August 29th, 2014In Honor of Stratford Caldecottby Dena Hunt
Crisis magazine gives an in-depth review of a collection of essays honoring Stratford Caldecott. Especially for those who are devotees of this extraordinary man, here’s a link:
August 29th, 2014The Real Desecration of Marriageby Kevin O'Brien
She was one of the presenters at a "Journey of Faith" class that my wife and I were taking, back when we were looking into becoming Episcopalians.
She told the following story.
When my friends Amy and Bob got married, I made a tapestry for them that had their names "Amy and Bob" on it, in the middle of a heart, signifying their life-long love.
After their divorce, Amy came out of the closet and announced she was marrying her Lesbian lover, Sue. She brought me the tapestry. "Can you pull out Bob's name and weave in Sue's?" she asked. "I want this to say Amy and Sue, not Amy and Bob."
And I was surprised at my reaction! I was reluctant to do this! And I have always thought of myself as a caring liberal!
I turned to her and asked the only question that needed asking. "If she had said, I'm leaving Bob and marrying Fred. Will you yank out Bob's name and sew in Fred's? I want the tapestry to say "Amy and Fred", would you have been at all distressed?"
"Oh, no!" she replied, her eyes beaming, grinning a stupid grin. "That would not have bothered me at all!"
At my post, The Scandal of Coffee and Donuts, Fr. Matthew Schneider comments ...AUGUST 24 2014 | BY FR MATTHEW P. SCHNEIDER, LCI recently tweeted something similar to your whole issue about gay marriage, marriage, courtship et al:
Serial adultery & divorce destroys marriage more than gay marriage.
B4 fighting gay marriage, we need to restore marriage.
You can read the ~75 replies at: https://twitter.com/FrMatthewLC/status/502571100354908160
Some of the "inside the beltway" Catholics got offended but unfortunately as I responded later:
If marriage is just "2 people who love each other sexually & want to spend a long time together" denying gays is discrimination.
The desecration of Marriage in this country did not begin with the "gays", nor will it end with them.
August 27th, 2014Defending the Definiteby Joseph Pearce
I write from Aquinas College in Nashville during my first week of teaching in my new position as Writer-in-Residence and Director of the Center for Faith and Culture. Many exciting things have already happened this week and other exciting things are scheduled before I return home to South Carolina on Friday. I hope to write more in the next day or so. In the interim, I’m posting the link to my latest article for the Imaginative Conservative in which, as a diminutive David, I take on the Goliathan might of Wittgenstein:
August 25th, 2014The Masculine Mystiqueby Marie Dudzik
Women love to talk about men, and most often the conversation comes around to the question “Where have all the men gone?” What we are really asking is “Whatever happed to masculinity?”
The author of the article linked below, George Fields, focuses on masculinity, both what it is and what it isn’t. Feminists have used their version of male dominance to push their way into every corner of society. Mr. Fields provides a different version of male dominance. A sampling: “It has nothing to do with the dominance of others; quite to the contrary, those who are most beautiful to our minds and praised for their masculine virtues are those who serve; and the more their service becomes a loving slavery, the more our hearts are touched by their works.”
This is paternity, pure and simple. It is every good father, priest, and male boss we have ever met. It is also the example set by Christ, washing the feet of His disciples and telling them to conquer the world by becoming servants.
So where has all the masculinity gone? One could paraphrase GK Chesterton: it is not that masculinity has been tried and failed; it is that it has been found too difficult and left untried. Evidently it's easier to get manicures and wax jobs than to curb ones appetites.
August 24th, 2014Hearts of Flesh and the Personal Dimension of Salvationby Kevin O'Brien
We are not saved by a system. We are not saved by a program. We are not saved by a gimmick.
We are saved by a person. And by His death, which was the most personal gift He could give.
This is why heart must speak to heart (as I wrote, quoting Bl. John Henry Newman, earlier today - whose motto was cor ad cor loquitur: heart speaks to heart). Anything in the Church that falls shy of loyalty, love, fidelity and integrity between people; anything that falls shy of the true mutual giving and sacrifice of love; anything that falls shy of an actual realistic relationship; anything that falls shy of heart speaking to heart and heart listening to heart is a sham and is a hollow mockery of what saves us.
The impersonal is the life (and the lie) of the heart of stone. The personal is the mark of the circumcised heart, the heart of flesh (see Ez. 36:26).
This is why, when a bishop or a cardinal argues that they are not responsible for reprehensible actions that they've enabled and covered up, even if such a stance is a swing at a legitimate legal defense, it betrays Jesus Christ and His Spirit that operates within us. And it destroys the hopes and fans the flaming anger of victims. It shows at best disregard and at worst contempt for the hearts of others. This should be self-evident, but for many people today, it isn't.
And you can see this playing out all around you, if you look.
She was a wealthy adolescent. She was smart and creative, but, like many children of wealth, she was neglected. She had everything she wanted materially, but in a very fundamental way her parents didn't care for her, at least not enough to parent her. They were planning to ship her off to a long-term stay at a boarding facility - against her will.
She looked right at me one day. "My parents would be happier if I were entirely out of their life," she said.
"Ohhh," I said, "it's not that bad."
But it was. And it took me a while to see the awful truth, a truth that had so surrounded her that it had threatened to drown her all her life. She had to keep up the doggie paddle or she'd simply sink, and Mom and Dad would be too busy at the country club to throw her a line.
Imagine being a child or a teen and living with that knowledge. You'd try to hide the pain by taking drugs, or running away, or withdrawing from life, or acting out. She tried all of these things, and of course none of them helped. Neither did the therapy or the rehab stints that absentee Mom and Dad kept sending her to.
What would have helped was the one thing she didn't have. Heart speaking to heart. Love.
It's a price wealthy parents are not always willing to pay. Why would you, when you can buy yourself out of it?
He thought that even though they weren't lovers, they were at least friends. It had been a long term long-distance email relationship, and they had shared much with one another (at least early on), and he had done his best to help her and be there for her when she needed him, but recently, despite their original intensity, he was noticing that time and again she refused to reciprocate. She enjoyed his attention, but when the chips were down, she would vanish. It got to a point where she wouldn't even show him common courtesies and she began to treat him like a kind of benign acquaintance, rather than as a friend. She moved on and she liked to pretend they had never been close; that seemed to assuage her, but it haunted him. She was nice, but in a condescending way, and complacently distant - even after heart had spoken to heart.
"It looks like she's dumped you," I observed.
"But I was always there for her. I opened my heart to her. And she did to me. How can she be so glib and smug about this - as if that had never happened?"
They were married, and their lives together were make-believe. Something highly artificial abounded in their relationship. The age difference was a factor, and when she refused to acknowledge that he was old and sick, but insisted that he keep up the eternal forced and relentless pace that she had long demanded of him, they were both harder to be around than ever. It was exhausting and sad. They kept up appearances, but neither for each other, nor for their friends and family could heart simply speak to heart. They both saw to it that it was never that easy, never that real, never that loving.
And instead of a mutual peace, there was an incessant treadmill.
If it is true that in the Church today we are answering questions that no one is asking (as I wrote earlier, quoting a friend of mine), then it's simply because heart is not speaking to heart. Or because heart is not listening to heart.
If one heart speaks, the other must listen. That's the key to friendship, and that's the key to prayer (I mean not only talking to God, but listening to Him). And if we listened to our neighbors, both in and out of the pews, we would hear that same longing, that same silent lament, that same sad mourning for a moon that never changes, a moon of glowing silver that draws us to a glorious glen, hidden in a bower, aglow with fireflies and filled with a magical breeze: for this longing is found in the hearts of more than just poets. And we might hear the questions they are asking, and we might begin to answer them.
August 24th, 2014The Scandal of Coffee and Donutsby Kevin O'Brien
Canon Ueda (who has been giving Private Instruction to my actor Dave, a recent convert to the Catholic Faith) told Dave this morning that it was not enough to go to Sunday Mass at St. Francis de Sales Oratory in South St. Louis, where Dave has been going. He had to start going to Coffee and Donuts as well.
"We must not separate the sacramental life from the daily life," Canon Ueda said.
And I realized immediately that this is not only very profound, it's also a very simple way of saying what I have been trying to write about on this blog for a long time. When we separate sacramental life from daily life, we are building an artificial wall between grace and nature, we are insulating ourselves, we are trying to turn God and His Church into something Unreal, something merely functional, that serves our own narrow needs and that locks out the rest of the world, as well as that disturbing Third Person of the Holy Trinity, the Comforter (John 14:16), who brings something much more challenging and disturbing than mere suburban placid human comfort, which is what we think we prefer, but which is something that is ultimately poison for us.
In other words, even Coffee and Donuts can bring us to scandal, for even Coffee and Donuts can bring us out of our shell, out of our "comfort zones".
Those of us "inside the Roman beltway", those of us who are trying to be devout Catholics and who are geeky enough to read theology and talk philosophy and faith over beer or whiskey with like-minded friends, those of us who are more or less up to speed on church politics and who may even know personally some of the EWTN Rock Stars or some of the Catholic Answers Gurus who cause little old ladies to swoon, those of us who read papal encyclicals and apostolic exhortations - in other words those of us who are to a certain extent insulated from the real world out there - can find it hard to imagine the impact all of this stuff has on the human heart of the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve who walk about in this vale of tears, whether they consider themselves Catholics or atheists.
Because we get too insulated, you know. And we tend to miss the target - or the heart of the target ... and the heart of the target is the heart.
For instance, my posts on Catholic Dating really rang a bell with many of you - but normal secularists, and even normal Catholics, think this whole subculture of dating without having sex is just weird. And even those of us inside that little circle - the circle of devout Christians who are hoping to find a devout mate and relate to him or her in a chaste manner - even that little circle is outside the more insulated and much more bizarre and dysfunctional world of "Christian Courting". The sickness of the Christian Courting subculture stands as a sign for us that even our own relatively sane attempts to find true love can become quite self-serving and kind of incestuous by comparison with the more normal folk about us who aren't so hung up as all that. Normal folk may not be striving for holiness, but common sense is a gift from God and it's something we often lose sight of - for common sense is a virtue of the human heart.
Maybe this can explain the cluelessness of the bishops, who like Cardinal Pell, cause more anger, despondency and despair with one statement (comparing the Church to to a trucking firm and thereby renouncing responsibility for sexual abuse committed by priests) than a dozen headlines of atrocities in the evening news. To be fair, I have read a few reports that put Pell's statement into more of a context, and the transcripts of his testimony are available here (I have not yet read them) - but it's been my impression that the bishops are so insulated from the real world and the concerns of real people that they take for granted a kind of grandeur and self-importance that they simply don't have, and in most cases simply don't deserve. And they get really mad when you challenge that.
But the problem of being insulated from the real world and the real concerns of real people is not a problem of bishops and cardinals only.
Indeed, my son Colin keeps reminding me that, when it comes to Devout Catholics (as my friend Noah Lett once said), we're busy answering questions no one is asking. His Catholic friends at college were not concerned about the kinds of theological issues or political issues that did not have an immediate bearing on the crises of their lives, as lived every day. There was a disconnect; there was something Unreal about the issues we kept harping on. As far as that goes, "gay marriage" is such a non-issue for the vast majority of normal people in America (of all ages and demographics) that they can't begin to imagine what the fuss it. Does that mean that we should stop talking about the sanctity of marriage? No, but it's been almost 500 years since Henry VIII got that divorce - and all those other divorces - and the sanctity of marriage has not been an issue in the real world, and not even (apparently) at the parish level in the Catholic Church, for a long time, all the while pretty much everybody has been simply "doing it". And why not? When Pope Francis suggests we not hit people over the head with abortion and "gay marriage" (as important as those issues are), he's simply saying what C. S. Lewis said many years ago: you can't start a dialogue with non-believers by telling them to give up fornication. That's kind of a conversation killer right there. And it's putting the cart before the horse; it's looking through the telescope from the wrong end. The role of sex in a life devoted to true love is not readily apparent to people who have not struggled to have "the mind of Christ" (1 Cor. 2:16). The wholeness of the Christian message - the core of which is that God is love and that our greatest calling is to love Him and to love one another - leads (eventually, and by God's grace) to a change of heart and hence a change of behavior. But we insulated Catholics inside the Roman beltway forget that sin and virtue are both simply fruits of the heart. For what comes out of the heart defiles a man (Mat. 15:18), and what comes out of the heart justifies a man - so to speak; technically good works are the fruits of the Holy Spirit; but my point is the same. The point is we are seeking - through Baptism and through the sacramental life - a change of heart, for the heart is the seat of the soul, the center of our being, the core of our very existence.
But we devout Catholics - bloggers and others - often forget that. What we miss is the very target, the very center. What we miss is the heart - its concerns, its pains, its passions.
Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.
A cardinal sitting peacefully in the Vatican and communicating via webcam to a courtroom in Australia filled with many who have suffered gravely at the hands of predator priests - and also at the hands of bishops who have enabled and covered up and lied for predator priests - a man, even a good man, insulated in such a way, perhaps forgets the human heart, forgets the target of all his life's work, forgets the message of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary (both pierced for our sake).
And so do we - even bloggers and daily Mass goers and EWTN junkies and men and women on the street.
But some of us don't. Canon Ueda and other good priests don't. They remember that the heart of the target is the heart of the man.
COURAGE is defined on the Online Etymology Dictionary in this way ...
c.1300, from Old French corage (12c., Modern French courage) "heart, innermost feelings; temper," from Vulgar Latin *coraticum (source of Italian coraggio, Spanish coraje), from Latin cor "heart" (see heart) which remains a common metaphor for inner strength.
To be DISCOURAGED is to lose heart. To be ENCOURAGED is to gain strength of heart.
And both encouragement and discouragement can come from Coffee and Donuts.
Because communion with Christ must become communion with others. And in that way cor ad cor loquitur - heart speaks to heart.
For without that, no evangelizaton - indeed no change of heart - can happen.
August 22nd, 2014E. F. Schumacher: Small is Beautiful and so is Catholicismby Joseph Pearce
My article on the great convert economist, E. F. Schumacher, has just been published on the ChurchPop website:
August 22nd, 2014Show Biz and the Divine Dramaby Kevin O'Brien
Mark Shea has written a third installment in his series on the connection between Drama and Religion, which you can find at Catholic World Report. Since I've written about this topic myself (mostly from the point of view of actors, or the analogy between Acting and the Faith), I thought I'd add a few things to the very insightful points that Mark makes.
- Shea's first installment discusses the history of drama and its relation to religion, and also tackles the overall philosophical connection between Drama and Worship.
I find it interesting that many of the commenters on that installment entirely miss Mark's point. They seem to think he's saying that our Faith is merely a kind of Divine Drama, and that the Catholic Mass is a kind of show that simply represents something for our spiritual amusement. I am often astounded at the lack of imagination that literalists (either Catholic or Protestant or Atheist) bring to bear, especially when analogy is involved.On the contrary, Shea points out that Drama is a kind of analogy to our participation in the Faith, that ritual and dramatic performance are similar, and that they have aims that can be compared to one another; that both in Greece and in England, Drama sprang up historically in religious contexts, and that even today Drama at its best is an attempt to connect men with "the gods". This "sets the stage", so to speak, for the overall analogy that Shea will be examining in his series of posts.And yet one further thing needs to be said, and it's something G. K. Chesterton understood innately about what Drama (indeed about what all art) is. Drama takes places on a stage, on a screen, framed within a proscenium. Even if there's no proscenium, and the play is a "theater in the round" or an "interactive" comedy like my murder mysteries, there is always an artificial distance between the performers and the audience, and even between the performers and their material. Everyone is pretending. In the same way that a baseball game is played within the set confines of a field, so a dramatic performance takes place within a delimited area (either a physical area or an area of the imagination), a special place marked off from the rest of the world. It is this limitation, this framing, that allows the participants the freedom to engage their imaginations without being threatened. To watch the mob scene in a performance of Julius Caesar is thrilling. To be part of a mob scene in Ferguson would be terrifying.Drama, then, is a kind of Big Playground, a safe place, where writers, actors and audiences all play. And this playing with the big questions of life - the nature of man and how his acts reveal to us the nature of God - this imaginative hypothetical, shows us, as Shakespeare's Touchstone points out, that there is "much virtue in if".
And he quite rightly sees the heart of the analogy. Actors who act on stage or in film adopt a kind of mask, a false persona, that they try to conform themselves to as genuinely as possible so that the performance is all the more artistic and believable. But this is what we do as Christians, and we are hupocritos, "hypocrites" (stage actors, pretenders wearing a mask), whether we like it or not.
- In his second installment, Mark Shea examines the relation between Acting and Religion.
And be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind ... (Rom. 12:2)
For the great challenge of life in the Faith is Getting in Character as a Christian. Actors understand this analogy deeply. The hard part about acting is "getting it", finding the integrity or inner consistency of the character you're portraying. Once you do that, the role becomes natural: your gestures, your words, your voice and movement - everything about you conforms to the character, once you've found the character's soul or center.
So much of our frustrations as Bad Christians comes from not yet Getting in Character for our roles. When the mask is simply something separate from us, simply something extrinsic that we aspire to, we often find ourselves becoming obsessed with the minutiae, focused on various virtues or sins rather than the big picture; or worse, we start to rationalize away all sorts of acts that show that we're still "conformed to this world" and not "transformed" by the renewing of our minds.
But this inner transformation is beyond us. It cannot happen without sacramental grace. It also cannot happen without our conscious and deliberate cooperation with that grace. Conforming ourselves to the Costume that we put on at our Baptisms is a mystery - one that requires both our own efforts and also the cessation of our efforts. It is both an acquiescence to something greater, and also a striving toward something greater.
This is the paradox of living the Faith that acting in a drama perfectly mimics. As an actor, if you don't do a certain amount of conscious work, such as learning your lines, studying the play, meditating upon your character, planning certain bits, rehearsing - you'll get nowhere. But by the same token, if you don't abandon all of that work and preparation in the moment of performance, your acting will be stilted, contrived, awkward. When the curtain goes up and the lights shine down, you must (in a sense) lose your life to save it (see Mat. 10:39) and abandon your work to the Holy Spirit, to the inspiration of the moment. I think musicians, athletes and soldiers all understand what I'm saying.
The paradox of the stage actor is the paradox of the Christian actor - we must put forth effort to be conformed to our roles (both on stage and in life); but the true conformation happens at a level that is a gift from God and that is beyond our human control. Effort and abandon, like Faith and Works, always paradoxically go together.
... which is a kind of clericalism. For if an actor functions as a type of priest - connecting the audience to "the gods" revealed by the playwright and by the structure of the play's action, functioning as a pontifex or bridge builder - then it's very tempting to treat actors the way many Catholics treat clergy - to worship the creature rather than the Source the creature points to. And of course nothing good comes from this, either for the audience that, in idolatrous zeal, worships a mere man; or for the mere man this audience worships. For it's never easy for all of us matinee idols (who are, literally, idols) to say, as Paul and Barnabas did when the inhabitants of Lystra saw them working miracles and began worshiping them as gods,
- In his most recent installment, Shea examines the phenomenon of the Actor as Celebrity.
"Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them." - (Acts 14:15)
That is our role as actors, to point our audiences to the God "who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them". It is a priestly function. It bridges the gap between the audience and God, by bringing written words to life, by continuing God's work of making the Word become flesh.
The applause, therefore, is never about us. And if we're booed, it's because we assert our own identities into the material - the audience sees behind the mask to the actor who is giving a listless performance, or cannot become engaged in the liturgy because the priest is asserting his own identity by making stuff up, or become distracted because the musicians are turning themselves into the center of attention, rather than the God the Divine Drama points to.
So, to paraphrase Shakespeare, "The play's the thing wherein we'll catch a glimpse of the King of Kings."
August 20th, 2014Twelve Angry Men and Shakespeare’s Catholicismby Joseph Pearce
I've just received an e-mail from a correspondent in Australia about the play, Twelve Angry Men. The sort of evidence that is encapsulated in the paragraph he quotes is not only applicable to the case for Shakespeare's Catholicism but is the same principle for the evidence for Catholic Christianity that Newman employs in The Grammar of Assent. It's the healthy marriage of reason with common sense!
Here's the text of the e-mail:
I am currently teaching Twelve Angry Men to my two senior classes, and discovered this interesting online argument (http://www.avclub.com/article/did-i12-angry-meni-get-it-wrong-83245) about the evidence in the play. The author argues that the jury in Twelve Angry Men came up with the wrong verdict. The line of argument ties in well with your thesis about Shakespeare’s Catholicism – namely, each piece of evidence in a vacuum can be challenged; however, as a body of evidence, it is a compelling case.
The paragraph copied below encapsulates this idea.
None of this ultimately matters, however, because determining whether a defendant should be convicted or acquitted isn’t—or at least shouldn’t be—a matter of examining each piece of evidence in a vacuum. “Well, there’s some bit of doubt attached to all of them, so I guess that adds up to reasonable doubt.” No. What ensures The Kid’s guilt for practical purposes, though neither the prosecutor nor any of the jurors ever mentions it (and Rose apparently never considered it), is the sheer improbability that all the evidence is erroneous. You’d have to be the jurisprudential inverse of a national lottery winner to face so many apparently damning coincidences and misidentifications.
August 20th, 2014The Unchosenby Dena Hunt
We’re seeing the riots in Ferguson, Missouri, which, according to just about everyone there, have nothing to do with the shooting of a black robber by a white policeman, and we’re seeing the hideous massacre of Christians and others in northern Iraq by an army of Islamists—and this is just today’s news. The same news comes from Gaza, firing literally thousands of rockets into Israel and constructing tunnels by which to kill more, especially in schools, hospitals, and other sites where victims are most defenseless. This is not conquest, this is not a religious argument, this is not racism. It’s not a political or ideological revolution. There is no order to it, no organization, no sense of purpose. The looting in Ferguson has no aim to acquire money or consumer goods. It has no aim at all. This is not a descent into the law of the jungle—where animals kill in order to eat—this is a descent below that, where there is no law at all, no purpose except to take for the sake of taking, to kill for the sake of killing.
In fact, no sort of analysis works here—not racial, religious, political, economic—nothing. Why? Because we try to understand it in terms of deprivation. The haves vs. the have nots—whether the object is money or land, power or prestige. We want to see it that way because it would make it possible to solve, we could simply provide what is apparently lacking—give them a chunk of Israel, give them money or goods, give them power (dominance) over their neighbors. In fact, that’s how the world—not just the U.S.—has been trying to deal with this kind of murderous rage.
What they’re angry about is history, past and present (aka reality). Their anger cannot be appeased because its true object is invisible. They’re angry with God. Why? Because he made them what they are. God made them Cain and not Abel, Ishmael and not Isaac. He made them the Unchosen. The murderous violence is not due to anything anyone has done to them for which apology or reparation could be made, anything that’s been taken from them that could be returned, any earthly injustice that could be righted somehow. There is, in fact, nothing other people can do to appease them.
This kind of rage can’t be healed from the outside in. No one in the world can remedy their injury. There is no help. There are only two choices…
I will give vent to my righteous wrath. If the coat of many colors is not given to me, I will take it from him to whom it was given. I kill in the name of justice for myself because I have no other choice. If God will not favor me, I will not favor him, I will make my own God.
Though I am unchosen, I may still choose. My will was not taken from me. And I choose to love him who did not choose to love me. “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs may eat of the crumbs that fall from the table.”
The consequences of the first choice are played out in the daily news. The consequences of the second choice are: “’I tell you, I have not seen so great a faith in all of Israel.’ And from that hour, her child was healed.”