Sunday, October 5, 2014

Joy and Standing Orders

My father reminded me of this good advice when I was in my teens: "...whatever is true, ... whatever is lovely, ... think about these things." My response was something like '...because they won't last.'

I wasn't happy about saying that at the time. Decades later, I still regret the statement. I can't, of course, undo what was done: and the time for telling my father "I'm sorry" has long since passed. In any case, I said "I'm sorry" too often, and that's almost another topic.

That quote is from today's second reading, Philippians 4:6-9. I'll get back to that.

Today, thanks to very powerful antidepressants and a few other psychoactive prescriptions, I no longer have to fight the controls to make my brain work. I even have moments when I feel good about who I am and what I do.

That's a nice change of pace.

Melancholia was being redefined as depressive reaction while I was growing up, then to depressive neurosis; so maybe it's just as well that my condition wasn't spotted then. In any case, if I'd spent my adolescence and the bulk of my adult life in a different way — I wouldn't be where I am today.

Joy, Zest, and Mud

As it is, I had an opportunity to reason my way out of suicide: and developed a knack for seeing beauty in just about anything.

I seldom felt that emotional rush of wonder and delight at seeing a crescent moon, or noticing symmetries and order in drying mud. But I learned to appreciate the beauty that's built into this universe.

A dictionary says that joy can mean intense happiness: particularly ecstatic or exultant happiness. Ecstasy can mean intense joy or delight, getting so emotionally whipped up that rational thought and self-control are impossible.

I've run into folks who seem to approach faith with a zest and enthusiasm worthy of a homecoming game pep rally. That's okay, but I very much prefer a faith that still works when all the light and color is drained from the world.

Since I'm a Catholic, my faith depends on what I believe: not how I'm feeling. Faith and reason get along: or should. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 30, 156-159, 274, 1706)

It's not all about cold logic, though. Now and then we get a glimpse of the beatific vision. Most of us, anyway. (Catechism, 163)

The Beatific Vision and Mirrors

The beatific vision is contemplation of God in heavenly glory. I put a definition at the end of this post. I can't tell you what it's like from personal experience: my metaphorical mirror isn't all that shiny.
"At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known."
(1 Corinthians 13:12)
That's okay: since, like 2 Corinthians 5:7 says, "we walk by faith, not by sight."

That's not the same as blind faith, or the sort that conscientiously avoids facts and reason. As a Catholic, I must believe that, using reason, we're "...capable of understanding the order of things established by the Creator...;" and that "conscience is a judgment of reason ... a law of the mind...." (Catechism, 1704, 1778)

And that's yet another topic. Topics.


"Rejoice 4 in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!

"Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.

"Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 6 "
(Philippians 4:4, 6-8)
Some of those verses are from today's readings, the first comes earlier in Philippians 4. Nearly a half-century after my father reminded me about them, I've found that they're pretty good advice.

I still don't "feel" joyful very often, and that's okay. I may never have the "mountaintop experience" folks describe as being overwhelmed, 'knocked down,' by God's presence. That's also okay.

Emotions are part of being human. They're even useful, in their own way. But I've found that reason is a better tool for making decisions. Still more topics. (Catechism, 1763-1770, 1776-1794)

Folks have taken verses like Philippians 4:6, "have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God," and run straight off the edge of reality.

Christians, everybody, are wounded people, living in a damaged world. We're going to have trouble, no matter what. (Catechism, 386-390)

The trick is not being anxious about the troubles we face.

I think looking at the big picture helps.

Move Out!

Almost two thousand years back, Jesus, the Son of God, was conceived. He was born, lived, was tortured and finally killed on Golgotha. For anybody else, that would have been the end.

Jesus isn't just anybody. Three days later, Jesus stopped being dead.

If that seems unbelievable, don't feel bad. It took quite a few meetings and at least one working lunch to convince the Apostles that Jesus was, in fact, really — no kidding — not a ghost — sit-down-and-eat-a-baked-fish, alive.
"While they were still incredulous for joy and were amazed, he asked them, 'Have you anything here to eat?'

"They gave him a piece of baked fish;

"he took it and ate it in front of them."
(Luke 24:41-43)

"Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, 'Peace be with you.'

"Then he said to Thomas, 'Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.' "
(John 20:26-27)
Then my Lord gave us standing orders and a promise. That scene, in Matthew 28:18-20, is one of my favorites. I also enjoy reading what happened next:
"While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them.

"They said, 'Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.' "
(Acts 1:10-11)
Those verses from Acts remind me of a now-cliche scene from old movies, where the commander's inspiring speech is over — and the sergeant says something like 'alright! You got your orders: Move out!

Two millennia later, the standing orders haven't changed: and that's yet again another topic.

Not-entirely-unrelated posts:
A look at the deep end of prayer, by another blogger:

"BEATIFIC VISION: The contemplation of God in heavenly glory, a gift of God which is a constitutive element of the happiness (or beatitude) of heaven (1028, 1720)."
(Catechism, Glossary, B)


Brigid said...

I think the closest I've come to that joy in the Lord thing was a few times in Ireland. It wasn't so much dancing around the hills singing God's praises as sitting down, slack jawed, and just *staring* at the world.

(Also, hugs.)

Brian Gill said...

Indeed, Brigid.

God's universe is - amazing: and a fine testimony to God's power and what, in one of us, would be called artistic vision. Also attention to detail. ;)

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