September 30th, 2014Hope at Hopeby Joseph Pearce

Three weeks ago I had the privilege and pleasure of giving talks on consecutive days at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids and at Hope College in Holland, Michigan. I am extremely gratified to have just received a delightful report of the visit to Hope College, written by a student with whom I had lunch. The report also contains links to videos of two of the talks that I gave at Hope:

http://saintbenedictforum.org/2014/09/18/being-transformed-by-the-true-the-good-and-the-beautiful-joseph-pearce-speaks-to-hope/

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September 27th, 2014Kairos and Chronosby Dena Hunt

Msgr. Charles Pope posted this brief reflection on, as it turns out, my birthday. I’d been hoping for some kind of little present from the Lord, and I think this may be it. Msgr. Pope says,

I have considered the task that God has appointed for the sons of men to be busied about. He has made everything appropriate to its time, and has put the timeless into their hearts, without man’s ever discovering, from beginning to end, the work which God has done (Eccles 3:10-11).

“Somewhere in our hearts is something that the world cannot, and did not give us. It is something that is nowhere evident in the world, and yet, though not perceiving it, we still know it. This passage from Ecclesiastes calls it ‘the timeless.’ We also often refer to it as eternity, or even infinity.”

He goes on to explain the difference between kairos (the “timeless,” or eternity) and chronos. I recall teaching my students about the six points in time of which the indicative mood of the English language permits us to speak. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any other points in time, only that we cannot refer to any other points in language. After all, time is not “real”; it’s something we made up so that we could set our clocks and mark our calendars (and have our birthdays). It’s a necessary and very clever invention of humanity that has allowed us to establish order (however artificial) sufficient for communication, and therefore, for civilization. Without it, there is no order, no communication beyond the very primitive, and consequently, no civilization.

Yet we are all aware that it isn’t really “real.” We all know somewhere in our hearts that that linear bit we call a “chronology of events” signifies nothing. In fact, we know it to be a false reality—we just don’t know how to “say” it. Indeed, without a consciousness of God, we are almost forbidden to speak of it—yet another example of the many limitations on human intelligence that materialistic science has imposed on us. Thus does science fiction come up with such things as “time travel.”

I think it is this consciousness of something inarticulable that accounts for the gnostics’ (both ancient and modern “new-agers”) belief that they have access to “secret” knowledge.  Something common to every person who ever lived they take to be something that sets them apart and makes them superior to believers. This is one of several examples of the fallacy of narcissism, which, rightly understood, is not a character flaw so much as an intellectual one. I remember watching a film called “Eat, Pray, Love,” in which the character played by Julia Roberts discovers God. She’s asked, So who is God? and she answers, “I am.” It’s a clever allusion to God’s words to Moses on Sinai, but it’s more revealing than it is clever, and provides fresh understanding of why those words were forbidden to the Hebrews. Lucky Hebrews; unlucky Julia. The discovery of the Infinite within you doesn’t make you “it.” If you believe it does, as narcissism must, that belief will lead not to unity with God or with others but to utter desolation, for it is its unspeakable Otherness that makes intimacy conceivable. (But that awareness is impossible humility is absent.)

I’m 72 this September 25 on our human calendar. Why has God allowed me to live this long? I must have done a lot in my past that I need to atone for today, for we know that the good die young. We old people know it is his mercy, granting us yet another day, another hour, to get it right, because heaven knows, we’ve certainly messed up so far. I know I’ll try again today, mess up again today, and ask his mercy again tonight, and his forbearance for tomorrow, for that is how we in chronos must speak to kairos, locked as we are into the verb tenses of our own making. What makes this bearable is the knowledge that he too once lived here, where we are, in time. He knows our helplessness, and he knows in the only way we recognize anything as really “known”—via experience. Thus are we able to rely on his mercy, a grace self-denied to the gnostics and others. A non-believing friend once asked, “How can you endure all that Catholic guilt?” to which I replied, “It’s a gift,” an answer I’m sure she misunderstood.

Here is a link To Msgr. Pope’s post on kairos and chronos: http://blog.adw.org/2014/09/god-has-put-the-timeless-in-our-hearts-a-meditation-on-a-saying-from-ecclesiastes/  

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September 26th, 2014Little Gidding’s Comedyby Daniel J. Heisey

More than forty years ago Russell Kirk wrote Eliot and His Age, and in it he argued that future literary historians will see the twentieth century as the Age of Eliot, since “what Dante was to the fourteenth century, or Shakespeare to the sixteenth, Eliot became to the twentieth century.”  Recipient of the Nobel Prize and the Order of Merit, T. S. Eliot (1888-1965) still has his ardent admirers, but the jury remains out on whether he dominated an era and will have his name attached to it.

For example, despite occasional revivals of Murder in the Cathedral or The Family Reunion, Eliot’s verse dramas might not endure as long as Shakespeare’s.  Meanwhile, Eliot’s other poems tend to feature in high school and college reading lists.  Eliot himself said that the world of poetry divides between Dante and Shakespeare, and Dante especially holds the key to understanding some of Eliot’s poems.

In 1944, Eliot published a slim volume called Four Quartets.  It comprises four poems written and published separately in the early 1940s.  Together they achieve unity and coherence and can be seen as one long poem in four parts.  In general, Kirk said that, “All that such a poem as Four Quartets may accomplish is to relate one remarkable man’s vision of time, self, reality, and eternity:  to describe one person’s experience of transcendence.”  It is a heavy burden, but the book’s forty-some pages can bear it.

The fourth of the four poems, “Little Gidding,” stands as a miniature version of Dante’s Divine Comedy.  Oddly, Kirk seems to have missed this aspect of the poem.  However, he did explain that Little Gidding is a remote village in eastern England, about thirty miles northwest of Cambridge.  In the seventeenth century, the small church there was home to an Anglican religious community.

Eliot captures Little Gidding’s geographical isolation by referring to one’s getting there, “when you leave the rough road/And turn behind the pig-sty to the dull façade/And the tombstone.”  As he puts it, “There are other places/Which also are the world’s end, . . . But this is the nearest, in place and time,/Now and in England.”  The church at Little Gidding becomes Eliot’s equivalent to Dante’s dark wood, his portal into the mystical world.

Eliot underscores the spiritual reason for one’s journey there.  “You are not here to verify,/Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity/Or carry report.  You are here to kneel/Where prayer has been valid.”  One is on pilgrimage, kneeling in obscurity and acknowledging and bewailing one’s manifold sins and wickedness, as the old Prayer Book has it.

Once one has entered this dimension, communication with the faithful departed can occur.  There remains the mundane world, where “the dead leaves still rattled on like tin/Over the asphalt where no other sound was.”  Yet, Eliot encounters the soul of a man who had been killed in the London Blitz.  The second section of the poem sketches this interaction, so reminiscent of Dante speaking with tormented souls in Hell and restless souls in Purgatory.

The third section of “Little Gidding” reflects upon detachment, saying that the use of memory is for liberation.  That liberation consists “not less of love but expanding/Of love beyond desire, and so liberation/From the future as well as the past.”  Within that context, “History may be servitude,/History may be freedom.”  Dwelling on the past is as much a trap as dwelling in the future.

Twice in this third section Eliot quotes a fifteenth-century English mystic, Julian of Norwich.  Just as Dante in Heaven listens to numerous saints, Eliot hears the words of a holy woman whose hermitage was about seventy miles east of Little Gidding.  Julian’s recurring assurance as quoted by Eliot is, “All shall be well, and/All manner of thing shall be well.”  After the second quotation, Eliot adds, “By the purification of the motive/In the ground of our beseeching.”  Purgation and detachment lead to the inner peace wherein all shall be well.

The fourth section of the poem refers to the Holy Spirit.  “The dove descending breaks the air,” this section begins, “With flame of incandescent terror/Of which the tongues declare/The one discharge from sin and error.”  The reference is to Pentecost (Acts 2:1-13), and “the one discharge from sin and error” is Christ’s redeeming sacrifice.  “The only hope, or else despair,” says Eliot, depends on one choosing “To be redeemed from fire by fire.”  How one uses one’s gift of free will determines whether one will be saved from the fires of Hell by the fire of the Holy Spirit.

In the fifth and final section of the poem, historians perk up briefly at the following:  “A people without history/Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern/Of timeless moments.”  These lines are the sort of thing that makes Eliot’s fans swoon.  In such cryptic phrases they find profundity proving that Eliot is not only the Bard of the modern world, but also its Delphic Oracle.  For the rest of us, not yet on that lofty plane, it is gibberish.  Until we can see what “a pattern of timeless moments” might be, it is best to return to clear allusions to Dante.

This pilgrimage has been spiritual exploration, and as was Dante’s poetic sojourn through the spiritual world, it has been transforming.  “And the end of all our exploring,” says Eliot, “Will be to arrive where we started/And know the place for the first time.”  As is said of the Divine Comedy, once one has finished reading the poem, one is ready to begin reading it.

Eliot then quotes for a third and last time the line from Julian of Norwich, “And all shall be well/And all manner of thing shall be well.”  This saintly peace comes “When the tongues of flame are in-folded/Into the crowned knot of fire/And the fire and the rose are one.”  Eliot thus concludes by evoking the celestial rose that Dante describes ablaze in the highest Heaven.

 

    Daniel J. Heisey, O. S. B, is a Benedictine monk of Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pennsylvania, where he is known as Brother Bruno.  He teaches Church History at Saint Vincent Seminary.

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September 25th, 2014Good News from Aquinas Collegeby Joseph Pearce

I’m heartened by a news report, just published in Catholic Education Daily, which shows the success of Aquinas College in Nashville in providing a top-quality education. As readers of the Ink Desk might know, I was appointed as Director of the Aquinas College Center for Faith and Culture in July and it is from my office in Nashville that I now write. It’s good to be part of such a dynamic Catholic college. Here’s the link to the article, which also provides information about other Catholic colleges who are performing well:

 http://www.cardinalnewmansociety.org/CatholicEducationDaily/DetailsPage/tabid/102/ArticleID/3550/Colleges-in-Newman-Guide-Rank-Well-with-U-S-News-and-World-Report.aspx

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September 24th, 2014New Signs of EU Meltdownby Joseph Pearce

One of the most encouraging trends in global politics in the past few years has been the rise of euro-skepticism, the term applied to those resisting the undemocratic tyranny of the European Union. I was in London when the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) shook the corrupt political establishment in Britain to its foundations by winning the country’s European Election. It was a political earthquake which caused my heart to leap with seismic abandon! The same resistance to Euro-Tyranny has swept through other parts of Europe, even those parts of the so-called Euro-Zone which were considered the very core of its power. The Front National, under the charismatic leadership of Marine Le Pen, is now leading the polls in France with its demands for the restoration of the French Franc and the abandonment of the Euro. Now, in recent elections, there has been a similar upsurge in Euro-Skepticism in Germany, traditionally the most pro-EU of all the nations in the Euro-Tyranny. It can only be hoped that this is the beginning of the end for the multinational monolith at the darkened and decaying heart of Europe.

For more details about the German uprising against the Euro, click here:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/financialcrisis/11117482/Germanys-Ukip-threatens-to-paralyse-eurozone-rescue-efforts.html

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September 24th, 2014Ralph Fiennes on Playing A Holocaust Perpetratorby Brendan D. King

For the last several weeks, I have been writing an article about Nazi Germany for a Catholic magazine editor who shall remain nameless. In the process, I have often reflected on the following interview with actor Ralph Fiennes, in which he reflects on his performance as SS Captain Amon Goeth in Stephen Spielberg's "Schindler's List." 

https://ushmm.org/museum/exhibit/focus/antisemitism/voices/transcript/index.php?content=20100304

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September 23rd, 2014G. K. Chesterton and T. S. Eliot: Friends or Enemies?by Joseph Pearce

Following the controversy caused by my earlier article on modern art, not least of which was the suggestion that T. S. Eliot held Chesterton in evident contempt, I thought I’d write an article on the enmity between GKC and TSE – and, more importantly, the friendship: 

http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2014/09/g-k-chesterton-t-s-eliot-friends-enemies.html

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September 23rd, 2014An Interview on the Ignatius Critical Editionsby Joseph Pearce

My absence from the Ink Desk is a consequence of my current heavy travel schedule. Last weekend I was in Fort Collins, Colorado, giving a number of talks and teaching a class on the Catholicism of Tolkien’s work. I’m currently in Nashville, TN, teaching at Aquinas College. This week we’re studying Hopkins’ “The Wreck of the Deutschland” and Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray. This weekend I’m speaking at Chesterton conferences in Buffalo and Rochester NY. It’s an exhausting but exhilarating time!

Last week, during the calm before the storm, I gave an interview with a British Catholic website on the Ignatius Critical Editions, of which I am the series editor. Here’s the link to the interview:  http://catholicwriters.co.uk/the-arts/ignatius-critical-editions/

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September 23rd, 2014How I Found Religion - or - How Religion Found Meby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

Rod Dreher is asking for readers to submit stories on "How I Found Religion".  Since today happens to be an anniversary date for me in that regard, I posted the following ...

  1. Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    At the age of nine I saw Madeline Murray O’Hair, the famous atheist, on TV. She made perfect sense to me. I became an atheist from that point on, and was an adamant one, back in the day when this was not the fad that it is today. I stood out in my small town Missouri high school in the 1970′s, where everybody else was “Christian”, or claimed to be.
    But it was my experiences on stage as an actor that began to change me. I found that no matter what I did in preparing for a role – no matter how well I knew my lines, my blocking, or how intensely I researched my character – my performance would be lifeless, lacking a certain spark, a gift of spontaneity that was not of my making. All I could do was prepare for the performance and then invite the “spirit” in. In fact, I had to lose my control and abandon my preparation in the moment of performance or else things would seem contrived and stilted.
    This was tangible evidence of something beyond my own control, something quite real but spiritual. I thought of it as the “life force” as George Bernard Shaw called it. So for about fifteen years after these experiences on stage, I considered myself “spiritual but not religious”. I read the entire collected works of C. G. Jung (Freud’s disciple) and was rather awash in a Gnostic New Age worldview.
    But then something happened. I was physically assaulted by a guy I was working for (I tell the whole story here), and the pain and confusion that sprang from that – plus the free time that I suddenly had on my hands – led me to start reading books from the library.
    I stumbled upon C. S. Lewis, who was the first Christian I had encountered who made a clear and rational defense of the Faith, and who was a tremendously talented writer to boot. Lewis kept mentioning this guy G. K. Chesterton, whom I began to read. Chesterton kept mentioning his friend Hillaire Belloc – and once you follow that chain: Lewis to Chesterton to Belloc, the only thing left to do is to pick up a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and pray.
    And in fact it was 17 years ago today – Sept. 23, 1997 – that I said my first prayer since before the age of 9, a prayer that was answered in an immediate and stunning way … but sometimes these things are too personal to describe. I’ve told the story more than once on EWTN’s “The Journey Home”, and the only thing I can add is the grace of God is utterly fantastic.



So I leave that as a kind of teaser, but this image from the internet is as close as I've come to illustrating that night 17 years ago visually.

 

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September 23rd, 2014The Fellowship of the Rings vs. John Cleese?by Brendan D. King

I must say, Peter Jackson's travestied trilogy works well with this alteration...

http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=AV1LR2WH1-g

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September 21st, 2014How Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings” Movies Should Have Endedby Brendan D. King

With Apologies to J.R.R. Tolkien, George Lucas, and the Writers of Robot Chicken.

Aragorn and the Lord of the Nazgul are crossing swords on a foggy moor.

Nazgul: "Gandalf never told you about your father." 

Aragorn: "He told me enough! He told me you killed him!" 

Nazgul: "No, Strider, I AM your father!" 

Aragorn: "That's not true! That's impossible!" 

Nazgul: "And Arwen is your sister!" 

Aragorn: "That's not true! That's improbable!" 

Nazgul: "And the Armies of Mordor will be defeated by hobbits!"

Aragorn: "That's... Very unlikely." 

Nazgul: "So, as I was saying, join me, together we can defeat Sauron, and rule Middle Earth as father and son."  

Visibly annoyed, Aragorn sheathes his sword and walks over to the director's chair. 

Aragorn: (to Peter Jackson) "If you're not going to take this seriously, then I'm out." 

He walks away.

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September 17th, 2014J.R.R. Tolkien on Scottish (and Welsh) independenceby Brendan D. King

To Simonne d'Ardenne.

March 13, 1936.

"The political situation is dreadful... I have the greatest sympathy with Belgium -- which is about the right size of any country! I wish my own were bounded still by the seas of the Tweed and the walls of Wales... we folk do at least know something of mortality and eternity and when Hitler (or a Frenchman) says 'Germany (or France) must live forever' we know that he lies."

From "The Tolkien Family Album," page 69.

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September 17th, 2014The Law of Loveby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

This is what the Law is all about, right???


I am always surprised at how most people, and probably most Christians, think of God's Commandments and of all morality as arbitrary.  This is why they think "gay marriage" can exist.  We moderns think all law is man made, all rules and regulations are simply pulled out of our hats, and subject to the whims of culture and passing fancy.  That the Moral Law is like the law of gravity - something inherent in nature, something discovered and not invented - is beyond the ken of most folk walking among us.  In their eyes, law, like the rules of baseball, is simply conventional - something we concoct and then agree on as a group that allows us to play the game, whatever that game might be.

But the distinction between the Designated Hitter rule, which is not inherent to the nature of the game, and therefore can be changed and adapted as circumstances warrant, and the rules of marriage, which are inherent to the nature of love and human happiness - and which are also (rather obviously) built in to the nature of biology - is beyond even 90% of the people sitting in the pews around you on Sunday.

And even more astonishing to most folks: the Law of God is not meant to snuff out life and love, to restrict our hearts, but to liberate them, to cultivate the fires of life and love.

In Jacob's Ladder by Peter Kreeft, there's a scene where we pick up a dialogue between two women who are talking about the relation of Law to Love.  The first speaker is a Catholic who knows her stuff, the second is a secularist who believes only in positive law and not in natural law (in other words, she believes that all laws are simply invented, not discovered), but who, during the course of this discussion, has come to recognize certain principles of the Moral Law as given, intrinsic, natural.  The Catholic leads her even further ...


Indeed, the relation of the New Covenant to the Old is simple.  Jesus comes to fulfill the Law, not to abolish it, because the whole point of the Law (including the Ten Commandments, and all of the minor transitory regulations followed by the Jews) was love.

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Mat. 22:36-40)


Or, as St. Paul says ...

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. (Rom. 13:8


How different would we be as Christians if we simply kept it in our minds that every single thing God reveals to us and asks us to do - everything - is about changing us into people who love, who love really, truthfully, loyally.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Cor. 13:13)


 In other words, right-wing Catholics:

  • Love does not torture
  • Love does not lie
  • Love does not idolize money or power, placing them above our neighbors in need

And left-wing Catholics:



And Devout Catholics:

  • Perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18)
  • Love does not play it safe, but takes risks (Mat. 25:14-30)
  • Love is deeply invested: it is "jealous" and a consuming fire (Deut. 4:24)

We are called not merely to obey the Law of Love, but to become New Creations in love.  And that is our greatest adventure!



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September 17th, 2014Hilaire Belloc versus Graham Greeneby Joseph Pearce

I'd like to share an e-mail I've just received from someone who makes an intriguing comparison between Hilaire Belloc and Graham Greene. Here's the pertinent part of the e-mail; my response follows:

Reading your biography of Belloc, I found myself admiring Belloc immensely but not liking him much.  There is an affability to Chesterton that made even his enemies melt.  Belloc's confrontational style is off-putting.  But the Chesterbelloc combination was certainly a force.  I suspect each in his own and different way was used mightily by God.

It was also unsettling to read about the financial straits Belloc seemed constantly to be in.  It was dreadful to read that near the end of his life two newspapers dropped his column and he worried greatly about thefinancial effect on himself and his family.  I can readily see where that stress might tend to  lead to writer's block.  

I couldn't help but be struck by the similarity between Belloc and Graham Greene. I've recently read Norman Sherry's multi-volume biography of Greene.  Both were Englishmen with an affection for France, headstrong, domineering and with an incredible ability to communicate profound thought in everyday prose.  Greene particularly could knock you over with a thought.  For example in Brighton Rock, the priest hearing the widow's confession says: “You cannot conceive, nor can I, of the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God.”  Wow.

Of course Belloc seemed more intentional about living out the commandments. I've wondered about the chasm between the spiritual insight reflected in Greene's work and his adulterous life style - not as far as the temptation - for but for the grace of God so goes me - but rather I find mystifying the almost compulsive womanizing in light of that marvelous spiritual insight.

My response:

I agree that Belloc is a more problematic character than Chesterton but I can't help liking him nonetheless. This is due in part, no doubt, to his crucial part in my own journey to Christ. I am deeply in his debt. I'm also a great admirer of his poetry - and his books, The Four Men and The Path to Rome, are amongst my all time favourites.

I accept, in part, your comparison of Belloc with Greene but you are right to be baffled by Greene's compulsive adultery disorder (the acronym is CAD!). One thing I admire about Belloc is that there is no evidence that he cheated on his wife, and his loyalty to her was such that he never sought to remarry after her all too early death. There is more than a world of difference between a man who deserts his wife and children (Greene) and one who remains loyal to his wife even after her death (Belloc).

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September 16th, 2014New Archaeological Find! The Third Epistle of Peter!!!by Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

The New Testament contains two Epistles by St. Peter.  A third one was recently discovered, but some are doubting its authenticity.  It appears to have been written during Jesus active ministry ...


***

Peter, Apostle of Jesus Christ, to the Other Eleven and to Various Disciples.

May God bless you all.  I give thanks always and everywhere for the hard work you are doing in spreading what Jesus is calling the "gospel message".

Which, of course, needs some refining.

I took Jesus aside the other day for an "ad hoc meeting" and tried to talk some sense into him.  He keeps insisting on this whole "cross" thing and claiming that he's going to suffer.  "God forbid!" I told him.  After all, we can't have that - it would be bad for the organization and we have to protect our branding.

Some of you have been asking how he responded to me.  Not well, really.  "Get thee behind me, Satan!" was a bit of an over-reaction, as far as I'm concerned.  He keeps saying that's the "hour" for which he was sent.  Totally beyond me.

Meanwhile, we're forming a Doctrine Committee to deal with things.  Oh, and there's a Fish Fry on Friday next week, though we clearly don't have enough at this point to feed the multitude.  The Fall Festival is taking volunteers and Scrip is available in the Gathering Area.

But the reason I'm writing is to get you to consider wisely how to invest your time, treasure and talents.  Especially your treasure.  Judas, our CFO, says that donations are down considerably and so I ask you to prayerfully yadda-yadda ... you know the score.  By the way, I am shocked that so many of you are giving yourselves over to gossip, which is a sin that will send you to hell.  Judas' moneybag has not been "leaking into his pockets" as some of you have been suggesting.  How dare you question his authority!  He is a close and trusted member of this community, and even though we're not yet considered "priests after the order of Melchizedek", once a little bit of clericalism kicks in, we'll slap you silly if you even so much as suggest that things ain't "kosher" with any of the inner circle, as you have been.  In short, question us and go to hell.  That's my policy.

Oh, and I'm still working on getting Jesus to keep kids and lepers from approaching him, at least when he's preaching and healing.  The Public Relations committee has some firm suggestions in that regard.  Also, he keeps talking about how great it is to be poor, and that won't fly at the Capernaum Country Club, if you know what I mean.  And we've got some big donors from there, so we have to be careful.

Well, that's about it.  Don't forget to register for the bus trip up Mt. Tabor next week.  There's not many of you going at this point.  The sing up sheet is in the Gathering Area.  I'll be there because - well, I'll stick by Jesus no matter what.  You all know that.  Don't you?

Peter

***

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September 15th, 2014Maurice Baring: In Need of a Modern Championby Joseph Pearce

I'm in receipt of an e-mail from a Spanish scholar seeking my advice with regard to Maurice Baring's suitability as the focus of his doctoral studies. Here's my response:

Personally, I am very excited at the prospect of your writing your doctoral thesis on Maurice Baring, though it's a pity that it will presumably be written in Spanish. Perhaps you could later translate it for publication in the English-speaking world.

It is true that Baring is not well-known but he was considered a major novelist in the period between the two world wars and, objectively speaking, is one of the truly major novelists of the twentieth century. He's in need of a modern champion!

I would suggest that you establish the case for Baring's importance by commencing your research with sourcing the praise for his work by major figures in England and France. Chesterton and Waugh were great admirers, as was Francois Mauriac. Having established Baring's credentials, so to speak, you could then move on to a discussion of the brilliance of his novels. For what it's worth, I also consider Baring one of the finest poets of the last century. If you haven't read his poetry, you should. 

If you decide to choose Baring, I'd be happy to help, insofar as my time permits, as you begin your work.

Having made the case for Baring, it is true that a comparative study of Newman and Chesterton would also be a worthy focus for your research.

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September 14th, 2014Sense and Sensitivityby Joseph Pearce

If there's one subject on which it's difficult to have a rational discussion in these irrational times it's the thorny topic of same sex attraction. I know this from bitter experience because I was recently banned from speaking at a large secular university because I had written a book on Oscar Wilde which did not wholeheartedly endorse Wilde's desertion of his wife and children in pursuit of the homosexual lifestyle. Some things are sacrosanct, it seems, but not fidelity in marriage or the best interests of children.

One of the few places in which I have seen genuine sense and sensitivity on the subject of same sex attraction is in Dena Hunt's novel, The Lion's Heart. This being so, I was delighted to see this excellent and thoughtful appraisal of the novel's merits in the National Catholic Register

http://www.ncregister.com/blog/sarah-reinhard/two-novels-that-made-me-think-this-summer/

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September 13th, 2014A Prophet New Inspir’dby Marie Dudzik

Francis Cardinal George of Chicago is credited with saying that he expects to die in his bed, his successor to die in prison, and his successor to die a martyr. In other words, the persecution of American Catholics is coming, and it’s a matter not of if, but of when.  In a recent column in the Catholic New World, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago, Cardinal George writes that “when” is “now”.

Cardinal George is in declining health, past the retirement age of 75, and in a position in which he has nothing to gain by clinging to the church of nice. In his column, “A Tale of Two Churches” he pits the Church founded by Christ against the religion of the current American establishment and states that the two are completely incompatible.

The column is refreshing in its honesty and troubling in its conclusions. His Eminence sounds a bit like John of Gaunt in Shakespeare’s Richard II, “a prophet new inspir’d” citing the sins of a corrupt regime and ruin of a once-great country. Like Gaunt, the Cardinal is not afraid to tell it like it is:

“There was always a quasi-religious element in the public creed of the country. It lived off the myth of human progress, which had little place for dependence on divine providence. It tended to exploit the religiosity of the ordinary people by using religious language to co-opt them into the purposes of the ruling class.” This is resulting in a situation where “those who choose to live by the Catholic faith will not be welcomed as political candidates to national office, will not sit on editorial boards of major newspapers, will not be at home on most university faculties, will not have successful careers as actors and entertainers. Nor will their children, who will also be suspect. Since all public institutions, no matter who owns or operates them, will be agents of the government and conform their activities to the demands of the official religion, the practice of medicine and law will become more difficult for faithful Catholics. It already means in some States that those who run businesses must conform their activities to the official religion or be fined”.

This is grim stuff, but it’s not anything new. Many faithful Catholics have been thinking these things for years. What’s startling is to see it in print, and see it written by a member of the hierarchy.

Cardinal George compares this treatment to non-Muslims living under Sharia laws. But unlike Filipino workers living like slaves in Saudi Arabia, we have our own co-religionists to thank for much of the damage done. How many “Catholic” legislators helped to create this situation? How many “Catholic” voters keep electing them? How many priests and bishops refuse to correct or denounce laws and legislators that continue to make Christians second-class citizens in their own country? How many people in the pews only live their faith for an hour a week and then spend the other six days and twenty-three hours being “good Americans?” How many will agree to live under the restrictions the Cardinal described above, or will comfort trump Truth as we enter our own penal times? In another history play, Shakespeare has King Henry V tell a subject that his duty to the state is important, but limited: “every subject’s duty is the king’s; but every subject’s soul is his own.” When it comes to choosing between following laws and saving our souls, which will we choose? This was much on Shakespeare’s mind; he may have watched the great English martyrs such as Edmund Campion and Robert Southwell go to their deaths, traitors in the eyes of the state, but true sons of the Church to Christ.

In a sermon on St. Thomas More preached in 1948 in London, Monsignor Ronald Knox reminded his listeners of how much they have in common with those great saints of English penal times. “We live, like the men of the sixteenth century, in an age of new horizons; and for us, as for them, the old question still presses, How much can we afford to fall in with the spirit of our times? I say, ‘afford’; I am using commercial language, as our Lord used to. There comes a point at which, in reaching out for earthly prizes, we may lose the heavenly.”

Our politicians constantly ramble on about prosperity and opportunity, but they never tell us how much it costs. Perhaps because they are too ashamed to admit how much their own prosperity and opportunity has cost them. Vice-President Biden recently used the phrase “the gates of hell”; perhaps he knows where that it because he has been offered retirement property there by the local landlord. Following the Cardinal’s lead, it’s time for all of us help to explode the “myth of human progress”. Those new horizons of a better day are a false dawn if they take our eyes off the true light of Christ. Our land of opportunity can only be found in heaven; our prosperity is only found through the Cross.

Cardinal George’s complete column can be read here:

http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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September 11th, 2014The Lion’s Heart gains praise…by Dena Hunt

…from conservative National Catholic Register’s blogger, Sarah Reinhard. That’s especially gratifying in view of the novel’s controversial theme. It doesn’t just take courage to write certain things; it also takes courage to publish, and maybe still more, to praise:

http://www.ncregister.com/blog/sarah-reinhard/two-novels-that-made-me-think-this-summer/

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September 10th, 2014The One and the Many Againby Dena Hunt

This theme recurs again, and yet again. I’ve written several variations of it here, never in some kind of resolution mode, but only as an attempt to comprehend prevalent disharmony, injury to peace—external and internal, societal and individual. Certainly I want to avoid redundancy, but the theme seems to manifest so redundantly that it’s unavoidable and must be observed again, and yet again: All understanding, the necessary foundation of harmony, seems always to lie in the disruption of the relationship between genus and differentia—on so many levels: the individual person vs. marriage or family; tribes or races, ethnic cultures or religious affiliations vs. society at large or national identity. Never has subjective, emotional, response been more dangerous; if ever there was a time to rid ourselves of obfuscating anger and false sentiment, and try to see how the genus-differentia relationship works—indeed, how it must work—that time is now.

The Three Musketeers explained it well: one for all and all for one. Indeed, it must be so. If all are not for one, one cannot be for all. We, both as the one and as the many, are utterly interdependent. The principle is a very simple one; the problem is not some kind of intellectual deficiency, but in understanding its nature: It’s not a formula to be applied here or there, or a rule—worse still, a law—but a reflex, natural to humanity, a basic instinct that operates without conscious awareness, like breathing. It is the nature of unity to include diversity; therein does it derive its definition. That unity must be organic, instinctive; it can’t be externally imposed, unnatural. Then it becomes tyranny. (An example: Legislation that labels opinion as “hate” speech, opinions that differ from the party line—the genus prohibits differentiation.)

What married person has never had to sacrifice his own ambitions, wishes, etc., not in deference to the spouse, but in deference to the marriage? What sibling has never had to give up his own preferences, not in deference to another sibling but in deference to the family? And doesn’t that marriage, that family, provide then the haven of safety, of belonging, of identity, in which a person can grow and thrive as an individual?

I admit this sounds simplistic, but what happens on one level is identical to what happens on another. The recent horrific news of Rotherham in the UK, its larger version acted out by ISIS in northern Iraq, or any ordinary, everyday divorce, any civil strife like the recent episode in Ferguson, Missouri—even the Ukrainian/Russian conflict—all these are conflicts of one vs. many, wherein the identity of the one is threatened by the many, or the stability of the many is threatened by the identity of the one.

Not understanding the necessity for the safe existence of both the genus and the differentia causes really destructive decisions when problems emerge: The police abandoned their duty to protect the citizens of Rotherham when they ignored the many to favor the one. The one (the Pakistani gangs) must be made to understand that their identity as Pakistanis is protected only insofar as they defer to the genus of British society. And if that deference is not there, that society will not be able to protect them. Hostility of differentia toward genus will lead (usually via totalitarian order) to the destruction of differentia. Hostility of genus toward differentia will lead to the destruction of genus (anarchy).

Ideologies, utopian fantasies, glory-seeking, not to mention ordinary conning and politicking, get in the way of common sense. This is not an issue of philosophy, religion, or “values.” It’s the way we’d all behave if we didn’t enjoy being manipulated so much—a very perverse trait in so many people who evidently lead such dull lives they constantly require, like an addiction, some kind of arousal. (I do not use the word stimulation.) But ignoring something so basic, we wallow in the emotionalism of taking sides, vindictiveness, retribution, blaming, anger, and of course, violence. There can be no peace in any society, no matter how large or small, where the particularities of persons are not held sacred, nor can there be any order where those particularities are allowed to dominate society. It’s not a belief system of any kind, or a judgment of good vs evil; it’s just the only sensible way for human beings to live together. It requires minimal intelligence and a zero tolerance for nonsense—which has its own rightful place.

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September 8th, 2014Muslims and the Miasma of Multiculturalismby Joseph Pearce

My latest piece for the Imaginative Conservative finds me embroiled in controversy on the thorny subjects of radical Islam and the crumbling edifice of multiculturalism: 

http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2014/09/muslims-miasma-multiculturalism.html#more-49727

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September 7th, 2014Anton Bruckner’s Medieval Cityby Daniel J. Heisey

Listeners unimpressed by the music of Anton Bruckner (1824-1896) complain that the composer did not write nine symphonies but one symphony nine times.  More appreciative listeners compare those symphonies to Gothic cathedrals.  Even an admirer of Bruckner’s work, though, must recognize that for some people, after a while one medieval cathedral looks much like another.  Nevertheless, it can be a contemplative experience, taking one’s time pacing through one of those old cathedrals, and so it can be when entering into one of Bruckner’s vast symphonies.

Bruckner’s soaring yet solid compositions owe much to his early years in rural Austria as a virtuoso of the church organ.  As a church organist, he was used to filling lofty interiors with layers of sound.  Another influence on him was the operatic music of Richard Wagner, voluminous and bombastic.  Two men could not have been more different:  Wagner, the egoistic adulterer, Bruckner the shy celibate.  Bruckner was a deeply devout Catholic, an introverted man who never found the right girl, and so he devoted himself to his music and his God.

Perhaps Bruckner’s most popular and accessible symphony is his Fourth, in E-flat major, the first draft of which dates to 1874, the final revisions to 1890.  It was first performed in the United States in 1885, and it has been recorded numerous times.  Bruckner left programmatic notes to describe his Fourth Symphony, and through them Bruckner gave glimpses into another profound influence upon him, the Catholic culture of old Europe.

Bruckner called his Fourth Symphony “The Romantic,” and from his descriptions one could devise a scenario for a film.  According to Bruckner, the symphony begins by depicting dawn rising over the walls and towers of a medieval city and its castle.  From a tower a trumpeter signals the start of a new day.  Then knights ride forth from the gates, and in due course there is a hunting scene, followed by a local fair.

In the opening notes of Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony, music critics hear themes from nature, and then throughout the Andante, one gets the sense of being alone in an autumnal setting.  The Scherzo opens with the brassy call of hunting horns, and one can almost see the horses, stags, and hounds.  In the Finale, passages suggest the merriment at a town festival, with bright strains of Bruder Jakob, the Germanic version of Frère Jacques.

In each movement, one finds Bruckner’s characteristic wave upon wave of sound, many building to majestic crescendo.  It is this monumental quality that leads to comparisons with cathedrals.  While Bruckner may have intended to evoke the chivalry and pageantry of the Holy Roman Empire, more immediate to Bruckner’s eye and ear were the pomp and grandeur of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Whether Bruckner’s Fourth conjures an idealized Austrian landscape from days of yore, it conveys the impression not only of ethereal morning but also of robust activity.  As with all Bruckner’s symphonic work, his Fourth combines elements that are subtle and vigorous.  Just as passages can make one more reflective, others cannot fail to get one’s blood flowing.  It is baffling that Arturo Toscanini (1867-1957), in what one hopes was a bad moment, said that Bruckner’s music shows that “he had never had a woman.”  Whatever such an insight may mean, it does stand as a lesson that even great musicians can make asinine comments.

In contrast, Maestro Manfred Honeck of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra has told me that it certainly helps when interpreting Bruckner’s music to have come from the same roots.  Like Bruckner, Honeck is a devout Catholic layman from Austria.  He grew up with the architecture and the liturgy, the customs and the food that would have been familiar to Bruckner, but what he could not experience from the inside, so to speak, was the martial ethos of imperial Austria.

Still, human nature never changes, and so people even today can understand Bruckner’s music.  Yet, he remains less popular than his younger contemporary, Gustav Mahler, and he has not added a fourth B to the great three of Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms.  Through performances by conductors such as Honeck and the dedicated work of Bruckner societies here and abroad, Bruckner’s loyal fans find encouragement, and word gets out to the uninitiated about the glories of his music.

People who knew Bruckner described him as a “rustic genius,” something of a musical idiot savant who stuck out in the world of the Strauss family’s Vienna as backward and provincial.  A quiet, heavy-set man given to bow ties and crew cuts, pinches of snuff and mugs of beer, Bruckner had friendly critics of the day marveling that such a bumpkin could produce complex and extensive Adagios, by turns melancholy and mystical.

Alone among Bruckner’s nine symphonies, the Fourth has no Adagio, even though Bruckner was the master of the Adagio.  If one were making a film to illustrate Bruckner’s Fourth, along with scenes of dawn over the old city, of daylight glinting off knights and horses, of sunlight dappling through vaulting branches of trees, of huntsman’s horns and hunting hounds, one would have to show rising above the brooding walls of a medieval city the towers of its cathedral.  The camera would stay outside the cathedral, just as the Fourth steers clear of an Adagio.  Amongst the craggy walls and gnarled trees of the Fourth, the meditative moments occur elsewhere, such as in the autumnal Andante.

A stroll through a medieval cathedral can be contemplative, more so for a believer, for finally one comes before the altar and its crucifix and tabernacle.  The Adagio of Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony and that of his Eighth waft one upwards as if on clouds of incense coiling before the heavenly throne.  Whether one shares the faith Bruckner held, those stately and shimmering notes lead one to something transcendent.  “People may not understand one another,” wrote conductor and musicologist Werner Wolff, “but they are drawn together by their common love for Bruckner’s music.”

 

Daniel J. Heisey, O. S. B, is a Benedictine monk of Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pennsylvania, where he is known as Brother Bruno.  He teaches Church History at Saint Vincent Seminary.

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September 4th, 2014Father Soldierby Joseph Pearce

Fr. Leo Hetzler has been a good friend of mine for many years. A lifelong Chestertonian who attends the annual Chesterton conference in Rochester, New York, he is an inspiration to all who know him. An extremely learned literary scholar who did his doctoral dissertation on Chesterton shortly after his return from active service in World War Two, Fr. Hetzler has been an indomitable advocate of the good, the true and the beautiful. For those who have not had the honour and pleasure to have known this wonderful priest and scholar, I strongly recommend this video about his experience in Europe and the Far East during the War.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C54wDOPtUTQ&feature=player_embedded

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September 4th, 2014Politics and Religionby Dena Hunt

People usually put these two subjects together in a phrase to identify the two subjects one should never discuss, lest argument ensue. Mailboxes have no such tender sensibilities, however, and this morning I had two forwards in my mail. One criticized Congress and concluded with a suggestion that we pass a law forbidding re-election unless the budget is balanced and the deficit is reduced. Trouble is, we would need Congress to pass that law—but never mind logic. The purpose of the email was only to vent, of course.

The other email criticized the Church, asserting that it is corruption within the Church hierarchy that is causing general widespread moral collapse—specifically, among bishops, and since bishops are corrupt, so are priests, and because priests are corrupt, so are the laity. A venting of righteous anger.

Both emails were condemnations. They had different senders, but they could have been the same sender, since both senders are Catholic and both are conservative. I’ve become so weary of this condemning anger by conservatives that I usually don’t even read it any more.

It isn’t that I’m not conservative—I am—but long ago I noted (and posted about it) that the nature of conservatism is to defend, and that’s a position that cannot be sustained indefinitely. It will fatigue the staunchest, most perseverant, and most patient among of us eventually. We constantly complain (“vent”) in order, I suppose, to relieve pressure. The alternative is to explode, a raisin in the sun sort of thing.

Conservatism is not overcome by the progressions of  “liberalism,” but by the exhaustion of conservatives. Defense is the most wearying activity there is.  I am tired. I don’t open such emails any more. I don’t write such things either. It isn’t that I’m following my Granny’s basic rule of good manners (If you can’t say something nice, say nothing at all); it’s just the pointlessness of it. Someone vents their anger on me, and then I must either carry their anger-baggage or pass it on, “forward” it to someone else.  So I choose to delete it with a one-word mental response: So? So what do you want me to do? Why are you telling me this? What, exactly, do you expect of me? Do you want me to forward this to my entire address book and do you think that if I do and you do and others do, we’ll all somehow stop the perpetual assault on Truth, Beauty, and Goodness? You could call this emotional and intellectual disengagement, you could call it withdrawal, or you could call it simply self-defense.

Judge anything by its fruit. What is the fruit of anger? Ultimately, it’s violence. At the moment, it’s verbal violence, but as anger grows and spreads, violence becomes more palpable. In politics, that violence becomes revolution. In religion, it becomes Protestantism. History has proved this fruit toxic. Revolution does not change the hearts of those in power, nor did Protestantism force the Church to obey the demands of Protestants. Anger begets only more anger, which increasingly becomes expressible only in violence. Like ISIS, for example. Or maybe the Reign of Terror. Or the Bolsheviks. Or—whatever.

There’s another characteristic of Righteous Rage that should be noted: It’s not just contagious; it’s also addictive. How sad for the revolutionaries in France when there was no one left to guillotine, and they had to go in search of more victims, anyone they could find—cloistered nuns, or anyone at all who did not share their bloodlust. The “holy warriors” of ISIS, I understand, have had to resort to beheading children. It is addictive.

Anger is natural, forgivable, and anger in defense of what is good, right, sacred, innocent—is even laudable. But it can be contagious and addictive, seductive, dishonest, unjust, and spiritually devastating. Perhaps fatigue is a blessing, a gift presented in the form of a delete key.

 

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September 3rd, 2014The Methodist in the Madnessby Joseph Pearce

The latest statistics coming from England suggest that the Methodist Church is shrivelling in size so dramatically that it resembles a shrinking iceberg crumbling into the secular sea.

It is the tried and tested fate of all the severed branches of Christendom. The madness in the "Method" leads to the Methodist in the madness! Only the True Church has the promise that the gates of Hell will not prevail. Be not afraid as John Paul II might say, but also be not surprised!

http://www.religionnews.com/2014/09/02/methodists-england-like-iceberg-crumbling-sea/

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September 1st, 2014Anonymous Saints: What is God About?by Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

My friend Joe Grabowski sends along another example in my Anonymous Saints series.

This is the story of a 99-year old woman who makes a new dress every day and donates it to a needy child in Africa.

Now, I can't help but think that my son, Colin O'Brien, who is an exact clone of me, will react to this post the way he reacted to my sharing this on Facebook ...

Trust God's Word!
LikeLike ·  · 



***

When asked to elaborate on his comment, "This is some middle aged woman nonsense" (which is exactly what I would say in one of my typically foul tempers), Colin explains (sarcastically) ...

God is about odd fonts without serif. God is about christianity.com. God is about red borders. God is about old parchment backgrounds. God is about ellipses. God is about using the "tab" key to its full potential. 
"Like" this and God will "like" you. "Share" this to get your "share" in paradise.


Likewise, I'm sure he'd say (regarding the Old Lady who Makes Dresses for Kids in Africa) ...

Great!  An "anonymous saint" being used to promote a local credit union on a cheesy Iowa news show.  I can smell the odor of incense hovering about Grandma, right along with a whiff of Gold Bond Medicated Powder.


(That's me putting words into Colin's mouth, but he'd probably "like" it or "share" it, even though he didn't exactly say it.)

And of course this is the danger you face if you try to do a series on Anonymous Saints.  Tonita Helton's piece on her mother, who grew in sanctity while suffering the ravages of cancer, is far from "middle aged woman nonsense".

And why is that?  Why is Tonita's piece more powerful, more real, and this piece (and that Facebook meme) a little contrived, a little Unreal?

Because the cross is present in Tonita's piece, and absent from the Sewing Grandma piece and the Facebook meme.  

An Anonymous Saint without the Cross is just daytime TV "happy news" or a commercial for a local credit union.

***

But I'm including this piece because there's also the flip side of the coin.

Yesterday Colin had us all watch The Gangs of New York, a Martin Scorsese film about mid-19th century New York City, the climax of which is not unlike what happened a few weeks ago up the road from us in Ferguson.  Colin usually has very good taste in movies, and he's introduced me to some excellent films.  And though I'm hardly a prude, I found The Gangs of New York to be pretty much Violence Porn on steroids, with a lame screenplay, a poorly structured plot, and a ton of cheesy Hollywood stereotypes obscured by the gritty hyper-realism of the style.  It's not clear what the theme of the movie was, or if it even had a theme, other than, Everybody's violent and faith makes no difference and that's just life.  There are thematic elements of Identity and the Search for the Missing Father (which are both very common in movies of today), but the themes aren't really taken seriously or developed with any courage or integrity.

If Sewing Grandma and Cheesy Facebook meme are one side of the story, hyper-realistic violent nihilism is the other.

So we Catholics try to keep the balance of sanity.  We try to pick up our cross daily and follow Christ.  This means we balance between two false choices: that life is sentimentally sweet and sappy if we're only nice to one another (on the one hand), and that life is a jungle in which beasts disguised as men simply tear into one another with a lot more relish than beasts in the jungle every would (on the other).  Neither vision of the world is entirely true.  A sweet little old lady serving God by making dresses at age 99 is partially true; street gangs denying God by destroying one another in an orgy of violence is partially true - but both of them miss the central truth of the horrible contradiction between sanctity and sin: the awesome love of God and the terrifying reality of the sacrifice that love demands in order to be real - a sacrifice that rings out across all time and history from that place called Golgotha.  Golgotha showed us something that included the Sewing Grandma and that included The Gangs of New York but that transcended and transformed them both.

And it showed us that through Our Lord on the Cross and through the next day's Empty Tomb.

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September 1st, 2014The Evangelizing Power of Beautyby Joseph Pearce

Last Thursday, during my first week at Aquinas College in Nashville, I gave the inaugural lecture of my tenure as Director of the Aquinas College Center for Faith and Culture. The title of my talk was "The Evangelizing Power of Beauty". Almost two hundred people attended. Here's the link to the recording of the talk:

http://www.aquinascollege.edu/faith-and-culture/lecture-series/

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September 1st, 2014Modern Art and the Imaginative Conservativeby Joseph Pearce

My latest article for the Imaginative Conservative muses upon the meaning of modern art, discussing the impressionists, surrealists and abstract expressionists, and the works of Monet and Dali, as well as the music of Stravinsky and the poetry of Hopkins, Eliot and Sassoon. Here's the link:

http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2014/09/modern-art-imaginative-conservatism.html

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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:

http://www.crisismagazine.com/2014/scholarly-friends-pay-tribute-late-stratford-caldecott

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August 29th, 2014The Real Desecration of Marriageby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

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, LC
I 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.

Exactly.

The desecration of Marriage in this country did not begin with the "gays", nor will it end with them.


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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:

http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2014/08/defending-the-definite.html

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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.

http://thefederalist.com/2014/08/12/masculinity-is-about-dominance-and-thats-a-good-thing/

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August 24th, 2014Hearts of Flesh and the Personal Dimension of Salvationby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org



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.

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August 24th, 2014The Scandal of Coffee and Donutsby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

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.

Why?

"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 ...

courage (n.) 
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.



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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:

http://www.churchpop.com/2014/08/22/the-liberal-environmentalist-nobody-knew-was-catholic/

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August 22nd, 2014Show Biz and the Divine Dramaby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org



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.  

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, 

"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."


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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.

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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.

  or

  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.”

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August 20th, 2014I’m Just Down the Road from Ferguson, Missouriby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

In fact, here's the cake in Ferguson, Missouri that Karen and I photographed in June.  It's in the revived downtown, which is filled with local shops, black and white owners, a charming area.

The cake is to the right, above the bench.


The situation in Ferguson is complex, and I'll add what I can as a lifelong resident of the St. Louis area.

St. Louis has long been a very segregated town.  The city of St. Louis is an independent city, not in any county.  Though my father grew up in North St. Louis, for my whole life North St. Louis has been black and South St. Louis white.  Now, however, pretty much the whole city is black, with a few white enclaves here and there.  Rehabbers who come in and "gentrify" city neighborhoods are white and very liberal and childless.

St. Louis County surrounds the city of St. Louis on the Missouri side of the Mississippi River.  North St. Louis County is mostly black; South St. Louis County (where I live) is mostly white.  25 years ago Ferguson was a white working lower-middle-class neighborhood, comprised of North St. Louis city residents who moved to the suburbs when what is called the "white flight" began.  The black presence in Ferguson is fairly recent, and is apparently comprised of the next generation of migrants from North St. Louis, who are now black.  This is why the Ferguson city counsel and the police force is still almost entirely white - the change in racial mixture in Ferguson is fairly recent.  And for whatever reason, the blacks have not yet caught up politically there.

On the Illinois side of the river, there are a number of communities which are either all black or all white, including all black East St. Louis, which is consistently listed as one of the most violent cities in America.  Belleville, Illinois is the exception, as Belleville is mixed, though the neighborhoods in Belleville are either all black or all white.

There seemed to be much more racial tension in St. Louis a generation ago, though if you look at Facebook groups dedicated to the situation in Ferguson or to comments at the website of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, you'll see there's still plenty of racism seething below the surface.

I was out of town all of last week when this situation first exploded, and from what I can see it's pretty complex.  There are a number of factors that play into it - racism, poverty, unemployment, outside agitation, a history of police brutality, the extreme militarization of the local police force - who are untrained and who are embarrassing my military friends, the lack of political leadership, the fact that most protesters are peaceful but the violent ones are causing a ton of trouble, the effect of the shocking images of a kind of civil war in the streets, and the shooting that started it all - which could be justified or could not be justified, as only an impartial examination of evidence will tell.

Meanwhile, here are a few other views of the Ferguson cake.  Here are all my posts on the Cakeway to the West project.  Quite honestly, we've put our picture taking on hold, as most of the remaining cakes are in neighborhoods that aren't too safe to begin with, much less at a time when this much rage is brewing.

 

The cake is near the lower left in this shot.  It appears storm clouds were gathering over Ferguson, even then.





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August 20th, 2014Sacred and Satanic Violence: The Place of the Demonic in the Fiction of Flannery O’Connorby Kevin Kennelly

Flannery O'Connor was thrice blessed: she was Catholic, she was southern and she was an Irish American. She also was one of the great writers of the 20th century combining an extraordinary ability to put words together in a pleasing way with a talent for developing stories and mesmerizing readers. Many of her writings are deeply Catholic. And she was a top drawer Thomist. The inestimable Ralph Wood, a scholar of the first order affiliated with Baylor University has written a thorough and fascinating piece dealing with "the place of the demonic" in O'Connor's writings.

http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2014/08/15/4067907.htm

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August 19th, 2014What I saw in Quebecby Marie Dudzik

As Americans, the progressive version of history we are taught in schools wants us to believe that our ancestors were glad to throw off the shackles of the Old World. The Pilgrims were forced out of their homeland and the colonists of New England were happy to give good riddance to King George and old England. But the Canadian province of Quebec tells another story, one of a people so proud and enamored of their European homeland that they sought to create an extension of France, a New France, as Quebec was once called. I found this out first hand this July as I travelled to Quebec on a pilgrimage. Our chaplain was newly-ordained Fr. Nathan Caswell, SJC, a priest of the Canons Regular of Saint John Cantius in Chicago and Canadian transplant.

     Willa Cather writes in her novel about the early settlers of Quebec, Shadows on the Rock:

When an adventurer carries his gods with him into a remote and savage country, the colony he founds will, from the beginning, have graces, traditions, riches of the mind and spirit. Its history will shine with bright incidents, slight, perhaps, but precious, as in life itself, where the great matters are often as worthless as astronomical distances, and the trifles dear as the heart’s blood.

     The original settlers of Quebec brought those graces, traditions, riches of the mind and spirit, and have left them behind for the modern traveler to discover. There are the beautiful cathedrals and chapels, the hospitals and schools, and the solid fortress-like wall that still surrounds Quebec City. These are the buildings that make visitors from the United States say going to Quebec is like going to Europe without the jet lag. But for those who are not just visitors but pilgrims, there is more to see, and that takes using more than just the eyes. What I saw in Quebec was a place that was built by those who were proudly French and fiercely Catholic. It is not just the buildings that make Quebec special, it is the people who founded and built the settlements that grew into towns and cities. Their spirit still remains for those who care to see, and it was a French, and therefore Catholic spirit. Willa Cather gives us the source of this spirit:

The Ursulines and the Hospitalieres, indeed, were scarcely exiles. When they came across the Atlantic, they brought their family with them, their kindred, their closest friends. In whatever little wooden vessel they had laboured across the sea, they carried all; they brought to Canada the Holy Family, the saints and martyrs, the glorious company of the Apostles, the heavenly host.

Our pilgrimage took us through a relatively small area of Quebec, from Montreal up the St. Lawrence River to Quebec City, but that area was packed with history and homage to that Church the settlers brought to Canada. When on pilgrimage it is customary to ask before going into a church or building, “What are we going to see here?” But on this journey, the question became, “Who are we going to meet here?” It was not a collection of places, but a collection of saints we encountered, a Canadian litany: St. Kateri Tekakwitha, the Jesuit martyrs St. Isaac Jogues, St. John de Brebeuf and St. Charles Garnier, St. Marie of the Incarnation, St. Marguerite Bourgeoys, St. Bishop Francois de Laval, St. Andre Bessette, Blessed Catherine of Saint Augustine and Blessed Frederic Janssoone.

There were old friends there too. St. Anne guides sailors safely into harbor, St. Joseph watches over the city of Montreal from the Oratory St. Andre built in his honor on Mont Royal, and the Blessed Virgin is honored as one who helps in time of trial as Our Lady of Bon Secours, as Our Lady of the Cape watching over the St. Lawrence, and as the patroness of multiple churches, cathedrals, and basilicas named in her honor.

With so great a cloud of witness around us, one might think that Quebec is the last bastion of Christendom in North America. Not so. Quebec is still part of the progressive, politically correct experiment that is Canada, and we were told stories of churches being converted into condos or shops. They were not demolished; their architecture was precious in the eyes of the city planners, but not in the hearts of those who should have been worshipping there. In that respect too, it is like Europe without the jet lag: beautiful buildings originally built for the glory of God but now used only for the pleasure of man.

Someone on the pilgrimage commented that Montreal was livable because it was a vibrant city; the sacred and profane seemed quite content together, but Quebec City was too touristy to be taken seriously. Quebec City is, in its way a relic: its UNESCO status has frozen it in time, and many come to look, to walk the cobblestones, to peer over the ancient walls, and muse on it as a quaint souvenir before returning to their plugged-in and plastic world. But despite the losses, the heart of New France is still faintly beating, both in the big city and in the midst of ye olde towne. It is there with the few who pass the tourists in the churches and make their way to the spots cordoned off for prayer. It is there in the smiles and greetings of people who saw Fr. Nathan walking the cobblestones in a cassock, perhaps the first time they had ever seen a priest habited so. It is there in the early-morning procession to an adoration chapel, modern workers singing an ancient Latin hymn, spending time with Our Lord before spending time at the office.

Evelyn Waugh commented that good cigars, fine wine, and beautiful houses are the fringe benefits of civilization. To me that means the enjoyable things of life, of culture, and specifically of Western Culture come only after the heavy lifting of creating, perpetuating, and defending that culture is done. Quebec looks like Europe because that’s what the settlers created it to be. What we see today as tourists are those fringe benefits the French settlers brought with them. What we needed to see as pilgrims was the heavy lifting that went on to create those lovely cities on the banks of St. Lawrence and acknowledge the burden that we need to shoulder today to keep that culture alive.

Fr. Nathan spoke of this in his homily during the last Mass of our pilgrimage. He said we must be missionaries in our own land, just as those saints and blesseds we met spent their lives bringing Christ to those they met. There is still much heavy lifting to do in our own homes and lives. In a real way we are still adventurers living in a remote and savage country, and in addition to the rosaries, the holy cards, and the blessed oil we needed to bring back with us the courage of the Jesuits like Jogues and Brebeuf, the abandonment to Providence of Marie of the Incarnation, and the countercultural witness of Kateri Tekakwitha.

We moderns live off the capital of our ancestors. In Quebec City the horse-drawn carriages carry tourists down the narrow cobblestone streets where they end the day with a luxurious dinner and a pleasant sleep at a quality hotel, enjoying a view an original settler would be at home with. But we can’t expect to spend capital forever. Without paying back into the fund of culture we are destined to usher in a new Dark Age. There is no feasting without fast days. There is no contented sleep without times of watchful prayer. There are no beautiful churches without priests to offer sacrifice and faithful to assist. The pilgrimage is over, but we are all still pilgrims working our way towards our homeland and trying to bring along with us as many as we can. In our modern wilderness, we can use the words of Fr. Brebeuf’s Christmas hymn for Canadian natives to let all know that they are called to share in that homeland that is heaven: “O children of the forest free,/O sons of Manitou,/The holy child of earth and heav’n/Is born today for you./Come kneel before the radiant boy, Who brings you beauty, peace, and joy:/Jesus your King is born,/Jesus is born, in excelsis gloria.”

All the saints and blessed of Quebec, pray for us!

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August 19th, 2014You Can’t “Program” Salvationby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org



In Flannery O'Connor's short stories, the grace of God is shown to operate in shocking and disturbing ways.  For Flannery, the door to salvation opens the moment our own selfish walls are cracked (usually violently), allowing God's grace to rush in - along with horror and remorse, which are aspects of Awe and of the Fear of God.  Indeed, horror and remorse can quite literally be the closet we come on this earth to experiencing God's love.

For instance, in her story "The Comforts of Home", at the climax of the action, the protagonist Thomas aims a gun at "the slut", a disturbed and enticing young woman who has invaded the carefully controlled and circumscribed arena of his home, where he lives alone with his mother.  For Thomas, "the comforts of home" are the greatest good.  He has a "program", which is to eliminate from his young life anything spontaneous, anything unpredictable, anything that his own narrow and selfish ego can not control.

Thomas fired.  The blast was like a sound meant to bring an end to evil in the world.  Thomas heard it as a sound that would shatter the laughter of sluts until all shrieks were stilled and nothing was left to disturb the peace of perfect order.


But you can't "bring an end to evil in the world", and certainly not with the barrel of a gun, and indeed not with any "program".  Thomas learns that as soon as he fires the pistol ... but I won't ruin the ending of the story for you.  Nor can you force upon your life "the peace of perfect order" - for such a peace is never a man-made thing.

The reason we can't defeat evil with a mere program or find true peace with a mere programmatic approach to salvation is that God is not the dead idol crafted by our own hands that we typically make Him out to be.

And this has a lot to do with the messed up world of Catholic Dating.  But I'll explain that in a minute.

***

In O'Connor's story "The Lame shall Enter First", the protagonist, Sheppard, is a social worker, and an atheist.  He believes that evil can be eliminated through reason.  His faith is in telescopes, microscopes, evolution and the program.  For him, the program is an institutionalized form of love, a kind of heartless charity that selflessly seeks to build a paradise of "perfect order" by means of caring for those who are suffering with a kind of condescending concern, the genuine but rather thin concern of a social worker.

As part of this program, Sheppard allows a troubled teenage juvenile delinquent to move in with him and his ten-year-old son (his son is someone Sheppard entirely neglects).  But this delinquent, for all his troubles, is the closest we come to a Christ figure in the story.  Ironically, Sheppard (who doesn't believe in Jesus) sees himself as a kind of Jesus, a kind of benign selfless deity, when in reality he is supremely selfish in his devotion to the program, which is meant ultimately to serve his own narrow ends, though he can't see that until the very end of the tale.

In an early confrontation between Sheppard's son, who defends his father, and the troubled teen, who's recently moved in, the reader, at least, begins to perceive this, and we see it through the perceptive eyes of Johnson, the delinquent.

"He's good," [the son] mumbled.  "He helps people."
"Good!" Johnson said savagely.  He thrust his head forward.  "Listen here," he hissed, "I don't care if he's good or not.  He ain't right!"


In many ways, that's what I've been saying about the Devout Christian community in these series of posts.   They're good but they ain't right - meaning, among other things, right in the head.

Michael Lichens comments on Facebook ...

I grew up as an Evangelical when "I Kissed Dating Good-Bye" was added to the canon. I still remember being turned down for a coffee date because, in the woman's own words, she wasn't sure if I was the one God wanted her to marry. My reaction was something like, "Dude, I just want to get coffee and maybe see a Chris Farley movie."
The result: many of the guys in my youth group days remain unmarried or got divorced and many more are quite jaded. Courtship was promised as a panacea but it ended up not correcting the problems of secular culture while adding some new and fun problems of its own. The only thing it seemed to do was placate paranoid parents for a few years. 
I also went to a small Catholic college where the vast majority of the kids were homeschooled and found that this stupid Evangelical fad had been adopted in some Catholic homes wherein girls would even tell potential men that they needed to call their dad before a drink could be consumed with the young lady. Just bloody weird.


"Just bloody weird" means (in Flannery O'Connor short story speak) "they're good but they ain't right."

Why is this?  Why is it that devout Catholics or devout Protestants, who are certainly serious about their faith, end up missing the mark so badly in their contrived efforts to be good?  Why do they end up being sort of good, but never quite right?  Why, just a few weeks ago on this very blog, did I choose the primary advice I was giving to my newly Catholic friend Dave Treadway, a devout former evangelical I was sponsoring into full communion with the Church, to be this ...

The Spirit of Unreality is the greatest threat to devout Catholics these days - the temptation to make God and His Church into a kind of idol, something that we can control and make use of for our own narrow ends. 


Why?

It's because we trust more in our program than we do in the grace of God.  The grace of God is disturbing and unpredictable.  It's alive and shocking.  It calls us out of our comfort zones and sometimes makes our precious little plans fall entirely to pieces.

This is not to say that God operates without His own program.  But his program is a living and awesome thing.  God does not challenge evil by shooting at it with a gun, in order to "shatter the laughter of sluts until all shrieks" are stilled.  When God loves, it's a love that goes far deeper than that of an atheist social worker, who believes that a disembodied charity can lead to a man-made New Jerusalem on earth.

After all, there are limits to the carefully controlled and programmed or programmatic love that the social worker shows his client / son, as we learn in a scene where the teen confronts his Sheppard, the boy (Johnson) lying in bed, his face turned against the wall in anguish ...

"You make out like you got all this confidence in me!" a sudden outraged voice cried, "and you ain't got any!  You don't trust me no more now than you did then!"  The voice, disembodied, seemed to come more surely from the depths of Johnson than when his face was visible.  It was a cry of reproach, edged slightly with contempt.
"I do have confidence in you," Sheppard said intensely.  "I have every confidence in you.  I believe in you and I trust you completely."



... but he doesn't.  And in many ways he shouldn't, at least in the context of the story's plot.  But the point here is that his love isn't really real - there's an Unreality there.  It doesn't go as deep as it should.

And, symbolically, when Johnson confronts Sheppard, it's Jesus confronting us sinners.

We protest, we devout Christians - we protest loudly - that we do indeed trust Our Lord and His disturbing presence among us.  But, when we get right down to it, do we really?

In one of her essays, Flannery hit the nail on the head, when she described us as closet Manicheans who are convinced that grace cannot penetrate fallen nature ("The old heresy of secular vs. sacred," as Reilly Washburn identifies it).  Some of my readers objected to that assessment, but if we really believed that grace could operate in nature, we would believe that even something as ordinary and simple as coffee and a Chris Farley movie did not have to be guarded against with a kind of spiritual prophylactic; we would not think that Eros was Satanic or that (as Christopher West suggests) a couple should only marry once they can "love" without feeling sexually attracted to one another.

If we trusted God and believed that His grace could operate in and redeem nature - in fact if we could open our eyes and see that it was doing so all the time all around us - then we could also trust that coffee and a movie and other ordinary things could open up to us gifts of life and God's surprises that we ourselves need not program, orchestrate or stage manage the life out of.

"Do not quench the Spirit," Paul tells us (1 Thes. 5:19).

But we do that all the time, we devout Christians.

Perhaps it's because we think that sin is the center of the story, when that's not the case at all.

But more on that later ...





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August 18th, 2014Inaugural Lecture in Nashvilleby Joseph Pearce

Next week, on Thursday, August 28, I will be giving my inaugural lecture as Director of the Center for Faith & Culture at Aquinas College in Nashville. The title of my talk will be "The Evangelizing Power of Beauty: Converting the Culture". If you live in the Nashville area or know people in the area, please try to attend and promote the event. Here are the full details:

 http://www.aquinascollege.edu/calendar-event/joseph-pearce-evangelizing-power-beauty-converting-culture/

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August 18th, 2014Who is Man?by Joseph Pearce

Continuing my current preoccupation with questioning the definitive meaning of the most important things, such as civilization and Christendom, I continue this week with one of the most crucial of all questions: Who is Man?

Read on: http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2014/08/man.html

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August 17th, 2014Alfred Hitchcock on Faith and Moralsby Daniel J. Heisey

In December, 2012, Father Mark Henninger, S. J., wrote in The Wall Street Journal about his experience in early 1980 celebrating Mass at the home of Alfred Hitchcock.  Father Henninger sought to correct recent statements claiming that to the end of his days Hitchcock (1899-1980) was not religious.  Yet, Hitchcock had grown up Catholic, attended a school run by Jesuits, and had been married and buried within the context of the Catholic Mass.

As Father Henninger pointed out, Hitchcock had helped to create the impression that he was not a religious man.  Apparently to preserve his privacy, Hitchcock publicly rejected claims that he had a priest come to his house for the sacraments.  In his book-length interview with François Truffaut, published in English in1967, Hitchcock had said, “I am definitely not anti-religious; perhaps I’m sometimes neglectful.”

The setting was Truffaut asking Hitchcock, “How do you feel about being labeled a Catholic artist?”  Hitchcock had replied, “I don’t think I can be labeled a Catholic artist, but it may be that one’s early upbringing influences a man’s life and guides his instinct.”  Later on he explained that “my love of film is far more important to me than any considerations of morality.”

It is an understandable reaction:  an artist wants to be known for his art.  Would one ask Leonardo da Vinci or Michelangelo whether they wanted to be thought of as Catholic artists?  However much Catholic faith and culture permeates their work, the work comes first.  Nearly always when the religious sense is put first, the art suffers.

For Hitchcock, that principle seems to have informed his dissatisfaction with his movie I Confess (1953).  Probably the most obvious example of Hitchcock using film to explore Catholic themes, it focuses on a young Canadian priest, a veteran of the Second World War, who has heard the confession of a murderer and is then framed by the murderer.  Hitchcock was intrigued by the dilemma, since the priest could not violate the seal of the confessional.  Protestant and secular critics, however, thought the premise far-fetched, and Hitchcock told Truffaut, “we shouldn’t have made the picture.”

Truffaut rightly disagreed with Hitchcock about I Confess, but let us consider a less obvious case.  In March, 1963, Alfred Hitchcock told an interviewer from The New Yorker that of all his films his favorite was Shadow of a Doubt (1943), yet around the same time, when speaking with Truffaut, he said that it was not his favorite, while not saying which movie did hold that honor.  Whether it really was his favorite film, it marks the first time Hitchcock used an American location for looking into what Truffaut called the three basic elements making up any film by Hitchcock:  “fear, sex, and death.”

In Shadow of a Doubt, a man is on the run after having killed several wealthy widows.  He travels across the country from New York to Santa Rosa and hides in the home of his sister and brother-in-law.  The latter, a mild-mannered bank clerk, has a hobby of reading murder mysteries.  Irony and tension build, and suspicion comes closer and closer to the murderer.  “It’s quite possible,” Hitchcock told Truffaut, “that those widows deserved what they got, but it certainly wasn’t his job to do it.”

That same message occurs near the end of Hitchcock’s film Rope (1948).  There, the character portrayed by James Stewart tells one of the two young murderers, “Until this very moment, this world and the people in it have always been dark and incomprehensible to me, and I’ve tried to clear my way with logic and superior intellect . . . , but now I know we’re each of us a separate human being with the right to live and work and think as individuals, but with an obligation to the society we live in.”

Truffaut noted that in Hitchcock’s movies there was always the pervasive role of the idea of original sin.  Although a recurring theme in Hitchcock’s films is that of an innocent man suspected of a crime he did not commit, Truffaut saw that “he is generally guilty of intention before the fact.”  As an example, he cited the voyeur played by James Stewart in Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954).

When talking about his schooldays, Hitchcock told Truffaut about his odd situation and about the moral sense he developed.  “Ours was a Catholic family,” he said, “and in England, you see, this in itself is an eccentricity.”  At Saint Ignatius College, “a strong sense of fear developed—moral fear—the fear of being involved in anything evil.”  He transformed that Catholic eccentricity and that fear of evil into some of the finest films ever made.

In all his cinematic work, Alfred Hitchcock was deeply concerned about human integrity.  How someone dealt with temptations and trials was what made a story interesting.  In theological terms, not only was original sin a factor, so was free will.  All of us face such scenarios to a greater or lesser degree every day, but rarely do they reach a level worthy of a tale of suspense.  As Hitchcock often said, “Drama is life with the dull bits cut out.”

One day, before offering Mass at Hitchcock’s home, Father Henninger asked Hitchcock if he had seen any good movies lately.  Hitchcock said no, adding, “When I made movies, they were about people, not robots.  Robots are boring.  Come on, let’s have Mass.”

Robots bore because, even if they find working with humans very stimulating, they lack the human capacity for love, sin, and redemption.  They share no nature with Christ.  According to Father Henninger, during those Masses at his home, Hitchcock gave the responses in Latin, and, the dull bits of life cutting out of the theo-drama, upon receiving Communion “he silently cried, tears rolling down his huge cheeks.”

 

 

Daniel J. Heisey, O. S. B, is a Benedictine monk of Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pennsylvania, where he is known as Brother Bruno.  He teaches Church History at Saint Vincent Seminary.

 

 

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August 17th, 2014Iraq—The Failure of Modernityby Stephen Brady

Is ISIS, the fanatical Islamist militia currently advancing across the ruins of Iraq and Syria beheading and crucifying “infidels” a throwback to the Dark Ages? Or is it instead an aspect of the very Western “modernity” the US and its allies sought to bring to the region by armed force? Is that “modernity”, indeed, quite what its advocates think it is?

Those are the challenging questions raised by John Gray, Professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics in his essay broadcast in July on the BBC radio programme A Point of View, the text of which is available here:

 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-28246732


Professor Gray is a leading critic of what he terms “the Enlightenment project”, the idea, famously encapsulated by Francis Fukuyama in his 1992 work The End of History and the Last Man, of the inevitable global triumph of free-market globalist liberal democracy.

 

In this essay the good Professor argues compellingly that ISIS – or the Islamic State, IS, as it has now rebranded itself, perhaps conscious of the irony of the self-proclaimed vanguard of radical Islam advancing under the name of an ancient Egyptian pagan goddess – beneath its 7th Century trappings, is “in many respects thoroughly modern”.

 

Prof. Gray notes how efficiently IS uses the methods and technology of a 21st Century corporation. As he notes:

Like al-Qaeda before them, these jihadists have organised themselves as a highly efficient company. Initially funded by donations from wealthy supporters, they've rapidly expanded into a self-financing business. Through kidnapping and extortion, looting and selling antiquities, siphoning off oil in territories they conquer, seizing gold bullion and other assets from banks and acquiring large quantities of American military hardware in the course of their advance, Isis has become the wealthiest jihadist organisation in the world. According to some estimates, it's worth well over $2bn.

 

As others as well as he have noted, IS uses social media with an adroitness a corporate advertising department can only envy. Bloody threats and glorious victories are tweeted frequently and posted on Facebook (no doubt getting lots of “likes” in Islamabad and Luton) and beheadings, crucifixions and massacres of prisoners put up promptly on YouTube. The Islamist terror group also diligently and publicly documents mergers and acquisitions with and of other Islamist groups and tribal militias, and keeps firm and well-documented control of its balance sheet. Slick regular corporate reports are posted on the Internet, detailing each month’s beheadings and suicide bombings, thus keeping the shareholders – the wealthy Saudi and Gulf sheiks who originally bankrolled the organisation – abreast of headcount and how many bangs they are getting for their buck.

 

As Professor Gray perspicaciously observes, “There's nothing mediaeval about this mix of ruthless business enterprise, well-publicised savagery and transnational organised crime.”

 

But, he goes on to argue, IS’s modernity goes deeper than that. “Though (IS leader) al-Baghdadi constantly invokes the early history of Islam, the society he envisions has no precedent in history. It's much more like the impossible state of utopian harmony that western revolutionaries have projected into the future. Some of the thinkers who developed radical Islamist ideas are known to have been influenced by European anarchism and communism, especially by the idea that society can be reshaped by a merciless revolutionary vanguard using systematic violence. The French Jacobins and Lenin's Bolsheviks, the Khmer Rouge and the Red Guards all used terror as a way of cleansing humanity of what they regarded as moral corruption. ISIS shares more with this modern revolutionary tradition than any ancient form of Islamic rule”


Professor Gray might indeed have gone on to point out that this revolutionary tradition itself sprang ultimately from one aspect of what he himself dubbed “the Enlightenment project”. In this case the hubristic humanist idea that, if human nature is determined by human society, when the Perfect Society can be created it willipso facto achieve the Perfection of Man. Indeed, said Perfect Society is the natural human condition, if only mankind was liberated from wicked oppressors holding them back.

 

As history has shown, what the revolutionaries actually ended up doing, when their achievement of power failed in itself to achieve the expected dawning of Utopia, was wading in human blood trying to impose by force the widely varying ideas of Social Perfection each fanatic revolutionary sect had come to espouse, always ending in failure and some very unpleasant demonstrations of the innate moral weaknesses of humanity when left to its own devices.

 

But the good Professor does go on to drop a douche of icy water on the complacency of those smug Westerners who no doubt would have been happily nodding along to his argument thus far. For he points out that the Islamic state owes its rise, as well as its strategy and ideology, to another offshoot of the very same Enlightenment Project: “Western military intervention gave Isis its chance of power. While Saddam was in charge, there were no jihadist movements operating in Iraq - none at all. With all the crimes Saddam's dictatorship committed, it was a regime that applied secular law and had made some steps towards emancipating women.” It also respected the country’s ancient Christian communities, protecting them from persecution – indeed Saddam’s deputy, Tariq Aziz, was a Christian. Professor Gray continues: “In my view, toppling Saddam was bound to unravel this secular state and the Iraqi state itself.”  As we now observe it has unravelled, very thoroughly…

 

Why was this toppling done? The Professor is sceptical about cynicism here – he believes that it was not all about Iraq’s oil. Western leaders, unfortunately, also had nobler motives: “The politicians and opinion-formers who clamoured for the invasion believed that all modern societies are evolving towards a single form of government - the type that exists in western countries. If only tyranny was swept away in Iraq, the country would move towards democracy and the rest of the Middle East would follow. Until just a few months ago, some were convinced that a similar process could take place in Syria.”

 

As events have demonstrated, this isn’t exactly what actually happened, nor was it remotely likely to happen. As the Professor was saying long before Operation Iraqi Freedom, whose fruits the people of that unhappy country are now enjoying, was launched: “this has never been more than an ideological fantasy. The modern world isn't evolving in any single direction. Liberal democracy is only one of several possible destinations.”

 

Indeed. Professor Gray could have gone on to make the point explicitly that Messrs Bush and Blair shared with Herr Marx and Gospodin Lenin the same delusion that if only “the people” could be “set free”, if the tyrants could be toppled or the expropriators expropriated, mankind would at once rush rejoicing into an Earthly Paradise, be that one of perfect communism or perfect free market liberal democracy, a delusion that is rooted in the same 18th Century soi-disant Enlightenment from which both Marxism and Liberalism sprang. Perhaps this is why many of the arch-cheerleaders of imposing “freedom” at the point of a cruise missile and a drone strike, the neo-cons, found their own personal metamorphosis from one to the other so unproblematic.

 

Professor Gray has put his finger on the deep implication of that Enlightenment delusion as it unravels in the disaster now unfolding across the Middle East. Two decades after it was published, Mr Fukuyama’s thesis of the inevitable triumph of global free-market liberal democracy, “The End of History and the Last Man”, lies in ruins. It has inspired a train of events unleashing massacres, murders and sectarian slaughters that have indeed made some local progress towards achieving the Last Man. But people remain people, obstinately clinging each to their own beliefs and cultures, and History stubbornly refuses to End.

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August 17th, 2014Muzak for the Spiritby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org



I have been on the road with my actress Maria and her husband for a while now.  We are ending up a tour of nine shows in ten days in four states.

Today we find ourselves in a small town in Minnesota off the interstate.  We made the mistake of going to Sunday Mass, as we are obliged to.

This is always a crap shoot.  Why, in the universal Catholic Church that Christ founded, is it such a risk to go to Mass at an unfamiliar parish?  But it always is.  Today we rolled the dice and got a pair of snake eyes.

The church was new and the artwork in the narthex ugly, except for the old historical stuff from the old beautiful church that has since been torn down.

But the atmosphere!  Atmosphere is a difficult thing to describe.  The atmosphere from beginning to end in the Mass and everything associated with it was suburban, insipid, bland, uninspiring, contrived, and gay (in the worst sense of that word).  The homily was not really heterodox, not really orthodox - just kind of fuzzy and flaccid.

But there was one real moment.  When the congregation prayed the Our Father, I closed my eyes, and you could hear the genuineness of that prayer.  These people were praying that prayer, with a unity and an earnestness.  This was the one moment when heaven and earth were palpably together at that Mass.

Of course there's always that other moment when heaven and earth come together at Mass - the consecration and the communion that follows: and that transcends any inept nonsense on our part.  But right there in this shopping mall parish as communion began, the intense and creepy piano player (who's apparently the "music minister") began ad libbing pop fills on the keyboard.  Loudly.  So that you could neither pray nor focus on anything else.  And the message of the music was: this is not threatening, everything is comfortable, everything is indistinguishable, this life devoid of passion is the omega point of creation - this lame and soggy existence is the nirvana that all "persons" have sought.  Resistance is futile.  It was muzak for the spirit.  And it came at the most intimate part of the Mass.

I left the building, skipped communion (I was in no shape to receive it at that point), but returned when the music had stopped and stayed in the narthex for the blessing and dismissal.

And as we left I thought, is it any wonder that the Church these days seems powerless in the face of evil - small evil or great evil?  Is it any wonder that something like what I just experience has no hold on the hearts or minds of anyone, or any normal person?  Is it any wonder that bishops enable pedophiles when the greatest single moment in the lives of any of us - communion with God - can be trivialized and emasculated in this way?

I would rant more, but it's time to head to Iowa for tonight's show.  Pray for us and pray for our Church.

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August 15th, 2014Islam, Jihad, and the Massacre of Christiansby Brendan D. King

The current massacre of Iraqi Christians by adherents of Radical Islam has caused a great deal of speculation about what kind of religious believer could commit such acts. Whenever I have been asked this question, I am forced to remind people that it has happened before -- almost a century ago and in the same part of the world.

During the First World War, the Ottoman Empire, though officially a constitutional monarchy, was actually governed by a political party known as the Ittihad-ve Terriki, or Committee of Union and Progress (CUP). The CUP's platform was a mixture of Turkish racial supremacy, Classical Liberalism, and Radical Islam. Christians and Non-Turkish Muslims were to have no place in the Greater Turkey which the CUP dreamed of building. When the Ottoman Empire entered the Great War as an ally of Imperial Germany, the Christian Armenians of Constantinople made no secret of their sympathy for the Allied Powers.

On the night of April 24, 1915, the CUP arrested 250 Armenian cultural leaders and ordered their deportation to Der Zor, a region of the Syrian Desert which was to be the killing fields of what is still called the Armenian Genocide. The deportees included writers and statesmen, poets and composers, Marxists and priests. Among their number was Father (later Bishop) Grigoris Balakian, a "Vartaped,"or celibate priest of the Armenian Apostolic Church. But the deportation of the intellectuals was only the prelude to the planned extermination of every Armenian in the Ottoman Empire and the lands it planned to annex. By the end of the Great War, an estimated 1.5 million Armenians had been murdered. For this reason, Armenians throughout the world still commemorate April 24 as a day of mourning.

In 2009, when Bishop Balakian's memoir of the Genocide finally appeared in English, His Grace was instantly compared with Holocaust survivors Eli Wiesel and Primo Levi and GULAG survivors Nadezhda Mandelstam and Evgenia Ginzburg. As I continue to pace my way through the Bishop's searing account, I can also attest that it is truly a masterpiece.

For this reason, I have chosen to share a part of his memoir which, I believe, sheds the most light upon the mindset of the perpetrators of both the Armenian Genocide and of the current massacres in Iraq. Be forewarned that if you continued to read, you will be deeply disturbed. What follows has much in common with a Hannibal Lecter movie. Should you decide to stop reading, I will not be in the least offended.

Lest you be inclined to blame all Muslims for the behavior of those described, be aware that other parts of the Bishop's memoir describes encounters with Muslims -- both Turks and Kurds -- who fought to save Armenian lives. He also describes encounters with "Christian" Armenians who willingly collaborated with the executioners of their own people. By doing so, they not only survived, but profited considerably.

Well, without further ado, here is the account in the Bishop's own words. May Our Lord and Our Lady grant Eternal Memory to those who have Fallen Asleep!

From, "Armenian Golgotha: A Memoir of the Armenian Genocide, 1915-1918," By Grigoris Balakian. Translated by Peter Balakian and Aris Sevag. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2009.

Pages 134-135.

"From Yozgat to Boghazlian: The Skulls."

There is a Turkish village on the road to Boghazlian, two hours from Yozgat. There Shukri, the Captain of the Yozgat police soldiers, a sixty-five year old man, had been waiting for us since morning with eleven mounted police soldiers. Our carriage drivers, who assumed that we were going to be killed under this bridge, ordered those of us to get out and remove our goods. Having collected double their fees in advance, they then lashed their horses and galloped off in the opposite direction. All of us were stupefied by this inexplicable action. We then gathered up our goods, which had been dumped from the carriages, and after much hardship, we arrived, covered in mud, at the village, where the Captain and his police soldiers were waiting for us. Captain Shukri took command of our caravan from the police soldiers who had accompanied us from Choroum, and received the blacklist of our names and other official documents.

After checking to make sure that no one on the list was missing, Captain Shukri made us set out without giving us the least respite. Instead of escorting us to Boghazlian, as we had hoped, he and his men took us to a Turkish village where no one would sell us any milk, yoghurt, eggs, or bread, not even at a premium. Anxious about the hostility of the villagers, we spent a sleepless night...

Page 136.

On our second day along the Yozgat-Boghazlian route, we saw, in the fields on both sides of the road, the first decomposed human skeletons and even more skulls; long hair was still attached to them, leaving no doubt that they belonged to females.

Among our companions were young Armenian intellectuals of Constantinople. They often bent down to pick up these skulls and kiss them tearfully. After all, these were the sacred remains of our mothers and sisters who had been martyred. Captain Shukri of the Yozgat police soldiers , who personally escorted us along these most dangerous and bloody roads, road beside me for a few hours, during which I time I became rather friendly with him (to the extent that the wolf and the lamb can be friendly). He exhorted me, "Murahhasa effendi, tell your people not to give way to emotion -- picking up skulls they come accross and kissing them. They don't know that that same fate awaits them a little further on."

Naturally, I warned my companions to refrain from such imprudent acts. Although our days were numbered, we endeavored as much as possible, with trust in God, to drive away thoughts of death. We were proceeding along roads where the slightest ill-advised or careless step could become the cause of our instant death. Shukri was so cruel that he wouldn't deign to speak to any other member of our caravan. It was just by good fortune that I was able in a few hours to win his favor, and so we kept riding together, conversing about various topics...

"The Confessions of the Slayer Captain."

Pages 139-146.

I wished to take advantage of the rare goodwill that was shown to me by Captain Shukri, to learn more about the major uncertainties facing us. Trying to be discreet, I asked him, "Bey, where have all these human bones along this road come from?"

The Captain pointed to the deep valley before us and answered, "These are the bones of Armenians who were killed in August and September. The order had come from Constantinople. Even though the Minister of the Interior had huge ditches dug for the corpses, the winter floods washed the dirt away, and now the bones are everywhere, as you see."

"Are these the bones of the Armenian deportees who came from far-off places," I asked, "or are these the bones of Armenians from this area?"

"Do you see this road? Aside from the first caravan of Armenians in July, no other caravans have traversed this road and survived."

"Shukri Bey, in your opinion, how many Armenians were massacred upon these roads that we have traveled? As Captain of the Yozgat police soldiers, you must know."

He replied, "Now its not a secret anymore; about 86,000 Armenians were massacred. We, too, were surprised, because the Government didn't know there was such a great Armenian population in the province of Ankara. However, this includes a few thousand other Armenians from surrounding provinces who were deported on these roads. They were put on this road so we could cleanse them."

"Paklayalum" was the word for "cleanse"; the Turks always used this term, especially the Government officials, when referring to the massacres of Armenians.

"Upon whose orders were the massacres of Armenians committed?"

"The orders came from the Ittihad [Party] Central Committe and the Interior Ministry in Constantinople. This order was carried out most severely by Kemal [District Governor] of Boghazlian and Vixe-Governor of Yozgat. When Kemal, a native of Van, heard that the Armenians had massacred all his family members at the time of the Van revolt, he sought revenge and massacred the women and children, together with the men."

"So where were the women in these areas of Yozgat massacres? I ask this because we had heard that while the men were massacred, the women were spared. We had heard that the beautiful virgins and young brides were taken by those who desired them for their harems, while the elderly women were driven to Der Zor. Did it happen this way in your [Province], too?"

"It didn't, because, as I said, the [District Governor] of Boghazlian was so enraged over the murder of his family during the Van rebellion in April 1915, that he had no concern for appearances and had the women and children, even the suckling infants massacred. He was said to have said; 'I have made a vow on the honor of the Prophet: I shall not leave a single Armenian alive in the [Province] of Yozgat.'"

I asked Shukri Bey how the women and girls of Yozgat were massacred, but just then, one of the police soldiers, a corporal, having noticed something down the road, came over to ask the Captain for instructions, and our conversation was interrupted.

 

...He was candid with me, as he himself stated, because he was convinced that none of us would survive... In order to win his favor, I told him that I had always been a Turcophile and that I had been exiled from Constantinople because I had been mistaken for a revolutionary with the same name. I even told him that I had been decorated by Sultan Hamid himself. I criticized the extremist acts of the Armenian Revolutionary Committees and told him that the Armenian Revolutionaries were the sole cause of our misfortunes.

I seem to have succeeded in winning Captain Shukri over, because he said to me... "Murahhasa effendi, even if I am not able to rescue your companions from the murderous mob, I'll save you, as long as you convert to Islam. I want this to be understood." Whatever proposal I made, I responded affirmatively: I even demonstrated my knowledge of the Koran, which delighted him.

...A half hour later, when we started riding together again, I resumed our conversation, "Bey, why did you commit massacres on the main roads? Wouldn't it have been easier to have done it in the hidden valleys?"

He replied, "The massacres weren't committed on these roads. As I mentioned, it was the winter floods that scattered these bones and skulls all over the roads. Do you see the mill in this valley facing us?" He pointed to it. "There's a story I'll tell you about it." In a half hour our caravan reached the mill and I spurred my horse to catch up to the Captain and asked him to tell his story.

"It was precisely here," the Captain continued, "that the search of the women of Yozgat took place."

"Bey, tell me about it so we might pass the time."

He did so: "There's no reason to hide it... It was eight months ago, after all, and these stories were getting around... The news has even reached Europe. The German Embassy was so upset that they rebuked our Government, and orders came from Constantinople telling us to cease the massacres. Nevertheless, after we had massacred all the males of the city of Yozgat-- about eight thousand to nine thousand of them in the valleys near these sites, it was the women's turn. So two months later Governor Mehmet Kemal summoned the town criers and had them make the following announcement: 'Inasmuch as your husbands have arrived safely in Aleppo and presented a petition to the local Governor General requesting that their families be brought to Aleppo, too, the mutasarrif is giving you a three day period to make the necessary preparations for a long journey and then wait for the signal to depart...'

"Upon this official announcement, made by Turkish town criers throughout the city, the Armenian women rejoiced and briskly made preparations for the road. Many of them, as though going on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, even made sweets ... and arranged them in tin boxes to take to their husbands in Aleppo. Then after the three days had passed, we had them all depart, some by carriage, some by cart, and the poor ones on foot."

"Do you remember what the number of carriages and carts was?"

"I would say that there were 280 horse drawn carriages, 550 ox drawn carts; so all together we had about 830 carriages and carts."

..."To whom was the caravan assigned for transport to Aleppo?"

"The caravans were always assigned to me because I was the police soldiers commander and familiar with this region. When this large caravan with about eighty police soldiers reached the three mills, in this valley four to five hours from town, I gave the order to the police soldier officers to rest at this spot. I then ordered all the carriage and cart drivers to leave the families there and return to their villages. Then I had thirty to fifty midwives come in from town to begin a rigorous inspection. Every woman, girl, and boy was searched down to their underwear. We collected all the gold, silver, diamond jewelry, and over valuables, as well as the gold pieces sewn into the hems of their clothes. All these women, duped into thinking that they were going to join their husbands in Aleppo, had taken with them all their valuable and movable possessions, including their valuable rugs and carpets. The Government's pretext had worked beautifully.

"Before long, we had made piles of hundreds if not thousands of gold chains, gold watches, necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and rings with diamonds and other precious stones. We found thousands of gold pieces sewn into the women's clothes. For this reason, too, the search took so long and created such difficulty that we had to bring in new women from town to continue the effort. They found even more pieces of jewelry and gold hidden or sewn into the folds of clothes and linens."

"Shukri Bey, how many pounds of gold do you think you collected from these women and children?"

"It's difficult to say because we didn't keep a record. Whoever got hold of something kept it. If I say thirty thousand gold pounds, understand it to be sixty thousand gold pounds."

"I understand that the wealth remained in the hands of those who snatched it, but who took the largest amounts?"

"It ran the gamut, from the common police soldier to the highest Government official."

"Shukri Bey, as long as we are talking so candidly and confidentially, forgive me for asking another question. But how much wealth were you able to obtain as a result of these massacres? After all, as a police soldier Captain, you had the greatest opportunities."

"If all of it had been left to me, that would have been nice, but I sent the leather bags, filled and sealed, to the Mutasarrif in town, and there was a lot of stealing; barely half the goods reached the Government. We collected thousands of rugs and carpets and piled them up near these mills, but the police soldiers stole some of them. To be accurate, I barely got ten thousand pieces of gold or jewelry from the booty of the Armenians.

"I have been staying in Yozgat for thirty years, and although I've been offered higher positions, I didn't want to leave my birthplace and home. I'm a landowner in Yozgat and have a big family here. I'm over sixty-five now, and where am I going to go after this? I have houses, shops, and two mills in Yozgat and I'm a Muslim, [Praise Allah]. I won't lie -- I amassed great wealth from the massacres of the Armenians. But I'm old--what can I do with the wealth? My only son will enjoy it. Presently he's in Germany pursuing a military education. Let him do so."

"Bey," I said, "we wandered from your story. Can you tell me what happened to these sixty four hundred women, girls, and children?"

"Yes, you're right, I was talking about one thing and got on to something else. We continued to search the women's bodies and clothes for four days and four nights. After stripping them all of their possessions and leaving them only what they were wearing, we made them all turn back on foot to the broad promontory located near the city of Yozgat. We told them that a new Government order had come to have them return to town, and they following willingly. When we reached the promontory I pointed out yesterday, ten to twelve thousand Muslims were waiting there. They had been waiting for a day."

"Bey, may I ask--how did these common people come to know about the Government's plan for the Armenians?"

"During the time that we were searching the women, the Government officials of Yozgat sent police soldiers to all the surrounding Turkish villages and in the name of holy Jihad invited the Muslim population to participate in this sacred religious obligation...

"Thus, when we arrived at the designated site, this mass of people was waiting. The Government order was clear: all were to be massacred and nobody was to be spared. Therefore, in order to prevent any escape attempt and to thwart any secret attempts of sympathizers intent on freeing them, I had the eighty police soldiers encircle the hill, and stationed guards at every probable site for of escape or hiding.

"Then I had the police soldiers announce to the people that whoever wished to select a virgin girl or young bride could do so immediately, on the condition of taking them as wives and not with the intention of rescuing them. Making a selection during the massacre was forbidden. Thus about two hundred fifty girls and young brides were selected by the people and the police soldiers."

Then the Captain did something striking. Before continuing to tell his story of the actual massacre, he closed his eyes; in the special manner of performing ablutions, he raised his hands to his face and ran them down to his white beard as if washing up. After muttering a few prayers, he turned and said to me, "May [Allah] not show such death as this to anybody."

"Did you shoot them, or bayonet them to death?" I asked.

"It's wartime and bullets are expensive. So people grabbed whatever they could from their villages--axes, hatchets, scythes, sickles, clubs, hoes, pickaxes, shovels--and they did the killing accordingly."

It is impossible for me to convey what happened to those 6.400 defenseless women, virgins, and brides, as well as children and suckling infants. Their heartrending cries and doleful pleas brought down the deaf canopies of heaven. The police soldiers in Yozgat and Boghazlian who accompanied us would even boast to some of us about how they had committed tortures and decapitations, cut off... body parts with axes, and how they had [killed] suckling infants and children by... dashing them on rocks.

...As we rode our horses side to side, our conversation about the deportations and massacres finally reached a point where I was not longer able to restrain myself. Stiffened by this unfathomable and crushing story, I turned to Shukri, who was relating all this as if it were a children's fairy tale, and said: "But, Bey, you are an elderly Muslim. How did you have this many thousands of innocent women, girls, and children massacred without feeling any remorse or guilt, when they were neither conspirators or rebels? Won't you remain accountable for this innocent blood spilled, before Allah, the Prophet, and your conscience?"

- "Not at all," he replied. "On the contrary, I carried out my sacred and holy obligation before Allah, my Prophet, and my Caliph.. A Jihadwas proclaimed... The Sheik-ul-Islam had issued a fatwa to annihilate the Armenians as traitors to our State, and the Caliph, in turn, ratifying this fatwa, had ordered its execution... And I, as a military officers, carried out the order of my King. Killing people in war is not considered a crime now, is it?"

Following this shameless and abhorrent statement, I fell silent, because there was nothing I could say in reply to this executioner who had likened the merciless massacre of unarmed, defenseless women and infants to killing people in war. In total, he was responsible for the murder of 42,000 innocent people.

...I did not want to anger our Captain and tried to mask my contempt with humor. So I asked, "Bey, you know that we clergymen frighten people with punishments in the other world... How are you going to atone for these sins of yours in the other world?"

"Oh, very easily. I already atoned for them and didn't leave anything unsettled for the next world. As I've always done, after this massacre as well, I spread out my prayer rug and said my prayers, giving glory to Allah and to the Prophet who made me worthy of participating in the holy Jihad in these days of my old age. Many, many times a few years ago, they wanted me to retire on account of my age; it's a good thing that I didn't."

Page 148.

After we had talked for two or three hours, almost without interruption, Shukri and the police soldiers moved ahead. The lawyer Boghos Tanielian, one of the Constantinople intellectuals who was on foot, had been listening closely to our conversation, along with a few of his companions. After I was left alone, he said, "If you were an official of great authority from Constantinople, you couldn't have gotten such a confession from this criminal. I hope someday the world will hear of this-- this man who massacred forty thousand Armenians."

Pages 149-150.

On all the roads were traversed between Yozgat and Kayseri, about 80 percent of the Muslims we encountered (there were no Christians left in these parts) were wearing European clothes, bearing on their persons proof of the crimes they had committed. Indeed, it was an absurd sight: overcoats, frock coats, jackets--various men's and women's garments of the finest materials--on villagers who were also wearing sandals and traditional baggy pants. Barefoot Turkish peasant boys wore formal clothes; men sported gold chains and watches. It was reported that the women had confiscated many pieces of diamond jewelry, but as they were sequestered, we had no way of encountering them.

Although Captain Shukri carried out the criminal orders of the Ittihad Committee with gusto, as national policy, he generally spoke disparagingly of the Ittihad Leaders, especially Talaat [Pasha] and Enver [Pasha]. He often said, "These are adventurers descended from Gypsies or [converted Jews]; they do whatever crosses their minds; they don't consider the long run." In referring to the Armenian massacres, he said, "Let's see how we are going to escape the consequences of what we have done." However, these final apprehensive words he said out of fear of punishment, not contrition.  

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August 14th, 2014Nothing New about Terrorismby Dena Hunt

I received from a friend who is interested in the English Deformation a blog post by Dr. Joseph Shaw, Oxford-based, I believe, who is described as: “a Catholic academic with strong views not for those of a sensitive disposition.” Dr. Shaw writes an essay in which he compares ISIS to historical “Anglican terror.” That’s hardly a politically correct point of view, but Dr. Shaw raises some very interestingly unexpected comparative points. Not surprisingly, his essay met with pretty hostile comments. His response was to post a second essay, even less apologetic than the first.

http://www.lmschairman.org/2014/08/to-understand-isis-look-at-anglicanism.html

http://www.lmschairman.org/2014/08/anglicanism-and-isis-response-to-critics.html

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August 14th, 2014A Wizard’s Calendarby Joseph Pearce

I've just enjoyed watching a short video of StAR's artist in residence, Jef Murray, promoting his 2015 Wizard's Calendar. The experience was like stepping through a magic window into the heart of the Shire!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sPX2quUYoi8&feature=youtu.be

 

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August 14th, 2014A Soul Mate from your Zip Codeby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

Re. the Catholic Dating thing.  A reader wrote to suggest that by using the term "non-sexual hook-up", I could be inadvertently doing some damage, as many guys and gals who at least have friendships with one another will now begin to second-guess themselves.  "Oh no!  This could be a non-sexual hook-up!  Maybe it's not a simple friendship!  Maybe I shouldn't be enjoying myself having coffee with Mindy!"  But, then again, that's part of the problem - this eternal second-guessing.

Another reader sent me a link to a commentary by TV personality Mike Rowe, which has been making the rounds, but which is worth quoting ...

I had drinks last night with a woman I know. Let’s call her Claire. Claire just turned 42. She’s cute, smart, and successful. She’s frustrated though, because she can’t find a man. I listened all evening about how difficult her search has been. About how all the “good ones” were taken. About how her other friends had found their soul-mates, and how it wasn’t fair that she had not.

“Look at me,” she said. “I take care of myself. I’ve put myself out there. Why is this so hard?”

“How about that guy at the end of the bar,” I said. “He keeps looking at you.”

“Not my type.”

“Really? How do you know?”

“I just know.”

“Have you tried a dating site?” I asked.

“Are you kidding? I would never date someone I met online!”

“Alright. How about a change of scene? Your company has offices all over – maybe try living in another city?”

“What? Leave San Francisco? Never!”

“How about the other side of town? You know, mix it up a little. Visit different places. New museums, new bars, new theaters…?”

She looked at me like I had two heads. “Why the hell would I do that?”

Here’s the thing ... Claire doesn’t really want a man. She wants the “right” man. She wants a soul-mate. Specifically, a soul-mate from her zip code.  She assembled this guy in her mind years ago, and now, dammit, she’s tired of waiting!!

I didn’t tell her this, because Claire has the capacity for sudden violence. But it’s true. She complains about being alone, even though her rules have more or less guaranteed she’ll stay that way. She has built a wall between herself and her goal. A wall made of conditions and expectations.


Many of my devout Catholic friends have done exactly the same thing.  They're looking for a soul mate within their own zip code (so to speak) - and worse than that, within their own extended, highly specified nine-digit zip code.  They think that they must marry a devout Catholic mate.  Now, granted, religion is a crucial part of a family, and disagreements on matters of faith can be fatal, but having said that, if you're only going wading in the devout Catholic pool, you'll find there's hardly enough water to swim in.

After all, guys, if you meet a woman who loves you and she's not a devout Catholic to begin with, she'll be drawn to your faith, as it's the center of who you are as a devout Catholic man.

But more importantly, marriage is about character.  Find a mate with a good character.  Because (duh!) religion is also primarily about character - or at least it's supposed to be.  Rebirth in Christ is meant to reform our characters - eternally.

What this means is that people who are Good without being self-consciously Christian get their Goodness from Christ without knowing it.  Christ is the source of all Goodness, and all Goodness comes from Christ.  Period.  Don't fret about that.  To do so speaks of your insecurity, not God's.

And then there's the odd corollary - that most religious people are far from Good.  And sometimes a serious "devout" streak is the sign of some serious psychological issues, or at least some very bizarre character flaws.

My friend Sean Dailey observes ...

All the reeeeally devout Catholic women here, married or single, peddle Juice Plus and think that gluten is the spawn of Satan.


This gets to the fact that God's story is always bigger than our story.  There are a lot of "anonymous Christians" our there, whether that fact suits our expectations or not.

Let me illustrate this with a true story.

***

One of my actresses is an agnostic.  She's also very politically liberal and an out-of-the-closet Lesbian.  She would, therefore, be a kind of horror to many of my Devout Catholic friends.

When she was a teen (and before she started dating only women), she got pregnant - and this was back in the day when this was a rare thing.  The baby's father never publicly acknowledged his son, and never provided financial assistance to his upbringing, and my actress never pressed him for it.  For years, this man lived in the same town as my actress and their boy, and even became a pillar of his Protestant church a few blocks down the road - all the while, remaining entirely out of his son's life.

When the boy was 18 or so, his unknown father's mother was dying.  Her death bed request was that this man acknowledge his son.  So he did, and suddenly re-appeared in the life of my actress.

Now, in all this time, what had my actress been doing?  Had she spent her days bad mouthing this absentee sperm donor, as she certainly must have been tempted to do?  Had she expressed her anger and loneliness by poisoning the well, and ruining this boy's image of his missing father?  And then, when the man showed up, a kind of Christian hypocrite on her doorstep, 18 years late and thousands of dollars short, did she throw something at him and show him the door?

No, she did none of these things.  She told her son that this was his biological father, and that if he wanted to try to build a relationship with him, that was his prerogative, and she would not get in the way.

Now, dear readers, what is this an example of if not of holiness?  This agnostic Lesbian made an 18 year sacrifice out of love, and I know of very very few self-styled Christians who would even have attempted to do the same.

I've been a Catholic for 14 years, and I've never done anything that good.

***

The grace of God is active in this world in ways that we keep denying, in ways that we can't comprehend, in ways that we deliberately narrow down and truncate.

Yes, as Catholics, we have the sacraments, we have the fullness of Truth, we have the Church - but we are still sinners, still isolated individuals, still hungry for giving love and receiving love: and that's the human condition.

Don't limit God's grace.  Find Goodness where you can - and it's all over the place.  Find Truth and Beauty while you're at it, even in the places where you'd least expect it.

Throw away the Juice Plus and the gluten free pasta and venture out of your own zip code.

When Mother Teresa and her nuns would help a dying person on the streets of Calcutta, they would not stop to ask his or her religion.  They would simply love that person.

Start doing the same, and this dreadful ice will begin to thaw.



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August 14th, 2014Depression Does Not Discriminateby Michael Lichens | http://coffeecatholic.wordpress.com

In my latest piece at The Catholic Gentlman, I go into some more details with my struggle with MDD and also try to bring home the fact that mental anguish touches a lot of people, the Catholic, the non-Catholic, and even the successful. 

Depression doesn’t give a damn about your status, vocation, race, or financial situation. Yet, neither does Christ. If we want the mentally afflicted to find the peace that surpasses all understanding, we need first to open the doors and to let it in, and that is what Christian charity ought to do.

If someone in your life is suffering mental anguish, I can tell you from experience what works and doesn’t work. Don’t try to cure them unless you are a doctor or a real wonder-worker, and for heaven’s sake do not try to tell them, “But how can you be depressed!” Instead, let them know that they do have a friend, who is willing to carry a lot of their pains if necessary, and accept it if silence is their only response. Then, pray for help and that grace will be sufficient to get them through, but be aware that you probably are called to be an instrument of that grace. It means some work, but love demands it.

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August 13th, 2014The Sign of Peaceby Fr. Simon Henry

One of the liturgical practices that has most often landed me in hot water over the years and earned approbation, condemnation and censure has been the Sign of Peace.  Over the years I have come to offer the instruction to the congregation to exchange the Sign of Peace less and less, so that now it is a great rarity in for me to do so in the OF of Mass.  This has, of course, been accompanied by catechesis but because of the prevalent mode of exchanging the Sign of Peace, no matter what catechesis was given, it always became the occasion for something that it is not meant to be.  I have deemed that as it was not taking place properly, the legitimate option to omit it should be taken.  Although, of course, it is verbally exchanged between priest and people, whether the action is included or not.

Now, finally, the Congregation for the Sacraments has issued a letter which makes it clear that all those things which I have often been criticised for not doing or not allowing are, in fact, ABUSES which it will be "definitively necessary to avoid." (to quote Cardinal Canizares.)

"If it is foreseen that it will not take place properly due to specific circumstances or if it is not considered pedagogically wise to carry it out on certain occasions, it can be omitted and sometimes ought to be omitted.  It is worth recalling that the rubric from the Missal states: "Then, if appropriate, the deacon or the priest adds, 'Let us offer each other the sign of peace.'"

On the basis of these observations it may be advisable that conferences of bishops should consider whether it might not be advisable to change the manner of giving peace... For example, in those places where familiar or profane gestures were previously chosen, they could be replaced with other more appropriate gestures.

In any case, it will be definitively necessary to avoid abuses such as:

The introduction of a "song of peace", which is non-existent in the Roman Rite.

The movement of the faithful from their places to exchange the sign of peace amongst themselves.

The departure of the priest from the altar to give the sign of peace to some of the faithful.

That in certain circumstances, such as Easter, Christmas, first Communion, Confirmation, Matrimony, Ordinations and funerals, the exchange of peace being the occasion for expressing congratulations, best wishes or condolences."

Sadly, although this letter has been issued under the auspices of Pope Francis, I don't suppose all those who supposedly laud him to the skies will take any more notice of this than if it had been issued under Pope Benedict or Pope John Paul.  I shouldn't hold my breath waiting for Liturgy Offices up and down the country to start workshops or produce publicity about this particular Franciscan directive to take effect.

The letter also makes it clear that the Sign of Peace is to remain in the place during Mass which is assigned to it in the Missal.  I have experienced occasions here in the diocese where it has been moved around to other parts of the Mass.  One of the problems with this is that the same lack of understanding of what it is meant to be were not tackled and so the usual free-for-all took place.  As with so many other parts of the liturgy and of the Faith itself, the Christian gesture, teaching or symbol is emptied of its Faith content and we are left with a hollow secular meaning dressed up in Christian clothing.  I believe Our Lord referred to such instances as "whitened Sepulchres".

There was a time when the Church could take on pagan symbols, gestures and places and make them Her own but now the process seems most often to be working in reverse: we take on the secular and embrace all that goes with it instead of changing it.  Meanwhile, the secular world makes full outward use of our Christian heritage - candles, angels, demons, baptism, first Communion - but imbues them with its own degraded meanings.  The Devil must not only be dancing but taking classes in the Fandango to celebrate!

My thanks to Fr Ray Blake for drawing my attention to the letter and, of course, he has some eminently sensible observations of his own on the subject.

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August 13th, 2014Depression and the Great Lieby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

The liar spinning his lies.


The suicide of Robin Williams has led to a number of posts on the internet about depression.  Both this one and this one are well worth the read.

It may be presumptuous of me to add anything, as my own personal pain has been quite mild by comparison.  Not that I don't have "mental issues", as my friends and regular readers will no doubt be happy to tell you!  But my own struggles have mostly been with anxiety and with demons of a different stripe.

However, I did experience one long dark night, a period of what could be called depression or despair or murkiness, a mixture of anger, hopelessness and listlessness that lasted for about two full years and that only recently ended.  Many of the posts on this blog were written in the midst of it.

It was "situational" for me - dealing with some very dark truths of human nature brought about by two situations that somehow managed to plumb the depths of who I was as a person.

And by far the worst thing about it - and perhaps this is true of all who suffer from chronic depression - was the lie.  The great lie.

***

We can all endure a certain amount of suffering and disappointments, even great pain and anguish in our lives if we can perceive the purpose of the pain.  If we're fighting to defend our nation in a just war and we get taken prisoner, the torture and deprivation we endure is out of love for something greater - and that makes all the difference.  But if the war is meaningless, if we were drafted in a conflict that was designed to fill the pockets of the corporate oligarchs who are trying to enslave us, then the suffering has no context - no meaningful context, and in that case seems unendurable.  Pointless.

Losing sleep because you're nursing your newborn is difficult, but a blessing.  Losing sleep because life seems meaningless and you can't function is a curse.

So love makes any sacrifice a glory, and even if our own sins bring about a darkness - that at least is part of God's plan and is an aspect of his Severe Mercy.  Being crucified for a sin you're guilty of is awful, but it's not so bad as what an innocent man suffers, as the Good Thief pointed out to the Bad Thief on Calvary ("And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong." - Luke 23:41)

All of these ways of suffering are difficult.  But it's at that moment when even God seems to drop out of the equation that things are really bleak.

And in that moment the lie, the great lie, comes directly from the mouth of the father of lies.  And his favorite tool is the very meaninglessness and injustice that fuels our pain and that makes us long for a suffering that is justified, when he convinces us that ours is not.

Perhaps the most terrible of the Temptations of Jesus was one that was not spelled out, one that we can only infer.  When the devil tempted Our Lord in the wilderness, the theme behind his hideous whispers was power, power to compensate for doubt.  "If you are the Son of God ... prove it and Lord it over nature!  Lord it over others!  Lord it over death itself!"

But in that darkest of all dark moments, that terrible time on the cross when the sun itself went black, what was whispered in His ear must have been something like this ...

It's worthless.  You're worthless.  You thought you were the Son of God.  You thought you were doing good, helping them.  But they don't want your help.  And this is the hour for which you were made?  Ha!  It's an hour of emptiness.  This is an hour of absurdity.  Nothing matters.  You call this a sacrifice?  It's an empty gesture in a universe of empty gestures.  Your precious Father has abandoned you utterly - and you deserve it.  Because you're worthless.  "Are you still maintaining your integrity?  Curse God and die!"


That last line is from the Book of Job (Job 2:9), and I'm sure Satan used it, for the devil knows his Scripture well, and can quote it to his own advantage (see Luke 4:10).

But so does Our Lord.  When the dying Messiah cries out, "My God!  My God!  Why have you abandoned me?" - He and his listeners knew the rest of the Psalm, which ends with triumph and glory.

But my point here is that the great lie, the trump card played by the Prince of Lies, is the horrible untruth that everything is meaningless and that we do not matter.  No one can come to suicide without passing through that terrible curtain.

The antidote to this?  By the grace of God, Pope Benedict XVI explains the incredible ...

Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed. Each of us is loved. Each of us is necessary.


That may be very hard to envision when you're in the throes of depression (it's hard to envision even on a normal day!) and that truth can only be conveyed if we offer more than mere words to one who is suffering.

But when I was depressed, that's what got me down the most - the conviction that my efforts were all for naught, that everything I did was simply selfish, that even my most ardent attempts at being loving and self-giving were sins in disguise, and that no matter what I did, it was never enough, that there was no way to escape from the utter indifference of the universe, that even the human heart was empty and all its passions contrived, that, as Lucy once told Charlie Brown when talking about his beloved dog, "Snoopy only loves you because you feed him."

In other words: "Are you still maintaining your integrity?  Curse God and die!"  Don't forget it was Job's wife who told him that, the woman he loved most in all the world.

So, my friends, life can be far more difficult than we often pretend it is.  And the inner struggles of those around you can be far greater than you could ever imagine.  So love them.  And remember, as Chesterton said (my emphasis) ...

Christianity alone felt that God, to be wholly God, must have been a rebel as well as a king. Alone of all creeds, Christianity has added courage to the virtues of the Creator. For the only courage worth calling courage must necessarily mean that the soul passes a breaking point -- and does not break. In this indeed I approach a matter more dark and awful than it is easy to discuss; and I apologize in advance if any of my phrases fall wrong or seem irreverent touching a matter which the greatest saints and thinkers have justly feared to approach. But in the terrific tale of the Passion there is a distinct emotional suggestion that the author of all things (in some unthinkable way) went not only through agony, but through doubt. It is written, "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God." No; but the Lord thy God may tempt Himself; and it seems as if this was what happened in Gethsemane. In a garden Satan tempted man: and in a garden God tempted God. He passed in some superhuman manner through our human horror of pessimism. When the world shook and the sun was wiped out of heaven, it was not at the crucifixion, but at the cry from the cross: the cry which confessed that God was forsaken of God. And now let the revolutionists choose a creed from all the creeds and a god from all the gods of the world, carefully weighing all the gods of inevitable recurrence and of unalterable power. They will not find another god who has himself been in revolt. Nay (the matter grows too difficult for human speech), but let the atheists themselves choose a god. They will find only one divinity who ever uttered their isolation; only one religion in which God seemed for an instant to be an atheist.”



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August 13th, 2014Pumping Iron for Christ!by Joseph Pearce

Now that's not a headline that you see every day! It is, however, relevant to a Catholic website for which I have just given an interview. "Strength for the Kingdom" is a blog by Jared Zimmerer, on "nutrition, fitness and spirituality". Jared and I are keen weight trainers and I enjoyed sharing my thoughts on the "healthy trinity" of prayer, reading and fitness. Here's the interview: 

http://www.jaredzimmerer.com/blog/2014/8/12/the-healthy-trinity-an-interview-with-joseph-pearce

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August 13th, 2014Preview of the September/October Issue of the St. Austin Reviewby Joseph Pearce

The theme of the next issue of the St. Austin Review is “Recusants and Martyrs: English Resistance to the Tudor Terror”.

Highlights:

Shaun Blanchard views St. Thomas More as the Ideal Christian

Joseph Pearce connects Shakespeare and St. Thomas More

Mark Amorose waxes poetical about Recusants

Anne Barbeau Gardiner discovers Secret Hiding Places: Recusant Houses and Priest-Holes Made by a Saint

Stephanie A. Mann reads between the lines in her survey of Tudor Church Music and Revisionist History

T. Renee Kozinski looks iconically at St. Edmund Campion and the Tyburn Tree

John Beaumont tells the tale of A Remarkable Convert Priest, Resisting the Tudor Terror

Stephen Brady condemns The Murder of Merrie England

Brendan King admires The Picture that Painted a Poem, explaining How an Italian Masterpiece Inspired an English Saint

Trevor Lipscombe elegizes Our Lady’s Dowry

Susan Treacy muses on William Byrd’s Gradualia

M. J. Needham praises the Art of Katie Schmid in the full colour art feature

Kevin O’Brien tackles Modern Persecution and the Catholic Church

James Bemis checks off Schindler’s List in his ongoing survey of the Vatican’s List of “great films”

Fr. Benedict Kiely contemplates the meaning of the priesthood

Donald DeMarco spies A Ray of Hope for the Family in Quebec

Michael Lichens remembers Stratford Caldecott

Carol Anne Jones reviews Was Shakespeare Catholic? by Peter Milward

Stephanie A. Mann reviews Catholics of the Anglican Patrimony by Aidan Nicholls

Carol Anne Jones reviews Anne Line: Shakespeare’s Tragic Muse by Martin Dodwell

 

Mark Newcomb reviews The One Thomas More by Travis Curtright

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August 13th, 2014Spayed Sentiments and Sterilized Sex: More on Catholic Datingby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

Flannery speaks ... read on!


I'm going to tie together some threads that have been hanging loose in my posts on Catholic Dating.

Remember what Chesterton said ...

To love a thing without wishing to fight for it is not love at all; it is lust. It may be an airy, philosophical, and disinterested lust… but it is lust, because it is wholly self-indulgent and invites no attack. 


This is the knot that ties together the lack of Eros in both our secular and religious arenas and the bizarre non-sexual hook-up culture that one finds in the weird world of devout young Christians.

What this "airy lust" ignores is this.  Sex and sentiment both have points.  They both are deadly serious things that have a final cause, or an end in their design.  The pornographic mentality of the secular hook-up culture denies the purpose of sex, while the sentimental mentality of the Devout-Christian-hook-up culture denies the purpose of feelings.  In the one case, sex is indulged in for its own sake, apart from the awesome ends for which it is designed, and its enjoyment is cut off from the responsibilities that naturally come with it.  In the other, men and women indulge themselves in intense emotional feelings and intimacies, which likewise are severed from their purpose, and cut off from the responsibilities that these feelings imply - loyalty, friendship, mutual obligations - yes, and marriage - and other things that lovers of the Pornography of Sentiment would rather avoid.

Flannery O'Connor wrote about this long ago.

 

If the average Catholic reader could be tracked down through the swamps of letters-to-the-editor and other places where he momentarily reveals himself, he would be found to be something of a Manichean.  By separating nature and grace as much as possible, he has reduced his conception of the supernatural to a pious cliche and has become able to recognize nature in literature in only
two forms, the sentimental and the obscene. He would seem to prefer the former, while being more of an authority on the latter, but the similarity between the two generally escapes him. He forgets that sentimentality is an excess, a distortion of sentiment, usually in the direction of an overemphasis on innocence; and that innocence, whenever it is overemphasized in the ordinary human condition, tends by some natural law to become its opposite.
We lost our innocence in the fall of our first parents, and our return to it is through the redemption which was brought about by Christ’s death and by our slow participation in it. Sentimentality is a skipping of this process in its concrete reality and an early arrival at a mock state of innocence, which strongly suggests its opposite. Pornography, on the other hand, is essentially sentimental, for it leaves out the connection of sex with its hard purposes, disconnects it from its meaning in life and makes it simply an experience for its own sake.


Note that Flannery sets this observation in the context of the Manichean tendencies of the modern Catholic - the idea that matter is bad and spirit is good, the idea that God's grace could not possibly operate in the real world of sexual desire, intense emotions that imply an obligation, or in the general mess of our everyday lives, which is the philosophical backdrop to this problem that I identified earlier in these series of posts.

In other words, as Chesterton pointed out, if you separate loving and fighting, if you separate grace and nature, if you separate sex from its purpose or feelings from their purpose, you are left not with love but with lust; perhaps an "airy, philosophical and disinterested lust", but lust all the same.

If our desires do not bind us, we are shirking the cross.  If our shared emotions do not obligate us, we are no more "friends" than two people who get drunk and have a one-night-stand are "lovers".  If we believe that sentimentality and the cheap grace of the gay guitar Mass are anything but shortcuts to a "mock state of innocence", we are fooling ourselves.

***

So, what I think this phenomenon shows us is this ...

  • There exists a floating heresy that all secularists and most Catholics take in by osmosis, by the air they breathe.  It is the unexamined assumption that grace does not penetrate nature; and that God would never deign to do such a messy and demeaning thing as working through our bodies or our passions.

  • This leads to a great suspicion of nature and a blindness to the teleology that is built in to nature - which is the death of nature as a meaningful concept, including human nature.

  • This "death of nature" leads, in the secular culture, to things as ridiculous as the conviction that "gender" is an individual choice, or that "marriage" has no inherent meaning, that we can define it or redefine it as we will, and that arbitrary human will trumps nature every time, either in the life of an individual or in the laws of a community, in the community's economy, and in the meaning of life itself, which cannot be found in creation, but exists only as we will it, and can change from person to person, from culture to culture, or from age to age.

  • Young Devout Catholics growing up in this culture thus cannot trust either their natural desires or their natural emotions as having any purpose, as carrying with them any incumbent obligations.

  • Add to this the miseducation of American youth, in which fighting for anything is always and everywhere taught to be wrong, and you get a great timidity of spirit, a loss of the sense of romance, and a world that's flattened, pale and uninteresting.  

  • And while Devout Young Catholics - women in particular - shy away from pornography (or at least try to), the great unmet need of male / female bonding nonetheless often leads them to an irresponsible indulgence in affairs of the heart.  Except in such a culture of sanctimonious sentimentality, an affair of the heart is like a very tame Hallmark movie that you can switch off after you've had enough artificial emotional payoff.  Thus what my friend termed the "non-sexual hook-up culture".

I

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August 12th, 2014What is Christendom?by Joseph Pearce

After last week's article for The Imaginative Conservative, which asked the question, "what is civilization?", this week's article asks the related question, "what is Christendom?" Learn more:


 http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2014/08/christendom.html

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August 12th, 2014Of Bonds and Bondageby Dena Hunt

Having been declared by both secular and religious social philosophy to be The Meaning of Life, human relationships, the bonds we have with each other, are the areas of our lives that receive everyone’s closest attention. At every turn, we are prompted to cherish, to revere (even to worship), what we’ve identified as God, namely, Love. “God is love” quoth the religious and “Love is god,” saith the secular humanist. And thus we see how handily, how easily, we can dispose of divisive notions of deity when we unite around a god called “Love.”

“All you need is love!” sang the sixties, and we all became believers. It felt so good to say it, it made us feel righteous, and it affirmed our secret faith in our own potential glory. If we only have love, we will not have war. Yes, of course, Hitler did what he did because of love, and so did Stalin, but we’ll pretend they didn’t because only good guys (us) have love. We have The Answer to all the evils in the world, and this discovery proves our moral superiority to capitalist greed, imperialistic powerlust, and to all the oppressive religious belief that preceded us.

 

 The flower children grew up but didn’t outgrow the deep need for emotional sap, for righteous supremacy (expressed now as “social justice”), and most of all, for the victory of humanism. Victory over what? Good question—odd no one ever thought to ask it. It was along about this time, that I became misanthropic. “Love,” I had begun to notice, is the justification of all sorts of exploitation, cultural destruction, bigotry, abuse, cruelty, emotional terrorism, and even murder.

 

When I was in school, I took a course or two in advertising and worked one summer writing copy. It’s not a surprise, I know, to learn that most advertising exploits our fears. But what fear are we talking about? Fear of suffering and death? No. Nor is it the fear of being unloved—not exactly. It’s the fear of being unlovable—which is not the same thing as unloved. In fact, there’s a world of difference, and it’s that difference that reveals the horror at the heart of the secular humanist’s mantra, Love is God.

 

To get a revealing snapshot of a society (what’s going on, what are its beliefs and values, what does it perceive as “good” and “bad,” etc.), take a look at children’s cartoons. Gone are the days of Bugs Bunny or Tom and Jerry—when cartoons were meant simply to be funny. Now they’re meant to instruct, to form our children. It’s as if the producers know that parents are too busy to raise their children and so they’ve taken on that job themselves. Anyway, it takes the whole village to raise a child, and cartoon producers are part of the village.

 

Children in cartoons are always seen in groups, and their friends are always represented in multiple ethnicities—white Anglo-European, African-Carribean, Asian, Hispanic, etc. So we’re teaching inclusiveness of all races and cultures—good, but you might notice also that there are no “individual” story lines, except insofar as some child has been excluded from the group. If he is rightfully excluded, it’s because he’s been selfish and must learn his lesson in order to be re-admitted to the group (the happy ending). If he’s wrongfully excluded, it’s because the group must learn the lesson of inclusivity (the alternate happy ending). Either way, the plotline is social justice, and it varies almost not at all. Together, the group overcomes some evil difficulty or obstacle. “Together,” the keyword of the concluding action and rhetoric, is always spoken with enormous emphasis, often accompanied by rousing music. Most parents actually DO monitor what their kids watch, so all this redundancy meets their approval, indicating that it’s the creed of the parents. The kids probably don’t even understand it. But it’s served up to them over and over and over anyway.

 

With all this bonding, we should be a pretty strong society, yet most marriages end in divorce: First, the absence of God precludes any notion of the sanctity of marriage, so most people don’t bother with marriage any more. Then, having turned love into a god, men and women demand more of human love than human beings can deliver.

 

Our bonds become our bondage. I once saw a humanistic film, much applauded in religious circles, in which a family is forced to accept the homosexual “marriage” of one of its members. Families do not, contrary to social justice films, exclude practicing homosexuals from their midst; rather, the homosexual threatens to leave the family unless the members not only accept, but also ratify and affirm their activity. (It was cartoon plot number two, above.) At the end, the family sat around a Christmas tree (no one saw that irony) and declared, “We’re all each other has.” The scene, much admired by viewers and critics, was co-dependency on steroids. After all, it’s unspeakably lonely being gods.

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August 10th, 2014The Day I was Almost Murdered - and What It Taught Me about Loveby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

The Princess, The Dragon, St. George (see Chesterton's quotation below)


He was a violent man.  And he tried to kill me.

It was the first time a murder almost happened during one of our murder mysteries.

He had been raised in one of the most culturally depraved parts of Missouri, and his family history included a bit of everything, even incest.  His father used to get in fist fights with him and his brothers - in public.  In the parking lot of the restaurant they owned and ran.  In front of the customers.

Over the years that we performed murder mystery dinner theater shows at his restaurant, he more than once threatened to "kick my ass".  Somehow I managed to avoid direct confrontations with him, and he admired the work I was doing enough generally to leave me alone.

But he was particularly angry on January 11, 1997.  He confronted me before the show and demanded that I share with him a portion of his overhead: the fee that Mastercard and Visa were charging him when people paid for their dinners on a credit card.  Obviously this was unfair, but I dodged the issue, as he was particularly on edge.  "Let's talk about it later," I said.

In fact, over the years, one of my favorite ways of dealing with conflict had been to dodge the issue.  When I was at my poorest, and delivering flyers door to door (doing work that prisoners and the mentally disabled are often contracted to do), the company that hired me was paying me a ridiculously low amount per flyer.  Instead of negotiating for more money, and for what amounted to a living wage, I simply delivered only half to 3/4 of the flyers I charged them for.  This was dishonest, but, in my cowardice, I found it to be a better solution than dealing with the problem directly and taking the risk that I might lose the business.

So I was often like this with the bully who ran the restaurant.  After all, I was making pretty good money, writing and performing my own comedy shows, I loved the work, and if it meant I had to sell my soul a bit or shut up and take a little abuse here and there, I figured I would do it.

But that night something happened.

A guy had parked his car in the parking lot so that it was blocking others from getting in or out.  So during Act Two of the show, the restaurant owner sent his girlfriend table to table to ask people whose car it was that was parked there.

This was very distracting.  It got to a point where I couldn't hold the audience's attention.  The show was starting to die, as people kept looking at the girlfriend, who kept talking to people around the room.  Finally I stopped the show.  "Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen.  We'll be back on after they figure this out."

And I brought the actress with me and made an exit.

In the hall, the restaurant owner, the angry man, was livid.  "You can't stop the show!" he insisted.

"You can't ruin the show," I replied.

"We've got to solve this problem, and we'll solve it however we choose to!  Get your ass back out there and finish Act Two!"

Now, here's the point I'm making.

When you love something with a passionate love, enough that you take pride in it, enough that you'll fight to defend it, enough that it means more to you than anything else - that's Eros.  That's what so many young people, both in and out of the Catholic Church, are deliberately suffocating it in their lives.  Secularists kill Eros by "hooking up" and turning romantic love into mutual abuse.  Catholics kill Eros by telling themselves that anything that gets their dander up is a sin and must be shunned.  In both cases, the young live lives where they constantly dodge the issue, lives of impotence, lives of make-believe and comfort zones.

"Don't talk to me that way," I said to the angry man.

"You get your ass out there and keep doing your show, or you'll kiss $60,000 away!" he said.  That's about what we were making from him in a year - though he was underpaying us by more than half of what the shows were worth, and what I was later able to get for them elsewhere.

"You're damn right I'm kissing it away!" I said, and I grabbed him and kissed him.  "I've had enough of your s***, you a**hole!"

And I stormed upstairs to gather my costumes.

Now, granted, this was not the smartest thing to do.  I was provoking him.  I was finally giving in to an anger that he himself had been provoking in me for three full years.

But here's the thing: you don't mess with my shows.  I let this man mess with me offstage, I let him harass my actresses, I let him nickle and dime me to death, I let him blow up in anger at me and shout at me on a regular basis before and after many performances, I let him treat me with the contempt he treated his bus boys.

But I was not going to let him mess with my shows.  The stage is a sacred space.  I wasn't a Christian in those days, but I knew there was one thing I would defend the way a priest would defend his altar, the way a mother bear would defend her cubs.  I was going to defend the thing that I loved, the thing I was called to do.  You don't mess with my shows.  

Suddenly, he was on me.

Having been an amateur boxer in his day, he was pummeling me, and having been a dirty street fighter, he kept trying to trip me so that he could get on top of me.  We were alone in the upstairs room where my costumes were.  He was trying to kill me.  I could see it in his eyes.  He later admitted it to one of my actresses.

I held my own for as long as I could.  I realized if I didn't start yelling for help, he'd eventually get me down, and if he got me down, he would knock me out, and once he knocked me out, he would keep beating on me, even if I were unconscious.  I was a dead man, and this guy was bigger and stronger and filled with the kind of anger I've never seen in another human being - an anger not of this world, an anger he was giving himself in to with a glee of hideous abandon.

Eventually the waiters heard my cries and the police were called - but not until after he broke my nose in two places and almost delivered a "blow out fracture" to my left eye socket.  The police were St. Louis city cops, friends of this guy's, regular customers at the restaurant.  They arrested me.  But not him.

***

So I was out of a job and almost murdered on the same night.  And arrested, and filled with despair.  And the guy who tried to kill me owed me for six performances prior to that night - and of course he never paid me.  I decided not to sue, as it was all I could do to get through each day.  It was the most traumatic thing that had happened to me up to that point in my life, and I struggled to come to grips with it.  Lots of sleepless nights and deep days of anger.  And a family to support, two little kids to feed, and a mortgage to pay (we had just bought our first house).  And our main dinner theater client suddenly gone.

In my free time following the attack, I went to the library and started reading books at random to get my mind off things.  One of the books was God in the Dock, an anthology of essays by someone named C. S. Lewis, who was the first Christian I had ever come across who was both a brilliant writer and a man who could mount a reasonable defense of the Faith.  Lewis led me to Chesterton.  Chesterton to Belloc.  Belloc to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  And the rest is history.

Sometimes my actors get down on themselves.  "We didn't have a very good show tonight," they'll complain.

"Did anyone try to kill you?" I ask.

"No," they reply.

"Did you get the check?" I add.

"Yes," they reply.

"Then you had a good show."

***

Of course, had I handled the situation differently during our three years at this restaurant, had I stood up for myself early on and all along the way, either the business relationship would have ended sooner, or this guy would have learned to respect me.  But things never would have exploded the way they did.

But there's a lesson here, a lesson about love.  Not the love of forgiveness (though I've been given the grace to forgive this man, and I have); but the love of fighting for the princess.

Which is something that is very alien to many of you - especially to you Devout Young Catholics, a group I've been haranguing all week.

Young Catholics, stop dodging the issue.  God has made us to love, and love includes both the selfless love of Agape and the possessive love of Eros.  If you ever get married and have babies, you will suddenly find that there are little tiny people in this world that you would gladly die for in a heartbeat, little tiny people that you would gladly kill for in a heartbeat: your children.

That's love, fellow Christians.  A love that is both self-sacrificing and jealous, insistent, firm and militant: a love that is (as all love is) both Agape and Eros.

Stand up for yourselves.  Don't settle for loser boyfriends who can't bring themselves to pop the question because they're either too busy "discerning" or they're secretly gay or hooked on porn.  Don't settle for girlfriends who manipulate or tease you or who can't be trusted or who won't be there when you need them.  Don't settle for turning your vocation into an avocation, for jobs that simply fill space and make your life comfortable but that don't give you the chance to do what God has made you to do.  Don't settle for an education that doesn't force you to grapple with the deepest elements of Truth, Beauty and Goodness.  Don't settle for a Mass that's contrived, filled with bad music and insipid preaching.  Don't settle for a parish that's more anti-Christian than Christian.  Don't settle for the safety of living in Mom's basement.

And don't let anyone mess with your shows.

When you find what you love, defend it, fight for it, die for it - and (most challenging of all) live for it.

***

The greatest writer of the 20th Century, my patron in heaven, put it much better than I ever could (my emphasis) ...

In every romance there must be the twin elements of loving and fighting. In every romance there must be the three characters: there must be the Princess, who is a thing to be loved; there must be the Dragon, who is a thing to be fought; and there must be St. George, who is a thing that both loves and fights. There have been many symptoms of cynicism and decay in our modern civilization. But of all the signs of modern feebleness, of lack of grasp on morals as they actually must be, there has been none quite so silly or so dangerous as this: that the philosophers of today have started to divide loving from fighting and to put them into opposite camps. [But] the two things imply each other; they implied each other in the old romance and in the old religion, which were the two permanent things of humanity. You cannot love a thing without wanting to fight for it. You cannot fight without something to fight for. To love a thing without wishing to fight for it is not love at all; it is lust. It may be an airy, philosophical, and disinterested lust… but it is lust, because it is wholly self-indulgent and invites no attack. On the other hand, fighting for a thing without loving it is not even fighting; it can only be called a kind of horse-play that is occasionally fatal. Wherever human nature is human and unspoilt by any special sophistry, there exists this natural kinship between war and wooing, and that natural kinship is called romance. It comes upon a man especially in the great hour of youth; and every man who has ever been young at all has felt, if only for a moment, this ultimate and poetic paradox. He knows that loving the world is the same thing as fighting the world. - G. K. Chesterton  


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August 7th, 2014Catholic Dating and the Death of Erosby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

My two posts on the challenges of Catholic dating (Where are All the Good Catholic Men? and Some Good Catholic Men Answer the Question, "Where are All the Good Catholic Men?") have touched a nerve.  There are many thoughtful comments on my blog, and many more on Facebook.

On Facebook, one of the comments connects the trouble in Catholic relationships with Pop Catholic Culture in general.  On the blog, reader JVC is more specific, naming the Charismatic Renewal and Hipster Catholics as examples of the problem.

And a friend of mine can trace much of this back to Christopher West, who has "seeped into Catholic Youth culture the way Rousseau and Foucoult have seeped into the culture of academia and the culture at large."  West, for all his obsession with sex, actually claims that the goal in courtship is to achieve a state that is entirely devoid of sexual attraction - that only when the guy and gal can love one another pristinely and can be in a room alone together without experiencing any physical attraction will they be ready to marry.

That sounds a hell of a lot more like the end of a long marriage than the beginning of one.  We are not eunuchs, after all.

Or are we?

This all comes down to the suppression of Eros, which I have written about before.  We in the Church have mistakenly come to think that love is only Agape - which is the selfless love of neighbor, the disinterested self-giving that seeks only the good of the other.  But, as Pope Benedict has pointed out, Eros is also an aspect of love.  Eros is the love that desires, that hungers, that yearns, that seeks to possess, that is "jealous" in the sense of caring to the point where you're willing to fight for something or someone.  Eros sweeps us off our feet, possesses us, stirs us, takes risks, tears down our comfort zones, makes us live again.

Chesterton famously said, “The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.”  He was describing Eros.  But today we think that love and fighting must never go together, that getting your dander up and jousting for your lover is just testosterone on the loose.  On the contrary, unless God loved us with the love of Eros, He would never have sent His son to save us; for the Incarnation, Crucifixion and Resurrection are the greatest acts of both Eros and Agape combined.

For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God. - Deut. 4:24


When we smother Eros, we are killing an aspect of love - an aspect of God Himself.  We are not only emasculating ourselves, we are emasculating God.

***

And so, Young Catholics, I urge you to give a damn.

Passion and fire are dangerous things, but so is the Holy Spirit.  You need to love to a point where you're willing to fight for what you love.  Yes, sexual desire has the tendency to overtake us, but the answer to that problem is not to mortify sexual desire: we are instead to mortify its two opposite sins,
lust and acedia (sloth).  Lust is Eros unrestrained; but Acedia is Eros suffocated.  Of the two, Acedia is the more serious sin, for it's more spiritual.

And, next to Despair, it is the sin of choice for today's Young Catholics.

Oh, and Young Catholic Men, if you don't get off porn, you'll never be able to relate to a woman in a healthy way.   And if your primary orientation is same sex attraction, tell the gal you're dating so she can do the right thing and not marry you.

And Young Catholic Women, if he's dragging his feet and he's been doing so for a year or longer, dump him.  Especially if you haven't been sexually active with him, for if he's not motivated by you physically, and if he won't marry you despite your bond being strong in all other ways, there's a problem - a problem with his Eros.  But don't let there be a problem with yours.

Eros was a god for the Greeks - and it is an aspect of God for us.  Ignore it at your peril.


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August 7th, 2014Tolkien in Rotterdamby Brendan D. King

The news is now spreading, and causing great excitement throughout Middle Earth fandom, that a long lost recording of J.R.R. Tolkien's voice has surfaced in The Netherlands. In 1958, the creator of Middle Earth made his first and last visit to a "Lord of the Rings" fan convention in the Dutch city of Rotterdam. Unbeknownst to all but a few, Tolkien's speech for the occasion was recorded and still survives. In honor of this truly exciting news, I have decided to post Tolkien's own description of the event, which shatters the myth that the 1950s were a decade of mindless conformity. More information on the recording and the plans to digitize it may be found at the following link:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/noble-smith/jrr-tolkien-reveals-the-t_b_5373529.html

 

 

From "The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien," Letter No. 206.

To Rayner Unwin. April 8, 1958.

 

Since I had the remarkable, and in the event extremely enjoyable,

experience in Holland by the generousity of "A. and U.," I think some kind

of report would be proper. I have had time to simmer down a bit, and

recover some sense of proportion. The incense was thick and very heady; and

the kindness overwhelming. My journey was very comfortable, and the

reservations magnificent; the outward boat was backed, and the train from

Liverpool Street went in two parts. I arrived in cold mist and a drizzle,

but by the time I found my way to Rotterdam the sun was shining, and it

remained so for two days. Outboter of Vorhoove and Dietrich was waving a

"Lord of the Rings" and so easy to pick out of the crowd, but I did not fit

his expectations, as he confessed (after dinner); my build up by letter had

been too successful and he was looking for someone much smaller and more

shy and hobbit-like.

 

(I thought he was charming and intelligent; but he was still a little upset

by the hilarity caused by "Maggot-Soup" on the menue. It was, of course,

mushroom-soup; but he said he would not have chosen the name if he had

known "all the names of the English vermins.") I met a representative of

the Het Spectrum and saw a good deel of the depressing world of ruined and

hald rebuilt Rotterdam. I think it is largely the breach between this

comfortless world, with its giant and largely dehumanized reconstruction,

and the natural ancestral tastes of the Dutch, that has made them, in

Rotterdam especially, almost intoxicated by hobbits. It was almost entirely

of hobbits that they spoke.

 

At 5:30 on Friday, I faced quite a large concourse in an assembly hall.

Apparently over 200 (largely ordinary people) had paid to be present, and

many had been turned away. Professor Harting was even more astonished than

I was. The dinner was certainly "abundant and prolonged": the latter

because the speeches were interleaved with the courses. In the event they

were all in English; and all but one quite sensible... The exception was a

lunatic psycholog, but the able chairman held him to five minutes. My final

reply was I hope adequate, and was I believe audible; but I need not dwell

on it. It was partly a parody of Bilbo's speech in Chapter I.

 

In this home of smoking pipe-weed seems especially to have caught on.

There were clay pipes on the table and large jars of tobacco

--provided, I believe, by the firm of Van Rossem. The walls were

decorated with Van Rossem posters overprinted "Pipe-Weed for Hobbits":

in 3 qualities: Longbottom Leaf, Old Toby, and Southern Star. V.

Rossem has since sent me pipes and tobacco! I carried off one of the

posters. You might like to see it...

 

I cannot thank you enough for provinding me with this short but

memorable expedition-- the only one I am likely to get after all out

of my "leave" -- and for gently pressing me to go.

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August 6th, 2014Louis L’Amour and the Moral Imaginationby Daniel J. Heisey

Nearly twenty years ago in The New York Times Magazine, Frank Gannon wrote an essay, “Spillane Also Writes,” demonstrating that it is often difficult to distinguish passages of prose written by Ernest Hemingway and Mickey Spillane.  Within the republic of letters, what elevates one writer to the lofty realms of Nobel laureates while consigning another to the slums of pulp fiction remains a profound mystery.

            Among some literary critics Louis L’Amour’s nearly ten dozen volumes, most first published as paperbacks, tend to relegate him closer to the level of Spillane than Hemingway.  Even so, his books, mostly stories about the American West in the nineteenth century, have a large and loyal readership, and all his books are still in print.  Several of his novels and short stories have been made into feature films and television series, and these versions of L’Amour’s tales are nearly all available on DVD.

            Critics also turn up their noses at L’Amour’s books because his readers tend to be men on the American political right.  After all, it was President Ronald Reagan who in 1984 bestowed on L’Amour the Presidential Medal of Freedom, yet it was a Democratic Congress that in 1982 had awarded L’Amour the Congressional Gold Medal.  Prior to L’Amour, the only writer to have received the Congressional Gold Medal was Robert Frost (1874-1963).  Nevertheless, within the literary world, L’Amour lacks Frost’s prestige.

            Louis L’Amour lived from 1908 to 1988, thus seeing much of the turbulent twentieth century.  Son of a veterinarian in North Dakota, he was a high school dropout who spent the rest of his life reading hundreds of books a year.  His voracious and eclectic reading, from Plato to Shakespeare, Edward Gibbon to Joseph Conrad, filled spare moments during vast travels and through a succession of dangerous jobs, including lumberjack, soldier, and professional boxer.  Those phases of his life found their way into his writings.

            Since most of L’Amour’s stories are Westerns, it is easy to parody them as featuring laconic loners who have an inarticulate and anti-social habit of shooting people.  For some, it is enough reason to dislike L’Amour because John Wayne liked L’Amour’s short story “The Gift of Cochise” (1952) so much he decided to make of movie of it, Hondo.  More open-minded people give L’Amour a chance and read his many and varied works.

            When one takes a quiet Saturday afternoon, for example, to make a cup of tea and curl up to venture into a Louis L’Amour story, one finds a world worth repeated sojourns.  To take one of his books more or less at random, let us consider Galloway, published in 1970 and one of the seventeen volumes featuring the Sackett family.  For any writer, a seventeen-volume family saga would be enough for a lifetime.

            In Galloway we find not only adventure and suspense, but also L’Amour’s recurring themes of family loyalty and personal integrity.  The story takes place in southwestern Colorado around 1875; the Sackett family had moved west from the hills of Tennessee.  Their great desire is domesticity, or as the narrator, Flagan Sackett, explained:  “We figure to settle down and raise cows and families.”

“It was a rough, hard, wonderful life,” mused Flagan Sackett, “and it took men with the bark on to live it.  We didn’t ask anything of anybody, and as long as a man did his work, nobody cared what else he was or did.”  Early in the story he recounted a life lesson from boyhood.  “One thing we learned,” he said, “To make a start and keep plugging.”  As for a lesson he had learned on his own, he said, “There was nothing a man couldn’t get out of if he was sober and didn’t panic, so I settled down to think.”  Such lessons help turn a boy into a man.

L’Amour’s books include Westerns, of course, but also hard-boiled crime fiction set in Los Angeles and war stories set in the South Pacific.  While his detective stories never caught on as did those of Raymond Chandler, and the sea stories are not up to Joseph Conrad’s quality (whose are?), L’Amour’s diverse output always informs and entertains.  Even The Walking Drum (1984), set in twelfth-century Europe, while getting a lot wrong about medieval life, reveals much truth about human nature.  In his stories L’Amour consistently portrays what Edmund Burke called the moral imagination.

In hisReflections on the Revolution in France (1790) Burke wrote, referring to the French revolutionaries’ utopia requiring the violent and intolerant imposition of reason and equality:  “All the decent drapery of life is to be rudely torn off.  All the superadded ideas, furnished from the wardrobe of a moral imagination, which the heart owns and the understanding ratifies, as necessary to cover the defects of our naked shivering nature, and to raise it to dignity in our own estimation, are to be exploded as a ridiculous, absurd, and antiquated fashion.”

Burke also saw that the moral imagination connects the generations.  It makes society civilized, and civil society “becomes a partnership,” he wrote, “not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.”  That continuity builds strong families and communities.

Louis L’Amour’s tales show again and again that strength of character and good upbringing are the only things that stand between a decent home and an unsentimental wilderness, not to mention men who choose to intrude maliciously into the lives of people who are trying to mind their own business.  Although on one level L’Amour’s stories may be mental escapes for Presidents and Congressmen, men bearing great responsibilities, on a deeper level those stories provide diversions by reinforcing ideals about the human condition.  It may be why anyone reads fiction at all.

 

Daniel J. Heisey, O. S. B, is a Benedictine monk of Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pennsylvania, where he is known as Brother Bruno.  He teaches Church History at Saint Vincent Seminary.

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August 6th, 2014Some Good Catholic Men Answer the Question, “Where are All the Good Catholic Men?”by Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

Jeremy can't see Candace tonight.  He's "discerning".


There were some very thoughtful comments on my post Where are All the Good Catholic Men? - and some are on my blog, but others were on Facebook.  Here are some highlights.


Brian Lester said ...

I think there's several concurrent phenomena. 
1) It's certainly the case that young Catholic men are more susceptible to "discernment" (read: prolonged wheel spinning non-discernment), during which time there can be half-hearted dating attempts, and the "I might be called to the priesthood card" can avoid having to be a man about the breakup. Dammit guys, if you at all think you *might* have a call, then get your application to seminary or novitiate in, and let the community actually discern along with you. Get it over with.
2) Frankly there's probably a group of guys who are using porn regularly, and either have enough integrity to not pursue dating until they've kicked it, or having started dating don't want to propose until they've kicked it, or they are the guys Kevin refers to where: "The lack of sexual activity during courtship doesn't even seem to be a motivating factor for marriage for many of these guys - which is not a good sign." Right, it's not a good sign, because it likely points to porn.

Joe Grabowski said ...

Time was when you talked to a girl that it was just about trying to show her who you are and see who she is and establish relationality or a sense of sympathy.
But in these kinds of places/gatherings, it doesn't feel like that. (I'm talking about Catholic youth events, etc.) Here, it's like everyone is out to prove themselves by another set of expectations, of holiness or whatever.
The secular analogy is, say, a libertine night club. There people are trying to prove themselves according to outside stereotypes. Guys try to act all macho, etc. But even there at least there's something in it that recognizes the "play" aspect of flirting. Flirting at a Catholic party doesn't have any sense of play, but it feels like a cold calculation and ticking off a list of "suitables." ... 
It's like this:
The charismatic Catholic youth culture makes people excited about Jesus.
But then it makes them feel like they must, at all costs, remain excited about Jesus all the time, and even if they don't feel it, they should fake it, cuz it's just what's done.
There doesn't seem to be a sense of how enthusiasm isn't the real test or the point. They're all about being "on fire" so on days when they're down and rained on there's this existential disaster going on inside them as they feel like it's something they did wrong.


My gloss ...

What Joe is describing, I call Unreality: the contrived, ginned up, artificial, insincere religious sentimentality that only occasionally and by accident intersects with real life.  To paraphrase what they used to say about Chickenman, "It's everywhere!  It's everywhere!"


Joe continues ...

So the secular world has its pretentious hipster bars and cafes where people talk about being "deep" and lob Faulkner's name around ... and that's what makes it all work.  And there's a lot of fakery in it.
At Catholic Youth parties it's like that, except about religious matters.
Whereas for a normal, level-headed 21 year old guy (say) who isn't trying to BE anything, but is comfortable and mature enough at least to just sorta be okay being him, well he goes to a sports bar and drinks Bud Light and when a cute girl comes up, he doesn't care about being deep or whatever. He just talks to her and they get to know each other. Nobody's keeping inventory.


Brian counters ...

It's not the charismatic influence, it's that to have a shot of meeting a fellow serious Catholic, you need to go to this group under a ministry umbrella which is self-consciously Catholic about everything. Whereas Chestertonians get to be naturally catholic about everything.
I'll say that these groups don't necessarily have to be dysfunctional. I was involved in one that led to a couple dozen marriages, and the ones I've kept track of all seem healthy, and other very healthy friendships. The key was the group of normal people just needed the group to meet people, and then could do their own thing with it, always outnumbered the needy and socially awkward, who approached the group to get something out of it from the church. There was a weekly Bible study of the Sunday readings, but then when the group went on a hike or a concert or to play football or drink, it wasn't put through ridiculous filters of "what would Aquinas say about this concert?", or "what does the theology of the body have to say about this trip to Six Flags?" 


And to paraphrase Larry the Cable Guy, it makes me happy that I'm married, because I don't date nearly as much as I used to.



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August 6th, 2014God Provides: Good News from Englandby Joseph Pearce

When I lived in England there was much talk of a vocations crisis. There was a dangerous shortage of priests and the seminaries were largely empty. The doom-mongers predicted the end of the Church as we knew Her, prophesying that the gates of hell were about to prevail. Then, beyond all apparent hope, almost 400 new priests seemed to fall on the the Church in England like manna from heaven. The cause was the disintegration of the Anglican church in the wake of its decision to ordain women and the conversion of hundreds of Anglican clergy to the Catholic Church.


As heresy wreaks havoc on Anglicanism, the Faith of our Fathers is being blessed with the heavenly fall-out. Deo gratias!

For full details of the wave of Anglican clergy who have converted to Catholicism, follow this link:

http://www.thetablet.co.uk/news/1028/0/new-figures-show-almost-400-catholic-priests-were-anglicans

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August 5th, 2014Where are All the Good Catholic Men?by Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

Single Catholic guy "discerning".


Having witnessed a few mating dances at the Chesterton Conference this past weekend, the weird and distressing situation among single Catholics mystifies me.

A Facebook friend has drawn my attention to an article by Devin Rose entitled Single Catholic Guy - Wake Up!

Here's how it begins ...

It’s never been a better time to be a single Catholic guy.
Why? Because there are thousands of lovely, faithful young Catholic women waiting for you to step up to the plate and court them!
Yet many Catholic guys are unsure about themselves, uncertain, dithering, wavering, vicissitudening. Stop it! In Christ, with the power of the Holy Spirit, you can change this and face your fears, be courageous, bold, and manly. It’s not about being a boor, or having enormous muscles (though it wouldn’t hurt to go work out), or swaggering around like you’re Tom Cruise after a Scientology retreat. It’s about being yourself and living up to who God made you to be.

... the rest of the article features more or less stupid advice, but the above is on the money.

It's apparently pretty bad out there.  Many beautiful, intelligent devout single Catholic women I've known have trouble finding anything but losers or ambi-sexuals who are too busy "discerning" to realize what God made them to be and to do.  There seems to be a shortage of Catholic men who are simply men.  Or, perhaps, who are straight.  The lack of sexual activity during courtship doesn't even seem to be a motivating factor for marriage for many of these guys - which is not a good sign.

In fact, I've known more than a few women deliberately marrying guys who were gay - or guys who were "struggling with same sex attraction" - thinking they could marry them and reform them.

This never works.  It's a recipe for disaster.  Life long disaster.

And I've known other Catholic women whose husbands were straight, and who showed an interest in them, but who had such serious psychological problems that their lives together became a nightmare.  Invariably, these women knew how disturbed their husbands were before marrying them, but married them anyway thinking they had no other good options.

And hard as it is to understand, this is perhaps the most significant area in which young Catholic women are called upon to trust God and to have the courage to engage in real life and real men.  Unreality often dominates the lives of devout Christians, however, and Matrimony, which is dying in the secular world, also suffers greatly even in Catholic circles.

The vocations crisis is not just in the Catholic priesthood.

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August 5th, 2014Last Night’s High Massby Fr. Simon Henry

Thanks to everyone who came to High Mass last night for the centenary of the First World War - servers, assisting and visiting priests, music department, congregation and helpers in the kitchen afterwards!  

It seems we were all too busy praying for anyone to have taken any photographs so the remains in the sacristy are all that's left this morning. It was wonderful to see so many people come along (we were turning altar servers away!), especially parishioners who don't usually attend the traditional Mass. Obviously, the centenary has engaged many people.  One or two even brought along photographs of their relatives who had fought in the First World War - very appropriate as it was for them that we were offering the Requiem Mass. The unadorned chant of the Requiem Mass provided a suitable atmosphere of reflection (although we did sing Chesterton's "O God of earth and altar" at the conclusion of the Mass.  Not that all that solemnity stopped us from enjoying one another's company afterwards (not a single sandwich, pork pie or quail's egg was left for me to enjoy as supper in the house later!)

I've often found that a Requiem Mass of some sort - All Souls or Remembrance Day - is an excellent way to introduce people to the Traditional Form of the Mass, or even to Latin or ad oreintem in the new form. Somehow, the more sober / serious or solemn atmosphere that  these forms of Mass engender seem to be more easily accepted and appreciated on such occasions.  I suppose that should tell us something - that while Mass is a celebration its not a frivolous one.  The rubrics, the Church's wider teaching on the celebration of the liturgy and all our noble tradition of chant and vesture point us to ensuring every celebration is fitting for what is, at its heart: the offering of Our Lord's sacrifice to His Heavenly Father for the redemption of our fallen humanity.  

As often as the Sacrifice of the cross by which Christ our Pasch is sacrificed (I Cor 5:7), is celebrated on the altar, the work of our redemption is carried out." (Lumen Gentium, 3)

O God of earth and altar,

bow down and hear our cry,

our earthly rulers falter,

our people drift and die;

the walls of gold entomb us,

the swords of scorn divide,

take not thy thunder from us,

but take away our pride.

 

From all that terror teaches,

from lies of tongue and pen,

from all the easy speeches

that comfort cruel men,

from sale and profanation

of honour, and the sword,

from sleep and from damnation,

deliver us, good Lord!

 

Tie in a living tether

the prince and priest and thrall,

bind all our lives together,

smite us and save us all;

in ire and exultation

aflame with faith, and free,

lift up a living nation, 

a single sword to thee.

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August 5th, 2014The Relevance of Distributismby Joseph Pearce

I've just received an e-mail from someone enquiring about the contemporary relevance and practical applicability of distributism. I'm posting the pertinent part of the text of the e-mail below. My response follows.

Here's the text of the e-mail:

I recently read a brief interview with Patrick Deneen commenting on the disconnect between Catholic neo-conservatives mobilizing on behalf of the Church’s teaching on social and moral issues and their often lack of mobilization in the economic realm, sort of succumbing to the rapaciousness of global capitalism and neglecting the arguments on behalf of community and place.  The money quote being “What is more striking to me is the way that many Catholics of the stripe we are discussing are strenuous in their insistence that, on the one hand, the public square should not be stripped of religion and morality, but that the Market should have a wardrobe like that of Lady Godiva.”
 
Anyway, in that context a reference to Chesterton and Belloc’s distributism arose, and its value in support of community and solidarity and the human telos.  And superficially, at least, it is indeed attractive. 
 
But do you know of any good sources or readings (or have any particular thoughts) on what it might look like today?  Surely we aren’t going to return to 19th century agrarianism much less Shire-like communities of skilled crafts and trade.  That seems an impossibility, especially given the pace of technological and global change, unless we are going to implement far stronger walls (real or virtual) to recreate a sense of distance and duration and patience again. 

Here's my response:

I would recommend Schumacher's Small is Beautiful and my own Small is Still Beautiful as books you should read on the practical applicability of distributist ideas to today's world. I would also recommend The Church and the Libertarian by Christopher A. Ferrera, The Church and the Usurers by Brian M. McCall, and Towards a Truly Free Market by John Médaille.

For a brief discussion of distributism and its contemporary relevance and applicability, here's the link to an article on the subject that I wrote recently for the Imaginative Conservative

http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2014/06/what-is-distributism.html

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August 5th, 2014What is Civilization?by Joseph Pearce

Are we approaching the end of civilization as we know it? If so, what exactly is the end of civilization as we know it? And can we know that civilization is ending unless we know the ends which civilization serves? In short and in sum, what exactly is civilization? This question is asked and answered in my latest article for the Imaginative Conservative: 

 http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2014/08/civilization.html

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August 5th, 2014Flannery After Fifty Yearsby Dena Hunt

For the innumerable fans of Flannery O’Conner, Dr. Regis Martin writes eloquently in Crisis:

http://www.crisismagazine.com/2014/flannery-oconnor-fifty-years

And for fans of the interminable discussion of Catholicism in fiction, a friend identifies what she calls “the money quote” from that essay:

“The Catholic novel,” she wrote, “is not necessarily about a Christianized or Catholicized world, but one in which the truth as Christians know it has been used as a light to see the world by.”

Verily.

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August 5th, 2014The Catholic Writers Guild Conferenceby Dena Hunt

I just returned from the CWG conference in Chicago, not so much fired up to write as restored by the camaraderie of other writers. True, there were workshops on writing, publishing; there were “pitch” sessions with a few publishers (which don’t mean a thing to me, since I couldn’t sell water to someone dying of thirst.) There were panel discussions and presentations on such topics as handling rejection, maintaining perseverance—or on philosophical topics such as composition of art vs. representation. But, for me, the great benefit of the CWG conference is the chat, the constant conversation with people who are as lop-sided as I am, who spend too much time reading, who can’t resist story-telling, people who are the best audience in the world for other story-tellers because they are natural critics—those who have a natural reflex to edit, augment, suggest, in ways that are always constructive. There is an indescribable feeling of benevolence amongst Catholic writers. We actually crave each other’s success.

Why is that, I had to ask myself. How is this different from others—not that I’ve ever attended more than a couple of others. And the answer was obvious: because we are not so much just for ourselves. There is something larger that we’re all deeply involved with, that matters way more than our own successes. And so we’re delighted to learn that AnnMarie’s Angela’s Song is doing well, elated when Arthur’s A Hero for the People wins the Catholic Arts and Letters Award, even though that means our own novels did not win. Of course it’s gratifying when one’s own work receives positive attention, but I think we all know how dangerous flattery can be, so it’s not excessive or hypocritical, just the feedback we actually need and no more. We understand the psychological and emotional pitfalls that any writer must avoid, and all sorts of other earth-bound dangers, but we also know the spiritual dangers. That’s the difference. What other writers’ conference begins with Mass each morning, offers confession, and has exposition of the Blessed Sacrament all day long? Besides, look who we hang out with:

 

 

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August 4th, 2014Belloc’s Grandson, Dom Philip Jebb, RIPby Joseph Pearce

Having just returned from this year's rambunctious Chesterton Conference, I was pleased to receive an e-mail from Kirk Kramer, giving his own personal reminiscences of Hilaire Belloc's grandson, Dom Philip Jebb, who entered into his eternal inheritance a few weeks ago.

I also had the honour and pleasure of meeting Dom Philip at Downside Abbey as part of my research for my biography of his grandfather. Apart from speaking with fondness and eloquence about Belloc, he offered some delightful anecdotes about the great convert poet, Siegfried Sassoon.

I've been meaning to write my own tribute to Dom Philip Jebb but my travel commitments have prevented me from doing so. As such, I'm grateful to Kirk for sending his own memories and also two obituaries from British newspapers, all of which I'm pleased to post below.

Kirk Kramer writes:

Belloc's grandson Dom Philip Jebb, a monk of Downside Abbey in
England, died recently.  In 1997 I travelled to Europe for the
priestly ordination of my fellow Oklahoman Rob Torczynski, an alumnus of
Pearson College who became a Carthusian monk.  Before continuing on to
France to see Rob (Dom Marie-Robert) priested by Bishop Slattery at
his charterhouse near Bourg-en-Bresse, I spent several days in the UK,
including a week-end in the guesthouse at Downside.  I had contacted
Dom Philip to make arrangements for my stay, and spent a fair bit of
time with him that week-end.  I asked him about his grandfather, in
whose Sussex house Dom Philip spent his boyhood.  Since they lived
under the same roof, Dom Philip knew him very well, and regarded him
with great affection.

Dom Philip had a particular apostolate to those who have lost a
spouse, and wrote a volume of meditations simply titled 'Widowed.'  He
also edited a collection of essays by widows called 'By Death Parted.'
 In the '80s, both books were published in America by the Benedictine
nuns of Petersham, Mass., but they are unfortunately now out of print.

I give two obituaries below; the one from 'The Independent' is much
more gracefully written.

Pray peace for the soul of Dom Philip Jebb.



The Independent
OBITUARIES
Dom Philip Jebb: Monk who became a leading figure in the Benedictine
order and was a perceptive counsellor to lay people
Wednesday 2 July 2014

Dom Philip Jebb was a leading figure in the Benedictine order of
monks, as a teacher, archivist, a perceptive counsellor to laymen and
religious alike, and a respected headmaster of Downside Abbey, in
Somerset.

Jebb took the helm at Downside at a fractious moment for one of
Britain's longest-established Catholic public schools. It was a time
of pupil disturbances, with "flash mob" events such as a mass midnight
demonstration in the main courtyard to demand better school food.

Jebb re-established order by showing himself a strict but fair
disciplinarian, and earned a reputation for having a near-psychic feel
for where and when trouble was brewing. Even, it was said, an ability
to bilocate. This personal myth, his evident self-discipline, and a
fair, statesman-like approach to his pupils, combined to get the
school back on an even keel.

Jebb was of average height, but had penetrating eyes and an imposing
physical presence. He spoke, and preached, with a soft, cooing tenor
voice. And when something delighted him he would emit an expressive,
sighing "Aaaaah", on a descending chromatic scale. But when order had
to be imposed, his voice could take on a withering, steely tone.

To his confrères in the monastery he seemed an indefatigable man of
action. He was a keen walker, fencer and canoeist (he once paddled the
length of the Grand Union Canal), and he had revelled in the country
around his childhood home in Sussex, collecting fossils and Roman
pottery. He later collected postcards on a grand scale and made
exquisite model clipper ships in a bottle from matchsticks and paper.

The timetable of a headmaster added to that of a monk, and providing
counsel to the sick or dying, was taxing even to a man of Jebb's
stamina. His solution was to take a nap each afternoon, learning to go
instantly to sleep, and awaking refreshed 20 minutes later.

Anthony Jebb was born in 1932 at Spode House (now Hawkesyard Hall),
near Armitage in Staffordshire, which his parents, Rex Jebb and
Eleanor Belloc, had leased in 1928 from the Dominican Order, to run as
a Catholic prep school. "Ant" Jebb was the second son and third child
in a family of four children.

Their upbringing in a devout, high-minded household was as unworldly
as could be, but each of them achieved a personal renown. The eldest,
Marianne, became a nun, one of the Canonesses of St Augustine, of Our
Lady's Priory, Haywards Heath, and a witty, much-loved headmistress of
its girls' school. The eldest son, Philip ("Pip"), was one of the
leading private-client architects in Britain, equally adept at
creating new buildings and restoring old. The youngest, Julian, was an
ubiquitous figure in the literary world in London, producer of
imaginative arts documentaries for the BBC.

When Ant became a novice monk at Downside in 1950 he was asked to take
the name Brother Philip. He demurred, given that he had an elder
brother of the same name. But the novice master insisted that they
were in need of a Philip, guaranteeing a lifetime of confusion for the
whole family.

Rex Jebb was Ant's first model of what a teacher, and an exemplary
Christian, could be. He was a classical scholar, softly spoken, with a
well-populated mind, and had won the MC for gallantry during the
Dardanelles campaign. He had owned a successful Anglican prep school,
Aldwick, near Crowborough in Sussex. When he married the daughter of
the Catholic writer Hilaire Belloc in Westminster Cathedral in 1922,
he remained in the Protestant faith of his birth. Eleanor Jebb was a
strong-willed, mercurial figure, unburdened by exaggerated respect for
the clergy. When Rex Jebb eventually became a Catholic himself he felt
morally bound to give up the Anglican school and start a Catholic
establishment.

After the Jebbs gave up the school at Hawkesyard in 1935, they moved
to live with Belloc at King's Land, near Horsham, in West Sussex. Here
there was a family chapel and a steady stream of visitors from the
Catholic world, among them leading preachers and writers of the day.

After being schooled at home, Jebb went in 1942 to Worth, the
preparatory school for Downside School, and to Downside proper in
1944. Like all his siblings, Jebb flowered intellectually in his early
twenties. He studied Classics at Christ's College, Cambridge, and
became a skilled solver of hidden meanings in Classical inscriptions,
and latterly an accomplished historian, archivist for the Benedictine
order and the driving force behind the building of the new monastic
library at Downside. Jebb was devoted to his siblings, his nephews,
nieces, Belloc cousins and the large wider family of Lucy Pollen, wife
of his brother Pip. His golden jubilee as a priest in 2006 was
celebrated by a large clan gathering at the monastery.

Jebb's vivid accounts of his own experience of religion made him an
engaging preacher. And he was a willing public speaker outside the
church – his proudest moment in the latter sphere was his address to
the AGM of the Women's Institute in the Albert Hall.

One of his most intriguing subjects was his engagement with
out-of-body experiences. He enjoyed walks at Downside, knowing that he
could pause in the fields, and take himself out of his body, and back,
at will. It was at these times of religious ecstasy – standing outside
himself – that he felt close to great good but also to great evil. One
day he went out as usual and lay down to pray. As he looked back at
his body he realised with horror that he could not get back in, and he
saw his body growing colder on the hillside. He eventually got back
in, but never sought an out-of-body experience again.

Jebb felt he learnt enormously from working with the sick (he took
groups to Lourdes as a chaplain to the Order of Malta). And he would
visit or telephone his ailing charges not once but regularly. He was
as constant and dogged as a counsellor as he was as a schoolmaster,
walker or archivist. When helping a dying parishioner, he told her of
having once received an unforgettable premonition of heaven, something
still so vivid that he wished he could change places with her. It was
an offer powerful in the extreme for its recipient both because it was
so surprising, and because he meant it.

Anthony Jebb, monk and teacher: born Hawkesyard, Staffordshire 14
August 1932; monk of Downside Abbey, as Dom Philip Jebb, 1950-2014;
Head Master, Downside School 1980-91; died Bath 8 June 2014.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/dom-philip-jebb-monk-who-became-a-leading-figure-in-the-benedictine-order-and-was-a-perceptive-counsellor-to-lay-people-9577069.html


London Telegraph
OBITUARIES
Dom Philip Jebb
Dom Philip was a charismatic headmaster of Downside who took a firm
line with schoolboy revolutionaries
July 22, 2014

Dom Philip Jebb, who has died aged 81, was a charismatic headmaster of
Downside School during the 1980s, when the spirit of student rebellion
ran strong and the school threatened to become ungovernable.

Many boys at Downside no longer went regularly to Mass; their hair
grew down their shoulders; they jibbed at school uniform, smoked in
their bedrooms and smouldered at any rules they considered oppressive.
The introduction of a school council with pupil representatives did
little to ease tension.

When Jebb took over in 1980, after serving as deputy head, there was
an immediate tightening of the rules and an inevitable reaction.
Several hundred pyjama-clad boys held a noisy late-night protest in
the quad, bawling abuse and ringing the school bell. But the
demonstration lasted only 10 minutes. There had always been rumbles of
protests about a new head, Jebb told the press, adding that there
would be no retribution.

But he showed an iron resolve when some boys, returning from lunch on
a day out, borrowed a digger they found on the side of road. It was a
time of fear about IRA terrorists, and one of the boys — the son of a
well-known actor — put on a thick Irish brogue when the police drove
up. Arriving back at school in a squad car, he and his companions
found the headmaster drumming his fingers on the arms of the throne in
the hall, waiting to dish out a fearsome dressing-down.

Jebb ended a four-year experiment with girl pupils, saying that
unmarried monks were unsuited to coping with their problems. When
Labour made undefined threats against private schools, he warned that
the Downside community could return to the Continent, where it had
spent almost 200 years before being driven out by the French
Revolution.

Anthony Jebb, as he was baptised, was born in Staffordshire on August
14 1932, the son of a prep school master who took his wife and four
children to live with his father-in-law, the writer Hilaire Belloc, in
Sussex. The boy was close to his grandfather, who was frail, gruff and
frequently grumpy. On one occasion Belloc shouted from his bedroom
that he could not move, which brought in the family to discover that
he had inserted both feet into one trouser leg. Nevertheless he could
still demonstrate a remarkable store of knowledge, and his grandson
developed a fascination with the past, to the extent that he longed to
be a venerable old man [what an admirable ambition.  One grows closer
to achieving it every day.]

In 1940 the rural peace of Sussex was disturbed by the Battle of
Britain being fought overhead. While his father made Molotov cocktails
to greet the expected German invaders, Ant scoured the night skies
with a telescope and found a severed hand beside a crashed German
bomber. On being sent to Downside, aged 10, he arrived at Bath station
just after it had been obliterated by a raid, and in his first year at
the school he found himself just yards from a cricket pavilion when a
training aircraft crashed nearby, killing nine boys. The incident
haunted him ever after, but he retained a high-spirited thirst for new
experience, once volunteering to box against a larger boy in the hope
of experiencing being knocked out.

On entering the monastery at 18, Ant took the religious name Philip
(that of his older brother, an architect), and plunged into the
discovery of prayer, ranging from delirious joy to black
depression.“This is marvellous,” an older monk told him. “I wish I
were with you in this.”

After ordination Jebb taught at Worth Priory for a year, then read
classics at Christ’s College, Cambridge, where he was an enthusiastic
archaeologist and as a good club fencer, became a member of “The
Cambridge Cutthroats” fencing team, whose team outfit featured a black
motorcycle jacket.

On returning to Downside he had hopes of a scholarly career, and
edited Missale de Lesnes, a mediaeval manuscript published by the
Henry Bradshaw Society; but he found that intense study brought on
severe migraines. Instead, he took on a local parish, taught Classics
and RE in the school, and ran the fencing club, which was to produce
the Olympic champion Richard Cohen.

Soon appointed a housemaster, he had a brush with the spirit world
when two boys playing with an Ouija board late at night suddenly felt
an atmosphere of evil. When they woke him he first thought they were
joking, but on learning that they were not, he burst into the room
shouting: “In the name of God begone!” From then on the boys involved
would not go to bed without a special blessing every night, and a
crucifix was placed on the wall of the room.

On stepping down as headmaster in 1991, Jebb was disappointed not to
be chosen as abbot; but he made a wise deputy as prior, was the
annalist for the English Benedictine Congregation and played a key
role in organising the new monastic library, including a wide-ranging
collection of postcards. “Never throw anything away,” he would say.
“Even laundry bills might be interesting one day.”

In addition he was a chaplain to the Order of Malta, which took pupils
to tend the sick at Lourdes, and an assistant chaplain to Shepton
Mallet military prison. He was much in demand as a profound and witty
preacher.

Though a reluctant author, Jebb wrote and contributed to works on
education, widowhood and grieving, and spent many hours on the phone
talking to the sorrowful and the bereaved.

Delighted to be appointed Cathedral Prior of Bath, a titular office
going back to the pre-Reformation Church, Jebb liked to tell new monks
on retreat that they were joining the most marvellous group of men
since the Twelve Apostles.

Dom Philip Jebb, born August 14 1932, died June 8 2014

-------

With a great fencing photo of Dom Philip 'executing a horizontal
fleche against the future Olympian Richard Cohen':

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/10983655/The-Very-Reverend-Dom-Philip-Jebb-obituary.html

from the website of his monastery:

http://www.downside.co.uk/Abbey/news/downside_abbey_news_detail.php?Dom-Philip-Jebb-RIP-114

http://www.downside.co.uk/cmsAdmin/uploads/Dom-Philip-Jebb1.pdf

The writer, a sometime gandy dancer for the Frisco Railroad, hails from Miami, Oklahoma.

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August 4th, 2014The Cult of Chesterton and the Grace of Godby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

MYSTICISM in its noblest sense, mysticism as it existed in St. John, and Plato, and Paraceleus, and Sir Thomas Browne, is not an exceptionally dark and secret thing, but an exceptionally luminous and open thing. It is in reality too clear for most of us to comprehend, and too obvious for most of us to see. Such an utterance as the utterance that “God is Love” does in reality overwhelm us like an immeasurable landscape on a clear day, like the light of an intolerable summer sun. We may call it a dark saying; but we have an inward knowledge all the time that it is we who are dark. - G. K. Chesterton


Every year The American Chesterton Society Annual Conference is filled with grace.

"Be imitators of me as I am of Christ," said St. Paul (1 Cor. 11:1).  But a certain 300 pound cigar smoking saint could have said the same.  And that is why we love him and his writings.

There is no way to describe the blessing these conferences are.  I have tried in the past and I always fall short.  But this year a few things struck me.

  • These conferences - these Inns at the End of the World - are not mere glimpses of what heaven might be - they are heaven present and at work here and now.  

  • Our saint is interceding for us and through him God is working miracles in big and small ways every day.  His wife Frances is part of that, too.  We of little faith sometimes don't see that.  Sometimes we don't look.

  • There are some who came for the first time and who immediately got it.  Some of them will never forget the palpable grace that washes over us when we Chestertonians gather.  Some will hear the music, the mixture of joy and sorrow, the four lost chords, that they've never quite heard anywhere else before.  But all of us will forget the tune just a bit as the thicker air of the valley numbs our senses - until we are awakened to it again in more rarefied moments; others will shove cotton in their ears and suffocate the sound and we will never see them again.  But you can never forget the Holy Spirit, and such moments of intimacy with the Divine will work through us forever, in one way or another.

  • This is not what the Church ought to be.  It's what the Church is.


The American Chesterton Society Conference of 2014 was held at the University of St. Mary on the Lake, Mundelein, IL - near Chicago.

With actress Maria Romine (left) and Dave Treadway (center), who received his First Communion at the Vigil Mass on Saturday.  I was proud to be Dave's sponsor for his journey into the Catholic Church.  He's our fourth actor to convert.

A mosaic of Our Lady of Sorrows, which I stumbled upon in the woods between the chapel and Marytown.


Other surprises we found on our walk.

Dale Ahlquist opens the Conference on Thursday night.

At the closing banquet, Timothy Quigley and his wife Caroline got to drink from the Cup of Inconvenience.


Chuck Chalberg (center) at the banquet.  He plays Chesterton on Dale's EWTN TV series - which will have new episodes airing in September!  I'm on quite a few myself this season.

Dave and Dale looking at pictures of Dave's First Communion, which had taken place not long before in the chapel behind them.

Deacon Nathan Allen talks to Dave Treadway.  Nathan discussed the differences between the Septuagint and the Hebrew Old Testament, quoting from both.

Two new attendees - Virginia, an MD from Chile (left, turned away from the camera); Anna, who's studying in England; and Joseph Pearce.

At the Super Eight - Nathan Allen (left), Maria Romine (with camera), Virginia from Chile.  Virginia has written a scientific paper that will be published in a medical journal that references J. R. R. Tolkien and G. K. Chesterton.  First time that's happened!  Her work was inspired by Joseph Pearce.

Caroline Quigley, mouth full of food - breakfast at the Super Eight.

Best picture of the Conference.  My buddy Leo Schwartz with three of the charming Chester-chicks.

Two other Chester-chicks, homeschooled girls from Iowa, educated well enough to appreciate the greatest writer of the 20th Century.


David and me, after First Communion.


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July 30th, 2014When Nice Turns Nastyby Joseph Pearce

Is nice nasty? Is it nasty to be nice? All is revealed in my latest piece for the Imaginative Conservative:

http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2014/07/nice-turns-nasty.html

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July 30th, 2014The Mysterious Grace of Conversionby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

I was an atheist at age nine.  I was spiritual but not religious at age 18.  I had a surprising and profound conversion experience when I was 36.  And on July 30, 2000 - fourteen years ago today - my wife and I were received into the Catholic Church.  I was 39 at the time.

I later learned that that was the same date that G. K. Chesterton was received into the Catholic Church, 78 years prior, in 1922.  More than any other person, Chesterton, by God's grace, and his writings, had made me a Catholic.  So the fact that Divine Providence arranged for me to come in, unwittingly, on his anniversary was a great and humbling honor.

***

I founded Theater of the Word Incorporated, my acting troupe which travels the country evangelizing through drama, in 2007.  Since then, we've performed hundreds of shows, and, while our impact on audiences has been unknowable, our impact on our own actors has been profound.  Until today, three of our actors had converted, either from Protestant to Catholic, or from Nothing to Christian.  Today I was honored to see the reception of our fourth, David Treadway, and to act as his sponsor.

You'll notice that Dave, too, has come in on the anniversary of Chesterton's reception, and the anniversary of the reception of my wife Karen and me.  This was not planned!  

Dave has been taking private instruction from Canon Ueda - a very devout and caring priest of the Institute of Christ the King here in St. Louis - for many months, and back in April, with Canon Ueda's blessing, we arranged for Dave to be received and confirmed at the Vigil Mass of the American Chesterton Society's Annual Conference, held this year at Mundelein Seminary in Chicago.  In fact, a group of us are heading to the Conference, primary to see Dave received and confirmed.  Chesterton and the Chestertonians have been very instrumental in Dave's conversion, as well, and this is why Dave chose to do this.

But at the last minute a monkey wrench was thrown into the works, when the archdiocese of Chicago flatly said that Dave could not be received at Mundelein.  But God works in mysterious ways - even through the impenetrable mysteries of chaneries and bureucracies.  

And so, with the help of some of my friends here in the archdiocese of St. Louis, we found a solution.  Dave could be received here in town before heading to the Conference, make his first Confession to a priest this weekend while at the Conference, and take his first communion at the Conference's Vigil Mass on Saturday, Aug. 2 - thus keeping the plan more or less in place.  We'll all be honored to be present at Dave's First Communion (his confirmation will take place later).

And the kindly priest here who agreed to receive Dave (Fr. Johnson) at St. Justin Martyr church in St. Louis, scheduled it for today, July 30.

Divine Providence continues to work in our lives, and, now that he's in, David Treadway will make a better Catholic than I am, by far.

David, a very devout Christian, has dealt with more obstacles to his conversion than anyone I've ever known.  Maybe he, like my actress Maria Romine, and me can someday go on EWTN's The Journey Home and tell his amazing conversion story as Maria and I did - though it make take two hours, rather than one, for Dave to describe it!

Dave Treadway (left), Timothy Quigley and me with lots of beer on a Theater of the Word tour to North Dakota, 2013.



***

So, David, allow our patron G. K. Chesterton and me to welcome you into the Catholic Church.

My advice to you, having been in now for fourteen years, would be the following ...

  • The Church is filled with sinners as well as saints, and you'll be dismayed to discover how you'll be sinning right there along with them, despite the tremendous sacramental grace that's now available to you.  But just keep repenting, praying, and seeking Christ in the sacraments.
  • The Spirit of Unreality is the greatest threat to devout Catholics these days - the temptation to make God and His Church into a kind of idol, something that we can control and make use of for our own narrow ends.  We see this in factionalism, contrived and bad music and homilies, the reluctance of the Church realistically to value services received and to pay for them, and in a general fear-of-the-Fear-of-God and of the workings of His Holy Spirit in our lives.
  • Keep a sense of humor and pray for humility.   
  • Listen to Pope Francis.  Don't become insular, paranoid or closed-in.  Bring people to Christ and bring Christ to people.  Your days as an Evangelical are just beginning.

G. K. Chesterton, pray for us.

***

I'll see many of you this weekend in Chicago.  Make sure you come up and congratulate Dave.

David Treadway, welcome home!

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July 30th, 2014Word on Fire and Beauteous Truthby Joseph Pearce

I'm pleased to announce the publication of my interview with Jared Zimmerer for Fr. Robert Barron's website, Word on Fire:

http://wordonfire.org/WoF-Blog/WoF-Blog/July-2014/Beauteous-Truth--An-Interview-with-Joseph-Pearce.aspx

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July 28th, 2014Beauteous Praise from the Heart of Belloc Countryby Joseph Pearce

I have been greatly heartened by some fulsome praise for my latest book from the very heart of Belloc country, i.e. Sussex in England. I hope that visitors to the Ink Desk will permit me the self-indulgence of sharing it:


At last! My copy of Beauteous Truth arrived today. I seized it from the postman, took it off to a corner, like a dog with a particularly juicy bone, and devoured it in one sitting, growling ferociously at every interruption. I shall now spend the next week or so re-reading it before finding it a permanent place on my shelves, next to Literary Converts and Literary Giants, Literary Catholics.

What a pleasure it is to read someone who cares for truth and not for cultural fads and fashions! Your excoriations of postmodern 'kulchur' reminded me of a line from (I think) Wyndham Lewis's One-Way Song (Chesterton-like, I quote from memory so the words may not be exact):- 'Ours is a little age, when the blind pygmy treads in hypnotized crusades against all splendor'. Quite. But, for precisely that reason, it is good to be reminded of the splendor, and, time and again, your essays did just that. Belloc and Baring, Chesterton and Dawson, Lewis and Tolkien, Greene and Solzhenitsyn, sprang vividly to life from your pages. Criticism was both fair-minded and robust, as criticism should be: a welcome change from the mealy-mouthed platitudes and anodyne observations that so often pass for criticism these days.

Anyway, I couldn't resist writing to thank you for these splendid essays, and to second Cardinal Burke's hope that we may look forward to further volumes of essays in future. In the meantime, I intend to recommend this volume to all my friends. I shall be meeting some of them in a Sussex pub next week, so we'll drink your health in a pint (or three) of Harvey's!

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July 28th, 2014Beauteous Truthby Joseph Pearce

Having just returned from a mini-speaking tour of northern California which culminated with my participation at this year's Napa Institute Conference, I'm delighted to find this review of my latest book on Randy Hain's Integrated Catholic Life website: http://www.integratedcatholiclife.org/2014/07/randy-hain-joseph-pearce-and-beauteous-truth/

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July 25th, 2014A “Gay Catholic Romance Novel”?by Dena Hunt

I’m particularly gratified with this review of The Lion’s Heart from Aletia. The novel is new, and while reviews have been good, it’s always a pleasure to hear from a reader who just seems to “get it,” regardless of how they title their reviews:

http://go.aleteia.org/SPlL0PJ

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July 24th, 2014Parsing Tolkien’s Letter on Love and Romanceby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

Tolkien's amazing letter to his son Michael deserves a closer look.  Here it is again, with some commentary by me in boldface.  

***



A man's dealings with women can be purely physical (they cannot really, of course: but I mean he can
refuse to take other things into account, to the great damage of his soul (and body) and theirs); or
'friendly'; or he can be a 'lover' (engaging and blending all his affections and powers of mind and body in a complex emotion powerfully coloured and energized by 'sex'). 

Tolkien is setting up here three possibilities in relations between men and women: 

1. A man can relate to a woman merely for the sake of physical pleasure (though really this can never happen, for we can never separate our bodies and our souls, and great harm of some sort comes to those men who try to do this; great harm also comes to the women involved)

2. A man can be "friends" with a woman (before old age, this is almost impossible on any intimate level without the complications of love or attraction, as he points out later)

3. Or a man can be a woman's "lover" - this love being something which engages his whole self, but which still tends to be primarily an emotional experience, "energized by sex".

This is stunningly perceptive stuff, loaded with common sense - as is the rest of the letter.  Read on!

This is a fallen world. The dislocation of sex-instinct is one of the chief symptoms of the Fall. The world has been 'going to the bad' all down the ages. The various social forms shift, and each new mode has its special dangers: but the 'hard spirit of concupiscence' has walked down every street, and sat leering in every house, since Adam fell. 

What beautiful prose, right to the point and very evocative.  "The hard spirit of concupiscence" is our innate predilection to sin, especially sexual sin.

We will leave aside the 'immoral' results. These you desire not to be dragged into. To renunciation you have no call. 'Friendship' then? 

He is giving advice to his son.  Michael does not want to give himself to "immoral" relationships with women (fornication).  But he's not called to "renunciation" (celibacy and the priesthood).  Is friendship then the only option left?

In this fallen world the 'friendship' that should be possible between all human beings, is virtually impossible between man and woman. The devil is endlessly ingenious, and sex is his favourite subject. He is as good every bit at catching you through generous romantic or tender motives, as through baser or more animal ones. This 'friendship' has often been tried: one side or the other nearly always fails. Later in life when sex cools down, it may be possible. It may happen between saints. To ordinary folk it can only rarely occur: two minds that have really a primarily mental and spiritual affinity may by accident reside in a male and a female body, and yet may desire and achieve a 'friendship' quite independent of sex. But no one can count on it. The other partner will let him (or her) down, almost certainly, by 'falling in love'. 

This has to be qualified a bit, lest Tolkien sound too harsh and hypercritical.  

And the qualifier is this: of course, all of us have friends of the opposite sex.  But those are more acquaintances than examples of deep friendship, and the level of emotional and spiritual intimacy is generally tepid or restrained.  It has been my experience that any "friendship" I have with a woman is either

1. At a level of cordiality and restraint: a pleasant acquaintanceship of mutual affection and limited "sharing";

2. Or fraught with "erotic" complications (meaning complications of the love known as Eros, which is more than just sex) - where emotional and spiritual sharing, once past a certain level, invariably leads (quite naturally) not only to attraction but to the building up of mutual obligations, which must ultimately go unfulfilled and renounced by one or the other party - unless the friendship is a courtship building toward marriage.  This is true whether the "friends" add on "benefits" or not.  It's not so much sex that complicates such relationships, but Eros.

But a young man does not really (as a rule) want 'friendship', even if he says he does. There are plenty of young men (as a rule). He wants love: innocent, and yet irresponsible perhaps. Allas! Allas! that ever love was sinne! as Chaucer says. Then if he is a Christian and is aware that there is such a thing as sin, he wants to know what to do about it.

So the problem is love.  How do we love without sin?  Quoting Chaucer leads Tolkien into a penetrating analysis of "courtly love".

There is in our Western culture the romantic chivalric tradition still strong, though as a product of Christendom (yet by no means the same as Christian ethics) the times are inimical to it. 

Note that chivalry grew out of Christendom, but that chivalry is not the same thing as Christian ethics.  Tolkien proceeds to show how chivalry and "courtly love" differs from Christian ethics, and he gives a very mature and balanced treatment of the subject.  

One might wonder, "What does chivalry have to do with the modern world?  How does this affect a young man - or even a mature man - trying to love without sin?  Chivalry is dead, isn't it?  The times are inimical to it, as Tolkien said."  Well, no, chivalry is not dead; it lives on in the Romantic tradition of literature and art, and its notion of Romantic Love can be seen in every movie or novel of the modern age (except very recent pieces of trash like Hangover).  It's a tradition that tugs deeply at our souls, as it is very evocative of Eros and Agape - of our call to love with great passion, interest, devotion and surrender: it takes what Christ has revealed about love and applies it (imperfectly but very effectively) to the secular world.  It is love of God applied to the opposite sex - which has its problems, as Tolkien proceeds to point out.

It idealizes 'love' — and as far as it goes can be very good, since it takes in far more than physical pleasure, and enjoins if not purity, at least fidelity, and so self-denial, 'service', courtesy, honour, and courage. Its weakness is, of course, that it began as an artificial courtly game, a way of enjoying love for its own sake without reference to (and indeed contrary to) matrimony. 

The tradition of courtly love originally began as the building up of what might be called elaborate rules of adultery.  Later, it took on more dignity - but it originally focused on the problem of Eros for the married man or woman who was not finding Eros in his or her marriage.  

Its centre was not God, but imaginary Deities, Love and the Lady. It still tends to make the Lady a kind of guiding star or divinity – of the old-fashioned 'his divinity' = the woman he loves – the object or reason of noble conduct. This is, of course, false and at best make-believe. The woman is another fallen human-being with a soul in peril. But combined and harmonized with religion (as long ago it was, producing much of that beautiful devotion to Our Lady that has been God's way of refining so much our gross manly natures and emotions, and also of warming and colouring our hard, bitter, religion) it can be very noble. Then it produces what I suppose is still felt, among those who retain even vestigiary Christianity, to be the highest ideal of love between man and woman. Yet I still think it has dangers. It is not wholly true, and it is not perfectly 'theocentric'. It takes, or at any rate has in the past taken, the young man's eye off women as they are, as companions in shipwreck not guiding stars. (One result is for observation of the actual to make the young man turn cynical.) To forget their desires, needs and temptations. It inculcates exaggerated notions of 'true love', as a fire from without, a permanent exaltation, unrelated to age, childbearing, and plain life, and unrelated to will and purpose. (One result of that is to make young folk look for a 'love' that will keep them always nice and warm in a cold world, without any effort of theirs; and the incurably romantic go on looking even in the squalor of the divorce courts).

This is one of the most stunning and beautiful paragraphs Tolkien ever wrote.  In it, he manages to criticize the romantic notion of "The Lady" in a way that is so fair and comprehensive that one marvels at the wisdom and perspective of this man.  The chivalric tradition of "The Lady" and the romantic quest she moves us to, can both inspire a man to a nobility of love, and also fool him and hurt him (and others) badly.  For we poets tend to forget that women are "companions in shipwreck and not guiding stars".  This can lead to cynicism on the one hand (there's nothing more ugly and angry than a disappointed lover, whose ideals have proven to be bubbles that have popped) or to "the squalor of the divorce courts" on the other.  "My wife is not My Lady!  My Lady calls to me from afar!  My Lady is hot and sexy and understands me!  My wife is dumpy and crabby and knows me too well to adore me like her knight in shining armor that I long to be!  But my secretary understands me - or my dental hygenist does - or that young thing over there does!  Oh, stars!  Oh, fate!  Why do I have a wife and not My Lady!" (picks up phone, dials 1-800-DIVORCE).

Women really have not much part in all this, though they may use the language of romantic love, since it is so entwined in all our idioms. The sexual impulse makes women (naturally when unspoiled more unselfish) very sympathetic and understanding, or specially desirous of being so (or seeming so), and very ready to enter into all the interests, as far as they can, from ties to religion, of the young man they are attracted to. No intent necessarily to deceive: sheer instinct: the servient, helpmeet instinct, generously warmed by desire and young blood. Under this impulse they can in fact often achieve very remarkable insight and understanding, even of things otherwise outside their natural range: for it is their gift to be receptive, stimulated, fertilized (in many other matters than the physical) by the male. Every teacher knows that. How quickly an intelligent woman can be taught, grasp his ideas, see his point – and how (with rare exceptions) they can go no further, when they leave his hand, or when they cease to take a personal interest in him. But this is their natural avenue to love. Before the young woman knows where she is (and while the romantic young man, when he exists, is still sighing) she may actually 'fall in love'. Which for her, an unspoiled natural young woman, means that she wants to become the mother of the young man's children, even if that desire is by no means clear to her or explicit. And then things are going to happen: and they may be very painful and harmful, if things go wrong. Particularly if the young man only wanted a temporary guiding star and divinity (until he hitches his waggon to a brighter one), and was merely enjoying the flattery of sympathy nicely seasoned with a titillation of sex – all quite innocent, of course, and worlds away from 'seduction'.

Wow.  

It's politically incorrect these days to assert that men and women are different in any way (even physically).  But Tolkien nails it.

As to women's natural desire - I can only think of Lola Heatherton whose showbiz catch phrase was, "I want to bear your children!"  



But back to Tolkien ...

You may meet in life (as in literature) women who are flighty, or even plain wanton — I don't refer to mere flirtatiousness, the sparring practice for the real combat, but to women who are too silly to take even love seriously, or are actually so depraved as to enjoy 'conquests', or even enjoy the giving of pain – but these are abnormalities, even though false teaching, bad upbringing, and corrupt fashions may encourage them. Much though modern conditions have changed feminine circumstances, and the detail of what is considered propriety, they have not changed natural instinct. A man has a life-work, a career, (and male friends), all of which could (and do where he has any guts) survive the shipwreck of 'love'. A young woman, even one 'economically independent', as they say now (it usually really means economic subservience to male commercial employers instead of to a father or a family), begins to think of the 'bottom drawer' and dream of a home, almost at once. If she really falls in love, the shipwreck may really end on the rocks. Anyway women are in general much less romantic and more practical. Don't be misled by the fact that they are more 'sentimental' in words – freer with 'darling', and all that. They do not want a guiding star. 

Guys like me who tend to be poets and idealists find this hard to imagine, but it's very very true.  Women are much more practical than men.  Their thoughts tend to hearth and home (unless they're simply vixens, as Tolkien notes above - and vixens themselves are so twisted that they are quite unhappy with who they are, as a rule).  A woman can be idealistic in her own way, but it's usually not regarding love and romance.  Even women who have affairs usually do so to find attention, not to find the ideal man.  Thus the tendency of women to "settle", to marry men who meet minimum standards (like breathing and showing an interest in them).  It's the woman's job to "settle" - to settle down, something that does not come naturally to men.  

They may idealize a plain young man into a hero; but they don't really need any such glamour either to fall in love or to remain in it. If they have any delusion it is that they can 'reform' men. They will take a rotter open-eyed, and even when the delusion of reforming him fails, go on loving him. 

Maybe this is why they "settle".  A man believes he can always find the ideal "out there"; a woman believe she can always achieve the ideal "in here".  

They are, of course, much more realistic about the sexual relation. Unless perverted by bad contemporary fashions they do not as a rule talk 'bawdy'; not because they are purer than men (they are not) but because they don't find it funny. I have known those who pretended to, but it is a pretence. It may be intriguing, interesting, absorbing (even a great deal too absorbing) to them: but it is just plumb natural, a serious, obvious interest; where is the joke?

This opens up a great mystery.  Sex is always something ridiculous to a man, no matter how obsessed he is with it; thus men are bawdy and enjoy being bawdy.  A man always finds sex somehow humiliating or humbling and therefore funny.  Women take sex much more seriously.  There's no tension between the natural function of sex and the spiritual desires of a woman; in men there is.  Sex is somehow incongruous to us: we love it, but it's not exactly who we are - which is often the source of humor.  Women don't get that joke.

They have, of course, still to be more careful in sexual relations, for all the contraceptives. Mistakes are damaging physically and socially (and matrimonially). But they are instinctively, when uncorrupt, monogamous. Men are not. .... No good pretending. Men just ain't, not by their animal nature. Monogamy (although it has long been fundamental to our inherited ideas) is for us men a piece of 'revealed' ethic, according to faith and not to the flesh. Each of us could healthily beget, in our 30 odd years of full manhood, a few hundred children, and enjoy the process. Brigham Young (I believe) was a healthy and happy man. It is a fallen world, and there is no consonance between our bodies, minds, and souls.

Amen.

However, the essence of a fallen world is that the best cannot be attained by free enjoyment, or by what is called 'self-realization' (usually a nice name for self-indulgence, wholly inimical to the realization of other selves); but by denial, by suffering. Faithfulness in Christian marriage entails that: great mortification. For a Christian man there is no escape. Marriage may help to sanctify & direct to its proper object his sexual desires; its grace may help him in the struggle; but the struggle remains. It will not satisfy him – as hunger may be kept off by regular meals. It will offer as many difficulties to the purity proper to that state, as it provides easements. No man, however truly he loved his betrothed and bride as a young man, has lived faithful to her as a wife in mind and body without deliberate conscious exercise of the will, without self-denial. Too few are told that — even those brought up 'in the Church'. Those outside seem seldom to have heard it. When the glamour wears off, or merely works a bit thin, they think they have made a mistake, and that the real soul-mate is still to find. The real soul-mate too often proves to be the next sexually attractive person that comes along. Someone whom they might indeed very profitably have married, if only —. Hence divorce, to provide the 'if only'. And of course they are as a rule quite right: they did make a mistake. Only a very wise man at the end of his life could make a sound judgement concerning whom, amongst the total possible chances, he ought most profitably to have married! Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might have found more suitable mates. But the 'real soul-mate' is the one you are actually married to. You really do very little choosing: life and circumstance do most of it (though if there is a God these must be His instruments, or His appearances). It is notorious that in fact happy marriages are more common where the 'choosing' by the young persons is even more limited, by parental or family authority, as long as there is a social ethic of plain unromantic responsibility and conjugal fidelity. But even in countries where the romantic tradition has so far affected social arrangements as to make people believe that the choosing of a mate is solely the concern of the young, only the rarest good fortune brings together the man and woman who are really as it were 'destined' for one another, and capable of a very great and splendid love. The idea still dazzles us, catches us by the throat: poems and stories in multitudes have been written on the theme, more, probably, than the total of such loves in real life (yet the greatest of these tales do not tell of the happy marriage of such great lovers, but of their tragic separation; as if even in this sphere the truly great and splendid in this fallen world is more nearly achieved by 'failure' and suffering). In such great inevitable love, often love at first sight, we catch a vision, I suppose, of marriage as it should have been in an unfallen world. In this fallen world we have as our only guides, prudence, wisdom (rare in youth, too late in age), a clean, heart, and fidelity of will.....

Note a few things about this man and his writing.

1. His worldview is profoundly Christian - utterly and totally Christian (i. e., Catholic).

2. He has a clear-eyed even-handed vision of the reality of things as they are: fallen humanity, the workings of the Incarnation in a sinful world.

3. And yet he never loses sight of the ideal.  He is able to look at things realistically without denigrating the ideal that things invariably fall shy of.  And he is very fair to both.

... and from this fairness, one sees immense Charity.

***

Tolkien's letter continues with the story of his courtship of Michael's mother, and ends with his famous acclamation of the glories of the Blessed Sacrament.

You can read that part of it - indeed the whole thing - here.  

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July 22nd, 2014Joseph Conrad’s Prince Romanby Daniel J. Heisey

Thirty-one years ago in the journal Conradiana, C. F. Burgess had an essay, “Conrad’s Catholicism.”  As Burgess noted, critics tend to dismiss the notion of Joseph Conrad’s Catholicism, preferring to see him as a secular unbeliever.  As with any great artist, Conrad can get projected onto him the image of many of his admirers.

Born Jozef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski in a part of Poland then dominated by Russia, Conrad (1857-1924) was baptized Catholic and had a funeral Mass, but for much of his life, he was not a practicing Catholic.  All the same, he identified himself as a Catholic and identified with Catholic culture.  In his fiction Conrad explored moral themes, such as in Victory (1915), where he drew upon the biblical imagery of man and woman in a Garden of Eden haunted and hunted by malevolent forces.

In his non-fiction work, Conrad also reflected upon Catholic culture and gave a glimpse into his own religious beliefs.  In Notes on Life and Letters (1921), Conrad observed that “What humanity needs is not the promise of scientific immortality, but compassionate pity in this life and infinite mercy on the Day of Judgment.”  He also declared that “Mankind has been demoralized since by its own mastery of mechanical appliances.”  In contrast to those machines, he sketched Krakow by moonlight:  “The unequal massive towers of St. Mary’s Church soared aloft into the ethereal radiance of the air, very black on their shaded sides, glowing with a soft phosphorescent sheen on the others.”

A scene drawn from his family history became a short story, “Prince Roman,” written in 1910 and first published the following year.  In it Conrad dealt with the theme of patriotism, “a somewhat discredited sentiment,” he mused, “because the delicacy of our humanitarians regards it as a relic of barbarism.”  Nevertheless, he noted, “St. Francis blessing with his last breath the town of Assisi” was not a barbarian.  The prince of the title was Prince Roman Sanguszko (1800-1881); as a boy, Conrad had briefly met him, and the prince featured in the memoirs of Conrad’s maternal uncle.

The tale is told by a man of late middle age who recalls a day in his boyhood when he had met Prince Roman.  The narrator contrasts his boyish knowledge of princes in fairy tales, “in which princes always appear young, charming, heroic, and fortunate,” with the elderly personage presented to him.  The aged prince was tall, stiff, bald, his face having “harmonious simplicity of lines” yet a “deathlike pallor.”  Moreover, the old man was stone deaf.

From that encounter emerges a description of the prince’s tragic yet heroic youth.  In 1831, the time of the November Uprising, when Poles rebelled against Russian rule, the prince was newly married and an officer in the Guards.  Prince Roman possessed “something reserved and reflective in his character,” and he was “a rather silent young man.”  Here I will say only that his strength and silence sustain him during his long exile to Siberia.

As we have seen in the life of Saint John Paul II (1920-2005), a Pole’s love for his native land and literature runs immeasurably deep.  Conrad shared that love, and however far he sailed or imagined himself, his heart returned to Poland.  “It requires a certain greatness of soul to interpret patriotism worthily,” wrote Conrad in “Prince Roman,” “or else a sincerity of feeling denied to the vulgar refinement of modern thought which cannot understand the august simplicity of a sentiment proceeding from the very nature of things and men.”

It seems that almost every high school student in the United States is required to read Conrad’s story “Heart of Darkness,” and as a result Conrad seems in danger of being remembered for that tale alone.  While it can be interesting to connect the dots between that story and T. S. Eliot’s poem “The Waste Land” (1922) and the film Apocalypse Now (1979), one might not be getting the best first taste of Conrad.  Besides, some readers are put off by the narrative device of Marlow rambling on for more than a hundred pages; others, of course, are put off by anything mandated by a syllabus.

It would be better to begin with a story like “Prince Roman,” a sketch of duty and what Conrad called “quiet intrepidity,” or “The Secret Sharer,” a study of loyalty, friendship, and risk.  Novels like The Secret Agent (1907), about the grotesque folly of revolution, or Lord Jim (1900), about a flawed hero, can come next.  Like “Heart of Darkness,” Lord Jim employs the storyteller Marlow, so a mini-course for deeper Conrad studies could be built around those two works.

All the while, despite a reputation for brooding melancholy, Conrad displays dry humor and clever touches of irony.  The passage in The Secret Agent about the need for an Act of Parliament to order houses to move round the corner to their correct addresses could have come from G. K. Chesterton.  Likewise, the serenely stupid Captain MacWhirr of Typhoon could have stepped out of something by Charles Dickens.

On his many travels in Africa and the Middle East, the great explorer Sir Wilfred Thesiger (1910-2003) had with him volumes of Conrad.  One could do worse than follow his example and spend time with Conrad’s often wry meditations on the complexity of our unchanging human nature.  Thesiger appreciated Conrad for seeing not only that continuity, but also the permanent truths of life that transcend modern fads.

Both men saw that there is much more to life than “the vulgar refinement of modern thought.”  For them, vitality came from the “august simplicity” of elemental realities.  Tellingly, Thesiger called a collection of his writings Desert, Marsh, and Mountain.  Conrad loved the sea and Poland and his adopted home of England, where he and his family lie buried in the Catholic section of the cemetery outside Canterbury, granite monuments preserving their ancestral name in a foreign land.

 

Daniel J. Heisey, O. S. B, is a Benedictine monk of Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pennsylvania, where he is known as Brother Bruno.  He teaches Church History at Saint Vincent Seminary.

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July 22nd, 2014Stratford Caldecott: Go With Godby Michael Lichens | http://coffeecatholic.wordpress.com

On July 17th, Stratford Caldecott fell asleep in the Lord after a long battle with prostate cancer. Already, many have written great words of mourning for one of the most powerful voices of Catholic cultural renewal. The author of several books (and a contributor to many more) and the co-founder and editor of Second Spring, a Catholic journal he and his wife Léonie long edited along with the UK/Irish version of Magnificat; it is hard to put into words how much of an impact this man of Christ had on so many. This is especially hard for me, as Mr. Caldecott was a friend who greatly encouraged my own work and how I view Christ in the world. In short, I am of the opinion that we will never be thankful enough for the great work of Stratford Caldecott.

A Chance Encounter

I was a Catholic for a mere three years when I had the pleasure of being introduced to Mr. Caldecott at a pub in Nashua, NH. The meeting was planned by Thomas More College of Liberal Arts, where I was studying, and I was invited along to meet a few G.K. Chesterton scholars. Upon meeting him we were quickly singing the joys of Chesterton and the Inklings. I was impressed with his intellectual calibre and he was kind enough to invite me to Oxford to view the Chesterton Library.

I twice accepted his invitation and each time I was graciously given a view of Chesterton's personal effects which included his hat, cloak, chair, typewriter, among other assorted books and items that personally belonged to the bombastic journalist and great Catholic writer. It was, for me, like being a reliquary. What I did not expect, was how much the man showing me the items would change my view of faith and my vocation.

When I returned in the Summer of 2008 I was as a part of TMC's Oxford Programme where I was to study the great works of the Catholic Literary Revival and see the sites of GKC, Newman, St. Edmund Campion, and even Lewis and the Inklings.

Love and Intellect

As part of the Oxford Programme, I had the pleasure of being a guest of Stratford and Léonie in their home just outside of Oxford. In our courses, dinners, and walks I got to see first hand what a loving couple they were and how their love for each other and Christ enabled them to accomplish so much. They were partners in everything, from parenting to publishing. No doubt that there were struggles, but they endured them with a rarely-seen grace that allowed them to do so much for the Church in England, the United States, and beyond. Along with running the Oxford Programme, they seemed to have a hand in running dozens of programs that involved sharing and understanding the faith. From that family they created more work for the glory of God than most of us will accomplish in a lifetime.

In my own work and intellectual pursuits they were encouraging, but honest. They cared about a revival of Catholic culture and the conversion of all, and that meant encouraging writers and editors. The number of writers that they have encouraged and had a hand in developing is staggering, even among the writers here at CE. As well as mentors, they became my friends and were a joy to know.

StratTheir greatest lesson was the unspoken one of the centrality of the love for Christ in all that we do and how much that love was so badly needed to be shown to the world. For them, Christ was not merely a thing to gaze upon and consider but He was a light that illuminated the world. Literature, art, and even the most everyday pursuits became something beautiful for God and they delighted to show people this joy.

When Stratford was diagnosed with cancer in 2011, it shook many of us to our core. Even with the battle that he was enduring, he still published a great deal of work and he and his wife continued in their endeavours with editing, publishing, and the fantastic work at the Center for Faith and Culture. Across the world, many prayers were offered and they demonstrated love, charity, and kindness to all who encountered them. When I was going through a rough patch, they even took time to write encouraging messages to me. Seeing their strength amidst their sufferings had given me the resolve to keep carrying on.

 

#CapforStrat

A few months ago, with the Caldecott family gathering to offer comfort to Stratford, Sophie, his daughter, launched a hashtag campaign called #CapforStrat with the intention of bringing some comfort to him. The plan was to tweet images in support of Stratford and to hopefully get celebrities involved to allow him to watch The Winter Soldier in his home. Stratford had long been a fan of comic books, especially those by Marvel, but was unable to make it to the theaters to see their latest film. Sophie was successful and Marvel agreed to show the film. So many people gathered in support of one man, some of whom were his friend but many others were strangers who wished to bring some comfort to a good man. It was as if the world was giving him a final embrace.

As his name went viral and as he came closer to death, Stratford would demonstrate great courage and hope in the face of death. In one of his last articles, Stratford reflected on his love of comics and the mystery of facing death. Realizing this challenge, he still saw the work of Christ in all things, even the tragic. Seeing Christ's hand in all, he wrote,

God entered deeply into the world—so deeply that we can call it a merging, a uniting of his own nature with the world itself. It is no illusion, but a real uniting. We can participate by joining in the rhythm of life and death. God hides himself deeply within the world, not as an extension of life, such as an experience or two, but as the totality of being. At first it all seems inaccessible and impossible. The Cross seems impossible, incredible. It seems foolish, crazy. But we must join fully, deeply, truly. And we must start as soon as possible.

 

Go With God

So it is that we now say goodbye to a good man, a fine scholar, a loving father and husband, and truly one of the most brilliant writers of our era. This is hard for many, but we do not mourn like those who have no hope. Stratford served Christ well, and we now pray that he continues to do so and that he will finally be in a place where there is no pain and where joy quickly replaces all sorrow.

Goodbye, Stratford, thank you for all the great conversations and good words of wisdom. Thank you for being a reflection of the love of Christ for so many throughout the world. Thank you for all the lessons, especially the lesson that Christ really wants to reveal Himself to us and that all that is required is for us to open ourselves up to Him. Thank you for showing us that God really has united Himself with us to make all things new. Let us never forget.

This originally appeared at Catholic Exchange and is republished with permission. 

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July 21st, 2014The Arabic Writing on the Wallby Joseph Pearce

In between travels. Just back from Florida and soon destined for California. In haste. Here's my latest for the Imaginative Conservative:

http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2014/07/arabic-writing-wall-europe-learns-hard-way.html

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July 21st, 2014It’s that business of pronouns again…by Dena Hunt

…and I keep coming back to it. As ridiculous as it sounds, sometimes it seems that what we need most of all is a good lesson in grammar. Okay, so I’m a caricature of an old maid English teacher. I wear reading glasses on the bridge of my nose, and I even wear my hair in a bun sometimes (though I never stick a pencil it.) But look at all the woes that could be remedied if we paid attention to our pronouns. What is this third-person we use so reflexively? Ever notice reflex> reflexive> reflexive pronouns? Well, it’s a stretch, I admit, but-- Every single complaint one has against one’s mate, friend, parent, child, or anyone “other,” has to be—first of all—recognized. How does recognition happen? It is a re-; i.e., repetition, of cognition—which means knowledge, knowledge in the sense of familiarity, something we know by personal experience of it. We must first possess cognition before we can go for recognition.

So, the childhood expression we used to employ to answer a taunt, “Takes one to know one!” is absolutely true. Now, let’s look at the accusation: “He is a hypocrite.”  Really? How is it you recognize a hypocrite? You have to have prior personal knowledge of hypocrisy; whence comes that knowledge? Before any such accusation can be made, prior personal knowledge must exist. So, let’s identify the realreflexive (though unspoken) pronoun (-self, selves) here: I am, myself, a hypocrite. I recognize myself in you. Such recognition should lead more to fraternity than to condemnation.

This little reflection provides a new way to look at “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” No stone was cast. No stone could be cast. Everyone who accused the poor sinner of adultery was himself an adulterer. The Lord makes the reflexive pronoun the operative determiner of guilt, because it is the revelation of real guilt.

I tried an exercise one Lent that was so successful I have kept it up (or tried to), and I’ve observed its near-universal success when others have tried it. Every critical thought I had about another person or persons, I changed to I or We.  It works. Whatever unkind thing I have to say about anyone, I say about the mirror instead.

Today’s Gospel about the parable of the wheat and the tares reminded me—and I admit I needed reminding. Why is it necessary to leave the harvesting of the field to the angels? Because, like the adulterers who would stone an adulterer, the only ones among us who can recognize tares are other tares.

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July 21st, 2014Tsar Nicholas II—Saint or Egomaniacby Brendan D. King

It is far from uncommon to find admirers of both the House of Romanov and of Tsar Nicholas II. He is seen as a loving family man and a well meaning, but ineffectual ruler. As this post shall reveal, however, there was also another side to the personality of the Last Tsar.

Throughout the Great War, the French Ambassador to the Russian Imperial Court, Maurice Paleologue, kept a detailed diary. Following his return to France, M. Paleologue published his diary in three volumes. In 1925, George H. Doran & Company published an English translation under the title, "An Ambassador's Memoirs." 

M. Paleologue's diary remains a priceless primary source for anyone who wishes to study the sunken Atlantis of Tsarist Russia. Among the most fascinating entries, however, describes Paleologue's audience with Tsar Nicholas during the fall of 1914. The Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary had just asked to open peace negotiations through neutral channels. As Paleologue's diary reveals, the Tsar and his Foreign Minister, Count Sergei Sazonov, had no desire to accept. 

In his recent book, "The Russian Origins of the First World War," historian Sean McMeekin has written that M. Paleologue has provided, "a precious glimpse into what Russia's 'Little Father' thought his peasant children were fighting, bleeding, and dying for." Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottomon Empire were to be dismantled into smaller states -- almost certainly under Russian political and cultural influence. The Hapsburgs were to be shorn, not only of their Empire, but of Vienna itself and reduced to ruling only Salzburg and Tyrol. The Prussian Hohenzollerns were to be dethroned as Kaisers of the German Empire, which the Tsar intended to divide again into minuscule Princely States. Constantinople was to be under Russian rule and Turkey was to be reduced to the province surrounding Ankara. 

When reading M. Paleologue's description of this audience, I was shocked by the similarity between the hubristic statements of the Last Tsar and those of Napoleon Bonaparte. Tragically, the Tsar and his family would pay with their lives for his decision to commit his country to a war for which the Russian military had neither the supplies or the training to fight. Even more tragically, so would millions of others. For if Russia had not entered the Great War, there would have been no October Revolution, Red Terror, or Stalinist Purges. Therefore, I must say, with Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, "I feel sorry for Russia."

From, "An Ambassador's Memoirs," Volume I.

Saturday, November 21, 1914

This morning Sazonov said to me: "The Emperor will receive you at four o'clock. Officially he has nothing to say; but he wants to talk to you frankly and without restraint. I warn you your audience will be a long one.

At three o'clock I left in a special train for Tsarskoïe-Selo. Snow was falling heavily. Under the wan light from the sky the great plain in which Petrograd is set lay pale, misty and drab. It made me feel gloomy with its reminder of the plains of Poland where at this very moment thousands of men are dying and thousands others suffer the tortures of wounds.

Although my audience was a private one I had to put on my full-dress uniform, as is fitting for a meeting with the Tsar, Autocrat of all the Russias. The Director of Ceremonies, Evreinov, went with me. He also was a symphony in gold braid.

From Tsarskoïe-Selo station to Alexander Palace is a short distance, less than a verst. In the open space before one reaches the park a little church, mediæval in style, raises its pretty cupola above the snow; it is the Feodorovsky Sobor, one of the Empress's favourite resorts for private devotion.

Alexander Palace showed me its most intimate side, for ceremonial was reduced to a minimum. My escort consisted only of Evreinov, a household officer in undress uniform and a footman in his picturesque (Tsaritsa Elizabeth) dress with the hat adorned with long red, black and yellow plumes. I was taken through the audience rooms, then the Empress's private drawing-room, down a long corridor leading to the private apartments of the sovereigns in which I passed a servant in very plain livery who was carrying a tea tray. Further on was the foot of a little private staircase leading to the rooms of the imperial children. A lady's maid flitted away from the landing above. The last room at the end of the corridor is occupied by Prince Mestschersky, personal aide-de-camp. I waited there barely a minute. The gaily and weirdly bedecked Ethiopian who mounted guard outside His Majesty's study opened the door almost at once.

The Emperor received me with that gracious and somewhat shy kindness which is all his own.

The room in which he received me is small and has only one window. The furniture is plain and comfortable there are plain leather chairs, a sofa covered with a Persian rug, a bureau and shelves arranged with meticulous care, a table spread with maps and a low book case with photographs, busts and family souvenirs on the top shelf.

As usual the Emperor hesitated over his preliminary remarks, which are kind personal enquiries and attentions, but soon he became more at his ease:

"Let's make ourselves at home and be comfortable first, as I shall keep you some time. Have this chair. . . . We'll put this little table between us: that's better. Here are the cigarettes: Turkish. I've no business to smoke them as they were given to me by a fresh enemy, the Sultan. But they're extremely nice and, anyhow, I haven't any others. Let me have my maps. . . . And now we can talk."

He lit his cigarette, offered me a light and went straight to the heart of the subject:

"Great things have happened in the three months since I saw you last. The splendid French army and my dear army have already given such proof of valour that victory can't fail us now. . . . Don't think I'm under any illusion as to the trials and sacrifices the war still has in store for us; but so far we have a right, and even a duty, to consider together what we should have to do if Austria or Germany sued for peace. You must observe that it would unquestionably be in Germany's interest to treat for peace while her military power is still formidable. But isn't Austria very exhausted already? Well, what should we do if Germany or Austria asked for peace?"

"The first question," I said, " is to consider whether peace can be negotiated if we are not forced to dictate it to our enemies. . . . However moderate we may be we shall obviously have to insist on guarantees and reparations from the Central Powers, demands they will not accept before they are at our mercy."

"That's my own view. We must dictate the peace and I am determined to continue the war until the Central Powers are destroyed. But I regard it as essential that the terms of the peace should be discussed by us three, France, England and Russia-and by us three alone. No Congress or mediation for me! So when the time comes we shall impose our will upon Germany and Austria."

"What is your general idea of the terms of peace, Sire?"

After a moment's consideration the Emperor resumed:

"What we must keep before us as our first object is the destruction of German militarism, the end of the nightmare from which Germany has made us suffer for more than forty years. We must make it impossible for the German people even to think of revenge. If we let ourselves be swayed by sentiment there will be a fresh war within a very short time. . . . As for the precise terms of peace I must tell you at once that I accept here and now any conditions France and England think it their duty to put forward in their own interest."

"I thank Your Majesty for that intimation; I am certain that the Government of the Republic in turn will meet the wishes of the imperial Government in the most sympathetic spirit."

"What you say encourages me to tell you all I think. But I m only giving you my own view, as I don't like to open questions of this kind without consulting my ministers and generals." 

He drew his chair close to mine, spread a map of Europe on the table between us, lit another cigarette and continued in an even more intimate and familiar tone: "This is more or less my view of the results Russia is entitled to expect from the war, results failing which my people will not understand the sacrifices I have require of them. . . . In East Prussia Germany must accept a rectification of the frontier. My General Staff would like this rectification to be extended to the mouths of the Vistula. That seems to me excessive; I'll look into the question. Posen and possibly a portion of Silesia will be indispensable to the reconstitution of Poland. Galicia and the western half of the Bukovina will enable Russia to obtain her natural frontier, the Carpathians. . . . In Asia Minor I shall have to consider the question of the Armenians of course; I certainly could not let them return to the Turkish yoke. Ought I to annex Armenia? I shall only do so if the Armenians expressly ask me to. Otherwise I shall establish an autonomous regime for them. Lastly, I shall be compelled to secure my Empire a free passage through the Straits."

As he stopped at these words I pressed him to enlighten me further. He continued:

"I am far from having made up my mind. The matter is of such grave importance. But there are two conclusion to which I am always being brought back; first, that the Turks must be expelled from Europe; secondly, that Constantinople must in future be neutral, with an international regime. I need hardly say that the Mohammedans should receive all necessary guarantees that sanctuaries and tombs will be respected. Western Thrace to the Enos-Midia line should be given to Bulgaria. The rest, from that line to the shores of the Straits but excluding the environs of Constantinople, would be assigned Russia."

"So if I have understood you correctly, the Turks will be confined to Asia---as in the days of the first Osmanlis--- and have Angora or Koniah for their capital. The Bosphorus, the Sea of Marmora and the Dardanelles will thus form the western frontier of Turkey."

"Exactly."

"Your Majesty will forgive me for interrupting again to remind you that in Syria and Palestine France has a precious heritage of historical memories and moral and material interests. May I assume that Your Majesty would acquiesce in any measures the Government of the Republic might think fit to take to safeguard that inheritance?"

"Certainly!"

Then he spread out a map of the Balkans and indicated broadly his view of the territorial changes we should desire:

"Serbia should annex Bosnia, Herzegovina, Dalmatia and Northern Albania. Greece should have southern Albania with the exception of Valona, which must be assigned to Italy. If Bulgaria behaves properly she should receive compensation in Macedonia from Serbia."

He carefully folded up the map of the Balkans and as carefully returned it to its exact place on his table. Then crossing his arms and leaning back in his chair he fixed his eyes on the ceiling and asked in a dreamy voice:

"What about Austria-Hungary? What's to become of her? "

"If the victories of your armies develop beyond the Carpathians and Italy and Rumania enter the field Austria-Hungary will hardly survive the territorial sacrifices the Emperor Francis Joseph will be obliged to accept. When the Austro-Hungarian partnership has gone bankrupt I imagine the partners won't wish to go on working together, at any rate on the same terms."

"I think so too. . . . When Hungary loses Transylvania she'll have some difficulty in keeping the Croats under her sway. Bohemia will demand its autonomy at the least and Austria will thus find herself reduced to her ancient hereditary states, German Tyrol and the district of Salzburg."

Hereupon he lapsed into silence for a moment, his brows contracted and his eyes half closed as if he were repeating to himself what he was about to tell me. Then he cast a glance at the portrait of his father on the wall behind me and continued:

"But it is primarily in Germany that the great changes will take place. As I have said, Russia will annex the former Polish territories and part of East Prussia. France will certainly recover Alsace-Lorraine and possibly obtain the Rhine Provinces as well. Belgium should receive a substantial accession of territory in the region of Aix-la-Chapelle; she thoroughly deserves it! As for or the German Colonies, France and England will divide them as they think fit. Further, I should like Schleswig, including the Kiel Canal zone, to be restored to Denmark. . . . And Hanover? Wouldn't it be wise to revive Hanover? By setting up a small independent state between Prussia and Holland we should do much towards putting the future peace on a solid basis. After all, it is that which must guide our deliberations and actions. Our work cannot be justified before God and History unless it is inspired by a great moral idea and the determination to secure the peace of the world for a very long time to come."

As he uttered these last words he sat up in his chair his voice quivered a little under the influence of a solemn religious emotion. In his eyes shone a strange light. His conscience and his faith were visibly at work. But neither in his attitude nor his expression was there a suggestion of pose: nothing but perfect simplicity.

"Doesn't it mean the end of the German Empire?" I said.

He replied in firm tones:

"Germany can adopt any organization she likes, but the imperial dignity cannot be allowed to remain in the House of Hohenzollern. Prussia must return to the status of a kingdom only. . . . Isn't that your opinion also, Ambassador?"

"The German Empire, as conceived, founded and governed by the Hohenzollerns, is so obviously directed against the French nation that I shall certainly not attempt its defence. France would have a great guarantee if all the powers of the German world ceased to be in the hands of Prussia. . . ."

Our talk had already lasted more than an hour. After a few moments of reflection the Emperor remarked, as if he had suddenly remembered something:

"We mustn't think merely of the immediate results of the war: we must consider the remoter future, too. . . . I attach the very greatest importance to the maintenance of our alliance. The work we have set out to do and which has already cost us such efforts and sacrifices will be permanent only if we remain united. As we know we are striving for the peace of the world it is essential that our work should be permanent."

As he delivered himself of this finale, an obvious and necessary finale, to our conversation, I could see in his eyes the same strange, mystic light I had observed a few minutes earlier. His ancestor, Alexander I, must have worn this fervent and inspired expression when he preached to Metternich and Hardenberg about the Holy Alliance of kings against peoples. Yet in Madame von Krüdener's friend there was a certain theatrical affectation, a kind of romantic exaltation. Nicholas II, on the other hand, is sincerity itself: he endeavours to contain rather than give rein to his feelings, to conceal rather than deploy his emotions.

The Emperor rose, offered me another cigarette and remarked in the most casual and friendly way: "What glorious memories we shall share, my dear Ambassador! Do you remember? . . ."

And he reminded me of the days immediately preceding the war, that harassing week from July 25 to August 2; he recounted even the most trivial details and laid particular emphasis on the personal telegrams which had passed between the Emperor William and himself:

"He was never sincere; not for a moment! In the end he was hopelessly entangled in the net of his own perfidy and lies. . . . Have you ever been able to account for the telegram he sent me six hours after giving me his declaration of war? It's utterly impossible to explain what happened. I don't remember if I've ever told you. It was half-past one in the morning of August 2. I had just received your English colleague who had brought me a telegram from King George begging me to do everything possible to save peace. I had drafted, with Sir George Buchanan's help, the telegram with which you are familiar, which ended with an appeal for England's help in arms as the war was forced on us by Germany. The moment Buchanan had left I went to the Empress's room, as she was already in bed, to show her King George's telegram and have a cup of tea with her before retiring myself. I stayed with her until two in the morning. Then I wanted to have a bath, as I was very tired. I was just getting in when my servant knocked at the door saying he had a telegram for me. 'A very important telegram, very important indeed . . a telegram from His Majesty the Emperor William; I read the telegram, read it again and then repeated it aloud . . . but I couldn't understand a word. at on earth does William mean, I thought, pretending that it still depends on me whether war is averted or not! He implores me not to let my troops cross the frontier! Have I suddenly gone mad? Didn't the Minister of the Court, my trusted Fredericks, at least six hours ago bring me the declaration of war the German Ambassador had just handed to Sazonov? I returned to the Empress's room and read her William's telegram. She had to read it herself to bring herself to believe it. She said to me immediately: 'You're not going to answer it, are you? ' ' Certainly not.'

"There's no doubt that the object of this strange and farcical telegram was to shake my resolution, disconcert me and inspire me to some absurd and dishonourable step. It produced the opposite effect. As I left the Empress's room I felt that all was over for ever between me and William. I slept extremely well. When I woke, at my usual hour, I felt as if a weight had fallen from mind. My responsibility to God and my people was still enormous, but at least I knew what I had to do."

"I think, Sire, I could give a somewhat different explanation of the Emperor William's telegram."

"Really! Let me have it! "

"The Emperor William is not a man of courage

"He is not."

"He's a comedian and a braggart. He never dares to go right through with what he undertakes. He has often reminded me of an actor playing the murderer in melodrama who suddenly finds that his weapon is loaded and that he's really going to kill his victim. How often have we not seen him frightened by his own pantomime? When he ventured on his famous Tangier pronouncement, in 1905, he stopped quite suddenly in the middle of his scenario. . . . I am inclined to think that the moment he had issued his declaration of war he got frightened. He realized the formidable results of his action and wanted to throw all the responsibility on you. Perhaps, too, he clung to some fantastic hope of producing by his telegram some unexpected, inconceivable, miraculous event which would enable him to escape the consequences of his crime . . . . "

"Well, your explanation is quite in keeping with William's character."

The clock struck six.

"My word, it's late!" the Emperor said. " I'm afraid I've wearied you, but I'm glad to have had an opportunity of talking freely to you."

As he led me to the door I asked him about the fighting in Poland. "It's a great battle," he said, "and raging with the greatest fury. The Germans are making frantic efforts to break our line; they won't succeed and they can't remain long in their present positions. So I hope that before long we shall resume our advance."

"General de Laguiche wrote to me recently that the Grand Duke Nicholas still keeps a march on Berlin as his one and only objective."

"Yes, I don't yet know where we shall be able to get through. Between the Carpathians and the Oder, perhaps? Or between Breslau and Posen? Or north of Posen. It depends a good deal on the fighting now in progress around Lodz and in the neighbourhood of Cracow. But Berlin is certainly our sole objective. The fighting is equally violent on your side. This furious Yser battle is going in your favour. Your marines have covered themselves with glory. It's a serious reverse for the Germans, nearly as serious as their defeat on the Marne. . . . Well, good-bye, my dear Ambassador! Once more, I'm very glad to have been able to talk so freely with you! "

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July 17th, 2014Memory Eternal, Stratford Caldecottby Michael Lichens | http://coffeecatholic.wordpress.com

I just received word that Stratford Caldecott, a good friend to many of us here at StAR, has fallen asleep in the Lord. There will be many more good words and articles written about this amazing man. He was a true man of faith, a lover of theology and comic books, and a devoted husband, father, and grandfather. Please join us prayer for him and for his dear family. 

Christ our eternal King and God, You have destroyed death and the devil by Your Cross and have restored man to life by Your Resurrection; give rest, Lord, to the soul of Your servant, Stratford Caldecott,who has fallen asleep, in Your Kingdom, where there is no pain, sorrow or suffering. In Your goodness and love for all men, pardon all the sins he has committed in thought word or deed, for there is no man or woman who lives and sins not, You only are without sin. 

For You are the Resurrection, the Life, and Repose of Your servant Stratford, departed this life, O Christ our God; and to You do we send up glory with Your Eternal Father and Your All-holy, Good and Life-creating Spirit; both now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen

 

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July 17th, 2014To Live is To Loveby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

I have been hired to write a short biographical drama on the life of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.

And although I believe she had a strong influence upon me (behind the scenes) at the Chesterton Conference in Emmitsburg, Maryland four years ago, it has taken her a while to grow upon me.  But the more I read of her, the more I like her.  She was, among other things, a woman who valued Friendship most highly among all earthly blessings.

And this insight of hers in particular strikes me.  She wrote it as a note to herself on the back flyleaf of a book she was reading, The Following of Christ.

To live according to the Spirit, is to love according to the Spirit.  To live according to the flesh, is to love according to the flesh.  Love is the life of the soul - as the soul is the life of the body ... To live according to the Spirit is to act, to speak, to think in the manner the Spirit of God requires of us ... To live then according to the Spirit is to do what faith, hope, and charity teach - either in spiritual or temporal things.


Let me unpack this a bit for you.

First, she is playing around with Flesh vs. Spirit, which is not body vs. spirit, but the ways of the selfish  soul vs. the ways of the enlightened soul.  She is using "flesh" here at St. Paul does (Greek: sarx), meaning all that mean, nasty self-centered lust for power that emanates from that narcissistic little petty tyrant that is inside of every fallen human being; while Spirit means Holy Spirit, the work of God within you.

And St. Elizabeth compares the unfolding of love lived according to either principle.  Compare what St. Paul tells us in Galatians (my emphasis and commentary) ...

For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh ... The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
[Clearly, Paul is not using the word "flesh" to talk only about bodily urges, for "idolatry", "hatred", "jealousy", "ambition", etc. are spiritual things - but darkly spiritual things.  The acts of the flesh are the things we do when we are motivated by nothing beyond our basest desires - whether those desires are physical or spiritual.  However ...]
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Gal. 5:14-22)


And Mother Seton points out that one can live according to the selfish old man within or, or one can live according to the redeemed new man within; that is, according to the flesh or according to the Spirit.

 But to live is to love.  "Love is the life of the soul - as the soul is the life of the body".  What a great insight!

***

So what is the difference between loving according to the flesh - the sarx - and loving according to the Spirit?

I think we can see the difference in something as simple as Friendship.

***

My son Colin, who's a film buff, insisted that I watch the movie The Master the other night.  It's a Paul Thomas Anderson film that's kind of about a Scientology type cult, but is really about love and friendship.



The main character, Freddie Quell (played with amazing skill by Joaquin Phoenix) is a psychologically disturbed drifter whose life is Disconnected.  Without any real relationships in his life, he floats from job to job and from psychotic episode to psychotic episode, until he is befriended by the Cult Leader, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman - and theirs is indeed a friendship, despite the fact that they both make a habit of using other people.

"Use is the opposite of love," as St. John Paul used to say.  And, although Freddie Quell in The Master is willing to use, by means of sex, any woman who moves (or who doesn't move), he harbors one true love - a girl whose innocence he would never dream of offending.  And The Master himself, though he's making a career out of using others in a way that is typical of the Great American Scam Artist, is drawn to Freddie with a simple kind of loyalty.

The climactic scene of the movie (spoiler here) is when The Master describes his love by singing a romantic song to Freddie - but somehow it's far from a homosexual moment.  Freddie breaks down in tears, not so much because he has the sense that The Master is trying to seduce him as he seduces everyone else, but because the song somehow communicates a real love between the two that has nothing to do with romance, homosexual or otherwise.  Or at least that's how I saw it, though the scene (and the whole movie) is very hard to pin down.

At any rate, the opposite of love is not hatred.  The opposite of love is use.

***

Sometimes friendships die when one or the other party moves on to other interests, when the air goes out of the tire and nothing can be done to patch it and inflate it back up.

But quite often, it seems, friendships die when one party betrays the other, or when an undercurrent of use and even abuse rises to the surface.

When we are used by others to fulfill their selfish needs - which can include sex, attention, affection, money - when this happens and we wise up to it we feel incredibly, terribly, horribly abused, as well we should.

We feel victimized by someone who was loving according to the flesh, and not according to the Spirit.

***

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton gave her life to educating young women at a time in America when this was simply not being done - at least not being done for women outside of a wealthy social class.  But Mother Seton took in the poor, the destitute, the desperate; she founded an order that helped orphans, that ministered to the needs of the simple common people, of the poorest of the poor.

Hers was a life lived - and loved - according to the Spirit, and it therefore bore the fruits of the Spirit (as St. Paul describes above).

If all of us began to love in that way, our friendships would flourish, and we would find that instead of behaving with "knavish imbecility" (as our bishops do), the Church would revive and the world would begin to heal.  Suffering would certainly be our lot, as to love is to suffer - but this is, after all, our great and only call.



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July 16th, 2014The Gleam in the Eyeby Pavel Chichikov

A few days ago I clicked on a radio interview concerning Siegfried Sassoon, the English poet who wrote so powerfully about his combat experiences in World War One. The specific subject was a poem called Atrocities, which was edited before publication to remove some of the most blunt and brutal lines. It was, after all, war time. Here is a reading of the poem and the interview:

http://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-28243999  

As the BBC writes: [The original] “version was heavily censored by publishers, with euphemisms such as 'How did you do them in?' replacing 'How did you kill them?', and other lines removed altogether.”

The subject is the slaughter of prisoners.

The story of Sassoon’s poem reminded me of an experience of an uncle of mine who fought in another war, in another time, in a different part of the world.

When I was a small child, when he came home from this “different” war, I distinctly remember him saying that in that war, in that campaign, they took no prisoners because they were short of rations and would have had to share them.

And then, with a gleam in his eye that I have never forgotten, he told us that the enemy were killed with knives. I don’t recall exactly why this was so, but I remember the gleam.

My uncle was rather a docile sort who was known for meekly taking orders from his strong-willed wife. People always described him as good natured and a hard worker, if not the brightest bulb in the chandelier.

God bless his soul, he passed on some years ago. And he was good natured.  I don’t recall him ever behaving aggressively towards anyone, or even raising his voice.

I really believe that if he had never been a combat soldier that gleam would never have arisen in his eyes.

What then had happened to him during those years of war? Was it fear, hardship, semi-starvation, the pressure of kill or be killed combat? Of course. But it was something else, I believe: The innate ferocity of Cain, a latent or if you will original streak of bloody murder in the human soul.

In some of us it never comes out, even in murderous circumstances, and in others the setting ignites the gleam in the eye.

We are not through with that gleam yet. Read the news today, and prove it to yourself.  Pray for peace.

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July 16th, 2014Famous Film Stars and the Faithby Joseph Pearce

I've received an e-mail from Spain suggesting that I write a book about film actors and directors who are Catholics. Here's my reply:

I think your idea for a book about Catholic actors and film directors is excellent. Unfortunately, as a British literary scholar, I know very little about American films. There are, however, two new books that overlap with your suggestion. The first is Deathbed Conversions: Finding Faith at the Finish Line by Karen Edmisten (Our Sunday Vistor, 2013), which focuses on several famous film stars and directors and which is reviewed in the latest issue of the St. Austin Review; the second is The Mississippi Flows into the Tiber by John Beaumont, a comprehensive study of American converts to Catholicism: 

http://www.culturewars.com/Reviews/MississippiReviews.htm

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July 14th, 2014Hilaire Belloc on EWTN?by Joseph Pearce

No, he has not been reconstructed through computer generated images.  Actually it is Scott Bloch of the Belloc Society on EWTN's "The Journey Home" this evening. I understand from Scott that a good portion of the program is dedicated to his conversion story (from Hollywood kid to John Senior godson) but that a surprising portion of the show is dedicated to Belloc because the host, Marcus Grodi, is quite the Belloc fan. 

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July 14th, 2014Futility Conqueredby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org



Today's Mass Readings were on a similar theme, a theme I've written about in the past, a theme that is close to my heart.

The first reading was a powerful passage from Isaiah ...

Thus says the LORD:
Just as from the heavens
the rain and snow come down
and do not return there
till they have watered the earth,
making it fertile and fruitful,
giving seed to the one who sows
and bread to the one who eats,
so shall my word be
that goes forth from my mouth;
my word shall not return to me void,
but shall do my will,
achieving the end for which I sent it.  (Is. 55:10-11)


I have always taken consolation from this, as it has so often seemed that much of my effort in life, with friends, and with the Theater of the Word Incorporated has been for naught.  When your neighboring parish raises and spends $300,000 to repave their parking lot, but won't take a free show for the spiritual health of their parishioners, it's a tad disheartening.  When parishes in Massachusetts book several performances of our pro-life show, but then cancel for fear that we might disturb the pro-abortion Kennedy Catholics in the audience, it's a tad disheartening.  When the whole town shows up and responds enthusiastically to a performance in the middle of nowhere, but then the priest tells you he won't be able to book you again for "maybe another five years", it's a tad disheartening.  (My response, "Just call me in ten years and book two shows.")

Indeed, the priest at Mass today said in his homily ...

When I was a student, I was given an assignment.  Write a philosophical synthesis that answers all the major problems in philosophy.  Of course this is impossible to do.  It's a doomed enterprise.  
But how many of us are involved in doomed enterprises?  Are there any parents here today?  How many of you have striven for years to raise perfect, happy, well-behaved children, only to find out that such a goal is impossible to achieve?
But we keep trying all the same ...  


In fact the earthly ministry of Jesus seemed to be an utterly doomed enterprise - especially the way it ended.

But our chief priests and our leaders handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him.  We had hoped he was the one who would redeem Israel.  (Luke 24:20-21)


... but He wasn't.  At least not in the way they expected.

The cross, then, is the ultimate symbol for futility.  (And the conquest of futility.  More on that in a minute.)

And in our second Mass reading today, St. Paul speaks about futility ...

for creation was made subject to futility,
not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it,
in hope that creation itself
would be set free from slavery to corruption
and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God. (Rom. 8:20-21)


Paul here is talking not just about frustrations in our families or careers; not just about doomed enterprises or impossible goals; he's talking about the universe itself.  Everything about us is "subject to futility", including death and entropy.  There is a growing disorder and confusion in human nature and in physical nature.

And yet ...

We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. (Rom. 8:22-23)


Futility, then, is not the order of the day.  Not any more.  All of creation groans in travail, but those are labor pains, pains of the first fruits of a new creation, for even death itself has been overcome, and God's word will not return to Him "void".

"Vanity!  Vanity!  All is vanity!" says the Preacher (Eccl. 1:2), which is to say "All is meaningless!  All is emptiness!  All is futility!"

We live in a world where people actually believe that life is meaningless, empty, futile - and is filled only by the arbitrary meaning we throw upon it (though, if you notice, that meaning always seems to spring from our groins).  This is the religion of the 21st Century - the Cult of Sterility.  People love "free contraception" and "gay marriage" and all forms of sodomy and perversion because these things are deliberately futile.  They are rote sacrifices made by the casteratti, the self-made eunuchs of the smart set - sacrifices made to their God of Nothingness and Pointlessness, the idol of the Cult of the Absurd.

***

However ... our Gospel reading is the Parable of the Sower (Mat. 13:1-23), in which Our Lord shows us that indeed while much of what we do will be futile and pointless, not all of it will.  For there remains in all creation not merely the principle of decay and death, but from that very thing (mysteriously) emerges, supernaturally, a new life.

Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. (John 12:24)
Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. (Mark 4:27


And it is important to note that we are not obligated to cultivate a field of unresponsive soil.  We are to "shake the dust off of our feet" and move on when we are rejected.  (Mat. 10:14)  Shake the dust off your feet, don't bang your head against the wall.  Part of the Stewardship of Love is prudential investment of time, treasure and talent - setting boundaries and sticking to them, having a backbone, unlike so many artists and creative types who give heedlessly and are taken advantage of because of that.

This is because life is not futile, the word will not return to Him void, and the nature of soil is fertility.  We say amen to the Spirit in our hearts, and He bears forth His fruit by virtue of our fiat.  

And all creation groans for us to bring forth this Kingdom by accepting His seed and saying yes.


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July 14th, 2014When People Become Things, God Becomes a Thingby Kevin O'Brien | http://www.thewordinc.org

Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig has interviewed Annie Lobert, the founder of Hookers for Jesus, an organization that helps women break free of the sex industry.


Lobert's point is that prostitution is simply the extension of the basic principle of a radically capitalist culture: everything can be bought and sold, including people, including the most intimate parts of a person's body, including the most intimate parts of a person's soul.  Lobert is a former hooker, who has managed to discover that sex exists only in a much larger and more profound context (my emphasis) ...

“I love sex now, because I’m with my husband. But does it fulfill me? No. My husband’s relationship with me does, his care for me, his concern,” Annie says. Sex is a part of all that, she adds, but only when it’s sex that can’t be dislocated and commodified.

And while I'd guess that most of you out there have had nothing to do with the sex industry (beyond pornography, which victimizes addicts every day), all of us can understand what it feels like to be made a thing.

Taking the human being out of context, out of the larger mystery that he is; removing him from the purpose for which he is made, is common.  Employers do it, selfish drivers who cut off other drivers do it, fair weather friends do it.

And (pay attention) anything we do to another person is something we're willing to do to God.  We commodify God; we buy Him and sell Him, for thirty pieces of silver or more if we can get it.  We don't want the great mystery, power and awe of God, we want a god-thing that we can put in our back pocket, a god-club we can hit others with, a god-doll that we can play with, a god-mirror on the wall that tells us that we're the fairest of them all.

We use God and we use others, and we ourselves are used and abused in return.

Love breaks free of this.  And the sign of Love is an ugly public humiliation, a man on a cross, bleeding and dying for our sake.

The world buys and sells.  The world objectifies.  The world is filled with false friends, flattering and betraying.  The world is filled with hookers, pimps and johns.

But take heart.  For the crucified one tells us, "I have overcome the world."  (John 16:33)




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July 12th, 2014About Conventionsby Dena Hunt

convention |kənˈvenCHən|

noun

1 a way in which something is usually done, esp. within a particular area or activity:

• behavior that is considered acceptable or polite to most members of a society:

Thus quoth my handy Mac dictionary app. Doesn’t sound too important, does it? Doesn’t sound like something that would cause the downfall of the entire social structure if it were violated. We treat convention casually at best; at worst, we engage in the juvenile practice of breaking conventions, just for the adolescent thrill of it; we cheer others when they behave in an anti-conventional manner, and boast of it when we do it ourselves.

But I recall an old black and white movie in which Ethel Barrymore (I think it was) said to a young Barbara Stanwyck, “You see, my dear, there’s a reason for conventions; a convention may be the result of a thousand years of experience.” While that may not be true of all conventions, there are occasions when it is best to obey first and understand later, and that’s usually true of conventions. Here’s an example:

I have two friends who are in the middle of a bitter divorce. The worst part of it is that their four beautiful children are the battleground--but that’s always the way it is, isn’t it? While divorcing parents are both screaming about their victimization, the real victims are always the children. She is a member of a profession that typically earns a six-figure income; he is a liberal arts type, who may be lucky to find a low-paying teaching position. So, in the beginning, before there were children, they agreed: She’d bring home the paycheck; he’d be a stay-at-home dad and homeschool the children. They would ignore convention and reverse parenting roles. And so it was. Four children and many years later, now approaching middle-age (and all that entails), they’re in a bitter divorce battle.

She claims she is de-feminized, stripped of her sexuality, denied her conjugal rights, and emotionally abused by her husband’s neglect of her. She leaves him and the children and sues for divorce. He doesn’t deny her complaint against him but claims, exactly like a stay-at-home wife who’s been abandoned by a philandering husband, that she should pay alimony and support him and the children in the lifestyle to which they’re accustomed until all the children reach majority (about 10 years or more). It’s painful but perhaps necessary to include: She has become increasingly unattractive, physically and temperamentally. He has become so self-righteous one suspects the saints themselves would not pass his reflexively critical condemnation.

Defying convention didn’t work. You can either obey first and understand later, or you can disobey first, and refuse to understand later.

A woman may feel “feminine” when a man is attracted to her, but that is not the source or cause of her femininity. It’s only a consequence of it. The source is the as-yet unexpressed maternal instinct. Squelch that, and the attraction of men will vanish. And there is something in men that is inspired to protect and defend, that wants to stand between his beloved and the world. That’s the fatherhood that lies deep within and yearns to be expressed. Squelch that and manhood is lost. You can play around with it all you like, but sexuality is the expression of motherhood and fatherhood. Sing songs to it, write poems about it, and create all kinds of stuff and nonsense about it, but it is what it is. And it’s in acknowledging that reality that conventional roles came to be. Have whatever superior ideas (or tantrums) you want, it doesn’t change anything, and all you wind up doing is destroying the children.

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July 10th, 2014What Britain Ain’tby Joseph Pearce

My latest piece for the Imaginative Conservative is entitled "What Makes Britain 'Great' and England Greater". The reason for the slang in the title that I've chosen for this post will become clear upon reading the article. Here's the link:

http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2014/07/makes-britain-great-england-greater.html

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July 10th, 2014Trivia Masquerading as Cultureby Joseph Pearce

I've just received what must be one of the most bizarre requests that I've ever received. I've been contacted by a journalist working on what he described as "a cultural quiz show for Spanish Television".

I quote from his e-mail:

My work consists in writing the questions and checking if they are correct and well formulated, in order to be as precise as possible and make sure we don’t spread wrong information to our contestants and our audience. Sometimes, to do this work, I need to contact to some experts, such as you, in this case.

The question I am now verifying is: 

Who admitted in public wearing women's underwear?

A) Oscar Wilde

B) Adolf Hitler

C) Cary Grant

D) Francois Miterrand

E) Isaac Newton

F) Napoleon Bonaparte

G) Julius Caesar

We think the true answer is C) Cary Grant and the others are false.

I would be interested in confirm that A) Oscar Wilde is a false answer.

I would appreciate your help very much to check this information, please.

Best Regards,

I replied that I was happy to confirm that Wilde never confessed to wearing women's underwear in public or anywhere else! The sad thing is that this triteness and trivia, the dregs and dross of a decaying society, passes as "culture". Wilde famously observed, via Lord Darlington in Lady Windermere's Fan, that "we are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars". The representatives of today's so-called "culture" are happy to wallow in the gutter and the only "stars" they are interested in looking at are wallowing in the gutter with them.  

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July 6th, 2014Book Burning: Is E-Brother Bigger than Big Brother?by Joseph Pearce

My wife has drawn my attention to this well-written and thought-provoking article about the danger of book burning, book banning and book censorship in the internet age. If you thought that Orwell's Big Brother was frightening, you ain't seen nothing yet ...

http://awordplease.org/2014/07/03/are-your-books-on-fire/

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July 5th, 2014How “Frozen” Should Have Endedby Brendan D. King

Whether or not the Disney film "Frozen" is acceptable for Christian families has caused a great deal of controversy, some of which has even spilled over onto The Ink Desk. For this reason, I have decided to give both sides the opportunity to laugh at "Frozen." The following video is therefore highly recommended.

http://m.youtube.com/#/watch?v=j1gE4kF0-k4

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July 4th, 2014Ich hatt’ einen Kameradenby Brendan D. King

In keeping with the recent upsurge of interest in the Great War, I have decided to post the following video, which memorializes the German soldiers who fell under the Kaiser's banner. It consists of the song, "Ich hatt' einen Kameraden," which dates from the Napoleonic Wars and which is still played at the memorials for German soldiers. For those who are unable to read German, the text explains the patriotic enthusiasm which filled Germany in the summer of 1914 and how every volunteer expected to be home before Christmas. The story of their idealism and disillusionment is illustrated by period photographs and footage from the film, "All Quiet on the Western Front." May the sacrifice off all who fell in the Great War never be forgotten!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tVmZjRmyPso&list=PL06BE2495AE73FFE0&index=1

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July 3rd, 2014An Englishman Ponders the Fourth of Julyby Joseph Pearce

So what does an Englishman who has become an American citizen really think about the Fourth of July? I ponder the question at some length in my latest piece for the Imaginative Conservative: 

http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2014/07/become-an-american-ponders.html

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July 3rd, 2014A True Treasureby Joseph Pearce

My good friend, William Fahey, President of Thomas More College in New Hampshire, has written a simply superb article about the timeless value of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island: 

http://www.crisismagazine.com/2014/robert-louis-stevenson-treasure-island

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What are your thoughts on the subject?