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Tag Archive: Truth

Sympathy is the Gift of Self

Posted: Wednesday, March 2, 2011 (11:18 pm), by John W Gillis


Quote of the Day for Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011:

Another passage from A. G. Sertillanges’ The Intellectual Life (pg. 130):

But there is something else still more important, namely, to submit not only to the discipline of work, but to the discipline of truth. This submission to truth is the binding condition for communion with it. Prompt obedience is what invites it to visit us. To this sacred meeting we must bring a respectful soul. Truth will not give itself to us unless we are first rid of self and resolved that it shall suffice us. The intelligence which does not submit is in a state of skepticism, and the skeptic is ill-prepared for truth. Discovery is the result of sympathy; and sympathy is the gift of self.

Christ reigns by unfolding Himself in men

Posted: Monday, January 31, 2011 (11:47 pm), by John W Gillis


Quote of the Day for Monday, January 31st, 2011:

A. G. Sertillanges, from his venerable book The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods:

Christianized humanity is made up of various personalities, no one of which can refuse to function without impoverishing the group and without depriving the eternal Christ of a part of his Kingdom. Christ reigns by unfolding Himself in men. Every life of one of His members is a characteristic moment of His duration; every individual man and Christian is an instance, incommunicable, unique, and therefore necessary, of the extension of the “spiritual body.” If you are designated as a light bearer, do not go and hide under the bushel the gleam or the flame expected from you in the house of the Father of all. Love truth and its fruits of life, for yourself and for others; devote to study and to the profitable use of study the best part of your time and your heart.

I’m just beginning this book, and hoping to get through it this week. Next week I begin the fourth course (Metaphysics) in my Franciscan University program. No small part of my reasoning for entering that program was to subject my thinking life to a guided discipline for the sake of deepening it through focus – as Sertillanges points out, a stream bounded by  narrow banks flows more impetuously – and this guide looks as if it might provide the knowledge of precisely the corrective I need at this point to tame my tendency to skim too lightly over the demands of systematic study, while relying too heavily on my (fading) abilities of recall. That’s long-hand for laziness.

A man’s self-revelation can only be realized in a sustained submission to the truth for its own sake, which is nothing more or less than an openness to God. But Sertillanges is here going a step further, in positioning the vocation to the pursuit of truth as being one of service, which echoes the point being made about the Church’s sacramental vocation by the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews in today’s first reading in the Mass:

Yet all these [Old Testament saints], though approved because of their faith, did not receive what had been promised. God had foreseen something better for us, so that without us they should not be made perfect. Hebrews 11:39-40 (NAB)

Ziegler’s Death of Free Speech

Posted: Monday, April 27, 2009 (11:21 pm), by John W Gillis


I had the radio on in the car one day, a couple months ago, when I caught part of an interview with a filmmaker named John Ziegler, who was promoting a film on the 2008 U.S. Presidential election called “Media Malpractice,” which he purported would demonstrate decisively just how in the tank the popular media was for Obama. I’m not sure a documentary is really necessary to make such a point, but the guy sounded funny, so I figured I’d check the local library system to see if there was a copy available I could request.

ziegler_deathoffreespeechThey didn’t have a copy of the documentary, but they did have a couple copies of a book Ziegler had written a few years ago, called “The Death Of Free Speech: How Our Broken National Dialogue Has Killed The Truth And Divided America,” so I requested a copy, and gave it a read.

The essence of the book is a demonstration of how the irrational moralism we call “political correctness” has eroded our culture’s appreciation for – and even understanding of – freedom of speech. I would add that it has also contributed significantly to a serious dumbing-down of our dialogue, as well as of a loss of respect for the truth – neither of which claims would be disputed by Ziegler. However, as much as I would have liked to like this work, it is simply not a good book.

No small part of the problem with the book is that it is really, first and foremost, about John Ziegler, and his trials and tribulations as a misunderstood and oppressed talk radio character. Furthermore, the entire book is just a series of anecdotes – some of which may be interesting, but the sum of which fail to constitute a rewarding whole, in much the same way a platter full of Twinkies would fail to constitute a rewarding meal. It might be unfair to criticize him for not writing the book he didn’t write, but when a book’s subtitle purports to tell “how” something comes to be, a little analysis might not be an unreasonable expectation. There’s simply not much there, despite ample subject matter. This book even has an index, though it is such a light-weight work that its inclusion seems unnecessary, if not a tad contrived.

Then there is the matter of the writing just not being very good. This guy’s not a writer, he’s a whiner, an agitator, and a wiseguy – and it shows. Even the editing is poor, with numerous sentences and paragraphs showing obvious traces of cut and paste procedures that nobody bothered to go back to clean up.

In truth, I was also put off by a number of his libertarian prejudices, as he perpetuates several of the hoary dogmas of the left as related to religious faith in the public square, such as the canard that “organized religion” is responsible for most of the world’s bloodshed. I’ve already returned the book, and cannot remember any specific examples off the top of my head except for one rather comical one.

Anyone who spends any time these days defending Catholicism in public is accustomed to having the recent clergy sexual abuse crisis hauled out by critics of the Church as a kind of talisman against having to take seriously anything someone in the Church says, regardless of how serious it might actually be. In discussing the outraged response of the Archdiocese of New York to an act of on-the-air sacrilege-for-entertainment within the sacred space of Saint Patrick Cathedral, Ziegler pulls out the obligatory talisman by saying something along the lines of “how can they waste their time complaining about this when THE CRISIS happened!” But then, incredibly, he goes on to claim that the clergy sexual abuse crisis is clearly the worst scandal in Church history!

Ignoring the irony that THE CRISIS as an issue specific to the Catholic Church (as opposed to an issue common to almost every institution during the “sexual revolution” and the rise of “therapeutic man”) is actually a product of the exact same anti-critical, obfuscating, politically motivated, media-driven left-wing group-think that Ziegler wrote this book to complain about, the claim that this is anywhere near the worst scandal in Church history just exposes a complete lack of historical credibility on his part.

In terms of scandal, a small fraction of priests committing grave sins and an episcopal bureaucracy that bungles the response would hardly seem to hold a votive candle to the spectacle of the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church” presenting three rival claimants to the papal throne, to use just one of many possible candidates from the first half of the second millennium. Many other examples abound, and the current situation is really just a blip on the radar screen in the big picture – as outrageous as that undoubtedly feels to the happy consumers of “politically correct” moralism – where nothing is more important than having properly defined victims, except having appropriate scapegoats put in their place.

What might be unprecedented in history, though, is the public disregard for truth that simmers under the surface of Ziegler’s book, like volcanic lava threatening to erupt onto the surface of society with devastating toxicity and lifeless scorching ore. It’s just not clear to me whether Ziegler’s approach is more part of the solution, or the problem.

Looking in the Mirror

Posted: Saturday, July 12, 2008 (11:58 pm), by John W Gillis


Ever since high school, I’ve been keeping a journal of at least occasional thoughts, as well as some other minor writing. Sometime during the summer of what I think was 1984, I threw away all my collected writing to date – with the exception of a small set of poetry that was the lyrical content of some music I was composing at the time.

I’ve often since regretted that action, thinking that, in my rashness, I’ve deprived myself of a good source of knowledge and insight into myself as a person. I’m not sure I still regret it, though, as I don’t know how keen I would be to encounter the young man behind those ten years worth of missing documents. I’m not entirely certain of the reason for this, but I have some ideas.

I still possess what is now over twenty years of the document record of my life, often recorded at low moments of melancholy bellyaching, yet also including a fair amount of constructive thought, in one form or another. Occasionally, I go back through it to recollect the way I have traveled. The bellyaching tends to be pretty repetitive – I’ve been struggling against more or less the same demons for most of my life, even if my footing in that struggle has changed radically over time – but I’ve always found it at least entertaining, and at times even inspiring, to re-enter the thinking of my younger self.

Lately, though, I’ve been finding myself less comfortable with what (or who) I encounter when I dig into my past. I’m not referring to the record of my struggles – I understand what that’s all about, regardless of how frustrating it might be to see the evidence of sin’s tenacious perseverance, and my own characteristic feebleness – but rather to the record of my ideas about things that were important to me. Where once I would have found my younger self’s thinking to be at least a good jumping off point for considering some matter, I now find myself, more and more, rolling my eyes at the narrowness and shallowness of what I once thought.

p>It’s not necessarily a bad thing to be able to say that I’ve moved on, but I’m beginning to not recognize myself in my own history, if I can say that without undue melodrama. It’s not that I’ve ever been completely satisfied with the way I’d put things ten or fifteen years prior, and I’ve certainly always felt there was room for improvement and development, but I’m beginning to consider my youthful thinking less in terms of development (of at least certain strands of thought), and more in terms of correction – even repudiation. It seems I was, in some matters, right out to lunch.

The net result of this has been a loss of confidence in myself, and in my ability to perceive reality with sufficient and appropriate clarity. It’s great to learn from one’s mistakes, to grow, to overcome deficiencies. But what should this suggest my current life might look like to me in another fifteen or twenty or thirty years? Would I discover (or at least surmise, for how could I say with certainty even then?) that my ideas, today, had been not only immature and unrefined (which would be par for the course), but even at cross-purposes with reality (that is: lies)?

Multiply this problem by, not a few decades, but the infinite shadow of eternity, and it becomes easy to fall prey to the conceits of the relativists, and their confounded coupling of skepticism and progressivism. At the least, it does seem to raise a valid question about the limits of human knowledge, and of what it means to be coming to know the truth. If we are growing in wisdom, we should always have the luxury of looking back with a certain bemusement, but it seems illogical to me that the path to truth should ever look, in retrospect, to have been just plain wrong – leading me to wonder exactly what path I’m actually on.

As I write this, it occurs to me that I must sound like I am complaining of a lack of personal infallibility. So many people have such trouble with the concept even of the infallibility of the Bride of Christ, and here I am grousing about how inconsistent it seems with life in the Spirit of Truth for an individual to fall into error. It sounds silly when I put it like this. But, still, wrong-headedness must be seen, it seems to me, to be rooted in resistance to the Spirit.

In reality, some of the Protestant theories of revelation tread down this same path – I’m thinking of the doctrines of soul competence and the perspicuity of Scripture. They’re not identical to what I’m talking about, but they likewise assume that error can be known (or avoided), not through the faculty of reason, but through grace, somehow. And that this is available to individuals through the Spirit. When you examine them, these are really much more radical doctrines than the Catholic dogma of infallibility, which grace is attributed only to the Church as a whole – including, in some circumstances, the Pope speaking for the entire Church.

So I really can’t go there, as tempting as it is. In the end, I suppose I simply cannot know just how misguided I may be at any particular time. That’s the inherent danger of opinion, isn’t it?

What’s frustrating is the stubborn obscurity of the distinction between opinion and understanding – not that I’ve ever witnessed understanding attempting to masquerade as opinion, but opinion certainly strives mightily to be passed off as understanding. It’s very easy to walk away with an ignorant opinion from an encounter with a genuine source of knowledge. Isn’t that, in a nutshell, the basis of faithlessness?

As for whether my younger self had any real clue whatsoever, or what my older self would make of my current self, I suppose I just need to be at peace with myself, and cultivate hope. And it wouldn’t huty to consider the significance of the fact that the areas of my youthful thought I now see the need to renounce are exactly those areas where I had trouble, as a youth, with Catholic Church teaching.

Turning Aside from the Way Ordained

Posted: Sunday, June 1, 2008 (11:20 pm), by John W Gillis


Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Matt 7:21 (NAB)

9th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Deut 11.18, 26-28, 32
Rom 3.21-25, 28
Matt 7.21-27
(view the readings at the USCCB site)

Very interesting how the two reading cycles converge in today’s liturgy – which they certainly don’t always do. The first reading is not on a cycle, but is usually an Old Testament reading that somehow typifies, or at least contextualizes, the reading in the Gospel cycle. The Gospel reading today is from the end of the Sermon on the Mount, which Jesus finishes by making a startling distinction between effective and vain forms of encountering Him. I sometimes hear people refer to this as the difference between giving lip service and real service to God, but I don’t think that goes far enough.

True, in Mt 7.24-27, Jesus clarifies the distinction by differentiating between those who act on His words and those who don’t, but I don’t think this is just about the need to put faith into action. It is about faith being rooted in truth, in God’s will. This seems very clearly illuminated in the first reading.

Just as in the Sermon on the Mount, God has placed before the people His words, and invited them to respond. Paralleling the “act on them”/”not act on them” distinction in the Gospel, we see the options to obey or not obey the commandments, bringing about blessing or curse.

The curse in Dt. 11.28 is identified with three phrases: not obeying the commandments; turning aside from the way ordained; and following other gods not known. There’s no distinction made between the first two terms – disobeying the commandments is turning aside from the way ordained – but the third term is given as a reason: to follow unknown gods. In other words, turning aside from the way ordained is said, by the LORD, to be done for the purpose of following other gods.

I think it’s important not to miss the significance of the assumption this verse is pregnant with: that one does not fail to obey the commandments except to follow other gods – perhaps even that one cannot turn away from the way ordained (The Way) without following other gods. So not only is following the LORD without obeying the commandments excluded a priori, but so is any semblance of agnosticism – at least among those who have heard the commandments, the “words.” This is sensible enough: having encountered the truth, one can accept it or reject it, but one can hardly claim to be unaware of its existence.

I think the NASB, HCSB, NIV and NJB get this verse wrong by translating it: “turn aside from the way… by following other gods.” (To its credit, the NASB does put “[Lit: to follow]” in the margin.) I’m not suggesting that following other gods is not in and of itself a turning aside from the way ordained – it’s a violation of the 1st Commandment – but the wording in these texts envisions sin (turning away) following from idolatry, instead of the other way around. There may be a reciprocal relationship between them, but I think the text is trying to tell us here basically that pride goes before a fall; the desire for falsehood precedes the lie.

Many of the loosey-goosey translations seem to botch this passage at least as badly. I see far too much leaning in them toward the wrong-headed idea that fidelity to God is about worshiping the “right” god, and, conversely and even more so, that worshiping the “wrong” god is what constitutes a sinner – and especially an enemy. This is an overly simplistic reading, and I think both the Matthew reading and the Romans reading witness against it.

Just a few verses earlier in Deuteronomy, we read: “be careful lest your heart be so lured away that you serve other gods and worship them” Deut 11:16 (NAB). The word that the NAB here translates “lured away” is often translated as “deceived.” Idolatry is enticing, but it is by means of embracing falsehood (deception) that one is brought to idolatry. When Jesus says “I never knew you [evildoers]” to those who protest: “we cast out demons in your name,” we see the fruits of religious self-deception at work in those who may be very much in conformity to the exterior norms of a life of faith, and even impressively so, but who are not transformed themselves to a life of fidelity to God’s Word, which amounts to taking the truth as a yoke to bear, without regard to personal cost – that is the knowledge of Christ that unfolds in the life of the disciple. We cannot turn back from that path without “exchanging” gods.

This is essentially what Paul is getting at in the Romans reading as well, though he comes at it from a very different angle. Paul had to deal not only with practitioners of religious self-deception, but with teachers of it. The issue is complex, and deserves much more time than I can give it here, but we are still talking about the difference between approaching the spiritual life as an exercise in religious conformance, and approaching it as a humble – and grateful – subject of the encounter with ultimate truth. We are not made right with God through the practice of religious activities – ritual or charismatic – but through persevering faithfully in the ever-unfolding encounter with truth, as God has revealed it in the person of Jesus Christ.