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Monday, May 7, 2012

St. Anthony and Bioethics

I was cutting my grass yesterday. Yeah, on a Sunday. I hate to do that, but between the weather and other intervening events on recent Saturdays, and working late during the week, this was the first chance I had to cut the grass all year, and it really needed it. Hmmm. Maybe it's time I taught my older son how to use the machine. I was cutting grass when I was younger than him.

Anyway, I was cutting grass under some low hanging branches, and one of the branches knocked my glasses off. Now, I can see without them, but not comfortably. So I called my boys (ages 7 and 10) over to help. These are great kids, I love them beyond description, but they couldn't find the shoes on their feet if they had to. (I'm exaggerating of course, but you get the idea.) They began helping me but it wasn't going too well, and I muttered something about not being able to find them.

I was getting anxious about this. I can get by without the glasses, but I do really need them, and I wouldn't be able to get new ones for quite a while. Frustrated. So the 7-year-old says, with a musical lilt, "Oh well," and ran off to play some more. I didn't take to well to that, and scolded him, "That's right, so don't help me look for them. Go inside the house. NOW."

I may have been a little harsh in that moment because he stopped helping "me" find "my" glasses, but I also do want him to learn not to give up in the search for lost things. After all, the glasses were THERE somewhere, not down the road, not accidentally dropped in the garbage, not left in some place in my travels. But within a few feet of where we were. Had to be. I suppose I could have made it better, relating it to the Good Shepherd who keeps searching for the lost sheep, and been more explicit about not giving up. I blew it to the extent my reaction was ordered to the material aspects of finding my glasses and not to the spiritual dimension of what could be learned. I felt bad to the extent I blew it, but took solace in that I did try to impart a good lesson.

So I sighed at my imperfections and hoped that God would make up for them in terms of the good lesson part.

Then I prayed to St. Anthony, finder of lost things. "C'mon, St. Anthony, they're here somewhere." And in that moment I turned my head and my eyes landed right on the glasses.

My wife, reflecting on my imperfections in that episode, said, "You're lucky he heard you." I don't doubt that. Thank you, St. Anthony. (Now please get to work on finding my out-of-debt-ness that I lost a few years ago!)

So what does this have to do with bioethics? Just that Reality consists in more than the physical realm. As preoccupied as I am with things like my glasses and my out-of-debt-ness, there's a bigger picture. Bioethics is concerned primarily with human physical well being, but physical well being is not the only good man has. There is a spiritual dimension, too, and bioethics has to account for it.

What good is finding my glasses if I fail as a dad in finding them? What good is a medical treatment or procedure if it reinforces spiritually questionable attitudes and behaviors? IVF, for instance, isn't evil only because it reinforces an inordinate self-love and love for a future child and usurps God's prerogatives. The material process itself isn't any good, either. But the spiritual dimension is part of IVF.

I pray that St. Anthony helps our society find the moral groundings it has lost. The problem is, one has to be looking for the thing one wants to find in order to find it.

As soon as I found my glasses, I told the 10-year-old to go get his brother and tell him he can come out now. Later that evening, I spent a little time playing with him. But he has it in his head that I'm gonna build him a tree fort out of sticks. "It's easy, Dad. Just split those logs in half and nail 'em up." "That's a lot of work. Why don't you cut them in half? I don't think you'd get more than a few inches." The wheels began to turn about how he'd go about splitting the logs.... we'll see where that takes him.

In the meantime, I think me and St. Anthony, we're gonna be good friends.

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