Category Archives: Christology

The Truth & the Life

-by Bossuet, Jacques Bénigne, 1627-1704, “Meditations for Lent”, Saturday after Ash Wednesday.

“I AM the truth and the life” (cf. John 14:6). I AM the Word that was “at the beginning,” the word of the eternal Father, His concept, His wisdom, the true light that enlightens every man (John 1:9). I AM the truth itself and consequently the support, the nourishment, and the life of all who hear Me, the One in Whom there is life, the same life that is in the Father…It is when we possess the truth, that is to say, when we know it, when we love it, when we embrace it that we really live…

Come then, O Truth! You Yourself are my life, and because You come close to me, You are my way. What do I have to fear? How can I be anxious? Do I fear that I will not find the way that leads to truth? The way itself, as St. Augustine said, presents itself to us; the way itself comes to us. Come then and live by the truth, reasonable and intelligent soul! What light there is in the teaching of Jesus!

Let us love the truth. Let us love Jesus, Who is the truth itself. Let us change ourselves so that we may be like Him. Let us not put ourselves in a condition that will oblige us to hate the truth. The one who is condemned by the truth hates and flees it. Let there be nothing false in one who is the disciple of the truth. Let us live by the truth and feed ourselves with it. It is for this that the Eucharist is given to us. It is the body of Jesus, His holy humanity, the pure grain that nourishes the elect, the pure substance of truth, the bread of life, and it is at the same time the way, the truth, and the life.

If Jesus Christ is our way, let us not walk in the ways of the world. Let us enter into the narrow gate through which He walked. Above all, let us be mild and humble. Man’s falsehood is his pride, because in truth he is nothing, and God alone IS. This is the pure and only truth.”

Love,
Matthew

Jn 18:38 & the Dictatorship of Relativism

“I have known many men who wished to deceive, but none who wished to be deceived.”St. Augustine, Confessions


Br Jordan Zajac, OP

“Fake news” has become big news in recent months. How could the proliferation of deliberately fabricated articles be a good thing?

It’s in the outcry against fake news, coming from both liberal and conservative corners. The clamoring is good the way a person’s recognizing the symptoms of a serious illness is good. Those symptoms alert him that things are not the way they ought to be. Similarly, the concern over fake news affirms that what gets reported as factual should indeed, uh, you know, conform to reality.

This assertion shouldn’t require a robust defense. And yet…

Ours is a world where various ideologies seek to distort—and the dictatorship of relativism strives to corrupt—the truth and its integrity. Contrary to St. Augustine’s observation above, some of our contemporaries do indeed “seem to want to be lied to.” And therefore, any defense of the existence of some objective truth—the truth that we all have the natural capacity, desire, and right to know—is a great thing. Remember, “post-truth” was the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year for 2016. But even in this post-truth era, when veritas seems to have been taken off the menu, we do not stop hungering for it. “[T]he absence of truth,” Robert Cardinal Sarah asserts, “is man’s real poverty.” We would starve without it.

Another reason why fake news has proven so unsettling is because it draws attention to a simple but seldom-considered reality: we rely heavily on the testimony and authority of others to arrive at the truth.

We certainly prefer to find truth by means of personal verification: Let me see it with my own eyes. Or better yet, I’ll run some experiments. Then I’ll have certitude.

Nevertheless, there are limits to how much can be found out by personal verification. I cannot, for example, verify the precise month, day, and year I was born. I was there, of course, but I have to accept the testimony of others that it happened when and where it happened. I can’t be certain, strictly speaking. All I can do is rely on the strength of others’ testimony. I have to trust.

We accept many more truths on the basis of witnesses and testimony than we do on personal verification. “Nothing would remain stable in human society,” St. Augustine observes, “if we determined to believe only what can be held with absolute certainty.” Indeed, it would be impossible to live a functional human life without accepting anything on the basis of another’s word.

Another word for this assent to others’ testimony is faith.

We all live by faith.

Faith is often misconstrued as believing in something in the face of evidence to the contrary, or in something for which evidence cannot be provided. But essentially faith involves giving assent based on some intellectual process. When we defer to another with expertise or believe a person’s testimony, do we do so unthinkingly? On the contrary, we do so critically. Reason helps us weigh, evaluate, interpret, and explain what we believe and why. Faith and reason are not only compatible, but they work together all the time. By them we are properly conformed to reality. By them we form our convictions.

As Christians, our conviction is that the fullness of truth is a Person: Jesus Christ. Faith in Him is a gift (CCC §153), but at the same time God has supplied various signs and aids to faith: Scriptural testimony, Tradition, the Church’s apostolic foundations, her survival and spreading, the holiness of the saints, the witness of the martyrs, the intelligibility of doctrine, miracles, answered prayers, beautiful liturgy, the sacraments. All of these testify, in different ways, to the truth of the Faith. God has spoken the truth to us, and therefore we can have faith in supernatural realities.

The early Church saw her fair share of fake news. The chief priests, for example, put their own spin on the truth of the Resurrection. St. Matthew exposed this false narrative (the chief priests “can’t even lie plausibly!”, remarked St. John Chrysostom), subsuming it into his proclamation of the good news.

Increased sensitivity to falsehood is a good thing. If truth-seeking leads to Truth-seeking, as far as today’s fake news is concerned, it will have actually been great news indeed.”

Love & His Truth, He is Truth,
Matthew

Historical Jesus

case4jesus-brant-pitre

Brant-Pitre-Author-Photo-266x400

-Brant Pitre is a professor of Sacred Scripture at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, Louisiana. He is the author of the bestselling book Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist: Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper (2011) and Jesus the Bridegroom: The Greatest Love Story Every Told (2014). Dr. Pitre is an extremely enthusiastic and highly sought after speaker who lectures regularly across the United States. He has produced dozens of Bible studies on both CD and DVD, in which he explores the biblical roots of the Catholic faith. He has also appeared on a number of Catholic radio and television shows, such as Catholic Answers Live and programs on EWTN. He currently lives in Louisiana with his wife, Elizabeth, and their five children.

Are the Gospels historically accurate, and can they be trusted?

Many modern scholars believe that the Gospels are not biographies of Jesus, that they were not authored by disciples of Jesus, and that they were written too late in the first century to be based on reliable eyewitness testimony.

The Case for Jesus JacketIn The Case for Jesus (on sale Feb. 2), Dr. Brant Pitre, bestselling author of Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, taps into the wells of Christian scripture, history and tradition to ask and answer a number of questions about the origins and validity of the Gospels and one big question: Did Jesus of Nazareth claim to be God?

“Confusion about who Jesus claimed to be is everywhere and it’s spreading,” writes Dr. Pitre. “In fact, the idea that Jesus never claimed to be God may be more widespread today than ever before in history.”

In The Case for Jesus, Dr. Pitre offers compelling reasons for concluding that the four Gospels are first-century biographies of Jesus, written within the lifetime of the apostles, and based directly on eyewitness testimony.

The findings outlined in this book, which includes an afterword by Robert Barron, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and founder of Word on Fire, a global media ministry, have the potential to pull the rug out from under a century of skepticism toward the apostolic authorship and historical truth of the traditional Gospels.

“This book will prove to be a most effective weapon in the arsenal of Christian evangelists in their struggle against the debunking and skeptical attitudes toward the Gospels that are so prevalent, not only in academe, but also on the street, among young people who, sadly, are leaving the Churches in droves,” writes Bishop Barron.

In The Case for Jesus, Dr. Pitre asks and answers a number of questions, including:

-Who wrote the four Gospels? Were they really anonymous?
-What do we make of the so-called “Lost Gospels”?
-Are the Gospels fact or fiction? Folklore or biography?
-Did Jesus really claim to be God?
-Did Jesus fulfill the Jewish prophecies of the Messiah?
-Why was Jesus crucified?
-What is the evidence for the Resurrection?

Advance Praise for The Case for Jesus:

“Thanks to Dr. Pitre’s magnificent book, you will now be equipped to make the case for Jesus and the veracity of the Gospel to even the most ardent skeptics.” —Jennifer Fulwiler, author of Something Other than God

“The Case for Jesus topples the naive skepticism that too often dominates the study of the Gospels…” —Mary Healy, Sacred Heart Major Seminary

“A robust and rock-solid case for Jesus. The sensationalistic claims of super-sceptics are exposed as a sham as Pitre provides a meticulous presentation of the evidence about the reliability of the Gospels, who Jesus thought he was, and what he means today.”—Michael F. Bird, Ridley College, Melbourne, Australia

——————————

In the fifteenth year of the rule of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was procurator of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, Philip his brother tetrarch of the region Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene… Luke 3:1

Some people claim that Jesus Christ never existed. Allegedly the life of Jesus and the Gospel are merely myths fabricated by the Church. This claim rests mainly upon their belief that there is no historical record of Jesus.

This lack of secular reports should not be too surprising for modern Christians. First, only a small fraction of the written records survived those twenty centuries. Secondly, there were few, if any, journalists in Palestine during the time of Jesus. Thirdly, the Romans saw the Jewish people as merely one of many ethnic groups that needed to be tolerated. The Romans held the Jewish people in low regard. Finally the Jewish leaders were also eager to forget about Jesus. Secular writers only took notice after Christianity became popular and began to disturb their lifestyle.

Even though early secular reports on Jesus may have been rare, there are still a few surviving references to Him. Not too surprisingly, the earliest non-Christian reports were made by the Jews. Flavius Josephus, who lived until 98 A.D., was a romanized Jewish historian. He wrote books on Jewish history for the Roman people. In his book, Jewish Antiquities, he made references to Jesus. In one reference he wrote:

About this time arose Jesus, a wise man, who did good deeds and whose virtues were recognized. And many Jews and people of other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. However, those who became his disciples preached his doctrine. They related that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive. Perhaps he was the Messiah in connection with whom the prophets foretold wonders. [Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, XVIII 3.2]

Even though several different forms of this particular text have survived through the twenty centuries, they all agree with the above cited version. This version is considered to be the closest to the original – the least suspected of Christian text-tampering. Elsewhere in this book, Josephus also reported the execution of St. John the Baptist [XVIII 5.2] and St. James the Just [XX 9.1], even referring to James as “the brother of Jesus who was called Christ.” It should be noted that the past tense in the clause, “Jesus who was called Christ,” argues against Christian text-tampering since a Christian would prefer to write instead, “Jesus who is called Christ.”

Another Jewish source, the Talmud, makes several historical references to Jesus. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, the Talmud is “the collection of ancient Rabbinic writings consisting of the Mishnah and the Gemara, constituting the basis of religious authority for traditional Judaism.” Although not explicitly referred to by name, later rabbis identify the person as Jesus. These references to Jesus are neither sympathetic to Him or His Church. Also these writings were preserved through the centuries by Jews, so Christians cannot be accused of tampering with the text.

The Talmud makes note of Jesus’ miracles. No attempt is made to deny them, but it ascribes them to magical arts from Egypt. Also His crucifixion is dated as “on the eve of the Feast of the Passover” in agreement with the Gospel (Luke 22:1ff; John 19:31ff). Similar again to the Gospel (Matt. 27:51), the Talmud records the earthquake and the tearing in two of the Temple curtain during the time of Jesus’ death. Josephus in his book, The Jewish War, also confirmed these events.

By the beginning of the 2nd century, Romans were writing about Christians and Jesus. Pliny the Younger, proconsul in Asia Minor, in 111 A.D. wrote to Emperor Trajan in a letter:

…it was their habit on a fixed day to assemble before daylight and recite by turns a form of words to Christ as a god; and that they bound themselves with an oath, not for any crime, but not to commit theft or robbery, or adultery, not to break their word, and not to deny a deposit when demanded. After this was done, their custom was to depart, and meet again to take food… [Pliny, Epistle 97]

Special attention should be made to the phrase, “to Christ as a god,” an early secular witness to the belief in Christ’s divinity (John 20:28; Phil. 2:6). Also it is interesting to compare this passage with Acts 20:7-11, a biblical account of an early Christian Sunday celebration.

Next the Roman historian, Tacitus, who is respected by modern scholars for historical accuracy, wrote in 115 A.D. about Christ and His Church:

The author of the denomination was Christ[us] who had been executed in Tiberius time by the Procurator Pontius Pilate. The pestilent superstition, checked for a while, burst out again, not only throughout Judea…but throughout the city of Rome also… [Tacitus, Annals, XV 44]

Even with disdain for the Christian faith, Tacitus still treated the execution of Christ as historical fact, drawing connections to Roman events and leaders. (cf. Luke 3:1ff)

Other secular witnesses to the historical Jesus include Suetonius in his biography of Claudius, Phlegan recording the eclipse of the sun during Jesus’ death and even Celsus, a pagan philosopher. It must be kept in mind that most of these sources were not only secular but anti-Christian. These secular authors, including the Jewish writers, had no desire or intention to promote Christianity. They had no motivation to distort their reports in favor of Christianity. Pliny actually punished Christians for their faith. If Jesus were a myth or His execution a hoax, Tacitus would have reported it as such. He certainly would not have connected Jesus’ execution to Roman leaders. These writers presented Jesus as a real historical person. Denying the reliability of these sources in connection to Jesus would cast serious suspicion on the rest of ancient history.

Now these ancient secular writings do not prove that Jesus is the Son of God or even the Christ, but that is not the goal of this tract. These reports show that a virtuous person named Jesus did live in the early first century A.D. and authored a religious movement (which still exists today). This Person was at least called Christ – the Messiah. Christians in the first century also appeared to consider Him God. Finally these writings support other facts found in the Bible surrounding His life. The claim that Jesus never existed and His life is a myth compromises the reliability of ancient history.”

Love,
Matthew

Who needs Jesus? Really. Really? Really!!

Savior_jesus

I DO. As someone who suffers from MDD – Major Depressive Disorder, diagnosed in 1994, having had three major episodes, only medication and therapy having prevented more, and told I should expect at least six in my life, and takes daily meds and weekly therapy, I can relate. The experience is of excruciating emotional pain, laying on the couch not wanting to breathe, feeling the ground fall away from underneath your feet, moaning and writhing in a recliner at your in-laws. You just want the pain to stop. You don’t care how. You lose all perspective on how any decision you make will affect others. You just want the pain to stop. You don’t care how.

“The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him, and He helps me. (He does.) My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise Him.” -Ps 28:7

Don’t take symptoms lightly. Get help. 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently found that suicide rates in the U.S. spiked between 1994 and 2014. While women are less likely to kill themselves than men, their rate of suicide jumped by 80 percent over this period. But not all women are at risk.

A study released this week by JAMA Psychiatry, an American Medical Association journal, reported that “Frequent religious service attendance was associated with substantially lower suicide risk among U.S. women compared with women who never attended religious services.” To be exact, the researchers studied approximately 90,000 nurses, mostly women, and found that Catholic and Protestant women had a suicide rate that was half that for women as a whole.

Of the nearly 7,000 Catholic women who went to Mass more than once a week, NONE committed suicide. Overall, practicing Protestant women were seven times more likely to commit suicide than their Catholic counterparts, suggesting there really is a Catholic advantage. Indeed, the 2015 book, The Catholic Advantage, substantiates this finding.

Today, those without a religious affiliation have the highest suicide rates, illustrated most dramatically in San Francisco: someone jumps off the Golden Gate Bridge to his death every two weeks. It is not the faithful who are waiting in line to jump—it’s the non-believing free spirits.

On a related note, Gallup released a survey yesterday (6/29/16) that shows approximately 9 in 10 Americans believe in God. But as we learned from the JAMA Psychiatry study, only those who regularly attend religious services are less likely to commit suicide.

In other words, mere belief, and amorphous expressions of spirituality, aren’t enough to ward off the demons that trigger suicide. And no group is more at risk than atheists.”

Freakonomics – Suicide

Internet Broadcast

-by Stephen J. Dubner

“Suicide rates in the U.S., they’re the highest they’ve been in 30 years.

Our latest Freakonomics Radio episode is called “The Suicide Paradox (Rebroadcast).” (You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes or elsewhere, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above.)

There are more than twice as many suicides as murders in the U.S., but suicide attracts far less scrutiny. Freakonomics Radio digs through the numbers and finds all kinds of surprises.

Below is a transcript of the episode, modified for your reading pleasure. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, see the links at the bottom of this post. And you’ll find credits for the music in the episode noted within the transcript.
* * *
Today we are playing an episode from our archives — an important episode, called “The Suicide Paradox.” We first put this out in 2011. Now, five years later, suicide rates in the U.S. have risen to their highest in 30 years, with suicide a particularly pressing problem in the military. We’ll be back next week with a new episode.
* * *
DAN EVERETT: There won’t be a word for college or professor, but I can say, “Tíi kasaagá Paóxaisi. Ti kapiiga kagakaibaaí.” And that just means, “my name is Paoxaisi, and I make a lot of marks on paper.”

Dan Everett is a college professor — a linguist. Off and on for the past 30 years, he’s lived with a tribe in the Amazon called the Piraha.

EVERETT: I originally went to the Piraha as a missionary to translate the Bible into their language, but over the course of many years, they wound up converting me, and I became a scientist instead and studied their culture and its effects on their language.
The Piraha live in huts, sleep on the ground, hunt with bows and arrows. But what really caught Everett’s attention is that they are relentlessly happy. Really happy.

EVERETT: This happiness and this contentment really had a lot to do with me abandoning my religious goals, and my religion altogether, because they seemed to have it a lot more together than most religious people I knew.

But this isn’t just another story about some faraway tribe that’s really happy even though they don’t have all the stuff that we have. It’s a story about something that happened during Everett’s early days with the tribe. He and his wife and their three young kids had just finished dinner. Everett gathered about 30 Piraha in his hut to preach to them:

EVERETT: I was still a very fervent Christian missionary, and I wanted to tell them how God had changed my life. So, I told them a story about my stepmother and how she had committed suicide because she was so depressed and so lost. (For the word “depressed” I used the word “sad”.) So she was very sad. She was crying. She felt lost. And she shot herself in the head, and she died. And this had a large spiritual impact on me, and I later became a missionary and came to the Piraha because of all of this experience triggered by her suicide. And I told this story as tenderly as I could and tried to communicate that it had a huge impact on me. And when I was finished everyone burst out laughing.
* * *
EVERETT: When I asked them, “why are you laughing?,” they said: “She killed herself. That’s really funny to us. We don’t kill ourselves. You mean, you people, you white people shoot yourselves in the head? We kill animals, we don’t kill ourselves.” They just found it absolutely inexplicable, and without precedent in their own experience that someone would kill themselves.
In the 30 years that Everett has been studying the Piraha, there have been zero suicides. Now, it’s not that suicide doesn’t happen in the Amazon – for other tribes, it’s a problem.

EVERETT: And as I’ve told this story, some people have suggested that, well it’s because they don’t have the stresses of modern life. But that’s just not true. There is almost 100 percent endemic malaria among the people. They’re sick a lot. Their children die at about 75 percent. Seventy-five percent of the children die before they reach the age of five or six. These are astounding pressures.

MUSIC: Matthew Reid, “Quietus” (from Courtyards and Fairgrounds)

A group of people that laughs at suicide? Doesn’t sound much like the U.S., does it? Suicide’s not a laughing matter here; and it’s not so rare, either. Now, compared to the rest of the world, our suicide rate puts us right about in the middle. But here’s what’s interesting. The U.S. is famous for a relatively high murder rate – it’s double, triple, even five times higher than most other developed countries. So if I said to you: what’s more common in the U.S., homicide or suicide, what would you say?

Listen to Steve Levitt, my Freakonomics friend and co-author, an economist at the University of Chicago. He’s been studying crime for years.
STEVE LEVITT: Homicides, per one hundred thousand, have fallen from something like ten to something like five over the 15 years I’ve studied crime. So essentially, homicide has fallen in half.

STEPHEN J. DUBNER: Wow, so let’s say it’s roughly five per hundred thousand people now, do you have any idea what the suicide rate is?
LEVITT: That’s about twice as high. It’s surprising because it doesn’t usually make the newspaper when someone commits suicide, but it always makes the newspaper when someone commits a homicide, but twice as many suicides as homicides.

It is surprising, isn’t it? The preliminary numbers for 2009, the most recent year for which we have data, show there were roughly 36,500 suicides in the U.S. and roughly 16,500 homicides. That’s well over twice as many suicides. So why don’t we hear more about it? Partly because, as Levitt says, most suicides don’t make the news, whereas murders do. But also: they’re different types of tragedy. Murder represents a fractured promise within our social contract, and it’s got an obvious villain. Suicide represents – well, what does it represent? It’s hard to say. It carries such a strong taboo that most of us just don’t discuss it much. The result is that there are far more questions about suicide than answers. Like: do we do enough to prevent it? How do you prevent it? And the biggest question of all: why do people commit suicide? Steve Levitt has one more question:

LEVITT: I always think to myself: why don’t more people commit suicide? If you think about the poorest people in the world surviving on less than a dollar a day, having to walk three miles to get water and carry 70-pound packs of water back just to survive, and those people do everything they can to stay alive. Whereas I think if I were in that situation, wouldn’t I just kill myself?
DUBNER: And what does that say to you about human nature that people in situations way, way, way, way, way worse off than you don’t kill themselves in large number?

LEVITT: My guess is that evolution has built in to us an unbelievable desire to stay alive, which when looked at from a modern perspective doesn’t actually make that much sense.

So how should we make sense of suicide? If you, personally, have been affected by suicide, if you’ve lost a friend or family member, it may be hard to even think about “making sense” of it. But, at the risk of shining a light into a darkness that’s usually left undisturbed, let’s give it a try. The first thing we need is a Virgil of some sort to guide us —someone who’s been thinking about suicide, and death, for a long, long time.
DAVID LESTER: I was born in 1942. I lived in London for 22 years of my life. And for the first three years of my life, my mother told me we slept in an air raid shelter every night.

David Lester is a professor of psychology at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, about 20 minutes from Atlantic City.

LESTER: The classic bomb that came over was called a buzz bomb because it was buzzing and that meant that the engine was going. Once it stopped buzzing it meant it would drop and maybe hit your house. My mother says that even as a toddler, I was very concerned about them. And actually she said that I would hear them before the air raid warnings went off, and I would warn everybody about a buzz bomb, and I would rush into the air raid shelter. Then 10 years ago, I remembered this picture of this little toddler who’s very worried about buzz bombs and hiding from them probably without a material concept of death, but obviously perhaps, laying the seeds of some interest that manifested itself later in life. I’ve become a thanatologist in general, and a suicidologist in particular.

Lester is president-elect of the American Association of Suicidology, and the eminence grise of suicide studies. He’s also alarmingly prolific — he’s written more than 2,500 papers, notes, and books, about half of which are on suicide. So people expect him to know things that he says are not yet known.

MUSIC: Abstract Aprils, “Parallels” (from Translucence)

LESTER: First of all, I’m expected to know the answers to questions such as why people kill themselves. And myself and my friends, we often, when we’re relaxing admit that we really don’t have a good idea of why people kill themselves.
So what do we know about suicide? As you drill down into the numbers, one thing that strikes you are the massive disparities — the difference in suicide rates by gender, by race and age, by location, by method and many other variables. In the U.S., for instance, men are about four times as likely to kill themselves as women.

LESTER: Yes, about three to four, yes.

About 56 percent of men use a gun, compared to just 30 percent of women.

LESTER: Yes, men tend to use what we would call more active methods.
That helps explain the gender gap, since suicide by gun is usually successful. The primary method for women is technically called “poisoning” – usually some kind of overdose.

LESTER: The easy access to medications these days makes medications an important method.
For men and women, being unmarried, widowed or divorced increases the risk. The most typical American suicide is a man 75 or older. But in that age bracket, where a lot of people are dying from a lot of things, suicide isn’t even a top 10 cause of death. For people from ages 25 to 34, suicide is the second leading cause of death. And it’s in the top five for all Americans from ages 15 to 54. In terms of timing, suicide peaks on Mondays:

LESTER: There is a blue Monday effect.
But not, as many people suspect, around Christmas and New Year’s.

LESTER: People do not kill themselves more on national holidays.
There is a seasonal spike, but it’s not in the long, dark days of winter.

LESTER: In fact, suicide rates peak in the spring in most countries. It’s as if you expect things are going to be better, and when they turn out not to be better, you’re more likely to be depressed in a suicidal way.

David Lester is willing to entertain any theory, to examine any pattern. Interestingly, he’s found that suicide and homicide are often perfectly out of synch with each other. Homicide spikes not on Mondays but on the weekends and on national holidays and during the summer and winter. Homicide is also much more common in cities than in rural areas; for suicide, it’s the opposite.

MATT WRAY: The American suicide belt is comprised of about 10 western states, this sort of wide longitudinal swath running from Idaho and Montana down to Arizona and New Mexico.
That’s Matt Wray, a sociologist at Temple.

WRAY: To sum up what I do in a word would be to say that I study losers. And I am interested in those who lose out on societal gains and opportunities. It’s another way of saying I’m interested in inequalities and stratification.
Wray found what he has taken to calling the “Suicide Belt.”

WRAY: So, yes, the inner mountain west is a place that is disproportionately populated by middle-aged and aging white men, single, unattached, often unemployed with access to guns. This may turn out to be a very powerful explanation and explain a lot of the variance that we observe. It’s backed up by the fact that the one state that has rates that is on par with what we see in the suicide belt is Alaska.
Alright, so now you can get a picture of the American who’s most likely to kill himself: an older, white male who owns a gun, probably unmarried and maybe unemployed, living somewhere out west, probably in a rural area. Now, don’t you want to know: where aren’t people killing themselves?

VERALYN WILLIAMS: OK, so I’m standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial.
Washington, D.C., our nation’s capital. It’s got the lowest suicide rate of any American city: just six per 100,000 people. We sent Veralyn Williams there to ask strangers a couple of strange questions.

WILLIAMS: Do you know anyone that committed suicide?

TYRONE: Personally no.

AMINA: No.

WILLIAMS: Do you know anyone that’s died of homicide?

AMINA: Yes.

SAMIAR: Yes, I do.

BARNES: I got a son that’s been murdered. I’ve got cousins that’s been murdered. I’ve probably been to 100 wakes in the past year. But I can’t tell you one person that I know that’s committed suicide.
Now, as we told you earlier, there are more than twice as many suicides each year in the U.S. as there are homicides. There are just three places where the homicide rate is higher than the suicide rate: Louisiana, Maryland, and the District of Columbia. It’s not a coincidence that these are also places with large African-American populations. African-Americans are only about half as likely to kill themselves as whites. When it comes to murder, meanwhile, African-Americans are nearly six times more likely than whites to die.

DONNA BARNES: In our community, it’s different. We have low rates of suicide and high rates of homicide.

WILLIAMS: Why do you think that is?

BARNES: I think a lot of those homicides are probably suicides.
Donna Barnes works at the suicide prevention center at Howard University.

BARNES: It’s very easy when you are stressed and you don’t want to live anymore and put yourself in harm’s way and somebody will take you out. And many times, we will externalize our frustration, meaning that we’re going to take it out on other people. And then you might have more folks, maybe from the dominant culture, who internalize their frustration and take it out on themselves. We have been socialized to believe that a lot of our disadvantages are based on our surroundings — racism, discrimination and all of that. So it’s really easy, for us, when we become frustrated and we look at what’s going on around us, to take it out on the environment and other people rather than ourselves.
I asked David Lester if he had an explanation for the black-white suicide gap.

LESTER: If you’re white and in psychological pain, what can you blame it on? Other people are doing well, why aren’t you doing well? Other people are happy why aren’t you happy? So maybe that, in part, accounts for the higher suicide rate in whites as compared to African-Americans is because whites have fewer external causes to blame their misery for.

MUSIC: Morrison 78s, “Goodbye Little Girl Goodbye”

I find this idea fascinating. As Lester is quick to point out, it is little more than an idea – it’s pretty much impossible to prove. The fact is, we usually don’t know much about what’s going through a person’s mind as they consider suicide. But when your life is miserable, when it seems beyond redemption or repair, where do you put the blame? You can blame other people. You can blame yourself. What if you could blame … a song?
* * *
As we said earlier, there are about 36,500 suicides a year in the U.S. That’s an average of 100 a day. The vast, vast majority of them, you never hear about. They don’t make the news. That’s not an accident. For decades, sociologists have been studying the media’s impact on suicide rates. And some say they’ve proven that a widely publicized suicide – when described in a certain way – can lead to copycat suicides. A suicide contagion.

SEAN COLE: All right so we’re gonna have to go all the way back to 1774… when this novel came out.

READER: The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. May 4. How happy I am that I am gone! My dear friend, what a thing…

COLE: For those of you who have never read it – I had never read it – “The Sorrows of Young Werther” is written mostly as a series of fictional letters by a young, dilettante artist named Werther. He travels to the countryside, falls in love with a girl who’s already engaged, despairs, and then borrows two pistols from her fiancé.

READER: “They are loaded. The clock strikes twelve. I say Amen! Charlotte! Charlotte! Farewell! Farwell!”

COLE: Sorry to spoil the ending. Now, this book was really popular when it came out. Scholars talk about legions of men in Europe dressing like the character, in blue swallowtail coats and canary yellow pants. And while this next part is probably apocryphal, the story goes that…

DAVID PHILLIPS: Many people who read the book killed themselves by the same method and sometimes they even killed themselves with the book open to the page where he was described as killing himself.

COLE: David Phillips is a sociology professor at U.C. San Diego and the father of imitative suicide research in America. In 1974, exactly 200 years after Werther was published, he released a seminal paper called, “The Influence of Suggestion on Suicide: Substantive and Theoretical Implications of the Werther Effect.”

PHILLIPS: My students and I were the first to provide modern large scale evidence that there is, in fact, such a thing as copycat suicide. And we called this, I called it, the Werther Effect.

COLE: Now, Werther is a work of fiction. But the Werther Effect focuses more on true stories about suicide. The theory goes that whenever the media runs with a big sensational suicide story, especially if the victim is famous, you can expect a bump in suicide rates. Phillips and company gathered 20 years of suicide data, 1948 to 1967, from The National Center for Health Statistics. Then they combed through back issues of three major newspapers and honed in on front-page suicide reports: the actress Carole Landis; Dan Burros who ran the KKK in New York; one of the most famous stars in Hollywood history.

NEWS REPORT: One of the most famous stars in Hollywood history is dead at 36. Marilyn Monroe was found dead in bed.

COLE: Of course, this was back before all of the conspiracy theories about how she died. Anyway, in 27 out of 33 cases like this: suicide rates were higher than expected for about two months following the story. So for example, Marilyn Monroe died on August 5, 1962. For the rest of that August, U.S. suicide rates were 10 percent higher than normal.

PHILLIPS: How do we know that there’s a 10 percent increase in August of ’62. We’re comparing the number of suicides in August of ’62 with the number of suicides in August of 1961 and the number of suicides in August of 1963.

COLE: So those other Augusts are the controls.

PHILLIPS: That’s right.

COLE: In some cases, the bump was a lot smaller. But it’s not so much the size, says Phillips, as the consistency. And it wasn’t just suicides that went up after these media reports.

PHILLIPS: You also get a spike in single-car crashes after suicide stories. And you see that the driver in the single car crash is unusually similar to the person described in the suicide story. So if the person described in the suicide story is unusually young, then the spike in single-car crashes just afterwards has drivers who are unusually young.

COLE: So to close that loop — they’re not accidents. They’re people who are committing suicide.

PHILLIPS: Right. So all of these things together make it very difficult to think of an alternative explanation.

COLE: But this is not to say people kill themselves because they read a big, splashy suicide story in the paper.

THOMAS NIEDERKROTENTHALER: It’s not really about the causes of suicide. It’s about the trigger of suicides.

COLE: This is Thomas Niederkrotenthaler, an assistant professor at The Medical University of Vienna in Austria. About 10 years after that original study, the Werther Effect hit Vienna in a big way.

NIEDERKROTENTHALER: There was a tremendous increase of subway suicides and suicide attempts on the Viennese subway in the early 1980’s.

COLE: In 1983 there was just one jumper in the Viennese subway and that person lived. The next year there were seven suicides by subway in Vienna. And the big Austrian newspapers ran graphic stories about them. 1985, 13 jumpers, 10 deaths, more splashy articles. At the peak, in 1987, there were 11 successful suicide attempts in the Viennese subway and 11 unsuccessful. Though granted, three of those were the same guy. Finally, the Austrian Association of Suicide Prevention told the press to tone it down. They issued a whole series of recommendations: don’t include the word “suicide” in the headline. Don’t print pictures of grieving relatives.

NIEDERKROTENTHALER: But you should also mention help-lines. Helping opportunities for people in crisis.

COLE: Amazingly, the Austrian media listened. The stories were less graphic, and they stopped running so many of them.

NIEDERKROTENTHALER: And at the same time the number of suicides and suicide attempts on the Viennese subway decreased by nearly 80 percent. And this is really stunning— the numbers remained relatively low in all the years up until today.

PHILLIPS: Yeah, I thought that was a pretty study.

COLE: This is David Phillips again. He says he’s actually not so comfortable telling the media what to do. He thinks freedom of the press should be inviolate. But both the World Health Organization and the AP Managing Editors Association asked for his advice. So he basically told them, ‘Think of a suicide story as a kind of commercial. If you make the product attractive, people will want it.’ But if you say…
PHILLIPS: “By the way, when a person kills himself, let’s say by shooting, he looks terrible afterwards.” Or, “When a person poisons himself, he often fouls the bed sheets.” And things like this. If you talk about the pain and the disfigurement, then I thought that would make it less likely that people would be copying the suicide.

COLE: And there may even be a trend growing in the other direction. Thomas Niederkrotenthaler and his team in Austria did their own study looking at nearly 500 newspaper articles from the first half of 2005. He says not only did they find more evidence for the Werther Effect, but they saw suicide rates go down when the media wrote about someone who found an alternative solution to his or her problems.

NIEDERKROTENTHALER: So this may be exactly the opposite side of the same thing. And we called this effect: the Papageno Effect.

COLE: Papageno is another fictional character, from Mozart’s opera “The Magic Flute.” Like Werther, he’s in suicidal crisis over a girl, his beloved Papagena. But just as he’s about to hang himself, three young boys rush the stage and tell him not to do it. They say…

NIEDERKROTENTHALER: “Papageno use your magic bells and Papagena will come back.” And psychologically speaking, we can say this is what we believe that those newspaper or press articles do. They remind people what they can do other than commit suicide.

WRAY: Now I should say that I’m pretty agnostic about this. My sense is that what this literature misses are all of the times that high profile suicides occur that don’t spark contagion. The one that comes to mind is Kurt Cobain. So everyone was expecting a rash of shotgun-induced, blow-your-head-off suicides in the wake of Cobain’s death. They did not materialize. And so the question is…

NIEDERKROTENTHALER: Why was it so? There was some specifics about Kurt Cobain’s suicide. In particular, Cobain’s spouse…

COLE: Courtney Love. Yeah.

NIEDERKROTENTHALER: Yeah, Courtney Love. She was broadcast in the media immediately after his suicide.

COURTNEY LOVE: I’m really sorry you guys. I don’t know what I could have done.

NIEDERKROTENTHALER: And she told to the audience this was really the wrong thing to do. And there is one study, actually from the U.S., which showed that reports that use negative definitions of suicide — so such as suicide is something that is stupid that you should not do— that those reports are 99 percent less likely to identify a copycat phenomenon than other reports.

COLE: So, listen, suicide is something is stupid, that you should not do. After all, I am the media. And this whole show is basically one big suicide article. And as I said to Matt Wray, I’ve been wondering which type of article it is.

WRAY: Are you guys trying to figure out how to report on this story without, like, sparking suicides?

COLE: Well, it is an odd little meta problem isn’t it. I mean, I’m doing a story about whether what I’m doing a story about could possibly cause a suicide contagion.

WRAY: Yes, I’m well acquainted with that dilemma.
* * *
But what about a song? David Lester, the psychology professor, tells us about the time…

LESTER: In the 1930s, two Hungarians wrote a song called “Gloomy Sunday” that was thought to precipitate a wave of suicides across Europe.
Freakonomics Radio producer Suzie Lechtenberg went to Hungary.

SUZIE LECHTENBERG: Rezso Seress’ piano still sits, rather benignly, in the restaurant in Budapest where he used to play his most famous song. The person in the song is thinking about suicide. He, or she, wants to be reunited with a lover who has just died. Today, it sounds a bit melodramatic, but as many as 200 people might have killed themselves after listening to this song.
ZOLTAN RIHMER: Yes, yes, yes, yes.

LECHTENBERG: Because they heard the song?

RIHMER: Yeah. But it was just the trigger.

LECHTENBERG: It was just the trigger, Hungarian psychiatrist Zoltan Rihmer says. But it had to be stopped. The Budapest police enforced a Gloomy Sunday ban. And the BBC…

LESTER: The BBC banned that song until 2002.

LECHTENBERG: These days, the owner of the restaurant where Seress used to play, still gets requests. He’s not afraid to play it. But he feels certain that this was a suicidal song. It should come as no surprise then…

RIHMER: Rezo Seress completed suicide. He was around 70.

LECHTENBERG: In 1968, Rezo Seress — Gloomy Sunday’s composer — jumped to his death from the window of his small apartment in Budapest. Unfortunately, this Hungarian suicide story isn’t unique to this one man, or this one song. Suicide has been epidemic in this country. For most of the last century, Hungary has had the highest suicide rate in the world. Right now, it’s more than double the suicide rate in the United States. So what is it about this place? Why are so many people killing themselves here?

SZILVIA LADONMERSZKY: Oh, my husband. My husband was very handsome. Great looking. Very intelligent.

LECHTENBERG: Szilvia and Levente Ladomerszky met at a concert. He was a neurologist, she worked in finance. He was cool, she says. They fell in love. Married. Had a daughter. But they didn’t have a fairy tale ending. Levente’s family had a history of mental illness. It was something he was afraid was in his blood.

LADONMERSZKY: Before we married, were sitting at the kitchen table, and he told me that, if it ever happens to him, that he gets ill, and he will need treatment with drugs, then he will refuse the drugs. And he will never take drugs, he prefers dying because drugs, psychiatric drugs, will change personality and he wants to remain himself all the time.

LECHTENBERG: Levente’s mental state deteriorated. He was hospitalized.

LADONMERSZKY: And a few years after, it happened to him exactly what he described.

LECHTENBERG: When he had a few moments alone, when the doctors and nurses left his room, Levente Ladomerszky hanged himself.

LADONMERSZKY: My own suicide I was able to completely ignore, but my husband’s is somehow still with us.

LECHTENBERG: “My own suicide was something I was able to completely ignore.” Szilvia tried to kill herself years before she and Levente met. But she says, she didn’t want to die. It was a cry for help more than anything else.

LADONMERSZKY: I took a bunch of pills, but made sure that it won’t kill me.

LECHTENBERG: Everyone in Hungary knows someone like Szilvia, like Levente. The World Health Organization says in 2008, about 2,400 people committed suicide here. To put that number in context, around the same time in Greece, a country that’s roughly the same size, there were 394 suicides.

RIHMER: Yes, my name is Zoltan Rihmer.

LECHTENBERG: I met Dr. Zoltan Rihmer in his smoke-filled office in Budapest. He’s a professor of psychiatry at Semmelweis University, and he says, there are two main reasons the suicide rate is so high.

RIHMER: The prevalence of bipolar disorder. We have found the lifetime prevalence of bipolar disorder in Hungary is five percent.

LECHTENBERG: The worldwide rate of bipolar disorder is about half that.

RIHMER: The risk of suicide is much higher among patients with bipolar disorder. It can be one factor. But it is just one factor. Alcohol. Alcohol plays a very important role in suicide.

LECHTENBERG: And Hungary has the third highest alcohol consumption rate in the world. This country is about the size of Indiana. From the window of a train, the Hungarian Great Plains look like it too. In the southwest, there’s a small town called Kiskunhalas.

KATALIN SZANTO: It’s a nice little town.

LECHTENBERG: That’s psychiatrist Katalin Szanto.

SZANTO: So, there is a little lace museum there, and there are these women making beautiful laces. On the other hand, if you walk around, you see drunken people outside the pubs. If you visit the local hospital in the psychiatric ward, there the circumstances were very, very poor.

ÁGNES RACZ NAGY SPEAKING IN HUNGARIAN through TRANSLATOR: My name is Dr. Ágnes Rácz Nagy, and I’m the leader of this psychiatric department of the Kiskunhalas hospital.

LECHTENBERG: Until 2005, Kiskunhalas was the epicenter of suicide in Hungary. Suicide in this town was double the national rate. As one cultural critic put it, living here, was like living on psychic death row.

NAGY: I’ve seen a family — it was a big family — and there were more than 10 suicides in the family.

LECHTENBERG: In 2001, Dr. Agnes Rácz Nagy and a colleague began 100 “psychological autopsies,” meaning, they interviewed families, in depth, after a loved one committed suicide.

NAGY: In 67 there was mood disorder, and 60 alcohol. And of course there were overlaps as well. But this number is huge.

LECHTENBERG: This was part of a study that ran for five years in Kiskunhalas. Dr. Katalin Szanto and colleagues trained 28 of the town’s 30 general practitioners in suicide prevention. They set up a suicide hotline, and made low-cost anti-depressants available to residents. Then they compared their results to a neighboring town — a control group. And it worked.

SZANTO: Yeah, there were, like, 34 less suicides during these five years than in the previous five years.

LECHTENBERG: Overall, the suicide rate in the region decreased sixteen percent. The suicide rate for women decreased 34 percent. This shouldn’t be that surprising. Research by academics in the United States, like Jens Ludwig, has shown that anti-depressants do lower the suicide rate. But here’s the thing: even though the suicide prevention program in Kishkunhals was a success, this model just hasn’t caught on elsewhere in Hungary. The country still has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. So, why?

BELA BUDA: Well, we can see a part of the bridge, the Margaret Bridge.

LECHTENBERG: Back in Budapest, everywhere you walk, there are musicians playing classical music in the streets. The Margaret Bridge stretches over the Danube, which is the lifeblood of this city. It’s stunning, but it’s also the place where many Hungarians have jumped to their death. I met psychiatrist Bela Buda on the banks of the river.

BUDA: I am 73. I was born and lived in Budapest in all my life.

LECHTENBERG: He looks exactly how you want someone named Buda to look: graying, rotund. I’ve been told he speaks 17 languages. He says it’s just 12. Buda has tried to solve the problem of suicide his entire career. He started the first suicide hotline in the country; he worked in psychiatric wards when the suicide rate was soaring. But, he says, this problem is hard to solve, because a lot of people here don’t see anything wrong with suicide.

BUDA: The Hungarian general opinion is very favorable towards suicide. If somebody commits suicide, then it is commented as a brave act. That somebody had the courage to end suffering. For instance, these old men who hang themselves are praised in the community that he was brave enough to free the family from the burden of his existence.
* * *
Next year, the Golden Gate Bridge will celebrate its 75th anniversary. You’ll hear all kinds of tributes to it, all kinds of facts and figures. One number you probably won’t hear, at least in the official proclamations, is the suicide toll: since the Golden Gate Bridge opened, more than 1,400 people have killed themselves by jumping off it.
There is another place that now attracts more suicides each year — the Aokigahara Forest in Japan – but, historically, the Golden Gate is still the world’s No. 1 suicide spot. Last year alone, 32 people jumped and died. Now, it should be said that every weekday, about 5,000 people walk across the bridge and don’t jump. And 100,000 cars cross it every day.

TAXI DRIVER: My name is (name in Thai). That’s 17 letters all together.
He moved here from Thailand in 1968, and he drove a cab in San Francisco for 15 years.

TAXI DRIVER: One night I picked up a guy, I think down nearby Tenderloin, and he want to go Golden Gate bridge. Must be 11 o’clock at night. And I said “OK,” so I drove on Franklin Street. He said, “You want to ask me why I go to Golden Gate Bridge this late?” I said, “No, but if you want to tell me, I guess I will listen to it.” And he said “I’m going to go and jump off the Golden Gate Bridge.” And I said, “OK.” “You’re not going to stop me?” I said, “Why should I?” So I get out to the Golden Gate Bridge, I think the fare was like $7 or something at that time. And he looked in his wallet and found $10, so he give it to me, the $10. So I told him, “I don’t think you need any change.” He said “I guess you’re right, I don’t need any change.” So, I let him off at the side of the bridge, and once he get off, I turned around the cab and called my dispatcher. I told him, “Why don’t you call the harbor patrol there?” And he did. Maybe, I don’t know, maybe I was too cool to him. I don’t know what happened— if he was really going to jump.
Now, we don’t know if this man did, in fact, jump off the Golden Gate Bridge that night. If he did, he almost certainly died, since only two percent of jumpers survive. We also have no idea what was going through his head that night. Did he have a fight with someone? Did he lose his job? Did he maybe just have one drink too many?

LESTER: I’m expected to know the answers to questions such as why people kill themselves.
If you unpack that “why” in “why people kill themselves,” there are all kinds of other things we don’t know about suicide either. For instance: the percentage of people who seek help, or get help, before committing suicide. We don’t know. Or even how many people who commit suicide are mentally ill. Lester says there is so much disagreement on this question that estimates range from five percent to 94 percent. And then there’s the mystery of the suicidal impulse.

LESTER: And I just found a case, which I’m using in an article that I’m writing, where the time between the impulse and the act was something like five seconds.
Think about that: five seconds.

LESTER: The man was walking over a bridge, and suddenly the thought came to him.
One.

LESTER: He was in some, I think, financial distress,
Two.

LESTER: But he hadn’t thought about suicide before.
Three.

LESTER: And he said, I ought to kill myself.
Four.

LESTER: And he immediately jumped off the bridge.
Five.

LESTER: And he was saved. And that’s the shortest interval I’ve come across.
One academic study looked at attempted suicides in Houston among 15-to-34-year-olds. It found that in 70 percent of the cases, the time between deciding to commit suicide and taking action was under an hour. Seventy percent of the cases. For about one-quarter of the people involved, the time gap was five minutes or less. That’s pretty stunning. People are making a permanent decision to end their lives, on the spur of the moment. How are you supposed to stop that? Remember this guy?

TAXI DRIVER: My name is (name in Thai).
He didn’t try to stop his taxi passenger from jumping.

TAXI DRIVER: “You’re not going to stop me?” I said, “Why should I?”
“Why should I?” Sounds cold-hearted, doesn’t it. Or does it? Your life belongs to you. It’s a crime to take someone else’s life. But not yours, at least not a crime in practice. So: should we consider the suicidal impulse a rational choice? I know what you’re thinking: only an economist would say something like that, an economist like Dan Hamermesh, at the University of Texas. He once wrote a paper called “An Economic Theory of Suicide.”

DAN HAMERMESH: Well, I think there’s an epigraph to the paper, which I cannot quote exactly, it’s by Arthur Schopenhauer: “When the value of a man’s life is less…” You can read it there, I don’t have it with me, now. Why don’t you read it.

DUBNER: “As soon as the terrors of life reach the point at which they outweigh the terrors of death, a man will put an end to him life.”

HAMERMESH: Exactly. Well, that’s just an economic statement. You’re weighing the benefits on one side of the equation, the costs of the other. If the costs exceed the benefits, you chop off the investment.
Back in the spring of 1972, Dan Hamermesh was hunting around for a research topic. And he thought of a poem he’d read back in high school.

HAMERMESH: The poem is “Richard Cory” by Edwin Arlington Robinson, written in the last decade of the nineteenth century. “Whenever Richard Cory went downtown, we people on the pavement looked at him…
There was something about the poem that nagged him.

HAMERMESH: …and he was rich, yes richer than the king, and admirably schooled in every grace. In fine, we thought that he was everything to make us wish that we were in his place. So, on we worked and waited for the light, and went without the meat, and cursed the bread. And Richard Cory, one calm summer night went home and put a bullet in his head.”
That’s it, the last part. It didn’t make sense to him.

HAMERMESH: I was always very bothered by the notion that suicide’s a problem of rich people. And that always struck me, as an economist, as being really stupid since rich people are generally going to be happier, utility is higher, income goes up, you should be less likely to kill yourself. So those were the thoughts running through my mind that spring afternoon of 1972.
So Dan Hamermesh did what economists do. He wrote a model to determine the conditions under which suicide might be considered a rational choice. He came up with three predictions. Suicide, one, rises with age; two, falls as income increases; and three, falls if your “desire to live” is high. Nothing so radical, but at the time, no one had tried anything like this.
Then, Hamermesh plugged some suicide data from the World Health Organization into his model. His predictions were right. He also calculated the opportunity cost of a suicide. A 50-year-old person and a 70-year-old person have different expectations of future happiness, income, and so on. So the price of suicide is higher for the 50-year-old. But whether it makes economic sense for either person to commit suicide depends on what economists call the utility function – how much you value your life.
So it all goes back to the Schopenhauer quote at the beginning of Hamermesh’s paper: “as soon as the terrors of life reach the point at which they outweigh the terrors of death, a man will put an end to his life.” Hamermesh may have been the first economist to wrestle with suicide in this way, but he was hardly the first to intellectualize it:

MARGARET BATTIN: Plato, Aristotle, the Greek and Roman Stoics, the early Church Fathers on up to Durkheim and Freud.
Margaret Battin…

BATTIN: Sometimes called Peggy.
… is a professor of philosophy at the University of Utah. Plato, she says, argued that suicide was wrong in some cases, not wrong in others. Aristotle thought it was cowardly, an offense to society.

BATTIN: The Stoics, on the other hand, thought that suicide was the act of the wise man. This is not done in desperation or agitation or depression or any of the things that we ordinarily associate with that term, but it’s the reflective responsible act of the genuinely wise man.
For the Stoics, suicide was a procedure. People who wanted to commit suicide would plead their case before magistrates to get permission; the magistrates kept a supply of hemlock on hand.

READER: “Whoever no longer wishes to live shall state his reasons to the Senate, and after having received permission shall abandon life. If your existence is hateful to you, die; if you are overwhelmed by fate, drink the hemlock. If you are bowed with grief, abandon life. Let the unhappy man recount his misfortune, let the magistrate supply him with the remedy, and his wretchedness will come to an end.”
But going forward in history, this was hardly the mainstream view. Christianity held that suicide is a sin; Dante set aside one ring of his Inferno for suicides. Fast forward about 700 years, and we’re still firm in our moral stance. We can’t really consider suicide a rational choice, can we?

MARGARET HEILBRUN: We would wake up to the sound of her typing at an astonishing speed on her Smith Corona typewriter.
Margaret Heilbrun is talking about her mom. Carolyn Heilbrun was a Virginia Woolf scholar at Columbia; she wrote mystery novels on the side. She was famous for making grand pronouncements, for saying outlandish things.

MARGARET HEILBRUN: A partner of mine enjoyed drinking Stolichnaya vodka, so she took to having it on hand, but she insisted on calling it “Solzhenitsyn” vodka. And she knew it wasn’t, but she just, you know— “I’ll go get the Solzhenitsyn.” So, it was the same with her once she started saying that she would kill herself when she reached a certain age. But it was another one of those sort of pronouncements. And one thought, “oh well, Mommy’s prone to pronouncements.”
Carolyn Heilbrun had decided that, by the time she turned 70, she would have accomplished what she could accomplish; she would have had enough of life, and she’d end it. Her family – her husband and three grown kids – they weren’t quite sure what to make of this. It was a relief when her 70th birthday came and went without a suicide. Apparently she had changed her mind. She even wrote a book called The Last Gift of Time: Life Beyond Sixty. Her daughter says she took a lot of pleasure in life, even the small things.

HEILBRUN: She loved to get gifts. And it was quite easy to please her with a gift. And she’d made some sort of remark about she wanted to start listening to sextets, I think she said. No longer string quartets, no longer string quartets, I want quintets and sextets. And I was at Borders bookstore and found, could it have been a sextet by Elgar? And this was on Tuesday, the 7th of October. And I pulled out my cell phone to call her, and her voicemail came on, and I thought, “well I don’t really feel like talking to her right now.” I was going to call and say, “oh you don’t really want Elgar do you? You really want me to buy you Elgar?” And I hung up before she picked up, and I never spoke to her again.
Carolyn Heilbrun waited until she was 77, and then she did kill herself on October 9, 2003. She wasn’t sick; she wasn’t depressed. But she did feel she’d come to the end of her writing life. And that was that.

HEILBRUN: She left a note out in the foyer that said, “The journey is over, love to all. Carolyn.”

DUBNER: Did anyone know that she was planning to kill herself now? Did you father know, for instance?

HEILBRUN: Oh no, he didn’t know.

DUBNER: Your father — he was an economist, yes?

HEILBRUN: Yes.

DUBNER: So, economists are practiced in the art, or science, or whatever it is, of what’s known as rational thinking. Here is the wife of an economist, your mother, who seems to have approached suicide, at least life and the end of life, as a rational decision. Did you see it that way, or no?

HEILBRUN: No, I think it’s: if you’re mortally ill and in great pain, I can see seeking to end your life. But no, I think it was unreasonable, irrational of her. But, I think she felt it entirely reasoned out and rational.

DUBNER: Well, Margaret, I’m sorry for your loss and again, I very much appreciate your willingness to come speak to us.

HEILBRUN: Well, thank you.
For David Lester, the dean of suicide studies, 40-plus years of research has yielded some answers about the “what” of suicide – who’s most likely to do it, and when, and how. But the “why” remains elusive. The people who do it aren’t necessarily the ones you might expect.
Remember the point Steve Levitt made earlier in show – how puzzling it is that people whose lives look so hard don’t kill themselves in huge numbers? Remember the Piraha, the Amazonian tribe with their outrageous rates of infant mortality and malaria – but no suicide? Or African Americans, who trail white Americans on just about every meaningful socioeconomic dimension – but commit suicide half as often? Here’s what David Lester has been thinking about:

LESTER: Actually, I’ve done studies on the quality of life in nations and the quality of life in the different states in America. And regions with a higher quality of life have a higher suicide rate. Now, quality of life is more than wealth. The people who try and rate the quality of life use a variety of indices: health, education, culture, geography, all kinds of things. So they put more into it than just median family income, or individual per capita income. And what I’ve argued, therefore, is it seems to be an inevitable consequence of improving the quality of life. If your quality of life if poor— and it may be you’re unemployed, you’re an oppressed minority, whatever it might be, there’s a civil war going on, you know why you’re miserable — you know, as the quality of life in a nation gets better and you are still depressed – well, why? Everybody else is enjoying themselves, getting good jobs, getting promotions, you know, buying fancy cars. Why are you still miserable? So, there’s no external cause to blame your misery upon, which means it’s more likely that you see it as some defect or stable trait in yourself. And therefore you’re going to be depressed and unhappy for the rest of your life.

DUBNER: It’s so interesting. There are just so many pieces of this puzzle, as you put it, that are fascinating, but confounding. I mean, what you’re talking about now, when there’s a higher quality of life, suicide tends to rise. Your wife, who’s an economist, I wonder if she would consider then calling suicide to some degree a luxury good?

LESTER: Yes, now, there’s an anthropologist in the past, Raoul Naroll, who considers suicide an indication of a sick society. And so, in my writings I’ve argued that no, it’s an indication of a healthy society. So, it is a puzzle. There’s a paradox, perhaps we should say.”

Love,
Matthew

Jesus, my friend

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Last night was my monthly divorced fathers dinner in which I volunteer.  It is my least favorite evening of the month.  Last night was especially heavy in domestic violence.  Not fun.  These men are not monsters, but the hyper-sensitivity of the law and its profound and often objectively unfair and completely biased treatment of them only makes their crosses heavier and more eggregious.

No one is innocent here, but family court directly and obtrusively says by its behavior men are the root of all evil, and women are always innocent victims, never manipulating their advantages in the courts towards evil and selfish purposes.  Untrue.  I would be the first to defend women against domestic violence, but demonizing and truly oppressing a gender is un-American, or is it?  And, not the answer.

Before going into dinner, I opened my little prayer book by Rev. Peter John Cameron, OP.  The next prayer up was in the theme of “Jesus, my friend”.  What is this silliness that faith is a lifestyle choice, and not simply the air we breathe, in all of their implied necessity?

Too, I have been asked and invited to join a ministry in a local hospice, to provide 24 hr bedside companionship when local family cannot be present, if any.  My training is in June.  Pray for me.  And, I opened our local news app here and saw the beautiful, youthful face of an 18 yr old young man, with just his name.  I know tragically what that means, and my heart breaks for him, for his parents.

“O Jesus, you are my true friend, my only friend. You take a part in all my misfortunes; you take them upon yourself; you know how to change them into blessings. You listen to me with the greatest kindness when I relate my troubles to you, and you always have balm to pour on my wounds. I find you at all times; I find you everywhere; you never go away; if I have to change my dwelling, I find you wherever I go.

You never weary of listening to me; you are never tired of doing me good. I am certain of being loved by you if I love you; my goods are nothing to you, and by bestowing yours on me, you never grow poor. However miserable I may be, no one more noble or learned or even holier can come between you and me and deprive me of your friendship; and death, which tears us away from all other friends, will unite me to You forever.

All the humiliations attached to old age, or to loss of honor, will never detach me from You. On the contrary, I shall never enjoy You more fully, and You will never be closer to me than when everything seems to conspire against me, to overwhelm me and to cast me down. You bear with all my faults with extreme patience. Even my want of fidelity and my ingratitude do not wound You to such a degree as to make You unwilling to receive me back when I return to You. O Jesus! Grant that I may die praising You; that I may die loving You; that I may die for love of You. Amen.”  St Claude de la Colombiere, SJ

“O my Lord, how You are the true friend, and how powerful!  When You desire, You can love, and You never stop loving those who love You!  All things praise You, Lord of the world!

Oh, who will cry out to You to tell everyone how faithful You are to Your friends!  All things fail; You, Lord of all, never fail!  Little it is, that which You allow the one who loves You to suffer!  Oh my Lord!  How delicately and smoothly and delightfully You treat them!  Would that no one ever pause to love anyone but You!

It seems, Lord, You try with rigor the person who loves You, so that in extreme trial she might understand the greatest extreme of Your love.  Oh my God, who has the understanding, the learning, and the new words with which to extol Your works as my soul understands them?  All fails me, my Lord;  but if You do not abandon me, I will not fail You.  Let all learned men rise up against me, let all created things persecute me, let the devils torment me;  do not You fail me, Lord, for I already have experience of the gain that comes from the way You rescue the one who trusts in You alone.  Amen.  St Teresa of Avila

Love & friendship,
Matthew

Solemnity of the Epiphany – wise people still seek Him…

Adoration_of_the_Magi_Tapestry
The Adoration of the Magi, tapestry, wool and silk on cotton warp, 101 1/8 x 151 1/4 inches (258 x 384 cm.), Manchester Metropolitan University, designed 1888, woven 1894, designed by Edward Burne Jones with details by William Morris and John Henry Dearle, please click on the image for greater detail.

While we may not all possess gold, frankincense and myrrh to give the newborn King this Epiphanytide, Pope Francis says we can all nevertheless offer him three precious gifts.

In his homily on the Solemnity of the Epiphany of Our Lord, which the Vatican celebrates on January 6, Pope Francis said that the Magi represent “the men and women throughout the world who are welcomed into the house of God.”

“Countless people in our own day have a ‘restless heart,’ (St Augustine, Confessions, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee!”) which continues to seek without finding sure answers,” he said. “They too are looking for a star to show them the path to Bethlehem.”

He noted that the Magi saw many stars in the sky, but one shone more brightly than the others, and forever changed their lives.

In a similar way, it is up to the Church, whose nature it is to receive God’s light and reflect it in the lives of individuals and peoples, “to draw out the desire for God present in every heart.”

“How many people look to us for this missionary commitment, because they need Christ,” he said. “They need to know the face of the Father.”

The Pope continued: “Let us follow the light which God offers us, the light which streams from the face of Christ, full of mercy and fidelity. And once we have found him, let us worship him with all our heart, and present him with our gifts: our freedom, our understanding and our love.”

For when we open these most precious gifts to the newborn King, Pope Francis said, he fills them with grace, enabling us “to rise and go forth, to leave behind all that keeps us self-enclosed, to go out from ourselves and to recognize the splendor of the light which illumines our lives: ‘Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you’” (Isaiah 60:1).

Here below we publish the official English translation of the pope’s homily:

“The words of the Prophet Isaiah — addressed to the Holy City of Jerusalem — are also meant for us. They call us to rise and go forth, to leave behind all that keeps us self-enclosed, to go out from ourselves and to recognize the splendor of the light that illumines our lives: “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you” (60:1). That “light” is the glory of the Lord. The Church cannot illude herself into thinking that she shines with her own light. St. Ambrose expresses this nicely by presenting the moon as a metaphor for the Church: “The moon is in fact the Church … [she] shines not with her own light but with the light of Christ. She draws her brightness from the Sun of Justice, and so she can say: ‘It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me’” (Hexaemeron, IV, 8, 32). Christ is the true light shining in the darkness. To the extent that the Church remains anchored in him, to the extent that she lets herself be illumined by him, she is able to bring light into the lives of individuals and peoples. For this reason the Fathers of the Church saw in her the mysterium lunae.

We need this light from on high if we are to respond in a way worthy of the vocation we have received. To proclaim the Gospel of Christ is not simply one option among many, nor is it a profession. For the Church, to be missionary does not mean to proselytize: for the Church to be missionary means to give expression to her very nature, which is to receive God’s light and then to reflect it. This is her service. There is no other way. Mission is her vocation; to shine Christ’s light is her service. How many people look to us for this missionary commitment, because they need Christ. They need to know the face of the Father.

The Magi mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew are a living witness to the fact that the seeds of truth are present everywhere, for they are the gift of the Creator, who calls all people to acknowledge him as good and faithful Father. The Magi represent the men and woman throughout the world who are welcomed into the house of God. Before Jesus, all divisions of race, language and culture disappear: in that Child, all humanity discovers its unity. The Church has the task of seeing and showing ever more clearly the desire for God which is present in the heart of every man and woman. This is the service of the Church, with the light that she reflects: to draw out the desire for God present in every heart.

Like the Magi, countless people, in our own day, have a “restless heart,” which continues to seek without finding sure answers — it is the restlessness of the Holy Spirit that stirs in hearts. They too are looking for a star to show them the path to Bethlehem.

How many stars there are in the sky! And yet the Magi followed a new and different star, which for them shone all the more brightly. They had long peered into the great book of the heavens, seeking an answer to their questions — they had restless hearts — and at long last the light appeared. That star changed them. It made them leave their daily concerns behind and set out immediately on a journey. They listened to a voice deep within, which led them to follow that light. It was the voice of the Holy Spirit, who works in all people. The star guided them, until they found the King of the Jews in a humble dwelling in Bethlehem.

All this has something to say to us today. We do well to repeat the question asked by the Magi: “Where is the child who has been born the King of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage” (Matt. 2:2). We are impelled, especially in an age like our own, to seek the signs which God offers us, realizing that great effort is needed to interpret them and thus to understand his will. We are challenged to go to Bethlehem, to find the Child and his Mother. Let us follow the light which God offers us — that tiny light. The hymn in the breviary poetically tells us that the Magi lumen requirunt lumine [following a light, they were searching for the Light] — that tiny light. The light which streams from the face of Christ, full of mercy and fidelity. And once we have found him, let us worship him with all our heart, and present him with our gifts: our freedom, our understanding and our love. True wisdom lies concealed in the face of this Child. It is here, in the simplicity of Bethlehem, that the life of the Church is summed up. For here is the wellspring of that light that draws to itself every individual in the world and guides the journey of the peoples along the path of peace.”

Love, and praying for Epiphany, constantly, in my life,
Matthew

Mercy & Justice

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Why did Jesus, the Son of God, have to atone?  Good question.  Not every offense carries the same gravity or punishment, even if the offense is identical.  Allow me, gentle, kind reader.

I want to use a disturbing example, indulge me kind reader, indulge me, I beg.  Imagine throwing a rotten tomato at a sleeping or unconscious homeless person in an alley, no witnesses.  Terrible, I realize, but it helps to make the point.  What penalty will you suffer?  Very likely none, if that child of God even awakes, or is able.  What if you threw the same rotten tomato at the President of the US?  You might have a problem.  My point, and the Church’s, is reason demands it depends on the dignity of the person so offended.  It does.  “Remember, money doesn’t go to jail”, as the saying goes, tragically.  The penalty will, must, by reason reflect the dignity of the personage so offended.

Now imagine God, and offending His infinite majesty. This is sin.  What is the penalty?  Terrifyingly infinite, but still, proportionate. Who can atone for even the least modicum of offense against God? Only God. See? Makes sense, doesn’t it? That’s the scary part, if you are willing and study, you will see again, and again, the reasonableness and infinite mercy of Christ’s salvation. You will. Do you dare? Will this knowledge, this awareness have consequences, implications to you and your life and how it is lived? Will you do the hard, long work of examination of your own conscience? Will you convict yourself? I hope so. I pray so. It will be accounted. The salvation of our souls is real. Pray for me and mine, I beg you. I truly do. Recall, justice is a mercy to the offended mortal.

“It would not be out of place at this point to recall the relationship between justice and mercy. These are not two contradictory realities, but two dimensions of a single reality that unfolds progressively until it culminates in the fullness of love.” -Pope Francis, Misericordiae Vultus, §20

From the Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena, OP, (1347-1380), Doctor of the Church, recording God’s words to her:

“This is why I gave the world my only-begotten Son. The clay of humankind was spoiled by the sin of the first man, Adam, and so all of you, as vessels made from clay, were spoiled and unfit to hold eternal life. So to undo the corruption and death of humankind and to bring you back to the grace you had lost through sin, I, exaltedness, united Myself with the baseness of your humanity. For my divine justice demanded suffering in atonement for sin. But I cannot suffer. And you, being only human, cannot make adequate atonement. Even if you did atone for some particular thing, you still could make atonement only for yourself and not for others. But for this sin you could not make full atonement either for yourself or for others since it was committed against Me, and I am Infinite Goodness.

Yet I really wanted to restore you, incapable as you were of making atonement for yourself. And because you were so utterly handicapped, I sent the Word, my Son; I clothed Him with the same nature as yours—the spoiled clay of Adam—so that He could suffer in that same nature which had sinned, and by suffering in His body even to the extent of the shameful death of the cross He would placate My anger.

And so I satisfied both My justice and My divine mercy. For My mercy wanted to atone for your sin and make you fit to receive the good for which I had created you. Humanity, when united with divinity, was able to make atonement for the whole human race—not simply through suffering in its finite nature, that is, in the clay of Adam, but by virtue of the eternal divinity, the infinite divine nature. In the union of these two natures I received and accepted the sacrifice of My only-begotten Son’s blood, steeped and kneaded with his divinity into the one bread, which the heat of My divine love held nailed to the cross. Thus was human nature enabled to atone for its sin only by virtue of the divine nature.”

Love, and constantly needing His mercy,
Matthew

The Mystical Body of Christ – Why the Catholic Church?

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The “cause” for the canonization of Archbishop Sheen (1895-1979) was opened in 2002. The enthusiasm for the cause of a deceased holy person of heroic virtue is called its “cultus”, or cult, in the most positive sense of the word. The enthusiasm by those who hold a special devotion to the Virgin Mary is her “cult”. Get it?

I attended an informal informational meeting in Chicago a while ago on the status of the good archbishop’s cause. Very interesting, to say the least. His beloved memory now bears the title Venerable. The Vatican is very interested in his cause, as he would be the ONLY beati to have won an Emmy!!! Take THAT modern media!!! A SAINT amongst ye!!!

Only Catholics could create the current situation though, sadly. Catholics!!!!!!!! Grrrrrrr!!!!! 🙁 . The cause is currently in stasis. 🙁 Miracles are good to go, except the good archbishop was buried in New York, where he did much of his work and ministry. His home diocese, where any cause must begin, is in Peoria, IL.

Wait!!!! It gets better!!! Part of the official process of canonization is there must be a formal, very formal, examination of the remains of the candidate of heroic virtue in the home diocese, called the “elevation” of the remains, to a place of honor and respect, and the removal, get your Catholic dictionaries out!, of the “first class” relics, i.e. actual parts of the remains!

You guessed it!!!! There is a kerfuffle!!! It seems New York, typical, after many, many promises to release the remains and remove them to Peoria, has reneged. Internal Church politics stands in the way of sainthood!!! There is no current Church process around this!!!! So, we’re and the good archbishop’s cause is stuck!!! Do you see why the typical expression in the Vatican is “Come and see me on Wednesday, and I’ll get back to you in 300 years!!!!! Catholics!!!! My greatest frustrations in the life of faith are Catholics!!!!! I pray for that same Spirit who comforted the Lord with His Keystone Cops Apostles!!!! 🙁 Who knows WHAT generation of our children may yet enjoy this great celebration. 🙁

http://www.archbishopsheencause.org/

CaseyChalk
-by Casey Chalk, a “revert” to the Catholic Church, who was raised Catholic, left the Church with his parents for Evangelicalism & Presbyterianism, spent time in Thailand, and has now returned to the Church of his birth.

“A good friend and elder at my former Presbyterian (PCA) church once invited me over for beers and conversation several months after my decision to become a Catholic. In that exchange, he expressed what he termed as his predominant concern with my entrance into the Catholic Church: that the decision embraced a form of sacerdotalism, effectively putting certain individuals – be they priests, bishops, cardinals, or the pope – or even the institutional church, between the individual and God. This mediated reality, my friend believed, was in some sense an affront to Biblical Christianity, presumably because it obscured or obstructed the primary mediatory role of Jesus Christ, the God-man. Venerable Fulton J. Sheen, one of the most iconic American Catholic figures of the 20th century, would respectfully disagree.

Fulton Sheen died on this day 36 years ago: December 9th, 1979, before I was even born. Yet his influence is felt far beyond the end of his earthly life and reaches far beyond the millions of American radio listeners and television viewers he reached. Even the Redemptorist parish I attend in Bangkok, Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, bears Sheen’s mark. The architectural design of the parish, built to model the traditional Thai Buddhist wat, was an idea suggested by Sheen himself during a visit to Thailand.

Sheen’s writings and teachings likewise continue to influence Christians and non-Christians the world over, largely because Sheen so accurately recognized philosophical and religious trends that increasingly were dominating our culture. Take for example the individualist tendencies of our current age, asserting that no institution or denomination is needed between man and God. Many people, even those with robust prayer lives or strong convictions in historical doctrines regarding Christ or Holy Scripture, hold such a “low church” position. Indeed, some form the limits of their Christian experience around the reading of the Bible or other spiritual literature, listening to podcasts or sermons in the privacy of their homes or cars, and maybe the occasional Bible study or prayer group.1 To this popular, commonly Protestant trend, Sheen’s The Mystical Body of Christ offers a surprisingly Scriptural critique. Indeed, Sheen’s presentation of the Church as Christ intended and directs it stands in contrast even to those Protestants – be they Reformed, Evangelical, or Mainline – who affirm some conception of the visible Church, since, Sheen argues, even these efforts lack a fully Biblical account of the Church as Christ’s very own mystical body.

Biblical Foundations for the Mystical Body of Christ

Sheen begins by citing Fr. Emil Mersch – who observed that the New Testament’s use of “kingdom,” “mystery,” and “life” all appeal to different aspects of the same reality: the mystical body of Christ2. Sheen argues that the Mystical Body is not an abstraction, but “something visible and invisible, something tangible and intangible, something human and something Divine; it refers to a reality which is the subject of attribution, of properties and rights, to an organism with a supernatural soul, to a prolonged Incarnation, to the extension of Bethlehem and Jerusalem to our own days, to the contemporary Christ: the Church.3 We share a bond with Jesus quite different than what we might share with any other religious teacher or philosopher: a life of which we are partakers, in His earthly life, His glorified life, and His mystical life.4 The third of these, the mystical life, He continues to live through us by means of His Holy Spirit, which was given quite publicly to the visible Church at Pentecost.5

In this reality, Christ is the Head, His people are His body: “Christ is our contemporary.”6 With exacting exegetical detail of the Biblical texts, Sheen demonstrates that one cannot separate Christ from His mystical body, and that the “spiritual, not religious” Christian ideal is untenable. Christ identified Himself too intimately with His followers to believe otherwise: Sheen notes that our Lord taught that He and His body would be one, referring to such Gospel passages as the vine and the branches (John 15:5), or “He that heareth you, heareth me” (Luke 10:16).7

Also central to this argument is Sheen’s analysis that St. Paul’s language of the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians must be properly understood not as a post-facto Pauline analogy, but as a reality that preceded the Apostles in the very life of Christ.8 Indeed, it was Christ Himself who said he would assume another body in John 20:17.9 The Church would be this body, not physically or morally, but mystically and intimately united to the risen and ascended Christ. Sheen helpfully articulates:

‘He said that whatever happened to Him as Head would happen to His Body; if He was persecuted His Body would be persecuted; if He was hated His Body would be hated; if the world did not receive Him it would not receive His Body, for the servant is not above the master…. The relation would be so close between the members of that Body and Himself, that anyone [who performed a work of mercy for one His members] would be doing the service unto Him. It would seem that He had exhausted all analogies to mark the unity between Him and His new body; but the night before He died, He said that He and His flock were not to be one merely as shepherd and sheep, they were to be one as He and the Father are one.10’

The Mystical Body of Christ is His Church

Building upon this identification of Christ with His Church, St. Paul and St. John extend these analogies of mystical union to include a building (1 Corinthians 3) and marriage (Ephesians 5, 2 Corinthians 11, Revelation 19, 21).11 The Church effectively extends Christ “beyond the space of Palestine and the space of thirty-three years to prolong His influence unto all times and to all men.” “Without the Church,” Sheen asserts, “Christ would be incomplete,” for the Church continues the Incarnation.12 The “actions of the Mystical body are the actions of Christ.”13 Through Christ, the ultimate prophet, priest and king, the Church would extend “His posthumous Self, His prolonged Personality… Very simply they were to do the same three things as He had done in His earthly life: they were to teach, to govern, and to sanctify.”14 These include the Church’s mission to baptize, to perform the Eucharist, and to forgive sins (Matthew 28, Luke 22, 1 Corinthians 11, John 20).15 Sheen’s analysis strikes at the heart of much contemporary Christian spirituality and Protestant religiosity:

‘How far removed is this doctrine of the Church from the false conception of those who would accuse the Church of standing between Christ and us? How often we hear it said: “I do not want an organization between Christ and me,” or “True religion consists in union with Jesus of Nazareth without priest, or prelate, or sacrament.” Anyone who understands the Scriptures will see that the Church does not stand between Christ and me. The Church is Christ16’

The Church, if she is truly Christ’s mystical body, cannot then be some voluntary organization, as if the Apostles heard Christ’s message and on the “basis of their common faith” agreed to form a religious society. No, Sheen declares, the Church began “the very moment” the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.17 Anyone then who claims the visible, institutional Church and its sacramental system is an “obstacle” to a relationship with Christ has misunderstood “the meaning and beauty of the Incarnation of our Lord.”18 Through the Church, Bethlehem is revived in every baptism, “the Cenacle in every Mass, the instruction of the doctors of the Temple in every definition, the pardon of Peter in every absolution, and the Crucifixion in every persecution.”19 Rather than an obstacle to relationship with Christ, the Church is the very means by which that relationship is fostered.

The Catholic Church as Christ’s Mystical Body, Preserved by the Holy Spirit

Christ is of course the head of this mystical body – per St. Paul’s teaching in Colossians 1:18. Yet if Christ is the head, one might reasonably ask, which conflicting group or sect within Christianity is the “one Body of Christ”?20 According to Sheen, the “obvious way” for Christ to identify His post-ascension body would be “through a visible head or a primate.”21 This is appropriate, he contends, because the “democratic form of government” visible in many forms of Protestantism is problematically individualistic:

‘…each individual [is] his own supreme authority, allowing him either to interpret the Scriptures privately or else interpret his own religious experiences without any dictation from without. Religion on this theory is a purely individual affair: each one casts his own vote as to what he will believe, rejects all creeds, beliefs, and dogmas which run counter to his moods and prejudices, determines for himself the kind of a God he will adore, the kind of an altar before which he will kneel – in a word, he worships at the shrines his own hands have made.22’

Rather than this subjective, individualist model, Christ gave us what Sheen calls the “monarchical” model, citing Matthew 16, where He rejects both what “men say” about who He is, and even what the Apostles together say about who He is (the “aristocratic model”), but ultimately affirming St. Peter’s declaration that He is the son of the living God.23 Peter had divine assistance, the keys to the kingdom (Matthew 16), and the commission to feed Christ’s lambs (John 21). This is not to say that St. Peter is “a Head apart from Christ.” Rather, he is “one authority with Him,” the “visible representation, the concrete symbol, the vicar of the Sender among the Sent.”24

Sheen further argues that it was the Holy Spirit who conceived the Church in the incarnation, guided St. Peter’s declaration of Christ’s divinity, and who remains its very soul, and speaks first not through inspired writings, but a “voice,” carried by the Apostles and their successors.25 This is to contrast the Catholic conception of Holy Tradition, Holy Scripture, and magisterial teaching, as cooperating spheres of authority, against the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura. Indeed, it was the Holy Spirit, acting as the soul of the Church, who inspired the writings of Holy Scripture and guided their collection and inclusion into a canon. The Bible stands not on its own but “within the life of the Church.” It is the Church that “makes its meaning clear.”26 And if the Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church, “there can be no contradiction, no variety of opinions, no divided loyalties, no half-truths, no schisms, no heresy where God is.”27

Moreover, the Holy Spirit vivifies the Church to maintain its four marks so that neither sin nor scandal within the ranks can nullify her intrinsic holiness.28 Sheen observes, “the world has yet to point out a single age in which the Church has not produced her heroes whom she calls saints.”29 The last mark, the Church’s apostolic character, is best understood within the Catholic paradigm as requiring a discernible “origin or source.” Sheen elaborates: “it would be too late for her to begin sixteen hundred years after the life or our Lord; it would be too late for her to begin even twenty years after the life of Christ. She must be in intimate contact with Him from the beginning.” He cites several pieces of evidence of this from Scripture and history. These include the choosing of Matthias (a witness to the resurrection) to replace Judas in Acts 2 and the centrality of the appeal to Apostolic origin by the immediate successors of the Apostles: “Everywhere in the early Church the test was: ‘What is the source of your authority and truth?’ It if did not come from Christ and the apostles, it was false.”30 What a remarkable testament it is that the Catholic Church, longer than any nation, empire, or heretical movement has withstood the test of time: “Who today venerates Eutyches? Where are his disciples? Who today knows of Novatian?”31 Because it is the Holy Spirit alive within the Church, she cannot be killed.32

Further Implications of the Mystical Body of Christ

Having presented His biblical argument for the Mystical body of Christ — and that it be identified with the Catholic Church — Sheen devotes the remainder of his book to exploring many other realities that flow from this initial truth: the infallibility and unique authority of the Church, the role of the priesthood and individual Christians in this mystical body, the communion of the saints, the value of reparation, and the expansion of the body throughout the entire world. 33 Of particular interest to Protestants investigating Catholicism, Sheen devotes a chapter to the role of Mary, the mother of God, as mother also of His mystical body. The bishop explains that this is a natural logical progress: “if the fullness of Christ embraces not only His historical Life in Galilee but also His Mystical Life in the Church, then should not Mary be not only the Mother of the physical Christ, but also the Mother of the fullness of Christ or the Mother of the Church?”34 Also of potential interest to Protestants are chapters on how the sacrifice of the cross is translated to the sacrifice of the Mass, Sheen arguing that the sacrifice of the Cross is “complete and perfect in it itself,” yet “not complete as regards us; the merits of that great redemptive act have to flow unto us.”35 The Eucharist then serves to project Christ’s sacrifice into the present: “the Mass is the one thing in the world which makes it possible for us who live in the [present age] to share in the sacrifice of Calvary…. The Mass is Calvary realized, made present, contemporized, lifted out of the limit of space and time living in the members of the Mystical Body….36

The Mystical Body of Christ is a helpful – nay, essential – concept for how Christians should understand their role individually and corporately to Christ their Lord and Savior. This is the way Christ wanted it: for His Church to be the extension of His earthly ministry projected through time and space to our present era. To respond to the legitimate concern of my Presbyterian elder friend: Christianity at its core is sacerdotal — the Incarnation, the beginning of the Church on earth, exemplifies God’s extension of grace to Christians through matter. Christ then, fully God and fully man, is Himself a sacerdotal figure, mediating between man and God in His very flesh. It is entirely fitting then that Christ would appoint members of His own mystical body to do exactly what He had done: bear God’s authority and mediate between members of His body and the eternal God. In Sheen’s analysis, this does not detract from Christ’s mediatory role; it preserves and perfects it.37

Venerable Fulton Sheen, one of America’s great defenders and explicators of the Catholic faith, pray for us!

  1. Sheen’s own critique of Protestantism is quite prescient. In his 1935 introduction to the book, he notes that Protestant churches “no longer claim to be Divine or to be Deposits of Revelation.” He asserts that Protestantism has been reduced to “the individualistic type of religion in which each man’s subjective religious experience determines the God he will worship and the altar he will serve,” or a “purely social form of religion.” See Fulton J. Sheen, The Mystical Body of Christ (Ave Maria Press, Notre Dame, IN, 2015), p. 2.
  2. The reader should take note that in addition to the extensive Biblical exegesis Sheen offers in the main body of his work, the footnotes of the text supply a wealth of additional Biblical references and analysis that should not be overlooked.
  3. Sheen, p. 5.
  4. Sheen, p. 7.
  5. Sheen, p. 15.
  6. Sheen, p. 18.
  7. Sheen, p. 20.
  8. Sheen, p. 56.
  9. Sheen, p. 37.
  10. Sheen, p. 27.
  11. Sheen, p. 29.
  12. Sheen, p. 41.
  13. Sheen, pp. 42-43.
  14. Sheen, p. 45.
  15. Sheen, p. 32.
  16. Sheen, p. 33.
  17. Sheen, p. 48.
  18. Sheen, p. 49.
  19. Sheen, p. 50.
  20. Sheen, p. 51.
  21. Sheen elsewhere explains that baptism is the mechanism for incorporation into the Mystical Body of Christ. See Sheen, p. 298.
  22. Sheen, p. 57.
  23. Sheen, p. 58.
  24. Sheen, p. 59.
  25. Sheen, pp. 61-63.
  26. Sheen, p. 66.
  27. Sheen, p. 304. Sheen extensively highlights the evidence for the historicity of the primacy of St. Peter and Rome in his footnotes for Chapter Three. See Sheen, pp. 305-308.
  28. Sheen, p. 75.
  29. Sheen, p. 79.
  30. Sheen, p. 81.
  31. Sheen devotes an entire chapter to explaining how scandals in the Church can be reconciled with her role as Christ’s mystical body. In rhetorical flourish typical of the bishop, Sheen exhorts the Church’s detractors to “reveal the worst, for it will only help to make clear her true nature.” See Sheen, p. 99.
  32. Sheen, p. 85.
  33. Sheen, pp. 86-88.
  34. Sheen, p. 91.
  35. Sheen, p. 96.
  36. Sheen argues that “the Infallibility of the Church is nothing more than the Infallibility of Christ,” and asks rhetorically whether the Holy Spirit died after Pentecost or the early councils of the Church. See Sheen, p. 117, 121. On the unique authority of the Church, Sheen observes, “a book could not preserve [Christ’s] authority, for the book needs interpretation, and who would interpret it?” See Sheen, p. 134.
  37. Sheen, p. 225.
  38. Sheen, p. 242.
  39. Sheen, p. 247, 249.
  40. It is in this book that one of Sheen’s most famous aphorisms can be found: They do “not really hate the Church; they hate only that which they mistakenly believe to be the Church.” See Sheen, p. 140.

Prayer for the Canonization of Venerable Fulton Sheen

Heavenly Father, source of all holiness, You raise up within the Church in every age men and women who serve with heroic love and dedication. You have blessed Your Church through the life and ministry of Your faithful servant, Archbishop Fulton J Sheen. He has written and spoken well of Your Divine Son, Jesus Christ, and was a true instrument of the Holy Spirit in touching the hearts of countless people.

If it be according to Your Will, for the honor and glory of the Most Holy Trinity and for the salvation of souls, we ask You to move the Church to proclaim him a saint. We ask this prayer through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Imprimatur:
+Most Reverend Daniel R. Jenky, C.S.C., Bishop of Peoria

Love,
Matthew

Jaded? Try the tenderness of His Heart…

All_Saints_Catholic_Church_(St._Peters,_Missouri)_-_stained_glass,_sacristy,_Sacred_Heart_detail

This life, this world is a cold, cruel, arbitrary, brutal place.  We know this.  What saves us from total despair?  His tenderness of Heart.  Mt 11:28-29.

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-by Charlie Johnson, a former Calvinist, is embracing his new Catholic faith.

“The world, it seems, is full of both crisis and triumph. The world’s problems can make any compassionate person feel helpless. The world’s problems can give any cynic his fodder. The triumphs? Well, often they can be hard to locate. Usually because they are small things. I saw a woman on TV handing out bottles of water to refugees in Hungary and I cried. What a beautiful thing. I can’t do that. I am not in Hungary. But I can do some small things. I can promote some small kindness today. A small kindness is a great triumph.

I have found that most people are rather pessimistic about the world. I know I have been. And seeds of that are probably still evident in my daily milieu. But when I discover truth – the truth of kindness -, it gives me immense hope. Once upon a time, when I suffered greatly under the weight of such intense existential questioning and depression, I never imagined I could experience a sustained disposition of joy. But this kindness has brought me great joy.

A Christian will not have an effective religion unless he sees its source. It is true that a man died for the lost and downtrodden. But a message of salvation, I think, is insufficient if there is no Great Affection intrinsically attached to it. I was a Christian for a long, long time before I knew that God liked me and smiled at my presence. God has great affection for me. And a kind heart – the likes of which no other kindness can match.

The Sacred Heart of Jesus is an image that provokes a confused reaction in me. I want to recoil at the sight of it. A bleeding heart, punctured by thorn. But then I cannot take my eyes off it. There is no greater symbol for human nature than the heart. The thing that keeps the blood going, giving life.

I cannot escape it no matter how much I try. I have tried to come up with a better answer. But all I know is that the most effective religious observance is knowing the kindness of Christ. When I have hated myself the only remedy I can find is kindness. When I have hated others the only remedy that has sorted me out is kindness. When the world goes black to me and all I see are grim faces of disapproval, the only remedy is the affectionate smile of a Savior.

The Sacred Heart tells us of Jesus’ humanity. That he is not an abstract idea or fanciful thought meant to encourage positive emotions. The Sacred Heart imagines the heart of Jesus, exposed and aflame with life. It is crowned with thorns, pierced through by an instrument meant to usurp his status as king. He wears it gladly. I keep the image of the sacred heart close to me because it reminds me of his burning love when I get jaded.

The most important thing ever is knowing Jesus and the tenderness of his Sacred Heart.”

“O Sacred Heart of Jesus, we place our trust in Thee!”  -traditional McCormick family aspirational prayer.

Love,
Matthew

Church tour & Psalm 63

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josephmartinhagan

-by Br Joseph Martin Hagan, OP

“Summer is the tourist’s season.  Imagine taking a tour of the White House. There is that surreal feeling of walking through the corridors of such an important building, where so much has happened. And then, at the climax of the tour, you enter the Oval Office. There, the tour guide comments on the history of the room and its current appearance. Visitors ooh and ah, snapping photos and selfies.

However, sitting there in the Oval Office, behind the desk, is the President. For some strange reason, the tour guide does not mention him, and following suit, most visitors hardly even notice him. Perhaps a few devoutly patriotic visitors offer a polite “good afternoon, Mr. President.” But besides such niceties, there is no fuss about the President. People are more enthralled by the room than the man.

A similar scenario plays out in many Catholic churches. Most tours focus on architecture and artwork. “Look at these gothic arches.” “What beautiful stained glass!” All the while, the King of the Universe, the unmatched Lover of every heart is present—Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity—awaiting each guest in the Eucharist. Sure, the pious visitors will genuflect or bow, but even these gestures are often perfunctory.

Art has an inherent value, worthy of receiving the tour’s appreciation. And it is a blessing to have a church worthy of such a tour. Even more, the beauty of the church helps to manifest the beauty of the Eucharist. Good artwork tells the story of God’s love for us, and good architecture calls forth the reverence due to the Eucharist.

Yet the irony remains. For a brief period of time, we get more excited about the wrapping paper than the gift.

Our response should be quite simple: “You are my God; I thirst for You.”

Love,
Matthew