Sunday, October 01, 2006

Being Catholic: From the Heart

Being Catholic: From the Heart, by Bishop Gordon Bennett
When I was Teaching high school English, I used to assign my students a short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne to read and discuss which was titled “Ethan Brand”. The story is about a young man, the title character, who deliberately embarks upon a search for what he called the “Unpardonable Sin”. His journey involves, not a descent into unbridled pleasure or overt selfishness, but rather in desiring to know everything there is to know. Hawthorne skillfully describes how this young man gradually evolves from a sensitive and caring person into what Hawthorne describes as a fiend. He writes that Ethan Brand became a fiend “the moment his moral nature had ceased to keep the pace of improvement with his intellect.” His education, because it neglected his spiritual nature, had as its greatest fruit - the Unpardonable Sin.

Let me quote from the story: “so much for the intellect! It had ceased to partake of the universal throb. He had lost hold of the magnetic chain of humanity. He was no longer a brother, he was now a cold observer, looking on mankind as the subject of his experiment and, at length, converting men and women to his puppets, and pulling the wires that moved them to such degrees of crime as were demanded for his study.”

I used to teach this story as a kind of warning to my students of how important it was for the head and the heart to grow together, and this was a warning that students who were as privilege and gifted as my students were needed to hear. I was trying to help at the expense of disowning their own hearts. It was a way of asking them the question Jesus posed to the rich young man in the gospel: “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” I loved giving that lecture and facilitating that discussion! It was a last chance to harangue my students about the importance of claiming their hearts, of paying attention to their inner longing, which are the prelude to discovering the presence of God. It was really trying to tell them that, in life, the heart of the matter is the matter of the heart.

The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart.

I had, of course, hoped that Ethan Brand would never have been on the list of those persons my students would choose to emulate.

But then, a few years later, when I was principal, I actually met Ethan Brand.

His real name (not really!) Was Kevin, 16 years old, bright, talented, handsome, athletic, a student body officer - and, apparently, a drug dealer. This last activity came to my attention through parents in his neighborhood who told me that, although Kevin never sold drugs at school (which would have been cause for expulsion), he was selling them to the kids in his neighborhood. The parents said they hd talked to Kevin’s parents but had been unsuccessful in convincing them that their son was really doing this.

I called Kevin into my office, partly because I thought he should know what was being said about him, and partly because I wanted to put him on notice that, if anything like that happened at school, he would be dismissed. To my surprise, he admitted that he was, in fact, selling drugs to his peers, that he was keenly aware of the repercussions which would attach if he was to do so at school, and that he had not qualms whatsoever about continuing. When I expressed some curiosity about why he would do this since he was obviously wealthy and did not use drugs himself, he gave and answer, which reminded me of Ethan Brand. Kevin told me he sold drugs because he was fascinated by the effects they had on other people and that he enjoyed the power he had gained over them.

Try to keep myself from doing something irrational, I began informing him, with as much genuine passion as I could muster, how his insensitivity to others had already ruined lives and could possibly even cause death. I tried to explain to him how what he was doing was beyond the pale of acceptable behavior toward friends or even enemies.

As I was talking, I saw something happening to him. He eyes locked into mine. His face reddened, his jaws shut tight, his eyes filled with tears. But I made the mistake of reading remorse when what he spat out at me was pure rage. He said: “I’m sorry I ever came to this damned school.” Being totally confused, I asked him to repeat what he had said, and he did, with even more energy than before: “I’m sorry I even came to this damned school.” When I asked why, he stunned me with his answer: “Because,” he said, “if I had gone to a public school, like I wanted to, I wouldn’t have had to worry about saving my soul.”

If I had gone to just a public school, I wouldn’t have to worry about saving my soul. ~Bishop Gordon Bennett, "Being Catholic: From the Heart"
“Ethan Brand” by Nathaniel Hawthorne

I got this from William Trentman from Utah's 44th Annual Pastoral Congress


Grrrrrrr! said...

Is it BBC policy to destroy all religions other than Islam?

Catholic TV licence payers please note that your hard-earned cash has been used to broadcast a pile of unsubstatiated B.S. ( ) that puts the Vatican at the center of a global pedophile ring.

If the BBC seriously wants to investigate religiously inspired pedophilia it should take a look at this :

But I suppose it never will. Too much risk of a fatwa.


joshua said...

intersting post