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Archive for December, 2012|Monthly archive page

On the Mystery of Christmas from Edith Stein

In Friendship on December 23, 2012 at 8:14 am

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Edith Stein, the philosopher, nun and saint, recommends in her essay “The Mystery of Christmas” in a spiritual yet practical way that it would be good to live our daily life with a constant awareness of the awesomeness of the true meaning of Christmas, as found in the book Writings of Edith Stein (Trans. Hilda Graef.  Peter Owen Limited: London. 1956).  She says, “We have time for so many useless things: we read senseless rubbish in books, periodicals and newspapers, sit in cafes and chat for a quarter or half an hour in the street.  All these are distractions by which one wastes time and strength.”(p.29)  It seems that her point here is not that socializing is bad at all, but that people who claim not to have time to contemplate God in their life, freely spend their time in other ways.  She continues, “Should it really be impossible to save an hour in the morning in which one is not distracted but recollected, in which one does not spend oneself but gathers strength sufficient to carry one through the whole day?”(p.29) Socrates said the unexamined life is not worth living, and we can think here, what better way to make one’s life worth living but by spending time daily examining it in communication with God?  She says, “Thus, being a child of God means to become small and at the same time to become great…The sacrifice of the Mass impresses on us time and again the central mystery of faith, the pivot of the world’s history, the mystery of the Incarnation and Redemption…The Christian mysteries are an indivisible whole…If we become immersed in one, we are led to all the others…from the crib to the Cross.”(p.31)  The mystery of the Incarnation is the central mystery that gives meaning to our lives: God is in us.

Stein expands on the mystery of the Incarnation saying, “If God is in us, and if He is love, then it cannot be otherwise than that we love the [our] brethren.  Therefore our love of men is the measure of our love of God.”(p.29)  Man is not the measure of all things as Protagoras said, but rather what Stein is saying here is that God’s love is the true measure of all things and our love for God is judged by our love for all people, including unborn persons.  She distinguishes between natural love and Christian love saying, “But it [God’s love] is different from the natural love of men.  The natural love is given to this or that person who is united to us by a blood relationship or is near to us because our characters are akin or we have common interests.” (p.25) In other words, we often put limits on our love, we naturally tend toward the persons whom we prefer for whatever preference we may have.   Stein compares this to how we might sometimes act, saying, “The others are ‘strangers’ who do not concern us, whose character we may even loath, so that we keep them as much as possible at a distance.  For the Christian there is no stranger.”(p.25)  During Christmas the Christian remembers the radical love to which he is called: to be concerned for all persons daily.  Stein continues, “Whoever is near us and needing us most is our ‘neighbour’; it does not matter whether he is related to us or not, whether we like him or not, whether he is morally worthy of our help or not.  The love of Christ knows no limits.”(p.25)  Human natural love puts up limits, whereas God’s love is unlimited.  Stein says, ” It never ends, it does not shrink from ugliness and filth.  He came for sinners not for the just.  And if the love of Christ is in us, we shall do as He did and seek the lost sheep.”(p.26)  We are the lost sheep every time we fail to love God as we should, which is why we needed the Incarnation.  Stein gives us hope saying, “If we place our hands into the hands of the divine Child, if we say our Yes to His Follow Me, then we are His, and the way is free for His divine Life to flow into us.  This is the beginning of eternal life in us.”(p.24)  We should try to have appreciation, gratitude, for all things in this life whether good or “bad,” they are all Providential and for our eternal benefit, if we try to love like God to the best of our ability all of the time.   Stein says, if we do this, “It is not yet the beatific vision in the light of glory;  it is still the darkness of faith; but it is no longer of this world, it means living in the kingdom of God.”(p.24)

The person of faith lives in the world physically but understands the meaning of the events of his life from a transcendent spiritual perspective of the Divine Will.  Stein continues saying that, “This kingdom began on earth when the blessed Virgin spoke her “Be it unto me,” and she was its first handmaid. The divine life that is kindled in the soul is the light that has come into the darkness, the miracle of the Holy Night…God in us and we in Him, this is our share in God’s kingdom, which is founded on the Incarnation.”(p.24)  The Incarnation inaugurated the beginning of a new chance in human history for all persons to learn to love like God by imitating Jesus Christ, by loving without limits, without strangers, and without fear.  As Stein says, “For this is the marvelous thing about the human race, that we are all one.”(p.24) Christmas is the season to reflect more deeply upon the mystery of God becoming human so that we may be at peace with each other on Earth and that one day we may share in eternal life, in eternal happiness, with Him, forever and ever, in Heaven.

What is the “Common Good”? Jacques Maritain’s Thoughts

In Dignity of the Person on December 17, 2012 at 12:24 am

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It would seem that the “common good” is not really that important to the average person in Modern Westernized societies. Even if it is, what is the “common good” anyway? The term gets used from time to time as something important to sustain, but does anyone really know what it means? Isn’t what’s good for the individual the same as what is good for the community and so there is no real need to focus on the needs of the community if everyone takes care of himself? Well, Jacques Maritain, who was one of the primary authors of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in his book The Person and the Common Good (trans. John J. Fitzgerald.  University of Notre Dame Press: Indiana. 1985) discussed many reasons why the individual person should have a significant interest in the “common good.”

Something that Jacques Maritain makes quite clear in his book, is that there a very strong inter-relationship between the dignity of the person and the “common good” of society. Maritain says, “Man is constituted a person, made for God and life eternal, before he is constituted a part of the city; and he is constituted a part of the family society before his is constituted part of the political society.” (p.75)   A person’s destiny is not an earthly fame or terrestrial immortality like some of the Ancient Greeks thought, as Achilles in the epic poem the Illiad or so many others. No, the person’s real destiny is to achieve his or her vocation in this life in order to live in eternity with God in the next life; and, this is the origin of every person’s dignity, before any other relationship, including before his national citizenship. So, this most transcendent human dignity needs to be preserved both in the family, and in society for the sake of the individual person to achieve his or her eternity with God which is his highest and primary calling. Maritain explains, “To get the right idea of human society, we must consider it as located in the analogical scale between the uncreated exemplar, the super-analogue of the concept of society, namely, the divine society…Infinitely above the city of men, there is a society of pure Persons, who are at the summit of individuality, but without the shadow of individuation by matter…Each one is in the other through an infinite communion, the common good of which is strictly and absolutely the proper good of each…”(p.58) Our destiny as created persons is to experience eternal life with the eternal community, with God, the Uncreated Trinity of Persons, in the beatific vision.

The person’s infinite intrinsic dignity derives from this divine relationship with God. Each person is an unrepeatable, irreplaceable being in relationship to God and in relationship to mankind.  Maritain says something very beautiful here, that “A single human soul is worth more than the whole universe of material goods. There is nothing higher than the immortal soul, save God. With respect to the eternal destiny of the soul, society exists for each person and is subordinated to it.”(p. 61)   We can think of the devastating poverty of abortion in Modern society, and how this purposefully hidden holocaust of ensouled unborn children destroys human creativity, destroys human flourishing and dooms the “common good” by killing society’s most valuable resource: other persons. There is nothing in the universe exchangeable for a single person, nor is the aggregation of all things of the universe worth the value of a single person, because only the person is made in the image and likeness of God, neither the entirety of the universe nor any other material thing.

So, where does society fit in as a “good” between that of the individual person and God? Maritain says, “The end of society, therefore, is neither the individual good nor the collection of the individual goods of each of the persons who constitute it…It is the good [of] human life of the multitude, of a multitude of persons; it is their communion in good living.”(p.51) Society can only sustain itself if each and every person makes an active effort to live in community with one another, at peace and in justice, in mutual subsidiarity to each other’s needs. But, how do people experience the “common good”? What does it look or feel like?  Maritain says the “common good” includes the following:”…the sum or sociological integration of all the civic conscience, political virtues and sense of right and liberty, of all the activity, material prosperity and spiritual riches, of unconsciously operative hereditary wisdom, of moral rectitude, justice, friendship, happiness, virtue and heroism in the individual lives of its members.” (p. 52)   In other words, the “common good” is the sum total of the best, most virtuous acts of human activity and the product of these most virtuous acts can only be offered by persons for sake of other persons.

The “common good” is diminished when a person does not live with his eternal destiny presently in mind throughout his life.  Non-virtuous activity by any person diminishes the human dignity both of ‘the actor’ himself and ‘the acted upon,” everyone else.  Maritain says, “…the common good of the city or of civilization…does not preserve its true nature unless it respects that which surpasses it, unless it is subordinated, not as a pure means, but as an infravalent end, to the order of eternal goods and the supra-temporal values from which human life is suspended.”(p.62) In other words, the person must be free in society in order to orient his life toward achieving his eternal destiny by living out his transcendental values in private and in public.  Therefore, any society that fails to allow its people this freedom deprives the most basic human dignity of the person and destroys the “common good,” and ultimately, itself.  This is why religious freedom is the first and most basic of all individual human rights, as Jacques Maritain understood very well.