Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Bible Study on Proverbs, Part XI

Hatred stirreth up strifes: and charity covereth all sins.

When one lives a life in hatred and in sin, it's often a very short life. To demonstrate that point, one could draw upon a character that America seems to be obsessed with, that of the Mafia man. The men in the Mafia almost always practiced deceit, villainy, about every bad trick in the book to gain power. And in the end, they almost always turn on each other. Normally when they turn on each other, it was for something extremely miniscule that happened in some cases decades ago. Since they lived by a principle of power and hatred, rather than charity and service, those wrongdoings laid under the service for quite some time, building anger. Eventually that anger would erupt in strife, normally a bloody one.

This is contrasted by those who practice charity. When charity is practiced, once bitter enemies can become friends, or at least develop a level of respect between the two of them. That charity overlooks those sins, and one isn't constantly living in a state of fearing revenge. To the Christian, revenge is something that should be abhorrent, and never carried out. While justice might demand punishment, revenge is never justice. We see that in Proverbs, it's not just living a life of virtue, when one follows such virtues, life is ultimately far simpler.

In the lips of the wise is wisdom found: and a rod on the back of him that wanteth sense.

Another way of saying this is the wise man does out of desire and service what others will only do through fear. Since they reject wisdom, normally in selfish pride, about the only way to get them to do something proper is if they are compelled to do so, either through incentives or force. The wise man needs no incentive other than to do what is right and just. The one who wants sense is normally taking the approach "Well what's in this for me?" or "How far along can I get away with doing this?" Normally, tying this to the verse before, it is he who lives a life by hateful standards who adopts such an approach, and the charitable one doing something because of love. As Christians, we never do something out of fear of hell. At least we shouldn't real as it is! Rather, the standard is to do something because one loves God first and foremost. The path to wisdom as Proverbs reports earlier is obviously through trusting in the Lord and employing charity.

Wise men lay up knowledge: but the mouth of the fool is next to confusion.

There are some who seem to imply that since wisdom is a gift of God, it is not a gift that needs to be nurtured or practiced. The wise man is wise for two reasons. One, he most certainly is blessed by God with the gift of wisdom. Second, he maintains and cultivates that gift. He dedicates himself to his studies and his disciplines without ceasing. In an irony, he is wise because he realizes he isn't. He recognizes his own limits, and learns from others. Rather than speak always, he knows when he should remain silent and learn.

This is contrasted with a proverb from Mark Twain. "It is better to remain silent and thought a fool then to speak and remove all doubt." The fool doesn't feel it's necessary to practice discipline and cultivate the gift of wisdom. He always has something to say. Even intelligent people end up being the fool. They believe that since they have intelligence in some areas they have intelligence in all, rushing into a discussion attempting to wax eloquent, when in reality they should sit back and learn. According to the great spiritual master St. John of the Cross, it is because of a secret and sometimes not so secret pride. Speaking on the issue of pride in those walking the spiritual life, the spiritual master has the following to say in his masterpiece Dark Night of the Soul:

AS these beginners feel themselves to be very fervent and diligent in spiritual things and devout exercises, from this prosperity (although it is true that holy things of their own nature cause humility) there often comes to them, through their imperfections, a certain kind of secret pride, whence they come to have some degree of satisfaction with their works and with themselves. And hence there comes to them likewise a certain desire, which is somewhat vain, and at times very vain, to speak of spiritual things in the presence of others, and sometimes even to teach such things rather than to learn them. They condemn others in their heart when they see that they have not the kind of devotion which they themselves desire; and sometimes they even say this in words, herein resembling the Pharisee, who boasted of himself, praising God for his own good works and despising the publican.

2. In these persons the devil often increases the fervour that they have and the desire to perform these and other works more frequently, so that their pride and presumption may grow greater. For the devil knows quite well that all these works and virtues which they perform are not only valueless to them, but even become vices in them. And such a degree of evil are some of these persons wont to reach that they would have none appear good save themselves; and thus, in deed and word, whenever the opportunity occurs, they condemn them and slander them, beholding the mote in their brother’s eye and not considering the beam which is in their own; they strain at another’s gnat and themselves swallow a camel.

3. Sometimes, too, when their spiritual masters, such as confessors and superiors, do not approve of their spirit and behavior (for they are anxious that all they do shall be esteemed and praised), they consider that they do not understand them, or that, because they do not approve of this and comply with that, their confessors are themselves not spiritual. And so they immediately desire and contrive to find some one else who will fit in with their tastes; for as a rule they desire to speak of spiritual matters with those who they think will praise and esteem what they do, and they flee, as they would from death, from those who disabuse them in order to lead them into a safe road—sometimes they even harbour ill-will against them. Presuming thus, they are wont to resolve much and accomplish very little. Sometimes they are anxious that others shall realize how spiritual and devout they are, to which end they occasionally give outward evidence thereof in movements, sighs and other ceremonies; and at times they are apt to fall into certain ecstasies, in public rather than in secret, wherein the devil aids them, and they are pleased that this should be noticed, and are often eager that it should be noticed more.

After outlining what can rightly be labeled as the fool Solomon spoke of, the Doctor then contrasts the fool with the wise man:

Together with great tranquillity and humbleness, these souls have a deep desire to be taught by anyone who can bring them profit; they are the complete opposite of those of whom we have spoken above, who would fain be always teaching, and who, when others seem to be teaching them, take the words from their mouths as if they knew them already. These souls, on the other hand, being far from desiring to be the masters of any, are very ready to travel and set out on another road than that which they are actually following, if they be so commanded, because they never think that they are right in anything whatsoever.

As St. John of the Cross tells us, it is not an issue of who has or who doesn't have knowledge and wisdom. Many of the people who fall into the errors he describes have knowledge and wisdom, but they have no clue how to use it, and always believe they know what's best. Solomon (as I do believe him to be the author of proverbs) has this in mind, when after the proverb covered he tells us how to avoid such pride in one's wisdom:

The way of life, to him that observeth correction: but he that forsaketh reproofs goeth astray.

To supplement this proverb could come a proverb from what could be called "The Bible of Military Tactics", Sun Tzu's The Art of War. Speaking on how to win a war, he tells us: "The wise warrior seeks to win and then goes to war, whereas the foolish warrior goes to war seeking to win." I remember a recent dispute I was involved in with somebody over a controversial issue. He made thunderous objections to the fact that those I worked with always "worked in committee" before issuing responses, viewing it idle gossip to constantly talk about where his argumentation went wrong amongst others. I viewed the approach my colleagues were taking as one of wisdom. They recognized that their work could be extremely flawed, and wanted to develop a plan of action on how to proceed with their work, taking things into account that could happen. As a result, they would modify their work. Had they not, had they simply entered the dialogue expecting their position to win without thinking ahead, they would be prone to making embarrassing statements that would later need to be corrected. Since they accepted correction from myself and others, some of the more outlandish statements were dropped. When they did not seek such counsel, they normally found themselves in a mess with certain statements they had to retract later, making them look like fools. Furthermore, I wouldn't view this as a negative, but a positive if many minds were working together against me. It is a sign of respect from one's opponent, giving your work serious consideration. It proves he is not an ideologue looking to score points, but looking to have an honest dialogue. He takes correction and lays up knowledge. Those who are too proud to accept correction almost always end up looking like fools, trapped in a nest of confusions.


Sunday, February 05, 2006

Authority and It's Role in Christian Marriage

The topic I am going to cover here is not strictly related to marriage per se; however I think it has its own value. One of the most contested concepts in Scripture relating to marriage is the command of St. Paul for “wives, submit to your husbands as the Church submits to Christ.” I myself have never really seen a problem with this passage, but this seems to trouble so many “modern” Catholic women to no end. Poisoned by a feminist culture, many women nowadays look upon this not with love, but with scorn.

I have attempted numerous ways to tackle this issue so far, all of them failures. I would get to writing, and I just wouldn’t be convinced that what I was writing was coherent. As I began reflecting on this issue a little more in-depth, I believe I’ve come to the opinion that the reason this passage is so strongly objected to is not just a misunderstanding of obedience and submission, but also of the very nature of authority itself. This is not limited to women; I think Catholic men in many cases also may struggle with understanding the concept of authority.

What is the basis of authority in the eyes of many in the world and even the Church? Someone is given authority because “He has such a Charismatic personality, he can really fire up the crowds! He rules with an iron fist, nobody would dare oppose him! He has a commanding presence!” All of these are extremely good qualities. He who is charismatic can inspire people to his cause. Those who rule strictly normally have an order in the causes they lead. The commanding presence causes people to admire their leaders, and say that yes, this is the man God placed to lead us. Yet all of these traits, while good, are not the basis for authority for Christians. That is what the world measures authority by. Let us recall the words of our Blessed Lord, in Luke’s Gospel, Chapter 22:

And there was also a strife amongst them, which of them should seem to be the greater. And he said to them: The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and they that have power over them, are called beneficent. But you not so: but he that is the greater among you, let him become as the younger; and he that is the leader, as he that serveth. For which is greater, he that sitteth at table, or he that serveth? Is it not he that sitteth at table? But I am in the midst of you, as he that serveth: And you are they who have continued with me in my temptations: And I dispose to you, as my Father hath disposed to me, a kingdom; That you may eat and drink at my table, in my kingdom: and may sit upon thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

As with so many things, Christ changes everything. He takes what exists before, and elevates it to something even greater. Notice the context here. This comes in light of Christ’s once again warning that he will be betrayed and be crucified. It was then the Apostles began to argue who would be the greatest. In light of their leader being killed, the Apostles were now vying for leadership of the group, craving authority, craving leadership. Yet according to Our Lord, like so many other times, the Apostles were acting no different than those of the world. It was the world which craved exercising authority. It was the world who boasts of that authority. They lord the authority over their subjects, many times using fear to “keep the locals in line.”

This was not to be the way of Jesus Christ or the Catholic Church. For those who desired to lead, Christ commanded them to become servants. Christ served his Apostles, yet He was their master. Rather than the Apostles washing the feet of Christ, Christ washes the feet of the Apostles. Christ lowered himself to service, and through service led the Apostles. It certainly is a radical, but common sense concept. Through that service, the leader strengthens those he rules. He teaches them humility that even the great leaders are human beings just like the rest of us. That humanity of Christ was demonstrated completely by the act of ultimate service, the Cross, and His command for us to take our crosses and follow him. As leader, He identifies Himself with those He wishes to lead.

In the Old Latin Mass, I think this is something brilliantly demonstrated by the priest facing the altar, not the people during Mass. Many scornfully say “Oh the priest is not caring about the people; he is turning his back on them.” Rather, he is facing the same way we are. He is leading by serving. He’s a sinner just like we are, and he approaches the Cross for the forgiveness of sins, just as we do. Several times at Mass, he turns to the people asking for their prayers. It is their prayers, not his strength, which continues him in his ministry. It is the prayers of others that cause God to pour down grace upon that priest. The priest views it as nothing of his own, but by the Grace of God he continues, in serving others.

For another example, think of what happens whenever a Pope pronounces something major for the Church. Did Pius XII for example say “I Pius, Vicar of Christ, Supreme Pontiff and Successor to Prince of the Apostles tell you…?” Of course not. Rather he says, “I Pius, Bishop, and Servant of the Servants of God, for an everlasting memorial.” He lowers himself to the servant of all who serve God. Through that service, what he will say endures.

We see the first aspect of authority under Jesus Christ is that of service. The other aspect I am going to reference is not more or less important than the first. Indeed, the act of love cannot be separated from service, nor can service from love. They are equal, and both vital. Just as faith cannot be separated from works, love cannot be separated from service.

A perfect example of the requirement of love in exercising authority comes from the always impetuous Apostle Peter. He identifies Christ, knowing who He is, but objects to Christ carrying out His mission. He boldly proclaims He intends to follow Christ unto death, only to abandon Him when Christ’s death fast approaches. In John’s Gospel, the Risen Christ appears, and Peter rushes to greet him, but then all of a sudden is back in the boat. As Archbishop Fulton Sheen speculated, a likely reason is because Peter was being impetuous. He ran towards Christ with all his zeal, to see Christ standing by a fire. That fire reminded Peter of His denial of Christ over the fire at the Court of the Sanhedrin.

Yet we also know it is here that Peter receives authority from Christ to “feed my lambs, feed my lambs, and feed my sheep.” The Greek words used indicate that through Peter, the lambs and sheep would receive spiritual nourishment and governance. Yet what was the basis for such authority? Was it Peter’s zeal? Was it the fact that Peter was the first to identify Christ? Rather, it was due to the fact Peter affirmed his love for Christ. It was only after Peter said “Yes Lord, I love you” that he was to feed the sheep.

Christ of course knew the answer. I think, out of the Apostles, it very well could be that Peter loved him the most, but just, as some would say “had a real funny way of showing it.” He loved Christ, wanted to die for Christ, had unbelievable zeal, but he at the same time also lacked service. He was not willing to submit to the decrees of Jesus Christ. He wanted to have things his own way. He wanted Christ as King but not Christ as Victim. He wanted to die for Christ, but on his own time schedule. Yet at this exchange Peter understood. That because he loves Christ, he feeds the sheep. Because Peter loves Christ, he becomes the servant to them feeding them. He does not demand that they feed him.

This is the basis for authority. That of love, and service. You cannot claim to love someone if you do not serve them. Nor can you claim to truly serve someone unless you love them.