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Decisive

January 4, 2020 – Memorial of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Religious

I’ve recently found myself less interested in movies than at other times in my life, relegating them mostly to in-flight entertainment.  Regardless, this past week I went to see A Hidden Life, the new picture about Blessed Franz Jägerstätter, the Austrian layman martyred for his private stance of conscientious objection against the Nazi regime.  The film is a beautifully shot meditation on the urgency of conscience and the hardships that moral choice can entail. 

The central dilemma facing Jägerstätter throughout the narrative arc is whether or not it is actually right to do the moral thing when one expects only negative outcomes to result.  After all, Jägerstätter’s principled stance will cost his loved ones much and go unnoticed by nearly everyone else.  The sound of the unheard tree falling in the lonely forest is echoed by the silence of the martyr’s severed head dropping to the floor in obscurity. 

In the film, the local pastor and bishop both encourage Jägerstätter to accept the lesser evil of verbally appeasing a power that he was powerless to impede anyway, rather than abandoning a wife to widowhood and depriving his children of a father.  After all, the explicit state coercion would have made swearing loyalty to Hitler under these circumstances only a venial sin.  How much good could Jägerstätter have done instead by remaining alive to provide for his family and to help the vulnerable in his community?  Is an apparently futile death inevitably a sign of the martyr’s charism?

To me, the most urgent question posed in the film though is not one that faced Jägerstätter, but rather one that he posed of his neighbors (and of us): “Don’t they recognize evil when they see it?”

I view this martyr’s story as that of a man who, though impotent to halt the monstrously hateful sins of those around him, at the very least refused to participate in them, cost what may.  Could I have ever done the same?

The sins of others may sometimes provide a subtler temptation than my own weakness.  It is a lot easier for me to blame somebody else for handing me forbidden fruit than to simply assume responsibility for my own actions.  So much the more if force attempts to compel me toward wrongdoing.  The sin of complicity provides easy moral cover, but doesn’t dodging blame end in likewise dodging grace?  What if I attempted to fully liberate myself from the sins of others, leaving me guilty of only that wrongdoing which I directly author myself?  In a sense, I would either sin boldly or not at all.  Given the impossibility of the latter, I would have no place to hide from God’s grace seeking to redeem me.

Last year, I claimed the patriarch Jacob as a patron saint for me in 2019.  I paid particular attention to the story of him wrestling with the angel until daybreak, using that incident as a key image in my prayer and reflection.  At the beginning of this year, King David speaks to me.

The faults of David arose from the fullness of his humanity.  The passionate temperament that animated his friendship with Jonathan and fueled his great love for his beloved son Absalom also intensified his devotion to God: he not only composed psalms but danced wildly before the ark in worshipful abandon despite social consequences.  This same passion was evident in his adulterous pursuit of Bathsheba and his plot to murder her husband, but it also allowed for his dramatic repentance when confronted with his own guilt.  Where sin abounds, grace abound all the more.     

David was not a moral exemplar throughout his life, but like Franz Jägerstätter, he was a man who lived without excuses, in full transparency before God.  May God grant me the case of becoming likewise.

 

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Last week, I offered as ‘ear candy’ a song entitled Hallelujah that is different from the one most people know.  This week seemed like a good opportunity to include a rendition of the famous Leonard Cohen composition.  Although it is not as pious as early lyrics might imply, both the biblical imagery as well as the human passion expressed later in the song seem appropriate for this reflection on bold sin and bold grace.  The ‘brain food’ chosen is a poem I stumbled upon that includes several quotations from the Christian existentialist philosopher Soren Kierkegaard who understood keenly that discipleship requires standing apart from the currents of society.

 

Ear Candy: “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen, performed by Jeff Buckley

Brain Food: “Homage to Soren Kierkegaard” by Dana Gioia

 

Come back next Saturday for a new post!

 

 Previous Posts:

 

2019

Dec. 28 – Can’t Alone

Dec. 21 – Unexpected Gifts

Dec. 14 – No Room

Dec. 7 – End of the World

Nov. 30 – Elective Unpleasantness

Nov. 23 – Always Greater

Nov. 16 – Coloring Book

Nov. 9 – Justice and Mercy

Nov. 2 – Together in Loneliness

Oct. 26 – Gently

Oct. 19 – Flow

Oct. 12 – In This Place

Oct. 5 – Why Understanding

Sep. 28 – Stone to Flesh

Sep. 21 – Let God

Sep. 14 – Passion

Sep. 7 – Hermanos

Aug. 31 – 525,600

Aug. 24 – Pathway

Aug. 17 – Crazy Together

Aug. 10 – To Bridge

Aug. 3 – Stripes

July 27 – Ghost Town

July 20 – Adrift

July 13 – Borders without Borders

July 6 – Little Bit at a Time

June 29 – Holy Dissent

June 22 – Old Kentucky Home

June 15 – Steamer Trunk

June 8 – Squad

June 1 – Legacy

May 25 – Live like You’re Loved

May 18 – Purity of Heart

May 11 – Builders and Creator

May 4 – Value Proposition

Apr. 27 – Vital Signs

Apr. 20 – Let It Be Real

Apr. 13 – Meet Self

Apr. 6 – Let Go of the Best

Mar. 30 – Thirst

Mar. 23 – Back Home

Mar. 16 – Say Goodbye

Mar. 9 – Garden and Desert

Mar. 2 – In Transit

Feb. 23 – Wealth

Feb. 16 – In Place

Feb. 9 – Each and All

Feb. 2 – Not Disneyland

Jan. 26 – Pilgrim People

Jan. 19 – Waking Dream

Jan. 12 – Called and Sent

Jan. 5 – Divine Encounter

2018

Dec. 29 -- Resolution

Dec. 22 – Room for Love?

Dec. 15 – Humbug!

Dec. 8 – Let It Begin with Me

Dec. 1 – Driven by Love

Nov. 24 – What Manner of King

Nov. 17 – Stranger

Nov. 10 – I Need Help to Be Holy

Nov. 3 – Fully Alive

Oct. 27 – Behind the Curtain

Oct. 20 – Questions. Answers?

Oct. 13 – Stumble & Fall

Oct. 6 – Young World

Sep. 29 – Defend Us in Battle

Sep. 22 – The Taste of Water

Sep. 15 – God’s Plan

Sep. 8 – Life Finds a Way