Monday, March 30, 2009

Vices and Virtues: Learning From This Moment

There Minos sits, grinning, grotesque, and hale,
He examines each lost soul as it arrives
and delivers his verdict with his coiling tail.

That is to say, when the ill-fated soul
appears before him it confesses all,
and that grim sorter of the dark and foul

decides which place in Hell shall be its end,
then wraps his twitching tail about himself
one coil for each degree it must descend.

Now, for those of you who might think these lyrics were composed about Barney Frank or Tim Geitner, they weren't. They were actually written by Dante in The Divine Comedy, Circle Two, Canto V The Carnel in the thirteenth century. But it might as well have been written for this day and age. Minos would have admired Geitner's evil grin, as well as Frank's evil lust which may topple the largest economy in the world.

Some may wonder why I would use a thirteenth century writer/poet to illustrate a point. To highlight the fact that there is nothing new under the sun, as another Great Author once wrote. Human nature, in its base, doesn't change from era to era. The only change is its heroes and villians. The two great forces behind both, good and evil, are in a struggle for the eternal soul. But we delude ourselves into thinking we have become enlightened enough to see it. Fat chance!

When the Main Stream Media identifies sin, it is in the form of sensational scandal. Madonna's divorce to Guy Ritchie, Bernie Madoff's Wall Street con game, the Pope's (seemingly) unenlightened statement on condoms, all make headline news, but the real evil, broken families hurt by broken commitments, greed overwhelming one man to steal other's life savings, or the transmission of a deadly disease caused by promiscuous sexual behavior, all seem to vanish from the story. But these ARE the real story. We get caught, missing the forest in seeing all the trees. People have allowed society to degrade into this type of sorrow and pain, in the name of individual rights.

Here's a news flash. Individual rights, that cause pain to others, diminish another individual's right to the pursuit of happiness. We can stand and finger point, but until we are prepared to see how our own actions affect others and change our actions, we are running in circles. Criticising the AIG bonuses does NOTHING until we look in the mirror and ask the obvious question, "How greedy am I?"

I'm not suggesting that we should let anyone who has injured another off the hook. That would further injure the very same victims a second time. What I am suggesting is we should elevate ourselves above the vice we see and commit to overcoming it in our own lives. Although most of us haven't stolen from another, how many times have we thrown away the appeal for charity envelope we see in the church pews? Although we haven't swindled millions, how many times have we fibbed a little to our spouse to avoid admitting we were wrong? Although we may not have cheated on our spouses, how many times have we bitched about the way they cook or clean? Although we don't beat our children, how many times have we yelled at them without seeing the hurt in their eyes?

Yesterday, I was in Mass with my husband. He had been gone for over a week, and his back was bothering him from the long journey. My autistic son, Liam, had been fidgeting because the Mass went on a little longer than usual. He went up to his dad to give him a hug and Daddy, who was absorbed in his own pain, failed to recognize the gesture and told him to sit down and be quiet or he wouldn't give him any more candy. (The reward system we use with him to get him to behave during Mass.) The crushed look of anguish on Liam's face still haunts me. My husband missed it though. The moment was lost to him because he was too absorbed by the pain.

My point is this: Don't miss the important message in the moments. Even though most of us will never do the heinous evil that will send us plummetting to the seven levels of hell, we deny ourselves some of the seven levels of heaven when we miss the moments to change and love. Look in the mirror this Lent, honestly consider your own soul, and rise above the slightest reflection of the things that are ugly in your life. Not only will you avoid looking like a hypocrite when you discuss the Financial Crimes on Wall Street, you will be able to see the smile on your childrens faces and count them as part of the jewels that can never be stolen.

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