Fish Eaters: The Whys and Hows of Traditional Catholicism

``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D

Trusting in God

I want to start this page out with a little video, a very brief one. In it, two beautiful little kids are eating ice cream cones -- and one drops his:

Adults watching this might find it sort of cute in its way. Even the boy's mother -- who, I imagine, is generally a fine mother -- chuckles at her son's reaction. I certainly wish she hadn't, though; stop and truly look at this beautiful little boy's face:

Compare his face to the face of the satyr Marsyas, depicted below by the artist Balthasar Permoser, in a pose that shows him as he's being flayed alive by Apollo. Compare the boy's face to that of Bernini's statue of
Persephone as she was being abducted by Hades:

That child is feeling anguish. He is experiencing very real emotional pain.

Our emotions are good in themselves, and even Lord Christ, the very Creator of the Sun, and Moon, and Stars is an emotional Being. He wept when Lazarus died, He was very angry when He saw how the Pharisees were treating His Father's house, etc. But we have to use our intellect and will to order our passions and to see things in perspective, and it's that matter of perspective that is so crucial to our being able to deal effectively with -- and, sometimes, for the sensitive, to even literally survive -- the evils we're subject to as creatures who live in a fallen world.

To that child, his having dropped his ice cream cone may well feel like the worst thing ever. But we adults know that ice cream cones are easily replaced, or that not being able to eat a cone one day really isn't the end of the world. None of that makes that boy's pain any less real and heartbreaking, however. But, still, what "the big people" know is true.

The same issue of perspective applies to dealing with the grief we experience as adults. Losing a loved one to bodily death, dealing with unrequited love, experiencing loneliness, being subjected to human violence or to natural evils, such as the pain of cancer or an abscessed tooth, or losing all of one's material possessions in a tornado -- none of these things are easy to deal with. Such things can feel excruciating, unbearable! But we have to remember two things...

1. God Never Positively Wills Evil

The evils we endure are never positively willed by God. He created the world without human death and suffering in it; those came after the Fall. They're a result of sin -- not necessarily one's own personal sin (though our own choices often cause us -- and others -- great suffering), but original sin. The idea prevalent in some Protestant sects that one gets what one deserves on earth is a lie. Satan is the prince of this fallen world, and we may well be living in the time in which he has been "unloosed from his prison" so he can "seduce the nations" (Apocalypse 20). All one has to do to see how wrong the "Prosperity Gospel" is is to look at who controls our banking systems, our media, academia, and other channels of culture -- and consider what they do with that power and wealth.

No, wealth isn't evidence that one is a good person; in fact, the opposite is often, but not always, the case.  Neither is
sickness, at least necessarily, due to personal sin. And we definitely don't have to "plant seeds" by sending money to some televangelist so we can "reap" a "harvest" of material wealth or physical health some time down the road. That "Prosperity Gospel" nonsense is no Gospel at all; it's demonic, a total perversion of Christ's teachings, an inversion of the Beatitudes!

God does, though, passively allow evils to befall us for His own inscrutable reasons. He may pull back His mantle of protection so we might learn humility or gratitude or for some other good purpose. But He never positively wills evil. Not ever. We can know this by reasoning from the facts of His innate Goodness, His being Love itself, the impossibility of His contradicting His Nature, etc., but we must also trust this with our hearts.

2. God's Perspective is Vast

The evils we endure, no matter how painful, are almost nothing when seen in light of eternity. Our grieving over the evils that afflict us, including death, is natural and good. But if we don't properly order our passions, thereby allowing our grief to turn into despair, we are doing something wrong. We are failing to trust in God! We are failing to trust that what we're going through -- no matter what it is, no matter how painful it may be -- is, in a sense, a mere "dropped ice cream cone" when seen from the perspective of "the Ancient of Days."

Adults might look at the crying child in that video above and think, "Awww, c'mon, kid, you just don't get it! It really isn't that big of a deal! Get over it!" -- even as they feel love and compassion for the child and would never will that such a "tragedy" befall him. And it is the same with us and our "tragedies" and how the Eternal One sees our lives from outside time and space.

He cares, very deeply, about what happens to you and how you feel! St. Luke's Gospel tells us how He cares even about the life of each and every sparrow!:

Luke 12:6
Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God?

That bird your cat kills and leaves as a gift on your doorstep is a bird you might forget about in a month or two. But God remembers it. And He cares about it. And as much as He cares about that little birdie, He cares about you so much more!  He loves you so much that He sent His only begotten Son to die for you! But He also knows more than you do. Just as a good parent cares deeply about and feels with a child who drops his ice cream cone, but also knows much better than that child does about the real meaning and level of importance of that dropped cone, so does God care deeply about us while also knowing the real meaning and level of importance of the things that hurt us -- even the things that hurt us the most and can feel literally unbearable. We have to trust this about Him! Sacred Scripture tells us that we simply have no idea of the wonders He has in store for His children!

1 Corinthians 2:7-9
...we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, a wisdom which is hidden, which God ordained before the world, unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew; for if they had known it, they would never have crucified the Lord of glory.

But, as it is written: That eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what things God hath prepared for them that love Him.

St. Paul tells us in Romans 8:18 that "the sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come, that shall be revealed in us."

To take this analogy further, while we're crying about our dropped cones, God is thinking, "Just trust Me! Have a little patience! I've got not just any cone you want all ready for you, but an entire Baskin-Robbins shop, one as big as twenty football fields, filled with flavors you've never even imagined! And My Son paid the price for it all, so it's free to you, a gift! And don't think the end to your suffering isn't happening quickly enough; think of how long a year feels to a 4-year old as compared to a 60-year old, and then imagine how long your lifetime actually is in light of eternity!"

We don't know now what He has in store for us, but we will if He deigns to save us -- something He will do if we love Him and love others:

I Corinthians 13:9-12
For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, that which is in part shall be done away.

When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child. But, when I became a man, I put away the things of a child. We see now through a glass in a dark manner; but then face to face. Now I know in part; but then I shall know even as I am known.

Right now, we understand and think as children relative to what we will understand and think in Heaven when we see Him face to Face! And just as the little boy in that video will someday grow up and likely laugh at his having dropped his ice cream cone and suffering real pain from it, one day we will look back at whatever is causing our suffering now and we will know better. It will all make perfect sense and be understood in light of eternity. Right now, we are all like a bunch of children, crying and feeling very real, natural, understandable pain over what amounts to, in light of eternity -- a scoop of Mint Chocolate Chip melting on the ground.

There is no alternative but for a loving God to passively allow evil

Imagine a child, beautiful, innocent, and so fragile. Contrast that child with what you know goes on in the world -- murder, rape, torture, etc., the intentional inflicting of suffering on to innocent creatures. If you're a decent human being, you want to keep that child safe, you want for him to be protected, to never have to face the evils the fallen world offers. But what are your options? You could bubblewrap the kid and put him in a rubber room filled with the things he loves so he'll never, ever experience pain, will never fall and hurt himself, will never have to struggle to attain or achieve anything. He wants food, and it appears! He desires a toy, and there it is! He never has to do things like practice piano or learn his multiplication tables because they displease him. No one ever says anything or does anything in his presence that'd bring a frown to his face. Every little thing he desires, he receives. There is no pain, no suffering, no waiting, and no work in this little guy's world, no.

...But then look forward 20 years and imagine the sort of adult he'll turn out to be in the real world. He'll end up useless, helpless, broken, impatient, unskilled, sick, obese, and unable to work or to think clearly. He will be spoiled. He will sense no meaning to his existence (see "A Nice Place to Visit" from the first season of the original "Twilight Zone" series for an easy-to-take meditation on this concept1). And, worst of all, he will not have the capacity to love because he won't understand the very meaning of the word "sacrifice," which necessarily involves giving up something dear to us -- i.e., which necessarily involves suffering to some degree. By denying that child freedom, which necessarily entails the possibility of failure and pain, you will end up destroying him.2

A poetic illustration of this idea: there's a concept in botany called "thigmomorphogenesis" which is used to signify the effects of mechanical movement on plants, one aspect of which is this: it's been shown that trees raised in greenhouses may grow tall, but they are spindly and weak; trees that have been buffeted about by the winds, though, grow strong and sturdy.

That is at least part of the answer to theodicy, the so-called "problem of evil." We are either free and able to love while having to endure evil (and having to work to prevent ourselves from doing evil), or we are weak, broken automatons who endure lives without meaning and love. Our very freedom -- our ability to use our will to choose the Good, to truly love, and to become virtuous people -- means we must accept that a loving God allows us to choose evil, and passively allows us to sometimes be the victims of evil. He never positively wills evil, never wants for us to have to endure evil any more than a loving parent wants his child to have to ever suffer. But for there to be freedom and love, the possibility and, given man's choices, the reality of evil must be accepted.

And God takes whatever evil there is and uses it to bring about the Good. This is a lesson taught as early as in the Book of Genesis, when Joseph forgives his brothers who sold him into slavery, an evil that worked, in the end, to save his people. He told them, "You thought evil against me: but God turned it into good, that He might exalt me, as at present you see, and might save many people" (Genesis 50:20). Or consider the words of Romans 8:28:

And we know that to them that love God, all things work together unto good, to such as, according to His purpose, are called to be saints.

We must understand this! We must trust in Him! We must trust that God is, indeed, our Father Who will never, ever forsake us (we might forsake Him, but He will never forsake us).

If you are suffering, you must develop the virtue of fortitude, and use your will to continue to do the right things in spite of what the world throws at you. If you are suffering due to human evil, you must learn to forgive if the evildoer is repentant, and pray for those who remain your enemies. Offer up your sufferings. Face your emotions, dealing with them head-on, and ordering them so they're directed to a good end. When doing that last, avoid the trap of becoming too self-focused; focus outward as well as doing what you need to do to understand and deal with your passions! Consider the problems of others and serve others as you do whatever "emotional work" you need to do in order to become psychologically healthy. Stay in a state of grace, receiving the Sacraments. Take inspiration from the lives of any Saints who've endured what you're going through now. Talk to family and friends and allow them to help you. If you have no friends, make some. But whatever you do, trust your Father, and know that, as St. Julian of Norwich wrote, "all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well!"

For a little musical inspiration about God's reassuring constancy despite the evils and suffering we endure, listen to Blind Willie Johnson's old blues tunes "God Don't Never Change" and "Trouble Will Soon Be Over":

God Don't Never Change

Trouble Will Soon Be Over

And for poetic inspiration, meditate on this verse from Alexander Pope's "An Essay on Man":

All nature is but art, unknown to thee;
All chance, direction, which thou canst not see;
All discord, harmony not understood;
All partial evil, universal good.
And, spite of pride, in erring reason's spite,
One truth is clear, 'Whatever is, is right.

See also:
   St. Augustine on the topic of why bad things happen to good people.

1 You can listen to Twilight Zone's "A Nice Place to Visit" in its radio show format through this MP3 file.

2 I stress numerous times at this site that it is exceedingly dangerous to overprotect your children and to mistake ignorance for innocence. Our Lady knew from even before Christ was conceived that her Child would suffer, and that, therefore, she would suffer. Recall, for ex., the events we recall at Candlemas -- the prophecy of Simeon (Luke 2:34-35). But allowing a child to suffer, as painful as it is for both parent and child, is what a good parent sometimes needs to do. The modern West's overly feminized culture, its embrace of "safe spaces" and victimhood mentalities, are precisely the things children don't need in order to grow to be strong and virtuous..

3 Thigmomorphogenesis was described (by fact, not by name) in the third century before Christ by Theophrastus in his Historia Plantarum.

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