December 9th, 2013The Rise of the Priesthoodby Joseph Pearce
Here's some good news:
December 8th, 2013Leaven and Original Sinby Kevin O'Brien
Your glorying is not good. Know you not that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, as you are unleavened. For indeed Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us: therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Cor. 5:6-8)
Why do we "celebrate the feast" of Christ's sacrifice at Mass with unleavened bread? It's not simply because the Jews ate unleavened bread as part of the Passover to celebrate their deliverance in haste from Egypt, but also because to be "unleavened" means not to be infected with the corrupting yeast of "malice and wickedness", or the "leaven of the Pharisees", which is hypocrisy.
Since the Fall of Man, all of us have been born with this infection. If we let it, it "leavens the whole lump".
Anthony Esolen makes this clear in a stunning and disturbing article in Crisis Magazine. He quotes a young man who has written an advice column for other young men, giving them tips on how to convince their girlfriends to get an abortion when the girlfriend gets pregnant and resists the idea.
You need to bring up the subject of abortion with every ounce of verbal finesse and situation-appropriate sensitivity. You should sound as sincere as possible and tell her that you want her to be the mother of your children one day, but that now is not the right time to start a family. Explain you want to wait until you are further along in your career/life goals and you can afford to give your future family all the comforts of life you cannot deliver today. Finally, explain if she has the abortion now, you will be able to plan your lives together so that everything is perfect. Then, after she agrees and has the abortion, dump her. It’s called a “hail mary” in part because of its difficulty to execute, so if you stay with her post-abortion and she becomes pregnant again you’re really f*****.
Esolen comments ...
The writer recommends shameless lying. Is that a surprise? Isn’t fornication itself, even for the mildest of people, all tangled up in evasions, demurrals, half-promises, and lies? The writer uses girls for his pleasure, but despises them. They are his toys, and when you’re sick of a toy, you throw it away. Is that a surprise? And if the perfectly predictable result of the child-making thing occurs, and they make a child, his one thought is how to persuade her to throw it away, too. Why not? It is an accident (a piano falling upon your head from the tenth story of a tenement, that is an accident; begetting a child by the child-making thing is not), or it is s*** (which must be disposed of). No care for her sorrow or her health; no care for the child; no moral qualms at all.
When we find someone loudly affirming the goodness of something wicked, our first step should not be to try to persuade him otherwise. That would be to aim at but one tentacle of the cancer. The treatment must reach much farther down to the roots. But for the sake of everyone else within earshot, and for our own sanity, we should look to the nearby organs. You defend pornography, do you? Then be honest. Do you not also defend legal prostitution? Group sex, or any sexual escapades among consenting adults? Polygamy, for those who want it? Sexual experimentation among teenagers, so long as it makes a pretense of epidermal hygiene? Easy divorce? Abortion?
Jack Kevorkian did not only affirm the goodness of suicide. He was himself a murderer. His paintings were sufficient to lead any sane person to conclude that he was profoundly evil, or mentally deranged, or both—for evil is itself a derangement. The media could have sunk him into the public’s contempt if they had only publicized those paintings, or probed the other cancerous organs in that man’s moral psyche. They did not. They chose instead to bracket the one cause, assisted suicide, and ignore everything else. That plays into the devil’s hands.
We must not do so.
In other words, we must keep the feast "not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth". For a little leaven leavens the whole lump, and the cancer of sin and selfishness spreads to every part of the body.
What does this have to do with the Immaculate Conception?
Mary is, from the moment her life begins, unleavened. She is as we were all designed to be, the "unleavened bread of sincerity and truth". She is granted that grace from the moment of her conception by virtue of Christ's then-future sacrifice - and though we (who have not experienced that extraordinary grace) must struggle to "purge out the old leaven" so that we may "become a new lump", she shows us what, as disciples, we may become.
For purity is productive. Faithfulness is fertile. Cleanliness conceives.
If we become as unleavened bread, then the leaven of the Kingdom can begin to work in us.
If we remain as we are, the cancer will spread and we are doomed.
December 6th, 2013Exorcising the Curmudgeon with the Spirit of Christmasby Joseph Pearce
Call me a true Christian or just a good old-fashioned curmudgeon but I normally refuse to get into the Christmas spirit until it's fairly close to Christmas. I find the whole notion that the so-called "holidays" begin with Halloween vaguely absurd, at best, or utterly obscene, at worst.
Secular fundamentalism kills everything it kisses, and that includes the "holidays", which are certainly not marketed as "holy days". Halloween has ceased to be "All Hallows Eve" and has become a pagan necrofest. Thanksgiving (thank goodness) is still largely unpolluted by our deplorable epoch's kiss of death but that's because most of us are not really sure to whom or what we're giving our thanks, or what it is exactly for which we should be thankful.
Now that Thanksgiving is out of the way, the cynics, who know the price of everything and the value of nothing, are trying to convince us that we need to spend more than we can afford for the Holidays (the word Christmas is avoided as though it were an expletive, and the word "Christ" is practically verboten).
Today is, however, the feast of Santa Claus himself. Yes, it's St. Nicholas' Day. This morning our five-year-old came downstairs earlier than usual, full of excitement to see whether Saint Nicholas had left a gift in her shoes. Her eyes lit up to see an effigy of the saint himself peering at her from her shoes. Her eyes lit up even brighter when she realised that the effigy was made of chocolate. Digging deeper into the shoes, she drew out some golden coins. Imagine her delight when she discovered that they were not made of gold but were made of chocolate too! Beside the shoes was a silver package containing home-baked star cookies! On such a day, with the light of the Christ child shining in the eyes of my own child, the curmudgeon was vanquished and the Christmas spirit was unleashed. I know it's still advent, of course, but St. Nicholas' Day can be considered a little Christmas, a tantalizing tidbit thrown to us as we await the Big Day itself.
In order to show that I am not as much of a curmudgeon as I sometimes believe myself to be, or at least as I sometimes pretend to be, here is a Christmas list that I wrote for the Imaginative Conservative:
December 5th, 2013Here’s when the Hobbit Special Actually Airsby Kevin O'Brien
I got the air times wrong in my previous post. These are the correct times!
My appearance as J.R.R. Tolkien in Joseph Pearce's EWTN special on The Hobbit is as follows ...
BILBO'S JOURNEY: A CATHOLIC TRAVEL GUIDE TO THE HOBBIT
Thursday, 12/05 at 11:00 PM ET (10:00 pm Central)
Friday, 12/06 at 9:30 PM ET (8:30 pm Central)
An action-packed EWTN production revealing the Catholicity of J. R. R. Tolkien's classic and how Bilbo's adventure is likened to the journey of every Christian, which is to unite themselves with the will of Christ.
Readers from outside the U.S. have been asking me how they can watch this. It appears you can stream EWTN's U.S. feed by clicking here. Also note that Bilbo's Journey will be released as a DVD and sold through EWTN'S Religious Catalogue.
December 4th, 2013Tolkien on EWTN!by Kevin O'Brien
Tomorrow, Thursday, Dec. 5 I'll be featured portraying J.R.R. Tolkien in the EWTN Special Bilbo's Journey - the Hidden Catholic Meaning of the Hobbit with Joseph Pearce. The show airs at 9:00 pm Eastern / 8:00 pm Central - but it's preceded by an interview with Joseph Pearce on Life on the Rock at 8:00 pm Eastern / 7:00 Central. Be sure to watch!
December 3rd, 2013GKC and Lionel Johnsonby Robert AschJoseph’s quotation of “The Rolling English Road” in a letter which also touched on Lionel Johnson brought to my attention a remarkable constellation of Chestertonian references (whether discreet, unconscious, or coincidental who can say?) to Lionel Johnson’s death. You will remember the passage:My friends, we will not go again or ape an ancient rage,Or stretch the folly of our youth to be the shame of age,But walk with clearer eyes and ears this path that wandereth,And see undrugged in evening light the decent inn of death;For there is good news yet to hear and fine things to be seen,Before we go to Paradise by way of Kensal Green.A number of things here suggest Johnson: “My friends” (hardly a remarkable reference, but it reappears more decisively below) – friends were very important to the desperately lonely Johnson and feature frequently in his poems; “Friends that Fail Not”, an essay of great charm, was surely known to Chesterton. “Youth” – he died at 35. “[T]he folly of…youth” not stretched into “the shame of age” – Johnson (who had introduced Oscar Wilde to Lord Alfred Douglas) led a celibate life after his conversion, but his poetry and drinking indicate that he remained tortured by shame over his homosexual impulses. “[U]ndrugged” – he was an alcoholic. The “inn of death” – he died after suffering a seizure in a pub. “Kensal Green”, where he is buried.These echoes are multiplied and made the more suggestive by lines in Chesterton’s “When I Came Back to Fleet Street”:When I came back to Fleet Street,
Through a sunset nook at night,
And saw the old Green Dragon
With the windows all alight,
And hailed the old Green Dragon
And the Cock I used to know,
Where all good fellows were my friends
A little while agoJohnson was living at Clifford’s Inn just off Fleet Street when he collapsed in the Green Dragon tavern, dying at St Barts Hospital (having received Extreme Unction) several days later:Then came that balmy September evening when Johnson, venturing forth for a little refreshment, made his careful way the short distance from Clifford’s Inn to the Green Dragon, which was situated at Nos. 56-57, on the south side of Fleet Street. It stood… between the tobacconist’s shop…and the Catholic Press. [Richard Whittington-Egan, Lionel Johnson: Victorian Dark Angel, Cappella, 2012, p. 287]The inn between the tobacconist’s and the Catholic Press: could there be a more Chestertonian point de depart for the journey to Paradise by way of Kensal Green?
December 3rd, 2013Saintliness in Shakespeare - and in Lifeby Kevin O'Brien
Anthony Pasquale has passed along a selection culled from a book by the late Fr. Robert D. Smith on the Catholic elements in Shakespeare. I've published the article in full on The Christian Shakespeare website.
Here is a very interesting portion of it on how sanctity works, both in Shakespeare's plays, and in life (note as well that the next issue of the St. Austin Review will be all about the Catholic Shakespeare).In King Lear, Cordelia remains throughout the play loyal to her increasingly dispossessed and destitute father, King Lear. She finds that the Earl of Kent too has been immensely loyal, dressing himself as a poor man in rags so he could remain by Lear’s side and protect him as much as honorably possible. Upon discovering Kent’s loyalty, towards the end of the play, she says to him, “O thou good Kent, how shall I live and work to match thy goodness? My life will be too short and every measure fail me (act IV, sc. 7, 1). What a beautifully expressed tribute, especially from one who is so honorable herself.It is a stunning phrase, but when we think about it, it is more than this: it is a beautiful and uniquely Catholic one in three ways.First, the Church has always taught that saints exist. So much of what passes for literature implies that the whole world is full of corruption, that all people are equally evil, only in different ways. We, as followers of Christ, believe in the existence of saints, not just in heaven but here on earth. Not in perfection, to be sure. Even the saints have human flaws, but they possess withal a level of charity, a level of selfless love, that goes supernaturally beyond what we ordinarily see on earth. They are saints when alive, and everyone sees it but the saints themselves. The world is not full of corruption, but has many saints in it if only we look in the right places.Second, Cordelia, saintly herself, has this strong sense of moral humility. There is nothing self-righteous, priggish or presumptuous about her. Here again this differs from the worldly idea. How many narrators of worldly stories and novels imply that they alone are free of corruption? Cordelia, paradoxically, a saint herself, sees saints in this world, and sees herself as very much below them. Perhaps this can be explained by the fact that saintliness can have many different manifestations, can show itself in many different ways and lines of conduct. Cordelia was a saint but did not dress herself in rags to help her father. But still, all saints have this sense of deep spiritual humility, again so much opposed to the proud spirit of the world.Third, Cordelia’s words show that she has a firm grasp of another Christian, traditionally Catholic concept: that of the need to strive for perfection. She is not trying merely for adequacy in the world’s eyes. So many think of goodness only in this sense. But the world’s goodness is inadequate in the eyes of God. A good man in the eyes of the world today, for example, can be an abortionist, divorced and remarried, and unrepentant in both. Cordelia is seeking not adequacy in the world’s eyes, but perfection. Both Cordelia and Kent go far beyond the world’s standards for goodness. But in a truly Christian way, they are not looking for how far they have come but how far they have to go. That is what makes both of them beautiful in this world, very different from it, and saints.
December 2nd, 2013The Advent of Magicby Dena Hunt
I was out shopping on Saturday. I didn’t do much shopping, actually, since I don’t buy gifts except for charity, but I enjoy that shopping excitement unique to Christmas shoppers. Stores were crowded still. (I wouldn’t dare venture forth on “Black Friday.”) The Christmas spirit is as alive as capitalism could hope for, seduction everywhere, and it’s all quite okay because, well, it’s Christmastime.
Few of the shoppers now think much about the “meaning” of Christmas, though where I live in the Deep South, there are probably more who think about it than there are in other places. “Jesus is the reason for the season” can still be seen on bumpers, on coat pins, and such. Pretty soon, all the Protestant churches (there’s only one Catholic church here) will be scheduling and advertising their Nativity plays. We don’t have to worry so much here about protests against religion in public life, especially at Christmas. Even militant atheists, it seems, soften up a bit at Christmas.
Why is that? Despite the complaints from many Christians about “the war on Christmas,” even the most anti-Christian people still want it. They may hate Christianity, but they still love Christmas and somehow celebrate it. Do they ask themselves why? They probably explain it in Humanism terms—the evidence that humans love each other and buy gifts for each other, that Christmas is a celebration of peace, that it’s a reminder of family and/or community, etc., etc. None of those explanations mention Christ, so they’re all okay.
But that’s not it. Those things can be celebrated anytime—and are. No. It’s the magic. The lights, the music, the “break” from ordinariness. Tinsel and glitter and all sorts of dollar-store decorations that would, at any other time, be considered tasteless, even gaudy, are welcomed with childlike delight. It’s all wonderful, joyful, magical. Science, humanism, secularism, and all the other modern gods must step aside at Christmastime, because Christmas is magic, not subject to reason, to secular creeds of any kind. “Christmas,” explained one newly minted atheistic college freshman, to her despairing and devout mother, “is for everybody, not just for Christians.” Okay. But explain the appeal, explain why it’s okay. Why is it okay to love Christmas with such cheerful abandonment of atheist principle.
It’s the magic. That “break from ordinariness” is a break in time and space in our ordinary lives. Why is it a break from Reality? Why do even the most dedicated and adamant non-believers feel it, know it, recognize it? “We all become children again at Christmas,” they declare with self-indulgent sentimentalism, ignoring the question:Why?
The question is ignored because it has only one honest answer: Because Reality—that ultimate evidence of literally everything in the universe—is interrupted. By what? By the Incarnation. The simplest answer is always the hardest one to accept. We’d rather do all sorts of anthropological intellectual gyrations, or psychological/biological analyses, and all that stuff. But the truth is that reindeer, Christmas trees, pagan and non-pagan celebrations alike, all have their root source in the magic, the mystery of the Nativity, whether or not they believe. It’s magic. It’s other-worldly. And more: It’s that other-world coming into—literally coming into—our world. It’s the advent of the metaphysical into the physical. And it does so with or without our consent, and despite all our proofs against it. That’s magic.
December 1st, 2013Catholic Literary Connectionsby Joseph PearceIn early January I'm flying to England to film a documentary on the poet Francis Thompson. With this in mind, I've been browsing through a new biography of the poet, Lionel Johnson, a contemporary of Thompson's and a fellow member of the Rhymers Club. It seems that Johnson is buried only a few yards from Thompson's grave in St. Mary's Catholic Cemetery on Harrow Road in Kensal Green, the graveyard to which Chesterton alludes in his poem "The Rolling English Road":
- My friends, we will not go again or ape an ancient rage,
- Or stretch the folly of our youth to be the shame of age,
- But walk with clearer eyes and ears this path that wandereth,
- And see undrugged in evening light the decent inn of death;
- For there is good news yet to hear and fine things to be seen,
- Before we go to Paradise by way of Kensal Green.Also within yards of Thompson's grave is the grave of Sax Rohmer (A. H. Ward), the creator of Dr. Fu Manchu. The same graveyard contains the tombs of Cardinals Wiseman and Manning, as well as the graves of numerous Irish immigrants.Wiseman wrote the novel Fabiola (1854) about the persecution of Christians under Diocletian, to which John Henry Newman was commissioned to write the prequel, Callista (1855). These novels were two of the earliest works of the Catholic Literary Revival of which Thompson is a part. Manning was hugely influential on Thompson's life because Thompson's father converted under Manning's influence. Thompson's uncle was a friend of Manning's. Manning was hugely popular with the working class for his work amongst London's poor in the late 1880s, at the very time that Thompson was living in post-Dickensian destitution.An interesting connection between Thompson, Manning and Hilaire Belloc is that Thompson's father and Belloc's mother both converted under Manning's benign personal influence, without which neither Thompson nor Belloc would have become the poets whom we know and love. Belloc and Thompson are also linked through their respective connection to Our Lady of England Priory in Storrington, Sussex. Thompson wrote his masterpiece, "The Hound of Heaven", while staying at the Priory and Belloc wrote his poem, "Courtesy", after visiting the Priory in 1908:Of Courtesy, it is much less
Than Courage of Heart or Holiness,
Yet in my Walks it seems to me
That the Grace of God is in Courtesy.
On Monks I did in Storrington fall,
They took me straight into their Hall;
I saw Three Pictures on a wall,
And Courtesy was in them all.
The first the Annunciation;
The second the Visitation;
The third the Consolation,
Of God that was Our Lady's Son.
The first was of St. Gabriel;
On Wings a-flame from Heaven he fell;
And as he went upon one knee
He shone with Heavenly Courtesy.
Our Lady out of Nazareth rode -
It was Her month of heavy load;
Yet was her face both great and kind,
For Courtesy was in Her Mind.
The third it was our Little Lord,
Whom all the Kings in arms adored;
He was so small you could not see
His large intent of Courtesy.
Our Lord, that was Our Lady's Son,
Go bless you, People, one by one;
My Rhyme is written, my work is done.
December 1st, 2013G. K. Chesterton: A New Kind of Saintby Joseph Pearce
Dale Ahlquist, president of the American Chesterton, recently gave a talk in Colorado on the sanity and sanctity of GKC. Here's a link to the video of the talk: http://vimeo.com/78310350