Sunday 24th January 2021

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A Potpourri… The Temptation In The Desert, Death, And Other Matters

March 25, 2020 Frontpage No Comments


There is one central event in the life of Christ which I have often thought should have a place among the mysteries of the rosary, but which has been omitted — the temptation of Jesus in the desert. My way of including it has been to link it with the First Luminous Mystery — the Baptism of Jesus. They, of course, belong together.
After the Baptism, Jesus comes up out of the water, and the voice of the Father is heard proclaiming that “this is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” With that proclamation, we have the definitive beginning of Jesus’ mission for the salvation of the world. And then what follows is His first battle with Evil One.
The history of salvation often seems to be like a kind of chess game played by God and Satan, where God makes a move and Satan makes a countermove, then God makes a countermove, and so on until the end of time. I can just imagine Satan saying to himself in response to the announcement of the coming of the Messiah, “I gotta get ahold of this guy and corrupt him so he will serve my kingdom.”
And that is just what he tried to do, tempting Jesus to use His power to create an earthly kingdom under his (Satan’s) control to enslave us rather than free us. And he, of course, failed miserably, but did not give up, unfortunately. I think here of the Prologue of St. John’s Gospel, which tells us that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.” Christ is the light, and Satan is the darkness that tries to overcome the light there in the desert, but cannot, and never will.
Living in a nursing home as I do, I am very aware of what a constant presence death is here. A large number of our residents are in their 90s or beyond (a delightful lady I know named Eleanor, who just celebrated her 103rd birthday, falls into the beyond category), so the death rate is naturally very high. Yet it is a somewhat taboo subject. When a resident dies, the staff are not supposed to tell the other residents. Of course, word gets out, because a nursing home is a lot like a small town, and few things remain secret for long.
I notice, too, that if I am so indiscreet as to suggest to one of the staff that, at 78, I kind of expect to be shuffling off this mortal coil one of these years, I get a response along lines of, “Oh, don’t be morbid, you’re young yet, you’ll be around for a long time!” There actually seems to be sort of a notion that actually everyone is young, a notion that would render the word meaningless.
Behind such thinking is the fact that fewer and fewer people have any very serious belief in God, which means that they are unlikely to have any notion of a life beyond death. As a result, while everyone acknowledges that we will all die, the answer so many people give to this reality is, “Try not to think about it.”
What a contrast that is to the Church’s idea that Christians should meditate on death every day. But if you are trying not to think about death, you will need to find ways to distract yourself from it — things like material success, power, careers, and diving headfirst into the fast pace of modern city life. These are the things Pascal called divertissements, diversions, distractions, by which we try to shut out the reality of our condition. How much less trouble it is to just wake up and accept that condition with faith in Christ’s promise of resurrection and eternal life.

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We need to be on guard when we hear people with pretensions to being “intellectuals” telling us that such and such is nothing more than this or that, that the latter is what is real and that everything else, including the things we think we see and hear and touch and interact with are an illusion — “mere appearance.”
This is the fallacy known as reductionism, one which has done a huge amount to distort the thinking of the modern world. There seems to be a great deal of it in the thinking of Bill Bryson, author of A Short History of Nearly Everything, and The Body, both well written and quite interesting volumes of popular science — the first focused on the history of the universe as science today sees it, the second on our current knowledge of the incredible complexity of living organisms, especially the human body.
Unfortunately, he is very quick to do such things as assert that the teeming underworld of fundamental particles and such which are the components of matter are the only reality, and we only think we sees trees and people and houses, and so on.
What he doesn’t understand is that all these fundamental components are the underpinnings, the infrastructure, if you will, of the things we see and grasp, the trees and people and houses. The latter are the whole point of all the components, their end to which they are ordered. This is what the modern mind produced by the so-called Enlightenment cannot tolerate, because it would require science to make some room for final causality, and that is taboo. The thing that appears is the thing that is.
The thing is, the many components of the final product, whether a rock, or an animal, or a human being, are, in the process of its coming into being, intricately coordinated with one another in a process which is complex beyond anything we can imagine. And that coordinated process is, as a whole, ordered to the complete, finished being, which is the final cause. Sooner or later, science will have to come to terms with the reality that for the universe to be intelligible, final causality is essential.

+ + +

Euthanasia advocates are generally grounded in an atheistic ideology or something close to it (like agnosticism), an ideology which would deny the possibility of any kind of existence after death. That means that, once you die, you no longer exist, and the worms have a feast on your remains. Now, the idea behind euthanasia is that, when someone is suffering from terrible pain, a compassionate person can free that person from pain by ending his life. Now if I am in pain and a doctor gives me a pain-killing medication and the pain stops, then I enjoy a sense of relief and pleasure from the cessation of the pain. This makes perfect sense when the person’s pain ends but the person does not.
But if the atheists are right and I cease to be with death, then there is no me to enjoy the relief of being pain-free. So there is no relief. So all the person who does the euthanizing accomplishes is to kill someone but no pain relief follows, because there is no one there to be relieved.

+ + +

Pope Francis has been telling people that if you try to use speech to persuade people to become Christians, you are not a disciple of Christ. He seems to be saying that we should witness to Christ only by our example, speaking to people about Him only when they come to us with questions about our faith.
This is bizarre. First of all, Jesus, during His public ministry, consistently acted contrary to what the Pope is saying, preaching to people without waiting for them to come to Him.
Secondly, it flies in the face of Jesus’ explicit command to His disciples: “Go, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to do all things that I have commanded you.” This is known as the Great Commission, given to us by Christ Himself, who is God incarnate. No one, not even the Pope, has the authority to abrogate this Commission.
The Pope thinks that we should only preach the Gospel to people when they ask us about it. But this isn’t how the Church has carried out her missionary activities for 2,000 years. St. Paul got up in Athens and started preaching to the Athenians, right out of the blue. Likewise, he went into synagogues and preached, without waiting to be asked.
By the Pope’s criteria, none of the great missionaries in the Church’s history were actually disciples of Christ. He seems to want to rewrite the Great Commission as, “Go and give a good example to all nations, then teach them if they ask you to, but not otherwise.”
The Pope also conflates trying to persuade people through speech with forced conversion. These are two different things. One involves persuasion, which seeks to elicit the person’s free consent, the other coercion. One respects the freedom of the person, the other does not.
(© 2020 George A. Kendall)

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