Friday, August 09, 2002

I've been trying to avoid this post --
In response to a prior posting where I argued that sinning has never made any one a better saint, I received an email that includes the following:

As I recall it was St. Anselm who wrote the famous dictum: "The glory of God is the human person fully alive." For me fully alive means that even from our sins we learn much and come to praise God for delivering us. However, those very sins often help us grow. Nothing is without purpose. This may be heresy, but I think I am a better priest and confessor precisely because of my past sins. That's probably heresy, but so be it.

I should be able to dismiss this argument as a simple difference in opinion... but I can't. It's the quote from St. Anselm that keeps me coming back with a sense of the silliness of the sixties and a quiet anger against the generation of religious that instructed me in 'a mature understanding of the faith.'

When I was that most impressionable of creatures often referred to as the 'adolescent', there were two catch-all quotations that were used to justify stretching the boundaries of acceptable behavior. The first was "love, and do what you will." The quote by St. Anselm was the second. I suspect that the misapplication of both quotations has caused a lot of human suffering.

With the encouragement of the nuns who taught us the 'essentials of the faith', my generation learned how useful these arguments could be in keeping a clean conscience. What's that old song -- "His hands are dirty, but his thoughts are clean"? Well, my hands got dirty, but my thoughts (a.k.a. my conscience) stayed clean. I lived on the edge because 'the glory of God is man fully alive'. I was testing the limits and stretching the boundaries. With love in my heart, I could do whatever I damn well pleased.

Years later, I realized just how badly I had misused these quotes. At the time, I figured that the wild in my blood had met the stupid in my brain and I had became a wayward child. I figured it was all my own fault. Then, one day, some one remarked that St. Augustine had argued that the rule of life is to 'love God and do what you will'. This is not what we were taught and it is not at all the sense of what we were taught.

It is important to recognize that the love we were instructed to heed was a sentimental mixture of emotion and passion. It was a very sixties thing. It was love without sacrifice or the thought of sacrifice. It was carefree indulgence. It had nothing to do with God or grace or even self-examination. It was 'feeling groovy'. It was this love that we were taught to use as our guide in determining what we would do.

Today, it is commonplace to blame the sixties generation for all the troubles of a broken world. In one sense, this is fair. The world is broken and we are responsible for a lot of the breakage. But there are days when the old adages resurface, and I become aware of how deliberately we were led astray. Believe me, we were most carefully taught to raise hell. We were incredibly naive but we were good at our lessons. The result is that we did indeed raise hell and now we are all forced to live there.

For the record, I have unlearned my high school lessons. Today, I understand how to "love God and do what I will." I recognized that the essential key (the one the nuns forgot to mention) is the love of God. The secret is in putting the requirements of the Creator God before any of our man-made considerations. Since God's definitions are more true than our own, our service to Him naturally leads us to our authentic and perhaps unknown selves. Today, I can appreciate that "the glory of God is man fully alive." I know all about the slavery of sin and the wages of death. Christ came to give us life and to give it to us in abundance. It is by conforming ourselves to Christ, that we experience the fullness of life and the joy of our creation. It is only in the imitation of Him that we experience our authentic freedom.

"I wish that...I knew...what I know now...when I was younger"

I know that I am responding to a memory and not to the argument in the e-mail. I've already said that I think the argument is silly and I'm more than happy to agree to disagree.

I doubt that this particular priest has ever employed St. Anselm's infamous quote to encourage sin in the unsophisticated but the memory of my own naivete is hard to shake. This is a quotation that signaled a rejection of the moral order for an entire generation of Catholic kids. I admit that we were dumb-stupid to fall for this line of reasoning. The thing is this: there may be some dumb-stupid kids in the current generation. It's time to either retire these quotations or to more clearly articulate their meaning.

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