Archive for God

Attraction, Feelings, and Love

3 April 2012
Copyright © 2012 by P. A. Ritzer

I called in to the Laura Ingraham show on 22 March to comment on the issue of living together before marriage. Basically, I said: Women need to get a clue; if a man loves you, he’ll wait. As I used to ask my students: when you live together, how do you break up? You still have the rent and the electrical bill. You are more likely to remain in an unhealthy relationship. It comes down to the fact that love is not a feeling but an act of the will. It is a giving of the self that involves commitment. Feelings rise and fall, that is why you need commitment.

All we need to do, especially during Holy Week, is to take a look at a crucifix: the greatest act of love ever, and it did not feel very good.

In Seven Ox Seven, Part One: Escondido Bound, Tom has to grapple with the question of love in light of romantic feelings that rise up in response to meeting a beautiful woman.  Here is how he works it out in pages 82-86.

Copyright © 2007 by P. A. Ritzer

Julie flooded back—from where she had been occupying a good deal of the area behind it—to the forefront of Tom’s mind. In truth, she had occupied the greater part of his mind for most of the time since he had first seen her, and had at least wafted around somewhere in the back or bottom of his mind when she had not been occupying the greater part. It was not as if he actively thought of her. He did not need to think of her. It was less voluntary than that. He would have had to think to keep her out. There was a naturalness to the way she flooded his mind. Thinking of her was a natural reaction to the stimulus of her, and that thought had a naturally sensual character to it. The natural scent of her hair and skin, subtly enhanced by perfume, again delighted his sense of smell, in memory, intoxicating his mind through that most evocative of the senses. Her slender, lithe figure and the way that she moved played upon him in a way that no dance or drama could or, for that matter, could any imaginable movement of even the most graceful of the creatures of land, sky, or sea. Again he saw her eyes and, starting with those portals open wide to him, again ventured upon that journey into her beauty. Again her rich silken hair rested against the side of his face, as it had when they had danced; again the softness of her cheek glided beneath the light brush of his hand; again her delicate hands lightly enclosed his own.

He chuckled at how she had immediately attracted him and at how she still had a sensual hold on his mind. She was not the first to so affect him, and he doubted that she would be the last. He knew, from experience, that her absence would allow time to continually diminish the superficial though pervasive place she presently held in his mind, and he knew that, in this case, absence was the most prudent policy.

To get involved with a girl like Julie would be to give himself over to insecurity, because, since they did not appear to share common values, she could just as easily be interested in any other man who suited her (and probably would be), and he in any other woman. Julie was pretty enough to demand as much commitment as the willing man could afford, however illicit. Her knowledge of her power over men as an object of desire, and the pleasure such power obviously gave her, would only add to the insecurity of the relationship, as it would keep her ever watchful for that future man, better than the rest, who, too, would fall prey to her beauty and her charms. Judging from what he had seen of her values, Tom knew that he would not be this ultimate man, and he wondered whether any man ever would be, before her beauty would gradually succumb to the cosmetic applications so evident, at the Lady Gay, upon the faces of older members of her occupation. Regardless, such insecurity in a relationship could well lead to possessiveness or, paradoxically, to its contrary, disregard. Possessiveness could eventually lead to anger and resentment, disregard to indifference.

Tom considered further the development of a relationship founded on such shallow footings. How many times had he seen a man fall “head over heels” for a woman, only to see him, after that relationship had ended (and the fellow had been all but broken in half), fall equally in love with another woman nothing like the last. Such a thing could not then be love, Tom maintained, but some baser attraction. Love, instead, elevates desire between a man and a woman to its proper place, in a way that sets the human apart from the horse or the cow. Love elevates that desire into a consciousness of the need for moral and practical compatibility, which does not allow one to fool oneself into believing that selfish obsession with another can be love. This special love between a man and a woman must then require something of reason, which sets the human apart from the beast, to elevate this desire. The human creature must let reason rule desire and let love rule reason for them to be properly directed. Such is required by the dignity appropriate to the rational creature.

Therefore, Tom would never have considered that it was love that kept Julie in his mind. He had seen some men—and not just the young fellows fresh away from home and under the influence of drink—make that mistake often enough. But Tom knew that any fellow who would believe that he was in love in such a case, or even in a case more involved though equally shallow, was missing something. Otherwise, how could a man feel similar romantic feelings for different women, very unlike each other and of very different minds from the man himself?

No, such could not be love but merely infatuation. Tom knew love, and he would not have elevated infatuation to that height. It was because he knew love that he was also wary of over-romanticizing love between a man and woman. Love was plainer than glamorized infatuation, and yet, more profoundly beautiful in its plainness. It had its share of hardship, hard work, and pain. Love had a nakedness about it, compared to which the nakedness of infatuation was but a woefully shallow imitation. The nakedness of love could not be satisfied by the merely sensual. The nakedness of love demanded far more because it was far more: because it was the complete exposure, the complete sharing, the complete gift of the self, not just of the body. (And, in truth, given that the body is an essential component of human nature, one could never truly share the body without, at least to some degree, sharing the self, licitly, to one’s benefit, or illicitly, to one’s detriment.) The nakedness of love demanded commitment, with all that that word denoted and connoted, and a commitment not just to the other, but to the Other, Who is the Source of all love, Who is Love itself.

This awareness, on Tom’s part, always brought him around to his belief that there must be far more than just the sensual attraction between a man and a woman before it is appropriate to move further into the sensual realm of the relationship. There must be something profound that puts the sensual in its proper place and elevates it. There must be a singular affinity between the minds and souls of the man and woman, an affinity that draws them toward the commitment of love. There it was again, commitment, an act of the will, an act of the will that is the gift of the self. That is love: an act of the will that is the gift of the self! The commitment of love, in this singular case, must be Matrimony, the only commitment that, as a sacrament, provides the grace for a man and woman to share the nakedness of the Garden of Eden while yet in a fallen world. The grace of the sacrament assures that, rather than become a selfish taking, the sensual intimacy can be a selfless giving: to spouse, to God, to the children thus begotten. Hence, the Sacrament of Matrimony is the only commitment worthy of the ultimate sensual intimacy, an intimacy through which a man and woman become one body and, as such, enjoy the profound privilege and responsibility of participating in and sharing in God’s creation of another human being. It is in this commitment of the Sacrament of Matrimony that a man and woman are most capable, by design, of accepting their responsibility to raise to adulthood the human beings created through their union.

Given all that, Tom believed that it should follow, then, that a man should test his attraction to a woman for that affinity that draws a man and a woman into the Sacrament of Matrimony. He should do so because the attraction could lead to union, and union to procreation. The procreative result of this union is another human being, another material and spiritual creature with the capacity of union with the Infinite. Thus, the union of man and woman must command a most profound respect and commitment, because the procreation and upbringing of the product of that union, a child with a supernatural destiny, must carry a most profound responsibility.

He knew that no such affinity could exist between Julie and him. And yet she remained in his mind. He saw again the lose strands of her hair around her pretty ear and against her graceful neck. He saw again those long lashes and looked into those dark eyes. And again he knew that he could have been lost in those eyes, and that, past a certain point, he could have dissolved into her and enjoyed great pleasure in doing so, but for some little guide in him, a guide that could reach out and offer him the opportunity to return to shore from those waters into which he had begun to wade. Ah, but for this guide, conscience, what the contemporary Briton John Henry Newman would call “the aboriginal vicar of Christ.” Yes, but for this guide, what further evil might be introduced into this world under the guise of pleasure.

In this way, Tom’s mind examined the reality of the day against revealed truths and personal conclusions. That examination was part of a river of analytical thought that flowed through his mind seemingly involuntarily and almost incessantly. This flow of analytical thought was something Tom took for granted: he knew no other way.

“Hmph,” Tom sighed out loud, in a kind of muffled chuckle. “All this from dancin’ with a dancehall girl,” he thought.

But he knew it was more than that. All human relationships have a beginning, and how and why they begin determine to greater and lesser degrees how and where they proceed. Julie may not have technically been a cyprian, like some of the dancehall girls, but she saw no problem with accepting pay to show her affections. And Tom knew that once a person decided that her affections were for sale, the object of those affections would be the highest bidder, whether the bid was in money or some other variety of tender.

Nevertheless, though he had thus disposed of this potential relationship, it was the nature of Tom’s mind that, no matter what other thoughts ran through it, thoughts of Julie drifted around behind them and, often enough, advanced to the front, until he fell off to sleep.



Conscience, Law, and the Buffalo Hunt (Part Two)

1 March 2012

From Seven Ox Seven, Part One: Escondido Bound, the second of three excerpts from pages 219-228.

Copyright © 2007 by P. A. Ritzer

And to whom or what were the lawful and the lawless passing on their responsibility and freedom when they passed them on to the state? Well, at least in the United States of America, a republic, they were passing on their freedom and attendant responsibility to a seemingly innocuous form of government, a representative government, a government of elected peers. But those peers, too, were human. They, too, only ruled as well as they were willing to form their consciences to the rule of “the laws of nature and of nature’s God,” and to act in accordance with those consciences. Besides, once a matter like the slaughter of the buffalo was referred to the state, the state, in regard for all its citizens, was required to rule at a higher degree of generality than that of the individual conscience with its single subject, so that the general law of the state would be less adaptable than the more immediate and specific law of the individual conscience. Ergo, the individual lost freedom. For at that point, even if circumstances presented a situation in which the individual could act in a certain way in good conscience according to “the laws of nature and of nature’s God,” he might no longer be able to do so according to the laws of the state, because he had relinquished his responsibility and freedom to the state and was the more subjected to it.

Tom considered a simple hypothetical case in this matter of the buffalo. In that case, those hunting the buffalo, lawful and lawless alike, would continue the slaughter despite the obvious signs of it being wrong, if in nothing else than the prodigious waste of meat. Elected representatives of the people, outraged at the waste and the precipitous reductions in the numbers of the animal, would eventually pass a law to forbid the killing of the buffalo. Given that scenario, the following case unfolds. A man out on the prairie comes upon a lame buffalo bull that has been left behind by its herd and is obviously going to die. The man has a family who, though they have some food and are not starving, could make good use of the meat from the bull. Now, however, according to the new law, the man with the family must not kill the bull, and so the lame buffalo moves on to die in some remote place where the meat will go to waste. Before the law, the man could have legally killed and butchered the bull and fed his family with the meat, and he could have done so in good conscience. Now, after the law, his only legal option is to not kill the bull. His conscience must now weigh the law against the hunger of his family and the waste of the meat. If the man decides in good conscience, after weighing the matter, that it is better to kill the bull to feed his hungry family rather than to let the meat rot, he has decided, in good conscience, to break the law. This is no small matter, because in a free society laws should exist to protect the unalienable rights of the citizens; therefore, the conscientious person, in good conscience, should normally obey the law.

In such a case, then, the law, the conscience, or both have been compromised. This conflict between conscience and law comes about as a result of the refusal of earlier hunters to form or obey their consciences. It is a result of those earlier hunters’ failure to rule themselves, a result of their having handed over responsibility to the state, which, by its nature, must rule in a more general way than the conscience. That the man in the hypothetical case is not a hunter illustrates another point: when citizens turn over responsibility to the state, not only do they turn over, with it, their own freedom, but also that of every other citizen, even the most conscientious.

Tom reflected on how his hypothetical case also illustrated the communal nature of man, the latent sacramentalism awaiting men’s acceptance of and cooperation with grace. “No man is an island,” wrote John Donne. “Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” If one is diminished, all are diminished. So John Donne let the world know in poetry, some two and a half centuries before, what the Church had been teaching for some sixteen centuries before that, having been taught it by Christ. Neither man nor a man lives in a vacuum. The act of a single man changes the world, the universe, regardless of how private or public the act. A good act has the capacity to yield good consequences far beyond the immediate effect; so does an evil act have a similar capacity to yield evil consequences. Therefore, for man (the creature in whom matter and spirit are combined in one nature, created with free will, in the very image of God), all his actions entail responsibility. Responsibility is a natural concomitant to human actions. To shirk responsibility is but an illusion, as the shirker is responsible for that shirking. And because human actions entail responsibility, each human action deserves its due consideration. When humans fail to accept the responsibility for their actions; when they refuse to give those actions due consideration; when, after such consideration, they refuse to act on the conclusions of an informed conscience, then events like the slaughter of the buffalo result.

Thus, Tom considered three broad categories of men: the conscientious, those who formed their consciences and acted according to them; the lawful, those who waited for the state to pass laws to legislate their behavior and thereby relinquished their freedom and its attendant responsibility to the state; and the lawless, those who had no respect for the law and would defy the law as they saw fit, until they were prevented by the state from doing so, thereby passing on all of their freedom and its attendant responsibility to the state. Consideration of these led Tom’s mind onto consideration of another category of man, call them the semi-lawful.

(continued in Part Three)

Not Tough Enough for Hell

Copyright © 2011 by P. A. Ritzer

8 December 2011

Remember some of those old movies, war movies or cowboy movies, where some character in the film played by John Wayne or Robert Mitchum or Lee Marvin says something along the lines of: “I’ll see you in hell.” The impression conveyed is that this guy is so bad and so tough that he knows he is damned for doing his own thing without regard for the constraints of society or, in a broader sense, morality, and that he knows he will spend the rest of eternity in hell, and that he intends to do so with all the carefree rebellion that has characterized his earthly life. Immediately on hearing the words, I would feel the character’s proud bravado melt away before the reality of hell and would think, “Man, you ain’t tough enough.”

Consider the reality: one of the most powerful beings God ever created, turned from good to evil, from Lucifer to Satan, ruling a world of fire, burning with hate and every kind of malice. Works of the imagination like the Star-Wars-Dark-Side-of-the-Force Emperor and Darth Vader and all his other followers are but child’s play before this reality. In such a place, the devil-may-care tough guy is but the devil’s plaything for tortures unimaginable in this life.

And something else about hell struck me a few years ago while practicing the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola. During the meditation on hell, I was overwhelmed by a realization I had not considered before: a person will experience hell in body as well as soul. It should have been obvious. Wherever we are going, heaven or hell, we are ultimately going in body and soul. Human nature is physical and spiritual; we have a body and a soul. Our souls do not just inhabit our bodies to be released from them in death.

(A little note here: I think IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed may be one of the best films ever made, but there is a problem with the theology, as there is with other Hollywood treatments of the subject. Clarence would not have become an angel after he died. He would have become a bodiless soul until the last judgment. Human beings cannot become angels. They have different natures: angels are pure spirit; humans are spirit and matter. So, no human being can be your guardian angel, contrary to what is often claimed in the popular culture: good Samaritan maybe, but not guardian angel. The good news is that we each have a guardian angel, and we ought to be mindful of our guardian angels and grateful to and for them.)

The separation of body and soul at death is unnatural. It was not meant to be. It resulted from original sin. Thus, at death, body and soul do separate, but they will be reunited at the last judgment, and wherever we are going, we are going body and soul. Ignoring this or wishing it away does not change the reality. (Even Jesus suffered the separation of his body from his soul at death, but each remained united to his divine person.) Somehow I had never given much consideration to the body part of the equation, but in my meditation it hit me full force. For some reason the idea of experiencing hell in the body struck me as especially horrifying. Imagine, in hell one would be imprisoned with the most evil human beings that ever lived. And the most powerfully evil creature in God’s creation would be the warden, and his minions the guards. Imagine the physical vulnerability. No place of safety, nowhere to hide. I need say no more, except that you would have to add in the incalculable spiritual suffering. Meditate on that. Then ask yourself: are you tough enough? You might consider that John Wayne was baptized on his deathbed.

Value and Outcomes of a Catholic Education

Copyright © 2011 by P. A. Ritzer

17 October 2011

Recently I was asked to comment on the value and some outcomes of a Catholic education.

Value: Basically, for me it just comes down to learning truth within the reality of God’s creation and Church: truth within reality.

Outcomes: One hopes that a person comes out of a Catholic education with a committed sacramental relationship with God and neighbor and all creation and the knowledge and understanding to live that to fulfillment.