Tuesday, September 30, 2014


If charm "kills love," then bitterness incapacitates it. I have two complimentary friends in my life with old world backgrounds: one is quite bitter and the other is not. One's father lost everything when his wealthy pro-Chiang family's assets were confiscated by the Communists and he was sent to a re-education camp, only to escape to Hong Kong while swimming shark-infested waters, planes firing overhead. The other comes from Armenia, a country crucified between the two thieves of Russia and Turkey. Her family suffered at the hands of the remnant of the Red Army and she endured dignities given to her by the Russian mafia. The former is quite bitter, even irrationally so, while the other remains quite chipper and indifferent to her past problems. What causes the disparate attitudes?

I cannot say why one suppresses reason for anger, while the other remains genuinely elated most of the day, rarely bothered even when her childhood issues do resurface. Bitterness has a way of weighing down the mind and soul coterminously, suppressing both perspective and insight. Modern man seems unable to balance the mind with emotions, but bitterness is an especially dangerous emotion because it is a drug. Bitterness begins in small doses, at first providing some excitement in the otherwise mundane plane of white collar human activity. Then it becomes part of daily life. At some point one no longer gets a "high" from bitterness, but one cannot imagine living without it, either. No, a bitter person is not bitter for the entirety of the day, but he or she will keep one bitter matter in a readily accessible desk drawing, waiting to pull it out at just the right trigger. 

Bitterness is the opposite of happiness in more ways than one. We Catholics should not be afraid of emotions simply because Evangelical protestants and modern secularists abuse their place. Emotions are an essential part of mental health and many aspects of our faith—formed in an active, rational mind—express themselves in emotion. Solemn high Mass appeals to the senses and emotions more immediately than to the brain, which is slow to digest what the ears and eyes themselves can barely grasp. While one can be bitter about something for a lifetime, one is only happy for a fleeting moment. I am happy when the priest begins Christos anesti ek nekron.... on Pascha. I am happy when I see a friend for the first time in a long while. The liturgy even commands us to be happy on occasion, such as the hymn for Ss. Peter & Paul, O felix Roma! Happiness is a momentary elation after a protracted expectation. On the contrary, bitterness easily dismantles happiness and sinks it to the bottom of the heart. 15,000 Irishmen spent three years building the Titanic; one giant block of ice spent three hours sinking it.

The power of emotions varies considerably from person to person, but our minds and hearts must be well formed in the faith, lest we too allow the down points of life to downtrod our impulses and our rationality. I imagine a few recusant Catholics were quite bitter during the Elizabethan days in England. One priest I know still is. When visiting Salisbury cathedral, I too found the temptation to dwell on the appropriation of these once Catholic temples for their current uses, but thought better of it and joked to myself, "They take our churches and then they charge us money to tour them!"

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