Rejoicing in Being Defective

For a while now, the old anime Saber Marionette J has excited my curiosity.  On the one hand, the show exudes mediocrity; on the other hand, I’m an avid enough fan of 90’s anime to pass over many flaws in anime from this era.  The basic premise for this show lies in a space ship crash landing upon a deserted planet, killing all the female crew members.  This necessitates the population of this world to come about through cloning (somehow, their best efforts to clone women from male genes failed); yet, the memory of the fair sex is kept alive through creating androids or marionettes in the form of women.  These androids are inferior to real women in many ways, especially because they lack volition and emotion.  (You can tell this anime is a commentary on the state of women in Japan, and you might expect an article from me in this regard by a certain point.)

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However, our hero, Otaru, discovers a marionette named Lime who has both will and emotions.  His neighbors initially deem Lime a defective product and attempt to destroy this rambunctious robot.  (She does kind of rob all of them of their breakfasts.)  However Otaru saves her by begging for her life.  Afterwards, the neighbors come to a good opinion of Lime, claiming that sometimes the most defective products are also the most lovable.  At which point, Lime knuckles her forehead and says: “Ha, ha!  Yeah!  I’m defective.”

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In a similar way, we ought to consider our own defects with good cheer.  Rather than letting these bring us down, we ought to laugh with Lime at our own defectiveness.  St. Francis de Sales does aver that we should “rejoice in our abjection,” but few find their own weaknesses as something to rejoice in–especially if these happen to be sinful proclivities.  Yet, even more than Otaru’s neighbors finding Lime lovable in her crazy antics, Our Lord loves especially those who are weakest and most in need of His mercy.

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We seem to have more cause to weep over our defects than to rejoice over them; but, our very mourning becomes beatitude when seen in the light of Our Lord’s Passion: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matt. 5:8).  Sorrow over sin inevitably raises the mind to the Passion of Christ, of Our Lord who suffered for the forgiveness of our sins.  When we look at God, God looks at us.  In seeing our confusion and sorrow over the wounds our sins inflicted upon Himself, Our Lord presents His wounds for the healing of our souls to God the Father.  The greater our sorrow and focus upon God, the purer our heart becomes and the greater God refines our souls from the dross of sin.

St. Margaret Mary Alacoque receives the vision of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

St. Margaret Mary Alacoque receives the vision of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

As such, we ought to view our sense of abjection as a gift from God.  If we felt that we were alright, we would not seek God.  Because we know that we are broken and defective, we focus more on the Great Physician, who heals us the more as we bind ourselves to Him by remembering Him always.  Even though conscious that the wounds we see upon Christ Crucified represent our offenses and sins, we become yet more conscious that God took these wounds upon Himself of His own free will out of love for us.  And so, the more we focus upon Christ’s wounds and sufferings, the more apparent God’s infinite Love becomes to us.  Indeed, the most sinful, weak, and defective become the most beloved of God.  As Jesus told the Pharisees: “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you” (Matt. 21:31). 

St. Matthew, one of the tax collectors whom Jesus saved.

St. Matthew, one of the tax collectors whom Jesus saved.

But, I suppose that the knowledge that God appears to love those who caused Him the most suffering more than those who live decent lives is not enough for us.  We want to be just!  We want to cease being the thorn in Our Lord’s Sacred Heart!  But, have we not fulfilled the fourth beatitude in our desire for justice even if we see ourselves falling often every day?  Our very abjection fulfills the first beatitude.  Our knowledge of human weakness and our own poverty lead us to be gentle towards our brothers and sisters, fulfilling the second beatitude.  Our sorrow for sins and seeking righteousness increase our purity of heart or single-mindedness on God.  Our focus on God reminds us of the constant need we have for mercy, and so we become merciful to our brothers and sisters–desiring them to be happy even if we suffer temporal losses.  Our focus on justice, mercy, and purity make us excellent peacemakers, by which virtue the children of God are known.

St. Longinus at the Crucifixion

Then, once we have been filled with such blessedness, we shall be worthy to be persecuted along with our Lord and thus fulfill the highest and eighth beatitude.  Such a soul is so conformed to its Lord and filled with God’s Spirit that, as in the case of St. John Vianney, someone might exclaim “I have seen God in a man.”  All the saints have meditated often on Our Lord’s Passion and drawn strength from it as well as from the sacraments.  Though grace so wonderfully perfected the nature of these saints according to the image and likeness with which all human beings are created, they never forgot their utter need of God, their sinfulness, and how reliant they were upon His sufferings.

All this from knowing our utter misery, wickedness, and need of God!

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Anton Chekhov and Suicide

A while back, I took out a Signet Classic edition of the major plays of Anton Chekhov.  Having read the first two in the collection, Ivanov and The Sea Gull, these plays surprised me *EPIC SPOILER WARNING FOR THOSE WHO CARE* by both ending with a suicide.  In each play we have someone suffering from melancholy, who decides to end his own life with the pull of a trigger.  The first, Ivanov, loses his love for his wife, love for living, finds himself gravely in debt, can’t stand being home, suffers the loss of his wife to consumption, and is about to be married to a young lady who has taken pity on him–who at the same time is unsure whether or not she loves him or can make him happy.

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In the second, Trepelev, the twenty-five year old son of a famous actress, writes unconventional plays with an Eastern feel, i.e. they rely upon imagery rather than intellectual motifs–as we might find in a Noh play.  (They also have a shockingly Manichean flavor, as his first play calls the devil the father of matter.)  Anyway, his sole happiness is in his love for Nina, an actress, which brightens his impoverished and useless existence: his mother, despite having 70,000 rubles in the bank, cries at the thought of lending him anything with the result that Trepelev hardly leaves the house and gads about in a threadbare coat.  Trepelev furthermore feels down on himself because society frowns upon his literary style.  This coupled with Nina leaving him for a more famous writer led to his first suicide attempt.  Then, Nina returns two years later to Trepelev after having an affair and a child with the other writer before he tires of her.  Unfortunately, Trepelev’s assertion that he still loves her and has been waiting for her falls on deaf ears.  This destroys Trepelev’s last hope and leads to a successful reattempt on his life.  (The moral of the story is not to place one’s hopes on an actress, a profession which at one time was esteemed only slightly higher than a prostitute’s.)  By the way, the former play is described as a drama and the latter as a comedy!

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But, these two characters had striking similarities in personality to myself.  Presently, I find myself quite broke, sometimes cannot stand staying in the house, and my existence tilts toward the useless side.  Also, despite my earnest striving, the world and the people in it have felt distant and unlovable–as if there were an unscalable wall between us–and an insufferable egotism afflicted me, as if my mind were some kind of prison impeding my soul’s freedom.  Thanks be to God that these latter two symptoms are mostly gone!

There's something rather curious about this picture of St. Jerome wearing glasses.

There’s something rather curious about this picture of St. Jerome wearing glasses.

Yet, why did I not pull a trigger?  Or even ever seriously consider it?  One could take a rather banal explanation that I believe suicide to be a mortal sin unless preceded by extreme mental stress or extreme fear of physical suffering.  It would not feel comfortable arriving before the judgment seat of Our Lord and Master saying, “Well, I calculated that my stress was such as to make this action a rather serious venial sin than something worthy of hell  So, please just give me some time in purgatory.”  But, I do suppose that my relationship to God is what would prevent any serious consideration of suicide.  After all, I have shown God far too much ingratitude and would like to do at least something in return for His great blessings.  Of course, I can never adequately pay God back for all His blessings, but I would at least like to do so super-abundantly–which sounds absurd and can only be possible through the grace of God.

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Three other thoughts would also come in the way: 1) I deserve what’s coming to me either because of my sins or personal faults and mistakes; 2) God both lowers us into the dust and raises us up; and 3) God foresaw all this suffering from the beginning.  Therefore, all I need to do is progress as best as I can in full or as full as possible knowledge of my sins and weaknesses, hoping in God’s mercy.  The only outcome for one who perseveres is to be brought out of one’s misery either by one’s appointed death or that joy in living will be found again.  In either case, “Blessed are those who weep, for they shall know joy.”

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Yet, I think that neither of the protagonists of the plays were able to continue living because they had removed God from the picture.  The Sea Gull says this very plainly in the case of an old man named Sorin who is looking toward the grave, whom a friend claims is not religious; therefore making fear of death merely animal fear.  In the case of the suicides, they also seem to remove other people from the picture and have an unhealthy concentration on themselves.  People were meant to be happy in community–not isolation!  Even the hermits of early Christianity knew this as they read Scripture, prayed to God and the saints, offered sacrifices and prayers for poor sinners, and rejoiced to serve the rare visitor or traveler.

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As a matter of fact, The Sea Gull‘s happiest character happens to be a poor school master named Medvedenko burdened with serving his younger siblings and aged mother.  After he married Masha, Trepelev’s sister, he in addition must care for their newborn child.  Though, it does seem that Masha now wishes not to have married Medvedenko or to be a mother.  The folly of people!  When one is surrounded by people who have made themselves unhappy through selfishness, why not imitate Medvedenko, whose only riches are the people in his life?

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Egotism kills, especially if exacerbated by preoccupation with one’s faults.  This was the case especially with the eponymous hero of Ivanov.  Indeed, he has many faults: he’s in debt, doesn’t love his wife, is irritable, can’t stay a night at home, has lost all his dreams, and is obsessed with his failures.  But, why torture oneself with all these things?  He’s a man, not an angel!  When grieving over one’s faults leads to self-torture rather than a change of life, it is time to stop grieving for a little!  Over how much does man have control?  Before her death, Ivanov should have tried to hang out with his wife, curbed his spending little by little, and tried a few new lucrative projects!  But, when one has done everything one can, there’s nothing else to do but look with hope at a crucifix.

Well, this has been a rather reflective and meandering article, but may it have been of benefit or amusement to my dear readers!