-self-regarding caring for others.”

    Reaching the Entire Person: Role of the Emotions (I)

    There is an underlying anthropology in the two articles below on “Reaching the Entire Person:” The received extant anthropology is: man is an individual substance of a rational nature. In the two articles below, there is non-explicit development that sees the human person as “a relation” – not a “thing” in itself (not even a rational thing-in-itself) imaging the relational nature of the Trinitarian Persons. That is, if the Persons of God were in-itself substances, then there would be three Gods. But as pure (constitutively relational) one could not be  relation without being related to another. So also, the human person imaging the Person of the Son can only be who he/she is by being in relation to another. Unrelated, he/she is not person. And so the human person finds himself only by the sincere gift of himself.” In both God and man, there is no such thing as a person alone. And this relationality is a dynamic of self-gift. The person, in order to be himself/herself, must master self to get possession and ownership of self in order to be able to make the gift. The topic of formation of the human person must be grounded with this relational anthropology as background. Hence, the goal of all formation is not that persons do  things, but that they want to do them. The goal is to increase desire, as in “Passionately loving the world.”

    In the Christian life, the intellect, will and emotions need to grow together, helping one another to advance. Hence the importance of guiding our feelings. First of a two-part article.

    A CHRISTIAN PERSONALITY
    Opus Dei - Reaching the Entire Person: Role of the Emotions (I)

     

    Certainly, Jesus Christ is the love of our life: not the greatest among others, but the one who gives meaning to all our other loves, and to the interests, dreams, ambitions, jobs and initiatives that fill our days and our heart. Hence in our spiritual life we need to preserve the centrality of the Person of Jesus Christ.[1] He is the path to enter into communion with the Father in the Holy Spirit. In Him is revealed the mystery of “who man is”[2] and what we are called to. To walk with Christ means to grow in self-knowledge, and to enter more deeply into our own personal mystery. To allow Jesus to be the centre of our life leads, among other things, to rediscovering with new light the anthropological and Christian value of the various ascetical means; reaching the person in all of his or her integrity: intellect, will, heart, relations with others.[3]

    The person we have to reach is first of all our own self, and then all those with whom we come in contact through our friendship and apostolate. The formation that we receive and that we impart should reach the intellect, the will and the emotions, with none of these elements being neglected or simply “subordinated” to the others.

    Here we will concentrate primarily on forming each person’s emotional life, taking as given the need for solid intellectual formation as the foundation. The consideration of the importance of integral formation will allow us to “rediscover” the great truth contained in St Josemaría’s identification of “fidelity” with “happiness.”[4]

    Being formed in accord with Christ’s heart

    Some people, when they think of formation, tend to consider it as knowledge. Thus a person who has received good doctrinal, ascetical and professional information is considered to have good formation. But more than that is required. To reach the person in all of his or her integrity requires viewing formation as a way of being. Good professionals knowthe body of information and techniques required by their profession, but they have acquired something else as well. They have developed habits – ways of being – that enable them to apply that knowledge and those techniques successfully: habits of attention to others, concentration in work, punctuality, coping with successes and failures, perseverance, etc.

    Similarly, being a good Christian doesn’t simply mean knowing – at a level appropriate to one’s situation in the Church and in society – the Church’s teaching on the sacraments or on prayer, or on general and professional moral norms. The goal is much higher: immersing ourselves in the mystery of Christ so as to grasp it in all its breadth and depth (cf. Eph3:18), letting his Life enter into ours, and being able to say with St Paul, it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me (Gal 2:20). Thus it means being “alter Christus, ipse Christus,”[5] allowing grace to transform us gradually so as to configure us to Him.

    Letting grace act is not something merely passive; it doesn’t mean simply not placing obstacles in the way, since the Holy Spirit doesn’t transform us into Christ without our free, voluntary cooperation. But neither is that enough. To give ourselves to our Lord, to give Him our life, is not simply to give Him our decisions, our actions; it is also to give Him our heart, our feelings, our spontaneity. To do so, we need to have a good intellectual and doctrinal formation that shapes our mind and influences our decisions, but this doctrine also has to sink in deeply and reach our heart. And this requires struggle, it requires time. In other words, it requires acquiring virtues, which is precisely what formation consists in.

    It is not uncommon to meet people who fear that insisting on the virtues may end up leading to “voluntarism,” to giving primacy to a person’s will-power. Nothing could be further from the truth. Perhaps at the root of that confusion is an erroneous idea of virtue, which is seen as simply a supplement to will-power, enabling the person who possesses it to fulfil the moral law even when it goes against their own inclination. This is quite a widespread idea, and does in fact stem from voluntarism. Virtue is thus regarded as the capacity to go against the flow of one’s own inclinations when the moral law so requires.

    There is of course some truth in this. But it is an incomplete vision, in which virtues are turned into cold qualities that would lead to rejecting in practice one’s own inclinations, interests and affections, and that would inevitably result in turning indifference into an ideal: as though the interior life and self-giving consisted in reaching the point where one doesn’t feel attracted by anything that might impede one’s own future decisions.

    To regard formation in that way would make it impossible to reach the person in his or her integrity. The intellect, will and emotions would not be growing together, helping one another to advance. Rather one of these faculties would dominate and stifle the others. The correct development of the interior life, in contrast, requires integration, and certainly doesn’t lead to a diminishing or loss of our interests and emotions. Its aim is not that we aren’t affected by what happens, that we shouldn’t care about what is important, that we shouldn’t be hurt by what is hurtful, that we shouldn’t be concerned about what is concerning, that we shouldn’t be attracted by what is attractive. Quite the opposite. The interior life expands the heart and fills it with a great love, enabling us to view our emotions in a broader context that provides the means for tackling feelings that give rise to difficulties, and helps capture the positive and transcendent meaning of those that are pleasant.

    The Gospels show us our Lord’s sincere concern for his disciples’ rest. And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while” (Mk 6:31). We also see how his heart reacts before the suffering of his friends, like Martha and Mary (cf. Jn 11:1-44). We cannot suppose that in those moments Jesus was simply “acting,” as though deep down, because of his union with his Father, whatever happened around him was a matter of indifference to him. Saint Josemaría often spoke about loving the world passionately.[6] He encouraged people to place their heart in God and, through Him, in others, in the work we are engaged in, in our efforts in the apostolate. “Our Lord does not want us to be dry and rigid, like inert matter.”[7]

    Availability, for example, is not the disposition of a person who is indifferent to doing this or that because he has succeeded in losing interest in everything, perhaps in order to avoid suffering when something is asked of him which he doesn’t like. Rather it is the noble disposition of one who is able at a particular moment to do without something that is good and attractive, in order to concentrate on something else in which God is awaiting us, because living for God is our deepest desire. Such a person has a great heart, filled with interests and good ambitions that can be set aside whenever necessary, not because we reject them or try to avoid being affected by them, but because our interest in loving and serving God is much greater still. And not only is it greater; it is – it has been transformed into – what gives meaning to and embraces all other interests.

    Rejoicing in practicing the virtues

    Formation in the virtues requires struggle, overcoming one’s own inclination when this is opposed to good acts. This is the part of truth that is contained in the reductionist, “voluntaristic” concept of virtue referred to earlier. But virtue doesn’t consist in the capacity to oppose inclinations, but rather in the formation of our inclinations. The goal, then, is not that we should be capable of habitually setting our feelings aside so as to let ourselves be guided by an external rule, but rather to form those feelings in such a way that we are capable of rejoicing in the good achieved. Virtue consists precisely in this rejoicing in the good, in the formation, we might say, of “good taste”: [Blessed is the man whose] delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night (Ps 1:2). Thus virtue entails the formation of our feelings, and not the habit of systematically opposing them.

    As long as virtue is unformed, our feelings and emotions can offer resistance to a good act, which needs to be overcome. But the aim is not simply to overcome the resistance, but rather to develop a “taste” for acting virtuously. When one possesses virtue, the good act may still be difficult, but it is performed with joy. Let us offer an example. To get up on time in the morning – “the heroic minute”[8] – will probably always be difficult; perhaps the day will never come when, on hearing the alarm, we don’t feel inclined to spend a little more time in bed. But if we habitually strive to overcome laziness out of love for God, a moment comes when to do so brings us joy, while to give in to comfort displeases us and leaves a bad taste in our mouth. Likewise, for someone who is honest, to take a product from the supermarket without paying for it is not only something prohibited; it is also ugly and disagreeable, opposed to that person’s dispositions, to their heart. This shaping of our feelings so that we experience joy at the good and displeasure at evil is not a collateral consequence of virtue, but rather an essential component. Hence virtue enables us to enjoy the good.

    This is not a merely theoretical idea. It is of great practical importance for us to know, when we struggle, that we are not simply getting accustomed to putting up with annoyances, but we are learning to enjoy the good, even if for the moment it means we have to go against the grain.

    Forming virtues makes the faculties and affections learn to focus on what truly satisfies our deepest aspirations, while attributing secondary importance – always subordinate to what is most important – to those things that are simply means to an end. In the final analysis, to be formed in the virtues is to learn how to be happy, to rejoice at and with what is truly great; it is, in short, to prepare for Heaven.

    If being formed means growing in virtues, and the virtues consist in a certain order in our affectivity, in our feelings and emotions, we can conclude that all formation is the formation of affectivity. On reading this, someone may raise the objection that, in one’s effort to acquire virtues, the aim is operative rather than affective, perhaps even adding that we apply the name of virtues precisely to operative habits. This is true. But if the virtues help us to do good, it is because they help us to feel correctly. The human being always moves towards the good. The moral problem is, ultimately, why it is that what is not good appears to us – it presents itself to our eyes – as good, in a specific situation. That this happens is due to the disorder in our tendencies, which leads us to exaggerate the value of the good towards which one of those tendencies is directed, so that this good is considered more desirable in the particular situation than another good with which it is conflict, but which in fact has greater objective value because it corresponds to the person’s overall good.

    For example: in a given situation we may find ourselves torn between telling the truth or not. The natural tendency we have towards the truth presents it to us as a good. But we also have a natural tendency to want the esteem of others, which in this particular case, if we think the truth is going to end up making us look bad, will present lying as appropriate. These two tendencies enter into conflict. Which of them will prevail? It will depend on which of the two goods is more important for us, and in this assessment our affectivity plays a decisive role. If it is well ordered, it will help the reason to see that the truth is very precious and that the esteem of others is not desirable if it makes us forsake the truth. This love for the truth over other goods that also attract us is precisely what we call sincerity. But if the desire to look good is stronger than the attraction of truth, it is easy for the reason to be deceived, and even though it knows that it isn’t good, it judges that it is appropriate to lie. Although we know perfectly well that it is wrong to lie, we consider that in this specific situation it is appropriate to do so.

    A well-ordered emotional life helps us do good because it helps us to grasp it as good beforehand. Hence the importance of forming our emotions correctly. How can this be done? We will try to set out a few ideas in the next article, but here we will simply point out something it is good to be aware of before tackling this topic.

    The will and our feelings

    We have just stated that a well-ordered affectivity helps us to act well. The reverse is also true: to act well helps us to put order in our affectivity.

    We know from experience (and it is good not to forget it if we want to avoid easily falling into frustration and discouragement) that we cannot directly control our feelings. If we fall prey to discouragement, we cannot resolve the problem simply by deciding to feel happy. The same applies if at a given moment we want to feel more daring, or less timid, or if we don’t want to feel afraid or ashamed, or to feel the sensible attraction of something we judge to be disordered. At other times, we would like to get along easily with someone we find off-putting for reasons that we recognise are trivial but that we don’t manage to overcome, and we realise that simply trying to treat that person in a natural way doesn’t resolve the difficulty.

    In short, a voluntary decision to make our feelings correspond to our desires is not enough. However, the fact that the will doesn’t directly control our feelings doesn’t mean that it has no influence over them.

    In ethics, the control that the will can exercise over the feelings is called “political,” because it is similar to that which a ruler has over his subjects; he cannot control them directly, since they are free. But he can take certain measures – for example, reducing taxes – in the hope that these will produce specific results – for example, increased consumption or investment – through the free will of the citizens. We too can perform certain acts which we hope will give rise to specific feelings. For example, we can stop to consider the good that will be done by an apostolic undertaking for which we are seeking help, as a way of feeling more daring when asking for a donation to help get that undertaking started. We can consider our divine filiation in the hope that a professional setback will have less of an impact on us at the level of our feelings. Again, we know that to imbibe a certain amount of alcohol can provoke a transitory state of euphoria; and that if we deliberately let our minds dwell on some bad treatment we may have received, we will provoke reactions of anger. These are a few examples of the influence – in each case indirect – that the will can exercise in the short term over our feelings.

    Much more important, however, is the long-term influence that the will exercises over our affectivity, since this influence is precisely what allows it to give it form, to form it. As we reflect on this process we see clearly the unity of the human person, and that formation only achieves its goal if it reaches the intellect, the will and the emotions. We will deal with this in the second part of this article.


    [1] Fernando Ocáriz, Pastoral Letter, 14 February 2017, 8.

    [2] Cf. Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes (7 December 1965), 22.

    [3] Fernando Ocáriz, Pastoral Letter, 14 February 2017, 8.

    [4] In Spanish: “fidelidad” and “felicidad.” Cf. Saint Josemaria, Furrow, 84: “Your steadfastness in faith, purity and the way God has marked out for you is the measure of your happiness on earth.” Cf. also, for example, Instruction, May1935/14 September 1950, 60; Instruction 8 December 1941, 61; Saint Josemaria, Friends of God, 189.

    [5] Saint Josemaria, Christ is Passing By, 96.

    [6] Suffice it to mention, by way of example, the title of the homily Passionately Loving the World, in Conversations, 113-123.

    [7] Friends of God, 183.

    [8] Saint Josemaria, The Way, 206.

    Reaching the Entire Person: Role of the Emotions (II)

    The struggle to acquires virtues involves more than just carrying out good acts: it means developing a “good heart.” Second part of a two-part article.

    A CHRISTIAN PERSONALITY

    Opus Dei - Reaching the Entire Person: Role of the Emotions (II)

    Put on the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 13:14). To make this desire of Saint Paul a reality means much more than simply putting on a new suit. It entails a conversion of the heart, a transformation of the entire person in response to the action of grace. It implies casting off the works of darkness and putting on the armor of light (cf. Rom 13:12). In other words, it requires a deep and integral formation.

    In the preceding article we reflected on the fact that “reaching the person in all of his or her integrity” requires a formation that guides not only the intellect and will but also the emotions.[1] We also saw that forming the emotions—learning to enjoy what is truly good—requires the intervention of the will and consequently also of the intellect. Nevertheless, the will has only an indirect, “political” control over our feelings, and at times this control is exercised by trying to provoke a specific emotion.

    But there is also another type of influence that is more long-term, and that comes about even without the person seeking it. This influence has greater importance for our considerations here. It results from the fact that voluntary acts can cause changes not only in the world around us, but also and above all within us. These acts help produce a connatural affective affinity with the good that the will seeks. Explaining exactly how this comes about is beyond the scope of these articles, but here we want to highlight two key points.

    Wanting the good

    The first is to note that the good towards which the will inclines—and by which this connatural affinity is produced—can be very different from what is perceived from the outside. Two people who carry out the same assignment can be doing two very different things. One may be totally absorbed in not appearing bad in the eyes of the person who has given him that assignment, while the other really wants to serve. This second person is forming a virtue while the first isn’t, since the good sought is ultimately that of not looking bad before someone with authority. It is true that this action can be a better step than simply refusing to do the task. But as long as it isn’t followed by a series of further steps, that person would not be growing in virtue no matter how many times the action is repeated. Hence it is very important to rectify, to constantly purify our intention in order to little by little embrace the reasons for which it is really worthwhile doing something, and thus to shape our emotions with them.

    We all have our own experience or that of others on how limiting oneself to respecting certain rules easily ends up becoming a burden. The example of the older son in the parable warns us of this danger (cf. Lk15:29-30). While in contrast, sincerely seeking the good that these rules are meant to foster brings freedom and joy. Ultimately, we could say that we need to shape not so much our doing as our wanting. Not only what I do is important, but also what I want when I do it.[2] Freedom, thus, is the decisive factor. It is not sufficient to do something; we have to want to do it. We have to do it “because we want to, which is the most supernatural reason,”[3] because only thus we are growing in virtue, that is, we are learning to enjoy what is truly good. A mere fulfillment that leads to cumplo y miento, to fulfilling and lying,[4] doesn’t lead to freedom, nor to love and joy. But when we understand why this way of acting is truly great and worthwhile, and let ourselves be guided by these reasons in our actions, then we foster our freedom, and strengthen our love and joy.

    Long-term formation

    The second point to consider is that attaining connatural affinity with the good in our emotions is often a slow process. If virtue consisted merely in the capacity to overcome the resistance in our feelings to doing what is right, we could acquire it in a much shorter time. But we know that a virtue has not yet been solidly formed as long as the good being sought doesn’t have a positive echo in our emotions.[5] Hence we need to be patient in our struggle because it may take a long time, even years, to achieve certain worthwhile goals. The difficulty we may experience in pursuing the good during this time shouldn’t be interpreted as a failure or as a sign that our struggle is not sincere or decisive enough. We are dealing here with a progression in which every step may be so small that it isn’t easy to realize that progress is being made. Only after time has gone by can we look back and realize that we have travelled further than we had thought.

    If, for example, we want to overcome our angry reactions, we will begin by making the effort to limit the external manifestations. Perhaps at first it may seem that we are not getting anywhere. But if we persist, the times when we control ourselves—perhaps very few at the beginning—will become more and more frequent, and after some time—perhaps a long time—we will gain habitual self-control. Still this is not enough, since our goal is not to repress the external manifestations but to shape our internal reaction, to become more gentle and peaceful. And then this calmer reaction will become engrained in our way of being. The struggle therefore may be longer, but who can deny that it will be more attractive, more liberating and more exciting? Its goal is to attain interior peace in seeking and doing God’s will, and not merely to “violently” suppress emotional reactions.

    Pope Francis in explaining his principle that time is greater than space,[6]points out that “giving priority to time means being concerned about initiating processes rather than possessing spaces.[7] In the interior life it is worthwhile to start realistic and generous processes. And we need to be ready to wait as long as required for them to produce fruit. “This principle enables us to work slowly but surely, without being obsessed with immediate results. It helps us patiently to endure difficult and adverse situations, or inevitable changes in our plans. It invites us to accept the tension between fullness and limitation.”[8] We need to try to ensure that the awareness of our limitations doesn’t paralyze our desire to reach the fullness God offers us. Just as we want to prevent this noble ambition from naively making us forget that we are limited.

    To aim high in our formation, to strive not only to carry out good acts, but to be good, to have a good heart, will enable us to distinguish a virtuous act from what we might call an act that conforms to a virtue. The latter would be an act that corresponds to a virtue and contributes step by step to attaining it, but that since it does not yet stem from a mature habit, often still requires overcoming feelings that pull in the opposite direction. In contrast, a virtuous act is one that brings joy in accomplishing the good even when this requires effort. That is the goal.

    An integral formation that shapes our emotional reactions is a slow process. Those who seek it won’t fall into the naive attempt to submit one’s feelings to the will, suppressing emotions one doesn’t like or trying to stir up those one wants to have. We come to understand that our struggle should be centered rather on the free decisions by which, in striving to fulfill God’s will, we respond to these feelings, accepting or rejecting the behavior they suggest to us. For it is these decisions that—indirectly and in the long run—lead to forming the intimate world within us from which these feelings stem.

    An interior world

    As we grow in virtue, we not only carry out a good act with greater naturalness and joy, but we also become better able to identify what this good act is. “In order to ‘prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect’ (Rom 12:2), knowledge of God’s law in general is certainly necessary, but it is not sufficient. What is essential is a sort of ‘connaturality’ between man and the true good (cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, II-II, q. 45, a. 2). Such a connaturality is rooted in and develops through the virtuous attitudes of the individual himself.”[9]

    This is due in large part to the fact that our emotional response is the first voice we hear when evaluating the suitability of a particular way of acting. Even before our reason considers whether it is right or not to do something pleasurable, we have already sensed its appeal. Virtue, by making the good attractive to our feelings, endows the voice of our affective response with a certain moral evaluation (that is, a reference to the person’s overall good) of this act. Thus, for example, even though we are attracted by the possibility of looking good in another person’s eyes, we grasp how unpleasant it is to lie.

    In an implicit but clear way, we find this expressed in a very brief point of The Way: “Why should you look around you, if you carry ‘your world’ within you?”[10] Saint Josemaria is contrasting looking at the exterior world with a person’s interior world. And it is this relationship that determines the value of the external look, which will be seen as appropriate or not according to one’s interior world. There is no need then to suppress as inappropriate this external look, since right from the start the interior world“my world”—rejects it. Saint Josemaria is telling us that if our interior world is rich, we will not only avoid what can do us harm, but it won’t even be a danger because we will find it repugnant. We will see it not only as bad, but also—and even beforehand—as ugly, unappealing, unfitting, out of place… Of course, it may be attractive in some way, but it is easy to reject that attraction because it destroys the beauty and harmony of our interior world. In contrast, if we don’t “carry our world within us,” avoiding that exterior look will entail considerable effort.

    Realism

    All this shows how growth in the virtues makes us ever more realistic in our approach to life. Some people have the idea—normally not expressed—that living according to the virtues implies closing one’s eyes to reality. And this for a very noble reason, because by acting in this way we turn our back on part of this world hoping for a reward in the next. On the contrary, living as Christ did, imitating his virtues, opens us to the real world and prevents our feelings from deceiving us when evaluating and deciding how to respond to it.

    For example, poverty doesn’t mean failing to appreciate the value of material goods in light of eternal life. Rather only a person who lives with detachment truly appreciates material goods in the proper way. They aren’t seen as evil, nor are they given an importance they don’t have. On the other hand, a person who makes no effort to live this way will end up giving them a greater value than what they really have, and this will affect that person’s decisions. He will not be a realist even though he may appear to others as an authentic man of the world, who knows how to behave in wordly settings. A temperate person knows how to enjoy a good meal; while a person who lacks this virtue will give this pleasure an importance it objectively lacks. Something similar could be said about any other virtue. As Jesus told Nicodemus: He who does what is true comes to the light (Jn 3:21).

    A “virtuous” circle

    In the end, guiding our feelings by developing the virtues leads to purifying our sight. It is like taking our glasses and cleaning off the stains that original sin and our personal sins have left on them and that make it difficult for us to see the world as it really is. “Let us say it plainly: the unredeemed state of the world consists precisely in the failure to understand the meaning of creation, in the failure to recognize truth; as a result, the rule of pragmatism is imposed, by which the strong arm of the powerful becomes the god of this world.”[11]

    A well-ordered affectivity helps our reason to understand creation, to recognize the truth, to identify what is truly good for us. Correct judgement on the part of our reason facilitates free choice. The good act that results from this choice helps to “connaturalize” us with the good we seek, and consequently to put order into our emotional responses. This produces an authentic “virtuous circle” that leads us to realize that we are progressively freer, masters of our own acts and hence able to truly give ourselves to God, since only a person who possesses himself can give himself.

    Formation is integral only when it reaches all these levels. In other words, there is only true formation when the various faculties that intervene in human acts—reason, will, emotions—are integrated. These faculties shouldn’t fight with one another but rather work together. If we fail to properly mold our feelings, that is, if the virtues are understood as only an added force for our will that enables it to override our feelings, the moral norms and the struggle to try to live them will be repressive and will fail to lead to an authentic unity of life. For we would always feel within us powerful forces that try to pull us in the opposite direction and produce instability. We are well acquainted with this instability, since it is where we start from. But we are able to overcome it little by little, as we guide these forces progressively towards harmony. Then the moment will come when “because I want to,” which is the “most supernatural reason,” comes to mean because I like it, because it attracts me, because it accords with my way of being, because it fits with the interior world that I have formed for myself. And ultimately, because I have learned to make my own the sentiments of Christ Jesus.

    Thus we make progress towards the attractive and exalted goal that Saint Paul sets out for us: Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus (Phil 2:5). And we realize that thus we are putting on the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Rom 13:14). “Christ’s life is our life … a Christian should live as Christ lived, making the affections of Christ his own, so that he can exclaim with Saint Paul: non vivo ego, vivit vero in me Christus (Gal 2:10), it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.[12] Fidelity consists precisely in this, in living, wanting, and feeling in accord with Christ—not because we “disguise ourselves” as Christ, but because this becomes our own way of being. Then in following God’s will, in being faithful, we are deeply free, because we do what we want, what we like, what we “feel like” doing. Deeply free and deeply faithful. Deeply faithful and deeply happy.


    [1] Cf. Fernando Ocáriz, Pastoral Letter, 14 February 2017, 8.

    [2] In reality, from a moral standpoint, what I do is precisely what I want when I do it. But for our purposes here there is no need to pause to explain why this is so.

    [3] Saint Josemaria, Christ is Passing By, 17.

    [4] Cf. Don Alvaro, Letter, September 1995, in Family Letters I, 8.

    [5] It should be clear from the previous article that this doesn’t mean that the good requires no effort or, what amounts to the same, that evil no longer holds any attraction.

    [6] Cf. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelium gaudium, 222-225.

    [7] Ibid., 223. Italics in the original.

    [8] Ibid.

    [9] Saint John Paul II, Encyclical Veritatis Splendor, 6 August 1993, 64.

    [10] Saint Josemaria, The Way, 184.

    [11] Joseph Ratzinger – Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, Vol. II, 7, 3.

    [12] Christ is Passing By, 103.

     Gender Theory: Positive Explanation and Critique

     ANTONIO MALO –

    What is gender theory?

    Gender theory is a school of thought that, in its attempt to bring
    about “self-emancipation from creation and the Creator” (Benedict
    XVI, Christmas Address to the Roman Curia 2008, 1), aims to advance
    a libertarian or “free” approach to issues related to sexuality,
    marriage, and family. The distinction between sex and gender is a
    central element of this theory, which emerged in feminist circles in
    North America in the late 1960s and 1970s and has since spread
    throughout much of the world.
    151. How does gender theory define the terms sex and gender?
    With the term “sex,” gender theory means that which is given in nature,
    that is, one’s biological makeup or bodily sex. The term “gender,”
    on the other hand, is understood as a social construct that defines the
    roles of men and women; and, being cultural, these are necessarily
    subject to change. In its most radical forms, gender theory states
    that everyone should be able to choose his or her gender, independent
    of his or her own body and existing conjugal and family ties.
    152. What are the positive aspects of gender theory?

    Gender theory emphasizes the personal nature of human sexuality.
    The scientific analysis of this reality reveals that human sexuality,
    in addition to being rooted in the body, must also be personalized
    through psychological identification with one’s own sex and
    through appropriate interpersonal relations, beginning with one’s

    62 HANDBOOK OF CATHOLIC SOCIAL TEACHING

    relationship with his or her parents. Additionally, gender theory
    rightly points out that some of the social roles attributed to men and
    women throughout history are merely conventional and have negatively
    impacted how society values women.

    153. How does gender theory differ from the Church’s
    understanding of human sexuality?
    Pope Francis stated, “I ask myself, if the so-called gender theory is
    not … an expression of frustration and resignation, which seeks
    to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to
    confront it” (Francis, General Audience April 15, 2015). While the
    Church proclaims the equal dignity of man and woman, she also celebrates
    their differences. In ignoring the sexual difference, in seeing
    it as something that can (and should) be overcome, gender theory
    loses the originality of femininity and masculinity. “Womanhood
    expresses the ‘human’ as much as manhood does, but in a different
    and complementary way” (LW 7). One’s sex is not simply a matter
    of biology. “Sexuality characterizes man and woman not only on the
    physical level, but also on the psychological and spiritual, making its
    mark on each of their expressions” (CCE, Educational Guidance in
    Human Love 1983, 5).
    154. On what points does gender theory contradict the Bible?
    The two creation accounts definitively confirm the importance of
    the sexual difference. In the first account we are told that “God created
    mankind in his image; / in the image of God he created them;
    / male and female he created them” (Gn 1:27). In the second account,
    man realizes that he is alone and God makes Adam “a helper
    suited to him” (Gn 2:18). This help is mutual and does not imply any
    kind of inferiority of women to men. This help does not just refer to
    actions, but to the being of men and women. Man and woman are
    complementary not only on a physical level, but in their very existence.
    They complete one another; the man offers the woman something
    only he can give and the woman offers the man something
    only she can give.

    155. On what points does gender theory contradict morality?

    Gender theory also contradicts sexual morality. First, in making a
    radical distinction between sex and gender, it denies both the procreative
    and the unitive meanings of human sexuality, as can be
    seen in its attitude toward homosexual relations, in which there is
    not true communion due to an absence of the sexual difference.
    Second, based on this separation between sex and gender, gender
    theorists claim that homosexual relationships are capable of constituting
    a marriage. However, despite the deep feelings and commitment
    that may be present in these relationships, they are not marriage
    because they lack the sexual difference, and thus cannot be
    the origin of a family.
    (CSDC 229; LF 52; EG 66)
    156. What kind of effect does gender theory have on society?

    Gender theory affects society on two levels. On the political and legislative
    level, gender theorists pressure for change in the physiognomy
    of marriage and family. They call for the legalization and social
    acceptance of new models of marriage and family in the name
    of progress, tolerance, and equal rights, including the right to adopt
    children. This so-called “progress,” however, will only contribute to
    the self-destruction of the human person and society (cf. Benedict
    XVI, Christmas Address to the Roman Curia 2008). On the cultural
    level, gender theory seeks to change the governing mentalities,
    beginning with those most vulnerable to indoctrination: children
    and adolescents. Under the guise of educating them in tolerance,
    they are encouraged to “explore” and “experiment” with their sexuality
    so that they can choose that which best suits them.
    157. Why does the Church denounce gender theory as
    an ideology?
    Te Church, which has always been interested in that which concerns
    man and woman, denounces gender theory as an ideology because
    she has the right and the duty to intervene when the natural and supernatural
    good of persons and society are at stake. She has received
    64 HANDBOOK OF CATHOLIC SOCIAL TEACHING
    from God a “responsibility for creation” (Benedict XVI, Christmas
    Address to the Roman Curia 2008, 4). For this reason, the Church
    promotes a “human ecology” that helps nations and States to differentiate
    between that which constitutes true progress and that which
    is instead a step back, resulting in the disintegration of people and
    the social fabric.
    (Benedict XVI, Christmas Address to the Roman Curia 2008)
    158. What is this “human ecology” that the Church promotes?
    In her responsibility towards creation, the Church must first and
    foremost protect mankind, which forms part of creation. Human
    ecology means respect for the human person and “the natural and
    moral structure with which he has been endowed” (CA 38). Tis includes
    the promotion of the values of femininity and masculinity
    as the foundation of the humanization of persons. “Every outlook
    which presents itself as a conflict between the sexes is only an illusion
    and a danger: it would end in segregation and competition
    between men and women” (MW 14).
    On a more concrete level, human ecology applies to social policies
    concerning education, family, work, access to services, civic
    participation, and so on. On the one hand, we must combat any
    unjust sexual discrimination. On the other hand, and at the same
    time, the promotion of equal dignity “must be harmonized with
    attentive recognition of the difference and reciprocity between the
    sexes where this is relevant to the realization of one’s humanity,
    whether male or female” (MW 14; cf. CCC 2358).
    (CA 38–39; CV 51)
    159. Gender theory has been referred to as an “ideological
    colonization.” What does this mean?
    Gender theory has been called an ideological colonization because
    it attempts, using every means at its disposal, to impose a vision of
    sexuality, marriage, and family that is inhuman, and therefore capable
    of enslaving people (cf. Francis, In-flight Press Conference from
    the Phillipines to Rome January 19, 2015). Gender theory seeks to
    mask this manipulation. It claims to offer greater freedom, when
    Special Topic: Gender Theory 65
    in reality it is its denial. It claims to help each person discover his
    or her sexual identity, when in reality it prevents man and woman
    from recognizing and accepting his or her sexual identity. It fails
    to recognize that the physical, moral, and spiritual difference and
    complementarity between man and woman are directed towards the
    goods of celibacy or marriage and the development of family life.
    (CCC 2333)
    160. What should Christians do to counteract the negative
    infuence of gender theory?
    Tis task begins in the home. Christians should actively participate
    in the education of their children, because through it the Christian
    culture is passed on and progresses from generation to generation.
    Furthermore, the family environment has to be such that
    children learn to love in being freely loved, to respect others in being
    respected, and to know the face of God firstly through a father
    and mother who are attentive to them. Tis way, daughters and sons
    discover the beauty of maternity and paternity and therefore of the
    femininity and masculinity that they respectively embody. When
    these fundamental experiences are absent or lacking, there is a loss
    of humanity in society; society as a whole suffers and in turn becomes
    a creator of violence.
    (CSDC 242–243; MW 13–14; CCE, Educational
    Guidance in Human Love 1983)