My thoughts and reflections on my Catholic Faith, Fulton Sheen, the problem of suffering, and books

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

On Fear, Man's Purpose, and Bombs

With all the tension in the media lately, my thoughts turned to Ven. Fulton J. Sheen’s words on bombs. Granted, in his works he is speaking of bombs that have the capacity to blow up an entire world, namely, the atomic bomb; but his words are still relevant. He speaks of the atomic bomb under three categories: fear–specifically fear of death; man’s purpose in this world; and the fact that it is not the bomb itself that is at fault, but the person who throws it.

First, bombs cause fear.  I’m sure that the citizens in Boston are still living in fear–fear because they have seen that their lives can be changed in an instant; fear because the unexpected can happen and change their lives forever; fear because a joyful occasion, namely, the Boston Marathon, can become a horrifying occasion within seconds. Sheen writes about fear in his 1952 book The World’s First Love:
Man is living in fear, but it is different from any fear in the past–first, because man used to fear God with a filial fear, which made him shrink from hurting One Whom he loved.  Later on, man feared not God but his fellowman, as the world shuddered under two world wars in twenty-one years.  Now we have come to the last and most awful of all the fears, in which man trembles before the littlest thing in the universe–the atom!
For some, the Boston Marathon bombing has made them bitter against God; they are shaking their fists against a God Who allowed this to happen. For others, the bombing is inspiring the very fear of which Sheen speaks–a filial fear–that causes them to examine their consciences, to ponder the fact that they “know not the day nor the hour” (Mt. 25:13) when they might meet their Creator, to ponder the sobering fact that they could have been the ones killed, deprived of any last chance to make things right with their fellow-man and with their Creator.
Sheen continues: “The atomic bomb has suddenly made all humanity fear that which the individual alone previously feared, namely, death.” Death is fundamentally an individual thing. It is the moment when the individual soul leaves its individual body and meets its Creator. It is the moment when the individual soul faces “the particular judgment” (cf. CCC1022), when he faces either eternal punishment in hell, temporary purgation in Purgatory, or eternal glory in Heaven. It has been said that death is the moment when man is most alone, because he has no friends to plead his cause: it is just he and his God. 
Secondly, such a senseless massacre makes one consider his purpose in this life: why are we here? Is there any meaning to our lives if they can be ended in a second, at the act of a mindless terrorist? Sheen addresses this point in his 1960 book Go to Heaven:
The atomic bomb has taken our minds off existence and purpose. Yet it is still true today that how one gets out of time is not so important as how one is in eternity. The atomic bomb in the hands of a Francis of Assisi would be less harmful than a pistol in the hand of a thug; what makes the bomb dangerous is not the energy it contains, but the man who uses it.  Therefore, it is modern man who has to be remade. Unless he can stop the explosions inside his own mind, he will probably–armed with the bomb–do harm to the planet itself, as Pius XII has warned.
Our lives have purpose: to lead us to an eternity with God in Heaven. That’s why we’re here. We do not need to get “out of time” by video games, trashy novels, or other forms of escapism; we need to embrace this time, this life, which God has given us. He has given it to us for one purpose: to prepare for eternity with Him. He loves us. That Love is our purpose in this life.
Finally, Sheen asserts in Peace of Soul that the bomb is not the problem; the problem lies in the one who uses it:
There is no such thing as the problem of the atomic bomb.  There is, rather, the problem of the man who makes and uses it.  Only men and nations whose personalities were already atomized could join forces with external nature to use an atomic bomb in an attack on human existence .
The problem is not the bomb; the fault does not lie in the pressure cookers, the backpacks, or the nails; those are all good, in and of themselves. The evil lies in the intentions of the bombers. They need to “be remade.” And there is only one thing that can “remake” them according to their purpose: the grace of God.
And because we also need His grace, because prayer is the only way we can obtain that grace for ourselves for others, because the bombers and their victims need His grace, let us pray: for the eternal rest of the soul of the deceased bomber and his victims; for the conversion of the other bomber; and for healing for the victims of the bombing.
God Love Y’all!