Thursday, December 8, 2011

I Am a Catholic. I Fear for My Civil Rights!

Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York in a television interview (EWTN, 8/7/11) spoke of the frightening, chilling and unpublicized dimensions of the recently passed Same Sex Marriage law in New York State. He and other New York state Bishops had been calmly assured by State officials (some Catholic) that the new Law would have no real impact on the Catholic community in the State. It was just about the private needs of the Gay community, nothing more. They were told not to “worry about it.”

It would have no impact, they said, on forcing priests and deacons to perform such ceremonies nor on anything else the Church does officially. Even some Catholic lobbyists, whether innocently or not, seemed quite sure that 1) the bill would not pass and 2) even if it did there was nothing for the Church to fear.

Yet, barely three weeks after its passage, said the Archbishop, the rumblings are audible. There are noises indicating that pressure will be brought to force Catholic institutions, for example, to cave to the requests for adoption from Homosexual couples. This would be making the Catholic Church, in her own mind, complicit in sin. Patently, such a coupling (active homosexual and active Catholic) is oxymoronic. Such a phrasing is blunt yet completely consistent with the Official Catholic position that “…under no circumstances can they {homosexual behaviors} be approved…” (#2333 Catechism of the Catholic Church). Same Sex “marriage” and Catholicism are contradictories. Hence, the so-called “innocuous” law could attempt to force the Catholic Church to deny itself.

Yet, it is now becoming possible that if the Church fails to comply, lawsuits very probably can follow. There looms the unbelievable possibility that, in effect, the Government can restrict or take away the freedom of Catholics to follow their consciences. We have already seen the pressure on Catholic physicians and nurses to engage in procedures which clearly violate their personal consciences. There is apparently little room in modern medicine for the young doctor who will not perform abortions, tubal ligations, assisted suicide and the like. The Catholic nurse who wishes to follow her own conscience is told to seek employment elsewhere. Such advice was given by a politician in Massachusetts to young medical people who wish to be authentic Catholics and as well as caring health workers. The Archbishop cited the judge who recused himself from a case involving practices which are unacceptable to Catholics and who was given his walking papers soon afterwards. How far can this inroad go?

The very first point of the First Amendment is not freedom of speech nor of the Press, but freedom of Religion. This surfaces a smoldering outbreak which has been tightly controlled by a kind of mutual agreement. There has been a conspiracy of silence on all sides to avoid the inevitable conflict between Americans about what religious freedom really means.

What happens when the Church refuses to submit to the demands of what we consider evil? Are we shut down? Our charity projects, our institutions even our churches? Does the New York Times chastise us in a lead editorial while Bill Keller chuckles away? O tempora! O mores! How dreadful that would be! Are we terrified lest we “lose” tax exempt status—even though such status has been granted by statute and cannot be withdrawn by the IRS? Does the Catholic plight go to the Supreme Court? Does occasional Catholic impertinence cause some Catholics to whimper and whisper that perhaps we should “give in” and have some Peace at any Price or just settle for whatever we can get from the “Massa’”? What is happening to us? Are Catholics becoming wimpy? Have we forgotten the courage of our Forefathers who sang and meant “Faith of our Fathers—we will true to thee unto death”?

We have heard the endless cautions and analgesic nostrums that “ at least we have Catholic politicians-----“ I have been told that “don’t make waves…” is the politically wise route for aspiring Catholics to follow. As some wit has pointed out we would do better with Mormons representing us in Government. Many of these so-called Catholics whip out their Rosaries and Ash Wednesday smudge only when convenient and helpful for their careers. Otherwise they are indistinguishable from outright secularists in their contribution to the Nation. Serious Constitutional scholars are pointing out more and more that religion has a legitimate and historic place in the Public Square but the trend is to make the Square truly Naked of religious thought. This is a thorough misreading of the Constitution. But more frighteningly, there is arising a trend to forbid us from speaking within our own Churches themselves on matters such as homosexual behavior and coupling. We are challenged thusly: What has that got to do with religion?”

What happens if I preach, write or argue that homosexual behavior is sinful, unnatural, self destructive and toxic? What if I protest the manipulation of young minds when the Government will insist on teaching children in the 6th grade the correct techniques of using condoms? And using bananas or cucumbers as teaching props? Or that having two mommies or two daddies is just as good or the same as having one of each? Will I be arrested for breaking the “law” when I protest such brutal mental seduction on children? It has happened in Canada where a Catholic Bishop was threatened with Government censure if he continued teaching in the Media what his Church holds about homosexual lifestyle. Is there a budding American style Gestapo? What do I do when I am instructed by the Government to pay the benefits for the “partner” of my homosexual employee? Are we to be reduced to puppets? To quaint museum pieces of an ‘earlier and less enlightened era”? Or just to obey our neo-Fascist leaders. Our modern “with it” criterion sounds alarmingly like “Do what you want in the privacy of your home. Don’t make it public because it might offend some one.”

When I am told that other religions have no problems with such trends, I have to say that my conscience cannot agree with what I see. So does my Church which teaches that some current teaching and behavior mock and irreverence God Himself. I must say that, in my eyes, these trends are poison for my countrymen and the ideals of America. I cannot uphold them. Should I, consequent to my preserving my principles, fear for my religious and civil and constitutional rights? It looks like I, at a heavy price, shall have to defend my values and hopes, I and all others who see what I see. Am I to be forced to repeat the principle of St. Thomas More with his “ I love my King, but I love my God more”?

Let me be on guard and defend my Country, my God given rights of worship and speech and what we really[1] stand for.
1. The Constitution, the Declaration of 1776 and the historic beliefs of the Founders like G. Washington, John Adams and J. Madison.

You Think You Have It Bad?

“I thought I had it bad with my bunion until I saw a guy with no feet.” Maybe it is still my headache and it hurts but it is a mosquito bite compared to the unbelievable suffering of others. Let us take an example.

Tom was his name. Tall, handsome, intelligent, he was at the top of his game. Being highly educated he had a great job. He dined and danced at least twice week with beautiful New York women. He was witty, quick and charming. He had his own classy bachelor pad. He knew wines, both red and white. He was the proverbial life he party. At 33, he had it all. Or so it seemed.

He was delighting, one evening, in a glorious dinner with a lovely woman when suddenly he dropped a glass of red wine as he was “toasting ”her loveliness.” There was no warning. There was no symptom. This was the beginning of a 25 year crucifixion of what he calls the “insidious” nature of a breakdown called Parkinson’s Disease or PD for short. This is a very serious, progressive, neurologic disease involving extreme rigidity of limbs, uncontrollable shaking, difficulty in walking and loss of speech.

There was much experimenting with medications, dosages and mixtures. Much consultation. Much testing. Finally, the complicated surgeries with their tensions and fears, with their sometime relief and improvement. There was the exultant hope that the scourge of PD was controlled. He had temporary relief and was able to resume his life somewhat as previously. But it struck again and again until he had to resort to “walkers.” No more job. No more joyful events as of the past. His ability to negotiate by speech was gone. With his superior intellect he had been able to persuade and negotiate deals and contracts. Now he cannot speak. It is as if that great mind and great vision are locked and trapped within outside walls. Are they prison walls that seal him in? That capable mind, however, refuses to be conquered and continues to work and function as he remains a master of the computer through which he is able to communicate all his thoughts, feelings and fears. He bravely faces, with his halting gait, the terrifying task of maneuvering the wild pace of New York City. He reads and researches the latest work relative to his malady. He simply does not quit.

Somewhere we read that God fits the back to the burden. At least my Irish grandmother told me that many times. As I look at Tom and marvel at his courage and Faith, I tremble interiorly as I doubt my own inner strength to cope. I think I have crosses. I am humbled and awed by Tom. Wouldn’t anyone? Where did he get his strength and persistence? Where did he get his resourcefulness so to adapt that he has meaning in this Cross?

Is it temperament? Or fatalism? Or some series of humanistic/social aphorisms? Or intelligent realistic assessment and resignation? Or what? Perhaps each of these might play a part in Tom’s attitude. But none seems strong enough to explain his remarkable adjustment and never ending sense of hope.

It seems to me that the most significant factor in this man’s remarkable coping is his Faith. He has a profound awareness of God’s Presence. He has a striking sense of God’s Will---that difficult to understand dimension for which there are rarely satisfying answers. It is his enormous trust in the loving God that carries him through. Sophisticate that he is, like the great spirits of history, he possesses the difficult virtue: child like (not childish) Faith. He knows somehow that there is a purpose and meaning in his suffering. But not knowing why makes it harder. That the God Who loves him would allow this to happen is difficult to fathom.

How much more difficult it must be for those who have no Faith, no sense of deeper meaning. Does life have anything more to offer than the stressful treadmill of competing for a promotion? Or a bigger house? Or a fling at Club Med? Or heavily troubled by the unending financial demands of life? Why is Tom’s attitude so much more rare than it used to be? Has society become too secularized? Has the ACLU’s anti-religious stance subtly become the norm?

To cope with such crushing physical suffering like Tom’s is bad enough but to be without the strong support of knowing the Lord would be misery multiplied. To base one’s life on an eternal surety is one way of making sense out of inexplicable tragedy.

What is Healthy Sexuality?

Some years ago two Paulist priests, in separate radio encounters, debated Al Goldenstein, the publisher of a “newspaper” called “Screw”, which in today’s rating system would probably be XXX. Both priests later described their opponent as surprisingly respectful and cordial. ‘Surprisingly” because Goldstein advocated the absolute contradictory of the Catholic Church’s stand on sexuality. Al had contended vigorously that for good health, man should feel little restraint about acting sexually in whatever form he wished. There should be few or no limits, few or no boundaries. Any desire, any sexual fantasy could be acted upon, whenever possible. Thought, word or deed. It was hopefully within the law. Any restraint or denial could lead to a neurotic consequence and result in what his crowd called “sexual repression.” This was apparently a horrible condition which exceeded things abysmal.

The ends to which such a viewpoint might lead seemed not to bother Al a whit. The terrible, inevitable emotional and spiritual consequences, strewn all over the human landscape, seemed to be utterly out of his intellectual ken. However, Al, the great advocate of “no holds barred living”, is rumored presently to be in “disturbed emotional straits”. If the rumor is true, it would be highly consistent with what society has seen over the centuries to be the fate of undisciplined living. The libertine usually pays a depressing price. But should we be surprised when we have created an environment of sexual confusion?

If it weren’t so truly sad, one might get a laugh out of a depressing news report concerning the Big Pooh Ba of sexual self indulgence, Hugh Hefner. Poor old Hugh, in silken smoking jacket, and with mottled old face, tries to laugh off the supreme embarrassment of a libertine. Some girl (apparently decades younger than he) had either called off or left a “marriage” with Hugh because he was unable to meet the basic physical requirements for marital coitus. If life’s meaning is primarily linked to one’s genital prowess/experience and linked to the untrammeled, promiscuous and prodigal use of those “faculties”, and such a one becomes impotent, unable to fulfill the act of consummation, then we have classic irony.

One wonders whether the frenetic behavior of the libertine is an unconscious attempt to reassure the self that ‘I am really sexually capable in spite of my secret misgivings. I am not impotent. I do have power.” Is sex being used as a tool, not really valuable as an expression of authentic love, but largely as a personal sedative for one’s own shriveled psyche? Or even for personal narcissistic “good feeling”? Is the problem with the Als and Hughs of our confused society not sexuality but self esteem? It is more than that “it feels good.”

I personally watched one of the night time Network Television shows which, in the often feeble attempts of that medium’s thrust to influence national interiority, presented a hospital death scene of an old man. As a sympathetic nurse listens, the man sums up his resignation to the Final Experience by saying, “I’m ready. I can’t have erections anyone.” No meaning beyond that? With no sexual pleasure life is not worth living. What about Honor? Love? Loyalty? Obligation? Intellectual excitement? Joy in simple living? Loving relationships? Others? God? Is viewing life through one’s genitals ultimately superficial living? I think there is a deep, transcendent awareness in human beings that the view espoused by Goldstein, Hefner et al. is inaccurate, imprudent and non-pragmatic. Human beings feel that there has to be something more! How often there arises the pathetic and frantic cry” of young experimenters-- “Is this all there is?” It has never permanently worked even with its charismatic and slick champions. It never really profoundly, lastingly, satisfies. The Don Juans, the Casanovas and the Romeos of history have, most often, been, not happy figures, but tragic ones.

Regardless of the heated and sometimes clever presentations of libertine leaders, we know in our honest moments that the above does not truly describe what is meant by “healthy” sexuality. The sadness which follows sexual scandals in education, religion, Penn State, medicine and law is inherent in sexuality gone astray. Yet, one might ask again why we should be surprised when we ourselves have created the field out of which has come this madness. Destruction of boundaries to contain the power of sexuality are omnipresent. The shallow insistence that unrestrained sexual behavior is grownup and mature is clearly a mask or pretense to cover the desire to act out primal interior drives like lust. Patrick Carnes who entitles his famous book “Don’t Call it Love!”, rips off such masks even by the book’s title. Sheer sexual satisfaction alone doesn’t deserve to be named Love! There are adult males driven to molest young boys who have organized into what is called “Nambla” or a national group for man/boy love. On the face of it, one immediately thinks “oxymoron.” This is an extremely lame attempt to justify a particularly virulent form of lust. Calling it “healthy” is way beyond even the murkiest concept of maturity.

The spokesmen of sexual non-restraint level the criticism that proponents of traditional sexual maturity somehow neurotically fear or hate sexuality. This is, of course, absurd when one studies the teachings and suggestions of authentic champions of the beauty of real sexuality. Pope John Paul II and the scores of adults who understand his insights about Love and Responsibility are the real champions of the Sexual. They understand that sexuality is a beautiful gift from God which is to be fully enjoyed and cherished as a priceless blessing within the Covenant of Marriage. The physical, as component of the nature of “person”, is beautiful and admirable, and meant to be respected. Much human experience attests, however, that, outside of marriage, deep sexuality fulfillment generally does not come anywhere near the joy intended by the Creator. A little honesty would be so welcome after one consults the depths of one’s psyche. Besides, one might recall that marriage is meant not only for the enjoyment and needs of the couple. There is also a serious social concern: the matter of children! That would make a great debate!

In any event, what is abundantly clear is that the messy and drab description of sexuality used to begin this essay is certainly not healthy. Nor is the opposite extreme. The stern joyless Puritan who sees the Devil in every natural admiration and appreciation of physical beauty is hardly healthy. That uptight person needs a balanced therapist to help him reach for sexual balance, not the wide eyed Al Goldsteins of any era. While Hollywood generally glories in unfair exaggeration to hold an audience, the movie “The Dirty Dozen” depicted the character Maggot (as ably portrayed by Telly Savalas) in a revolting and yet dimly clinically accurate manner. Maggot was consumed interiorly with burning lust for beautiful young females whom he could never attract or win. Yet, in the anger of his perceived rejection, he spouts Scripture, calls women harlots and wishes them ill, even death. All the while posing as the upright and worthy citizen, the emissary of the Most High. Such a personality (even if exaggerated for dramatic purposes ) while purporting to be the upholder of social mores and purity is a sick and sexually obsessed soul. Perhaps some of this pathology creeps into the drum beating of some alleged defenders of society. If there are screaming, wild eyed Carrie Nation types with their symbolic axes out to destroy what they consider to be immodest or excessive expressions of sexuality, one can marginalize them intellectually as relatively unbalanced. This is not healthy sexuality. Having some mediocre “artist” attach “fig leaves” to great works of art (in the name of “Purity”) is hardly “grown up.”

Well then, what is healthy sexuality? After centuries of debate with Plato and Augustine and Sappho and Aquinas, experimentation, failure, witch hunts and book burning, human beings still argue the question in terms of their own opinions, bias and subjective conditioning. Certainly this writer, after ninety years of living, is the same. I have a view largely based on my Faith (as I believe revealed by God Himself) and my own experience both as a psychologist of 45 years practice and as a priest of 63 years as a confessor. Most of my “subjects” have been Catholic (with a few priests) , a sprinkling of Protestants (and some Ministers), a small Jewish clientele ( with one Rabbi) and an occasional unbeliever, probably agnostic (a term basically meaning “ I don’t know”).

While Pope John Paul II was probably the best and most profound articulator of the beauty of sexuality, his profound and scholarly style did not touch the Beer and Bowling crowd. The sweaty, T-shirted, loudmouth types hanging out in bars and backyards were probably more touched by the thinking of a gentle Italian Bishop right out of the Brooklyn sidewalk. This successor of the Apostles was able to convey the astonishing fact that sexuality is more than sex! And even that sometimes sex is not about sex at all!

Bishop Francis Mugavero, with many, many years of Social Work experience, wrote an epic pastoral letter to the Catholics of Brooklyn detailing insights into sexuality both from a Catholic and psychological point of view. He made a distinction between sex and sexuality which struck me as novel but enlightening.

The former (sex) concerned behavior and physical dimension the latter (sexuality), spirit and dynamism. Sex would be the various intimate and physical expressions of love between husband and wife while the latter focused on the drive (and need) within all human beings for closeness, friendship, empathy, affection, love and understanding.

Within this type of thought, Jesus, Himself, would possess in His human nature true sexuality which He offers to the whole human race. It would be the bond that ties humans together. It would be the charity ( agape or love) between parents and children, grandparents and grandparents, and close friends. It would be the filia so beautifully described by C.S.Lewis in his famous book “Four Loves.”
It does, at the same time, indicate the difference between the sexes and allows much for the important and basic factor of self identity. Of course, sexuality makes men and women different. Vive la difference! Extremists who say men and women are just the same should open their eyes and take a “good look.”

Genuine sexuality would generally be non-physical, although it could include modest kisses and fraternal hugs. The God given drive would be properly directed by the virtues of continence and chastity. It would be warm and unafraid. The additional dimension of eros (again delineated by Lewis) belongs to the holy state of Marriage where the complete pleasures of sex are blessed under the Divine Smile. Does one need to consult Biology 101 to understand that complete sex is intrinsically linked to the pro-creation of a human being under God? Does Dr. Stork bring babies in his little black bag? Perhaps, the modern sophisticate could benefit from a heart to heart talk on the Birds and the Bees! Are we floating in an ocean not only of selfishness and immaturity but of an incredible film of ignorance and superficiality?

True sexuality would have the ability to give and receive love. It would be understood as a reflection of God’s love for all. It would be highly seasoned by the profound awareness of one’s own infinite value as validated by the supreme sacrifice of Jesus for each and every one of us. Its hallmark would be interior peace and a cleansing sense of walking the walk of the Lord! The non-discipline of the libertine and the icy aloofness of the “Puritan” would be unwelcome in such a spiritual/psychological home. How could the phony faces of sexuality interface with I Cor. 13 of the blessed apostle Paul? It might be a helpful measure when one searches for Healthy Sexuality!!!

Historically, the Catholic Church which vigorously defends the beauty and good sense of chastity, can exemplify by its own membership the balance we seek. We have seen pathetic examples of the two extremes listed above—and on every level. We have seen corruption and hypocrisy. We have seen rigid, unloving, revolting personas masking as “Pure.” But we have also seen unbelievable examples of the beautiful balance of the many inbred drives woven into the glory of chastity. We have seen liberating examples of sinners becoming warm, repentant and loving saints. From Mary Magdalene to Augustine to the killer of Marie Goretti, we see the Constant Resurrection through the powerful help or grace of the Almighty Himself! We have seen literally millions of woman and men find the balance so ardently desired! Further, appropriate fun has always been the hallmark of the sexually healthy.

There is always hope. But the one entrapped in unhealthy life styles has to see and hear it first! How does one who feels so caught in the vicious web of merciless sex gone wild, hear, even faintly, the words of liberating Hope? People who can really love and really care for fellow human beings can only hope, themselves, that by prayer and example and judicious words, they may aid some poor soul to find the peace and fulfillment of healthy sexuality.

New York City , Dec. 2011
Advent: Meditating on the glory of the flesh within the Incarnation of God.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Women Are Beautiful

In the old Jewish tradition it was considered proper and mandatory that a bride should wear a face veil at the Wedding ceremony. Actually, much more than proper because the clear message was that the young woman was declaring to all the assembly that there was more to the gift of herself than her physical endowments which could be considerable. It was publicizing the great Biblical belief that the “beauty of the King’s daughter lies within.”

Such an understanding was expected to transcend the ceremony of marriage and to pervade the woman’s very self concept throughout her whole earthly experience. Such a belief spoke to the sensitivity, charm and gentleness so effortlessly bred into her gender which no man could truly match. It echoed the Scriptural allusion to the “graceful slender column” in describing the way she walked and carried herself. It spoke to the profound maternal instinct interwoven only within the female psyche by the Great Designer, God, Himself. Only she could bear a child. Shades of the great Pope, John Paul II, who constantly reminded us that the human being can be not only physically beautiful but also spiritually and emotionally so. In a word, the “Person” is not merely external, an aggregate of eye catching dimensions, but is also a deep interiority which ultimately serves as the primary dynamic of human existence.

One can wonder, of course, how such an exalted view of women in the Jewish world could exist simultaneously with the old wives’ tales which have trickled through history such as the alleged Jewish prayer which so pleases misogynists. “I thank you, God, that You did not make me a woman.” Old wives’ tales or not, women were valued and respected for more than the possibility of physical charms. Even in the touching Broadway production of “Fiddler on the Roof”, the harried wife, Golde, muses whether or not she loves her husband. Golde who toils away at domestic chores for years, raises children and warms his bed, says “I guess I do.” It would be the superficial who cannot understand what Golde-types get out of life by “merely” being a housewife. The depth and love of a woman make such sacrifices not only a possible but most meaningful routine. It would be the rare male who could or would fill such a domestic role.

In a recent interview on the Catholic network EWTN Colleen C. Campbell, herself an example of the beauty of women, quizzed a gorgeous young woman who had left a promising career in the modeling profession to become an activist for the “Women are Beautiful” movement. This young woman, stylishly and modestly dressed, was alert, articulate and “now.” She described her disillusionment in the fashion world with its heavy accent on the body, clothes, sex, even drugs and booze (cooperation with which sometimes becomes almost mandatory for a successful career in that world). This young woman, velvet voiced, crusades to educate women about their own unique beauty and their fundamental need to respect themselves.

She points out that women have intelligence, good judgment, accurate instincts and intuition, healthy humor, incredible generosity for loving, charming gifts for human relationships with a very special God-given dimension for complementarity with males plus an exquisite “feel” for spirituality. Women are gifted by God in a way males are not. The great maternal instinct women have often stuns the masculine psyche. Invariably, women treasure babies in a way inaccessible to males because only a woman can carry a child in her womb. (Obviously, males similarly have gifts not given to women.) Beautiful clothes, reasonable cosmetics, attractive hair, jewelry, are all consonant with a woman being appropriately beautiful. To augment the beauty of God’s creation is neither criminal nor sinful.

However, on the other hand, can anyone doubt that human history fairly shrieks volumes of the ugly woman?[1] The nagger, the harridan, the perennial coquette, the excessively vain, the selfish, the egocentric “witch”, the unreasonable, the ruthless calculating female climber have ever been with us. Women have broken up happy marriages and ruined families. Women have been devious and scheming. Women have seduced vulnerable men. This is ugly. But God did not make women to be ugly. Women become ugly through their allowing themselves to become ugly. Even on the superficial level one might make a relevant observation. Take a female face. A face beaten into neutrality through years of oiling, patting, kneading, painting until it has almost no feature of its own, loses much of unspoiled beauty. No real natural expression but only blankness. This is ugly. Or take a feminine soul loaded with a history of poor choices and blind alleys. The application is, I think, obvious. An ugly outcome. But how does this all square with what is going on in contemporary society?

When one contrasts an altruistic even theological view of the female gender with much of what transpires today, one is struck by shocking insights. The scantily clad woman who moves throughout her “hip” closed society, can well be using her near nudity as a mask! Her state of undress could symbolize her hope of covering over what she unconsciously believes about herself. This is all she has to offer! She might well feel that she is hollow within. She is a female “empty suit.” It would seem that an inevitable, if unconscious, personality factor of poor self esteem would invade and pervade the depth of such a woman’s soul. Is it only her physical attributes which make her valuable in others’ eyes? If so, she has been sold what kids on the street call “a bill of goods.” She becomes a harried, bitter, desperate and unattractive person. Ironically, there is a mysterious power of attraction in “goodness.” The “beautiful” woman described above who is loving, sweet and chaste (physically striking or not) has a certain nescio quid quality of drawing others to her.

Sheer invitation to lust while potentially arresting in the moment, becomes in time even repulsive. I recall a young priest friend of mine sharing an experience relative to this point. A woman of his parish who was probably struggling with inner demons, had developed a rich fantasy about this priest who was handsome and personable. One evening she rang the Rectory doorbell asking for the young priest. When he appeared, she opened her coat to reveal her total nakedness—apparently in the delusion that such behavior would instantly capture the priest. When I asked him his reaction at that point, he replied that he almost vomited on the spot! Another validation of the standard seminary analysis that a priest need not worry for his chastity when he meets a slut! Goodness and inner beauty surprisingly might pose a greater threat.

The Hollywood genre, and I suppose the “hook-up society” as well, is deep into beautifying the body, with botox, very white teeth and posturing to highlight the physical, preferably with an audience. However, coterminous with this heavily physical "perfection" is a terrible record of relationships. “Commitment”, “exclusive”, “permanent” are adjectives seemingly foreign or quaint to that cadre. Marital and cohabitating (unmarried) dyad breakups fill the pages of the Hollywood/Broadway gossip writers. All this in the face of the unrelenting lesson of history that any relationship founded exclusively or primarily on the external is self limiting and bound to founder. In a word, to ignore or neglect the inner beauty of women exacts a profound and scarring price. External beauty is phenomenal but when does one grow up to realize that true adult balance appreciates both the body and the soul.

It was the late movie Queen, Marlene Dietrich, who quipped as two males who, with an adolescent like naiveté, were ogling the chest dimensions of some physically attractive young women, “Those guys don’t know much about what engineering can do.” Wires and strings, shrewdly used, can produce great illusions. From my own years visiting African villages where women routinely traipsed about topless, it does seem that women are better looking with clothes on.

Fantasy, to those past the adolescent phase of development, is far different from reality. Perception has its place but for emotional and spiritual health the real should dominate. In the Plan of God, clearly, males are made to be attracted to females through the senses but they are also capable of appreciating the spiritual depth of the female person. Of course, the powerful drive in humans to perpetuate their DNA is not and cannot be ignored. But the Plan goes obviously farther. Women have been called the very “heart” of any family and in fact have a major role in enlivening the spiritual tone of the average family. If the sensitive and spiritual powers of women are activated, everyone benefits and in fact fulfill the Plan of the Lord.

As we learn through studies in anthropology, Society, for its own survival, has generally supported over eons and through tribal norms and courting rituals, the understanding that mating should be long term and exclusive. To function only on the external and immediate physical return is to function far from one’s potential as well as to punish society. There are many levels to the human being which are lost if one's focus is primarily on the sexual. If such a functioning level is my style, then, I am a superficial person. For real beauty and truth, one must go deeper — way beyond the frizzy hair and the frozen look. If the old adage teaches that “beauty is only skin deep”, we must slightly rephrase and say that external beauty is skin deep but the real Beauty of Women is for eternity.

[1] Interestingly, Sigmund Freud, (the great analyst of things human), puzzled over his difficulty in understanding women and mused: “ Women…..what do they really want.” How much more difficult for those of us less gifted in depth analysis to answer that question! Could it be so simple that fundamentally women want to love and be loved for themselves?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

How Do You Say Good Bye to the Dying?

The dying priest was about to be taken, from the Religious house where he lived, to a Live –in hospice where he would be prepared to leave this life and meet his Maker. Fifteen priests, the House managerial staff, the housemaids and the Mexican Sisters who lovingly cooked for him, did his laundry and prayed for him, were all gathered in the house chapel awaiting his arrival so that we could all, in the ancient and moving language of the Catholic Church say “Good bye and Godspeed.” Most of us would never see him again.

The silence was thick. Perhaps profound, certainly meaningful, in the face of Death, the inevitable. No one made a sound. No one moved. We were all engrossed in our own thoughts and feelings. Some one we knew well and for whom we had varying affection was dying . Each of us knew that we all would follow him—quickly or over a long period of time. But we would follow hm.

Finally, he was wheeled into the Chapel and positioned so that he could face us. He lifted his pale, pain stained face and said “Good morning”. That was all but, in those words, it was as if he spoke his gratitude for such genuine and heartfelt presence in the face of his coming encounter.

The presiding priest, vested in alb and stole, reminded us of St.James and his instruction to have the priests of the Church pray over the sick one and anoint him with oil. We were invited to lay our hands upon our sick brother and all did. Priests, sisters, managers and maids in a deep and touching silence. No music. No talk. There was no need. Indeed, such accessories would be almost painful and certainly intrusive. The compassion, the support, the Presence of the Holy Spirit were palpable. The dying priest was given a tiny particle of the Blessed Eucharist as Viaticum or Food for the Journey. The ancient theology is obvious. It is the sacrament Itself Which basically provides the Care. The traditional insights of Opere Operato apply. The Sacrament, not the trimmings or adjustments to modernity, gives life and courage and strength. Jesus supplies us once more with what we need.

We heard the Church again come to the priest’s aid as the Presider said the final blessing:

“Lord Jesus, Christ, You chose to share our human nature to redeem all people and to heal the sick. Look with compassion on this Your servant whom we have anointed in Your name with this holy oil for the healing of his body and spirit.
Support him with Your Power, comfort him with Your protection and give him the strength to fight against evil. Since You have given him a share in Your own Passion, help him to find hope in suffering, for You are Lord for ever and ever Amen.”

He was wheeled out of chapel to meet the “transport” to his “End Point.” Most of us, though saddened, thought we had made a proper good bye! So, in fact, he moved out of our lives. The next Community encounter with him will be his funeral and burial. And on it goes until the next one of us goes. Most of us move amazingly quickly into the parameters of our own personal lives with our obligations and our needs. But so is the nature of existence.

“Out of sight, out of mind” is not necessarily a pejorative statement as it might be a descriptive one. Some years ago, probably the Paulist most widely viewed as our one true saint, Fr. John Buckley, was buried in the crypt below the great Church with proper liturgical pomp and correctness. The right things were said. The appropriate gestures were made. Due respect to his holiness was observed. Then the local community, very large at that time, went into lunch. There was not a single indication of grief or remembrance of the saint. It was as if a job with its requirements was well done and safely tucked away in the “completed file.” His name was never mentioned. Light laughter, political debate, sports talk filled the room. Was it a form of the “Irish Wake” whereby the verbalization of deep feelings is buried under the false fronts of bravado and excessive masculinity? Is it a denial of the fear of Death? Was it that the Saint’s fate was self evident (being with God hic and nunc) there was no need for concern, only certitude? It is at once mephitic and cloying. One can be grateful for the Catholic custom of devoting the month of November to remembrance of the “Poor souls” in Purgatory! How easy it is to forget!

But there is probably another factor involved which is subtle and very powerful. Perhaps instead of contemplating how we say good bye to the dead, it might be more sagacious (or honest) to wonder how we say good bye to life as we leave it ourselves. Perhaps, that is the true underlying dynamic in all the silence and denial and tears. Perhaps, the real question is how does one deal with death? Perhaps, the question really is: How do I live my life in the present moment? Perhaps, I should second guess the common wisdom and live not that “they” might speak well of me after I die but that I follow , within appropriate boundaries, the joys that God places in my own lap and not some one else’s. Perhaps, we should revisit old St.Irenaeus with his joyful admonition. To be fully human and fully alive is the best way to please God. Maybe that is the way to live so that one may die well and see the Face of God.

It would be fun to discuss this viewpoint with Hilaire Belloc who pretty much knew it all! Remember his gleeful little insight?

Wherever the Catholic sun doth shinie
There’s laughter, dancing and good red wine
At least I have always found it so
Benedicamus Domino!

I have a bias.. Being Catholic is a great way to live but when it comes to dying there is no contest. It is the best way to make one’s good byes.

The Cyrano Syndrome or Who is Really the Beautiful One?

He had a nose describable as huge, ugly, repulsive and peninsula-like. But he had a heart of a poet, the courage and skill of a master swordsman and the tender compassion of a saint. He was called Cyrano and was secretly enthralled with a beautiful maiden called Roxanne whose charms could match the fabled Helen of Troy. His love for her was so burning, so passionate, pure and undying that he would skewer any imprudent loudmouth for even a hint of disrespect toward the Lady of his heart. He, with this deep love hidden in his being, never revealed his ardor for her, fearing rejection and humiliation. How, he thought, could she, this angel, this unique flawless jewel, ever view me romantically when I am so very ugly and repugnant—even to myself!

But her eye was caught by an incredibly handsome, utterly empty headed soldier, Christian, who could barely articulate his own name. Ironically, this underdeveloped bovine like near Cretan, this stammering verbal oaf, won the hand of the gorgeous lady through elegant words supplied by Cyrano. Christian was the mouthpiece, the front, the persona while Cyrano was the heart, the soul, the mind, the poetry, the enthusiasm behind the words. Without the dynamic words of Cyrano, Christian would balk, panic and blush. He would irritate the Lady who impatiently demanded the moving words of love she thought he was so capable of delivering. Thus basically Roxanne, unknowingly, fell in love not with external physical charm, as attractive as that was, but with the internal and lasting beauty of real Love. It resonates Holy Scripture which reminds us that “the beauty of the King’s daughter is within.” It is physical beauty which is only skin deep.

Human history is replete with illustrations of the human capacity to be seduced and indeed deceived by the superficial. Obviously, on the sexual level, we (dominantly, in all probability for males, at least) are, initially, visually attracted by the physical form or style of movement of others. The engine of involuntary and universal attraction is pleasure. Such wiring by the Creator is good and intentional for species survival. But to the dismay of inexperienced and naïve newcomers to the delights of the flesh, sex, alone, usually, if not invariably, leads to satiation and surprisingly, sometimes, revulsion. The limitations of sex by itself, unaccompanied by authentic love, are fairly obvious. However, their search for joy is normal and legitimate. But their means of achieving real joy is mistaken. They have been seduced by the Cyrano syndrome or (put otherwise) they have been living with and for the superficial.

The delusion of many moderns can be illustrated by current studies on the rise of sexless marriages, coupled with the frantic Orgasm Hunt so popular with the “First avenue Bar” types and the high rate of divorce. Ad agencies scramble to outdo each other in pushing sex aid devices for frustrated males. The human landscape is more than dotted with bored, angry ex-partners. And how many males have experienced self revulsion immediately after using the services of the daughters of night! So often disappointed at the disparity between the reality and the fantasy expectation! What goes wrong century after century with human beings in our repetitive faulty choices and judgments? How explain the widespread delusion so often accompanied by feelings of interpersonal betrayal? “You” promised me a Rose Garden!!! Instead, you gave me an empty reed! Would it be gauche even to suggest a little factor called Original Sin as an explanation? Catholic teaching holds that by that Primordial event, our human intellect has been darkened and our human will has been weakened leaving us vulnerable to deception and bad choices. It has ever been such!

The ancient folk lore still teaches the old song of “Natura humana non fallitur”. No matter how elegant and sophisticated we become, human nature never changes! And humans sometimes “go for” the external and the superficial, totally blocking out consequences of behavior. And the disillusion and anger follow! Certainly, it is not only on the sexual level that the “Cyrano Syndrome” operates. It can take many forms. Misjudgments about others is obviously commonplace. Since none of us has complete data about another’s interiority, we are in no real position to be apodictic about another’s inner value or beauty. Let alone their motivation. Mere externals can be egregiously off base. Nevertheless, our tendency is to be captivated by the “outside” where, alas, unfortunately we often halt!

There are two big lessons to be gleaned from a reflection on the Cyrano Syndrome.

First, there are huge deposits of generosity, compassion, depth, love and courage deeply embedded within the souls of others and which are not easily accessible to hasty observation. To be superficial in assessments of the “other” leads to being superficial in human relationships. To neglect to see the whole person is a fundamental disadvantage. Human happiness is heavily dependent on full and deep interpersonal relationships which take time to build, to understand, to appreciate. For example, there have been numerous marriage unions which have foundered because of the failure to “behold” one’s spouse as a person, one of both soul and body. The lovely old love song “Believe me if all these enduring young charms….” highlights the lasting loveliness of a person whose young physical gifts fade with age. But, the beauty of the personality has deepened and grown while bravely/ virtuously withstanding the trials and pains of a lifetime. To miss this point is to go through life half awake! Assessing a person solely in terms of a big nose, bald head or a wrinkled face is to go through life half asleep!! Who is the really beautiful one? Is it the wrinkled, shrunken, pale Mother Teresa or is it the manicured, festooned, frozen faced, gaudily dressed, non-entity of tabloid’s page six ? Is it Hugo’s Quasimodo or even Dr. Frankenstein’s Monster with their surprising capacity for tenderness? Or the botoxed freneticist of Hollywood? The questions are obviously rhetorical.

Second, the one with the big nose, the bald head and the wrinkled face can, likewise, fall prey from the opposite direction. Cyrano was deeply convinced that the beautiful Roxanne could never see past his physical deformity. His confidence in his own abilities was enormous in all things but this. He was revolted by his ugliness, incorrectly thinking that the source of human beauty is physical. His self revulsion left no emotional room for the one powerful factor which is his real ultimate answer. In his view, the negatives of physicality can trump all the inner positives of virtue, charm and character. Such a view could be habitual unless one recognizes the basic fact that the human being, any human being, with big nose or not, is of infinite value to the Lord, our God.

It is alleged that the great St. Thomas Aquinas who was called “The Angelic Doctor” would take a crucifix, hold it in his hand and note that were he the only person ever to live, the Divine Jesus would have gone through all that terrible Passion and Death—just for him. The obvious lesson is that any human being is loved implacably by the all-loving Lord. Such love is not dependent on good looks, youth, intelligence, charm, power or achievement. Just being human is all it needs! This love, likewise, is not dependent on the assessments of others. The very substantial bonus to understanding God’s love for us is ---- freedom. Freedom from “human” respect. Freedom from the paralysis of “How do they see me?” Freedom to be the person I truly am.

What would it take for a Cyrano-like person to incorporate this fact? What risk would be involved for a person with shaky self esteem to open his heart and trust Jesus? What more can He do to show His love for us, in our own beauty, than to give us His constant companionship, forgiveness and compassion? The answer one gives might reveal one’s personal answer to the question which opened this essay. Who is the really beautiful one?

Shrieking in Restaurants

A friend of mine, a retired NYPD chief, and I were entering a charming Italian restaurant on Manhattan’s fashionable East side, and looking forward to a relaxed Sunday Brunch, when we were assaulted by a wall of loud, brassy, screaming, shrieking humanoid sounds. There were groups of youngish people, mostly female, who seemed to be competing with each other in advertising to the world how happy they were and what a great time they were having. It thrills me to see human beings enjoying the gifts of God. But must it be on such a painful decibel level? It was as if we were hearing Shakespeare pondering again that " thinketh the woman protests too much..." If one is profoundly content, must such a person loudly broadcast his great inner contentment with self and life? Whom is he trying to impress or persuade? A further sadism occurs when some people periodically pierce the shrieks with a weird high “C” screech which is apparently meant to be some kind of quasi orgasmic laugh signaling, I suppose, the height of delight at being the center of attention.

Why, in heaven’s name, is there existent such a most repulsive human trait which is so given to posturing and fakery? Does it really shout out how much interior human shakiness pervades our societies? What drives a frail self esteem to plaster onto its most visible component--the face—the phony persona of exuberant joy? It becomes particularly nauseating when the plasterer is a female on the brink of early middle age desperately trying to play the role of the ingénue. One of the shriekers had a persona so beaten into facelessness by frantic years of oiling and creaming and manipulating that she had no authentic or real look. She had only a kind of “tabula rasa” onto which she was straining to paint the image of a bright carefree delightful young thing. The only reaction I got was an impulse to upchuck!!

However, when one observes the current social ills of booze, drugs, obsession with the sexual, consumerism expectation, craving to be “hip”, self fulfillment psychologies, superficial commitments, one further speculates on a possible link between two areas: 1) the myopia of the Page 6 mentality of the modern media and 2) inappropriate behavior like Restaurant shrieking.

Do they feed on each other? I recall that when the Soviet Union was at the zenith of its influence, Stalin’s Propaganda minister noted that "he who is in control of the mimeograph rules society." Update "mimeograph" to Internet, sitcoms, computer and major media and you may have the unhappy application and consequence in this era. Even social behavior is determined by the modern "mimeograph." What’s in? What’s acceptable? What’s the present fad?

Does modern media promote or feed into an excessive dimension of the narcissistic? Are we nurturing a "me first" mentality? Are we dumbing down to a national level of low frustration? Is it the rule of "I got mine, Mac"? I am very well aware and deeply impressed by the pockets of generosity and bravery and sacrifice and industry and chivalry in our country. I know and have been the beneficiary of goodness of fellow Americans. Yet, I have a most uncomfortable sense of a growing impatience with the "other guy"—especially if the other guy is just a "little" guy. The little guy can be the poor or the meek or the old or the uneducated or the gullible or the weak. But I am getting a general sense of non-concern about others or future generations. A sense of selfishness seems more apparent to me than in the previous generations I have known. Is it that I am 90 years old that I write this? Or is it possibly the factual case? Was it like this in 1930 in the depression? Maybe, but there was, I recall, greater sense of the other guy . There was ,I think, more generous sharing of the little we had. Was it like this in the greatest generation in World War II? Maybe, but as I recall my past in that era I think it was generally more caring and helpful for the "guy who was down."

But is my own impatience with the shriekers in restaurants a sign of my own narcissism? When I hear that some restaurants are barring children under six years of age because the kids’ screaming bothers some diners, I feel a sense of agreement. Am I just as bad as the ghouls I met at brunch? Does the kicking, complaining and whining of the little kids at the next table get to me and decrease my enjoyment of my meal? Am I justified or am I slipping into Page 6 myself?

Of course there is a substantive difference between the normative squawking of babies and the nauseating falsity of inadequate young adults even if the external symptom is similar. Little kids are congenitally and understandably narcissists but adults are supposed to have outgrown the "id" drives which Freud so brilliantly illustrated. Is a quarter of a century enough time or does it take a lifetime to grow up?

What does all of this mean? Is it signaling a massive—perhaps—global immaturity? A massive generational arrested development? Or is it endemic? A constant reminder of the residual of Original Sin? Or has this tendency always been there? Does it just assume a different form with each successive generation? If the Catholic Church is right in her anthropology or understanding of human nature, then the answer lies somewhere in the spiritual life. In the awareness of God’s love for everyone. That the love cannot be earned but only responded to! That there is no need to convince everyone that one has value. The fact of being alive is proof enough and should be enough for the adult thinking person. There is no absolute need to have the world acknowledge one’s worth. While it is pleasant, approbation of others is simply not enough. It is, rather, the deep sense of inner peace that God the Father loves me and that God the Son died for me personally and that God the Holy Spirit is with me always in my inner self guiding, directing and loving me.

With such an understanding of reality, one has a reasonable shot at reaching that wonderful state of being which is difficult to define but is usually called happiness. Perhaps no word really can describe it—only feelings can know it. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich when asked to describe why he became a Catholic simply said that after he received the Eucharist, he experienced the deepest inner peace he has ever known. Is that it? Does a deep feeling of being loved by the Almighty alleviate that deep wound of narcissism? Is that wound healed (somewhat) by a pervasive awareness that one’s value depends not on what one does or what one has but basically on what one is? Would my shriekers and whatever human repulsive tendency any of us might have be softened by such an experience? I suspect so but maybe, in the spirit of brotherly love, I should suggest it (to myself) the next time those louts disturb my meal! It would be probably better for me and my gastric juices. I’ll bet I would enjoy the pasta even more so! Once again God’s way pays off!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Meaning of Forgiveness: From the Perspective of an American Catholic Priest Psychologist

Even though it is difficult to define, most human beings have an intuitional awareness of what is meant by the word--forgiveness.[1] It is much the same cognitive mechanism as the response given by the United States Supreme Court Justice who, when asked for a definition of obscenity, replied: “While I can’t define it, I know it when I see it.” To fit obscenity, with universal agreement, into every legal, theological, sociological and psychological category is probably far beyond the dimensions of reality. My psychological training suggests to me that “it all depends.” This, at least analogously, applies to the notion of “forgiveness.”

The Major traditional religions of human history have generally taught Forgiveness within the context of real or perceived hurt/injustice from another. The spirituality of religion deals with the consequent anger and urge for revenge. All these Religions necessarily, by definition, have, more or less, required from their congregants some form of forgiveness in order to remain in “good standing.” My own religious tradition constantly reminds Catholics of the Command of Jesus Who insisted that should I have a gift-offering for the altar but retain in my heart something negative toward my “brother”, I must postpone the giving of the gift. I am to seek reconciliation, first, with my brother and then return to offer the gift. This is an internal priority which I am to develop so that I can more properly confront obvious social ills and be on “good terms” with my God.

Whatever form the mechanism of forgiveness assumes, most human beings find it easier to talk about it than to dig deeply into one’s generosity and actually forgive a transgression. Talk can be cheap. However, some of us apparently can forgive another’s transgressions fairly easily. Others will struggle for years to approach even a semblance of forgiveness. How can we explain this? Is it temperament? What is it? Obviously, we differ from each other. It is important to remember that we all are the product of nature and nurture which, on several levels, make each of us so different from everyone else. It may be partly genetic and partly environmental. These differences can strongly influence our emotional growth, and feed into “whether or not we forgive those who treat us badly.”

The term “nurture” (or environment) includes the educational matrix as well as the familial and religious core from which we come. Here is where we find the genesis/formation of most of our attitudes. Even in religion one can find surprising “penumbras” which allow, at least passively, their adherents to punish others who offend in some way or another. Decapitations and enlisting the Lord to crush foes with His heel and hurling babies of enemies against the wall are, at times, justified by a religious interpretation in dealing with one’s “enemies.”

It is probably a truism to say that the Lex Talionis (Law of the Jungle) is deep within all human beings. There is a kind of unlearned reflex in all of us which tends to respond (in kind) with a basic dynamic. “You strike me. I will strike you back. You lie about me. I will lie about you. You push me. I will push you back. You hurt me. I will hurt you.” The somewhat naïve notion of the “Noble Savage”, as espoused by some arm chair anthropologists, is an illusion. If we are left in the “forest”, untrammeled, with no laws or restraints, we will, not love one another, but ravage and destroy each other. The Catholic notion of human nature is clear: we are all wounded but not corrupt—but still tempted to evil. We are basically good, though weak. We are all tempted toward that which is not Godly. “To forgive is Divine”, we are told and we sincerely strive for the ideal. At the same time, we are all tempted to withhold the forgiveness so required for true spirituality.

The Catholic approach to Forgiveness, then, is two leveled: natural and supernatural. First, it is natural to be hesitant to drag one’s emotional feet in the matter of forgiveness. But it is essential that one admit especially to one’s self that he/she is hurt and wants to strike back .To pretend that one’s emotional life is like a great, placid lake when one has been insulted or degraded, is to resort to some kind of primitive denial which is obviously unhealthy, both spiritually and psychologically. One must admit the truth.

One can sense this very point in the Biblical instance when Jesus instructs Peter on the extreme requirement to forgive “seventy times seven”, an obvious metaphor for unending forgiveness. To forgive again and again without limit. Without discrimination of the level of transgression. Is this not simply asking too much of the human being? Is this the truth? Is one to be a doormat who practically invites others to stomp all over him? Is this not some kind of disrespect and irreverence to the human being- emanating not only from others but from oneself ? Understood properly (with sharp qualifications), this is the requirement. Peter is rightfully staggered, he who had described himself as a “sinful man.” He understood very well the rigor of the command of Jesus. How could anyone—even the most sincere among us—ever fulfill the 70 times 7 command?

The Catholic resolution is strikingly similar to the famous First step of A.A. which postulates that, for success with personal problems, one must admit that he has a certain powerlessness over his own difficulty---be it alcohol, food, sexual aberration, gambling or inability to “let go” of one’s grudges, angers and hatreds. This, clearly, implies the need for help from “Higher” Sources. Religious spirituality calls this help “the grace of God.” In effect, if one is to be a “forgiving” person, regardless of genetics or background, the seemingly impossible becomes a reality. With the help of God’s grace I can release urges within me for revenge or retaliation. However, profound forgiveness is extremely difficult (some say impossible) without the help of the Almighty. Yet, such an approach has been a workable staple in the spiritual experience of Catholics for centuries. Many non-Christians have found functional modes of forgiveness. Gandhi is an outstanding example of non-violence in the face of injustice and oppressions. He was a master in what Catholics call “turning the other cheek.” We would maintain that he did it “with the grace of God.”

For the most part, the forgiving experience does not erase the memory of the transgression. While we read in the Canticle of the Jewish prophet, Isaiah, that God casts our sins behind His back, the same is not true of us humans. Whether we are the sinner or the sinned against, we do remember. To pretend that negative experiences never happened is to slip into denial or delusion. It is the letting go of the anger and the desire to retaliate, in varied forms, that constitutes the essence of forgiveness. It is this very “letting go” that brings us peace and fuller human functioning which is so helpful for happy and productive living. The experience of human history generally attests to the pragmatic value of forgiveness. Basically put, I am happier if I can forgive those who have hurt me. Spiritually, it is obvious. Jesus taught Christians to pray thusly: Father, forgive us our trespasses as forgive those who trespass against us. We are forgiven our sins to the extent that we forgive others who sins against us. One, then, can live with the memory of the hurt but without the bitter, corrosive dimension of withheld forgiveness.

It is also important to consider the forgiveness of oneself for one’s own failures. Sometimes, human beings will be expansively forgiving of others but not of themselves. Great thinkers, like Martin Luther among others, are cited as being quickly forgiving and generous with others while at the same time being harsh and super demanding of self. The psychological underpinnings of this dynamic are fascinating. They are described by Erik Erikson in his work on The Young Luther. Like all withheld forgiveness there is present a strong psychological reason for such self punishment, notably the strict enforcement of self perfection which brooks no failure or imperfection. Others may fail but not I. It is not permitted by my own pride or self deception.

In the Catholic tradition, one ‘goes to confession” whereby he confesses one’s sins to an ordained priest and receives absolution from that priest. He, in his belief, is then forgiven by God of all personal transgressions. Catholics, post confession, generally experience a euphoric feeling of being relieved of a heavy interior feeling of guilt and shame. It is called: “The greatest feeling in the world.”

There is a further point to be noted in forgiveness. That of the psychological mechanism of projection. It is held by certain schools of depth psychology that we tend to criticize the failings of others which somewhat accurately reflect our own. In effect, rather than admit to me that I have failings, I attribute them to others and then can freely criticize without discomfort. This same mechanism can be used profitably in forgiveness. By forgiving the hurt I have received from others, I might be more able to forgive myself since I unconsciously recognize my own meanness in “the other.” In forgiving them, I forgive myself. Even from a pragmatic point of view, one might argue for the advantage of a forgiving stance in the search for personal happiness. Large spirited people who have learned how to forgive (according to some researchers) seem to be more productive, more creative and relaxed than those who hold grudges and fantasize about means of retaliation.

It looks like the teachings of Jesus and whose who teach similarly that forgiveness is a basic for good living. One of the last remarks of Jesus before His own death on a Cross was an appeal for the forgiveness of those who killed Him. “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.”

Do we really know how much we hurt each other? When one considers the depth of the human personality and its endless complexities and impenetrability, good sense shouts out that we should learn how to forgive.

[1] Cf. Leach and Lark; Personality and Individual Differences. Science Direct. Oct .14 2003 “No agreed upon definition of forgiveness exists.” P. 2

Theism or A-theism: Psychological, Spiritual, Intellectual and Sociologic Perspectives

It has always been a wonderment to me why those, who screamingly assert that there is no God, spend so much time, effort and money to rail against that which they say does not exist. Is it a deep sense of reverence for others , a drive to help others, some kind of wish to share the joys and peace of atheism which drives them? Some kind of profound wish to serve mankind which ultimately will focus on building hospitals, old age homes, schools and clinics for the crippled and infirm---? Ultimately, that is, as soon as this nasty God business can be put to rest !

While the Psalmist says: “ The fool has said in his heart: There is no God”…and while every culture in the history of man has believed in some sort of Divine Being, there have likewise always been those who have shaken their fists angrily against Him Whom they aver does not exist and who shriek “ I do not believe in You..” I recall my years as a Missionary in South Africa where I learned from the Zulu people their concept of a Supreme Being Whom they called Umzimkulu. It was the One above all others. I never met anyone of that noble group who was “a-theist.” They had no sophisticated theology or scripture. Just a deep sense of Reality which led to a profound belief in some kind of Higher Power.

It does appear that most (if not all) cultures incorporate at least an inchoate awareness or sense of God. And there always seems to be a life instance where, in moments of terror or panic, a person instinctively shouts or whispers or interiorly pleads for God’s help. How frequently this happened in “my” war (WWII) when the common slogan was: “There are no atheists in foxholes.” Justice William O. Douglas in Zorach vs Clauson wrote the obvious that “ we are a religious people and our institutions presuppose a Supreme Being.” Such a belief has been dominant in the belief systems of cultures as far as history has existed. So, how does one understand or explain “a-theism”---- this away from Godness? How does one empathize with the atheist?

When I was a very young priest, I was assigned to teach the Catholic theology to those who sought information about my Faith. I encountered a difficulty I could not explain. I would present the Catholic position with all its intellectual power, tradition and history but be rejected many times. My logic was impeccable. My major premises were rock solid as were my minor ones and my conclusions were inexorable. I used Aristotle and Aquinas and Augustine. But still there was no easy agreement. Granting differences of opinion about the premises and differing opinions about historical data and interpretations, I could not understand the difficulty.

I was a young priest and knew very little about human functioning. That is until I listened to a lecture by a Catholic psychiatrist who argued that before the cogency of the human intellect can fully function, emotional (or feeling) factors must be “managed”. In effect, he maintained that emotions, run awry, can block, impede and cripple the soaring capacity of human thinking. Being the young pragmatist that I was, I immediately immersed myself into the world I knew little of, namely, psychology. I became a licensed “shrink” myself with a Doctorate in that interesting study. My evangelical approach changed mightily. No longer did I consider myself the young St. Athanasius, the modern Hammer of Heretics who tried to bludgeon others to my point of view. I became open to the thinking of the other. I focused not only on syllogisms but also on hurts and pain and needs and longings. Primarily I presented the love and warmth and acceptance of the loving Father in Heaven.

Surprisingly, people , then, seriously listened to the invitation of Christ’s own Church---on intellectual and historic levels. Distortions were put aside and many embraced Christ. It was paradoxical that by putting sheer logic in the background of dialogue, I became more effective than I had ever hoped. It was Fulton J. Sheen , a great convert maker, who said : “ Win an argument. Lose a soul.” Obviously, I did not understand his point at all. Yet it is as old as thinking. For example, Origin, one of the very early Church Fathers, wrote: “…hearing alone is insufficient to accept the invitation to prepare the way of the Lord…….an inner listening is necessary for the invitation to be effective in our lives and the lives of others……..” Truth has two levels. One is spiritual and the other is inner willingness or freedom to be open. Differently put, there is a Supernatural level and a human one.

We humans are multileveled complex beings. We are body and soul, emotions and biases, oriented profoundly by our environment, principally by our familial matrix and early life experience. All woven together in the human mystery. Further, we are all wounded by the primal sin of Adam and Eve which darkens one’s intellect and weakens one’s will. We may like to imagine ourselves as pure, noble intellect, unaffected by externalities, fair, honest, and open. In fact, there is probably no human being alive who fits that description perfectly. Alas, we all have some tinge of emotional brokenness.

Take, for example, my dear cousin David, ninety, intelligent, educated who sees himself as sheer logic and fairness. He and I, both with rich Jewish blood flowing through our veins, differ (and agree) on a plethora of important factors. We find it difficult to put aside the history of Pogroms and certainly the horror of the Holocaust. But, he, unlike me, cannot see the existence of God alongside such brutality. How can there be, he asks, a good God Who allows such degradation? Good question. But his deep feeling blocks any kind of significant exploration of Theism. Such a block makes any kind of rational and quiet discussion unlikely.

He claims that, as a kid, he was beaten up by a bunch of Irish Catholic kids in the Bronx because he was Jewish. Whether this is true or not (in this context) is irrelevant. What is relevant is that he believes it to be true. This relevance affects his attitude towards things Catholic, making him dismiss all the intellectual cogency of Catholic theology, logic, history, art, drama and good works. This inductive leap from bullying to anti-Catholicism and ultimately atheism would make an interesting study for a cognitive psychologist. Following such thinking , had he and I been born into each other’s life matrix, possibly, he would have been the believer and I the non believer.

I say this as I hold that atheism is not really an intellectual stance. It is primarily a psychological one. Is this true of Theism? Probably, in part, yes, even though atheism is negative—against Something while Theism is positive—for Something. Yet, I find after years of living and thinking and praying as a theist, I find ever more clearly that pure atheism is even non-persuasive to whatever intelligence I have. There are simply too many factors, social, biological, personal to be dismissed as merely coincidental or random. I have a brilliant Jewish friend who says with great jollity : “I am too intelligent to be an atheist.” May God forgive any personal intellectual arrogance when I say “Ditto.”

Two great thinkers of the world, Aristotle and Aquinas, one a Greek pagan and the other an Italian Catholic priest, centuries apart, presented a set of demonstrations which form the basic line for intellectual theistic assent. These demonstrations are called the “Quinque viae” (Five Ways) and include practically all the “rationales” of human history for believing in God. Their aggregate intellectual cogency is considerable. The Catholic Church has similarly held that the human mind can arrive at Theism by the power of the intellect. The unspoken caveat, however, is the point made above. Clear away the emotional “brambles” first. Otherwise, the age-old feeling blockades will continue to thwart a direct look at Reality. It is our human experience that clear headed decision-making is not congenial with interior fury! It is difficult to see the whole picture when one’s interiority is fragmented. And it should be noted that education and intelligence have nothing to do with the desired authenticity. There are some “emotionally” stupid Ph.Ds around in addition to some well balanced illiterates.

While I have not met enormous numbers of atheists in my life, the ones I did meet seemed driven by a certain kind of anger. Of course, I have met theists who are likewise angry, even surly and turbulent. Yet, the quality of a non-believer, I sense, has a specific dimension. For example, the sad eyed and verbal Christopher Hutchins (sp.?) of Vanity Fair, and a self identified atheist, displays an insensitive, even brutal anger. He refers to Mother Teresa of Calcutta as a “Fraud.” I have met this holy woman several times. One thing she certainly was not was a fraud. This woman, driven by love of God, would search the grimy, filthy back streets of Calcutta to find the despised and unwanted poor, not so much the clean, respectable poor but the poorest of the poor. She helped life’s unfortunates live and die with dignity and at least a sense of being loved. She clothed and washed and fed life’s losers. A fraud? Hardly.

The application of the term “fraud” is inapt . Perhaps, it is more apt to apply it to the sunny patios of Hollywood where superficial heads rule or perhaps to the wall to wall carpeted condo types of Manhattan who swill down martinis and raw oysters, and get all fired up to hug trees. But to the atheists. Why are they (and especially “professional” atheists ) so angry? Perhaps, Bill Buckely of National Review gives a special insight to this question. I interviewed him on my WNBC television show on The Morality of Nuclear Warfare and was appropriately stunned by his polysyllables and the depth of his thinking. He and I were both horrified at the possibility of mutual nuclear destruction of nations. But he noted the particular terror of atheists he knew. Their view? This life is all there is. This world is all they have. There is nothing more. There is no exit. There is no real meaning beyond this. Life is a cold, remote, stupid, meaningless span of years to be extended at all costs because there is No Tomorrow! It is “brutally short.” If such “affect” colors one’s life, there is no real peace. This terrible emotion could be painfully felt (even unconsciously) inclining the unbeliever to strike out in anger even rage –particularly at those whom he envies so desperately. Those benighted souls who believe in God and a glorious after-life! I recall poor old Larry King , on one of his broadcasts, mumbling---piteously, it seemed to me---that he wished he could so believe in God and in life after death. (the two are intrinsically linked). I know there are good, generous interesting and fair-minded atheists like Nat Hentoff of the Village Voice, of course. But they “carry”, I sense, a deep void.

Further, the atheist, unlike the believer, has no structure with which to deal with suffering. He does not know what to do with pain except to use pain killers. He must endure misery as meaningless and utterly valueless. The believer has a whole approach to make sense of absurdity and pain. Linking pain and suffering to the Cross of Jesus and His suffering gives an entirely different approach to the inevitable negatives of life. Sharing Redemption through personal agony not only gives meaning to the absurdity but gives a certain strength and even a kind of joy to bear the suffering.

To get some remote, if analogous, feel for this anger (or repressed despair), one might study the experiences of Catholic mystics who speak and write about the “Dark Night of the Soul.” They testify to the painful, excruciating feeling of the absence of God. The Away-From-Godness feeling. The mystic, though in temporary darkness, has the comfort and peace of Trust in the Hidden God but the atheist, in his perceived eternal darkness, can be wrenched and tortured with what he sees as Nothingness. To be totally separated from Meaning Itself can lead to the anger so noted in this paper. What can he do but reach desperately for some twig of the Great Religions. “Do unto others…” “Golden Rule and the rest”! Without God, such stretches rest on the quaky, insecure, changeable foundation of “Consensus.” Or the whim of the era. Consensus morality is vulnerable to whatever is the will of the majority.

What probably follows is a deep sense of loneliness. This might explain the almost fanatical zeal of the atheist to “have company” in his loneliness. His hopeful aim is to have as many fellow travellers as possible. Perhaps then his anguish might be assuaged! The more, the better. His fantasy is that many people actually are atheists but are pretending to be believers. The many and frequent polls showing the overwhelming numbers of believers can be a problem for him unless he can claim that they are Liars who, he dreams, really agree with him. Realities are not available to him because of the “other” emotional and environmental factors mentioned above.

One of the many attractive dimensions of Jesus and His very pragmatic teaching is that we shall know “them” by their fruits. Is there any way to evaluate happiness? Peace? Are believers more content and interiorly joyful than unbelievers? Searching the writings, speeches, life styles of the two might be very interesting and overwhelmingly indicative of how significantly the factor of a “religious base” feeds into a fundamental happiness. That might mean the endless and non-persuasive countering of one anecdote with another. This might be enjoyable cocktail conversation but it basically ends in a mutual stone wall. Still, it does appear that there are numerous indices of peaceful and meaningful lives in so many believers. The comfort and the trust arising from a belief in God is endlessly recorded.

A study at the University of Kentucky (Danner, Snowdon and Friesen; 2001) studied longevity and its correlation with positive emotions. 180 Catholic nuns, aged 75 to 95, tested out a very high correlation between their long years and the positive emotional orientation of their very early years. These nuns, all believers from early life, developed a sense of trust, gratitude, contentment, hope, love and even amusement all of which grew within the matrix of belief. This means, when the airy persiflage is dissipated, God. From a pragmatic point of view belief in God helps one not only to a long life but also an enjoyable and interiorly peaceful one. I am 89 years old myself and align myself with this study. I, and myriads of others, have found this to be so. However, I also have good genetic endowment from both sides of my humanity.

Obviously, one might argue for either position. This is clear. However, a recent article in the New Yorker magazine (12/13/10) makes this point relative to scientific research and opens up all kind of “doors”:

“We like to pretend that our own experiments often define the truth for us. But that’s often not the case. Just because an idea is true doesn’t mean it can be proved. And just because an idea can be proved doesn’t mean it is true. When the experiments are done, we still have to choose.”

The atheists shout: You can’t prove the existence of God. The theists shout: You can’t prove He doesn’t.

Which is it? The little secret is this. Faith is a Gift from God Himself. God gives it to everyone. But every one does not accept it! If you have it, thank the Gracious Lord. If you do not, (and want the Gift) are you open enough to clear away the emotional Brambles described above? Are you willing to take a certain risk described below?

In my years in South Africa, I had lengthy conversations with a brilliant English scientist who could not decide whether he was Agnostic ( I don’t know) or Atheist (I do not believe). All the fancy intellectual interaction was fun and probably a necessary preamble. But it was simply not enough. When I thought I was a complete loss to him in his search for the real Truth, I made the last attempt. I asked him to pray each night in this Fashion. “O God, if there is a God, help me.” He agreed.

He became a believer until he died. How come? Was it Intellectual? Emotional? Social? Psychological? God’s grace? I am not smart enough to answer. All I know is that he became a believer. Let me cop out and say “All of the above.” Some of the conclusion was in his hands. Some of it was in the hands of the Good Lord Whose ways are so mysterious.

As the New Yorker article states: “We still have to choose.”