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August 24, 1962     Catholic Northwest Progress
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8---THE PROGRESS Frlday, Aucj. 24, 1962 Sons of Rev. Geoffrey Wood, S.A. ATONEMENT SEMINARY WASHINGTON, D.C. ONTRARY TO what many a non- believer might think, we Christians are stark realists. We are so realistic that we are honest pessimists and feel that it would be unhealthy not to be such. We are convixmed both from personal and social experience that mankind, left to himself, is doomed; humanity is subject to Death, and by Death we do not mean only that sudden or gradual loss of vitality caused by accident, disease, or old age--our collapse into corpses. By Death we mean that total negative force which, like the Dragon of the Apocalypse, waits hungrily for our birth and throughout our career frustrates happy, productive, enduring, and harmonious life. Christians admit the existence of Death in this broad, oppressive sense. They honestly admit that its awful power and tremendous weight once un- leashed is much too much for man to overthrow. Moreover, they calmly joint their finger directly at the cause of Death--they look for no scapegoat, they make no accusation of treachery. They hold themselves--mankind--responsible for the presence of Death. Other men besides Christians have reacted vari- ously to Death. But in general, their reaction is not as honest as the Christian's. For example, the ancient pagans considered the problem--why do we die. We are superior in every way, they said. Our ability to know and think makes us well-nigh divine. The one thing that might make us truly divine is immortality--satisfaction of our tendency toward infinite activity. But therein lies the very reason why we are mortal: the gods are jealous of their supremacy and deliberately keep this attribute be- yond man's reach. The myth of Gilgamesh carries this moral most poignantly. Gilgamesh's friend, Enkidu, a vigorous companion in many an adventure with him, dies and Gilgamesh, stunned by this un- foreseen event, broods: The matter of Enkidu, my friend, rests heavy upon me. How can I be silent? How can I be still? My friend whom I loved has turned to clay! Must I, too, like him, lay me down, Not to rise again for ever and ever? With this Gilgamesh begins a quest for immortality. After much searching and hardship he finally does come to grasp within his hand a thorny plant of marvelous power: : Urshanabi, this plant is a plant apart, the Resurrection Whereby a man may regain his life's breath., . Its name shall be, "Man Becomes Young in Old ge. l) I myself shall eat it and thus return to the state of my youth. But what happens then? While he refreshes himseff in a pool and before he has the opportunity to take advamage of his find, a serpent rises up out of the water, carries off the plant--shedding its skin in the process--and the episode concludes: Thereupon Gilgamesh sits down and weeps, Tears running down over his face . . . For whom . . . have my hands toiled? For whom is being spent the blood of my heart? I have not obtained a boon for myself. For the earth-lion I have effected a boon! And now the tide will bear it twenty leagues awayl In another story, e myth of Adapa, man i again victimized. The god of Wisdom created Adapa a perfect human being, granting him a share in his wisdom and making him leader of his ctdt on eax, his priest. Certain offensive action brings Adapa before the god of the Heavens, Ann, for judgment. But Anu is rather impressed by this creature of Ea and exclaims: Why did Ea disclose the heart of the heaven and the earth to a worthless human, Rendering him distinguished and making a name for him ? As for us, what shall we do about it? He decides to. give Adapa full divine status by granting him immortality: Fetch for him the Bread of Life and he shall eat it. But Ea had foreseen this and, not willing to lose his creature and priest, had forewarned Adapa not to eat of anything offered to him, for, he deceitfully revealed, the bread will be death-dealing and not life-giving at all. Adapa therefore rejects the gift of Anu, much to Anu's wonder and amusement! "Man was on the point of becoming a god--but was defrauded of it by the god who had created him." Thus the ancient pagan faced up to the problem of Death. He thought often about its dominion over him, realized there was no escape from it, but he contented himself with the supposition--not unmixed with pride--that he was the innocent victim of jealous gods. There is a great similarity between the ancient and the modem reaction to Death. Despair might be more evident in modem considerations but there is that basic recognition of Death's supremacy and though the modem has no gods to blame for his predicament, he, too, seems to consider himself victimized, innocently caught between incompre- heusible tensions. We think of that modem myth, La Doee Vita, a clear declaration of the fact that man, while he is restless for something better, aspires to something purer, fresher than the stale life, the sweet life he actually lives, has little choice but to accept his lot--after all, he has not the energy to escape it. We remember that beautiful final scene. There is a young girl, a child, innocence personified, and we might say pure, fresh vitality personified, looking, as one critic has said, like one of Botti- oelli's angels. She stands on the opposite strand beckoning the melancholy hero Who has just exnerged from an orgy of sweet living at a beach house. She beckons. One sees her lips moving: vieal qua, viena qua--come here, come here. But he can- not quite understand. The sound of the waves, tim inner din of his hangover . . . He makes a feeble effort to hear but then shrugs his shoulders--non passo sentire--I cannot hear, and what is more, I cannot move. And with that he returns to the sweet life like some inmate returning to his cell. / Man's Everlasting Lot The picture tells us that life is inadequate, that a man can aspire to something better than sen- suality, constant diversion, indeed, that a man might even acquire some satisfaction through intellectual pursuits, but that ultimately haman existence re- mains futile. The full happiness and total life a man really wants is always somehow beyond his reach, He can long for it; it can beckon to him. But frus- tration and .Death is man's everlasting lot. Both these reactions are honest, but not entirely honest. There are two others, however, which are much less realistic. There is the Pharisaical reaction to Death--and there are Pharisees in every age. The Pharisee faces up to Death but is not thrown into fright or despair or confusion over its presence. The problem's solution is simple. He takes the theme of Deuteronomy: Fidelity to God's law, His norms, brings life; infidelity to them brings Death! Therefore, I shall be faithful to God's norms! And he then goes at it with a vengeance, with an in- creasing minuteness of observance, programs for correct conduct covering every moment and detail of life. God's norms enclose Life. Keep within them and widen the margin of your enclosure by a host of particular norms and Death will not reach you. rw),,,, 3 v00rcr . Underestimates Death The flow of this simple approach lies in the pre- sumption that man can keep the law, that by dili- gent application alone to the standards of Life He can ward off Death. It underestimates Death; it tends to forget that Death is already within the citadel. St. Paul has this to say to Pharisees: You rely upon the law and are proud of your God; you know His will; you are aware of moral distinctions because you receive instruction from the law; you are confident that you are the one to guide the blind, to enlighten the benighted, to train the stupid, and to teach the immature, be- cause in the law you see the very shape of knowl- edge and truth. You, then, who teach your fellow- man, do you fail to teach yourself? You proclaim, "Do not steal"; but are you yourself a thief? . . . For we have already formulated the charge: that Jews and Greeks alike are all under the power of sin. This has scriptural warrant: (and here Paul lets loose a torrent of Old Testament support) "There is no just man, not one; No one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have swerved aside, all alike have become debased; There is no one to show kindness; no, not one. Their throat is an open grave, They use their tongues for treachery, Adder's venom is on their lips, And their mouth is full of bitter curses. Their feet hasten to shed blood, Ruin and misery lie along their paths, They are strangers to the high-road of peace, And reverence for GOd does not enter their thoughts"... . . For again from Scripture, "No human being can be justified in the sight of God" for having kept the law: law brings only consciousness of sin. But the most pitiable reaction of all to Death is that of the Communist. He ignores Death in the moral or spiritual sense, (even though he is as much under its dominion as the next man) for to the Com- munist there is nothing beyond 'the biological in man. As regards physical ailment and death, file Communist, far from being a revolutionary, escapes the problem by reaching back to a solution Judeo- Christian tradition began to shed in the ancient days of Ezechiel the prophet, namely, that the individual's death means nothing; what matters is mankind's collective immortality. Mankind is en route to ma- terial betterment. Let the individual think only of that and, indeed, expend himself toward that en& Thus anesthetized the Communist keeps his equilib- rium.