Freedom

A lot of asking what is freedom? and a lot of seeing the implications of freedom.

Thomas Merton, St Joseph, and Tyler Durden

I was thinking today about what sort of man I want to be known as. My answer was “strong”. But then I realised, that this is my false self (in the words of Thomas Merton) speaking. How do I know? Because it looks at how I’m seen, not how I am.

I was reminded of St Joseph’s great silence in the Bible. Joseph was a good and righteous man, and didn’t care what others thought. He fathered God, but never made a big deal of it. He simply got on and did his duty, or equivalently, did God’s will for him.

St Joseph is the dreamer, but doesn’t fulfil his dreams by words, but by humble, consistent, grueling work. He never sought glory, but was content to contribute to the glory of God, whether he was seen or unseen. I pray God let me imitate my namesake in this [Ignatius is my confirmation name, and Joseph my baptismal].

I also remembered a very different character, with different wisdom: Fight Club’s Tyler Durden said, “Self-improvement is masturbation. Self-destruction on the other hand…”

I absolutely love this quote.

Self-improvement is masturbation because it’s self-pleasing and doesn’t bear any fruit. It’s infantile and revolting. It’s a waste of life to please yourself by becoming “better”. Stop pleasuring yourself in public!

Self-destruction on the other hand… liberates us. Fight Club is about men abandoning what Jesus calls, “the world”. Tyler Durden is captivating because he’s almost St Francis, who was almost Jesus. He recognises and abandons the emptiness of the world, of the self. But in chasing his self out, he is still stuck chasing his self.

Why? Because he believes God doesn’t care about him; his self is all he has. There is nothing beyond his self to be reached.

But St Francis, (and even more truly, Jesus) can totally destroy his self and be free, because the destruction of his self, through all his mad penances and lifestyle, is in the love of God. The falsehood of the self that Tyler Durden could see so clearly, can only be destroyed by the Truth that is God.

God bless you!

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What should government be?

[This post got stuck as a draft and now isn’t very timely. Oh well, better late than never!]

As we approach the general election on the 8th May, I thought it would be good to think a bit about politics. So, let’s start at the very beginning…

Where is authority ultimately from?

Authority comes from truth. Equivalently, we can say that authority comes from God, the author of all creation. We should listen to the truth and to those who instruct us according to the truth, simply because what’s in accordance with the truth is in accordance with our true being. As the (virulent atheist) anarchist, Mikhail Bakunin said,

Does it follow that I reject all authority? Perish the thought. In the matter of boots, I defer to the authority of the boot-maker.

This requires humility, because we have to recognise that sometimes, the truth, including the truth of ourselves, is not in accordance with our own wills and desires. At times like this, our desires, if not submitted to truth and reason, actually enslave us, denying us our true dignity and glory.

Today, this is probably not such a common concept of authority. We live in a world that is “post-God” and “post-truth”, believing that these tend towards oppression. Instead, the world believes in desire and force. What’s important is that I claim my “rights”, over against yours. Authority is then just a word for more established power.

Where does government come from?

My guess is, that government more or less grew out of natural structures of authority. At the lowest level, a father is naturally and historically the head of his family, as the one primarily responsible for its defense and provision, and therefore most aware of how to make the best decisions for it. In society at a larger level, say an extended family or a village, a father figure will emerge too; one who is strong, wise, and provides for the people. At each larger level, “father” figures may emerge, as and when groups become more integrated, and need someone to give them unity and provide for the common good.

Of course, right from the lowest level, and right from the beginning, violence ruins this lovely human family. There are bad fathers, bad chieftains, and bad kings, and then there are usurpers, often friends and relatives, who take power for themselves with the best or worst of motives, so that “authority” is rarely held by those who deserve it.

Plato believed that the ideal government was that of the Philosopher Ruler, but that this would degenerate into a timarchy (military/honour based rule, e.g. Sparta, or feudal [Samurai] Japan), which would degenerate into oligarchy (wealth based rule- think of the USA), which then degenerates into democracy (people/pleasure based rule- think of ancient Athens, or Norway, Iceland, or Sweden), which finally degenerates into  tyranny (the rule of absolute violence, and unrestrained desire). I think he was onto something. It is essentially the process of men and societies diverging from the highest good, Goodness Itself, to lesser, more divided goods, going through honour to wealth to selfish happiness to unrestrained desire.

What should government be?

The government’s duty is to serve the common good in accordance with the truth (it is impossible in discord with truth). Therefore, it should be honest; should seek the truth on every matter, with open, humble ears; it should respect the freedom of lower levels of government and society, which are generally better placed to look after their own common good; it should be firm in justice, but double so with itself; it should serve all, and respect all; it should be both strong and gentle; both reserved and courageous; it should be genuinely humble, never glorifying itself, but placing itself beneath others; it should be self-sacrificing and unprofitable; and undoubtedly much more. To simplify, a good government, and the people who compose it, should have all the qualities of a good father.

At this point you’re perhaps thinking this is literally paternalistic government. But the issue of paternalism would actually be an issue in a father too. The problem is the same in both overbearing parents and overbearing governments: both children and peoples need freedom in order to flourish, including the freedom to make mistakes.

Is this realistic?

If we could have a government of saints, absolutely! But saints are hard to come be, and generally wouldn’t want such a position. They know too well, how violence and sin thrive in power, and they don’t seek power, or its prestige and rewards. Their humility keeps them from seeking any position except the least. And the struggle for power, is a struggle, and they do not desire struggle and strife, but love and unity.

Still, it’s good to have ideals to reach for. If you’re in government, be like a good father and you’ll do well. For the rest of us, this can shape our engagement with politics, and perhaps we’ll see a conversion of our government.

palace_of_westminster2c_london_-_feb_2007

 

Finally

‘You know that among the pagans their so-called rulers lord it over them, and their great men make their authority felt. This is not to happen among you. No; anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be slave to all. For the Son of Man Himself did not come to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.’
[Mk 10:42-45]

Whenever I read this passage, it makes me wonder if a Christian should be in politics at all. I don’t suppose Christian virtue would go very far. After all, the kingdoms of the world belong to satan, and are given to his worshippers [Lk 4:6]. I guess we must engage according to the gospel, and abandon any struggle for domination.

 

Please, share your thoughts! God bless you!

Victorious

The Resurrection should be understood as a challenge to the world. Death has been overcome, and now, the children of God have nothing left to fear. 

There’s a lot to leave us feeling hopeless in the world today. There’s war, poverty, loneliness, abortion, hatred, murder, human trafficking, racism, addiction, euthanasia, exploitation,  ignorance, terrorism, sexual abuse, genocides, corruption, divorce, torture, and the list just goes on and on. We live, undeniably, in a culture of death and indifference. 

And of course, a culture of death requires and creates for itself a culture of indifference. When we’re surrounded by so much death, the easiest way to deal with it is simply to die inside, closing our eyes and hearts. We package away the suffering in little boxes, which we’ll return to occasionally, to cry a little, give some money, and so relieve what’s left of our consciences a little bit. If we let our hearts open to all the misery and death around us, we’d be unable to let it go on. We would be compelled to stand against the forces of death that surround us.

But what use is it? Who can fight against the empire of death and win? Especially when death reigns even in our own hearts?

ALLELUIA! CHRIST IS RISEN! ALLELUIA! 

You cannot kill a Christian! We cannot die! God is on our side! God has justified the crucified! Nothing can ever overcome the children of God. Nothing can stop the Kingdom of God.

Therefore, we must live in a new manner. The dying things of the world no longer matter. Nothing matters, except the true life we have been given, the life of absolute love, the life of the children of God, the life of heaven. 

Jesus is vindicated, and His way is proven right. And so we can accept Him, His love, His truth, in all His weakness. His death is only half the story. 

And so we can and must walk in His ways, taking up our crosses, the pains and injustices around us, and entering them, transforming them, with a fearless love. Nothing, not even death, can stop the children of God, and that is what we are. 

This is the freedom we must live out in the face of all the death surrounding us on every side. We must live in the victory already won. 
God bless you! Christ is risen! 

The Sabbath

Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you… Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.
(Deuteronomy 5:12, 15)

One thing we need to get straight: God’s rest is not about “recharging”, “recalibrating” or “resetting” yourself like some machine. In fact, that’s the opposite of true rest. God commands us to rest for today’s sake, and today’s alone.

What does it mean for us to rest? It means to finally take the time to just be you, putting aside everything that is forced upon you by the necessities of life, and actually enjoying life for exactly what it is at this moment. When we rest, we’re not existing for some external or future purpose. We are for our own sakes.

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Liberation

When the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, they were given no rest. Even their eating, drinking and sleeping, were to make them work better for Pharaoh. Everything they did, everything they were, was a mere tool for some supposed greater good.

But when the Lord liberated Israel, He commanded them to be free. No matter what may happen, whatever worries or troubles came their way, they could never lose sight of the freedom the Lord gave them, to simply be. This rest, this freedom, is the point and purpose of the Exodus, of all of salvation history, of all life, and in fact, of all things.

True rest is so absolutely crucial, that viewed from any other perspective, it is completely pointless. That is, rest is so divine, that like God Himself, it has no cause but itself.

Creation

In God’s creating of the Heavens and the Earth, God repeatedly takes time at the end of the day to “see that it was good”. Then on the Sabbath, God rests. On the Sabbath, when all is said and done, God simply enjoys His creation.

He did not work hard for six days in order to improve His work on the seventh, and then the eighth and so on. When His “work week” was over, He didn’t want to take the fruits of His labour and reinvest it immediately for an even better creation come day eight. He made the whole of creation for its own sake:all of creation, is created to rest, with Him and in Him. 

At the burning bush, God reveals Himself to Moses as YHWH, “I AM THAT I AM”/”I SHALL BE WHAT I SHALL BE”. God thus reveals Himself to us as the One that is entirely unconditional, undefinable, and uncontrollable; the One Who simply IS; the One Who gives being to all that is. So it should not surprise us, that the One who tradition calls “Being Itself” desires above all, that all things should simply be what they are. He is not something separate, but your very being, and for you to be, is for you to do His will, to make Him present. 

If you’re wondering how anything could conceivably be anything but what it is, the answer is what we call “sin”. Sin is the denial of being/truth/life/God Himself. That is, the truth of what something is, is denied, and something else is imposed upon it from outside. Sin is to make the world, and so ourselves, empty, unreal, lifeless and Godless. Everything is reduced to the will and its power to dominate the lifeless universe it inhabits. Life is a great war fought without reason. Essentially, sin is oppression. 

So we see, that true rest is the opposite not of work, but of sin. Rest restores us to us, and in doing so, restores us to God, who is closer to us than we are to ourselves. 

Rest means dancing

To rest is to throw away every plan, every aim, and every objective, and fully live as you are. If you find within yourself singing, you must sing! If you find within yourself dancing, you must dance! However you find the life & love that are you within yourself, you must obey! Even if it will exhaust you.

This obedience is much more difficult to cultivate than you might have thought. Our modern world has us all caught up with programs and fulfilling our desires, and has no time for the utter pointlessness that is rest. At this point, chasing after desire has become a second nature to most people, and to stop can cause real stress. We can get so immersed, that we become genuinely afraid of having any truly free time, in case we miss out on something, or realise just how unfulfilled we still are, even after all our striving.

Because it’s so difficult to cultivate true rest, and especially to cultivate it across a whole society (since societies, like people, are made to rest and be free), we desperately need the Sabbath. It’s not enough to rest as a side note, or whenever we get a spare moment.

Rest needs to be recognised as the priority that it is. We need the day, which exists entirely to itself, without even the necessities of life intruding. They can wait, because today, God commands me to dance.

And yet, I cannot spend all my time dancing and never work–but then again, true rest is the opposite of sin, and so should be sought always. It is true that not every day should be treated as the Sabbath, but the Sabbath should infiltrate the whole week, training us to live our entire lives at rest. All our work, all our strivings, all our aims, should be undertaken from the love & life that is within us, and done and enjoyed for their own sakes. We must accept all as a gift from God, and do all as a gift to Him and to all.

“Work without love is slavery.”
-St. Teresa of Calcutta


Jesus

‘Come to me all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden light.’
(Matthew 11:28-30)

What rest does Jesus give? His rest is Himself, His love, His cross, His Resurrection. In Him, we find the truth of ourselves, obscured in us by sin, and we are restored to ourselves, to the world, and to God. We are united to God, through the cross and Resurrection, and rest perfectly with God Himself. 

God bless you!

We are revolutionaries

The revolutions of history have changed political and economic systems, but none have really changed the human heart. True revolution, the revolution that radically transforms life, was brought about by Jesus Christ through his Resurrection. Moreover Benedict XVI said of this revolution that “it is the greatest mutation in the history of humanity”. Let us think about this: it is the greatest mutation in humanity’s history, it is a true revolution, we are revolutionaries and, what is more, revolutionaries of this revolution. For we have taken this road of the greatest metamorphosis in humanity’s history. In this day and age unless Christians are revolutionaries they are not Christians

POPE FRANCIS, June 17, 2013