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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

An Open Letter to the Editor of the Toronto Star

An Open Letter to the Editor of the Toronto Star

An answer to a critic of the Catholic Faith who wrote in the Toronto Star

To the Editor of the Toronto Star:
By Jim J. McCrea

Regarding the Saturday Star's August 14th (1999) Religion column "Living in a guilt-edged world," by Ron Csillag, it contains examples of visualizing reality with various types of imbalances, which results in the inability to see things as they really are. This type of distortion in one's perception of reality is mainly the result of not making crucial distinctions between important concepts.

For example, one man, quoted in the article, said that confession was a "crippling" facet of the Church, which encourages people to "hang on to their guilt," and "never feel good about themselves." "It is a thief of human integrity and dignity," he continues. This type of view is the result of seeing only one half of the truth, of the relationship between God and man. It is true, as the Catholic church teaches, that we are sinners, who are prone to doing wrong and making mistakes. However, if this were the only thing that one believed about their relationship with God, it would naturally lead to despair and all sorts of other evils. The other half of the truth, which is complimentary to this, must be recognized: it is the fact that God is loving and merciful. He does not wish to condemn us for our sins, but to lead us away from sin, toward the ultimate blessedness, which is Himself. He is also able to bring great good out of our mistakes, and his providence will guide us where our own planning and foresight are insufficient - provided we trust him. If one says that this robs a person of his or her dignity (because one is not accomplishing things completely on his or her own), this may indicate a lack of humility. True peace and happiness can only come about when the locus of our treasure and glory is transferred from ourselves and our ego, to the "totally other" which is God. The attempt to be completely self sufficient - that is, to be one's own God - can only bring desperate unhappiness into one's life.

The paragraph about "Catholic indoctrination sending severe messages about sexuality and the body," is interesting. First of all, it is simply not true. The Catholic faith is very vigorous in defending the goodness of the body and sex, because both were created by God to give and nurture life and love. In the middle ages Catholicism strongly combated powerful religious currents, at that time, which claimed that the body, sex, and childbirth were evil and was the creation of an evil god. What the church condemns is the ABUSE of sex and the body. This is an entirely different thing altogether. This confusing of the notions of the use and abuse of something, is a favorite tactic of the enemies of the church. About the statement about being traumatized by punishments in Catholic schools, and abuse by priests - would anyone condemn the existence or general function of the police force because there were some bad apples in it, or it had some corruption in it. It seems as though the one organization that people get away with making arguments like this against is the Catholic Church (and of course the pro-life movement).

As an answer to the fact that some people are tormented by guilt, it is suggested that guilt be done away with entirely. This solution, however, would mean committing moral suicide. It is the sociopath who suffers no guilt. For people who suffer chronic guilt, two separate notions must be distinguished. On one hand, there are those who suffer a chronic false guilt, know as "scrupulosity." With every little mistake made or weakness manifested, they expect the wrath of God. These people need counseling much more than they need confession. They suffer from having a false notion of God's justice. Being educated in the proper notions of theology may help solve this problem.

On the other hand, people may suffer chronic guilt because they are living in a morally compromised manner. These people do indeed need repentance and confession. One definitely cannot blame God or the Church for this because since it is a real (as opposed to a false) guilt, it proceeds from the individual's own free will, and is therefore entirely the person's fault. As a corollary to this, freedom from the cause of this guilt is entirely under the control of that person. He and he alone has the key.

One vital principle that we can remember in ridding ourselves of unnecessary guilt, is the fact that God not only sees our outward behavior, but our inner heart. Not only this, God's complete knowledge of us includes an understanding of all the psychological, environmental, and intellectual factors that may radically diminish, or even eliminate, the guilt of an errant act. For example, the omission of a good act may be caused by excessive fatigue, or a form of preoccupation which may cause the necessity of doing the good act not to be recognized by the subject. If an act of omission proceeds from these causes, there may be no real guilt because it is not based on a conscious decision to omit the good deed. Some types of brain damage can cause a person to fall into uncontrollable rages. In as far as the person cannot control these fits of rage, guilt is eliminated. It is a fundamental principle of moral theology and philosophy that a person suffers guilt for an errant action, only to the degree he is free to do otherwise. God can be perfectly just because he has a complete and perfect knowledge of all the factors which influence every act, omission, word, and thought.

Some people complain that God is a harsh and vindictive father who punishes every little sin. It is true that every sin (in as far as it is a real sin) requires some form of atonement. Not only is any form of sin contrary to God's infinite holiness, but if we were to imagine that God - on the grounds of being reasonable - were to admit some degree of sin into heaven, heaven would not be heaven, but an eternal purgatory. It is only our psychology, as a fallen race, which makes it appear that a moderately sinful life is more exciting and fulfilling than one that is perfectly pure (e.g. that of the Virgin Mary). Only the perfect sinlessness of heaven can give us a happiness that is totally pure, free from boredom and restlessness, perfectly natural - unspoiled by free floating guilt and the vague feeling that something might go wrong. In fact, it is the sin that we all have, that may give us at the best of times, a vague feeling of unfulfillment and the idea that our situation is "too good to be true." In heaven there will be no perception that things are too good to be true. This is because there, the good and the true will be one. If we find the discipline that God gives us at times difficult, we must realize that in his omniscience, he can conduct it in such a way that we will constantly improve (provided we do not put obstacles in his way such as rebellion or bad faith). God is not like the harsh and vindictive father who reduces his child to a neurotic wreck so he cannot do anything right in the end. It is unfortunate that because of harsh fathers like that, children grow up with that type of view of God the Father.

The article mentions Rabbi Kushner's (the author of 'When Bad Things Happen To Good People') theory or original sin. He says that what the Bible relates as the fall of man, is in fact man's full emancipation into being human. Eating of the fruit of the tree of good and evil, he says, gave us the "intellect" and "autonomy" to make responsible human choices, and enabled us to build everything in our society which is truly human [paraphrased here]. He is not the only theologian to hold this (it is quite popular in fact), but it is a gross distortion of the truth. The truth is, at the beginning of human history, there were two separate and distinct actions - The first is the creation of the man and the woman as truly human, and the second was their subsequent sin and fall. In the beginning God created Adam and Eve in full perfection and integrity; free from sin, suffering, sickness, and death. In that state they transcended the animal kingdom with an intellect and will which worked perfectly. Furthermore, they were created in the state of sanctifying grace, with the infused theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity. The fall was essentially a sin of pride - the belief that they could be independent and autonomous in an absolute sense, choosing to ignore the fact that that is metaphysically impossible and that only God can be absolutely independent and autonomous, and that all other things depend on him. That is, they believed they could be a god unto themselves. The interesting thing is, if they had resisted the temptation proposed by the serpent (Satan), they would have received the intellectual light, power of the will, and the glory they in fact desired - and much much more. It is a basic moral principle that when sin is successfully resisted, additional light is granted to the mind. Giving into temptation, on the other hand, always brings a degree of fog.

Former nun Mary Jo Leddy says that the doctrine of original sin is responsible for perpetuating guilt. We must not, however, hold ideas simply because of their apparent pragmatic consequences. We must hold them because our intellect judges them to be true (or if they are revealed by a reliable authority - e.g. God himself) - that is, we must accept ideas because they are in conformity with reality itself. Only then will the proper consequences flow from them in the long run. If we assent to an idea based merely on account of its perceived consequences, disaster may result. This is because it is short sighted, and may not be in conformity with being itself (which is usually much deeper than what is readily apparent). Evil is what it is, not what we want to make it. If the fall of man is real, it is real, and if this doctrine causes problems for some people, the solution is not to eliminate it as a belief, but to learn to deal with that truth appropriately (The basis for much of the rejection of Catholic moral teaching is primarily a short sighted pragmatism. It is ironic that those who take such a pragmatic approach to moral principles are said to have a 'thinking persons' attitude. One of the fundamental tests in this life, is to determine if we have the humility to recognize that our own human cleverness is quite limited in determining what is good and true in our life - that is, to determine if we acknowledge the guidance of a Higher Intelligence who will lead us along the right path if we will trust Him).

The nominalists of the fourteenth century believed that something was right because God arbitrarily commanded it, and that something was wrong because God arbitrarily forbade it. For example, according to that belief, if God commanded us to hate him, hatred of God would be right on that account. To the Catholic, this is not only erroneous, but absurd. God commands things because they are right. Things are not right because God arbitrarily commands them. This raises the question, that if the source of right is not in God's free will, what is its source? Its source is in the immutable and eternal being of God himself (as opposed to what he freely wills). Each thing, nature, or personal being created by God, is a sign representing one of God's innumerable eternal attributes. God's being is the pattern from which he makes all things. Evil, broadly speaking, is a deformation of some element of his creation.

The truth of the doctrine of original sin is very evident by observing the world around us. If we saw a bird which hobbled along, flapping its wings, and was not able to lift from the ground, it would be silly to conclude that it was behaving as it was supposed to, according to its nature given by God. We would rightly understand that it had met with some accident or attack. Similarly we can see the enormous difficulty that man's mind has generally in reaching truth. In this world, we observe an infinity of mutually contradictory doctrines and opinions, with no general consensus held on almost anything (Truth does not contradict truth. It is One). We can also see the tremendous difficulty that man's will has, generally speaking, in embracing the proper good. We observe, strife, crime, exploitation, deceit, hypocrisy, and mediocrity everywhere. From this, it is most logical to conclude that an all good all powerful God would not have intended this in His original plan. Since human evil goes back to the beginning of the human race, human nature must have met with a catastrophe which causes things to be the way they are. This catastrophe is called Original Sin.

Many argue that the Christian doctrine of hell causes unnecessary guilt. It is claimed that it constitutes the idea of a God who will condemn you to suffering if you do not live up to the standards that he has set. It is a most erroneous idea, that if you fill a certain quota of good deeds, you go to heaven, and if you fail to fill this quota, you go to hell. Such a thing is not justice. I don't know what you would call it. In reality, an individual would go to hell only because of a persistent and unrepentant orientation to evil and living in mortal sin. He cannot go to heaven simply because his very being is incompatible with it. Evil spirits and damned humans are merely empty shells - that is, they are husks with nothing inside of them. Anything that could be the subject of true love or compassion no longer exists. They have annihilated it by their evil. The only part that remains, is that aspect of them which wills the evil they do, which must eternally bear the punishment they have merited. In hell, God inflicts nothing. God is pure light and goodness, and cannot be the cause of evil. The torments of hell are caused simply by the internal dynamics of the damned and their environment. These dynamics are an essential form of disorder, which proceed from the absence of the ordering power of God, whom they have rejected.

The Catholic doctrine of purgatory also causes problems for some people. They say that it fosters guilt by putting forth the idea of a vindictive God who gets back at people for not following his rules. This view is also erroneous. It is true that purgatory constitutes a punishment for sins, but it must not be thought of as God arbitrarily paying the soul back for what it did wrong. When one sins, a debt is incurred which constitutes a real change in the depth of one's soul - it acquires something, analogous to a stain. The mystic St. Catherine of Genoa says that the soul goes to purgatory willingly and would rather endure a purgatory a thousand time worse than appear in the sight of an all holy God, with such a stain. (The sacrifice of Christ on the Cross paid the eternal debt of sin, but not all of the temporal debt. He still leaves something for us to do) Even though the sufferings of purgatory are said to be more intense than the greatest sufferings on Earth, it is a common teaching of theologians that the happiness experienced there is also more intense than anything in this world. How do we explain this type of paradox? The souls in purgatory have learned to prefer the objectively important to the subjectively satisfying - infinitely prefer it, in fact. They love the goodness of God and his right order infinitely more than their own personal comfort and pleasure. The suffering of purgatory is completely clean and anti-septic. It does not have the characteristics of an unclean type of suffering such as anxiety, depression, despair, agitation, rage, or rebellion in the soul. It shares the peace of heaven. The fires of purgatory are also completely pure and clean (they are depicted in sacred art as white, with the holy souls as sorrowful yet radiant). The soul understands that these fires do it no harm whatsoever. They simply consume the rust of sin that clings to it, so that in due time the soul may enjoy the perfect bliss of seeing God face to face.

Many have rejected the notion of free will because it suggests the concept of causeless action. Free will is not causeless and does not violate the principle of sufficient reason. It is, however, something that originates within the mysterious depths of the human person. An act of free will is the action of "such-and-such-a-person-
choosing-such." It is an utterly simple action, without the interaction of component parts, and is to be considered simply as such. It completely transcends physics, finite logic, mathematics, and neurology. It is a completely spiritual act. It springs from the very central essence of the person. Since an act of true free will does not constitute a "being-pushed" from outside influences, the person, simply and purely, must take responsibility for that act - that is, he must take the praise or blame for a good or evil choice, respectively.

Free will is also not causeless for the reason that a free choice is not made in a vacuum. Some real or apparent good must be the subject matter which elicits the act of choice. Mainstream sociology claims that it is a combination of hereditary and environment which determines one's actions. They support this by pointing to a strong correlation between a person's behavior in life and the factors of hereditary and environment. From this, many of them claim that criminals are not to be punished, but cured. This, however, is only partly right. We see such a correlation because the intellect of different individuals, due to genetics and environment, have different material as the subject of their choices. (It is a doctrine of scholastic philosophy, that the will follows the intellect - that the will has as its subject matter for its choices, only that which the intellect provides) A given environment or genetic disposition, however, does not infallibly determine a person to a given action. In most cases, he still retains his liberty to accept or refuse a perceived good presented to him (A perceived good may be the mask or excuse to commit an evil. An evil can only be chosen on the pretext that it contains some good. Pure evil, simply as evil, cannot be chosen. This is because the will was created for goodness). Even though it is a perceived good which is the subject matter for his free choice, all goods on this earth are finite, so that such a particular good does not infallibly elicit a person's response. Being finite they are not goodness itself. This is where the "free" in free will comes from.

God is Goodness Itself who is an infinite good, so that when he is seen face to face in heaven, the soul cannot help but to choose him. Since we do not see him face to face in this life, it is possible for us to reject him. God revealed his name to Moses on the mount as I AM WHO AM (ego sum qui sum) - Exodus 3:14. The name "I AM" means that God is Being Itself, that he is the Pure and Infinite Act of Existence. If he is Pure Being, he contains everything that being can possibly imply, therefore he has all possible perfections to an infinite degree in an infinitely perfect manner. GOD IS LIFE ITSELF. His being eternal, uncaused, and immutable comes from the absolute simplicity of his being. The intellect, will, goodness, power, and being of God, are all the same thing, and it is his essence to exist. It can
be truly said that there is nothing in God but God - that is, there is no attribute or quality in God which is not identical with himself. All other
things have being in as far as they receive it from Him Who Is. Not only has he created all things from nothing (ex nihilo), but sustains all things in existence from moment to moment with his power.

The fact that God maintains all things in existence is the metaphysical basis for his sovereign providence. It is also the basis for his ability to perform supernatural miracles. If he is the all encompassing cause of the being of a thing, it is only logical that He is able to do anything with it.

God, for Christians, is personal. He is not the "force" of Star Wars, the infinite self existent geometry of Spinoza and Einstein, nor the world soul of New Age. What we call "person" goes beyond "thing," or what the ancient philosophers called "quiddity," "nature," or "whatness." Theologians give "person" the technical name "hypostasis." Personality is an agent of understanding and intention, and the subject of rights and responsibilities. It denotes an incomparable depth in relation to all other things. This is why good and evil in this domain (moral good and evil in a finite personal being) are of incomparable gravity relative to other forms of good and evil. If God were impersonal, we would have the absurdity of him being less than what we are - no matter how great his (or rather it's) other attributes were. The twentieth century doctor of the church Dietrich von Hildebrand said that an impersonal absolute is a contradiction in terms.

The fundamental test which God gives us, is to determine if we prefer the subjectively satisfying - that is, choose to close in on ourselves to serve solely our pride and concupiscence, or to prefer the objectively important - that is, choose to transcend our ego to love God and our neighbor for their own sakes (We must remember that the objective good includes our own good. When we do good for others, we must not neglect our own legitimate needs. We are to love our neighbor AS our self, not instead of our self).

This true Christian love, or ego transcendence, is rooted in the fact of the Blessed Trinity - that there are three divine persons; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in one God. The inner activity of the Godhead is a tripolar current of life, truth, and love, which continuously circulates from person to person within the Godhead. Theologians term this current "circumincession." As each person receives from the others, it is immediately offered back to the others. As Thomas Merton says, there is no self sufficient self which halts and absorbs this life, so that it can nail it down and say "mine." [paraphrased] The infinite happiness of the persons of the Trinity is precisely the embrace of the goodness in the other as another self. It is this type of life that God wishes us to emulate.

We must freely choose God and his right order because the relationship between ourselves and God is meant to be that of friendship. One enters into friendship freely, and not under compulsion. In a true friendship (as opposed to the false type, which is so popular today) one has an attitude of reverence toward the friend. One values the person for his or her own sake, and seeks the good of that person for his or her own sake. At the core of this are virtues such as justice, mercy, kindness, understanding, charity, goodness, faithfulness, etc. Only the exercise of these makes life worthwhile. These are essentially connected with the right use of freedom. The corollary of the right use of freedom is the possibility that it can be used wrongly - as the flip side of the coin. If you are free to do right, you are free to do wrong (though this does not mean that we have a right to do wrong, just the ability to do it). The fact that there is so much evil in the world attests to the fact that many people have, in fact, used their freedom wrongly.

God intending our goal as heaven, is an expression of omnipotent generosity on his part. St. John the Evangelist said that "God is Love." (1 John 4:16). This is His most important attribute, and is that for the sake of which everything exists. The Ultimate, Primordial, Necessary reality is an ecstatic Fire of Love, at infinite white heat, which fills the endless dimensions of eternity. He has created us, solely, that we might receive a share of that. St. Paul says: "eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it even dawned on man, what God has prepared for those who love Him." (1 Corinthians 2:9). Since God is the giver of all that is real and true, He is Absolute and Pure Intelligibility. As a result, the beatific vision in heaven completely quenches the soul's thirst for truth. Since He is infinite goodness and beauty, he will fulfill the soul beyond its wildest dreams of love and intimacy. The eternal consequences of turning away from the love of God, on the other hand, are horrific beyond our worst nightmare (See Revelation 14:9-11). On the day of judgment, the malice of the reprobate will be clearly seen, that would merit such punishment. On that day, there will be no legitimate complaint against the justice of God. His judgments will be seen to be perfectly true. It must be pointed out that God is all merciful, so there is no sin that he cannot forgive. The damned are those who have rejected his mercy.

Even in this life the dynamics of heaven and hell can be seen. Those who selflessly serve others and honor God, are generally very happy. On the other hand, those who are obsessed about self fulfillment are usually miserable.

St. John of the Cross (who is considered one of the greatest mystical theologians of the Church of all time), said that God, as He is in Himself, is infinitely beyond anything we can sense or understand in this life (God can be known in this life in philosophical and theological terms, by analogy - that is, in terms of things we do understand). Because of God's transcendence he is supernatural (Other spiritual beings are not supernatural, as commonly believed. They are 'preternatural.' God is the only supernatural being). God's being is so supremely intelligible that it would completely overwhelm our intellect in our imperfect and limited state, on this earth. He is infinitely intelligible in Himself - but a complete mystery to us. St. John of the Cross says that when God elects to communicate something of Himself to us directly, it is similar to what a bat would see when brought out into the bright sunlight. God, under these conditions, appears to the soul as a type of pure darkness (This is why St. John distrusted corporeal visions. No form present to the senses can possibly bear any resemblance to God himself).

Since God is infinitely transcendent, dark and obscure faith is the means by which the Christian in this life makes contact with God (The direct vision of Him is reserved for the next life). Faith is not, as many believe, the holding of ideas arbitrarily, with no evidence to support them - nor is it the forced suppression of doubt. It is, as Thomas Merton says, the opening of the eye of the soul to the Light. It is a light which is so superhumanly simple, ordinary, and natural that it can hardly be called experience. The little old lady who attends Mass every day, has insights which may escape the world class scientist.

This is why faith is considered a virtue. One of the prime causes of a lack of faith is our tendency to control things with our mind. We have a predilection to organizing reality with the intellect according to our agenda - that is, to arbitrarily create our own reality (This is one effect of the Fall of man). Faith on, the other hand, involves a letting go. Faith is given to us if we take an attitude of receptivity or "docility," or "fluidity." The proper action of the intellect is to conform to being, as water conforms to the shape of a hand put into it. Our mind should be the wax and not the seal. This type of receptivity is a great virtue in the eyes of God because it is opposed to our hard pride, which opposes the light of truth, and our concupiscence, which causes us see only what we want to see. With this, the mind is not passive, but supremely active in making contact with reality, and opposing all forces which would prevent its proper activity from being realized.

All virtue which is of value to God is based on the attitude of reverence. Reverence is an attitude in which we are silent before Being in order to learn from it. A person with reverence looks upon being with awe and wonder, and recognizes that it is greater than himself. As Dietrich von Hildebrand says, he takes joy in the fact that being is of a determinate nature - opposed to mere fantasy or illusion - and that it has an objectivity, solidity, and seriousness, which puts it beyond the control our mere arbitrary whims The opposite attitude, is that of a haughty person. A haughty individual puts himself at a superior vantage point, relative to everything else. He looks at being as something merely to be used, exploited, manipulated, patronized, and looked down upon. This attitude can be seen in most of the characters in today's sitcoms and soap operas.