February 02, 2009

Retreat Notes

While he speaks you can feel the hunger in the room; it’s pin-quiet and witticisms are met with overly uproarious guffaws that would make Leno jealous. Personally, I think it’s a sin of omission that he’s not written a book yet, and a scandal that even his talks are unrecorded. He has well-used the intoxicating freedom that Catholicism provides: that of enjoying the green fields of theological opinion within the frame provided by the Magisterium. There lies true charisma: a religious teacher with the boldness of the personal within the truth of community. The retreat master-as-catechism reader is boring not because the catechism is boring – it’s enriching beyond measure - but because he can offer nothing more that what is already there. At the other extreme, the retreat master-as-heretic is boring because his opinions are gossamer, a structure built on sand that leads to disaster.

On Death and Judgment
"Since we are neither strictly animal nor strictly angel, death is odd for us. Mammals have no metaphysical dread or fear of death. Angels obvious don't have bodies and are immortal. Angels don't have children because they live forever. There is no need for replacements, and each angel is as different from the other as a flower is from a diamond.

Death is something you endure and you do. It's not a totally passive activity. It's not just something that happens to you. You "do" it in the very moment of death, in that instantaneous moment.

This is speculation and not part of Church teaching, but I think it fitting if judgment is a collaborative act. You judge yourself and you are judged by God. In the moment of death no evasion or distraction occurs. Your life (lives) are gathered up together in one moment and you are given the supernatural light and grace to see your life as God sees it. Complete and entire, from your infancy. All the selves gathered together, "life flashes before your eyes" as the cliche goes, the self-deceptions melt away.

We affirm His view (the truth) about us. Or, God ratifies the judgment we've made of our lives. Maybe both ways of saying that are true. Heaven = we ratify God's judgment of us. Hell = God ratifies our judgment of ourselves. C.S. Lewis said that Heaven = our saying "God's will be done" and Hell = God saying, "Thy will be done."

The possibility of Hell is the price of freedom. The price of loneliness is that we might have something unique to give to others. The more inward a thing is, the more it interacts with its environment. A rock has no inward life and can only act and react within a very limited range. It can interact with gravity. A plant has more life within it and has a larger range. It can grow and climb and react to sun and rain. An animal has still greater inward life and can range over many miles. Humans have the most of all.

As time goes by, we have less freedom to change. Our habits form us. Is it likely Bil Mahrer will become a Christian? It's possible - anything is possible with God's grace - but he's built a self that sees Christianity as repulsive. It would cost him a lot. He gets his ratings, props, success partially on the back of the Church. He would lose friends, lose the material for his jokes, etc... What motivation has he to change? He has constructed not just an emotional state but a self. His direction, his will is set. At the moment of his death, would he be likely to reject the self he has created?

If you were free to reinvent yourself forever endlessly, then there would be no core self. But with grace it can be reversed. How grace and free will can be combined I have no idea.

For most of us, it would be unthinkable to participate in a terrorist plot to blow up a sporting arena. We have too many habits of patriotism to do that. It's not that it's impossible for us to participate in a terrorist act, but it's still so close to impossible as to be a limit to our freedom given the way we've shaped our self.

God is not just a noun but an adjective. He is Goodness. He is Truth. So to the extent someone attempts to follow the truth, he was attempting to follow God, no matter how unwittingly. Grace is mysterious; I can't put together God's election and free will, but somebody can. God asks that we believe it, not understand it.

Judgment doesn't depend on our cultivation of self-consciousness. In other words, protecting ourselves from self-deception is not job one. We are saved by Christ. What matters is God's perception of us, not our perception of ourselves.

Question was asked: "How can we have a mind and memory without a brain?" Father C. didn't know; it is a mystery that must be taken on faith. So much of these topics we know the truth but not the how of it. We are not given any more light than we need for our salvation.

I don't buy after-death experiences, which to me have a resonance of Descartes false “ghost in the machine” imagery. "Out of body" doesn't much work for me since you are no longer human at that point; a human is body and soul together. Near-death maybe, but true death is destructive of the imagination such that there is no coming back. Apparitions of dead saints speak of the afterlife but I see them as communicating using the very limited human imagination - they may point us in the right direction without being technically accurate given our limits. An example is this: let's say there are twins in the womb and one child is able to leave the womb and come back. How could he possibly describe, had they the facility to talk to one another, the grinning nurses, the medical equipment, the bored assistant looking at his watch, to the twin who had not been there?

Purgatory

If you love God above all things, no matter how feeble it may be, you'll make it to Purgatory and thus to Heaven. By "feeble" I mean affectively so versus volitionally. In your will, rather than emotional state. Our emotional states constantly vary but our will is the invisible state of our core self. On affective versus volitional:

Let's say you are a teenager invited to a party by five of the coolest people in high school and you want to go but at the same night it's your grandma's 90th birthday party and while you don't feel as close to her at the moment as you do the five cool people in high school, you go to her party out of love. You don't feel it but you do it anyway.

Purgatory has gotten a bad rap by those who see it as a "temporary Hell". The souls in Purgatory have "perfect Hope". It's not a hope that requires any faith, it's a certainty they'll be in Heaven. They also have perfect charity for God and neighbor. Their attitude towards their situation is completely different from the attitude of those in Hell. Let's say God gave a 10,000 year visit to Heaven for someone in Hell. How long before Heaven became Hell? That is, in knowing that you would have to leave? For those in Purgatory, one shouldn't underestimate the perfect peace felt by those. Those in Purgatory want what they are going through because God wants it. They love God so much that they want what He wnats. There is no fear, no unhappiness in Purgatory.

Purgatory is the purification caused by the desire to see God without that desire being satisified. And this unquenched desire is not affected by distraction. Ohio State fans are no longer worried about the Cooper years. They are burning for God.

Yet despite this speculation on the peace of Purgatory, there are restless souls who want us to pray for us. It's not as though they love their sufferings, but God's justice, and if His justice can be satisfied through our prayers and they can see God sooner, then why not ask? Father C. sees ghosts in this vein; if they are malovolent then they are demons and not human souls. He mentioned a story about a house of Dominican novices who had, oddly, had things done for them. Beds mysteriously made, dishes washed, etc... He thought it a practical joke but no one has ever come forward and, in the Dominican community, it's extremely unlikely anyone wouldn't brag about it. Unbeknownst to the novices there used to live at the house a very troubled maid who helped with cleaning back in the 1940s and who was obsessed with cleanliness. She committed suicide. Eventually a Dominican friar mentioned her and wondered if she was haunting the house in order to ask for prayers. A Mass was said for her there at the house and the cleanings stopped. Many other stories could be told along those lines.

Will there someday be a "St. Rudolph Hess"? All those in Heaven are saints and there's a strong probability he's in Purgatory due to the end of his life. He heard Carmelite bells ringing in the distance in the week after the Nureumborg trials as he waited for his hanging. It reminded him of his youthful faith and led him to call for a priest. He confessed his sins - all day it took - and asked for absolution. But his stay in Purgatory will be quite difference from the pious grandmother who dies with still some baggage. Since we change in Purgatory, are purified, there must be some sort of time there, for there can't be change without a concept of time.

Why Did the Angels Fall?

Why did some of the angels fall? They never left the mirror. They were like a woman, created in splendor and beauty and dressed to the nines to go to a ball to meet their infinitely wonderful prince. And they passed by a mirror on their way out and couldn't leave.

Heaven

The paradox of Heaven is: while remaining ourselves we unite with God. We don't see God by means of an idea anymore - God Himself replaces the idea of God. I have an idea of you, and even if I got to know you quite well it would not be you exactly. I can know your politics, your thoughts, your desires and dreams, but all of that is limiting for you are much more than my idea of you.

In Heaven, it's not as though we get a deeper knowledge of God. We get much better than a mere conception of God.

If the blessed in Heaven were asked, "What's your idea of God?" they would answer: "Thank God I have no idea!" An idea limits. In Heaven we have an insider's view and are invited into the life of the Trinity. A must-read: C.S. Lewis' essay, "Weight of Glory".

Heaven is that to which our moments of earthly joys attend. If you've ever lost yourself in a beautiful sunset or landscape or in great piece of music, these moments of beauty are messengers. Nature is a message from a far-off country. Nature isn't the source of our bliss, the music or sunset isn't the source of our bliss but it can be the messenger of our bliss. We shall mingle with the splendors in Heaven.

For now the beauty is transient. Keats wrote of our returning to our "habitual self" from these moments, to the experience of a Monday morning:
And long he travers’d to and fro, to acquaint
Himself with every mystery, and awe;
Till, weary, he sat down before the maw
Of a wide outlet, fathomless and dim
To wild uncertainty and shadows grim.
There, when new wonders ceas’d to float before,
And thoughts of self came on, how crude and sore
The journey homeward to habitual self!
A mad-pursuing of the fog-born elf,
Whose flitting lantern, through rude nettle-briar,
Cheats us into a swamp, into a fire,
Into the bosom of a hated thing.
In Heaven, by contrast, happiness can't be taken away.

Each creature in Heaven shows some aspect of God's infinite nature. No one creature can reflect God. He made every creature to uniquely show an incommunicable part of God. Everyone will learn something about God from us. We will all be teachers."

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