The Miracle of Hope

I sat across the table from him, staring blankly into space for a little while. Finally the question came, “How do you feel about seeing Kelsey today?” I had no words but they still came rolling down my cheeks. In an attempt to hide my emotions, I buried my face in my arms and then turned away. My face became flushed with every passing moment and finally, I succumbed to my personal defeat. It was time to share how I felt about the friend I had lost.

This Wednesday was the first anniversary of a horrific car accident which nearly took the life of my dear friend Kelsey. Some may recall this particular January day; it was the foggiest day I’ve ever seen in West Michigan. Truly, I could not see more than six houses down my street without them disappearing into the mist. That morning I got a text telling me that Kelsey had been in an accident and was barely holding on in the ICU at Spectrum Hospital. My lungs failed me in that moment and I gasped for so much more than air. “Please God, no” were the only words I could fumble out my mouth. The next several hours were the beginning of the most intense hours yet to come. Prayer lines formed, social media blew up with requests, phone calls and texts of all kinds flooded my phone. I was overwhelmed which was an understatement.

Kelsey experienced severe head trauma, multiple broken ribs, a punctured lung, a fractured pelvis and clavicle, and lost her spleen within the first hours of her assessment. She wasn’t supposed to make it alive to the hospital given the extent of her injuries. The next several days, followed by weeks, were a steady game of hour-by-hour updates on whether or not her brain swelling would stabilize and if so, would she make it to the next day. Her future hung in the balance on the tip of a pin.

Every moment I had when I wasn’t thinking about something I needed to do was spent saying Hail Mary’s and asking Jesus to pull her through all of this. It was the most intense and exhaustive praying I have ever done for anyone. I recall having texted her the day before her accident, and we talked about when we were getting together to go gluten-free shopping. She had recently decided to try it in the hopes of it helping her Lupus, an auto-immune disease that greatly affected her the prior summer, and I was her resource in getting this diet going. We were also going to talk about wedding plans, given that she was recently engaged and had begun planning for her June 2014 wedding. She was twenty one at the time of her accident and now everything was stopped in time.

Today, I sit at my desk thinking about the friend I love and terribly miss. When I think about this young woman’s life and everything she has accomplished since her accident, I am truly astounded. I also consider the pre-accident woman who would “never say never”, and fought for those who needed help fighting their own fight. Kelsey’s devotion to Mary through the rosary was inspirational. So much so that when the accident happened, the entire youth group at St. Pius X (some 60+ teens) would come together to pray a rosary for Kelsey every Sunday. But this woman, who had endured so much and given us so much hope, is now a very different person than before. Today Kelsey cannot talk, walk, or do much on her own. She has been in some form of therapy since she was discharged, and had a couple more surgeries since then, but she is still largely unable to communicate to the outside world. She is a profound woman with knowledge of everything a normal person her age is capable of knowing, but stuck inside a body that cannot express itself.

Many questions mill through my mind and I ask myself, “What does hope look like? What hope can I have for a friend who I don’t really know anymore? How do I get to know Kelsey in this time? How do I live in the present with her? Must I forget memories of her from the past?” These are all questions I ask whenever I see her or intimately pray for her. In the beginning I often prayed for her full recovery, but now, I feel hope has challenged me to pray for something else. Hope asks us to pray for God’s will to be shown, whatever it may be. Hope is not optimism. Kelsey may never walk or talk again, but we must cling to hope, in the truest sense of the word. We must have hope that Christ will renew us, in whatever form the Father chooses. Though limited in her human capabilities, Kelsey is living hope for us all to witness. God is rebuilding her and using her in ways we cannot yet fully understand. However, we must come to understand the greater message of unending hope that lies within each of us, so that we may remain in Christ. We need to have hope in Christ as Kelsey has, if not just for her sake but for our own.

“But hope is something else. It’s not optimism. Hope is a present; it’s a gift from the Holy Spirit and that is why Paul says: “Never disappoint yourself.” Hope never lets you down. Why? Because it’s a gift from the Holy Spirit. But Paul tells us that hope has a name. Hope is Christ. We can’t say “I have hope in God”, no. If you don’t say “I have hope in Jesus Christ, a person that’s alive, that lives in the Eucharist, that is present in His word”, that is not hope. It could be a good mood or optimism… 

Jesus, the hope, renews everything. It’s a constant miracle. He has not only done miracles of healing: those were only signs, signals of what He’s now doing in the Church. The miracle of making everything new: what He does in my life, in your life, in our life. He rebuilds. And what He builds again is precisely the reason of our hope. Christ is the one who renews every wonderful thing of the Creation; He’s the reason of our hope. And this hope does not delude because He is faithful. He can’t renounce Himself. This is the virtue of hope. 

May the Lord, who is the hope of glory, who is the center, the whole, help us in this path: to give hope, to have passion for hope. And, as I’ve said, it’s not always optimism but what Mary, Mother of God, sheltered in her heart during the darkest time of her life; since Friday afternoon until Sunday morning. That is hope. She had it. And that hope has renewed everything. May God grant us that grace.”

– Pope Francis from his Mass Homily at Casa Santa Maria on 9/9/13

kelsey

Likeness and the Afterlife

by Andrew Simmons                                                                           Thursday,  Jan 30

“Thus when the power-crazed person whose motto is ‘Caesar or nothing’ doesn’t become Caesar, he despairs over that. But this indicates something else: that he cannot stand being himself precisely because he failed to become Caesar…And by not becoming Caesar he despairs at not being able to be rid of himself.” –Soren Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death, p. 49

kierkegaard-Beaton

image credit: Kate Beaton, creator of Hark! A Vagrant.

It is clear that there are and remain several underlying questions among Christians about Hell. The release of Love Wins by Rob Bell did not create the discussion, but merely stoked the fires over whether or not Hell contradicts Christian love. Some would say that a God who condemns is not one who loves; conversely, other Christians maintain the importance of hell based on moral principles. In fact, the entire discourse seems to hang on whether or not the law possesses a power over where a person goes. This is not an article about whether or not the lawful or the lawless are right in this situation. The aim of this is to add to the discussion by calling to mind the foundation of the discourse in general: the person. Whatever may occur in the afterlife, it pertains less to moralistic categories, but, rather, reflects personal development.

Now, predominately in the West, there is a reoccurring interpretation that the “image of God” and being made in God’s “likeness” are the same thing (Gen 1:26-27). As someone with an affinity for Eastern theology, this is not the case with the Eastern Christians (Catholic or Orthodox). From Fred J. Saato’s American Eastern Catholics, the image refers mainly to the characteristics of humanity that reflect God’s qualities. Likeness, however, deals with the later perfecting of these qualities (Saato, 62). What this essentially means is that we are all subject to being brought into the likeness of God. The Church Father’s understood this to be theosis. But I wish to add more with the notion of the likeness. Using Aquinas’s notion that the human person is a subject that is driven by desiring, I propose that the human person is driven towards attaining a likeness.

Whether it is impersonating our parents as kids or social icons as adults, we seek to find some symbol to adopt as the foundation for our lives. These personas to live by provide an element of security against life’s common anxiety. One can see it in the impersonating of celebrities, seeking out self-help gurus, or in adhering to any particular social leader. Yet, the symbols others seek to live by are bound to the same contingency as its pursuer. To further add onto the quote by Kierkegaard, it is not so much that one despairs of never becoming Caesar, but the despair in realizing that Caesar was never worth being in the first place. This sensation of despair is key to Kierkegaard’s The Sickness Unto Death; the text, however, is not purely psychological. The condition dubbed “the sickness unto death” is something Kierkegaard claims is only noticeable to the Christian.  Death is not the disease, but, for Kierkegaard, is the perceived cure for the afflicted. It is the termination of a life with nothing left to hope for.

The sickness is a condition often ignored due to the continuous affinity to distract one from the root cause.  Today, the world is gripped with constant struggles over ideals. Political activism has replaced a necessary need to ponder the reasons for why certain systems are even believed in. Yet, Kierkegaard, the ever constant social critic, does not begin the text with arguments against politics or social movements. He begins talking about what composes the human person. A person is the synthesis of two distinct concepts: the infinite and the finite. While the terminology is different, the medievals also had a similar understanding that the human person was the unity between eternity and materiality. The sickness is a great loathing for this condition. It is the struggle to accept one over the other. Yet, in failing to grasp that the person is a “both/and” and not an “either/or”, the troubled soul seeks to no longer be a united presence in the world. This, I believe, carries with it an eternal repercussion.

As the synthesis of the infinite and finite, the way one conducts himself is presumed to have an impact on this union. Aquinas states that the customs that we conduct ourselves by become something akin to a second nature (IIa-IIae, Q 49, A 1, ad 2). Whatever we fixate upon becomes a part of us. I wish to take this statement of second nature and apply it to likeness. By seeking out a likeness that is limited, we become trapped within that likeness. For Kierkegaard, one is to be grounded in Christ who brings about a paradoxical realization. When the person seeks out the likeness of Christ, it is always important to remember that Christ, in turn, sought out humanity in the Incarnation.  It is not simply adopting the mask of Christ, but it is taking up a mask that returns and inversely leaves you without one. It is the assumption of a likeness that embraces the eternal. It is a rejection of what Chesterton would refer to as the limiting cell of the madman (an actual reference to Nietzsche’s madman). If anything, hell is that limiting confinement upon which is written “He [the madman] believes in himself” (Chesterton, 21).

Sources:

Chesterton, G. K. Orthodoxy. New York: Image, 2001.

Kierkegaard, Soren. The Sickness unto Death. London: Penguin, 2004.

Saato, Fred J. American Eastern Catholicism. Mahwah: Paulist Press, 2006.

Image:

http://www.harkavagrant.com/index.php?id=33

Andrew Simmons is now a graduate from Aquinas College! He studied  for a double major in History and Theology with a minor in Catholic Studies. In 2010, during his freshman year, he converted to Catholicism. He is now plagued by questions about graduate school. The anxiety of choice! 

Are the Brain Dead Really Dead?

by Christian Ohnimus                                                                         Wednesday, January 29

The Culture of Life naturally seeks to preserve human life and defend human dignity. This is a wonderful thing, but sometimes we can let our emotions get the best of us and, in our good intentions, argue from ignorance. This is often the case regarding the bogeyman of “brain death.” Its a scary medical term that we don’t always understand, summoning images of people, sometimes children, with beating hearts on life support, declared dead by a seeming technicality so that utilitarian doctors can harvest their organs, fresh and still warm. Its a chilling image indeed but its power is in emotion and not facts.

So, let’s lift the veil and take a look behind the curtain. What, exactly, is brain death and are the brain dead really “dead”? According to Catholic Health Care Ethics: A Manual for Practitioners brain death “typically refers to the irreversible loss of all functions of the entire brain, including the brain stem.” Blessed John Paul II affirmed the ethical use of brain death criteria in his address to the 18th international congress of the transplantation society Tuesday 29 August 2000, where he stated, the total disintegration of that unitary and integrated whole that is the personal self” takes place when there is “the complete and irreversible cessation of all brain activity (in the cerebrum, cerebellum and brain stem). This is then considered the sign that the individual organism has lost its integrative capacity.”

Thus, for someone to be brain dead, their brain must cease functioning entirely and this cessation of function must be determined irreversible. Brain death is not the same thing as being in a coma or a vegetative state. There is no coming back. Yet, we’ve heard the stories of patients who were “brain dead” making miraculous recoveries. The truth is that they were never really brain dead and were declared such erroneously. Believe it or not, whether declaring brain or cardiac death, sometimes doctors are wrong. Its actually not always easy to tell if a patient has passed on. Thus, certain biological traits of death must be observed so that death may be declared with moral certainty.

To declare irreversible cessation of function of the brain, the patient is clinically examined and must be totally unresponsive, completely lacking all brain stem reflexes, and unbreathing. Additionally, the medical team rules out any conditions that may mimic death like locked-in syndrome, hypothermia or drug intoxication. Clinical examinations are often repeated after an interval of hours or even days of observation, sometimes multiple times by different doctors, and additional and more sophisticated testing may also be performed. All of these steps are not performed because brain death represents some hazy technicality but because it is important that, when declaring a patient dead, doctors can demonstrate with moral certainty that a genuine total loss of function has occurred and that this loss is irreversible. Highly sophisticated “life support” can give a dead body the vague appearance of life. A dead person may exhibit “residual biological functions.” For example, inotropic drugs can maintain a blood pressure even in a dead body and mechanical ventilation can inflate and deflate the lungs and “breathe” even after both the brain and heart have stopped. Life support can keep a body warm and pink long after the person has died and well perfused organs and tissue can still maintain some modicum of function even completely separated from the body. Hair can grow and wounds can heal; this is also why organ transplants are even possible at all in the first place. Transplanted hearts and kidneys remain alive the entire time as they make the journey from donor to recipient but that doesn’t mean that their original owner is still alive.

Kenneth Iserson, MD offers a good analogy for understanding just how concrete brain death is:

In death by brain criteria, the body is physiologically decapitated. In an anatomic decapitation, the head is actually chopped off but the heart continues to beat for some time, spraying blood from the severed neck arteries. Yet, despite the continued pumping of the heart, there is no question that the person is irreversibly dead.

The body, even when kept alive on machines, is no longer a living person when anatomically or physiologically cut off from the head. The tissues and organs may remain perfused but the person is gone. The death of the brain results in the disintegration of the person; the soul has departed and only the body remains. Any living tissue exists only in a mortally disintegrated state. To be brain dead is to be truly dead.

Circulatory-respiratory criteria, the criteria for declaring cardiac death, is far more straightforward. The heart stops beating and the patient’s code status determines whether efforts are made to resuscitate them. Either immediately after the heart stops or after exhaustive resuscitative efforts are made the patient is declared dead after two to five minutes of no circulation or respiration. It should be noted that, even in cardiac death, which to many has come to be viewed as “more dead” than brain death, organ function and even resuscitation can remain possible for a surprising amount of time. Two to five minutes is not long enough to guarantee irreversible loss of either cardiac or even brain function. To declare absolute certainty of death, even when adhering to circulatory-respiratory criteria, would require letting the patient sit cold on the table for hours. It could be days or longer before the body is no longer viable on the cellular level. Such would be an unduly burdensome as well as unnecessary endeavor both for medical professionals and families alike. Moral certainty suffices in declaring cardiac death and it suffices in declaring brain death as well.

It should be clear from this explanation of brain and cardiac death that a patient who is brain dead is actually dead and not merely declared so on technicalities for convenient legal purposes. In fact, the diagnosis of “brain dead” is far more rigorous and exhaustive than that of cardiac death which, while truly irreversible when properly diagnosed, can occur before the brain has actually lost all function irreversibly – meaning that metaphysical (and brain) death may yet still occur some minutes after cardio-respiratory arrest (cardiac death).

Brain death is not something to fear. The neurological criteria to determine death is a tool, one we must seek to understand so as to assure that it is used properly. The conversation does not end here. Real problems exist regarding brain death. Brain death is misdiagnosed, abused, and confused and we must possess a mature moral and medical understanding in combating such ailments lest our good intentions be drowned by our ignorance. I will address the issues surrounding brain death’s misapplication next week.

Christian Ohnimus is a husband and registered nurse in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He holds a Bachelors of Science in Nursing from Franciscan University. He hopes to raise a holy family with the help of his better and more beautiful other half.

Magical Reason

Reason is unimaginable. It has no shape, density, color, or velocity. If matter and energy were the only things to

Like Magic!

Like Magic!

exist, reason would not exist. On the other hand, faith would exist, or at least a simpler version of it. Faith is an outgrowth of experience and trust after all. Dogs have faith, flies have faith, atheists have faith (in reason (and proselytizing atheists have faith in free will)). Of the two, faith and reason, reason is more magical, it is more supernatural. You cannot set up a scientific experiment to test if reason exists, because the experiment assumes reason from the outset. Science cannot disprove the supernatural, cannot disprove magic, because it assumes the supernatural.

The natural version of faith is the simple one of experience, you can trust or believe in something because you have experienced it. The supernatural version is believing in things unseen, like the supernatural. Reason has no natural version, it is purely supernatural. It takes things unseen and manipulates them by unseen means to find more meaning, to find more truth. It is mysteriously present in our thinking, and it magically allows us to see the unseen. It is our magic eyes in a way.

Science assumes reason, and it assumes patterns. It can either fantasize that these patterns are unbreakable laws, or that these patterns can be practically put to use. Either way, the scientific method assumes both reason and repeatability in nature. Both have to be taken by faith. Both elements are supernatural. After all, what does the law of gravity look like? It has no color, velocity, or weight. The facts of falling bodies could be just as accurately described as the ‘enchantment’ of gravity as it could the ‘law’ of gravity.

Reason is practical, ubiquitous, and necessary, but it is still a mysterious supernatural element. A wizardry peculiar to humans among animals. It may very well be an illusion, but that is as unprovable as its existence.

On our hearts

Joshua Fahey is a Chestertonian who enjoys a little polemicism to spice up his life.

That Awful Truth

“If the world is against Truth, then I am against the world.” – St. Athanasius

Aslan!

The Truth is the most real thing to me. I can easily say it is more real to me than this morning’s cereal (a littleharder to say it is more real than this morning’s coffee; it was roasted by monks). I remember an incident with a hypnotist when I was younger, ten or so. I was one of those that he brought on stage. I really wanted to believe in hypnotism, that I could use my imagination to really change my perception (not in so many words, I was ten after all). Maybe even really enter into those worlds written by C.S.Lewis or Brian Jacques. I remember that he asked us to act like musclemen, so I acted. I didn’t confuse it with reality at all, but I didn’t want to let on that I hadn’t been hypnotized so I played along. And ever since I met the Internet and all its assorted knowledge I have looked for self-hypnosis files, but I still have yet to believe that I am a chicken. The Truth is the most real thing to me, even if I try to deceive myself, and since I know that I am deceiving myself, nothing changes.

Which is not to say that I can’t be wrong, or that I can’t do wrong. For a while I believed that it was intrinsic to Christianity to deny Evolution, but I matured out of that nonsense (with a lot of help). When I first saw pornography, to my everlasting shame, I knew what it was and that it was wrong, but I still kept looking. The saint in me wishes to seek out that Truth and get closer; the sinner in me wishes I could close my eyes to it. I wish I could say the saint always wins.

That Awful Sun

But the Truth is most real, I can’t change it, nor can I see all of it. It is always awful, as the light from the sun is
awful. Fiction and stories serve the same purpose to me as a camera obscura. They allow me to look closer at that awful light. I hate lies, anything that distorts the Truth away from me, awful as it is, does not lessen its burden. Only a deeper understanding has lessened the burden, and further than that it has given me a great joy. And so distortions like quotes out of context, or bald lies meant to deceive strike a nerve with me. Thoughtless idiocy like witchcraft and political correctness which seeks to change the Truth is as effective as changing the sun using a kaleidoscope, and ticks me off the same if not more so. The Truth is awful. It is uncomfortable. But you cannot run away from it, there is no shield that can block it, no facility that can keep it out, even in furthest depths of hell it shines. But if you run towards it, seek it out, it will do something that not even hypnotism can promise, it will transform you into a being that is both more of who you are and also unburdened by its radiance. That is why I stumble towards heaven, “My yoke is easy,” Christ says, “and my burden light.”

>P< God bless,

Joshua Fahey is a Chestertonian who really stumbles. Really, I’m not joshing you, he really stumbles. Oh, and his memory is pretty terrible.

Christians Open to Diversity

Christianity teaches that each member of the human race has a purpose in life which will bring them happiness.

Post-modern secular society says that humans are not participating in any kind of trajectory at all.

Christianity teaches that love is self sacrificing.

Much of secular society holds that love is defined by desire.

Christianity values human life because it is an image of God, valued by Him.

The world tells us that values is assigned mostly by function.

These differences between our particular culture and Christianity create an atmosphere in which a Christian serve a particularly valuable function in society. Christians will always be outsiders, aliens, and underdogs. Every day life, for a Christian, is full of evaluation of everything going on around her. She must decide, often instantly, whether the messages and

demands coming at her from all sides are consonant, or dissonant with her faith, and by extension, her identity and life.

A Christian should be focused on the world beyond this one, when we will live in a world made right, rather than a flawed human culture. All cultures are flawed and imperfect as the individual people that create them. Also like the individuals involved, all cultures are beautiful and adorned with hints of the splendor of truth. One is just as good as any other because they are all hopelessly ineffective for promoting happiness.

The Christian also holds that there is hope for individual people, and even communities within a culture. Christ bridges the gap between our inadequacies, and the happiness for which we are made. Christ is the only way, and he works through every culture, and every possible channel.

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Some colors are brighter, some points sharper. But they are all reflecting parts of light.

When meeting a person, or a culture, or a community, for the first time, a Christian must first know that God is at work in all cultures. This too, though it may seem strange and foreign, has goodness in it. This assumption gives the Christians interaction with a foreign culture hermeneutic to hope and respect. Many small judgments will follow; evaluation of ideas and values against the standard of Christ, who is the source of all goodness. Always the goal is enrichment through the truth and beauty of Christ working through a different life, or culture. A Christian is also called to evangelize, bring Christ to the world more explicitly. A Christian is called to reject those ideas that violate who she is and who God is; to bring light to dark parts of culture and drive out evil.

For these reasons, a Christian transcends her culture while remaining a part of it. She can come to diversity with an open mind because human constructs of society are not her highest authority. She will always be an outsider, so every culture is an opportunity to search for truth, and to test her own assumptions about what is true.  Her own understanding of God is challenged and refined with every encounter.

Ironically, Christianity is often criticized for producing close minded, judgmental, superstitious, sheep. Christianity helped, for good or ill, to produce a culture that can value diversity and openness to being enriched by other cultures. The Christian who strives to live the gospel is particularly well equipped to engage her culture, and others around her, to promote true diversity in a healthy way.

Karen Mannino lives in Spokane where there is hardly any racial diversity, and everyone’s grandmother was Catholic, but nobody care anymore. Her favorite kind of diversity is generational. She works in a pottery studio with potters of all ages and thinks it’s the most fun she has had since theater in high school.

Dying

For the past twenty-nine years, I have been dying. I shall continue to do so for probably another fifty. And then, one day, I shall stop. On an unknown day at an unknown our, I shall stop dying. And I shall start something else.

Here is, I think, more than anything the human mystery. That moment, always slightly shrouded, when we cease being in danger of death. Everything changes, including ourselves. The final mystery, the final enemy, explodes onto the scene.

This calls to mind a poem by the Carmelite Jessica Powers:

“The Great Mystery”

My uncle had one sober comment for
all deaths. Well, he (or she)
has, he would say, solved the great mystery.
I tried as child to pierce the dark unknown,
straining to reach the keyhole of that door,
massive and grave through which one slips alone.

A little girl is mostly prophecy.
And here, as there before,
when fact arrests me at that solemn door,
I reach and find the keyhole still too high,
though now I can surmise that it will be
light (and not darkness) that will meet the eye.

Death, they say, is the great leveler, that once they die the wealthy, the powerful, the wonderful, will be like the poor, the weak, the unnoticed. Perhaps the future tense is unwarranted. The great and mighty are today just as much dying as we all are, and like us they are too small to reach that keyhole. Perhaps they are even smaller. It is not the wealthy who teach us how to die. For that we need the poor, the meek, the lowly.

Blessed are the poor, for to them belongs the kingdom of heaven.