Wednesday, October 30, 2013

What Would Chesterton (and Belloc) Do?

A Facebook friend asks me what Chesterton would make of those in pop-Catholic circles who spiritualize sex and who imply that lust (i.e. obesssion with sex) is a good thing because (so to speak) an erection points heavenward.   What would Chesterton say about this "All sex leads to God" nonsense?  What would he say about those who like to talk about sex sex sex sex God and sex?

I reply ...

  • Kevin O'Brien
    He would admit that these folks were right to see in sex the shape of the Spirit of God, who puts his imprint on all creation. He would admit they were right in seeing sex as a sign for union with the divine and for the eschaton. He would think they were foolish and laughable in seeing penises in steeples, as his companion (Rougemont) did.
  • He would know that sex, like beer and bacon and baseball, was a natural pleasure that needed to be confined to a very strict and narrow channel, that unlike all other human passions it had the greatest potential to turn us into beasts, and that men who spoke flippantly of such a gift were scoundrels who were not to be trusted.
  • But Belloc ...
    Belloc would put a curse on all their houses, eat asparagus and pee on their front lawns.


Oh, and Chesterton would point out (as he did) ...

Sex is an instinct that produces an institution; and it is positive and not negative, noble and not base, creative and not destructive, because it produces this institution. That institution is the family; a small state or commonwealth which has hundreds of aspects, when it is once started, that are not sexual at all. It includes worship, justice, festivity, decoration, instruction, comradeship, repose. Sex is the gate of that house; and romantic and imaginative people naturally like looking through a gateway. But the house is very much larger than the gate. There are indeed a certain number of people who like to hang about the gate and never get any further.

Sanity and Sactity

Joseph Pearce writes (my emphasis) ...

Yesterday, for the Feast of Christ the King in the Old Calendar, I had the inestimable joy of being present at a solemn choral Mass in the Extraordinary Form at Prince of Peace Catholic church in Taylors, South Carolina, which was followed by a Eucharistic Procession  and Benediction. The Mass was a setting of Palestrina's Missa "Descendit Angelus Domini". The Prelude was Bach's Fugue in E Major and the Postlude was Alexndre Guilmant's Postlude in F Major. After the Blessed Sacrament had been placed in the Tabernacle following Benediction, the cantor, choir and congregation chanted the Christus Vincit.
I was so moved by the sheer majesty and beauty of the whole glorious occasion that my eyes were filled with tears at the Consecration. This is the only Reality that really matters. The rest, all the cares of the world and snares of the devil, are mere dross by comparison. Never before was I as aware that sanity and sanctity are synonymous. They are One. All else is trivia!
Deo gratias!  

***

I spent last weekend in Kansas - at the Super 8 in Bonner Springs - working in my hotel room the whole time, except for our evening performances.

On Saturday I posted about the sex abuse scandal in the Church and the Bishop of Bling.  This moved me almost to a level of despair.  The thought that something we love may not be what we had imagined it to be, or that someone we love may not be loving us back - this is hard to endure.  I do not doubt that the Church is what St. Paul tells us it is, the Body of Christ, present in eternity and also here on earth; and I do not doubt that Christ is Lord.  But how can the visible Church be so shaken, so apparently ready to crumble?  Just a week prior I had endured a travesty of the Sacred Mass at a rural parish in Southern Illinois, and this week I had to find yet another Mass while on the road, taking another chance at what I may run up against.

But what I found lifted my spirits and stirred my soul.

On Sunday I went to St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, run by the FSSP.  I love the Latin Mass, but I've had my run-ins with "Radical Catholic Reactionaries" who use Traditionalism as a cover for hate and bile.  So I was wary.

But my experience was exactly like that of Joseph Pearce.  The music and the liturgy were spectacularly beautiful.  As with Joseph, I was celebrating the Feast of Christ the King on the Old Calendar - for that was the Oct. 27 Mass in the Extraordinary Form.  The church itself was very conducive to prayer and worship, with a statue of St. Rose above the altar, looking heavenward in a far-away gaze that transcended the material of the statue itself.  The homily was solid and stirring, the first homily I've heard in a long time that sounded more like Catholic preaching than pop psychology.

St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, looking high above us all.

***

And I thought of our sins.

Sometimes we sin completely in bad faith; but most of the time there's something odd going on when we sin.  Often we are trying to regain our balance, to find an equilibrium, to restore something that's missing from our lives that we know should be there.

For example


  • A husband or a wife enduring an unhappy marriage might commit adultery, not merely for the thrill, but in order to feed a starving need for love - for love that may no longer be present, in a home that has become devoid of caring.
  • A young man or woman overcome with feelings of worthlessness, perhaps abused in some way while growing up, turns to drugs or promiscuous sex as a way to feel in control of themselves and others.
  • A person who suffered neglect while being raised becomes a fiendish work-a-holic and perfectionist, making certain to compensate for the dread of insignificance he or she felt in horror as a helpless child.


... and so on.

I'm not trying to make excuses for sin here.

What I'm saying is sin is sometimes a natural and predictable reaction to what appears to be an insoluble situation.  Rather than confronting and fixing the problem (which seems overwhelming), the sinner opts for a short-cut that serves in the long run to make him all the more miserable.

***

And we see this imbalance, this lack of a good that should be present, in our Church as well.

The Church should be beautiful.  It should be filled with tremendous music, great architecture, stirring homilies, strong communities, inspired literature.  It should be sane, for "sanity and sanctity are synonymous."

When it is, on the contrary, filled with ugly music, with offensive architecture, with insipid homilies, with an absence of community, with really bad art and literature, and even with child molesters and bishops who cover for them ... this is insanity.  For this is the opposite of sanctity.  And "sanity and sanctity are synonymous".

***

Our eyes look heavenward, like those of St. Rose - whether we know it or not.  Something is missing on this earth, something that should be but that isn't.

"Somewhere you and I are talking and I am not so much ashamed, nor you so rightly scornful. ... This is good but something is better; this is glorious but somewhere I could feel more of the glory." - The Poet to the Princess in Chesterton's play The Surprise

It is when the Church calls us to that greater glory - a glory that we sense and that our eyes catch a faraway vision of every now and then - a vision of a gloaming of an eternal dawn; when the Church calls us to this mystery, through the true, the beautiful, and the good - it is then that our hearts soar and our sins pale by comparison.


The rest, all the cares of the world and snares of the devil, are mere dross by comparison.


Sunday, October 27, 2013

History, Baseball, the Super-8

Alan Craig of the Cardinals is called safe at home on account of Obstruction, winning Game Three for St. Louis.

From a Facebook post to my actor friends ...

I was at the Super 8 in Bonner Springs, KS again for one of the most memorable plays in World Series history.  Maria and I were here two years ago this weekend when David Freese hit the home-run that capped a tremendous come-back win for the Cardinals.   I was surrounded by Japanese men jumping up and down in excitement, huddled around the TV in the lobby for that.
Last night, I was watching the game in my room after performing at the winery down the street.  Suddenly the Fox channel went dead.  All other channels were working.  Then an apology on screen from the cable provider.  
I tried to get the Cardinal game on the alarm clock radio in my room, to no avail.
I ended up in the car in the Super 8 parking lot, listening to the Cardinal feed on XM, my headlights shining into the five foot high weeds of the chilly Kansas night.
And I heard what I venture to say will be the only time in all of recorded human history that a World Series game ended on a call of Obstruction.
... or ever will end in such a way.
One wonders how much history is made at the Super 8 in Bonner Springs.  Perhaps a future president has been conceived here.  Perhaps a Japanese business deal that will change the course of modern culture.  Perhaps baseball will rise from the ashes of post-modernity, triumphant once again.

Theology and Baseball

Alan Craig of my home-town St. Louis Cardinals, called safe at home after the ump ruled "Obstruction" by the Red Sox third baseman, scoring the winning run in the ninth inning of World Series Game Three in St. Louis


It occurred to me last night that this World Series Game Three thing is analogous to much of what we deal with in the Church.

"That was a judgment call!  That was an arbitrary rule interfering with the outcome of a game!" Red Sox fans and others are shouting.

Well, this attitude implies that all "judgment" is arbitrary.  The goal of judgement or prudence is to align our decision with what's objectively true.

In this case, the ump did just that.  He applied a rule that is far from arbitrary: it's a rule that guarantees the integrity of the game; and in doing so, he saw to it that one team was not cheated out of a just and fair outcome by another team.

The Sox feel cheated by the ump ruling that one of their players obstructed one of our players.  But had the ump not called that, the Cardinals would not have simply "felt" cheated; we would have "been" cheated.  The play in question was classic Obstruction - though unintentional ("intent" has no bearing on Obstruction).  And the ump had the courage to call it.

But we don't like form or constraint.  We hate "rules" and since we don't understand that no game can be played without "rules", and also since we can't see that this was the right call to make, regardless of which team benefited, or whether this was a call at the end of the game (as it was) or somewhere in the middle, at one of the other bases - we don't want to admit that what's right is right, at all times, under all circumstances.  Even in Game Three of the World Series.

And it's more than just Boston Red Sox fans who feel this way.

It's pretty much everyone in church alongside you this morning.



Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Fall of the Roman Imperium?

Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, the Bishop of Bling


St. Peter Damian was writing about child molesting priests and bishops who enabled them a thousand years ago.  This paper on Damian by C. Colt Anderson makes the argument that the magisterium is not to be confused with the imperium - that the teaching authority of the Catholic Church (which we believe has the guarantee of infallibility on matters of Faith and Morals) is not the same thing as the ruling authority of the Catholic Church.

In other words, the bishops will, in the long run, teach authoritatively, but they may not manage or administer authoritatively.  Indeed, the worldly jurisdiction of the Church is not something clearly spelled out in Scripture or anywhere else, as far as I know.  Who Christ is, what He asks of us and how Salvation works - this the Church passes on with a Divine authority.  But exactly how the Church is to function as a Thing in the world, and how we are to implement this Thing, we are largely left to work out for ourselves.

One thing we know - the Church is not to function as it is today.

I gave just one example in my most recent post - a known child molesting priest being passed from parish to parish, while a string of bishops, who were fully aware of the harm this man was causing his innocent victims, not only failed to warn parishioners, but lauded the man as being "pious", praising his "character": the pious character of a man who got a 13-year-old pregnant, who tried to perform a forced abortion on her, and who sexually abused dozens of boys over his 30-plus year career.


  • How can such bishops, successors to the apostles, not only allow but enable and to an extent pave the way for such crimes?  


  • How can the infamous German "Bishop of Bling" spend $45 million dollars of Church funds to build himself a house?  


  • How can these men continue to allow the death of catechesis and the universal abuse of the liturgy, ignoring the complaints of lay Catholics and ostracizing them?


How can men who are supposed to be modeling Christ behave like this?

***

The question is really troubling, not just because of clericalism - the assumption that those who have been ordained are somehow better than the rest of us - but because these questions could not be asked of men who were decent human beings, much less of men who claimed to have devoted their lives to Jesus Christ.

Christians do not behave like this.  Men with any personal integrity do not behave like this - regardless of their faith.

If we are going to reform the Church - and reform will come from the laity, not the clergy, it seems - we will have to realize how important our witness is.  It is the most troubling lesson of this whole mess.

If we lived like true Christians, even as best we could, we would shine like St. Maximilian Kolbe, like St. Genesius, like Mother Teresa.  And our witness would draw others to the Love of God.

If we live as our bishops do, our witness will drive people away - as theirs does.

Perhaps Pope Francis, in his austerity and authenticity, is showing the Way.  Perhaps we should follow.



He who Cannot be Trusted in Big Things ...

Across the river from where I live, the neighboring diocese of Belleville, Illinois is a trend-setter.  They led the way with the sex abuse scandal in the Church long before the story broke nationally.

NCR reports about Fr. Kownacki, a diocesan priest from the Belleville diocese ...

Rev. Raymond Kownacki 


  • In 1973, a 16-year-old girl, Gina Parks, contacted diocesan officials and claimed Kownacki, during a two-year period while he was pastor of a small parish in St. Francisville and later in a parish to which he was transferred in Washington Park, abused her sexually, had intercourse with her, even attempted to cause an abortion when she became pregnant. ... Parks said Kownacki gave her alcohol, promised to help her get into art school and assured her sex was OK because God "wanted people to love each other."

The bishop, knowing this, and knowing that Fr. Kownacki had molested a girl from Guatemala and that "twin boys from Guatemala were living in the Washington Park rectory and also involved sexually with Kownacki" transfers him to St. Theresa parish in Salem, and writes to the parishioners at St. Theresa's of Kownacki's "knowledge, piety, prudence, experience and general character".

  • The diocese gathers evidence that while Kownacki is at St. Theresa's, he molests several boys, including an altar server who would later be awarded $5 million in compensation and punitive damages.

Knowing that Kownacki is molesting boys, the new bishop of Belleville nevertheless transfers Kownacki to Cobden, telling him, "I heartily commend you to all the people of the parish."  Even the chancellor of the diocese at the time, Msgr. Schwaegel, later admits, "everyone at the chancery knew Kownacki was sick and liked to molest children."  

  • Kowancki is then transferred to Harrisburg, where "... parishioners complained that Kownacki was paying two boys $150 per week for doing 'absolutely nothing' and as many as five boys were having all-nighters at the rectory."

Six months later another new bishop (the third to have authority over this predatory priest) appoints him pastor of three small parishes.  "I am confident," he told Kownacki, "you will carry out your mission well in building up the Body of Christ."

  • In 1986, parishioners complain that Kownacki has teen-aged boys living with him in the rectory. This time, Kownacki is removed and sent for treatment - thirteen years and dozens of victims after the first accusations surface (that we know of; there were almost certainly accusations before the first known one came to light).

Then in 1988, Bishop Keleher appoints Kownacki to take up residence at St. Henry parish in Belleville; the church has a grade school next door and nearby there is a Catholic high school. No restrictions are placed on his ministry or other activities.


The NCR article makes no mention of Bishop Keleher lauding Kownacki to St. Henry parishioners as a man of great piety.  This is probably because he was not being appointed pastor.  Apparently, "knowledge, piety, prudence, experience and general character" from the point of view of a bishop, a public representative of Christ, consist of actions that the rest of us would simply regard as despicably evil.

The NCR article links to the court documents from which they gather their facts.  I personally don't have the heart to read them.



Friday, October 25, 2013

Tone Deaf Catholics



I'm worried that my post Madness and Sex - Been There, Done That, and the article to which it links, will dredge up all this Christopher West nonsense again.  And I've really been there - done that!

So I'll try to cut the fanatics off at the pass and sum up my opposition to this weird pop-Catholic "crud" by saying this - the tone is all wrong.  I just read one of West's newsletter articles, and the tone was all wrong.  I tried to describe it in a comment this way ...

I can't help thinking that, for most popularizers of TOB, it's not sex that leads to God, but God that leads to sex.

... the emphasis is much more on spiritualizing sex than on enfleshing a kind of nuptial union with God. If the message of Theology of the Body is that our bodies are made to glorify God, and that the marital act is, in some ways, a sign that points toward union with God - then the emphasis should be on God, not on the sign.

The emphasis is usually the other way around.

Many of the pop-TOB folks do what JP2 never did, use this material almost as a kind of "grooming" behavior - getting us to lower our guard about the one thing that we should be most guarded about, especially in this culture.

Something similar, I think, is happening with Health and Nutrition - which many young Catholics are, apparently, turning into gods.

My friend Sean Dailey writes of some young friends of his, all of whom are Thomas Aquinas College graduates, and who should know better ...

They've made an idol of health. And they are very Gnostic about it, treating their nutrition knowledge like secret revelation.  Getting into Yoga is just taking it to the next level. 

Indeed, Sean's TAC friends are very defensive, refusing even to read articles about the incompatibility of the Christian Faith and Yoga (like this one by Catholic Answers' Michelle Arnold).  They simply close their ears and refuse to admit that there could be any problem with "Holy Yoga", for example, even though that very technique is mentioned by name in this article and soundly critiqued.  They won't engage the issue; they're just stretching and breathing, you see.

And the Westians aren't obsessed with sex - even though West reads sex into everything everywhere - they're just getting off while getting to God - or so it seems.

And everyone's tone deaf.  No one can hear the sour notes.  No one can see where the tune the piper plays is leading them.


New World Disorder

I have known for a while that G. K. Chesterton was big in Brazil.  So is Stanford Nutting, my liberal ex-seminarian character (that's his picture on the left advertising Grunky).

And here's some correspondence with a guy from Brazil who happens to be a Stanford Nutting fan.  With his permission, I'm sharing it with you, my blog readers, who (according to Blogger stats) are almost entirely from the U.S., the U.K. and Canada.  We might tend to think the problems we face are limited to our own backyards.  But they're not.

Hi, dear Kevin,
Thank you so much for your wonderful work!
I work as a ...  Brazilian teacher and I have got in touch with [your work] through some Youtube videos on the Internet.
You see, unfortunately, my country has one of the worst educational systems in the world. As a consequence, people accept all kinds of politically correct talks as being genuine interest for people, and they repeat the kind of ideas that Mr. Stanford Nutting vaunts without realizing how pernicious they are to real culture.
Although the majority of the population is still Catholic here, we have been discussing a change of this situation since the 80s.
The new Marxism, I mean cultural Marxism, has won the cultural war in my country. We have been under a Leftist government for 12 years and it seems that they will win again next year. The Worker's Party is promoting abortion, fierce feminism, homosexuality and gay marriage, linguistic change through laws towards neutrality, the withdrawal of religion from schools (or the study of all kinds of religion at least "to respect diversity"), and so on. They have emphasized material life, and destroyed spiritual life of people.
Your work is like water in this desert of hypocrisy.
Thanks for it. Please, keep serving people.

I reply ...

It is a consolation for me to know that the small things I do have such an impact.
Keep the faith and keep doing your best in a difficult situation.  The anti-christian world that is being built around us will never give lasting joy to the human heart, and when people in their despair come to see this, they will remember the few people they have known who have lived otherwise - perhaps even a school teacher like you or an actor like me.  May we always, in all that we do, witness for our Risen Lord.
 

Madness and Sex - Been There, Done That

James Mason in Stanley Kubrick's Lolita

When we become a little bit mad, we never know we're a little bit mad.  That's what makes it so dangerous.  And I speak with some experience, for I'm always just a wee bit insane, and I have sometimes been more than that.

There's a scene in the movie Lolita where James Mason, whose character has given himself over to sin, is struggling to break free from the grip of psych ward workers who are trying to restrain him.  It's the moment in the film where the viewer realizes, "Wow.  This guy has really gone nuts over this."  A natural vice, in an unnatural form (his lust for an underage girl, his step-daughter), which this man has indulged, grows to have more and more of a grip over him, until he is, in effect, mad.

In a similar way, I have known people who allow a touch of pride to become a hole in their personal "firewall", as it were.  "My intentions are good, therefore I am doing good" is a rationalization all of us can easily fall victim to.  I have seen otherwise good people spiral downwards to a point where, without losing the trappings of their daily lives, they become something like homeless people talking to themselves on the street corner - all from allowing this hole in their firewall caused by pride; and into this hole rushes a very dark and dangerous thing, and they become more than a wee bit insane.

Have you ever had this experience in your life?  Have you ever looked back over a particularly dark period where you were obsessed with something or someone, whether it was a sin or an idea or a person or a worry which consumed you - and then after you're out of the woods and the air clears and a few months pass, you say, "Hey, that was crazy.  I actually went a little crazy there."  Sometimes it happens in the same day - you obsess over getting your computer to work, or you get too caught up in a World Series game on TV, or something similar: you lose yourself and your perspective - and a bit later you say, "Wow.  I was a little nutty about that.  It kind of consumed me for a while."  This sort of thing probably happens to poets and creative types (who are naturally a bit unhinged) frequently, and speaking as one who's "been there and done that", here's what I've learned.

The antidote to such madness is simple.  It is singleness of heart - also known as purity of heart.  And that only comes with humility.

***

One of the things in the Catholic Church that is really rather mad these days is the bizarre obsession with sex under the cover of a kind of pop-culture version of the Theology of the Body.  One putatively ultra-orthodox Catholic college (located in the swamps of Florida, which I will not identify) even staged a Valentine's Weekend where all the 18-22 year old students, bursting with hormones, spent all weekend talking about sex - the role of sex, the blessing of sex, how to fulfill God's plan with sex, the gift of sex.  Oh, yeah, that's a really good idea!

And as I've written before, the sex these pop-Catholics talk about is almost never referred to in the context of the institution sex forms - marriage and the family.  Marriage ain't sexy and the family ain't sexy, so they ain't talked about.  Babies are never brought up, because babies ain't sexy - changing dirty diapers in particular ain't sexy.  Pornography, however, is discussed in detail - and while porn is officially condemned with a kind of sanctimonious faux-horror, the point these folk seem driven to make is that the use of porn is really only our way of approaching God (I am not making this up, this is what these people say).

The main proponent of this school of non-thought whom I will not identify (it's Christopher West) actually says that if you've achieved "mature purity" (by which he seems to mean "purity of heart") you can, in this life and on this earth, gaze on naked ladies other than your spouse with impunity, for the erection you presumably get while doing so points heavenward.  (That last image is mine, not West's, but it sums up what he's saying).

So, you see, this is a kind of madness.  Sex itself is not mad, but an obsession with sex, especially one that's cloaked in a kind of pretend-sanctity, is indeed mad. Such obsessive madness produces a kind of blindness; it produces people who look at normal and beautiful and simple and spiritual things and see not what's before there eyes, but instead blocking their vision is the only thing that matters to them. West looks at icons of the Virgin Mary and keeps thinking about her breasts; he looks at the Paschal candle dipped in the baptismal font and sees sexual penetration - intercourse.  This kind of thing happens not just with sex.  A man filled with greed can look at natural beauty on a fine spring morning and wonder why the fields and hills that stretch before him haven't been "developed" into money-making parking lots.  A woman with an eating disorder can see a pizza pie in a Rorschach ink blot.  And a man filled with lust can look at church steeples and see giant penises (see footnote below).  This is obsession; this is madness.  

***

Meanwhile, Kevin Tierney at Catholic Exchange is methodically countering the pop-TOB (Theology of the Body) madness in a series of posts, the most recent of which places Bl. John Paul II's Wednesday Audiences in the context that John Paul himself places them - the context of Scripture and the Sacraments.

Tierney writes ...

there is a very good way to test whether or not the person presenting John Paul II’s Theology of the Body is doing so faithfully:  what does this individual say about the Holy Sacraments?

Tierney then focuses on two of the Sacraments- Confession and the Eucharist - to show how both are oriented toward purifying our hearts - which is to say curing that madness that results from following our own sinful desires.  (Note that the primary Sacrament the pop-TOB Catholics consistently avoid is the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony - Marriage).

In making his point, Kevin Tierney quotes Scripture quite a bit.  The most famous Bible verse on purity of heart that Tierney does not quote, however, is this one ...

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. - Mat. 5:8

They will not see God by gazing on naked ladies other than their spouse or by gazing (with "mature purity") on internet porn; they will see God by being sane, their madness cured, their blindness healed.  The big thing that was before their eyes will be removed, and after a while they may even say to themselves, "Wow.  I was pretty nutty for a while there."

And may we all pray that this madness ends - in our hearts and in our Church.

***

FOOTNOTE (from The Everlasting Man by G. K. Chesterton) - How a Man Obsessed with Sex sees a Church Steeple

I was once sitting on a summer day in a meadow in Kent under the shadow
of a little village church, with a rather curious companion with whom I
had just been walking through the woods. He was one of a group of
eccentrics I had come across in my wanderings who had a new religion
called Higher Thought; in which I had been so far initiated as to
realise a general atmosphere of loftiness or height, and was hoping at
some later and more esoteric stage to discover the beginnings of
thought. My companion was the most amusing of them, for however he may
have stood towards thought, he was at least very much their superior in
experience, having travelled beyond the tropics while they were
meditating in the suburbs; though he had been charged with excess in
telling travellers' tales. In spite of anything said against him, I
preferred him to his companions and willingly went with him through the
wood; where I could not but feel that his sunburnt face and fierce
tufted eyebrows and pointed beard gave him something of the look of Pan.
Then we sat down in the meadow and gazed idly at the tree-tops and the
spire of the village church; while the warm afternoon began to mellow
into early evening and the song of a speck of a bird was faint far up in
the sky and no more than a whisper of breeze soothed rather than stirred
the ancient orchards of the garden of England. Then my companion said to
me: 'Do you know why the spire of that church goes up like that?' I
expressed a respectable agnosticism, and he answered in an off-hand way,
'Oh, the same as the obelisks; the Phallic Worship of antiquity.' Then I
looked across at him suddenly as he lay there leering above his goatlike
beard; and for the moment I thought he was not Pan but the Devil. No
mortal words can express the immense, the insane incongruity and
unnatural perversion of thought involved in saying such a thing at such
a moment and in such a place. For one moment I was in the mood in which
men burned witches; and then a sense of absurdity equally enormous
seemed to open about me like a dawn. 'Why, of course,' I said after a
moment's reflection, 'if it hadn't been for phallic worship, they would
have built the spire pointing downwards and standing on its own apex.' I
could have sat in that field and laughed for an hour. My friend did not
seem offended, for indeed he was never thin-skinned about his scientific
discoveries. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Extra-Ordinary

Two nights ago I watched the absolute worst thing I've ever seen in my life - a video of a Catholic "internet series" that was not only bad, but disturbingly bad, sinfully bad - bad with the aroma of crud.  It was pathologically bad, and I mean that literally.

But - lo and behold!  There is a good Catholic series out there on the web.  We carry it on Grunky.  It's produced by Timothy Quigley II, who is now one of our Theater of the Word actors.

This episode drags a bit with a strange onion cutting scene (that turns oddly violent), but bear with it.  It is one of the most remarkable videos I've ever seen that deals with the subject of pornography and with "brotherly love".  Very well written and well acted.  Funny, too.

Catholic culture still exists.  It's not all ghetto in here.

Watch this episode.  If it's slow to load, click on HD in the lower right corner, which will turn HD off and make it load more easily.






Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Victims of a Victimless Crime

Fr. George of Orthodoxy and Recovery writes (emphasis mine)...

Sexual desires are from God, and they are not bad.  However, like other appetites, they have to be guided and used according to the created order.  What is happening in Japan is that excess has led to the opposite extreme of repression.  Normal sexual desires for another person have been replaced by porn, and in turn this allows people to avoid normal sexual relationships.
And, when you have spend years watching hentai porn, your appetites for the normal are almost completely distorted as to be unrecognizable.
*** 
When people talk about pornography being a 'victimless crime,' that is plain wrong on many levels.  Not only are the 'actors' in porn victims of degradation, but all of society suffers from the objectification of humanity.
 

Sub-Cultures and Sub-Catholics


(Above: The "major structural alterations" of Pruitt-Igoe here in St. Louis.  I remember this well.  Such is the fate of all inauthentic culture.)



A Facebook friend writes (and I gloss a bit on what he writes) ...

What we want is authentic Catholic culture. This means three priorities: that it be authentic, that it be Catholic, that it be culture.
Now, because we happen to live in Babylon (cf. Vincent McNabb), this culture is de facto (but not ipso facto) a sub-culture; but it is not intentionally sub-cultural as any kind of motivation.

[In other words, authentic Catholic culture is not necessarily a "sub-culture"; it wasn't that for over a thousand years; on the contrary all of Western civilization, including science, since ancient times, was produced by a Catholic worldview.  The Catholic Thing and what it gives rise to is, however, in fact - de facto - a sub-culture now, since our dominant culture is now anti-christian.]

This is the problem with "Slumming Catholicism" and with "Hipster Catholicism" and "Traditional Catholicism" - not only that they try to set up a kind of sub-culture within Catholicism (which "Progressive Catholicism" also tries to do), but that they value primarily the [separatist state they find themselves in]. 

Now many of you will say, "Why put any adjectives in front of Catholic at all?  Why must we see each other as Slum Catholics or Hipster Catholics or Traddie Catholics or Liberalist Catholics - or even "Roman" Catholics.  Why can't we just be Catholics - in other words, fully conformed to Christ?"

And I say amen.

But what my Facebook friend is saying is that some groups in the Church adopt attitudes that deliberately separate them from the Body of Christ at large, and that separate them from the dominant culture in such a way that they will never effectively engage it.

Frank Weathers keeps quoting to me Pope Francis ...

“In every age the Church has called upon the arts to give expression to the beauty of her faith and to proclaim the Gospel message ... to bring redemption and rebirth to a world touched by the tragedy of sin and death.” 

The goal of the St. Austin Review, Theater of the Word, the American Chesterton Society, and even Grunky is precisely this transformation of culture through the arts - in the forms of writing, drama, video - a goal that ultimately delivers (by the grace of God) redemption to a world touched by the tragedy of sin and death.

Another Facebook friend remarks, in a comment about the ineffectiveness of contrived "ministries" that deliver no authentic culture ...

All the bonfires and street evangelization sessions in the world will not teach your kids joy or help them to think and to love the faith and the defend holy mother Church. Only good literature will do that, starting with Chesterton and Tolkien and Belloc.  ... Because I still maintain that the best youth ministry for my own two sons has been all the Chesterton conferences I've brought them to all these years. 

May we first and foremost then, do good work - as writers, actors, artists, teachers, parents.  May we do work that honors God and grows from our faith in Jesus Christ.  And from all that an authentic culture will follow.


Overwhelmed Down Under

Fr. Z has linked to my blog post The Precision of Abuse - Liturgical and Otherwise.

One of the commenters at Fr. Z's blog is Phillipa Martyr who has written Reaping the Whirlwind, a look at the connection between Liturgical Abuse and Sexual Abuse in the Church.  The entire article is worth the read.   I'm going to give some of the best excerpts below.

She writes, that when confronted with the deliberate destruction of the Church in Australia in the 1970's (my emphasis) ...

So we began the process of making formal complaints to relevant Church authorities about what was going on in our parishes and in my school. We were not the only ones complaining, but we were strongly encouraged to believe that this was the case—that we were the lunatic fringe, the odd-bods, the crazy ones. Everyone else was happy, so why weren’t we?
***
It is clear now ... that the techniques used to silence those who complained about sexual abuse were identical to those used to silence those who complained about liturgical and doctrinal abuse.
***
The problem of sexual abuse is not new in the Catholic Church; it is not new anywhere, but its neglect has historically been reprehensible. For centuries Catholics as individuals and groups have also been trying to do something about it, usually in the face of episcopal lassitude—if you want an eleventh-century version, try St Peter Damian’s Letter 31 on the subject. According to the Sisters of St Joseph, complaints about a local priest abusing children were also the reason Bishop Laurence Shiel excommunicated the complainant, now St Mary MacKillop, in 1871.
***
Even Pope Pius X—who introduced the oath [against modernism] —is said to have concluded that he had not destroyed Modernism, but had simply driven it underground.
The best proof that he was right is in the impact of the Council itself. John XXIII’s greatest gift to the Church—whether he intended it or not—was that he got these men to break cover. Every crypto-Modernist in the Catholic Church who had up till then been wearing the uniform and playing dumb could now emerge triumphant in the light, speaking openly and freely; publicly dissenting, challenging and thriving. It was the Catholic equivalent of the Hundred Flowers Movement, but without any purges immediately afterwards: such a huge tide of dissent could not have simply formed overnight.  ...  I want to advance the hypothesis that the Church in Australia fell into chaos after the Council not because of changes to the liturgy ... but because it was already rotten from the inside

Read more here.   Martyr concludes with this ...

But there are blessings buried here. The exposure of the sexual abuse scandal both in the Church and in secular organisations has made ordinary people much more alert to it, and its victims less isolated and stigmatized. Doctrinal dissent in high places has also forced a lot of ordinary Catholics in Australia and elsewhere to learn their faith well enough to defend it against their parish priest, Catholic school principal or local bishop. Sadly, thousands chose not to, and decided instead that the new low-calorie Catholicism—child-proof, affluent and socially indistinguishable from mild agnosticism—suited them better.

Crud - Explained



My actors and I were once booked to perform at a Catholic Family Camp somewhere in the U.S.

It was one of the spookiest places I've ever been to.  The lack of maintenance was appalling - everything was leaking, badly in need of paint, dreary, run down - truly a Catholic Ghetto in the worst sense of the word.  The crew and counselors take vows of celibacy - lay camp counselors taking a vow of celibacy.  Doesn't that sound like fun?  Kind of like being castrated in order to work at McDonald's.

"We're not a cult," one of the staff told me when we got there.  "Every one in town thinks we're a cult, but we're not a cult!"

Before we performed, I was forced to sign a "rider" to our Theater of the Word contract that gave this camp the right to tape our performance and do with it what they wished - including broadcast it or put it on the internet - with no compensation or royalty to be paid to me.  This was presented to me backstage right as I was about to walk on by the woman in charge, who carried a walkie-talkie and communicated with the higher-ups in mysterious tones as she followed people around the camp.

They had big names booked to speak at this event - and lots of people in attendance.  But the facilities were worse than a meth lab Motel Six; clearly nothing had been done to keep this place up for twenty years or more.

And pictures of their foundress were all over the place - a woman with a bouffant hairdo, enshrined in every hallway.  More pictures of her than of the Blessed Mother.

Now, say what you will - something is amiss there.

And its symptom is Crud.

***

In the murder mystery dinner theater business, I have known more than one owner of a mystery company who was a convicted felon.

And some of my employees have been a bit troubled.  One guy, I later learned after I fired him, was telling every one of the actresses in my company that he was sleeping with all of the other actresses in my company.  He even got one of the actresses to lend him $300 and when he didn't pay her back, he told her it was my fault because I wasn't paying him.

Another actor, I later learned (again after firing him) would travel with marijuana in his socks if we flew him out of town.  He lived in a house that was filthy, and had a sham-ex-wife; which is to say, it was a divorce of convenience, so that the State of Missouri would pay the child support payments he welched out on - even though his wife and kids were still living with him - and even though he was working for money under the table and dodging warrants - it's just that the State didn't know that.

Another actor would vanish for three days at a time.  He would insist upon getting paid in cash, and then we wouldn't be able to get ahold of him for 72 hours or so.  When we would, we would wake him up - even if we called at 3:00 in the afternoon.  He once traveled in a car with another actor on a 3-hour one-way ride and wouldn't stop talking the whole way, driving his partner crazy.  "I shouldn't be alive," he once told me.  "I used to have a drug problem.  Once, while high, I somehow fell off a roof.  I shouldn't be alive.  But I've kicked the habit now," he said with pride.  After he told me this, I paid him in cash and he disappeared for three days.

***

In each of these cases, something is amiss.

When Fr. Wehmeyer parked a camper on the parish lot and the maintenance man saw little boys going in and out of that trailer with Father at various times, something was also amiss.

You can usually smell it.  It's the aroma of Crud.

And sometimes really bad art goes along with a disjointed brain.  I won't go into detail here, but I recently watched one of the most horrid things I've ever seen, which was trumpeted as "Catholic theater".  It made me want to become an atheist again.

It was as bad as the Catholic camp was in disrepair.  It was as poorly conceived and executed as some scum bag stealing money from actresses and blaming his boss for it.  It was as troubled as a camper on the parish parking lot.  It wasn't just bad, it was sinfully bad.  I mean that literally.

And, as one of my friends pointed out to me, the producer behind this fiasco has publicly made a very bizarre and patently false claim amounting to a kind of fraud.  The producer has made a "claim to fame" that's rather nuts, and that could easily be falsified - though apparently no one has bothered to do so yet.

But it fits.  It makes sense.

Because these things go together.  They are symptoms.

When there's smoke, there's fire, and when there's crud there's more where that came from.




Sunday, October 20, 2013

Hipster Catholics and Eunuchs

These, I am told, are "hipsters" - and I feel a sudden desire to puke.

A friend and blog reader writes that he thinks one of the hallmarks of the new "Hipster Catholics" - by which he seems to mean the cool young crunchy "independent music" types who are more or less orthodox (unless a bit of heterodoxy suits them) and who are self-consciously and deliberately "counter cultural" and "independent" in a way that shows how seriously and deeply they really do identify with superficial things - that one of the hallmarks of "Hipster Catholics" is "lack of masculinity".  Some of them, he even implies, have an "apostolate", which means they sponge off others while engaging in "ministry".  This is kind of like living off Mom, Dad and student loans while getting your second B.A. in Art History at age 30.

He contrasts them with sober and mature men, who, whether lay or clergy, take responsibility for their own lives and families and finances and whose charity and friendships are more adult and realistic.  And who, unlike hipsters, really don't care how they dress.

But what the hell is a "hipster", anyway?  Until just now I had no idea what a "hipster" was, much less a "hipster" Catholic.

If they're anything like the characters described in glowing terms by this article, then let me state that - contrary to the universal call to Christian charity - I hate every single one of them.

And above all I hate this ... .

They form book clubs and meet in the back of the local open-mic cafe to chuckle over G.K. Chesterton – you wouldn’t understand.

To use Chesterton as a shibboleth for the "in crowd"?  Despicable.  Hang every one of them.  St. Gilbert would agree with me.  At least Belloc would.

***

Meanwhile, I've been Hip since Sammy Davis Jr. used to use that word.  And I've been Funky since before the Funk dried up.  And I've been both Intellectual and Anti-intellectual at the same time - and that's hard to pull off.

But I have never been a "hipster" (or a "eunuch" for that matter, even though I'm married).

I am, however, getting to the age where I may soon need "Hipster Replacement Surgery", and if that happens, I'll be sure to let you know.


ADDENDUM:  Lots of reaction to this post over on Facebook.  As I expected, the humor is offensive to some, especially to hipsters or to those who know and like hipsters.

"That came across as needlessly angry," was my favorite Facebook comment yet.  Of course it's needlessly angry - that's why it's funny.

So let me say, in seriousness - who cares if you're a "Hipster" or a "Boomer" or a "Neo-Cath" or a "Traddie"?  The point is to be an Integrated Catholic, not a Disintegrating One.  If some Hipster Catholics are superficial and let fashion trump Faith, some other types of Catholics let ideology trump Faith - and both are worthy of laughter and ridicule.

So, if the comments over here start to match some of the reaction over on Facebook, just keep in mind that the point of this is that Jesus Christ is more than just a fashion or an ideology, and following Him more than a choice equivalent to what sort of music you put on your phone or what political party you happen to support.

Another Facebook commenter said, "But all of that goes back to the old chestnut, real community. In its void you end up having these artificial excrescences." - and that, I think is really what I'm saying.



The Precision of Abuse - Liturgical and Otherwise



Yesterday, on the road again, my actress and I attended a Vigil Mass somewhere in America.  It was definitely America, though it may not have been a Mass.

The priest was a 70-something soft-spoken slow moving effeminate fellow, and the music was all the Bad Stuff, about a dozen of the worst "hymns" played over and over again on piano before Mass even started, kind of like an episode of The Twilight Zone where you're trapped in an elevator with horrible "muzak" and nobody else trapped with you seems to mind or even notice.

The priest assured us in the homily that when Moses lifted his arms and God's staff before the Israelites battling Amalek (Ex. 17:8-13), he was "giving them instructions on the battle," showing them where to attack and where to draw back, and so forth.  Far from being miraculous (which the text implies, the strength of Israel growing when the staff of God was raised and faltering when it was lowered), this was merely a natural event.  Moses' arms being held up in a cruciform manner by Aaron and Hur was not a foreshadowing of Christ (as I've heard) but just an example of people helping people, which is why we're all here at Mass.  Oh, and don't forget to pray.

He talked a lot about prayer, eviscerating the rather shocking parable of the Importunate Widow and domesticating it so that we all understood the message: "Pray.  And come to Mass to be with one another."

Then, when the Liturgy of the Eucharist began, he not only improvised the "Pray, brothers and sisters" part (#29 here), but made up something that was wildly and strangely unrelated to anything I'd ever heard from the altar.  No mention of "sacrifice" of course, but a totally ad-libbed thing that made no sense.  So I figured I'd better follow along in the missal.  And here's what I noticed.

His liturgical abuse was not accidental and merely an expression of a kind of misplaced enthusiasm, but it was, like the sexual abuse scandal in the Church, very deliberate, specific and precise.

For despite his homily's mundane emphasis on the need for prayer, every time the words "we pray" came up in the text, he deliberately skipped them.  Every time Jesus was called the Son, he refused to say "son" and either skipped the words or made up something of his own.  There were other patterns I noticed, and each was the result of a kind of careful forethought and deliberate planning: for he skipped only certain words and said only certain others.  This man was no simple fool, carried away with a kind of "Spirit of Vatican II" sense of innovation.  Soft spoken, harmless and dull as this priest seemed to be, he had an agenda and was exercising it.

Then we came to the words of consecration, almost nothing that came from his lips matched what was printed on the page.

He did manage to say "This is my body", and he said "This is the cup of my blood" (given up for all) - so I suppose this was indeed a Mass, but he improvised more surrounding the consecration than at any other point in the Mass.  And it was all "feel good" stuff, but again I was left wondering, "Why skip we pray or similar phrases?  Why object to the Son?"

***

Here James Kalb writes that we should be hopeful, realizing that our descent into cultural nihilism cannot last forever.  He notes (rightly) that

Man isn’t the measure, and ultimate reality comes first.

He encourages us to return to great writers and thinkers and to attain personal sanctity, and of course all of that is right.

But if a priest in a small town in rural America has been celebrating the Mass this way for forty years or more, without restraint or correction from his parishioners or from his bishops, and if a priest unopposed blithely but quite deliberately asserts his own queer but indefinable theology against the Church that sustains him, then what are we to think except

Man is the measure, and ultimate reality comes last.

There is an intent behind the things that are wrong in our Church and in our culture, and we are fools if we don't realize the deliberate and focused nature of what we are faced with.





Saturday, October 19, 2013

Lessons from the Devil on God and the Soul

Walter Houston as the Devil, from the film version of The Devil and Daniel Webster

It's not so much that atheists deny God.  It's that they deny the soul, the one thing each of us knows intimately.

Let me explain.

***

I am tutoring a home-schooled student.  I call what I do the School of the Kevin.  This is an off-shoot of the Church of the Kevin, of which I am the founder and universal eparch.

And the good news is, in English class at the School of the Kevin, we get to read whatever I (the Kevin) want.

Yesterday we read a section of a rambling post-modernist novel called The House of Leaves.  In the chapter we read, a family returns from a vacation to find that someone has broken into their house and added an extra room, a walk-in closet - which is a strange thing for a burglar to do.  Even more strange is the fact that the head of the house, through careful measurements and a study of the blueprints, discovers that the house is 1/4 inch larger on the inside than on the outside.  He becomes a bit obsessed with this crack in the laws of physics, trying to forget his sense of dread with coffee and a newspaper and a big breakfast one morning - but even the coffee in the coffee cup behaves in such a way that inspires a kind of nauseating awe and a confrontation with something that's far bigger than the suburban kitchen in which he sits.

We also read a short story by Flannery O'Connor called "A View of the Woods".  It's about an old man named Fortune who dedicates himself to everything about the concept "fortune" - money, progress, the future - and in so doing ends up killing himself (twice, in a sense) in one of those violent and disturbing ways so typical of a Flannery O'Connor story.  But before he does, he has a vision of this "view of the woods" (a view he's trying to snuff out by the construction of more and more objects of "progress" on his land) - a vision that is like a disturbing prophetic insight.

The old man stared for some time, as if for a prolonged instant he were caught up out of the rattle of everything that led to the future and were held there in the midst of an uncomfortable mystery that he had not apprehended before.  He saw it, in his hallucination, as if someone were wounded behind the woods and the trees were bathed in blood.

What is this blood behind the woods, the "view" of which the old man is trying to cover up with the "rattle of everything that led to the future", what is this blood that is at the heart of an "uncomfortable mystery that he had not comprehended before"?

On the one hand, it's the foreshadowing of the violence that occurs at the end of the tale - in the middle of the woods.  But on the other, it's the blood of Jesus Christ.

I imagine the suburban father from The House of Leaves sitting not in his suburban kitchen, but in his suburban parish, as a gay Marty Haugen tune and an insipid homily prevents him (as the "rattle" of fortune prevented the old man) from seeing, as Chesterton said, that the Church is "larger on the inside than on the outside" (like the suburbanite's house) and that if we deliberately obscure our "view of the woods" we won't see the dreadful and awesome sacrifice that's before our eyes, right there upon the altar.

And recently my student and I finished Orwell's 1984.  I write in a recent post (Blank Checks and Reality Checks) about the dehumanization, the deliberate destruction of the soul, that fills that novel, when I point out the Ecce Homo moment, when Winston Smith is presented to us as the "last man" about to be sacrificed on the altar of progress and inhumanity.

And what is this "dehumanization" but loss of soul?  What keeps the suburban father from sleeping or enjoying his ordinary breakfast, but an encounter with a mystery he had tried to forget in a deceptively domestic setting?  What drives O'Connor's old man to murder and suicide but a glimpse of something that awakens a soul he is trying to suffocate?  What does the Unreality of the dystopian society of 1984 strive to do above all other things but destroy the part of God that is in man - his soul - and thereby destroy man himself?

All torture is an attempt to destroy the imago dei, the image of God in man, the soul.  All Unreality is an attempt to do the same, by obstructing our view of the woods beyond and the sunset that paints them as red as the blood of the Son of Man.  Every denial of the ineffable - of awe, mystery and dread - is an attempt to construct either a House of Leaves or a simple House of Cards.

But we read one more story yesterday, "The Devil and Daniel Webster", about a simple New England farmer, Jabez Stone, who sells his soul to the devil, and the patriot Daniel Webster who saves him.  For Webster (the great orator and politician), in speaking to a jury of the damned which is about to condemn his client (Jabez Stone), reminds them that the soul is an eternal thing, and that man (try as we might to destroy him) is made of more than flesh and blood.

Then he turned to Jabez Stone and showed him as he was−an ordinary man who'd had hard luck and wanted to change it. And, because he'd wanted to change it, now he was going to be punished for all eternity. And yet there was good in Jabez Stone, and he showed that good. He was hard and mean, in some ways, but he was a man.  There was sadness in being a man, but it was a proud thing too. And he showed what the pride of it was till you couldn't help feeling it. Yes, even in hell, if a man was a man, you'd know it. And he wasn't pleading for any one person any more, though his voice rang like an organ. He was telling the story and the failures and the endless journey of mankind. They got tricked and trapped and bamboozled, but it was a great journey. And no demon that was ever foaled could know the inwardness of it − it took a man to do that.

We all know what this inwardness is.  We know that it's in hell where a man ceases to be a man, and that's what makes it hell.  We know that dehumanization, Unreality, and even death can never extinguish the very flame that materialistic atheists continue to snuff like a bunch of nervous firefighters.

We know the soul of man, and we know we are often in danger of losing it.

And if we know the soul of man, we know God.  The evidence is before our eyes like a view of the woods.  The evidence is in our hearts.

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Ghetto of the Soul



A Theater of the Word supporter, who has been trying to drum up business for us, writes to me (emphasis mine) ...

... the folks up this way completely balk at the price [of your shows], and this is unlikely to change if I try the pitch ten more times.  The youth / young adults ministry chap, though already familiar with you and your work, which he likes, said that $2500 is a youth ministry position for a year.  Indeed even if you were to halve the asking price for the show itself, then adding in the travel expenses, I have seen no indication that there would be any takers.  

What he's referring to is that if a parish in his neck of the woods booked us to perform one of our four-person touring shows, we would charge $1900 for the show plus travel.  Travel is our biggest expense.  To get four actors to his location (if we're not already on tour) would cost us at least $2,000.  But if we're on tour, the travel can be much less - and I often sell shows for whatever the parish or school can pay, if we can afford to do so on our end.

Out of the base price of the show (not including travel), we pay for actors, costumes, lights, a sound system, and the hundreds of hours it takes to research, write, cast, rehearse, market and schedule our performances.  Since my actors and I are all human beings, we need food, shelter and transportation, which means we must be paid money for the time we put in - not big money, but subsistence money, poverty-level money.  One of my actors has a good day job and can rarely afford to travel with us, for he loses money while on a Theater of the Word tour.

So I responded to my supporter ...

I'd love to lower the price of our shows.  The problem is, if I tried to get four actors to [your location] and have them perform one or more shows for less than $2500 including travel, I'd be more broke than I am.  It's just not possible to pay travel and also eat for less than what we charge.  ...  So it's a sad situation.
The sadder thing here is that $2500 will pay for a Youth Minister.  

I mean, really.

$2500 is the annual Youth Minister budget?  I know that's part-time money, and I understand a parish not giving a damn about Theater of the Word "evangelizing through drama".

But Youth Ministry?  The future of the Church?  Youth Ministry is this unimportant?

How does $2500 for a Youth Minister compare to the average parish budget?

Emergingmodels.org reports

In the average American parish, the total operating revenue of about $695,000 exceeds expenses of $626,500. The average surplus is 4.3 percent of revenue.  [or about $70,000 left over at the end of the year].

The report goes on to stress than 30% of American parishes have a shortfall.  But of the 70% that have revenues exceeding expenses, is it too much to ask that more than a token of good will (which $2500 represents) be offered to someone as important as a Youth Minister?  I'm not saying any of us are in this to make money, but I am saying we all have to eat, and perpetuating the Catholic Ghetto is no way to run a Church.  Are our parishes run by pastors or slumlords?

But the problem here goes deeper than money.  Money is just a way to measure the problem, to talk about it.  The problem is more than financial.

***

During the Year of St. Paul, we offered performances of our show The Journey of St. Paul free of charge to parishes in my home archdiocese of St. Louis.  Fifty or so St. Louis parishes booked this free show, and audiences loved it.  We were able to do this because of generous financial support from Ignatius Press.

But that's one out of four parishes - willing to take a free show.  About a seminal apostle in the Church in the midst of a year devoted to him and his life.

The following year (which was the Year of Nothing), we called back every parish that had a good turnout during the Year of St. Paul and that had audiences raving about our show and building shrines to Kevin O'Brien in their back yards - and offered another show at a token price, $300 (which would not have covered actors and gas; in other words almost-free-of-charge) and we got two takers - perhaps because it was the Year of Nothing, and so there was no reason to book any of our dozen other shows - or perhaps because nobody really gives a damn - about Theater of the Word or Youth Ministry or much of anything.

Meanwhile, this year the affluent parish up the road from us (in the neighborhood where Joyce Meyer lives) recently had a capital campaign to raise $350,000 to re-pave their parking lot.  

And they raised it.

Of course "plant maintenance" is a real world legitimate expense.  And a church must have a parking lot.  But this parish is about two miles from my front door.  Ask me if they've ever booked a Theater of the Word show - even a free one.

Um.  No.

I don't think they have a paid Youth Minister.  I know the teachers in their Catholic grade school are paid, but not paid well.  Their Director of Religious Education is probably a volunteer position (many of them are in this archdiocese).

But they have a really nice parking lot.  A really nice damn parking lot.

And I'd venture to guess that 90% of the kids who attend the parish school there have no idea who Jesus really is or what He asks of us.  And I'm certain that they will grow up to have as much extramarital sex and as many abortions as the public school kids surrounding them.

This is an affluent parish, all right.  But a very poor one, too, it seems.

Because we are living in a Ghetto of the Soul.

***

But life in the Ghetto ain't so bad for some.  One can make money off of all this, if you tell the people what they want to hear.  Moralistic Therapeutic Deism sells, even if Christ and Christ crucified doesn't.

Following the adverse publicity about [Joyce Meyer's] lifestyle and Ministry Watch's request for an IRS probe, Meyer announced in 2004 plans to take a salary reduction from the $900,000 per year she had been receiving from Joyce Meyer Ministries (in addition to the $450,000 her husband received)[11] and instead personally keep more of the royalties from her outside book sales which Meyer had previously donated back to Joyce Meyer Ministries. She now retains royalties on books sold outside the ministry through retail outlets such as WalmartAmazon.com, and bookstores, while continuing to donate to her ministry royalties from books sold through her conferences, catalogues, website, and television program.[12] "The net effect of all of this," notes Ministry Watch,[10] "was most likely a sizable increase in the personal compensation of Joyce Meyer and reduced revenues for [her ministry]." In an article in the St. Louis Business Journal, Meyer's public relations director, Mark Sutherland, confirmed that her new income would be "way above" her previous levels.[13] Joyce Meyer Ministries says it has made a commitment to maintain transparency in financial dealings,[14] publish their annual reports,[14] have a Board majority who are not Meyer relatives[15] and submit to a voluntary annual audit.[14][16] On December 18, 2008, this ministry received a "C" grade (71–80 score) for financial transparency from Ministry Watch.[17]

I just wonder where the middle ground lies, that place between a televangelist who (apparently)


  • Does it all for money

and 

  • a Christian with an apostolate who is expected to feed the 5,000 without the original few loaves and fishes even being paid for.

It is a frustrating situation.