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Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Aquinas on Job and Tobias-and musings on American suffering...

So Scripture says of Tobias, “Thus the Lord permitted him to be tempted so that an example might be given to posterity of his patience, like blessed Job.” (Tob. 2:12) Be careful not to believe that the Lord had been persuaded by the words of Satan to permit Job to be afflicted, but he ordered this from his eternal disposition to make clear Job’s virtue against the false accusations of the impious. Therefore, false accusations are placed first and the divine permission follows.

It is interesting that two of the most intriguing books in the Old Testament deal with angels, suffering and men with families. These themes are, of course, not accidents, but detailed histories woven into morality stories for us to learn about higher virtues.
The type of suffering into which both Job and Tobias enter is not due to their sins, but because of their virtues.
God is perfecting them. And, as Thomas points out in the above paragraph, the stories are for our benefit-examples not only of patience, but the deep patience of suffering.

America as a whole nation experienced intense suffering during The Great Depression and droughts which happened at the same time. The Dust Bowl of Oklahoma and other states remain scarred in the memories.
That generation is disappearing, My mother remembers tramps everywhere in St. Louis and her mother feeding people on the steps of the back porch. She remember people selling apples on the street. 
We endured great suffering during the Civil War, our greatest war. 
No one is immune from suffering. But, we need not fear. 
There are different types of reasons for suffering. The first is indifferent or natural evils, such as drought, tornadoes, floods. Humans have always faced these and these are not demonic, just natural.
The second type is malicious, such as murder, abortion, or abuse. Negligence is also malicious, as is greed and all the seven deadly sins.
The third type is accidental, which is merely owing to man's errors or a combination of nature and sin, such as the buildings collapsing two weeks ago, killing people.
But, notice what the great Thomas states about natural suffering: 
Consider that since all this aforementioned adversity comes from Satan, it is necessary to confess that with God’s permission demons can bring about turbulence in the air, can stir up the winds and can make fire fall from heaven. For although corporeal matter obeys only the nod of God the Creator for the reception of forms, and does not obey the nod of either the good or the wicked angels, corporeal nature is still born to obey spiritual nature as far as local movement is concerned. Evidence of this appears in men, for the members of the body are moved at the mere command of the will to pursue the act desired by the will. Whatever then can be done only with local motion, can be done by not only the good but also the wicked angels from their natural power, unless prohibited by divine power. The winds the rains and other like disturbances in the atmosphere come about only from the motion of the vapors released from the earth and the water. Thus the natural power of a demon is sufficient to procure these things. However, sometimes they are prohibited from this by divine power so that they are not permitted to do everything which they can do naturally. Nor is this contrary to what is said in Jeremiah, “Are there any among the false gods of the nations which can give rain?” (14:22) For it is one thing that the rain takes place by natural cause and this is the office of God alone who orders natural causes to this; it is another thing to use artificially those natural causes ordered by God to rain to produce rain or wind sometimes in an almost extraordinary way

Many Catholics cannot deal with the suffering of the innocent, but we call these people saints, or martyrs.
As in Job, as Thomas points out, Satan wants to bring us to impatience and blasphemy. One of the most famous photos of the Depression is Dorothea Lange's of a California Mother. Here is a description. 
Florence Owens Thompson and her children in Nipomo, California is a photo taken in February of 1936.  The woman had seven children. Here is part of an interview from the photographer.
I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet. I do not remember how I explained my presence or my camera to her, but I do remember she asked me no questions. I made five exposures, working closer and closer from the same direction. I did not ask her name or her history. She told me her age, that she was thirty-two. She said that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields, and birds that the children killed. She had just sold the tires from her car to buy food. There she sat in that lean- to tent with her children huddled around her, and seemed to know that my pictures might help her, and so she helped me. There was a sort of equality about it.
(From: Popular Photography, Feb. 1960).

Migrant Mother, as she was called, was a pea picker.
Daily, perhaps, God allows us to face suffering not only for our own perfection, but for that of others.
If we cooperate, like Job, and face the mystery, we shall not only be purified, but deified, as Bernard writes.
I grew up with these photos, as my parents were alive and remembered such sad tales. Thankfully, my dad's family did not experience the Depression, but some did.
Many young men traveled to find work which did not exist. 

February 1939. Calipatria, Imperial Valley. Car on siding across tracks from pea packing plant. Twenty-five year old itinerant, originally from Oregon. “On the road eight years, all over the country, every state in the union, back and forth, pick up a job here and there, traveling all the time.”
What Job and Tobias experienced shadowed what we all experience to some extent. Catholics, perhaps, or those who love the Lord and contemplate His Passion, know that suffering is part of the human experience,  part of who we are as human beings.  Suffering is a great mystery. But, many people do not want to engage in the sufferings of others. They want to avoid suffering, as if it is a disease, like the measles.
I know this from experience. In the greatest times of suffering in my life, I have either been alone or with one person, my son. Sadly, those who suffer are ostracized, like Job. Even his wife scolded him.
This child could have been my mother, my aunts, anyone caught up in the times of trouble.
December 1935. “Resettled farm child. From Taos Junction to Bosque Farms project, New Mexico.”
And the woman below told people the same thing I have told people. June 1938. Outskirts of El Paso, Texas. “Young Negro wife cooking breakfast. ‘Do you suppose I’d be out on the highway cooking my steak if I had it good at home?’ Occupations: hotel maid, cook, laundress.”

She had to explain her suffering to someone who obviously did not understand that her state was not her choice. She was a Job, a Tobias.

Her suffering is my suffering, and it should be yours as well. That is one of the lessons of Job. 

To be continued...