Skip to comments.Even Our Virtues Must Be Burned Away
Posted on 03/29/2005 1:51:19 PM PST by Romulus
I sit on the board of Dayspring Homes ("Through the tender Mercy of our God, With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, To guide our feet into the way of peace." Lk. 1:78), a not-for-profit corporation that runs residential homes for mentally challenged adults. The founder of this organization is a devout, passionate, indefatigable nun. Though Dayspring accepts residents from all religious backgrounds, the atmosphere in the homes is distinctly Catholic.
Recently, I attended a Mass for the residents, employees and board members of Dayspring Homes. Though I had spent time with the residents before, I had never had the privilege of worshipping with them. As I watched them receive the Body and Blood of our Lord, I was deeply moved by their obvious, if somewhat boisterous, reverence. The look of sheer, childlike joy on their faces was unlike anything I have ever witnessed.
For several years, I have taken a group of students from my children's school to one of the Dayspring homes to help out with cleaning and yard work. Every time, several mothers have told me they make their children go so that their kids might see how fortunate they are in comparison to others. It is so easy, they point out, to take all that we have for granted. Though I have never had the courage to tell them so, these well meaning moms are mistaken. We do not learn how blessed we are from the mentally challenged, we learn how small and how deficient we are in comparison. They are the saints who reveal to us our shortcomings.
When I think about my experiences with the mentally challenged, I am reminded of a short story, Revelation, by the great Catholic writer Flannery O'Connor. The main character, Mrs. Turpin, is a middle-class, Southern, church-going, white woman who in her own words has "a little of everything, and a good disposition besides." Whenever she thinks about her blessings, she brims with gratitude. She just feels like shouting, "Thank you, Jesus, for making everything the way it is! I could have been different."
However, this sanguine view of herself and her life is shattered while she sits in a doctor's waiting room reflecting upon her good fortune in comparison to the poor creatures who are waiting with her. Suddenly, unprovoked, a very unattractive, upper middle-class white girl attacks her saying, "Go back to hell where you came from, you old wart hog." Mrs. Turpin knows this is a message from Jesus, and she is furious. She demands to know what He means by such a statement. The answer comes in the form of a vision. She sees a purple streak in the sky.
Upon it a vast horde of souls were rumbling toward heaven. There were whole companies of white-trash, clean for the first time in their lives, and bands of black niggers in white robes, and battalions of freaks and lunatics shouting and clapping and leaping like frogs. And bringing up the end of the procession was a tribe of people whom she recognized at once as those who...had always had a little of everything and the God-given wit to use it right...They were marching behind the others with great dignity, accountable as they had always been for good order and common sense and respectable behavior. They alone were on key. Yet she could see by their shocked and altered faces that even their virtues were being burned away.
Mrs. Turpin pities all those who have not had her luck in life. In fact, "to help anybody out that needed it was her philosophy of life." But her pity is the face of contempt. She pities those to whom she feels superior, those whom she has determined serve no use. Yet, those whom society sees as serving no purpose are often the ones closest to God because they recognize their dependence upon Him. Meanwhile, those traits which we admire most in ourselves and othersintelligence, wealth, self-reliance, common sense, respectabilitybecome occasions for sin. They create barriers in our relationship with God because they become points of pride and prejudice. We shall have to give them up (or, at least, our reliance upon them) in order to enter the kingdom of God.
When I am with my mentally challenged friends, I am acutely aware of what is lacking in my relationship with Godchildlikeness, amazement and wondermentqualities which are so much in evidence when they receive the Eucharist. In Unless You Become Like This Child, theologian Hans Urs Von Bathasar says childlikeness is a sense of the intrinsic worth of each moment of existence. According to him, Jesus, Himself, looks up to the Father with an eternal childlike amazement: "this amazement derives from the much deeper amazement of the eternal Child who, in the absolute Spirit of Love, marvels at Love itself as it permeates and transcends all that is." Therefore, to be Christ-like is to be childlike.
Our culture, the culture of death, does not value those qualities that make people childlike and, therefore, Christ-like. We give lip service to the idea that every individual has intrinsic worth, but our actions belie the sentiment. The notion that every individual from the time of his or her conception matters to God is as radical an idea today as it was in Jesus' time. Jesus, in fact, takes it one step further and proclaims those who are of no value to society are precisely those to whom the kingdom of God belongs. "Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven" (Mt. 19:14). As von Balthasar points out, the value of childhood lies in its "uselessness." Children understand they are wholly dependent upon another. A culture that does not understand the importance of "uselessness" (utter dependence) will be a culture in which abortion is widespread, and mentally challenged babies will be the first to go. That which is not useful is dispensable, and the unborn are useful only insofar as they serve our needs, which is why, as a society, we both dote upon and kill our children depending upon the value we assign to them.
Above all else, we value technological knowledge and power because they give us the illusion we can control our own fate; there is little room for the weakest among us. As Pope John Paul II writes in Evangelium Vitae, human "conscience itself, darkened as it were by... widespread conditioning, is finding it increasingly difficult to distinguish between good and evil in what concerns the basic value of human life." If we are ever again to see clearly, our "virtues"those qualities we admire most in this societywill have to be burned away.
The mentally challenged can help us regain our sight. They remind us that existence, itself, is intrinsically beautiful because every life has been created by God. My friends are not to be pitied. God chose them from all eternity to be His saints among us and to teach us what is truly important. I am indeed blessed to know them and to learn from them something about the true nature of sin and virtue, faith and love.
JENNIFER FERRARA, a Catholic convert, and former Lutheran pastor, is the co-editor of "The Catholic Mystique: Fourteen Women Find Fulfillment in the Catholic Church" (Our Sunday Visitor).
"Does not value"? "Hates and fears" is more like it.
For your bump lists, if you'd be so kind.
Come Holy Spirit.
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PRAYER FOR THE SEVEN GIFTS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
Christ Jesus, before ascending into heaven, You promised to send the Holy Spirit to Your apostles and disciples.
Grant that the same Spirit may perfect in our lives the work of Your grace and love.
Grant us the Spirit of Fear Of The Lord that we may be filled with a loving reverence toward You.
the Spirit of Piety that we may find peace and fulfillment in the service of God while serving others;
the Spirit of Fortitude that we may bear our cross with You and, with courage, overcome the obstacles that interfere with our salvation;
the Spirit of Knowledge that we may know You and know ourselves and grow in holiness;
the Spirit of Understanding to enlighten our minds with the light of Your truth;
the Spirit of Counsel that we may choose the surest way of doing Your will, seeking first the Kingdom;
Grant us the Spirit of Wisdom that we may aspire to the things that last forever;
Teach us to be Your faithful disciples and animate us in every way with Your Spirit.
I am certainly guilty of that. I feel frightened by the most benign mentally ill.
The 12 Fruits of the Holy Spirit are a result of the Virtues and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit working within us. The Fruits are: Charity, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness,
Gentleness (also called Benignity),
Continence (Self-control) and
If we water and tend a fruit tree we will enjoy the fruit when it matures. Similarly, the working of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit and their associated virtues within us produces fruits in our spirit, which console and encourage us to ever greater virtue and deeper surrender to God. Since the Fruits of the Holy Spirit are produced in the human spirit by the working of the Gifts, the greater the operation of the Gifts the more evident will be the Fruits.
The Fruits are:
Gentleness (also called Benignity),
Continence (Self-control) and
Come, Holy Spirit
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Thy faithful and enkindle in them the fire of Thy love.
V. Send forth Thy Spirit and they shall be created.
R. And Thou shalt renew the face of the earth.
Let us pray. O God, Who didst instruct the hearts of the faithful by the light of the Holy Spirit, grant us in the same Spirit to be truly wise, and ever to rejoice in His consolation. Through Christ our Lord.
thank you for the ping...EXCELLENT article!
You know that is why Terri must die.
SO ABSOLUTELY TRUE.
And a continuing growing edge challenge in my life. LETTING GO AND LETTING GOD is not an easy thing for me to learn well.
By His grace have made a lot of progress. But it's still a challenge. If you care about me, please pray for me in this area.
Bless you for posting this.
The culture of death reminds me of Johnny Cash singing about his kingdom of dirt.
The insurance companies like this because it will give them more options to pull plugs in the future.
With everyone mostly getting older as the largest part of the population soon, these euthanasia issues are arriving right on time.
More and more this world reminds me of that old movie Soylent Green with Charlton Heston. People were eating soylent green, which ended up being made of PEOPLE.
Are we so far off from that either?
Hell is defined best as an absence of God. We see a little more of that lately I am sorry to say.
Please add me to your ping list. Thanks.
From abortion, to pornography, to euthanasia, the Culture of Death is resoultely confronting and killing innocents; from the innocents unborn in the womb, to the innocent minds and souls of youth, to the innocent lives of the defenseless handicapped.
America, just like in Germany, where Hitler merely trod upon the ground prepared for him by psychiatrists and lawyers, is a killing fields for innocence where the battlefield was also prepared by doctors and lawyers.
It is over in America. Happy Easter.
ping to you
Perhaps because they shatter the illusion of being in control of things?
Ann and I had children -- perfectly healthy -- late in life, so I had plenty of opportunity to reflect on who's in control in the mental health department while waiting for them to be born. The visceral discomfort I have around the mentally handicapped had preceded that reflection and now persists. I don't like this about myself.
"The mentally challenged can help us regain our sight. They remind us that existence, itself, is intrinsically beautiful because every life has been created by God." Building upon the wisdom of those two sentences, allow me to add that we may think we understand what being alive (that blessed gift surmounted only by the gift of eternal life through His Grace) is about, but we do not in actuality comprehend what is God's greater purpose or what is actually being accomplished in His design by our living in these corruptible bodies for the time we spend in them.
That said, it is arrogant fist waving at the Creator to assume a quicker end for this time on Earth is an assist to God's plan ... not knowing His plan or the full design, some assume authority to end an innocent, disabled individual's life on their own agenda-laden timing. The spiritual battle lines are shaping up prior to the final days of this 'dispensation', with a new universae to follow that we haven't the slightest ability to predict or comprehend at this stage. May God have mercy and spread His grace over Terri Schindler Schiavo and her loving, grieving family; may God have His Justice for those so eager to put her down in their rush to institute their agenda of death for expedient reasons. May God have mercy upon US all.
Thanks for your contibution. Clearly this is a pro-life thread, but I hope I've made it clear that beyond the question in moral law of what care we owe the helpless, this thread is also a reflection on the mortal danger of moral pride, even when it masquerades as gratitude, and our desperate need for humility -- including our desperate need to be MADE helpless, if nothing else will do.
I have been there ... I found it was His infinite love for me (the me of no value I can discern) that brought me to the helpless state where I could only reach for His hand, and His hand is always there for His children 'for them He so justified He also glorified' so the Glory is His that we wear by His Grace.
I have been giving much thought to the place of senitmentalism in contemporary culture, and I bet it's related to this aversion to dependency. Romulus, I know you're familiar with O'Connor's line about tenderness leading to the gas chambers. I reread part of Saint John's depiction of Babylon the other day: "How much she hath glorified herself, and lived deliciously, so much torment and sorrow give her: for she saith in her heart, I sit a queen, and am no widow, and shall see no sorrow." -Rev 18:7 Many ignore this vale of tears, comforting themselves with the Panglossian fiction that absolutely everything is for the best. Someone is severely brain damaged? No worries, her soul is in a better place. Someone's a mass murderer? No worries, he's not really a member of the human race.
Do the proud ever weep? "Proud weeping" sounds like an oxymoron to my ears. It seems to me the most human reaction to the realization that we are not in control, or at least that the world is not as it should be. Irony, camp, and stoicism kill off one's ability to mourn.
Does suffering have any iconic significance? I tend to say no, since that would imply that suffering reveals the nature of God , and as I recall patripassianism has been condemned as a heresy for saying just that. John Paul II's apostolic letter Salvici Doloris is an excellent examination of the matter.
Alisdair MacIntyre also made a study of human dependency in his _Dependent Rational Animals_, though it's quite flawed and one of his weaker works.
For the past five seasons, I've been through a crucifixion of my own. A chronic illness of unknown origin has left me quite dependent. Prayers would be much appreciated, and reciprocated.
The identification of Gods Holy Wisdom with the eternal Logos through Whom all creation came into being is ancient and particularly strong in the Eastern Church. As you've already pointed out, Proverbs 8 speaks directly to a quality of personhood in Gods uncreated Wisdom. Here is that chapter in full, followed by two other equally striking old testament passages that look deep into Wisdom's presence in the Trinity:
Does not Wisdom call, and Understanding raise her voice? On the top of the heights along the road, at the crossroads she takes her stand; By the gates at the approaches of the city, in the entryways she cries aloud: "To you, O men, I call; my appeal is to the children of men. You simple ones, gain resource, you fools, gain sense. "Give heed! for noble things I speak; honesty opens my lips. Yes, the truth my mouth recounts, but the wickedness my lips abhor. Sincere are all the words of my mouth, no one of them is wily or crooked; All of them are plain to the man of intelligence, and right to those who attain knowledge. Receive my instruction in preference to silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold. (For Wisdom is better than corals, and no choice possessions can compare with her.) "I, Wisdom, dwell with experience, and judicious knowledge I attain. (The fear of the LORD is to hate evil;) Pride, arrogance, the evil way, and the perverse mouth I hate. Mine are counsel and advice; Mine is strength; I am understanding. By me kings reign, and lawgivers establish justice; By me princes govern, and nobles; all the rulers of earth. "Those who love me I also love, and those who seek me find me. With me are riches and honor, enduring wealth and prosperity. My fruit is better than gold, yes, than pure gold, and my revenue than choice silver. On the way of duty I walk, along the paths of justice, Granting wealth to those who love me, and filling their treasuries. "The LORD begot me, the first-born of his ways, the forerunner of his prodigies of long ago; From of old I was poured forth, at the first, before the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no fountains or springs of water; Before the mountains were settled into place, before the hills, I was brought forth; While as yet the earth and the fields were not made, nor the first clods of the world. "When he established the heavens I was there, when he marked out the vault over the face of the deep; When he made firm the skies above, when he fixed fast the foundations of the earth; When he set for the sea its limit, so that the waters should not transgress his command; Then was I beside him as his craftsman, and I was his delight day by day, Playing before him all the while, playing on the surface of his earth; and I found delight in the sons of men. "So now, O children, listen to me; instruction and wisdom do not reject! Happy the man who obeys me, and happy those who keep my ways, Happy the man watching daily at my gates, waiting at my doorposts; For he who finds me finds life, and wins favor from the LORD; But he who misses me harms himself; all who hate me love death."
The Book of Wisdom, Chapter 9
[Solomon -- the son of David -- speaks:]God of my fathers, LORD of mercy. you who have made all things by your word And in your wisdom have established man to rule the creatures produced by you, To govern the world in holiness and justice, and to render judgment in integrity of heart: Give me Wisdom, the attendant at your throne, and reject me not from among your children; For I am your servant, the son of your handmaid, a man weak and short-lived and lacking in comprehension of judgment and of laws. Indeed, though one be perfect among the sons of men, if Wisdom, who comes from you, be not with him, he shall be held in no esteem. You have chosen me king over your people and magistrate for your sons and daughters. You have bid me build a temple on your holy mountain and an altar in the city that is your dwelling place, a copy of the holy tabernacle which you had established from of old. Now with you is Wisdom, who knows your works and was present when you made the world; Who understands what is pleasing in your eyes and what is conformable with your commands. Send her forth from your holy heavens and from your glorious throne dispatch her That she may be with me and work with me, that I may know what is your pleasure. For she knows and understands all things, and will guide me discreetly in my affairs and safeguard me by her glory; Thus my deeds will be acceptable, and I shall judge your people justly and be worthy of my father's throne. For what man knows God's counsel, or who can conceive what our LORD intends? For the deliberations of mortals are timid, and unsure are our plans. For the corruptible body burdens the soul and the earthen shelter weighs down the mind that has many concerns. And scarce do we guess the things on earth, and what is within our grasp we find with difficulty; but when things are in heaven, who can search them out? Or who ever knew your counsel, except you had given Wisdom and sent your holy spirit from on high? And thus were the paths of those on earth made straight, and men learned what was your pleasure, and were saved by Wisdom.
Sirach, Chapter 24
[A great text for the Feast of the Annunciation] Wisdom sings her own praises, before her own people she proclaims her glory; In the assembly of the Most High she opens her mouth, in the presence of his hosts she declares her worth: "From the mouth of the Most High I came forth, and mistlike covered the earth. In the highest heavens did I dwell, my throne on a pillar of cloud. The vault of heaven I compassed alone, through the deep abyss I wandered. Over waves of the sea, over all the land, over every people and nation I held sway. Among all these I sought a resting place; in whose inheritance should I abide? "Then the Creator of all gave me his command, and he who formed me chose the spot for my tent, Saying, 'In Jacob make your dwelling, in Israel your inheritance.' Before all ages, in the beginning, he created me, and through all ages I shall not cease to be. In the holy tent I ministered before him, and in Zion I fixed my abode. Thus in the chosen city he has given me rest, in Jerusalem is my domain. I have struck root among the glorious people, in the portion of the LORD, his heritage. "Like a cedar on Lebanon I am raised aloft, like a cypress on Mount Hermon, Like a palm tree in En-gedi, like a rosebush in Jericho, Like a fair olive tree in the field, like a plane tree growing beside the water. Like cinnamon, or fragrant balm, or precious myrrh, I give forth perfume; Likegalbanum and onycha and sweet spices, like the odor of incense in the holy place. I spread out my branches like a terebinth, my branches so bright and so graceful. I bud forth delights like the vine, my blossoms become fruit fair and rich. Come to me, all you that yearn for me, and be filled with my fruits; You will remember me as sweeter than honey, better to have than the honeycomb. He who eats of me will hunger still, he who drinks of me will thirst for more; He who obeys me will not be put to shame, he who serves me will never fail."