Justus quidem tu es, Domine, si disputem tecum: verumtamen
justa loquar ad te: Quare via impiorum prosperatur? &c.
Thou are indeed just, Lord, if I contend
With thee; but, sir, so what I plead is just.
Why do sinners' ways prosper? and why must
Disappointment all I endeavour end?
Wert thou my enemy, O thou my friend,
How wouldst thou worse, I wonder, than thou dost
Defeat, thwart me? Oh, the sots and thralls of lust
Do in spare hours more thrive than I that spend,
Sir, life upon thy cause. See, banks and brakes
Now, leavèd how thick! lacèd they are again
With fretty chervil, look, and fresh wind shakes
Them; birds build--but not I build; no, but strain,
Time's eunuch, and breed not one work that wakes.
Mine, O thou lord of life, send my roots rain.
Father Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J. (1844-1889)
Sometimes when I am feeling cheated by life, I reflect that I have a roof over my head, the ingredients of dinner in the fridge and a husband safely toiling away at a job he enjoys. This sets me apart from millions of impoverished widows and wives whose husbands are prisoners, on active military service, in dangerous work, in work they hate, or unemployed. I am not the worst woman alive; I am certainly not the best woman alive. And meanwhile innocent Christian Syrian and Iraqi girls, most of whom are probably my moral betters, who love and trust God and venerate the Blessed Mother, have been raped by wicked strangers who may or may not have also killed their families.
So really I cannot complain to God on my own behalf. All I can do is thank Him for His mercy to me and for His blessings I have certainly not merited and that He will extend His mercy to other Christian women, especially those suffering in the Middle East.
Someone once asked me if I thought he or she was being punished by God for his or her sins. I thought carefully about how I should answer that, for the someone was very intelligent, loathed sentimentality and was feeling miserable. "Oh no, Such-and-such, God LOVES us," though true, was not going to cut it. So instead I said something like, "It could be that your suffering now is God's mercy. We both believe in Purgatory; we both believe we can choose to do penance for our sins now or later. Maybe bearing suffering now as penance is better than doing penance later."
Father Gerard Manley Hopkins suffered a lot. I direct you to his life story. He suffered from psychological and physical illnesses. He struggled with sexual temptation with great honesty. Blessed John Henry Newman, whom he greatly admired, did not admit him to the Oratory. He joined the Jesuits, and the Jesuits didn't much appreciate him. A patriotic Englishman, he was sent to teach in Ireland, where he felt in conflict with his patriotically Irish brethren. He wanted time and energy to do great scholarly work; he often felt like a failure. His siblings lived into their eighties and nineties; he contracted typhoid and died at the age of 45. The Jesuits burned most of his papers. A hundred years later a work party of Jesuit scholastics contemplated his gravestone, where his name was only one of a number, and their solemn silence was broken by a comedian among them who said, "Yah, [expletive deleted], get in line." They all laughed merrily. Tall poppies have a tough time in the S.J. to this day, it seems.
Father Hopkins was also the last great English poet of the nineteenth century, or the first great poet of the twentieth century. Perhaps both. He had no idea that anyone would ever think so; the Jesuits thought his poems were crazy. However, the poems show a brilliant, inventive, blessed mind. They are shot through with evidence that Father Hopkins could see things in nature that very few others can see--or could see, before Father Hopkins pointed them out. He also could hear things in the English language that others did not have the capacity to hear before Father Hopkins invented the rhythms that displayed them. He could really see, he could really hear, and this meant seeing and hearing acutely not only what was good but what was bad.
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wear's man's smugde and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
Forty-five years of the agony and ecstasy of being a deeply devout, often tempted, unusually sensitive visionary, who felt humiliated by the religious order he had pledged his life to, and then mortal illness in a foreign country where Englishmen were despised.
"I am so happy, so happy," said Father Hopkins and died in obscurity.
One hundred and twenty-five years later, how is he doing? I don't know. I hope he is in Heaven. He may very well be. He might be in Purgatory. I very much doubt he is in Hell. I would not be surprised at all to discover that he is in Heaven already. In life, he really loved God.
He is certainly not getting royalties, nor does he care. But his works serve as contemporary psalms for lovers of poetry, especially if they share Father Hopkin's faith. The one I posted at the top is the one I love the best.
I don't know why sinners prosper, unless it is because the world is indeed ruled by the lord of this world. Sinful ways work in a sinful world. The soil is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod. Yet sin, said Sister Wilfreda to my Grade 9 Religion class, has its own built-in punishment. You might feel the effects of it soon, or you might feel the effects of it later. God in His mercy may let you learn from your hard lesson, or God in His mercy may spare you the hard lesson at all. We cannot without presumption take the mercy of God for granted, but we can and should rejoice when we or someone else experiences it. I have suffered rather a lot from some sins, and only later realized what those sins were in the first place.
Chaste readers, by which I mean readers who do their best not to commit any sexual sins, may feel ripped off that God does not reward them for their chastity with a nice husband. I certainly felt ripped off when God did not reward me for my chastity with a nice husband. I spent my first marriage demanding "Why did You DO this to me? I was a GOOD girl," etc., etc. It has taken me some decades to admit that I wasn't as good as all that. I wouldn't go so far as to say I was a "virgin whore" (as my ex said some invisible rival of mine--who, come to think of it, he might have made up--had called me). But I was thoughtless and selfish and wont to think I was well within my rights to dump some guy I had made out with months without a sincere apology. Instead of blaming myself for inchastity ("ME? A VIRGIN? UNCHASTE? HOW DARE YOU!") and getting a grip, I blamed myself for "fickleness" and tried to cure it by quashing my better judgement and just getting married to the next guy I made out with. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. What he was being punished for...Well, I guess Aslan would say that that was his story.
I feel really terrible for virgins who give themselves airs, for I was a virgin who gave myself airs, at least in my head. Now such preening strikes me as pathetic and as touching as the rose in Le Petit Prince proudly flexing her little thorns. Nobody gives you a prize for virginity in this life. If you hang onto it forever, you get a crown in heaven, I believe--at least metaphorically. If you trade it in for marriage, you get the satisfaction of knowing that God is pleased you obeyed Him in this respect.
And that's it, frankly, speaking as one who knows. You don't necessarily win your husband's everlasting love and respect, if you wouldn't have had it otherwise. Oh, if you overcame serious temptation and suffering on the way to becoming a "virgin bride", if serious temptation and suffering come your way again, you may be able to defeat them, thanks to early practice. Of course, if you are grieved you got no tangible reward for your virtue, temptation and suffering may defeat you next time around. Temporarily, of course. Thank God we have stopped thinking of women as breakable glass objects which, if they fall with a smash, are swept up and thrown in the bin.
There is something creepy about wanting punishment to fall on a happy (if sinful) woman who, thanks to the mercy of God, is blessed with a happy (if sinful) husband and children, as I'm sure you all know in your heart of hearts. You don't know what suffering she had in her life before she married, and you don't know what suffering she will have after. You probably don't know her circumstances, either. I remember a Polish reader writing about a cousin who was held up to her as a model of chastity all through the cousin's overlong engagement. It turns out the cousin had been having sex with her fiancé for ages, and my reader was absolutely disgusted with her cousin when she found out.
But from my point of view, I feel awful for the poor cousin, having had to listen to her older female relations going on about how chaste she was, and perhaps even wanting to be chaste, and perhaps crying in the confessional every second Saturday, terrified of offending God, while her fiancé put the pressure on. Even fiancés can be absolute jerks about sex because all men (like all women) are sinners. It's up to the woman to decide if she loves such a sinner enough to marry him. May God be merciful to them both--and to all of us.
And that's it from me. I will write an Appendix (Appendix 2) full of helpful links tomorrow.
God bless you all, my little poppets. I hope all this was helpful.
Grace and peace,
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights of the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs--
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.