To continue my thoughts from last week…
The First Principle
Last week I read an article in the Wall Street Journal that got me to thinking about friendships. In a May 17th opinion piece called “Aristotle Wouldn’t Friend You on Facebook” Meghan McBride writes:
Aristotle wrote that friendship involves a degree of love. If we were to ask ourselves whether all of our Facebook friends were those we loved, we’d certainly answer that they’re not. These days, we devote equal if not more time to tracking the people we have had very limited human interaction with than to those whom we truly love. Aristotle would call the former “friendships of utility,” which, he wrote, are “for the commercially minded.”
One thing’s for sure, my generation’s friendships are less personal than my parents’ or grandparents’ generation. Since we can rely on Facebook to manage our friendships, it’s easy to neglect more human forms of communication. Why visit a person, write a letter, deliver a card, or even pick up the phone when we can simply click a “like” button?
Like the Modernists described by John Senior that I cited last week it’s tempting to look at the marvels of technology in our age and consider ourselves superior to men and women of the past, but the differences between us and them are not nearly as significant as the things we have in common. As G.K. Chesterton wrote in Chapter 4 of The Ethics of Elfland, these
things common to all men are more important than the things peculiar to any men. Ordinary things are more valuable than extraordinary things; nay, they are more extraordinary. […] The sense of the miracle of humanity itself should be always more vivid to us than any marvels of power, intellect, art, or civilization.
This is the first principle of democracy: that the essential things in men are the things they hold in common, not the things they hold separately.
There is much to value in the ordinary. The Modernist will overlook the significance of the ordinary man, woman or child, and look instead to celebrate, well…celebrity. Or the shiny and new. The freakish. These are elevated as the new normal; standards for an age that has no standards.
As Chesterton says it is essential for us to recognize what we hold in common if we are to coexist as a nation, democracy or even a community. Again we overlook these commonalities and instead go for the proverbial throats of those whose opinion differs from our own or the prevailing “wisdom” of the age. Dissenters must be ruthlessly attacked with cynicism and malice. The humanity within us all shrivels for lack of attention and when pressed into a corner to make our own rebuttal we devour our “opponent” because our own humanity has been long forgotten. Why should we remember we ever had it? No one acknowledged it therefore it cannot be called upon.
In Mere Christianity C.S. Lewis pointed out the effects of such cynicism on our souls when he wrote
“Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, ‘Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,’ or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally we shall insist on seeing everything — God and our friends and ourselves included — as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.”
This is where the news and the sensationalistic headlines of the day are taking us. Dividing us. Or maybe it’s just me that can’t handle being inundated 24/7 by the sludge. Whatever the case may be I know enough to know when I’ve had enough. I’m taking a vacation.
Will I ever write again? Let’s be honest…who cares, really? I’m sure I will someday as I am currently journaling my way through a few books and my children provide me endless fodder for reflection. I have a young daughter who told me the other day that she’ll be too big to sit on my lap when she graduates college and becomes a teacher. Every day with my middle son lately is an adventure as he tries out a new card trick on me. I have a high school senior who wants to be a Marine after graduation and serve a nation that no longer recognizes nor values honor, sacrifice or personal integrity. I’m proud as hell of him for being smart enough to know the state of our country and still want to serve it. I admit that the child sees something his father, for the moment, does not.
From Desolation to Consolation
Last week I wrote that I sensed I was in the middle of a period of what St. Ignatius describes as spiritual desolation.
Spiritual consolation is an experience of being so on fire with God’s love that we feel impelled to praise, love, and serve God and help others as best as we can. Spiritual consolation encourages and facilitates a deep sense of gratitude for God’s faithfulness, mercy, and companionship in our life. In consolation, we feel more alive and connected to others.
Spiritual desolation, in contrast, is an experience of the soul in heavy darkness or turmoil. We are assaulted by all sorts of doubts, bombarded by temptations, and mired in self-preoccupations. We are excessively restless and anxious and feel cut off from others. Such feelings, in Ignatius’s words, “move one toward lack of faith and leave one without hope and without love.”
The key question in interpreting consolation and desolation is: where is the movement coming from and where is it leading me? Spiritual consolation does not always mean happiness. Spiritual desolation does not always mean sadness. Sometimes an experience of sadness is a moment of conversion and intimacy with God. Times of human suffering can be moments of great grace. Similarly, peace or happiness can be illusory if these feelings are helping us avoid changes we need to make.
Discernment of spirits is a challenging task. It requires maturity, inner quiet, and an ability to reflect on one’s interior life. Discernment takes practice.
Step one is realizing that there are periods of each in your life. Step two is to recognize when you’re in a period of desolation. Step three is to not freak out over it. Ignatius taught that when “in time of desolation one should never make a change, but stand firm and constant in the resolutions and decision which guided him the day before the desolation…” In other words, stay the course. The temptation is to run around like our hair is on fire and radically change something anything in order to stop our suffering. But in times of desolation we must remember that God is there and given us sufficient grace to endure it. For this persistence we must practice the virtue of patience. We must strive ahead and think long-term. And we must starve the desolation by increasing our spirituality.
Making the Break
To accomplish the above I have decided to take a holiday. I have deleted all my photos, save a handful, from my Facebook profile and will be deactivating my account soon. I’ve flirted with this idea before but always cave, especially in the summer during our baseball seasons. But each time I’ve wanted to do it I haven’t and things do not improve. So like it or not this summer I’m going to make the break. I had also planned on closing this blog down by “locking” it behind a password protected firewall for the summer. I’ve been tinkering with other blogs, or redesigns of this one, and from behind that firewall I can experiment with a little privacy. The jury’s still out on whether I’ll do this. In the rare times I have left Facebook my creativity goes through the roof and I may want an outlet here. Sunday was the feast of Corpus Christi. The Body of Christ. During the quiet moments after receiving Holy Communion and on my knees in prayer an idea for something to write about came to me. A whisper from God? Perhaps. All I can say is it made perfect sense and I’m excited to work on it this summer.
In the past I’ve set out each summer to read an overly-ambitious summer reading list. This summer I have a goal to read just one book: The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. I got 100 pages into it the last time I attempted to read it. This summer I’m going to get through it all.
The Brothers Karamazov is a passionate philosophical novel set in 19th century Russia, that enters deeply into the ethical debates of God, free will, and morality. It is a spiritual drama of moral struggles concerning faith, doubt, and reason, set against a modernizing Russia.
Just some light reading, no? But just look at some of the wonderful quotes from a novel many consider to be the greatest book ever written.
A summer of increased spirituality through prayer and reading. More time spent with family and the people who mean the most. More time singing songs like this one with my daughter.
Actually, I should have said “more time getting earworms like this song out of my head.” But Lily Collins was cute-as-a-button in this movie as Snow White and Sophie loves to sing her song. Works for me.
When you can’t see the forest for the trees,
Follow the colors of your dreams
Just turn to friends their help transcends
To love, love, love, love, love
The Fruit that Endures
Before he was Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Ratzinger said:
“All people desire to leave a lasting mark. But what endures? Money does not. Even buildings do not, nor books. After a certain time, longer or shorter, all these things disappear. The only thing that lasts for ever is the human soul, the human person created by God for eternity. The fruit that endures is therefore all that we have sown in human souls: love, knowledge, a gesture capable of touching hearts, words that open the soul to joy in the Lord. So let us go and pray to the Lord to help us bear fruit that endures. Only in this way will the earth be changed from a valley of tears to a garden of God.” – Mass ‘Pro Eligendo Romano Pontifice,’ Homily of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Dean of the College of Cardinals (April 18, 2005)
My writing may not be my legacy as I once thought. It sure as hell won’t be whatever I’ve posted on Facebook. My legacy will be the fruit I’ve sown in human souls. While that could occur through something I write someday I think the best way to accomplish it will be through the personal one-on-one time…with a visit, by writing a letter, delivering a card, or picking up the phone…that we know as friendship.
What’s not to “like” about that? Have a terrific summer everyone.
Faithful friends are a sturdy shelter; whoever finds one finds a treasure.
Faithful friends are beyond price, no amount can balance their worth.
Faithful friends are life-saving medicine; those who fear God will find them.
Those who fear the Lord enjoy stable friendship,
for as they are, so will their neighbors be. – Sirach 6:14-17