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Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Chesterton and the Virtue of Common Sense

Chesterton and the Virtue of Common Sense

“The only thing surprising about common sense is how uncommon it has become.” G. K.  Chesterton

G. K.  Chesterton (1874-1936) has been dubbed the apostle of common sense. An apostle is sent to preach the Gospel - in ordinary and/or extraordinary ways. Chesterton did just that using common sense arguments. ‘Critics recognized that he wrote in defense of the Christian faith but mistakenly presumed he was just doing it for show. When they finally realized that Chesterton actually believed what he wrote, they were shocked.’ [Dale Ahlquist. The Apostle of Common Sense. P. 18} 
Chesterton wrote about everything —  politics, war, sex, art, literature, science, technology, philosophy, psychology, morality, and history and even economics.  Basically, Chesterton had the unique ability to interweave paradox, wit, and common sense while writing about topics that helped the reader better understand God, themselves, society, and the world they lived in. 

Chesterton’s Christ-centered friendship transformed his life and the lives of many other individuals — then and now. He eventually became Catholic fourteen years before his death. His written works still transform lives when we take the time to read and ponder their meaning. Be warned, Chesterton wrote a lot; he published 100 books, regular weekly columns in the London newspapers, his own paper entitled G.K’s Weekly, poetry, and short stories including a popular mystery series featuring priest-detective Father Brown. He even wrote a book about St. Thomas Aquinas that is considered to be the ‘best one ever written’  according to renowned Thomistic scholar Ettienne Gilson. He published fifteen million words during his lifetime! [Catholicism: The Pivotal Players by Bishop Robert Barron] That’s a lot of words for sure, but the meaning of the words is so much more important than the number! If you want to read Chesterton, but don’t know where to start, refer to my Points to Ponder Section at the end of this article. Why read Chesterton? Ettienne Gilson tells us that Chesterton “was one of the deepest thinkers who ever existed; he was deep because he was right; and he could not help being right; but he could not either help being modest and charitable, so he left it to those who could understand him to know that he was right, and deep; to the others, he apologized for being right, and he made up for by being witty.”
What is common sense?  Why is it in short supply today? Bishop Robert Barron tells us that common sense is nothing other than an understanding and practice of natural law. But since when is a philosophy or law considered a virtue? Let’s investigate that further. 

Modern day wordologists  the people who make up words and their definitions suggest that common sense is the “wisdom of the common folk.” [Urban dictionary] Sounds right until you read their definition of common folk: people who are “mostly ignorant, uneducated, foolish, often poor or middle class, not the type who attend Ivy League schools or who drives a Rolls Royce. They are persons of average capacities, abilities, education, intelligence, and wealth”. In other words, common folk do not think, look, talk, or walk like our educated, smart, wise, rich, and above-average folk. That definition helps prove Chesterton’s claim that common sense and common man are under constant attack today! Urban Dictionary’s definition is painfully narrow-minded while trying to be broad. It unfairly portrays all common folk the same and rather despicably! 
Perhaps my father was right when he lamented that higher education (graduate degrees) knocked common sense out of me [and the writers of Urban Dictionary]. At the time he said these words, I didn’t bother to ask him what he meant. Years later, I wish I had because Dad may have been a closeted Chestertonian. Consider the similarity between Dad’s words and those of  G. K.  Chesterton who wrote: “the surprising thing about common sense is how uncommon it has become.  And common things are the basis of commons sense even though common things are not commonplace; they are terrible and startling, death for instance and first love.” 

Why is Chesterton controversial when he merely seems to prop up the common folk and common sense? Here’s why! “Chesterton argued eloquently against all the trends that eventually took over the 20th century: materialism, scientific determinism, moral relativism, and spineless agnosticism. He also argued against both socialism and capitalism and showed why they have both been the enemies of freedom and justice in modern society. And what did he argue for? What was it he defended? He defended “the common man” and “common sense”. He defended the poor. He defended the family. He defended beauty. And he defended Christianity and the Catholic Faith. These don’t play well in the classroom, in the media, or in the public arena. And that is probably why he is neglected. The modern world prefers writers who are snobs, who have exotic and bizarre ideas, who glorify decadence, who scoff at Christianity, who deny the dignity of the poor, and who think freedom means no responsibility.”  [Dale Ahlquist. The Apostle of Common Sense.] Today’s culture seems hell-bent on continuing down that same path unfortunately; but that’s what happens when we lose common sense. 
Harriet Beecher Stowe defined common sense another way: “Common sense is seeing things as they are; and doing things as they should be.” This gives credence to the grouping of common sense with other virtues. When understood as a virtue, we begin to realize that common sense allows us to do things as they should be.  It allows us to see things more clearly! It gives us more insight into right and wrong. It recognizes sin and vice for what they are - evil. It recognizes right and virtue for what they are - good. Common sense help us discern right from wrong. It encourages us to sync our moral compass with God’s. Common sense helps us assess the morality and  consequences of our choices and actions. Common sense allows us to see the differences between good and evil. Finally, common sense helps us to choose what is good for the sake of others. You have  already learned that the basic characteristic of any virtue is the habitual and firm disposition to do the good. [CCC p. 903] That is why common sense is a virtue. When attached to Christ and his grace, we naturally think, do, say and believe things more fully thereby increasing our common sense. “Take away the supernatural, and what remains is the unnatural.” [Heretics by G. K. ] In other words, common sense knows better than to try to disprove the supernatural. Common sense urged the framers of the Constitution to put to paper inalienable rights of all people in order to form a more perfect union. These rights do not come from the government but from God Himself. The early fathers clearly demonstrated common sense as they wrote that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; and that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. 
The virtue of common sense should cause us to stop, look, pray, and think before choosing because [borrowing from Chesterton} the act of defending common sense has even today all the exhilaration of a vice!  Putting common sense to work helps us avoid the creation of unmanageable contradictions that hurt us. “The only thing surprising about common sense is how uncommon is has become” without us noticing the why, when and the how it happened. [my interpretation of Chesterton]

The companion virtues to common sense include gratitude, prudence and charity! Vices that oppose common sense include the lack of faith, hope and love; selfishness; ingratitude; entitlement; and foolishness, disbelief; misinterpretation; and thoughtlessness. Common sense is lost through the vices and personal sin. 
Is it easy to put on and have the virtue of common sense today? Is the self-arming of any virtue easy? The answer is no and never —  for all the obvious reasons. That’s why and how saints have so much to teach us about this life and the next — especially with regard to faith, reason, and personal virtue!  And that includes G. K.  Chesterton - the apostle of common sense — who may one day join the ranks of sainted men and women including Saint John Paul ll; Saint Teresa of Calcutta, Saint Gianna, and Saint Maximillian Kolbe, etc.  “Those who aspire to holiness become for us a way of knowing Christ, for Christ introduces himself to the world, not merely in abstractions or emotions or institutions but through the people he has called to be his friends.” [Bishop Robert Barron] Chesterton certainly invites us to put on common sense par excellence. G. K.  invites us to be grateful to God for giving us unconditional love and life! 

And so the campaign for the beatification of G. K. Chesterton has begun; the investigations that are necessary for beatification are still in the infancy stage - the production of prayer cards. Whether or not G. K.  is canonized by the Church, he still stands out as a rare genius when it comes to the practice of virtuous common sense!

Points to ponder: 

  1. Add G. K.  Chesterton to your 2018 reading list. Where to begin? I would recommend picking up a copy of  Dale Ahlquist’s book entitled G. K.  Chesterton The Apostle of Common Sense. This book provides a brief overview of fourteen Chesterton books. The summary of a specific book may pique your interest! Start with that one. Also, James Parker, writing in the Atlantic, has the following advice. “If you’ve got a couple of days, read his impish, ageless, inside-out terrorist thriller The Man Who Was Thursday. If you’ve got an afternoon, read his masterpiece of Christian apologetics Orthodoxy: ontological basics retailed with a blissful, zooming frivolity, Thomas Aquinas meets Eddie Van Halen. If you’ve got half an hour, read “The Blue Cross,” the first and most glitteringly perfect of his stories featuring the crime-busting village priest Father Brown. If you’ve got only 10 minutes, read his essay A Much Repeated Repetition.” []
  2. Write down what you are grateful for each day of 2018 including personal hardships and challenges. Ponder how these challenges and hardships help increase your friendship with Christ. 
  3. Practice common sense.  
  4. Learn about Natural Law catholic studies and experts. The following is a very brief description of moral law derived from several sources. The Theory of Natural Law maintains that moral law transcends time, culture, and government. Universal moral code applies to all mankind regardless of time because God created each of us in His image and likeness. Because of sin, we need God’s grace to practice what is right and avoid what is wrong. God’s moral code is universal and has been imprinted in the hearts of every person; his moral code is the fundamental basis of any just society. 
  5. Teach your children to be grateful for their lives. 
  6. Teach your children to think about the consequences of their behavior. 
  7. List the contradictions that confine, restrict and remove common sense [as a result of consumerism, materialism, relativism, individualism, socialism, capitalism, atheism, etc.]
  8. How does common sense fights off the isms listed above? 

Friday, December 8, 2017


We have discussed many virtues this past year. Virtuous living draws us out of ourselves and that’s why it is important to keep talking about the ways to arm ourselves (and our children) with virtue. Each virtue is inextricably linked to supporting virtue(s); what an added boost! Virtues that have their fullest effect are practiced/put to work with love. If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 1 Corinthians 13:1.
All of the above and more applies to this months virtue - perseverance.Perseverance was chosen this month because of the obvious role it played on our Christmas story's main characters!. Consider the perseverance that Mary and Joesph had to draw on while walking the 80 miles plus trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Perseverance would also have been necessary for walking another 40 plus miles to Egypt from Bethlehem. That portion of the journey would have held ever more potential for danger and hardship and intrigue.
The trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem - according to different experts would have taken between four or five days when walking at least 18 miles a day! Mary may have had the luxury of riding on the back of a donkey (if they had one) but that animal would have also been pre-loaded with supplies necessary for the two week journey! The donkey would not have been able to provide a cushy seat for Mary - especially considering that she was nine months pregnant!
I vividly recall the discomforts of going camping when eight months pregnant. The camping cots were incredibly uncomfortable. It was nearly impossible to roll over to a different side on a very hard cot with a very large belly. Imagine Mary lying on the cold, hard ground with little rocks digging into her side under that thin blanket. Consider the discomfort when trying to hop up to or down from a donkey! I remember pulling a muscle while simply trying to get out of a canoe that was ground level. Imagine walking roughly twenty miles every day for 5 days straight while nine months pregnant! Was Mary ever afraid of anything during that trip? My own frequent trips to the outhouse during the night compounded my anxieties about things that might go bump in the night. The Israeli nights would have been chilly and dark. Mary and Joseph probably heard all kinds of wild animals growling, creeping and walking nearby. And think of that donkey ride! Yes, it took holy perseverance to make it to Bethlehem - and not because Mary and Joseph were assured of being able to have  a comfortable place to stay upon their arrival! Nope, their extended stay hosted straw, hay, manure and smelly barn animals. Our camping trip discouraged me from planning any future camping campaigns when fully pregnant! Mary didn’t seem discouraged as they set out on the next adventure that took them even further from home and into Egypt while nursing the newborn child. And what about Joseph? He probably asked himself whether the decision to bring Mary along was wise as they bumped along the dirty, hilly roads to Bethlehem. Surely, he worried about the dangers that lurked around them [bandits and bears]. Finding fresh water for Mary, himself, and their donkey - if they had one -  would have been a top concern for Joseph each morning! And the search for firewood (and more water) and fresh meat would have drawn on his personal perseverance! 
And, for many readers, it will take holy perseverance to get through the Christmas/Advent season for reasons that are as complex as family traditions and expectations. So what about perseverance? Why do we all need it?
Normally, we associate perseverance with courage, stamina, and steadfastness when doing something difficult but usually the doing is for ourselves. It’s easier to stay the course when striving to set personal records compared to staying the course when it is filled with unknowns, other people’s expectations, or goals that are not our own. When we get nothing in return for ourselves, personal perseverance is tested more than when we expect to receive a just recompense for a hardship. Perseverance will be expended whenever we experience challenges disaffecting our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing and/or growth.
Earlier, it was mentioned that the virtue of prudence is inextricably linked to perseverance. Let me explain. Most of us would consider it to be highly imprudent to spend time, energy and life savings on finding a Fountain of Youth - and so we don’t do that. Forcing ourselves to experience significant hardships for all the wrong reasons would be a waste of perseverance. It would also be a case of throwing prudence out the window. Good counsel and prudent decision making helps us to avoid experiencing unnecessary hardships; however, even good decision making cannot guarantee that we will only experience positive outcomes. Perseverance will always be needed when bad things happen to any of us.
There is the natural human virtue of perseverance and there is holy perseverance. The former is human-powered and the latter is supported and sustained by divine grace and authentic love. Holy perseverance requires us to work at whatever we do with all our heart, as though we were working for the Lord and not for people.†(Colossians 3:23) This holy perseverance is blessed by the Lord.This perseverance amounts to doing things with strict discipline (perseverance),  not for a crown that is perishable, but for a crown that is imperishable. (1 Corinthians 9:25) St. Catherine of Sienna, Doctor of the Church, teaches the following about perseverance: Holy perseverance is the resolve to serve God in truth. This is our invisible, glorious and holy crown. Holy perseverance is really essential for all of us; we all need it badly. And we can only get it when we are motivated by love. But we cannot get perseverance or love unless our heart and will are stripped of selfish love (for ourselves). Perseverance allows us to know the truth about our own sinfulness. It allows us to know and discern the many graces and gifts we have received from God’s infinite goodness. This knowledge makes us strong and persevering. Perseverance does not allow us to be brought down by the devil’s wickedness and rascally temptations or by the nagging of our selfish frailty or by the world’s flattery or by the difficulties of the rule. No, by the light of most holy faith we would pass through them all with a courageous heart that draws on perseverance. [St. Catherine of Sienna. Magnificat. November 2017. p. 410]
The relationship between love and the specific virtue is circular. The more we love others, the more we will persevere in doing things with strict discipline for the crown that is imperishable. The more that we practice strict discipline, the more we will be able to love others authentically. And that is the Christmas story- and the Easter story. Love came down to earth, not for His sake but for ours. Mary, Joseph and especially Jesus’ perseverance show us the way to Heaven. Holy perseverance invites us to love God more and more and self less and less. St. Catherine of Sienna had it right. We need Perseverance and Love to walk like Jesus; Mary, his mother; Joseph; the Three Kings; the shepherds; and the angels. We will be able to follow the Star of Bethlehem when we practice holy perseverance. What does that path look like for you and me? It’s certainly something to think about this Advent. 

Merry Christmas and may you all have a very blessed New Year.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

What’s Going On With Our Men? 

What’s really at stake when men — husbands, fathers, brothers, cousins, sons, and neighbors —  objectify women through sexual misconduct? Why do they do this? While mainstream America seems to have concluded that personal power corrupted these men’s hearts, we are free to question that conclusion. After all, men who have absolutely no power with regard to personal position, wealth, influence, personality, or accomplishments also have been accused of objectifying women in the same manner. Let’s talk about the real reasons and consequences.

If power is not the sole corrupter of our hearts, what is? I believe men — (and women) — rich or poor — act with diminished human dignity when they actually lack personal power. Not the kind of power that we tend to associate with influence, authority, money, or popularity. Rather the kind of power that allows one to treat others well because that’s how they wish to be treated. This is also known as the Golden Rule which basically summarizes God’s commandments four through ten. The Golden Rule necessarily acknowledges that the treatment of others hinges on how well we obey commandments one through three. These first three commandments teach us to love God with our whole heart, mind and soul and then directs us how to love our neighbors in the next seven commandments. We can’t get the first three commandments right if we don’t get the last seven right; it’s also true, that we won’t get the last seven commandments right if we fail to obediently love God first and foremost. The Golden Rule is foundational to our interior strength/power. 

Authentic power/strength is the sum total of one’s personal integrity, virtue, Faith, authentic love of God and more. This interior disposition invites us to treat others with the greatest dignity and respect. This interior strength keeps our hearts, body, mind and soul in sync with God’s moral authority and vice versa. This strength mostly rests outside of ourselves; it is not self made compared to the personal power associated with acquisition of money, position, influence, popularity, or accomplishment. Therefore, authentic power is not afraid of putting others’ interests ahead of self interests. Interior power does not diminish with time; Divine Grace advances it for a lifetime and beyond. Authentic power reins in the temptations associated with selfishness including arrogance, the objectification of others, dishonesty, pride, etc. 

The recent sexual misconduct scandals reveal just how little power the accused men actually had. Few of them could keep their own jobs despite current and past successes. Ultimately, they had no control over the women who decided to out their bad behavior regardless of the personal consequences. They also lacked prudence, temperance, justice, and self control because their own bad choices, decisions and habits had morphed into their own enslavement to personal addictions, immoral lifestyles, loss of faith, and self-justification. Their personal freedom to choose and act well were compromised. In other words they enslaved themselves to their own desires. 

The seriousness of these scandals ought to prompt a national discussion with regard to the cause and the cures. The scandals argue against the philosophy that men and women will naturally choose good over wrongdoing in most cases! (The Enlightenment Philosophy) But how can a person choose good and avoid evil if they are not taught what is right and wrong and hold those things to be true? Over the last several decades, moral relativism which argues against right or wrong for everyone has expanded its reach to all walks of life. Hopefully these scandals will wake us up to its impact. Yes, there is right and wrong, and yes, we can identify it as did the recent victims.

Society also seems accepting of the mantra: lets let boys be boys without actually clarifying what that means. When said with a wink and a nod, the mixed message seems problematic at best. And the underlying message apparently give boys (and men) unspoken permission to use love to get sex. Conversely, it also gives an unspoken permission to girls to use sex to get love. Unfortunately, we have granted both genders an unqualified permission to use other people for their own selfish interests. That is the very definition of objectification of another human being. While we can use things, we must never learn to use people. 

Modern day drama proves all too often that too many couples traded long term happiness in for short term pleasures creating a crises among families, children, and parents. Pornography use plays a heavy role in this hurtful drama which in the long run disaffects families much like any other catastrophe. Pornography is more addictive than some opioids (another tsunami hitting families); it is one of the main causes of divorce; it is readily available at younger and younger ages warping ideas about happiness and relationships; it alters the male brain chemistries changing the way men relate to women; the industry enslaves women in various ways to demeaning lifestyles; and it persuades young girls of the need to dress and act like porn stars they observe on the Big Screens. How did it get to be such a big industry unless it had significant, silent approval? 

Let us pray for the courage to argue for the cures and against the causes with conviction, love and mercy. Let us answer truthfully  when challenged by the Who Are You To Judge questions? In fact, Dr. Edward Sri, author of the book of the same title,  suggests countering with this: “So, basically I hear you asking me not to judge others even as you are now judging me to be judgmental…” We have to work to restore God’s moral code which is black and white with regard to moral right and wrong. 

The accusers — while sharing some things in common and many things probably not in common — arrived at the same conclusion. The perpetrators wronged them! The women felt horribly violated and for good reason. They spoke with credibility. Like these brave souls, may all of us speak with moral authority about the causes and the cures of the many ills hitting this nation for the sake of our men, our neighbors, our brothers and husbands, our fathers and our co-workers and our families. Let us speak out in truth about love and life; mercy; and the real purpose and meaning of marriage and sexuality this Advent & Christmas Season. 

May you all have a very Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year. 

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Will the Real Wonder Woman (WW) Please Stand Up?

Will the Real Wonder Woman (WW) Please Stand Up? 

Wonder Woman is “the most popular female comic-book superhero of all time. Generations of girls have carried their sandwiches to school in Wonder Woman lunch boxes. Like every other superhero, Wonder Woman has a secret identity. Unlike every other superhero, she also has a secret history,”  writes Jill Lepore [Jill Lepore. The Surprising Origin Story of  Wonder Woman. The Smithsonian Magazine. October 2014]. What was her secret identity? Why was it hush-hush?
Wonder Woman’s creator went undiscovered for years. When Dr. William Moulton Marston, an internationally famous psychologist, was named as WW’s comic creator, people were surprised. Why was his identity shrouded in secrecy? Perhaps, DC Comics knew that his left-leaning sympathies, relationships, and collaborations within the women’s suffrage, feminism and birth control movements of the early 1900s — if discovered — would invite large numbers of critics to boycott his creation - Wonder Woman. After all, Marston was a free-thinking guy who lived a “thousand lives and a thousand lies.” [Jill Lepore] Still his underground work within the various feminist movements probably would have doomed his Wonder Woman character.
What standards did Marston defy? His marriage included two women and children with both. He had close personal relationships with Margaret Sanger - now dubbed the Father of Planned Parenthood - in part because his youngest lover was her niece although he introduced her as his widowed sister. She joined his family after Marston issued his wife the ultimate ultimatum — either allow his new college student lover a place in their home or he would divorce her. She consented and the three of them lived together, bore him several children during similar time periods, and kept secrets secret. Even his children did not realize the pseudo widow was a mother to several sons.
Human persons are created in the image and likeness of God - our Creator. Man also creates things in his own image. So it was with Wonder Woman. Like Marston, she also defied social and religious norms of the times — but right under the noses of her natural critics. Who is Wonder Woman? She is Diana, Princess of the Amazons; Merciful Minerva; a demigod who can save today; and is the “man who can.” She fought for the rights of the suffragette and the feminist in a sneaky but inviting way!

What’s wrong with identifying with Wonder Woman? After all, women really are a natural combination of wit, intelligence, compassion, emotions, intuition, inner strength, and gentleness. But there’s something intrinsically off when women link pre-feminism with chains and bondage. There’s something amiss when women strive to be like men while declaring them to be chauvinists.  Women are better served by discovering their true feminine genius, TELOS (purpose), and worth without blaming others. Discovery of the unique opportunities available only to women should include but are not limited to bearing children, achieving pregnancy, feeding babies with mama’s milk, and nurturing others as only women can. Women limit who they are and who they can be by comparing themselves to anyone they are not — male or female!
The following paragraphs taken from my book entitled: Mothers Forever, Fathers Forever: Parenting Against the Tide hopefully prompts women to cast aside any false imagery attached to Wonder Woman. It’s admirable for women to recognize and appreciate the important role they play when giving life to others — literally and figuratively. Women can have it all — but never all at once. The pace of doing and being — excellently — establishes goodness and order! We all benefit when life’s challenges encourage us to embrace the cross of Jesus - lifting up our fallen natures during the embrace. We all lose when embracing notions that bind us to chains of any kind.

Blessed Fulton J. Sheen believed that women should be held in high esteem because of their unique role in society. Only women have the unique ability to be a double benefactress for humanity. Wow - what opportunity! Not only is a woman capable of physically preserving humanity but she is also the principle moral provider of humanity.[Fulton J, Sheen.Three to Get Married. P147] What exactly does Blessed Fulton Sheen mean? Does his old-fashioned mantra keep women chained to the bedroom and the home? I don’t think so. Let’s try to better understand what Bishop Sheen meant.  

Sheen suggested that women have a rare ability to tame (civilize) men because she is the principal moral provider of humanity. This means she is fully capable of knowing what’s right and wrong and teaches it to others. This means she naturally encourages moral living for the sake of others. This means she bears a role similar to that of the Blessed Virgin - to help save others.  Over the course of centuries, the Church has commented on the natural spiritual advantages (superior spirituality and more natural spiritual/religious inclinations) of women over men. That was — in part — what Blessed Sheen was referring to. Is that advantage still evident? Its fair to wonder how many women are interested in morality or envision themselves as a benefactress for humanity today.

Women prove they have this unique ability to tame and civilize men when their men gladly and willingly assume the role of husband and father (and in that order) in lieu of more manly interests and pursuits. When men become fathers before promising to become husbands for the course of their lifetime, they are usually not domesticated enough to do small things with great love. Statistics show time and again that many of these men eventually become absentee fathers who fail to hold the interest of the children at heart because they don’t have the interests of the children’s mothers at heart. They also find their wives to be distractions to real living found in pornography, parties, and wild women. These men remain unsatisfactory life partners prompting their ex-wives to assume the role of Wonder Woman for the sake of her children. 

Male attitudes have changed over the past few decades in part because women no longer depend on them. This shift in attitudes follows decades of charges of sexism and chauvinism from women who insist they can and will do their part by bringing in as much or more income to the household as their men. Psychoanalyst Dr. Erica Komisar, in a recent interview, has found that the promises of women to work forever, and the challenge: “'I’m going to make as much money as you’ is a testosterone-like kind of competition with their partners.” (James Taranto. The Politicization of Motherhood. The Wall Street Journal. Oct 28-29, 2017.)

In the past, women seemed better equipped to distract their males for a lifetime of family living — despite multiple hardships and troubles.  This was good for society and families. The Wonder Woman phenom may encourage men unwittingly to change their focus back to doing for self rather than being present to their families. After all, women can now save the day too. Men who remain unchanged by love become less and less important to women and children because of their self pursuits.

Tragically, WonderWoman really isn’t interested in raising her own children — or even having any children causing her to miss out on the fact that “mothers have traditionally served as the primary example of unconditional love that protects the child from the external world. This creates a sense of inner contentment that allows the child to feel secure and self-assured.” [Bell Stone. Beyond the First Amendment: The Social and Psychological Implications of Political Correctness. March 25, 2011.]

Sheen’s vision of women is largely eschewed today by many modern day experts because it is sexist, gender biased, and politically incorrect. I am not interested in defending the problems that emerged from past eras wherein women had zero choices; however, when observing today’s examples, it seems we have thrown the bath water out with the baby!  The modern woman wildly objects to the notion that she is a principle preserver of humanity and a tamer of the Casanova brand. “Not I,” says the woman hoping to emerge as Casanova’s double as a way of getting even with bad acting men. Today, men and women remain suspicious of the opposite gender after having used or abused the other. All of us search for love for a lifetime — but it doesn’t just happen unexpectedly. We have to work for it by cooperating with our natural makeup, God’s moral laws, and a natural, healthy  dependence on the opposite sex. 

Women who reject their natural status as a double benefactress of society learn to prefer doing over being — akin to many males. These women long for personal success over marriage and motherhood. They fail to realize that doing small things with great love is far more important than doing great things with little love (Mother Teresa). Sheen delicately reminds us that women’s passions are naturally directed toward the building up of lasting and meaningful relationships — as wife and then mother and we should be proud of that status. Encouraging women to re-direct their natural passions elsewhere — in order to advance their own accomplishments — is counterproductive especially for young children who suddenly feel expendable. Women exchanging sacrificial giving for selfish taking will never be satisfied.  Women convinced that marriage and motherhood are the very stumbling blocks to their personal success look to abortion and contraception for help but won’t find it there. 

Today’s women all too often feel more harried, hassled, and hurried through life rather than feeling contented or happy.  We are easily worn out and worn down by the giving we do; however, this is amplified when focusing on doing more than on being. We all know what that means. Having a prolonged self focus is a poison that renders all of us incapable of taming or civilizing any wildness — including our own. The desire to preserve mankind; to be a double benefactress for humanity; to be a principle moral provider gets lost in the process. 

John Paul II believed that one of the beautiful mysteries regarding pregnancy is that the process naturally attaches child to mother and mother to child —  physically, emotionally, spiritually, socially, and psychologically — if and when mothers allow it! The sharing of one heart and one body for a time is the means by which mother and baby remain close during and after birth. In fact, they remain close for a lifetime. Fathers do not share this one heart one body phenomena when their wife is pregnant so they miss out on this natural bond at first. Fathers also do not have to endure the natural sufferings of pregnancy and childbirth offered up by mother for the child’s sake - another opportunity for self sacrifice. Neither do fathers share the same physiological or chemical makeup that promotes nurturing. Consequently, men have to work harder to secure close, emotional bonds with their children — but for many they never feel that they really get there. Women produce more oxytocin than men — this is the natural love hormone! Men, on the other hand, produce more vasopressin than women. Men are quite capable of teaching their children to just get over it, stop feeling sorry for yourself, put your big boy pants on, stop crying, and stop punching. These lessons are important for learning self sufficiency and controlling aggression. Both hormones are necessary — but the latter doesn’t promote those warm, fuzzy feelings associated with love. (James Taranto. The Politicization of Motherhood. October 28-29, 2017. Opinion Column. The Wall Street Journal) 

The Parable of the Sower and the Seed is an allegory about women — in my opinion. Surprising to me, Blessed Fulton J. Sheen talked about this parable in terms of mothers in the 1950’s. [Fulton J. Sheen. Three to Get Married p. 150. 1951] Let me explain. Using the sequence found in this parable from Mark 4:1-20, the first mother allows “the seed to fall beside the path so the birds can eat them up”. This mother fails to protect her seeds of grain and goes so far as to ensure that her seed will die — be eaten up. Her seeds of grain symbolize fertility. Women procuring an abortion, or resorting to other means (use of abortifacients or other agents) that deliberately destroy her seed are represented in this first example. This mother is either fearful of pregnancy or wary enough to ensure that her seed does not grow. The second mother in the parable allows her “seed to fall on rocky ground where the soil was shallow and as soon as the sun came up the grains shriveled up and died.” Women who use artificial hormones that shrivel up the lining of her womb so that her seed dries up and withers (via the Pill, etc.) allow their seed to fall on rocky ground - figuratively speaking.  The mother who allows her “grain to fall among briers and weeds so that the grain was smothered” fails to nurture the children she already has. The briers and weeds represent competing interests and distractions which diminish a mother’s ability to nurture her offspring. The mother who allows the “grain to fall on good soil where it grew and multiplied a hundredfold”represents mothers who generously bring forth life so the world is made new. God is happy with her generosity. 
In closing, a mother is the “most important person on earth. While she cannot claim the honor for having built Notre Dame Cathedral she need not. She has built something even more significant than any cathedral — a dwelling place for an immortal soul, the tiny perfection of her baby’s body.  The Angels have not been blessed with such grace. They cannot share in God’s creative miracle to bring new saints to Heaven. Only a human mother can. Mothers are closer to God the Creator than any other Creature. God joins forces with mothers in performing this act of creation. What on God’s good earth is more glorious than this—to be a mother?” [Prayer by Joseph Cardinal Mindszenty] This mother is the real Wonder Woman - not the scantily clad representative who is stronger than men and a demigod herself. The real Wonder Woman always pursues virtue including self sacrifice. Her Imitation of Christ suits her well. Let’s put our real Wonder Woman genius and talents to work today!

Points to Ponder 

What do women do really well because of their gender? 

What is meant by a female genius? (use Theology of the Body arguments) 

What are things really more difficult to do because we are women? 

What ways do you civilize the world you dwell in? 

Thursday, October 26, 2017

If You See Something, Say Something

If  You See Something, Say Something … 

Dorothy Day and Peter Mauyrin, co-founders of the Catholic Worker Movement, defined a good society as one that makes it easy to be good. When asked, a group of students admitted to me that it is not easy to be good today — and for a variety of reasons. They cited the usual reasons: drugs, money, materialism, consumerism, and sexual decoys. But not one of them admitted to knowing or having the necessary tools to withstand these decoys. 

Raising children has always been challenging. It’s probably fair to state that it will always be challenging to raise any person with a free will. But why does it feel especially problematic today? I will argue that it is because we have become such a tolerant people! 

Yes, we have learned how to be tolerant and so we raise tolerant children. But tolerance shoves authentic love right out of our hearts, minds and souls. It breaks my heart to watch middle school aged children approach each other every morning at the corner school bus stop. All of the children arrive from the houses that sit within a block of each other; yet, every day the children act as if they don’t know each other and have never seen each other before.  The children approach the stop reluctantly, and then just stand quietly together yet apart. In fact, the students remain a good yardstick away from each other. They do not acknowledge each other with either a glance or a word — yet they were created to be social beings! What’s up with the distance between these kids? These kids totally ignore each other — and every day! This is the freshest face of  tolerance; it looks and feels kind of ugly…
Hollywood just got rocked by one of its biggest scandals ever. Finger pointing in all directions is still going on. The only good news about the scandal is that it might pave the way for us to recognize how and why tolerance is largely to blame here.

Yet, every society requires authentic love to survive and thrive. We are all called to love each other as Christ loves us. Our social contract with society should mean that we honor moral living for the sake of others. And that requires the arming of self with pivotal personal virtues including Justice, Fortitude, Temperance and Prudence. So, when we see something, we must say something for the sake of others. We are all harmed by the fact that tolerance beats out love. Thankfully, random acts of love committed during recent hurricane, firestorm, and earthquake tragedies helped remind us of what our real social contract with others ought to look and feel like. We are indebted to love as Christ loves us — that is our mandate today, tomorrow and the next. 

Societies thrive when social relationships are healthy and good; this requires that we challenge each other to become the best version of themselves. It’s not ok to allow the young to ignore each other at the corner bus stop. It’s not ok to allow a grandma to continue getting gruffer and rougher as she ages just because she is getting older. It's not ok that mom and dad don’t have time for their children but have time for their bosses. It’s not ok that marriages dissolve and families continue to be torn apart. It’s not ok that pornography keeps being allowed to pummel US families to death with its falsified images and messages. It’s not ok to use anyone for any reason; and it's never ok to allow oneself to be used by someone else in order to get ahead. We need to say something when we see these things happening rather than standing silently around with our hands in our pockets like the tolerant school bus children. Real relationships thrive on authentic love; they falter under tolerance. The same goes for society at large. 

Recent events expose how wrong we have been about tolerance and the you do your thing and let me do my thing mentality [aka relativism]. For too long, we have allowed really bad actors and really bad actions and activities to break apart families and communities under the disguise of tolerance. We hide behind the false notion that talking about sex, politics and religion is the problem — rather than the solution.  We hide behind the banner of tolerance rather than standing for goodness and rightness and against wrongness and badness. And there is plenty of that going around as noticed by the kids in my group who admitted it is really hard to be a good teen today. 

Have you noticed that tolerance forces us to use newly coined words and phrases that have little meaning while dropping off the use of meaningful words and phrases from conversations? When was the last time you heard someone insist that virtue is the antidote for all the wrongs in our society?  They are right, by the way — as well as citing the need for faith, prayer, and self sacrifice. 

And what about within your own families? Surely, you may have noticed an emerging adult son become overly distracted by activities that do not make him a better version of himself. Perhaps his relationship with a girlfriend is disconcerting to you. What do you say? The culture tells us to hold back — say nothing — while hoping that things get better. How is that working out for him and you? Wouldn’t it be better to say something when you see something? All the while employing the cardinal virtues when speaking out of course. Or do you just tolerate situations and circumstances to keep a very fragile peace? What do you say when your beautiful daughter dresses to impress for the wrong reasons? When we see something, we must say something out of love for the whole person! 

Pooh to those who taught us that it's not polite to talk about sex, politics and religion. This revisionist tolerance pushed aside real Love and replaced it with fake love. This made it harder to be good and to go about the business of guiding each other to live and love as God intended.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Listening - the Virtue

 “Why did God make you? God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever in heaven. Which are the two great commandments that contain the whole law of God? The two great commandments that contain the whole law of God are:  1. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind, and with thy whole strength; and 2. Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” [Baltimore Catechism Lesson 1 & 189] 

Contained within simple, faith filled dogma are the roadmaps leading us toward a purposeful life that includes meaningful relationships with God, family, friends and neighbors. God’s [and His Church’s] directions for life simplify what we tend to over-complicate; G.K.Chesterton quipped that morality is always dreadfully complicated to a man who has lost his principles.  Unfortunately, the more we detach from God and His lessons on life, the more we fail to authentically love each other. And the less we love others authentically — the less we listen to them virtuously.

Recently, I was invited to facilitate a small group of women signed up to discuss Jesus Approaches by Elizabeth Kelly. The author treated the small group facilitators to a morning of reflection prior to the kickoff of an eight week book study for women. Elizabeth introduced the need to listen to others actively and reverentially. While not exactly referring to listening as a virtue, it certainly rises to that description when we do it consistently right.

We are created by God as social persons who thrive on fellowship and other personal relationships. All of our social engagements require talking with each other. And how most of us love to talk! On any given day, men and women utter nearly 17,000 words/person/day! It used to be said that women out-talked men — no matter the setting. Recent research reveals “women talk more — more often, at greater length and about more personal topics. But that’s private speakingconversations that negotiate and strengthen personal relationships. Men tend to talk far more than women in what might be called public speaking — formal business-focused contexts, like meetings.”[The Truth About How Much Women Talk — and Whether Men Listen by Deborah Tannen, linguistics professor. June 28, 2017] 

The spoken word is an entreaty to someone to listen! Few of us like talking to ourselves — at least audibly. If we accidentally emit self talk, we hope nobody is within ear shot out of embarrassment or fear of being labeled doddery. 

How well do we need to listen to other people? We all know what it feels like to talk to someone who does not hear or listen to us. The first requires us to talk louder or clearer. The second situation infers that the listener doesn’t care to listen to us for a variety of reasons. Perhaps they are bored with us; or are just plain ignoring us due to anger. We fail to listen when distracted by something or someone else. Multi-tasking makes it difficult to listen. Regardless of  the reason, not being listened to feels disrespectful. 

Have you seen the TV commercial showing a man under the sink fixing the plumbing while his wife is standing over him and talking? Eventually the wife wonders if her husband is listening because his responses amount to grunts at natural conversational pauses. She tests his listening by saying something very disparaging about him and his response was merely the same grunt. She naturally feels hurt by his lack of attention and his pretense of listening to her. 

Not one person enjoys being ignored or half listened to. We feel disrespected when we are ignored by our spouse or children or even the boss, an employee, or a sales associate from a local store. We all want people to listen to and hear the words coming out of our mouths. I recently asked my book club if they know when someone is/is not listening to them and how that makes them feel. As if on cue, they collectively sighed a yes — confirming their hurt.  Not listening to someone is counterproductive to the building up or maintenance of good, healthy, personal relationships. 

So, yes, all of us are called to listen to each other fully, actively and reverentially. And when we do so, we begin to hone the art of virtuous listening. Some people are naturally better at this than others though a high percentage of us benefit from thinking about the need for virtuous listening and what it entails.

The virtue of listening requires that we listen with both ears while simultaneously engaging the brain and the eye to eye contact. It requires us to nix multi-tasking when talking with someone. It’s disturbing that people think they can actually carry on multiple conversations at the same time while viewing someone’s Instagram! That is not virtuous listening. The virtue of listening entails trying to understand the “humanity behind the words of the other, and patiently summons one’s own best self, best words and best questions.” [Krista Tippett, On the Lost Social Art of Listening. June 29, 2017.

But virtuous listening requires more than just fostering a generous desire to understand. It requires us to deny ourselves any temptation to interrupt the other person even when bursting with information valuable to the conversation at hand — even when we consider our side thoughts, personal commentary, or gotcha questions to be important or significant or pertinent. We have to let someone finish their thoughts first and that requires our full attention and restraint. When our minds wander off during the conversation — for any reason — we distract ourselves from paying attention. Interrupting someone with personal commentary distracts him/her from telling a full story. Virtuous listening requires us to silence our hearts and minds in order to receive another person’s words —  well. All of us have to fight the boredom that may set in when listening to a rather long monologue or when a person is talking about something we are not very interested in. Listening well requires the avoidance of any type of pretense. Virtuous listening requires us to set aside personal agendas or points of view — at least while the person is talking. It means avoiding the temptation to fix someone’s problem — right then and there. It avoids the giving of any negative, harmful critique, feedback, or opinion. It requires that we pay visual attention to the person talking with us [unless we are on the phone]. Virtuous listening is reverential of the speaker; it is also active. This means listening with respect, honor for, and love of the person talking with us simply because he/she is a child of God. Virtuous listening prompts the asking of generous, good questions when seeking clarification — after the person is done talking. On the other hand, “inappropriate questions tend to provoke fights or advance assumptions masked as an inquiry. Our responses ought to invite honesty, dignity, and revelation. There is something redemptive and life-giving about asking a better question.” [Krista Tippett; On the Lost Social Art of Listening. June 29, 2017.
Providing feedback or food for later thought is also helpful when the timing is right. Finally, virtuous listening requires us to tell someone when we do not have the time — right then and there — to really listen to them but would love to hear their story at a later date — and mean it. Our words have to be honest and respectful — no matter what part of the conversation we are having.

Kirsta’s comments about questions being redemptive and life giving remind us why listening is a virtue when attended to actively, reverently and consistently. Indeed, our words can be affirming, redemptive and life giving  —  but so is our listening. We feel well loved when we are listened to with someone’s rapt attention.

The rules-to-follow for cultivating the virtue of listening are difficult to stick to — especially for yours truly. Maybe that’s why I like writing! Virtuous listening is always going to be extremely difficult to practice when we presume that we have a lot of advice to offer someone. That’s where pride can take over! It’s true, mothers grow accustomed to the giving of a lot of advice while actively parenting; but that doesn’t mean that we continue that practice long after the child has become an adult. And it certainly doesn’t mean that our emerging adults are listening. Like other virtues, practice makes perfect. The breaking of bad habits has to be deliberate and intentional. Finally, Elizabeth Kelly reminds us that virtuous listening allows us to actively listen for the presence of the Lord. 

Is that why so few people are listening to God today — because few are talking with Him to begin with? Have we strayed so far from the habitual practice of putting on virtue that we simply cannot listen well for the Lord? As goes the natural order, so goes the supernatural. If we don’t listen well to fellow human beings, how well are we going to listen to God? So He said, "Go forth and stand on the mountain before the LORD." And behold, the LORD was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake, a fire but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. And behold, a voice came to him and said, "What are you doing here, Elijah? [1 Kings 19: 11-13]

It bears repeating that the opposing vices to virtuous listening include pride, arrogance, conceit, the deliberate ignoring of someone; disrespect of others; selfishness; self-interests; pretensions; and the criticizing of others. On the other hand, virtuous listening is well supported by the virtues of humility, love, concern for others, prudence, interest in others, respect, honor, selflessness, etc. It takes patience and effort to put on any virtue — including virtuous listening. Even when feeling disrespected by someone who time and again fails to listen to us, we ought never to seek revenge or pay back. Arming ourselves with personal virtue — including forgiveness of others — allows us to become better listeners and in turn better spouses, friends, neighbors and parents.  Putting on virtue helps to promote every aspect of our personal relationships. Good listening is a virtue to teach to children at every opportunity that presents itself. Remember, your children are watching you! 

Arm yourselves with the natural virtue of listening well — with your spouses when they speak to you;  with your children when they speak to you; with family members and neighbors. You may be amazed at how your personal relationships improve. Finally, listen to hear God’s voice out of love for Him. “You know well enough that Our Lord does not look so much at the greatness of our actions, nor even at their difficulty, but at the love with which we do them.” St. Therése of Lisieux 

Questions to ponder: 

  1. How well do you listen to others? What can you do to become a virtuous listener? 
  2. How well are you listened to by family and friends? 
  3. How well do you listen to God?