Saturday, March 10, 2012

A Flower for you on your day!

The Second Reading of the Office from the 2nd Saturday in Lent, From the treatise on Flight from the World by Saint Ambrose, bishop, labeled “Hold fast to God, the one true good”, captivated me this morning and channeled a rush of thoughts which have been mine and I've been trying to sort out now for some time. Permit me a rather lengthy excerpt:

“Where a man’s heart is, there is his treasure also. God is not accustomed to refusing a good gift to those who ask for one. Since he is good, and especially to those who are faithful to him, let us hold fast to him with all our soul, our heart, our strength, and so enjoy his light and see his glory and possess the grace of supernatural joy. Let us reach out with our hearts to possess that good, let us exist in it and live in it, let us hold fast to it, that good which is beyond all we can know or see and is marked by perpetual peace and tranquility, a peace which is beyond all we can know or understand.
This is the good that permeates creation. In it we all live, on it we all depend. It has nothing above it; it is divine. No one is good but God alone. What is good is therefore divine, what is divine is therefore good. Scripture says: When you open your hand all things will be filled with goodness. It is through God’s goodness that all that is truly good is given us, and in it there is no admixture of evil. …
Since God is our refuge, God who is in heaven and above the heavens, we must take refuge from this world in that place where there is peace, where there is rest from toil, where we can celebrate the great sabbath, as Moses said: The sabbaths of the land will provide you with food. To rest in the Lord and to see his joy is like a banquet, and full of gladness and tranquility.”

Such words, despite our shortcomings, bring joy and encouragement to a believer’s heart. They cannot help but be tainted or better certainly tinged with a bit of anxiousness as we who believe in the Creator and Redeemer of the world wonder about their impact on a massive part of that world made up of nominal Catholics or Christians, not to mention the omnipresent throng still not washed clean of sin in the waters of Baptism and still very much in the grasp of a supposed light-bearer (Lucifer), who is none at all.

My thoughts, as I say, have been filled with "what if's" about (among other things) a certain democratic (?) administration's dogged determination to engineer society and press certain goals even if it means denying certain fundamental human rights and destroying really while they are at it space in general society for truth and human dignity, and either corrupting entirely or banning the Catholic Church from the public square in the course of getting it done. How do you confront such a power play? Do you stage a revolution? Stalin, they say, was capable of calculating his chances of success on the basis of a head count of the divisions at his enemy's disposal. A liberal establishment is pushing ahead confident in their own head count I am sure. Do we shout? Do we rebel? Will our appeal to the masses succeed? Can we muster the "troops" at the ballot box, given that the wily liberal establishment is convinced we do not and cannot command the numbers needed to make a difference?

I think we would do better to rest in the Lord, that is, once we've made our appeal and made our stance known, to take refuge in the Lord, font of love, beauty itself, source of all truth. Let me anticipate your question and respond that I really do not understand why such an approach like that of St. Ambrose is referred to as "flight from the world". Conceding to anyone or to any group of people or nation a fairly successful record of fighting tyranny, even so the victory of truth lies elsewhere, it does indeed lie in God's hand, it is His gift. Taking up arms and revolting against wrong is not in and of itself the way things are concluded. I cannot help but note that the most positive balance (one year later) I have heard and that anyone is drawing from the "Arab Spring" is that the cards have been reshuffled. Things will not necessarily be better with the further passage of time just because of those clashes and that bloodshed of now over a year ago. The "gods" don't necessarily demand their sacrifice. These uprisings do not depart much from patterns of revolution (for the good or for the bad) which have recurred over the course of centuries now starting with the French Revolution, where even guillotines didn't help much ultimately in clearing the playing floor in the contest for the minds and hearts of people, and for the sake of the triumph of justice and of truth.

Is there not more good out there than one would be led to believe? Certainly! Hence, while on the one hand it seems a tragedy to be resigned to the tyranny of that which is lowest in the human spirit, on the other hand I really can't point to enduring accomplishments from any revolution nor can I sustain a theory about some type of butterfly effect from every smile or good deed done. Mine is not a naive discourse on human perfectibility, but an invitation to reasoned discourse as preferable to armed clashes and ethnic cleansing for the sake of furthering a cause. My witness by a holy life to the primacy of God in the world He created and saved is more eloquent than standing on the barricades and shouting, no matter how youthful and sincere my posture.

International Women's Day (March 8) is a national holiday in Ukraine; the next day (March 9) is the birthday of Ukraine's great patriot, Taras Shevchenko (2012 marks his 198th birth anniversary). Both events are celebrated here with flowers or better with a flower. On the street these days almost every lady was carrying on her way, but different than usual, on her day she was clutching her flower. Yesterday, Shevchenko's monument in front of the university which bears his name was surrounded by national flags and flowers. My own personal reading of these days, speeches and advertising aside, is a positive one. I am genuinely impressed by all of the tender and truly noble sentiment I have encountered in passing, viewing strangers on the street, and in brief exchanges with people, citizens, speaking their mind especially about what Taras Shevchenko means to them.

In the course of our education, we learned about people like Cincinnatus, who left off on plowing his field to answer the call of the Roman Senate to defend his people and when the job accomplished he returned to his plowing, or like the so-called philosopher king, who would govern his people best. Since we have not here a lasting dwelling place, I suppose some would find it sufficient to continue organizing ourselves for voting out, throwing out or rebelling against tyrants or those who do not rule in the best interests of their people. I don't think that Taras Shevchenko would have made a very good "president for life"; his gift to his people and to the world was another and far more precious; it was a timeless gift as well. One need only take up his writings again to appreciate the wisdom of a true patriot and the noble love for country yet today this man can continue to foster for the building up of a people.

A flower doesn't necessarily resolve domestic tensions or even guarantee full respect for the dignity of women; one man's poetry and thought is not a blueprint for the life of the nation. They are both great, however, in their own way. Such goodness, such greatness needs more cultivation. I firmly believe that what I advocate is not quietism. It is obviously subversive, as it has always provoked the wrath of the Stalins of this world, bearers of a light which is none but their own.

" Let us reach out with our hearts to possess that good, let us exist in it and live in it, let us hold fast to it, that good which is beyond all we can know or see and is marked by perpetual peace and tranquility, a peace which is beyond all we can know or understand."


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