Benedict and Obama and You and I

Earlier I wrote of President Obama’s distant chill:

Perhaps Obama, turning inwardly protective, rather than outward, has kept himself so hidden for so long that he is not sure where there is, anymore. When you are living in a shell – or behind a mask – it’s easy to imagine you are somewhere when you are in fact, somewhere else.

Dusting a bookshelf today I came across a book I like very much – and have recommended to you before:

This is a beautifully produced day book with 365 excerpts from the homilies, speeches or writings of Pope Benedict XVI, and it’s very useful. When it caught my eye today, I pulled it down and turned to the entries for today and tomorrow, and read this:

The root of man’s joy is the harmony he enjoys with himself. He lives in this affirmation. And only one who can accept himself can also accept the you, can accept the world. The reason why an individual cannot accept the you, cannot come to terms with him, is that he does not like his own I and, for that reason, cannot accept a you. Something strange happens here. We have seen that the inability to accept one’s I leads to the inability to accept a you. But how does one go about affirming, assenting to, one’s I? The answer may perhaps be unexpected: we cannot do so by our own efforts alone. Of ourselves, we cannot come to terms with ourselves. Our I becomes acceptable to us only if it has first become acceptable to another I. We can love ourselves only if we have first been loved by someone else. The life a mother gives to her child is not just physical life; she gives total life when she takes the child’s tears and turns them into smiles. It is only when life has been accepted and is perceived as accepted that it becomes also acceptable. Man is that strange creature that needs not just physical birth but also appreciation if he is to subsist . . . If an individual is to accept himself, someone must say to him: “It is good that you exist” – must say it, not with words, but with that act of the entire being that we call love. For it is the way of love to will the other’s existence and, at the same time, to bring that existence forth again. The key to the I likes with the you; the way to the you leads through the I.

Reading this broke my heart a little, as I considered people I have known who have gone their whole lives waiting to hear from someone, “it is good that you exist.”

Benedict’s wise words here remind me of the teaching of Fr. Alexander Schmemann, former Dean of St. Vladimir’s Seminary, who wrote here:

Now in our own day . . . it is always in the name of good, of freedom, of concern for mankind that people are enslaved and murdered, deceived, lied to, slandered and destroyed. “Every evil screams out only one message: ‘I am good!’” And not only does it scream, but it demands that the people cry out tirelessly in response: “You are good, you are freedom, you are happiness!”

I knew a man who was a “menopause baby” – a surprise to his mother, who had thought she had a tumor. He was born two weeks after the woman’s granddaughter. As his mother had no intention of giving up her job and life to begin again with a baby, she allowed her daughter -the man’s sister- to raise him along with her own newborn daughter. So, uncle and niece, born during WWII, were raised as brother and sister. This man called his sister, “Mom,” and his mother, “Grandma,” and his father, “Grandpa.” When he was 6 or 7 years old, and it became unsettling to have to explain to schools and new friends why this brother and sister had different surnames, the boy’s real father went to his daughter’s husband and said, “why don’t you adopt him, you’re raising him anyway?”

The husband replied that since the boy was this man’s only son, he did not wish to see him lose the family name.

I think the husband probably believed he was doing something honorable. In retrospect, perhaps he should have adopted him, and given the boy his name. That would have been an affirmation, a way of saying to him, “you belong here; we want you.” Instead, the message he received was “they didn’t want you and we don’t really want you, either.”

This man lived a very unhappy life; despite a lively exterior, the pain in his eyes could be read like a 400 page Russian novel. He attempted suicide several times and finally died not long after being treated rather cruelly by the woman who had been raised as his “sister,” as she managed to communicate one more time that he did not belong.

I suspect that if you do not get the message early in your life that “you belong here and it is good that you exist,” then no matter how successful you are later in life, and even if you manage to marry someone who truly loves you, it is still very difficult -without either a miraculous faith-experience or the hard work of therapy- to wholly put aside what you learned as a child: that you were inconvenient, that you were unimportant, that whether you were here or not did not really matter, to anyone; lessons that prohibit the building of a healthy you, forged by a loving I.

When I pray for President Obama, I always pray for him, as president – that he be open to God’s guidance, given wisdom, and so forth. But I think from now on, I will pray for Barack Obama, the little boy, rejected of the father, intermittently sloughed off by the mother, born in an era when bi-racial children were looked at with wondering eyes.

God is outside of Time. In reality, we all are; Time is such a constructed illusion. I am going to pray for the child Obama, that he can manage to comprehend the love of God, that he learns and internalizes the message that “it is good” that he exists. The child is the father of the man.

I know we don’t get do-overs. But I also know that God is Eternal, and we are all loved into being. And I believe in miracles. And I think it is not a healthy thing for a president to need to somehow make manifest in his world, the screaming notion that he is good.

I will pray for the child, and for the man.
Our broken hearts heal imperfectly; too often with a scar that prevents the admission of light, or of love. And where love and light cannot permeate, there are not enough consoling arms or rocking chairs in the world.

Related:
Advent Pictures of Christ
Benedict at 82
The Mother-hung nation
We Need St. Benedict
A sad, painful life

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • http://www.youtube.com/user/KnightOwl2006 Tempus Fugit

    I’ve always seen marxists and liberals as emotionally damaged people who use their warped brand of politics to get back at the world for something that happened during their childhood. Daddy/mommy issues indeed.

  • http://runswithangels.wordpress.com/ Team Bender

    How poignant – leaves me speechless…

  • Sadie

    Thank you for this deep insight. This helps me understand people in my life. And thank you for reminding me that the president is a human being in need of prayer just like the rest of us.

  • http://www.brutallyhonest.org Rick

    Fodder to ponder… thanks.

  • RandyB

    @Tempus Fugit

    Add to your diagnosis those who refuse to become adults, who refuse to grow up and take on any responsibility and reject any idea of accountability yet insist on holding and exercising all of the rights and power they can.

  • DaveW

    I went to our Advent Penance service Monday night.

    We had 5 priests and about 300-400 parishioners. I had never been to a service like that. I was surprised by how long it took for everyone to get to a priest, it was perhaps 2 hours.

    At Mass Tuesday morning Father talked in his homily about the church feeling like it was “filled with forgiveness” and that God loved us enough to forgive us on the spot, that we should think about all that God has forgiven us in our lives and remember that God loves us no matter what we do.

    I had a great day Tuesday, I didn’t think much about why I felt so good. Today I awoke in my usual state of anxiety and unease and immediately wondered why. I agree with Benedict that:

    Our I becomes acceptable to us only if it has first become acceptable to another I.

    For me it seems the experience of being acceptable to God lasts about a day. Heh.

    Anyway, off to Mass. I’ll pray for God to plant the seed of Grace in my life and allow it fo flourish.

    [I got chills reading of your experiences -admin]

  • http://punditandpundette.com Jill

    Thank so much for that beautiful excerpt. This is the essence of unconditional love: “I love you” and “it is good that you exist” with no strings attached. We need to convey this message to our children every day.

  • Kathleen

    tremendously powerful and charitable. I will add my prayers for the president to yours. And I will keep your brother in my prayers as well.

  • anniebird

    That is powerful stuff indeed…the homily at the link has the unmistakeable ring of truth to it, and I think you have made a very astute connection between what has been written there and by Benedict and what might plague our president. I am grateful for the suggestion to pray for Obama as a child as well as for the man he is today – excellent work, A.

  • http://www.reflectionsbykris.squarespace.com Kris, in New England

    This resonates very deeply for me this year. Family problems have eclipsed everything for me. I was “not expected” either though for different reasons. I was raised by a loving father and emotionally distant mother. I was always told I was an “unplanned child” and understood that to mean unwelcomed.

    Fast forward 40 years and it all came crashing down. The hard work of therapy has ensued and the process of grieving for what I thought I had as a family and re-learning who I am – has started.

    That sentence – “people I have known who have gone their whole lives waiting to hear from someone, “it is good that you exist.” – is how I’m feeling in many ways.

    It is so true that we do need to know that someone – preferably our family – is happy that we exist and tells us in any way possible. It has become painfully clear to me that my family does not feel this way about me. Therapy, a wonderful spouse and his loving accepting family and some pretty extraordinary friends – all are helping me mend this wound. It will never heal, but I can mend it well and move on.

    [Kris, hang in there. Do the hard work, and lean on the love God put into your life through your husband and friends. It is worth it. And mostly pray every day to the God who loves you so abundantly that we can't even wrap our heads around it (I'm writing on that in a bit). I KNOW where you are coming from. I was a "surprise" baby, myself. My mother -who thought herself a wit- would be asked by people "why is Elizabeth so short, when the rest of your family is so tall?" and she would answer, "with her I threw away the baby and kept the afterbirth." Like you, I am blessed in my husband and his family, which is my "real" family, now. My whole birth family was messed up in many ways and yet -in truth- the woman did the very best she could given her own demons. Love is simple and it is also very complicated. I like knowing that at the end of the day, I ca say to God, "it's your world, I'm going to sleep" and just put it all into his boundless heart. -admin]

  • http://www.savkobabe.blogspot.com Gayle Miller

    This post resonates with me as well. I too was believed to be a “tumor” because my mother had been told repeatedly that she could not have children. But beyond that point, my story diverges. My mother gave up her career for 9 years, until my figure skating lessons made her return to work necessary. And I was told daily that I was both a miracle and wanted by both parents although they related to me in divergent ways.

    So, like you, oh kind and compassionate friend, I will pray for our President with love overriding my disapproval of his administration and the people with whom he has surrounded himself. I have been so much more fortunate in my life than has this complex human being who occupies the Oval Office. And this year I have been given a second chance at life! My gratitude is profound.

  • http://picture-a-day.typepad.com Ag Sag

    Funny, how this morning before I got up, I too prayed for our president. It was a prayer born of confusion as to how we’ve come to be where we are (with such sudden major and unwelcome changes being forced on our nation). Sometimes God answers our prayers in ways we don’t expect. Reading the Anchoress’s post on Pope Benedict is like holy oil on the troubled waters of my mind. Thank you Anchoress and thank you God for giving me two wonderful parents so many years ago.

  • http://westernchauvinist.blogspot.com Western Chauvinist

    This is the most beautiful piece of writing at the nexus of faith and politics I’ve ever read. God bless you Elizabeth.

    And I’m calling my mother after commenting! She was the middle of three children in an unhappy household. Her older brother was brilliant and garnered all the family’s resources. Her younger sister was wildly independent. She didn’t feel unwanted, I don’t think, just sort of common and only significant in that she managed to survive ill health throughout her childhood. But, she managed to marry well and happily, to have 7 children (of which I’m the last) and to out-live her entire family.

    Her exceptionalism, I realize after reading this post, comes from treating others as if she is glad they exist. My siblings and I have wandered in and out of her life with all sorts of people – some lost souls, some of whom we’ve even married – we’ve had “unplanned” children and even “unplanned” adoptions. She has always managed to embrace and, yes, love all as family. She gives her most tender care to the stragglers.

    Damn hard to read this through the tears… gotta call Mom. Thanks, Elizabeth.

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  • Sparki

    Thanks so much for this. I will join you in praying for the child Barack Obama. I’m another one who grew up knowing she wasn’t wanted. In my case, my mother really DID have a tumor whilst pregnant with me, and a complete hysterectomy was recommended. (It was 1964 and they were more skittish about cancer then.) My father demanded it. My mother, raised Catholic and hearing about the recent sacrifice of St. Gianna Beretta Molla, refused. She and her mother did a novena together (probably to St. Gerard; Mom doesn’t remember), and the tumor went away temporarily. I was born on the anniversary of St. Gerard’s death, and the tumor returned two weeks later and was removed. But my dad never forgave me or the Catholic Church for the stress this put him under. He made my mother leave the Church and removed any sense of Catholicism from our home. And he ignored me. Mom loved Dad more than all the rest of us and her faith put together, so that’s how it went. I wasn’t told about my miraculous salvation until I was 28 and finally figured out why Dad didn’t like me. It’s a crappy way to grow up and the quest for love/approval seems never ending until a person finds Christ. I am sure that is what the president suffers as well.

    [Too bad that your father "could not forgive..." the stress your birth put him under. Obviously a trauma, but it's sad that he could not eventually find a way to see the blessing he received in you. -admin]

  • http://theornithophobe.blogspot.com/ Ornithophobe

    Most babies are “unplanned,” but there’s a big difference between being unplanned and being unwanted. I think that, most of the time, unplanned pregnancies grow into beloved, wanted children. At least I pray that it is so.

    My two boys know that their father and I were “planning” children a little farther into the future than they actually came. I’ve always told them they were my little surprise presents, greeted with joy and gratitude. All babies were wanted by someone, after all- their heavenly Father sent them for His purpose.

    Thank you for reminding me that our President is, above all else, a child of God. No matter his foibles or mistakes, or what any of us may think of him, his Heavenly father loves him fiercely and has a purpose for him, too.

  • Veronica

    Oh, these stories are heartbreaking. But, God works faithfully, as he did for me today through your post.

    I needed understanding, as last night I struggled to understand my husband’s deep-seated sense of isolation, and his constant sense of impending betrayal from those around him, including me.

    We are recently married and, though I was blessed with an abundance of parental love, I am finding my husband’s heart has more brokenness than I knew. I suspect it is due to just the type of parental abandonment you describe.

    His parent uncharitably let him know he was unplanned/unwanted…inconveniently conceived while preparing to divorce. Following the bitter divorce, the parent set her new direction…away from the family and toward finding their own happiness. We all know the lie/rationalization: “I needed to set an example for my kids to go out in life and make their own happiness.”

    So tragically misdirected and selfish (though, admittedly, there but for the grace of God, go I).

    To add insult to injury, he was also robbed of the only possible source of true love and healing. Following the divorce, the parent corrupted his earlier Catholic Christian influences with that unfortunate new-age spirituality (that “Jesus was just a very good man, an example”, that we self-direct our spiritual perfection through reincarnation (“do-overs”), that heaven and hell exist only in our hearts and minds, that “the universe” is the highest power, etc. etc.).

    So, in his heart and mind, he has no one…not one being in all of heaven and earth is truly glad he exists.

    Though being unequally yoked spiritually, I believe God in his infinite wisdom has placed us together. I know I cannot heal or save him, but your post encourages me to pray God strengthens me to be one unselfish source of unconditional love, acceptance, and gratitude for this poor broken man, whether he ever heals or not.

    Please pray daily for the hearts and souls of all these poor, broken-hearted and abandoned children (and their broken parents), both known and unknown to us. Merciful, saving heart of Jesus…in your loving power, please heal these broken hearts.

    …and remember spouses and children of these poor souls, that we may have the spiritual graces to discard our own selfishness and allow God to work through us for their healing.

    [Nice comment. Please be patient with your husband. Trust takes time. I truly believe my husband and his family, and their love, have taught me how to live, but we've been at this for 30 years, and they still know a lot more about love than I do. -admin]

  • Michael

    My parents last week asked me what I thought of our president. I told them I thought that he was a Nazi-Commie rat bastard. I never talked like that in front of my parents before and I’m 60 years old. I’ve been active in the pro-life for so long and I have let the weariness get to me.

    Your insight has shaken me to my core. I read it just before leaving for mass and I wept all through it and I’m still wiping away tears. Shame on me. How did I get so mean. I keep imagining how lonely inside he must have felt.
    It’s as if he was aborted not by having his life taken from him but by having parental love torn away and sucked out of him.

    I wish I could hug him right now and tell him that I love him and that God the Father and Mary our Mother and all the angels and saints know that it is good that he exists.

    We must pray for him and all like him. I’m getting my rosary.

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  • http://vita-nostra-in-ecclesia.blogspot.com Bender

    It is for reasons like this that Jesus gave us His mother, and she has so enthusiastically accepted.

    As one of the many, many, many children of divorce in this country, who wasn’t so much unwanted as left alone (being the experience of many children of divorce), being able to turn to Mary and receive her loving maternal embrace always is a comfort that allows one to endure.

    Our life, our sweetness, and our hope. Yes, she gives us hope. She wants us. She loves us. No matter how bad it might be now, we know that she is waiting for us there in heaven with her Son, and that gives us real, authentic, trustworthy hope. I can understand why little Karol Wojtyla, after losing his mother, and then his entire family, would say to her, “totus tuus.”

    Without her, without Him, we are without hope — life is hopeless and unendurable.

  • Amanda

    I too am deeply moved by what you have written- and what our Pope wrote. The stories touch me deeply and resonate with my own life.

    But I wanted to share something else. As I was reading I was also brought to mind that where Barack Obama also needs a certain acceptance is as our elected president. I always want to be quick to point out that “I” didn’t vote for him. I am seeing that is a way of reinforcing those messages of rejection from childhood. As I pray for the child Barack I will also pray that God helps me supporting our elected leaders.

  • http://www.catholicandreformed.com Tom Riello

    Today in my Old Testament class I discussed with the students Exodus 3 and “I am who I am.” After the proposal I ended with this question for contemplation, “Is God a “You” to “you”?” Thanks for the post.

  • http://www.reflectionsbykris.squarespace.com Kris, in New England

    Anchoress – thank you so much for your kind words. This is a difficult struggle for me, coming to me so late in life (well, not that late, I’m only 46…). But for 46 years I thought my family was one way and have discovered, violently, that it is not.

    And now I must pick up the pieces and form a new picture of my life. Who I am, how I fit into my life. It’s a hard slog.

    I’m not a religious person – I am deeply spiritual and I do believe in God and his infinite love. I’m not given to prayer that often either; I’ll pray for others but never for myself. Part of that whole “unwelcomed” thing – why would I think I deserve God’s love when I now know that my family doesn’t care about me.

    It’s a very old script in my life that I’m trying to break – praying for myself may well be one of the many ways I will stop this cycle of self-hate and learn to love myself.

    Thank you again for your kindness and generosity of spirit. You share so much of yourself with us.

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  • http://diddly.wordpress.com W Chase

    best post EVER Anchoress!

  • Ruth H

    I think you have described the problems my darling daughter in law has. She will never feel she is really loved. Bless her heart, she has had so many health problems, but the problems of the heart remain. There is no replacing a mother’s love, or lack of that love. The same is true for father’s. So sad, so hard to help people who have been so deeply hurt. But we keep loving, and we keep trying. Bless you Anchoress.

  • http://runswithangels.wordpress.com/ Team Bender

    Gee whiz, next time I take to feeling sorry for myself I’m going to come back here and read these posts.

    I’ve really had it good, comparatively. Although I was the youngest of 6 (that lived) born to a mom in her 40′s, I never felt anything but wanted and loved.

    Again, I’m speechless.

  • SallyJune

    Ruth: Keep gently recommending prayer to your DIL. It is in prayer (and, if you are Catholic, the sacraments) that you find healing. I also recommend bringing your hurts to the Blessed Sacrament. Jesus can fast-track healing that way, too.

  • WW2 Marine Veteran

    I believe Obama’s inexperience is doing him in. He has never has had a position of responsibility until he became President of the USA. He has a long road to haul until he gets the experience he needs to get respect.

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  • http://withouthavingseen.blogspot.com Ryan Haber

    Beautiful, Anchoress. Just beautiful.

  • Greta and Joe

    Both my husband and I read this and were moved. However, my husband has had a long term issues in this area that he overcame in a strange way. I think it is not just being loved in this way, which while important to come from at least someone, there is that special someone in our lives, usually a parent, that we must get the blessing from in this affirmative way. For me it was my mom, for my husband it was his dad. His dad came from that greatest generation that was solid and had little to say with things like this. He also had a very sharp and at times sarcastic humor which he shot out on those he liked. His relationship with his wife was in putting her down using her maiden name when he wanted to do so as if her family was not quite up to his. When my spouse came along third and last, he was a copy of his mom’s side and so would be lumped in with that maiden name attack as well. No matter how hard he tried, he did not get that blessing. Neither did his siblings, but they were not “maiden name” children. My spouse finally went the other way rebelling against everything his father was, democrat so became republican, etc. When my spouse was fifty, he was very successful, another thing that upset his dad who really liked losers, and also was not able to give love openly. He could not give what he did not have. Then his dad got cancer and had 6 months to live at the same time our daughter, grandpa’s favorite, announced she was going to be married in a year. My spouse spent as much time as possible and seemed to be lingering to at last here the important words. A week before he died, my spouse leaned over his dad and mumbled I love you dad and heard a very faint, “me too.” Was that it he wondered or was he simply in a position he felt forced to agree. It was now over and would never come.
    A year after the wedding we had our first grandchild coming and rushed to the hospital with the first call. There were complications and delays and my spouse, who was not involved because of the vintage of waiting room dads in any of our childrens birth, stayed close to his daughter and suddenly was there with the birth going on helping out. It was not planned. When our grandson was born, my spouse leaned over and looked at this kid all moist and red from the birth canal with the cone head. He said he realized at that moment for the first time what unconditional love was for even in this sorry state, he loved that child and realized that God loved him in the same way if he became like that child and allowed the love to flow over and around him. God loved him and said so as plainly as if he were the one looking down. From this I always point people who did not get the blessing to talk to my spouse about how he first found out he was loved that way by God and how it made all the difference. The spouse who could not say the words before now filled with love could speak openly about love and everything else because he had it within him. If you are not getting what you need from another human at this point, you can find it with God and when you do, you might be amazed at how many now love you because you have something they can see and taste and desire and are willing to give it in abundance.

    [That new love that your husband felt for his grandchild so instantaneously? A love wholly new that had never existed in the world before? I think it's the love that keeps us all going - God is love. That's why I think the Evil loves abortion so much. Abortion stops that new love from coming. It stops God's love. -admin]

  • http://deirdremundy.blogspot.com Deirdre Mundy

    “Most babies are unplanned”

    Well, honestly, my opinion has always been that if you’re married, ALL babies are planned. After all, it’s not like they’re randomly showing up on the doorstep or something! :)

    I think the ‘unplanned baby’ syndrome is one of the ways the culture of contraception has affected EVERYONE in the US today, even Catholics.

    And, in the end, who can REALLY plan for the child they’re given? He’s a little person, completely unique, and you won’t know who you’ve gotten until he’s already here!

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  • Jen

    Anchoress,

    You’ve given me much to think on tonight. I have been publicly critical of Obama recently — very harshly so. I realize I have hardened my heart toward him and no longer feel inclined to pray for good things for him. I simply want him to stop what he’s doing and resign from office and leave our country alone. I believe he is a danger to our country in many ways and this motivates me to speak out against him.

    But as I said, your post has given me much to ponder. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Am I doing that? Nope. Don’t even want to, honestly. That is MY sin.

    I need to ask forgiveness for the hardness of my heart and my unwillingness to love.

    It’s a tricky line to walk — opposing evil and the people who want to impose evil laws while still praying for them and loving them as souls for whom Christ died — just like me.

    Thank you for reminding me to love while I oppose.
    God bless you.

  • Angela

    Pope Benedict’s words sound like a polished gloss of Martin Buber’s I AND THOU (ICH UND DU) — great book. Thanks for the post.

  • http://n/a Cecile M. Thompson

    Your comments are beautiful and show a deep Catholic understanding. Thank you for reminding us.
    Conrad Baars was a Catholic psychologist with a similar insight. One of his books was entitled, Healing the Unaffirmed; I studied his work in a class called Moral Virtue.

  • gb

    “For me it seems the experience of being acceptable to God lasts about a day”

    THAT’s why we’re taught to say “Give us this day our daily bread.” Like the Isrealites in the desert, we cannot collect more than a day’s worth of manna at a time!

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