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New Perspectives

We used to have a priest in our parish who habitually responded to any parishioner’s troubles or joys with the question: “Where is God in all this?” The effect of the question was an immediately altered perspective. It vaporized subjectivity, and from that changed vantage point, it called for an answer to the question itself.

Some examples of his response:

Father, Joe has proposed – Where is God in this?

I lost the election to city council – Where is God in this?

I have cancer – Where is God in this?

Anne wants a divorce – Where is God in this?

I got the job – Where is God in this?

These are small personal examples. But history asks the same question. Wars, revolutions, plagues, natural disasters, discoveries, inventions, explorations—all the events that alter history. How were we changed? What did we learn? And where was God in it all?

And so, now, in this new plague, we might ask, Where is God in all this? We can look at some effects so far. Internationally, it’s a major deterrent to globalism. Even the EU closes its borders. Nationally, it demonstrates that federal solutions are far less important than the measures that states, local governments, and communities are taking. And individually, it has already altered our perspective of ourselves vis a vis society: “Social distancing” is a new fixture in our lexicon; “stay home” is a new commandment. Large collectives break down into ever smaller units. Where is God in all this? At this point, the only answer is: We don’t know yet, but Pay Attention.

Humanity is distinguished from all other creatures in this one way: We pursue Logos, we search for meaning, we long for God. We are not different from other creatures just because we love—my dog loves (more and better than I do). For a long time now, secular humanists would have us believe that love is the “answer”, often citing St John’s “God is love” and bestowing approbation on any individual’s dissolution into something called “community”, manifest in varying numbers from one to millions, so that ultimately, the scriptural equation was transposed and became “Love is God”. Faith in God became obsolete, replaced by faith in our new god Love—our love for ourselves and each other. We didn’t need God anymore, we knew who he was, and the search was over. Logos found. Maybe not, though, maybe he is more than our human love, greater, other…. Maybe it’s a good time to re-read that oldest of all books, Job, and discover, again, what he discovered. Staying home, in our solitude, we may find that our personal and interpersonal love was never really enough for us…. In the midst of all our communality, we have been lonely….  

This new plague will alter our perspective. We don’t know how yet, but we need to pay attention.   

An Interview with Poet Rhina Espaillat

Rhina P. Espaillat, a Dominican immigrant to the United States, has been publishing her poetry since the 1940s. She has translated many of the greatest works of Spanish and Latin American poetry into English, while also translating the poetry of Robert Frost and Richard Wilbur into Spanish. Espaillat has also taught classes at the Westchester Poetry Conference about how to introduce Spanish poetic forms into English language poetry. The following interview with her, which took place at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend Indiana, is well worth watching: https://youtu.be/0gmG4Rkq9ao

About Dying

While this is not a popular subject, it may be an appropriate one for the season of sobriety. Not long ago, I made a will, an advance directive, a medical power of attorney, and a financial power of attorney. Since I have no family, I asked a deacon and trusted friend to be in charge of my life and death—literally. The advance directive itself was a multi-page form provided by the local hospital in which the “patient” is asked personal preferences in the event he or she is unable to make cognitive decisions at a time of emergency. (Very popular among attorneys nowadays is the packet of forms called “Five Wishes”, intended to be completed in collaboration with family members. It’s a very involved group of forms, most of which don’t actually apply to most people.)

Recently I received a small book, some 80 pages, from TAN: We Are the Lord’s: A Catholic Guide to Difficult End-of-Life Questions, by Fr. Jeffrey Kirby, STD. Brief but comprehensive explanations answer those “difficult questions” referred to in the title. Those who will be terminal patients as well as those who will be entrusted with the difficult responsibility of making decisions regarding their care and treatment should read this book. An example: most of us think we know the difference between “ordinary” and “extraordinary” means of life support, but the distinction is not as simple as we think.

Priests should read it—funeral Masses have a purpose and meaning different from popular belief and different from many funeral Masses I’ve attended. For example, there should be no eulogies at a funeral; they are only for vigils. Most important, the funeral is not “for the living” as we’re often told; they are exclusively for the deceased Catholic. And they are definitely not “celebrations of life,” a term which has always reminded me of “the circle of life” from the film The Lion King. The purpose of a funeral Mass is quite other. Father Kirby also provides an unsentimental explanation of the purpose of suffering, not as a kind of unwelcome “consolation” but as the important part of our faith that it is. If we have chosen to live as a Catholic, we would likely choose to die as a Catholic. The book tells us how.

Brief, concise, and important, this book should have a place on every Catholic’s bookshelf.