My purpose in these posts is to bring a variety of Christian and other writers in a desire to share significant writings that in my estimation contribute to the common good and directly or indirectly give glory to God and extend the Lord's work of salvation to all of humanity. G.S.
Does affluence impede human happiness?
Our current generations living upon the face of the Earth are, arguably, the most affluent in human history. After the great inequalities caused by the industrial revolution that favored the holders of capital and the levers of industry, after World War II the justice and labor movements created a huge middle class rivaling the best of either ancient, medieval, or contemporary societies. As a result the people of other nations envied the West or wanted to go there.
Other nations have emulated western economies and have brought reforms to their own populations, raising their standards of living. Ironically, during this same period of time, our affluent societies have suffered incredible social disintegration and misery in countless forms. Unfortunately, or fortunately as the case may be, the favorable conditions that brought general affluence in the mid 20th century are now quickly evaporating, causing the rich upper crust to expand exponentially along with the poor lower segments; while the middle class melts away.
If we take a step back we could say there is general agreement that human beings want to live a happy and abundant life. We quickly disagree as soon as we try to define what life in abundance means, what happiness can be, what are the best means of getting there, and what do we do with it once we have it.
Those who accept the teaching and try to follow the example of Jesus of Nazareth come to understand that what we all need to do in order to have life and have it in abundance, as God our Father and Creator intends, is to follow Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior in the way of life He has opened up for us.
Jesus preached that God offers us his Holy Spirit to help us realize and choose ways of living in accord with the Father's love and will for us. The Holy Spirit, even in the consciences of those who don't know or believe in God, works within human them to guide them in harmony with our human nature and the ways of the Creator and to shed light on the ways in which we are not living in accord with God's ways because to do so goes against our own nature. Faith in God helps us understand that opposing the Father's will opens paths that lead to dead ends, even though at first they may seem very promising or attractive.
That is why Jesus' very first words He spoke in public were "Repent, and believe the Good News. The kingdom of God has come near to you and is here." Jesus explained that there are two kingdoms existing simultaneously in our world: the kingdom of this world and the kingdom of God.
When Jesus was tempted by the devil in the desert we see how the devil presented himself as the prince of this world. At times Jesus referred to the devil as the prince of this world, because he is. In order to tempt Him the devil showed Jesus in a kind of vision a glimpse of the glory, power, and wealth of all the kingdoms of this world and offered to give them all to Jesus if Jesus would bow down and worship him.
Jesus didn't call him a liar, which the devil is anyway, because for once he told at least part of the truth. All the things of this world are under the influence of the devil and he has power over them, and he uses the goods of this world to seduce the minds and hearts of people and turn them away from good and from God. The devil tempted Jesus to be powerful in order to succeed in his mission, but Jesus knew the Father sent Him into the world to be just like us, human, mortal, weak; so that He could encourage us and show us the way to God and to abundant life in God's love.
God's unique design of human beings
When God created human beings He designed us different, male and female, and it is together that we are made in the image and likeness of God. In other words, we most resemble God our Father when we accept to relate to one another and to love one another in a self-giving sacrificial love. Jesus made this most visible in the way He put himself completely at the service of others, especially sinners and the poor, and in the way He accepted to surrender his life so that all humanity might see how far God is willing to go in order to demonstrate his love and in order to attract us to Himself. This is because it is only by living a life in communion of mind and heart, body and soul, with God and with our neighbor that we can enter into the fullness of life here on Earth and in Heaven.
The differences between women and men are everywhere in our lives and relationships. Our differences provoke the other to make an effort to become a better self, a better person. The other's differences challenge our good will to become deeper, our love to become more sincere, our generosity to become more complete. In the end, the greatest act of love is to lay down our life for the other, for others. The true test of how much we love God, whom we cannot see, is to love our neighbor, whom we can see. Jesus commanded us not to put limits on how much we love, accepting to forgive without counting the number of times and even extending forgiveness to enemies. Rather than hate enemies Jesus commands us to love them (we don't have to like them)l To love them simply means to actively desire their good. So we ask God to bless our enemies and in his mercy to turn them around to become good and loving.
Our Creator's design for humanity has at the heart a plan for human family, and the original path to family that is most fully in accord with our design as human beings, is through marriage as the union of one man and one woman in complete self-giving, generosity, fidelity, exclusivity (with no room for any other partners), and for life - for the full duration of their life on earth - and lived out in complete openness to the transmission of life, doing nothing to block or prevent God from making them fruitful through attempts to "tame" or "stifle" their human fertility. God designed marriage and family to have no limits imposed by human beings, leaving God free to bless the married couple and their family as fully as He wants. The more human beings attempt to control life, the more we end up strangling it, squeezing the vitality out of it.
Do we follow God or do we act in accord with our own will?
Today people attempt to approach the couple experience and the life of a household outside of this original design of the family by the Creator. To the extent they are good people and make of their lives a gift of selfless love and service for the other and for children that come along; then to that extent they can experience the love that God has for every human being. This is true whether or not they know or believe in God, because it is the basic design imprinted by God on our human nature from the beginning. (Cf. The Book of Genesis in the Hebrew and Christian Bible.)
However, whenever a human union of love is not between one man and one woman, but another combination of persons; then they cannot experience the full benefit and blessing God intends for the marriage of one man and one woman for life and for the children generated by their mutual love and self giving. When married couples find themselves infertile and opt instead to adopt, they generally quickly overcome their fears and discover they can love their adopted child as well as though they had generated this child themselves. Perhaps adopting requires a special quality of selflessness in the love they pour out upon this child which, by being chosen and adopted, changed from being a stranger into their very own child.
When children come along without being generated by their own father and mother, through a variety of conception technologies or through adoption, God still loves each child as his own. However, a child not generated by the natural union of their mother and father is deprived of the loving union of their parents and of the imprint of love this union would have left upon them from the very moment of their conception.
The adults adopting, or conceiving artificially through technological intervention, and receiving that child will hopefully love that child with unconditional love and to that extent the child will thrive. Still, whenever children don't benefit from the presence, love, and care of both a mother and a father, and don't experience the love that their mother and father have for each other as well as for their children; then there are dimensions of development and blessing that the Creator cannot bestow to the extent that the model of that family remains deficient or lacking one of the elements originally and forever intended by the Creator in his original complete and complementary design of one woman and one man for life.
The design of the Creator is always oriented toward a fullness, an extravagant abundance, which we choose to limit at our own peril. Whenever we find ourselves limiting God's options through no fault of our own, of course we can always count on God's mercy to fill in the gaps in our situation and experience, providing we do all we can to live and serve others in accord with the ways of the Lord, in accord with the moral principles the Creator has embedded within our human nature and consciousness where they await our curiosity to discover and our willingness to adopt and practice them.
Previous generations still had respect for God and valued each human life.
In the past, say until just before World War II, most societies in recent centuries on Earth lived for the most part in accord with these principles, as did many of the ancient societies and civilizations. Notable exceptions were societies and cultures where human sacrifices were practiced or that were organized around adult sexual practices and preferences rather than around the rearing and good of the children. Whenever societies, cultures, clans, or families diverged from these principles they in some instances at least realized they were doing so and continued to hold these principles in high regard in the hope of being able to live in accord with them once again in the future.
People had great respect for the power of human fertility and avoided sexual activity out of fear and respect for their fertility and out of respect for life and for the other. Men who were real men respected women, and women who were real women respected men. At the very least they held human fertility in fear of the unknown and of the power made manifest in the procreation of offspring. Whether or not people were religious, they tended generally to acknowledge the existence of God, of a Creator, and they had deep respect for the Creator and his power that watches over all of our realities.
Rebellion from God is endemic to humanity since the "original sin". Its form varies over time.
In the 1700's there was introduced into Europe a way of thinking or philosophy that chose another path, diverging from that of respect for God and for our human nature and fertility. Instead they chose to ignore God and consider that everything is only up to us human beings, as if we are god ourselves. Slowly this way of thinking began to spread, and with the rapid development of industrialization in the 1800's the century of the 1900's saw all kinds of horrors that were the result of people living as though there is no God, or if there is one, as if he is powerless and not really a god or as if he doesn't care what we do.
From the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution of the 18th century until today, this new mentality that came over the whole world, one nation after another, reduced human life to a commodity, something we can buy or sell or kill or do what we want with it, thinking that there will be no consequences anyway. Millions were killed in the name of political ideologies under fascism, communism, and extremism of various forms in the 20th century, and this trend is continuing in our own day with fundamentalist terrorism. Closer to home, our consumerism has caused us all to value the life of comfort, abundance and security so much that contraception has become a normal activity and part of married and family life.
The so called "sexual revolution" initiated an attack on our personal integrity by degrading the value of our human fertility.
In 1960 "the pill" was approved for contraceptive use, and it became an instant hit. Married or unmarried, people flocked to its use to the point that it has become taken for granted that it is necessary for a woman's health for her to use it. This "chemical revolution" begs the question: "Just because we can do a thing does not necessarily mean we may do it or should do it; so, what are we doing to ourselves when we contracept? What are the immediate and long term consequences to both women and men who contracept?
Women who contracept do it because they believe it is good for them, and so do men. Even when women aren't so sure it's good for them to use the pill, often there is pressure from the man or men in their lives expecting them to take it. Even to this day it is universally believed that the pill is good for woman and anyone who speaks against it is reviled as a woman hater, or misogynist, ignorant, or worse.
Ironically, that which in the human body of both men and women for millennia was given respect and held in awe as our awesome human power of fertility and reproduction, with the advent of the pill, that same awesome faculty of our human fertility has come to be feared, despised, or held in contempt, and treated as a disease, a condition to be medicated, to be controlled or subjugated with medicine; like any other disease or medical condition.
We humans have become a species laboring towards its own annihilation.
Another practice which in various forms has existed from the dawn of human history in various places and time, but was always generally seen as evil, is the practice of abortion. In ancient Greece under certain circumstances people would leave a newborn baby out in the wilderness to be consumed by the wild beasts in order to be free from having to keep and care for the child, whether it was healthy or not. When it became a challenge for the existence of a whole tribe under extreme circumstances to care for the vulnerable, the infirm, elderly, and babies were abandoned to the wild in order that they not slow down the tribe in its quest to find safety; lest they hold the tribe back and cause everyone to die of starvation or exposure to extreme cold or heat.
In our day, despite that our western society is the most comfortable, secure, and affluent society the Earth has ever seen, not only is contraception practiced by almost everyone, but abortion has also become widespread, most of the time merely because a child would be inconvenient. Human life has lost its value in our eyes. We thought Hitler's Nazi movement four generations ago was terrible for exterminating Jews and dissidents but also the elderly, the infirm, the handicapped, and those with deformations or mental impairments. Now we do the same or worse as a society and don't even think twice about it.
God never abandons his creatures, his human children.
No matter how far we humans may stray away from our Creator, He never abandons us. God loves us and He is not silent. He speaks to us in our conscience; even though because of the original sin we are inclined not to pay attention, but instead to ignore it, and eventually, no longer to hear that inner voice. God also speaks to us through other means: through his inspired Word in the Sacred Scriptures. The Bible used to be available only to those who had education and were wealthy. Bibles were collections of scrolls made of papyrus or lamb skin, which were very expensive. The sacred texts were carefully copied and hand written, which took a monk close to a lifetime just to make one complete Bible. In addition, for much of the past two thousand years, the Bible only existed in the original languages from the time of Jesus: the Holy Land languages of Aramaic and Hebrew, and also the Empire languages of Greek and Latin.
After the Apostolic Age, ordinary people didn't know the ancient biblical languages and so couldn't read God's Word but could only hear it in Church, and even then, it was often proclaimed in those languages, which the people did not understand anyway. The first attempt to translate the Sacred Scriptures into the language of the people was by the monk St. Jerome who translated the Bible into Latin, the language of citizens of the Roman Empire. He lived from the mid 4th century to the early 5th century (347-420). So the Scriptures became intelligible to the faithful whose language was Latin; just as those who spoke Greek could understand the Scriptures when they were read in Greek in those churches that later self-identified as Orthodox.
When the Good News spread to other peoples who spoke other languages, once again the Word of God became unintelligible. One of the benefits of the Protestant Reform is that some Reformers undertook to translate the Bible into the language of their own people: such as in German by Martin Luther and in English by John Wycliffe. Still, in the Roman Catholic Church the Sacred Scriptures continued to be read in Latin in many churches, as were the prayers of the Holy Mass, which over time was no longer the language of the people.
This is why over the past several centuries, as the Holy Rosary and meditation on the Mysteries of the Rosary developed in popularity, it became a devotion of the people to enable them to pray when they attended Holy Mass in Church; while the various ministers occupied themselves with the Latin prayers and readings from the Bible. The Sacred Liturgy the Roman Catholic Church only came to be celebrated in the languages of the people in modern times in the mid 1960's. Before then, earlier liturgical reforms introduced the publication and spreading of affordable missals. These enabled people to follow the Holy Mass with the Latin on the left side and their own language on the right side. That was the kind of missal I grew up with in the 1950's and 1960's.
Now it is possible not only to own a paper Bible in hard bound or soft cover, which are quite affordable, but it is even possible to find the whole Bible on the Internet with free access. Here is a link to the New Revised Standard Version which is mostly used in our Lectionary for Mass since the latest reforms and revisions to the Roman Missal and its Lectionary. Just click on the "Book List" near the top and it opens up the Old and New Testaments - you select a book and then below there opens up a table with the numbered chapters of that book and you click on one of the chapters and it opens up for you. Amazing!
There's another way in which God is not silent. He speaks to us through Jesus, then through the Apostles Jesus sent into the whole world, and then those they sent as their successors who are the bishops, and finally the priests the Lord sends through our bishops to be our pastors and spiritual guides and confessors.
In 1968 God inspired Pope Paul VI to write a beautiful text as an eloquent reflection on human and divine love. "Humanae Vitae" (Of Human Life) is all about God's love which He has poured into our very nature as human beings. Our Creator has revealed his love, bestowed upon us as life giving gift, in the capacity He as Creator has given to us women and men to love one another generally and, in particular, to love one another in Marriage and family life in a way that is open to generate life and form children selflessly with a servant's heart in. He also warned that the use of contraception would harm us.
From childhood on we often choose to ignore warnings even at our own peril.
He warned that contraceptives would artificially "tame" the wondrous power of human fertility and we would lose our respect for our sexuality and human fertility. Women would lose respect for their own body under the illusion that they could control and tame it to serve their own will and desires, and they would also lose respect for men and their power to make their fertility bear fruit and conceive.
Men would also lose respect for their own body and would succumb to the temptation to pleasure themselves; they would also lose respect for women in general and for their wife in particular, because now her fertility being tamed, they could take her and draw pleasure from her whenever they wanted. Great now would be the danger and risk that men would perceive women as objects to be used for their own pleasure and no longer as persons.
Pope Paul VI found it difficult to issue these warnings because he loved people so much and in particular he loved young people and married couples so much. Still because of this love he knew it was necessary to issue these warnings because he could already see all around him and all over the world the devastating effects and consequences of losing respect for our lives, bodies, and sexuality, of losing respect for one another and reducing others to objects of pleasure, and finally of losing our respect for God the Creator who bestows upon us our life and fertility as great and valuable gifts to be used with great respect and reverence and gratitude. As our culture of respect would dwindle; so would our expression of gratitude to God. People would stop going to church, stop praying, stop treating God as real and as worthy of our love and worship. Trusting only in ourselves, we would no longer trust in God.
Pope Paul VI warned that the practice of contraception and the degeneration of our attitudes towards ourselves, others, and God would cause Marriage and family life to disintegrate, that divorces would multiply, and that the very thought of giving one's life to another would no longer appear as a value. We would all degenerate into a society where it is everyone for himself or herself, which is nothing less than the law of the jungle.
Sadly, Pope Paul VI's warnings fell on deaf ears. Priests and even bishops expressed angry dissent against this teaching, implying that the Pope was ignorant or naive, that he didn't understand the modern reality and the pressures people were experiencing. Until he died ten years later on August 6th, 1978, the Feast of the Transfiguration, Pope Paul VI suffered a real martyrdom in the contempt with which he was treated by clergy, laity, and even bishops. Even sadder is the reality that all his warnings came true and were realized. So many marriages break up, so much misery multiplies everywhere, so many lives end in abortion before they even have a chance to live, to breathe, to see the sun, and to discover that God loves them. We who should welcome with much reverence and gratitude these new and innocent little lives, we instead think only of ourselves and "snuff them out". Abortion is nothing less than murder and is always an extremely violent and painful act for the unborn baby, no matter its stage of development. The facts speak for themselves.
In the face of all these troubles we are, all of us, poor beggars on our knees before the Lord, imploring Him to have mercy upon us, and He loves us so much that He is eager to overlook our faults and forgive our sins. As Jesus said on Earth to those who were accused by the authorities of public sin and scandal, now He says the same to us, "Your sins are forgiven you. Now go, and sin no more, lest something worse happen to you."
Jesus was sent by the Father to restore our life in harmony with our Creator
We can see from the life, ministry, passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus that the restoration of humanity to personal integrity, harmony with others and Creation, and communion with God the Holy Trinity is not a quick fix or instantaneous process. Jesus healed many people, but illness continues to be common on Earth. He raised some from the dead but they were still mortal and one day died for good. The final resurrection is God's promise for the end of time and we have no choice but to trust in the promise He revealed in Jesus' own resurrection and in the assumption of his Mother Mary. We'll just have to wait for it. Jesus forgave the sins of many, but we continue to be sinners prone to sin, inclined to go our own way and turn away from God.
We humans are quite impulsive and prefer to look for rapid outcomes. We hate to wait and prefer to take matters into our own hands and to make things happen quickly. We are loath to do things the way God has planned. We don't want to be tied down by someone else's plans or will. We don't want to depend on others and prefer to do things ourselves. Although we often use our free will to refuse, the fact that we have free will is our chief resemblance to our Father. He freely chose, out of love, to create the Universe and to create us. He created us in his own image and likeness, male and female He created us, with the freedom to choose to love as we are loved and have been loved. We wouldn't truly be free to love if we were not able to refuse to love, but exercising that capacity to refuse is what gets us into trouble.
Like little children who quickly discover the power contained in the little word "No", we more often than not say "No" to God. Still, salvation has been opened up for all of humanity by Jesus. Even people who don't know God, or having heard about Him don't believe in Him, have within their conscience the capacity to pick up on the light and guidance offered by the Holy Spirit to lead each of us towards the Father and the life He offers us.
On the one hand, it is entirely up to each of us to tune in to the Holy Trinity's call and inspiration to open up to the life they offer to share with us. On the other hand, we are not entirely on our own and can lean on the Lord, and call on Him to be our strength in our weakness, to empower us to love when we are afraid to do so, and to forgive us our sins when we falter and fall or turn away from God, only to come to our senses later in regret and sorrow.
If there is so much misery among men it is primarily because of our poor choices and our turning away from the path that leads to God and that opens us to one another. If only we turn to Him and, dying to our own self-importance and self-obsession, we accept to put our trust in Him and to serve others out of genuine love; then God will continuously pour into us his own Spirit and we will be able to face every difficulty and endure every suffering with the same patience, peace, trust, and devotion with which Jesus lay down his life out of love for all of humanity in obedience to his Father.
© 2004-2021 All rights reserved Fr. Gilles Surprenant, Associate Priest of Madonna House Apostolate & Poustinik, Montreal QC
© 2004-2021 Tous droits réservés Abbé Gilles Surprenant, Prêtre Associé de Madonna House Apostolate & Poustinik, Montréal QC
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