Tuesday, June 14, 2016

What Defines Us?

In the aftermath of the tragedy in Orlando, the question of of what defines us has played heavily in my mind.  Those definitions matter as they become the starting point of our actions.  Getting into the head of Omar Meteen, the shooter, and seeing what influenced him gives us ideas of what led to such an outburst of evil.  There will columns written aplenty on this.  This column will not be one of them.  Social media has pulled away the curtain of civility and in doing so gives us a window into the mind of the writer in the heat of the moment.  What influences them?  This is important as those words can bear influence one way or another.

What influences us matters.  They are legion as well.  There are a whole hosts of philosophies, theologies, political theories, emotions, and media ever ready to jump into the minds of individuals and steer them into a particular direction.  Some of these influences are positive and some are negative...sometimes seemingly coming from the same source.  For the purpose of this column and because a Catholic priest is writing it with the hope of showing a positive influence that can and does change the world, I will look at the two dominant influences playing for the soul: good and evil.  These influences will define us as people and give rise to our behaviors.

Evil has as its fuel the human trait of selfishness.  Life is about pleasure and self-satisfaction.  Others exists to make me happy.  The selfish person must be philosophically liberal, that is, they must have themselves as their own locus of authority.  The function of all around me is to please me and verify my beliefs.  Such a person can hijack a philosophically conservative institution such as Catholicism (the locus of authority is not the self but God) and create a hybrid.  In this, Church teaching is cherry picked to agree with the ends of the individual.  When a disagreement arises between the Church and the individual, it is the church that must change in the eyes of such a person.  The role of magesterium is to facilitate this ruse.  Such a thing can also be applied to any and all socioeconomic systems where any good is manipulated to suit the ends of the selfish individual.

Good, on the other hand, has its fuel love.  By love, I speak of the virtue by which a person willingly gives of oneself for the good of another.  Life is about the good of others even if such requires sacrifice and suffering.  The good of the other becomes the motivating factor and not what the other can do for the person.  Love is disposed to the good of the other even when the other is not disposed to their own good.  Love seeks the good even in the most harrowing of circumstances. Love, too, can permeate a ideology or socioeconomic system and change it to the positive.

Both of these reside in the human heart more often than not.  Like a devil and angel on one's shoulders, actions are being provoked by these two forces.  Who wins?  The one you nourish and the one you allow. This is what defines the person.

To this end: for Catholics: Church teachings are neither a buffet or a weapon of war.  The selfish person will use the truth as either of these.  As the Church is based in the love of God, and the love of God is disposed to out good, our actions as Catholics MUST be disposed to the good of the other.  Sometimes that will mean charitably telling a person the truth they do not want to hear; but in such a way as to provoke conversion.  'You're going to hell unless...', yeah, that isn't going to provoke most to conversion.   I can't operate a buffet while demanding others give up their favorite sins. I do believe that Jesus demanded that we get the log out of our own eyes  before (not instead of..by the way) getting the sliver out of our own.

What influences us, be its roots in selfishness or selflessness, will define who we want to be.  We are telling God who we want to be.  Jesus tells us He desires mercy.  Does mercy define us?   Jesus commands us to love another.  Does this love define us?  Can we stand for the truth and remain charitable?  Well, look at what we post, say, and call for.  The fruits will tell us.  Jesus tells us good fruit cannot come from a bad tree.  What fruit comes forth...especially when we run into someone who disagrees with us?  There will be the test.

Finally, what is it we as a people need now?  We do not need to be defined by sin.  We do not need further anger and indignation poured as fuel into a raging fire.   Christ calls us in the Sermon on the Mount, to be a light to the nations, salt, a leaven.  We will inevitably give from how we define ourselves.  Truth and charity are needed. To give it, we must truly define ourselves by it.

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