The lessons of Tobit

05-25-2014Fr. John LettersFr. John

Dear  Friends,

After firing its chief editor (Jill Abramson) the publisher of the NY Times shot down the reports that they had done so because she had demanded a salary equal to her male predecessor, which meant they were paying her less than a man for doing the same job. Imagine that, the NY Times angry with the mainstream media for coming up with a narrative that did not fit the facts! How rich is that? After all the NY Times is the master of setting a narrative that tells the story they want to tell whether or not it has any relationship to reality. I confess I took almost perverse pleasure in watching the owner of the NY Times come undone over the reporting by his colleagues in the media. I guess sooner or later what goes around comes around.

The irony here is that the NY Times has strongly shouted the narrative about the “war on women” and that women receive less pay than men for the same work. And now they, the champion of the narrative of women’s inequality are being accused of treating a woman employee in an unequal manner to men. You can understand why the publishers became a bit apoplectic over the reporting.

There is a spiritual lesson in there: the thing that we most pride ourselves on can be the thing that humiliates us. All of us have a soft-underbelly that is vulnerable to attack. Just think of the Church: the Church’s teaching on human sexuality is clear, concise and well defined. Unlike other churches we have not wavered on it even in the face of great opposition and calls for change and cultural shifts. And where was the Church the most humiliated recently: with the sexual abuse scandals by priests. The lesson is quite clear: humiliation will come in that area you are often strongest in. Which means pay attention so that does not happen.

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Moral Hoops

05-18-2014Fr. John LettersFr. John

Dear Friends,

How often do we hear, "if it feels right then its ok" with the caveat: "as long as it does not hurt anyone"? That seems to be the prevailing moral norm of our society. When you make a claim to objective moral truths or absolute values or that some things are intrinsically wrong you're usually told that you are some kind of right-wing control freak that is trying to "impose" your religious values on everyone. The problem here is that the truth is the truth and no matter how much you want to relativize it to a person's feelings it has a way of asserting itself sooner or later.

Case in point: the recent episode with Donald Sterling, the owner of the professional basketball team in Los Angeles. Mr. Sterling shared his feelings privately with another person, saying he did not want her seen in public with black people. Once his remarks were made public he was soundly condemned. Now if you use the prevailing moral standard he was just sharing his "truth", the way he felt with another person. What's wrong with that? Furthermore he really did not harm anyone as the remarks were private and he did not take action on them. Once the remarks were made public they offended just about everyone but doesn't he have a right to his own moral beliefs, especially if they "feel right" to him? After all if there are no objective moral truths that our reason can grasp then who are we to judge Mr. Sterling's feelings that he expressed privately?

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Teaching the Wrong Lessons

05-11-2014Fr. John LettersFr. John

Dear Friends,

A few recent headlines in the news show a rather disturbing trend in the lessons we teach our children. In one case a high school honor student took a picture with her phone of an image that was projected on the screen in the classroom. The image was pornographic and was generated from the teacher's computer. The student was promptly suspended. In another case a student recorded with his phone or i-pad an incident of bullying that was happening to him. The student was not only suspended but also charged with the crime of clandestine recording.

While I suppose the school administrators in these cases had what they considered good reasons for the actions they took they seemed to wildly miss the bigger picture. What lessons are they teaching their students?

The students in these cases pretty much walk away from these "learning" experiences thinking that adults are a bunch of liars who can't be trusted. Adults look out for themselves first and will throw children under the bus to protect their agenda. And worse, when students do the right thing they will be punished. So why listen to adults? Any wonder we have behavior problems in our schools?

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How successful was Lent?

05-04-2014Fr. John LettersFr. John

Dear Friends,

Now that the Lenten Fast has turned into the Easter Feast we might want to ask ourselves how productive was our Lent? Some of us may be looking back and wondering what difference it all made if any. Did it have any effect? What was the point of all that penance and "giving things up"? It may seem like little growth was had or we just didn't get the Easter infusion of spirituality and grace. Did we make spiritual progress or just go through the motions?

The point of our Lenten practices, particularly fasting was to discipline the body so as to assert the primacy of the spiritual. Now that we have done that we need to tend to the interior effects of fasting and see if it has helped us overcome the corrosive vices that settle quietly in the soul.

I came across this quote by St. John Climacus, a 7th century monk who is a saint in both the Catholic and Orthodox Churches:

Let us not believe that an external fast from visible food alone can possibly be sufficient for perfection of heart and purity of body, unless with it there has also been united a fast for the soul. For the soul also has its foods that are harmful...

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