Periodic Examinations of Conscience are Very Beneficial - Some people have a tendency to focus on other people’s faults while ignoring their own. Other people have a tendency to fill their days with work, hobbies, gossip, or simply the acquisition of things to the point where they never think about their own lives. These people totally ignore the ancient philosopher who said “the unexamined life is not worth living”.
Eventually, however, each person must turn away from distractions and turn his attention to himself. Hard questions must be asked and honestly answered. This is usually a painful day generally triggered by some difficult event (e.g. the death of a close friend, a personal tragedy, the willful failure to help a friend in need, etc.). This painful day might also be called a “conscience awakening day”.
Persons that experience such awakenings have a choice. They can embrace the process and begin to regularly seek quiet time of self examination or they can instead run away and bury themselves again in their work, hobbies, or other distractions.
If they chose to begin the painful but rewarding process of regular self examination, their lives will be much richer. This process is called the examination of conscience. While doing this three things are considered: past acts which have injured others, past omissions or failures to act which might have alleviated someone else’s pain, and finally a consideration of what changes of routine or attitude might make life better for those I deal with including myself in the future.
After doing the examination of conscience for a awhile some people like to turn to lists to accomplish a systematic, complete review of their existence. The most obvious list is the ten commandment (e.g. honor they father and they mother, thou shalt not steal, etc.). It is useful to consider Jesus’s two great commandments from the New Testament “love God with your whole heart and mind and love your neighbor as yourself”. Beyond these, other lists are useful for instance the list of deadly sins (e.g. lust, pride, gluttony, etc.) or, on the positive side, the list of corporal works of mercy (e.g. feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisoner, etc.).
Once a person has gotten into the habit of doing regular examinations of conscience. The process might be helped by the use of a spiritual advisor. Such an advisor might offer suggestions and alternative perspectives that can lead to such improvements as more effective charitable work, or greater success avoiding the occasions of sin, etc.
For Catholics, a good examination of conscience should be a precondition to Confession. In confession three things are sought: forgiveness of sin, sacramental grace and good advice on how to avoid sin and do better in the future. The first two are obtained so long as there is sorrow for sin and a desire to avoid sin in the future. However, the last goal, good advice, is really only going to be obtained if the penitent has organized his thoughts and is able to give the priest a good overall picture of his situation. An examination of conscience is ideal for organizing one’s thoughts and making certain no areas of personal weakness are missed. ........... (Prepared by Hugh Murray on 8/24/2008)
The Consequence of Growth & Profits at all Costs - America’s business has adopted a philosophy of growth at any cost Why? Well growth generally leads to greater profits which in turn leads to a greater share price in the stock market, greater market share for the company’s products, and greater management bonus. Greater stock price and greater market share makes it easier to enforce price increases and push new products through advertising and promotions. The concerns about this process is best understood by looking at a few examples:
A) Technology companies, like Microsoft and Intel, push new processors, chips, operating systems and applications that do little more than their earlier offerings. The reason for the new offerings is to encourage more sales. Where a new product cycle of perhaps 10 years would serve society quite nicely - Microsoft pushes for a 30 to 48 month cycle. The cost to society are immense. Beyond the direct cost of products, there are substantial intra-company costs in personal training and ancillary equipment upgrades. There are inter-company costs as organizations that must deal with each other over the Internet suddenly find themselves with a computer/software mismatch that have to be sorted out at great cost. The beneficiaries of these rapid product cycles are Microsoft and Intel. The extra costs have in large part been dumped on the rest of America.
B) Consumable product companies, like Procter and Gamble, use existing market power to push out smaller competitors. Large consumer products companies bring out new versions of their same old products; they add product shape, add colors, add smells, etc. They advertise these new products aggressively and demand that grocery stores give them more shelf space for all these “non-new” new products. This means less shelf space for the small manufactures that have a limited array of more focused products. So the big get bigger and the small get pushed to the wall.
C) Drug companies and medical device companies, like Merck and Johnson & Johnson, advertise their products directly to patients so doctors are faced with patients demanding certain products rather than accepting the doctor’s advice to try perhaps exercise and dietary changes to treat their conditions. These company’s are also expert at tweaking their products in order to gain another 17 years of patent protections and thus avoid the onset of generic competition. Company’s flood doctor’s offices with sales reps to “educate” doctors. These rep networks are to costly for smaller companies that have only one or two products to promote.. So regardless of the quality of the small company’s offerings, it is likely to be pushed out (or acquired out) of existence by its larger competitors.
D) Hedge funds take huge bets using margin loans on options, commodities, derivatives, or short positions in hopes of driving selected prices out of normal alignment so as to cause a mini-stampede and thus generate outsized profits for the hedge funds. Their trades are secret so there is no transparency to help other market participants take precautionary actions. Hedge funds are confident they can do this consistently; they design their compensation plans using percent of profits formulas. (In 2008, derivative such as Adjustable Rate Securities, Collateralized Debt Obligations, and Credit Default Swaps began to unravel and cause huge market moves beyond the ability of hedge funds to manipulate. Simultaneously the market moves caused many lenders to pull in their loans including those lending to hedge funds which deprived many hedge funds of any chance to survive.).
E) Manufacturing firms, like Nike, move their plants to China and use very cheap labor. The goods are shipped back to the US where they are sold for prices only slightly below the price of products made by higher priced American labor. The effect of this strategy yields a huge profit margin for the company. Economists argue that these outsized profits will disappear once the workers in China organize into labor unions and demand higher wages. The only difficulty with this argument is China’s authoritarian government which refuses to allow workers to organize.
These are just five of five hundred examples where the excessive push for growth and profits inflict pain and suffering on Americans. Consider:.
(1) Businessman, who shun tactics such as those outlined above, don’t fit in and find themselves driven (or merged) out of business.
(2) Government policies co-operate with this push. Take the case of a family that inherits a good sized successful business built by their deceased father. They are forced by the government to pay taxes of over 50% of the value of the business. Very few have the savings to both keep the business running properly and pay the tax. A forced sale or bankruptcy usually follows.
(3) If a stable business has been built upon the loyalty of customers and employees, the owner who later wants to sell his business and retire has a problem because few buyers understand such a business model having been educated up into the “growth & profits at all cost” American model.
(4) American business depends upon lines of credit to finance inventory build up for busy seasons (like Christmas) and/or cover the cost of large projects that take many months to complete. America’s bankers are trained up into the “growth and profits at all cost “ model. When they are approached by a business that pursues a “steady as it goes” business model, bankers are usually suspicious and may refuse credit or charge higher interest rates.
(5) America has been forced unto the “growth & profits” treadmill by its leaders who want to stay ahead of other countries. The complexity pushed into the average American’s life by this is awesome. People are constantly having to change jobs, transfer to new locations, learn a new computer systems for work, take courses at junior college to keep a job, get laid off, get fired, learn the buttons on a new phone, t.v. or whatnot, etc. Can the America people, many of whom are not all that much inate intelligence, cope with so much change?.
For additional information on how a society might move toward smaller, saner business models, the economic writings of G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc are recomended particularly The Servile State by Hilaire Belloc.............. (prepared by Hugh Murray on 10/30/2008)
Fr. Michael Witt Finally Details the Full Case Against Obama - Fr. Michael Witt is a regular celebrant at St. Mary Magdalen in Brentwood Missouri. During the week he is a Professor of History at Kenrick Seminary, a nearby Catholic Seminary. The St. Mary Magadalen community is truly blessed to have Fr. Witt because he is a thoughtful, well organized speaker who is able to bring interesting historical references to his homilies.
Fr. Witt delivered a excellent sermon on the grave evils that governmental leaders can bring upon society. He spoke of Justice Roger Taney of the US Superme Court who handed down the infamous Dred Scott decision that held a slave who had traveled through a free state and then back to a slave state did not gain his freedom because of the time spent in the free state. Taney was a misguided Catholic who had not followed the then current teaching of his Church regarding the evils of slavery.
Fr. Witt then went on to name Obama by name and point out that Obama was the only person in the Illinois legislature who advocated that babies born alive because of a botched late term abortion could be denied care and starved to death. Fr. Witt also pointed out that Obama was a big supporter of the Freedom of Choice Act in Congress which would remove all current state restrictions on access to abortions (eg parental consent, waiting periods, etc.). Fr. Witt mentioned Obama’s support for same sex marriage and his support for fetal stem cell research this research requires the destruction of a healthy fetus that could easily develop into a baby.
Fr. Witt’s presentation was organized, focused, and well documented. It left the hearer with a clear understanding of why a Catholic should not, indeed could not, support Obama. All in all, a telling exposition of what a talented well motivated preacher can do to form people’s conscience before they make an important electoral decision.
Unfortunately Fr. Witt’s sermon was delivered the Sunday after the election not the Sunday before the election. Obama had already been elected with 54% of Catholics supporting his candidacy.
At first, the typical parishioner, hearing this sermon, might wondr if Fr. Witt was aware of the fact that the election was over. He sounded like he was attempting to close the barn door without realizing the horse had fled.. But then Fr. Witt himself pointed out the 54% statistic and said that Catholics should now spend a lot of time praying that Obama changes his stand on these key issues.
The question comes to mind. Where were such sermons before the election? To be fair there were several pro-life sermons delivered running up to the election. However, these sermons were long on generalizations, short on specifics, and completely lacking in any particularity about which candidates to support or oppose. What would one say if the Catholic priests of Germany in 1933 had spoken in circular, generations without referencing the Fascist threat directly before the election, and then pleading eloquently with people afterward to pray for Hitler’s change of heart after he was elected?
Catholic clergy in the US draws a veil over sermons delivered before elections because they don’t want to lose their “tax deductible” charitable status. What poppycock? If “life” is an over ridding issue (and minimum thought reveals that it is) then the Church has to educate the faithful fully before the election not after 54% of Catholics have voted for the candidate of “death”............... (prepared by Hugh Murray on 11/10/2008)
Does God’s Plan Requires that Evil and Suffering be Part of Human Life?
- Evil exists in the world created by an all-perfect God. How can God allow evil to exist when after all he is all-good?
Before focusing on evil, it probably make more sense to consider God’s overall plan for man. God has created an intelligent being, man, that can do several important things.
First, man can know that God exists. He can know this through faith and by being exposed to the revealed word of God, but man can also know God exists through his reason and the study of things about him. So man can know God.
Second, God has given each man a basic sense of right behavior and wrong behavior. This is called a conscience. Every man has a conscience, and with education or formation a person’s conscience can be refined and brought to a fuller understanding of right and wrong. So man can know what is right behavior and what is wrong behavior.
Third, God has given each man a free will. This free will allows each man as he goes through life to chose the good or chose the bad. So man has the free will to either turn toward God or turn away from God.
Fourth, God has a desire to draw all men to Him. However, He knows that some men will chose the “wrong” rather than the “good” and in so choosing they will be turning away. Again God wishes to honor this free choice so he allows those that turn away to live their eternity in their preferred way away from God. So man must be aware that there are real long term consequences in their choices.
Now the time has come to look more carefully at evil. There are various types of evil in the world and each deserves a little consideration.
First, there is evil caused by man’s inhumanity to man. Stalin was a man who arranged to kill about 60 million people. But there is also the handsome cad that dates half a dozen girls breaks their hearts and leave half of them pregnant out of wedlock. There is the student who discovers that his teacher’s hearing aid will squeal loudly if exposed to a screeching sound, so he carries an un-oiled screw device and when near that teach he gives his device a good crank sending the teacher into auricular pain. Man on man evil comes is all sizes big to small but it has the common element of one or more people using their free will to inflict pain and suffering on their fellow man. This kind of evil is a perfectly understandable outgrowth of free will improperly used. God could not use his power to stop this kind of evil without taking away some men’s free will and that would be too great an infringement on God’s grand plan as set out above.
Second, there is evil that comes from natural causes. Epidemics, aging, accidents, hurricanes, earthquakes, etc. are examples of things that God initiates that cause lots of pain, suffering, and death. Part of God’s plan is to draw people to himself for eternity. This means that all men must die. Some die quickly with little suffering but many die slowly with lots of suffering. Think of the person afflicted with polio or the women dying of a breast cancer that comes and goes over a decade. There are those who lose everything in an earthquake but are left alive with no resources. Physically healthy but suffering none the less. These long term suffering situations cause a lot of people to lose their belief in an all powerful, all loving God. They ask why does God allow such long term suffering?
The answer lies in the response “believers” give to such suffering:
First, looking at those enduring suffering: Do they respond by enduring it with joy and offering it up to God as a recompense for the times they (or their fellow humans) chose “the wrong” rather than “the right”? They might learn from great historical figures who have suffered. They think of Jesus of Nazareth or Joan of Arc or the Ugandan Martyrs or Ignatius of Loyola or Francis of Assis or Thomas More. These people who have endured long term disability or incarceration leading to execution. They say during their periods of trial “I stand with my God and although I don’t fully understand why I am in this predicament, I accept it as a mystery and even as a gift from God”. These people saw their suffering as something to welcome with joy, as something God in his infinite wisdom wanted them to go through. Religious mystics, particularly Christian mystics, speak of suffering as a gift uniting them to God. Christians speak of suffering as a way of participating in and even augmenting the suffering Christ endured on the Cross. In this way a suffering person can visualize his personal suffering as not only an expiation of his own sin but also as joining with Christ’s suffering to overcome the sins of all men. Individual suffering can in this way be seen as a great benefit to all mankind. This logic has penetrated Catholic thought so much the typical devote Catholic will say, when faced with suffering, “this is my cross”. Theologians feel that except for the fall of Adam and Eve, suffering would not exist. However because of the fall and original sin, man has to endure suffering.
Second, looking at those that are viewing others suffering. What is their response? Do they try to find a way to help others avoid such suffering in the future? Do they comfort the afflicted? Do they oppose the dictator that’s torturing people? God puts these terrible situations before them so they might demonstrate their orientation either toward God or away from God.
Having said all this, the one thing that can be said with assurance, human suffering is certain a part of God’s plan. it remain profoundly true, man’s ability to understand suffering is limited.. Some aspects of suffering are intelligible but other aspects remain a mystery that can only be glimpsed dimly............... prepared by Hugh Murray on 11/21/2008
Watch Obama’s Appointments to Gage the Direction of the New Administration - Obama has started his administration by appointing some very capable, experienced people.
The list is impressive: Robt Gates stays at Defense, Richardson brings objectivity with wide experience to Commerce, Emanuel will run the White House with thoughtfulness, toughness, and efficiency, Clinton at State is smart and has world wide contacts, Napolitano brings experience as both a lawyer and border state governor to Homeland Security, and Geithner at Treasury indicates Obama has an appreciation for the precarious state of the economy.
The only weak appointment so far is Holder at Justice. A Democratic version of Alberto Gonzalez, he can be expected to use his powers “ham handedly”, in a very partisan way.
The trick for Obama is keeping this group in place. He has demonstrated the self confidence to appoint people more experienced than himself and, in most cases, more talented as well. Now if he has the intelligence to listen to them and not try to micro manage, he will have a successful, though liberal leaning, administration. If on the other hand, he tries to tell these people how to think and act, they will begin resigning and that will signal his administration is “slip sliding away”.
It was perhaps time for America to have a black president, it is unfortunate that the person chosen by fate is so short on common sense that he once supported legalized infanticide and just a few months ago announced, at the Saddleback Church, that determining when “life began was above his pay grade”. The first goal of America’s government is to promote and protect “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”, it is important that the man heading the government have a clear understanding of these words. ..............(prepared by Hugh Murray on 11/30/2008)
Prof. Patrick Deneen, in Eight Paragraphs, Shows Inter-Relationships Among Several Problems Plaguing America's Economy and Culture -
Note: The following eight paragraphs appeared in the Nov. 17, 2008 edition of the American Conservative magazine in a special section where several authors commented on the Presidency of George W. Bush. At the very end of his comments, regarding the Bush impact on the economy, Prof. Dedeen decided to expand his comments taking a longer, deeper, and wider view of America's economy and culture. His pointed comments are set out below as originally published. These are reproduced here with permission from the American Conservative.
The longer story obscured by this year’s dramatic collapse is the gradual but intentional abandonment of a functioning American economy and its replacement by a counterfeit kind of economic health based on borrowed money, cheap goods and services made with inexpensive exported and imported labor, and reliance on foreign resources. The creation of this shell of an economy required the transformation of our workforce from one that produced goods to one that consumed products made elsewhere—effectively, the replacement of workers by consumers. The immediate reward of everyday low prices was more instantly palpable to Americans than the slow but steady loss of jobs and the tacit acquiescence to cheap labor by free markets that required the opening of all borders.
American workers have gradually become accustomed to perpetual anxiety, assuming this to be an ordinary condition of advanced economic man. As a pleasant distraction—if not an opiate—the economy came to be defined by entertainment and consumption: two-thirds of economic activity consisted of buying and selling. This perverse system was sustained by stagnant wages and borrowed money. Older virtues like thrift and moderation were shelved as the broader culture encouraged immediate gratification without concern for consequences. Just do it!
Blame Bush—but not just Bush. Elite ambitions for mobile capital combined seamlessly with messages from the popular culture that encouraged license and the loosening of traditional bonds. Economic experts and social, educational, and political leaders spared no effort in persuading the public that an ungovernable process called “globalization” required this transformation. The benefits of worldwide economic integration were largely directed at consumers, and the costs would be felt by workers—as if the two were distinct. A main aim of globalization was to dislodge particular loyalties and patterns of life and replace them with an ethic of individual autonomy, a libertarian worldview, and a financial system in which the consequences of economic actions were difficult to discern. Mortgages were thus made available to almost any borrower so that financial institutions could later repackage and sell the debt to numerous other parties, wholly diffusing responsibility.
In this environment, party affiliation—even so-called “liberal” or “conservative” leanings—mattered less than whether a person possessed mobile skills. Riches were available to those who abandoned scruples and loyalties, who eagerly joined an economy in which efficiency and profit were the solvent that melted traditional patterns of restraint and virtue. What was most necessary was to foster what market capitalism excels at producing: short-term thinking. Gratitude to the past and obligations to the future were shorn in the name of present returns. The idea of trusteeship was rejected for the quarterly report or even the daily stock price as reported in minute and dramatic detail on CNBC. We were promised a golden future based on 10 percent (or better) annual market returns, when the real economy grew at a quarter of that rate. Greed, speculation, and spendthrift ways were actively inculcated in the wider culture and easily found a home amid a populace bereft of the old mainstays of culture.
For much of this period, our political leaders battled over whether a free market or an activist government should hold sway. These seemingly fierce battles obscured the deeper truth that our particular form of free market favors big government and vice versa. Government has always arranged the playing field for the advantage of swift flows of capital. The market, meanwhile, has steadily undermined local loyalties and rendered small-scale solutions increasingly ineffective, thus ensuring our fealty to a tutelary state.
The mortgage crisis has highlighted the tight bonds between a large central government and large centers of financial power. We have also witnessed the way in which a “flat” world permits no quarantine: a financial virus encounters no barriers. Within a few weeks the entire world economy was brought to its knees by America’s bad mortgages. The myth that structures could be built so large that they could not fail should have been laid to rest with the sinking of the Titanic. At least now we have seen the end of the idea that there is some fundamental antipathy between big government and big business.
Conservatives will now enter a time of rethinking and regrouping. It would be the height of folly for the Right’s political masterminds to try to concoct again the particular brew that led to the electoral victory of a deeply unconservative Republican Party under Bush. In the wilderness years to come, conservatives should spend some time encountering minds that paid attention to the notion that conservation is at the heart of conservatism—among them E.F. Schumacher and Wilhelm Roepke, both of whom focused on a form of economics that was mindful of the moral health of the society.
An economy that undermines the virtues of a citizenry, and eviscerates the culture that reinforces those virtues, has lost its purpose. Yet it is too simple to lay full responsibility for the recent collapse on Bush. He perpetuated a bankrupt system, but the rot runs deeper than the last eight years.
(Patrick J. Deneen is Associate Professor of Government and holds the Markos and Eleni Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis Chair in Hellenic Studies at Georgetown University.)
God Speaks to Us Through the Circumstances of Our Lives - God has blessed man with free will. And yet the Our Father contains the plea “lead us not into temptation” How can a man be both free and subject to being led. The answer lies in the method which God employs to lead men. He is infinitely good and wants every man to choose to seek Him, but he respects man’s freedom so he uses seemingly accidental occurrences designed to sharpen each man’s moral awareness, thus hopefully creating in each man a tendency toward the good .
The situations and individuals each person encounters in life are not accidental, they are put there by God to guide him (or her) forward, to many opportunities to chose good or evil, forward and forward in a process that leads eventually to heaven or hell.
This process goes on and on through each person’s life. Few people make all bad decisions and no one makes all good decisions. Every person has their own set of situations and each person has their own set of decisions for good or ill.
The process is affected by the person’s general orientation toward or away from God. (1) The prayerful person is constantly infused with God’s grace and help. Additionally, God sets situations up for such a person that he is well equipped to handle. (2) The person who lacks a prayer life and approaches life with only his own resources will find these situations are beyond his ability to discern good from evil indeed mostly such a person simply substitutes “pleasure and gain” for” good” and “difficult and painful” for “evil”. God presents such a person with situations that, if not handled properly, can lead to short term satisfaction followed by extreme difficulty.
The forgoing is rather hypothetical and needs an example or two to take on definition.
Begin with the prayerful person who has an excessive affection for money. God knows about this person’s affinity for money, and God knows about that person’s legitimate financial needs, to support his family, to acquire the necessities of life. God will probably present this person with situations where great wealth can only be acquired by doing something that is clearly wrong. But a modest living can be had making “right” choices. This man will, by choosing the right path, find himself in heaven even though he never gained control over large amounts of wealth in this life.
Now consider the secular, non-prayerful person who is also possessed of an excessive desire for great wealth. This person may be faced with situations in life where he can gain control over great wealth with many situations leading him toward a series of very evil decisions. Without God’s grace and help he will be powerless to avoid the many wrong turns that will increase his wealth at the loss of his soul. (Bernard Madoff is a recent example of a person who made one wrong turn after another, in a few years he found himself in a $50 billion hole with no escape. Fortunately God never gives up on a person in this life so Mr. Madoff has the option of reformation and contrition.)
Perhaps another example would also help. Take the prayerful man who is afflicted with a unwholesome attraction to the various women he encounters. God is aware of this unwholesome attraction and so long as the man remains prayerful, God will present life situations that make it difficult or impossible for the man to pursue his unwholesome desires. Perhaps the man will be kept very busy by the life situations he encounters so he has no opportunity to get in trouble.
The secular, non-praying man with similar attractions might find life situations that open a way to all sort of mischief and eventual pain for himself and many others. ........................
(prepared by Hugh Murray on 12/30/2008)
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