Saturday, January 23, 2016

Choice and Means, Partial and Whole

We are vulnerable to moods, are we not? It is remarkable to me, when I am aware of it, how my thoughts and feelings shift one way, then another, depending on any number of factors. Certain pillars (or buoys, depending on how things are going) have been set into place - family, church, work, exercise - but the thoughts and feelings swirl about, landing here and there, almost as if on a whim of their own.

When I sit down to write, as I do now, is it not because I am in the mood to write, to see something written by me? Is what I write not conditioned by wherever I happen to be in my mood? I think so, and yet there are forces at work, perhaps even thoughts & concerns. An interesting occurrence of several months ago comes to mind. I sat down to write a blog on a topic that had been on my mind for months and I was burning to get it down on paper. The moment to write had struck. I wrote the blog in one session, over two hours, and promptly appeared to have lost it online! I was beside myself, and sat down again and wrote another blog (two more hours) to cover that topic and published it here. A month or more later, and I noticed that the first draft had been saved, in some manner, and I re-read it against the second version. The postings were very different in tone (as my mood had shifted, and I had already worked through the topic once in writing about it), but the overall import and message was identical. The thought had not shifted.

So, the mood to write is not so much a personal feeling, as a point in the trajectory or narrative of that topic of conjecture, where I feel committed to work out and share a living thought. I never blog when I know what I am going to say. That would be boring to me and undoubtedly to the reader.

What has been circulating within my mind lately is choice, or the gift of choice; our capacity to chose one thing or another, based of course on whatever factors are in play, but more so on the fact of choice as a feature of being. We choose because our will compels us to do so. How is it that we have this ability, and why? Why would we not be created so that we simply turn toward what is good, as a plant turns toward the sun? We are constantly choosing - to do this or that, depending (so we say) on one or another factor; we discuss choices, extol or regret them, and comment on the choices others make. We demand that others make the right choice, then turn around and say we had no choice but to do what we did.

We are immersed in choice, but seem resistant to acknowledging "choice" as a thing in of itself. The decline or disappearance of philosophy helps to explain this state of affairs. That, and the current super-profusion of visual and material effluent in which our culture swims. But, no matter. The truth of a thing is not mere expostulation, but the fact of its being. Therefore, one can always approach truth, or circumnavigate it, even walk away from it. But one cannot pass through it, wish it away, or own it.

This is true of choice, as a category of humanity. This is true of God, and it is true of love, which comes before all things. The sensibility that reads God's love as being merely a kind of generous sympathy or tenderness is selling God, love, truth, and himself short. Love is kind in that kindness is implicit in love, but mere kindness is not love. Love can only be all that love is, just as God can only be the unity of all capacities, parts, and principles that is God. 

If what I say is true of God, and love, it must be true of good and evil. We are inclined, tempted, to choose; to pick apart God, love, good and evil for the parts we like or dislike and call them our own. But to do so is an error of the first order. The life of our Lord demonstrates the principals outlined here. To imitate Christ in his understanding would be to accept people as they are given to us, as he does the Samaritan woman at the well, not to pick them apart, not to address them in part, but as a whole person. 

In this form, Christ tells Peter he is the rock upon which He will build his Church; he does not say, Peter, there are good things in you, and if you work a little harder I might be able to offer you a job. Likewise, he admonishes Satan to "get behind him." What a telling phrase. The Lord does not berate Satan, or criticize this or that behavior. He does not "criticize" him. He directs him, as a whole. He raises Lazarus, from the dead, as a whole person. He heals the crippled, the sick, and makes them "whole." God is complete, a "Father." He addresses the Blessed Virgin in her entirety, giving her over to the disciple he loves, at the foot of the Cross, not in art, but as a whole, as now being his "Mother."

Every one of us is likewise a whole and a child of God, who granted us the ability to choose on behalf of the whole of ourselves what to do and what not to do. Turning again to the the life of Christ, it appears that the critical choices we make are with respect to God and truth. The Pharisees are berated for their hypocrisy. It is clearly in their power whether to persecute Jesus, whether to wear fine robes, whether to extort their people and lie to God. The tax collector is not berated for being a tax collector, but praised for his humility. That too is a choice, to accept the dictates of one's conscience, even in contradiction to one's "self interest." 

We cannot deny that we have choice, and we can't deny that others have the capacity and the right to choose. To do so would be to refute the two commandments presented to us by the Lord: to love God with all our heart, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. This, again, is love as the truth that is love, not mere sympathy. What is true of me is true of you. Granting myself the right to choose, I must allow you the same right.

What we do with our choices is, of course, a critical matter between ourselves and God. It is only in the depths of despair that we feel that our choices do not matter - and don't we rush to assure each other that they do matter when someone fees that way? Yes, the capacity to choose - that we can act upon our will - is a critical and glorious component of our humanity. It compels persons and history. The fight for freedom to choose. The ongoing efforts at obtaining for all persons the means to live well. Equal rights (to choose). Opportunity (to choose). 

Can one deny choice and love? Can one deny, with an open heart, a person their right to choose?

As a Catholic, I must extol choice. I have no part in judging the morality of another's choices. However I react to people's choices, it is my personal reaction only. I can choose how to respond to another's choices, of course. I can approve or disapprove, for what it's worth. And what it is worth is very, very little, indeed.
I have no part in how or what a person chooses in relation to God. And all choices are in relation to God. I say this as a person might say, I love. All is God, I say. All is love. I have no part in what part of God, love, or truth commits to a choice, except for the choices I make for myself. 

We choose, with what means are at hand, to live as we wish as our thoughts and feelings dictate. In truth, we are all partial creatures, even as we are whole in the sight of God. Perhaps it is only as one body that we are whole among ourselves. The universal Church. Is this what the Lord intends for us? If it is, then the sooner we commit to mercy, the better, for ourselves and each other.