Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Mafia and Those Who Mess Up Their Chance for Happiness

Joey Columbo, the Mafia guy, had just been whacked near the statue on Columbus circle. There was a flurry of gunfire in the dense mob which had gathered to celebrate an “Italian” awareness day. The “shooter,” a black man, was instantly killed by some one unrecognizable in the crowd. Joey was rushed to nearby Roosevelt Hospital for treatment where “shrines” of endless votive candles were lit around the hospital. No one dared to protest. Near my Rectory (opposite the hospital) a “watch dog” group set up camp. The “soldiers” were haunched on boxes and foldable camp chairs in crushing New York heat. Some were bare to the waist. Others were slicing up cantaloupes with huge scary looking knives.

An anxious looking woman, obviously a member of the “family”, seeing me and my clerical collar dashed to me and tearfully said “Please pray for Joey, Faada.” With my fearful heart pounding away, I hurriedly assured her that I would approach the Almighty immediately and tried to run as fast as I could. But one of the soldiers, with a bared hairy chest and a Bowie like knife, said to me, “Have a piece of cantaloupe’ with a menacing wave of the knife. “No, no thanks,” I said as I started to move away. He raised his voice and shouted “HAVE A PIECE OF CANTALOUPE!” Suddenly I found my taste buds craving for cantaloupe. I gratefully accepted the grimy slice, wolfed it down and mumbled excessive thanks for a crummy piece of fruit.

In back of my semi jocose remarks is a serious observation. There was a complete lack of happiness in that crowd. No one smiled. There was an air of suspicion, defense and paranoia. No one seemed happy, even granting the sadness of Columbo's assassination. These people had money, power, control, expensive clothing (when they wore them) but they had an air about them which just shrieked "incompletion". If they showed me anything, it was the ancient rule that the elusive "something" called happiness is more than these baubles.

I recall the gruesome movies about the Godfather, and Donnie Brasco and the Goodfellas and of course the unending saga of The Sopranos. They all depict the criminal story of unbelievable violence and vicious selfishness and lechery and foul mouths and lies and degrading control of others and basic hidden self loathing. They care little for love, only lust. Their notion of God surfaces only at weddings, baptisms and funerals. Having a mistress is matter of fact. "Whacking" a recalcitrant soldier is no problem. Just business. There are no morals. No spiritual norms. Only insatiable wants. And their lives add up to one huge misery and profound sadness.

Not just sadness but pain, disillusion, confusion, rage, loneliness, paranoia and guilt. Does this observation not coincide with the basic and unfortunately forgotten ancient rule? Love God. Do His will and you will find peace and contentment in this world and happiness for ever in the next? Flaunt His Will and ultimately you will destroy yourself.

This dynamic is deeply etched in the human reality----even if unrecognized. It is not just Mafia types which offend and consequently suffer. It is the ordinary Joe or Jane who shows up at counseling centers and mental health clinics seeking some kind of emotional relief and rescue from disorientation/alienation. And their number is legion. Part of the experience of human misery is the good old fashioned trick of rationalization; namely, the attempt to impute goodness and nobility and right to intrinsically evil behavior. We all engage in kidding ourselves in order to justify what we are doing or what we want. Usually little things with little cosmic consequence. However, it can go much further. Disaster often follows just "little" things. The slippery slope is probably the experience of us all.

For example the wife who at 35 with four children decides that she has been emotionally abused by having to do what she did for the children or what mothers traditionally do. She suspects that she has missed the fun of being with young people. She decides for her own good she must "find herself"[1] and begin living out who she really is. With the encouragement of an extreme feminist therapist, she starts her search by hanging around with 20 year olds, staying out until 3 am, by neglecting her children, by gym exercise two hours daily (to restore her figure to her fantasy), by spending prodigious amounts of money on her cosmetics, by buying lacey lingerie, by carrying birth control pills in her hand bag (allegedly for acne) and the like. She buys herself $240 dresses while the family struggles with huge debt. She lies about her whereabouts when she is missing for many hours. Obviously and ultimately she has to confront the "bad guy", the husband, the guy who is responsible for all of this. The "abuser." This becomes her crisis.

How can she square things within her own head when she has graduated from a prodigious Catholic college and taught NFP[2]? Festinger, the famous psychologist, coined the term "Cognitive dissonance" to describe a situation wherein there are two or more conflicting factors in one's life. It is necessary to drop out the conflicting factors and go with one. Otherwise one is driven to extreme guilt and disorientation. Which factor is chosen? The one I think I want the most! Or is it simply that this woman's emotional structure is weak and vulnerable?

Clearly, most relationships are "two way." No one spouse is totally responsible for a marital breakdown. For example, the husband who constantly works over time - probably, among other motives, to give a good life to his family. But he is away! The burden of raising young children falls to his wife who tires of little kid babble (even if charming) and longs for adult conversation. If he is over expectant of what his wife does or can do (in his mind), if he imposes his viewpoint when he is home without seeking hers, if he forgets that all human beings need to be praised at times, (especially young wives), if his vocal tone is dictatorial and businesslike to an emotionally fragile wife, she will begin to experience the devastating feeling that she is basically unlovable and worthless, especially if she has a foundational problem with self esteem. She will turn elsewhere for consolation and down the slippery slope she goes.

They are both wrong and in some ways both right. But nothing justifies the breaking of God's law. He might very well believe that he is keeping God's way by forcing the children to say the Rosary with him each night which the wife refuses to attend. She might consider her coldness to him (and certainly her rejection of connubial rights) completely justified. She might feel perfectly "right" when she refuses to let him meet her "friends". She might go so far as to reject her own religion which conflicts with what she wants to do! However, she says that her new religious stance is totally intellectual. Such a statement sounds hollow in the face of the enormous data amassed over the last 50 years indicating that most of human behavior is largely emotionally based.

Is the Mafia misery much worse than this? Two young people with a reasonable hope for a happy future mess it all up and dedicate themselves (and their children) to suffering not intended by the Lord but also basically avoidable. What is this so common phenomenon in human affairs? While we can safely assume that most human beings seek some kind of "happiness", an incredibly large number of us almost deliberately sabotage a truly good life. Is it Original sin? Is it an unconscious feeling that we do not deserve happiness not matter how much we yearn for it? Is it just plain stupidity? Is it infatuation with fantasy?

The Lord has made it known. Keep My commandments. Do the Will of God and your reward will be great. But the Lord teaches also that along with the Good is the need to carry the Cross which repulses the human being existentially. We want it comfortable and pleasant—all the time! Is there an evil force obscuring the "Good" and masking what is evil by presenting it as most desirable and productive of this happiness we seek? Whatever it is, Pogo said a long time ago, "We have found the enemy and it is us..." And Caesar in Shakespeare's language suggests that "The fault, my dear Brutus lies, not in the stars, but within our selves." Certainly, it does no good to blame others for our woes and pain. The human struggle cannot be resolved by blaming parents or church or government or climate. The real question is what do I do now to help my life? The directive for the mature is: Seek solution, not blame.

The dilemma is: On the one hand, I wish this which critically undercuts the clear will of God, indeed is antithetical to it and on the other hand, if I follow the Will of God which makes me feel peaceful and right, I must give up that which I am drooling for. In effect, no one can have it both ways. No one has it all. Ultimately, one must choose: "Choose life and live..." or choose the unholy and be alienated. It is the all too present human drama out of which great theatre is made and great novels and even great prayers.

Two Catholic men, intelligent, spiritual, generous, deeply involved in their respective professional expertise, "fall in love" with each other. While an overwhelming majority of American people finds such a statement either perplexing or revolting, there is a noisy minority fiercely campaigning for accepting same sex "love" as normal, healthy and even holy! To be perplexed or revolted is unacceptable to this group which almost gleefully labels such dissenters "homophobic." The use of this clumsy term usually is applied to anyone who does not find such same sex behavior as beautiful, or an obvious healthy variant of the traditional coupling, normal, and utterly American.[3] The average reaction, opposed to this view, is neither one of fear or hatred - but perplexity. From one's earliest years, we have heard, in effect, that the parts simply do not fit. One simply "knows" that the anatomical, biological, physiological, even the psychic differences between males and females are "wired" by nature and nature's God. What could be more obvious?

But to place this "anomaly" within a more powerful matrix for these two men, traditional Judeo-Christian life would label such SSA[4] behavior as intrinsically evil and which never can be approved.[5] These two men are well-read in their Faith. They know that if they "marry" they are no longer Catholics in good standing. This would mean a great sense of privation for them who depend on and delight in the Eucharist which would be absent from their lives immediately. Yet to forgo the SSA relationship (read: sexual behavior) would be a great hardship for both who seem to have a powerful need for the physical. The fatuous advice given by ill informed and overly sentimental well wishers that they should become Episcopalian[6] does not resolve anything for them.

Their attempt at resolution is "rationalization." God wouldn't ask this of us! How can it be bad when it feels so good! I am 98% sure that God understands! I have never had so transparent and loving relationship in my life before! It's not hurting anyone. I am only looking for happiness and so on and on. Each of these men has had wide experience with same sex behavior. Both of them have attested to empty and debased post-experience feelings. They both know that sinful behavior brings only misery and sadness. They know better but still do it. How come? How many eminent Media preachers in spite of their noble rhetoric, and their knowledge, have muddied their lives by totally inappropriate behavior? Remember the sadness of Jimmy Swaggart and Jimmy Baker who patently, but secretly, turned their backs on the God they so devoutly preached?

Why do we do "things" that make us miserable even though we know full well that the consequences can be nothing but miserable? How many times have I said "How stupid of me" or "Why did I do that?" after behaving in some utterly irrational manner? Isn't it once again the ancient truth that what we do, we don't want to do, and what we want to do, we don't do? Isn't it once again the presence of Original sin in all of us, giving us limited or darkened conscience? Isn't it the surfacing of the Catholic anthropological insight?

The great apostle Paul wrote that we seem stupid and foolish to the world when we do God's Will and carry His cross with him. In the long run the holy (and pragmatic) mode is to do His will - as painful as it is. The positive consequence of such a decision is peace of soul. And that is not something to be scorned. The forbidden "goodies" of temptation seem Edenic but two people found out a long time ago that things are not only what they seem. There is often enormous and senseless pain in following one's own instincts when they are conflictual with the Lord's will. It does seem more sensible to trust God than the comedians on late night television. No matter who is involved, we are better off following the painful way of the Cross than ingesting the neologisms of Page Six or the way of Madonna.

[1] Jack E, Leonard startled a beautiful immature ingenue who was gushing on the Tonight show about "finding herself". He told her that after years of searching with psychiatrists and others she would find herself and be very disappointed. Common sense from an old raconteur?
[2] Natural Family Planning
[3] According to their categorization, Pope Benedict XVI, Mother Teresa, Ronald Reagan, Laura Bush and 90% of the world's population must be homophobic.
[4] Same sex attracted rather than homosexual or gay. Both these latter terms have a disrespect attached which is not found in SSA.
[5] Catholic Catechism
[6] Episcopalians have no difficulty in admitting practicing homosexuals to their form of Eucharist. These two men know the dubious nature of Anglican orders and reject the suggestion out of hand.

No comments: