Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Rich Man Explained - By George!

Tonight Credo of the Catholic Laity (with the help of my friend and Theater of the Word chaplain Fr. Brian Harrison) brought in a fascinating speaker, Professor Robert P. George of Princeton, who gave a detailed talk on the challenges facing Catholics, Evangelicals, Eastern Orthodox, and other serious Christians - as well as devout Jews and Muslims - challenges brought about by the Obama administration's HHS Mandate.



Most of the night was what you might call "bad news", with George laying out patiently the choices that will be faced by people of faith if the Mandate becomes Law.  And the Mandate aside, George notes that we will soon be at a point when serious Christians and others will be seen as "bigoted" and not fit for trustworthy employment simply because we insist that marriage is "conjugal"; and likewise will be seen as "anti-woman" when we point out that abortion takes a human life.  Such a perception by the civil society will bring about loss of friends, careers, and worse.  "How can you be Catholic when your Church is so bigoted?" will be the inevitable question that is put to us in casual conversation.

"The time of the Comfortable Catholic is over," George notes.

***

But while he began with bad news, he ended on Good News - literally the "good news" of the Gospel.

Below is the story of the Rich Man who had Many Possessions from Mark, chapter 10.  I have inserted, in bold, Professor George's comments, his "exegesis", as best I remember them.  It was his encouragement to us in the dark days ahead.  And resounding encouragement it was.  I have heard few homilies as stirring as this.

For this is a parable for how we must proceed in the Dark Days ahead.  Again, George's comments are in bold - and they do indeed embolden!

***


17 And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?

Now this is a rich man coming to Jesus.  I picture him dressed in flowing robes, wearing a turban, with a train, a retinue of servants and followers.

18 And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.

Jesus does not stop to get the Rich Man's reaction to this.  It is an odd thing to say.  Why does Jesus say it?  It has always seemed to me to be a hint by Jesus that acknowledges what must have been going on in the Rich Man's heart.  He is coming to see Jesus because he knows there's something there.  The good rabbi is more than just a man; at least more than just an ordinary man; and Jesus, in this odd little rebuke offered as an aside, acknowledges this - if I am good, and only God is good, than who do you say I am?  Jesus continues ... 

19 Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother.
20 And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth.

How many of us could look the Son of Man in the face and say that?  But evidently the Rich Man was neither lying nor boasting.  Evidently, he had kept the commandments from his youth.  And now I see him punching his fist in the air.  "I've got this!" he says to himself.  "The answer is 'keep the commandments'; I have kept the commandments.  I'm in!"

21 Then Jesus beholding him loved him, 

Now Jesus is about to drop the bomb on this guy.  Why?  Because He loves him!  He looks at him and loves him!  And it is for this reason that He calls him further.  He calls him to be perfect - as we are all called, to Christian perfection.

and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.  [NOTE: Prof. George's comments have more to do with the version in Matthew, "If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me."]
22 And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.

Now we generally see this as applying only to rich men.  "Oh those guys like Mitt Romney!  Those guys like Bill Gates!  They'll never get into Heaven!  They're too attached to their riches."

But Jesus never says things that apply to only a segment of us.  He says things that apply to every single one of us.  This is not a story about the possessions of a Rich Man.  It's a story about all of us.  

If we cling on to the things we find precious* - whether those things be our careers, our standing in the community, our friends - we will turn away sad.  But if we take up our cross and follow Him, He will make us perfect.

*"My precious"
Thus we must be ready to make whatever sacrifices the coming troubles will entail.  We must never compromise our faith by cooperating with grave evil, even if it costs us our most precious material or immaterial possessions.  [See the Manhattan Declaration]

But how can we do this?  We can't!  It is against every part of our nature - to be perceived as bigots, to be shunned, to take risks.  We can't do it without the grace of God.  Which is precisely what Jesus says to His disciples, who as usual, don't quite get it.

23 And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!
24 And the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God!
25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
26 And they were astonished out of measure, saying among themselves, Who then can be saved?
27 And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.

With God, nothing is impossible.  We need to value Him more than our great possessions that we hold so dear, turn to Him, ask Him for help, and He will strengthen us to do what He is calling us to do.

***

"The time of the Comfortable Catholic is over," which, if you think about it, could be the best thing that has ever happened to us.

Surprised by the Joy of Reality

The voice of every lost soul can be expressed in the words, "Better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven."  There is always something they insist on keeping even at the price of misery.  There is always something they prefer to joy - that is, to reality.
Thus speaks George MacDonald to the narrator in C. S. Lewis' novel The Great Divorce. 



Throughout this strange and insightful story, one of the main motifs is that Heaven is more real than earth, so real that the grass and flowers of Heaven hurt the feet of the ghosts who trod on them.  The ghosts are souls who have not yet let go of their selfishness-and-sin enough to enter into Heaven fully, to become as real as the saints who have.  The ghosts are insubstantial; the saints are Real.  Throughout The Great Divorce, the closer you get to Heaven - the more you become a saint - the more substantial you become; the more real you are.

Blessed John Henry Newman says of this reality, "Before Christ came was the time of shadows; but when He came, He brought truth as well as grace."  And he adds of those superficial believers and non-believers among us, "They have never got beyond accepting shadows for things."

MacDonald also tells the narrator in Lewis' story that those who cling to the Unreal, those who refuse to serve in Heaven and instead opt to reign in Hell, have plenty of handy rationalizations at their disposal.  He gives here a short litany of the Excuses of the Damned ...

One will say he has always served his country right or wrong; and another that he has sacrificed everything to his Art; and some that they've never been taken in, and some that, thank God, they've always looked after Number One, and nearly all, that, at least they've been true to themselves.
"To thine own self be true" being the most modern and most wrong-headed bit of advice that ever gained currency.  Why?  How can such a platitude send us on the road to Hell?

Because if our country is god; if our Art is god; if protecting our vulnerability is god; if our self is God - we are idolaters.  We are worshipping either ourselves or gods that we have fashioned ourselves.

As Scripture tells us: "For the worshipping of idols not to be named is the beginning, the cause, and the end, of all evil.” - Wisdom 14:27.

***

I have tried to describe this notion for a long time now on this blog.  That idolatry is the setting up and worshipping of the Unreal; that we prefer shadows of our own making to the painful reality of the Kingdom; that even in the Church - in fact, especially in the Church - you find devotion to the Unreal the primary hallmark, expressing itself in pop psychology homilies, bad architecture, and gay guitar music.  What you rarely find is the Painful Reality of Jesus Christ.

Newman acknowledges that being Unreal is, to an extent, the lot of every man.  He points out that Christ spent much of His earthly ministry warning us of the great threat of Not Taking Religion Seriously, from "count the cost", to "you do not know what you are asking.  Can you drink of the cup that I drink of?", to "you are lukewarm and I will vomit you out of my mouth", and beyond - and especially in His emphatic condemnation of hypocrites.  And yet, as Newman notes, we are all hypocrites; for the fullness of Faith is something we grow to.  We are always bound to profess more of it than we actually own, believe, or understand. 

It is not this unreality of the "hypocrisy of our fallen nature" (as you might term it), then, but the deliberate choice to replace the Real with the Unreal, to substitute the shadow for the thing, to choose the comfortable half-truth over the jarring whole-truth, that Newman criticizes, and that George MacDonald speaks of in Lewis' afterlife. 

***

One odd symptom of this is the Catholic Bubble-Wrapped Syndrome.  I have known more than one Devout Catholic young woman raised to a life of virtue in a Devout Catholic home (i.e., "bubble wrapped"), intent on Chastity (or at least on as much Chastity as can be mustered), who, while saving herself for marriage, is driven - especially in today's Culture of Desire - into the most peculiar and Unreal notions of what love is, what men are, and what marriage might be.  Unwed by 22 or so, these gals are convinced that they're old maids, and that true happiness is only a glance away, especially from the acne-faced bus boy at the fish fry, who's not sure he has a vocation to the priesthood, and whose virility has probably been compromised by holding that video-game device on his lap for so many years, but who is the only guy to have taken her on dates without expecting raw sex after two or three dinners.

Contrast this with most normal guys and gals.  Granted, the "hook up culture" has destroyed almost any capacity for love by the time most of these kids get out of college; still and all, Fornication (i.e., "the F word"), sinful as it is, can be more Real than the Unreality of the Bubble.  Now the F word brings its own Unrealities in its wake - sex without babies, sex without love, sex without happiness - as all sin does.  This is why the cure for the Bubble Wrapped is not the F word, the cure is somehow realizing that the Reality of Christ is about all the Facts of Life - the hard things that disturb us and not the soft things that please us.  For reality is hard; it has edges.  "To thine own self be true" is soft; we can make of that what we will. 

And the F word, in contrast to the soft glow of false romanticism, requires at least something that's not soft. 

But we like softness.  Most of us had rather worship in the Church of the Amoeba - that shifting formless blob that becomes whatever we want it to be - than the Church of Christ.

But we do so at our own peril.

And to our own misery.  For, as I quoted to begin with, "There is always something they [the lost souls] prefer to joy - that is, to reality." 

For it is only in Reality - that is in God - that we find true joy.

***

For more on Newman and Unreality, see this post from two years ago.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Winning the Battle and Losing the War

Yesterday we saw the movie Lincoln, which is very good.

It's all about Lincoln's struggle, during the final months of his life, to get the Thirteenth Amendment passed - to abolish slavery.  Without the abolition of slavery, the Civil War would have been a great exercise in futility.  And despite what the revisionists have tried to say; and despite what some of my Southern friends are reluctant to admit - that war was fought primarily over slavery.

In many ways, a war that was fought about fifty years after that, World War I, was seen by many to be what the Civil War could have been - a savage exercise in futility, with no discernible moral high ground.  As the men were in the trenches, so was the cause behind their fighting - buried behind barbed wire and confusion and entangling alliances, no one holding the high ground.  But if you step outside the German-friendly textbooks of U.S. public schools, however, and if you get beyond the fact that disenchantment became chic around then, and especially if you read Chesterton's articles written during the "Great War", it's quite clear that World War I was indeed a moral war, a war over a moral crisis - the worldview of the Prussians (power and cynicism) vs. the remnants of the worldview of Christendom (love and self-sacrifice).

The Prussians, if you haven't noticed, have won.

They didn't win the Great War, and they didn't win World War II, and their brethren-in-spirit, the Soviets, lost the Cold War.  But they've won.  They've taken the hearts and minds of Iowa and Nebraska and teen-aged kids at the mall.

Nietzsche looms large as the Prophet of Nothingness for the boys.  Ayn Rand and her despicable but sexy supermen loom large as the Mavericks of Selfishness for the girls.  Our kids are all nihilists these days - but they're "good nihilists" (if there is such a thing) - and they get that crap from the decay of Protestantism, in other words, from the spirit of old Prussia. 

So, really, we kind of lost these great wars, since we are more Prussian now than we ever would have been even under the Reich, and we're rapidly becoming as Atheistic Totalitarian as we ever would have been even under the Kremlin.

But at least we've abolished slavery - haven't we?

***

There is a moment in the film where Lincoln completes an analogy offered by another character - the analogy of the Moral Compass.  Yes, he says, a compass can point north - but it won't tell us where the swamps are, where the rivers are, where the mountains are.  In other words, we can keep our eyes on God - but without some worldly prudence, we can't avoid the pitfalls that keep us from our goal.

Thus politics.

And yet today do we even have that Moral Compass?  Enough people knew the wrongs of slavery to oppose it and even die to abolish it.  But how many of us really recognize the wrong of abortion?  Yes, the baby is out of sight, but is he or she also out of mind?  If a pregnant woman is assaulted and her unborn baby dies, the criminal can be charged with that baby's death.  But if a pregnant woman walks into a Planned Parenthood clinic and has the baby sucked out with a vacuum, she is hailed as having performed a positive good.  My pro-abortion friends still use that tired canard that abortion should be "safe, legal and rare".  Well, it's certainly not "rare"; it's not "legal" in actual fact (only in positive law); and it's never "safe" as it always results in at least one death. 

Abortion is the slavery of the 21st Century. 

It may take prudence to navigate through the minefield before us, if we hope to achieve a political victory; but if we don't know where north is, we're lost.  If we've lost our compass, the dark will soon encompass us.

***

Meanwhile, it is good to see that films are still about the things we claim we no longer believe in - such as the three I've seen this weekend, from the nobility of the disadvantaged kids of Brooklyn Castle to the bravery of the heroes of Argo to the wisdom and even righteousness of Abraham Lincoln - there are still signs that we're not really the "good nihilists" we pretend to be.

We may not have lost these wars after all.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

I'm Too Big to Fail! You're Too Small to Matter!



We've just seen one of the best documentaries ever, Brooklyn Castle , the story of a middle school in Brooklyn, its incredible chess team, and the amazing poor kids and their families that populate the story.

The movie made me realize the ease with which we suburbanites forget about or even look down upon inner city families and their struggles; and the fact that education is being sacrificed because rich bankers are pilfering the economy - as even the conservative assistant principal in the school laments.  The shenanigans of Wall Street and the government regulators who looked the other way have profound impacts on the ground - threatening something as wholesome and good as the chess program as Intermediate School 318 in Brooklyn.

We social conservatives wonder why people voted for Obama over Romney.  Well, in people's minds Obama stood for the inner city kids and their families who are doing their best while being victimized in Brooklyn and all over this country; and Romney - in people's minds - stood for the fat cats whose pockets are protected no matter what, on Wall Street and all over the country. 

In this country, if I'm "too big to fail", someone else has got to be "too small to matter".

Yes, Obama also stood for Abortion-as-a-Positive-Good, Perversion-as-a-Sacrament and To-Hell-with-Religious-Liberty - but so did Romney (to a somewhat lesser extent), and people simply perceived the president as caring more for the little guy and Romney as not giving a damn for anyone but the affluent.

That's what it all turned on. 

It's not as complicated as chess - much simpler, really.

Chess, however, and the stories behind it, is much more interesting.  Go see Brooklyn Castle!

Using Catholic Doctrine to Attack the Catholic Church

"The Church is filled with sinners and hypocrites and so can safely be ignored." - Typical Anti-Catholic Statement.

"The Church is filled with sinners and hypocrites and to claim this is to claim what the Church herself teaches." - The Catholic Church

"The Church is not justified when her children do not sin, but when they do." - G. K. Chesterton

When asked why he became Catholic, Chesterton answered, "To get rid of my sins."

When an opponent quite rightly chastises us for our failings (see the combox here) - from greed to hypocrisy to sex abuse to cowardice, etc. - the reply can only be, "You despise as vices the same things the Catholic Church has always insisted were vices; you admire as virtues the same things the Catholic Church has always insisted were virtues.  The truth of what the Body of Christ teaches is not determined by the moral uprightness of the sinners who serve as its teachers; the truth is greater than man, and the teaching is not of man, but of God.  When we sin we witness for our need of a savior; when we are holy, we witness for His grace working in us."

Rot! - an Analysis

We have finally realized it.

We have turned the corner.  We have jumped the shark.  We have crossed the Rubicon.  We have passed the point of no return.

And we have finally realized it.

***

I have been hesitant to draw conclusions from the recent election.  Yes, Obama is a horrific president, combining Republican zest for big business and contempt for civilian casualties with the Democratic Party's zeal for abortion, perversion and the dismantling of the family.  But Romney was really almost as bad, favoring abortion and washing his hands of same sex "marriage", with a track record of contempt for religious liberty as governor of Massachusetts.  How we can, as many of my Facebook friends do, claim that America is dead because our citizens refused to elect their scoundrel of choice and instead elected their neighbor's scoundrel of choice is beyond me.

So the defeat of Romney is not an indication of the Death of America.  Romney was a false choice to begin with, and only better than Obama by contrast with Obama.

But all the same, the hysterical conservatives are on to something.  Even, perhaps, the secessionists are on to something. 

What they're on to is this.

It's over.

America as a land of virtue and individual liberty is no more.  That's simply true.  It's been true for a while. 

And it's because our culture is dead.  It's not only a Culture of Death, it's a Culture of Decay, and that Rot is spreading.

It's spreading even to the Church.

***

Polls tell us that 42% of weekly Mass-going Catholics voted for the most anti-Catholic president in history.  And only perhaps 25% of Catholics are weekly Mass-goers.  Since weekly Mass attendance is required of all practising Catholics, then we know this much about the Church-by-numbers in the U.S. ...

42% of the "cream of the crop" (25%) voted for a man that their faith and any modicum of prudence would preclude them from voting for.  (Granted, their faith would preclude them from voting for Romney as well, except in so far as they were voting against the worse of the two candidates; but the point remains - a serious Catholic simply can not vote for Obama; while a serious Catholic can make a case for voting for Romney, bad as he was).  This means that 14.5 % of U.S. Catholics take their faith seriously enough to do the bare minimum - go to Mass and attempt to live a Catholic life, at least in the voting booth.   And since I know most of those 14.5% personally, I can tell you that at least half of them are despicable people who would jettison the Catechism if it suits them and who are Catholic so that they can feel superior to everybody else that's going to hell.  I would venture to guess that half of that 14.5% adamantly supports torture, lying, and the general philosophy of the day, which is I-want-what-I-want-when-I-want-it.

This leaves us with maybe 7% of all Catholics who give a crap - Catholics who care about their faith enough to make an imperfect attempt to
  1. Go to Mass on Sundays
  2. Not vote for a pro-abortion zealot whose administration is attempting to dismantle the Catholic church
  3. Try to follow the teachings of their Church and love their neighbors, even when they don't much feel like it.
And this is 7% of U.S. Catholics - who themselves are about 25% of the U.S. population.  This means about 1.75 % of the U.S. are Catholics-who-give-a-Crap

Catholics-who-give-a-Crap is my demographic phrase that, unscientific though it may be, does in fact capture the numbers we're dealing with. 

If you, as a reader, are a Catholic-who-gives-a-Crap, or an Evangelical-who-Cares, or even an Atheist-who-Thinks (there are a few of those out there), even when you add up all of our numbers combined, we are a statistical blip.  We are insignificant, politically speaking.  More people believe in space aliens than believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ, if "by their fruits ye shall know them" is any indication.

***

Now, I'm not saying all this to judge people.  I'm not saying that the 1.75% of us have a better chance at heaven than the 98.25% remaining. 

Indeed, I know a lapsed Catholic or two who sleep around, like Obama, love contraception, and even get a kick out of the whole gay thing, and I would rather spend a weekend with most of them than with my Devout Catholic pew-mates - not because they're more fun and more real about life (both of which they are), but because they are true to their vision of the world ("god as they understand him"), and their general good nature and imperfect love recommends them highly to me, if not to God (and He's the One Who judges, not me).  They are, at best, Happy Pagans.  And there's much to be said for Happy Pagans.

So my point is not to judge, and not to say who's good enough and who's not.  My point is not that at all.  My point is not a theological point. 

My point is a political and cultural point.

Jeff Mirus makes the political point here ("The End of Pro-Life Politics"), where he says the political pro-life movement is dead, and where he argues that we need to abandon the political arena as our main battleground for ending abortion, contraception and euthanasia. 

Fr. C. J. McCloskey makes the cultural point here ("The Recent Unpleasantness") where he points out that this is simply an anti-Christian culture.  It has happened under our eyes; it is the fruit of centuries of rebellion against Christ; and it's simply a done deal.

I know of a young Catholic teen who does not know who Pontius Pilate is, who has never heard of the Beatitudes or the Sermon on the Mount.  She didn't learn these things from her parents or from her parish.  I know of a very devout pro-life Catholic couple who refuse to have children until late middle-age, so that they can establish their careers, which, they tell me, is much more important a thing than babies.  I know of a host of commenters on this and on other blogs who prove that if the choice is between the World and Jesus Christ, the World wins hands down. 

And I know of my own dark heart and darker deeds.

As a rule (as a statistically very significant rule), Catholics are no different from the rest of the secular world - except we tend to be worse.

The Rot has corrupted even the cream of the crop.

***

We have turned the corner. 

We are not post-Christian (I hate that phrase), since nothing comes after Christ.  But we are once again fully Pagan, and like the Pagans of old, we love Bread and Circuses, unrestrained perversion, sacrifice and brutality. 

On the surface, the election told us very little.

Beneath the surface, the waters are dark and swirling.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Mayberry R.I.P.

Here is an article by Anthony Esolen (who's as good as Peter Kreeft, IMHO, and whose translation and notes for Dante's Inferno are perhaps the best you'll find), and it starts with the question, "Why don't boys and girls hold hands any more?"  Be advised that reading it might kind of break your heart.

This article is painful to read.  It's not only true, it's been true since I was "courting" my wife Karen thirty years ago.  I am sorry to say there was very little of that boy-girl romance between us even then.  Even in the 80's, college students didn't "date", they either had sex or didn't with people they casually hung out with.  And while Karen and I dated (we weren't in college), my attitude toward women was not one of gentleness or protection.  Chivalry and Courtesy - gone.  I missed it without realizing I missed it .
 
We have a murder mystery called Mayberry R.I.P. - and that's the name of this un-named syndrome.  Not only is Andy dead, the whole way of life is dead.


The author as Sheriff Andy in his play Mayberry R.I.P.
 
There's something in the air that is attacking Love and the source of all Love, God. 

Belloc writes so much about his love of singing, singing joyful songs as he hikes through the hills.  Who sings any more?  What would we sing?  The songs on the radio that have no melody and that are about screeching and sex?  The hills are no longer alive with the sound of music, because the sound of music is gangsta rap.  At least during Advent we hear the good old songs once more; real music is popular only in Christmas tunes.  And boys and girls who "stay inside", as Esolen points out, don't know life.  It poisons us all, even devout Catholics.  We trade love for contraception and fornication, we destroy the family and find ourselves terribly lonely.  We think we're hip because we have gadgets and gonorrhea, and meanwhile the family in the stable on a cold night in Bethlehem is further from us than ever before.

 Of all the things that are hard for the young people I teach to grasp, the notion of love is at the core.  "The love that made the sun and the other stars," as Dante says - the love that made hell itself, as an act of Mercy and Justice together.  It is the great thing that young people are hungering for; it is the Great Starvation.  Without it, you get suicide and a fascination with torture and death; without it you get boredom.   

With it, the entire world comes alive.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Survival of the Witless

Talk to a typical Materialist-Atheist today (here's a picture of one below) ...



... and the dialogue will go like this ...

SANE MAN:  If there is nothing but matter, then what do you make of beauty, of love?

MATERIALIST-ATHEIST:  Beauty is subjective.

SM:  Then why discuss art?  Why critique anything if there's no objective truth or standard of beauty by which to measure and assess the thing we discuss?  Why discuss anything?  If everything is simply our own opinion, then why talk to anybody?  Isn't the whole purpose of discussion an attempt to uncover what is objective in the midst of our subjective notions?

MA:  (burps)

SM:  ... and what about love?  How do you explain love, the greatest spiritual gift, if everything is material?

MA:  Love comes from evolution.  It's our biology.  It's our gonads.

SM:  There's a word for what you're describing, but it ain't love. 

MA:  Then love is a benign illusion that helps us deal with the meaninglessness of life; a sense of purpose itself is a product of evolution and motivates the individual and the species.  We need our illusions in order to survive, though I don't personally need illusions, since I'm superior to you.  "Love" like "God" is just a giant spaghetti monster that we believe in; those inferior humans among us apparently need to believe in things other than matter or else they'd never get out of bed in the morning (which, most days, I myself have trouble doing).

SM:  So "love" is an illusion that aids our biological survival.

MA:  Exactly.

SM:  And Darwinists believe that the fittest survive, and that survival is the great good.

MA:  That's right.  Whatever gets you through the night, or through your life - whatever helps you propagate your species and not kill yourself (though I personally think suicide is noble).

SM:  But if there's nothing but matter, as you insist, then why is survival important?

MA:  ... huh?

SM:  What possible advantage does a frog have over a rock?  They're both random bits of matter.

MA:  A frog lives and attempts to survive and -

SM:  But why?  Why would "survival" be any less of an illusion than "love" or "beauty"?  If the only point of love or beauty is to get us off our butts so that we and our species continue to "survive", then "survival" is the ultimate good.  But why?  Why, if that's all there is, is "survival" important?  Once I die, by your theory, I'm still matter, after all.  I'll always be matter or energy.  That's all there is to be.  What possible benefit is it to survive, to live?

MA:  (looks despondent)  I often wonder that myself.

SM:  That's because your churches are filled with ugly stained glass, gay guitar music and insipid homilies.  You really don't know anything about love or beauty.  They do not exist to serve life, but to a certain extent, life exists to serve them.  Have another beer.

MA:  (suddenly emphatic)  You religionists deserve to die!

SM:  For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.  Some more chips?

***

To be fair, I've had conversations with atheists who are much smarter and more serious than this - including one just the other night. 

And I was an atheist myself for many years, so I still hold a warm place in my heart for my confused brethren-in-the-no-faith.  The best of them are searching for truth; the worst of them are priests of the Culture of Death.

From Awe to Awful

My friend, Ink, the world's most Catholic architect, writes in a combox here ...

The modernist movement of the 1920s is the reason for the
horrendous space ship churches we have today. Blame Le Corbusier and Mies
van der Rohe. Also, the US was REALLY late to the modernism gig because
they decided that they didn't want their houses looking like factories,
while the entirety of Europe thought the factory typology was the coolest
thing since Haussman.

 
Well, those of us not in the know are glad of one thing - that the U.S. resists the decadence of Europe for as long as possible.  We're only just now taking up Atheistic Secularism as our dominant culture of choice, while Europe is almost becoming tired of it by now.  If our recent election showed us anything (and I'm not sure what it showed us), it was at least that the empty churches of Europe and the financial collapse of Greece are things we don't mind as long as sodomy, abortion and contraception remain three of our new and cherished sacraments.

As to U.S. church interiors of the 1920's, this is Our Lady Help of Christians in Frankenstein, Missouri ...


... clearly beautiful, but as in many 1920's U.S. Romanesque churches, there is a turning away from the more elaborate church interiors found in many rural American churches in the pre-World-War-I years, such as St. Mary's in St. Benedict, Kansas ...




... which seems to me to foretell of the collapse of beauty and the embrace of ugliness you find even in the few churches built in the 1940's.

***

And then there's the great disaster in stained glass, which takes us from this (a photo I took of an Emil Frei pre-WWI window in a church in Old Monroe, Missouri) ...


... to this ...



... created and installed by Frei's modern company.

Now, granted, the second window does not try to be like the first; the second window is abstract with wheat motifs and a scary face peering at you in the middle; the second window is much cheaper to make than the first; the second window fits what looks like a shopping-mall-inspired church interior, and so matches the intention of the architect - which appears to be the notion, "Our Faith makes no sense whatsoever and this church and its windows will attest to that".

The second window is ugly and the first window is beautiful.  The second window is confused and disconnected from awe - except the awe that's in "awful".  The second window is to the first what Marty Haugen tunes are to music. 

***

And if you were a typical affluent suburbanite who thinks that gay marriage actually exists and that abortion is a positive good and that contraception is a right that should be subsidized (positions Obama emphatically supported and Romney tacitly supported), would you even begin to start to think about anything beyond yourself and your pop-nihilism in a church illuminated by the second window - or would there be a slight chance that something might stir in you beyond perversion and boredom in a church illuminated by the first?

***

This is why I'm not an art critic.  I'm too much of a crabby old man.  And it's the art and architecture's fault!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Dawn Eden on "The Journey Home"

Dear Friends,

My friend, Dawn Eden, whose latest book, My Peace I Give You, is pretty darned good, writes about her appearance on The Journey Home ...

***

       Writing as promised with a reminder that today is the day that my interview for EWTN's "The Journey Home" airs for the first time. Here on the East Coast, it will be on at 8 p.m., but local times vary, so check EWTN.com for the times in your area. EWTN.com also includes a link to watch online, as well as a Channel Finder to locate the network on your cable system. 

       If you have any friends or family members who have suffered trauma, particularly if they have suffered childhood sexual abuse, they may find inspiration and hope for healing through seeing me tell my story on "The Journey Home." You could also recommend the interview to anyone who is in recovery, and to those who struggle with same-sex attraction (which, although not part of my story, is similar to the struggles I faced in overcoming disordered temptations). All who have suffered any kind of wound need to know the Good News of Christian suffering, and that is what I share in this interview. In addition, if you know any Jews, atheists, agnostics, Protestants, or fallen-away Catholics, my interview might also be of interest to them, as I discuss my conversion. And Chesterton fans should enjoy it, as GKC's influence is a key part of my story.

       I'm tremendously excited about the "Journey Home" interview's airing, because it enables the My Peace message to reach many people who would not otherwise hear it. There is therefore great opportunity for the healing light of Christ to reach people who have been living for years with misplaced guilt and shame. Please pray for the program's viewers, that God will use it to touch them so that they might find healing or that they might lead others to healing.

       As fate would have it, I will not be able to watch my "Journey Home" interview when it premieres, because I will be in the "Theology of St. Augustine" class at Dominican House of Studies, where I am currently working toward an S.T.B. and S.T.L. So I'll watch it when it repeats at 1 a.m. Eastern tomorrow morning. It also repeats at 1 p.m. Eastern on Thursday--but, again, check your local listing for times.

       Later this week, the "Journey Home" episode should be uploaded onto EWTN's YouTube site. I'll include the direct link to the video in my next e-mail update, which should be in two to four weeks. Or, if you're on Twitter, you can check for the link in a few days on my Twitter page: https://twitter.com/mypeacebook .

       In other news, I recently did a radio interview with Tony Rossi of the Christophers media apostolate, which went very well, as Tony is a wonderful interviewer. You can hear as a podcast via the Christophers blog.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Adventures at Undisclosed Locations









 


 
 
I am at liberty to tell you neither who these people are, nor where these photos were taken.

Glamor versus Glory

Most actors have "careers" that consist of waiting - waiting tables and waiting for their big break. 

Many of my actors over the years have left St. Louis for Hollywood, all but one running into a brick wall in the process.  The one who made it big in L.A. is nevertheless at a precarious point in her career where her big hit is ending its run - which means that she might be as forgotten ten years from now as she was unknown ten years ago.

My solution to this was never to go to L.A.  Since I first moved out on my own as a 20-year-old, I have made a living in show business - in St. Louis, no less, a town not known as a theater friendly place, a town where few movies or TV shows film.  I've had to be versatile - and since I didn't want my career to consist of "waiting", it's consisted of everything from making money as a stand-up comic, magician, drama teacher, director, singing telegram performer, audio book performer, and so on. 

But I've had limits.  Early on I decided that I would only do good work that I was interested in and proud of; and that I would not work for free.  This means that I've had to learn how to be an entrepreneur, and how to write, produce and direct my own material.  It means my stuff has had to be good enough to please an audience and succeed in the marketplace.

Now this form of scrapping - and sometimes of scraping and scrambling - teaches you quickly that it's not glamorous.  Becoming a star or having adoring fans is something that I long ago gladly traded for earning a living doing what I love to do and what God has made me to do.  This means that to an extent I am indeed a star and I do have fans, but I'm a star in small towns like Sesser, Illinois and my fans are 90-year-old ladies who watch EWTN. 



So when I audition actresses for our murder mysteries, I tell them, "This is not for everybody.  The audiences are often drunk.  Our changing rooms can be small two-toilet bathrooms that are closed to the public the night of our show.  We're often staying at Super-8's in rural America surrounded by corn fields.  This is more vaudeville than it is legitimate theater.  But I love it.  The audiences love it.  We are bringing joy to people.  Our shows are actually good, well-written, very funny and liberating; they are more fun than I can ever describe.  And yet - it's not for everybody," which is my way of saying, I only want to hire troopers, not diva-Hollywood-wanna-be's.

***

And so this all leads me to reflect upon life and how we listen to God when He talks to us. 

Or how we don't.

***

This weekend in Chicago on a Theater of the Word tour, we met with a friend of ours - a religious sister who has suffered a great deal in her life, but whose radiant joy is the light that the darkness of suffering could not overcome. 

I won't go into detail, since I don't know how much of her story she would want me to publicize - but it's all about how she thought that she had founded a religious order - an order that Cardinal George approved and that she and another sister took vows for - but an order that seemed to fizzle and die before it ever got off the ground.

The other sister left; our friend got very ill; life itself seemed to come apart at the seams.  Suffering upon suffering and cross upon cross sent our friend through a dark night of the soul that made her doubt (I imagine) her very reason for being.

And yet, now it is becoming more clear to our friend.  She begins to see that the particular things she suffered were particular preparations for a very particular sort of Work that she is being called to do for the Lord.  The order is not dead; it is just that God is Forming it.  Helpers are beginning to appear.  A mission is beginning to reveal itself.

***

Much the same is the story for Theater of the Word Incorporated. 

I was not expecting Hollywood stardom and the glamor of adoring fans.  But I was expecting a certain amount of worldly success and some encouragement or acceptance by a grateful Church.  Have we had either?  We have had a touch of success from a worldly perspective, and much ad hoc private gratitude from audiences and fans; but we've also had lots of rejection and even a fair amount of persecution from what has been in general a very ungrateful Church.

This made me quite mad, and fueled alot of my discontent over the last three months.   (Read the blog posts since August, if you dare.)

Finally, I started to see the light that my own darkness had not understood.  I started to see two things.

  1. First, you can't really say you love someone or something (like the Church or your vocation) until you hit a kind of rock bottom and there is absolutely no reason to love it.
  2. Second, the frustration I'm feeling comes from a false expectation - the expectation that the Form I had envisioned for my apostolate - and for my life - is what God had in mind when I said "yes" to His call.  In other words, I thought I had said yes to a kind of Hollywood; but God, in His mercy, has given me something far more Real than anything like Hollywood - a grace for which I have thanked God by doing a good deal of complaining (as is my wont, I am sorry to say).

And so, like an actor who thinks he can only be successful if he's a big time TV star and that trudging along doing "guerrilla theater" at wineries and in church basements for 35 years is a failure; or like a religious sister who expects her order to be one thing and finds that it's totally different and perhaps much more painful; or even like a husband or wife who gets married and finds out that it's absolutely nothing like they imagined it to be - like all of these folks, we are usually our own worst enemies, and even when we say "yes" to God, we are often saying "yes" to the image in our minds, and not to the far greater Reality that He intends to give us.

For God is always Real.  That's what the Incarnation is all about.

Do you think, for example, that the Virgin Mary imagined her "yes" would mean the panic and poverty of the Nativity, life as a refugee in Egypt, losing her son for three days as He went about His Father's business, seeing Him condemned, tortured, executed?  Did she imagine, perhaps, that being the mother of the Messiah would entail a bit more honor (in this life) and ease and earthly glory?

We know she didn't have any of the selfish egotism that we all do.  But did she get confused or frightened when all of the apparent Success of being the Mother of God appeared to be for naught - a vocation of utter futility - on that dreadful day when the sun stopped shining and the earth shook?

We see the glossy images of the Nativity, but we don't smell the manure. 

We see a painting of the Flight into Egypt and we forget the Slaughter of the Innocents. 

We see the Reunion in the Temple, but we forget the horror and panic over a Lost Child.

***

Our Faith is Real, more Real than we would care to admit.

And every time our life, our career, our day doesn't go the way we envision it, let us say a little prayer.  Let us say, "Thank you, God, for speaking to me in this frustration; thank you for showing me by this little suffering that the Reality You're giving me is always greater than the Unreality I keep telling myself I'd rather have."

Yes, we should be magnanimous.  Yes, we should never settle.  We should not lower our expectations and aim for the easy mark.

But no, we should stop arguing with God that when we told Him we'd serve Him we meant it on our terms and not His.