A Catholic-themed opinion blog about various topics, including theology, philosophy, politics and culture, from a Thomistic perspective.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Practice of Forgiveness

What does it mean to forgive? Too often, forgiveness is seen as a mere change of feeling towards someone. Because of this error, when our brains continue to feel something, as they usually do regardless of our rational desires, we think we have not forgiven someone, that the resentment or grudge we once held for someone remains. We cannot easily control what we feel, however; the activities of our brain are not immediately subject to our wills, as anyone paralyzed by fear or overwhelmed by a tragic event can attest. When we think of someone who once wronged us, or who is wronging us in the present, our brains often react with negative feelings simply because that is human nature. Our psyche is driven by fear in many instances, and feelings of anger and a desire to be rid of whatever is harming us, whether by avoiding it or removing it from our lives, is the brain trying to preserve us from that which we are afraid. To truly learn what it means to forgive, we must learn to look beyond our feelings and to focus on what we really can control: our choices.

To forgive someone is not simply to feel differently about them; as I have established, that is rarely something under our control. Rather, to forgive is to think about someone differently, to change our attitude and disposition willfully and voluntarily towards someone, both in our thoughts and actions. When we think of someone who has wronged us, how do we think about them? Do we focus on what they have done to us, on the frequent reality that little punishment has come to them for their wrongdoing, that they rarely repent of what they have done and that we the victims tend to suffer more for someone else's wrongs than they do? Do we even go so far as to think that, by hating them or resenting them, we are punishing them, dealing out justice where it may otherwise not be done?

We must examine ourselves closely to determine how we think about someone. From my own experience, when I retain grudges for people or think about them with contempt, I am truly covering up my own disappointment in them: I cared for them and wanted what was best for them, yet they betrayed that and so, rather than feel the tragic pang of disappointment, I distracted myself with anger and judgment. Or, I am afraid that what they did or said to me reveals a flaw in myself that I would rather ignore or that I cannot fix, and so rather than feel the sadness and regret for my own limitations, to examine myself and strive to correct my own problems or at least to accept them, I replace it with contempt for that person, focusing on their faults so as to avoid acknowledging my own.

These are only a few of the wide range of substitutions our human nature offers for forgiveness. But if we wish to overcome all this and truly, genuinely forgive someone, we must think about that person with "disinterest": not based on our personal bias, subjective feelings, or even our own memories. We also cannot think about them as if we have more authority than we do, as though it is our place to punish people for their sins. Rather, we must learn to view people with the objective, truthful love by which God views them. The severity of the wrongdoing someone has done against us cannot determine how we objectively view them. Just because someone hurt us very deeply and even irrevocably does not excuse us from the need to view them with disinterested, charitable love. We also cannot see it as though we are ignoring or lying about what they have done to us; it is not our place to record and preserve other people's sins. They occurred, forever imprinted on that person's soul, and only God can truly erase their sins or bring them to justice. Even what that person has done to those we love, including our own family, cannot affect how we see them.

We must learn to see people as human persons, created in the image and likeness of God, bearing the infinite, immutable dignity of sharing the humanity of Christ. This dignity cannot be lessened or removed. While some may deserve more of our love, whether from close affection or an admiration for their great accomplishments or holiness, all deserve love as human beings. We must love all as God does. He does not abandon anyone; nothing can separate us from His love, even when we separate ourselves from Him by our sins. God never loses this vision of people, no matter how far they remove themselves from Him. Nor should we. We must see everyone, even those who have hurt us or our loved ones, as the loving artwork of God, His treasure. "God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us." (Rom 5:8, RSVCE)

When we think of those who have wronged us or those close to us, we must see beyond the bias of our past experiences with them and resist our negative feelings, choosing instead to think positively about that person, to wish them the best, to hope and pray, with all sincerity, that they will repent of any sins that have committed and grow ever closer Christ. We cannot wish that they repent simply because we deserve it; it is far less important that they ask our forgiveness than that they ask for the mercy of God. We must also strive to never view ourselves as superior to them "since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Rom 3:23) The worst sinners and the holiest saints all rely on the grace of God. None can save themselves, despite our delusions to the contrary. We must see ourselves as being in the same boat as those who offend us - for truly, they did not offend us, but God, just as we offend God when we sin, and we are all created and designed to be with God. This purpose is not lessened by our sins, and so our desire for everyone to reach their destiny in this way must not be lessened either, even by their most severe wrongdoing.

To truly come to know Christ and to be ever closer to Him, we must learn this truth of the value and worthiness of forgiveness. It, like all other virtues, is not easy, just as the Passion of Christ was not easy; but it is certainly worthwhile. I truly hope and pray that all of us may grow in mercy and thereby grow ever close to God.


God bless.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Gospel of Life

Every year, hundreds of thousands of people around the world march in rallies for the purpose of overturning their government's protection and their countrymen's support of the worst genocide in history: abortion. In the US alone, since its legalization in 1973, over 50 million human beings have been murdered by the very people most responsible for their well-being: their mothers and their doctors. More than one-third of the approximately 205 million pregnancies that occur worldwide annually are unintended, and about 20% of all pregnancies end in induced abortion.This genocide has been given every excuse and justification that the fallen, vain human mind can conjure, yet all of them lack real basis in reason, revelation or science. Reason attests that something is human when it exhibits the attributes of humanity: a unique, individual, incarnate substance of a rational nature. Science proves that an unborn baby possesses a human body, genetically distinct from any other human that has ever lived, from the moment of conception. And revelation reveals to us the personhood, the inalienable dignity and the divine origin and end of these new human beings made in the image of God.

By virtue of their humanity, we can know that every unborn child deserves love, protection and sustenance. Yet, the judges in the Supreme Court case that legalized abortion in 1973, Roe vs. Wade, were able to deny reason, revelation, and science, on the basis of two propositions: only the mother has authority over the life of her unborn child (privacy); and an unborn human being is not a person until a certain point during the pregnancy (viability). These have formed the foundation of pro-abortion philosophy ever since, eventually developing into an abyss of relativism whereby there are no particular limitations on either of these qualifying standards. Women can now have an abortion for any reason, and at any time, in most parts of the US, while regions that attempt to restrict these 'rights' are often defeated by the courts. And in more recent times, they have even coaxed government funding and popular support in the media and entertainment industry, championed as one of the great 'civil rights' issues of our time.

Now, after these 40 years of privatized, excused, and government-funded genocide, we live in a country that every day murders over 3,000 of its own citizens, its own fellow human persons, with the approval of the government and a large part of the general population. Over a million human beings are murdered every year in the US - before they are even given a chance to live on their own. Imagine how many friends, how many spouses, children, grandchildren, leaders, innovators, workers, artists, have died over the past 40 years. We balk so easily at the genocide of the Holocaust, or the killings in Soviet Russia and Communist China, or the Armenian Genocide - yet, every day we are perpetuating the worst genocide in history, both in quantity and quality, for we are murdering the most innocent, helpless people in the world. Less than 1% of abortions are due to rape, incest or the endangerment of the mother's life - most are done for emotional, financial or other reasons of convenience. But, there is no cause of pregnancy than can reduce or abolish the human dignity of an unborn child.

Earlier, I said that by virtue of their humanity, all unborn children have dignity. I also said that we can identify this through revelation. Accordingly, our society has become increasingly secularized and morally bankrupt as the influence of Christianity has waned or become distorted, as the Supreme Court judges showed in 1973. Without the formation of conscience by the truth and grace of Christianity, even the keenest reason will be led astray even into grave evils. Through force of will and the coercion of intellect, as well as through ignorance or confusion, our conscience can become quiet, thereby allowing us to violate its moral guidance. What can deter us from doing this? Without any preconceived notions or beliefs, what can give us the idea that humanity has worth intrinsically, and deserves to be treated with dignity merely by virtue of itself? Reason and science alone cannot penetrate this mystery. Not even conscience can give us this level of objective truth to back up what it tells us. Only a transcendent, divine, creative God can give something intrinsic, inalienable dignity beyond its apparent nature.

The political and social work of the Church, of all Christians, for the sake of undoing abortion must proceed from an evangelical spirit. While we can, out of charity, offer aid and support to victims of abortion and lend our voice to all those united against abortion for the common good, we must understand that the dictates of reason and conscience can only go so far in motivating a pro-life attitude. This is why we see so many people who are pro-life while permitting abortion in certain circumstances, as if an unborn child becomes less human if s/he is conceived in a difficult situation, or as if the mother or doctor should play God by murdering a baby to preserve the life of the mother (something which is a medically hypothetical practice at any rate, if not impossible). Only the truth that each individual human being becomes a human person at the moment of conception, receiving a newly-created soul from God at that moment, made in the image of His Son, Jesus Christ, whereby humanity itself is sanctified and given innate, inalienable dignity - only this can provide sufficient motivation to be completely and utterly pro-life despite all the difficulties and confusions this can bring.

As we the Church work to end abortion in the world, we must remember the basis for our labors. The prevailing ideologies of modern governments, especially in the West, are not based on Christianity, especially not orthodox, traditional Christianity. They do not base their actions on what we teach, and those individuals government officials that do are frequently marginalized, even discriminated against. To change this world, to transform this global culture of death into a civilization of love, we must convert the hearts and minds of individual people, to show them the face of Jesus Christ in every human being, born or unborn. We must show non-Christians that the good they work for in their pro-life activities is derived from a loving God from whom all goodness derives and without whom all goodness is dependent on human perception. And, above all, we must work to correct fellow Christians, showing them that a "pro-choice Christian" is impossible.

I hope and pray that the efforts of all those involved in the pro-life movement, both Christian and non-Christian, may be fruitful in leading our world towards a society that acknowledges the dignity and beauty of each and every human life, regardless of age, gender, finance, or religion, and that, no matter how terrible and tragic the circumstances of a pregnancy, the mother has been given a gift from God, a gift that can act as a tonic for the pain that they have gone through. Let us no longer perpetuate this terrible, tragic genocide, but work towards building a global civilization of life and love! God bless!