Monday, April 27, 2015

Dives in Misericordia

It is easy for mercy to be viewed strictly from an anthropocentric lens. What I mean by that is best illustrated in the parable of the Good Samaritan, an excellent example of corporal works of mercy, but potentially divorced from the parable’s source: Christ. After all, Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan and is himself the source of mercy to be imitated by others. Without the Incarnate God-man, a Pelagian view crops up in interpreting mercy. Worse yet, mercy could be dismissed altogether as mere human sympathy and compassion, when in reality its source is Divinity, thus Divine Mercy!

In the modern secular world, individuals and corporations try to monopolize mercy, especially in regard to the drug addicted, mentally ill, and impoverished. Numerous organizations attempt to capitalize on mercy under different names: rehabilitation, counseling and treatment, welfare, etc. While I do not want to discount some good works done in many of these instances, more often than not they merely present opportunities for exploitation and enabling rather than as an avenue to meet the Person of Jesus and be called to be merciful as he is merciful.

St. John Paul II’s Dives in Misericordia pinpoints the necessity of understanding mercy as rooted in the Incarnation, indeed as Divine Mercy. He says,

The more the Church's mission is centred upon man—the more it is, so to speak, anthropocentric—the more it must be confirmed and actualized theocentrically, that is to say, be directed in Jesus Christ to the Father. While the various currents of human thought both in the past and at the present have tended and still tend to separate theocentrism and anthropocentrism, and even to set them in opposition to each other, the Church, following Christ, seeks to link them up in human history, in a deep and organic way […] Christ confers on the whole of the Old Testament tradition about God's mercy a definitive meaning. Not only does He speak of it and explain it by the use of comparisons and parables, but above all He Himself makes it incarnate and personifies it. He Himself, in a certain sense, is mercy. To the person who sees it in Him—and finds it in Him—God becomes "visible" in a particular way as the Father who is rich in mercy."
Mercy is both “corporal and spiritual”, visible and invisible simultaneously. In a way, to say that the ‘invisible’ and ‘spiritual’ Father of Lights is rich in mercy (Eph. 2:4) is to make reference to his visible Son, Jesus. Indeed, the Father surpasses all in the richness of HIs mercy so as to give his only Son to us who deserve him not. Even as Abraham ‘corporally’ offered up his son Isaac at Mt Moriah, God the Father proved himself infinitely more rich in mercy because he did not withhold Jesus. Compare God the Father with the same father Abraham who is appealed to in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, unable to reconcile the rich man’s lack of mercy on Lazarus because raising the dead could not even suffice! Yet, God the Father is merciful in spite of such incredulity! He is merciful even to the harrowing of hell.

His mercy also allows for total rejection. Hell is chosen not through lack of opportunities for repentance. Another illustrative parable along these lines is the prodigal son. What if the son never returned to his father? Much like Esau in the book of Genesis who traded his birthright for little more than soup, the Father’s mercy is met with sheer apathy. Who cares that he offers us forgiveness and reconciliation, divine life and grace, identity in his Son, membership in his household, and eternal life instead of death? Why care about such things when I can have a single bowl of soup?

Again, I do not want to discount the works of charitable organizations, soup kitchens and the like. I have experience with many such places and have seen men and women surrender their lives, addictions, and sufferings to Christ in a powerfully transforming way. But that was precisely because it pleased the Father to reveal his Son to us, and through us. Furthermore, it was because those volunteering for the organization were not ashamed of sharing Jesus with others, they were not ashamed of the Gospel or limited themselves to only when the other person was sober, fed, sheltered, etc. Instead, it was alongside such corporal works of mercy that the Gospel was shared in its fullness and not in half-measure.

As the priest who married my wife and me said at our Nuptial Mass homily, “when I point the finger at all of you I have 3 fingers pointing back at me”. I write this post as much for my sake as for anyone in need of mercy. St. John Henry Newman’s brilliant sermon on the plight of Esau captures precisely my points, and I highly recommend his warnings about the danger of profanity and presumption. He compares the prodigal son’s approach to his merciful father with Esau’s arrogance:

Would you see how a penitent should come to God? turn to the parable of the Prodigal Son. He, too, had squandered away his birthright, as Esau did. He, too, came for the blessing, like Esau. Yes; but how differently he came! he came with deep confession and self-abasement. He said, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants:’ but Esau said, ‘Let my father arise, and eat of his son's venison, that thy soul may bless me.’ The one came for a son's privileges, the other for a servant's drudgery. The one killed and dressed his venison with his own hand, and enjoyed it not; for the other the fatted calf was prepared, and the ring for his hand, and shoes for his feet, and the best robe, and there was music and dancing.
In this light then, I take to heart mercy as theocentric and not merely anthropocentric. Nor is it just between me and God either, but when I receive absolution from the priest in persona Christi, I am really being reconciled to the entire body of Christ. This is Divine Mercy enough to merit sobriety, conquer pride, and begin living virtuously. God’s mercy is transformative, and not only imputes, but infuses grace into our body and soul. We have such mercy to seek in the upcoming year, mindful of shortcomings as openings for God to fill to the brim.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Totus Tuus

In the midst of the year for Consecrated Life 2015, it would be a shame to ignore the value of virginity for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. Karol Wojtyla has written extensively on the subject from his days as Cardinal to his days as Pope in Rome.

To a degree, “Totus tuus” speaks volumes in this area. In fact, I will not need to supply any references or quotations other than that simple phrase of self-gift and consecration. In being spoken to Mary, these words and intention are consecrated to Jesus through Mary. They suggest a docility to the Holy Spirit that is inseparable with any vocation, including marriage and celibacy.

However, it is hard to argue with the fact that celibacy signifies a total donation of self for the kingdom—indeed, I agree with the Church fathers that virginity is superior to marriage--though the two are both necessary and complimentary in the Church. Karol Wojtyla defended and upheld both, while modeling an excellent call to celibacy in his own right.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Annunciate de Die in Diem Salutare Ejus

The solemnity of the Annunciation has a great deal of significance to me because it is my son’s birthday. Since it celebrates the Incarnation/Conception of Jesus, it offers me tremendous inspiration in prayer and study. As always, St. John Paul is numbered among my prayer resources: along with St. Louis de Montfort, St. Maximillian Kolbe, and Blessed Mother Theresa (I just finished the 33 Days Consecration today!)

The consecration stresses, during the JPII section, the necessity of “entrustment” in the Christian life: Jesus’ entrustment to the Father, Mary’s entrustment, St. Joseph’s entrustment, etc. In the Pope’s own words for the Solemnity of the Annunciation, he again emphasizes entrustment:

At the Annunciation Mary entrusted herself to God completely, with the ‘full submission of intellect and will,’ manifesting ‘the obedience of faith’ to him who spoke to her through his messenger. She responded, therefore, with all her human and feminine ‘I’
Was Mary’s fiat devoid of reason? Was her full submission of intellect and will an irrational decision? No, with faith and reason (Fides et Ratio) she entrusted herself to God.

Analogously, my wife entrusted herself to God when we learned of our son's life in the womb. We saw him in ultrasound, prepared for him with friends and family, and finally welcomed him into the world.

¡Cantate Domino, et benedicite nomini ejus. Annunciate de die in diem salutare ejus! Annunciate inter gentes gloriam ejus!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Freud and JPII revisited

Rarely does one find in the writings of St. John Paul II warnings about specific individuals identified by name. More often than not, Karol Wojtyla drew the good out of whatever intellectual argument he encountered and put it to the service of the Gospel without pause. In the case of Sigmund Freud, however, there are numerous warnings from Wojtyla written before, and during, his papacy. While he still is able to draw some ‘converging’[1] points between Freudian psychoanalysis and Christ's judgment, by and large he notes a substantial ‘divergence’ with Christ's Redemption—entirely contradictory to the Christian message. Indeed, he numbers Freud among three perennially influential thinkers of the 20th century (Nietzche, Marx, and Freud)—all of whom he notes have a substantial ‘divergence’ with Christ's Redemption.

Referring to a French philosopher’s work on the three aforementioned thinkers, Wojtyla identifies in his Theology of the Body the “Masters of Suspicion”[2] who essentially accuse the human person of three corresponding forms of lust without affirming the personal dignity due to human beings. A crucial point Wojtyla makes is that these men, including--and especially Freud, systematize the human person into categories for use rather than as an individual created for his/her own sake. Even in his Love and Responsibility, Wojtyla refers to ‘Freudian Libido’ as “Frank and straightforward utilitarianism”[3].

It could be argued that Freud’s ‘system of thought’ concerning the human person is far broader than just his understanding and insistence on libido. But in reality, his entire theory is based upon the ‘pleasure principle’[4] and the unconscious motivations of the Id as analyzed chiefly in dreams[5]. While not condemning Freud outright, Wojtyla warns of the contradictions between his system and the Redemption. In light of the damaging effects of Sigmund Freud’s influence on the modern world, to say that somehow his system of thinking is entirely acceptable or even remotely beneficial to personalism is inconceivable.

The chief damaging effect of Freudian thought is what Wojtyla calls a “hermeneutic of suspicion”. It corresponds with St. John’s 1st Letter, 2:15-16 on concupiscence or “lust of the flesh”, again in St. John Paul II’s own words “theology of lust”[6]. This is problematic for modern man because it puts him in a state of constant “accusation and suspicion” regarding lust, without escape. The Pope goes so far as to say that man is unjustly placed in such an indefinite state by Freud’s diagnosis, “ Man cannot stop at putting the heart in a state of continual and irreversible suspicion due to the manifestations of the lust of the flesh and libido, which among other things, a psychoanalyst perceives by analyzing the unconscious”. And the Pope’s footnote for this passage further explains, “Then that ‘core’ or ‘heart’ of man would be dominated by the union between the erotic and the destructive, and life would consist in satisfying them.”[7] This is no small warning! Here, very clearly, Wojtyla is sounding the alarm against a truly destructive ideology that is quite literally in the air we breathe today (mass media, public policy, legislation, etc.). Unlike Freud, of course, St. John Paul II offers the “ethos of Redemption” as the remedy for such destruction. He offers a way out of the “hermeneutic of suspicion”, that so plagues a society convinced of Freud’s theory of Libido.

Another unavoidable example (on account of its influence) is Freud’s emphasis on the “Oedipal Complex”[8] whereby a child’s instinct is against his father and for his mother. Freud even cites examples of ancient peoples who cannibalized the father figure so as to gain his power[9], etc. Wojtyla would have been all too familiar with the former of these ideas since he himself translated a version of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex [10] into polish as a student. He also identifies the root of original sin as being fundamentally in rebellion with the Father.

Something I have written about before, and use as another example, is the difference between St. Paul and St. John’s understanding of the human person versus Freud’s. I admit that much of this is my own interpretation, and I do not claim to have Karol Wojtyla’s endorsement. However, even in his footnote about Freud’s Abriss der Psychoanalyse I referenced from Theology of the Body, he hints at the difference between Freudian and Pauline/Johannine terminology: ‘heart’ vs. ‘core’ or ‘ego’; ‘lust’ vs. ‘libido’, ‘Flesh’ vs. ‘Id’, etc. Freud is a modernist in the sense of his success at literally wiping out the use of traditional forms of reference for the human person in favor of his own system: Id—Ego—Superego. He has been so influential on intellectuals, in fact, that any use of the former terms like heart, lust, etc. is viewed as naiveté and with condescension. In the secular world, Christians are forced to accept the pervasiveness of lust dismissed as unconscious libido and the ridicule of chastity as freedom from repression.

Lastly--By way of testimony, this topic is particularly close to my heart. I was once a staunch defender of Freudian psychology fascinated by Jim Morrison’s incorporation of Freud into his music. I read Interpretation of Dreams and I invested all of my intellectual energy in living out Freud’s system of the human person. Then I read the Theology of the Body… And I’m not talking about Christopher West’s watered down version. I am talking about St. John Paul II’s own words.

I experienced more interior freedom from his section on the “Masters of Suspicion” vs. the “Ethos of Redemption” than I ever have in my whole life! I was freed from the Freudian ‘hermeneutic of suspicion’ that I had so willingly bought into; was possessed and dominated by. It originally manifested itself in me not just with a subjective guilt but also an accusation of others, indeed a ‘suspicion’ of the libido of others as motivation for all of their thoughts and actions—this is Freud’s influence on the layman. But then I read these words by Wojtyla: “man is called and called with efficacy to an ethos of redemption and not left merely in a state of accusation”. I cannot overstate the freedom and truth that accompany this gift of insight from Karol Wojtyla in opposition to Sigmund Freud! It affected every way in which I viewed the world from that point on. It affected the very core of my being in a convincing and lasting way, assuring me that creation was good and that man is indeed “very good”. Subject to original sin, yes, but with the grace of baptism—called and transformed! This is why I am so passionate about this topic, and will not meet any endorsement of Freud whatsoever with immediate approval or unquestioned acceptance.

[1] John Paul II, Pope. Theology of the Body: Human Love in the Divine Plan with Foreword by John S. Grabowski. Pauline Books: Boston, 1997. p. 166

[2] Ibid. Reference is to Paul Ricoeur, Le conflit des interpretations (Paris: Seuil, 1969), pp. 149-150.

[3] Wojtyla, Karol. Love and Responsibility: “The Libinistic Interpretation”; Ignatius: San Francisco p. 61

[4] Freud, Sigmund. Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Dover: New York, 1920

[5] Freud, Sigmund. The Interpretation of Dreams. Wordsworth Classics: New York, 2000.

[6] John Paul II, Pope. Theology of the Body: Human Love in the Divine Plan with Foreword by John S. Grabowski. Pauline Books: Boston, 1997. p. 166.

[7] Footnote from Theology of the Body p.167 for S. Freud. Abriss der Psychoanalyse, Das Unbehagen der Kultur. Frankfurt-M. Hamburg: Fisher, 1955, pp. 74-75.

[8] Freud, Sigmund. Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Dover: New York, 1920.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Nota Bene: Freud erroneously assumes that Oedipus was unconsciously acting against his father and for his mother when the tragedy itself makes clear that he had no evidence of either. That is to say that Oedipus killed a man he did not know was his father at all, and married a woman he did not know was his mother. One could just as easily argue for a Orestes’ complex whereby a child acts against his mother and for his father—and probably have more evidence from the myth since Orestes’ willingly killed his mother, etc.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Human Capital

" Cardinal López Trujillo referred to Gary Becker, the Nobel prize-winning University of Chicago economist, who recognized the importance of the family and Catholic social doctrine in the formation of human capital, without which the modern economy cannot function. The Cardinal also revealed that early drafts of Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum, the first modern social encyclical, contained large sections on the family that were missing from the final version, further evidence that there was never meant to be a division between promotion of the family and social concern"

Today’s economy is running on fewer and fewer human interactions. In place of these interactions between people is the automation of technology which effectively replaces manual work (that is, work by hand in all its forms). For this reason, the economic theory of “human capital”, coined by nobel-prize winner Gary Becker, is crucial for insuring the value of human persons in the economy. Even before Gary Becker coined the phrase, Pope Leo XIII’s “Rerum Novarum” hinted at it, and a century after that, Pope John Paul II’s encyclical “Centesimus Annus” stated it outright:

“Place the human being at the center of all economic activities”

What happens when the above is disregarded or even deliberately opposed? “In-human capital” results, or rather, an increasingly impersonal economy dependent upon the government. Nearly a decade and a half prior to the recession we just experienced in the early millennium, Pope John Paul II established the Foundation “Centesimus Annus – Pro Pontifice” to diagnose and remedy such economic abuses (since any other model besides “human capital” ends up abusing/using human persons).

A recent example of one who diagnoses/remedies economic woes is the award-winning French economist Pierre de Lauzun of CAPP. His general resume and obvious merit for the international “Economy and Society Award” is as follows:

He was selected in particular for his 2013 book dedicated to a Christian perspective of finance from medieval banking to contemporary financial models: "Finance. Un regard chrétien. De la banque médiéval à la mondalisation financière"[…]Luazun, who has worked for decades in the financial and banking sector, is described as a person who cannot be called a scholar who confines himself to the library, but rather a person who has enhanced his professional experience with deep political, cultural and religious expression[…]His award-winning book underlines that rules imposed on the market with the ultimate task of ensuring the common good need to depend on the morality of the human agents, and that in the long term, morality allows for greater freedom.

Benedict XVI called for such accountability in his “Caritas in Veritate” which follows a similar vein as “Centesimus Annus”. Even now, the Vatican bank is undergoing considerable audits and reform under Cardinal Pell and others. Honesty with finances must be a staple of Catholicism. More importantly, finances must not be viewed as a means of utilizing the human person, but that human persons utilize finances for their own good. Another way the USCCB has stated it is that the human person does not exist for the economy, but that the economy exists for the human person. This may sound simple and self-evident, but it does not necessarily line up with the worldview of many popular economists (Thomas Malthus, Karl Marx, etc.).