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.
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