Monday, April 12, 2010

Living a Lie

The Vision of St Bernard, by Fra Bartolommeo, ...Image via Wikipedia

 The sorrows and the hopes of our time undoubtedly stem from material causes, economic and technical factors which play an essential role in the course of human history, but even more profoundly they stem from the ideas, the drama in which the spirit is involved, the invisible forces which arise and develop in our minds and hearts. History is not a mechanical unfolding of events into the midst of which man is simply placed like a stranger. Human history is human in its very essence; it is the history of our own being, of that miserable flesh, subject to all the servitudes imposed by nature and by its own weakness, which is, however, inhabited and enlightened by the spirit and endowed with the dangerous privilege of freedom.

Jacques Maritain, The Range of Reason

I suppose it’s a sign of age that nowadays my most interesting experiences often come from visits to the doctor’s office or a clinic of some sort. I made one of those visits for a blood test last week and, while waiting for the local vampires to draw blood, noticed a new sign on the wall. It was a primer for parents bringing young children in for blood tests on how to deal with their fear. Most of it was innocuous enough, don’t tell the kid it won’t hurt, try holding their hand during the test, if he (she, or it, or whatever the current PC term for the third person singular pronoun is these days) is a teenager, perhaps leaving the room while the test is being performed in order to make them feel a little more adult. The usual, more common sense suggestions were all listed.

Yet, I wondered how many parents these days have no idea of the proper way to deal with their children who face even minor difficulties. Are parents now complete morons who need to be guided by professionals in every aspect of life? I wondered if there are too many such professionals floating around who could find better things to do. 

However, it was the final paragraph of this professional notice that really caught my eye. It listed 3 “don’ts,” the last of which was the most interesting – “No matter how they acted, tell (him, her, it) that you’re proud of (him, her, it).”

I have to agree with Maritain that we are certainly subject to all the servitudes and weaknesses of our miserable flesh, and often display these weaknesses in public for all to see. That sign was a case in point. The thing seems to be these days that we are unwilling and unable to face the truth about ourselves and those close to us. When I was growing up, if I were taken to the Doctor and acted like the little brat I often was, in front of strangers no less, my father would have made sure I understood his displeasure. Acting like spoiled brat was not to be tolerated. It shouldn’t be tolerated today.

The sign in the clinic encourages parents to teach their children that their immediate, selfish desires, the avoidance of discomfort or inconvenience of any kind, are more important than courageously and honestly facing even minor difficulties. If it is a greater good to undergo a little pain or discomfort to ensure better health, isn’t it better to teach the child that facing such things with determination, if not courage, is better than to seek the easy way out at this moment? Isn’t that what a truly human life is about? I have to wonder how children raised this way will deal with real pain and tragedy. They will not have the inner resources available to face such things. We risk having them learn that life is nothing more than the avoidance of trouble, and therefore meaningless and unbearable.

Benedict wanted his monks to live in humility, which is simply facing and accepting the truth about ourselves and our situation. Father Michael Casey writes, 

Bernard of Clairvaux clearly affirms that humility is grounded on truth: within oneself, in one’s relations with others, and with regard to God. This is, perhaps, a more positive way of approaching humility, and one which enables us to appreciate its importance. In such a perspective, “humility” connotes a fundamental concordance with the reality of one’s nature.

One reality of our nature is pain. The glory of our nature is enlightenment by the spirit, enabling us to deal with that pain nobly and truly, thereby attaining a fully human, meaningful life. I can’t understand why we would want to avoid that.

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