Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Comfort of Giving Alms



In A Dialogue of Comfort against Tribulation (rendered in modern English by Mary Gottschalk), St. Thomas More discussed where one can find true comfort when afflicted by tribulation (pain or sorrow).  This post will discuss one of More's comforts and some related ideas of St. Thomas Aquinas, described by Peter Kreeft in Practical Theology, his book on the Summa Theologica. 

More discussed different types of tribulation, including “the kind of tribulation that we voluntarily take upon ourselves, … affliction of the flesh or bestowal of our goods as we willingly undertake in atonement for our own sins and out of devotion to God.”  This includes not only penance (for specific sins) but also the fasting and almsgiving that Christians perform during the penitential season of Lent (for our sins more generally). 

More wrote that “the courage that … kindles your heart and inflames it toward that tribulation shall … give you in it such comfort and such joy that the pleasure of your soul will surpass the pain of your body.”  To me, this echoes Psalm 51:7-8, where we ask God, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Fill me with joy and gladness; let the bones which thou hast broken rejoice.”

According to Aquinas, almsgiving includes the seven corporal works of mercy and the seven spiritual works of mercy (cf. http://scborromeo.org/ccc/para/2447.htm).  Aquinas wrote that “we are bound to give alms of our surplus, and also to give alms to one whose need is extreme; otherwise almsgiving, like any other greater good, is a matter of counsel.”  Kreeft commented, “The more generosity, the merrier, both for the receiver and also for the giver.  If you are surprised to hear that, you’ve never practiced sacrificial giving and experienced its inevitable deep joy.  Try it, you’ll like it.”

When I fast or serve others, I voluntarily endure a tribulation (such as hunger or just the loss of something more enjoyable).  If I do this with love, selflessly, “for God’s sake,” then I will experience the comfort of joy.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

The comfort of penance



A Dialogue of Comfort against Tribulation, by St. Thomas More, rendered in modern English by Mary Gottschalk, discusses where one can find true comfort when afflicted by tribulation (pain or sorrow).  This post will discuss one of More's comforts and some related ideas of St. Thomas Aquinas, described by Peter Kreeft in Practical Theology, his book on the Summa Theologica. 

We are all sinners, and More wrote that one type of tribulation is the pain caused by one’s sins.  This tribulation can be a comfort, however, if one prays for the grace to endure the pain “meekly and patiently” and also confesses that the pain is not enough to compensate for the fault.  In that case, one can also ask God to receive the pain as a form of penance for the sin.  More emphasized that no penance or good work is worth anything without faith and without God’s grace.

Regarding penance, Aquinas wrote that “the remission of the debt of temporal punishment belongs to cooperating grace in so far as man, by bearing patiently with the help of divine grace, is released also from the debt of temporal punishment.”  Kreeft explained that “accepting the humblings and humiliations that come to us in this life” is a way to “rehearse” for our role in our sanctification, which of course is a gift from God.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that sin “injures and weakens the sinner himself” and absolution “does not remedy all the disorders sin has caused.”  By completing his penance, one can “recover his full spiritual health.”  The penance helps “configure us to Christ, who alone expiated our sins once for all.”

When I sin, I injure God, I injure others, and I injure myself.  The pain I experience because of the sin can be a comfort if I accept it as a penance for the sin.  Then the pain, with God’s grace and forgiveness, helps restore my spiritual health and my relationship with God.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

A Comfort in Tribulation

A Dialogue of Comfort against Tribulation, by St. Thomas More, rendered in modern English by Mary Gottschalk, discusses where one can find true comfort when afflicted by tribulation (pain or sorrow).  This post will discuss More's first comfort and some related ideas of St. Thomas Aquinas, described by Peter Kreeft in Practical Theology, his book on the Summa Theologica.

More argued that the first comfort in tribulation is the desire and longing to be comforted by God.  This desire includes letting God decide how to comfort us: by removing or diminishing the tribulation or by giving us patience and spiritual consolation to endure it.  Whichever occurs is good.  Aquinas wrote that great pain can distract us and keep us from contemplating the truth, which is a great good, so removing such pain can lead us back to God. 

If the tribulation continues and God gives us patience, then we can endure it.  Aquinas wrote that some pain is beneficial, for we learn from it: we can become compassionate, courageous, and wise.  Moreover, the pain may prevent us from a moral failing or fault.  More wrote that God may "send us sorrow and sickness to make us draw toward Him" (and pray to Him) when we forget Him.
 
The key is to let God decide.  Aquinas wrote that we must trust God; although we can't understand the reasons for the tribulation, we can understand that God can produce good out of any evil (including our tribulations).  This "well-ordered" attitude, inspired by God, is a great comfort.


Sunday, February 19, 2017

A Well-Governed State

According to Esolen and his reading of Pope Leo XIII's writings, a well-governed state should promote its citizens' material and moral prosperity, protect private property, allow free associations, and protect the poor from the abuse of the rich and powerful.  Although there is no single solution that will work for everyone everywhere, there are four principles that should be used to create a solution:
  1. The state should be directed by objective moral law, self-restraint, and industriousness.
  2. The state should assist the poor by creating an environment that allows families to raise healthy children who can become healthy, moral citizens.
  3. The state should allow families and associations to act independently to do what is best and teach virtue.
  4. The state should ensure that the commercial world is just and respects the persons who work; economic efficiency should not trump human dignity.
Esolen notes that, in a healthy culture (not a market), everyone will act in their "truly human interest."  One has a right to property but the responsibility to use it productively by employing others (not paying taxes).  Experienced workers have a right to a living wage but also a responsibility to do good work and to teach younger ones their trade.  We have a right to spend our money as we wish but a responsibility to make the world more beautiful and more human.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Goodness of Work

According to Esolen and his reading of Pope Leo XIII's writings, work is for family, for neighbors, and for God.  But material wealth is not the goal.  God's commandments restrain "the greed of possession" and "the thirst for pleasure."  Indeed, according to Pope Leo, spending a "life in the pursuit of earthly pleasures, and in forgetfulness of the happiness which alone lasts forever" is "a waste" and "a terrible punishment."  Those who have received blessings have a duty to use them to benefit others so that they can live a virtuous life aimed at eternal life with God.

To be human, work must be a true society.  In their guilds, workers had a "genuinely human society" with a common goal.  Today, the guilds are gone, but workers and owners should respect each other as brothers.  Among other responsibilities, an owner should pay fair wages to support workers and their families so that they can live decently and virtuously.  A worker "puts himself into his work" and, as a reward, earns and possesses property, including land, which is the basis of all economic activity. And those possessions enable the worker's family to live a fully human life.