The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Early Morning Thoughts and Remembrances

Here I am again, rising early, long before 6 a.m. and just thinking thoughts as they arrive, most unbidden.

I do not have a particularly well-trained memory. It's not that my memory is bad; I just don't seem to have much control over what I recall and what seems to be irretrievably lost amid the aging gray cells.

For example, I can recall all three stanzas of a poem I learned in Mrs. O'Brien's first grade class almost 60 years ago. It was an odd little piece of doggerel that I won't bore you with, but it has remained fixed in my memory, readily available for instant recall. And yet, I have completely forgotten such things as the emergency procedures for the aircraft I flew during my years as a Navy pilot. Unlike Mrs. O'Brien's poem, I spent many hours diligently memorizing these procedures. My life and the lives of others depended on my ability to recall them under highly stressful conditions. And now, 20 to 30 years later, they're pretty much gone. Oh, I suppose I could recreate some of them based on my knowledge of the aircraft and their systems, but any procedure I developed today would only approximate the original. It would not be the exact, word-for-word procedure I had once planted so firmly in my memory.

To me this is weird. Why can I remember perfectly a meaningless little poem and yet completely forget the emergency procedures that on several occasions saved my life? And then, this morning I found myself recalling little snippets of things I've read over the years. Why these and not others?

My morning train of thought seemed to begin with the recollection of something G. K. Chesterton once wrote: "When people cease to believe in God, they do not believe in nothing; they believe in anything." Why this comment should have popped into my mind I have only the slightest clue. But I wondered if I had recalled the quote correctly, and so took a moment to Google it. Sure enough, it was word-for-word correct.

And, then, a moment later, as I was thinking about this clever Chestertonian comment, T. S. Eliot intruded into my thoughts with one of his comments: "Most of the trouble in the world is caused by people wanting to be important." It too I remembered accurately.

It's odd, isn't it, how our minds work when we don't force thoughts on them. Reviewing my little meditations this morning, I'm fairly certain this train of thought had its source in a reading from St. Cyril of Jerusalem that was included in today's Office of Readings. (Praying the Liturgy of the Hours was my first semi-conscious act this morning.) Anyway, Cyril, writing about sin and faith, apparently sparked a thought or two about those who do not believe, and how easy it is for them to rationalize anything, including even the worst of sins.

Thinking about unbelievers and their rationalizations brought to mind the above Chesterton quote about belief in anything. I can see now why I remembered it; I just don't know how I remembered it, when so much else I've read is seemingly lost forever.

From this my thoughts moved from complete non-believers (atheists) to other, more interesting folks, like apostates, heretics, or run-of-the-mill lukewarm Christians. I suppose these thoughts were encouraged by the work I've done lately on a parish course I'm currently teaching. It's a course on the History of the Catholic Church in which heretics and apostates play a significant role.

Now I've always believed that the root cause of all heresy is egoism, a belief on the part of the heretic that he is holier, smarter, better than the Church. From a Catholic perspective, I think one can say that the heretic places himself on a par with God: "If Jesus Christ can start a Church, why can't I?" Or perhaps he's thinking, "How blessed I am that the Holy Spirit is inspiring me directly now that He's stopped inspiring the Church."

These thoughts, in turn, led me to T. S. Eliot and his pithy comment about people wanting to be important, and how easy it is to fall prey to that very human failing...and how sad this is. We are after all, created in God's image and likeness, and so what is above us but God? The sadness is that we so often place lower things above us, thus lowering ourselves. This brought to mind something else I had read, but in this instance I can recall neither the exact words nor the source. In effect, this unknown person wrote that we are imprisoned by those lower things we cannot give up. I wish I could recall the actual quote and who said it, but this one is, for some strange reason, not so clearly embedded in those brain cells of mine.

Finally, all of this has made me realize how dependent, how un-original most of our thoughts are. Hmmm...who was it who said we are like dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants? I think it was Newton, but I don't have time to look it up.

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