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Seek, and you will find
(CARROLLTON, TX – Cradle of Civilization) I have been reading a book by Rev. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P., titled, REALITY, A Synthesis of Thomistic Thought. He was examining Aquinas’ review of Aristotle’s Politica. Lagrange comments that in the nature of man Aquinas finds “… the origin and the necessity of a social authority…” He says also that Aquinas distinguishes between good governments and bad. The three good forms are going to be something of a surprise to many. The are: monarchical, rule by one, aristocratic, where several rule, and democratic “where the rule is by representatives elected by the multitude.”
But these forms of government may degenerate: monarchy into tyranny, aristocracy into oligarchy, and democracy into mob-rule. Interestingly, Aquinas finds that while a monarchy is the best form of government, to reign in tyranny he believes a mixed constitution, which provides, “at the monarch’s side, aristocratic and democratic elements in the administration of public affairs,” is prudent.
I hope this sounds familiar to all – it is basically the original form of our own government as set up by the founding fathers: A president (monarch), the Senate (aristocracy), and the House (democracy). Remember, in the original design of our government, the Senators were not elected by popular vote, but were elected by the state legislatures, the aristocracy, if you will. This was true until the 17th amendment in 1914. And to stretch it even further, originally, there was no term limit on the king, I mean the president.
Now, for this to work, voters have to vote, and they should know why they are voting for whom or what is receiving their vote. This is why, in the beginning of this country, in order to vote you had to be a landowner. A landowner was likely to be educated and have a rather pragmatic world view. They also had a vested interest in how the country is run, were likely to spend some time understanding the issues, and vote responsibly. Of course, in that time, it would also mean the voters were white males.
Today it may seem that we have a lot of people voting who have no business voting – and doubtless some may wonder if we shouldn’t go back to having to earn your franchise based on criteria beyond simply having attained the age of 18. Lagrange notes Aquinas’ thoughts on this, though not in the same context:
On the evils of election by a degenerate people, where demagogues obtain the suffrages, he remarks, citing St. Augustine, that the elective power should, if it be possible, be taken from the multitude and restored to those who are good. St. Augustine’s words run thus: “If a people gradually becomes depraved, if it sells its votes, if it hands over the government to wicked and criminal men, then that power of conferring honors is rightly taken from such a people and restored to those few who are good.”
The key words there being, “if it be possible”, and “to those few who are good.” In our country it is not possible for many reasons, not the least of which are the real specter of disenfranchising everyone but white males, and that reaching consensus on who are “the good” is unlikely.
So, what is the answer? Especially in this day and age where many elected officials seem to suffer from role dysphoria, “I was elected to the role of public servant, but I am dissatisfied with this role, and inside I feel my true role, the real me, is that of master.”
Many look for a structural fix – term limits, for example. But, to borrow from P.J. O’Rourke, asking Congress to limit their terms would be similar to asking teenage boys to voluntarily give up their whiskey and car keys. It won’t happen without some kind of force. And that means what has been termed an Article V convention. This requires the state legislatures to call a convention to limit terms. I hope you see the problem. The state legislatures are filled with folks who have designs on federal positions. To put it simply, it ain’t gonna happen.
What is far better is when the voting public limits terms through the power of their vote. But then we get back to the problem of voting by people who vote emotionally, instead of rationally.
The only real answer is proper education of the voting populace. But that is another can of worms. Who educates them? And to what standards?
This past Sunday, the Gospel reading was Luke 16:1-13. In this reading, a steward, (a trusted servant responsible for the household of his master), has wasted his master’s goods. He is told to prepare an accounting, as he will be removed from his position. In something of a panic, he calls in his master’s debtors and reduces their debts to curry favor with them that he might have some recourse after losing his position. On its face, he appears to continue to mismanage his master’s affairs, again for his own benefit. And then we have this odd reaction from his master:
“The master commended the dishonest steward for his prudence…” Luke 16:8a
This is followed by Jesus saying to the Pharisees: “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous mammon, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal habitations.” Luke 16: 9
So, am I the only one that was ever confused by this? Looks to me like Jesus is telling us to lie, cheat and steal to gain heaven. I’ve never been particularly enlightened by any of the homilies I’ve heard on this either. Most times the focus is on the earlier reading from Amos, which talks about how the people “observe the Sabbath” by not selling and cheating in the marketplace, yet, their hearts and minds are focused on when they can resume their dishonest lives instead of on the worship of God. Let’s face it, there is a lot of material to work with there, in our time as much as 2000 years ago.
And then some kind of attempt is made to tie in the other reading and the Gospel into a social justice theme.
But, I just get stuck on Jesus telling the Pharisees to buy their way into heaven.
There is a practice called lectio divina, a way of praying with Scripture. It involves slowly reading, more than once, more than twice, a passage. It involves letting some word or phrase soak in, something that calls your attention. It involves meditation and contemplation. By meditation, practically speaking, is meant to attempt to immerse yourself, see the people, imagine the smells, the weather, feel the heat or cold, the sandals on your feet, the rough bench or whatever, as you sink into the scene. By contemplation, practically speaking, is meant to listen with that certain inner self to whatever might come to you.
For me, this also entails reading a couple of different study bible translations and reading the commentary. I had gone back to do that this morning and it hit me. Charles Dickens has written the best commentary on this Gospel reading, A Christmas Carol.
Think of the master in this parable as God. Think of all of us as stewards of God’s creation, responsible for the proper use of our master’s belongings. Think of how we waste God’s manifold gifts.
If the master is understood to be God, and if we understand that everything is gifted to us, and we see how we use and abuse and misuse our gifts, then we are all unjust stewards at some level, and Scrooge is the quintessential example. He has used his gifts to amass wealth to the detriment of others. Scrooge is shown his own grave by the Ghost of Christmas Future. And if dying is seen as “losing our position” as stewards of God’s household, then is not Scrooge’s actions Christmas morning (and everyday after) the same as the unjust steward when he reduces the debts owed to his master? And do we not commend Scrooge for his prudence? As Dickens noted: “…and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.”
Scrooge tells the ghost of Jacob Marley that he was always a good man of business. The response:
Business!’ cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. “Mankind was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The deals of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”
I think I understand the parable now.
By: FRATER BOVIOUS
I remember two occasions when I became aware of silence On Thursday, September 13, 2001 I became aware of the fact that no planes were flying anywhere near my work. My place of employment was within a couple of miles of DFW Airport, and the sight and sound of airplanes taking off and landing was ubiquitous. I had come to work a little early, stepped out of my car, and the stillness hit me. It was accented by the sound of some bird chirping – a sound I probably would not have noticed on the previous Thursday.
The only other time I can remember that sensation was from one day as a young teenager there was a power failure, and everything in our house lost power. The silence had a quality I had never experienced before. Not just that the refrigerator was not running, or the air-conditioning. There were times in the house when none of those were on. Something else was missing – I couldn’t place it. Years later I learned that any house with electricity has a 60 cycle hum. What was missing was that hum of the wires in the walls as the electricity changed directions 60 times a second. We generally don’t hear that sound because it is non-threatening. Our ears hear lots of things we disregard.
But, the sound is there regardless.
You can become aware of this sound – at least I could when I was in my 20s. Just sit in a quiet room with nothing running and cultivate a relaxed alertness. It is there.
I have this theory regarding things metaphysical that if you can’t come up with a real world analogy that points the way to understanding of something immaterial but real, then you may not know what you are talking about. But all of the above seems to harmonize nicely with this experience of Elijah:
“And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. 13 And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.” – 1 Kings 19:9-13
There is a relaxation technique to help one release tension. You deliberately tense muscles, hold, then release. You become aware of the tension that you are letting go of, and realize the tension you had been holding. You can experience the relaxation, the reduction of tension. You become more aware of your body. Similarly, when sound is increased, when there there is a lot going on, and then it stops, you hear things you would not hear.
One translation of “a still small voice” had it as “the sound of thin silence.” It is the voice of God, underlying everything, singing all things into existence. We don’t generally hear the voice of God – there are a lot of other things we pay attention to. But, you can attune your ear if you choose.