Comfort against tribulation

[Those who say I write faster than they read, are hereby granted a week
to catch up. This is because I am going upcountry, without my computer gear.
Daily idleposting will resume when (and if, God willing) I return
to the High Doganate. Which is to say Monday, June 8th.


Write each squib as if it were your last, and sooner or later it will be. For many years, going back to pre-Roman, I have been trying to follow this advice. It does not require the writer to be grave and serious. Among my heroes, and patrons, is Saint Thomas More, whose last words (for human consumption) were a little joke to the axeman. The point is rather, even when addressing the vexing matters of the day, to view things sub specie aeternitatis — “under the aspect of eternity,” as Baruch Spinoza would say. (Not one of my greatest heroes, but he has delicious moments.)

This hardly means one will succeed.

Vexation is the alternative aspect (sub specie afflictio?). Not anger, as commonly thought, for the indulgence of Wrath is itself a cause and condition of vexation, and must thus be considered philosophically prior — vexation being, as it were, among the wages of that sin.

And so, for all the others. Each deadly sin offers vexation — real unavoidable vexation in one’s life — and with it the slave chains of this world.

Consider Envy, for instance: what vexation it supplies. (Pause, as gentle reader considers.) … Consider what Lust can get one into. (Pause.) … Consider the vexations that follow each slide into Sloth and task avoidance. (Pause.) … And how Greed goes and comes around. (Pause.) … And then Gluttony, in all of its misunderestimated ramifications, some of which may involve the excessive consumption of alcohol. (Pause.) … And the queen bee in the hive is Pride. …

Lately (see under the heading “Saint Philip Neri”), I have been considering what may be one of the hardest passages in all Scripture to digest, because on the surface it looks silly, in the slapstick-ironical line:

“My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

But there are moments when this truth can be seen; moments for the Catholic which follow from Absolution, available exclusively through the Sacrament of Penance. Lift that burden of sin, and what remains to carry?

Of course one might starve, develop cancer, be imprisoned and tortured, have one’s head lopped off. All these may be occasion of heavy weather. And yet they require no effort on our part. Everything is taken care of: the Enemy does all the work. And you should see his wages.

There again More steps forward, in lightness of heart. His example left no excuses. It wasn’t just the scheduled prospect of his own execution that might have made for a bad day. He had already tried the rack on for size; beheading is comparatively painless. But think of the implications for his family. And then think, with him, about the fate of England, and of all Christendom, given what a certain monarch was doing, and other monarchs elsewhere, inspired by his example. Things were not looking up for the Christian world, as More was perhaps in a better position than anyone to appreciate.

Still, he was leaving it, and in the conviction that Christ has triumphed.

Vexation, or hapless desolation in its more extreme form, “would be indicated,” as the lawyers say, in view of many things now happening around us, over which we have no power. I could start listing them. But if I listed instead reasons to be hopeful about current worldly trends, “in spite of all that,” the hope would be as false as the desolation.

Faith is not feeling; and neither theological Hope, nor Charity. They are not “upbeat.” You can get upbeat from drugs.

“Detachment” is the word, both Catholic and Buddhist, for setting down the burden of sin. This hardly means giving up the fight, as More exemplifies. It only means not letting the Enemy get us down.

To be now Catholic and not Buddhist, we must be happy soldiers. We do not have to effect our own salvation, or achieve Nirvana by our own transcendent efforts. We can get help. As C.S. Lewis mentioned in The Great Divorce, there is a bus to Paradise, leaving every day. And the ticket, which costs everything, is entirely refundable in either direction.

“The truth of God will compass thee round about with a pavice from the arrow flying in the day.” … More refers here to the arrow of Pride, which high though it fly, has “an heavy iron head.” He didn’t say not to enjoy the journey upward. On the contrary, enjoy the journey downward, too, when we return to “every beggar our fellow.”

On Earth they rise and fall. Choose life, choose Christ, and rise above it.