George Jones, R.I.P.

The undisputed king and master of tear-jerking, heartbreaking, gut-wrenching, soul-aching American country music has passed into eternity. I grew up with his music. You might say he helped prepare me for the real world. He was a public sinner, but a humble one by all accounts. Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon him.

Russell Kirk on the meaning of life

“What is the object of human life? The enlightened conservative does not believe that the end or aim of life is competition; or success; or enjoyment; or longevity; or power; or possessions. He believes instead, that the object of life is Love. He knows that the just and ordered society is that in which Love governs us, so far as Love ever can reign in this world of sorrows; and he knows that the anarchical or the tyrannical society is that in which Love lies corrupt. He has learnt that Love is the source of all being, and that Hell itself is ordained by Love. He understands that Death, when we have finished the part that was assigned to us, is the reward of Love. And he apprehends the truth that the greatest happiness ever granted to a man is the privilege of being happy in the hour of his death.

He has no intention of converting this human society of ours into an efficient machine for efficient machine-operators, dominated by master mechanics. Men are put into this world, he realizes, to struggle, to suffer, to contend against the evil that is in their neighbors and in themselves, and to aspire toward the triumph of Love. They are put into this world to live like men, and to die like men. He seeks to preserve a society which allows men to attain manhood, rather than keeping them within bonds of perpetual childhood. With Dante, he looks upward from this place of slime, this world of gorgons and chimeras, toward the light which gives Love to this poor earth and all the stars. And, with Burke, he knows that ‘they will never love where they ought to love, who do not hate where they ought to hate.’”  – Russell Kirk

Thomas Aquinas College in the spring

We were privileged to visit Thomas Aquinas College again this month. I attended one philosophy class and two theology seminars, and left greatly impressed with the participating students. One of the children remarked that TAC feels more like “home” than home, and I can definitely see the point. Here are some photos taken by a family friend who accompanied us:










Breaking the rules

Pope Francis I passes a Swiss Guard as he leaves the Paul VI hall after an audience for members of the media, at the Vatican

This little story about Pope Francis and one of his weary Swiss guards will inevitably charm everyone but the stone-hearted. As it well should. We see in Pope Francis, the Jesuit, a very Latin and Franciscan way of being Catholic.

But let’s be very careful about reading too much into gestures like this. It’s true that rules were made for man, not man for rules. And so when a man-made rule is broken for the sake of charity or necessity, it can be a laudable thing. Our Lord Himself paved the way when, for example, he healed the sick on the Sabbath (a divine law, but deformed at the time by many Jewish accretions).

However, selective rule-breaking is only laudable in the context of general rule-keeping. Let me put it another way: rule-breaking only has symbolic value in a culture where the default mentality is obedience and rule-keeping. Otherwise, breaking the rules symbolizes nothing more than just another individual doing his own thing, his own way, just as everyone else does – because he can.

When it comes to religion and all things associated with Catholicism, I submit that most Catholics don’t need a lesson in charitable rule-breaking or any other kind of rule-breaking. Some of us do, undoubtedly, and if the shoe fits let us wear it gladly. Pope Francis is who he is, and I am grateful for that. But generally speaking, the Christian world is reeling from its contempt for Catholic order and discipline, and is desperately in need of holy examples of obedience. If another pope decided, instead, to commend the Swiss guard on his fidelity and discipline rather than bringing him a chair and a sandwich, such a pope would not for this reason be any less charitable.

Why justice and mercy are not opposed

Christ the King

During one of our family discussions, toward the end of the Divine Mercy novena, the children had some thoughtful questions about the relationship between justice and mercy. Afterwards my eldest son, as is his custom, decided to “ite ad Thomam”“go to Thomas” – for clarity on the topic. The result is this enlightening blog post. Before you begin, recall that according to St. Thomas evil (and therefore punishment) is by definition the privation of a good, and not something with its own essence.

First, St. Thomas says that rather than being strictly opposed to Justice, God’s Mercy actually goes beyond Justice, rewarding with more than what Justice demands. St. Thomas uses the analogy of a man, owing another man one hundred pieces of money, but by an act of mercy, pays the man two hundred. This mercy is not opposed to justice, which demands one hundred; indeed, this act of mercy more than satisfies the demands of justice, for the man is payed his one hundred, and then some. So mercy is not opposed to justice, but in fact goes beyond it, giving more than what justice by itself would give; and in so doing justice is more than satisfied. So God in His Mercy rewards the saints with much more than, by justice alone, they would have merited by their own powers. But in so doing, He doesn’t go against justice, but completes, indeed, more than completes it. I think this is probably one way to interpret what St. James means when he says “Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13). Mercy is a higher standard than justice. Thus, in meeting the standard of mercy, one soars above the standard of justice, going beyond it. 
What, then, of those who are damned to hell? Do they experience God’s Mercy? If Mercy goes beyond justice, does it then punish the damned more than justice does? Well, yes, St. Thomas says, God’s Mercy is in hell; but it obviously an absurd thought that Mercy would punish the damned more than Justice. Rather, St. Thomas says that even the damned in hell are not punished as much as they deserve to be punished. So how is this so, if Mercy goes beyond Justice? Let me explain: By justice, the damned deserve some sort of evil; and evil is a lack of the good. But God in His Mercy, as unbelievable as this may seem, allows them a greater good than the very little which they have merited by their sins. Mercy gives a good which exceeds the good which justice gives; and justice gives very little good to the damned. Mercy gives more; and thus, in a strange way, it meets and goes beyond justice. This might seem to be a strange way of looking at it, granted; but the key here is to remember that justice renders what belongs to a person, and conversely takes away what does not belong. Now, when a person commits a sin, we normally say that he therefore deserves an evil; but we would hardly say that this evil belongs to him. Rather, to say that he deserves an evil is the equivalent of saying that he deserves something good to be taken away from him, something which once belonged to him, but, by his sin, now no longer belongs to him. This is because, again, evil is defined as the absence of the good. Furthermore, in taking away from man a good which no longer belongs to him, justice must still leave some good remaining. This is the small bit of good which still belongs to the sinner, after having lost his claim to other goods, by sinning. Justice allows this small bit of good to the sinner, thus rendering to him what belongs to him. Now, in hell, the damned are reduced by justice almost to the very lowest level of their ontological goodness; practically the only goodness they would have now is their existence; all other goods they would now lack. Justice has allowed them their existence, and only their existence, in reward for the very little they have done in life. All other goods do not belong to them; hence the immense and unimaginable pain which they must undergo. But enter Mercy, which gives them some small good, beyond the mere good of existence to which justice would have reduced them; by this good of Mercy, the damned do not in fact suffer quite as much as they deserve – even if, indeed, their pains are still immense and unimaginable. Mercy has given them a good beyond the good of Justice; and St. Thomas’ principle is shown to apply here as well. 
Again, at first this is a strange way of looking at hell, and we may not normally think that way about the concept of justice. But once we really consider the matter deeply, I think it works quite well, given the notions of evil as a privation of the good, and justice as rendering what belongs, etc. 
Now, leaving aside that aspect of the question, there is something else that St. Thomas tells us which is very interesting. Yes, it is granted, Justice and Mercy in God are both infinite and perfect. However, St. Thomas says, Justice is nonetheless founded upon Mercy, being secondary to it. How is this so? Justice presupposes an order of nature which is found in things, in creatures, in creation. There is an order of goods, and justice distributes these goods to creatures in due proportion, according to what belongs to them, etc. Justice presupposes something already existing in creation, for it gives according to what, by nature or by merit, belongs to creatures. Now, where did the nature of creatures come from? This nature determines that certain things belong to them, and thus justice gives it to them. Where did the power to merit come from? This again determines that certain things belong to the creatures meriting, and thus justice must give it to them. But there is always the presupposition of something else here, namely the nature or the merit or any other factor, according to which certain goods belong to these creatures, and justice gives it to them. But where did these presupposed principles come from in the first place? From the Goodness of God, Who gave these things to creatures of His own free will, not because there was yet another presupposed order according to which He must have given these things. In other words, He gave us our existence, our nature, our power to merit, etc., purely out of His Mercy. We didn’t deserve to exist, to be who we are, to be able to do what we can do, and all these things; and thus we didn’t deserve to be able to deserve anything at all. But neither were we undeserving of any of these good things. Indeed, it is quite unintelligible to even speak of deserving anything, without first presupposing these things – our existence, nature, abilities, etc. – because these things are the subject-matter, as it were, of justice itself. Thus, we exist and have all these things purely because of the Mercy of God. And because of it, we are able to claim certain things as our own, as belonging to us; and Justice builds from there, coming into play only once the Goodness of God, i.e. His Mercy, has done its first work. Justice therefore presupposes Mercy, and is founded upon it. 
Understand that this does absolutely nothing to establish a contradiction between Mercy or Justice in God. On the contrary, it only shows how both His Mercy and His Justice are fully at work. But Mercy triumphs over Justice nonetheless, in a way which does not contradict it.

The economy collapses on the young


When I left home at age 17, I almost lived the libertarian fantasy: with no favors, no preferences, no connections, and on the sheer force of a naked resume and a youthful smile, I knocked on doors in the industrial parks of Sacramento until a total stranger agreed to hire me for minimum wage.

I say “almost” because I was nevertheless surviving on the goodwill of relatives, who provided room and board for me while I “made it on my own”. I went to work for a family owned business, even though I wasn’t a family member.

It has long been my dream to be in a position to provide employment for my own children should they ever be in need. The older I get, the more unlikely it seems this dream will ever come to pass. Chances are, my children will have to “make it on their own” too. Increasingly our economy is leaving the young behind. 

” … I wonder how much kids are suffering from the absence of a father who can prevail on personal or business connections to help them find that first job, begin an apprenticeship, or begin a career. Moms can do those things too, of course, but there’s no doubt that the single-parent family leaves kids with one less parent to open doors for them.  And those parents are often younger, and working less stable, shorter-term jobs.  The connections needed to give their children a hand into the job market are less common than they used to be.  A powerful, subtle network that once helped young people interface with the job market has gone offline.”

Indeed. At age 46 – technically a member of “Generation X” – I belong to a transitional generation in which, for some, personal and familial connections still mattered, but for many, the expectation was one of total independence. Radical individualism. Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. Etc. By the 1980s employment by means of family connections, for example, was widely considered to be “nepotism”. A man working for his father’s business was thought to have been given an unfair advantage, at the expense of workers who may be better qualified.

Fast forward to 2013, and that mentality is thoroughly entrenched. We live in a militant meritocracy – in theory, at least, unless one is in possession of ideological entitlements (e.g., one is female, non-white, a disabled veteran, or homosexual). But if you don’t win the meritocracy contest, and if you aren’t entitled to decent employment for ideological reasons, then it’s tough going these days. Especially for the young. The unemployment rate for young people ages 16-24 exceeds 50 percent.

Insofar as we are to preserve a remnant of Christian civilization in the dark days ahead, we will need to get back to the practice of taking care of our own. Parents who are capable should make every effort to secure employment for their children, meritocracy be damned.