Sunday, January 09, 2011

Out of control

It was, I have to admit, fun. Every day brought a new plate of goodies, or tin of treats. Cookies galore, even fudge. Bottles of wine, and a cake – maybe two. And, oh, glory – a ham! All these things materialized here at the brick-enclosed nerve center of the parish, often already in the kitchen when I found them.

What’s a guy to do? I ATE them – all of them! Sure, Fr. D helped, but Fr. Nick – usually a very stand-up guy when it comes to devouring things – was away, and no help at all. Likewise the staff did very little for me; most of them were taking time off anyway.

On top of that was all the extravagant eating that happened at the groaning tables of celebration at people’s houses, at restaurants with friends, and in our own recently-refurbished dining room.

All through it, I was convinced that it was okay: It is Christmas, after all. This too shall pass, the goodies will be gone, and I will behave after the turn of the year. I will be abstemious, lay off the treats, and eat like a responsible, healthy (middle-aged) grown-up. That way, this won’t be a problem.

So, here we are, well into January, and the piper is demanding to be paid. I am already doing the mental gymnastics of creating exceptions, exemptions, and alternatives to grim austerity. I am sure there won’t be a problem.

Now I am not projecting any of this thought or behavior on you, though I think some may be able to identify with me. It did get me thinking: How dependent I am on illusions! I know they are illusions, if I stop to study them. I know enough to know the reality, but persist in my conviction that in this case, for me, at this time, that reality can be evaded.

How many illusions do you and I put to work in this way in any given week, or any given lifetime? How often do we convince ourselves that we can get away with something, that the bad thing won’t happen to us, that we are fine, that we are safe, that everything, somehow, will just work out right? That we are in control of things?

Just to name a few randomly chosen ones, a lot of people get nervous about air travel, but really, going by car to the grocery is much more dangerous. Everybody feels safe in their homes, but then who is it that gets burgled, or has a fire? We are all convinced that we’ll stay healthy, so how do all those folks wind up in the hospital?

You see where I am going with this, and yes, I did just experience a shocking death of a young, bright, healthy friend of mine, through no fault of his own or any other entity on the planet.

In some ways we need these illusions to be able to go about our days without being petrified that something awful will happen to us. Sometimes, we base our attitudes on perfectly good statistics that show “it” probably won’t happen to us, or our kids, or our friends.

God loves enough to give us our freedom, and we claim to value that freedom. We are free to nurture our illusions, and base our actions, even our lives, on them. But in the light of His revelation, His beloved Son in whom He is well pleased, and what Jesus did to purchase for us rescue even from the consequences of our squandered freedom – in the light of all that, who dare think that faith is an illusion?
Monsignor Smith

1 comment:

inupiaq said...

Thanks, as ever, Monsignor. I can never get enough of theodicy. This week's reflections brought to mind a passage from Montaigne, in the celebrated essay "Qu'Il Faut Sobrement Se Mesler de Juger des Ordonnances Divines"--"Il advient de là qu'il n'est rien creu si fermement que ce qu'on sçait le moins, ny gens si asseurez que ceux qui nous content des fables, comme Alchimistes, Prognostiqueurs, Judiciaires, Chiromantiens, Medecins, id genus omne. Ausquels je joindrois volontiers, si j'osois, un tas de gens, interpretes et contrerolleurs ordinaires des dessains de Dieu, faisans estat de trouver les causes de chaque accident, et de veoir dans les secrets de la volonté divine les motifs incompréhensibles de ses oeuvres; et quoy que la varieté et discordance continuelle des evenemens les rejette de coin en coin, et d'orient en occident, ils ne laissent de suivre pourtant leur esteuf, et, de mesme creon, peindre le blanc et le noir." Ah, yes—“folks like that,” right? But we live in an age of black-and-white delusions, obsessed by lists and rankings--a latter-day Babel, when reflections on the problem of evil are always in order. Montaigne's age was hardly preferable, it seems, and he closes his reflection on the presumption of judging divine providence by human standards with words to live by from day to day, in any time: "Quis hominum potest scire consilium dei? aut quis poterit cogitare quid velit dominus?" As we read in the Apocrypha, "For who among men is he that can know the counsel of God? or who can think what the will of God is?" (Wisdom ix:13). Thanks again, Monsignor, both for the enlightening homilies, and for the myriad practical tasks you willingly undertake to create and sustain a community of belief in the parish. Your example is a salutary reproach and an inspiration.