Thursday, February 28, 2013

Going All-In and Getting Kicked Out

She wanted to book a Tuesday in March.  It was already mid-February.  There was no way I was going to fill in this particular Tuesday in March.

So I offered a deeply discounted rate for our comedy murder mystery.

But soon I learned I had been played for a fool.  The group was a Young Professionals Association in eastern Illinois; and they were anything but professional.  But they were definitely young, and their attitude toward getting me the info I needed to send them a contract and arrange the show was not unlike my 17-year-old's attitude toward doing her homework.  At 12 days prior to our scheduled performance, I still had not heard from the woman coordinating the event, and still had not been able to send them a contract.

When we did talk (today) she informed me that the attendance might be four times as large as she had originally told me.  I replied that if that were the case I would have to raise my price, and would send her a contract with the higher rate - though still a deeply discounted one.  She then tried not to secure the original rate, but to poor-mouth me down to a rate even lower than what we had verbally agreed to (before she went on vacation for two weeks and left me a voice mail with no information on where to send the contract) - trying to negotiate me down for an event to be held at the local Country Club, no less.

This whole thing ended with this woman having a co-member call me and denigrate our company.  "I called at got a company from Chicago to come down to do this show instead of Upstage Productions!" she bragged, at a rate higher than I had quoted them.  "It will be good to have the choice of a second mystery company in our town!" she said, sweetly.

I hung up on her.  Such are the frustrations (dealing with jerks) - and the benefits (hanging up on jerks) - of running your own business.

***

But here's the problem I find myself in when I'm in these situations.

The customer wants a show that's all-in.  They expect us to do what we do as performers, give the show our all, regardless of the mood we're in, how we're feeling physically, what we have to go through to get there, or any other circumstances involved.  But they don't always want to pay what it costs to have us all-in.

***

This is precisely why Stewardship of Love is so important, especially for actors and other fools.

Going "all in" comes with a cost.

Last week I wrote about The Provisional Life and the Peter Pan Syndrome, in which I observed that it's wrong - or at least immature - NOT to go "all in" with the life we've been given.  And yet there are times when choices come up, and when we must say to a prospective friend or lover or customer - "I will only do this if I can do it right; and to do it right requires I go all in, and that's going to cost me and cost you - and if the investment is not reciprocal - then I have only one choice.  I'm all out."

This was the entertainment at last year's Young Professional's Dinner at the Country Club.  Not very good, but they got him cheap!!!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

What Has Become of Catholic Guilt?

The attractive, but despicable, Nicole Pandolfo.
A reader has pointed out to me that the Westians share a false view of Church history with the liberals.

Fr. Z. touches upon the liberal confusion in a post in which he quotes Nicole Pandolfo who makes the claim, in the Washington Times, that the CCD classes she endured as a young Catholic taught her to "obsess over guilt feelings".

Fr. Z. replies

Are you kidding me?  Where was that CCD class?  I ‘d like to send the teachers an award.  Is there anyone who believes a word of this woman’s tripe? In the last 30-40 years NO ONE who has done CCD was “taught to obsess over guilty feelings.” That era ended long before this young woman was born. 

Indeed, what has become of "Catholic Guilt"?  If this woman was obsessing over guilt feelings, she didn't get that from any CCD class.  Most Catholic schools and almost all Directors of Religious Education and Catholic Education Programs have gotten the memo - sin no longer exists - so why feel guilty?

In the same manner, the Westians seem to be fighting the imagined Puritans within the Catholic Church or the make-believe Manicheans who are telling us that the body is evil.  Where are all these Puritans and Manicheans?  I've met a few, but they are a fringe group and no one takes them seriously.  I know of no one in my large circle of acquaintances who despises the body or denigrates the function of sex.

But my point here is not about the strange ghosts the followers of Christopher West are fighting, but about why we lash out at straw men in general, and why, when it comes to morality, the straw man is always the Catholic Church.

Might I suggest, as I have before, that conscience is a much more powerful force than we give it credit for being?  Granted, nobody likes to follow his or her conscience, so instead people write articles for the Washington Times in which they brag that they're pro-abortion, pro-sodomy, anti-marriage, anti-family and yet proudly Catholic without all that guilt.

Don't believe it for a minute.

Nicole Pandolfo didn't get any Catholic guilt from her CCD classes, but she got it the way we all do on matters of Natural Law - she got it directly from God.  No one can live content with herself if she supports the killing of babies, if she turns a blind eye to the misery of the "gay" lifestyle, if she asserts that a selfish unmarried single life filled with promiscuity and sterile sex is a pleasing way to live; no one can do that without that little nagging voice causing problems here and there.

If we simply enjoyed sin so much, we'd simply enjoy it and shut up about how all those judgmental people in the Catholic Church keep picking on us - especially when they never really do.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Horrible Hobbit Homicide

Me as Gandalf the Wizard and Aslan the Lion.  Ruthie Hart and other audience members fill in.


Me as Max von Sideshow, show business impresario; and as Winthrop Peruse, whose screenplay Lord of the Ring around the Tower of Azkaban, Capital of Narnia, featuring the Phantom Menace Max wants to produce.  Winthrop, as you can see, is a big hit with the ladies.
These are scenes from our performance at Holy Field Vineyard in Basehor, Kansas.  Photographs courtesy of Schlomer Photography.

Monday, February 25, 2013

By George! I Don't Think He's Got It

OK, why does this smell funny to me ...

a robustly orthodox Catholicism impassioned about mission is the only Catholicism that has a future. Why? Because it’s the Catholicism that is answering Christ’s call to mission in the Great Commission, and it’s the only Catholicism that can meet the challenge of aggressive secularism, jihadism — and limp discipleship.

... George Weigel, again, promoting his new book Evangelical Catholicism.

I wrote last week about how the errors of the Protestant Evangelical movement need to be avoided if we're really serious about something called Evangelical Catholicism.

And blog readers Brad and Nick D. assure me in the comboxes that Weigel's book is very good, and that his program bears no resemblance to the typical use of the term "Evangelical" in the broader culture.

And since I have not read the book, I take them at their word.

But the quote above gets my spidey-sense tingling.

I would agree with the quote were some of the more jingoistic adjectives removed.  For instance, "... orthodox Catholicism ... is the only Catholicism that has a future."  I would agree with such a redacted description - though even that is troublesome, as it implies that there are brands of "Catholicism" (including "orthodox brand Catholicism") rather than One Body of Christ; that there are variations on the Catholic consumer options, rather than one mystical organ that defies description. And also "robustly" bothers me.  "Robustly orthodox"?  That sounds like "eagerly sane" or "extravagantly even-tempered".  And "impassioned about its mission" - well, we're "impassioned" because Christ suffered His "passion" for us.  The implication that we must be full of a kind of passionate intensity can only remind one of Yeats ...

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

Likewise, "limp discipleship" might be akin to "the best" who "lack all conviction" - but Yeats saw that to go from lacking conviction to a kind of emphatic salesmanship is going from bad to worse.  And I can't help but suspect that Weigel is peddling a version of emphatic salesmanship.

I hope I'm wrong, but Weigel, in this quote at least, seems to see the Church as a kind of Superior Solution for combating the false ideologies of the age, such as "aggressive secularism and jihadism".  But the Church is certainly more than the Last Ideology Left Standing.  I'm sure Weigel knows this, but there's something about this whole, Hey, kids, the market is about to turn in our direction, so let's get this New Evangelization Thing going before we miss the boat on the Second Spring attitude that bothers me.  It smacks of Pelagianism and worse.

Again, Weigel's book might be very good, and I'm only going off what he himself has been saying about it (authority is in the author, after all); but the way he's pitching it in interviews makes me wary.  It's a tad bit oily.  Snake oily.

And spreading the Gospel is nothing like that.

The author in his days as snake oil salesman and riverboat gambler.





The Capstone - or What We Learn from The End

What I was struggling to say in my last post is that the end illuminates the beginning; the end tells us how to read everything that came before it; the end defines the rest of the story.

I just got off the phone with someone who talked about a project that an elderly friend of his hopes to start before he dies.  "It would validate his entire life," he said, meaning that it would be a kind of capstone that would hold the archway together, that would put everything that came before it into a solid framework and perspective.

Relationships are like this too.  How a friendship ends shows you the nature of that friendship since the beginning.  Same for jobs and careers.  An ugly-selfish end reveals an ugly-selfish trend or current that had been at work all along.

And the same for life.  This is why Heaven or Hell are not simply a form of reward or punishment, but a culmination and punctuation mark that reveals how well we've lived up to that point - up to the end.

Sometimes the only way to understand a story is to read it backwards.

The Last Thing - What our Death Shows Us

Catholics at one time were told to meditate on the Four Last Things -Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell.  As  a Lenten practice, may I suggest the following.

Jesus in the Garden - Frankenstein, Missouri cemetery
If you were to die within the next five minutes, and you knew it, what would be the story of your life?  I don't just mean milestones like births, deaths, marriages, jobs and graduations - the sort of stuff that make up obituaries - I mean the inner story of your life.

We all know, secretly, that we will be judged at death by how well we have responded to God's grace, how well have we been true to Him, how well we have followed His light, according to our own lights.  In short, we each privately know how well we have borne His cross, or the many crosses He has given us.

***

If I were to prepare to die in five minutes, I would assess my life and then honestly ask God to forgive me where I've fallen short.  And the odd thing is, I would care, in these last moments, less about my worldly successes or failures, than about how true I've been, how loyal I've been to the Truth - especially in small and unguarded moments, especially where love was the primary thing demanded of me.  That is what counts.

Have I been true to God, even at personal cost to myself?  Even if it made others mad?  Even if I lost friends over it?  Even if I lost money over it?  And in the depths of my marriage - in those intimate family moments that no one else sees but your wife and kids - have I been true to my wife and children?  Have I been a witness to love?  That question goes beyond whether or not I've committed adultery.  It goes to the heart of the matter: have I been the primary force in their lives for bringing them to Christ?  Have I set boundaries and made "tough love" decisions, even if it cost me a few temper tantrums or a few nights on the couch?

And have I been true to that nasty little nagging thing in the center of my soul that I don't like to listen to?  Call it the conscience or the still small voice, or the Holy Spirit who goads us, we all know what it is; though we often can't hear it except in moments of great crisis or great silence.  Sometimes the more noise we make about "following our conscience", the more we are shirking it.  For example, there would be no push for "gay marriage" if sodomy and Lesbianism really brought peace to the inner voice of those who indulge in such acts.  And if this blog has taught me anything, it's taught me that people make outlandish arguments and defend irrational statements for one reason only - to soothe a nagging conscience.

In short, how have I loved?  How have we loved?  For love is so much more than being nice.  It is a patient faith and trust in God that He will work through your own unworthy instrument (your self) to bring other people along the Way - which is always the Way of the Cross.  Love is letting Him use you to bear your cross and to help others bear theirs.

And this is the question each of us can answer, but we shrink from even asking - have we borne the cross He has given us, or have we shirked it?  Most of us spend most of our time and effort and energy in an elaborate and exhausting attempt to dump His cross and to find some lighter baggage of our own to carry.

You know, dear reader, what your cross is.  I don't.  I can guess, and sometimes our friends know better than we do.  Are you 300-pounds and defensive about your weight?  Are you doing everything you can to force a romantic relationship into the pre-set mold you've shaped for it?  Are you living with a spouse who demands you enable his or her addiction through a kind of co-dependence?  Are you sexually promiscuous (even shy of penetration) and telling yourself it's no big deal and it's making you happy?  Are you Catholic but unwilling simply to accept the Church and her teachings?  Are you tying yourself in knots and spending all of your spare time and energy covering for a problem or a sin that you should simply confront and solve, with the help of God's grace?

All of these things become problems that can only be solved in one way - trusting God to lead us.  Allowing Him to come in at every moment, so that the little moments, day by day and step by step, bring us closer to His will, which is His Kingdom.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Sin is a Closed System

My friend John B. Manos has written an article at the Bellarmine Forum which I'm encouraging you to read to for two reasons

  1. He makes yours truly sound like a saint.
  2. It's an excellent article on grace.

And while he might get #1 wrong, he gets #2 right.

In his post, Manos defends my position against Matt McGuiness, but in doing so he emphasizes the fact that sin is a closed system.  This is a term I'm borrowing from the science of ecology.  Living things cannot survive without an external source of energy.  The Law of Entropy dictates that all systems deteriorate, and that order can only be attained through the input of something from outside a given system. 

This is the perfect analogy for sin.  Not only can we sinners not raise ourselves by our own bootstraps, as the neo-Pelagians tell us, but in fact we are as doomed without the grace of God as the ecosystem of Earth would be doomed without the sun.  Salvation is not from within; sin only leads to more sin ... 

For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. - (Rom. 6:23)

This is why, as John B. Manos writes, St. Augustine not only converted, but, as all saints do, looked from that moment on ever toward God, the source of our salvation.  He did not delve deeper into sin, as the New Gnostics tell us to do; he turned instead to the Source without that freed him from his prison within.



The Quiet Witness

Sometimes we are forced to withdraw from the lives of our friends.  Sometimes our continued presence serves as an implication that we buy into their false realities.  And while continued contact is always to be preferred, for love and correction have a greater chance through communication, the loudest voice can be a voice of silence.  Voting with your feet, or withdrawing from a relationship that has become a lie, is a solid statement, and one that will be heard, even if grudgingly.

When contact becomes co-dependence, then absence can be an ongoing statement, an ongoing witness for truth.

The Pragmatic Gospel

The older I get the more I realize something very strange.

Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake,30but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life." (Mark 10:29-30)

The fact is that even if you put aside the question of eternal life - which is supernatural and which is known to us only by Divine Revelation - even if you focus only on the meaning of these words in this life, they are profoundly and utterly true.

There is no greater guide to happiness in this life than the Way of Jesus and the lives of his saints.

There is no greater pragmatic guide to living, no greater preparation for reality, than the Gospel, than the way of the cross.

For the Gospel - and all of Scripture - and all of Church teaching - reveals one primary truth about how to live:  from renunciation and sacrifice comes both compensation and persecution ... and eternal life - a kind of deep mysterious joy - begun in us even now.  

That is simply the primary psychological truth about life.

And, really, you can't exclude the supernatural element.  For the Kingdom of God is among us and within us; sanctifying grace and the Holy Spirit dwell like seeds or germs or leaven in our breasts, and can be cultivated for the fulfillment toward which they point.

Truths like these are found everywhere in Scripture.  They operate on many levels and open themselves up to us in surprising ways at unexpected times.

And if it's only a guide book, it's the most remarkably accurate guide book ever written.

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Provisional Life

"The Provisional Life" is a phrase of Carl Jung's that is a keeper, though so much of his philosophy was not.  The website Lexicon of Jungian Terms defines it thus ...

PROVISIONAL LIFE:  A term used to describe an attitude toward life that is more or less imaginary, not rooted in the here and now, commonly associated with puer psychology.

"Puer" psychology meaning the psychology of the puer aeternus, or eternal child, the Peter Pan Syndrome.  What is the eternal child?  It's simply the slackers and losers and narcissists who are all around us.

The reason this is an example of one of the areas where Jung's insight was searing and valuable is that there is one giant difference between childhood and adulthood, between puer (the boy) and vir (the man) - as well as vir-tue, the virtue that mature men and women should strive to attain.

The difference is this:

  • A grown child leads a Provisional Life.  He is never invested, never completely interested, never "all in".  From fear and diffidence, he always keeps the essential part of himself out.  He (or she) may be charming, alluring and even captivating (narcissists are good at this), but he or she will always be untrustworthy, because he or she will only engage with you with a proviso, or on the provision that he can back out any time, namely once things get rough for him.

  • By contrast, an adult goes "all out" for others by going "all in" in life.  And the best example of this is martyrdom.  

Compare what Erich Fromm said about the Bored vs. the Interested.  It's really two ways of describing the same thing.

And yet if we do the adult thing, if we go all in, we're bound to get hurt.  Going all in means loving - loving friends, neighbors, and life itself - not for their own sake, but for God's sake; and love is simply the Cross.  Peter Pan won't love Wendy because that requires a risk that is more real than the imaginary battles with a pirate.  He hopes to avoid the suffering, the cross, the essence of mature life, but all he ends up avoiding is a real life with Wendy, and a real love of life.  He ends up avoiding the greatest adventure.

If he could get the hang of the thing his cry might become 'To live would be an awfully big adventure!' but he can never quite get the hang of it - J. M. Barrie, Peter Pan

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Fromm Here to Eternity

If you read nothing else on this blog, read my piece Boredom and the Barbarian, especially the part where I quote Erich Fromm.

Fromm's vision is of two sorts of modern man.


  • The Bored - homo consumens - those who are eternally infantile, always wanting to be passively fed, to suck forever on the Great Teat; they are never satisfied; they are depressed and self-indulgent.  They neither understand nor appreciate culture or beauty, or even other people beyond the use they can put other people to.  

  • The Interested - those who are inter-esse, whose being is within and among people and things outside of themselves and their own egos.

You might say that the first, the Slackers, are simply selfish, not knowing how to invest their libido, their Eros, their love.  Never properly educated to appreciate truth, goodness or beauty - or even to appreciate others - they remain whining adolescents all of their lives; they don't understand sacrifice for the sake of another; and their view of heaven is a place where they are eternally taking in, where their hunger is always being fed.  The teaching of the Body of Christ is ridiculous to them, since self-giving has no meaning, since sex is all about desire and never about love, marriage or babies, and since everything for them begins and ends within the confines of their own narrow selves.

But does the Church really encourage the opposite?  Does she encourage the Interested to be Interested?  Doesn't the Church have a long tradition of what she calls detachment, and what I prefer to call disinterest?  Does the Church not say that we are not to love the things of this world?

Well, she says we are not to love them for their own sake.  They are not ends in themselves.  If the goods of this world - health, friendship, family - are not ways of approaching and serving God and neighbor; if the goods of this life are self-serving and not a means for self-giving, then we become consuming man and not loving man - takers, not givers.

To be Disinterested is not to be uninterested.  To be disinterested means to have no claim on personal profit from a given situation.  We cannot love without being interested, but we must love for reasons other than our own selfish interest, otherwise it's not love.  

And one of the odd things about the youth of today is even when they become interested is something or someone, they have the uncanny ability to withdraw that interest in a heartbeat.  This may explain why it's so easy for them to hop from relationship to relationship and from bed to bed without getting their hearts broken; or even getting upset or ruffled.  Many of my young friends and acquaintances complain of this - the ease with which friends and lovers abandon one another the moment the tide changes.  I suspect the young do this more than they used to in my day because now interest is assumed to be what it is in business - a claim on gain, a benefit.  If your friend or your lover no longer proves beneficial or useful to you, your interest suddenly drops off, and you drop out.

So again I say that much of our problem in the modern world is a problem of love in all its aspects - Eros, Libido, Agape, Philia.  The problem is manifold - how to train our children properly to love (which is education); how to steward our own love (which is maturity and prudence); and how to find friends who will love us even after we no longer prove useful or convenient or interesting to them.

For the greatest of all earthly gifts is friendship, which is a form of love.  

When you gain a friend, first test him,
and be not too ready to trust him
For one sort of friend is a friend when it suits him,
but he will not be with you in time of distress ...
A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter;
he who finds one finds a treasure.
A faithful friend is beyond price,
no sum can balance his worth. - (Sir. 6:7-14)

Catholic Schools Weak

While I was touching upon the purpose of education in my latest post, Boredom and the Barbarian, Australian reader Colin Jory sent me a CWN article on a poll of American Catholics.

Remarkably, the survey found higher levels of alienation among young people who had attended Catholic schools. Among respondents who had attended a Church-related school, 65% said that Church teaching on sexuality is outdated and 61% said that Mass attendance could be a boring obligation. Both figures were higher than the results for the overall sample.

And I state again the inflexible O'Brien's Law of Apostasy

There is no better indication that an adult has fallen away from the Faith than his having had 12 years of Catholic Education as a child. 

Another way of stating it is

The chance that a Catholic will apostasize varies in direct proportion to that person's years in a Catholic School, and approaches 100% as the time spent in Catholic Schools approaches 12 years.


Boredom and the Barbarian

Split Rock Lighthouse is the most beautiful sight you can imagine - at least in the Mid-West.


Perched high above the rocky shore of Lake Superior in Northern Minnesota, there is something awesome and inspiring about a visit there.

I had taken my 23-year-old actress for a day trip up to Split Rock during the week we were performing on board the North Shore Scenic Railroad in Duluth.  We walked down the path that led to the shore, turned around and saw the lighthouse high above us.  The perfection of God's work of nature coupled with man's work of the lighthouse was the perfect aesthetic.  "Look at that!  What do you think of that!?" I exclaimed to my actress, the waves crashing on the rocks all around us.

"I think I need a cigarette," she replied, and lit up.  She then started talking to her boyfriend on her cell phone.

Later that week, my friend Dale Ahqluist came up to Duluth to visit me.


"Dale," I said, "My actress is driving me crazy.  No matter what we've seen on this trip, she can't appreciate it.  She's either itching for a smoke or on the phone with somebody.  She's not a bad person, and she has a sensitive soul, but she simply can't appreciate beauty - natural or man-made.  She can't see it.  She's blind to it.  She's constantly bored.

"It's a problem of education," I went on, "No one has ever bothered to instill in her anything that would allow her to receive and understand the things around her.  It's like a child that no one ever speaks to, and who never learns a language - like a kid who's been raised by wolves."

My actress may not have been raised by wolves, but was from Arnold, Missouri - which is almost as bad.


***

Today another friend and another fellow Chestertonian, Tom Martin, writes a simple and straight-forward piece for the Kearney Hub which nonetheless at least one commenter finds provocative.  Entitled "Beyonce Makes Me Unfomfortable", Tom uses Beyonce to illustrate a philosophical point.

I am here reminded of Plato who 2,500 years ago addressed the effect of music on the soul and why it is important to educate the young to feel pleasure and pain at the proper things.
“Because rhythm and harmony permeate the inner part of the soul more than anything else, affecting it most strongly and bringing it grace, so that if someone is properly educated in music and poetry, it makes him graceful, and if not, then the opposite.”
***

I think of my 15-year-old tutoring student, a very intelligent girl who has a knack for poetry, but has never read any good poetry or been taught to develop an ear for it.  Worse, she listens to the Music of the Day all day long, and it's serving to educate her in the wrong direction.  Emphasizing lust and despair and angst, my student's music will not prepare her to see what she has the innate talent to see - the beauty of the things and people around her, the pain, the sorrow, the tragedy, the comedy - the great mixture of nobility and meanness that makes up this life.

C. S. Lewis writes at length in The Abolition of Man about how, in the absence of educating our youth toward the good, the beautiful, and the true, we will instead program them into men without chests who are indoctrinated in a man-made agenda and who are left without developed souls, trained to do our bidding.

The purpose of education should not be this.  But this is what it has become; and so our young, supremely self-righteous, self-centered and self-indulgent, can see nothing beyond themselves.  They may be the perfect specimens of the new species of man, homo consumens, but they can never be fully alive.

***

Regarding "homo consumens", consuming man, Erich Fromm explains ...


Modern society creates a type of man whom I have earlier called the homo consumens -- the consumer man whose main interest becomes, aside from working from nine to five, to consume.
This is the attitude of the eternal suckling. It is the attitude of the man or the woman with the open mouth who consumes everything with voracity -- liquor, cigarettes, movies, television, lectures, books, art exhibits, sex; everything is transformed into an article of consumption.
... there is something very deeply wrong with this, because we know that behind this urge to consume there is an inner vacuity -- a sense of emptiness. There is, in fact, a sense of depression, a sense of loneliness. 
... The Old Testament warns that the worst sin of the Hebrews was that they had lived without joy in the midst of plenty. I am afraid the critics of our society could also say that we live with much fun and excitement but with little joy in the midst of plenty...

And what is the opposite of homo consumens, the man educated only to consume, to keep sucking on the Great Teat, the man who sees heaven as nothing more than a place to indulge our base appetites?  What is the opposite of the uneducated boor who can't appreciate the beauty of a lighthouse and lake shore right before his eyes?  Fromm answers this ...


What is the opposite of the consumer? What is the opposite of the empty, passive person who spends -- or as I would say, wastes -- his life by killing time?
This is very difficult to describe, but I would say, in a general way, the main answer is to be interested. Unfortunately, we use this word so often that it has lost a great deal of its meaning, the meaning being how its root is defined in Latin: inter-esse, 'to be in' something; that is to say, to be able to transcend one's ego, to leave the narrow confines of my ego with all my ambitions, with my pride of property, with my pride of what I know and my family and my wife and my husband and my and my and my. It means to forget all these things and to reach out to both that which is opposite me and that which is in front of me, whether that is a child or a flower or a book or an idea or man or whatever it may be.

Fromm, who apparently knew my actress and my tutoring student personally, though he died before they were born, continues ...


Many of the younger generation tend to have no character at all. By that I do not mean that they are dishonest; on the contrary, one of the few enjoyable things in the modern world is the honesty of a great part of the younger generation. What I mean is that they live, emotionally and intellectually speaking, from hand to mouth. They satisfy every need immediately, have little patience to learn, cannot easily endure frustration, and have no center within themselves, no sense of identity. They suffer from this and question themselves, their identity, and the meaning of life ...

And they can't tell a beautiful lighthouse from an ugly water tower.

It's a problem of education.



The Catholic Ghetto Defined

Since the phrase Catholic Ghetto has been around for a while, lots of people use it to mean lots of things, and not everybody knows what I mean when I use it.

To clarify what I mean by Catholic Ghetto ...


  • There are some Catholic children's television programs that are literally un-watchable.  But Catholic moms force their homeschooled Catholic kids to watch them and be satisfied with them because they're orthodox and there's no Catholic alternative.

  • There are Catholic audio CDs of orthodox Catholic talks where the quality of the recording is so bad it's sometimes impossible to make out what's being said.  Many of these talks will simply end in mid-sentence, leaving the listener hanging.  But they're distributed free, so who can complain?


  • I've been to a Catholic family retreat center that is so poorly maintained (leaking roofs, chipping paint, dingy buildings) that one wonders how families can enduring staying there; there's also a creepy cult-like atmosphere among the counselors and staff.  The patrons gladly put up with this and are thankful to be there.

  • Some Catholic novels are hailed as brilliant by a very narrow but devoted group of readers.  Such novels are at best pretty good and at worst pretty awful; some even contain moments of brilliance.  But they are a far cry from the Catholic novels of a generation or two or three ago - O'Connor, Chesterton, Belloc, Waugh and even Greene could write and write well enough to be appreciated by a wide and secular audience.  Modern Catholic writers write generally mediocre but always orthodox works which only a very small fan base appreciates.

All of these things are examples of an economic phenomenon as well as a spiritual one.

There's only a very small market for self-consciously orthodox products; consequently producers can't afford to invest much time or money into producing for this market, and the market can't afford to pay for true quality in the products they wish to consume.  After a while, the vicious cycle does its work and the market forgets what quality is and becomes happy with the rats and cockroaches the slumlord provides for them.

But in no case would normal people who live in the real world patronize or appreciate the Catholic Ghetto.

So when we become inured to living in it, and when we start to shelter it defensively as a protective bubble, we do ourselves and the normal people living in the real world great harm.

Gay Ain't Gay and Gay Marriage Ain't Marriage

My friend Dale Ahqluist gets it.  He understands.  And he gets it because Chesterton got it.  And Chesterton got it because the Church gets it.



Dale has a great piece in Crisis Magazine on what Chesterton would have made of "gay marriage".   Read the whole thing, but just to give you a taste ...

In Heretics, Chesterton almost makes a prophecy of the misuse of the word “gay.” He writes of “the very powerful and very desolate philosophy of Oscar Wilde. It is the carpe diem religion.” Carpe diem means “seize the day,” do whatever you want and don’t think about the consequences, live only for the moment. “But the carpe diem religion is not the religion of happy people, but of very unhappy people.” There is a hopelessness as well as a haplessness to it. When sex is only a momentary pleasure, when it offers nothing beyond itself, it brings no fulfillment. It is literally lifeless. And as Chesterton writes in his book St. Francis of Assisi, the minute sex ceases to be a servant, it becomes a tyrant. This is perhaps the most profound analysis of the problem of homosexuals: they are slaves to sex. They are trying to “pervert the future and unmake the past.” They need to be set free.

And, while you're at it, pack your things and march for sanity in March. 

 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Catholic Culture - Manic, Depressive and Everything in Between

[DISCLAIMER: It's going to sound in this post as if I'm never satisfied, that all I really want to do is find fault with Enthusiastic Catholics, Ghetto Catholics and Muddled Catholics - the Manic, the Depressive and Everything in Between (respectively) - but my criticism is not about Mania, Depression or Confusion as such - but about the artificial cultivation of them, as if they were the end for which we should strive.]

***

1. The Artificially Manic - in which the author tries to explain Evangelical and Hipster Catholicism.

Some of the reaction to my latest post Evangelical Catholicism and What to Look Out For came via private email.  It seems that some of my readers, like me, feel that there's something wrong with Evangelical Catholicism or What-You-May-Call-It, which is hard to put a finger on and hard to find a name for.

What some of my readers complained about was not Evangelism as such, but more the marketing notion of  Evangelical Catholics or Rock-Concert Catholics that Catholicism is just another consumer choice that we need to get out there and pitch.  I certainly agree with the evangelical spirit - we are after all, called to make disciples of all nations - and I certainly agree that each of us needs to live the Faith more fully; but I suspect that there's something askew here and it has to do with the Artificial Cultivation of Enthusiasm.

This becomes part of the program of Evangelical Catholicism, the Super-Disciples Movement, Life Teen and so forth because of the mistaken notion that if we don't gin up enthusiasm for the Faith, the Faith will go away.  Now this is a hard criticism to make in an age where 80% of all Catholics have no enthusiasm for the Faith whatsoever, or so it seems.  But I'm not talking about natural or even supernatural enthusiasm, I'm talking about the cultivation of a stoked-up and giddy enthusiasm, a thrilling but what's bound to be a shallow and short-lived enthusiasm. There's plenty of excitement at a Life Teen Mass, for instance, but it's a mile wide and an inch deep, like the Catholicism of Life Teen's founder, who has been accused of having some serious problems.

As an illustration of the mistaken thinking that leads to an over-emphasis on enthusiasm, let me quote G. K. Chesterton, who described the difference between Shakespeare and Milton thus ... "Milton's religion was Milton's religion, and ... Shakespeare's religion was not Shakespeare's."  Milton was Protestant; Shakespeare was Catholic.  In Catholic sacramental theology, God is present for us whether we get all worked up about God or not.  Belloc once talked about something being "automatic" so that you didn't have to think about it, "kind of like prayers".  Knowing Belloc he probably said this as a way to take a jab at Protestants who assume that if you don't "feel" your prayers, they don't count, who assume that saying prayers automatically is an example of "vain repetition" - and not an example of trust; trust in the objective reality of God and His Church, and in the efficacy of Sacraments and sacramentals.  Now we should not make it a point to say our prays in a rote or unconscious way, but if we sometimes do, out of tiredness or simply because we're so used to saying them, God does not thereby cease to listen or cease to exist, as the Enthusiasts seem to suspect.

Artificially Stoked Enthusiasm likewise consists in a degradation of the ordinary.  Christopher West and the Westians wax erotic on sex (an orgasm is extraordiary), but ignore marriage and the family (which is quite ordinary).  The Super Disciples movement is all about intentional and emphatic and extraordinary expressions of faith, slighting the ordinary and fumbling and mundane acceptance and living of faith (the pitchman with charisma who can describe his faith is a valuable Catholic, the soccer mom who lives it is not).  The Rad-Trads, like the Life Teens, think it ain't real if it doesn't move you (though they look to be moved in different ways).  In all cases, normal people and average situations - the sacramental - gets short shrift.

***

2. The Artificially Depressed - in which the author brings up the Catholic Ghetto.

But how does this tie in to the Catholic Ghetto?  After all, I criticize the Ghetto for being lame and uninspiring, bad work done for God's glory; a closed and deliberately low quality culture that we for some reason settle for and become content with.

Am I not contradicting myself by saying that habitually fomenting enthusiasm is a bad thing, but not doing our best for God and for one another is also a bad thing?

On the contrary, I think the two are related.

In the artificially hyped religion of the Fervent and in the artificially depressed culture of the Ghetto we see a Faith that's Unreal.  We can't be always excited all the time; that's neither normal nor sane.  And we can't be happy with bad Catholic novels, bad Catholic TV shows, bad (but orthodox) Catholic colleges - or if we can, we can't expect normal people to.

So the two extremes are not helpful, for both seek solace in something that's not real and that can't be sustained.

What about the middle?  What about the Muddled Middle?

***

3. The Artificially Luke-Warm - in which the author, to his dismay, describes "Everything in Between"

There's a third home for Unreality that threads the needle between the excitement of the Evangelicals and the boredom of the Ghetto Dwellers: and it's the typical Marty Mass - the Mass of Marty Haugen, Dan Schutte, and David Haas - the Mass where awe and Fear of God are banished and where gay guitar music dominates, the Mass that assures us it's All About Us.  The Mass that you see all around you and that you simply can't avoid, especially if you're on the road and have to go to the closest Mass you can and take your chances.

In none of these cases - the ginned up Evangelical Catholicism, the Marty Mass of the Muddled Middle, or the Depressed narrowness of the Ghetto - in none of these cases is the culture actually engaged.  Real life, daily life, normal people and serious worship are bypassed.  It's all contrived, all made up, all manipulated.

  • Is it good to be Enthused?  Of course.  But it's bad to stoke up a false enthusiasm.  And it can't last.


  • Is it good to be satisfied with the poverty of the Ghetto?  Of course, especially when the culture at large is anti-Christian.  But it's bad to aim for the Ghetto as a goal, and to hail it as true Catholic culture, when it's really quite false and only exists because of the contrived and dissociated nature of the Church in America.  And it can't last.


  • Is it good to come to a run-of-the-mill Mass, even a Marty Mass?  Of course.  But unless we realize such a Mass does far more to drive normal people out of the Church and far more to nip the Fear of God (the beginning of wisdom) in the bud, the more we'll squander any opportunity of real evangelization - not to mention serious worship.  Because it can't last.
***

4. Does Anything Last? - in which the author finds hope, for "the last shall be first".


And meanwhile, old ladies still pray the Rosary and believe.  Good but simple priests still say Mass and hear Confession.  The sinner down the street still sits in an empty church and talks to God.

And Jesus Christ still patiently bides His time and waits for the rest of us.

Evangelical Catholicism and What to Look Out For

George Weigel writes (his emphasis)

The challenge can be defined simply: throughout the western world, the culture no longer carries the faith, because the culture has become increasingly hostile to the faith. Catholicism can no longer be absorbed by osmosis from the environment, for the environment has become toxic. So we can no longer sit back and assume that decent lives lived in conformity with the prevailing cultural norms will, somehow, convey the faith to our children and grandchildren and invite others to consider entering the Church.
No, in our new situation, Catholicism has to be proposed, and Catholicism has to be lived in radical fidelity to Christ and the Gospel. Recreational Catholicism—Catholicism as a traditional, leisure-time activity absorbing perhaps 90 minutes of one’s time on a weekend—is over. Full-time Catholicism—a Catholicism that, as the Second Vatican Council taught, infuses all of life and calls everyone in the Church to holiness and mission—is the only possible Catholicism in the 21st century.

I agree with this whole-heartedly.

But why am I suspicious?

Perhaps it is because Evangelical Protestantism tends toward the following


  • Feelings become paramount - if you feel something, you've got the Spirit, if you don't, you don't.
  • Our own lives become the touchstone for what the Faith is; it becomes smaller than we are, not bigger than we are.
  • We are the Church; it is in no way beyond us, independent of us, or even objectively true without us.
  • There is no still small voice where there is a jumbo-tron and a rock band.
  • Suffering and failure are to be avoided, as are renunciation and sacrifice, since we're all about Sales and not really about the cross - which we don't think will sell.

Now these things are not necessarily part of the call to Evangelize, nor are they characteristic of all Protestant Evangelicals, who are typically very good people, strong Christians and great lovers of God and Scripture.

But they are tendencies in the Evangelical Program, and they become tendencies only because something is askew.

For there is implicit in what Weigel says something similar to the Super-Disciples approach to the Faith, which believes that you can't be a good Catholic if you're a soccer mom driving your kids to their suburban activities; that's not seen as love or self-sacrifice because it's not big and bold and sexy enough.  I'm sorry to say, I help spread this false message, in my rather incessant attacks on the suburban parish and its loss of awe and reverence.  On the one hand, you can't live as all others live, but on the other you can't gin up something on your own efforts; complacency is wrong, but so is pushing a program.

In other words, if you live in such a way that you are simply another post-modern affluent American, you're not evangelizing because you're not being transformed by Christ.  But if you focus on transformation by Christ, you often find it's your own agenda you're transforming into and your own narrow church you're out there peddling - "Look at me and be a Christian!" can simply mean, "Look at me and be a self-made Enthusiast!"

To conclude, then, Weigel is utterly right that the culture won't do it for us because the culture is now anti-Christian.  But because he's right, the fact is that we're really on our own, floundering a bit, vamping because the bishops aren't setting the tempo; we're over-emphasizing our own view of things, and trying to keep the fires burning when the great paradox of the Christian Faith is it's not about kindling that fire, it's about receiving those tongues of flame; it's not about us, even though it's all for our sake; it's there and it's true because He's there and He's true, but the more we push, even in prayer and solitude, the more we can sometimes push Him away.

So we must take seriously the Great Commission - but we do so more effectively if we humbly realize it's not  going to go the way we envision it; for His vision and His love is greater than ours.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Gandhi on the Evils of Contraception

Salon, of all places, has re-published a 1939 article by Mahatma Gandhi about the evils of contraception and of "wasting seed".

Here it is.  The boldface is me highlighting Ghandi's words; the red is my commentary.

***

It is the fashion in some quarters nowadays for the young to discredit whatever may be said by old people. I am not prepared to say that there is absolutely no justification for this belief. But I warn the youth of all the countries against always discounting whatever old men or women may say for the mere fact that it is said by such persons.
Even as wisdom often comes from the mouths of babes, so does it often come from the mouths of old people. The golden rule is to test everything in the light of reason and experience, no matter from whom it comes.
I want to discuss the subject of birth control by contraceptives. It is dinned into one’s ears that gratification of the sex urge is a solemn obligations, like the obligation of discharging debts lawfully incurred, and that not to do so would involve the penalty of intellectual decay. This sex urge has been isolated from the desire for progeny, and it is said by protagonists of the use of contraceptives that conception is an accident to be prevented except when the parties desire to have children.
I venture to suggest that this is a most dangerous doctrine to preach anywhere, much more so in a country like India, where the middle-class male population has become imbecile through abuse of the creative function.  This is an old fashioned way of saying that if you spend all your time on self-indulgent non-productive activities like contraceptive sex or masturbation, the character it breeds in you will be nothing short of mentally deficient.  No, it won't "make you go blind" except morally and spiritually blind.
If satisfaction of the sex urge is a duty, unnatural vice would be commendable. This follows as the night the day.  Perversion becomes not only acceptable, it becomes obligatory - enforced, a duty.  "Gay marriage" then becomes imposed on your society and your church, whether you want it or not. Even persons of note have been known to approve of what is commonly known as sexual perversion. The reader may be shocked at that statement. But if it somehow or other gains the stamp of respectability, it will be the rage among boys and girls to satisfy their urge among members of their own sex.  I am told that the peculiar phrase pan-sexual is all the rage among the pierced and spiked who work at Subway (i.e., the kids of your wealthy suburban neighbors), and for twenty years now, a young woman just ain't with it if she hasn't had a Lesbian encounter or two in high school or college.
To me the use of contraceptives is not far removed from the means to which persons have hitherto resorted for the gratification of their sexual desire with the results that very few know. And I betray no confidence when I inform the reader that there are unmarried girls of impressionable age in schools and colleges who study birth-control literature and magazines with avidity and even possess contraceptives.
It is impossible to confine their use to married women.  Apparently this was the argument being used for contraception.  Compare the arguments, "Abortion will be used only for hard cases" or "Divorce if there's no other alternative" or "Let's get a cell phone and only use it for emergencies."
Marriage loses its sanctity when its purpose and highest use is conceived to be the satisfaction of the animal passion without contemplating the natural result of such satisfaction. I have no doubt that those learned men and women who are carrying on propaganda with missionary zeal in favor of their use of contraceptives are doing irreparable harm to the youth of the world under the false belief that they will be thereby the poor women who may be obliged to bear children against their will. Those who need not limit their children will not be easily reached by them.
Our poor Indian women have not the knowledge or training that the women of the West have. Surely the propaganda is not being carried on in behalf of the middle-class women, for they do not need the knowledge, at any rate, so much as the poorer classes do.
The greatest harm, however, done by the propaganda lies in its rejection of the old ideal and substitution in its place of one which, if carried out, must spell the moral and physical extinction of the race.  "The moral and physical extinction of the race" - see the demographic crisis that threatens Russia, China and the West and the moral crisis that gnaws even deeper.
The horror with which ancient literature has regarded the fruitless use of the vital fluid was not a superstition born of ignorance. What shall we say of a husbandman who will sow the finest seed in his possession on a stony ground, or of the owner of a field who will receive in his field rich with fine soil good seed under conditions that will make it impossible for it to grow?  In the Culture of Sterility, we say, "Well done, good and faithful servant, to waste your potential and destroy our future."  
God has blessed man with seed that has the highest potency and women with a field richer than the richest earth to be found anywhere on this globe. Surely it is criminal folly for man to allow his most precious possession to run to waste. And so is a woman guilty of criminal folly who will receive the seed in her life-producing field with the deliberate intention of letting it run to waste. Both he and she will be judged guilty of misuse of the talents given to them and they will be dispossessed of what they have been given.
Sex urge is a fine and noble thing. There is nothing to be ashamed of in it. But it is meant only for the act of creation. Any other use of it is a sin against God and humanity.  
It was reserved for our generation to glorify vice by calling it virtue. "Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!" (Is. 5:20).  The greatest disservice protagonists of contraceptives are rendering to the youth of today is to fill their minds with what appears to me to be wrong ideology.
Let the young men and women who hold their destiny in their hands beware of this false god and guard the treasure with which God has blessed them and use it, if they wish, for the only purpose for which it is intended.

Attractive / Not Attractive

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet were founded here in St. Louis, and today they are well known as polyester-wearing pants-suit nuns who spend more time on the Isle of Lesbos than they do in chapel, and who ostracize the older sisters who still wear the habit.  I'm sure they're not all bad, but here is one of them, Sr. Bridig McDonald, who is proudly anti-pope and proudly pro-abortion.


Here below are the Dominican Sisters of Nashville.  They love Our Lord and do everything they can to serve  Him.  They realize that the Church is His Body and that its teachings on Faith and Morals are infallible guides, the following of which might be difficult, but are the only route to happiness on this earth and beyond it.  The sisters - some of whom I met yesterday - are (like all sisters I've met who wear the habit) overflowing with joy.


The Dominican sisters are also overflowing with vocations.

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, by contrast, are simply dying off.

And so we see before our eyes the fruits of the Culture of Life and the fruitlessness of the Culture of Death.  One brings life and love; the other self-indulgence and bitterness.

Please pray for true reform in the Church, especially among religious orders.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Vampires are Real - Part Two

A short follow up to Part One, in which I explain that Vampires are Real.  Now I explain how to deal with them, and it's simpler than a steak to the heart.  In fact, all you have to do is note #1 and do #2.  And you'll be happy and possibly even sane.


  1. A true friend gives more than he or she takes.
  2. If you have a "friend" who refuses to give, you need to take off.

That's it.  If you find yourself giving and giving and giving and being drained and drained and drained of your life blood, then you're dealing with a vampire.  Stop giving.  Stop the bleeding.  Practice some good old fashioned Stewardship of Love and move on.  Even a werewolf or a zombie would be an improvement.


The Catholic Ghetto Quiz



Q. Define CATHOLIC GHETTO.

A. CATHOLIC GHETTO - n.  The cultural phenomenon in which orthodox Catholics are so hungry for solid teaching that they'll put up with anything, like tenants of a slum lord.  And because there are so few orthodox Catholics left, the slum lord can't collect enough rent even to keep the hot water turned on or the rats killed.  It becomes a vicious cycle - the consumers learn to be happy with crumbs, and the producers can't afford to provide anything other than crumbs.


Q. Use CATHOLIC GHETTO in a sentence.

A. "If a college happens to have a theology faculty that's loyal to the Magisterium and the teachings of the Church, that college is automatically one of the Cardinal Newman Society's Top Catholic Colleges in North America, even if the college is housed in a trailer in the Yukon, the faculty are two baptized Eskimos and a moose, and the students are former homeschool dropouts raised by Siberian wolves."


Q.  I couldn't find the phrase CATHOLIC GHETTO in that sentence.  Care to try again?

A.  "You mean people actually watch this on TV?  Well, normal people don't.  But orthodox Catholics do, because what the hell else is there for them to watch?  Wow. This show is so CATHOLIC GHETTO!"


Q. For five points, and a chance at the grand prize, rearrange the letters in CATHOLIC GHETTO to spell another phrase.  

A.  GOAT CLOTHE ITCH


Q.  EXTRA CREDIT: When will the CATHOLIC GHETTO end?

A. When the culture is once again Catholic.


Q. When will that be?

A. That, dear reader, is up to you.

Love vs. Desire

There are no two things more different than the Way of Christ and the way of the world.

***

And to illustrate this let me revisit - maybe for the last time - something I've been hammering into the ground for the past few weeks.

I begin with an end, or a summation.  Here Dawn Eden mirrors Kevin Tierney's Common Sense Catholicism article in which he tries to sum up what's been wrong with Matt McGuiness' three-part series on Pornography at CNA.  I think we're all a bit tired of dealing with this, and you're probably tired of reading about it.  And Tierney does a solid job of summing up what he thinks is wrong - and what many of us have been saying is wrong - with the Christopher West inspired approach of McGuiness to sex.

But this whole controversy has taught me the most amazing things about the difference between Christ and the world.

And that difference is this: the world is all about desire, or getting what we want.

Christ is all about sacrifice, or about giving others what they need.  For Christ desire is fulfilled only when its selfish element is frustrated; satisfaction is found in self-sacrifice and our climax is our defeat.  

***

It seems to me that, even from an entirely natural point of view, the Bible is the most profound book ever written on psychology, on the human soul, the nature of the human mind and heart.  Scripture teaches us the most amazing truths about who we are, truths it has taken thousands of years for us to understand.  This is true whether you buy into the supernatural revelation or not.  For instance from Scripture we learn ...


  • Man is a glorious creature, but there's something wrong with him, and he's not exactly what he ought to be - from Genesis 3 on down.  If left to himself he will make himself more miserable than not.  This is because he won't listen to God (or even plain reason), and he wants to run things his way.  The Jews called this sin.  There is no better word for it.  It is the most constant element in human nature.

  • Man prefers a god of his own making to the God of reality.  The unreal will never satisfy us, but we always seek it and we always put our faith in it, even though it always lets us down.

  • If we ever met the perfect man, we would kill him.

  • He who loses his life will find it.  Only sacrifice will make us content.  But Christopher West and Matt McGuiness talk incessantly about desire, about what we want.  Love is not about wanting and taking, but about renouncing and giving.  That is the essence of love, and we see that stamped for all eternity by a cross on a hill.


These insights are psychological only - they might mention "God", but "God" could be the "god of your understanding".  These insights say nothing of atonement, redemption, resurrection, etc.  There is nothing particularly supernatural in these insights, some of which are four thousand years old, and none of which has been surpassed by any literature, art or psychology since.

The fact is that even if you go only so far as natural psychology and stop there, the Bible gets it more right than anything else, except for those works that are inspired by the Bible and build on it.  This alone is a strong indication of the supernatural origin of Scripture.  

***

But my point is simply this: if you follow the Westians to their wild wild West, you'll find plenty of desire, but never any sacrifice; plenty of sex but very little love; a world full of wants, but never the wife and kids, the hearth and home.  

West is pop-Catholicism, but it's a hollow pop and like soda-pop it's hardly very filling.






How Not to Keep Lent

Maria Romine (whose conversion story you can watch here) was talking about her first Lent as a Catholic.

Maria Romine (the only good person in the Theater of the Word Incorporated) as St. Jeanne Jugan
"I gave up caffeine - no coffee or tea at all," she said to the two priests who were hosting us for dinner at their parish in Rhode Island.  "I was angry and crabby for forty days.  But by the time Easter came, I was so proud that I was able to make such a sacrifice and that I kept it up all that time."

"Which ruined the entire sacrifice," I exclaimed.  "Yes, Maria, your pride in your penance will no doubt send you straight to hell.  Some Lent!"

Of course I was joking - though there was a point behind the humor.

***

On Saturday I was in Kansas, planning on going to the Vigil Mass at a large suburban parish in Kansas City.  I've been there before.  One "peace" isn't enough.  They make you turn around and greet your neighbors before Mass even begins.  Haugen and Haas and Schutte dominate the music, which is really schutte music, and the place is packed with a kind of giddy stupid excitement that makes it darned near impossible to pray, much less worship.  But as it turns out I couldn't make it to the Vigil - not that I minded.

What it's like at the suburban parish vigil Mass
And after a nine hour drive on Sunday, my last remaining Mass option was the 6:00 pm Sunday Mass in the chapel at Aquinas College in Nashville, Tennessee, where I ended up by the end of the day.  It was nine hours from the KC suburbs, but a universe away.

St. Jude Chapel, Aquinas College, Nashville, TN
St. Jude chapel is small, plain, and the Sunday night Mass has no music.  The atmosphere was reverent, solemn and sane.  The priest gave one of the best homilies on Lent that I have ever heard.  The main point was Keep Lent like Maria Romine and you'll go straight to hell.

Or, to put it more charitably, our biggest temptation during Lent is to look at our penances as accomplishments of ours to show God how good we are or to make some sort of impact in heaven.  They should rather be ways of reminding ourselves how much we depend upon God - and how many blessings and graces He gives us.  They should be ways of opening ourselves up to his grace - which is the only thing that transforms us, not our own efforts.

Likewise, Christ's temptations in the desert are temptations common to all men.  He is tempted

  • To turn stones into bread - or to use his spiritual gifts to satisfy his physical desire (see pretty much everything I've written the last month or so, which is almost all on this very subject); whereas "man does not live by bread alone".
  • To use his gifts for worldly advantage, to rule over the nations.  How ubiquitous this temptation is for us, day in and day out.  The world is all about power and success, even more than it is about sex, and we go through life breathing this poisoned air, and assuming that success in this world is all there is.  This gives rise to the heresy of Activism, and to Catholics arguing that we must ignore Christ's teaching in order to bring His Kingdom to bear on earth - for worldly success is all that we really think matters.
  • To put God to the test - to think of Him as a tool or gimmick of ours that we can use to turn our lives to our own narrow advantage - to put God in a box and make him do tricks for us.  

Such are the temptations of man, and such are we that we eagerly respond to these temptations, even the best of us, even Maria Romine!  

***

May we offer up our Lenten sufferings with true humility, knowing that the only lasting reality is Love, and that if we trust in God's Love - in His precious blood - to save us, He will strip from us all the things that are standing in the way.